Friday, February 16, 2018

PREVIEW: More entry list updates from Daytona SpeedWeeks

PHOTO: @BiltMotorsports
With the release of the Truck Series and XFINITY Series entry lists, this week’s weekend preview will feature updates since the announcements from our previous feature.

Friday, February 16, 2018
TRUCKS Race 1 of 23
NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Tommy Joe Martins

The current entry list shows 36 trucks for 32 spots, meaning that four teams will miss the show. This is six fewer than this race last year, when 42 drivers arrived to attempt the field.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-TJL Motorsports
Jordan Anderson, who drove for TJL last year, has entered his own team, the #3 of Jordan Anderson Racing. In his place will be J.J. Yeley with backing from the Motorsports Safety Group. UPDATE: B.J. McLeod qualified the #1 in place of Yeley.

DRIVER LINEUP: #4, #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
David Gilliland leads off Kyle Busch Motorsports’ team at Daytona, driving the #4 Toyota sponsored by Pedigree. Driving the #51 will be Dawsonville, Georgia’s Spencer Davis, looking to make his series debut in the #51 JBL / Sirius XM Toyota. The team’s third truck, the #46, isn’t entered at Daytona.

RETURNING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Norm Benning is back in his #6 Chevrolet, and eyes his first Daytona start since 2015, when he finished 14th.

NEW TEAM: #7-All Out Motorsports
The first of nine new Truck Series teams slated to make their debut in 2018 is All Out Motorsports, owned by Doug George. Driving the #7 Tru Clear global Toyota is Korbin Forrister, who rain a pair of races last year for SS-Green Light Racing with a best finish of 31st at Michigan.

RETURNING: #8, #87-NEMCO Motorsports
While John Hunter Nemechek prepares to share a ride with Kyle Larson in the XFINITY Series, he is once again running his #8 Chevrolet in the Trucks alongside his father Joe in the #87. Both trucks will carry sponsorship from Fleetwing.

RETURNING: #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb is back at Daytona in her #10 Chevrolet with Think Realty as sponsor. Cobb ran 18 of 23 races last year, but didn’t start any of the opening three rounds. Like Norm Benning, the last time she took the green at Daytona was in 2015, when she finished 18th.

Jim Rosenblum’s FDNY Racing has traditionally run the plate races, Charlotte, and Pocono exclusively. This year, they return to Daytona, looking to bounce back from a DNQ last year. Just like last year, the team has tabbed Bryan Dauzat to drive the #28 FDNY / American Genomics Chevrolet. Dauzat, age 58, finished 33rd in last Saturday’s ARCA race. UPDATE: It has since been reported that Friday will be Rosenblum's final NASCAR start as an owner, closing a career dating back to 1983.

NEW TEAM: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
While the entry list shows Maury Gallagher as the team owner of Josh Reaume’s #33 R-Coin Chevrolet (following the #33 that Kaz Grala drove for GMS last year), the truck will actually mark the debut of a two-car team, Reaume Brothers Racing. Reaume makes the move from Beaver Motorsports’ #50, which he drove for most of last season. A second truck, the #34, will join the effort later this season.

RETURNING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Restrictor-plate specialist Chris Fontaine returns to the superspeedway with longtime sponsor Glenden Enterprises on his Chevrolet (after running Toyotas last season). Fontaine finished 22nd in this race last year.

RETURNING: #50-Beaver Motorsports
Mark Beaver’s single-truck team ran 24th last year with 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil, and the pair have returned to Daytona this year. With Josh Reaume tending to his own team, it’s likely Kvapil will run more races than the five he did in 2017. The team's Daytona sponsor is Rhino Rush Energy Drink.

David Gilliland’s two-truck effort also makes its debut at Daytona with support from Kyle Busch for the team’s Toyotas. The #54 hits the track first with ARCA Racing Series regular Bo LeMastus slated to make his NASCAR debut. The 55-year-old LeMastus from Louisville, Kentucky finished 31st in last Saturday’s ARCA opener. The team's #17 truck is expected to join the effort later in 2018.

