Joey Hand will be making his 2024 NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend as he pilots the Stage 60 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for RFK Racing in the Chicago Street Race. Hand answered questions from the media earlier today about making the transition from the Mustang GT3 and how it differs from a Cup Series stock car.

JOEY HAND, Stage 60 Ford Mustang Dark Horse – YOUR THOUGHTS ON CHICAGO? “I love street racing. I say it all the time. Obviously, I love racing, but street races are just another kind of beast. People aren’t used to it and it’s one of those things where you run road courses where you have your limit is like ‘I’ll just put a wheel off in the dirt or the gravel,’ or at COTA it’s just off the other end of the curb and there’s no real big repercussions necessarily, so with the street course it just tightens up your limits. That’s all. I think there is definitely something to be said for those who have done a lot of street racing. Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of them. Long Beach is one of my favorite races in the world. It’s one of my favorite venues in the world. I’ve been able to do Vancouver and Toronto and Houston, Denver – I’ve done a lot of them in my life, so I definitely have some experience on them. I’ve had some good success. I’ve won a lot of street courses in different types of cars, so that always makes you feel better about it, but also just coming back into Cup racing. I mean, I had a lot of fun doing it in 2022 and I had a lot of opportunities. We ran well a lot of times and had some opportunities that we didn’t really capitalize on. I mean, one time it was my fault at Watkins Glen. I spun trying to pass and just feel like there was a better result in there, so I’m excited to get another chance to roll with these boys and see what I can do. It’s just a great opportunity here with RFK and this Stage 60 program and I think the car looks really cool. I think when you see it up close it looks good and that’s always a good sign for fast race cars. I think they’ve got to look good first, so we’ve got that covered. I’m just doing my normal thing. I spent the week here in Concord getting ready. We did a little bit of pit stop practice just now actually and all the things that will help us roll out and have the potential to be quick.”

WERE YOU PUSHING TO GET THIS RACE ON YOUR SCHEDULE OR DID RFK COME TO YOU? “This one they came to me, to be honest. I’m always, I think everybody knows I always have my hand up to go do races in Cup if it came up. Over the last three years I’ve spent a lot of time in the simulator. It’s no secret that I do sim stuff for Ford and I help a lot of the teams in the weeks leading up to road course racing, so I became closer and closer with the RFK group, but especially Brad. We kind of hit it off in our time in the simulator and doing work together and I just have a ton of respect for him. It’s pretty wild what he’s doing. To come in and be an owner/driver is not easy and I can see why he’s had the success that he’s had because he has just a massive work ethic to just get it done. I just appreciate that and, like I said, we’ve gotten close. When I was running in ‘22, even though we were racing against each other, he was always offering help to me at the race weekends – anything he could help with – so it just came up from their side. They asked if I would be interested in doing it and I said, ‘Absolutely, I’d be interested in doing it.’ Obviously, I had to ask Ford and programs that I run with in IMSA and everybody was on board there. Everybody seemed excited to see me have a go at it again in the Cup stuff, especially with a really good car like this.”

HOW DIFFERENT DO YOU THINK THE RESTARTS WILL BE ASSUMING THEY WILL BE DOUBLE FILE ON THAT TYPE OF COURSE? “It’s like you heard me talk before or something. I do think the restarts will be different. I did watch the race from last year. I’ve watched it many times so far, and I definitely think that played a factor in how the race came out, but I think double-file restarts are always gonna change it a little bit. It’s gonna get a little more aggressive, but with the nature of these corners I don’t think you can get quite as wild as a COTA turn one or an Indy turn one like we had before, where it’s six, seven-wide going into the first turn. I think it’s still gonna be fairly reasonable and I think where the restart zone is it should get spread out a little bit going into turn one, so I think it’ll be OK. You can only fit so many cars down in there, and I think everybody knows with the funneling effect of turn one and two on exit that you’re not gonna get three cars through there, so restarts for sure in NASCAR is where the intensity ramps up really hard, especially in the Cup Series, so that was something that I love racing. I’m a hard racer, but sometimes in sports car racing in the first hour you might have a restart of a six-hour race or even a two hour and four minute race you’re not ready to go knock dive planes off or knock mirrors off or body work stuff. Here, it doesn’t matter what time of the race it is, when the restart happens you’ve got to be up on it and ready to make moves.”

