No. 32 Can-Am / Kappa Ford
Started 27th, Finished 23rd
After finishes of 29th and 31st in two Sonoma starts driving BK Racing’s No. 83 Toyota, Matt DiBenedetto returned with Go FAS Racing. “It’s been good,” DiBenedetto said of the transition to a single-car team, “it’s nice to have all the focus on our one deal and that team, so our performance has been great this year, we just had a lot of bad luck that really killed us in the points. So, I really feel like we should be 5 spots higher in the points based on how we performed, but we had a lot of issues four weeks in a row that caused some DNFs or not the finishes we needed, so things are just kind of out of my control. So yeah, we’ve been running great, growing as a team, so hopefully we get back on track and have a lot of good finishes.”
One of those rough afternoons came earlier this month at Pocono, where he pulled off the track in the final stages. “Yeah, actually I got sick the night before at Pocono, I ate something bad, so that kind of set me behind for the race. And then it went green flag for a really long time and so I just got really dehydrated early, but normally I’m really more hydrated.”
The triple-digit heat which gripped the Bay Area days before the race also brought to mind the issue of heat in the race car. “Last year, I burned my feet here, so I had really bad blisters. So we worked on the floor of the race car, I got some heat shields for my feet, so that was the main concern coming here, make sure that doesn’t happen again. So it’ll definitely be a long one and the road courses create a lot of heat with the brakes and all.”
Like many of the other teams we spoke with, DiBenedetto’s goal was for a Top 20 finish. “You know, I don’t know, it’s – road courses are a place where you can get a really good finish, so I enjoy them a lot, so I’d, you know, looking at it, if we could come out of here with like a Top 20 would be great, so that’s kind of our general goal here.” Of this group, he came the closest to achieving his goal, finishing on the lead lap in 23rd.
No. 33 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet
Started 34th, Finished 29th
Said arrived at the Sonoma Raceway to drive the No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group, driving in place of Jeffrey Earnhardt. According to the team, the sponsorship deal from Hulu was done after the team signed Boris to run both road course races. We caught up with Said shortly after he arrived at the No. 33 garage stall on Friday, helmet in hand with his son next to him. “I mean, it just kind of came up the last minute,” Said told of the deal to drive No. 33. “[T]hey needed somebody more for a road course. I mean, I’m surprised they called me being as I’m almost 55, but I’m really happy to be here. I love – been racing 31 years, probably gonna be my last season doing NASCAR, but it’s just – gonna have a blast.”
While Hulu will back the No. 33 next Saturday in Daytona and for a few more races this season, the green car didn’t carry any logos on Friday. By Saturday, Hendrickcars.com came on board as part of a deal worked out between Said and Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s not a front-running car, but I think it’ll be a good enough car. Hendrick gave us a little help, because I’m partners with Rick Hendrick and the car dealers, so he gave us a motor and a few little pieces, so hopefully that’ll help us out a little bit. I just can’t wait to go.”
Said will return to Cup this August at Watkins Glen for what may be the driver’s 54th and final Cup start. He’s competed in the Truck Series since 1995 and XFINITY since 1998, winning one race in both series, and at Sonoma in 2003 claimed the first of two Cup pole positions while driving in place of the injured Jerry Nadeau. The Watkins Glen car will be sponsored by Genessee Beer, which backed his last two starts at the Glen.
No. 23 Earthwater Toyota
Started 32nd, Finished 32nd
By taking the green flag on Sunday, Alon Day not only became the first Israeli driver to start a Cup Series race, but also marked the 16th different country to be represented in the Cup field at Sonoma. Driving the No. 23 BK Racing entry in place of Gray Gaulding and Ryan Sieg, Day finished the race under power, but without much of the bodywork. “Yeah, it was pretty difficult,” said Day, who was wearing the same yellow driver’s uniform for CAAL Racing in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. “The Earthwater guys did a great job keeping the car - unfortunately half of the car is missing (laughs) - but we still did good in my opinion. Was hoping for a caution that didn’t [come]. Next race, we’ll be stronger.”
An early spin in Turn 3, then an on-track incident made his car the first car to lose a lap. The nose was so badly damaged that the hood threatened to come loose, forcing an unscheduled pit stop. “Somebody spun in Turn 11, and everybody brake and someone bumped me from behind and I bumped the guy in front of me. The hood got bent.”
During Friday’s press conference, Day said he liked NASCAR over other forms of racing because of the lack of dependence on electronic driving aids, thus putting the performance in the driver’s hands. That said, he was surprised by the kind of racing the Cup Series produces. “I think the aggression of the drivers, that’s the only thing that wasn’t – and the race is pretty long, but other than that. . .I got good experience, familiar more with the car.”
As of this writing, Day does not know what his plans are in NASCAR’s top three divisions, including the August race at Watkins Glen. He will continue to run full-time in the Euro Series, whose next round will be in Holland on July 15.
No. 15 SBC Contractors / Apollo Opening Roof System Chevrolet
Started 36th, Finished 33rd
O’Connell joined Premium Motorsports to drive in place of Reed Sorenson in the No. 15 Chevrolet. The Sonoma car’s primary sponsor was SBC Contractors, the Sacramento-area construction firm which last year sponsored Josh Wise and The Motorsports Group No. 30. Speaking with SBC’s president on Friday, the company is looking into sponsoring the car in future races, including this November’s round in Phoenix. The Premium Motorsports team also added several decals to the quarter-panels on Friday morning.
The team struggled in Friday's opening practice, missing most of the session because of a power steering issue that required replacing the power steering pump.
