Monday, February 17, 2020

CUP: William Byron the first driver to finish last in the Daytona 500 after winning his Duel since 2007

PHOTO: @NASCAR
William Byron picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #24 Axalta “Color of the Year” Chevrolet fell out in a single-car accident after 58 of 209 laps.

The finish came in Byron’s 73rd series start. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 23rd for the #24, the 593rd from a crash, and the 778th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 38th for the #24, the 1,203rd from a crash, and the 1,703rd for Chevrolet.

Last season saw Byron overcome the “sophomore slump” thanks, in part, to a crew chief swap at Hendrick Motorsports. With Chad Knaus now leading the crew, three-time Rookie of the Year Byron scored his first career pole in the season-opening Daytona 500, his first of five poles on the season, and scored a pair of runner-up finishes in the July Daytona race and fall round in Martinsville. Byron earned his first spot in the Playoffs, made it up to the Round of 8, and finished eleventh in points, a twelve-position swing from 2018. Knaus and Byron continued on into 2020, and set their sights on their scoring Byron his first Cup victory.

Byron’s five poles meant his 2020 granted him a spot in the Busch Clash, where his Liberty University car drew the seventh starting spot, but finished 14th after a late-race pileup in the tri-oval. He’d run a much different looking car, sponsored by Axalta, in the 500. Axalta showcased their 2020 Global Automotive Color of the Year winner, Axalta Sea Glass, by making the faded purple shade the car’s primary color. Byron missed out on the pole, but placed eighth on the speed charts with a lap of 192.443mph (46.767 seconds). The fast lap gave Byron the 4th starting spot in Duel Race 2, which he won after he passed Kevin Harvick with three laps to go. The win kept Byron in the 4th spot for the Daytona 500.

Starting 40th and last in the field was Reed Sorenson, who was making his first Daytona 500 start since 2015. This time, he drove for Premium Motorsports in an unsponsored blue #27 Chevrolet, bumped into the field after J.J. Yeley wrecked in Duel Race 2. Another seven drivers joined him in the back of the field, starting with Ryan Blaney’s #12 Peak / Menards Ford and Corey LaJoie’s #32 RagingBull.com Ford, both backup cars after wrecks in the Duels. Also dropping back were Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Toyota and Brennan Poole’s #15 Spartan Go / Spartan Mosquito Chevrolet, both for failing inspection twice. Poole had also changed an engine, joining the mechanical penalties for Ty Dillon for a new gear on the #13 GEICO Chevrolet, a transmission change for B.J. McLeod’s re-wrapped #52 Christensen Arms Ford, and unapproved adjustments on Christopher Bell’s #95 Procore Toyota.

After all the pre-race penalties, the final two cars in the lineup were Hamlin and Blaney. Though they started 39th and 40th, they did not line up side-by-side, but from the backstretch to the starting line remained both on the inside lane with Blaney in Hamlin’s tire tracks. Hamlin fell to last at the end of Lap 1, followed on Lap 3 by Justin Haley, making Kaulig Racing’s first Cup start in the #16 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet. Haley then hitched onto the inside line, dropping Poole to last after four laps. Poole traded the spot with Clint Bowyer in the #14 Rush Truck Centers Ford, who was running last from Lap 6 to around Lap 8, when Poole took it back once more. Poole then lost touch with Bowyer and the rest of the pack, remaining in 40th until rain stopped the day’s action.

When the race resumed late Monday afternoon, the leaders came down pit road, handing the spot to David Ragan in the #36 Select Blinds Ford. Christopher Bell then took the spot on Lap 25, followed by LaJoie on Lap 26 before the race restarted. The spot then changed hands rapidly from Erik Jones’ #20 DeWalt Toyota after 27 laps to Bubba Wallace’s #43 Air Force Chevrolet on Lap 29. By then, Wallace was trailing a single-file pack that was losing touch with the leaders.

Next to fall into the mix was Joey Gase, whose #51 EFX Corp. / PageKC.com Chevrolet took last place for the first time on Lap 42. Gase drafted with Wallace, but the two started to lose touch with 38th-place Jones, who was now 0.668 of a second in front. Three laps later, Gase lost touch with Wallace, complaining that his car was too free in the corners. Completely alone, Gase awaited the leaders catching him before the end of Stage 1. On Lap 52, he stayed in the high line as race leader Chase Elliott pulled his own single-file train past him on the inside lane of the tri-oval. The second trailing pack of cars dropped Gase even further back on Lap 54. The Rick Ware Racing crew was reminding Gase to drag the brake rather than lift the throttle when the caution came out.

