By Bill Foley
Max McLaughlin has proven to be among the most versatile grassroots racers, and this weekend he will continue to expand his horizons with a NASCAR Xfinity effort at the Watkins Glen road course.
He’s won there in the past, but this is a totally different and highly competitive arena that he is anxious to jump into.
Friday night during intermission at the Brewerton Speedway (where he finished the night with a sixth-place high-riding finish in the Big Block Modified), he took time to talk with Dirt Track Digest about next weekend.
Asked how the opportunity came about, Max said, “It’s just a new deal with FRS Racing and Chevrolet. It’s their second race ever. We’ve become really good friends over the past couple years. He called me and told me that he was starting a team. He asked if I wanted to drive it. Who knows where it can go from there?”
In regards to this weekend, Max said, “We’re gonna try to put in the show. It’s gonna be a tough task. A lot of cars are entered, but I think we’ve got a good piece. We only get 20 minutes of practice, but I hope we have some speed in that, and I can take some good mental notes for qualifying.”
This isn’t completely foreign to McLaughlin; as he explained, “I won there in 2019, but that was the last time I’ve been there. We were pretty dominant that day.
He took home his first K&N Pro Series East victory in the Great Outdoors RV Superstore 100 in the Hattori Racing Toyota.
However, while he isn’t unfamiliar with the track, there is the car.
McLaughlin told DTD, “This is a completely different type of car. I’ve never even sat in an Xfinity car before. I wish we got a little more practice, but it is what it is.”
How does he get ready?
“I’m going to prepare the best I can and will get on the simulator. You know I have been on it a couple of times and doing some laps, but we’re just going to hit it hard every night after the races this week,” said Max. “You just keep trying, put some muscle memory for shifting points, and just get it down the best you can. Hopefully we have a decent run.”
The course at Watkins Glen is unique, and Max has plenty of respect for the legendary layout.
He explained, “It’s fast. It’s probably the fastest road course I’ve run. I’ve run on the Daytona road course. Watkins Glen is a technical road course. But you got to hit your marks; you just carry a lot of speed and can get yourself into some trouble very fast. It’s a track that I like a lot. It’s a lot of fun. Dad had a lot of success there, and he was able to help me. I’ve got a lot of notes. So I’m looking forward to it. I think they’re gonna be solid. And I just hope that we can hang with all those Cup guys that are on hand.”
He understands some of the more difficult areas, and talking about those, he told DTD, “The chicanes are always tough; the bus stop and turn one’s really technical. The easiest to overdrive is probably the carousel, the long right turn after the bus stop. They’re all tricky in their own way. You know, the uphill esses, you got to make sure that you don’t rush the throttle there or else you’re just gonna get yourself pointed bad. That’ll be the ticket, and qualifying is just making sure you get to the esses. You have to make sure you don’t miss your braking points. And if we can do that, and as long as we have the car turned in well, I think it’ll be alright.”
Max has run regularly with the HBR Weedsport-based DIRTcar Modified team and has competed on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
However, Xfinity is a first.
McLaughlin said, “Xfinity really wasn’t on my mind when the year started. We had some talks, but honestly, I just got too busy. I’ve focused on the dirt stuff. We’ve been good at times, but we’ve been bad at times. So we’re trying to get better at what we have. Jimmy (Phelps) and I have both kind of struggled this year. I think we are going to turn it around soon. It definitely is not for lack of effort. That for sure.”
Well, on Friday, Phelps ended up winning, and Max came from deep in the field and challenged for a top-five finish.
Is there a future with this Xfinity team?
Max noted that nothing is definitely explained. “We’ve talked about it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens, but you know you just have to keep plugging away. Hopefully we have a good run at Watkins Glen and gain some good energy with the team, and then we will see what is next.”
He’ll be racing against several Cup drivers who use the Xfinity race as a warm-up or practice session for Sunday.
Max is not overthinking it at this point, saying, “I have no expectations. We are just going there. Putting it in the show is the first step, and then I just have to be patient to make sure that we are there at the end. I just want to run consistent laps. With short practice, there really isn’t much you can do, and you have to run with what you got. So hopefully we unload with some speed, and the biggest thing is not to get tight there. If you’re tight, you can’t turn there, and you are in trouble. So I hope that they bring a solid car, and if they do that, I’m gonna do the best I can to hit my marks and do the best job to get there with the best possible finish.”