Tagliani returns to stock cars at Road America
June 20, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- When Team Penske president Tim Cindric asked veteran road-racer Alex Tagliani about his availability for NASCAR Nationwide Series duty ahead of the 2013 season, Tagliani had to decline because of scheduling conflicts in other racing series.
When the opportunity came knocking again this season, Tagliani leapt at the chance and accepted without even checking his calendar.
The open-wheel and sports-car veteran will try his hand again at stock-car racing in Saturday's Gardner Denver 200 (2:45 p.m. ET, ABC), making his first Nationwide Series start since 2012. He'll be doing so with the storied race team's No. 22 Ford operation, which won 12 races in the series last season, including a sweep of all three road courses -- two won by AJ Allmendinger and one by Brad Keselowski.
"For me, they're a standard," Tagliani said Friday, the opening day for the series at the 4.048-mile track. "They're very loyal, they have a lot of continuity in their program, they win wherever they go. To race for a team like this and the 22 car that's been so competitive in this particular series, it's like getting a ride for Ferrari in Formula One. That's the way I see it. For me, these two road-course races, they're my Indy 500 and I'm taking them very seriously."
Even though he isn't competing full-time in any one series this year, the 40-year-old Canadian is doing plenty to stay busy. In addition to leading three laps in the late going and finishing 13th in the Indianapolis 500, Tagliani has also competed in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship.
Racing cars with different grades of performance and weights has taken some getting used to, but Tagliani gladly accepts the variations.
"For a driver, you need to throw some challenges into your life or your career. If not, it gets boring," Tagliani said. "For me, when I drive a stock car, it doesn't come natural. It takes a lot of control and when I get out of the car, I feel like, just, 'I want more.' Maybe that's what keeps the spark in you to be in love with what you do."
Even though he's turned plenty of laps at Road America in open-wheel competition, Tagliani said there's no carry-over of experience with the track's nuances from series to series. In fact, Tagliani said he's had to relearn braking zones and turn-in points to find the proper feel for the heavier cars of the Nationwide Series.
"It's a lot," he said. "You have to completely block everything that you've done here in an open-wheel car because if you don't, you get in trouble very, very quickly, and it's unforgiven."