It's always darkest before the dawn: Why Julia Landauer deserves another chance in Xfinity
Julia Landauer's debut in NASCAR Xfinity - almost 2 years after her last stock car race - was off to a great start before being crashed out in Stage 1. While a lot of work went unrewarded to no fault of her own, here's why she deserves more outings in the series.
It was one of the most exciting and anticipated events of last weekend – and quite a big deal for women racers on the NASCAR ladder: two-time racecar champion Julia Landauer returned to racing after a year hiatus, making her debut in NASCAR Xfinity Series, the closest form of stock car racing to the highest Cup level. Landauer is not your typical NASCAR racer: having started in karting at 10, she moved into single-seater territory and became the youngest ever female to win a championship in the Skip Barber Racing Series at 14. Having stepped up to Formula BMW – one of the most propaedeutic series at the time – Landauer raced against some of the most elite formula talents that would later graduate to IndyCar and F1. That's when she switched to oval racing: in 2015, she raced Late Models at Motor Mile Speedway and became the first woman to win her division, before moving up to K&N Pro Series West one year later, finishing fourth in the points' standings. Landauer then opted to move North for the Pinty's Series, the Canadian-based NASCAR championship, where she had a top 10 finish in a partial campaign. In 2020 – in what was her last full-time season – Julia raced in the European NASCAR series: she became the first woman to score an outright podium and finished fifth in points – the highest ever for an American driver. After a full year spent putting together a deal that would bring her back into a race car, Landauer finally announced she would make her Xfinity series debut with Alpha Prime Racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Julia would drive the #45 Boss Beauties / GarageXYZ Chevrolet, in a pioneering sponsorship that brought Web3 and NFT communities – an interest that Stanford graduate Landauer has been exploring over the last few years – being associated with a NASCAR driver for the first time. "I'm super excited. I'm a little nervous, I'll be honest" – she commented prior to the event on Saturday. "It's been about 18 months since I've done a stock car race, so it is jumping at the deep end, but I've done as much preparation as I can with watching videos, looking at data and doing simulator work, as well as physical and mental training". A lot of work went into this weekend – so far, the only confirmed round on the driver's schedule. "We solidified mid-to-late May that it was going to happen - that's when I ramped up all my preparation", she explained in the pre-event press conference. "A good six weeks of head down, focusing on racing." "I feel like I'm going to learn a lot about what's different with these cars because I've yet to race them on a bigger track. I've tested once at Motor Mile, at my rookie test, but that was much shorter, so I think the speed is going to be a big thing, the braking is going to be a big thing, and just the caliber of the drivers." And the weekend was off to a good start: despite the little track time and the only 20-minute practice, the rust was off quickly and Landauer qualified in P32, earning her place on the grid. "There's an incredible sense of relief and excitement" – she elaborated, having just made it into the race. In a packed field of experienced racers, Landauer had a great start and moved up a couple of positions at the green flag on Saturday, before settling around P30 in the early stages. She focused on getting the laps in and building that crucial experience. Unfortunately, she soon fell victim of a contact with Justin Allgaier, who misjudged her position and hit the back of the #45 Boss Beauties / GarageXYZ Chevrolet and sent Landauer into a spin and against the pit wall. Albeit heavily damaged, she brought the car back into pit road and the Alpha Prime Racing's crew tried to send her back out - now several laps down. Now targeting some more mileage, Landauer though had a difficult car to handle and, towards the end of the first stage, she tagged the #78 machine of Matt Mills. With an already compromised race, her Xfinity debut came to an early end. "First NASCAR Xfinity race is in the books", she wrote. "We had some highs, like qualifying on time and passing cars in the beginning of the race! We had some lows, like getting crashed by a leader, doing my best with a broken car, and then making a mistake." "I learned a lot and am so grateful to my Team Alpha Prime guys for working hard to get me back on track all day. I jumped in the deep end and they helped me get up to speed. Major shouts to Boss Beauties NFT, Garage XYZ, and Penta ESP for sponsoring me in my debut, couldn’t have done all this without you." Justin Allgaier, who had caused the first accident, went on to win the race and apologized to Landauer for the contact immediately after the chequered flag. Mistakes are certainly part of the sport, across all levels. But Julia Landauer's DNF is one that hurts, because its effect goes beyond the single race result and sparks an uncertainty which is all too common for non-full time drivers. "Justin gets to race every week. One misjudgement and contact doesn't have much impact on his season or racing future", she later wrote in a statement that perfectly summed up the situation. "On the other hand, we had one race that we worked for months to get sponsorship for. Getting hit by a veteran (while being closer to the wall than the leader so I didn't interfere with their battle) in Stage 1 ruined our race, and I don't have a guaranteed next one. That moment of carelessness had a disproportionately bad effect on us." "I know it's racing, I know we run the risk of contact, but this was unnecessary and really hurt us as I was finding a rhythm, learning the car, and getting faster. That's why I'm so bummed." "I know Justin is a good guy and my team, partners, and I appreciated his apology", she said. Most of the casual race fans will not grasp the amount of work that goes into a racing weekend: months of networking and meetings are actually required to build fruitful business relationships. Even when budgets are secured, equipment and testing time are then making the difference. The tiniest error on the actual race weekend can invalidate all the team and partners' efforts and pressure is often so big that drivers undergo mental training as much as physical. When cars are ripped apart in the most spectacular crashes – it is often on to the next one, with the driver ready to bounce back a week later. But not for everyone: for somebody, that damage can be season-ending. Even when they do make it to the next round, part-time drivers are disproportionately hit by crashes: in a sport that is all about opportunities and track time, logging laps and learning the machinery is vital in their few outings. It wasn't all plain sailing for all the women at the highest spheres of NASCAR racing this year either. One of the most popular figures in the sport, Hailie Deegan had a terribly unlucky season in the Truck series, where she was mostly caught in third-party accidents and frequently crashed out. In one of her vlogs, she described the frustrating situation as spending time fixing race cars rather than improving them race by race. Natalie Decker, who has also appeared in five events in the Xfinity series in 2022, has battled with difficult equipment as well as the little track time. Landauer - a proven front runner in her last full-time campaign – deserves another chance as we haven't clearly seen the best of the 30 year-old New Yorker. "We are working really hard to lock in a few more sponsors to get some more racing this year, and I'm hopeful I'll see you on track again soon", she concluded. It's always darkest before the dawn – and we can't wait until the sun finally rises on the career of a racing driver whose determination and positive mindset has brought her up to this level of national competitions.