RETURNING: #63-MB Motorsports
Mike Mittler remains the series’ longest-running Truck Series owner, and has again fielded a #63 Chevrolet for ARCA legend Bobby Gerhart. Gerhart, who was shuffled out late in the ARCA race for a 12th-place finish, will carry longtime sponsor Lucas Oil on the truck.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Racing
Clay Greenfield is back in his own #68 AMVETS / Please Stand Chevrolet, looking to replicate his successful 8th-place run in his most recent start last fall at Talladega.

RETURNING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
The Chevrolet fielded by XFINITY Series owner-driver Mike Harmon is entered, and Cody Ware was announced as driver on Wednesday.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Driver turned broadcaster Parker Kligerman showed flashes of brilliance last year in his limited Truck Series and XFINITY Series efforts. At Daytona, he rejoins Charlie Henderson, the longtime NASCAR team owner who earned his first Truck Series win - and his first NASCAR victory since 1989 - with Kligerman behind the wheel at Talladega. The driver now aims for his second-straight plate race win.

DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
D.J. Copp enters his second season as a Truck Series team owner and has put Scott Stenzel behind the wheel of his #83 E2 Northeast Motorsports Chevrolet. Stenzel looks to make his first Truck Series start since 2014, when he ran seven races for MB Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02, #20-Young's Motorsports
Randy Young and Bryan Hill's twin white Chevrolets are back. The team has brought aboard Scott Lagasse, Jr. for another of his yearly attempts to run in the Truck and/or XFINITY opener. Sponsorship for Lagasse's #20 comes from the American Cancer Society. Austin Hill is entered as his teammate in the #02 Chevrolet.

MISSING: #99-MDM Motorsports
One of the most notable teams missing from this year’s list is MDM Motorsports, which broke through with their first win (though encumbered) with Darrell Wallace, Jr. at Michigan. This team was one of many collected in the Lap 2 accident that marred the start of the 2017 race, handing them a last-place finish. The team is expected to return this year, according to the current Owner Points chart.

MISSING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
MISSING: #36-MB Motorsports
MISSING: #57-Norm Benning Racing
Jennifer Jo Cobb has not, as yet, entered her second truck, the #0, which made 12 races this year. Also missing are the second entries belonging to MB Motorsports (#36) and Norm Benning Racing (#57), which were also used to help fill fields last year. The missing #57 is curious as last year’s driver Mike Senica has made several Twitter posts, including him in a new driver’s uniform.

CUP INVADERS: #4-David Gilliland

Saturday, February 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 1 of 33
PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: David Starr

The preliminary entry list shows 46 drivers for 40 spots, meaning that six drivers will go home after time trials. That’s a two-car increase from the 2017 running, which had two withdrawals to get it down to 44.

RETURNING: #15-JD Motorsports
After it was originally announced that JD Motorsports would not be entering their fourth car, the #15, until next week at Atlanta for Matt Tifft, the car is entered this weekend with NASCAR veteran Joe Nemechek behind the wheel. Nemechek drove for JD in the last two races of 2017, finishing 35th at Phoenix in the #15 and 27th at Homestead in the #01. Flex Tape will sponsor the car.

RETURNING: #25-ACG Motorsports
Chris Cockrum is back along with the Advanced Communications Group team led by Jeff Spraker. Cockrum eyes his first XFINITY Series start since last September at Chicago, where he finished 30th. He ran 28th in this Daytona race last year.

UPDATE: #35-SS Green Light Racing
Joey Gase’s return to the XFINITY Series will be under the Go FAS Racing banner, but it will be fielded by SS Green Light Racing, which also is entering Spencer Boyd’s #76 Grunt Style Chevrolet. A similar arrangement was done between SS Green Light and B.J. McLeod Motorsports last year, when they coordinated the #99 Chevrolet driven by David Starr.

