Friday, February 23, 2018

PREVIEW: Without Open teams at Atlanta, track sees shortest Cup field since 1976

Jack Donohue loses an engine at Atlanta, 1976
PHOTO: Historical Stock Car Racing Forum
Saturday, February 24, 2018
TRUCKS Race 2 of 23
Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Todd Peck

ENTRY LIST
There are 34 trucks entered for 32 spots, down four trucks from last week’s race in Daytona. Two trucks will miss the show.

RETURNING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
After her hard crash last week in Daytona, Jennifer Jo Cobb has entered her second truck, the #0, for the first time since last fall at Homestead. The driver is Joey Gase, who despite his developing Cup and XFINITY career has never started a Truck Series race. He was entered in the Cobb truck last year at Kentucky, again in the #0, but was withdrawn. It's as yet unclear whether this team will be a "start-and-park," as it has been used in the past.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-TJL Motorsports
One week after B.J. McLeod failed to qualify as a last-minute replacement for J.J. Yeley, TJL Motorsports has selected another driver to be announced. UPDATE: Clay Greenfield became the driver on Friday, one week after hos strong qualifying run at Daytona.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
Jordan Anderson saved his Toyota from disastwr when he spun to safety across the finish line. Nevertheless, he's driving a Chevrolet this weekend.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young's Motorsports
UPDATE: Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon takes the controls of Young's #20 this weekend, replacing Scott Lagasse, Jr. According to Bob Pockrass, the majority of this truck's season will go to development driver Tanner Thorson.

CLOSED: #28-FDNY Racing
Bryan Dauzat threatened for a Top 10 finish last week in Daytona, only to be involved in a late-race accident that left him 18th. With that, Jim Rosenblum’s Truck Series team has closed its doors after 53 series starts. T.J. Clark picked up their best series finish at Phoenix in 1996, coming home 12th.

MISSING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Chris Fontaine’s electrical issues left him 29th at Daytona, and his next start will likely be Talladega, as it has in all but one year since 2013.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
In place of ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, who failed to qualify at Daytona, Mike Mittler brings back Akinori Ogata of Japan to attempt his seventh series start. Ogata finished 30th in this race last year for Beaver Motorsports.

MISSING: #68-Clay Greenfield Racing
A sterling 3rd-place qualifying run in the #PleaseStand Chevrolet ended with a brutal crash in the final 20 laps of Friday’s race, leaving him a disappointing 22nd. The team isn’t entered this week, their return to be announced. UPDATE: Greenfield is driving TJL's #1 truck.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon returns to the controls of his own #74 Chevrolet, one week after Cody Ware failed to qualify at Daytona.

MISSING: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #8-NEMCO Motorsports
NEMCO Motorsports scaled back from two trucks at Daytona to just one this week, parking the #87 that Joe Nemechek drove to a spirited 3rd-place finish last week. The reason for the reduction is John Hunter Nemechek will make his first XFINITY start of the season in Ganassi’s #42 Chevrolet. Joe will take the controls of John Hunter’s #8 on Friday.

RETURNING: #97-JJL Motorsports
After a successful limited schedule in 2017, it was announced January 22 that Chad Little’s son Jesse will run more races this year, starting this week. In place of last year’s black Toyota, the team will run a blue Ford sponsored by JJL Marketing Developments. The team debuted their new website on February 13.

CUP INVADERS: #4-Kyle Busch

Saturday, February 24, 2018
XFINITY Race 2 of 33
Rinnai 250 at Atlanta
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Blake Koch

ENTRY LIST
There are 43 cars entered for 40 spots, down three from Daytona. Three cars will miss the show. UPDATE: Make that 42 with the withdrawal of the McLeod #99 on Friday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #0-JD Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
After Joe Nemechek turned heads with a strong run at Daytona, and Matt Mills was originally reported to drive the #15 this weekend at Atlanta, the entry list now indicates that Mills will swap rides with Garrett Smithley, putting Mills in the #0 and Smithley in the #15.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins was at the Daytona 500 last week in the Go FAS Racing pits, and this week makes his first XFINITY start of the season, taking the place of Caesar Bacarella in the #8. Martins made nine series starts last year with a season-best 11th at Iowa.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
Following a disappointing last-place finish at Daytona with Roush-Fenway, Austin Cindric begins his split-season with Penske Racing in the #12 sponsored by Fitzgerald Glider Kits. It promises to be the first XFINITY start for Penske’s #12 since Sam Hornish, Jr.’s runner-up performance at Charlotte last fall.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
In place of Cup regular Daniel Suarez, who drove the car at Daytona, K&N Pro Series upstart Kyle Benjamin returns to action. In a five-race stint for Gibbs last year, Benjamin took the pole at Pocono and Kentucky and finished a season-best runner-up to teammate Ryan Preece at Iowa. Preece is not entered this week as Brandon Jones and Christopher Bell continue their full-time efforts in the #19 and #20.

MISSING: #25-ACG Racing
Chris Cockrum came up just short of a starting spot in last Saturday’s race, and Jeff Spraker’s team isn’t entered this weekend.

DRIVER CHANGE: #39-RSS Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #93-RSS Racing
J.J. Yeley and Ryan Sieg swap rides from Daytona with Yeley now in the #93 and Sieg in the #39. Jeff Green remains in the third RSS car, the #38 Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
The XFINITY Series debut of John Hunter Nemechek is on schedule for this weekend as he takes the place of Kyle Larson in Ganassi’s #42 Chevrolet, sponsored by NEMCO backer Fire Alarm Systems. Nemechek won the Truck Series race at Atlanta two years ago.

MISSING: #54-NXT Motorsports
One week after their rear gear issue at Daytona with Gray Gaulding driving, NXT Motorsports has not entered their #54 Toyota.

DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Taking the controls of the #60 this week is Chase Briscoe, who makes his XFINITY Series debut in an unsponsored Ford. Briscoe finished 25th in the Truck Series race here last year for Brad Keselowski Racing.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
After he was bumped from the Daytona field at the last moment, Timmy Hill returns with a blue Dodge in place of last week's white Toyota

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
An overtime tangle with Kyle Larson ended Ryan Ellis’ return to action last Saturday, leaving him 30th in the final running order. Team owner B.J. McLeod takes over the controls while Tommy Joe Martins drives his #8 Chevrolet.

MISSING: #86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
Brandon Brown showed speed last week in Daytona, but his family’s team has elected not to enter Atlanta following their involvement in last week’s backstretch pileup.

MISSING: #88-JR Motorsports
JR Motorsports drops from five teams to four this weekend, leaving out the #88 that Chase Elliott drove to a 12th-place finish.

WITHDREW: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
After Ray Black, Jr. wound up the fastest driver to miss the cut last week in Daytona, McLeod was originally going to enter the #99 - UPDATE: but withdrew on Friday without assigning a driver.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Ty Dillon, #22-Joey Logano, #98-Kevin Harvick

Sunday, February 25, 2018
CUP Race 2 of 36
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Cody Ware

ENTRY LIST
There are just 36 cars entered for 40 spots as, for the first time in series history, all four Open teams are unused, leaving only the 36 Chartered entries. Just seven times before have that few cars started a Cup race at Atlanta, most recently on November 7, 1976, when Jack Donohue’s engine let go on the first lap.

DRIVER & NUMBER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
After being used for Danica Patrick’s final start and being entered as car #7, Premium Motorsports’ Chartered entry returns to car #15, the same number it obtained last year from the shuttered HScott Motorsports. Their driver is Ross Chastain, who had an impressive Cup debut at Dover last year, but was withdrawn from what would have been his most recent attempt last fall at Homestead.

STILL THERE: #23-BK Racing
The 36 Chartered teams entered includes BK Racing as they begin to reorganize their program following last Thursday’s judgment. Gray Gaulding returns to drive this weekend, but the car may again arrive without a sponsor as none has yet been announced.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #43-Richard Petty Motorsports
On the heels of his runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, Darrell Wallace, Jr. has picked up sponsorship from the NASCAR Racing Experience. Associate sponsorship arrived Tuesday from Ohio-based E.E. Ward Moving & Storage, at 137 years the oldest African-American-owned business still operating in the United States.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
After a strong 12th-place finish by Justin Marks in the Daytona 500, XFINITY Series regular Harrison Rhodes is scheduled to make his Cup Series debut in the #51 Chevrolet. Rhodes, who has not run since last season's XFINITY finale at Homestead, has three Atlanta XFINITY starts with a best finish of 24th.

MISSING: #62-Beard Motorsports
MISSING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MISSING: #92-Ricky Benton Racing
MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
All four Open teams from the Daytona 500 are not entered. According to Brendan Gaughan himself, Beard Motorsports’ #62 will return at Talladega, continuing their exclusive focus on the plate tracks. The same is likely to happen with the Gaunt Brothers’ #96, which did so in the first two plate races last year. The next starts for MBM’s #66 and Benton’s #92 are, as yet, unknown. David Gilliland, who finished 14th with Benton in the 500, has indicated he may be done running Cup to focus on son Todd's efforts.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Following Corey LaJoie's disappointing last-place finish in the Daytona 500, Cole Whitt's split season with LaJoie begins this weekend. Whitt, who ran full-time for TriStar last year, finished 20th in this race in 2017, his fourth-best finish of the entire season.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Ever wonder who Jack Zink is, the guy who’s at the very bottom of the LASTCAR rankings? Born on October 17, 1928, Zink was an engineer and racing enthusiast, most notably his family’s efforts at the Indianapolis 500. His lone recorded Cup start came at his home track, a half-mile dirt oval in Oklahoma City, on August 3, 1956. Driving his own 1956 Pontiac, car #88, Zink started 7th in a field of 12, but overheated after just 10 laps to score his lone last-place finish. Zink entered the next race, to be run the following day on a track in Tulsa, but the event was cancelled due to terrible track conditions. At the time the race was cancelled on Lap 34 of 200, Zink had already crashed out, finishing third-from last in his #88. Since the race was cancelled, neither Zink’s start nor Bill Moore’s last-place run are officially recorded. Zink passed away in 2005.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at the Atlanta Motor Speedway

J.D. at Atlanta, 1976
SOURCE: Historical Stock Car Racing Forum
J.D. McDuffie made 31 starts at what is now the Atlanta Motor Speedway, including five on the track before it was expanded from 1.5 miles to the 1.522-mile length it held from 1970 through the first part of 1997.

McDuffie’s first Atlanta start came on August 7, 1966 during the Dixie 400, just the 15th race ever run at the track. Competing in his second Cup season, McDuffie was driving one of twelve Fords on the grid, and rolled out last in the 42-car field. In a season where Ford had boycotted the sport when their 427 engine was banned, independents like McDuffie benefitted as the lone standard bearers in place of the factory efforts. On this day, he climbed to 22nd before the transmission let go.

McDuffie failed to finish half of his Atlanta starts – 16 of 31 – but only once finished last. That came in his second Atlanta start on August 4, 1968, when his 1967 Buick fell out with a vibration after four laps.

Throughout his career, McDuffie rarely drove for other teams. Atlanta on August 2, 1970 was one of those occasions. During the Dixie 500, McDuffie joined up with Georgia driver Ken Spikes, who had been fielding a part-time effort for the last six years. He climbed aboard a #16 Chevrolet sponsored by Crane Cams, but turned just 30 laps before a vibration ended his run. It would be the only time all season that he didn’t run his own #70, and his only start that year in a Chevrolet.

McDuffie’s best Atlanta finish came on July 22, 1973, when his Chevrolet finished 7th, 11 laps down to David Pearson. His only other Top Ten came eight years later on March 16, 1980, rallying from 32nd to finish 9th, four laps down. Dale Earnhardt won that day over a Roger Penske-prepared Chevrolet whose driver, Rusty Wallace, was making his first Cup start.

Over the last decade of his career, McDuffie never finished better than 23rd at Atlanta, failing to finish seven of his last eight starts there. He missed both races there in 1984 and 1986, then made his final start there on March 15, 1987. In a race won by Ricky Rudd, driving for the late Bud Moore, McDuffie started 41st in the 42-car field and finished 40th, out with engine trouble after just 16 laps.

One of McDuffie’s last recorded attempts to make the Atlanta field came in March 1990, when qualifying was rained-out. McDuffie was sent home along with A.J. Foyt and Greg Sacks. Sacks was driving one of the cars fielded by Rick Hendrick for “Days of Thunder,” painted like Tom Cruise’s pink-and-white #46 Superflo Chevrolet.

Monday, February 19, 2018

OPINION: FOX dropped the ball in filling the void left by retired stars

Your 12th-place finisher yesterday.
PHOTO: NASCAR Media
Yesterday, in FOX’s lead-up to the Daytona 500, Charlize Theron introduced the starting lineup to Sunday’s race. It was terrible. The fault’s not Theron’s – she was merely delivering the lines she was given. It goes back to FOX itself, a network which let a tremendous opportunity pass by.

This is a critical season for NASCAR. The biggest names of the last two decades are all gone, including Dale Jr., Edwards, Stewart, Kenseth, Gordon, and now Danica. The sport and its teams have responded by advancing several young stars into top-flite, ready-to-win rides. So many, in fact, that young guns from a decade ago like Logano, Hamlin, and Kyle Busch are now the old guard against the likes of Blaney, Byron, and Wallace. The result is the youngest, healthiest field in decades, which in spite of the Charter system’s effect on overall depth, still has the very real potential of producing some of the best competition in years.

But all this is utterly meaningless if the media fails to inform the audience about who these people are, and why we should care about them. And this is where Sunday’s starting lineup comes in.

FOX had the opportunity – no – the responsibility to calm the concerns of old fans of retired drivers and attract the interest of people who had no understanding of the sport. This is actually much easier than it sounds because both groups are on equal footing: they both need to be given a reason to watch. The simplest and best way to do this isn’t some misleading ad campaign, but just take the time to tell us about each and every one of the forty starters. Not just Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch – everyone. Make a case why you should cheer for each and every person climbing behind the wheel. Tell us something interesting about each one of them, like the fact that Jeffrey Earnhardt is driving for the guy who beat his grandfather in the 500 in 1990. Or that a 66-year-old Mark Thompson is making just his second start since 1992.

Did FOX do this? No. In fact, their starting lineup didn’t even mention most of the field by name. And those who were named, we hardly learned anything about them. The more it played, the more I got the impression that whoever was in charge of the segment – whether the production team or its on-air talent – didn’t do their homework over the offseason. As I wrote in my article last year about the “Junior Singularity,” this was a trap that was waiting for them. With a fan favorite gone and no clear successor, you can’t just talk about the big names who are left. You need to talk about everyone because anyone can become the next Junior. FOX’s failure to prepare for this was completely avoidable and inexcusable.

The effect of FOX’s failure was felt through the rest of the broadcast as, once again, only a small circle of drivers received any real attention. This was particularly noticeable with each field-clearing wreck, as each brought a new group of drivers into contention, but few new stories. To his credit, Mike Joy has continued to keep an eye on small teams exceeding expectations, as he did with Brendan Gaughan and Matt DiBenedetto in the final stages. However, the task is too much for Joy alone. Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon were no help, choosing once again to simply react to things happening rather than reporting on developing stories. This problem is by no means limited to FOX as NBC’s group is just as guilty. Consider “throwback weekend” at Darlington, and how few of those paint schemes you actually saw during the race.

I do believe there’s time to right the ship, but only if immediate action is taken. The production staff needs to put more effort on producing driver profiles and, during the race, help the booth stay appraised of stories they may be missing. The announcers need to each take on different roles in the booth, focusing on a different aspect of the action, and stick to it. In doing so, they need to stop reacting and start reporting. The overall tone of the broadcasts needs to be turned away from entertaining the audience to informing them. Cars going around the track is entertaining enough – your job is to tell us there’s more going on. The result will be a leaner, more enjoyable, and more successful broadcast for all involved.

This isn’t asking too much. As I’ve said in the past, we should demand more of professionals, and not let them rest on their laurels. Because if we don’t, we will not only miss out on key moments in one of NASCAR’s most important seasons, but miss out on the chance to capitalize on them.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

CUP: Corey LaJoie arrives late, leaves early in first Camaro to finish last in Cup since 1971

PHOTO: NASCAR Media
Corey LaJoie picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s 60th Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #72 Schluter Systems Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after he completed 8 of 207 laps.

The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 35th series start, was his first since last July at Indianapolis, sixteen races ago. In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 13th for #72, the 738th for Chevrolet, and the 676th by reason of engine failure. Across the top three series, it’s the 28th for #72, the 1,576th for Chevrolet, and the 1,050th by reason of engine failure.

At this time last year, LaJoie was embarking on his rookie season, making his first Cup start since a two-race stint with Humphrey-Smith Motorsports in 2014. Driving the #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota from BK Racing, LaJoie didn’t make friends early, wrecking Reed Sorenson in his Duel to transfer into his first Daytona 500. A crash coming onto pit road led to a 24th-place finish, and a difficult freshman campaign. Other than an 11th-place finish in his return to Daytona in July, he never again finished inside the Top 20.

While BK Racing filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past Thursday, ultimately fielding just one of their two Toyotas in the Daytona 500, LaJoie had already made the move to another team. He tweeted in January that he would be driving a Chevrolet, but it wasn’t until just days before SpeedWeeks that he was announced as the driver for TriStar Motorsports, sharing the ride with 2017 driver Cole Whitt. The Daytona car would carry sponsorship from Schluter Systems, which backed BK Racing in a number of races last year.

SpeedWeeks 2018 began on a rough note when TriStar Motorsports’ hauler didn’t arrive in time for sign-in day on February 9. Faced with a cut-off time of the next morning, the truck arrived in the middle of the night, ensuring that exactly 40 cars would fill the 40-car field. Without the need to race his way in, LaJoie turned the slowest lap in opening practice, then 38th and 16th in the next two sessions, skipped the fourth, and ran slowest of the 25 in Happy Hour. In between, he turned the first lap in qualifying – slowest of those completed at 186.058mph (48.372 seconds). He also ran a conservative race in Duel Race 2, finishing two laps down in 16th of the 20-car field. This secured him the 32nd spot on the 500 grid.

Starting last on Sunday was 66-year-old Mark Thompson, who was driving a former Richard Petty Motorsports Ford purchased by Carl Long’s team, Motorsports Business Management. The #66 Ford, sponsored by Thompson’s aeronautics company Phoenix Air, had computer issues early on. As the car warmed up on the grid, it didn’t report the water pressure. In the race, a cord had pinned down the antenna, causing interference on the radio. When asked to move the cord, Thompson replied “I’m afraid to touch anything.”

Making just his second Cup start since 1992, Thompson ran side-by-side with David Gilliland in the other former Petty Ford (now a backup #92 Black’s Tire Ford for Ricky Benton Racing). Gilliland got the advantage down the backstretch, and the crew instructed Thompson to follow in his tire tracks. Thompson attempted this, but by the second lap had already lost touch with the pack, more than 1.4 seconds behind the 39th-place car. Thompson was still bringing up the rear, and running by himself, when the first caution of the afternoon flew.

LaJoie was himself running near the back of the pack when his car started trailing smoke, forcing him to pull down to the apron. Under the ensuing yellow, LaJoie managed to drive his own car behind the wall, and the team brought out the generator to see what was going on beneath the hood. He was the first driver to lose a lap to the leaders. On Lap 11, someone on the crew said “We’re done,” and the team packed up, the first car done for the day.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by the first of three multi-car accidents on Lap 60. A blocking Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. narrowly saved his #17 Fastenal Ford entering Turn 3, but set up a four-wide logjam at the front of the pack. Contact between Kyle Larson’s #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet and Erik Jones’ #20 DeWalt Toyota triggered a seven-car pileup. Receiving the most significant damage were Jones, the #19 Arris Toyota of Daniel Suarez, the #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson (his third wreck of SpeedWeeks), and the #13 GEICO Chevrolet of Ty Dillon. All four fell to the Bottom Five under the ensuing yellow.

Mark Thompson lost the first of four laps on the 25th circuit to finish 22nd, the best finish of his Cup career. His was the one of many intriguing storylines.

Locked in a side-by-side battle with Denny Hamlin was rookie Darrell Wallace, Jr., whose runner-up finish was the best by the #43 in the Daytona 500 since Richard Petty ran 3rd in 1987 (which itself was its best finish since Petty’s seventh win in 1981).

Chris Buescher finished 5th, his best run since he ran 5th in the Bristol night race in 2015.

Michael McDowell ran 9th in his first start for Front Row Motorsports, his second-straight Top 10 at Daytona.

Justin Marks finished a career-best 12th in his and Rick Ware Racing’s first Daytona 500.

David Gilliland gave Ricky Benton a strong debut of his own, steering the #92 Ford to a 14th-place finish.

Gray Gaulding and the bankrupt BK Racing team finished 20th, their second-straight Top 20 at Daytona and Gaulding’s second-straight Top 20 on the plate tracks.

And Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose StarCom Racing team finished no better than 32nd in its two previous starts, earned a 21st-place finish, five positions better than Earnhardt ran in last year’s 500.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #72 since November 12, 2006, when Brandon Whitt’s #72 Dutch Quality Stone Chevrolet broke the rear end after 123 laps of the Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix. The number had never before finished last in a Cup race at Daytona.
*It’s the first Cup Series last-place run for TriStar Motorsports since July 14, 2013, when Mike Bliss’ #19 Humphrey-Smith Racing Toyota (then co-owned by Randy Humphrey) left with rear gear issues after 75 of 302 laps of the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire. The team had never before finished last in a Cup race at Daytona.

CAMARO IN THE CUP SERIES
*This marked the first last-place finish for a Chevrolet Camaro in a Cup Series points race since August 28, 1971. That day, during the Buddy Shuman 276 at the Hickory Speedway, was the last Cup race held at the third-mile oval in North Carolina. That day, Camaros were distinguished from other Chevrolets in the field as the race featured a mix of full-sized machines and smaller “pony cars,” including Mustangs and Javelins. Taking last was Dick Brooks, who started the year driving for Mario Rossi’s Dodge team. When Rossi stopped entering cars earlier that month, Brooks took the wheel of a 1969 Camaro, one of three in the field. Brooks’ #95 qualified 15th, but turned just 30 laps before overheating issues ended his race. While the second Camaro of Randy Hutchison also exited early with an oil leak, the third, driven by Tiny Lund, took the win by nearly a lap over Elmo Langley.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #72-Corey LaJoie / 8 laps / engine
39) #13-Ty Dillon / 59 laps / crash
38) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 59 laps / crash
37) #19-Daniel Suarez / 59 laps / crash
36) #20-Erik Jones / 59 laps / crash / led 10 laps

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Austin Cindric’s ill-handling Ford triggers first wreck at Daytona

PHOTO: Fox Sports 1
Austin Cindric picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s PowerShares QQQ 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #60 Pirtek Ford was involved in a multi-car accident after 10 of 143 laps. The finish came in Cindric’s second series start.

In the LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings, it’s the 11th for #60, the 153rd for Ford, and the 312th by reason of a crash. Across the top three series, it’s the 32nd for #60, the 934th for Ford, and the 1,129th by reason of a crash.

The son of Team Penske president and IndyCar team strategist Tim Cindric, Austin Cindric made his way into NASCAR by way of the ARCA Racing Series and the Camping World Truck Series in 2015. Just 16 at the time, Cindric finished 4th in his ARCA debut at Iowa and 25th in Trucks at Martinsville. His truck ride was with Brad Keselowski Racing, the top Ford team on the circuit. He went full-time Truck racing last year, which turned out to be BKR’s last year in operation. Cindric broke through with a controversial win at Mosport in September when he spun Kaz Grala from the lead on the final lap.

This year, Cindric landed a ride in Roush-Fenway’s fleet #60 Ford Mustang, sharing the ride with Ty Majeski and Chase Briscoe. Cindric landed the ride for Daytona with Pirtek, his sponsor with BKR at Kansas last year. It would be his first XFINITY Series start since a one-off in Penske’s #22 last year at Road America. He started on the pole that day and finished 16th in a race won by underdog Jeremy Clements.

At Daytona, Cindric ran seventh in Friday’s opening practice and didn’t participate in Happy Hour. He ran 11th in Round 1 of qualifying, and 11th again in Round 2 with a lap of 186.768mph (48.188 seconds), besting Elliott Sadler, who didn’t turn a lap in that second round due to overheating issues. Cindric was then moved to 10th on the grid when 3rd-place starter Matt Tifft’s time was disallowed, forcing Tifft to take a provisional in 39th. With Tifft now driving for Richard Childress Racing, which had a high ranking in Owner Points, this triggered a last-minute shuffle at the back of the lineup.

Starting 40th was Josh Williams, who also failed post-qualifying inspection after his #90 Star Tron Star Brite / Stay Sky Hotel Chevrolet from DGM Racing ran 27th in Round 1. He took the last spot from Cup regular Austin Dillon, who (along with Mike Harmon in his #74 Shadow Warrior Project Dodge) didn’t turn a lap in Round 1. Combined with the penalized Matt Tifft, this bumped out Timmy Hill, who was originally in on Owner Points, set to start 36th in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota. The glut of Cup teams in the Bottom Five bumped Hill out based on his Owner Point ranking, and then his speed. His spot in the field ended up going to NXT Motorsports’ Gray Gaulding, whose #54 VSI Racing Toyota was originally the fastest car to miss the show. Hill ended up sent home along with Ray Black, Jr., Chris Cockrum, Morgan Shepherd, Josh Bilicki, and Mike Harmon, who had already DNQ’d.

According to RacingUnderdogs, Gaulding’s #54 was just coming off pit road before the start of Saturday’s race. He trailed the field by 4.570 seconds on the first lap. By Lap 3, J.J. Yeley had taken the spot in RSS Racing’s #39 Superior Essex Chevrolet. From there, Yeley began to lose touch with the lead pack. He was 3.337 seconds back of the next car on Lap 5, 5.557 back on Lap 6, and 11.616 on Lap 9. On the 11th circuit, he was still running in 40th, less than four seconds away from losing a lap, when trouble broke out up front. Josh Williams, the last-place starter, had charged his way up to 12th in the first 10 laps.

Cindric’s #60 Ford appeared to be running loose in the opening laps, and by the 11th lap, he was stuck in the middle lane of a tight battle in Turn 4. Running seventh with Daniel Suarez to his outside and Tyler Reddick to his inside, Cindric slid into Suarez twice coming off the corner. The second hit knocked him to door of Reddick, and he slammed the wall directly in front of Suarez’s two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Brandon Jones, driving the #19 Juniper Networks Toyota, ended up with the right-front of his splitter bent up. Next to be hit was Christopher Bell, trying to pass Cindric to the inside in the #20 Rheem Toyota. The two made much harder contact, destroying the right-front of his machine. Cindric climbed from his car in the infield grass, done for the day. Bell made it around one more time before going to the garage, leaving him 39th. Jones recovered to finish 10th.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were 38th-place Gray Gaulding, whose last-minute entry broke the rear gear heading down the backstretch. 37th went to Michael Annett, whose #5 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet lost the splitter when he slid into the grass on Lap 107. 36th-place Brandon Brown had a strong run early, but his new #86 CON.io / Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet was collected in the day’s biggest multi-car accident on Lap 122.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #60 in an XFINITY Series race since May 9, 2008, when Carl Edwards’ #60 Scotts Water Smart Ford started on the pole, then crashed out after 3 laps of the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at the Darlington Raceway. Roush-Fenway’s #60, made famous by Mark Martin and Greg Biffle, has finished last just six times. The number has never trailed at Daytona.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #60-Austin Cindric / 10 laps / crash
39) #20-Christopher Bell / 11 laps / crash
38) #54-Gray Gaulding / 82 laps / rear gear
37) #5-Michael Annett / 106 laps / crash
36) #86-Brandon Brown / 121 laps / crash

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Ford (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Travis Kvapil’s engine lets go early at Daytona

SOURCE: NASCAR Media
Travis Kvapil picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #50 Rhino Rush Energy Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after 2 of 100 laps.

The finish, which came in Kvapil’s 196th series start, was his first in a Truck Series race since March 28, 2015, when his #1 Bubba Burger / Kioti Tractors Chevrolet busted the rear gear after 83 laps of the Kroger 250 at the Martinsville Speedway. In the LASTCAR Truck Series rankings, it’s the 8th for #50, the 344th for Chevrolet, and the 124th by reason of engine failure. Among the top three series, it’s the 30th for #50, the 1,575th for Chevrolet, and the 1,049th by reason of engine failure.

The 2003 Truck Series Champion rejoined team owner Mark Beaver, who has fielded trucks for Kvapil off and on for the last four years. The two first worked together under the banner of MAKE Motorsports, which last year became Beaver Motorsports after co-owner Tracy Lowe parted ways to form TJL Racing. Kvapil made two of his five starts last year in Beaver’s #50, finishing 24th at Daytona and 29th at Martinsville, before Josh Reaume took over for much of the remainder of the season. For their Daytona reunion, new sponsorship came from Rhino Rush Energy Drink.

Kvapil was one of 36 drivers to take time in qualifying. He was one of three drivers to not participate in Thursday’s opening practice, then ran 33rd of 35 in the afternoon session and 20th of 26 in Happy Hour. In qualifying, he ran a lap of 170.898mph (52.663 seconds), second-slowest behind B.J. McLeod, a late replacement for J.J. Yeley in TJL Racing’s #1 Motorsports Safety Group Chevrolet. Regardless, Kvapil’s 2003 title locked him into the field with the Past Champion’s Provisional, securing him the 32nd and final starting spot. McLeod failed to qualify along with Bobby Gerhart in Mike Mittler’s #63, Josh Reaume in his own #33, and Cody Ware in Mike Harmon’s #74.

When the race began, Kvapil took the green in last, but by Turn 3, he’d climbed past Jennifer Jo Cobb in her #10 Think Reality Chevrolet. Cobb then passed Jordan Anderson, who debuted his own team and his #3 Jacob Companies / Bommarito.com Toyota. Anderson held last place at the stripe, three seconds back of the leader. By the next time by, Anderson moved past Premium Motorsports’ #15 Troptions Chevrolet, driven by new full-timer Robby Lyons.

On Lap 3, Lyons was still trailing the pack while Kvapil had climbed from last up to 27th. Running the middle lane, Kvapil’s #50 suddenly erupted in smoke, sending the six trucks behind him scattering. The following pack managed to avoid wrecking while Kvapil moved his slowing truck to the apron, drawing the first yellow of the night. Kvapil pulled behind the wall under the yellow, done for the night. He was officially classified “out” on FS1’s ticker by Lap 17.

31st went to Jennifer Jo Cobb, who took the hardest hit of the night when she struck the inside wall off Turn 4 and erupted in flames. Cobb climbed out, but was favoring her arm, leading to a stay in the infield care center that lasted the rest of the race. Bo LeMastus’ first run in the #54 DGR-Crosley Toyota ended in a multi-car accident on the ensuing restart, followed by 29th-place Chris Fontaine with electrical issues on his #47 Glenden Enterprises Chevrolet. Rounding out the group was Parker Kligerman, who suffered right-front damage to his #75 Food Country USA Chevrolet, then cut down a right-front tire and smacked the outside wall.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #50 since October 3, 2015, when Tyler Tanner’s turn in Beaver’s #50 Landworks Solutions Chevrolet ended with ignition trouble after 5 laps of the Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas. The number had never before finished last in a Truck Series race at Daytona.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #50-Travis Kvapil / 2 laps / engine
31) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 54 laps / crash
30) #54-Bo LeMastus / 63 laps / crash
29) #47-Chris Fontaine / 65 laps / electrical
28) #75-Parker Kligerman / 66 laps / crash

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Beaver Motorsports (1)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Friday, February 16, 2018

PREVIEW: More entry list updates from Daytona SpeedWeeks

PHOTO: @BiltMotorsports
With the release of the Truck Series and XFINITY Series entry lists, this week’s weekend preview will feature updates since the announcements from our previous feature.

Friday, February 16, 2018
TRUCKS Race 1 of 23
NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Tommy Joe Martins

ENTRY LIST
The current entry list shows 36 trucks for 32 spots, meaning that four teams will miss the show. This is six fewer than this race last year, when 42 drivers arrived to attempt the field.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-TJL Motorsports
Jordan Anderson, who drove for TJL last year, has entered his own team, the #3 of Jordan Anderson Racing. In his place will be J.J. Yeley with backing from the Motorsports Safety Group. UPDATE: B.J. McLeod qualified the #1 in place of Yeley.

DRIVER LINEUP: #4, #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
David Gilliland leads off Kyle Busch Motorsports’ team at Daytona, driving the #4 Toyota sponsored by Pedigree. Driving the #51 will be Dawsonville, Georgia’s Spencer Davis, looking to make his series debut in the #51 JBL / Sirius XM Toyota. The team’s third truck, the #46, isn’t entered at Daytona.

RETURNING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Norm Benning is back in his #6 Chevrolet, and eyes his first Daytona start since 2015, when he finished 14th.

NEW TEAM: #7-All Out Motorsports
The first of nine new Truck Series teams slated to make their debut in 2018 is All Out Motorsports, owned by Doug George. Driving the #7 Tru Clear global Toyota is Korbin Forrister, who rain a pair of races last year for SS-Green Light Racing with a best finish of 31st at Michigan.

RETURNING: #8, #87-NEMCO Motorsports
While John Hunter Nemechek prepares to share a ride with Kyle Larson in the XFINITY Series, he is once again running his #8 Chevrolet in the Trucks alongside his father Joe in the #87. Both trucks will carry sponsorship from Fleetwing.

RETURNING: #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb is back at Daytona in her #10 Chevrolet with Think Realty as sponsor. Cobb ran 18 of 23 races last year, but didn’t start any of the opening three rounds. Like Norm Benning, the last time she took the green at Daytona was in 2015, when she finished 18th.

RETURNING: #28-FDNY Racing
Jim Rosenblum’s FDNY Racing has traditionally run the plate races, Charlotte, and Pocono exclusively. This year, they return to Daytona, looking to bounce back from a DNQ last year. Just like last year, the team has tabbed Bryan Dauzat to drive the #28 FDNY / American Genomics Chevrolet. Dauzat, age 58, finished 33rd in last Saturday’s ARCA race. UPDATE: It has since been reported that Friday will be Rosenblum's final NASCAR start as an owner, closing a career dating back to 1983.

NEW TEAM: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
While the entry list shows Maury Gallagher as the team owner of Josh Reaume’s #33 R-Coin Chevrolet (following the #33 that Kaz Grala drove for GMS last year), the truck will actually mark the debut of a two-car team, Reaume Brothers Racing. Reaume makes the move from Beaver Motorsports’ #50, which he drove for most of last season. A second truck, the #34, will join the effort later this season.

RETURNING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Restrictor-plate specialist Chris Fontaine returns to the superspeedway with longtime sponsor Glenden Enterprises on his Chevrolet (after running Toyotas last season). Fontaine finished 22nd in this race last year.

RETURNING: #50-Beaver Motorsports
Mark Beaver’s single-truck team ran 24th last year with 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil, and the pair have returned to Daytona this year. With Josh Reaume tending to his own team, it’s likely Kvapil will run more races than the five he did in 2017. The team's Daytona sponsor is Rhino Rush Energy Drink.

NEW TEAM: #54-DGR-CROSLEY
David Gilliland’s two-truck effort also makes its debut at Daytona with support from Kyle Busch for the team’s Toyotas. The #54 hits the track first with ARCA Racing Series regular Bo LeMastus slated to make his NASCAR debut. The 55-year-old LeMastus from Louisville, Kentucky finished 31st in last Saturday’s ARCA opener. The team's #17 truck is expected to join the effort later in 2018.

RETURNING: #63-MB Motorsports
Mike Mittler remains the series’ longest-running Truck Series owner, and has again fielded a #63 Chevrolet for ARCA legend Bobby Gerhart. Gerhart, who was shuffled out late in the ARCA race for a 12th-place finish, will carry longtime sponsor Lucas Oil on the truck.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Racing
Clay Greenfield is back in his own #68 AMVETS / Please Stand Chevrolet, looking to replicate his successful 8th-place run in his most recent start last fall at Talladega.

RETURNING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
The Chevrolet fielded by XFINITY Series owner-driver Mike Harmon is entered, and Cody Ware was announced as driver on Wednesday.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Driver turned broadcaster Parker Kligerman showed flashes of brilliance last year in his limited Truck Series and XFINITY Series efforts. At Daytona, he rejoins Charlie Henderson, the longtime NASCAR team owner who earned his first Truck Series win - and his first NASCAR victory since 1989 - with Kligerman behind the wheel at Talladega. The driver now aims for his second-straight plate race win.

DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
D.J. Copp enters his second season as a Truck Series team owner and has put Scott Stenzel behind the wheel of his #83 E2 Northeast Motorsports Chevrolet. Stenzel looks to make his first Truck Series start since 2014, when he ran seven races for MB Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02, #20-Young's Motorsports
Randy Young and Bryan Hill's twin white Chevrolets are back. The team has brought aboard Scott Lagasse, Jr. for another of his yearly attempts to run in the Truck and/or XFINITY opener. Sponsorship for Lagasse's #20 comes from the American Cancer Society. Austin Hill is entered as his teammate in the #02 GoShare.co Chevrolet.

MISSING: #99-MDM Motorsports
One of the most notable teams missing from this year’s list is MDM Motorsports, which broke through with their first win (though encumbered) with Darrell Wallace, Jr. at Michigan. This team was one of many collected in the Lap 2 accident that marred the start of the 2017 race, handing them a last-place finish. The team is expected to return this year, according to the current Owner Points chart.

MISSING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
MISSING: #36-MB Motorsports
MISSING: #57-Norm Benning Racing
Jennifer Jo Cobb has not, as yet, entered her second truck, the #0, which made 12 races this year. Also missing are the second entries belonging to MB Motorsports (#36) and Norm Benning Racing (#57), which were also used to help fill fields last year. The missing #57 is curious as last year’s driver Mike Senica has made several Twitter posts, including him in a new driver’s uniform.

CUP INVADERS: #4-David Gilliland

Saturday, February 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 1 of 33
PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: David Starr

ENTRY LIST
The preliminary entry list shows 46 drivers for 40 spots, meaning that six drivers will go home after time trials. That’s a two-car increase from the 2017 running, which had two withdrawals to get it down to 44.

RETURNING: #15-JD Motorsports
After it was originally announced that JD Motorsports would not be entering their fourth car, the #15, until next week at Atlanta for Matt Tifft, the car is entered this weekend with NASCAR veteran Joe Nemechek behind the wheel. Nemechek drove for JD in the last two races of 2017, finishing 35th at Phoenix in the #15 and 27th at Homestead in the #01. Flex Tape will sponsor the car.

RETURNING: #25-ACG Motorsports
Chris Cockrum is back along with the Advanced Communications Group team led by Jeff Spraker. Cockrum eyes his first XFINITY Series start since last September at Chicago, where he finished 30th. He ran 28th in this Daytona race last year.

UPDATE: #35-SS Green Light Racing
Joey Gase’s return to the XFINITY Series will be under the Go FAS Racing banner, but it will be fielded by SS Green Light Racing, which also is entering Spencer Boyd’s #76 Grunt Style Chevrolet. A similar arrangement was done between SS Green Light and B.J. McLeod Motorsports last year, when they coordinated the #99 Chevrolet driven by David Starr.

NUMBER CHANGE: #36, #90-DGM Racing
Mario Gosselin’s DGM team (King Autosport) retains a two-car lineup in 2018 with the former #92 now the #36 to be driven for the entire XFINITY season by defending NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion Alex Labbe. Labbe has three XFINITY starts to his credit, most recently at Charlotte last May, where he ran 33rd. Most importantly, he has the Owner Points of the ##3 from Richard Childress Racing. He’ll be teamed at Daytona with Josh Williams, last year’s driver of the Gosselin #92, who this year drive the primary #90.

UPDATE: #38, #39, #93-RSS Racing
The rest of the RSS Racing trio was revealed this week. Jeff Green, already announced to make his return to the team, will once again drive the #38 Chevrolet he and Gray Gaulding helped debut last fall. At Daytona, the car will carry sponsorship from Night Owl Contractors, Inc. Driving the #39, once the team’s primary car, will be J.J. Yeley, who makes the move from TriStar Motorsports and attempts double-duty with the Truck Series. And, no, there will be no “start-and-parking” at Daytona – all three will attempt the full race.

NUMBER CHANGE: #40, #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s XFINITY Series team returns to action in 2018 with both of its cars. The #13 is now the #66, matching the team’s Cup Series car number, and will have Timmy Hill driving at Daytona. The #40, running the same number as last year, will see Chad Finchum behind the wheel, and has Owner Points from the #48 of Chip Ganassi Racing, Brennan Poole’s old ride.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
Whataburger, one of David Starr's sponsors from last year, has signed with his new ride for Jimmy Means at Daytona.

RETURNING: #54-NXT Motorsports
The new NXT Motorsports team (formerly NextGen Motorsports, which debuted late last season), has tabbed Gray Gaulding to attempt double-duty with the 500. The Toyota will be sponsored by VSI Racing.

RETURNING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Amid the many team and driver changes over the offseason, both owner-drivers – Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd – are back again in 2018.

MISSING: #14-TriStar Motorsports
Now starting their second Cup Series season, TriStar Motorsports has suspended operations of their XFINITY Series team after eight seasons and a best finish of 4th by Jason Keller at Talladega in 2010. The Owner Points have moved to the new #55 team of JP Motorsports, which obtained several Toyotas from TriStar.

MISSING: #33-Richard Childress Racing
The Owner Points of this team moved to the #36 of Alex Labbe for DGM Racing.

MISSING: #48-Chip Ganassi Racing
The Owner Points of this team moved to the #40 of Chad Finchum for Motorsports Business Management.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Austin Dillon, #18-Daniel Suarez, #22-Joey Logano, #42-Kyle Larson, #88-Chase Elliott, #98-Aric Almirola

Sunday, February 18, 2018
CUP Race 1 of 36
Daytona 500 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Matt Kenseth

ENTRY LIST
Still 40 cars for 40 spots – barely. TriStar Motorsports struggled to get their #72 for Corey LaJoie to the garage in time for sign-in day, and according to Bob Pockrass, arrived overnight just hours before the Saturday morning deadline.

DRIVER UPDATE: #23-BK Racing
The all-white #23 Toyota was unloaded in the Daytona infield without a driver’s name above the door, but on the night before his 20th birthday, Gray Gaulding was tabbed to drive. He arrived at the track in his uniform from last fall and prepared to drive. The team has remained on the edge all week – the car didn’t practice until the final two minutes of the opening session, couldn’t get through the engine phase of technical inspection and couldn’t qualify, sending him last in his Duel. Hours before the Duels, it was announced that BK Racing had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but is still looking ti keep the team going through its reorganization.

STILL MISSING: Landon Cassill
The second-most surprising spectator of this year’s SpeedWeeks behind Austin Theriault, the defending ARCA Racing Series Champion.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Car #66 holds the record for the most last-place finishes in Cup Series history with 51, five more than any other number. The most recent came with Timmy Hill at Dover last fall. The number’s first last-place run at Daytona came in the 1978 Daytona 500, when Harry Gant lost the engine after the opening lap. It was the first of Gant’s ten career Cup last-place finishes. Mark Thompson runs the number in the Daytona 500 this Sunday.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

CUP: Aric Almirola’s debut with Stewart-Haas Racing ends in bizarre accident in Duel Race 1

PHOTO: @dwmangum
Aric Almirola finished last in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #10 Smithfield Ford was collected in a three-car accident after 8 of 63 laps.

Late last season, it was reported that Smithfield Foods would end their six-year relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). The sponsor would follow Almirola, the team’s driver, to Stewart-Haas Racing, where he’d replace Danica Patrick as driver of the #10 Ford.  RPM would soon hire Darrell Wallace, Jr., who relieved Almirola following his back injury at Kansas, attracting piecemeal sponsorships for 2018.

Almirola started SpeedWeeks fourth-fastest among the Fords in opening practice (18th overall), then jumped to 13th in Sunday’s qualifying session with a lap of 193.386mph (46.539 seconds). The speed lined Almirola up 7th in Duel Race 1, alongside fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney.

Starting last in the Duel was David Ragan, who didn’t turn a lap in qualifying in Front Row Motorsports’ #38 Speedco / Love's Travel Stops Ford. Just moments after the green flag dropped, however, David Gilliland was already losing touch with the pack in Ricky Benton’s #92 Black’s Tire Ford. Soon to join him was polesitter Alex Bowman, whose #88 Nationwide Chevrolet pulled to the outside and was nearly collected by several drivers as he dropped to the rear. On Lap 2, as the field poured down the backstretch, Gilliland passed Bowman and gapped him by two-tenths of a second. Bowman and Gilliland joined Brendan Gaughan, Jeffrey Earnhardt, and Justin Marks in a five-car pack that trailed the rest of the field. With exactly 40 cars for 40 spots, nobody would not be sent home after the Duels, likely the reason that this group stayed in the back.

