Five drivers set to make first Cup Series start at Sonoma

By Dominic Aragon
June 25, 2017

Five drivers will be making their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway Sunday, the first of two road course races in 2017.

We take a look at all five racers’ NASCAR touring series history.

Regan will be driving the No. 55 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports.

The 39-year-old driver has previously made six starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with a best finish of 25th at Martinsville in 2015.

Regan tells The Racing Experts he has had to “up his game” in the gym and with diet in preparation for the longer distance and time in the car for the Cup Series race.

As previously reported by TRE this season, a win by a racer making their debut Cup Series race would make that driver the seventh person in the history of the sport to do so, and the first since 1963.

For Regan, he says the objective is to finish the race.

“As much as I am going out there to do my best, I don’t know if our package is competitive with an RCR, a Hendrick or a Gibbs,” he said.

“So although we’re always trying to win the race, we’re always doing the best we can, that’s a very good question.”

Beyond Sonoma, Regan could be back in the Cup Series for more races.

“We’re taking it one step at a time right now,” he said. “There has definitely been some talk [with team owner Jay Robinson], but nothing is locked in.”

Fielding the second Premium Motorsports entry, O’Connell will be driving the No. 15 Chevrolet.

O’Connell has made eight starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, all on road courses, with the most recent start coming in 2015 at Road America.

The 40-year-old-driver’s highest finish in the series was a third-place effort at Road America in 2014.

Bilicki will become the third driver this season to compete in the No. 51 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing.

The 22-year-old driver has made four starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, including one this season. His highest finish is 27th this season at Michigan.

Bilicki told The Racing Experts he got the offer to run both Cup Series road course races this season from Rick Ware after impressing team owners with his performance at Road America in the XFINITY Series in 2016, including Ware.

“I tossed the idea around to several of my previous sponsors and was able to secure two great sponsors for the race, the Marriott Construction Companies of Milwaukee and the Climate Corporation,” Bilicki said.

The goal for this weekend is to race hard, clean, and bring the car home in one piece, according to Bilicki.

“Most of these drivers probably have never heard of me, so I want to earn their respect,” he said. “I don’t see a top 20 or even top 15 being unreasonable though, as long as we stay out of other people’s messes.”

The 22-year-old also commented on what a victory Sunday would mean to him.

“It would easily be the biggest win of my career by far, so it would be very, very special,” he said. “A lot can happen in the race and nothing is impossible.”

Day will be the fourth different driver to pilot the No. 23 Toyota for BK Racing in 2017.

The 25-year-old has previously made two starts in both the XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, all coming in 2016.

The Israeli-born driver’s best finish in either series was a 13th-place effort in the XFINITY Series at Road America last season at Mid-Ohio.

Johnson will be the third driver to fill in for the sidelined Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports this season.

Despite the circumstances for driving the car, Johnson said it was an honor to be selected for the driver’s seat at Sonoma Raceway.  

“We definitely don’t want to just ride around, we’re going to be as competitive as we can be,” Johnson said to The Racing Experts.

A victory Sunday would mark the 200th win for the No. 43 car in NASCAR’s premiere series.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge, and it would be delusional to expect that, but we’re going to try and to make that happen,” Johnson said. “Like I said, I wasn’t brought aboard just to ride around.”

The 30-year-old driver has previously competed in five XFINITY Series races between 2010 and 2013, with four of those starts at road courses. His best finish was an eighth-place finish at Montreal in 2012.


Regan: Infield Jen, LLC.
Day: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
O’Connell: Franklin Romero/The Racing Experts
Bilicki: Josh Bilicki
Johnson: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Which driver will finish highest Sunday at Sonoma?
No. 15 Kevin O'Connell
No. 23 Alon Day
No. 43 Billy Johnson
No. 51 Josh Bilicki
No. 55 Tommy Regan