Thursday, February 23, 2017

CUP: Reed Sorenson’s battle for transfer spot ends with Premium Motorsports’ second-straight last-place finish in Duel Race 1

PHOTO: @NascarWorldNews
Reed Sorenson finished last in Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his unsponsored #55 Toyota was involved in a multi-car crash after 48 of 60 laps.

The struggles of Sorenson have matched those of the Open teams he’s driven for in the aftermath of NASCAR’s new Charter system.  At this time last year, Sorenson attempted to drive Hillman Racing’s #40 CRC Brakleen Chevrolet into the 500 field, but finished 21st of 24 drivers and missed the show.  He returned five rounds later at Martinsville to fill out the short Cup fields in a second Premium Motorsports car, and for the rest of the season finished no better than 22nd.  The lone highlight of the season came at Talladega in the fall, where he paced Round 1 of qualifying, but ended up 32nd after the team decided to make post-qualifying adjustments during the race.

This year, Sorenson and his new-bodied 2018 Toyota returned to the superspeedway in an unsponsored Open team.  The #55’s Charter, previously leased to HScott Motorsports, had now been sold to Furniture Row Racing to give rookie Erik Jones a guaranteed starting spot in the team’s new second car.  This again made qualifying critical as the top two Open teams would be locked in on speed.  Sorenson put up the 38th-fastest time in opening practice, besting three Open teams, and in qualifying ran a lap of 187.332mph.

The time trial lap ranked him 37th of the 42 drivers, third among the Open teams, and just three-tenths of a second behind Elliott Sadler for the second locked-in spot.  Thus, Sorenson would have to race his way into the 500 field, or count on the locked-in cars of Sadler and Brendan Gaughan to race in.

Sorenson’s lap placed him 19th on the 21-car grid for Thursday’s Duel Race 1, but a transmission change sent him to the back of the field.  This proved critical because the Open team he needed to beat was waiting for him.

Qualifying last in the field for Race 1 was Corey LaJoie.  The son of two-time XFINITY Series champion Randy, LaJoie secured a ride in BK Racing’s #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota, previously driven by Matt DiBenedetto.  When BK leased the #83’s Charter to TriStar Motorsports’ #72 driven by Cole Whitt, LaJoie was unable to lock himself in on speed and needed to race his way in.  By the end of Lap 1, LaJoie had passed Sorenson, who was now 1.8 seconds behind the leaders.

On Lap 3, Sorenson passed the black #75 Beard Oil Chevrolet of Brendan Gaughan.  Locked into his first 500 field since 2004 on his qualifying speed, Gaughan lay in the back for much of the race, apparently intending to save his car for Sunday.  Gaughan lost touch with the lead pack and was 2.263 seconds behind the rest of the field by Lap 8.  He held the spot until Lap 12, when Joey Logano made an unscheduled stop for a vibration caused by a loose right-front wheel.  The stop cost Logano a lap.  On the 20th circuit, Logano worked over teammate Brad Keselowski to get his lap back, but when Kyle Busch rooted him out of the draft, Logano settled for the Lucky Dog on Lap 27.

Under the caution, the last spot bounced between Matt DiBenedetto, whose #32 EJ Wade Construction Ford was too fast on pit road, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who pitted his #17 Fastenal Ford after everyone else.  When the green flew on Lap 31, Brendan Gaughan had again taken the last spot, and was once again one second behind the field the next time by.  On Lap 50, Gaughan looked to nail down the first last-place finish for the #75 in the history of the Duels when trouble broke out ahead of him.

Sorenson parlayed pit strategy to try and lock himself into the field.  A fuel-only spot lifted him to the 7th spot, six cars ahead of LaJoie, and though he made light contact with the wall off Turn 1, the #55 managed to stay with the leaders.  On the 50th lap, LaJoie hadn’t moved forward, but Sorenson had slipped back to 13th, directly in front of the #83.  With ten laps remaining, the battle for the 39th spot in the 500 was set to heat up.  With a big push through the tri-oval from Kyle Busch, LaJoie looked to the middle lane, trying to make it three wide between Sorenson and Paul Menard.  But the hole closed and the two Open cars made contact.  Sorenson collided with Menard, then slid head-on into the inside wall.

