Sunday, February 17, 2019

CUP: Casey Mears’ return to Cup competition ends with mid-race wreck

PHOTO: David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078
Casey Mears picked up the 5th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #27 Rim Ryderz Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car crash after 104 of 207 laps.

The finish, which came in Mears’ 489th series start, was his first in a Cup Series race since October 9, 2016 at Charlotte, 79 races ago. In Cup Series last-place history, it was the 26th for car #27, the 575th from a crash, and the 757th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #27, the 1,169th from a crash, and the 1,642nd for Chevrolet.

Daytona set the stage for a reunion between Mears and Germain Racing. The journeyman driver of the famous “Mears Gang” first climbed aboard Bob Germain’s #13 car in late August 2010, and helped grow the team from a part-time “start-and-park” program into a solid mid-pack contender, complete with continued sponsorship from GEICO Insurance. The relationship lasted more than six full seasons before Mears was released at the end of 2016 for rookie contender Ty Dillon, who has driven the #13 to this day.

GEICO stayed with Mears in 2017, backing a part-time XFINITY Series effort with longtime team owner Fred Biagi and the Biagi-DenBeste #98 Ford. At Fontana, Mears made his first series start since 2010 and finished a respectable 14th, then earned a pair of 9th-place showings at Richmond and Road America. But when Stewart-Haas Racing formed a partnership with the Biagi team last year, Mears was out, replaced by another group of young guns.

Mears was absent from NASCAR’s top three series through all of last year, and had no plans to compete in 2019. That changed on February 5, just five days before pole qualifying for the Daytona 500, when Germain Racing announced they would field a second “open” car alongside Ty Dillon’s flagship #13. The car, unsponsored at the time, was #27, and used a number font similar to that driven by Paul Menard when he campaigned one of Richard Childress Racing’s Chevrolets.

As an “open” car – one of six entered for the final four spots – speed proved critical. Mears started the Cup part of SpeedWeeks 19th in opening practice, then turned a single lap in the second session that put him 28th of 37 entrants. In qualifying, Mears ranked 26th overall with a speed of 189.849mph (47.406 seconds), edging Ryan Truex by less than three-hundredths of a second for the last spot locked-in to the 500 field on speed. Mears ended up falling back on that time with a 17th-place finish in Duel Race 2, and he thus secured the 40th and final starting spot.

By the time of the Duels, Mears picked up sponsorship from skateboard accessory manufacturer Rim Ryderz. The flat black Chevrolet with pink roof numbers was then changed slightly with the company’s logo on the hood and quarter-panels, a narrower number font similar to one of Donnie Allison’s old Fords, and a couple accents on the doors. Closing out the week, the new scheme ran 22nd of 38 drivers in the third session, then didn’t turn a lap in either of the last two practices.

On race day, Mears incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for Sunday’s race due to a transmission change, the same reason that Kyle Larson dropped to the rear in his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet. Joining the pair was Jamie McMurray, whose likely final Cup start in Spire Motorsports’ #40 McDonald’s / Cessna Chevrolet involved a drop to the back for a rear gear change. Mears remained behind the #40 and #42, who pulled to the high lane as they dropped to the rear on the final pace lap. Mears also dropped back from the pack, and was briefly joined by rookie Matt Tifft in the #36 Speedco Ford before Tifft resumed his spot a couple rows up.

When the green flag fell, Mears held last place, then pulled high alongside fellow Row 20 occupant Tyler Reddick. Reddick, the defending XFINITY Series champion, had also locked himself in on speed driving an “open” car from the Richard Childress Racing stables, a #31 Chevrolet sponsored by Symbicort. Mears worked his way past Reddick, then ducked in behind Cody Ware, making his first 500 start in his family’s #52 Winn-Dixie Chevrolet. Mears and Ware then slipped past Reddick, dropping the #31 to last at the end of Lap 1.

On Lap 2, the outside line began to move again, and Ware slipped to last. He then quickly lost touch with the pack, followed soon after by teammate B.J. McLeod in the team’s #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet on Lap 10. On the 13th go-round, Ware was then warned to watch for the approaching leaders, telling him to pull low, then move back up when he could find a place in line. On Lap 16, leader Matt DiBenedetto caught and passed Ware in his fast #95 Procore Toyota as the group entered Turn 3. As the group whisked past off Turn 4, Denny Hamlin nearly lost control as he pulled down in front of Ware. Hamlin would ultimately recover to win his second Daytona 500.

On Lap 17, Ware tried to slot into line ahead of a trailing three-car pack led by fellow “open” driver Brendan Gaughan in the #62 Beard Oil / South Point Chevrolet. Two laps later, Gaughan and the other two cars scooped Ware out of line, and the #52 was again losing touch with the draft.

On that same lap, the 19th circuit, Corey LaJoie drew the race’s first caution for the third straight Daytona 500. This time around, he drove for Go FAS Racing, a ride vacated by DiBenedetto before ultimately landing the #95 of Leavine Family Racing. Carrying one of designer David Marrero’s most unique paint schemes – one with LaJoie’s face covering the entire front valence – a right-front tire let go, destroying much of the space around the graphic’s right ear. LaJoie made it to pit road under the ensuing caution, then lost a second lap on the 21st circuit, dropping him to last behind Ware.

Unlike Ware, who again lost touch with the draft on the Lap 24 restart, LaJoie still had some success in keeping up with some of the cars, and found himself drafting the #15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet of Ross Chastain. LaJoie then worked his way past Chastain, and Ware and Chastain worked in tandem on trying to draft past the #32. The experiment was short-lived, as this time Ware lost touch with Chastain, and was 37.2 seconds back of the lead by Lap 44.

The first caution for an accident occurred on Lap 49. Near the front, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s #17 Fastenal Ford closed on the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet of Kurt Busch. With Stenhouse closing on the left-rear corner of Busch’s Chevrolet, the #1 suddenly spun out, scrubbing the apron before collecting both Bubba Wallace in the #43 Aftershokz Chevrolet and Jamie McMurray’s #40. All three cars made it back to pit road, but Busch and Wallace incurred the heaviest damage. On Lap 52, Wallace returned to action two laps down with the nose heavily taped. Busch followed soon after with a mangled left-rear corner. Both remained in front of LaJoie, now three laps down, when the race restarted on Lap 54, and was a fourth down by Lap 58.

Lap 62 brought the caution that ended Stage 1, allowing Wallace, Busch, and LaJoie the time to make extra repairs. The next time by, Wallace took last when his stop ran too long, dropping him four laps down onto the same circuit as LaJoie. On Lap 65, Wallace took the green flag ahead of McMurray and Tifft, who both split him on either side down the backstretch. It was from here on out that Wallace’s wounded car ran visibly off the pace, at one point losing a lap for each six to seven he’d completed. He lost a fifth circuit on Lap 74, a sixth on Lap 81, and was a seventh down by Lap 89.

It was on Lap 89 that Busch’s own damage caught up to him, the left-rear of his black car coming loose and flapping behind him. Now seven laps down on the same circuit as Wallace, Busch ran 40th for the first time in the race. Wallace retook last after a stop on Lap 91, at which point the driver was considering parking his car as the field was running so much faster. By Lap 97, Wallace was nine laps down, then ten on Lap 103.

