Friday, November 10, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Phoenix

PHOTO: Carl Long Facebook
CUP SERIES
Can-Am 500(k) at Phoenix

For the seventh-straight race, there will be exactly 40 cars in Sunday’s main event. Motorsports Business Management wasn't originally entered in the #66 following a second-straight crash. On Wednesday, news broke that Carl Long had not only obtained a third car, a Toyota from BK Racing, but also sponsorship from Eureka Vacuum Cleaners, a brand we haven't seen in Cup since they last sponsored Jimmy Means in 1988. David Starr, who drove last week at Texas, will run the car this Sunday. If the team manages to avoid their third-straight crash, they will also run the car at Homestead next week.

Returning this Sunday is StarCom Racing, their #00 Chevrolet’s first Cup attempt since their last-place debut at Kansas. Driver Derrike Cope finished 33rd here in the spring, when he drove for Premium Motorsports.

As of Thursday, Both Cope and Starr are now guaranteed starting spots in Sunday's race as BK Racing has withdrawn their "open" car, the #83 of Gray Gaulding, which finished last at Texas. It will mark just the third time this year that the team will not start, having not been entered at Sonoma and withdrawn at Indianapolis. Corey LaJoie will drive BK's #23 Toyota.

Also rejoining the Cup field is Canadian driver D.J. Kennington, who last year made his series debut in this race, also for Premium Motorsports. In this, his first non-restrictor plate start on the Cup side in 2017, he will drive Premium’s #15 Chevrolet, dressed in the familiar red-and-white of longtime sponsor Northern Provincial Pipelines. Premium’s owner Jay Robinson has once again left the #55 at home, and will field Tommy Baldwin Racing’s old #7 Chevrolet. Behind the wheel for the second-straight race is Joey Gase, who finished 32nd last Sunday.

Welcome back Kyle Weatherman, who we last saw making his Cup debut two weeks ago at Martinsville. Once again, Weatherman will drive Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, which as of this writing does not have a primary sponsor. Sunday will mark Weatherman’s first stock car start at Phoenix.

Sure to turn heads on Sunday will be Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who will drive a paint scheme honoring the lives of both Robert Yates and Davey Allison. The car will be decorated in the familiar black, red, and yellow of the Yates Racing #28 Texaco / Havoline Ford, which won its second of two back-to-back races at Phoenix 25 years ago. 

XFINITY SERIES
Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix

40 drivers are also listed in Saturday’s penultimate round for the XFINITY Series. Missing from last week’s roster is King Autosport’s #92 Chevrolet, which Josh Williams wheeled to a 34th-place finish before electrical problems. In his place returns Biagi-DenBeste Racing’s #98 GEICO Military Ford with Cup veteran Casey Mears. It will be the first XFINITY start for driver and team since the fall race at Dover, four races ago.

John Graham returns for his third start of the year, his second on an oval track, and his first in any NASCAR race since September at Richmond. Graham will once again be driver of B.J. McLeod’s #78 Chevrolet. McLeod is not himself driving this Saturday as he has handed over the #8 Chevrolet to Florida native Caesar Bacarella, who will be making his NASCAR debut. Bacarella has just two ARCA starts to his credit, both of them this year at Daytona (finishing 33rd) and Talladega (25th).

Welcome back Alex Bowman, who will return to Chip Ganassi’s #42 Chevrolet for the first time since his inaugural series victory at Charlotte. Bowman and his Energizer Ultimate Lithium Battery machine will be ones to watch on Saturday, as this track saw him win the pole – and almost the race – in last year’s Cup event while in relief of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

JD Motorsports has once again fielded their “start-and-park” #15 teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet, but this time Reed Sorenson has been replaced by Joe Nemechek. It will be Nemechek’s first XFINITY Series start since Daytona in July 2016, when he finished 36th in a Toyota from his NEMCO Motorsports stables.

