Written by Thijs Oostendorp, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series race at the Circuit of the Americas was a true spectacle. A big story from the race was the stellar performance from part-time driver Josh Bilicki. He ran in the top 20 throughout the race, in a car normally averaging a 29th place finish. Could this be the big break for the driver from Wisconsin?
Like many others, Bilicki began his career in karting. Starting when he was four years old, he rose through the ranks quickly. He reached the national level at the age of ten, and raced shifter karts at age 12. He continued to race at the top level of shifter karts for five years until 2011.
In 2011, at the age of 15, he switched to sports cars, where he mainly raced in a spec Miata. He raced the Miata across different series, starting off with the SCCA. Here, he earned reasonable success, in the form of two pole positions, four top-five finishes, and three podiums. A year later in 2012, he received his national license. This allowed him to make a big step-up to the SCCA Majors Tour, which is considered to be one of the highest divisions of amateur road racing. The most impressive feat was his ability to qualify for the famed SCCA National Championship Runoffs at every attempt. This is nothing to be scoffed at, as the competition is nicknamed the "Olympics of Amateur Road Racing." The SCCA played a big part in shaping Bilicki’s road course skill, something that can still be recognized in him today.
In 2016, it was finally time for his big break, as he got his big shot in the NASCAR Cup Series. Surprisingly, he achieved this through a Facebook direct message. One day he noticed a free spot at the NASCAR team Obaika Racing, for Road America. Thus, he decided to give it a shot, and guess what? He received a call-up! The car was not at all a good one. Following a crash in qualifying and a dead battery, his chances at a good weekend were out of the window.
He then did another few seasons until finally getting his first full-time season with Rick Ware Racing in 2021. Whilst not driving the best equipment, Bilicki made the most of it. He matched his teammate's average finishing position, whilst also having some standout races. On the 28th of August, in the Coke Zero Sugar 400, Bilicki got a finish of P10. This is his first ever top 10 finish. Some people might attribute it to luck, or the wrecks that happened around him. Although, you still have to avoid the wrecks and get into the right position, and Bilicki deserves props for doing so. His second-best finish came at the Indianapolis Road Course. The Wisconsinite showed his road course expertise, finishing P18. Overall, it was not the greatest season for Bilicki. Despite being full-time and having put in some good performances, he wasn’t happy with the car he was driving. In an interview with FOX6 News, he said: “I wouldn’t lie if I said that there were a couple races last year that just weren’t fun. Whether it was an ill-handling race car, or just not a great situation to be in, there were definitely some situations that weren’t fun.”
In 2022, he went back to a part-time role. With Spire Motorsports, he had a better car to chuck around the track. Despite not getting a top 10 this season, he still put in a few good performances, the standout performance being a 16th place finish in Atlanta. He had an average finish of 29th this season, this so far being his best season when he has competed in more than one race.
And now we come to 2023. Bilicki has signed for LiveFast Motorsports, and is doing some races in the Xfinity series. In the Xfinity series, he had failed to qualify for the season opener in Daytona, the same race in which he clocked a top 10 finish in the same car a year earlier. We now come to his outing at the Circuit of the Americas. Bilicki began with the Xfinity race. He was on for a top 10 finish before an unfortunate fuel issue forced him to pit every 5 laps. Bilicki went on to finish a respectable P28. In the Cup race, things were looking good as well. He was on pace the entire day, looking for a top 20, and battling Formula 1 champion Kimi Räikkönen for a big portion of the race. Unfortunately, due to some late race shenanigans, he finished P26. Nonetheless, he still got some recognition for a strong performance, having seemingly outperformed that car all day long.
Bilicki is a driver who rarely gets involved in incidents too. In the 88 Cup Series starts under his belt, he has only retired in 13 of them, seven for Rick Ware racing. Most of these retirements were also due to mechanical issues, and not incidents on-track.
Bilicki has the mindset of a businessman, having studied business whilst still racing Miatas, and he knows what he’s doing. Bilicki is the only NASCAR driver to run all his social media accounts himself. He also runs his own website, something he prides himself over. He always thinks about ways to attract sponsors, as that is directly correlated with a good seat in today’s world. He is also the only NASCAR driver from Wisconsin, a fact he uses to his advantage. He is sometimes praised as being the hope of Wisconsin. He has stated that this puts a bit of pressure on him, but he is happy to be able to attract sponsors with this fact.