|Chuck Buchanan, Jr.|
PHOTO: FS1, Rubbin's Racin' Forums
STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway
There are just 38 drivers for 40 spots on the preliminary entry list for Sunday’s race. This is not only the fifth-straight Cup race with a short field, but if unchanged, will be the shortest Cup Series starting field since 37 drivers made the final Cup race at North Wilkesboro on September 29, 1996. It will also be the shortest Cup field at Martinsville since September 22, 1996 – one week before the Wilkesboro finale - when 36 cars took the green. The last 38-car Cup Series starting field was even further back: September 9, 1995 at Richmond.
Last year, it was this race at the Martinsville track that a four-race stretch of 39-car fields ended as Premium Motorsports entered its second Open car, the #55. This year, it is that #55 and driver Derrike Cope who are missing from the list. At Fontana, Cope and team edged Jeffrey Earnhardt in an unheralded battle for last, but as of this writing, Cope is not slated to make his first Cup race at Martinsville since 2009. Teammate Reed Sorenson, 34th at Fontana, is still entered in Premium’s #15.
Jeffrey Earnhardt and Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group come into Martinsville on the heels of back-to-back last-place finishes – and back-to-back new sponsorships. This week, the #33 Chevrolet is again listed with the team’s own backing of Little Joes Autos and Curtis Key Plumbing, but don’t be surprised if something is again on the hood by Sunday. Earnhardt finished 33rd in his Martinsville debut last fall.
Timmy Hill is set to make his first Martinsville start since a track-best 36th for Premium Motorsports in the fall of 2015. For the fourth-straight race, he will be behind the wheel of Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, which Hill placed 35th at Fontana. Hill’s car is one of seven cars that does not have a primary sponsor listed. Joining Hill on the “TBD” list are not only fellow underdogs Reed Sorenson and Cole Whitt, but also Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Phoenix winner Ryan Newman, and Erik Jones.
Like Jeffrey Earnhardt, Cole Whitt picked up sponsorship for Fontana from Southern California Chevy Dealers, their fourth different primary backer of the season. Whitt also came home with the car in one piece, albeit in 32nd place, the team’s second-worst finish of the year. Whitt’s best finish in six Martinsville races was an 18th for BK Racing in 2014. TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith last entered a car in the Cup race here on October 28, 2012, when Reed Sorenson made the LASTCAR headline in the unsponsored #91 Humphrey Smith Racing Chevrolet.
As reported by Nick Bromberg, BK Racing is responsible for 10 of 23 caution flags this season, including two critical late-race yellows at Fontana. Rookie teammates Gray Gaulding and Corey LaJoie are both entered this weekend at Martinsville, where cautions are already in abundance. Both are again listed with primary sponsors: Gaulding with SunFrog.com and LaJoie with RMC Events.
Next Race: April 8, 2017
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The Truck Series returns for the first time in nearly a month. In the past, the Martinsville short track has had some of the largest entry lists as newcomers look to cut their teeth on the national stage. But after 42 trucks in Daytona and 35 in Atlanta, just 32 are listed for this Saturday’s race – exactly enough to fill the field.
Among the missing? Tracy Lowe’s #1 TJL Motorsports Chevrolet, which attempted Daytona and made Atlanta. Mike Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet. FDNY Racing, and the bright red #28 Chevrolet fielded by Jim Rosenblum. The #45 Niece Equipment Chevrolet with which T.J. Bell made the race in Atlanta. Beaver Motorsports’ #50, which ran both at Daytona and Atlanta. Daytona starters Terry Jones in Mark Rette’s #30 Ford, Clay Greenfield in the #68 1-800-PAVEMENT Chevrolet, and the second Tim Self entry #32 (though Austin Wayne Self is still listed in the #22). Chris Fontaine isn’t entered in his #47, though his schedule usually revolves around superspeedways.
Also missing from the list is the combined Brandonbilt Motorsports and Martins Racing #44 entry. As of this writing on Monday afternoon, the effort is starting a Twitter campaign to attract a sponsor. If one is found, driver Brandon Brown will enter in a truck covered with more than 2,300 Twitter handles of those who retweeted the message.
Who IS on the list? Fan favorite Norm Benning. And if the list stays the same, the Pennsylvania veteran will be locked-into his first Truck Series start since last fall at Phoenix and his first at Martinsville since the spring of 2015. As of this writing, Benning’s #6 Chevrolet is one of eleven entries without an announced primary sponsor.
Four of those eleven sponsorless trucks do not have drivers listed, either. Top of the list is Rick Ware Racing’s #12 Chevrolet, destroyed at Atlanta after a splitter-related accident in the closing stages. Driver Jordan Anderson has continued to provide updates in his fan-backed www.sponsorjordan.com effort, including the team’s rebuilding of the truck. Whether it will be ready this Saturday, and whether Anderson will drive, has yet to be announced.
Mike Mittler’s iconic #63 Chevrolet finished 21st at Daytona with ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, but J.J. Yeley was bumped from the field in qualifying at Atlanta. No driver has yet to be announced for Martinsville. Also looking for a driver is new car owner D.J. Copp, whose #83 Chevrolet trailed the Atlanta field following Todd Peck’s early exit. The other is the Daytona last-placer, the #99 Chevrolet fielded by Matthew Miller and driven this year by Tommy Joe Martins and Austin Dillon.
Jennifer Jo Cobb, who in past seasons has entered a LASTCAR-contending second entry as a “start-and-park,” remains with just one truck on the list. This week, her #10 has new sponsorship from Spring Drug, which in previous years has backed the Truck Series attempts by Chuck Buchanan, Jr., who still seeks an elusive series debut. Four of Buchanan’s five Truck Series attempts have come at Martinsville, but he’s not on this year’s entry list – yet.
One underdog to watch will be Wendell Chavous, who’s quietly put together a workmanlike season. 15th in driver points after a 19th at Daytona and a 20th at Atlanta, Chavous is again entered in Premium Motorsports’ #49 Chevrolet, which is also looking for sponsorship. Chavous has one previous Martinsville start, a 27th for Mike Harmon in 2014.