Kelly scores NASCAR return with Joe Gibbs

Owen Kelly

Owen Kelly

Owen Kelly will return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series this weekend at Mid-Ohio as a substitute driver for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The 39-year-old Tasmanian has been recruited to replace Matt Tifft, who continues to recover from recent surgery to remove a brain tumour.

Kelly has one Sprint Cup and three Xfinity starts to his name, driving twice with JGR in the second-tier series in 2013.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Kelly.

“I’d prefer it to be under different circumstances in regard to Matt’s health, but the good news is that he is on the mend, so I’m happy to help out the No. 18 team and I look forward to working with (crew chief) Chris Gayle also.

“The last time I ran Mid-Ohio was with JGR so it should all be familiar.

“I’d like to thank Joe Gibbs and the entire team for giving me this opportunity.”

The colours that Kelly's Toyota will carry at Mid-Ohio

The colours that Kelly’s Toyota will carry at Mid-Ohio

JGR’s #18 Toyota enters the weekend at the top of the owners’ standings, winning as recently as three weeks ago in the hands of Kyle Busch.

Despite not working with Kelly previously, Gayle expects the former Supercars driver to be one of the front-runners at Mid-Ohio.

“I think the previous experience he has in an Xfinity Series car at this track and his overall road course racing experience will be a big advantage for us this weekend,” said Gayle.

“It’s always a little bit of an unknown working with drivers for the first time, but I feel like having Owen at JGR previously, helps shortcut this learning curve.

“Owen also has been around the shop for the last week, so we’ve been able to spend some time discussing Mid-Ohio and the Xfinity cars in general.

“I fully believe we should be one of the cars to beat at Mid-Ohio.”

Kelly is one of two Australians on the 40-car Mid-Ohio entry, joining Sydney-born Xfinity road course regular Kenny Habul.

Running one of the largest solar energy firms in the US, Habul is competing in all three road courses this year aboard a JR Motorsports Chevrolet following an off-season switch from JGR.

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