DO YOU HAVE TO BE AWARE OF THE WAY THE STREET IS CONSTRUCTED WITH CROWNS IN THE MIDDLE FOR WATER FALL OFF? “Absolutely. The rain situation is a whole different situation, where you have the crowns and it’s running to the edges – for sure you’re thinking about that – but even just in dry situations. I always talk about our racetracks like Mid-Ohio and VIR and Road America and all these tracks that you run on the topography of the land. Well, it’s not different in Chicago. There’s still that topography, but it’s crowns and the distance of the crowns away from apexes is different every corner and just the amount of crown is different every corner. You have to play those crowns, absolutely, and that’s what’s also a little bit different about street racing. On one side of them, normally on the entry side of them, to start with you’re off camber and as you drop over the crown on that street you’re on before you get to the apex, you’re on camber. You stay on camber normally through the apex of the crosswalk, if you will, and then you fly back out of that crown off camber again, so you have to like I say make your money in the right spots. So, if you look at track maps like a 2D, you look straight down and they all look like 90-degree corners, but you don’t drive them like that. You don’t drive them like a standard flat 90-degree corner. You have to really think about where that crown is and where you turn in, so that’s definitely that comes back to running street courses and understanding that and kind of knowing your way around that. For me, we do sim work and the tracks are scanned and you can see what’s going on pretty much, but it still doesn’t exactly tell you what you’re gonna see when you walk it. So when I do the track walk on Friday afternoon, I’ll be able to tell exactly what those crown heights look like and how much they drop in at the apexes. Again, at a lot of those crosswalks you’ll have the little gulley that you can use to hook the car, so those vary every corner. Again, you look at the track map you have a bunch of nineties, but none of those nineties is the same. You will not drive one of them exactly the same. Again, it’s one of the things I love about street racing because not everybody is thinking about it and not everybody is able to catch on to it, so if you can get on to it sooner than others, obviously that’s what you’re always trying to do as racers. As I was telling my son, we want to be the first one fast.”

WHAT DID YOU FOCUS ON IN PREPARING FOR THIS RACE WEEKEND? “The good thing is I’m doing a lot of stuff right now, so I’m racing all the time. Luckily, it was only less than a month ago we were racing the streets of Detroit with the new GT3 Mustang, so I’m in the mix and I’m doing stuff anyway. Like, we just ran Watkins Glen last weekend and you come off of that, so my goal was to get through that, stay focused on that and then move forward to this. I got some sim time this week, helping some guys out in the sim. That always helps me also just to understand more of it and a lot of guys, like we already talked about, I haven’t been on Chicago in real life and so there’s some little stuff that the guys can help me with that were there last year. But it starts basically last Thursday or Friday with some meetings with the team I’m running with, crew chief, engineer, doing pit stop practice like I just did a little bit ago. Looking at the rules now, the NASCAR rules again just to refresh my memory. For me, unlike some of these these guys that come in and have done these one-off races, this is a one-off for me this year, but I’ve done seven total before, so I have a feeling. It’s more of a refresher course on all the stuff. How many boxes can you drive through? Honestly, I think the biggest thing that I talk about, especially with my sport car buddies that ask me about doing these Cup races, like what’s the most difficult thing. Driving a race car is driving a race car, ultimately. It’s not easy, but it comes naturally when you do it all your life. One of the things that is the most difficult for me is pit lane because there are so many cars pitting at once, especially if you’re pitting under yellow, but even sometimes when you’re pitting under green. In IMSA we use a pit speed limiter, so I literally come to the pit line, hit the button, go wide-open throttle and it just holds it right there for me. In Cup, you’re always managing your pit speed with throttle and brake. You’re watching the lights, but then there’s a car coming out and a car coming in and you’re still managing the lights yourself, so there’s a big difference on pit lane intensity-wise. And then of course leaving the box. I just got done telling my crew chief, I’m like, ‘I’m gonna need you to be saying pit speed, pit speed, pit speed when I’m leaving the box,’ because I’m used to coming out of the box wide-open until it hits the limiter and just driving out. So, I have to know manage that coming out of the pit box, along with managing the first lane and second lane of traffic. I would say we’re thinking about the race car and setup and all that. We do a lot of that in simulation, but as I get closer to the weekend I’m working on this refresher course on pit lane stuff, some of the small rule things just to make sure I’m spot on.”

