Thursday, February 28, 2019

PREVIEW: "Something old and something new" the theme of Las Vegas entry lists

Kurt Busch in the Star Nursery-backed
Southwest Tour car, 1999.
PHOTO: Cinde Trebesch's Pinterest
Friday, March 1, 2019
TRUCKS Race 3 of 23
Strat 200 at Las Vegas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Scott Stenzel

By Tuesday, the preliminary entry list was cut from 33 to just 31 entries this week, marking the first short field of the 2019 Truck Series campaign. UPDATE: Make that 32 following the return of #7.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-Beaver Motorsports
Back in action is Phil Parsons’ son Stefan Parsons, who we last saw pilot Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet to a solid 17th at Bristol and 20th at Phoenix last fall. This time around, Parsons takes the place of Travis Kvapil in the Beaver Motorsports entry, a truck that was withdrawn in both this season’s opening rounds in Daytona and Atlanta. It will be Parsons’ first mile-and-a-half track start.

MISSING: #7-All Out Motorsports
Not entered this week is Korbin Forrister, who bounced back from his Daytona DNQ to finish 21st last week in Atlanta. UPDATE: Forrister has since been added to the Vegas entry list, keeping the group at 32 trucks.

NEW TEAM: #15-DGR-Crosley
David Gilliland’s DGR-Crosley operation expands from two trucks to three this week. Driving the new #15 entry is Anthony Alfredo, who finished 17th in his series debut last week in Atlanta. Taking Alfredo’s place in the #17 this week is Ryan Reed, his first NASCAR national touring series start since his XFINITY Series ride at Roush-Fenway Racing shut down over the offseason. Reed will carry sponsorship from diabetes supplier Dexcom. It will be Reed’s first Truck Series start in nearly three years. CORRECTION: First attempt in nearly three years, last start in 2012.

RETURNING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Josh Reaume brings his second truck to the track for the first time since Daytona, and military veteran and K&N West Series competitor Jesse Iwuji will drive it for the first time since Mosport. Like Parsons, Iwuji’s most recent Truck Series effort came last fall at Phoenix, where he ran 27th.

WITHDREW: #42-Chad Finley, Inc.
Following a hauler accident where the driver mistakenly steered the truck into the wrong tunnel leaving Atlanta, Chad Finley’s Las Vegas truck was damaged inside the hauler. Due to the tight timetable, the team has withdrawn from the Las Vegas race. The team will have an additional two weeks to prepare for the season’s fourth round in Martinsville on March 23.

WITHDREW: #49-CMI Motorsports
Like Finley, Ray Ciccarelli withdrew after starting both this season’s first two races, though for reasons not reported. On Monday, Ciccarelli's Facebook page indicated he is now working on his truck for the next round at Martinsville.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-Copp Motorsports
Defending last-placer Scott Stenzel returns to action this week in Vegas, taking the place of Timmy Hill in the D.J. Copp entry. Hill narrowly averted a last-place run in Atlanta, edged by three laps following Joe Nemechek’s splitter-inflicted accident just three laps earlier. Personal Comfort will sponsor Stenzel.

MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman will focus on Sunday’s Cup race in the Gaunt Brothers’ #96 Toyota, which remains the only “open” team to attempt and qualify for all three of the season’s first Cup races. He will not drive Charlie Henderson’s #75 this week as it is not entered, following a 20th-place run in Atlanta.

MISSING: #80-Jacob Wallace Racing
B.J. McLeod will once again run double-duty this weekend in Las Vegas, but only in Cup and XFINITY. The Jacob Wallace team is not entered following their DNQ in Atlanta.

CUP INVADERS: #51-Kyle Busch

Saturday, March 2, 2019
XFINITY Race 3 of 33
Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Dylan Lupton

There are exactly 38 drivers entered for as many spots this week, up one car from last week’s 37-car showing in Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Set to make his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut this Saturday is Huntington Beach, California native Zane Smith, your defending runner-up in the ARCA Menards Series Championship. Smith takes the place of Cup rookie Ryan Preece in the #8 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Las Vegas hotel The Cosmopolitan. It will be Smith’s first start in NASCAR’s top three levels since last summer at Gateway, when he ran 5th in DGR-Crosley’s #54 Toyota Tundra.

RETURNING: #10-Kaulig Racing
Austin Dillon, not Daytona starter Ross Chastain, is the driver tabbed to run Kaulig Racing’s part-time second entry, which rejoins the XFINITY tour for the first time since Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
The game of musical chairs continues in Carl Long’s XFINITY Series team, where Stan Mullis takes the place of John Jackson in the #13 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota. Mullis, a Las Vegas native, last ran in the series in last September’s Vegas round, finishing 37th after a vibration. Jackson is not entered.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
The second Cup regular in the Saturday field is Kyle Busch, who swaps out Jeffrey Earnhardt one week after Earnhardt’s first top-ten finish in the series. Strangely, the odds-on favorite has just one XFINITY Series win at his home track in 2016, but it came after leading every lap but the 55th, paced by Bubba Wallace.

One Canadian driver swaps in for another as Donald Theetge returns to XFINITY competition for the first time since a career-best 25th last November in Phoenix. Theetge and his sponsors Mercedes-Benz St-Nicolas and Circuit Acura swap in for Alex Labbe, who ran 19th in Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Making his 2019 debut this week is Jairo Avila, Jr., who takes over for Atlanta’s 31st-place finisher Tommy Joe Martins. Avila, who will carry sponsorship from Art General Contractors, made his first to XFINITY Series starts with McLeod last year, running 20th at Bristol and 18th in Kansas. After Saturday, he will have already driven three of McLeod’s four different car numbers – the #8, #78, and #99 – with only the #5 to go.

CUP INVADERS: #10-Austin Dillon, #18-Kyle Busch

Sunday, March 3, 2019
CUP Race 3 of 36
Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Michael McDowell

There are 38 drivers entered for this Sunday’s Cup main event in Vegas, up one car from last week’s 37-car field, but still the second-straight short field in 2019.

TEAM UPDATE: #1-Chip Ganassi Racing
Kurt Busch is running a kind of throwback paint scheme this weekend in Las Vegas as he carries sponsorship from Star Nursery. The company, which has never backed a Cup car, sponsored Busch during his time racing in the NASCAR Southwest Tour, when he campaigned the #70 formerly driven by the late Chris Trickle (nephew of Dick Trickle). Busch stormed to the 1999 championship in the car, scoring six victories that year including four in a row. Kurt has yet to win a Cup race at his home track in 18 previous attempts, and his best finish of 3rd came back in 2005.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s team will bring their Cup car back to the track for the first time since the Daytona 500. Then, as now, Joey Gase will be the driver, running double-duty with the XFINITY Series in MBM’s #35 Toyota Supra. Gase welcomes returning sponsorship from the Eternal Fans initiative on the #66 Toyota. Gase and the #96 Gaunt Brothers entry of Parker Kligerman are the only “open” cars entered in Sunday’s race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Reed Sorenson makes his 2019 Cup debut, taking the place of Garrett Smithley in Spire’s #77 Chevrolet. Sorenson has seven previous Cup starts in Vegas, most recently a 31st for Premium last September, with a track-best of 18th for Chip Ganassi in 2008. Smithley is not entered, and will focus on his XFINITY Series ride with JD Motorsports.

Though the Las Vegas track has only been on the Cup schedule since 1998, just seven of the race’s twenty last-place finishers will start Sunday’s race: Alex Bowman (2015), Aric Almirola (2010), Corey LaJoie (2017), Erik Jones (September 2018), Landon Cassill (2011), Michael McDowell (2013, 2014, March 2018), and Ryan Newman (2006). McDowell, the LASTCAR feature for Atlanta, is the only driver to ever finish last at the track more than once.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

CUP: McDowell’s fast Ford takes last after he, Smithley, and Cassill fight their way back onto tough Atlanta track

PHOTO: @amsupdates
Michael McDowell picked up the 31st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #34 Ford finished under power after 222 of 325 laps.

The finish, which came in McDowell’s 287th series start, was his first of the season, and first in a Cup Series race since October 14, 2018 at Talladega, seven races ago. In Cup Series last-place history, it was the 32nd for car #34, the 37th where the car finished under power, and the 686th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44th for the #34, the 44th where the car was still running, and the 946th for Ford.

Just last week in Daytona, McDowell enjoyed one of the finest runs of his career. Having survived the several late-race wrecks that stretched the Daytona 500 into the evening, McDowell found himself restarting 4th in line for the final green-white-checkered finish. It was a moment the Phoenix native had been waiting for since last July, when he started 8th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Florida track, led a career-high 20 laps that night, only to be wrecked just five laps from the finish. That had been one of the only highlights of a difficult 2018 season, his first with Front Row Motorsports, that saw him rank just 26th in points.

When the green flag dropped, fellow Ford driver Joey Logano expected McDowell to push his #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford to the front. Instead, as the field poured into Turn 3 for the final time, McDowell wound up paired with the Joe Gibbs Toyota of Kyle Busch. The result left McDowell with a 5th-place finish – his best since a 9th in the previous year’s 500 – one spot behind a very upset Logano in 4th. McDowell explained the situation by putting it in greater context – the wreck that forced the overtime finish occurred when fellow Ford driver Clint Bowyer tried to swoop past McDowell on the backstretch, then crossed the nose of #34, triggering the last big wreck of the night.

The Daytona finish was only McDowell’s second career Top 5 finish, his first for Front Row, and just one spot behind his career-best 4th for Leavine Family Racing in the 2017 July race. The next race, the 1.5-mile track in Atlanta, had seen McDowell make eight starts previous, but never had he finished better than 24th. Regardless, driver and team looked for a turnaround with longtime team sponsor as the presenting sponsor for his Ford Mustang.

McDowell began the weekend with a solid 20th in the opening practice session despite turning just eight laps. He then improved even more in qualifying, running 9th in Round 1, then jumping to 4th in Round 2 to make the third and final session, where he rounded out the group with a 12th-best lap of 179.330mph (30.915 seconds). With another sterling run in Happy Hour, where he ran a strong 4th on his first of 29 completed laps, there was reason for driver and team to be excited.

With just 37 drivers entered to qualify for the 40-car field, no drivers were sent home. The final starting spot fell to B.J. McLeod, who one week after his first Daytona 500 start was swapped rides with his Rick Ware Racing teammate Cody Ware. McLeod would thus run the #52 Chevrolet, which at Atlanta featured logos for Daytona associate sponsor Trick Shot Penetrating Lubricant. McLeod secured the final starting spot as the only one of the entrants to not complete a lap in Friday’s qualifying session.

On race day, McLeod sat at the entrance of pit road for an extended period of time, waiting for the rest of the field to join the track. He then caught up to the group within the next circuit. With one lap until green, Kyle Busch surrendered the 6th starting spot. Busch had incurred a tail-end penalty after a Turn 4 accident in Happy Hour destroyed the rear end of his #18 Snickers Creamy Toyota. Contrary to the FOX broadcast, Busch did not take the green in the 37th spot. Both McLeod and Ware backed up on the backstretch to let him in line around the 35th spot. Garrett Smithley, driving Spire Motorsports’ #77 Hero Box / Harrell’s Chevrolet, pulled behind Busch for failing pre-race inspection, lifting Busch to 34th. By the time the field had formed up two-by-two, RaceView showed that Busch was actually up to 31st, having also cleared Ross Chastain (#15), Landon Cassill (#00), and Parker Kligerman (#96) with Smithley, Ware, and McLeod closing out the 37-car field.