Replays after the race seemed to indicate O’Connell lost control of No. 15 as he and Kasey Kahne raced side-by-side on the final lap. Headed into Turn 1, the two cars made contact, sending Kahne hard into the concrete traffic barriers. O’Connell managed to reel his car in off Turn 1 and came home 33rd. Unaware of his involvement in the incident, we only got a short quote from O’Connell as he walked back through the garage area after the checkers.
“You know, listen, it was everything I thought it would be,” said O’Connell. “Those guys are great drivers and, you know, we tried to bring a small team and hold our own, I think we did that. We’ll look to do some more.” As with many drivers we spoke to, plans for Watkins Glen were still up in the air. “We’re talking about the Glen and maybe going to Canada and doing something in the Truck Series. Since he drove for Premium Motorsports on Sunday, this could mean that O’Connell will drive Premium’s No. 49 truck in Mosport, a truck currently driven by Wendell Chavous.
No. 51 Marriott Drywall / Climate Fieldview Chevrolet
Started 33rd, Finished 36th
Rick Ware Racing returned from a one-week hiatus at Michigan to make the team’s first Sonoma start. Selected to drive over the past offseason was Wisconsin driver Josh Bilicki, another of the five drivers looking to make their Cup debut. “Came together in the winter,” said Bilicki of the deal. “Rick Ware saw my performance at Road America in the XFINITY Series, to be honest that was my only NASCAR start – my first NASCAR start. So Cody Ware. . .got in touch with me over the winter and said ‘we’ve got this opportunity for you to run the road course if you’re interested,’ so I tossed the idea around to a few sponsors and we have Climate Fieldview and Marriott companies aboard, so they picked it up and that’s why we’re here.”
Bilicki had never before raced at the Sonoma track, but he had tested there just a few months before. With NASCAR mandating the testing and no Goodyear tests scheduled at the track, however, Bilicki had to improvise. “It was actually a 2001 NASCAR, a Hooters car, a Brett Bodine car, it was on Hoosiers. You know, NASCAR mandates the tests, so you couldn’t test Goodyear tires, so a little bit of a different tire compound, but a big heavy car and about the same horsepower, so I think it was really beneficial and I think that’ll help me be a little more prepared than some of the other guys here.”
Earlier this season, Bilicki was slated to drive for XFINITY Series team Obaika Racing, running the No. 77 Chevrolet alongside former Cup Rookie of the Year Stephen Leicht in the No. 97. We asked him about the Obaika team, which has been missing from the circuit since Bristol, and what happened. “Unfortunately, I don’t. Yeah, I was set to drive three races this year with them and every race kind of fell apart, and I know the team kind of fell apart. I’d like to see them back, but I have not heard from Victor or anyone else.”
“First goal is definitely to finish the race,” said Bilicki on Friday, “a Top 20 would be a success, I think a Top 15 would be a win for us.” Although overheating issues left the team back in the running order, the young driver has more plans coming together, including a return to the Ware team for the Cup race at Watkins Glen. He also is looking ahead to XFINITY races in the midwest. “Yeah, we’re trying to put together a sponsorship deal, I ran the XFINITY Series last week with MBM Motorsports, we’re trying to line some more stuff up with that. I definitely want to try and do all three road courses, Chicagoland, some local tracks close to me in Wisconsin, so we’ll see.”
K&N Pro Series West
No. 20 Inglebright Racing Chevrolet
Started 12th, Finished 30th in Carneros 200
Part of Kevin Harvick’s weekend sweep was a victory in Saturday’s Carneros 200 for the K&N Pro Series West. Here, the last-place battle was settled before the race ever began as Kevin O’Connell’s own plans for double-duty ended after Joe Nava’s team withdrew his No. 77 RC-1, Inc. Chevrolet.
First into the garage area was Nicole Behar, whose No. 33 Custom Welding & Fabrication Chevrolet had issues under the hood for multiple laps before she returned to the track. Next was Jesse Iwuji, who lost the engine on his No. 36 Champion Parts / Lights Out / Bullet Proof Chevrolet. Meeting Iwuji’s car behind the wall was veteran Jim Inglebright, who helped push his unsponsored yellow No. 20 behind the wall.
The 55-year-old Inglebright, a three-time winner in the West Series and winner of three consecutive Sonoma races on the Southwest Tour, was making his first and only start of the season. He drove the same Chevrolet he debuted at Sonoma last year when it was No. 1, but it never turned a lap and was classified last. This year, he started 12th, but had dropped through the field in the early laps. He started to pass cars again, but slowed once more, forcing an unscheduled pit stop. He sat on pit road for several laps, the car constantly shutting off every time it was fired. Finally, the decision was made to take it to the garage, where he spoke with us.
“You know, it’s a new car,” said Inglebright. “We actually had some issues last year with the oil tank, that’s why we didn’t even have a chance to race, we blew the motor up, so got that fixed. But it gave me no warning. I mean, practice was good, qualifying was good, warm-up, we take the green flag and I get to the top of Turn 2 there and the thing starts backfiring on me. So I had to dive out of everybody’s way, not wreck everybody, and I was kind of hoping I could figure it out and get it cleaned up. We tried a couple things down there on pit road, but it just wasn’t to be.”
“It’s really weird, yeah. In all honesty, like under green, I could get it going, but it would cut off on me right like coming down the hill, just totally stop. And I could get it going and it would take off again. So I don’t know if – my motor guy says it’s like the crank sensor, the pick-up crank sensor he thinks is going down on it. I mean, all we can do is take it to the shop, take a look at it, see what’s going on.” When asked if the Gen-6 inspired car was more dependent on electronics, accounting for the issue, he said, “No, not really. Not really, no. It’s just – we haven’t had the opportunity to shake the bugs out of it.”
Unfortunately, Inglebright isn’t planning any more K&N Pro Series West races. But he is planning to come back to run the Carneros 200 in 2018. “Well, thank you, we’ll be here.”