|Maurice Randall's Chrysler at Michigan, 1985|
FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan
This Sunday marks NASCAR’s third-consecutive short field and the tenth in fifteen races this season. Without Derrike Cope and the #55 Premium Motorsports team, which came home 33rd last Sunday at Pocono, there are only 38 drivers listed to make the 40-car field, tying Martinsville and Richmond for the shortest this year. It will also be the shortest Cup field at Michigan since June 16, 1985, when Maurice Randall’s #93 Chrysler Imperial fell out with ignition failure after one lap of the Miller 400.
The only car whose driver has yet to be listed is the #51 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet, which this Sunday will carry new sponsorship from Corrigan Oil. Last Sunday, Cody Ware scored his second last-place finish in three starts this season when persistent handling woes made the car too difficult to drive. One possible candidate is Timmy Hill, who last drove the car in the Coca-Cola 600, and whose best Michigan finish was a 29th for Go FAS Racing in 2013. According to a report by Jayski, Hill’s most recent Cup ride, the #66 owned by Carl Long, is not expected to enter as Long is working to repair the team’s XFINITY Series cars. If the XFINITY effort is handled sooner, the team may run Michigan and Kentucky, otherwise they will return at Indianapolis.
A broken axle in the final ten laps at Pocono, combined with an illness and heat exhaustion, led to Matt DiBenedetto pulling off the track in the final moments of Sunday’s race. At the time of the exit, DiBenedetto was headed toward a Top 25 finish and was racing Darrell Wallace, Jr. for the Lucky Dog. They finished 32nd. The situation may point to issues in the cooling systems on Go FAS Racing’s #32 car. Last year at Sonoma, heat exhaustion forced the team’s road ringer Patrick Carpentier to pull out of the racing line several times in the closing laps, and he barely made it to the finish.
Darrell Wallace, Jr., who tangled with DiBenedetto in the final laps, encountered multiple pit road speeding penalties, but managed to finish just one lap down in 26th, bringing the #43 Smithfield Ford home in one piece. He is again the listed driver for Richard Petty Motorsports this Sunday, but Roush-Fenway Racing’s sponsorship issues will prevent him from running double-duty – his #6 Ford, 11th in Saturday’s race at Pocono, is not entered this week.
Already laps down at the time, Cole Whitt nearly spawned a last-minute restart when the engine on his #72 RTIC Coolers Chevrolet let go as the leaders crossed the line with two laps to go. Ironically, the resulting 30th-place finish was still team owner Mark Smith’s best performance at the track since June 16, 1996, when Loy Allen, Jr.’s #19 Healthsource Ford finished 23rd, three laps down to race winner Jeff Gordon.
Another tough break befell Michael McDowell, who started a track-best 11th in qualifying (shattering his previous mark of 27th in 2013), ran inside the Top 10 for most of the afternoon, then ended up 24th at the finish, ending the Leavine Family Racing’s streak of three-consecutive Top 20 finishes. Before McDowell returns to his roots in the upcoming road course race at Sonoma in two weeks, he must now confront Michigan, where in six starts, he’s finished no better than a 31st last August.
Clearly, Sunday wasn’t all bad news for small teams. Congratulations again to Ryan Blaney, who scored his first Cup win on Sunday in his 68th start. It was the first win for the fabled Wood Brothers Racing Team since Trevor Bayne’s 2011 Daytona 500 triumph, and the team’s first at Pocono since July 27, 1980, when the late Neil Bonnett edged Buddy Baker by six-tenths of a second in the Coca-Cola 500. Ryan’s father Dave Blaney, “The Buckeye Bullet” of World of Outlaws fame, made 473 Cup starts from 1992 through 2014, but never won, his best finishes being three 3rd-place runs at Darlington and Talladega, each for a different team. Dave raced 29 times at Pocono alone with just two Top 10s and a track-best 9th in 2003. Now with a win for family and team alike, Ryan now returns to Michigan, site of Dale Jarrett’s first-and-only win for the Wood Brothers in 1991, where the youngster ran a track-best 4th last August.
On the big team side, kudos also to Erik Jones, who finished a career-best 3rd on Sunday and led 20 laps, the longest he’s ever paced a Cup Series race. 16th in points headed into his first Cup start at Michigan, Jones may be a prime candidate for the series’ next first-time winner. He finished 4th in his only XFINITY Series start there, and 3rd in his only Truck Series effort. The other could very well be Chase Elliott, 8th at Pocono, and well in position to win both Cup races at Michigan last year before he slid back on the final restarts. History could again be on Chase’s side – the last time this few cars took the green at Michigan, his father “Awesome Bill” took the checkered flag.
Irish Hills 250 at Michigan
40 drivers are entered to attempt Saturday’s 40-car field for the XFINITY Series, a division that has yet to have a short field in 2017. Back this week is GMS Racing’s #96 for Ben Kennedy, a car that was withdrawn prior to last week’s race at Pocono. This week, Kennedy has sponsorship from Weber.
Also back on the entry list is a second entry from Mario Gosselin’s King Autosport team, the #92 Chevrolet, which we haven’t seen on the track since last fall at Kentucky, where Josh Williams finished 37th with fuel pump issues. Williams, who finished 28th in Gosselin’s #90 last Saturday, will again be driving the #92, which given its finishes last year could be a potential “start-and-park” entry. If so, he could challenge the dominant LASTCAR leader of RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet, which after back-to-back last-place runs by Jeff Green will be again driven by Jordan Anderson.
Also back on the list is Tommy Joe Martins, who after finishing 29th for B.J. McLeod last Saturday is again in the #78 Chevrolet. Diamond Gusset Jeans, which has backed Martins’ previous XFINITY and Truck Series efforts, is again listed as the sponsor of the black Camaro.
Ray Black, Jr. returns to his #07 Chevrolet, even as SS Green Light Racing continues to search for sponsorship. The team struggled last week with Spencer Boyd, managing only a 33rd-place finish, three laps down to race winner Brad Keselowski.
Drivin’ For Linemen 200 at Gateway
The preliminary entry list for Gateway shows just 28 trucks for the 32 spots, the second-consecutive short field this season. It will also be Gateway’s shortest-ever Truck Series field.
Just like last week, however, it is likely this field will grow by at least two entries as both the #1 TJL Motorsports Chevrolet and the #50 Beaver Motorsports Chevrolet were also missing at Texas before they arrived on Friday. TJL’s driver Jordan Anderson has confirmed on Twitter that he is preparing for Gateway, though he is also entered in RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet for the XFINITY race at Michigan. Also listed once more is Faith Motorsports, which withdrew at Texas. While Matt Mills has driven for all of Faith’s three starts this year with a season-best 17th at Kansas and Dover, the team has as yet not selected a driver.
Also without an announced driver is MDM Motorsports, which also has yet to announce a sponsor for its #99 Chevrolet. This may, in part, be due to the terrible crash Timothy Peters suffered on the final lap of last Friday’s race, a wreck which completely destroyed his truck. Whether or not this truck will be rebuilt, or how many trucks MDM has available, is still to be determined.
Jennifer Jo Cobb added her second truck, the #0, as a late entry to Texas, tabbing California driver Tommy Regan to drive. This week, Cobb has again entered two trucks, and will this week drive the #0. Racing in her place in the #10 ASAP Appliance Service Chevrolet is Bryce Napier, who trailed the field at Martinsville this spring. According to a report on Catchfence.com, Gateway will be the first of at least four races where Napier will drive for Cobb, pending his eligibility to run at larger tracks.
Mike Mittler and MB Motorsports are now once again the listed owners of both the #63 and #36 Chevrolets, which this week will be driven by Kyle and Kevin Donahue, respectively. We last saw the #36 at Dover, where both trucks were listed as belonging to D.J. Copp as team trucks to the #83. Copp’s only listed entry for Gateway is again the #83 Chevrolet, which is driven by current 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series leader Todd Peck.
Welcome back Clay Greenfield, whose #68 1-800-PAVEMENT Chevrolet returns to the Truck Series for the first time since he ran 29th in the season opener at Daytona. This marks Greenfield’s first Truck Series start at Gateway since way back in 2010, when he finished 28th in Danny Gill’s unsponsored #46 Dodge.
Also returning this week is Todd Gilliland, who is set to make his second Truck Series start and his first in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ flagship #51 Toyota. As at Dover, where suspension issues left him a disappointing 20th, Gilliland will be sponsored by Pedigree pet food.