Friday, March 16, 2018

PREVIEW: Premium’s #55 returns, Gaunt Brothers’ #96 missing on Fontana entry list

PHOTO: Prudential Overall Supply
Saturday, March 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 5 of 33
Roseanne 300 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jordan Anderson

There are exactly 40 drivers entered to attempt this Saturday’s 40-car field, meaning that all entrants will start the race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Austin Dillon steps in for brother Ty Dillon this Saturday in a #3 Chevrolet sponsored by Red Kap and Prudential Overall Supply. Ty finished 13th last week in Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Fontana will see the season debut of Ryan Preece, last year’s Iowa winner, as he takes the controls of Joe Gibbs’ flagship #18 driven last week by Kyle Busch. It will be Preece’s first XFINITY start at the track since 2016, when he finished 25th for JD Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Following Brad Keselowski’s win last Saturday in Phoenix, Cup teammate Joey Logano drives the #22 this weekend. Logano and Dillon are the only Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s race, improving the odds for the series regulars.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-John Hunter Nemechek
John Hunter Nemechek makes his second career XFINITY start on Saturday, following a sterling 4th-place run last month in Atlanta. It will be Nemechek’s first race on the Fontana track, where his father Joe won the first Cup Series pole in 1997.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Austin Dillon, #22-Joey Logano

Sunday, March 18, 2018
CUP Race 5 of 36
Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeffrey Earnhardt

There are 37 drivers entered to make the 40-car field, the fourth-consecutive short field in 2018 and the third with just one Open team entered. It is the shortest Cup field in the history of the Fontana track, two cars fewer than the previous record of 39 in the last two runnings.

UPDATE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Bubba Burger, which backed the Ware team in 7 races last year, returns to sponsor Timmy Hill this weekend. The team has also stuck with the new number font that debuted last month at Atlanta with Harrison Rhodes.

RETURNING: #55-Premium Motorsports
Fontana sees the return of Premium Motorsports’ Open team, two weeks after Joey Gase gave the car a 32nd-place finish in its season debut. Sponsorship for the #55 Chevrolet is still to be announced, though the entry list has Reed Sorenson listed as driver. It will be Sorenson’s first start of 2018 after running 28 races for Premium last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Corey LaJoie’s second engine failure in as many starts this season will be followed with Cole Whitt back in the #72. Whitt, who finished 28th in both his starts in 2018, has a track-best finish of 18th in the 2014 running, when he drove for Swan Racing. SoCal Chevrolet is listed as the car’s sponsor.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
D.J. Kennington earned a quiet 31st-place finish last Sunday in Phoenix, finishing three laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick. The team is not entered this weekend. Given their 2017 schedule, expect GBR to return next month at Talladega the latest.

Saturday, March 24, 2018
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Bryce Napier

The Truck Series returns next week at Martinsville for the first short track race of the 2018 NASCAR season.

The first XFINITY Series race at Fontana was held on October 19, 1997, four months after the first Cup race, and during a weekend shared with the Camping World Truck Series. Finishing last that day was Johnny Chapman, the very first of his career. That day, Chapman was driving a second car belonging to Phil Parsons, who at the time was running the full season in his #10 Channelock Chevrolet. Chapman drove the #0 with sponsorship from Bowl Fresh and Honeywell, but turned just three laps before the engine let go. In his career, Chapman would go on to score 13 more XFINITY last-place finishes, including the 2009 LASTCAR XFINITY title. In that 2009 season, Chapman again drove for Phil Parsons and co-owner Randy Humphrey under the banner MSRP Motorsports.

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