On Lap 59, Byron was running in the 4th spot and sizing up the three leaders in front of him. Behind him, 5th-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., the polesitter, lined up in the #47 Kroger Chevrolet. First Byron, then Stenhouse peeked out of line, and the two made contact, sending Byron spinning across the track and into the grassy infield. Byron remained in a full four-wheel drift until he slammed head-on into the inside wall, destroying the front of his car. Under the caution, Byron climbed out, and his car was towed to the garage, done for the day.

Finishing 39th was Quin Houff, whose first turn in the #00 Jacob Companies Chevrolet ended when Aric Almirola bumped him into a spin on the backstretch, also collecting the #52 of B.J. McLeod. McLeod slammed into the outside wall, then followed him into the infield grass, where McLeod’s front splitter dug into the grass to cause further damage. Houff was done for the day, but McLeod managed to complete a few more laps, clearing the Crash Clock before he fell out of the race.

The 37th spot fell to Cole Custer, whose first turn in Stewart-Haas Racing’s #41 Ford ended with rear end trouble. Rounding out the group was Brad Keselowski, who like Byron was running among the leaders when a bump from Joey Logano into Almirola sent Keselowski’s #2 Discount Tire Ford into a spin, triggering a nineteen-car pileup that decimated the field.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Byron is the first driver to finish last in the Daytona 500 after winning his Duel race since 2007, when Tony Stewart won Race 1 in his #20 The Home Depot Chevrolet, led 35 laps in Sunday’s race, then wrecked out of the lead in a tangle with Kurt Busch.
*This is Byron’s second last-place finish in a NASCAR national touring series race. His first came February 27, 2016, when his #9 Liberty University Toyota lost an engine after 59 laps of the Great Clips 200 at Atlanta.
*This marks the first time the #24 finished last in a Cup race with a driver other than Jeff Gordon since November 3, 1991, when Kenny Wallace had steering issues after 1 lap of the Pyroil 500 at Phoenix. The number’s most recent finish in a Cup points race since April 6, 2008, when Gordon’s #24 DuPont Chevrolet crashed after 124 laps of the Samsung 500 at Texas.
*This also marks the first last-place finish for the #24 in the Daytona 500 since February 22, 1970, when Cecil Gordon followed Richard Petty to the garage area the day Pete Hamilton won the race. Gordon’s 1968 Ford fell out with a busted a-frame after 7 laps.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #24-William Byron / 58 laps / crash
39) #00-Quin Houff / 89 laps / crash
38) #52-B.J. McLeod / 105 laps / crash
37) #41-Cole Custer / 174 laps / rear end
36) #2-Brad Keselowski / 183 laps / crash / led 30 laps

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hendrick Motorsports (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday, February 16, 2020

XFINITY: Joe Graf, Jr. gives #08 its first series last-place finish since 2012

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
Joe Graf, Jr. picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #08 CORE Development Group Chevrolet was collected in a multi-car accident after 37 of 120 laps.

The finish came in Graf’s 4th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 5th for the #08, the 329th from a crash, and the 541st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 20th for the #08, the 1,202nd from a crash, and the 1,702nd for Chevrolet.

Graf enters just his second season in the XFINITY Series after a part-time campaign last year. Prior to that, he’d competed full-time in the ARCA Menards Series for Chad Bryant Racing. He scored his lone victory on the short track at Berlin, where he tangled with leader Chandler Smith and held off Zane Smith. Graf finished eighth in the standings that year, then fifth the following year with new sponsor Eat Sleep Race, a motorsports apparel company geared toward kids.

While Graf has never competed in the Truck Series, Eat Sleep Race backed Graf for five races in the XFINITY Series instead. He bounced back from a DNQ at Michigan to make his series debut at Iowa with a 19th-place finish. He drove for Richard Childress in the team’s part-time #21 Chevrolet, running 23rd in the night race at Daytona after a late crash, then 14th in the fall race at Richmond. He also attempted the night race at Bristol for Kaulig Racing, but again failed to qualify.