While the new stretch of SAFER barrier added after Kyle Busch’s terrible XFINITY wreck saved Sorenson from injury, his spot in the 500 was no longer in his hands.  Frustrated, he had to wait until the end of Race 2 to see if his speed would be good enough to still get the backup car into the show.  Unfortunately for him, D.J. Kennington’s #96 Lordco / Castrol Toyota edged the locked-in Open car of Elliott Sadler in Race 2, bumping Sorenson from the race.  Kennington’s effort secured the two-time Pinty’s Series champion his first Daytona 500 spot in just his second Cup start.  Kennington will start 30th on Sunday.

Menard’s damaged #27 Menards / Peak Chevrolet managed to complete repairs in enough time to rejoin the race, one lap down at the finish, locking up 37th in the field.  Gaughan came home 19th, the final car one lap down, and will start 39th on Sunday.  LaJoie avoided damage in the tangle with Sorenson and Menard to finish 18th, one spot behind BK Racing teammate Joey Gase.  LaJoie will start 35th while Gase starts 33rd.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #55 in the Can-Am Duels since February 12, 1976, when Canadian driver John Banks’ #55 Banks Alignment Dodge crashed after 2 laps of Duel Race 1.  It was Banks’ only 500 attempt after three previous starts, including a last-place run in the 50-car field at Talladega in 1975.
*This was Sorenson’s first last-place finish in the Can-Am Duels, but the second in a row for Premium Motorsports.  Last year, Cole Whitt trailed Race 1 after a late-race crash.  This year, Michael Waltrip, the beneficiary of a Charter purchased from HScott Motorsports’ defunct #15 team, will keep Premium Motorsports in Sunday’s field.  The two-time 500 winner will start 32nd on Sunday in his 784th and final Cup start.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
21) #55-Reed Sorenson / 48 laps / crash
20) #27-Paul Menard / 59 laps / running
19) #75-Brendan Gaughan / 60 laps / running
18) #83-Corey LaJoie / 60 laps / running
17) #23-Joey Gase / 60 laps / running

CUP: Timmy Hill’s first Daytona 500 bid ends with engine trouble

PHOTO: @RickWareRacing
Timmy Hill finished last in Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel Race 2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #51 Spoonful of Music Foundation / Bubba Burger Chevrolet lost an engine after 29 of 60 laps.

Hill arrived in Florida for his first-ever attempt to make the Daytona 500 field.  In 48 previous starts, his best finish was a 22nd at Kansas in 2012, when he drove for Frankie Stoddard.  He made his Cup debut at Las Vegas earlier that season, driving for Rick Ware Racing in the #37 Poynt.com Ford.  Ware, a longtime car owner in road racing, XFINITY, and Truck Series competition, had attempted the 500 field that year with veteran Mike Wallace behind the wheel, but missed the show.  In the five years since, Ware continued to field XFINITY and Truck Series rides while Hill split time across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.

This year, Hill and Ware have reunited once more for Ware’s second Cup effort.  On January 20, it was announced the team will run full-time as an Open team with driving duties shared between Hill, Stanton Barrett, and road racer Kevin O’Connell.  The cars and equipment were acquired from Tommy Baldwin Racing, which scaled-back to a part-time operation to focus on a Truck Series effort.  The Spoonful of Music Foundation, a non-profit organization to improve the lives of ailing adolescents, signed on for SpeedWeeks, and Bubba Burger partnered with the team for this and at least a handful of other races.

Hill ranked 41st in opening practice, slowest of the six Open teams and second-slowest overall, ahead of Jeffrey Earnhardt for Circle Sport / The Motorsports Group.  The struggles continued in qualifying, where Hill anchored the charts with a lap of 184.102mph.

Hill’s lap put him last in the 21-car field for Race 2, though he was joined by Michael Waltrip’s #15 Aaron’s Toyota, sent to the rear due to a transmission change.  When the green flag dropped, Waltrip fell to the back entering Turn 1, but soon conceded last to Elliott Sadler.  Sadler, who like Brendan Gaughan in Race 1 had locked his #7 Golden Corral Chevrolet into the field on speed, was also pacing himself in the back, saving his car.  By the third lap, Sadler had lost touch with the leaders, 2.7 seconds behind the pack.

Joining Sadler behind the pack was Hill, whose #51 seemed to be struggling with speed.  On that same third lap, Sadler moved around him on the backstretch, and Hill slotted in behind.  By Lap 7, Sadler had left Hill behind, and his Chevrolet was now 15 seconds behind 20th-place Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #33 Little Joe’s Autos / Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet.  Hill linked up with Earnhardt, but continued to lose ground to the lead pack.  The 24th time by, the leaders caught and passed the pair in Turn 1.  When the competition caution fell on Lap 27, this gave the Lucky Dog to Earnhardt, pinning Hill a lap down for the final half of the race.

On the Lap 31 restart, Hill pulled down pit road with apparent engine trouble, then took his car behind the wall.  Not fast enough to get in on speed, Hill was the first driver to be officially eliminated from the 500 field.  Sorenson joined him after the last-moment heroics of D.J. Kennington.

20th in the final running order went to Ryan Blaney, who led three laps in the Wood Brothers’ #21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire 7 Auto Center Ford, but suffered damage in a tangle with Jimmie Johnson on Lap 43, leaving him 38th in the 500 field.  Erik Jones came home 19th and will start 36th, having rear-ended A.J. Allmedinger’s car in the chain-reaction caused by the Johnson-Blaney incident.  Jeffrey Earnhardt, the final car on the lead lap, will start 34th in the first restrictor-plate points race for The Motorsports Group’s Cup effort.  TMG secured a Charter through Circle Sport, who in 2016 partnered with Leavine Family Racing.  Waltrip rounded out the Bottom Five and will roll off 32nd.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #51 in the Can-Am Duels.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
21) #51-Timmy Hill / 29 laps / engine
20) #21-Ryan Blaney / 55 laps / crash / led 3 laps
19) #77-Erik Jones / 59 laps / running
18) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 60 laps / running
17) #15-Michael Waltrip / 60 laps / running

2/20/77: Fire and water - Bobby Wawak’s checkered past at Daytona

SOURCE: Daytona Beach News-Journal
On February 20, 1977, Bobby Wawak picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #32 Encyclopedia Britannica Chevrolet caught fire after 3 of 200 laps.  The finish came in Wawak’s 38th series start.

Wawak, a native of Villa Park, Illinois, made the move from drag racing to stock cars when he was 19 years old.  After six seasons of running competitively on short tracks like Mance Park Speedway and O’Hare Stadium, Wawak made the move to the national circuit, racing in both USAC and NASCAR.  His Cup debut came in the 1965 Southern 500 at Darlington, driving a #4 Mercury he prepared himself.  Wawak started 27th in the 44-car field, but came home 36th after early engine troubles.

Wawak’s second start in the series was yet another endurance match – the 1967 World 600 at Charlotte – and he finished a strong 13th.  His first Top 10 (a 10th) came that July at the third-mile bullring of Oxford Plains Speedway.  He finished the ’67 season 31st in points with a season-best 7th, again at Charlotte, despite making only 14 of the 49 races.  He also won a 25-lap qualifying race that at Rockingham that October, starting from pole and edging Neil Castles by two carlengths.

Following a brief departure from NASCAR, during which time he scored the 1974 late model title at the Illiana (Indiana) Motor Speedway, Wawak teamed with car owner John Gwinn for a 20-race stint in 1976.  The result was the best Cup season of the driver’s career: in the 19 races he made in the #36 Chevrolet, Wawak racked-up nine Top Tens and set a new career-best finish of 6th at Ontario, good enough for 22nd in the standings.  The duo continued their success into 1977, finishing 18th in the season opener at Riverside, then set their sights on Wawak’s first Daytona 500 start.

SpeedWeeks 1977 started on a promising note as Wawak made the Top 10 in qualifying, securing him the 5th spot in the first qualifying race.  But with ten laps to go, the engine on his #36 Encyclopedia Britannica Chevrolet let go, leaving him 25th.  Despite his initial speed, the finish put him out of the Daytona 500, one of 24 sent home from a gargantuan entry list.  Fortunately, the Gwinn team had a backup plan: they’d entered a second car, #32, driven by Georgia racer Henley Gray.  Gray, who made the field with a sterling 9th-place finish in Race 1, was by Sunday swapped out for Wawak.  Thus, Wawak rolled into the 17th starting spot in his #36, a new engine under the hood and the “6” hastily repainted into a “2.”