At first, the plan worked. The accident that sent Aric Almirola to the rear began with 6th-place runner Jimmie Johnson. Still shaking off his seventh-straight wreck in The Clash on Sunday, Johnson felt a vibration in his #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet entering the tri-oval. Johnson pulled low, only to lose control at the exit of the corner with a flat left-rear tire. His car cut right, directly into the path of Almirola. The collision stuffed Almirola’s Ford into the outside wall, and it dragged against the fence into Turn 2. Both Johnson and Almirola were towed to the garage with the trailing Almirola classified last. Daniel Suarez, who suffered minor right-front damage after trailing the pair, continued on in the race.

Despite the small field, the rest of the Bottom Five was filled by accidents. William Byron’s first competitive laps in Hendrick Motorsports’ #24 Axalta Chevrolet ended in almost the same spot as his teammate when he lost control at the exit of the tri-oval and nosed into the outside wall. 17th went to David Gilliland, who caught back up to the field, only to crash when Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. cut to his inside in Turn 1. Rounding out the group was Brad Keselowski, whose #2 Discount Tire Ford made a bid for the lead with three laps to go, but crossed the nose of a closing Jamie McMurray, stuffing him into the fence.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked just the second time in the history of the Can-Am Duels where car #10 finished last. The other time occurred in Race 1 in 2004, when Scott Riggs crashed out in MB2 Motorsports’ #10 Valvoline Chevrolet after he slid into the Turn 2 wall.
*This was Almirola’s first last-place finish in a Can-Am Duel.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
20) #10-Aric Almirola / 8 laps / crash
19) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 8 laps / crash
18) #24-William Byron / 38 laps / crash
17) #92-David Gilliland / 47 laps / crash
16) #2-Brad Keselowski / 57 laps / crash

CUP: Kyle Larson ensnared in backstretch pileup in Duel Race 2

PHOTO: NASCAR Media
Kyle Larson finished last in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel Race 2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 11 of 60 laps.

Larson’s career-best four-win season in 2017 came to an abrupt end in the season’s final weeks when an engine failure at Kansas knocked him out of an almost assured spot in the Championship Four. It also proved to be the sixteenth and final season that Target sponsored Chip Ganassi’s full-time Cup effort, bringing to a close one of the longest active owner-sponsor partnerships both in NASCAR and in open-wheel racing. In its place came Credit One Bank, which not only sponsored the final lap on NASCAR’s television broadcasts, but backed both Ganassi cars as an associate last year. Among the other brands signing on was DC Solar, coming over from Ganassi’s shuttered #48 team in the XFINITY Series.

Larson’s new blue-and-white Camaro ranked 10th in opening practice, but slipped to 22nd in qualifying with a lap of 192.238mph (46.817 seconds). The lap put Larson 11th on the grid for Race 2.

Starting last in Race 2 was Gray Gaulding, whose BK Racing team has provided one of SpeedWeeks’ most unusual stories. Reports of the team’s financials difficulties were confirmed just hours earlier when the team filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The team’s impending reorganization did not prevent them from preparing a single #23 Toyota, which arrived at the track last Friday without sponsorship – or a driver. On the night before his 20th birthday, Gaulding was tabbed to drive, and returning team sponsor Earthwater joined the team in time for the race. Like David Ragan in Race 1, Gaulding didn’t turn a lap in qualifying, though in Gaulding’s case it because the car’s engine failed technical inspection. Prior to the Duel, Gaulding ran just one lap in opening practice, which came in the session’s final two minutes.

On top of it all, Gaulding incurred a redundant pre-race penalty for unapproved adjustments, the same penalty handed to Matt DiBenedetto in the #32 Can-Am / Wholey Ford. Both cars had been re-wrapped between qualifying and the race, which may have been the adjustments noted by NASCAR. Also sent to the rear was 18th-place starter Mark Thompson, who missed driver intros for his first-ever Duel race. This ended up putting Thompson on the outside of the last row with Gaulding to his inside.

At the start, Thompson pulled ahead of Gaulding, but by the second corner, the two were locked in a side-by-side battle with Gaulding holding the bottom. By the third corner, Thompson had pulled back in front, though both were already a half-second behind the rest of the field. Gaulding, meanwhile, was 1.2 seconds behind Thompson on Lap 3, approaching more than nine seconds behind the leader. By the sixth circuit, Thompson and Gaulding were part of a four-car trailing pack similar to that in Race 1. Joining them were D.J. Kennington’s #96 Lordco / Castrol Toyota and the #72 Schulter Systems Chevrolet of Corey LaJoie.

On Lap 12, Gaulding had held last for the entire race, and was now 37.650 seconds back of the leader, three seconds back of Thompson. As with the trailing pack in Race 1, Gaulding was saved from losing a lap when trouble broke out among the leaders. Contact between Chase Elliott and Erik Jones coming off Turn 2 sent Jones into a spin, causing the rest of the field to check up. Among them was Larson, who was racing DiBenedetto near the back of the lead pack. DiBenedetto crossed Larson’s nose, hooking him into the outside wall. An instant later, Larson was turned into a spin, further damaging his own car. DiBenedetto managed to drive up to the entrance of pit road before stopping while Larson was towed from the backstretch. Gaulding stayed out to lead a lap during the ensuing yellow.

With Larson and DiBenedetto locked into the final two positions, the rest of the race ran caution-free. Gaulding and Thompson were among the first to lose a lap near the halfway mark, and both made pit stops. Gaulding came in first, and returned nearly two laps down. Thompson came in next, and after falling a third lap back, the Motorsports Business Management crew decided to pull the #66 Phoenix Air Ford behind the wall. Gaulding ended up five laps down, pulling his car onto pit road a second time as the leaders took the white flag. LaJoie rounded out the Bottom Five, two laps down, and on the same lap as Kennington in 15th.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #42 in the Duels since 2007, when then-rookie Juan Pablo Montoya’s #42 Texaco / Havoline Dodge fell out with suspension issues after 24 laps of Race 2. As in Race 1, this was the only other time the number finished last in the event.
*This marked Larson’s first last-place finish in the Duels.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
20) #42-Kyle Larson / 11 laps / crash
19) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 11 laps / crash
18) #66-Mark Thompson / 32 laps / vibration
17) #23-Gray Gaulding / 55 laps / running / led 1 lap
16) #72-Corey LaJoie / 58 laps / running

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie experienced tremendous highs and lows at Daytona

McDuffie lines up next to Dale Earnhardt's #3 at Daytona's
filling station, 1991
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
It’s well-known how significant a win in the Daytona 500 can be. But, as the season’s richest race, merely qualifying for the event can be a boon to the sport’s smallest teams. This was certainly true of J.D. McDuffie.

McDuffie made twenty-three starts in what is now the Can-Am Duels, and qualified for fifteen Daytona 500s. His first SpeedWeeks came in 1969, when he fielded the only Buick on the circuit. An 18th-place finish in the first qualifier scored him 36th on the grid, and he finished 39th when the engine let go short of halfway. He finished last in Race 2 of the 1970 qualifiers – steering issues after four laps – for his only last-place finish in the event. He never finished last in the Daytona 500.

Prior to the accident which took McDuffie’s life, the most serious accidents of his career both happened during SpeedWeeks. In the 1975 Daytona 500, the #70 slowed behind a pileup on Lap 4, but veered hard to the right and smashed head-on into the outside wall. The wreck left him with a fractured breastbone, among other injuries, and kept him in the hospital for more than two weeks. Then, in Race 2 of the 1988 Twin 125s, a collision with two other cars caused his Pontiac to burst into flames. His gloves stolen before the race, McDuffie spent even longer in the hospital, this time with third-degree burns to both hands.

McDuffie’s best finish in the Daytona 500 came in the famous 1976 race. Seven laps behind Richard Petty and David Pearson as they tangled for the win, McDuffie came home seventh. It was not only redemption for his serious crash in the race a year earlier, but was worth $11,260 of the race purse. It was the most he’d earn for a 500 finish until 1982, when an 11th-place finish earned him a track-best $15,235. He also participated in a single “Consolation Race” in 1984, a last-chance qualifier to make the 500 field. After starting outside-pole, he took the lead on Lap 2, but finished 4th of 25 drivers, narrowly missing the cut.

In his final nine attempts, McDuffie made the Daytona 500 just three times. In 1983, he drove an unsponsored Pontiac to a 22nd-place finish in the 35-car grid of his qualifier, squeezing him into the 500 field as the 37th starter out of 42. He finished 29th that day, out with engine trouble. In 1987, with added support of businessman Tom Winkle, he ran 18th out of 30 in his qualifier, putting him 38th on the 42-car grid. This time, he finished under power, 25th at the line, nine laps down to Bill Elliott. His final 500 start came in 1989, when he raced his way in. One year after suffering his burns, McDuffie avoided serious damage in a grinding multi-car accident to finish 15th out of 30 drivers. He lined up 29th and finished 24th, seven laps down, in Darrell Waltrip’s lone 500 win.

Though reaching the close of his career, McDuffie made these three starts despite huge entry lists. 29 drivers were sent home in 1983, including Morgan Shepherd and Rusty Wallace. 19 drivers missed in 1987, including Donnie Allison. Another 19 missed in 1989, including Kyle Petty and Jimmy Means. Petty ended up buying Eddie Bierschwale’s ride while Means’ sponsor Alka-Seltzer jumped on Buddy Arrington’s unsponsored Pontiac driven by Mickey Gibbs.

McDuffie made both qualifying races in 1990 and 1991, but finished just 25th and 21st, respectively. He was one of 19 DNQs in 1990 and one of 16 in 1991. His final qualifier was slowed by one caution, though he managed to finish on the lead lap in the event for the first time in a decade.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

ARCA: Osmer Trails Almost-Full Field in Daytona Debut

PHOTO: @DKLOKRacing
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Ronnie Osmer finished last for the second time in his ARCA Racing Series career in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at the Daytona International Speedway. The finish came as a result of Osmer’s No. 99 Hub International / Max Force Racing Ford losing the engine and wrecking after 20 of the race’s 92 laps.

The finish came in Osmer’s second start. The other last-place finish when his No. 36 Bobby Hamilton Racing car failed to start at Salem in 2016.  It was the first time that the No. 99 trailed the field since Tom Woodin finished last at Berlin Raceway on August 9, 2014.

Osmer, hailing from Louisiana, is a veteran of the Southeast short track scene. Growing up in a racing family where his father raced, Osmer started at age three and after a short setback due to Hurricane Katrina, he progressed through go-karts, Bandoleros and super trucks, adopting the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital as sponsor along the way. Osmer ran at a number of high-profile tracks like Five Flags Speedway before making his ARCA debut with Carter2 Motorsports in 2015, becoming the second-youngest driver to start an ARCA race (15 years, four months and a day) behind NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Justin Haley. When he is not racing, he attends Pope John Paul II High School and will attend Belmont Abbey College in the fall.

Osmer returned to the ARCA Racing Series this January, testing with Thomas “Moose” Praytor and his Max Force Racing team at Daytona. Praytor would run the team's primary No. 9 with Osmer in the nearly-identical No. 99.

As is the case every February, the ARCA entry list brought sweeping changes. A number of prominent drivers switched organizations or made debuts, and many teams started their ARCA efforts or expanded. Mullins Racing teamed up to field two cars using Hixson Motorsports’ owner points. Fast Track Racing fielded three cars due to alliances with Wayne Peterson and Chad Bryant. Patriot Motorsports Group, a team owned in part by former NFL All-Pro Shawne Merriman, jumped to the ARCA Racing Series after competing in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series level. They would partner with Basham Racing to use the No. 34 owner points. Newly formed team DGR-Crosley would debut without Bo LeMastus, but instead a young Noah Gragson.

The initial entry list saw 41 cars, which would leave 40 on track due to Brandon Grosso being ineligible to race because of age restrictions on seventeen-year-olds. However, Chuck Walker and his No. 08 Kimmel Racing entry withdrew, leaving only 39 cars to race.

Natalie Decker took the pole in her No. 25 machine for Venturini Motorsports. She was followed by MDM Motorsports’ Zane Smith, his teammate Chase Purdy, Mason Mitchell Motorsports’ Max Tullman and another Venturini driver, Leilani Munter.

Scott Reeves turned the slowest lap in qualifying in his No. 69 Kimmel-Finney Racing machine (another new partnership). However, for reasons unknown to the author, ARCA credited Osmer, whose 37th-place lap was 2.5 seconds faster than Reeves, with the 39th and last starting spot. It all wouldn’t matter, as Reeves incurred a tail-end penalty after replacing the motor between qualifying and the race.

At the end of Lap 1, ARCA’s live timing and scoring showed Reeves down 20 seconds to the leaders, while Osmer had advanced to the 36th position. The leaders fell into line, and were doing so on Lap 21, when Osmer, out of touch with the draft, was being lapped. On the inside of turns three and four, the motor blew, sending cars above and below. After clearing the incident, Andy Seuss came down on Cody Rohrbaugh, triggering a crash that collected Gus Dean and Will Rodgers.

PHOTO: David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078
While initial reports indicated that the engine had blown, Max Force Racing later reported on Twitter that a chunk of bar from another car had ruptured the oil line, triggering flames. Osmer, already a lap down at the time of the incident, pulled behind the wall and was credited with last. The damage proved terminal for Rohrbaugh, and he finished 38th. Dean stayed on the lead lap, while Seuss eventually went five laps down making repairs and Rodgers spent 25 laps in the garage. Interestingly enough, Seuss finished nineteenth, clearing the last “Big One” by a lap thanks to overtime cautions laps. Rodgers, too, benefited from it, clearing the LeMastus / Quin Houff / Bryan Dauzat crash by a lap to finish 30th.

The next caution yielded the 37th-place finisher, as Grant Quinlan blew an engine on his Rette Jones Racing No. 30 on Lap 41. Naval Reservist Jesse Iwuji finished 36th after puncturing the oil cooler on his No. 34, an ailment that did not draw a caution flag.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Ed Pompa, who got caught up in a Lap 47 crash that began when Dave Mader turned Daniel Sasnett, making his ARCA debut, in the grass. Sasnett came back up the track and collected Pompa and Andrew Belmont, son of longtime ARCA character Andy Belmont.

As the race went on, underdogs began showing more and more promise. Sean Corr led 16 laps before being wrecked out of the lead. Kirk Horton, another driver making his ARCA debut, was briefly inside the top-five. Willie Mullins emerged second from the last crash and fought through a slew of Venturini Motorsports cars on the final restart to keep it there. Andrew Belmont, driving Mullins’ second car, finished ninth. Belgian Jerry De Weerdt finished eleventh in his ARCA debut. Even the eventual winner, Michael Self, drove for JD Motorsports in 2015.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #99-Ronnie Osmer / 21 laps / engine
38) #7-Cody Rohrbaugh / 23 laps / crash
37) #30-Grant Quinlan / 41 laps / engine
36) #34-Jesse Iwuji / 44 laps / oil cooler
35) #22-Ed Pompa / 47 laps / crash

2018 LASTCAR ARCA OWNERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Max Force Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR ARCA MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Ford (1)

2018 LASTCAR ARCA DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP


Sunday, February 11, 2018

CUP: Despite valiant efforts to repair a bent splitter, McMurray finishes last in The Clash

PHOTO: @MRNRadio
Jamie McMurray finished last in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at the Daytona International Speedway when his #1 Cessna Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 43 of 75 laps.

Despite a winless streak stretching back to 2013, McMurray closed out his 2017 season with a third-straight Playoff appearance, making it to the second round before a crash at Talladega knocked him out of the running. The Playoff appearance secured him a spot in this, his twelfth Clash, as he continues to search for his first pole since 2014. Though he won the Daytona 500 in 2010, McMurray had never won The Clash, coming as close as second in 2009 and 2011. He’d also led laps in four of the previous five, though crashed in two of those.

McMurray’s new Camaro from the Chip Ganassi Racing stables ran 13th in Saturday’s lone practice session, and drew sixteenth – next-to-last – for the main event. The field would consist of seventeen cars for the second-straight year, tied for the fewest in the race since 2000. Three eligible drivers did not enter: the retired Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Matt Kenseth, who was unable to find another top ride after ending his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Danica Patrick, whose deal to drive for Premium Motorsports came too late to prepare for the event. As of this writing, all three have not been classified in the official running order in the same way as other eligible, but missing drivers, have.

Starting last was Brad Keselowski, who would ultimately drive his #2 Miller Lite Ford to victory. At the start, Keselowski trailed into the first corner, following his new teammate Ryan Blaney in the #12 Menards Ford. He passed Blaney by the end of the first lap, and Blaney then moved Kyle Busch to last by the backstretch.

On Lap 3, Kasey Kahne took the last spot. Making his first start for Leavine Family Racing in the #95 Procore Chevrolet, Kahne was struggling with the team’s twitter reported as a “minor malfunction with the right side window board.” The issue so distracted Kahne that he couldn’t report on the car’s handling, and he began to lose touch with the lead pack. By Lap 6, he was a half-second behind the next car. Two laps later, he was three seconds out. Then seventeen back on Lap 14. The crew reassured Kahne he would be able to stay on the lead lap until the first stage ended on Lap 25. He did – though he was now thirty-nine seconds back of the leader – and a crewman climbed through the driver’s window to fix the issue. Pit stops by most of the leaders before the caution dropped Martin Truex, Jr. to last, but Kahne re-took the spot after his stop.

When the race restarted on Lap 30, Kahne was able to keep up with the pack, and dropped Ryan Newman to last down the backstretch. For the next four laps, Newman would trade the spot with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. as both struggled to keep up. It was during this battle on Lap 34 that the caution flew once more, bringing McMurray into the mix.

At the time, McMurray was in a battle with Kurt Busch near the front of the field. When Busch made a move to McMurray’s inside, Busch made contact with McMurray’s left-rear, sending the #1 Chevrolet into a spin. The car avoided the rest of the field, but then cut right and nosed into the outside wall with the right-front corner, then drove through the grass on his way to pit road. McMurray reported something dragging beneath his car, and the crew changed tires to get him out quickly. They sent him out for a lap, during which time McMurray drove his car on and off the banking in an effort to fix his twisted splitter. Then the crew put a block under the front valence and dropped the jack, trying to do the same.

The crew’s efforts kept McMurray in the race, but now one lap down when it restarted. But McMurray still wasn’t happy with the car, at one point saying “That’s about all I got.” On Lap 44, around the time Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was issued a drive-through penalty for going below the yellow line entering Turn 3, McMurray was told by his crew to take it to the garage, making him the race’s first retiree. Stenhouse’s penalty cost him a lap of his own, leaving him next-to-last. The rest of the Bottom Five – including Kahne, who had somewhat recovered from his slow start – was filled by a grinding last-lap accident entering the third turn.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for both McMurray and car #1 in the Clash.
*McMurray’s 43 laps complete are the most by a last-place finisher of the Clash.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
17) #1-Jamie McMurray / 43 laps / crash
16) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 73 laps / running
15) #95-Kasey Kahne / 74 laps / running
14) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 74 laps / running
13) #9-Chase Elliott / 74 laps / running

Friday, February 9, 2018

PREVIEW: As offseason dust settles, 2018 entry lists filled with several team and driver changes

PHOTO: @JEarnhardt1
I’m debuting a new look for Entry List Storylines in 2018. The objective remains the same – to track the entry list changes from one week to the next, and to preview new names and teams joining the series. For this week’s installment, we’ll focus on the changes made over the offseason in the Cup, XFINITY, and Truck lineup. Efforts will be made to update these articles as more news breaks, so it can be referred-to up to each race.

Sunday, February 11, 2018
CUP Exhibition Race
The Clash at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Kurt Busch

ENTRY LIST (17 DRIVERS)
#1-Jamie McMurray, #2-Brad Keselowski, #3-Austin Dillon, #4-Kevin Harvick, #9-Chase Elliott, #11-Denny Hamlin, #12-Ryan Blaney, #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., #18-Kyle Busch, #20-Erik Jones, #22-Joey Logano, #31-Ryan Newman, #41-Kurt Busch, #42-Kyle Larson, #48-Jimmie Johnson, #78-Martin Truex, Jr., #95-Kasey Kahne

ELIGIBLE, BUT NOT ENTERED
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Two poles in 2017, Alex Bowman now drives #88, not entered either)
Matt Kenseth (Two poles in 2017, Erik Jones now drives #20, entered instead)
Danica Patrick (No poles in 2017, 2013 Daytona 500 polesitter, running Daytona 500 only)

Thursday, February 15, 2018
CUP Exhibition Races
Can-Am Duels at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finishers: Chris Buescher (Race 1), A.J. Allmendinger (Race 2)

Last year, JTG-Daugherty Racing teammates Chris Buescher and A.J. Allmendinger were classified last in their races due to post-race disqualifications. They moved up from last both Reed Sorenson and Timmy Hill, two Open team drivers who missed the 500 field.

Friday, February 16, 2018
TRUCKS Race 1 of 23
NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Tommy Joe Martins

#2, #25-GMS Racing
DRIVER & NUMBER CHANGES
GMS Racing has a new lineup for 2018. With Kaz Grala moving to XFINITY, the former #33 team is now #2, bringing on Cody Coughlin and sponsorship from JEGS. Joining him is defending ARCA Racing Series runner-up Dalton Sargeant, who is set to run full-time, and will run the #25 in honor of his childhood hero, the late Tim Richmond. Daytona will mark just his seventh series start.

#3-Jordan Anderson Racing
NEW TEAM
On January 31, Jordan Anderson arrived at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to announce the formation of his own new Truck Series team. Thanks to the efforts of several fans through his SponsorJordan.com campaign, Anderson will field a #3 Toyota full-time in 2018, making the switch from Chevrolet. Bommarito Auto Group, LTi Printing, Lucas Oil, Jacob Companies, and Knight Fire return as sponsors. The team has four trucks ready for the season ahead.

#4, #46, #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE
With Christopher Bell moving to the XFINITY Series, KBM’s #4 Toyota will now be split between Todd Gilliland, his father David Gilliland, and Busch himself. Todd’s first start will come at Martinsville, and will take on a larger part of the schedule when he turns eighteen in May. The driver lineups for the #46 and #51 will be split among Harrison Burton, Brandon Jones, Spencer Davis, Riley Herbst, and Busch.

#13, #41, #88, #98-ThorSport Racing
MANUFACTURER & DRIVER CHANGE
On January 22, ThorSport announced they would be switching manufacturers from Toyota to Ford, and have acquired several trucks from the closed Brad Keselowski Racing to help with the transition. Matt Crafton returns to the #88 and Grant Enfinger will run the #98. Ben Rhodes will drive the #41, using the Owner Points he collected last year in ThorSport’s #27. On February 7, Myatt Snider was announced as driver of the #13, making the move from Kyle Busch Motorsports and bringing sponsorship from Liberty Tax.

#15, #49-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE
On January 23, Premium Motorsports announced that Robby Lyons will run full-time in the Truck Series in 2018. Lyons will drive the #15, a second truck Premium debuted late last season after acquiring the assets from Tommy Baldwin’s joint venture with Stewart Friesen. The other Premium truck, #49, will remain with Wendell Chavous with new sponsorship from Sobriety Nation for the full season. Premium’s fleet of trucks have been prepared by Brian Keselowski, who has tweeted updates over the offseason.

#16-Hattori Racing
DRIVER CHANGE
With Ryan Truex making the move from the Truck Series to full-time in XFINITY, Hattori’s 2018 driver is Brett Moffitt, as announced on February 7.

#17-DGR-CROSLEY
NEW TEAM
On a very busy January 22, David Gilliland announced that his own team would merge with the CROSLEY Sports Group to form DGR-CROSLEY. The team has acquired trucks from Red Horse Racing, whose team closed its doors last season. On January 25, it was revealed they would also campaign Red Horse’s former car number, #17. Driving that Toyota in five races will be Chris Eggleston, who hasn’t run Trucks since 2014, but has had great success on Bill McAnally Racing’s K&N Pro Series West team.

#22, #45-Niece Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE
Justin Fontaine will go full-time in 2018 driving Al Niece’s #45 Superior Essex Chevrolet, and will be teamed with Austin Wayne Self, who joined late last year, in the #22 Don’t Mess With Texas Chevrolet. It will be the third different team Self has driven for in the last year, following turns with his family’s Toyota team and Martins Motorsports. On February 2, it was announced that Max McLaughlin, son of longtime XFINITY Series driver Mike McLaughlin, will also drive for Niece a minimum of four races in 2018.

#52-Halmar-Friesen Racing
RETURNING
The Halmar-Friesen effort will once again run full-time this year with Stewart Friesen driving the #52. The team will continue their partnership with GMS Racing, which started late last season.

#57-Norm Benning Racing
RETURNING (?)
Senica has posted several tweets over the offseason, indicating he is not only returning to Norm Benning Racing in the #57 alongside Benning’s #6, but will be running a number of different sponsors: Cowboy Coffee Chew, Betty Lou’s, and Pennsylvania Power Products, Inc. (the latter having sponsored him in the closing months of 2017).

#83-Copp Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE & NEW PARTNERSHIP
On February 6, it was announced that Copp Motorsports' #83 Chevrolet would return in 2018 with Scott Stenzel driving, thanks to a partnership with E2 Northeast Motorsports. Stenzel aims to make his first Truck Series start since 2014, when he finished 33rd in the season finale at Homestead.

CLOSED: #19, #29-Brad Keselowski Racing
The series’ flagship Ford team closed at the end of last season, a year which saw both its drivers Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe go to victory lane.

CLOSED: #44-Martins Motorsports
On December 30, just eleven days after a tweet showing off a new engine, Tommy Joe Martins announced that his single-truck operation would be closing its doors.

Saturday, February 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 1 of 33
PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: David Starr

#0, 01, #4, #15-JD Motorsports
DRIVER & SPONSOR CHANGE
After running a handful of races for JD Motorsports last year, Vinnie Miller will go full-time with the team this year. Ten of his starts will be sponsored by JAS Expedited Trucking, which backed BK Racing’s Cup effort in a few races last year. On February 7, it was revealed Garrett Smithley will return to the team's #0 with Ross Chastain likely to return to the #4. A fourth car, the #15 to be driven by Matt Mills, was announced on February 2, and will debut next week in at Atlanta.

#2, #3, #21-Richard Childress Racing
DRIVER CHANGES
On January 24, it was revealed that Richard Childress Racing’s #3 team would see five different drivers: Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, and ARCA driver Shane Lee. This rounds out a three-car lineup for RCR with Matt Tifft in the #2 Anderson’s Maple Syrup Chevrolet, moving over from Joe Gibbs Racing, and Daniel Hemric, who takes on Gaughan’s sponsor South Point Hotel & Casino for the #21 Chevrolet. Ben Kennedy, who last year made nine of his seventeen starts in RCR’s #2, was on January 30 announced as the new General Manager of the Camping World Truck Series.

#8, #78, #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGES
On January 20, B.J. McLeod Motorsports announced they would retain their three-car lineup from 2017, as well as their Daytona lineup. Joining the #8 of Caesar Bacarella, who ran a handful of races late last season, are Ryan Ellis in the #78 and Ray Black, Jr. in the #99. On January 24, Ellis revealed that Densify Cloud Optimization will sponsor his #78 at Daytona.

#11-Kaulig Racing
DRIVER CHANGE
On January 9, Ryan Truex was announced as the replacement for Blake Koch at Kaulig Racing. Truex makes the move from Hattori Racing in the Truck Series. To mark the occasion, Truex has updated his popular “go ryan” t-shirts to show his new ride.

#18, #19, #20-Joe Gibbs Racing
DRIVER CHANGES
While JGR’s #18 will see most of its schedule go to Cup regulars, Ryan Preece will make ten starts this season with sponsorship from Rheem. He’ll be teamed with Brandon Jones, who moves from RCR to drive the #19 Menards Toyota, and Christopher Bell, who after splitting time with Trucks last year goes full-time in the #20.

#24 & #28-JGL Racing
DRIVER & MANUFACTURER CHANGE
JGL Racing brings back the #28 team which suspended operations after last September in Kentucky, leaving Dakoda Armstrong without a ride. The car, which also makes the switch from Toyota to Ford, will be driven by Dylan Lupton, who ran JGL’s #24 in fourteen races last year. On February 7, thinQ Technology Partners signed with Lupton's #28. Driving the #24 this year is Kaz Grala, who makes the move from GMS Racing’s Truck Series team.

#35-Go FAS Racing
NEW TEAM
In addition to their Cup Series effort with Matt DiBenedetto in the #32, Go FAS Racing team owner Archie St. Hilaire is returning to the XFINITY Series for the first time since the 2013 finale at Homestead. On January 5, the team announced that the new #35 will be driven by Joey Gase, who brings with him sponsorship from Sparks Energy, Inc. His vibrant paint job, as well as Ryan Ellis’ aforementioned Densify #78, were both designed by Go FAS Racing’s artist David Marrero. For Gase, things go full circle – Jimmy Means Racing, which he left at the end of 2017, hired him from Hilaire’s XFINITY team in 2012.

#42-Chip Ganassi Racing
DRIVER CHANGE
After exceeding expectations in the Truck Series with his father’s team, NEMCO Motorsports, John Hunter Nemechek has landed a part-time effort with Chip Ganassi Racing’s XFINITY effort for 2018. Announced on December 12, Nemechek, who brings with him sponsorship from Fire Alarm Services, Inc., will share the ride with Cup regular Kyle Larson.

#45, #55-JP Motorsports
NEW TEAM
Joining the XFINITY Series in 2018 is JP Motorsports, founded by Jerry and Phyllis Hattaway from California. Announced on January 18, the team acquired cars from TriStar Motorsports. The team made the announcement on January 22 that Stephen Leicht would drive the #55. A second team was revealed February 5 with Josh Bilicki driving full-time with returning sponsor Prevagen as his full-time backer in the #45.

#52-Jimmy Means Racing
DRIVER CHANGE
On February 7, Jimmy Means Racing announced that David Starr will drive the #52 Chevrolet this year, replacing Joey Gase, who was released at the end of 2017. Last year, Starr drove the B.J. McLeod / SS-Green Light #99 in XFINITY and rounded out the Cup schedule with Motorsports Business Management's #66.

#60-Roush-Fenway Racing
DRIVER LINEUP CHANGE
Roush-Fenway Racing’s driver development car sees Ty Majeski once again in the lineup after his debut season last year. Joining him to divide up the season are Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe, both moving from the Truck Series after the closure of Brad Keselowski Racing. Cindric is the team’s listed driver for Daytona, and will run four of the season’s first five races. From there, Cindric will split the season between the Roush-Fenway #60 and either the #12 or #22 from Penske Racing, patching together a full-time effort between the two teams in a similar manner to the late Joe Weatherly in the 1963 Cup season.

#74-Mike Harmon Racing
SPONSOR CHANGE
Mike Harmon returns with his Dodge this year. On February 7, it was revealed that another military initiative will be on the hood, the Shadow Warriors Project.

#76-SS Green Light Racing
DRIVER & NUMBER CHANGE
SS Green Light Racing’s #07 is now the #76. Driving in place of Ray Black, Jr., who is now running Cup for Rick Ware Racing, is Spencer Boyd, who brings with him sponsorship from Grunt Style, which backed him in a few races last year.

#86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
RETURNING
(UPDATE: Feb. 9) Brandon Brown's family team returns to XFINITY for the first time since 2016. Brown's #86 Chevrolet for Daytona has several associate sponsors, including ConoCoin, Brio.TV, the Dan Marino Foundation, and True Timber.

#93, #??, #??-RSS Racing
RETURNING
On January 24, RSS Racing announced they would continue their three-car lineup from late 2017 with both Ryan Sieg and defending LASTCAR champion Jeff Green among the three drivers. On January 26, it was revealed that Ryan Sieg would drive the #93, as he did last year at Homestead, and landed a twelve-race sponsorship deal from Code Rum, the Homestead sponsor.

#98, #00-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste
TEAM PARTNERSHIP
Stewart-Haas Racing has partnered with part-timers Biagi-DenBeste Racing in 2018 to form “Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste.” As a result, Kevin Harvick will be in the team’s #98 for five races, starting in Atlanta, and teammate Cole Custer in the #00 will receive added support for his full-time effort.

CLOSED: #46-Precision Performance Motorsports
On January 18, PPM announced they would be shutting down their XFINITY Series program. Quin Houff, who drove in many of the team’s starts last year, will be competing in ARCA.

Sunday, February 18, 2018
CUP Race 1 of 36
Daytona 500 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Matt Kenseth

ENTRY LIST
Posted just yesterday, February 8, the preliminary entry list for the Daytona 500 stands at exactly 40 cars, marking the first time in the race's 60-year history that not a single car will fail to qualify. As of this writing, the list includes BK Racing's #23 as team owner Ron Devine still holds the team's Charter. However, with continuing reports of financial troubles and legal proceedings, it's yet unclear whether that team will actually race. If they miss out, and no other team takes their place, the resulting 39-car field will be the smallest in 500 history.

#7-Danica Patrick
DRIVER & SPONSOR CHANGE
Released by Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of last season, Patrick announced she would run the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in 2018, then retire. On January 18, GoDaddy returned from a two-year hiatus to sponsor Patrick’s effort, and on January 22, Premium Motorsports hired Patrick to drive. She will run car #7, the same number she raced in IndyCar with Andretti Autosport as well as the XFINITY Series. She will also be locked-in to the 500, thanks to Premium’s Charter for the #15, run for much of last year by Reed Sorenson. And she’ll have a pit crew trained by Richard Childress Racing.

