Cody Ware is trying to show NASCAR who he really is through improved performance and off-track efforts

Of all the drivers who have raced full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series in the last two years, none has experienced a steeper learning curve than Cody Ware. And subsequently, none has seen more significant improvements in both driving and results in 2022.

The son of car owner Rick Ware, Cody was used as the family team’s #51 driver beginning in 2021, though he made little more than sporadic starts in NASCAR’s top three divisions from 2014-2020. And 2021 showed that inexperience with just three finishes in the top 25 all year, no finishes better than 21st and six DNFs from falls in 32 races.

But almost halfway through the 2022 season, Ware and his racing team have been demonstrably improving, particularly over the past month: Ware had two top-20 finishes over the past month, finishing 19th at Darlington and then finishing 18th at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.

Overall, that’s just a modest performance increase. For Ware, however, it is a validation of the growth he has had as a driver and that his team has had after aligning with Ford and forming a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing.

“Looking back now, I almost don’t recognize the driver I was at the start of this season, and I definitely don’t recognize the driver I was last year,” Ware told CBS Sports. “I think it’s a testament not only to my hard work and effort, but also to the hard work and effort of everyone on the team who have given me the tools and resources to learn and grow. To be able to work with Ford and be on the simulator and learn a lot of things from the engineers at Stewart-Haas as well as our own engineers who are well versed with the information and data that we are now being given to work with being matched to a manufacturer have helped my knowledge base to grow.

“…I think I’m starting to have more confidence in myself and the position I’m in on the team and the series to really dig in and grow. And that’s what I’m really trying to continue – exponential growth. And hopefully the results will be more consistent and we’ll show more speed for the rest of this year.”

Compared to his rivals, Ware’s journey to racing in the Cup has been anything but straightforward. He dropped out of medical school to concentrate fully on the family business and driving racing cars, but his father’s finances were insufficient to give him expanded opportunities to develop in lower series. As such, Ware was quickly promoted to the Cup – probably too early by his own admission – while also gaining experience with racing sports cars and select IndyCar starts in 2021.

With 70 cup starts under his belt, Ware can now claim to have some experience driving at the highest level of stock car racing. The next step after that was building relationships in the garage space and gaining respect from his competitors — something not easy for Ware, who has been open about his struggles with anxiety and mental health issues.

Earlier this season, Ware made a concerted effort to break out of his shell by approaching Ricky Stenhouse Jr. about becoming a training partner. Stenhouse agreed, and Ware has since trained regularly with Stenhouse, rookie drivers Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton, and other drivers from the Xfinity and Truck series – something Ware believes has been a good experience and something that ties into a greater purpose.

“Coming straight from my fears and my mental health, I really wasn’t a very outgoing person, even on the track,” Ware said. “And so I’ve definitely withdrawn and protected myself to the point where it probably seems a bit distant from the outside.

“I think I can work with some of the guys who are at the next level of where I am and learn from them, train with them and just build a camaraderie in all of us trying to be a part of the Cup Series, I think that not only boosted my confidence but definitely showed other people who I really am – who the real Cody Ware is and the effort and skill that I can put in when given the right opportunity . “

Exactly who the real Cody Ware is is a moving target indeed. Much of the fan base he’s garnered is thanks to his online persona, as he’s open about his niche hobbies off the track, particularly his love of Japanese anime and video games — to curious minds he watches Tomodachi game and season three of attack on Titan.

Ware’s goofy online persona has helped him build a cult following, and it’s also helped him defuse any Twitter toxicity that comes his way. However, it has invited many people who don’t take him seriously or understand how far he went to get serious about racing.

“I’ve had passions and interests outside of racing my entire life, but obviously I’ve made the decision to sacrifice everything – from graduating my college years and losing a lot of friendships and relationships – to racing,” Ware said. “I think people have this idea of, ‘Oh, just because he’s joking and has a sense of humor and he’s a dumb guy, he doesn’t know how to flip a switch and put on the game face and race.’

“I get up at 7, 8, 9 every day, workout on weekdays and work my ass off with Ricky and these guys who do cross fit to be the best I can be physically. And on the race weekend, it’s game on. We don’t gamble with the amount of money we spend and the sponsors we have on board. It’s important that we mean business and do our best.”

Ware’s best performance and the results he’s had in two of his last four races came just in time for what seemed like an ideal time on his schedule. Beginning this week, four of the 11 races leading up to the NASCAR playoffs will be held on street circuits in Sonoma. And Ware’s extensive road racing background – particularly in the Asian Le Mans Series, where he became champion in the LMP2 Am division two years ago – suggests these races could be his best opportunity to compete and really demonstrate what will become of him Cup driver.

However, Ware and his team did not have much opportunity to build their road course program. Earlier this year, a steering rack issue limited what they could learn from the first road race at the Circuit of the Americas. And with the introduction of the next-gen car to the Cup Series, his focus as a racer has largely shifted to the courses he and his team must master from week to week.

“Honestly, if you had asked me about a stretch of road racing last year, I would have been a lot more excited than I am now,” admitted Ware. “…As a road racer, I’ve always enjoyed road racing. But I would almost say that, both from a team perspective and myself as a driver, at the moment where we are with the car and the season, I’m probably more of a oval racer than ever in my life.

“Obviously with the time we’ve had on all the different types of tracks with the next-gen car, not really counting a street circuit, we’re probably better suited to the ovals at the moment.”


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