The 42nd and final starting spot that day belonged to another independent, New Jersey driver D.K. Ulrich and his unsponsored #40 Chevrolet.  But just three laps into the race, the caution fell for trouble in Turn 4.  As Wawak held fast in the middle of the pack, he suddenly spotted smoke, then flames inside the cockpit.  A fuel line had come loose, starting a raging blaze in front of the firewall.  Wawak turned his car hard to the left, slowing down as best he could, and climbed out while the car was still rolling.  As the flaming Chevrolet nosed hard into the inside wall, Wawak walked away in shock.  In photographs, he appeared unharmed, but for a pair of severely damaged gloves – except he wasn’t wearing any.  As it turned out, the flames left him with third-degree burns to both hands and his forehead.  The accident all but ended the practice of racing without gloves in NASCAR, which veterans claimed prevented them from having a good feel over the steering wheel.

“It was like sitting in front of a blow torch,” said Wawak.

Finishing 41st that afternoon was Johnny Rutherford (curiously, that year’s last-place finisher of the Indianapolis 500), whose #77 t.edwards Happy Legs Chevrolet suffered a vibration after 29 laps.  Road racer Elliott Forbes-Robinson, who made his Cup debut that day in Ferrel Harris’ #87 Rossmeyer Dodge, exited after 44 laps with engine trouble.  Blown power plants rounded out the Bottom Five with Canadian Roy Smith in Dick Midgley’s #29 Mercury Marine Chevrolet and prolific owner-driver Buddy Arrington in his #67 Sub-Tropic Dodge.

The accident curtailed Wawak’s 1977 season.  He returned at Martinsville, just two months later, but again finished last with rear end trouble.  From there, he fielded his own Chevrolets, running #74 and soon adopting a distinctive bright yellow paint scheme.  In 1981, he honored Louise Smith, the first lady in racing, by running the “Louise Smith Special” with her #94 on the door.  The next year, he led his first Cup Series laps, pacing the field for Laps 101 and 102 of the Southern 500.  He began to share his ride with other drivers, including road racer Jim Fitzgerald who in his Cup debut at Riverside in 1986 set an age record for oldest driver to start a race, a record he’d beat at the track one year later with Hendrick Motorsports.  After a difficult 1987 season where he finished no better than 19th in eight starts, Wawak again looked to the Daytona 500 for a rebound.  As in 1977, he would be entering two cars – John Linville, a Busch Series veteran (and father of DeLana Harvick), would run the #74 while Wawak ran #57.  And, again, near-tragedy would stop him short.

On Lap 6 of the first 125-mile qualifier, Wawak’s Chevrolet again lost fluid, this time spilling water beneath his rear tires.  Heading into the third corner, Wawak lost control and slammed hard into the wall.  “I never blacked out or anything,” he said.  “The engine dumped the water out and I went straight into the wall.  It happened on one of the fastest parts of the track.”  Wawak spent six days in the Halifax Medical Center with two crushed vertebrae in his back and severe eye injuries.  Curiously, it was during these same Twin 125s that J.D. McDuffie, whose gloves were stolen before the race, also suffered severe burns during his own serious wreck in Race 2.

“I’m not sure what’s on my agenda,” said Wawak in 1988, “I’ve got everything here a big budget team has to go racing but if I don’t find a sponsor, I’ll have to leave racing.”  Having all but lost sight in his right eye, Wawak never raced again, but did remain in the sport.  His team continued on through 1990, fielding cars for Randy LaJoie and Mike Potter at Dover and Pocono.  When the team closed, Wawak later worked for Hendrick Motorsports, handling show car duties for the team.  On April 17, 2004, Wawak passed away at age 64.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #32 at Daytona and the last at the track until July 5, 2003, when Ricky Craven’s Tide Pontiac crashed after 49 laps of the Pepsi 400.  The number had not finished last in Cup since March 30, 1969, when Dick Brooks’ 1969 Plymouth lost the engine after 38 laps of the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta.
*This marked the third, most recent (and hopefully final) time the last-place finisher of a Cup race was listed out with “fire” as the cause.  The previous two occurred on August 22, 1956 at the Norfolk (Virginia) Speedway to Joe Bill McGraw and May 6, 1962 at the Concord (North Carolina) Speedway to Rex White.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
42) #32-Bobby Wawak / 3 laps / fire
41) #77-Johnny Rutherford / 29 laps / vibration
40) #87-Elliott Forbes-Robinson / 44 laps / engine
39) #29-Roy Smith / 45 laps / engine
38) #67-Buddy Arrington / 51 laps / engine

SOURCES
Borden, Brett. “Unfortunate events force some stubborn drivers to change,” ESPN.com, May 22, 2008.
Kalwasinski, Stan. “Bobby Wawak,” ChicagolandAutoRacing.com
Kelly, Godwin. “For Wawak, 30 years of race driving ends in a heartbeat,” The Times-Journal, June 30, 1988.
the-fastlane.co.uk
YouTube – 1977 Daytona 500 Footage from the stands including crash and fire

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

CUP: Remembering underdogs of the Can-Am Duels (2001-present)

SOURCE: KrazyRiggs; Scott Riggs Fan Site
This Thursday's running of the Can-Am Duels at Daytona will see four Open teams compete for the final two spots in this year's Daytona 500.  Among them are Timmy Hill, who gave his car owner Rick Ware his only Cup start at Las Vegas in 2012, and Canadian star D.J. Kennington with start-up team Gaunt Brothers Racing.  These teams, and the "go-or-go-home" battle they'll wage, stir memories of others who came before.

2001 – Jeff Purvis
A journeyman driver with just 46 Cup starts at the time, Purvis stepped away from Cup in 1997 to focus his attention on what is today the NASCAR XFINITY Series.  There, he continued to have success with car owner James Finch and his Phoenix Racing Team, scoring two XFINITY victories at Richmond and Michigan.  In 2001, Finch eyed a return to Cup competition, looking to attempt the four restrictor-plate events as both he and Purvis did in ’96.  The team acquired at least one Ford from Bill Elliott’s owner-driver operation after Elliott joined Ray Evernham’s Dodge factory effort.  The car, painted white with a red roof and few decals, would again have Purvis behind the wheel.  But the 52-car entry list was stacked with fully-funded rides, and Purvis’ speed was good enough for 25th in the 26-car field for Race 1.  Needing track position when a late caution flew, Purvis stayed out along with Derrike Cope.  When the green came back out, the two cars slid back, but Purvis held on to finish 8th, locking him into the big show.  Unfortunately, an early tire failure left him last in the tragic 500.

2002 – Dave Marcis
The death of Dale Earnhardt weighed heavily on his friend and fellow competitor Dave Marcis, who decided to end his 35-year career with one more attempt to make the 500 field.  The ageless owner-driver (61 during SpeedWeeks 2002) had won five races in 882 starts and made an incredible 32 consecutive starts in the 500 from 1968 through 1999, all while wearing his trademark wingtip shoes.  Richard Childress Racing, who provided Marcis with cars in the latter part of his career, prepared him a silver-painted RealTree Chevrolet for his final run, but after missing the last two 500s, a starting spot wasn't guaranteed.  22nd-fastest in qualifying, Marcis rolled off 11th in Race 2, then actually gained four more spots to finish 7th, not far behind Childress drivers Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon.  Marcis earned the 14th starting spot in his final 500, but engine woes left him 42nd after 79 laps.  Marcis still owns the silver car today and fine-tunes it at his shop for land speed records.  

2005 – Kevin Lepage
When Morgan-McClure Motorsports couldn’t find a steady sponsor to replace Kodak Film, Lepage, the team’s 2004 driver, pieced together a partial Cup and XFINITY effort to get him through the rest of the year.  At Bristol that August, Lepage found his way to the unheralded R&J Racing, a single-car operation operated out of a tiny shop by team owner John Carter.  One of a handful of start-up teams to spring up during the offseason recession, R&J finished no better than 27th all season and weren’t expected to play a role in the following year’s Daytona 500.  Still, the team dropped a new Dodge Charger body on their #37, brought it to Florida, and after starting 20th in Race 2, rocketed up to a 3rd-place finish, more than enough to lock themselves into the 500.  But they weren’t done yet.  Lepage kept his nose clean on Sunday, earned a Lucky Dog on Lap 169, and caught the leaders in time to snag a 9th-place finish, Lepage’s career-best.  The $307,138 in winnings, combined with last-minute sponsorship from Patron Tequila, carried the team through the entire ’05 season, and Carter fielded Cup cars until the 2009 finale at Homestead.

2006 – Kirk Shelmerdine
Another underdog inextricably tied to “The Intimidator” was Kirk Shelmerdine, Earnhardt’s crew chief from 1982 through 1992.  Eager to try his own hand behind the wheel after a one-off driving for Childress in 1981, Shelmerdine left the team to pursue a career in XFINITY, Truck, and Late Model Sportsman Series competition.  He made his next Cup start in 1994, finishing 26th in a one-off for Jimmy Means at Talladega, and in 2002 started his own Cup Series team, Kirk Shelmerdine Racing (KSR).  Like R&J Racing, KSR started at just the right time, and with fields short, Shelmerdine was able to attempt the full 2004 season with limited funding.  “Attempt” was the proper word, for Shelmerdine’s #27 and #72 Fords never finished a race under power all season and the driver finished no better than 37th.  KSR made just three starts in 2005 before gearing up for an unlikely bid in the 2006 Daytona 500.  Though his black #27 did not have the current 2006 Chevrolet sheet metal, Shelmerdine ran 32nd-fastest of 58 drivers in qualifying, giving him an outside chance of locking himself in on speed.  When he finished just 21st of 29 in Race 2, however, it appeared he was going to be sent home.  But when Robby Gordon raced his Chevrolet into the first transfer spot, Shelmerdine was locked-in on speed – 42nd on the grid.  With tires purchased by Childress, whose winery was promoted on the car in exchange, Shelmerdine avoided the late-race carnage to finish 20th, his own career-best.  The effort, worth $272,008, allowed KSR to continue to attempt races through the summer of 2010.

2007 – James Hylton
Though he’s the only member of this list whose attempt did not result in him earning a spot in the Daytona 500, James Harvey Hylton cannot be forgotten.  Arguably the most successful independent driver in NASCAR history, Hylton had made 602 Cup starts from 1964 through 1993, including 15 starts in “The Great American Race.”  72 years young in 2007, Hylton had become a regular in the ARCA Racing Series, but surprised everyone by announcing in January his intent to make his first 500 start since 1983.  If he made the show, Hylton would break the record set by 65-year-old Hershel McGriff as the oldest driver to start a Cup race.  Like Marcis before him, Hylton’s car owner J.C. Weaver acquired a car from Richard Childress, a bright orange Chevrolet previously driven by Robby Gordon in 2004.  With his traditional #48 taken by defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, Hylton took car #58, and carried logos for, appropriately, Weaver’s “Retirement Living” network.

Hylton anchored the charts in testing and was second-slowest in time trials, besting Mike Wallace, who had mechanical trouble.  With a tremendous entry list of 61 drivers, this put Hylton 30th in the 31-car field for Race 1.  Just like Purvis in 2001, Hylton parlayed pit strategy to run as high as 8th on a restart with 11 laps to go, holding fast to the first transfer spot.  But when another caution forced a six-lap sprint to the finish, Hylton’s transmission broke, and he was shaken out of the draft.  He came home 23rd in the race, one of 18 sent home on Thursday.  Two years later, Hylton made a second attempt to make the 500 field, but when mechanical issues prevented his car from completing a practice lap, the team was forced to withdraw.  Hylton remained in ARCA through the 2013 season, and Brad Smith drove his Ford to a 17th-place finish in last Saturday’s Daytona opener.

2009 – Scott Riggs & Jeremy Mayfield
The recession that plagued the early part of NASCAR’s 2004 season returned with a vengeance in 2009, spawning another generation of start-up teams.  Eight of the 56 teams which showed up for SpeedWeeks hadn’t even existed just weeks before.  Among them were the cars driven by Cup veterans Scott Riggs and Jeremy Mayfield.  Like Lepage, Riggs impressed during the 2005 Daytona 500, finishing 4th for MBV Motorsports, but lost his ride following Tony Stewart’s 2008 purchase of HAAS-CNC Racing.  Mayfield was Riggs’ HAAS teammate that same season, but was released just seven rounds into the year.  Riggs landed with veteran crew chief Tommy Baldwin, who resurrected his XFINITY Series program into a start-up Cup team.  Mayfield acquired a handful of Toyotas and started his own team, Mayfield Motorsports.  Both drivers and teams struggled through the week – in fact, both Mayfield’s #41 All Sport machine and Riggs’ unsponsored #36 were the slowest in Happy Hour.  But in Race 1, Riggs finished 8th, second-highest among Toyotas, while Mayfield finished 9th in Race 2.  Both drivers not only made the 500, but would fill out Row 9.  Riggs finished 25th in the rain-shortened event while Mayfield wound up laps down in 40th.  While controversy later claimed Mayfield’s team and career, Riggs has raced in NASCAR as recently as 2014.  Elliott Sadler locked Baldwin’s team into this year’s 500 on speed.

2010 – Mike Bliss
“I wanna cry,” said the Oregon driver who finished 13th in 2007 Race 1.  After scratching and clawing his #49 BAM Racing Dodge through the pack, Mike Bliss had come just short of nipping Boris Said for a spot in the Daytona 500.  It was the latest in a series of frustrations.  After years of bouncing between Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series competition, Bliss landed his first full-time Cup Series ride in 2005 with HAAS-CNC.  He earned two Top Tens that season and led five laps, but his year was most known for being spun out of a win in the NEXTEL Open by Brian Vickers.  Following the near-miss in 2007, Bliss again focused on XFINITY, scoring his second career win at Charlotte in 2009.  The following year, Daytona called once more with an opportunity to drive Tommy Baldwin’s #36 Wave Energy Drink Chevrolet.  Bliss was fast in practice, but a crash totaled his primary car.  Forced to run the same car Riggs raced into the field the year before, the team got the car ready just in time to start 15th in Race 2’s field of 27.  And after 60 laps, Bliss jumped to 13th – locking him into the 500.  Though an early crash left him 42nd, Bliss’ excited interview after the Duels was clearly a career highlight.  “We’re in the Daytona 500 with this Wave Energy Drink car!” he said proudly.

2011 – Brian Keselowski
The image of two Dodges, locked at their bumpers in tandem draft, remains one of the most enduring in recent memory.  In back was Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing’s newest star, having climbed aboard the flagship #2 Miller Lite Dodge vacated by new teammate Kurt Busch.  In front, driving a white #92, was big brother Brian.  The Dodge, according to the eldest Keselowski, once belonged to Evernham Motorsports in 2006, and had a new body bolted onto it at the family’s Michigan shop, K-Automotive Motorsports.  The previous year, K-Automotive claimed the LASTCAR championship with driver Dennis Setzer, the team start-and-parking through the XFINITY Series season, likely in preparation for this jump to Cup.  The car was slow in every session, “it would not hunt,” said Brian, and was perhaps the biggest longshot on the entry list.  But younger brother Brad linked up early in Race 2, pushing the sluggish #92 from last in the 24-car field to a stunning 5th.  The Cinderella story attracted competing sponsorship proposals from Golden Corral and Discount Tire.  A brand-new engine was offered, but had to be turned-down because it wouldn’t fit the car’s old engine mounts.  Unfortunately, as so often happens in the 500, an early crash eliminated Keselowski, leaving him 41st.

2015 – Reed Sorenson
Most recently comes the strange tale of Xxxtreme Motorsports, aka Team XTREME Racing, and the up-and-down week the team endured.  Johnathan Cohen’s single-car operation first hit the track in 2012, debuting sharp-looking paint schemes with new sponsorship from No Label Watches.  The team brought on a collection of journeyman drivers, including David Reutimann, Scott Riggs, J.J. Yeley, and Timmy Hill.  2015 would mark the team’s first-ever attempt to make the 500 field, and they tabbed Sorenson, the 5th-place finisher in 2008, to drive.  Sorenson, just 31st of 42 in pre-qualifying practice, needed a strong performance in time trials.  What he got instead was a wrecked race car.  NASCAR’s ill-fated restrictor-plate group qualifying format wreaked havoc that Sunday, and Sorenson was in the wrong place at the wrong time in a tangle with Clint Bowyer.  It took a tremendous effort to get the next #44 ready for Thursday’s qualifying races, but the team pulled it off, and Sorenson lined up 20th in the 24-car field for Race 2.  After a green-white-checkered finish, Sorenson finished a strong 7th and ran 33rd in the 500.  Unfortunately, this was the twilight for Cohen’s team.  A bizarre race car theft at Atlanta, followed by financial woes, caused the team to close by summer.  Sorenson will again attempt Sunday’s 500, this time driving for Premium Motorsports.