Mears, meanwhile, was running in a separate draft along with Parker Kligerman in the #96 Toyota: Proud Sponsor of Team USA Toyota fielded by Gaunt Brothers Racing. On Lap 107, Mears was drafting Kligerman when the two made contact entering Turn 1. The two collided and spun, destroying the right-front of Mears’ car and the rear of Kligerman’s. As the two rolled down the backstretch under caution, Kligerman gestured at Mears before both made it to the pits. While Kligerman made it back onto the track, Mears pulled into the garage, done for the day under the Damaged Vehicle Policy. Mears was “unavailable” on Race View on Lap 109, then on Lap 115 took last from Wallace.

Wallace only climbed one more spot to 38th before he retired with crash damage. In doing so, he slipped past Ware, who along with McLeod lost control coming onto pit road on Lap 159, triggering a pit pileup that collected Reddick, Stenhouse, and Jimmie Johnson. Ware pulled behind the wall soon after, done for the day. Rounding out the group were Chris Buescher and Matt Tifft, both eliminated in the grinding Lap 192 pileup that decimated much of the field.

The same wreck put an abrupt end to a career race for Matt DiBenedetto. After showing speed in both qualifying and the Duels, the popular driver led the field for a race-high 49 laps, at one point weaving through two lanes of lapped traffic before a mid-race caution. He was still among the leaders when contact from Paul Menard sent him around, leaving him a disappointing 28th.

Surviving the chaos were Michael McDowell, who followed-up his strong Daytona showing last July to run as high as 3rd before he settled for 5th. Ty Dillon, Mears’ teammate, finished 6th in his second-straight Daytona points race, his two best career finishes to date. Ryan Preece expertly weaved through two of the race’s biggest pileups to himself threaten for a Top Five before taking a career-best 8th. And Ross Chastain closed out a weekend where he ran 3rd in Trucks and 13th in XFINITY with a career-best 10th. It was just the second Cup Series top-ten for team owner Jay Robinson and his first since the 2017 Daytona 500, where Michael Waltrip ran 8th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #27 in the Daytona 500. The number had twice trailed the July race at Daytona on July 1, 2006 with owner-driver Kirk Shelmerdine and July 6, 2013 with Paul Menard.
*The 104 laps completed by Mears are the third-most by a last-place finisher of the Daytona 500, edging Matt Kenseth’s 103 laps on February 26, 2017. The top two remain Kenny Wallace’s 141 on February 17, 2008 and Tony Stewart’s record 152 on February 18, 2007.

40) #27-Casey Mears / 104 laps / crash
39) #52-Cody Ware / 155 laps / crash
38) #43-Bubba Wallace / 169 laps / crash
37) #37-Chris Buescher / 190 laps / crash
36) #36-Matt Tifft / 190 laps / crash

1st) Germain Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


XFINITY: Slipped belt leaves Stephen Leicht last in placid Daytona race

David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078
Stephen Leicht picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Racing Experience 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #01 OPAV Experience It / BTX General Logistics Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues after he completed 24 of the race’s 120 laps.

The finish, which came in Leicht’s 100th series start, was his first in the series since last fall at Dover, five races ago. In the XFINITY Series, it was the 15th last-place finish for car #01, the 33rd from overheating issues, and the 520th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 32nd for the #01, the 171st from overheating problems, and the 1,641st for Chevrolet.

Last season saw Leicht run 17 of the 33 XFINITY Series races, his most since 2007. This time around, he drove for four different teams. He began the year teamed with Josh Bilicki at the start-up JP Motorsports team. He began the year with a season-best 15th in the Daytona opener, but parted ways after the season’s tenth round in Dover. A one-off for RSS Racing yielded a 39th-place finish at Iowa, then he ran the August events for Mike Harmon with a best of 31st at Bristol. He then closed out the season driving the #99 Chevrolet for B.J. McLeod, returning to the “start-and-park” doldrums that have plagued his career.

Leicht’s new ride at JD Motorsports promises to be his first full-time effort in the series since the same 2007 season, when he was a development driver for Yates Racing. The team’s best finish of 2018 was a 14th at Darlington with Landon Cassill, one of only two starts for the Cup regular. Curiously, Cassill came aboard after the team’s full-season driver Vinnie Miller was released late in the season, and followed Leicht to B.J. McLeod’s team.

A second NASCAR-mandated field reduction in six years made Saturday’s race the first time only 38 cars started an XFINITY Series race since June 21, 2014, when Kevin Lepage exited on the first lap at Road America. As it happened, exactly that many cars arrived in Florida to qualify for the event, meaning no teams were sent home. Leicht ran 26th in opening practice and ran 16th of the 22 who braved Happy Hour. He qualified 23rd with a speed of 184.22mph (48.854 seconds).

Starting in the last spot was Cole Custer, who put up the slowest lap in qualifying, then incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for an engine change on his #00 Jacob Companies Ford. Joining Custer at the back was polesitter Tyler Reddick, whose first start in Richard Childress Racing’s #2 Pinnacle Financial Partners Chevrolet began with a flat tire found after time trials. The same issue befell Max Tullman in Motorsports Business Management’s (MBM) #13 Zoomi Toyota.  Also falling back was Jeremy Clements, whose new-look silver #51 Chevrolet had unapproved adjustments.

A ragged start caused the back half of the field to unspool quickly into several broken packs of single-file traffic, allowing both Reddick and Custer to gain 17 spots in just three laps. By the end of Lap 2, the last-place runner became the #42 James Carter Attorney / Toyota driven by John Jackson.

Leicht overheating on pit road.
Jackson’s entry in the #42 would have been unthinkable before last year’s turbulent offseason. At season’s end, the number belonged to Chip Ganassi Racing’s XFINITY Series program, which was to be Ross Chastain’s full-season ride for 2019. But the fallout from the FBI’s raid of team sponsor DC Solar’s headquarters changed all that, causing the team to shut down. The number was then picked up by MBM, which tabbed Jackson to drive.

Keselowski after his roof hatch came off mid-race.
By Lap 5, Jackson was last by 15.228 seconds behind the leader, nearly a second back of his teammate Tullman in the #13. Jackson caught Tullman’s draft, and the pair linked up with fellow underdogs Mike Harmon in the #74 Air One Heating & Cooling Chevrolet and group leader Matt Mills in B.J. McLeod’s #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet (the result of a number swap with JR Motorsports, who acquired the McLeod team’s #8). On Lap 22, with eight laps to go in Stage 1, the single-file group was running the inside line headed into Turn 3 when the leading single-file draft caught and passed them up high. By that time, Leicht was two laps down.

According to Racing Underdogs, Leicht came down pit road for a missing power steering belt, which made the car virtually impossible to drive on the superspeedway. David PeQueen reported smoke from the pipes, as shown in his photograph, which signaled the overheating issue that ultimately sent the #01 behind the wall.