Graf then landed a ride with SS-Green Light Racing, whose #08 team enjoyed a breakout season last year with Gray Gaulding. Gaulding nearly scored the victory at Talladega and had an outside shot at a spot in the Playoffs until the very last round of the regular season, but reportedly chose to part ways with the team at the end of the year. Even the glass trailer containing Gaulding’s show car ended up redecorated for Josh Bilicki at Rick Ware Racing. Graf’s sponsorship from Eat Sleep Race continued, though late in the offseason new primary backing came from New Jersey solar panel firm CORE Development Group.

Graft was one of 40 drivers entered to attempt a field that had been reduced for the third time in eight years, down from 43 cars in 2012 to 40 in 2013, 38 in 2019, and now just 36. Graf ran 23rd in the opening practice session, did not participate in Happy Hour, and qualified a strong 5th with a lap of 187.790mph (47.926 seconds), backing up the speed Gaulding showed in this same race last year.

Missing the race were Colin Garrett in the second-ever race for Sam Hunt Racing, driving the #26 The Rosie Network Toyota, Tommy Joe Martins in the return of his own team Martins Motorsports with AAN Adjusters as sponsor of his #44 Chevrolet, and most surprising, two cars from Kaulig Racing: part-timer A.J. Allmendinger in the #16 Ellsworth Advisors Chevrolet and full-timer Ross Chastain in the #10 Nutrien Ag Chevrolet. Brake issues were to blame at least for Chastain’s DNQ, which then saw his car catch fire in the garage afterward. A deal was then worked out with RSS Racing, whose part-time driver Jeff Green qualified 23rd in the #38 Chevrolet fully-sponsored by C2 Freight Resources. While Green has run strong in his limited plate race appearances, he stepped aside as the Kaulig team re-decaled his #38 and the in-car camera equipment was installed.

Graf's car unloaded in the garage after the crash.
PHOTO: @Frontstretch
The change sent Chastain and the #38 team to the back of the field, where Joe Nemechek had used his Past Champions Provisional to earn the 36th and final starting spot. Nemechek returned to driving Mike Harmon’s second car, re-numbered #47, with sponsorship from the Patriots PAC of America to promote the re-election of President Donald Trump. Unapproved adjustments sent Nemechek to the rear before the start along with J.J. Yeley, the new driver of Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Circle Track Warehouse Auction Chevrolet. Scoring also indicated that C.J. McLaughlin had fallen to the rear after qualifying 21st in the #93 Sci Aps Chevrolet along with Mike Harmon, 36th in his #74 Veterans 4 Child Rescue Chevrolet.

On the break, Harmon slipped back into the 36th spot, 4.439 seconds back of the lead. But coming off Turn 4 for the first time to complete Lap 1, 15th-place runner Caesar Bacarella blew a right-rear tire on his #90 Alpha Prime Chevrolet, sending him spinning toward the inside wall. Bacarella avoided a crash, but shed at least one crush panel before he backed into his pit stall. Since he didn’t draw a caution, this cost Bacarella two laps by the time he returned to action, and he nearly lost a third by Lap 9.

On Lap 19, Jeremy Clements was now running in 15th when he noticed his hood begin to come loose down the backstretch. Moments later, the hood of his #51 RepairableVehicles.com Chevrolet flapped up and smashed itself over the windshield and roof, breaking the hood into pieces. The impact also knocked loose the roof hatch, which now dangled from its tethers. The caution flew to retrieve the resulting debris, and Clements pulled behind the wall for repairs. While he did go to the garage for damage, this did not apparently trigger the “Crash Clock” as going to the garage did not result in an immediate DNF. While that same rule prevented the crew from replacing the hood, they were able to repair the hatch, and Clements returned to action on Lap 23, three laps down. Air buffeting through the open engine compartment made the car a handful, and the driver would later pit just short of the end of Stage 1 for bear-bond to keep the exposed radiator in place.

Clements was still in last place, three laps down, when another wreck ended the last-place battle. On Lap 38, just after the start of Stage 2, defending race winner Michael Annett spun his #1 AHA / Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet from the 10th position in Turns 1 and 2. As Annett spun up the track, Graf was looking for a way around Austin Hill’s #61 AISIN Group Toyota on the inside line. Hill came down and hooked Graf, spinning the #08 head-on into the outside wall and slamming Hill into Annett’s spinning car. While Annett kept going, both Hill and Graf were eliminated. Graf was running 0.233 second behind Hill at the end of the previous lap – a 1.255 to Hill’s 1.022. This ranked Graf behind Hill and secured him the last-place finish on Lap 42. Hill took 35th.

Completing the Bottom Five was another pileup on the final lap of Stage 2, when Riley Herbst’s #18 Monster Energy Toyota crossed the nose of Josh Williams’ #92 Sleep Well / Harkin Construction Chevrolet on the apron of Turn 3. Herbst slid up the track, collecting polesitter Myatt Snider in the #21 Tax Slayer Chevrolet, then a hard impact from Chris Cockrum in the #25 Advanced Communications Group Chevrolet. Cockrum took the 34th spot with Snider 33rd and Herbst in 32nd.

Two days after locking himself into his first Daytona 500 field, Timmy Hill secured a third-place finish, besting his previous career-best XFINITY finish of 7th he scored three other times, including two XFINITY races at Daytona in 2012 and 2018. The finish came despite last-minute issues in inspection where NASCAR discovered Bondo in the front valence. According to the team, they didn’t know the Bondo was there as it was added by a body shop after the sponsor requested the nose be painted. Repairs left the nose of Hill’s Toyota half-unpainted, but apparently without seriously affecting the aerodynamics.

Brandon Brown also ran strong by running near the front all day and matching his career-best 6th-place finish at Daytona last July. Brown’s #68 Larry’s Lemonade Chevrolet narrowly averted disaster on the final lap when he bumped into Michael Annett’s damaged car, sending Annett into a spin that caused the final wreck which forced the race to end under caution.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-finish for the #08 in an XFINITY Series race since September 15, 2012, when Tim Andrews’ run in the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland ended after 9 laps with ignition problems on his Randy Hill Racing Ford.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #08-Joe Graf, Jr. / 37 laps / crash
35) #61-Austin Hill / 37 laps / crash
34) #25-Chris Cockrum / 59 laps / crash
33) #21-Myatt Snider / 59 laps / crash
32) #18-Riley Herbst / 59 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Ty Majeski roof-slides into last place; Anderson, Rohrbaugh, Decker, and White are underdog heroes of Daytona thriller

PHOTO: FOX Sports
Ty Majeski picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #45 Plan B Sales Chevrolet was involved in a spectacular multi-truck accident after 15 of 106 laps.

The finish came in Majeski’s 2nd series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place history, it was the 3rd for the #45, the 156th from a crash, and the 384th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 37th for the #45, the 1,201st from a crash, and the 1,701st for Chevrolet.

Majeski has showed much promise in his rise through the ranks, but has been victim of the sport’s unpredictability. In 2017, he made his national series debut as a development driver with Roush-Fenway Racing, running part-time in the team’s prolific #60 Ford in the XFINITY Series. He made 15 starts over two seasons with a best finish of 7th in Iowa, but was left without a ride after Roush-Fenway ended their XFINITY program at the end of 2018.

Last year, Majeski moved to the ARCA Menards Series to run a six-race slate of speedway races with Chad Bryant Racing. The driver found sure footing once again, finishing no worse than fourth in all his starts and taking three victories – one each at Charlotte, Pocono, and Chicagoland. After the season wrapped up in the fall, Majeski was then invited to make his Truck Series debut at Phoenix, driving for Al Niece in the #44. Again, he excelled, qualifying a strong 5th and finishing 11th. The performance landed him his current full-time effort with Niece, taking the place of Ross Chastain in the #45 that finished second in last year’s championship.

Majeski was one of 41 drivers entered to attempt the 32-truck field, but the list shrank by two entries for qualifying day. First to withdraw was Tim Viens, whose #03 Trump Pence 2020 / Patriots PAC of America Chevrolet was reportedly damaged when the Affarano Motorsports team’s hauler drove into a ditch. The other withdrawal was Josh Reaume, whose #34 Motorsports Safety Group Chevrolet made it onto the track for the second practice session, only to lose the engine.