HOW MUCH HAS WORKING ON DEVELOPMENT FOR THE MUSTANG IMSA PROGRAM ENHANCED YOUR SENSE OF WHAT A RACE CAR IS DOING AND WILL THAT HELP AS FAR AS MAKING ADJUSTMENTS IN YOUR CAR THIS WEEKEND AND FINDING SPEED? “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve been fortunate to help develop a lot of race cars in the past 30 years of racing. We had a good go of development with the Ford GT and now most recently we’re doing a lot of stuff with the Mustang GT3. All of that stuff enhances your skills. It’s never ending. It’s amazing that you can do it for as long as I’ve done it and still learn stuff every day. I mean, people say it all the time but it’s really true, and I always keep my brain going. Outside of what I do, my son is running a late model and he’s racing go karts and we talk about stuff all the time. How are we gonna make more power? How are we gonna find more grip? It never changes. That never changes for me, whether it’s a GT3 car or even now on the Cup car. Fortunately for me, I am doing a lot of stuff in the simulator for the last three years with these guys, so every time there’s a road course I’m here in Concord doing things and helping and hearing the stuff and the changes and things that have worked and haven’t worked and being able to see the evolution that we started with. One of the things for me is in ‘21 I did the last Roval race in the old Cup car and then I was the first guy to drive the new car at the Roval that next day when we first started the Next Gen car, so in the background I’ve been with this program in the Next Gen car since the beginning for the road course stuff. Things are always turning. When I leave here in these weeks where I’m helping everybody, I’ll still text with crew chiefs and Ford engineers. I’ll be like, ‘You know what, I just thought of something from when we were doing that session last week. Maybe we should try this.’ This thing (his brain) is always turning. There’s smoke coming out of here all the time. Second to racing, one of my favorite things is doing that development and making things better. In my life, in my career, I’ve been super fortunate, especially with Ford, to be able to be with a program that when you say, ‘This needs to be better.’ They say, ‘We’ll fix it.’ I have a ton of engineers with Ford Performance and Multimatic and all the people that we have that I literally say, ‘This doesn’t feel right,’ and they say, ‘Let’s make it better.’ So when you come in the NASCAR world working with all the Ford Performance people and then also all of the teams, it’s the same thing. I enjoy that. Number one, I love racing, but my second-favorite thing is helping with development.”

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE STREET COURSE RACING AND WHAT MAKES IT SO UNIQUE? “I’m a huge fan of street course racing. I always have been and the number one thing starts with the fans, like the outside part of it when you’re not talking about the driving the track because you have so many people wherever it is, in this case Chicago, where I say you bring it to the people. There’s gonna be people that didn’t want to go to the race that will go to the race because it’s in their city. Those are the fans that we gain. There are people that are gonna come to Chicago because a lot of the tracks we run are in places that are on the outskirts and a long ways from a city. So a ton of people will say, ‘Oh, it’s in Chicago? Chicago is fun. Let’s go to Chicago and watch a street race. Let’s go to a NASCAR race.’ So, there are so many different reasons that street racing, to me, is exciting and I don’t think you can really understand if you’ve not been at a street race the sound and the vibration coming off the walls. How the air continues to go around the racetrack when cars are running. It’s like an air flow going around the track. The fact that you can eat lunch standing 12 feet from a car going 175 miles an hour by you or whatever that situation is, you can stand right there and watch it. I mean, it’s just a different level of intensity and that’s just outside of the track, like watching. On the track, I think that street course racing for sure, and especially in Chicago, just gains and have a lot more respect for the track. Everybody is coming in here, especially last year when we were preparing for this, you look and it’s like super bumpy. There are transitions from new pavement to old pavement. There’s parts that are wider and narrower, so everybody is like, ‘We’re gonna take it easy here and find a way.’ Even with this being the second race, you still have the feeling that there’s respect for the racetrack, let’s put it that way. So when you get on the racetrack you’re like, ‘OK, maybe at the end of the race I can drag the left-rear along the wall and do all of that, but I don’t want to do that in the first practice.’ And I think the point is that I think it creates good racing. That respect for the racetrack and being pinned into the walls and having to work within those confines I honestly think it made for really good racing last year, and I think it will do the same this year. It’s looking more and more dry for us. The weather looks pretty spot on, like 80 degrees from the fan side and from the driver’s side it’s looking to shape up like a good one.”

