Alon Day closed off a strong second half of the season by winning the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series championship Saturday at Belgium’s Circuit Zolder.
Starting on the front row, Day came into Saturday’s event on a three-race winning streak. He clinched the title when he crossed the start-finish line at the end of the first lap. He finished fourth in the race.
Day became the first Israeli champion in the Euro Series. It also was the first major championship in 41 years of competition in any racing series for Day’s team, CAAL Racing.
“We were trying so hard the past three years to win this title, we won so many races but never the championship,” said Day, who finished second and third in the Euro Series the last two seasons.
Day will be honored in the annual NASCAR awards banquet Dec. 8 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte.
Day made two starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and two other starts in the Camping World Truck Series, both in 2016, and his first career NASCAR Cup start this season at Sonoma, where he finished 32nd.
Alon Day reaches yet another milestone as first Israeli to compete in Cup race
Alon Day likes making NASCAR history – and he’ll do so again Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
After being the first Israeli driver to compete last year in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series, the 25-year-old Day will make his Cup debut in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
“It’s pretty big,” said Day, who will also become the first driver from the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series to drive in a Cup race. “When I was growing up, it was my dream to race in the biggest level in NASCAR.
“I spoke about it during (NASCAR) media day in January and less than six months later, here it is, I’m doing my first Cup race. I’m totally excited. I can’t even explain it.”
Day will drive the No. 23 EarthWater Toyota for BK Racing in a deal that came together just over a week ago, days after he won the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series race – he’s competing full-time in that series – on June 11 at the famous Brands Hatch in England.
Day was on his way home to Israel for yet another victory party after the Brands Hatch race when he got a phone call asking him if he’d like to race at Sonoma.
“I jumped on a plane and came over,” Day told NBC Sports.
He’s looking ahead to possibly more races, including the August Cup race at Watkins Glen.
Day’s Cup debut is already making front-page news back in his native land.
“It’s a big thing in Israel because there’s almost no motorsports there,” Day said. “A couple of days ago, my mother opened a newspaper in Israel and my photo and story was on the front page.
“On Sunday, I’m not only doing this for myself, I’m making history for my country and so many people in the Jewish community. Everyone is following me and it’s good to know.”
Day made two starts each in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series last season, ultimately leading to being named Israel’s Athlete of the Year. In his first Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio, he challenged for the lead through much of the race before finishing 13th.
While he understands that Cup racing is the highest – and hardest – NASCAR level in the United States, he’s hoping for a good finish that could lead to additional opportunities.
But come Sunday, he wants to put the notoriety of his Cup debut aside and focus on just one priority.
“I try not to think about it too much because I want to concentrate and do the best I can and bring the best result I can, like I did in Mid-Ohio,” he said.
Day has never driven a Cup car, let alone raced one prior to this weekend. He got fitted for his seat Thursday and will make his first laps during Friday’s two Cup practice sessions at the road course north of San Francisco.
Other drivers may be intimidated by making their Cup debut, especially never having driven one of the cars in NASCAR’s premiere series.
Not Day. He’s ready to show his stuff and surprise people.
“I know what I’m capable of doing on road courses, and I also know what equipment I drive,” he said. “I don’t try to achieve too much like I’m going to win on Sunday.
“But seeing what I did last year at Mid-Ohio, I fought for the lead. In this kind of car, the driver is the one who makes the difference.”
And while it may intimidate another driver to go head-to-head with the likes of seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and others, Day will not let himself get intimidated.
As far as he’s concerned, they’re just other drivers and numbers on race cars – and his job is to try and do better than them.
“It’s like when I came here to race at Mid-Ohio, knowing I’d be racing against big names,” he said. “At the post-race press conference, I sat next to Sam Hornish Jr., who was my childhood hero. I used to play video games as Sam Hornish Jr.
“As soon as the green flag is out and the race starts, I don’t think about names anymore. For me, the cars are just numbers and I’m there to do the best I can.”