#9-Chase Elliott
NUMBER CHANGE
After two seasons running Hendrick Motorsports’ #24, Jeff Gordon’s heir-apparent will now run the #9 his father Bill made famous at Melling Racing, and Chase himself drove to the XFINITY Championship. Elliott retains his Owner Points from 2017 earned in the #24.

#10-Aric Almirola
DRIVER & SPONSOR CHANGE
After six full seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola and sponsor Smithfield have made the move to Stewart-Haas Racing, replacing Danica Patrick.

#12-Ryan Blaney
NEW TEAM
For the first time since 2010, Penske Racing returns to three full-time Cup teams. Joining Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano is Blaney, a lateral move from his Penske-supported ride at Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney is locked-in this season thanks to the Charter acquired from Greg Biffle’s shuttered #16 team at Roush-Fenway Racing.

#20-Erik Jones
DRIVER CHANGE
The defending Rookie of the Year, Jones makes the move from Furniture Row Racing’s second team (now closed) to the second-oldest team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones replaces Matt Kenseth who, unable to secure a quality ride after five seasons in the #20, is not expected to race this season.

#21-Paul Menard
DRIVER CHANGE
With Ryan Blaney moving to Penske Racing, Paul Menard will take his place at Wood Brothers Racing. Menard makes the move from Richard Childress Racing’s #27 Chevrolet, which he’s driven every season since the team debuted in 2011. Sponsorship from Menards has followed the driver to the #21, as well as Blaney’s #12. On January 15, it was announced the team will hold the Charter from Go FAS Racing’s #32.

#24-William Byron
DRIVER CHANGE
With Chase Elliott running the #9, defending XFINITY Series Champion William Byron takes the controls of Hendrick Motorsports’ #24 Chevrolet. The team will use the Charter and Owner Points from Hendrick’s #5, the team’s very first car number in 1984, which ran its last race at Homestead.

#30-The Motorsports Group
LOST CHARTER
After a difficult 2017 season in spite of acquiring a Charter from Circle Sport (#33) and sponsorship from Hulu, The Motorsports Group is once again an Open team in 2018. Circle Sport pulled its Charter on December 12, and Hulu pulled its funding. As of January 7, Earnhardt was still looking for sponsorship for 2018. Sponsorship was found by January 30, when it was announced he’d be moving to StarCom Racing for the Daytona 500. As of this writing, the team's status is unknown. They are not entered in the Daytona 500, and are not expected to run the remaining three restrictor-plate races unless a sponsor is found. They do, however, plan to run the remaining 32 races, starting next Sunday in Atlanta.

#32-Matt DiBenedetto
CHARTER & SPONSOR CHANGE
With Go FAS Racing’s Charter leased to Wood Brothers Racing, the #32 team has entered into a partnership with Circle Sport, which parted ways with The Motorsports Group’s #33 Chevrolet of Jeffrey Earnhardt last season. A new David Marrero paint scheme was revealed on February 6 where DiBenedetto’s #32 will promote the upcoming Rob Cohen film “The Hurricane Heist” in the Daytona 500.

#34-Michael McDowell
DRIVER CHANGE
After parting ways with Leavine Family Racing’s #95, McDowell moves to the Front Row Motorsports #34, replacing Landon Cassill. The team retains sponsorship from Love’s Travel Stops, and also welcomes K-LOVE Radio, which has sponsored McDowell for much of the last decade. The K-LOVE scheme will run in five races in 2018.

#37-Chris Buescher
CHARTER CHANGE
Chris Buescher remains with JTG-Daugherty Racing for a second season, but his leased Charter from the #16 Roush-Fenway Racing team has since been moved to Penske Racing’s #12. Buescher will still be locked-in, however, as JTG purchased the Charter from the closed #77 Furniture Row Racing team.

#38-David Ragan
SPONSOR CHANGE
Leading off the backers for Ragan’s ride at Front Row Motorsports is speedco, revealed on February 5.

#42-Kyle Larson
SPONSOR CHANGE
The Target branding that has been with Chip Ganassi Racing in both open wheel and stock car competition for years has now left the team completely. In its place, Larson’s sponsors will include CreditOne and DC Solar, the latter shared with teammate Jamie McMurray.

#43-Darrell Wallace, Jr.
DRIVER, SPONSOR, & MANUFACTURER CHANGE
With Aric Almirola moving to Stewart-Haas Racing’s #10 and taking Smithfield’s sponsorship with him, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. returns to Richard Petty Motorsports for the first time since his relief duty with the team last season. On top of returning sponsorship from the U.S. Air Force and STP, Click ‘n Close has come on to back the car at Daytona. The team has also switched manufacturers from Ford to Chevrolet, thanks to a new partnership with Richard Childress Racing. The team has also leased its Charter to Rick Ware Racing, and will instead use the Charter from RPM’s second team (#44) that closed at the end of 2016.

#51-Justin Marks
ACQUIRED CHARTER & SPONSOR
Ray Black, Jr. drove the Rick Ware Racing #51 in a few races last fall, and was originally reported to be returning to the team for a Rookie of the Year bid in 2018. On February 2, however, it was revealed that Justin Marks will drive in his place with sponsorship from Harry’s Shaving Products and Katerra. Marks last ran Cup at Talladega last fall, when he crashed early and finished last. Marks will run only a limited schedule for Ware in 2018, leaving the remainder of the schedule open for other drivers. The Ware #51 also has additional sponsorship from Keen’s Buildings, which signed on January 22, and have leased a Charter from Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43, locking them in after being an Open team last year.

#52-Rick Ware Racing
NEW TEAM
In addition, the Ware team will field a second car in eight to ten races this season. Ware’s #52 will be driven by some of his 2017 roster, including B.J. McLeod, Cody Ware, and Kyle Weatherman, plus road racer John Graham, who eyes his Cup debut. As of this writing, this second Ware car is not entered in the Daytona 500.

#62-Brendan Gaughan
NUMBER CHANGE
On January 8, it was revealed Gaughan and Beard Motorsports will return to run the same four-race restrictor-plate schedule in 2018. Per the paint scheme release on January 10, the team changes car numbers from #75 to the #62 that Gaughan drove for much of his Truck and XFINITY Series careers. The car will also carry sponsorship from the Gaughan family’s South Point Hotel & Casino in a new, more vibrant paint scheme.

#66-Mark Thompson
RETURNING
After last year’s Cup debut, Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management returns to action this year. The team has acquired at least one Ford from Richard Petty Motorsports to drive at Daytona. Behind the wheel will be Mark Thompson, who last fall at Talladega made his first Cup start since 1992. Thompson does not have a Charter, and will look to improve on his short run before a crash last fall. Expect Carl Long and Timmy Hill to run the team’s Chevrolets in selected races later this year.

#72-Corey LaJoie
DRIVER AND SPONSOR CHANGE
After a difficult rookie season with BK Racing, Corey LaJoie revealed on January 22 a Chevrolet he would drive in 2018. On February 6, it was revealed that car was TriStar Motorsports’ #72, which he will share with Cole Whitt in 2018. Whitt stated he’s going to scale back to a part-time effort in order to spend more time with his family. LaJoie will drive the #72 at Daytona with sponsorship from Schulter Systems coming over from LaJoie’s time at BK Racing. The team remains locked-in with the leased Charter from Front Row Motorsports.

#88-Alex Bowman
DRIVER CHANGE
Alex Bowman returns to full-time Cup competition, driving in place of the retired Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports #88. Bowman, who struggled through two seasons with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, enjoyed a breakout performance relieving Earnhardt at Phoenix in 2016, and also finished 3rd in his first Clash appearance last year. On January 30, it was announced that Valvoline will sponsor the #88 team in two races for the next five years.

#92-David Gilliland
NEW TEAM (IN CUP)
On January 17, it was announced that Ricky Benton Racing, a part-time Truck Series team, will attempt to make their Cup debut in the Daytona 500. Selected to drive is David Gilliland, whose plate race expertise includes a pole in the 2007 Daytona 500 and a runner-up at Talladega in 2013. As in Trucks, the team will run a Ford with sponsorship from Black’s Tire and Auto Service and Carquest Auto Parts. They do not have a Charter. The #92 hasn’t started a Cup race since 2011 at Bristol, and hasn’t made the Daytona 500 since that same season, when Brian Keselowski drove a rebuilt Evernham Dodge from 2006.

#95-Kasey Kahne
DRIVER CHANGE
Released by Hendrick Motorsports after six years in the #5 car, Kahne moves over to Leavine Family Racing, replacing Michael McDowell. The team’s Camaro also has a new look this season, the “Lightning McQueen” style yellow numbers replaced by a new font. Sources indicate Kahne was one of many personnel changes at LFR over the offseason. Some of the sponsors which came aboard the previous year, including Procore, have returned for 2018.

#96-D.J. Kennington
RETURNING
Gaunt Brothers Racing broke through last year as the team and Canadian driver D.J. Kennington made their first starts in the Daytona 500. After subsequently failing to qualify at Talladega, GBR scaled back, and Kennington pieced together a partial schedule with Premium Motorsports. Now, for the first time since last fall’s Truck Series round in Mosport, driver and team are back together, and again looking to make the 500. In this announcement, made January 22, they will have to do so as an Open team.

#00-Jeffrey Earnhardt
DRIVER & SPONSOR CHANGE
Cope and his new start-up team, StarCom Racing, return to action in Daytona after starting two races late last year. This time, they have a Charter, as on January 24 it was revealed they have leased the Charter from RCR’s #27 team, formerly driven by Paul Menard. What looked to be Cope’s first appearance as a driver in the Daytona 500 since 2004 changed on January 30, when it was announced that Jeffrey Earnhardt will be coming over from Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group to drive the #00 at Daytona with sponsorship from VRX Simulators. Following the retirement of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this will mark the 40th straight 500 with an Earnhardt in the field.

MISSING: Landon Cassill, David Starr
Setting aside Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s retirement and Matt Kenseth electing to miss his first Daytona 500 since 1999, Cassill and Starr are two drivers from the 2017 Cup finale at Homestead not entered in this year’s Daytona 500. While Starr has since landed an XFINITY Series ride with Jimmy Means Racing, Cassill lost his ride in the Front Row Motorsports #34 to Michael McDowell, and has yet to be picked up.

STATUS UNKNOWN: #23 & #83-BK Racing
BK Racing’s financial troubles caught up to them over the offseason. The Open team, #83, isn't entered, and the #23 is entered with driver and sponsor to be announced. The Charter for the #23 still remains with team owner Ron Devine, pending a hearing to take place on February 15. (UPDATE FEB. 9: The #23 is at the track, all white without any primary or associate sponsora, and  word is Gray Gaulding will drive.)

CLOSED: #27-Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress announced he would not be fielding the #27 Chevrolet that Paul Menard drove from 2011-2017. Menard and his sponsor have moved to Wood Brothers Racing while the Charter has been leased to StarCom Racing.

CLOSED: #77-Furniture Row Racing
The second FRR team closed at the end of the 2017 season, and its Charter was sold to #37-JTG Daugherty Racing. Erik Jones now drives the #20 from Joe Gibbs Racing.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Only one time in NASCAR history has the last-place finisher of a points race fallen out because of a “battery” issue. It happened on July 1, 2000, when the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series raced at the Milwaukee Mile for the Sears DieHard 200. Finishing last that day was Bonham, Texas native B.A. Wilson, who pulled off the track after 33 laps in his #73 Sonntag Redi-Mix Chevrolet.