Thursday, July 5, 2018

PREVIEW: Plate-only teams return in time for the fireworks at Daytona

PHOTO: @beardoil75
Friday, July 6, 2018
XFINITY Race 16 of 33
Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Josh Williams

There are 40 drivers entered for 40 spots, meaning that all entered teams will start. One team, the #89, withdrew by Wednesday (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Shane Lee returns to the flagship #3 for Daytona, his first start since Iowa. He takes the place of Jeb Burton, who finished 34th after a crash at Chicagoland. Childress Vineyards will back the effort. It will be Lee’s fifth XFINITY start of the season, a year where he’s started between 7th and 18th and finished between 12th and 16th in the previous four. He ran 15th at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Caesar Bacarella returns for his third XFINITY start of the season, his first since a 34th-place showing at Michigan. He takes the place of Blake Jones, who ran 24th in Chicagoland. Bacarella drove this same entry at Daytona in February, where he finished on the lead lap in 13th. Jones slides over to the team's #78, taking the place of Scott Heckert.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
With Penske Racing not entering the #12 this week, Austin Cindric moves to Roush-Fenway’s #60, taking the place of Chase Briscoe, who isn’t entered. Cindric, who finished 14th at Chicagoland, five spots behind Briscoe, will look to rebound from a frustrating February at the track, where an early crash left him last. Odyssey Battery will back Cindric’s run.

MISSING: #13-Motorsports Business Maangement
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MBM scales back from three cars to two this weekend as the #13 isn’t entered this week. Timmy Hill, who finished 37th in the #13 last week, takes John Jackson’s place in the #66. Jackson, who ran 36th at Chicagoland, isn’t entered. Chad Finchum remains in the #40.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Welcome back Ryan Preece, who we haven’t seen in the series since he won at Bristol in April. He takes the place of Cup regular Daniel Suarez in the #18 with returning sponsorship from Rheem. Preece made a pair of Daytona starts in XFINITY for JD Motorsports in 2016, finishing last in the spring and 34th in July.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
It’s a Cup invader swap in the #22 Ford this week as Ryan Blaney takes the place of Paul Menard. Pirtek, which sponsored Cindric’s run in the #60 in February, will sponsor Blaney.

NEW TEAM: #24-GMS Racing
GMS expands to two XFINITY cars for the first time. Alongside Cup regular Chase Elliott in the #23 (Spencer Gallagher was cleared Wednesday and will return next week in Kentucky) will be Justin Haley, your winner in the Truck Series at Gateway. Haley’s backing from the Fraternal Order of Eagles will follow him to the #24. Haley finished 12th in his lone XFINITY start in the #23 back at Iowa. This is a completely separate effort from the #24 fielded by JGL Racing.

WITHDREW: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
For the first time this season, Morgan Shepherd has withdrawn his team from the race. It's his first withdrawal since Watkins Glen last season.

MISSING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Not entered are both the #98 team and Kevin Harvick, who finished a distant 2nd to Kyle Larson in Chicagoland. The #98 team won this race two years ago with Aric Almirola.

RETURNING: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
B.J. McLeod’s team returns to a three-car operation this week with Ray Black, Jr. aiming for his third start of the season. McLeod previously drove McLeod’s other two cars this season, finishing 27th at Dover in the #8 and 19th at Charlotte in the #78. He failed to qualify the #99 in this year’s Daytona opener. Zomongo and America’s Donuts sponsor the effort.

CUP INVADERS: #22-Ryan Blaney, #23-Chase Elliott, #42-Kyle Larson

Saturday, July 7, 2018
CUP Race 18 of 36
Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Ryan Sieg

For the first time since the Coca-Cola 600, five races ago, there will be a 40-car field in Saturday’s return to Daytona. In fact, there are 41 entrants, marking the first time in 2018 where a team will be sent home after qualifying (the #52 was entered at Charlotte, but withdrew before time trials). The five “open” teams competing for the final four spots are the #7, #62, #92, #96, and #99, each of them featured below.

DRIVER CHANGE: #7-Premium Motorsports
Jeffrey Earnhardt aims to make his seventh Cup start of the season and his first since a 30th-place showing in the Coca-Cola 600. As in the 600, Earnhardt will drive for Premium Motorsports, but this time in the #7 instead of the #55. He takes the place of Reed Sorenson, who ran 32nd at Chicagoland. The Nine Line Foundation joins Earnhardt’s effort along with Xtreme Concepts, Inc. and Black Rifle in a salute to service members similar to his ride in the 600. Earnhardt finished 21st in this year’s Daytona 500 for StarCom Racing.

