Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond
For the seventh time in 2017 and the second race in a row, there will be a short field this Sunday. And for the second time this year (joining Martinsville, three rounds ago), it will be a season-low 38 cars taking the green flag. This marks the shortest starting field for a Cup race at Richmond since September 9, 1995, when 38 took the green in the Miller Genuine Draft 400.
Missing this week are both Derrike Cope and the #55 Premium Motorsports entry. Cope, who finished 34th in that 1995 race, steered clear of danger Monday at Bristol and finished a season-best 31st. It was his best finish since May 15, 2004, when he ran 29th at Richmond for Arnold Motorsports. As at Bristol prior to Monday, Cope has not run at Richmond since 2006, when he finished last for Raynard McGlynn.
Cope’s teammate Reed Sorenson in Premium’s #15 Chevrolet, Timmy Hill in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, and Cole Whitt in TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet, are the three teams which do not have sponsors listed for this weekend’s race.
Like Cope, Sorenson enjoyed his best run of 2017 at Bristol, finishing 28th, and Whitt flirted with his first Top 20 finish since Atlanta before settling for 21st, matching his standout performance at Martinsville. It was TriStar’s best Cup finish at Bristol since March 31, 1996, when the late Dick Trickle came home 8th driving the #19 HealthSource Ford during the Food City 500. Hill ended up 37th when suspension issues left them more than 50 laps behind in the garage before they called it a day. Hill’s best Richmond finish was also his only Cup start at the track, a 34th for Go FAS Racing in the spring of 2013.
Speaking of Go FAS Racing, kudos to Matt DiBenedetto, who finished a strong 19th at Bristol. Shades of his breakthrough Top 10 in the same race in 2016, DiBenedetto’s run was his second-best of the year and his first Top 20 finish since coming home 9th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Jeffrey Earnhardt finished 27th at Bristol, the best run for both driver and team at the track, and just one spot shy of matching Earnhardt’s season-best 26th in the Daytona 500. This week, Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group welcomes Towne Bank as sponsor of the #33 Chevrolet. Earnhardt’s best Richmond finish in three starts was also a 27th, which came last September.
ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond
42 drivers are slated to attempt this Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, and barring another rain storm, the same number will arrive this weekend.
Back on the list after withdrawing at Bristol is Tommy Joe Martins and his #45 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet. If he makes the show, it will be his first XFINITY start at Richmond since April 25, 2014, when he finished 36th in an unsponsored Dodge. Missing this week is Obaika Racing and the #97 for Stephen Leicht, which made Bristol’s preliminary list before being withdrawn. It’s still possible, however, that the team will be added late in the week as they have several times in the past.
Set to make his series debut is 19-year-old Kyle Benjamin, fresh off a K&N Pro Series East win earlier this month at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Benjamin climbs aboard the high-powered Joe Gibbs Racing #20 which won the last two rounds with Erik Jones. Race sponsor ToyotaCare will also back his entry.
Making his first XFINITY start of 2017 is Dylan Lupton, who made two series starts last year and four in the Cup Series. Lupton climbs aboard JGL Racing’s “Young Guns” entry, the #24 Nut Up Toyota. Lupton’s lone NASCAR start at Richmond came driving for BK Racing in last September’s Cup race, where he finished 25th – his only Cup finish inside the Top 30. Matt Mills also returns for the first time since Phoenix this past March, again driving B.J. McLeod’s #8 Chevrolet in place of Jeff Green (who finished a season-best 25th at Bristol).
Driving for Precision Performance Motorsports, Quin Houff enjoyed a strong run in his XFINITY debut at Bristol, finishing on the lead lap in the 16th spot. Driver and team are once again entered this weekend as Precision looks to make their first start at Richmond. Fellow ARCA driver Josh Williams had a strong run as well, climbing aboard Mario Gosselin’s #90 BuckedUp Apparel Chevrolet and finishing 22nd. Williams will not be racing this week as Truck Series driver Brandon Brown was already signed to drive the W.G. Speeks Chevrolet this Saturday. Brown finished 23rd with the team earlier this year at Atlanta.
Also give a call to Motorsports Business Management, which had both its cars finish inside the Top 30 for the first time since Talladega in the spring of 2015, and for the first time ever since Carl Long took over the team from Derek White at the start of 2016. What’s more, both Long and teammate Timmy Hill both drove Dodges, finishing 27th and 24th, respectively. Both drivers – and Dodges – are again entered in Richmond, and along with B.J. McLeod’s #78, have not yet announced a primary sponsor.
Driving for TriStar Motorsports, J.J. Yeley finished 11th at Bristol, his best finish since he ran 10th last fall at Kansas. Superior Essex will again sponsor his #14 at Richmond, where in this race last year he tied a track-best 12th set in 2007 with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.
Bristol marked Morgan Shepherd’s first XFINITY Series start since Phoenix in March, and he’s again entered this Saturday. Fellow owner-driver Mike Harmon is there as well in the #74 Veterans Motorsports Dodge, having picked up a season-best 30th, the last car to finish under power.
Next Race: May 12, 2017
Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas