|PHOTO: Joe Gibbs Racing|
Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead
Championship 4: #78-Martin Truex, Jr., #2-Brad Keselowski, #4-Kevin Harvick, #18-Kyle Busch
Thanks to Wednesday's addition of BK Racing's #83 Earthwater Toyota with Joey Gase now set to make his third-consecutive Cup Series start, Homestead averted its first short field in the history of the Ford EcoBoost 400. The 2017 season will now end with nine consecutive full fields after seventeen of the first thirty-five rounds - nearly half the races run - fell short of 40 cars. The only team missing from the Phoenix entry list is StarCom Racing, which Derrike Cope wheeled to a 32nd-place finish.
The addition of BK's #83 comes with news Thursday that Motorsports Business Management will not be entering the #66 Toyota that BK helped field last week, but instead one of MBM's two Chevrolets. The Eureka sponsorship remains, as does David Starr, who ran 28th last Sunday. It will be Starr’s first Cup start at Homestead.
Ray Black, Jr. will round out the season for Rick Ware Racing, making his third start of the year in the #51 ScubaLife Chevrolet. This season, Ware’s return to Cup for the first time since 2012 will have seen his team make 28 of 36 races. Their season-best finish coming into Sunday came at Kansas this past May, where Timmy Hill ran 28th. Black fought hard for a 34th-place finish at Texas, still finishing under power despite a pair of late-race spins.
Joining Black is fellow XFINITY Series regular Ross Chastain, who will also make his third start of 2017. After finishing 20th and 38th in both Dover races for Premium Motorsports, Chastain will this time drive the #7 Chevrolet that Premium absorbed from Tommy Baldwin Racing (once again the apparent reason Premium’s #55 isn’t entered). Joey Gase drove the #7 the last two races, finishing 32nd at Texas and 30th at Phoenix. Reed Sorenson will join Chastain at Premium, driving the #15 Toyota with sponsorship from Exchange of America. Gase will run the aforementioned #83.
Then, of course, there are Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth, both set to make their final Cup starts 17 seasons after they battled each other for Rookie of the Year. It’s appropriate, then, that both drivers will be running identical paint schemes to those they ran in 2000. While Earnhardt’s red Axalta Chevrolet was revealed months ago, Kenseth’s DeWalt Toyota was revealed this past Tuesday. One week after his emotional win at Phoenix, Kenseth will also be raising awareness of DeWalt’s efforts in Florida to recover from Hurricane Irma. Kenseth’s lone Homestead win came a decade ago, the last ever run by the pre-CoT cars. Earnhardt’s best Homestead finish was a 3rd in 2013, his lone Top Five at the track.
Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead
Championship 4: #9-William Byron, #1-Elliott Sadler, #7-Justin Allgaier, #21-Daniel Hemric
44 drivers are set to attempt the field for Saturday’s 40-car field. The preliminary entry list showed 45 cars, but by the time of its publication, Penske Racing withdrew the #12 Ford in what would have been Austin Cindric’s first XFINITY start since Road America. The withdrawal may have to do with Cindric competing for the Truck Series title on Friday.
The same 40 teams from Phoenix have returned, plus four more, which could make Round One of qualifying very interesting.
First to return is Quin Houff, back with Precision Performance Racing for the first time since Kansas. Houff looks to round out a solid partial schedule where he’s finished a season-best 12th at Iowa and never run worse than 27th.
Start-up team NextGen Motorsports returns to the XFINITY Series, looking to make their first start since Josh Berry gave the team a 34th-place debut last month at Kansas. Driving this week is Matt Mills, eyeing his fourth XFINITY start of the season and first since a last-place finish at Chicagoland.
Third to return is Ty Majeski, who looks to make his third start of the season and first since he ran both Iowa races over the summer, running 34th and 16th. This week, his #60 Ford from the Roush-Fenway Racing stables doesn’t have a primary sponsor, and will instead carry logos for Ford EcoBoost.
The last to return is John Jackson and the #72 “start-and-park” Chevrolet that trailed earlier this year at Loudon. If the team qualifies, a second last-place finish is possible. Joining him at the MBM stable is Timmy Hill in the #13 Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit / Total Comfort Heating & Air Dodge and Chad Finchum in the #40 Buddy Gregg RV Toyota.
JD Motorsports shuffles its driver lineup with Joe Nemechek moved into the #01 and Harrison Rhodes in the #15. Whether either or both cars will be on “start-and-park” duty, as the #15 has to this point, is still to be determined. Rumors indicate that the switch may have been made to get the #01 into the Top 30 in Owners Points. Currently, Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 holds the spot by three points over the #01. Nemechek has three XFINITY wins at Homestead in 1997, 1999, and 2001.
It’s a similar situation at RSS Racing, where Ryan Sieg has moved to the #93, supplanting “start-and-park” driver Gray Gaulding. Sieg will not be parking, as he has welcomed new sponsorship for the race from Code Rum. As a Cup driver, Gaulding isn’t entered in either of the two remaining RSS Racing cars, which will both likely have short races if they qualify. Jeff Green remains in the #38 Chevrolet, joined this time by Stephen Leicht in the #39. It will be Leicht’s first XFINITY start since Charlotte in May, where he finished last.
With Cup drivers prohibited from participating in the lower tiers this weekend, Saturday could also be a chance for a part-timer to make noise with a top ride. Among them are Ben Kennedy (#2 for RCR), Scott Lagasse, Jr. (#3 RCR), Ryan Preece (#18 JGR), Christopher Bell (#20 JGR), Sam Hornish, Jr. (#22 Penske), and Tyler Reddick (#42 CGR).
Among the Championship Four, Justin Allgaier will be one to watch as he will be without his crew chief Jason Burdett following a brake cooling hose violation at Phoenix. In Burdett’s place will be Billy Wilburn, the team’s car chief for the last four seasons.
Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead
Championship 4: #21-Johnny Sauter, #19-Austin Cindric, #88-Matt Crafton, #4-Christopher Bell
The preliminary entry list for Friday’s Truck Series finale showed exactly 32 trucks for 32 spots. By Tuesday, it grew to 33 entries with the addition of Mike Harmon in his own #74 Chevrolet, one week after he finished 28th at Phoenix, but Harmon withdrew on Wednesday. The only truck missing from Phoenix’s entry list is JJL Racing’s #97 Toyota for Jesse Little, a team whose truck was destroyed in a heavy late-race crash with Ryan Truex and Dalton Sargeant. Both Truex and Sargeant are entered in Friday’s race. After Harmon's withdrawal, all the remaining entries will start Friday's race.
Two more teams have returned to attempt the season finale. The first entry is Ricky Benton’s #92 Ford with Cup veteran Regan Smith once again behind the wheel. Smith, who won the XFINITY race at Homestead in 2012, will make his 13th start of 2017 and eyes his third top-ten finish of the year.
Also, welcome back MB Motorsports’ second truck, the #36 Chevrolet, which hasn’t started a race since Chicagoland in September. Driving this weekend is Monster Jam competitor Camden Murphy, aiming for his 11th Truck Series start of the season and first since Las Vegas. Murphy will be teamed with Chris Windom, who on Sunday locked-up the USAC National Sprint Car Championship. Windom will drive MB’s #63 Chevrolet, and hopes for a better outing after failing to complete a lap last month at Martinsville.
Robby Lyons turned in an impressive 12th-place finish in his debut last Friday for Premium Motorsports, and he’s back again to put the #49 Chevrolet through its paces. Wendell Chavous, who has driven Premium’s #49 for much of this season, has for the first time been moved to the team’s second truck, the #15 Low T Centers Chevrolet, replacing Cup regular Gray Gaulding.
The LASTCAR Truck Series Championship will also be settled on Friday. Todd Peck, who currently leads on a Bottom Fifteen tiebreaker with Mike Senica, isn’t entered in Friday’s race, but could lock-up the 2017 title if Senica’s #57 Chevrolet fails to finish in the Bottom Ten and if Joe Nemechek’s #87 Chevrolet doesn’t finish last. Both Senica and Nemechek can claim the title if they finish last, but since Senica is already tied with Peck for the most last-place finishes, only Nemechek needs to.