When the green flag dropped, McLeod retained the 37th spot, but quickly caught and passed Ware in Turns 3 and 4. By the time the two reached the stripe, both pulled suddenly to the right as Smithley slowed in front of them. The #77 Chevrolet was running at a reduced speed, and did so in the worst possible spot, causing him to lose a lap on Lap 3 before he could even attempt to get to pit road. Smithley, too, only held the spot briefly, as Landon Cassill’s #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet made an unscheduled stop on Lap 4, costing the StarCom entry two laps. The Derrike Cope-led team tweeted that Cassill was still running faster than any car up to 28th spot, which allowed him to catch and pass Smithley for 36th by Lap 24.

When the competition caution fell on Lap 35, Smithley was still last, and now three laps down. The driver reported his car was not shutting off, but was fighting a serious tight condition. The crew made adjustments, and Smithley reported the car handled better on Lap 54. Moments later, the #77 was off the pace again, this time citing a water temperature of 264 degrees. Unable to swipe past the leader to clear potential debris, Smithley tried to make an unscheduled stop on Lap 55, missed the pit entrance, then came in on Lap 56. By the time he returned on Lap 59, he was now five laps down, then six two circuits later. A second unscheduled stop followed on Lap 62, and this time the crew instructed Smithley to pull into the garage through the opening two stalls in front of him. RacingUnderdogs intercepted radio communications indicating it was an issue with the brake tension switch, forcing the crew to look over the computer.

Despite being shown “unavailable” for some time during his stay in the garage, Smithley was rolling again on Lap 111, returned to pit road on Lap 113, and was 59 laps down by Lap 122. The driver then asked, “Are we planning on running until we can't gain any more spots?” With no other drivers out of the race, or even in the garage by that point, Smithley was instructed to stay out.

Cassill became the next last-place contender on Lap 189, when he pulled into the garage with a broken axle. At the time, Cassill’s #00 Chevrolet was running 35th in the field of 37, nine laps down ahead of both Ware and Smithley. On Lap 194, Cassill dropped to 36th, and the next time by was within 45 laps of Smithley passing him for last place.

McDowell’s own trip to the garage came on Lap 209, citing an issue in the right-front of the car. As the driver later reported, something “popped” in the right-front as he tried to pass teammate Matt Tifft, causing the #34 to become extremely tight. Parked just a couple stalls to the left of Cassill’s crew, McDowell’s team set to work on the suspension. Cassill, meanwhile, was ready to return to the track on Lap 217, and he returned to action in 36th spot, 38 laps down. During this whole exchange, Smithley remained on track, but still in last place, having closed within just 27 laps of finally climbing to 36th.

It was quite literally a race against the clock for the Front Row Motorsports crew. The crew worked over the front control arm. Then they inspected the lower control arm, which had a broken bolt. By Lap 235, the crew was not only having difficulty putting a new bolt in the arm, but was also replacing the rear shocks. Work was still continuing on Lap 272, when Smithley finally worked his way past McDowell into the 36th spot, dropping the Phoenix native to last.

Finally, on Lap 305, with just 20 to go in the race, McDowell was rolling through the garage. He returned to action 103 laps down, and wouldn’t lose another lap by the checkered flag.

Smithley took 36th, building a 32-lap advantage on McDowell by race’s end. The 35th spot went to the day’s only retiree, a very frustrated Ryan Preece. One week after dodging wreck after wreck in Daytona, the rookie glanced at his tachometer at the wrong time during his final pit stop and struck McLeod’s #52 Chevrolet that was trying to make it to his stall. The damage was bad enough to send the #47 behind the wall, out under the Crash Clock protocol. Cassill and Ware both climbed past Preece by the finish, climbing to 34th and 33rd, respectively. Ware was the only member of the group to not earn his first Bottom Five of the season.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish at Atlanta for both McDowell and car #34.

37) #34-Michael McDowell / 222 laps / running
36) #77-Garrett Smithley / 254 laps / running
35) #47-Ryan Preece / 271 laps / crash
34) #00-Landon Cassill / 284 laps / running
33) #51-Cody Ware / 303 laps / running

1st) Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (1)


XFINITY: John Jackson’s “Zombie Toyota” trails smallest XFINITY field since 1999

PHOTO: FOX Sports screenshot by
David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078 ‏ 
John Jackson picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Rinnai 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #13 Fluidyne / Toyota fell out with suspension issues after 14 of 163 laps.

The finish, which came in Jackson’s 30th series start, was his first since November 4, 2017 at Texas, 37 races ago. In XFINITY Series last-place history, it was the 6th for car #13, the 15th from suspension trouble, and the 122nd for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 29th for the #13, the 39th from suspension issues, and the 309th for Toyota.

The finish also gave Jackson an early lead in the 2019 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship by virtue of picking up a Bottom Ten in both of the season’s first two rounds. He now leads last week’s 38th-place finisher Stephen Leicht by that single Bottom Ten.

Jackson has continued his relationship with Carl Long and the Motorsports Business Management team into Atlanta, where his blue-and-white #13 would carry the hood logo of new team sponsor Fluidyne. The Scotsman took the place of Max Tullman, not entered in Saturday’s race following a 28th-place showing in the Daytona opener.

Unlike Tullman, Jackson would be driving what photographer David PeQueen referred to as a “Zombie Toyota.” In the spirit of the team’s now-retired Dodge, the “Zombie” was an older Toyota Camry run in place of the manufacturer’s new Toyota Supra. The car also ran the old driver name banner at the top of the windshield with Jackson’s name on white tape over someone else’s name.

A second “Zombie” was to be driven by Jackson’s MBM teammate Timmy Hill. Hill ran the #66 on the gold-and-white Benny Parsons tribute car run last fall in Darlington (and numbered #72 that day). Neither Jackson nor Hill were among the 30 drivers who made it on track for the weekend’s first practice session. Both were locked-into the field, however, as just 37 drivers arrived in Georgia to make the 38-car field. Hill took 33rd with Jackson 34th. It was the smallest XFINITY Series field to take the green since June 12, 1999, when 33 started the Texilese Medique 300 at South Boston.

Starting 37th on Saturday was Morgan Shepherd who was making his 2019 XFINITY Series debut. Following a disastrous late-fall stretch that began with a practice accident in Texas, and continued through a hauler breakdown in Phoenix, the black #89 Visone RV Chevrolet was back in the garage area, rolled out of its humble white trailer. Jackson joined Shepherd at the back of the pack for missing driver introductions, and was also joined by Daytona last-placer Stephen Leicht due to unapproved adjustments on the #01 JD Motorsports Chevrolet.

Jackson soon retook the spot under green when he pulled the #13 behind the wall, done for the day with suspension issues.

No other drivers fell out of the race until after the end of Stage 1. First to do so was all-time last-place record holder Jeff Green, his #93 the first of two unsponsored RSS Racing entries to fill the Bottom Five. Green was followed 45 laps later by teammate Josh Bilicki, who cited ignition issues on the #38 Chevrolet. Shepherd ran between them in 35th, out three laps after Green with brake issues. Rounding out the group was Mike Harmon in the #74 Time For A Hero Chevrolet, citing electrical issues. Harmon was the only member of the group to have finished Bottom Five in each of the season’s first two races.

Turning in a career-best run on Saturday was Brandon Brown, who in 21 previous series starts had never finished better than 17th, nearly two years ago in Dover. Driving for his family’s Brandonbilt Motorsports team, Brown finished 13th and on the lead lap, backing up his solid 18th-place showing in this year’s Daytona opener.

Similarly, Gray Gaulding followed-up his strong qualifying run in Daytona with a 16th-place finish, charging up from the 35th starting spot in just his second start for SS-Green Light Racing.

Also of note was Bayley Currey, tabbed at the last minute to replace Chris Cockrum in an unsponsored black #17 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. In just his 12th series start and his first since last fall at Phoenix, Currey finished 22nd, just one spot shy of matching his series best of 21st for JP Motorsports at Texas.

*This marked the first time car #13 finished last in an XFINITY Series race at Atlanta.
*Jackson trailed the shortest Atlanta field in XFINITY Series history. Prior to Saturday’s 37-car field, never had fewer than 40 cars taken the green at the track.

37) #13-John Jackson / 14 laps / suspension
36) #93-Jeff Green / 42 laps / vibration
35) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 45 laps / brakes
34) #38-Josh Bilicki / 87 laps / ignition
33) #74-Mike Harmon / 90 laps / electrical

1st) JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (1)


TRUCKS: Joe Nemechek completes third-most laps of Atlanta’s last-place finishers

PHOTO: Lee Spencer, @CandiceSpencer
Joe Nemechek picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Saturday’s Ultimate Tailgating 200 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #8 D.A.B. Constructors / TMS Titanium Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 50 of 130 laps.

The finish, which came in defending LASTCAR Truck Series Champion's 59th series start, was his first since November 9, 2018 at the ISM Raceway, three races ago. In Truck Series last-place history, it was the 7th for truck #8, the 150th from a crash, and the 366th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 45th for the #8, the 1,170th from a crash, and the 1,643rd for Chevrolet.

Nemechek now has 45 last-place finishes across NASCAR’s top three series – three more than 3rd-place Morgan Shepherd’s 42, but still a distant second all-time behind Jeff Green with 119.

Last week, NEMCO Motorsports enjoyed a strong start to the 2019. Nemechek himself took the controls of the #87, ran in the Top Five for most of the night, and even after he lost his splitter in a late-race accident, managed a respectable 16th-place finish. Meanwhile, Nemechek’s flagship #8, driven last season by son John Hunter and last week by part-timer Angela Ruch, steered Ruch to a career-best 8th.

With Atlanta came the start of the regular season, and the realities of running an underfunded team reared their ugly head once more. The #87 stayed in the shop this time around, and the #8 arrived at the 1.5-mile oval without primary sponsorship. Nemechek himself would drive, and in so doing hoped to keep the momentum of last week going. The veteran would have to do so with limited track time. After ranking 17th of 33 entrants during the first practice, qualifying was rained out, securing him 8th on the grid.

Sent home after the session was scrubbed was B.J. McLeod, who looked to run triple-duty at the Atlanta track. McLeod’s ride for the 130-lap race was to be fielded by Jacob Wallace Racing, a part-time Truck Series team that has made the field for five Eldora races and only three on pavement, none since 2014. With just the one Eldora start last season, the #80 Ford was sent home by the rain, joining Beaver Motorsports’ #1 for Travis Kvapil, withdrawn for the second-straight week.

Starting last was another name synonymous with Eldora – Norm Benning. Carrying returning sponsorship from Zomongo and H&H Transport, Bennning’s #6 Chevrolet was second-slowest ahead of Jason White in Daytona qualifying, but his 20 attempts in 23 races last year earned him the 32nd and final starting spot. It was to be not only Benning’s first Truck Series start since last summer at Mosport, but only his third series start at Atlanta since 2015.

After the first lap, the last spot belonged to Timmy Hill, swapped into D.J. Copp’s #63 Chevrolet at the last minute in place of Daytona’s driver Bobby Gerhart. Hill then climbed to 30th, dropping Benning to last on Lap 3. By that point, Benning had dropped to more than 11 seconds back of the lead. By Lap 9, the last spot had fallen to Ray Ciccarelli, who was looking to shake off the disappointment of a mid-race accident in his debut as the new team owner of the #49 CMI Installations Chevrolet.

