Former NASCAR phenom Colin Braun finds home in road racing

12/31/1840 4:00 AM

06/04/2014 8:09 PM

Colin Braun knows his way around Kansas Speedway. That won’t do him much good this weekend.

Braun, once a rising NASCAR star for Roush Fenway Racing, will return to Kansas Speedway for the first time in four years when he competes in the IMSA Tudor Championship Prototype Challenge on the road course that opened last year.

Braun already has posted victories as part of the winning teams at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring, and through three races leads the PC driver standings with co-driver Jon Bennett.

“I don’t know that I like it better or worse,” Braun said, comparing racing stock cars on NASCAR ovals to sports cars on road courses. “I’m a race car driver. So I like racing anything that gives me a chance to win races.

“The sports car team I’m driving for now, the CORE autosport guys, has provided me a really good car I can go win races in. We’ve got a lot of momentum going on the sports car side.

“To win the 24 hours of Daytona … the 12 Hours of Sebring, those are two races I would have loved to win in my career, let alone the same year. It’s kind of been a storybook year so far.”

Braun, 25, finished third on the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Kansas Speedway in 2008, when he was the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie of the year, and he finished ninth the next season. Braun was on the path to Sprint Cup racing and moved up to the Nationwide Series in 2010 before the economy took a tumble and sponsorship dried up.

So without a ride in NASCAR, he returned to his roots in sports cars. Braun, a native of Ovalo, Texas, was the youngest U.S. driver to win a professional Formula car race, at age 14, and was a successful sports car driver before trying his hand at NASCAR in 2008.

“That’s my background, road racing, growing up,” Braun said. “So for me, going back to road racing was something that was very comfortable, I’m very used to and really enjoy it. I love the racing, I love the fans we have, it’s just a great sport.”

Braun, whose team races an Oreca chassis with a Chevrolet engine, is the closing driver after Bennett opens each race. Braun had to adjust to sharing the same car with another driver when he returned to road racing.

“Both drivers have to be happy in the car, in terms of setup, and how we want the race car to drive,” Braun said. “There was some compromise between myself and John to get a car that works well for both of us, where in NASCAR, it was all about the one driver being happy.

“The road course skills and the craft of passing on road courses is a different skill set than the oval. … Certainly there is some pressure to get it done at the end of the race, but that’s a pressure I really enjoy.”

There will be a new wrinkle to the Prototype Challenge event on Saturday night. After the 45-minute opening segment, the race will take a three-hour break for the Continential Tire series race. Then, Braun will climb into the car for the final 45-minute segment of his race.

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Kansas Speedway road racing schedule

TUDOR United SportsCar Championship

The race: Grand Prix of Kansas

The track: 2.37-mile, six-turn road circuit

The time/day: Qualifying at 10:45 p.m. on Friday. Race is scheduled for 10:15 p.m. on Saturday.

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge

The race: Grand Prix of Kansas

The track: 2.37-mile, six-turn road circuit

The time/day: Qualifying at 9:10 p.m. on Friday. Race is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.

Sprint Cup data

The race: Pocono 400

The place: Pocono Raceway , a 2.5-mile triangle in Long Pond, Pa.

The time/day: 11 a.m. Sunday (TNT)

The distance: 400 miles, 160 laps

2013 winner: Jimmie Johnson

TV times

Friday: Camping World Trucks Winstar World Casino and Resort 400, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1.

Saturday: IndyCar Firestone 600, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network.

Sunday: Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, 1 p.m., NBC (Chs. 27, 41).

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