There is a familiarity about some things, but Justin Marks freely admits that "it's almost as if it was another life because it’s been so long."
Marks, 34, returns to the NASCAR XFINITY Series for this weekend's Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, climbing behind the wheel of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet. It will be his first start in the series on a 1.5-mile track since 2011.
"There's a learning curve and there is a transition at play here," Marks said. "But I've been to every track on the schedule. I've got 60 starts in ARCA, almost 40 in Trucks and a handful, 13 XFINITY, starts.
"I've been to Las Vegas, but it was in a truck in 2008. So it's been eight years."
Primarily known for his road-course ability, Marks got a refresher course on the ovals last weekend, finishing 22nd in the Camping World Truck Series race atAtlanta Motor Speedway. This weekend's XFINITY race will be the first of what he says will be roughly one-half a season's worth of starts in a ride he will share with Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson.
CGR also fields the No. 48 full time in the XFINITY Series for driver Brennan Poole.
Last season, Marks drove just three XFINITY races and one Truck race. Between 2012-15, he competed in eight races, total -- two Sprint Cup, five XFINITY and one Truck.
"I think when that much time goes by, it's almost in a way like starting over," Marks said. "Maybe it all comes back a little bit quicker than if you were going there for the first time, but I have to approach these like I've never been there before because I've been out of the seat so long.
"Last week when I did the truck race at Atlanta, the biggest thing for me to sort of overcome, at least initially, was basically just to feel the load in the corners, the G-forces and the load on the tires. That's a sensation that you just cannot replicate in any environment other than being in the race car. I can go into fancy simulators and I can go on iRacing and watch all the onboard footage. I can find every bump and know exactly where the line is, what will happen with the car (during the course) of a tire run. But the one thing you just can’t replicate is the seat-of-the-pants feel of feeling that load.
"The first couple of laps at Atlanta, it almost startled me. I had forgotten … just how much force you are putting through the tires and into the racetrack. That's kind of where the learning curve is (for me), just feeling that again, 'OK, this is what it feels like.' "
Marks has two career Sprint Cup Series starts, both coming at Sonoma Raceway, with Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2013 and last season with Front Row Motorsports.
He has a pair of top-10 results in the XFINITY Series, finishing sixth at Mid-Ohio ('14) and seventh at Road America ('15).
Why the sudden move to an increased on-track schedule? In addition to the occasional road course efforts, Marks has numerous business endeavors outside the race car that have required his attention. With others in place to now help oversee those interests, the time was right to re-commit to his racing efforts.
"It's been in play for me for a couple of years to come back on the ovals in some sort of significant way," he said. "I'm not getting any younger.
"I had a race opportunity with a big sponsor, good funding with a good team in 2008 when I was in the Trucks with Germain Racing. Hindsight being what it is, I probably didn't take full advantage of that situation. I didn't do the study, I didn't put the time in, I wasn't as focused as I needed to be. I've had eight years to reflect on that missed opportunity. I have a much better perspective going into this."
The right situation to return required an opening as well as the proper funding. Until this season, the two failed to materialize simultaneously. Meanwhile, younger drivers continued to flow into the sport, and positions were filled.
"If I was ever going to come back, it had to be in the right situation," Marks said. "With the right team, sitting in (equipment) that's capable of winning every time it hits the race track.
"I've got some great relationships within Chip Ganassi Racing and its partners. That's kind of where I wanted to be, but for whatever reason there just wasn't an opportunity. Last year they had one car, the year before it was in the Turner-Scott Motorsports stable and I didn't have partner backing to do a significant program."
For his '16 effort, Marks will have funding from Katerra, a high tech construction group. "A great partner … willing to step up to the plate," Marks said.
"I feel like I'm ready," he said. "I'm at point where I can focus and dedicate myself."
The Boyd Gaming 300 is scheduled for Saturday, March 5 at LVMS (4 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN).