By Kelly Crandall – By day Kevin O’Connell is a venture capitalist. Sometimes though, he gets to drive racecars.
Saturday, O’Connell was behind the wheel of the No. 23 for Rick Ware Racing at Road America in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Gardner Denver 200. In his fifth career start, in which he had never previously finished higher than 22nd, O’Connell drove the underfunded team to a third place finish.
“I think this is a marquis finish. We’ve talked about doing this for a long time but the stars have to align,” O’Connell said afterwards. “You have to have good people, good equipment and the right circumstances and we had that today. We’ve been doing it long enough that we knew we had a shot at something and I think we capitalized on it the best way we know how.”
O’Connell was only 26th fastest at the end of qualifying and ran a solid top-15 race with crew chief George Church calling the shots. The 47-year-old from Newport Beach, California is currently competing in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship Series as well as the IMSA Lamborghini Super Trofeo Racing Series.
O’Connell’s third career start in Elkhart Lake this past weekend was made possible because of the partnership with country music singer Shania Twain’s charity, Shania Kids Can, as their primary sponsor.
“I’ve been doing probably for 20 years now. I partnered up with Rick and we’ve been running sports cars together and NASCAR Nationwide, specifically road course stuff. I do it every chance I get,” O’Connell said. “This weekend was special because we had Shania Twain’s charity on the car, so we had a benefactor that put together the capital that we needed to run the races. We displayed her charity on the car in an effort to promote and get the brand out into the NASCAR world.”
When weather became a factor late in Saturday’s event, O’Connell and company began to play their strategy. After NASCAR mandated that teams go to wet weather tires, O’Connell began to make up some time. Rain, which he enjoys running in because of the experience he has with sports cars, was a benefit to his – and other smaller teams – progression through the field.
As contenders fell by the wayside, O’Connell continued to rise through the running order. He lined up fourth for the race’s final restart.
“We made the decision to stay out on wets, we saw the guys in front of us did the same thing,” O’Connell said. “Rick and George put together a great car so we thought we had a shot. The rain kind of worked in our favor and with a green-white-checkered finish we thought we could do it, so we tired it.
“It worked really well, I think we had a shot for the win, we raced the 62 (@Brendan62, Brendan Gaughan) clean. Tag (Alex @Tagliani) came screaming through the field with stickers, not a lot we could do about that. I think we would probably play it the same if we had a chance to do it over again.”
O’Connell will continue to make limited NASCAR appearances this year for the Nationwide Series at Road America, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, as well as at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for the Camping World Truck Series.
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