|Photo courtesy of Silver Visibility|
Puerto Rican native Gonzalez Jr., 39, now calls the Dominican Republic home. While Juan Pablo Montoya represents Brazil in Sprint Cup racing and the Brazilian flag flies over Nelson Piquet Jr.'s Nationwide and Miguel Paludo's Camping World Truck Series haulers, the 25th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 marks the first time a driver from a Caribbean country will race at the highest level of NASCAR.
In 2009, 2010 and 2012 Gonzalez Jr. raced at select venues in the Nationwide Series, but this weekend will be his first Cup start, joining Montoya in representing the growing Hispanic market in stock car racing.
Gonzalez Jr. told Skirts and Scuffs via email, "I grew up in Puerto Rico where Formula One is big, but NASCAR has always been my dream. I have always been a fan, and it is a privilege to compete in NASCAR at the highest level. One issue that is tough for Hispanic NASCAR drivers is getting Hispanic sponsors to buy in."
He explained that while Hispanic fans are brand-loyal, Hispanic businesses don't yet understand that phenomenon and are reluctant to spend marketing money in the sport. Gonzales Jr. wants to change that.
"I want to help change their perception that they can’t reach a broader Hispanic market through NASCAR. Hispanic fans are loyal to brands and support them. Hispanics understand that they must support our sponsors, like PhoneDaddy.com, in order for me to continue to race at this level, and for NASCAR to stay a bargain when it comes to entertaining your family."
PhoneDaddy.com is a personal sponsor of Gonzales Jr. He'll be in the IMCA Dominican Republic Chevrolet this weekend.
Gonzalez Jr. enjoys working with Tommy Baldwin and the team at TBR.
"TBR has a great team, from Tommy, to Joe Lax, to everyone on the crew. Those guys work incredibly hard, and they are perfectionists. They are going to give me the best chance possible to do well on Sunday." he said. "I can’t say enough great things about Tommy. The man knows racing and comes from a great racing family. He gave me my first shot at the Sprint Cup Series. He is a wonderful man, and I am going to do everything I can to show him he made a great choice having me drive at Sonoma, and in August at Watkins Glen."
While he's racing the road courses this season, Gonzalez Jr.'s goal is to race the full season in 2014. He's driven on ovals before, both in the Barber Pro Series, where he won a pole at the Milwaukee Mile, and once in Nationwide at Phoenix.
"While people sometimes see me as a road course specialist, I can hold my own on the ovals." he explained. "My goal is to race the entire NSCS next year so I can show everyone what I can do."
Gonzalez Jr. described his experience in Cup car so far:
"I tested the No. 36 car on the short course at VIR (Virginia International Raceway) and it was incredible. More powerful than the Nationwide car, and it felt great to drive. The testing went better than we expected." he said. "We did a complete test so TBR knew what the car needed and what I needed to do my best. That test was very important leading into Sonoma, and I know it will make a difference."
Gonzalez Jr. isn't intimidated by the prospect of facing such notable names as Jacques Villeneuve, either.
"He (Villeneuve) is a great driver, and I look forward to competing against him again. I love being in a field at Sonoma with all the great Cup drivers." he said. "I am proud to be mentioned in the same breath with them all. And, I am excited to have a chance to show everyone what I can do against the best NASCAR competition there is."
Celebrating his 39th birthday this week, Gonzalez Jr. is a bit older than most drivers making a first start in Sprint Cup, but that doesn't bother him either.
"I still feel like I am 18! But I have a lot of experience in these years and use that to my advantage. I have won more than 30 international races, and every race is another learning experience. You are never too old to learn."
When asked how he would describe himself, Gonzalez Jr. said, "I am a normal guy, a family guy, who loves to drive fast and to compete. I have worked hard for a long time to get here, and I will never forget the people who helped me get to this point. Robbie Benton who gave me my first chance in NASCAR. Alfredo Najri in the Dominican Republic who is my biggest supporter, is like a brother to me, and is a great driver himself. And, Tommy Baldwin and his crew. I cannot thank them enough."
"I am humbled by the kindness and generosity of the people who have helped me get to this point."
Skirts and Scuffs appreciates Victor Gonzalez Jr. taking time from his hectic schedule to introduce himself to our readers. He and the rest of the Sprint Cup field take the green flag Sunday at 3:19 pm Eastern. Tune in to TNT, PRN, or SiriusXM NASCAR to see the Toyota/Save Mart 350 twist and turn over the hills and curves of Sonoma.
Janine, aka Lisa or LJ, Cloud, a fifth-generation Texan, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track.
She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.