Trouble under the hood for Jeremy Clements.
Finishing 37th was Cup regular Brad Keselowski, who was out due to a likely first in NASCAR history – a roof hatch issue. From the early laps, Keselowski’s #12 Fitzgerald USA Ford had an issue with the edge of his roof hatch coming up at speed. Despite several attempts at repairs, the issue couldn’t be resolved. The flap finally came off around Lap 69, drawing a caution soon after, and the resulting damage forced the #12 to pull behind the wall.

The only other retiree was Jeremy Clements, whose new-look #51 Chevrolet had engine issues as early as Lap 37, then exited after 90 circuits complete. Harmon’s #74 spent several laps behind the wall after his crew had to push-start the Chevrolet on pit road, ultimately finishing 35th.
Gray Gaulding with damage and an awkward pit entry. 

Rounding out the group was Gray Gaulding’s new ride in SS-Green Light Racing’s #08 Chevrolet. Gaulding's day took a brief detour when he spun out in his pit stall, and PeQueen's photo caught damage to the left-rear corner where the TV panel had become separated.

Enjoying a fine run on Saturday was LASTCAR all-time leader Jeff Green, who worked his way up to the 6th spot with 34 laps to go, ultimately settling for 7th. Caesar Bacarella had a very fast car under him in his first start for Mario Gosselin’s DGM Racing, running inside the Top 10 early, and was still running there until he hit the Turn 3 wall with just three laps to go.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #01 since this exact race three years ago, when Ryan Preece’s Uptick Vineyards / Chevrolet was eliminated in a crash after 5 laps of the Powershares QQQ 300. Preece is now the driver of JTG-Daugherty Racing’s #47 Chevrolet, returning to the Cup Series for the first time since 2015.

38) #01-Stephen Leicht / 24 laps / overheating
37) #12-Brad Keselowski / 71 laps / roof hatch
36) #51-Jeremy Clements / 90 laps / engine
35) #74-Mike Harmon / 108 laps / running
34) #08-Gray Gaulding / 110 laps / running

1st) JD Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


TRUCKS: Natalie Decker’s truck series debut goes up in flames at Daytona

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
Natalie Decker picked up the 1st last-place finish of her NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when her #54 N29 Technologies Toyota was eliminated in a bizarre crash after she completed just 1 of the race’s 111 laps.

The finish, which came in Decker’s series debut, was the 2nd for truck #54, the 33rd for Toyota, and the 149th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 20th for the #54, the 308th for Toyota, and the 1,168th from a crash.

The 21-year-old Decker began racing go-karts when she was nine, and turned her attention to working her way up the ranks of stock car racing. A competitor in both NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity and the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development programs, Decker has cut her teeth in ARCA, claiming Rookie of the Year honors in the ARCA Midwest Tour, then finishing 11th in her ARCA Menards Series debut at Toledo in 2017.

Driving for Bill Venturini and carrying sponsorship from Wisconsin startup firm N29 Capital Partners, LLC, Decker’s best finish in ARCA have been a pair of 5th-place runs last year at Daytona (where she won the pole) and the Elko Speedway. She nearly improved on this run in her return to Daytona just last Saturday, when she finished 6th.

Friday’s Truck Series race would mark Decker’s debut in NASCAR’s top three national touring series. She’d once previously attempted to make a Truck Series race three years ago, missing the cut at Martinsville in a one-off effort for MAKE Motorsports. Her cousins Claire and Paige both made the race, finishing 27th and 25th in the 32-truck field.

Late last season, it was announced that Natalie Decker would drive part-time for David Gilliland’s two-truck operation, DGR-Crosley, in addition to three ARCA starts at Daytona, Talladega, and Charlotte. On Friday, Decker would drive the flagship #54 entry at Daytona with Gilliland himself in the #17. Decker began the weekend 16th in opening practice, 20th in Happy Hour, and made the final round of qualifying, starting 11th with a speed of 180.763mph (49.789 seconds).

Qualifying 32nd and last in the field was the #33 Chevrolet of owner-driver Josh Reaume, who along with teammate Jason White in the #34 Powder Ventures Excavations Chevrolet put up the two slowest times in qualifying. While Reaume secured his starting spot on Owner Points, White was sent home along with eight other drivers, including Travis Kvapil, whose Beaver Motorsports #1 Chevrolet was withdrawn on Wednesday.

Joining Reaume at the back of the field were 4th-place starter Harrison Burton, whose Kyle Busch Motorsports team changed engines on his #18 Safelite Toyota, and 20th-place Robby Lyons, slated to start 20th in Chad Finley’s #42 Sunwest Construction / Auto Value Chevrolet before an unapproved adjustments penalty.

When the race started, the back of the field stacked up in three-wide formation. Shaken from the formation was ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, who after a 13th-place showing in last week’s ARCA 200 was once again driving the #63 Lucas Oil Chevrolet. The #63 had typically been fielded by longtime team owner Mike Mittler, but due to an ongoing illness, fellow team owner D.J. Copp had taken a greater role in team operations, ultimately becoming the listed owner for Daytona. Gerhart held 32nd at the end of Lap 1 when trouble broke out in front of him.

Leading a trailing pack of trucks was the #28 Chevrolet of Bryan Dauzat, who was back along with FDNY Racing one full year after Jim Rosenblum had reportedly planned to close his team. According to a later report by Bob Pockrass, Dauzat saw a piece of debris come from under Joe Nemechek’s #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet (whether or not it was from the #87 was unclear). Dauzat ran it over and cut his right-front tire, sending him straight into the outside wall. Caught in Dauzat’s path was Robby Lyons, who was running the high line as he attempted to overcome his prerace penalty. Lyons continued on with the right side damaged, while last-place Gerhart narrowly avoided hitting the slowing Dauzat in the high lane.

Decker's truck pushed to the garage after the fire.
At that very moment, further up the rankings, both DGR-Crosley trucks suddenly slowed with flat left-front tires. Decker’s truck slowed first, and pulled to the apron as the left-front fender started to come apart. Gilliland, meanwhile, was heading the inside line closer to the front when he slowed on the banking, causing the following trucks to check-up. Gilliland managed to slow off the banking and get safely to pit road without much damage. Decker, however, saw the left-front fender continue to disintegrate. By the time she reached pit entrance, a fire started under the hood, forcing the driver to climb out in a rush. Decker climbed out uninjured as fire crews fumbled with the extinguisher. Several feet away, Dauzat’s night went from bad to worse when he ran over Billy Rock, his jack man. After a few tense moments, Rock was reported awake and alert as he was transported to a local hospital.

Dauzat was classified 31st when he pulled behind the wall after the pit road incident. Lyons made it past the ensuing restart before ultimately falling out to finish 30th. The next of the night’s many accidents quickly filled the Bottom Five. Tyler Dippel’s #02 Danda Concrete / Lobas Productions Chevrolet broke loose, ultimately collecting both Ray Ciccarelli’s #49 CMI Installations Chevrolet and the #47 Glenden Enterprises Toyota. All three were eliminated with Ciccarelli rounding out the group in 28th.