PAINT SCHEME: #15-Premium Motorsports
Ross chastain makes his first Cup start at Daytona in one of the most colorful cars on the track. Among the many patriotic schemes is Chastain's pastel-colored surf and sand scheme with sponsor Caddy's Beach Bar Restaurants.

For the first time in 2018, Gray Gaulding is not the listed driver for BK Racing’s #23 Toyota. In his place comes J.J. Yeley, who we last saw in Cup debuting the #7 team at Charlotte and Pocono. It was revealed Tuesday that this is no coincidence - Johnathan Cohen's NY Racing team has entered into an alignment with BK Racing, bringing Yeley and sponsor Steakhouse Elite to the sponsorless #23. Yeley plans to run double-duty along with his full-time effort in the #38 Chevrolet for RSS Racing. He has 12 previous Cup starts at Daytona with a best of 10th in the 2013 Daytona 500.

Rick Ware’s team switches back from Chevrolet to Ford this week and originally had Cole Custer in place of B.J. McLeod, who ran 35th at Chicagoland. Custer will not run, however, as by Tuesday he was swapped out for Ray Black, Jr., who will attempt both races this weekend. Black made his first three Cup starts for the Ware team late last year with a best finish of 34th at Texas in November. His best of four XFINITY starts at Daytona was a 12th-place run for SS-Green Light Racing last year.

RETURNING: #62-Beard Motorsports
The Beard team continues its exclusive restrictor-plate schedule, returning to the site of their near top-five finish in this year’s Daytona 500. As always, Brendan Gaughan will be behind the wheel with sponsorship from Beard Oil Distributing and South Point Hotel & Casino on the Chevrolet. The team tweeted they have at least two cars in their stable ready for this weekend.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Corey LaJoie runs his second-consecutive race for TriStar Motorsports, and also welcomes new sponsor Dragonchain, a Washington-based blockchain firm, on the #72 Chevrolet. LaJoie’s first of his series-leading three last-place finishes in 2018 came in this year’s Daytona 500. However, last Sunday in Chicagoland marked the first time he’d finished 31st or worse in any other race.

RETURNING: #92-RBR Enterprises
Like the #62, Ricky Benton’s team also continues to run a plate-only schedule, and brings back Talladega driver Timothy Peters, 23rd in his Cup debut that day. As with many of Benton’s entries, the car will be cluttered with sponsors. On the preliminary list are Black’s Tire & Auto Service, BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors, Advance Auto Parts, Highland Construction, and BB&T Bank.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
The Gaunt Brothers return from a week off, and reunite with Canadian driver D.J. Kennington for the first time since their last outing together, a 20th in Talladega. Kennington has made just one Cup start since then, finishing 34th with Premium Motorsports at Michigan. GBR has made two starts in the same span, both with Parker Kligerman, yielding a 27th at Charlotte and a 23rd at Sonoma. The preliminary list showed returning sponsorship from Lordco, Castrol Oil, and Spectra Premium, but no sponsor was listed by Wednesday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-StarCom Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
Derrike Cope reported to us at Sonoma that both his StarCom Racing entries will be running ECR power under the hood this week. With one team going home after qualifying, they sure look to get both cars into the show. The primary #00 this week goes to Joey Gase, who brings sponsorship from Sparks Energy, Inc. as he did in his 27th-place showing at Talladega. Landon Cassill slides over to the “open” #99, taking the place of Kyle Weatherman, 33rd in Chicagoland. Cassill has 12 previous Daytona starts with a best of 12th in the 2014 Daytona 500. He also ran 13th in this race three years ago. Both cars will run brand-new paint schemes with Gase in yellow over black on the #00 and Cassill in a patriotic-themed #99.

Thursday, July 12, 2018
TRUCKS Race 12 of 23
Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Norm Benning

The Truck Series takes the week off and returns as part of another triple-header in Kentucky.

A piece of bell housing off the transmission of Michael Waltrip’s Pontiac has been blamed for causing the last-lap flat tire that prevented Dale Earnhardt from winning the 1990 Daytona 500. Only once in NASCAR history has that specific part been blamed for a last-place finish. That occurred on August 13, 1965 at the Smoky Mountain Raceway in Maryville, Tennessee. On his second lap around the half-mile dirt track, owner-driver Buddy Arrington suffered the failure on his 1964 Dodge, dropping him 22nd on the grid to last in the 24-car field. Dick Hutcherson (of future race car manufacturer Hutcherson-Pagan) took the win over a 24-year-old Buddy Baker.

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