Friday, September 8, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Richmond

Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond

For the first time in three races, and for the 16th time in 26 races, there will be a short field for this Saturday’s Cup race as 39 drivers will compete in the final event of the “regular season.”  Missing from Darlington is Motorsports Business Management, whose team owner Carl Long made his first Cup start since Kansas.  I caught up with Long on pit road just before Sunday’s opening ceremonies:

BEARD: “Your first Southern 500 since 2005, how do you feel?”
LONG: “Fat (laughs).  But I think after the race, there’ll be like a bucket of grease in there like you’re frying bacon when I get through, so it’ll all be good (laughs).”
BEARD: “What’s the plan out there, find a hole out there and ride it out, see how it goes?”
LONG: “Yup, just try to stay out of trouble and not be involved in anyone else’s trouble, and be there at the checkered.”

Long made it well into Sunday’s race, but after two “Darlington Stripes,” he handed over the wheel to teammate Timmy Hill, who ran the final 130 laps.  The effort yielded a 33rd-place finish, 17 laps down, improving on Long’s aforementioned 2005 Southern 500, where he turned just 69 laps and finished 42nd.

Last week saw Rick Ware Racing make last-minute changes to their “Days of Thunder” throwback, turning their #51 Bubba Burger Chevrolet into a means of raising awareness for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.  Unfortunately, the night itself was one to forget as the car lacked speed in the opening stages, then was wrecked on Lap 156 with Matt DiBenedetto and A.J. Allmendinger.  The Ware team is now making their second attempt to attract a sponsor to run a paint scheme representing the ECU Pirates.  As of this writing, the driver and sponsor are to be announced.

BK Racing has once again swapped their driver lineup, moving Gray Gaulding back to the #23 for the first time since Pocono in June and Corey LaJoie to the #83 for the first time since the Bristol night race.  Gaulding carries returning sponsorship from Sweet Frog while LaJoie welcomes Safeway Supermarkets.  Both drivers had a rough night in their first Darlington starts.  Gaulding spun and wrecked on Lap 197, leaving him with severe rear end damage that caused his car to spark and struggle at the back.  When he finally pulled off the track, a water pipe above his garage stall ruptured, drenching his Toyota.  LaJoie caught the wall several times, the last of which in the dramatic final two laps.  With the leaders closing, LaJoie slowed suddenly in Turn 4, then cut across both lanes of traffic in a hard turn to the left to make sure he got on pit road.

Premium Motorsports has also swapped their driver lineup with Derrike Cope and sponsor StarCom Fiber moving to the #15 Toyota while Reed Sorenson drives the #55 Low T Centers Chevrolet.  Sorenson’s tribute to Bud Moore made just 104 laps last Sunday before the clutch failed, requiring his car to be pushed back to the garage in 39th.  Cope fared better, though his car was a handful in Turns 3 and 4 for much of the night, and finished 32nd – his best Cup finish at Darlington since 2004.  Cope will be making his first Richmond start since 2006, when he parked Raynard McGlynn’s #74 Dodge for a last-place finish that spring, while Sorenson ran 33rd this past April.

At the front of the field, eyes will certainly be watching Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray, who hold the three winless positions in the Chase standings, as well as Joey Logano, Erik Jones, and Clint Bowyer as they – and others – try to win their way into the Chase.  These three on the outside all have adversity to overcome, both literally and statistically.  Logano took the checkers here in April, only to have it encumbered due to an illegal rear end (similar to Denny Hamlin’s penalty for Sunday’s race).  Jones crashed out early in that race, his first of two last-place finishes this year, while Richmond was the scene of both Bowyer’s first last-place run in Cup in 2014 and his controversial spin in 2013.

Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond

41 drivers are entered to attempt this Friday’s XFINITY Series race.  The preliminary list showed 42, but GMS Racing has since withdrawn the #96 Chevrolet for Ben Kennedy, one week after Kennedy earned a 12th-place finish, his best for that team.

Following a DNQ in his first series attempt at Iowa, Bobby Dale Earnhardt will make his series debut in Motorsports Business Management's #40 Chevrolet. Joining him in the MBM stable will be Timmy Hill, who races in place of Carl Long in the #13 Dodge.

Like both Premium Motorsports and BK Racing on the Cup side, B.J. McLeod’s XFINITY team has also swapped its driver lineup.  Tommy Joe Martins, who ran well early at Darlington before a tire change error by the crew, will drive the flagship #8 Chevrolet for the first time this season.  It will be Martins’ first Richmond start since April 25, 2014, when he ran 36th in his own equipment.  Martins’ teammate in the #78 will be John Graham, who finished 30th in his return to the series at Road America.  Graham has two Richmond starts in the series – a 29th for MacDonald Motorsports in 2004, and a 41st for Brewco in 2007.

Other than his runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio, Daniel Hemric’s best finish of 2017 came here in the spring, where he won his first career pole, led a season-high 26 laps, and finished 3rd.  Along with Justin Allgaier, who led 157 of 254 laps that day only to finish 2nd, will be ones to watch among the series regulars.

Kyle Larson, who won the XFINITY race this past spring, is not entered.  Instead, the Cup Series interlopers this week are Paul Menard (#2 Richmond / Menards Chevrolet), Ty Dillon (#3 Rheem Chevrolet), Reed Sorenson (#15 Chevrolet, a likely “start-and-park” effort), Kyle Busch (#18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota), Brad Keselowski (#22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Ford), and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (#88 Degree Deoderant Chevrolet).  Junior makes just his second XFINITY start of the season, following a 13th-place run last month at Bristol.

Next Race: Chicagoland 225 at Chicagoland
September 15, 2017

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