Project 91 Wish List
Trackhouse Racing announced last season that they were going to start a program to bring in drivers from outside of NASCAR to come and do one off races. Project 91 only did a single race last season, but they didn’t disappoint with the driver selection. They brought in former Formula 1 (F1) champion Kimi Raikkonen to compete at Watkins Glen. While his day was cut short after being involved in an accident, finishing 37th, he was running as high as 8th and was making his way back through the field before his day ended early. With how well the first race went, outside of the finish, we can expect a great showing from any driver that gets into the seat. That brings the question, who would be a good fit?
This is the best choice to me. McLaughlin is an up-and-coming IndyCar driver that has championship talent and ability. In his second full season with Team Penske last year, he had three wins and finished 4th in the championship standings. Before he went full time in IndyCar, he drove for Roger Penske’s supercar team in Australia where he won 48 races and 3 championships over 4 seasons. Everywhere he goes, he wins. With his experience in the supercar, he should be able to adapt to the Next Gen car the easiest.
While Team Penske is a Ford team in NASCAR, they are a Chevrolet team in IndyCar. Even though this is a cross-series tie-in, maybe the alliance that Penske and Trackhouse have with Chevrolet could get him into the seat. We are going to see it in reverse order in 2024 when Kyle Larson attempts to run the Indianapolis 500 with Team McLaren, so we can only hope. The biggest bonus about McLaughlin getting in the car is that he has experience on road courses and ovals. IndyCar and NASCAR racecars are completely different, but at least with his experience they could be open to run him at any race not just a road course.
Ricciardo is a name that you are going to hear from pretty much anybody you talk to about Project 91. He is an 8-time grand prix winner in Formula 1 and has 32 career podiums. If he hadn’t been racing in the same era as Lewis Hamilton, he would have been a world champion at least once while driving for Red Bull. Ricciardo always talks about his love for NASCAR and how he has watched it since he was a kid. Between his larger-than-life personality and notoriety from Netflix’s Drive to Survive Formula 1 docuseries, Ricciardo has become one of the most beloved racers in all of motorsports.
While he is still under contract with Red Bull as their reserve driver, this is something that could be worked out. Many F1 reserve drivers compete in other series. As long as there wasn’t an emergency where he had to fill in for Verstappen or Perez, he could be available for a weekend. However, he made it very clear last season that currently he is only thinking about returning to the grid for F1 and is the only series that he was interested in for the time being. So, while this would be a match made in heaven for the fans, I don’t think it’ll happen this season.
This one will probably never happen, but wouldn’t it be amazing?! Lewis Hamilton is one of the greatest if not the greatest driver to ever sit in a racecar. He is the all-time leader in Formula 1 grand prix wins at 103, podiums at 191, pole positions at 103, and is tied with Michael Schumacher for the most World Championships at 7. His accolades speak for themselves.
This would not be the first time Lewis has been in a stock car. Back in 2011, Lewis and Tony Stewart did a seat swap at Watkins Glen. After both drivers set times in their own cars, they took a lap in each other’s car. While it was raining, making the track damp, Lewis had a great outing. His lap times were a lot closer to Stewart’s than anybody would have thought and was even improving his time by at least a second each lap. He is such a talented driver that he would get into the Project 91 car and would be expected to finish at a high position.
Not only is he an all-time great driver, but he is a world-renowned superstar. You can see Lewis race in a grand prix on Sunday, be at a GQ photo shoot on Wednesday, and then show up at a red carpet event on Saturday. His Instagram account alone has 31.4 million followers. A single post on his social media page would be worth millions of dollars of advertisement for the sport. The reach that he has is incredible and him coming to NASCAR would give the sport a reach to the rest of the world that they have never had.
Now, let’s bring this back down to Earth a little bit here. Would Mercedes ever sign off on Lewis going to run a NASCAR event? Absolutely not and I wouldn’t blame them. Lewis is the brand for their team. If he were to get injured at a NASCAR race and not be able to drive at the next grand prix, the financial losses alone would be too great for Mercedes. While Lewis is a person who beats to their own drum, if Mercedes were to say no to him running NASCAR, I don’t think he would go against their wishes.
Project 91 is one of the best ideas anybody in NASCAR has had in the last 20 years. Not only trying to bring in drivers from outside of NASCAR for a race, but to put them in quality equipment that gives them a chance to be competitive is a huge win. Putting a driver like Scott McLaughlin or Daniel Ricciardo would be a great fit and either one of them would perform great. Scott McLaughlin seems like the obvious pick due to him being in the U.S. and his ties to Chevrolet. To put Lewis Hamilton in the Next Gen car with Trackhouse would be a worldwide slam dunk. With his superstardom and talent, NASCAR would get the highest ratings they have ever had, and Lewis would finish at a very high respectable position. Hopefully at least one of these drivers will get an invite from Trackhouse.