Several multi-truck accidents marred the night’s action, but did ultimately give several drivers some valuable TV time. Among them were Cory Roper, who made his first-ever plate start, and worked his #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford up to the 3rd spot, where he was running when he lost control in Turn 4 and slammed head-on into the inside wall. Joe Nemechek, who took over for his son John Hunter in the #87, ran as high as fifth before another wreck spun him into the grass, tearing off the splitter. Gus Dean, another standout from ARCA, ran near the front late in the going despite heavy damage to his right-front fender, only to see his #12 LG Air Conditioning Technologies Chevrolet be collected in still another pileup. Curiously, it was Austin Hill, a former driver of Dean’s team Young’s Motorsports, who would go on to win driving for defending series champion owner Shigeaki Hattori.

Only eight other trucks were still running at the finish. Among the survivors were Ross Chastain (3rd for Al Niece’s #45), Spencer Boyd (4th for Young in the #20), Josh Reaume (6th for his own team), Timothy Peters (7th for Niece in the #44), and Angela Ruch (8th in the NEMCO #8) who all earned sterling runs. Among them, it was Boyd’s first top-five finish in the series, Reaume’s first top-ten (after starting last), and Ruch’s first top-ten in only her second series start, her first in nine years.

*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #54 since last fall at Texas, when Bo LeMastus wrecked 2 laps into the JAG Metals 350. The number had never trailed a Truck Series race at Daytona.

32) #54-Natalie Decker / 1 lap / crash
31) #28-Bryan Dauzat / 2 laps / crash
30) #42-Robby Lyons / 16 laps / crash
29) #02-Tyler Dippel / 23 laps / crash
28) #49-Ray Ciccarelli / 27 laps / crash

1st) DGR-Crosley (1)

1st) Toyota (1)


Thursday, February 14, 2019

CUP: Rick Ware Racing sweeps Duel race last-place finishes with McLeod and Ware

PHOTO: Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images
Cody Ware finished last in Thursday’s Gander RV Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #52 Winn-Dixie Chevrolet finished under power after 58 of 60 laps.

Ware’s entry into the Daytona 500 came after his Cup Series plate debut last fall at Talladega, where he finished under power in a Cup event for the first time in his brief career. It was the third of four starts that year for the 22-year-old from Greensboro, North Carolina. His best run of the year came in the penultimate round at the ISM Raceway, where driver and crew overcame a wreck that destroyed their only car in practice and long hours preparing a borrowed Chevrolet from Premium Motorsports to ultimately finish a season-best 28th.

Ware would drive the #52 Chevrolet, a team he debuted last summer at the Sonoma Raceway. To guarantee a starting spot for the car, Rick Ware Racing acquired the Charter from TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet. One year after barely making it to the Daytona 500 in time to sign in, the #72 was not among the entrants for this year’s running. TriStar’s co-drivers Corey LaJoie and Cole Whitt have since gone on to different things with Whitt retiring at Phoenix and LaJoie moving to Go FAS Racing’s #32. In fact, the Winn-Dixie sponsored car that Ware was to drive bore a striking resemblance to the #72 that LaJoie ran last fall at Talladega.

Ware began the weekend 40th on the speed charts in opening practice and remained in the same spot in Sunday’s qualifying session with a speed of 183.737mph. This would put Ware 21st and last on the grid for Duel Race 1.

When the Duel race started, Ware slotted in behind Landon Cassill’s #00 Permatex Chevrolet, who started on the outside of the row in front of him. While he made the move quickly, Ware was already losing touch with the pack off Turn 2, and was two seconds back of the lead at the end of the lap. During that lap, Ware’s car was bottoming out nearly all the way around the track, sparks spitting from under the car as he continued to lose ground.

By Lap 9, Ware was a half-lap behind the pack, so far back that when Martin Truex, Jr. unexpectedly pitted by himself three circuits later, his #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota was able to rejoin the pack without falling behind Ware. It was on that same Lap 12, as the field exited Turn 4, that Ware pulled down pit road for a fuel-only stop. This made Ware and not Truex the first driver to lose a lap.

As the rest of the field pitted for fuel, Brad Keselowski incurred a controversial penalty for pitting outside the box, then his #2 Discount Tire Ford was docked a second lap after he sped down pit road. This dropped Keselowski back to 20th by Lap 17, when Matt Tifft’s own speeding penalty dropped his #36 Speedco Ford back to last. When Keselowski finally pulled off pit road on Lap 19, he took the spot from Tifft as he lost a second lap to the leaders.

For the rest of the race, Keselowski grasped onto whoever he could catch on the track. He soon caught Daniel Hemric in the #8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. The duo then caught a slowing Ryan Newman in the #6 Oscar Meyer Ford, and the three slipped past Cassill’s #00, who tried, but was unable, to keep up with the trio. Multiple laps down with other drivers only one circuit behind, Keselowski was unable to make up any ground when Kyle Busch spun on the backstretch for the race’s only caution on Lap 27.

On the restart, Keselowski made quick work of Ware, but was still one lap behind the #52. He once again drafted with Newman, then caught polesitter William Byron, who pulled out of line and ultimately finished just outside the Bottom Five. Slowly, the group closed the gap on Ware, who was again running by himself some distance ahead. With six laps to go, Keselowski’s group was in Turn 4 when Ware was at the stripe. Then, with three to go, Keselowski’s group caught and passed Ware off Turn 2, dropping the #52 to last. Ware ran there the rest of the night. As he did, he watched his water temperatures, noticing that the car was running cold.

No drivers fell out of the race. Keselowski remained in 20th with Tifft 19th and the damaged Kyle Busch in 18th. Daniel Hemric rounded out the Bottom Five.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #52 in the Duels since February 11, 1993, when during Race 2, Jimmy Hensley’s turn relieving Jimmy Means in the #52 NAPA Ford ended with an early backstretch wreck with Indy 500 champion Al Unser, Jr. as the pair raced down the backstretch after 10 laps.
*This was only the fifth time a driver finished last while still under power in a Duel race. The last time it happened was on February 20, 2014, when Brad Keselowski’s #2 Miller Lite Ford led 34 laps, then finished three circuits behind in Duel Race 2. A driver hadn’t finished under power in Duel Race 1 since February 17, 2000, when Bobby Gerhart ran three laps down in his #89 Kewadin Casinos Chevrolet.

21) #52-Cody Ware / 58 laps / running
20) #2-Brad Keselowski / 58 laps / running
19) #36-Matt Tifft / 59 laps / running
18) #18-Kyle Busch / 59 laps / running
17) #8-Daniel Hemric / 59 laps / running

PHOTO: Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images
Later that night, B.J. McLeod finished last in Thursday’s Gander RV Duel Race 2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet finished under power after 57 of 60 laps.

McLeod campaigned the Ware team’s flagship #51, which had already leased a Charter from Richard Petty Motorsports just last season. While also balancing the demands of his multi-car XFINITY Series team and driving other races in that series for JD Motorsports, McLeod started 14 of the 36 Cup races run last fall and earned a season-best 28th in the fall race at Las Vegas. By Loudon in July, the team acquired sponsorship from construction firm Jacob Companies, which would later become a brand partner with NASCAR itself. That sponsorship would carry over to SpeedWeeks.

Like his teammate Cody Ware in the #52, McLeod also struggled to find speed in practice and qualifying, running just under Ware’s times in 41st overall both sessions. His qualifying lap of 182.682mph was faster only than Joey Gase, whose run in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Medic Air Systems, Inc. / Fan Memories Toyota was another half-second off the pace. The speed put McLeod 20th of the 21 cars in Duel Race 2.

Gase’s #66 sat last on the grid, but would soon after be joined by Ross Chastain. Driving Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet in addition to efforts with Kaulig Racing in XFINITY and Al Niece in Trucks, Chastain had missed the driver’s meeting for the Duels and was penalized as a result. Coming to the start, two more cars dropped to the rear – the “open” rides of Casey Mears, who just picked up sponsorship from skateboard accessory company Rim Ryderz on his unsponsored #27 Germain Racing Chevrolet, and Brendan Gaughan, who needed to race his way in driving Mark Beard’s #62 South Point Casino / Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet.

On the break, Chastain remained in last, but unlike Ware in Race 1, managed to hang on to Mears running in front of him. On Lap 2, Mears and Chastain pulled past McLeod, who in turn caught back up to the pair and nearly cleared Mears once more on Lap 3. Further ahead, Gaughan and Gase raced side-by-side for the final transfer spot into the Daytona 500 field. Gaughan ultimately prevailed, and by Lap 8 Gase slid back between Mears and Chastain as the group lost touch with the lead pack. According to the team’s PR, Gase was struggling with the car bottoming out much worse than it had in qualifying.

Around Lap 15, Erik Jones entered the last-place battle. Just days after finishing last in the Clash, Jones’ #20 Sport Clips Toyota was tagged with a pit road speeding penalty and dropped back in the pack. That pack caught him by Lap 25, and he slotted into the faster group of machines as they continued on in single-file formation. This allowed Jones to join the rest of the leaders in lapping both Chastain and McLeod as they were lapped under the long green-flag run. Chastain briefly held the spot during this exchange before it fell back to McLeod.

By Lap 33, McLeod was a half-straightaway behind Gase, who had tumbled even further back to the 20th spot. Positions changed five circuits later, however, when Chastain slowed on the back straightaway as he lost a second circuit to the leaders. Completely by himself, Chastain lost a third lap just eight circuits later on Lap 46. Despite Chastain’s struggles, the cars in front of him lost laps at the same rate, allowing him to pass McLeod for 20th one last time on Lap 52, as the leaders took eight laps to go.

As in Race 1, no drivers failed to finish. Gase and Chastain remained on the same lap as McLeod to finish 20th and 19th. Gase failed to qualify along with Ryan Truex, who had been passed by Parker Kligerman late in Duel Race 1. The 18th spot fell to Michael McDowell, who pitted off-sequence in his #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford late in the Duel, costing him two laps. Mears rounded out the group, the last car one lap down.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #51 in a Duel race.
*This was also the second time in three years that teammates swept the last-place runs. In 2017, JTG-Daugherty Racing teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Chris Buescher were disqualified, taking away the last-place runs by Reed Sorenson and Timmy Hill.

21) #51-B.J. McLeod / 57 laps / running
20) #66-Joey Gase / 57 laps / running
19) #15-Ross Chastain / 57 laps / running
18) #34-Michael McDowell / 58 laps / running
17) #27-Casey Mears / 59 laps / running

Despite the issues, both McLeod and Ware are locked-in to Sunday’s Daytona 500, the first for either driver, and the first for Ware’s second team. Rick Ware will also be partnered with Spraker Racing as they look to secure Chris Cockrum a spot in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race. McLeod is entered in JD Motorsports’ #15 BT Global Logistics / Run The Race Chevrolet while his own team boasts Matt Mills (#5), Vinnie Miller (#78), and D.J. Kennington (#99).

PREVIEW: The ARCA invasion beefs up Truck Series entry list while the XFINITY Series struggles

Friday, February 15, 2019
TRUCKS Race 1 of 23
NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Travis Kvapil

It is now the Gander Outdoors Truck Series which takes to the track on Friday and an incredible 39 drivers set to contend for 32 starting spots in the season opener. But the title sponsor wasn’t the only big change in the series.

MISSING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Motorsports
TEAM CHANGE: #49-Ray Ciccarelli
A frequent driver of Jennifer Jo Cobb’s second team, the #0 Chevrolet, Ray Ciccarelli has made the jump to team ownership for 2019, fielding his own #49 Chevrolet. It is unclear as of this writing whether or not this is the same #49 Chevrolet fielded up to the end of last year by Jay Robinson of Premium Motorsports before Robinson closed his two-truck operation at the end of 2018. Ciccarelli’s Daytona entry will be sponsored by CMI Installation. Cobb’s #0 Chevrolet, meanwhile, is not entered, while Cobb herself will run her familiar #10. UPDATE: Per our own William Soquet, Ciccarelli's team is in fact the former Premium #49 team.

WITHDREW: #1-Beaver Motorsports
MISSING: #50-Beaver Motorsports
The preliminary entry list for Daytona appeared to show a reunification or number reclamation of team owner Tracy Lowe, who fielded the #1 in past seasons, and Mark Beaver, owner of Beaver Motorsports (the #50 formerly fielded by Beaver and Lowe under MAKE Motorsports). Lowe is still the listed owner of the #1, entered for past series champion Travis Kvapil at Daytona, but the truck was fielded under the “Beaver Motorsports” banner - that is, before it was withdrawn by Wednesday. Beaver’s #50, which Kvapil drove to an early exit in his lone truck start last year, is not entered. Camden Murphy closed out the season for Beaver by relieving Mike Harmon in the #50 at Homestead.

NEW SPONSOR: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister had a handful of solid runs in his partial 2018 campaign with new team All Out Motorsports. Driver and team are back to run the season opener this time, welcoming sponsorship from “Run the Race,” an upcoming film which boasts former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow as its executive producer.

DRIVER CHANGE: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
Joe Nemechek closed out the 2018 season as the LASTCAR Truck Series Champion, driving his #87 to help keep his underfunded organization going. Looking for more backing, Nemechek has since hired part-timer Angela Ruch to run the #8 at Daytona with JJ Resources as sponsor. Nemechek's son, John Hunter Nemechek, takes the controls of the #87 and eyes track time in preparation for Saturday's XFINITY race with GMS Racing (see below).

RETURNING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Also returning to the circuit is ARCA part-timer Codie Rohrbaugh, who debuted his team as owner and driver last summer with a 16th-place run at Bristol and a 17th at Texas. Rohrbaugh, who finished a strong 7th in last Saturday’s ARCA opener, looks to make his first NASCAR start at Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #12-Young’s Motorsports
Randy Young’s team continued to make headlines in early January when, on January 9, their new part-time third team was set to go full-time racing in 2019 with two-time ARCA Menards Series winner Gus Dean going for rookie honors. LG Air Conditioning Technologies will back Dean’s effort for eight races and serve as an associate for the balance of the schedule.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-ThorSport Racing
RETURNING: #27-ThorSport Racing
Following his surprising release from GMS Racing at the end of 2018, Johnny Sauter only just landed his old ride at ThorSport, returning to the #13 Ford previously occupied by Myatt Snider. Snider has himself moved to the team’s second truck – the #27 – whose only start last year was Chase Briscoe’s victory at Eldora. As with Briscoe’s effort, Snider’s will be a part-time campaign for 2019 as the young driver tweeted he will be focusing on his education and interest in aviation. ThorSport also enters a third truck this week, the #99 (see below).

TEAM CLOSED: #15-Premium Motorsports
TEAM CLOSED: #49-Premium Motorsports
Jay Robinson closed his Truck Series effort at the end of last season, removing his #15 Chevrolet from the field. Reid Wilson, who closed out 2018 for the team, is not entered, but will run Al Niece’s #45 in select races later this season (see below).

DRIVER AND SPONSOR CHANGE: #16-Hattori Racing Enterprises
Following Brett Moffitt’s release from the team after his incredible run to the 2018 Truck Series Championship, it was finally announced January 8 that Austin Hill will drive the #16 this year, bringing with him sponsorship from United Rentals. Hill had a quietly strong season 2018, completing his first full season 11th in points with a season-best 5th last fall at Texas.

RETURNING: #17-DGR-Crosley
David Gilliland will once again race his son Todd (in KBM’s #4) as he takes the wheel of his co-owned #17 Toyota. The elder Gilliland won the pole at both Truck Series plate races last year, finishing 21st at Daytona and 3rd at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
On January 7, it was revealed that Spencer Boyd would move from SS-Green Light Racing’s XFINITY Series effort to Randy Young’s #20 Chevrolet in the Truck Series. This truck was most recently driven by dirt tracker Tanner Thorson, who made 11 Truck Series starts in 2018, including the last six. Thorson is not entered for this Friday’s race.

Much to the driver’s surprise came Johnny Sauter’s release from GMS Racing on January 9, just over two years from his championship season in 2016 and a career-best six wins in 2018 before he finished 4th in the standings. At the time of the release, Sauter’s replacement was still to be announced, but by the next day, none other than Brett Moffitt was signed to drive for GMS, allowing him a chance to defend his series title.

TEAM UPDATE: #22-AM Racing
As reported by Chris Knight on February 5, Austin Wayne Self will run the full 2019 campaign with the AM Racing team in 2019, boasting a new technical alliance with GMS Racing. This is a change from last year, when the #22 was fielded by Al Niece. Self’s #22 earned a season-best 9th in the fall race at Las Vegas.

Following his release from Hattori’s #16 team, defending series champion Brett Moffitt landed at GMS Racing, taking over for Justin Haley in the team’s #24 Chevrolet. The full-time effort which carried Haley to his first career victory affords Moffitt the chance at defending his title.

MISSING: #25-GMS Racing
Mary Gallagher’s #25 team, driven for much of last season by Dalton Sargeant before the two parted ways, is not entered this week.

Once again, Jim Rosenblum’s team is back in action, a full year after it had originally been reported that the team was running its final race. Modified star Bryan Dauzat is once again the driver, following an 18th-place run for the team in Daytona, then a 9th at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
MISSING: #35-NextGen Motorsports (now Vizion Motorsports)
Steven Lane’s single-truck operation returns in 2019, and this time boasts former XFINITY Series driver Brennan Poole, who ran his first Truck Series races since 2015 for NextGen Motorsports, running 15th at Texas and 19th at Homestead. Poole takes the place of Jeb Burton, who ran the #30 last fall at Homestead. NextGen’s #35, now entered under Vizion Motorsports, is not entered this week.

RETURNING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Jason White (the Canadian racer, unrelated to the series veteran), who made his series debut last year, will rejoin Josh Reaume’s program this year, this time driving the team’s second truck at Daytona. Powder Ventures Excavations is the sponsor. The team last ran at Mosport, where Jesse Iwuji finished 25th. Team owner Reaume remains in the team’s flagship #33, taking the place of Robby Lyons, who drove at Homestead. backs Reaume's truck.

MISSING: #41-ThorSport Racing
NEW TEAM: #99-ThorSport Racing
Ben Rhodes slides over from ThorSport’s #41, which isn’t entered this year, to the team’s #99 Ford – a number previously fielded in the series by Matthew Miller’s MDM Motorsports. Rhodes looks to build on a strong 2018 season that saw him earn career-high marks in Top Fives (eight), Top Tens (13), and poles (3).

RETURNING: #42-Chad Finley Racing, Inc.
Chad Finley’s strong run in his team’s debut at Gateway last year was one of the biggest underdog stories of the season. His team announced on January 17 that it would return at Daytona, bringing aboard Robby Lyons to drive at Daytona. The truck will carry Lyon’s backing from Sunwest Construction on an identical white paint scheme to what the driver ran last year at Talladega. The team last appeared last summer at Bristol, where Finley finished 30th due to engine trouble, and now plans on running the whole season.

NEW TEAM: #44-Niece Motorsports
Al Niece will field a full-time entry, and at least for the first three races, will put series fixture Timothy Peters back to the series for the first time since last fall at Martinsville, when he ran 10th for GMS Racing. It also expands Al Niece’s team from two trucks to three for Daytona. The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation will sponsor Peters’ Daytona truck as the driver eyes his second victory at the track. Future driver plans for the #44 beyond these first races are coming together.

DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Niece Motorsports
After the fallout following the closure of Chip Ganassi Racing’s XFINITY team, Ross Chastain earned a ride with Al Niece’s #45 Chevrolet for Daytona with TruNorth as sponsor. Chastain, who takes Justin Fontaine’s spot in the truck, has performed just as brilliantly in the Trucks as he has with limited funding in both Cup and XFINITY. Just last year, he ran 7th for Premium Motorsports at Las Vegas, and earned a 12th at Bristol and 16th at Homestead, driving Niece’s #38 (which is not entered). The ride, however, is not full-time - Reid Wilson, who closed out the year for Premium Motorsports, has also been tabbed to drive for Niece, sharing the #45 with Chastain for the remainder of the year.

RETURNING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Chris Fontaine returns to the track for the first time since a savage wreck last fall at Talladega destroyed perhaps the oldest operating chassis still running in the series. Glenden Enterprises remains the sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Christian Eckes returns to the #51 team in place of last week’s ARCA Menards Series winner Harrison Burton, who closed out the team’s 2018 campaign in Homestead. Eckes, who ran strong for KBM’s team last year, came close to winning last week’s ARCA 200 before he was shuffled out of the 2nd spot on the final restart.

Natalie Decker is yet another ARCA Menards Series driver making the jump to the Truck Series this weekend as she takes the place of last fall’s driver Chris Windom in the #54 Toyota. Decker eyes her first Truck Series start, but it will not be her first attempt – she missed the cut for Martinsville in the spring of 2016 in a one-off for Mark Beaver.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Clay Greenfield and his single-truck operation are back in action this week, one year after a career-best 3rd-place qualifying run at Daytona. He aims to make his first start since last fall at Talladega, where suspension issues left him last in the running order. Rackley Roofing backs the truck.

TEAM UPDATE: #63-MB Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #83-Copp Motorsports
The last time we saw D.J. Copp’s team was at Homestead, when they withdrew following Todd Peck’s accident in practice. News then came on New Year’s Eve that Mike Senica, absent from the Truck Series since he was parked last spring at Martinsville, would be returning to the circuit with Copp’s #83. Copp refuted this claim, and both Senica and his sponsorship from Speed Clothing Company are not entered in this weekend’s race. Copp is instead the listed owner of the #63, which in the past has been fielded by longtime team owner Mike Mittler. After partnering with Mittler the last couple seasons, Copp appears to be taking a more active role in the team’s ownership. The Daytona entry, to be driven by ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, is listed under “Copp Motorsports” rather than Mittler’s “MB Motorsports.” Mittler himself continues to fight an ongoing illness.

RETURNING: #82-Mark Rette
One week after his ARCA Menards Series driver Grany Quinlan picked up a strong 3rd-place showing in the ARCA 200, Mark Rette aims to give his team its first Truck Series start since this event two years ago with Terry Jones. Driving his #82 Ford is Spencer Davis, who ran five races last year for KBM with a best finish of 7th in this race, followed by three consecutive starts where he qualified 4th.

RETURNING: #92-Ricky Benton Enterprises
Ricky Benton’s team returns, but in place of Parker Kligerman, who prepares to make the Daytona 500 with the Gaunt Brothers, Austin Theriault is the driver of his #92 Ford. Theriault’s lone Truck start last year was Las Vegas in September, where he ran a strong 8th in On Point’s #30 Toyota.

MISSING: #97-JJL Motorsports
Jesse Little and his family’s JJL team will not race at Daytona, and eye their season debut next week at Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Young’s Motorsports
Tyler Dippel was on January 18 revealed to be the full-time driver of Randy Young’s #02, previously driven by Austin Hill. Dippel parlayed a strong 13th-place run for DGM-Crosley at Eldora into a four-race stint for GMS Racing in the closing part of the year, finishing between 14th and 17th in each race, and completing all but two laps. Such consistency will serve him well in his first full-time NASCAR campaign.

Saturday, February 16, 2019
XFINITY Race 1 of 33
Racing Experience 300 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Austin Cindric

There are 38 teams entered for as many spots as the XFINITY Series scales back from 40 cars to 38 as a “full field” for 2019.

TEAM UPDATE: #0-JD Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #4-JD Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #15-JD Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #01-JD Motorsports
In the aftermath of Chip Ganassi Racing closing their XFINITY Series program, Ross Chastain will make at least three starts in his familiar #4 Chevrolet at Johnny Davis’ stables (in addition to another part-time ride with Kaulig Racing and a Truck Series effort with Al Niece). Chastain’s return apparently came after Blake Koch’s deal to drive the car fell through over the offseason. When Chastain then landed a part-time ride with Kaulig Racing, the #4 then fell to Scott Lagasse, Jr. in still another Daytona one-off with sponsorship from Rimrock Devlin. Lagasse will be joined by Garrett Smithley, once again in his “Number Nuthin” #0, and Stephen Leicht, who on February 2 was revealed as making the move from B.J. McLeod’s #99 Chevrolet to Davis’ flagship #01. McLeod will run the team’s #15 this week.

NUMBER SWAP: #1-JR Motorsports
MISSING: #5-JR Motorsports
RETURNING: #8-JR Motorsports
NUMBER SWAP: #9-JR Motorsports
News broke on January 25 that, in addition to Noah Gragson’s signing with the team to replace the retired Elliott Sadler, Gragson will drive the #9 instead of Sadler’s #1, and that Michael Annett will run the #1 instead of his #5. Justin Allgaier remains in the team’s #7. The #5 is now missing from JR Motorsports, replaced by a returning #8. A deal was worked out between JRM and B.J. McLeod, who ran the #8 last season. According to Dale Jr., the deal had originally been for the #8 to run at Darlington for a throwback paint scheme later this year, but NASCAR prohibiting number swaps meant the change would have to be made now instead. Thus, the #8 was set to make its season debut with Spencer Gallagher, who was originally set to retire from racing at the end of last year. The preliminary entry list shows Chase Elliott in the car instead.  Zane Smith, Jeb Burton, Ryan Truex, and Ryan Preece are among the other drivers scheduled to run the #8 later this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #2-Richard Childress Racing
With Matt Tifft moving up to a full-time ride in the Cup Series, defending series champion Tyler Reddick moves from JR Motorsports’ #9 to Tifft’s ride in the #2 Chevrolet. The team’s Daytona car will be sponsored by Pinnacle Financial Partners.

MISSING: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Curiously, RCR’s flagship #3 Chevrolet is not on the preliminary entry list for Saturday’s race. The car was driven for much of last season both brothers Austin and Ty Dillon, as well as development driver Shane Lee, who ran at Homestead.

NUMBER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
MISSING: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
On January 11 came news that B.J. McLeod’s team will expand from two to three full-time XFINITY Series cars in 2019. This originally included the #78 and #8, last year’s full-time entries, and the #99, which ran a partial schedule last year. That changed on January 25 when JR Motorsports announced the McLeod team worked out a deal for JRM to run the #8, later changing McLeod’s second car to #5 in a swap with JR Motorsports, which Matt Mills is set to run at Daytona. JF Electric and Thompson Electric will back Mills. The #78 goes to Vinnie Miller, who came over from JD Motorsports to run for McLeod last year. Among the drivers of the third #99 entry is Tommy Joe Martins, making a return of his own at Atlanta with longtime backer Diamond Gusset Jeans as sponsor on a Ryan Pistana-designed scheme. D.J. Kennington is entered in the #99, whose schedule will be filled out this year by McLeod himself and JA Avila, Jr., among others. Kennington's car will be sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts, which has backed his past Daytona 500 efforts.

RETURNING: #10-Kaulig Racing
Kaulig Racing experimented with a second car from their stables last summer at Indianapolis, and will bring a second team once again to Daytona. The persistent Ross Chastain will drive the car with Nutrien Agricultural Solutions as the sponsor of the #10 Chevrolet, and make his debut with the effort at Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Kaulig Racing
Teamed with Chastain in Kaulig’s full-time flagship #11 is Justin Haley, who last we saw at Daytona was denied victory in July for a controversial yellow-line penalty. Haley takes the place of Ryan Truex, who has a Cup ride for Daytona with Tommy Baldwin, with Kaulig’s Leaf Filter Gutter Protection as the continuing sponsor.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
Roger Penske’s part-time XFINITY effort returns at Daytona with Cup regular Brad Keselowski as the listed driver of the #12 Fitzgerald Ford.

TEAM UPDATE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
NEW TEAM: #35-Motorsports Business Management
MISSING: #40-Motorsports Business Management
NEW TEAM: #42-Motorsports Business Management
TEAM UPDATE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s team pledged to increase their focus on the XFINITY Series this year – and to Toyota - and has no less than four cars entered for this weekend’s race. In place of the #40 and Chad Finchum, who ran much of last year in the Smithbilt Homes livery, the team has picked up #42 (from the closed Ganassi effort) and brought back part-timer John Jackson to drive. The #13 team has Max Tullman entered, one year after his three-race stint as part-owner-driver of his #26 Ford (see below). Joey Gase’s #35, last year a Go FAS Racing entry, is this year under Long’s banner with Gase’s Cup sponsors backing the Daytona effort. Rounding out the group in the #66 is Timmy Hill with VSI Racing and Overkill Motorsports logos on the white Supra. The team no longer runs a Dodge as their car was expired by the rulebook at the end of last season.