HOW MUCH CAN YOU HELP CHRIS AND BRAD AND HOW MUCH OF IT IS YOU SOAKING IT IN? “I hope I can help a lot. I do spend time with them for the last three years I’ve been in the sim every week that there’s a road course race if I haven’t had a race. That’s kind of where this even came from was just because of that relationship we started three years ago and just kind of got better and better with all of the people – engineers. One thing I noticed a while ago with RFK is what they’re doing in the background was really good. Even when I was racing against them in 2022 I was like, ‘Man, they’re making good choices.’ Every week they’d always show up and they’re always there at the right time, and I think a lot of that has to do with the people in the shop, people that do the sim engineering and stuff like that. I’m excited to be part of the program and I really do hope that we can do stuff that advances their program since they’re giving me the opportunity to have a go of it and race. Honestly, I’m gonna be asking questions to Brad and Chris also because they were here last year. Yeah, I have street course experience, but I don’t have experience on this one per se. Back to the pit stop stuff, they do it every week – six to 12 times a week or whatever, and I don’t, so I’m gonna ask a lot of questions about that and see what I can do. But it’s all gonna happen fast starting right now because a little more sim work tomorrow helping other teams and then Thursday is the Fourth of July and everybody is off. I’m gonna actually do some stuff at the GT3 shop which, for me, I’m fortunate that our GT3 race shop – Multimatic – is based in Mooresville and the simulation stuff is done in Concord, so I can bounce back and forth. We’re doing some stuff over there on Thursday and have a team party there and then on Friday we’re off to Chicago. And then it still happens fast. We race on Sunday. My son and I go home on Monday and we’re back at MoSport racing IMSA the very next weekend, so I’m only home one day of 29 days this run. My son is sitting over here. He’s on a 20-day trip with me. We did Watkins Glen and haven’t been home staying out for this one, but that’s what it’s all about. We’re a racing family. My son is a racer. My wife and I met racing. We started dating when we were 16 years old, but we met when we were 12, so we’re just a racing family. My daughter is a softball player, but she can drive too. It’s just what we do, so we love it. This is a really good opportunity for me to help out RFK, help out Ford, but also for me to potentially have a good run too.”

HOW DO YOU THINK THE CHANGES IN THE BUS STOP AT WATKINS GLEN WORKED? DID THEY DO SOME CHANGES TO TURN ONE AS WELL AND WILL IT IMPACT THE STOCK CARS THERE IN A COUPLE OF MONTHS? “The turn one thing is hard to tell. I didn’t really see anything. They said they changed the exit curbs, but we were still able to run on them pretty hard. The bus stop chicane, I’m questioning how NASCAR will run it, but the way we ran it was quite a bit less aggressive I’d say. The whole yellow curb, the first yellow curb, is gone and it’s just gators with some little pyramids in the middle. We cut over it pretty far. We were left-side tires right on the point of the curb and shot straight over it and I thought it was easier to get across, less harmful to the car, but also carried a good bit more speed. The reason I say I’m not 100 percent sure what they’re gonna do is there were some other options it looked like as far as what they could bolt in, so I’m not 100 percent sure what NASCAR is gonna do, but if it was just like the IMSA thing, I think it would be a quicker entry, but probably a little less harmful to the car and slightly different how you would take the rest of the corners. But the rest of it, if you said there were four curbs in the bus stop, two, three and four are the same as they’ve always been. It’ll be interesting. I do think it will carry more speed in if they run like that.”

WAS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE IN THE VIOLENCE YOU WOULD FEEL IN THAT AREA AS FAR AS HOW YOU DROVE IT? “I would say in that first curb it’s a little more tame, but, again, I also think the way we ran it you could carry more speed across it, so it makes the center of the bus stop I would say more challenging because you carry more speed across the first one, so the way you have to rotate the car in the center of the second part is a little trickier. With a downforce car it’s hard to say. We drove in and we broke on entry and we flowed speed across the first one and then we never had to use the brake again. We just powered right through it with downforce, but I think that will not be the case with NASCAR. You’d probably have to carry some speed over it, touch the brake again to set the nose, and then drive out of it. It will be interesting. I think, again, if they ran it the way it is for us in IMSA, I thought it was a little easier on the car. It’s easier on your body a little bit.”

Ford Performance PR