On Lap 16, trouble once again found Daytona last-placer Natalie Decker, who lost control off Turn 4 and spun into the grass. Decker recovered, but not until after she lost a lap to the slowing field. Decker, who restarted two laps down and ultimately finished 24th, three down, secured her second bottom-ten finish of the young season, and now leads Nemechek by that margin in the 2019 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship.

Nemechek secured the last spot when he pulled in for an unscheduled stop just 11 laps into Stage 2. His #8 showed significant damage to the lower end of the nose in the area of the splitter, the left-front of the splitter gone and the right-front fender bent. The driver had apparently clipped the edge of the grass near the start / finish line, drawing the caution flag. Nemechek’s truck was pushed behind the wall with smoke pouring from beneath the hood.

Hill finished 31st, followed by Josh Reaume who fell out after 78 laps to finish 30th, ending his race in an unsponsored #33. Benning’s day ended with steering woes after 82 laps turned, leaving him 29th. Rounding out the group was Chad Finley, back in his #42 Auto Value Certified Service Centers / Air Lift Chevrolet for the first time this year, but out after the day’s biggest multi-truck pileup on Lap 118.

Nemechek, Hill, Reaume, Benning, and Finley also posted their first bottom-five finishes of the season.

*This marked the first last-place finish for #8 in the Truck Series since October 22, 2016, when John Hunter Nemechek’s engine failure left him last in Talladega. The number had never before trailed a Truck race at Atlanta.
*This was Joe Nemechek’s first last-place finish in truck #8, and the first time he’d finished last after qualifying better than 23rd.
*Nemechek’s 50 laps complete are the third-most by a Truck Series last-place finisher at Atlanta, trailing only Joey Miller’s 58 on March 17, 2006 and current record holder William Byron, who turned 59 laps on February 27, 2016.

32) #8-Joe Nemechek / 50 laps / crash
31) #63-Timmy Hill / 53 laps / brakes
30) #33-Josh Reaume / 78 laps / engine
29) #6-Norm Benning / 82 laps / steering
28) #42-Chad Finley / 117 laps / crash

1st) DGR-Crosley, NEMCO Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (1)


Thursday, February 21, 2019

PREVIEW: For many on Atlanta entry lists, the 2019 season begins this weekend

PHOTO: @TommyJoeMartins
Saturday, February 23, 2019
TRUCKS Race 2 of 23
Ultimate Tailgating 200 at Atlanta
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Scott Stenzel

There are 33 drivers entered for 32 spots, down seven drivers from last week’s massive 40-truck preliminary list. One team will not make the starting lineup.

RETURNING: #1-Beaver Motorsports
The Mark Beaver / Tracy Lowe effort was the only team to withdraw last week in Daytona, and the team is again entered this week with 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil. Kvapil last took the green in a Truck Series race in Atlanta in 2016, finishing 23rd for Jennifer Jo Cobb. That remains his lone Atlanta start in the series since 2008.

MISSING: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister and the All Out team aren’t entered this week following their DNQ at Daytona.

MISSING: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
NEMCO Motorsports scales back from two trucks to just the flagship #8 this week, to be driven by team owner Joe Nemechek. Nemechek ran 16th last week in the #87, the same race that saw Angela Ruch have a career night with an 8th-place finish and two laps led.

MISSING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Also among the Daytona DNQs not entered in Atlanta is ARCA competitor Codie Rohbraugh and his #9 Chevrolet.

Taking the place of team co-owner David Gilliland, who was ensnared in last Friday’s wild first lap action at Daytona, 20-year-old Anthony Alfredo seeks his NASCAR national touring series debut. Alfredo, from Ridgefield, Connecticut, finished 5th in last year’s K&N Pro Series East standings highlighted by a last-lap pass for the win in South Boston. His truck carries sponsorship from Ceco Building Systems.

MISSING: #27-ThorSport Racing
Myatt Snider’s effort in ThorSport’s part-time #27 entry ended in one of Daytona’s many multi-truck melees, leaving him a disappointing 21st. Neither Snider nor the #27 are entered this week.

MISSING: #28-FDNY Racing
Also missing are driver Bryan Dauzat and team owner Jim Rosenblum’s FDNY Racing, whose 21st-place qualifying effort ended abruptly with an early crash, then a scary pit road incident involving the team’s jack man. Neither driver nor team are entered in this week’s race.

MISSING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Like NEMCO, the Reaume Brothers team scales back from two trucks to only the flagship #33 with Josh Reaume himself. Both Jason White and the #34 team are not entered this week following their DNQ in Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chad Finley, Inc.
Chad Finley returns to the driver’s seat of his #42 for the first time since last summer at Bristol, and his first Truck Series start since a one-off for Reaume at Martinsville which yielded a last-place finish. Finley takes the place of Robby Lyons, who finished a disappointing 30th in Daytona.

MISSING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Chris Fontaine remains committed to the restrictor-plate races, and both he and his #47 Toyota are not entered in this week’s Atlanta race. Fontaine crashed out in Daytona and finished 27th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Flying the flag for the Cup invaders is one Kyle Busch, less than a week after teammate Denny Hamlin denied him his first Daytona 500 victory. Busch takes the place of Christian Eckes, who won the pole in Daytona only to finish 22nd.

MISSING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Owner-driver Clay Greenfield is not among the Atlanta entrants after his Chevrolet crashed late in Friday’s season opener, yielding a 12th-place finish.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Joining Busch from the Daytona 500 is Parker Kligerman, who rejoins Charlie Henderson’s venerable team as driver of the #75 Food Country USA Chevrolet. Kligerman’s most recent two of his five Atlanta starts in the series came with Henderson, yielding a 31st-place run in 2017, then an 11th last year. Kligerman is also entered in Sunday’s race (see below).

RETURNING: #80-Jacob Wallace Racing
Typically a one-off team for Eldora since 2014 with all but three of their eight Truck starts coming on the dirt track, Jacob Wallace Racing announced they will be making a rare pavement start at Atlanta with B.J. McLeod behind the wheel. McLeod, now running a larger part of the Cup schedule for Rick Ware Racing, has not made a Truck Series start since last summer at Michigan, and has not started the Truck race at Atlanta since 2011.

MISSING: #82-Mark Rette
Driver Spencer Davis and team owner Mark Rette are not among the Atlanta entrants following their own DNQ at Daytona.

MISSING: #92-Ricky Benton Enterprises
Also missing is Austin Theriault and the Ricky Benton team, the fastest of the trucks to miss the show in Daytona. Theriault has never made a Truck Series start in Atlanta.

After skipping the Daytona opener - and avoiding its carnage - Jesse Little’s season debut comes this weekend in the family’s #97 Skuttle Tight / Parker FiberNet / Visit Kings Ford. Little closed out the 2018 season strong with Top Tens in his final two starts, ending with a 9th at Homestead. He was 8th in this race that year.


Saturday, February 23, 2019
XFINITY Race 2 of 33
Rinnai 250 at Atlanta
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

In just the series’ second race with its new 38-car cap on starting fields, just 37 drivers are entered this week, the first short field of 2019.

DRIVER CHANGE: #4-JD Motorsports
MISSING: #10-Kaulig Racing
Since his part-time effort in Kaulig Racing’s #10 Chevrolet is not entered this week, Ross Chastain returns to Johnny Davis’ #4 Chevrolet this week, taking the place of Scott Lagasse, Jr., who ran 21st in Daytona. Chastain, who won Stage 2 and finished 13th last Saturday, finished a track-best 16th in this race last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
After his “Days of Thunder” inspired feats of wreck avoidance in the Daytona 500, Ryan Preece returns to the XFINITY Series, taking Chase Elliott’s place in the #8 Chevrolet. Louisiana Hot Sauce sponsors the ride, Preece’s first since a 6th-place showing for Joe Gibbs in last year’s Homestead finale.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
Both Penske Racing’s #12 and the troublesome roof hatch on the #12 Ford are not entered this week, leaving Cup regular Brad Keselowski to focus his attention on Sunday’s 500-miler.

DRIVER SWAP: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER SWAP: #42-Motorsports Business Management
At Carl Long’s team, John Jackson moves from the #42 to #13, leaving #42 open for returning Chad Finchum. Finchum now part-time as team continues search for sponsors. Max Tullman, who ran #13 last week, is not entered. Timmy Hill remains in the #66, as he had last week.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Spraker Racing / Rick Ware Racing
As of this writing, no driver is listed for the #17 Chevrolet, driven to a 31st-place finish last week by Chris Cockrum.

RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Welcome back ageless Morgan Shepherd, who after not entering Daytona will make his season debut at a track he once dominated in the Cup Series. Shepherd eyes his 12th XFINITY start at the track where he’s missed the field just once in the last eight years.

After he was replaced with Josh Williams at the start of this season, Alex Labbe rejoins DGM Racing to drive the team’s second car, the #90 Chevrolet. This team earned some quality TV time during Saturday’s broadcast when Caesar Bacarella earned a strong top-ten performance in the opening and closing stages until a late brush with the wall left him 29th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Atlanta is also the season debut for Tommy Joe Martins, who takes D.J. Kennington’s place in B.J. McLeod’s #99 Toyota Supra. Longtime Martins sponsor Diamond Gusset Jeans returns to back the effort in a fan-designed paint scheme. Martins finished 33rd in this race last year.

Sunday, February 24, 2019
CUP Race 2 of 36
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Gray Gaulding

Continuing the trend of massive team drop-off after Daytona, there are just 37 drivers entered in Sunday’s 40-car field for the second race of the season, down five cars from last week. It is just one entry more than last year’s 36-car field for the race, and marks the first time that exactly 37 cars will start a Cup race in Atlanta.

STILL MISSING: #7-NY Racing Team
Jonathan Cohen’s single-car effort is still not entered in this week’s race after also skipping the Daytona opener. It was during this same race weekend in 2015 that the Cohen team endured the bizarre incident of their race car being stolen, then recovered after their withdrawal.

MISSING: #27-Germain Racing
Several “open” teams are not making the trip to Georgia this weekend. Among them is the second Germain Racing entry with driver Casey Mears, a pair that ended up last in Sunday’s Daytona 500 following a mid-race crash.

MISSING: #31-Richard Childress Racing
Tyler Reddick will focus on his XFINITY Series effort with Richard Childress Racing after both he and Childress’ “open” #31 team are not entered this week. Atlanta thus marks the first race without car #31 in the field since November 18, 2001, when Robby Gordon failed to qualify the Lowe’s Chevrolet – also at Atlanta.

DRIVER SWAP: #51-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #52-Rick Ware Racing
Following their tangle during the Daytona 500 after the cars in front tried to duck onto pit road without notice, B.J. McLeod and Cody Ware are swapping rides this week with McLeod now in the #52 and Ware in the #51.

MISSING: #62-Beard Motorsports
Brendan Gaughan and the Mark Beard team remain committed to their restrictor-plate schedule in 2019, and neither are entered in this week’s race.

MISSING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s team has also elected not to enter their Cup car this week following Joey Gase’s DNQ for the Daytona 500.

MISSING: #71-Tommy Baldwin Racing
Ryan Truex, the 500’s other DNQ, is also not entered this week along with the newly-renumbered Tommy Baldwin effort.

NUMBER AND DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
This week comes the first real test for Spire Motorsports, which last week ran unofficially in a Chip Ganassi effort for Jamie McMurray’s final Cup start. The team will for the first time run their claimed car number 77, and bring on XFINITY Series regular Garrett Smithley from JD Motorsports. Smithley, who made his Cup debut last year for StarCom Racing, will be sponsored by Overkill Motorsports.

