Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Small Team Storylines: Phoenix

PHOTO: www.morganshepherd.com
Camping World 500(k) at Phoenix

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

Derrike Cope’s return continues this Sunday, where he will be making his first Phoenix start since November 10, 2002, when he came home 38th in BAM Racing’s #49 Dodge.  As on that day, Cope’s Premium Motorsports #55 does not yet have sponsorship, and reports indicate the same for the following race in Fontana.  One of Cope’s best finishes came at Phoenix in 1995, where he finished a close 2nd to Ricky Rudd.

Reed Sorenson, Cope’s teammate at Premium Motorsports, will drive the #15 Chevrolet for the third-straight week, and is also looking for sponsorship.  Sorenson’s best finish in 12 Phoenix starts was a 12th for Richard Petty Motorsports in the spring of 2009.  Car owner Jay Robinson’s came in Canadian driver D.J. Kennington’s series debut – a 35th – last fall.

Cole Whitt’s streak of two consecutive Top 20 finishes ended at Las Vegas, where he came home 28th, three laps down.  Still, the driver sits tied for 23rd in points with Ty and Austin Dillon and is looking for more this Sunday.  Whitt’s best Phoenix finish was a pair of 25th-place runs in 2011 and 2015.  Car owner Mark Smith last entered a Cup machine here in 2013, when Mike Bliss’ “start-and-park” #19 Toyota finished 42nd with brake trouble.  TriStar’s best Cup run there came in 1992, when Bobby Hamilton ran 8th in the #68 Country Time Ford.  After back-to-back weeks of sponsorship from Rinnai, this Sunday’s #72 will carry logos for Standard Plumbing Supply.

Corey LaJoie picked up his first Cup Series last-place finish on Sunday, and is again entered on this weeks’ list, keeping it at 39 cars.  Sponsorship for his #83 Toyota is BK Racing Graphics, his third different backer in as many weeks.  Teammate Gray Gaulding, 37th last fall at Phoenix for The Motorsports Group, is back for his third-straight race in the #23, which will also carry new sponsorship from SunFrog.com.  Both companies will be making their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debuts.

Matt DiBenedetto came home 26th at Las Vegas in Go FAS Racing’s #32 Can-Am / Kappa Ford, and now stands 22nd in points, one point ahead of Cole Whitt and the Dillon brothers.  The same paint scheme is expected to run this Sunday, where the driver’s best finish was 20th in this race last year and the team’s best was 32nd with Joey Gase that same day.

Timmy Hill is listed as making his second-straight start for Rick Ware Racing, whose car’s sponsor is again to be announced.  Hill’s best finish in three Phoenix starts came driving the #32 Go FAS Racing Ford when it was fielded by Frank Stoddard, running 29th in the fall of 2012.  It will be Hill’s first start at the track since he finished last there for Premium Motorsports in the fall of 2015.

DC Solar 200 at Phoenix

39 drivers are listed for 40 spots, this time with Cup veterans off the list for the first time this season in this Dash 4 Cash event.  Again, if unchanged, Phoenix will mark the XFINITY Series’ first short field of 2017, and its first since Mid-Ohio in 2014.

Both owner-drivers Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd, each still looking for their first 2017 start, are again missing from this week’s list.  Shepherd’s team reported they have prepared their #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet in Las Vegas for a run at Phoenix, but are also collecting donations to help the effort at www.morganshepherd.com.  Also missing from the list is Chris Cockrum’s #25, absent since his 34th-place finish at Atlanta.

After missing the preliminary entry list in Vegas, not one but both Obaika Racing Chevrolets are on the list for Phoenix.  The team’s driver arrangement returned to what was planned during the Vegas weekend: Stephen Leicht in the #77 VroomBrands Chevrolet and Josh Bilicki in the #97.  Both are driving 2015 Chevrolets, which may account for some of the team’s struggles in Las Vegas.  There, the #77 was withdrawn for the third-straight week while the #97 struggled for speed before crashing on Lap 5.  Bilicki and the #77 are still looking to make their 2017 debut.

Jeremy Clements, driving the only other 2015 Chevrolet on the list, again runs RepairableVehicles.com on his #51.  His 26th-place run last week in Vegas was his best of the season, and his best in 13 Phoenix starts was an 11th in the fall of 2014.

Joey Gase makes his 10th Phoenix start on Saturday.  His best drives at the track in Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Chevrolet were a pair of 24th-place runs in the spring of 2014 and last fall.  An interesting statistic with Gase is that he has only failed to finish one of those previous nine Phoenix races – a transmission issue in the spring of 2013 – and has finished no worse than 33rd.

The restriction on Cup veterans at Phoenix appears to have included Jeff Green, who is not listed as driver of B.J. McLeod’s unsponsored #8 Chevrolet.  As of this writing, the #8 is the only entered car without a driver announced.  McLeod himself will again be in the #78, which he drove to his track-best 25th last fall, while David Starr will again drive the #99 Striping Technology Chevrolet.

Jordan Anderson pulled RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet behind the wall at Las Vegas, securing his first XFINITY Series last-place finish.  He is again listed in the Chevrolet for Sunday, and may again be making an early exit.

Motorsports Business Management team owner Carl Long is again entered in one of his cars, this time the #40 Dodge.  If the driver isn’t switched out, he will look to make his first race of the season.  Timmy Hill, who drove the #40 the last two races, is this week entered in the team’s #13 Toyota, and if he qualifies, will run double-duty for the second-straight weekend.  Last fall, Brandon Hightower earned MBM’s best Phoenix finish when he drove the #13 Dodge to a 26th-place finish.

One week after Martin Roy’s narrow escape from disaster at Las Vegas, Mario Gosselin is again the entered driver for his #90 BuckedUp Apparel Chevrolet.  The all-Canadian Gosselin team got its best Phoenix finish last fall, when Quebec’s Alex Labbe came home a strong 23rd in his series debut.

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

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