TEAM CLOSED: #16-Roush-Fenway Racing
TEAM CLOSED: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
News broke on January 3 that both Roush-Fenway Racing’s XFINITY teams would be closed for next season, choosing instead to focus their efforts on Cup. This puts an end to Ryan Reed’s #16, which lost Lily Diabetes as a sponsor at the end of 2018, and the venerable #60, which had been active on at least a partial basis in the series since 1993.

RETURNING: #17-Spraker Racing / Rick Ware Racing
Chris Cockrum rejoins the XFINITY Series in his familiar #17 Chevrolet with returning backing from Advanced Communications Group. The Georgia driver’s most recent series attempt was this race last year, when he failed to qualify the #25. The preliminary entry list showed Rick Ware as the team’s owner.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Last year, Jeffrey Earnhardt and his backing from Xtreme Concepts, Inc., which backed his Cup efforts for Premium Motorsports and Gaunt Brothers Racing, made the jump to Joe Gibbs’ XFINITY program for 2019. Earnhardt will not drive Gibbs’ flagship #18 Toyota Supra at Daytona, the first of nine races scheduled for the driver.

NEW SPONSOR: #22-Penske Racing
Austin Cindric locked-down the #22 entry for 2019 after splitting the ride with the turbulent #60 Roush-Fenway Racing entry last season. MoneyLion, which signed with the team last year and closed out the season at Homestead, is again the sponsor.

John Hunter Nemechek landed the ride at GMS Racing in place of the retired Spencer Gallagher, and brought with him sponsorship from his Truck Series backer Fire Alarm Services, Inc.

MISSING: #26-Tullman Walker Racing
Max Tullman’s part-time operation, which made its most recent start last fall at Homestead, is not entered. Tullman is himself the listed driver of MBM’s #13.

TEAM UPDATE: #35-Motorsports Business Management
On January 16, it was revealed that Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management had hired Joey Gase to run full-time in the XFINITY Series, driving one of Toyota’s new Supras. The car will be sponsored by Gase’s longtime backer Eternal Fan, starting at Daytona. Gase makes the move from Go Green Racing, where he ran the #35 in XFINITY just last year.

MISSING: #35-Go FAS Racing
MISSING: #76-SS-Green Light Racing
RETURNING: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
RETURNING: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Announced at Texas on November 2, the SS-Green Light Racing team takes on a whole new look for 2019. As last year’s driver Spencer Boyd takes his Grunt Style sponsorship to the Truck Series, Gray Gaulding makes the move from Cup back to XFINITY with Texas-based sponsor Pure Global as sponsor. On January 25, it was revealed Gaulding will be teamed with Ray Black, Jr., who brings back SS-Green Light’s #07 Chevrolet. These cars will be entered in place of Boyd’s #76 (tied to 1776 for the patriotic Grunt Style sponsor) and the #35 Joey Gase drove last year under the Go FAS Racing banner (but prepared by SS-Green Light). Car #08 has only four last-place finishes in XFINITY competition, and none since 2012, when Tim Andrews dropped out at Chicagoland.

MISSING: #92-DGM Racing
Josh Williams slides over from Mario Gosselin’s #92 Chevrolet (which he ran at Homestead, but is not entered this week) to the #36 this year, taking the place of Canadian competitor Alex Labbe. This week's car is sponsored by Joe Froyo and All Sports Coffee. Caesar Bacarella remains in the #90, which he ran in last year’s finale.

MISSING: #37-RSS Racing
Josh Bilicki landed a new ride with Ryan Sieg’s team on February 3, taking J.J. Yeley’s place in the #38 Chevrolet. Bilicki, who makes the move from JP Motorsports, debuts new sponsorship at Daytona from Dr. Squatch Man Soap. Ryan Sieg remains in the #39, and has landed a sponsor from Code Rum for next week’s race in Atlanta. LASTCAR fan favorite Jeff Green will continue to run the #93, and will see C2 Freight Resources, Inc. return as his primary sponsor in Talladega. The RSS team’s part-time #37, which Green drove at Homestead, is not entered.

TEAM CLOSED: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
On January 4, just weeks after the FBI raided the home and headquarters of sponsor DC Solar, and one day after Roush-Fenway closed their two XFINITY teams, Chip Ganassi Racing announced they would close their XFINITY team. The closure put an abrupt end to Ross Chastain’s full-time effort, which was made official in November at the ISM Raceway following his win in Las Vegas.

TEAM UPDATE: #45-JP Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #55-JP Motorsports
After a very difficult start to their XFINITY Series program, JP Motorsports is expected to return for their second XFINITY Series season, per a February 5 report by Dustin Albino at However, neither team was yet shown on the preliminary entry list. Per the same source, their debut is still expected later this season.

TEAM UPDATE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
After no driver was listed in the days leading up to the race, David Starr was listed to stay with Jimmy Means' team, as he had last year.

MISSING: #61-Fury Race Cars, LLC
Kaz Grala and the upstart Fury Race Cars team are conspicuously absent from this weekend’s entry list, just months after their Stewart-Haas Racing show car had a fine showing in last July’s Daytona race. UPDATE: News came on Thursday that Grala has picked up a part-time ride in Richard Childress Racing's #21 Chevrolet this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
A variety of patriotic sponsors, headed by Air One Heating & Cooling, backs Mike Harmon this week as he regains his seat from Tim Viens, who was entered in his black #74 Chevrolet last fall at Homestead.

RETURNING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Chase Briscoe and the Biagi team are back in action – the driver for the first time since Homestead, and the team for the first time since a 30th-place showing in Kansas. Briscoe looks to build on his first series victory last fall on the Roval, and welcomes returning backing from pet food supplier Nutri Chomps.

CUP INVADERS: #8-Chase Elliott, #12-Brad Keselowski

Sunday, February 17, 2019
CUP Race 1 of 36
Daytona 500 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Corey LaJoie

The entry list remained at 42 cars heading into Thursday’s Duel races as both Obaika Racing’s #97 and the NY Racing Team’s #7 failed to present their cars by last week’s deadline.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #27-Germain Racing
Bob Pockrass reported that Rim Ryderz, makers of skateboard rims, will back the previously unsponsored second Germain Racing car. In qualifying, Mears locked himself into Sunday's race along with Tyler Reddick in Richard Childress' #31.

Now a team owner in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Bobby Dotter picked up the first last-place finish of his Truck Series career at Daytona on February 15, 2002. Driving the #08 he'd carried for most of his 209 starts as an XFINITY Series driver, Dotter's Albertson's / CDS Chevrolet lost the engine after 26 laps. The season marked Dotter's second and final full-time season in Trucks, and he rebounded from the Daytona issue to finish a career-best 14th in points.