TEAM UPDATE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
The lone “open” team entered in Atlanta is the Gaunt Brothers effort, along with a returning Parker Kligerman. Kligerman finished a respectable 15th in last week’s Daytona 500 after tangling with Casey Mears in the aforementioned mid-race tangle.

STILL MISSING: #97-Obaika Racing
As of this writing, the Victor Obaika team has yet to be added to the entry list after also not entering the Daytona 500.

Matt DiBenedetto turned heads with a strong run in last week’s Daytona 500, leading the most laps and remaining in position for an upset victory until he was eliminated in a late crash, leaving him 28th. It was also on this date three years ago, February 21, that DiBenedetto scored his first Cup Series last-place finish, which also came in the Daytona 500. At the time, he was driving one of four cars from the now-defunct BK Racing.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

CUP: Casey Mears’ return to Cup competition ends with mid-race wreck

PHOTO: David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078
Casey Mears picked up the 5th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #27 Rim Ryderz Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car crash after 104 of 207 laps.

The finish, which came in Mears’ 489th series start, was his first in a Cup Series race since October 9, 2016 at Charlotte, 79 races ago. In Cup Series last-place history, it was the 26th for car #27, the 575th from a crash, and the 757th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #27, the 1,169th from a crash, and the 1,642nd for Chevrolet.

Daytona set the stage for a reunion between Mears and Germain Racing. The journeyman driver of the famous “Mears Gang” first climbed aboard Bob Germain’s #13 car in late August 2010, and helped grow the team from a part-time “start-and-park” program into a solid mid-pack contender, complete with continued sponsorship from GEICO Insurance. The relationship lasted more than six full seasons before Mears was released at the end of 2016 for rookie contender Ty Dillon, who has driven the #13 to this day.

GEICO stayed with Mears in 2017, backing a part-time XFINITY Series effort with longtime team owner Fred Biagi and the Biagi-DenBeste #98 Ford. At Fontana, Mears made his first series start since 2010 and finished a respectable 14th, then earned a pair of 9th-place showings at Richmond and Road America. But when Stewart-Haas Racing formed a partnership with the Biagi team last year, Mears was out, replaced by another group of young guns.

Mears was absent from NASCAR’s top three series through all of last year, and had no plans to compete in 2019. That changed on February 5, just five days before pole qualifying for the Daytona 500, when Germain Racing announced they would field a second “open” car alongside Ty Dillon’s flagship #13. The car, unsponsored at the time, was #27, and used a number font similar to that driven by Paul Menard when he campaigned one of Richard Childress Racing’s Chevrolets.

As an “open” car – one of six entered for the final four spots – speed proved critical. Mears started the Cup part of SpeedWeeks 19th in opening practice, then turned a single lap in the second session that put him 28th of 37 entrants. In qualifying, Mears ranked 26th overall with a speed of 189.849mph (47.406 seconds), edging Ryan Truex by less than three-hundredths of a second for the last spot locked-in to the 500 field on speed. Mears ended up falling back on that time with a 17th-place finish in Duel Race 2, and he thus secured the 40th and final starting spot.

By the time of the Duels, Mears picked up sponsorship from skateboard accessory manufacturer Rim Ryderz. The flat black Chevrolet with pink roof numbers was then changed slightly with the company’s logo on the hood and quarter-panels, a narrower number font similar to one of Donnie Allison’s old Fords, and a couple accents on the doors. Closing out the week, the new scheme ran 22nd of 38 drivers in the third session, then didn’t turn a lap in either of the last two practices.

On race day, Mears incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for Sunday’s race due to a transmission change, the same reason that Kyle Larson dropped to the rear in his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet. Joining the pair was Jamie McMurray, whose likely final Cup start in Spire Motorsports’ #40 McDonald’s / Cessna Chevrolet involved a drop to the back for a rear gear change. Mears remained behind the #40 and #42, who pulled to the high lane as they dropped to the rear on the final pace lap. Mears also dropped back from the pack, and was briefly joined by rookie Matt Tifft in the #36 Speedco Ford before Tifft resumed his spot a couple rows up.

When the green flag fell, Mears held last place, then pulled high alongside fellow Row 20 occupant Tyler Reddick. Reddick, the defending XFINITY Series champion, had also locked himself in on speed driving an “open” car from the Richard Childress Racing stables, a #31 Chevrolet sponsored by Symbicort. Mears worked his way past Reddick, then ducked in behind Cody Ware, making his first 500 start in his family’s #52 Winn-Dixie Chevrolet. Mears and Ware then slipped past Reddick, dropping the #31 to last at the end of Lap 1.

On Lap 2, the outside line began to move again, and Ware slipped to last. He then quickly lost touch with the pack, followed soon after by teammate B.J. McLeod in the team’s #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet on Lap 10. On the 13th go-round, Ware was then warned to watch for the approaching leaders, telling him to pull low, then move back up when he could find a place in line. On Lap 16, leader Matt DiBenedetto caught and passed Ware in his fast #95 Procore Toyota as the group entered Turn 3. As the group whisked past off Turn 4, Denny Hamlin nearly lost control as he pulled down in front of Ware. Hamlin would ultimately recover to win his second Daytona 500.

On Lap 17, Ware tried to slot into line ahead of a trailing three-car pack led by fellow “open” driver Brendan Gaughan in the #62 Beard Oil / South Point Chevrolet. Two laps later, Gaughan and the other two cars scooped Ware out of line, and the #52 was again losing touch with the draft.

On that same lap, the 19th circuit, Corey LaJoie drew the race’s first caution for the third straight Daytona 500. This time around, he drove for Go FAS Racing, a ride vacated by DiBenedetto before ultimately landing the #95 of Leavine Family Racing. Carrying one of designer David Marrero’s most unique paint schemes – one with LaJoie’s face covering the entire front valence – a right-front tire let go, destroying much of the space around the graphic’s right ear. LaJoie made it to pit road under the ensuing caution, then lost a second lap on the 21st circuit, dropping him to last behind Ware.

Unlike Ware, who again lost touch with the draft on the Lap 24 restart, LaJoie still had some success in keeping up with some of the cars, and found himself drafting the #15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet of Ross Chastain. LaJoie then worked his way past Chastain, and Ware and Chastain worked in tandem on trying to draft past the #32. The experiment was short-lived, as this time Ware lost touch with Chastain, and was 37.2 seconds back of the lead by Lap 44.

The first caution for an accident occurred on Lap 49. Near the front, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s #17 Fastenal Ford closed on the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet of Kurt Busch. With Stenhouse closing on the left-rear corner of Busch’s Chevrolet, the #1 suddenly spun out, scrubbing the apron before collecting both Bubba Wallace in the #43 Aftershokz Chevrolet and Jamie McMurray’s #40. All three cars made it back to pit road, but Busch and Wallace incurred the heaviest damage. On Lap 52, Wallace returned to action two laps down with the nose heavily taped. Busch followed soon after with a mangled left-rear corner. Both remained in front of LaJoie, now three laps down, when the race restarted on Lap 54, and was a fourth down by Lap 58.

Lap 62 brought the caution that ended Stage 1, allowing Wallace, Busch, and LaJoie the time to make extra repairs. The next time by, Wallace took last when his stop ran too long, dropping him four laps down onto the same circuit as LaJoie. On Lap 65, Wallace took the green flag ahead of McMurray and Tifft, who both split him on either side down the backstretch. It was from here on out that Wallace’s wounded car ran visibly off the pace, at one point losing a lap for each six to seven he’d completed. He lost a fifth circuit on Lap 74, a sixth on Lap 81, and was a seventh down by Lap 89.

It was on Lap 89 that Busch’s own damage caught up to him, the left-rear of his black car coming loose and flapping behind him. Now seven laps down on the same circuit as Wallace, Busch ran 40th for the first time in the race. Wallace retook last after a stop on Lap 91, at which point the driver was considering parking his car as the field was running so much faster. By Lap 97, Wallace was nine laps down, then ten on Lap 103.

Mears, meanwhile, was running in a separate draft along with Parker Kligerman in the #96 Toyota: Proud Sponsor of Team USA Toyota fielded by Gaunt Brothers Racing. On Lap 107, Mears was drafting Kligerman when the two made contact entering Turn 1. The two collided and spun, destroying the right-front of Mears’ car and the rear of Kligerman’s. As the two rolled down the backstretch under caution, Kligerman gestured at Mears before both made it to the pits. While Kligerman made it back onto the track, Mears pulled into the garage, done for the day under the Damaged Vehicle Policy. Mears was “unavailable” on Race View on Lap 109, then on Lap 115 took last from Wallace.

Wallace only climbed one more spot to 38th before he retired with crash damage. In doing so, he slipped past Ware, who along with McLeod lost control coming onto pit road on Lap 159, triggering a pit pileup that collected Reddick, Stenhouse, and Jimmie Johnson. Ware pulled behind the wall soon after, done for the day. Rounding out the group were Chris Buescher and Matt Tifft, both eliminated in the grinding Lap 192 pileup that decimated much of the field.

The same wreck put an abrupt end to a career race for Matt DiBenedetto. After showing speed in both qualifying and the Duels, the popular driver led the field for a race-high 49 laps, at one point weaving through two lanes of lapped traffic before a mid-race caution. He was still among the leaders when contact from Paul Menard sent him around, leaving him a disappointing 28th.

Surviving the chaos were Michael McDowell, who followed-up his strong Daytona showing last July to run as high as 3rd before he settled for 5th. Ty Dillon, Mears’ teammate, finished 6th in his second-straight Daytona points race, his two best career finishes to date. Ryan Preece expertly weaved through two of the race’s biggest pileups to himself threaten for a Top Five before taking a career-best 8th. And Ross Chastain closed out a weekend where he ran 3rd in Trucks and 13th in XFINITY with a career-best 10th. It was just the second Cup Series top-ten for team owner Jay Robinson and his first since the 2017 Daytona 500, where Michael Waltrip ran 8th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #27 in the Daytona 500. The number had twice trailed the July race at Daytona on July 1, 2006 with owner-driver Kirk Shelmerdine and July 6, 2013 with Paul Menard.
*The 104 laps completed by Mears are the third-most by a last-place finisher of the Daytona 500, edging Matt Kenseth’s 103 laps on February 26, 2017. The top two remain Kenny Wallace’s 141 on February 17, 2008 and Tony Stewart’s record 152 on February 18, 2007.

40) #27-Casey Mears / 104 laps / crash
39) #52-Cody Ware / 155 laps / crash
38) #43-Bubba Wallace / 169 laps / crash
37) #37-Chris Buescher / 190 laps / crash
36) #36-Matt Tifft / 190 laps / crash

1st) Germain Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


XFINITY: Slipped belt leaves Stephen Leicht last in placid Daytona race

David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078
Stephen Leicht picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Racing Experience 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #01 OPAV Experience It / BTX General Logistics Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues after he completed 24 of the race’s 120 laps.

The finish, which came in Leicht’s 100th series start, was his first in the series since last fall at Dover, five races ago. In the XFINITY Series, it was the 15th last-place finish for car #01, the 33rd from overheating issues, and the 520th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 32nd for the #01, the 171st from overheating problems, and the 1,641st for Chevrolet.

Last season saw Leicht run 17 of the 33 XFINITY Series races, his most since 2007. This time around, he drove for four different teams. He began the year teamed with Josh Bilicki at the start-up JP Motorsports team. He began the year with a season-best 15th in the Daytona opener, but parted ways after the season’s tenth round in Dover. A one-off for RSS Racing yielded a 39th-place finish at Iowa, then he ran the August events for Mike Harmon with a best of 31st at Bristol. He then closed out the season driving the #99 Chevrolet for B.J. McLeod, returning to the “start-and-park” doldrums that have plagued his career.

Leicht’s new ride at JD Motorsports promises to be his first full-time effort in the series since the same 2007 season, when he was a development driver for Yates Racing. The team’s best finish of 2018 was a 14th at Darlington with Landon Cassill, one of only two starts for the Cup regular. Curiously, Cassill came aboard after the team’s full-season driver Vinnie Miller was released late in the season, and followed Leicht to B.J. McLeod’s team.

A second NASCAR-mandated field reduction in six years made Saturday’s race the first time only 38 cars started an XFINITY Series race since June 21, 2014, when Kevin Lepage exited on the first lap at Road America. As it happened, exactly that many cars arrived in Florida to qualify for the event, meaning no teams were sent home. Leicht ran 26th in opening practice and ran 16th of the 22 who braved Happy Hour. He qualified 23rd with a speed of 184.22mph (48.854 seconds).

Starting in the last spot was Cole Custer, who put up the slowest lap in qualifying, then incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for an engine change on his #00 Jacob Companies Ford. Joining Custer at the back was polesitter Tyler Reddick, whose first start in Richard Childress Racing’s #2 Pinnacle Financial Partners Chevrolet began with a flat tire found after time trials. The same issue befell Max Tullman in Motorsports Business Management’s (MBM) #13 Zoomi Toyota.  Also falling back was Jeremy Clements, whose new-look silver #51 Chevrolet had unapproved adjustments.

A ragged start caused the back half of the field to unspool quickly into several broken packs of single-file traffic, allowing both Reddick and Custer to gain 17 spots in just three laps. By the end of Lap 2, the last-place runner became the #42 James Carter Attorney / Toyota driven by John Jackson.

Leicht overheating on pit road.
Jackson’s entry in the #42 would have been unthinkable before last year’s turbulent offseason. At season’s end, the number belonged to Chip Ganassi Racing’s XFINITY Series program, which was to be Ross Chastain’s full-season ride for 2019. But the fallout from the FBI’s raid of team sponsor DC Solar’s headquarters changed all that, causing the team to shut down. The number was then picked up by MBM, which tabbed Jackson to drive.

Keselowski after his roof hatch came off mid-race.
By Lap 5, Jackson was last by 15.228 seconds behind the leader, nearly a second back of his teammate Tullman in the #13. Jackson caught Tullman’s draft, and the pair linked up with fellow underdogs Mike Harmon in the #74 Air One Heating & Cooling Chevrolet and group leader Matt Mills in B.J. McLeod’s #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet (the result of a number swap with JR Motorsports, who acquired the McLeod team’s #8). On Lap 22, with eight laps to go in Stage 1, the single-file group was running the inside line headed into Turn 3 when the leading single-file draft caught and passed them up high. By that time, Leicht was two laps down.

According to Racing Underdogs, Leicht came down pit road for a missing power steering belt, which made the car virtually impossible to drive on the superspeedway. David PeQueen reported smoke from the pipes, as shown in his photograph, which signaled the overheating issue that ultimately sent the #01 behind the wall.

Trouble under the hood for Jeremy Clements.
Finishing 37th was Cup regular Brad Keselowski, who was out due to a likely first in NASCAR history – a roof hatch issue. From the early laps, Keselowski’s #12 Fitzgerald USA Ford had an issue with the edge of his roof hatch coming up at speed. Despite several attempts at repairs, the issue couldn’t be resolved. The flap finally came off around Lap 69, drawing a caution soon after, and the resulting damage forced the #12 to pull behind the wall.

The only other retiree was Jeremy Clements, whose new-look #51 Chevrolet had engine issues as early as Lap 37, then exited after 90 circuits complete. Harmon’s #74 spent several laps behind the wall after his crew had to push-start the Chevrolet on pit road, ultimately finishing 35th.
Gray Gaulding with damage and an awkward pit entry. 

Rounding out the group was Gray Gaulding’s new ride in SS-Green Light Racing’s #08 Chevrolet. Gaulding's day took a brief detour when he spun out in his pit stall, and PeQueen's photo caught damage to the left-rear corner where the TV panel had become separated.

Enjoying a fine run on Saturday was LASTCAR all-time leader Jeff Green, who worked his way up to the 6th spot with 34 laps to go, ultimately settling for 7th. Caesar Bacarella had a very fast car under him in his first start for Mario Gosselin’s DGM Racing, running inside the Top 10 early, and was still running there until he hit the Turn 3 wall with just three laps to go.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #01 since this exact race three years ago, when Ryan Preece’s Uptick Vineyards / Chevrolet was eliminated in a crash after 5 laps of the Powershares QQQ 300. Preece is now the driver of JTG-Daugherty Racing’s #47 Chevrolet, returning to the Cup Series for the first time since 2015.

38) #01-Stephen Leicht / 24 laps / overheating
37) #12-Brad Keselowski / 71 laps / roof hatch
36) #51-Jeremy Clements / 90 laps / engine
35) #74-Mike Harmon / 108 laps / running
34) #08-Gray Gaulding / 110 laps / running

1st) JD Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


TRUCKS: Natalie Decker’s truck series debut goes up in flames at Daytona

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
Natalie Decker picked up the 1st last-place finish of her NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when her #54 N29 Technologies Toyota was eliminated in a bizarre crash after she completed just 1 of the race’s 111 laps.

The finish, which came in Decker’s series debut, was the 2nd for truck #54, the 33rd for Toyota, and the 149th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 20th for the #54, the 308th for Toyota, and the 1,168th from a crash.

The 21-year-old Decker began racing go-karts when she was nine, and turned her attention to working her way up the ranks of stock car racing. A competitor in both NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity and the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development programs, Decker has cut her teeth in ARCA, claiming Rookie of the Year honors in the ARCA Midwest Tour, then finishing 11th in her ARCA Menards Series debut at Toledo in 2017.

Driving for Bill Venturini and carrying sponsorship from Wisconsin startup firm N29 Capital Partners, LLC, Decker’s best finish in ARCA have been a pair of 5th-place runs last year at Daytona (where she won the pole) and the Elko Speedway. She nearly improved on this run in her return to Daytona just last Saturday, when she finished 6th.

Friday’s Truck Series race would mark Decker’s debut in NASCAR’s top three national touring series. She’d once previously attempted to make a Truck Series race three years ago, missing the cut at Martinsville in a one-off effort for MAKE Motorsports. Her cousins Claire and Paige both made the race, finishing 27th and 25th in the 32-truck field.

Late last season, it was announced that Natalie Decker would drive part-time for David Gilliland’s two-truck operation, DGR-Crosley, in addition to three ARCA starts at Daytona, Talladega, and Charlotte. On Friday, Decker would drive the flagship #54 entry at Daytona with Gilliland himself in the #17. Decker began the weekend 16th in opening practice, 20th in Happy Hour, and made the final round of qualifying, starting 11th with a speed of 180.763mph (49.789 seconds).

Qualifying 32nd and last in the field was the #33 Chevrolet of owner-driver Josh Reaume, who along with teammate Jason White in the #34 Powder Ventures Excavations Chevrolet put up the two slowest times in qualifying. While Reaume secured his starting spot on Owner Points, White was sent home along with eight other drivers, including Travis Kvapil, whose Beaver Motorsports #1 Chevrolet was withdrawn on Wednesday.

Joining Reaume at the back of the field were 4th-place starter Harrison Burton, whose Kyle Busch Motorsports team changed engines on his #18 Safelite Toyota, and 20th-place Robby Lyons, slated to start 20th in Chad Finley’s #42 Sunwest Construction / Auto Value Chevrolet before an unapproved adjustments penalty.

When the race started, the back of the field stacked up in three-wide formation. Shaken from the formation was ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, who after a 13th-place showing in last week’s ARCA 200 was once again driving the #63 Lucas Oil Chevrolet. The #63 had typically been fielded by longtime team owner Mike Mittler, but due to an ongoing illness, fellow team owner D.J. Copp had taken a greater role in team operations, ultimately becoming the listed owner for Daytona. Gerhart held 32nd at the end of Lap 1 when trouble broke out in front of him.

Leading a trailing pack of trucks was the #28 Chevrolet of Bryan Dauzat, who was back along with FDNY Racing one full year after Jim Rosenblum had reportedly planned to close his team. According to a later report by Bob Pockrass, Dauzat saw a piece of debris come from under Joe Nemechek’s #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet (whether or not it was from the #87 was unclear). Dauzat ran it over and cut his right-front tire, sending him straight into the outside wall. Caught in Dauzat’s path was Robby Lyons, who was running the high line as he attempted to overcome his prerace penalty. Lyons continued on with the right side damaged, while last-place Gerhart narrowly avoided hitting the slowing Dauzat in the high lane.

Decker's truck pushed to the garage after the fire.
At that very moment, further up the rankings, both DGR-Crosley trucks suddenly slowed with flat left-front tires. Decker’s truck slowed first, and pulled to the apron as the left-front fender started to come apart. Gilliland, meanwhile, was heading the inside line closer to the front when he slowed on the banking, causing the following trucks to check-up. Gilliland managed to slow off the banking and get safely to pit road without much damage. Decker, however, saw the left-front fender continue to disintegrate. By the time she reached pit entrance, a fire started under the hood, forcing the driver to climb out in a rush. Decker climbed out uninjured as fire crews fumbled with the extinguisher. Several feet away, Dauzat’s night went from bad to worse when he ran over Billy Rock, his jack man. After a few tense moments, Rock was reported awake and alert as he was transported to a local hospital.

Dauzat was classified 31st when he pulled behind the wall after the pit road incident. Lyons made it past the ensuing restart before ultimately falling out to finish 30th. The next of the night’s many accidents quickly filled the Bottom Five. Tyler Dippel’s #02 Danda Concrete / Lobas Productions Chevrolet broke loose, ultimately collecting both Ray Ciccarelli’s #49 CMI Installations Chevrolet and the #47 Glenden Enterprises Toyota. All three were eliminated with Ciccarelli rounding out the group in 28th.

Several multi-truck accidents marred the night’s action, but did ultimately give several drivers some valuable TV time. Among them were Cory Roper, who made his first-ever plate start, and worked his #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford up to the 3rd spot, where he was running when he lost control in Turn 4 and slammed head-on into the inside wall. Joe Nemechek, who took over for his son John Hunter in the #87, ran as high as fifth before another wreck spun him into the grass, tearing off the splitter. Gus Dean, another standout from ARCA, ran near the front late in the going despite heavy damage to his right-front fender, only to see his #12 LG Air Conditioning Technologies Chevrolet be collected in still another pileup. Curiously, it was Austin Hill, a former driver of Dean’s team Young’s Motorsports, who would go on to win driving for defending series champion owner Shigeaki Hattori.

Only eight other trucks were still running at the finish. Among the survivors were Ross Chastain (3rd for Al Niece’s #45), Spencer Boyd (4th for Young in the #20), Josh Reaume (6th for his own team), Timothy Peters (7th for Niece in the #44), and Angela Ruch (8th in the NEMCO #8) who all earned sterling runs. Among them, it was Boyd’s first top-five finish in the series, Reaume’s first top-ten (after starting last), and Ruch’s first top-ten in only her second series start, her first in nine years.

*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #54 since last fall at Texas, when Bo LeMastus wrecked 2 laps into the JAG Metals 350. The number had never trailed a Truck Series race at Daytona.

32) #54-Natalie Decker / 1 lap / crash
31) #28-Bryan Dauzat / 2 laps / crash
30) #42-Robby Lyons / 16 laps / crash
29) #02-Tyler Dippel / 23 laps / crash
28) #49-Ray Ciccarelli / 27 laps / crash

1st) DGR-Crosley (1)

1st) Toyota (1)


Thursday, February 14, 2019

CUP: Rick Ware Racing sweeps Duel race last-place finishes with McLeod and Ware

PHOTO: Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images
Cody Ware finished last in Thursday’s Gander RV Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #52 Winn-Dixie Chevrolet finished under power after 58 of 60 laps.

Ware’s entry into the Daytona 500 came after his Cup Series plate debut last fall at Talladega, where he finished under power in a Cup event for the first time in his brief career. It was the third of four starts that year for the 22-year-old from Greensboro, North Carolina. His best run of the year came in the penultimate round at the ISM Raceway, where driver and crew overcame a wreck that destroyed their only car in practice and long hours preparing a borrowed Chevrolet from Premium Motorsports to ultimately finish a season-best 28th.

Ware would drive the #52 Chevrolet, a team he debuted last summer at the Sonoma Raceway. To guarantee a starting spot for the car, Rick Ware Racing acquired the Charter from TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet. One year after barely making it to the Daytona 500 in time to sign in, the #72 was not among the entrants for this year’s running. TriStar’s co-drivers Corey LaJoie and Cole Whitt have since gone on to different things with Whitt retiring at Phoenix and LaJoie moving to Go FAS Racing’s #32. In fact, the Winn-Dixie sponsored car that Ware was to drive bore a striking resemblance to the #72 that LaJoie ran last fall at Talladega.

Ware began the weekend 40th on the speed charts in opening practice and remained in the same spot in Sunday’s qualifying session with a speed of 183.737mph. This would put Ware 21st and last on the grid for Duel Race 1.

When the Duel race started, Ware slotted in behind Landon Cassill’s #00 Permatex Chevrolet, who started on the outside of the row in front of him. While he made the move quickly, Ware was already losing touch with the pack off Turn 2, and was two seconds back of the lead at the end of the lap. During that lap, Ware’s car was bottoming out nearly all the way around the track, sparks spitting from under the car as he continued to lose ground.

By Lap 9, Ware was a half-lap behind the pack, so far back that when Martin Truex, Jr. unexpectedly pitted by himself three circuits later, his #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota was able to rejoin the pack without falling behind Ware. It was on that same Lap 12, as the field exited Turn 4, that Ware pulled down pit road for a fuel-only stop. This made Ware and not Truex the first driver to lose a lap.

As the rest of the field pitted for fuel, Brad Keselowski incurred a controversial penalty for pitting outside the box, then his #2 Discount Tire Ford was docked a second lap after he sped down pit road. This dropped Keselowski back to 20th by Lap 17, when Matt Tifft’s own speeding penalty dropped his #36 Speedco Ford back to last. When Keselowski finally pulled off pit road on Lap 19, he took the spot from Tifft as he lost a second lap to the leaders.

For the rest of the race, Keselowski grasped onto whoever he could catch on the track. He soon caught Daniel Hemric in the #8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. The duo then caught a slowing Ryan Newman in the #6 Oscar Meyer Ford, and the three slipped past Cassill’s #00, who tried, but was unable, to keep up with the trio. Multiple laps down with other drivers only one circuit behind, Keselowski was unable to make up any ground when Kyle Busch spun on the backstretch for the race’s only caution on Lap 27.

On the restart, Keselowski made quick work of Ware, but was still one lap behind the #52. He once again drafted with Newman, then caught polesitter William Byron, who pulled out of line and ultimately finished just outside the Bottom Five. Slowly, the group closed the gap on Ware, who was again running by himself some distance ahead. With six laps to go, Keselowski’s group was in Turn 4 when Ware was at the stripe. Then, with three to go, Keselowski’s group caught and passed Ware off Turn 2, dropping the #52 to last. Ware ran there the rest of the night. As he did, he watched his water temperatures, noticing that the car was running cold.

No drivers fell out of the race. Keselowski remained in 20th with Tifft 19th and the damaged Kyle Busch in 18th. Daniel Hemric rounded out the Bottom Five.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #52 in the Duels since February 11, 1993, when during Race 2, Jimmy Hensley’s turn relieving Jimmy Means in the #52 NAPA Ford ended with an early backstretch wreck with Indy 500 champion Al Unser, Jr. as the pair raced down the backstretch after 10 laps.
*This was only the fifth time a driver finished last while still under power in a Duel race. The last time it happened was on February 20, 2014, when Brad Keselowski’s #2 Miller Lite Ford led 34 laps, then finished three circuits behind in Duel Race 2. A driver hadn’t finished under power in Duel Race 1 since February 17, 2000, when Bobby Gerhart ran three laps down in his #89 Kewadin Casinos Chevrolet.

21) #52-Cody Ware / 58 laps / running
20) #2-Brad Keselowski / 58 laps / running
19) #36-Matt Tifft / 59 laps / running
18) #18-Kyle Busch / 59 laps / running
17) #8-Daniel Hemric / 59 laps / running

PHOTO: Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images
Later that night, B.J. McLeod finished last in Thursday’s Gander RV Duel Race 2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet finished under power after 57 of 60 laps.

McLeod campaigned the Ware team’s flagship #51, which had already leased a Charter from Richard Petty Motorsports just last season. While also balancing the demands of his multi-car XFINITY Series team and driving other races in that series for JD Motorsports, McLeod started 14 of the 36 Cup races run last fall and earned a season-best 28th in the fall race at Las Vegas. By Loudon in July, the team acquired sponsorship from construction firm Jacob Companies, which would later become a brand partner with NASCAR itself. That sponsorship would carry over to SpeedWeeks.

Like his teammate Cody Ware in the #52, McLeod also struggled to find speed in practice and qualifying, running just under Ware’s times in 41st overall both sessions. His qualifying lap of 182.682mph was faster only than Joey Gase, whose run in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Medic Air Systems, Inc. / Fan Memories Toyota was another half-second off the pace. The speed put McLeod 20th of the 21 cars in Duel Race 2.

Gase’s #66 sat last on the grid, but would soon after be joined by Ross Chastain. Driving Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet in addition to efforts with Kaulig Racing in XFINITY and Al Niece in Trucks, Chastain had missed the driver’s meeting for the Duels and was penalized as a result. Coming to the start, two more cars dropped to the rear – the “open” rides of Casey Mears, who just picked up sponsorship from skateboard accessory company Rim Ryderz on his unsponsored #27 Germain Racing Chevrolet, and Brendan Gaughan, who needed to race his way in driving Mark Beard’s #62 South Point Casino / Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet.

On the break, Chastain remained in last, but unlike Ware in Race 1, managed to hang on to Mears running in front of him. On Lap 2, Mears and Chastain pulled past McLeod, who in turn caught back up to the pair and nearly cleared Mears once more on Lap 3. Further ahead, Gaughan and Gase raced side-by-side for the final transfer spot into the Daytona 500 field. Gaughan ultimately prevailed, and by Lap 8 Gase slid back between Mears and Chastain as the group lost touch with the lead pack. According to the team’s PR, Gase was struggling with the car bottoming out much worse than it had in qualifying.

Around Lap 15, Erik Jones entered the last-place battle. Just days after finishing last in the Clash, Jones’ #20 Sport Clips Toyota was tagged with a pit road speeding penalty and dropped back in the pack. That pack caught him by Lap 25, and he slotted into the faster group of machines as they continued on in single-file formation. This allowed Jones to join the rest of the leaders in lapping both Chastain and McLeod as they were lapped under the long green-flag run. Chastain briefly held the spot during this exchange before it fell back to McLeod.

By Lap 33, McLeod was a half-straightaway behind Gase, who had tumbled even further back to the 20th spot. Positions changed five circuits later, however, when Chastain slowed on the back straightaway as he lost a second circuit to the leaders. Completely by himself, Chastain lost a third lap just eight circuits later on Lap 46. Despite Chastain’s struggles, the cars in front of him lost laps at the same rate, allowing him to pass McLeod for 20th one last time on Lap 52, as the leaders took eight laps to go.

As in Race 1, no drivers failed to finish. Gase and Chastain remained on the same lap as McLeod to finish 20th and 19th. Gase failed to qualify along with Ryan Truex, who had been passed by Parker Kligerman late in Duel Race 1. The 18th spot fell to Michael McDowell, who pitted off-sequence in his #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford late in the Duel, costing him two laps. Mears rounded out the group, the last car one lap down.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #51 in a Duel race.
*This was also the second time in three years that teammates swept the last-place runs. In 2017, JTG-Daugherty Racing teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Chris Buescher were disqualified, taking away the last-place runs by Reed Sorenson and Timmy Hill.

21) #51-B.J. McLeod / 57 laps / running
20) #66-Joey Gase / 57 laps / running
19) #15-Ross Chastain / 57 laps / running
18) #34-Michael McDowell / 58 laps / running
17) #27-Casey Mears / 59 laps / running

Despite the issues, both McLeod and Ware are locked-in to Sunday’s Daytona 500, the first for either driver, and the first for Ware’s second team. Rick Ware will also be partnered with Spraker Racing as they look to secure Chris Cockrum a spot in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race. McLeod is entered in JD Motorsports’ #15 BT Global Logistics / Run The Race Chevrolet while his own team boasts Matt Mills (#5), Vinnie Miller (#78), and D.J. Kennington (#99).

PREVIEW: The ARCA invasion beefs up Truck Series entry list while the XFINITY Series struggles

Friday, February 15, 2019
TRUCKS Race 1 of 23
NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Travis Kvapil

It is now the Gander Outdoors Truck Series which takes to the track on Friday and an incredible 39 drivers set to contend for 32 starting spots in the season opener. But the title sponsor wasn’t the only big change in the series.

MISSING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Motorsports
TEAM CHANGE: #49-Ray Ciccarelli
A frequent driver of Jennifer Jo Cobb’s second team, the #0 Chevrolet, Ray Ciccarelli has made the jump to team ownership for 2019, fielding his own #49 Chevrolet. It is unclear as of this writing whether or not this is the same #49 Chevrolet fielded up to the end of last year by Jay Robinson of Premium Motorsports before Robinson closed his two-truck operation at the end of 2018. Ciccarelli’s Daytona entry will be sponsored by CMI Installation. Cobb’s #0 Chevrolet, meanwhile, is not entered, while Cobb herself will run her familiar #10. UPDATE: Per our own William Soquet, Ciccarelli's team is in fact the former Premium #49 team.

WITHDREW: #1-Beaver Motorsports
MISSING: #50-Beaver Motorsports
The preliminary entry list for Daytona appeared to show a reunification or number reclamation of team owner Tracy Lowe, who fielded the #1 in past seasons, and Mark Beaver, owner of Beaver Motorsports (the #50 formerly fielded by Beaver and Lowe under MAKE Motorsports). Lowe is still the listed owner of the #1, entered for past series champion Travis Kvapil at Daytona, but the truck was fielded under the “Beaver Motorsports” banner - that is, before it was withdrawn by Wednesday. Beaver’s #50, which Kvapil drove to an early exit in his lone truck start last year, is not entered. Camden Murphy closed out the season for Beaver by relieving Mike Harmon in the #50 at Homestead.

NEW SPONSOR: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister had a handful of solid runs in his partial 2018 campaign with new team All Out Motorsports. Driver and team are back to run the season opener this time, welcoming sponsorship from “Run the Race,” an upcoming film which boasts former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow as its executive producer.

DRIVER CHANGE: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
Joe Nemechek closed out the 2018 season as the LASTCAR Truck Series Champion, driving his #87 to help keep his underfunded organization going. Looking for more backing, Nemechek has since hired part-timer Angela Ruch to run the #8 at Daytona with JJ Resources as sponsor. Nemechek's son, John Hunter Nemechek, takes the controls of the #87 and eyes track time in preparation for Saturday's XFINITY race with GMS Racing (see below).

RETURNING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Also returning to the circuit is ARCA part-timer Codie Rohrbaugh, who debuted his team as owner and driver last summer with a 16th-place run at Bristol and a 17th at Texas. Rohrbaugh, who finished a strong 7th in last Saturday’s ARCA opener, looks to make his first NASCAR start at Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #12-Young’s Motorsports
Randy Young’s team continued to make headlines in early January when, on January 9, their new part-time third team was set to go full-time racing in 2019 with two-time ARCA Menards Series winner Gus Dean going for rookie honors. LG Air Conditioning Technologies will back Dean’s effort for eight races and serve as an associate for the balance of the schedule.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-ThorSport Racing
RETURNING: #27-ThorSport Racing
Following his surprising release from GMS Racing at the end of 2018, Johnny Sauter only just landed his old ride at ThorSport, returning to the #13 Ford previously occupied by Myatt Snider. Snider has himself moved to the team’s second truck – the #27 – whose only start last year was Chase Briscoe’s victory at Eldora. As with Briscoe’s effort, Snider’s will be a part-time campaign for 2019 as the young driver tweeted he will be focusing on his education and interest in aviation. ThorSport also enters a third truck this week, the #99 (see below).

TEAM CLOSED: #15-Premium Motorsports
TEAM CLOSED: #49-Premium Motorsports
Jay Robinson closed his Truck Series effort at the end of last season, removing his #15 Chevrolet from the field. Reid Wilson, who closed out 2018 for the team, is not entered, but will run Al Niece’s #45 in select races later this season (see below).

DRIVER AND SPONSOR CHANGE: #16-Hattori Racing Enterprises
Following Brett Moffitt’s release from the team after his incredible run to the 2018 Truck Series Championship, it was finally announced January 8 that Austin Hill will drive the #16 this year, bringing with him sponsorship from United Rentals. Hill had a quietly strong season 2018, completing his first full season 11th in points with a season-best 5th last fall at Texas.

RETURNING: #17-DGR-Crosley
David Gilliland will once again race his son Todd (in KBM’s #4) as he takes the wheel of his co-owned #17 Toyota. The elder Gilliland won the pole at both Truck Series plate races last year, finishing 21st at Daytona and 3rd at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
On January 7, it was revealed that Spencer Boyd would move from SS-Green Light Racing’s XFINITY Series effort to Randy Young’s #20 Chevrolet in the Truck Series. This truck was most recently driven by dirt tracker Tanner Thorson, who made 11 Truck Series starts in 2018, including the last six. Thorson is not entered for this Friday’s race.

Much to the driver’s surprise came Johnny Sauter’s release from GMS Racing on January 9, just over two years from his championship season in 2016 and a career-best six wins in 2018 before he finished 4th in the standings. At the time of the release, Sauter’s replacement was still to be announced, but by the next day, none other than Brett Moffitt was signed to drive for GMS, allowing him a chance to defend his series title.

TEAM UPDATE: #22-AM Racing
As reported by Chris Knight on February 5, Austin Wayne Self will run the full 2019 campaign with the AM Racing team in 2019, boasting a new technical alliance with GMS Racing. This is a change from last year, when the #22 was fielded by Al Niece. Self’s #22 earned a season-best 9th in the fall race at Las Vegas.

Following his release from Hattori’s #16 team, defending series champion Brett Moffitt landed at GMS Racing, taking over for Justin Haley in the team’s #24 Chevrolet. The full-time effort which carried Haley to his first career victory affords Moffitt the chance at defending his title.

MISSING: #25-GMS Racing
Mary Gallagher’s #25 team, driven for much of last season by Dalton Sargeant before the two parted ways, is not entered this week.

Once again, Jim Rosenblum’s team is back in action, a full year after it had originally been reported that the team was running its final race. Modified star Bryan Dauzat is once again the driver, following an 18th-place run for the team in Daytona, then a 9th at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
MISSING: #35-NextGen Motorsports (now Vizion Motorsports)
Steven Lane’s single-truck operation returns in 2019, and this time boasts former XFINITY Series driver Brennan Poole, who ran his first Truck Series races since 2015 for NextGen Motorsports, running 15th at Texas and 19th at Homestead. Poole takes the place of Jeb Burton, who ran the #30 last fall at Homestead. NextGen’s #35, now entered under Vizion Motorsports, is not entered this week.

RETURNING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Jason White (the Canadian racer, unrelated to the series veteran), who made his series debut last year, will rejoin Josh Reaume’s program this year, this time driving the team’s second truck at Daytona. Powder Ventures Excavations is the sponsor. The team last ran at Mosport, where Jesse Iwuji finished 25th. Team owner Reaume remains in the team’s flagship #33, taking the place of Robby Lyons, who drove at Homestead. backs Reaume's truck.

MISSING: #41-ThorSport Racing
NEW TEAM: #99-ThorSport Racing
Ben Rhodes slides over from ThorSport’s #41, which isn’t entered this year, to the team’s #99 Ford – a number previously fielded in the series by Matthew Miller’s MDM Motorsports. Rhodes looks to build on a strong 2018 season that saw him earn career-high marks in Top Fives (eight), Top Tens (13), and poles (3).

RETURNING: #42-Chad Finley Racing, Inc.
Chad Finley’s strong run in his team’s debut at Gateway last year was one of the biggest underdog stories of the season. His team announced on January 17 that it would return at Daytona, bringing aboard Robby Lyons to drive at Daytona. The truck will carry Lyon’s backing from Sunwest Construction on an identical white paint scheme to what the driver ran last year at Talladega. The team last appeared last summer at Bristol, where Finley finished 30th due to engine trouble, and now plans on running the whole season.

NEW TEAM: #44-Niece Motorsports
Al Niece will field a full-time entry, and at least for the first three races, will put series fixture Timothy Peters back to the series for the first time since last fall at Martinsville, when he ran 10th for GMS Racing. It also expands Al Niece’s team from two trucks to three for Daytona. The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation will sponsor Peters’ Daytona truck as the driver eyes his second victory at the track. Future driver plans for the #44 beyond these first races are coming together.

DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Niece Motorsports
After the fallout following the closure of Chip Ganassi Racing’s XFINITY team, Ross Chastain earned a ride with Al Niece’s #45 Chevrolet for Daytona with TruNorth as sponsor. Chastain, who takes Justin Fontaine’s spot in the truck, has performed just as brilliantly in the Trucks as he has with limited funding in both Cup and XFINITY. Just last year, he ran 7th for Premium Motorsports at Las Vegas, and earned a 12th at Bristol and 16th at Homestead, driving Niece’s #38 (which is not entered). The ride, however, is not full-time - Reid Wilson, who closed out the year for Premium Motorsports, has also been tabbed to drive for Niece, sharing the #45 with Chastain for the remainder of the year.

RETURNING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Chris Fontaine returns to the track for the first time since a savage wreck last fall at Talladega destroyed perhaps the oldest operating chassis still running in the series. Glenden Enterprises remains the sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Christian Eckes returns to the #51 team in place of last week’s ARCA Menards Series winner Harrison Burton, who closed out the team’s 2018 campaign in Homestead. Eckes, who ran strong for KBM’s team last year, came close to winning last week’s ARCA 200 before he was shuffled out of the 2nd spot on the final restart.

Natalie Decker is yet another ARCA Menards Series driver making the jump to the Truck Series this weekend as she takes the place of last fall’s driver Chris Windom in the #54 Toyota. Decker eyes her first Truck Series start, but it will not be her first attempt – she missed the cut for Martinsville in the spring of 2016 in a one-off for Mark Beaver.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Clay Greenfield and his single-truck operation are back in action this week, one year after a career-best 3rd-place qualifying run at Daytona. He aims to make his first start since last fall at Talladega, where suspension issues left him last in the running order. Rackley Roofing backs the truck.

TEAM UPDATE: #63-MB Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #83-Copp Motorsports
The last time we saw D.J. Copp’s team was at Homestead, when they withdrew following Todd Peck’s accident in practice. News then came on New Year’s Eve that Mike Senica, absent from the Truck Series since he was parked last spring at Martinsville, would be returning to the circuit with Copp’s #83. Copp refuted this claim, and both Senica and his sponsorship from Speed Clothing Company are not entered in this weekend’s race. Copp is instead the listed owner of the #63, which in the past has been fielded by longtime team owner Mike Mittler. After partnering with Mittler the last couple seasons, Copp appears to be taking a more active role in the team’s ownership. The Daytona entry, to be driven by ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, is listed under “Copp Motorsports” rather than Mittler’s “MB Motorsports.” Mittler himself continues to fight an ongoing illness.

RETURNING: #82-Mark Rette
One week after his ARCA Menards Series driver Grany Quinlan picked up a strong 3rd-place showing in the ARCA 200, Mark Rette aims to give his team its first Truck Series start since this event two years ago with Terry Jones. Driving his #82 Ford is Spencer Davis, who ran five races last year for KBM with a best finish of 7th in this race, followed by three consecutive starts where he qualified 4th.

RETURNING: #92-Ricky Benton Enterprises
Ricky Benton’s team returns, but in place of Parker Kligerman, who prepares to make the Daytona 500 with the Gaunt Brothers, Austin Theriault is the driver of his #92 Ford. Theriault’s lone Truck start last year was Las Vegas in September, where he ran a strong 8th in On Point’s #30 Toyota.

MISSING: #97-JJL Motorsports
Jesse Little and his family’s JJL team will not race at Daytona, and eye their season debut next week at Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Young’s Motorsports
Tyler Dippel was on January 18 revealed to be the full-time driver of Randy Young’s #02, previously driven by Austin Hill. Dippel parlayed a strong 13th-place run for DGM-Crosley at Eldora into a four-race stint for GMS Racing in the closing part of the year, finishing between 14th and 17th in each race, and completing all but two laps. Such consistency will serve him well in his first full-time NASCAR campaign.

Saturday, February 16, 2019
XFINITY Race 1 of 33
Racing Experience 300 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Austin Cindric

There are 38 teams entered for as many spots as the XFINITY Series scales back from 40 cars to 38 as a “full field” for 2019.

