|PHOTO: Tommy Baldwin Racing|
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas
After five consecutive short fields, Texas will see the first 40-car starting lineup since the season-opening Daytona 500.
Rejoining after a one-week hiatus at Martinsville is Premium Motorsports’ second team, the #55, once again driven by veteran Derrike Cope. The yet-unsponsored #55 Toyota will carry Cope to his first Texas start in the Cup Series since April 9, 2006, when he finished 41st in Raynard McGlynn’s #74 myguardian911.com Dodge. Reed Sorenson, 31st at Martinsville after a flat tire sent him into a spin on Lap 335, is again entered in Premium’s #15, which is also looking for sponsorship.
Also returning is Tommy Baldwin Racing, absent since their 20th-place finish at Daytona with Elliott Sadler. This week, J.J. Yeley is the listed driver for what will be his first Cup start since the 2015 finale at Homestead, where he ran 34th for BK Racing, and his first for Baldwin since 2013. Yeley’s best finish in 14 Texas starts was a 17th in 2007, though he was also the outside-polesitter in the spring of 2006. TBR’s best finish at the track came in the fall of 2014, when Michael Annett came home 22nd. Accell Construction, Inc., a longtime backer of the Baldwin team, returns to back #7.
This weekend, Cole Whitt’s longtime sponsor RTIC Coolers moves to the primary backer of TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet. At Martinsville, Whitt turned heads on the track and in the booth, ultimately coming home 21st, the first car one lap down. Whitt looks to carry that momentum into Fort Worth, where his best finish in five previous starts was a 26th in 2014. If Whitt doesn’t DNF, it will mark the first time Mark Smith’s car has done so in a Cup race at the track following four “start-and-park” entries in 2012 and 2013.
Timmy Hill is slated to make his fifth-straight start in Rick Ware Racing’s #51, which last week at Martinsville came one spot short of equaling their season-best 32nd-place finish at Phoenix. Hill’s best finish at the Texas track was a 35th his last time out in the fall of 2014, when he drove for Circle Sport. The Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group #33 Chevrolet is entered as well with Jeffrey Earnhardt. Earnhardt avoided his third-consecutive last-place finish at Martinsville, but not his third-straight DNF, out after slamming the Turn 2 wall hard on Lap 392. Earnhardt’s best finish in two Texas starts came last fall with BK Racing, where he ran 34th.
BK Racing’s rookie duo of Gray Gaulding and Corey LaJoie are back once more, having made some progress at Martinsville. Gaulding spun on Lap 310, but finished 29th, his first finish inside the Top 30 in seven career starts. LaJoie came home one spot and one lap in front of his teammate in 28th, his best finish since a 24th-place run in this year’s Daytona 500. Both drivers will be making their first Cup starts in Texas.
Matt DiBenedetto left Martinsville with his first DNF – and his first finish worse than 29th – of 2017. The hard Turn 3 crash dropped him from 28th to 32nd in points. The Texas track has also proved challenging: in three previous starts, he’s finished 34th, 35th, and 34th. The preliminary entry list indicates the bright green Can-Am / Kappa paint scheme will likely return.
My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas
A preliminary list of 41 drivers are listed to attempt Saturday’s 40-car field, yet there are still teams missing that have attempted previous races.
Just as at Phoenix, neither Obaika Racing’s #77 for Josh Bilicki nor the #97 for Stephen Leicht have been entered. The last time out at Fontana, Mike Harmon was entered in his #74 Dodge while Morgan Shepherd’s #89 did not. This week, it’s the opposite: Shepherd is entered with returning sponsorship from Visone RV while Harmon has yet to be added. The two times Shepherd has finished an XFINITY race at Texas under power, he came home a respectable 28th. Based on prior performance, it’s likely that Harmon and at least one of the Obaika cars will be added later this week.
Six teams are listed with the sponsor “to be determined.” Two belong to B.J. McLeod’s team: McLeod’s own #78 Chevrolet and the #8 Chevrolet once again driven by last-place record holder Jeff Green. David Starr, still with Striping Technology on his McLeod #99 Chevrolet, finished a season-best 24th his last time out at Fontana. Two more yet-unsponsored cars belong to Motorsports Business Management, which again has Carl Long listed in the #13 Chevrolet and Timmy Hill looking for double duty in the #40 Dodge. MBM’s driver lineup has often changed between the preliminary entry list and race day, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that happens again. The other two of the TBD group are the TriStar #14 of J.J. Yeley, a driver who will be running double-duty with Tommy Baldwin in Cup, and Brandon Jones’ Richard Childress Racing #33.
The only car entered without a listed driver is King Autosport’s #90 Can-Am Chevrolet, fielded by Mario Gosselin. Martin Roy drove the car at Fontana to a 25th-place finish. At least one source has indicated that Truck Series driver Brandon Brown will be driving the #90 at Richmond later this month.
Dakoda Armstrong continues a strong start to the season in the #28 Toyota for James Whitener. In five starts this season, he’s finished no worse than 21st and completed all but one lap. Armstrong’s best XFINITY finish at Texas was a 10th in the fall of 2014 for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Jordan Anderson is entered in the #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet. If the team remains on “start-and-park” duty, is in position to score his fourth-consecutive last-place finish, joining Jeff Green as the only two drivers to do so.
Next Race: May 12, 2017
Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas