Wednesday, July 18, 2018

PREVIEW: A stacked field of dirt track ringers in Eldora followed by two series debuts in Loudon

PHOTO: @jrheffnerracing
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
TRUCKS Race 13 of 23
Eldora Dirt Derby 150 at Eldora
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Caleb Holman

There were originally 40 trucks entered for this season’s annual dirt track round. But by the time the preliminary list was posted, Kyle Busch Motorsports withdrew the #46 without selecting a driver, leaving 39 trucks for the grid of 32. Seven drivers will not transfer into the main event.

DRIVER CHANGE: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Ray Ciccarelli returns to action this week, making his second attempt of the season following a DNQ at Dover for TJL Racing. He takes the place of Camden Murphy, next-to-last in Kentucky, and brings with him sponsorship from Stealth Belt.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
As announced on July 12, Ryan Newman will drive in place of Jordan Anderson with sponsorship from the VRX Ryan Newman VR Experience, MotoShield Pro, and Newman’s Rescue Ranch foundation. It will be Newman’s first start in the event since the 2013 inaugural, when he finished 3rd for Turner Motorsports.

RETURNING: #12-Young’s Motorsports
The third Young’s Motorsports entry returns for a second time this year, the first since Iowa in June when Reid Wilson finished 28th. This time around, Cup regular Ty Dillon takes the wheel. Ty’s brother Austin won the first running of this race in 2013.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
J.R. Heffner’s long wait is over. After a blown engine during qualifying for the 2017 race forced he and the Martins Motorsports team to withdraw, J.R. Heffner is back, looking to make the main for a third time. He again runs sponsorship from A. Colarusso with new associate Upstate Utilities, though this time on the quarter-panels of Jay Robinson’s #15 Chevrolet. He takes the place of Robby Lyons, who ran 22nd in his series return at Kentucky.

Tyler Dippel won his second and most recent K&N Pro Series East race at the Langley Speedway this past April. Currently second in the standings, just 22 markers behind Tyler Ankrum, Dippel and team owner David Gilliland turn their attention to Eldora. Dippel eyes his Truck Series debut as he drives in place of Chris Eggleston. He brings with him sponsorship from the Hue Jackson Foundation and Caruso Logistics.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Nevada’s Tanner Thorson prepares to make his third Truck Series start of the year and first since a 13th at Iowa. He takes the place of Tate Fogleman, 28th after suspension issues at Kentucky. It will be Thorson’s first attempt at this race.

RETURNING: #27-ThorSport Racing
Before he heads north to the XFINITY race in New Hampshire, Chase Briscoe will return to the site of his 3rd-place finish at Eldora last year for Brad Keselowski Racing. He drives ThorSport’s #27 truck, a ride we haven’t seen since the entry was scrubbed at the end of last season. Ben Rhodes, who ran the #27 last year and now campaigns ThorSport’s #41, had his worst finish of last season in this race, finishing 30th after a crash.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Ever since he was 13, Alabama’s Braden Mitchell has been running dirt late models. Currently runner-up in the standings at the North Alabama Speedway, Mitchell makes his NASCAR debut in Josh Reaume’s #33 Chevrolet. He carries sponsorship from Sparks Energy, Inc., a brand more closely identified with Joey Gase in Cup and XFINITY.

NEW TEAM: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
In addition to Mitchell’s debut, the Reaume Brothers expand to two trucks for the first time in 2018. Driving the second truck, the #34, is Jeffrey Abbey, 14th here last year for Niece Motorsports. Abbey eyes his first series start since last fall at Martinsville, where he ran 22nd, one lap down.

RETURNING: #38-Niece Motorsports
The Niece team also expands to two trucks for the first time since last fall at Las Vegas. Driving the #38 this time is “Mad” Max McLaughlin. The son of veteran XFINITY racer “Magic Shoes” Mike McLaughlin, Max has followed his father’s path through the dirt tracks, starting in UMP Modifieds and now running Super DIRT Car Big Block Modifieds. Al Niece’s full-time driver Justin Fontaine remains in the team’s primary truck, the #45.