Israeli-born driver Alon Day will make his debut in the No. 23 Toyota for BK Racing. Tommy Regan will drive the No. 15 Toyota for Premium Motorsports. Josh Bilick will drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. He replaces Cody Ware who is out indefinitely with back issues.
Last year, Tony Stewart won his 49th and final Cup race after swapping the lead twice with Denny Hamlin on the last lap, including passing Hamlin in the final turn.
Alon Day will become the first driver from Israel to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series when he drives the No. 23 for BK Racing next weekend at Sonoma Raceway.
“Being the first Israeli who is going to race in NASCAR’s highest series is a dream come true,” Day said in a statement.
The 25-year-old from Tel Aviv is coming off a victory last week in a NASCAR Whelen Euro race in England.
“I like giving new drivers an opportunity, and Alon is a great road course driver,” team owner Ron Devine said in a statement. “He has been successful in other series around the world and deserves a shot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”
After getting his first taste of NASCAR racing in the U.S. last year, Israeli racer Alon Day is ready for the main course: He wants to become a full-time driver in either the Camping World Truck Series or Xfinity Series.
The 25-year-old Day, the first Israeli-born driver in NASCAR history to compete in both the Xfinity and Truck series, finished 13th in his Xfinity debut at Mid-Ohio last summer and 30th at Road America after a late-race incident.
In the Truck Series, he finished 24th at New Hampshire and 26th in the season finale in Miami.
In the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, Day finished second in 2015 and third in 2016, capturing three wins in each of those two seasons.
Day has the option to race in Europe again, but he’d rather be in the U.S. It’s just a matter of finding sponsorship and a team with good equipment.
Day is no stranger to racing in the U.S., having finished 12th in the 2012 Indy Lights series racing for Belardi Auto Racing (the first Israeli-born driver in that series, as well).
The strongest element of Day’s racing talent is road course racing. Given that, some might wonder why he doesn’t pursue racing in Formula One or IndyCar.
But it’s NASCAR or bust for Day, who is in the 2016-17 NASCAR Next class.
“In the end, I’m trying to race NASCAR, and NASCAR is here in the states,” Day said. “That’s my main priority, for sure. It doesn’t matter if it’s Xfinity or Trucks, but to be here in the United States and not in Europe.
“Going back to Europe is probably going to be a step down because I feel ready enough to race here, but that’s life. It can be tough sometimes, but I’m definitely not stopping looking for sponsors and money for the Trucks, and I really hope I can do it this year.”
Day calls his quest “annoying to be at this part of the year without knowing exactly what I’m going to do in 2017. But I know that no matter what happens, I always have my spot in the Euro Series again and I can try another shot at winning the championship over there and whatever I can do here in the States.”
Day is especially keen on learning how to race on ovals in America, given his prowess as a road and street course racer. He also “would love to see some street tracks in NASCAR, watching those cars driving in the middle of the town. I think it’s a cool idea.”
Day’s quest is all the more compelling in that motorsports is typically not a major sport in his native land. And those motorsports fans there are more apt to follow Formula One.
“I grew up without any motorsports, nothing,” Day said. “When I started racing was in 2012; actually motorsports was illegal in Israel. But as a kid, without any knowledge about racing or motorsports, I started getting interested because of Formula One and NASCAR.
“My vision was the two highest levels in motorsports. When I started racing in Europe and was on the path to Formula One, I realized that Europe was not a place I wanted to be. It’s a completely different atmosphere, completely different style of racing and I changed to NASCAR.
“That’s immediately where I knew I wanted to be. I know that being in Cup is the highest level in motorsports in the world, combined with Formula One. It’s something really special because in Israel, people even now think it’s just people sitting in the car and turning left.
“But when I actually got more success in NASCAR and especially winning (2016 Israeli) athlete of the year, people are actually getting more interested, NASCAR races are now broadcast in Israel and I’m glad people have the opportunity to understand it and realize NASCAR is one of the toughest races in the world.”