Monday, May 15, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: All-Star Week

Carl Long's "illegal" engine in 2009 was actually
his backup motor, which also blew after 3 laps.
PHOTO: spokeo
CUP SERIES
Monster Energy Open at Charlotte

In lieu of covering the 16 drivers already qualified for Saturday’s All-Star Race, let’s look at the entry list for the Monster Energy Open, from which four drivers will transfer into the main event.

Currently, just 21 drivers are listed, which would mark the shortest entry list for this race since the inaugural event at Atlanta in 1986, where just 14 drivers were allowed to compete because of a fan vote.  Even with the likely additions of the omitted BK Racing cars of Gray Gaulding (#23) and Corey LaJoie (#83) as well as TriStar’s #72 of Cole Whitt, the resulting 24-car field would be tied with 2002 for the fourth-smallest in the race’s 31 previous runnings.  Incidentally, Whitt’s entry would mark TriStar’s first start in the Open since 2013, when Mike Bliss finished 17th of 23 in Humphrey-Smith Motortsports’ #19 Gentry Plastics Inc. Toyota.

One to watch?  You better believe it’s Carl Long, who returned last week at Kansas to score a 31st-place finish, already the second-best of his Cup career.  Saturday, Long and the green-and-gold #66 Chevrolet return to the site of the driver’s darkest moment, the record-setting penalty handed down following a last-place finish in this same event, eight years ago.  This will be Long’s seventh start in the Open as a driver.  His best finish came in 2004, when he ran 14th in the #46 Dodge.

Also returning to the Open field after a long absence is Derrike Cope in Premium Motorsports’ #55 Chevrolet.  Cope last entered the race in 2011, when his Larry Gunselman-prepared #64 Morningstar Marina Ford was involved in a hard two-car accident with Landon Cassill after 2 laps, leaving him last.  Cope’s seventh start of the season last Saturday at Kansas very nearly resulted in another 40th-place performance when his engine failure happened moments after Ryan Newman’s.

Back for the first time since early this season is second-generation driver Cody Ware, who we last saw trail the field at Atlanta.  By all accounts, this will also be Rick Ware Racing’s first start in the Open race, and an opportunity to gain some important notes for the upcoming 600.  While Kyle Busch is the only driver running double-duty between the All-Star Race and Friday’s Truck race, Ware is the only driver scheduled to pull the double between Trucks and the Open.

Jeffrey Earnhardt reunites with Richmond sponsor Towne Bank on Circle Sport with The Motorosports Group’s #33 Chevrolet.  Earnhardt finished 24th of 25 cars in last year’s Open, when he drove for Go FAS Racing.  This year, Go FAS’ #32 Ford will be driven by Matt DiBenedetto, one of the favorites to score this year’s Fan Vote.  Helping the push is the Reddit online community, which returns to sponsor a Cup car for the first time since the Dogecoin effort voted Josh Wise into the 2014 race (then sponsored Wise three more times into 2015).

The “x-factor” in the Open field remains Richard Petty’s #43 Smithfield Ford, whose plans for this weekend are yet to be known.  A brutal crash left driver Aric Almirola with a compression fracture of his L5 vertebrae.


XFINITY SERIES
Next Race: Hisense 300 at Charlotte
May 27, 2017


TRUCK SERIES
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte

33 drivers are entered to attempt the 32-truck field for Friday’s fifth round of the Camping World Truck Series, which if unchanged will continue the series’ streak of full fields.  Despite my earlier predictions, Jim Rosenblum’s #28 team FDNY Racing is as of yet not entered in Friday’s race, marking just the second time the team hasn’t raced at Charlotte since 2013.  Richie Wauters’ #5 Toyota, withdrawn at Martinsville and not entered at Kansas, is again not entered this week.  However, Tim Self’s team is back, putting Austin Wayne Self behind the wheel of the #22 Accu-Tech / Snap Track / Don’t Mess With Texas Toyota.

As of this writing, TJL Motorsports does not have a listed driver for the #1 Chevrolet, the only driver “TBA” on this list.  The team would do well to bring back Jordan Anderson, who last week at Kansas averted disaster after contact from a crashing Stewart Friesen to finish 19th.  Anderson has finished under power in each of his two Charlotte starts, running 23rd in 2015 for Mike Harmon (now the #1 team’s crew chief) and 24th last year for Bolen Motorsports.

Back on the entry list this week is Brandon Brown in the #86 Costal Carolina University Chevrolet.  His family-owned team, Brandonbilt Motorsports, has apparently parted ways with Martins Motorsports’ #44, a partnership which carried Brown through the first three rounds of the season, including Brown’s only start this year, a 27th at Martinsville.  Prior to Kansas, the Martins #44 was acquired by Faith Motorsports and team owner Shane Lamb, now the sole owner.  Matt Mills, who ran a respectable 17th for Lamb at Kansas, is again entered in Lamb's #44 SparrowRanch.org Chevrolet.

Camden Murphy, who at Kansas filled the field in a second D.J. Copp entry, gets to start this week in Mike Mittler’s venerable #63 Chevrolet.  If unchanged, Friday will mark the first time in Murphy’s four-year career that he will start more than one Truck Series race in a season.

T.J. Bell returns to Al Niece’s #45 Black Riffle Coffee Co. Chevrolet for the first time since Martinsville, where he ran 24th.  Bell has five Truck Series starts at Charlotte to his name with the far and away best coming in 2007, a 9th for Roush-Fenway Racing in the #50 Heathcliff’s Cat Litter Ford.

Who’s going to miss the field this Friday?  It could once again come down to owner-drivers Norm Benning and Jennifer Jo Cobb, who both made their first starts of the season last week at Kansas.  Benning, who ran 24th in what was his 165th Truck Series start, has a best finish in Charlotte of 17th in 2014, his last year driving #57.  Cobb, 27th at Kansas in her 133rd series start, finished one spot ahead of Benning that night in 2014, coming home a track-best 16th.

Finally, give a call to Ross Chastain, who after being collected in the opening-lap wreck at Daytona has finished no worse than his 18th-place finish last week at Kansas.  In the other two races, he’s come home 10th at Atlanta and a season-best 7th at Martinsville.  Chastain’s best Truck Series finish at Charlotte was a 9th in 2013, when he drove for Brad Keselowski Racing, though he’s run no better than 17th there in six XFINITY starts.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Regan Smith will drive the 43 for the All-Star weekend. No other races are known yet.