Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Dover

PHOTO: @WilliamsonHS1
AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover

After three consecutive full fields, Dover will mark the eighth time in 2017, and the first time since Richmond, that there aren’t enough cars to fill the 40-car starting grid.  The 39 drivers who take the green on Sunday will comprise the shortest Cup field at Dover since September 19, 1993, when 37 drivers made up the SplitFire Spark Plug 500.

That said, there are new faces on this week’s grid, both of them well-known underdogs in the XFINITY Series, and both ready to make their Cup Series debut.  The first is Ryan Sieg, whose family-owned RSS Racing has done wonders since it moved from Trucks to XFINITY in 2013.  Both of his Top 5 finishes came in the summer classic at Daytona, and he was almost certainly headed toward another this year at Talladega before he was spun on the final lap.  On Sunday, Sieg will replace Corey LaJoie in BK Racing’s #83 JAS Expedited Trucking Toyota.  Sieg will pull double-duty this weekend, again driving RSS’ #39 Chevrolet on Saturday.

The other driver making his Cup debut is Ross Chastain, who for the first time will also attempt triple-duty in Dover’s Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series races.  His steed for Sunday will be Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet, swapping out regular driver Reed Sorenson for the third time this year.  In a peculiar combination of Chastain’s long-running sponsorship from the Florida Watermelon Association and the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, the latter a frequent Dover sponsor, Chastain’s red-and-green Chevrolet will carry the slogan “Protect Your Melon.”

Missing from this week’s entry list is Premium’s second car, #55, and driver Derrike Cope, who last Sunday in his first Coca-Cola 600 since 2004 recovered from a late-race mechanical issue to finish 31st.  Cope, the 1990 winner of Sunday’s race, hasn’t started at The Monster Mile since the fall of 2006, when he finished last for car owner Raynard McGlynn in the #74 Royal Administrative Services / Sundance Vacation Dodge.

Carl Long withdrew his #66 Chevrolet from last week’s Coca-Cola 600, but is back again this week, returning to the site of his Cup debut on September 24, 2000 (the same day Truck Series upstart Kurt Busch made his own debut in Jack Roush’s #97 John Deere Ford, replacing Chad Little).  Like Cope, Long’s most recent Cup start at Dover came for Raynard McGlynn, who Long put into both races at the track in 2005, driving the #00 Sundance Vacations Chevrolet, finishing 42nd both times.  Long and Motorsports Business Management are also entered in the XFINITY race with him in the #40 Chevrolet and teammate Timmy Hill in the #13 Dodge.

Sunday will also see the return of Cody Ware to Cup Series points competition, as he is listed to drive his father’s #51 Chevrolet for the first time since the Monster Energy Open (and his first in a points race since Atlanta in March).  It will mark the first time Ware has ever competed on the track in any racing division.  Joining Ware in the effort will be the East Carolina University athletics department, which kicks off a three-race sponsorship package that will include Indianapolis and the September return to Richmond.  The ECU Pirates are by no means strangers to NASCAR – they last sponsored car owner Ken Wilson’s XFINITY Series entry in 1996, which ran 39th at Rockingham with Rodney Combs, then 38th with Jeff Fuller at Atlanta.

Jeffrey Earnhardt had a Charlotte weekend he’d rather forget, breaking the rear end just as he was lapped, and triggering a two-car accident that eliminated Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.  With a series-leading four last-place finishes in 2017, Earnhardt looks for a turnaround at Dover, where he finished under power in 35th and 36th last year, both times driving for Go FAS Racing.  Both finishes were better than car owner Joe Falk’s last appearance here in Cup, where drivers Alex Kennedy and Landon Cassill ran 38th and 40th, respectively, in the fall of 2015.

As of this writing, there is no driver announced to pilot Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43 Smithfield Ford.  Aric Almirola, still recuperating from his injury at Kansas, is not expected back until August at the latest.  Regan Smith, who finished 4th in the Open, ran 22nd in the Coca-Cola 600, and will be at Dover driving Ricky Benton’s #92 Ford in the Truck Series.

Delaware 200 at Dover

40 drivers make up the entry list for Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, which sees Morgan Shepherd back on the list for the first time since Talladega.  Shepherd has made 30 XFINITY starts at “The Monster Mile,” including both races last year.  While he ran just 36th and 34th in those rounds, he also has a win at the track in 1986, where he won the pole and led half the distance in his own Buick.

Ray Black, Jr. is back as well, returning to SS Green Light Racing and the #07 Chevrolet.  Rising sponsorship troubles have put Black’s schedule for the season in jeopardy, and at Charlotte, Todd Bodine was tabbed as a last-minute replacement., which backed the team at Texas, Bristol, and Richmond, will again sponsor the car this weekend.  Black’s best finish in two XFINITY starts at the track was a 17th in his track debut here last spring.

