Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Small Team Storylines: Las Vegas

PHOTO: Michael Harvey @MrLester88
CUP SERIES
Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas

The current entry list includes 39 drivers for 40 spots, one spot short of a full field for the second week in a row.

Last week at Atlanta, Cole Whitt finished 20th, giving TriStar Motorsports its first back-to-back Top 20 finishes since May 1994.  The team will look to extend that streak to three races for the first time since the fall of 1992, when the late Bobby Hamilton ran 19th at Rockingham, 8th at Phoenix, and 12th in the historic Hooters 500 at Atlanta.  It will also be team owner Mark Smith’s 200th Cup Series start.  Florida Lottery, the team’s Daytona sponsor, is again listed for his #72.

With their first Cup Series start under their belt, Rick Ware Racing returns to competition this Sunday with Timmy Hill, the Daytona driver, behind the wheel.  It was at the Las Vegas track in 2012 that Hill gave Ware his first-ever Cup start, driving the #37 Poynt.com Ford a 42nd-place finish.  While the Spoonful of Music Foundation backed the #51 Chevrolet the last two weeks, as of this writing, no primary sponsorship has been announced.

Last Sunday marked the return of three-time LASTCAR Cup Series Champion Derrike Cope to Cup competition for the first time in more than seven years, and the short field gave Premium Motorsports’ #55 team its first start of the year.  While a broken power steering hose and tire issues left him 36th, the team finished under power and will again use the Chevrolet in Vegas.  The last time Cope started a Cup race in Vegas in 2004, his Arnold Motorsports #50 Dodge carried sponsorship from redneckjunk.com.  NASCAR intervened and had it shortened to rjunk.com.  No sponsor has yet been announced for this weekend.

Premium Motorsports’ Chartered car, #15, will be entered with Reed Sorenson behind the wheel for the second-straight race.  There is no listed sponsor for the car this week, but last Saturday cleaning service “The Maids” came on as a primary, swapping the car’s black scheme for bright yellow.

Corey LaJoie was a last-minute addition to last Sunday’s field, preventing it from being Atlanta’s shortest since 1976.  This week, LaJoie is already on the preliminary entry list with sponsorship from JAS Expedited Trucking on his #83 Toyota.  Fellow rookie and BK Racing teammate Gray Gaulding, who blew an engine late Sunday, is also listed in the #23 Schulter Systems Toyota.  Both will be making their Cup debut at Las Vegas.

As the team showed, Jeffrey Earnhardt’s silver-and-black #33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport / The Motorsports Group left Atlanta “without a scratch,” rebounding from a crash in Daytona to come home a quiet 33rd at Atlanta, eight laps behind.  Team brands Little Joe’s Autos and Curtis Key Plumbing are again listed as the car’s sponsors for Earnhardt’s second Vegas start.  He ran 33rd last year for Go FAS Racing.

Go FAS Racing’s current driver, Matt DiBenedetto, followed-up his sterling 9th-place finish in the Daytona 500 with a respectable 28th in Atlanta, keeping him 18th in the point standings.  Like Earnhardt, Sunday will mark his second career Vegas start, a track which saw him run 31st in 2016 for BK Racing.  Can-Am and Kappa are slated as the primary sponsors of the #32 Ford.

XFINITY SERIES
Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas

39 drivers are listed for 40 spots, which if unchanged would not only mark the XFINITY Series’ first short field of 2017, but its first since Mid-Ohio in 2014.

As of this writing, three teams have no listed drivers: the #24 Toyota fielded by JGL Racing, King Autosport’s #90 Cote / Gamache Truck Center Chevrolet, and RSS Racing’s second team, the #93 Chevrolet which came home next-to-last in Atlanta with Jordan Anderson driving.

Joey Gase and the Jimmy Means Racing team, left off the preliminary list last week, are listed this week.  Among those missing are Mike Harmon, whose #74 Dodge had engine trouble in qualifying, Morgan Shepherd, who entered both opening rounds in his #89 Chevrolet, Chris Cockrum’s #25, and Obaika Racing’s #97 with Stephen Leicht.  Obaika, whose entries have traditionally appeared late in the week, may make the field a full 40.

After putting Clint King in his #78 Chevrolet for the first two rounds of the season, B.J. McLeod climbs back aboard his flagship car, and will once again be teamed with last-place record holder Jeff Green in the #8 Chevrolet (who ran a strong 26th in Atlanta) and Daytona last-placer David Starr in the #99 Striping Technology Chevrolet (32nd on Saturday).  McLeod finished 27th in Las Vegas last year.

Timmy Hill is slated to run double-duty in Vegas, pairing his Cup run for Rick Ware with a return to the #40 Toyota entered by Motorsports Business Management.  Team owner Carl Long, 0-for-2 this season in attempts, will again drive the #13 Toyota.  As of this writing, neither car has primary sponsorship.

Jeremy Clements will have a familiar look on his #51 Chevrolet as RepairableVehicles.com returns as primary sponsor.  Curiously, according to the preliminary list, his is the only 2015 Chevrolet entered in the event – all 38 of the remaining entries are running 2017 models.  Clements’ best Las Vegas finish in five starts came last year, when he ran 20th.

JD Motorsports’ trifecta of Harrison Rhodes (#01), Garrett Smithley (#0), and Ross Chastain (#4) all finished in the Top 16 at Daytona, but ran just 24th, 25th, and 27th at Atlanta.  The trio return looking to break back into the Top 20.  Chastain’s #4 is listed with GK Services as the primary sponsor.

TRUCK SERIES
Next Race: April 1, 2017
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville

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