TEAM UPDATE: #0-JD Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #4-JD Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #15-JD Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #01-JD Motorsports
In the aftermath of Chip Ganassi Racing closing their XFINITY Series program, Ross Chastain will make at least three starts in his familiar #4 Chevrolet at Johnny Davis’ stables (in addition to another part-time ride with Kaulig Racing and a Truck Series effort with Al Niece). Chastain’s return apparently came after Blake Koch’s deal to drive the car fell through over the offseason. When Chastain then landed a part-time ride with Kaulig Racing, the #4 then fell to Scott Lagasse, Jr. in still another Daytona one-off with sponsorship from Rimrock Devlin. Lagasse will be joined by Garrett Smithley, once again in his “Number Nuthin” #0, and Stephen Leicht, who on February 2 was revealed as making the move from B.J. McLeod’s #99 Chevrolet to Davis’ flagship #01. McLeod will run the team’s #15 this week.

NUMBER SWAP: #1-JR Motorsports
MISSING: #5-JR Motorsports
RETURNING: #8-JR Motorsports
NUMBER SWAP: #9-JR Motorsports
News broke on January 25 that, in addition to Noah Gragson’s signing with the team to replace the retired Elliott Sadler, Gragson will drive the #9 instead of Sadler’s #1, and that Michael Annett will run the #1 instead of his #5. Justin Allgaier remains in the team’s #7. The #5 is now missing from JR Motorsports, replaced by a returning #8. A deal was worked out between JRM and B.J. McLeod, who ran the #8 last season. According to Dale Jr., the deal had originally been for the #8 to run at Darlington for a throwback paint scheme later this year, but NASCAR prohibiting number swaps meant the change would have to be made now instead. Thus, the #8 was set to make its season debut with Spencer Gallagher, who was originally set to retire from racing at the end of last year. The preliminary entry list shows Chase Elliott in the car instead.  Zane Smith, Jeb Burton, Ryan Truex, and Ryan Preece are among the other drivers scheduled to run the #8 later this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #2-Richard Childress Racing
With Matt Tifft moving up to a full-time ride in the Cup Series, defending series champion Tyler Reddick moves from JR Motorsports’ #9 to Tifft’s ride in the #2 Chevrolet. The team’s Daytona car will be sponsored by Pinnacle Financial Partners.

MISSING: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Curiously, RCR’s flagship #3 Chevrolet is not on the preliminary entry list for Saturday’s race. The car was driven for much of last season both brothers Austin and Ty Dillon, as well as development driver Shane Lee, who ran at Homestead.

NUMBER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
MISSING: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
On January 11 came news that B.J. McLeod’s team will expand from two to three full-time XFINITY Series cars in 2019. This originally included the #78 and #8, last year’s full-time entries, and the #99, which ran a partial schedule last year. That changed on January 25 when JR Motorsports announced the McLeod team worked out a deal for JRM to run the #8, later changing McLeod’s second car to #5 in a swap with JR Motorsports, which Matt Mills is set to run at Daytona. JF Electric and Thompson Electric will back Mills. The #78 goes to Vinnie Miller, who came over from JD Motorsports to run for McLeod last year. Among the drivers of the third #99 entry is Tommy Joe Martins, making a return of his own at Atlanta with longtime backer Diamond Gusset Jeans as sponsor on a Ryan Pistana-designed scheme. D.J. Kennington is entered in the #99, whose schedule will be filled out this year by McLeod himself and JA Avila, Jr., among others. Kennington's car will be sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts, which has backed his past Daytona 500 efforts.

RETURNING: #10-Kaulig Racing
Kaulig Racing experimented with a second car from their stables last summer at Indianapolis, and will bring a second team once again to Daytona. The persistent Ross Chastain will drive the car with Nutrien Agricultural Solutions as the sponsor of the #10 Chevrolet, and make his debut with the effort at Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Kaulig Racing
Teamed with Chastain in Kaulig’s full-time flagship #11 is Justin Haley, who last we saw at Daytona was denied victory in July for a controversial yellow-line penalty. Haley takes the place of Ryan Truex, who has a Cup ride for Daytona with Tommy Baldwin, with Kaulig’s Leaf Filter Gutter Protection as the continuing sponsor.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
Roger Penske’s part-time XFINITY effort returns at Daytona with Cup regular Brad Keselowski as the listed driver of the #12 Fitzgerald Ford.

TEAM UPDATE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
NEW TEAM: #35-Motorsports Business Management
MISSING: #40-Motorsports Business Management
NEW TEAM: #42-Motorsports Business Management
TEAM UPDATE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s team pledged to increase their focus on the XFINITY Series this year – and to Toyota - and has no less than four cars entered for this weekend’s race. In place of the #40 and Chad Finchum, who ran much of last year in the Smithbilt Homes livery, the team has picked up #42 (from the closed Ganassi effort) and brought back part-timer John Jackson to drive. The #13 team has Max Tullman entered, one year after his three-race stint as part-owner-driver of his #26 Ford (see below). Joey Gase’s #35, last year a Go FAS Racing entry, is this year under Long’s banner with Gase’s Cup sponsors backing the Daytona effort. Rounding out the group in the #66 is Timmy Hill with VSI Racing and Overkill Motorsports logos on the white Supra. The team no longer runs a Dodge as their car was expired by the rulebook at the end of last season.

TEAM CLOSED: #16-Roush-Fenway Racing
TEAM CLOSED: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
News broke on January 3 that both Roush-Fenway Racing’s XFINITY teams would be closed for next season, choosing instead to focus their efforts on Cup. This puts an end to Ryan Reed’s #16, which lost Lily Diabetes as a sponsor at the end of 2018, and the venerable #60, which had been active on at least a partial basis in the series since 1993.

RETURNING: #17-Spraker Racing / Rick Ware Racing
Chris Cockrum rejoins the XFINITY Series in his familiar #17 Chevrolet with returning backing from Advanced Communications Group. The Georgia driver’s most recent series attempt was this race last year, when he failed to qualify the #25. The preliminary entry list showed Rick Ware as the team’s owner.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Last year, Jeffrey Earnhardt and his backing from Xtreme Concepts, Inc., which backed his Cup efforts for Premium Motorsports and Gaunt Brothers Racing, made the jump to Joe Gibbs’ XFINITY program for 2019. Earnhardt will not drive Gibbs’ flagship #18 Toyota Supra at Daytona, the first of nine races scheduled for the driver.

NEW SPONSOR: #22-Penske Racing
Austin Cindric locked-down the #22 entry for 2019 after splitting the ride with the turbulent #60 Roush-Fenway Racing entry last season. MoneyLion, which signed with the team last year and closed out the season at Homestead, is again the sponsor.

John Hunter Nemechek landed the ride at GMS Racing in place of the retired Spencer Gallagher, and brought with him sponsorship from his Truck Series backer Fire Alarm Services, Inc.

MISSING: #26-Tullman Walker Racing
Max Tullman’s part-time operation, which made its most recent start last fall at Homestead, is not entered. Tullman is himself the listed driver of MBM’s #13.

TEAM UPDATE: #35-Motorsports Business Management
On January 16, it was revealed that Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management had hired Joey Gase to run full-time in the XFINITY Series, driving one of Toyota’s new Supras. The car will be sponsored by Gase’s longtime backer Eternal Fan, starting at Daytona. Gase makes the move from Go Green Racing, where he ran the #35 in XFINITY just last year.

MISSING: #35-Go FAS Racing
MISSING: #76-SS-Green Light Racing
RETURNING: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
RETURNING: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Announced at Texas on November 2, the SS-Green Light Racing team takes on a whole new look for 2019. As last year’s driver Spencer Boyd takes his Grunt Style sponsorship to the Truck Series, Gray Gaulding makes the move from Cup back to XFINITY with Texas-based sponsor Pure Global as sponsor. On January 25, it was revealed Gaulding will be teamed with Ray Black, Jr., who brings back SS-Green Light’s #07 Chevrolet. These cars will be entered in place of Boyd’s #76 (tied to 1776 for the patriotic Grunt Style sponsor) and the #35 Joey Gase drove last year under the Go FAS Racing banner (but prepared by SS-Green Light). Car #08 has only four last-place finishes in XFINITY competition, and none since 2012, when Tim Andrews dropped out at Chicagoland.

MISSING: #92-DGM Racing
Josh Williams slides over from Mario Gosselin’s #92 Chevrolet (which he ran at Homestead, but is not entered this week) to the #36 this year, taking the place of Canadian competitor Alex Labbe. This week's car is sponsored by Joe Froyo and All Sports Coffee. Caesar Bacarella remains in the #90, which he ran in last year’s finale.

MISSING: #37-RSS Racing
Josh Bilicki landed a new ride with Ryan Sieg’s team on February 3, taking J.J. Yeley’s place in the #38 Chevrolet. Bilicki, who makes the move from JP Motorsports, debuts new sponsorship at Daytona from Dr. Squatch Man Soap. Ryan Sieg remains in the #39, and has landed a sponsor from Code Rum for next week’s race in Atlanta. LASTCAR fan favorite Jeff Green will continue to run the #93, and will see C2 Freight Resources, Inc. return as his primary sponsor in Talladega. The RSS team’s part-time #37, which Green drove at Homestead, is not entered.

TEAM CLOSED: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
On January 4, just weeks after the FBI raided the home and headquarters of sponsor DC Solar, and one day after Roush-Fenway closed their two XFINITY teams, Chip Ganassi Racing announced they would close their XFINITY team. The closure put an abrupt end to Ross Chastain’s full-time effort, which was made official in November at the ISM Raceway following his win in Las Vegas.

TEAM UPDATE: #45-JP Motorsports
TEAM UPDATE: #55-JP Motorsports
After a very difficult start to their XFINITY Series program, JP Motorsports is expected to return for their second XFINITY Series season, per a February 5 report by Dustin Albino at However, neither team was yet shown on the preliminary entry list. Per the same source, their debut is still expected later this season.

TEAM UPDATE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
After no driver was listed in the days leading up to the race, David Starr was listed to stay with Jimmy Means' team, as he had last year.

MISSING: #61-Fury Race Cars, LLC
Kaz Grala and the upstart Fury Race Cars team are conspicuously absent from this weekend’s entry list, just months after their Stewart-Haas Racing show car had a fine showing in last July’s Daytona race. UPDATE: News came on Thursday that Grala has picked up a part-time ride in Richard Childress Racing's #21 Chevrolet this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
A variety of patriotic sponsors, headed by Air One Heating & Cooling, backs Mike Harmon this week as he regains his seat from Tim Viens, who was entered in his black #74 Chevrolet last fall at Homestead.

RETURNING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Chase Briscoe and the Biagi team are back in action – the driver for the first time since Homestead, and the team for the first time since a 30th-place showing in Kansas. Briscoe looks to build on his first series victory last fall on the Roval, and welcomes returning backing from pet food supplier Nutri Chomps.

CUP INVADERS: #8-Chase Elliott, #12-Brad Keselowski

Sunday, February 17, 2019
CUP Race 1 of 36
Daytona 500 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Corey LaJoie

The entry list remained at 42 cars heading into Thursday’s Duel races as both Obaika Racing’s #97 and the NY Racing Team’s #7 failed to present their cars by last week’s deadline.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #27-Germain Racing
Bob Pockrass reported that Rim Ryderz, makers of skateboard rims, will back the previously unsponsored second Germain Racing car. In qualifying, Mears locked himself into Sunday's race along with Tyler Reddick in Richard Childress' #31.

Now a team owner in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Bobby Dotter picked up the first last-place finish of his Truck Series career at Daytona on February 15, 2002. Driving the #08 he'd carried for most of his 209 starts as an XFINITY Series driver, Dotter's Albertson's / CDS Chevrolet lost the engine after 26 laps. The season marked Dotter's second and final full-time season in Trucks, and he rebounded from the Daytona issue to finish a career-best 14th in points.