NUMBER CHANGE: #36, #90-DGM Racing
Mario Gosselin’s DGM team (King Autosport) retains a two-car lineup in 2018 with the former #92 now the #36 to be driven for the entire XFINITY season by defending NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion Alex Labbe. Labbe has three XFINITY starts to his credit, most recently at Charlotte last May, where he ran 33rd. Most importantly, he has the Owner Points of the ##3 from Richard Childress Racing. He’ll be teamed at Daytona with Josh Williams, last year’s driver of the Gosselin #92, who this year drive the primary #90.

UPDATE: #38, #39, #93-RSS Racing
The rest of the RSS Racing trio was revealed this week. Jeff Green, already announced to make his return to the team, will once again drive the #38 Chevrolet he and Gray Gaulding helped debut last fall. At Daytona, the car will carry sponsorship from Night Owl Contractors, Inc. Driving the #39, once the team’s primary car, will be J.J. Yeley, who makes the move from TriStar Motorsports and attempts double-duty with the Truck Series. And, no, there will be no “start-and-parking” at Daytona – all three will attempt the full race.

NUMBER CHANGE: #40, #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s XFINITY Series team returns to action in 2018 with both of its cars. The #13 is now the #66, matching the team’s Cup Series car number, and will have Timmy Hill driving at Daytona. The #40, running the same number as last year, will see Chad Finchum behind the wheel, and has Owner Points from the #48 of Chip Ganassi Racing, Brennan Poole’s old ride.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
Whataburger, one of David Starr's sponsors from last year, has signed with his new ride for Jimmy Means at Daytona.

RETURNING: #54-NXT Motorsports
The new NXT Motorsports team (formerly NextGen Motorsports, which debuted late last season), has tabbed Gray Gaulding to attempt double-duty with the 500. The Toyota will be sponsored by VSI Racing.

RETURNING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Amid the many team and driver changes over the offseason, both owner-drivers – Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd – are back again in 2018.

MISSING: #14-TriStar Motorsports
Now starting their second Cup Series season, TriStar Motorsports has suspended operations of their XFINITY Series team after eight seasons and a best finish of 4th by Jason Keller at Talladega in 2010. The Owner Points have moved to the new #55 team of JP Motorsports, which obtained several Toyotas from TriStar.

MISSING: #33-Richard Childress Racing
The Owner Points of this team moved to the #36 of Alex Labbe for DGM Racing.

MISSING: #48-Chip Ganassi Racing
The Owner Points of this team moved to the #40 of Chad Finchum for Motorsports Business Management.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Austin Dillon, #18-Daniel Suarez, #22-Joey Logano, #42-Kyle Larson, #88-Chase Elliott, #98-Aric Almirola

Sunday, February 18, 2018
CUP Race 1 of 36
Daytona 500 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Matt Kenseth

Still 40 cars for 40 spots – barely. TriStar Motorsports struggled to get their #72 for Corey LaJoie to the garage in time for sign-in day, and according to Bob Pockrass, arrived overnight just hours before the Saturday morning deadline.

The all-white #23 Toyota was unloaded in the Daytona infield without a driver’s name above the door, but on the night before his 20th birthday, Gray Gaulding was tabbed to drive. He arrived at the track in his uniform from last fall and prepared to drive. The team has remained on the edge all week – the car didn’t practice until the final two minutes of the opening session, couldn’t get through the engine phase of technical inspection and couldn’t qualify, sending him last in his Duel. Hours before the Duels, it was announced that BK Racing had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but is still looking ti keep the team going through its reorganization.

STILL MISSING: Landon Cassill
The second-most surprising spectator of this year’s SpeedWeeks behind Austin Theriault, the defending ARCA Racing Series Champion.

