Joining Kelly in his NASCAR Premier Division debut at the Cheez-It 355 will be the team’s engineer, Andrew Dickeson, born and raised in Melbourne (Victoria).
31-year-old Dickeson has been with Phoenix Racing for four years, starting in their shock absorber program and now in a role as engineer.
The pair have teamed up in the past when Kelly drove a V8 Supercar for former NASCAR racer Terry Wyhoon in Australia.
Now based in Charlotte, Dickeson doesn’t hide his enthusiasm about the opportunity to make Kelly’s racing dream come true this weekend.
“It’s a big weekend for the Australian motorsport industry as a whole,” said Dickeson. “It’s been six years since we worked together and I’m pretty proud to be a part of this story.
“It’s just funny how our paths have crossed again,” he continued. “Looking back at those days with Owen in V8 Supercars, Terry (Wyhoon) was a huge supporter and encouraged me to come over to the States and give it a go.
“As Owen will testify, it’s no different in my shoes as it is in his. The hardest part is getting in the door for that interview, when you get the opportunity, it’s up to you to make that impression and grab it with both hands.”
For Kelly, having an Australian in his corner in his step-up to the big stage adds an air of familiarity to his surrounds, which will make the challenge slightly less daunting.
“Andrew is a great guy and we get on extremely well. When you hear a familiar accent around the garage, it just makes the transition so much easier,” explained Kelly. “Andrew’s an excitable character and to see how much it means to him spurs me on even more.”
Kelly has been with the team preparing for two weeks, joining them just prior to the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, when AJ Allmendinger drove the Hendrick-built #51 to 22nd.
The car the 36-year-old Tasmanian will drive finished third at Sonoma last year with Kurt Busch behind the wheel.
According to Dickeson, the car has a good base-line setup for The Glen, the challenge will be familiarising Kelly with the additional power in the Sprint Cup car over the Nationwide machines he’s become accustomed.
Kelly is aiming for a solid performance.
“Obviously, I’m tremendously excited to be realizing a long held dream to have my name added to those that have started a NASCAR Sprint Cup race," said Kelly - who finished fourth in a Nationwide Series race at Road America earlier this year. "I am realistic with where we are going to be. I want to finish on the lead lap and do a good job for the team. If we can generate a result out of that it will be fantastic.
“The NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship is getting down to an interesting point now and the boys will be battling hard - I don’t want to be the guy that ruins someone else’s Championship.
“There are some of the best racers anywhere in the world that I’ll be racing against this weekend, so to be on the same track with them in the NASCAR Sprint Cup is a huge moment.”
The Cheez-It 355 will be conducted over 90 laps at the famed Watkins Glen road course in New York Sunday afternoon US time, early Monday morning Australian time.