Jeff Green missed the cut last week at Charlotte, but like last week, is again in B.J. McLeod’s flagship #78 Chevrolet.  Like Shepherd, Green is a one-time Dover winner, taking the checkered flag in the fall of 2001 and a pole in the spring of 2002.  Saturday will be his first start at the track for a team other than TriStar Motorsports since 2005, when he finished 38th for Fred Biagi.  Team owner B.J. McLeod drives the #8, and looks to improve on his track-best 19th-place finish in this race last year.  David Starr remains in the third McLeod entry, #99, which he drove to a 31st-place finish at Charlotte.

Veterans Motorsports, Inc. also looks to return to the starting grid after the team missed the Charlotte field with Jordan Anderson.  Mike Harmon is again listed as the driver of the #74 Dodge.  Harmon’s best finish in 16 Dover starts was a 25th in the fall race of 2015.  Speaking of Harmon and Anderson, there is no driver yet listed for RSS Racing’s second Chevrolet, #93, which continued its LASTCAR XFINITY Series domination last week with the returning Stephen Leicht.  While Leicht is not yet entered, Anderson himself is again entered in TJL Motorsports’ #1 “Fueled By Fans” entry for Friday’s Truck Series race with Harmon as crew chief.

Back in the XFINITY Series for the first time since Richmond is Brandon Brown, who is again scheduled to pilot Mario Gosselin’s #90 Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet.  Saturday will be Brown’s first XFINITY start at Dover, though he has started the last two Truck Series races there with a best finish of 14th in 2015.

Give a call to Jeremy Clements, who with his 17th-place finish last Saturday in Charlotte earned his third top-20 finish in the last four races.  Clements now stands 17th in points heading into Dover, where his best finish in 15 starts are a pair of 10th-place finishes in this same race back in 2012 and 2015.

Bar Harbor 200 Presented by Sea Watch International at Dover

With the closure of Tom DeLoach’s Red Horse Racing and its two strong entries driven by Timothy Peters and Brett Moffitt, there are still – somehow – 32 drivers at Dover to fill Friday’s field.  If this stays the same, it will mark just the second time this year, and the first time since Kansas, that there will be no trucks sent home after qualifying.

Peters and Moffitt could perhaps land in any one of the four trucks which have yet to name a driver as of this writing: Rick Ware’s #12 Chevrolet, the twin Mike Mittler-prepared MB Motorsports entries #36 and #63, and the #97 Toyota fielded by Jason Little.  Little returns to the series for the first time since 2015, when Dover marked the first of four races he entered for his son Jesse.  Driver and team earned their best finish the last time out at Homestead, coming home on the lead lap in 14th.

New this week?  Keep an eye on defending K&N West Series champion Todd Gilliland, the 17-year-old third-generation driver and son of Cup veteran David Gilliland.  The younger Gilliland is set to make his national series debut in a third Kyle Busch Motorsports truck, #46, with sponsorship from Pedigree.  He’ll be joined by teammates Christopher Bell, 4th in his XFINITY debut last week at Charlotte, and Harrison Burton, who we last saw in Trucks at Martinsville, where he ran 13th.

T.J. Bell returns to Al Niece’s #45 Chevrolet this weekend, having given his owner his best series finish two weeks ago at Charlotte – a 14th.  Bell has four Dover starts on his resume with a best finish of 12th way back in 2003, but as recently as 2014, he came home 15th driving for Mark Beaver (now the owner of Beaver Motorsports, which is not entered at Dover as of this writing).

Norm Benning has made seven Truck starts at Dover, but none since 2015.  He finished 26th that day, tying his second-best finish behind a 23rd in 2010.  He also has two Cup starts at the track, both back in 1989, when he ran 30th and 31st for car owner Jerry O’Neil.  Speaking of owner-drivers, Jennifer Jo Cobb looks to make her third Truck Series start of the season and her third in a row, having run 27th at Kansas and Charlotte.  In six Dover starts in the series, her best finish stands as a 20th in the spring of 2014.

Faith Motorsports has quietly cobbled together a decent start to its season.  Driver Matt Mills finished 17th at Kansas, then 24th at Charlotte, both two laps down but running at the finish.  The #44 Chevrolet is Mills’ again this Friday, and the 20-year-old will be making his Dover debut.

Kudos to Grant Enfinger, who has not only finished no worse than 17th this season, but earned a season-best 7th two weeks ago at Charlotte.  As with Mills, Friday will be something new for Enfinger, who has never piloted a Truck at Dover, though his short track experience as ARCA’s 2015 champion should certainly be an asset.

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