Car #66 holds the record for the most last-place finishes in Cup Series history with 51, five more than any other number. The most recent came with Timmy Hill at Dover last fall. The number’s first last-place run at Daytona came in the 1978 Daytona 500, when Harry Gant lost the engine after the opening lap. It was the first of Gant’s ten career Cup last-place finishes. Mark Thompson runs the number in the Daytona 500 this Sunday.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

CUP: Aric Almirola’s debut with Stewart-Haas Racing ends in bizarre accident in Duel Race 1

PHOTO: @dwmangum
Aric Almirola finished last in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #10 Smithfield Ford was collected in a three-car accident after 8 of 63 laps.

Late last season, it was reported that Smithfield Foods would end their six-year relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). The sponsor would follow Almirola, the team’s driver, to Stewart-Haas Racing, where he’d replace Danica Patrick as driver of the #10 Ford.  RPM would soon hire Darrell Wallace, Jr., who relieved Almirola following his back injury at Kansas, attracting piecemeal sponsorships for 2018.

Almirola started SpeedWeeks fourth-fastest among the Fords in opening practice (18th overall), then jumped to 13th in Sunday’s qualifying session with a lap of 193.386mph (46.539 seconds). The speed lined Almirola up 7th in Duel Race 1, alongside fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney.

Starting last in the Duel was David Ragan, who didn’t turn a lap in qualifying in Front Row Motorsports’ #38 Speedco / Love's Travel Stops Ford. Just moments after the green flag dropped, however, David Gilliland was already losing touch with the pack in Ricky Benton’s #92 Black’s Tire Ford. Soon to join him was polesitter Alex Bowman, whose #88 Nationwide Chevrolet pulled to the outside and was nearly collected by several drivers as he dropped to the rear. On Lap 2, as the field poured down the backstretch, Gilliland passed Bowman and gapped him by two-tenths of a second. Bowman and Gilliland joined Brendan Gaughan, Jeffrey Earnhardt, and Justin Marks in a five-car pack that trailed the rest of the field. With exactly 40 cars for 40 spots, nobody would not be sent home after the Duels, likely the reason that this group stayed in the back.

At first, the plan worked. The accident that sent Aric Almirola to the rear began with 6th-place runner Jimmie Johnson. Still shaking off his seventh-straight wreck in The Clash on Sunday, Johnson felt a vibration in his #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet entering the tri-oval. Johnson pulled low, only to lose control at the exit of the corner with a flat left-rear tire. His car cut right, directly into the path of Almirola. The collision stuffed Almirola’s Ford into the outside wall, and it dragged against the fence into Turn 2. Both Johnson and Almirola were towed to the garage with the trailing Almirola classified last. Daniel Suarez, who suffered minor right-front damage after trailing the pair, continued on in the race.

Despite the small field, the rest of the Bottom Five was filled by accidents. William Byron’s first competitive laps in Hendrick Motorsports’ #24 Axalta Chevrolet ended in almost the same spot as his teammate when he lost control at the exit of the tri-oval and nosed into the outside wall. 17th went to David Gilliland, who caught back up to the field, only to crash when Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. cut to his inside in Turn 1. Rounding out the group was Brad Keselowski, whose #2 Discount Tire Ford made a bid for the lead with three laps to go, but crossed the nose of a closing Jamie McMurray, stuffing him into the fence.

*This marked just the second time in the history of the Can-Am Duels where car #10 finished last. The other time occurred in Race 1 in 2004, when Scott Riggs crashed out in MB2 Motorsports’ #10 Valvoline Chevrolet after he slid into the Turn 2 wall.
*This was Almirola’s first last-place finish in a Can-Am Duel.

20) #10-Aric Almirola / 8 laps / crash
19) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 8 laps / crash
18) #24-William Byron / 38 laps / crash
17) #92-David Gilliland / 47 laps / crash
16) #2-Brad Keselowski / 57 laps / crash

CUP: Kyle Larson ensnared in backstretch pileup in Duel Race 2

Kyle Larson finished last in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel Race 2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 11 of 60 laps.

