Racing on NASCAR turf as the outsider in Sonoma this weekend, DTM star Mattias Ekström says that a successful Sprint Cup debut will be all about giving and earning respect. Ekström will race the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at California’s 12-turn, 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway.
“I know all the drivers and I give a lot of respect to the drivers and the teams. I will do my best and try to earn the respect of all those guys,” he said.
“These guys have been racing all year and some are trying to get into the Chase, so I don’t want to mess up anyone’s race. I want to do my own race but you can be sure that if anyone behaves badly, I know how to behave badly too – but that’s not my ambition.”
“When things get tough, no one is shy about getting aggressive in DTM. In NASCAR, everybody pays lots of respect to each other, but at the end when a win is on the line, everybody gets tougher as well.”
The two-time DTM champion gets his first taste of NASCAR Sprint Cup action in Friday's practice before qualifying later in the afternoon. Another two practice sessions Saturday will help him get the car ready for Sunday afternoon’s 110-lap race.
To prepare for his stock car adventure, Ekström arrived in Charlotte Tuesday afternoon and spent a couple of days reacquainting himself with the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota crew at the team’s headquarters before flying to California on Thursday.
The Swedish DTM driver earned his chance to race in the Cup after an extraordinary performance in a late May test with the team at the Virginia International Raceway road course.
"I have been watching a lot of the races on television and I have been following it a lot. I am as well prepared as I can be without actually racing." –Mattias Ekström
“When I was testing with the team, we discussed the same things, like balance of the car and race strategy, so that’s not different,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think the biggest difference will be the racing.”
Coming from a series where 18 drivers race in cars with carbon fiber brakes, serious aerodynamic elements, and stickier slick tires, Ekström is keeping things in perspective as he gets ready to experience 43 cars doing battle on a tight and twisty road course. He’s not going in with unrealistic expectations.
“I think the risk of my winning is very small, but everybody has the same chance until qualifying and the race and you see the checkered flag. I will try my best; I think top-10 would be really nice, that’s for sure,” he said.
“I have been watching a lot of the races on television and I have been following it a lot, so for a guy who hasn’t raced in NASCAR, I think I am pretty well sorted when it comes to how the guys race and what you have to care about. I am as well prepared as I can be without actually racing.”
Would he like to try an oval race after getting his feet wet in Sonoma?
“First things first,” he said. “I have a road course to do that I am looking forward to in Sonoma, and then we will see. Actually for me it is simple: Be good and you will get a second chance, but if you aren’t good enough you won’t get any more chances. But I would say the short ovals like Martinsville and Bristol are quite interesting.”