DRIVER CHANGE: #50-Beaver Motorsports
RETURNING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon takes the place of Timmy Hill, who DNQ’d at Kentucky, in the #50 Motorsport Safety Group Chevrolet. He climbs from the seat of his #74, not entered last week in Kentucky, to make way for a member of his crew, dirt racer Trevor Collins. Collins, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Sunday, runs a slightly different look on the Harmon truck with italicized dirt track-style numbers on the doors.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Like Jeff Gordon before him, Logan Norman Seavey moved from California to Indiana, and has been electric in USAC midgets. With sponsorship from Mobil 1, Seavey trades his traditional #67 for the fleet KBM #51, taking the place of Brandon Jones. Seavey’s ride was announced by current XFINITY Series driver Christopher Bell, Eldora’s defending winner, on July 11.

Joining Tyler Dippel on the Gilliland team is Chris Windom, who we last saw attempt a number of races with Mike Mittler’s MB Motorsports. He finished 19th in his series debut in this race last year. This time around, Windom and his Baldwin Brothers sponsorship move to the #54, taking the place of Bo LeMastus.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
After three heartbreaking near-misses at victory lane, Bobby Pierce is not entered in this year’s Dirt Derby. Taking his place in Mike Mittler’s #63 Chevrolet is “The High Side Tickler,” two-time Supernational Champion and Renegades of Dirt National Champion Kyle Strickler. This week, he trades in his black-and-gold #8 dirt modified for what could be another strong bid at getting Mittler’s team into victory lane.

RETURNING: #80-Jacob Wallace Racing
For the third-straight year, Justin Shipley and the Wallace team’s #80 Ford return to Eldora with sponsorship from Roger’s. Shipley made the last two runnings of this race, but has yet to come home under power. He finished 31st with overheating issues in 2016, then 25th after engine woes last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
Welcome back Nick Hoffman, who is set to make his first attempt at a Truck Series race since June 4, 2011, when he ran 25th for MB Motorsports at Kansas. This time around, he drives for Mittler’s sister team owned by D.J. Copp, taking the place of Tyler Matthews. And he’ll do it on dirt, where in his absence he’s cut his share of laps in dirt modifieds, driving the blue Elite Chassis #2.

RETURNING: #97-JJL Motorsports
Dirt track racing is just as much a throwback as the Darlington Raceway, and the #97 will pay homage to a legend of both. The blue Ford will this week be decorated white with gold stripes, resembling the machines piloted by ageless Red Farmer. Behind the wheel is R.J. Otto, Jr., another driver from the UMP Modifieds. The truck carries sponsorship from S&S Express.

RETURNING: #99-MDM Motorsports
Sliding in under the radar is MDM Motorsports, a team we’ve seen only once this season, finishing 21st at Martinsville with Tyler Matthews. Driving the #99 this week is Sheldon Creed, a two-time starter of this race with a best finish of 16th two years ago for SS-Green Light Racing. The Miller team finished 12th in this race last year with Ty Dillon, who this year runs for Young’s Motorsports (see above).

RETURNING: #03-Mike Affarano Motorsports
After an earlier withdrawal, the Affarano team returns to the circuit at a track where they finished last in 2014. Driving the truck, sponsored by Calumet City Auto Parts and a Stop Bullying initiative, is Illinois driver John Provenzano. If he qualifies, it will be not only the driver’s NASCAR debut, but his first in a national touring series since April 20, 1997, when he finished 28th out of 31 starters in an ARCA Racing Series round in Salem.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Ryan Newman, #12-Ty Dillon

Saturday, July 21, 2018
XFINITY Race 18 of 33
Lakes Region 200 at New Hampshire
2017 Last-Place Finisher: John Jackson

Despite reports of a possible short field this weekend, exactly 40 cars are entered in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Angela Ruch is set for her first XFINITY start of the season, taking the place of Ray Black, Jr. in the second McLeod machine. It will be Ruch’s first series start at Loudon since 2011, when she finished a series-best 25th for TriStar Motorsports.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
The Penske / Roush game of musical chairs continues in Loudon, where the #12 isn’t entered, and driver Austin Cindric dusts himself off from Eldora to take Ty Majeski’s place in the #60 Pirtek Ford. It will be Cindric’s first series start at this track, following an 8th in the Truck Series last year.