Larson’s career-best four-win season in 2017 came to an abrupt end in the season’s final weeks when an engine failure at Kansas knocked him out of an almost assured spot in the Championship Four. It also proved to be the sixteenth and final season that Target sponsored Chip Ganassi’s full-time Cup effort, bringing to a close one of the longest active owner-sponsor partnerships both in NASCAR and in open-wheel racing. In its place came Credit One Bank, which not only sponsored the final lap on NASCAR’s television broadcasts, but backed both Ganassi cars as an associate last year. Among the other brands signing on was DC Solar, coming over from Ganassi’s shuttered #48 team in the XFINITY Series.

Larson’s new blue-and-white Camaro ranked 10th in opening practice, but slipped to 22nd in qualifying with a lap of 192.238mph (46.817 seconds). The lap put Larson 11th on the grid for Race 2.

Starting last in Race 2 was Gray Gaulding, whose BK Racing team has provided one of SpeedWeeks’ most unusual stories. Reports of the team’s financials difficulties were confirmed just hours earlier when the team filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The team’s impending reorganization did not prevent them from preparing a single #23 Toyota, which arrived at the track last Friday without sponsorship – or a driver. On the night before his 20th birthday, Gaulding was tabbed to drive, and returning team sponsor Earthwater joined the team in time for the race. Like David Ragan in Race 1, Gaulding didn’t turn a lap in qualifying, though in Gaulding’s case it because the car’s engine failed technical inspection. Prior to the Duel, Gaulding ran just one lap in opening practice, which came in the session’s final two minutes.

On top of it all, Gaulding incurred a redundant pre-race penalty for unapproved adjustments, the same penalty handed to Matt DiBenedetto in the #32 Can-Am / Wholey Ford. Both cars had been re-wrapped between qualifying and the race, which may have been the adjustments noted by NASCAR. Also sent to the rear was 18th-place starter Mark Thompson, who missed driver intros for his first-ever Duel race. This ended up putting Thompson on the outside of the last row with Gaulding to his inside.

At the start, Thompson pulled ahead of Gaulding, but by the second corner, the two were locked in a side-by-side battle with Gaulding holding the bottom. By the third corner, Thompson had pulled back in front, though both were already a half-second behind the rest of the field. Gaulding, meanwhile, was 1.2 seconds behind Thompson on Lap 3, approaching more than nine seconds behind the leader. By the sixth circuit, Thompson and Gaulding were part of a four-car trailing pack similar to that in Race 1. Joining them were D.J. Kennington’s #96 Lordco / Castrol Toyota and the #72 Schulter Systems Chevrolet of Corey LaJoie.

On Lap 12, Gaulding had held last for the entire race, and was now 37.650 seconds back of the leader, three seconds back of Thompson. As with the trailing pack in Race 1, Gaulding was saved from losing a lap when trouble broke out among the leaders. Contact between Chase Elliott and Erik Jones coming off Turn 2 sent Jones into a spin, causing the rest of the field to check up. Among them was Larson, who was racing DiBenedetto near the back of the lead pack. DiBenedetto crossed Larson’s nose, hooking him into the outside wall. An instant later, Larson was turned into a spin, further damaging his own car. DiBenedetto managed to drive up to the entrance of pit road before stopping while Larson was towed from the backstretch. Gaulding stayed out to lead a lap during the ensuing yellow.

With Larson and DiBenedetto locked into the final two positions, the rest of the race ran caution-free. Gaulding and Thompson were among the first to lose a lap near the halfway mark, and both made pit stops. Gaulding came in first, and returned nearly two laps down. Thompson came in next, and after falling a third lap back, the Motorsports Business Management crew decided to pull the #66 Phoenix Air Ford behind the wall. Gaulding ended up five laps down, pulling his car onto pit road a second time as the leaders took the white flag. LaJoie rounded out the Bottom Five, two laps down, and on the same lap as Kennington in 15th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #42 in the Duels since 2007, when then-rookie Juan Pablo Montoya’s #42 Texaco / Havoline Dodge fell out with suspension issues after 24 laps of Race 2. As in Race 1, this was the only other time the number finished last in the event.
*This marked Larson’s first last-place finish in the Duels.