TRUCK SERIES
Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix

The Truck Series enjoys its third-consecutive full field this Friday, and the fifteenth in twenty-two races this season. Unlike Cup and XFINITY, three teams are missing from Texas: Tyler Young #20 CNR Electric / Young’s Building Systems Chevrolet (17th at Texas), Regan Smith in the #92 BTS Tire & Wheel / Advance Auto Parts Ford (13th), and Tommy Joe Martins’ #42 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet, which wrecked twice last weekend (32nd).

One of the three returning entries is Mike Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet, the entry which Martins drove in his ill-fated night in Texas. It will be the first time Harmon has raced in the Truck Series since Talladega, and the first time his #74 has since Chicagoland. Also returning are Jessie Little, who has finished no worse than 14th in his three previous starts this year in the #97 JJL Motorsports Toyota. Friday will be Little’s first Truck Series start since the night race at Bristol. The third returning team is MDM Motorsports’ #99 Performance Plus Motor Oil Chevrolet, this time with Dalton Sargeant, who makes his first series start since this same race in 2015.

Making his series debut this Friday will be late model racer Robby Lyons, who will drive Premium Motorsports’ #49 Sunwest Construction Chevrolet. Lyons will be teamed with Jason Hathaway, who we last saw drive for Bolen Motorsports at Mosport. With sponsorship from Kubota and Choco Authentics, it’s likely that Hathaway’s drive will not be a “start-and-park” effort, as Gray Gaulding’s has been since Premium expanded their Truck effort this summer.

One week after Faith Motorsports fielded the #44 for Ted Minor, yielding a 25th-place finish, Austin Wayne Self is listed to drive the #44 AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet at Phoenix following a 15th-place debut with his 2018 team, Niece Motorsports. Niece has retained T.J. Bell to drive his #45 Niece Equipment Chevrolet this Friday. Minor will drive MB Motorsports' #63 Chevrolet, replacing J.J. Yeley on the preliminary entry list.

Fresh off his second-consecutive K&N Pro Series West Championship, Todd Gilliland is set to make his sixth Truck Series start of 2017, this time in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ flagship #51 Pedigree Toyota. Phoenix saw Gilliland score the first of his 13 West Series wins on November 12, 2015, when he edged current XFINITY Series driver William Byron for the victory.

With Todd Peck once again missing from the entry list (Bayley Currey drives in his place in the D.J. Copp #83 after Peck was on the preliminary list), the LASTCAR Truck Series Championship will not be settled this Friday at Phoenix. However, three drivers are in position to force a showdown with Peck at Homestead:

The first is second-seeded Joe Nemechek, who with a last-place showing in his #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet can take a Bottom Five tiebreaker against Peck, 12-8. If this happens, Peck will be the only driver in position to take the title away from him, and must finish last at Homestead to do so.

Next is third-seeded Mike Senica, who if he finishes last Friday in Norm Benning’s #57 Chevrolet will tie Peck in last-place finishes (3), Bottom Fives (8), and Bottom Tens (8). Under LASTCAR rules, this would force a tiebreaker on Bottom Fifteens, which Peck would still win 10-8. This means Senica must finish last at both Phoenix and Homestead to take the title.

Finally, if Norm Benning finishes last in his #6 Chevrolet, he would win a Bottom Ten tiebreaker with Peck, 12-8. In this scenario, two drivers would have a chance to take the title from him at Homestead. Peck could get the title with a last-place finish in the finale, 4 last-place finishes to Benning’s 3. The other is Joe Nemechek, who even if he doesn’t finish in the Bottom Ten at Phoenix, could defeat Benning and Peck with a last-place run at Homestead, setting up a three-way Bottom Five tiebreaker 11-8-3.

Tommy Regan and Tommy Joe Martins, who also are mathematically in striking distance of Peck, will be eliminated from LASTCAR championship contention if they do not start on Friday. Trailing Peck in both Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens, either driver’s path to the title is the same as Senica’s – finish last at both Phoenix and Homestead.

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