RETURNING: #13-Motorsports Business Management
MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
One of the teams keeping the field at 40 cars is MBM, which brings the #13 back to the track for the first time since Chicago. While Timmy Hill was the listed driver the previous three times this car has run in 2018, Carl Long is the entered driver of this OCR Gaz Bar Toyota. Hill remains in the #66, which the list shows as a Chevrolet in place of last week’s Dodge.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Ryan Preece had a short night in Daytona, and will look for a rebound on the “Magic Mile” as Kyle Busch steps out of the #18 Toyota. Out of his four previous Loudon starts in this series, his best finish by far came last year, where he ran runner-up to Busch. With Busch not entered, Preece must certainly be considered a favorite – if he can dispense with two other Cup invaders.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Brad Keselowski has won both of the only XFINITY races he’s run this year, taking the checkers at Phoenix and Charlotte. This week, he returns in place of Paul Menard to compete in Loudon, a track where he’s won twice in XFINITY (and never finished worse than 10th in all 9 of his previous series starts at the track), and won in Cup in 2014.

DRIVER CHANGE (?): #23-GMS Racing
After Spencer Gallagher’s return to action last week yielded a 20th-place finish, the preliminary entry list showed Johnny Sauter driving the #23 this week. Sauter has five previous starts in this series at Loudon, but none since 2006, when he finished 6th for HAAS-CNC Racing, three years before Tony Stewart acquired the Gene Haas-owned team.

RETURNING: #61-Fury Race Cars, LLC
As Kaz Grala indicated, the Fury team has landed sponsorship from both the IT Coalition and, allowing the #61 team to return from their one-week hiatus. With the pressure of a championship bid effectively off, Grala and team look to keep their momentum going in driver and team’s first XFINITY start at the track. Grala has performed well in the Truck Series here, running 7th two years ago and 10th last year, both for GMS Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins, who was swapped out Blake Jones at Kentucky, returns this week to make his 12th start of the season. He finished 29th in his series debut at this track last year, and again drives B.J. McLeod’s #78 Chevrolet. Jones, meanwhile, will make his Cup debut for BK Racing and the NY Racing Team (see below).

Making his XFINITY Series debut this week is 51-year-old Donald Theetge of Canada, who enters this race 8th in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series standings. Taking the place of Josh Williams, who moves over into a crew chief role this week, Theetge drives for fellow Canadian Mario Gosselin in a #90 Chevrolet sponsored by two dealerships: Mercedes-Benz St-Nicolas and Circuit Acura. Theetge has also been active in ACT Late Models for 12 years, winning back-to-back races at the Circuit Riverside Speedway in Quebec in 2006 and 2007.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Ty Dillon, #22-Brad Keselowski

Saturday, July 22, 2018
CUP Race 20 of 36
Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Erik Jones

There are 37 drivers entered for 40 spots. It’s the second-straight short field and the 16th out of 20 races in 2018.

MISSING: #7-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
Perhaps due to their two-truck effort at Eldora, Premium Motorsports scales back from two entries to just one for the first time since Sonoma. As on the road course, the driver of the #15 will be Justin Marks, who takes the place of Ross Chastain. The team staying in the shop is the #7 Chevrolet, which was driven last Saturday by Jesse Little in his series debut, finishing 35th with all four fenders straight. UPDATE: Chastain is in the #15, not Marks.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-BK Racing / NY Racing Team
Making his own Cup debut is Blake Jones, who moves over from B.J. McLeod’s XFINITY Series team to racing alongside him in the Cup Series. Jones takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who lost an engine at Kentucky and finished next-to-last. In place of Yeley’s Steakhouse Elite sponsorship, the #23 Toyota carries backing from Tennessee Shine Company and KBM Commercial Properties.

MISSING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MBM is again focusing exclusively on their three XFINITY Series cars this week, and have left the Cup car home after Timmy Hill’s 34th-place run in Kentucky. Hill will run the #66 on in Saturday’s race instead (see above).

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-StarCom Racing
Garrett Smithley made it much further in his second Cup start, finishing the last car under power in 36th. This week, he and sponsor Victory Lane Quick Oil Change are out of the car, and Kyle Weatherman is back in. As at Chicagoland, both Weatherman’s #99 and Landon Cassill’s #00 will run inverted versions of the gold-and-black StarCom Fiber paint scheme.

On June 19, 1949, the last-place battle of NASCAR’s first-ever Cup race, also run on the dirt, was ultimately decided by the rulebook. Glenn Dunaway was flagged the winner, but disqualified for illegal rear shocks. Until that happened, NASCAR’s first points race was about to have the sport’s first polesitter finish last. Bob Flock led the opening five laps in his #7 Hudson, only to blow the engine after 38 laps. Among the recorded results from that season, a polesitter wouldn’t finish last in NASCAR until that October, when Al Bonnell blew up after 28 laps around the Heidelberg (Pennsylvania) Raceway.

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