20) #42-Kyle Larson / 11 laps / crash
19) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 11 laps / crash
18) #66-Mark Thompson / 32 laps / vibration
17) #23-Gray Gaulding / 55 laps / running / led 1 lap
16) #72-Corey LaJoie / 58 laps / running

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie experienced tremendous highs and lows at Daytona

McDuffie lines up next to Dale Earnhardt's #3 at Daytona's
filling station, 1991
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
It’s well-known how significant a win in the Daytona 500 can be. But, as the season’s richest race, merely qualifying for the event can be a boon to the sport’s smallest teams. This was certainly true of J.D. McDuffie.

McDuffie made twenty-three starts in what is now the Can-Am Duels, and qualified for fifteen Daytona 500s. His first SpeedWeeks came in 1969, when he fielded the only Buick on the circuit. An 18th-place finish in the first qualifier scored him 36th on the grid, and he finished 39th when the engine let go short of halfway. He finished last in Race 2 of the 1970 qualifiers – steering issues after four laps – for his only last-place finish in the event. He never finished last in the Daytona 500.

Prior to the accident which took McDuffie’s life, the most serious accidents of his career both happened during SpeedWeeks. In the 1975 Daytona 500, the #70 slowed behind a pileup on Lap 4, but veered hard to the right and smashed head-on into the outside wall. The wreck left him with a fractured breastbone, among other injuries, and kept him in the hospital for more than two weeks. Then, in Race 2 of the 1988 Twin 125s, a collision with two other cars caused his Pontiac to burst into flames. His gloves stolen before the race, McDuffie spent even longer in the hospital, this time with third-degree burns to both hands.

McDuffie’s best finish in the Daytona 500 came in the famous 1976 race. Seven laps behind Richard Petty and David Pearson as they tangled for the win, McDuffie came home seventh. It was not only redemption for his serious crash in the race a year earlier, but was worth $11,260 of the race purse. It was the most he’d earn for a 500 finish until 1982, when an 11th-place finish earned him a track-best $15,235. He also participated in a single “Consolation Race” in 1984, a last-chance qualifier to make the 500 field. After starting outside-pole, he took the lead on Lap 2, but finished 4th of 25 drivers, narrowly missing the cut.

In his final nine attempts, McDuffie made the Daytona 500 just three times. In 1983, he drove an unsponsored Pontiac to a 22nd-place finish in the 35-car grid of his qualifier, squeezing him into the 500 field as the 37th starter out of 42. He finished 29th that day, out with engine trouble. In 1987, with added support of businessman Tom Winkle, he ran 18th out of 30 in his qualifier, putting him 38th on the 42-car grid. This time, he finished under power, 25th at the line, nine laps down to Bill Elliott. His final 500 start came in 1989, when he raced his way in. One year after suffering his burns, McDuffie avoided serious damage in a grinding multi-car accident to finish 15th out of 30 drivers. He lined up 29th and finished 24th, seven laps down, in Darrell Waltrip’s lone 500 win.

Though reaching the close of his career, McDuffie made these three starts despite huge entry lists. 29 drivers were sent home in 1983, including Morgan Shepherd and Rusty Wallace. 19 drivers missed in 1987, including Donnie Allison. Another 19 missed in 1989, including Kyle Petty and Jimmy Means. Petty ended up buying Eddie Bierschwale’s ride while Means’ sponsor Alka-Seltzer jumped on Buddy Arrington’s unsponsored Pontiac driven by Mickey Gibbs.

McDuffie made both qualifying races in 1990 and 1991, but finished just 25th and 21st, respectively. He was one of 19 DNQs in 1990 and one of 16 in 1991. His final qualifier was slowed by one caution, though he managed to finish on the lead lap in the event for the first time in a decade.