The seven drivers who failed to qualify were headlined by NEMCO Motorsports, whose two Fords both missed the cut with Joe Nemechek in the #87 and son John Hunter Nemechek in the #8. The remainder of the group were single-truck entries for other owner-drivers: Norm Benning in his #6 H&H Transport Chevrolet, Jennifer Jo Cobb in her #10 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet, Ray Ciccarelli in his #49 CMI Motorsports Chevrolet, Clay Greenfield’s #68 Racklet Roofing Toyota (with a returning Jeff Hammond as crew chief) and Todd Peck in his family’s #96 Holla Vodka Chevrolet.

Majeski, meanwhile, turned a strong 3rd-fastest lap in opening practice, slipped to 30th in Happy Hour, and qualified 17th with a lap of 178.848mph (50.322 seconds).

Qualifying 32nd and last was Angela Ruch, who over the offseason made the move from Niece Motorsports to Reaume Brothers Racing. Her #00 The Ruch Life Chevrolet was joined at the rear by two trucks penalized for unapproved adjustments: Ruch’s teammate Jason White in the #33 YourGMCTruckStore.com Chevrolet, and second-year driver Natalie Decker, one of Majeski’s teammates, in the #44 N29 Technologies Chevrolet. Both fell to the rear before the start along with Jordan Anderson, who surrendered the 23rd starting spot in his #3 K-Seal / Bommarito.com Chevrolet. While Ruch would be eliminated in an accident, Anderson, Decker, and White all bounced back in a big way.

On the break, Decker slipped behind Ruch and Anderson, but remained within a tenth of a second of both trucks. By the end of Lap 2, the last nine trucks in the running order had formed a small pack of their own, led by 24th-place Korbin Forrister in the #7 50 Egg Music Toyota. The lead 23 trucks continued to battle among themselves, though soon after, 23rd-place Bryan Dauzat in FDNY Racing’s #28 FDNY / American Genomics Chevrolet started to lose touch with them and ran by himself in the widening gap between the two packs. By then, Jason White had taken last from Decker.

The next challenger came on Lap 10, when Derek Kraus made an unscheduled stop for a loose window net on his #19 Shockwave Marine Suspension Seating Toyota. He lost a lap in the process, and Cory Roper slipped from the lead pack to 31st place in his #04 Alliance Aviation Ford, lifting Forrister to the 22nd spot. Forrister’s pack finally caught Dauzat, who dropped to 31st place, bringing up the rear of the pack, on Lap 15. The lapped Kraus, however, remained in last place until trouble broke out in Turn 1.

As the field crossed the stripe to begin Lap 16, Majeski was running in the 9th spot, 0.792 of a second behind the leader and leading an inside line of trucks. To his outside were a two-truck tandem of Todd Gilliland and Tate Fogleman with another long outside line to the high side, led by Austin Wayne Self. Exiting the tri-oval, Gilliland’s #38 Black’s Tire & Wheel Ford got Fogleman’s #02 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet loose. Fogleman slid up into Self and clipped him, sending Self careening across the track and into Majeski’s door. The impact yanked Majeski’s truck to the right, sending him airborne and sliding down the banking on his roof. Majeski was uninjured and the red flag was drawn to allow him to be safely removed.

It was not until after the yellow flag was displayed on Lap 17 that scoring reset, showing both Majeski and Self out of the race. Self, instructed by NASCAR to not drive his battered truck around the track, was classified just ahead of Majeski at the completion of the previous lap. The gap between the two trucks was just six-thousandths of a second – Self’s 0.786 to Majeski’s 0.792. This proved decisive in deciding which driver was classified last – the spot went to Majeski with Self in 31st.

The rest of the Bottom Five was promptly filled by another multi-truck pileup on Lap 66, which began when Angela Ruch lost control in Turn 3. Joining her in the Bottom Five were Fogleman and Dauzat, who collided on the apron with Fogleman’s battered Chevrolet catching fire. None of the drivers were injured.

After several close calls, one more pileup in the lead pack set up a dramatic finish where several drivers earned career-best runs. Among these were several drivers who contended for last place in the early laps. Jason White, who held the spot before Kraus’ window net issue, recovered to finish 10th, his first top-ten finish in just his fourth series start. Natalie Decker made her way up to the fifth spot after Kraus nipped her for fourth off the final corner, her first career top-five finish and one year after finishing last in the same race.

Two more underdogs threatened to snatch away victory from winner Grant Enfinger. Coming the closest was fan favorite Jordan Anderson, who after his own turn near the rear of the field found himself in 2nd place coming out of Turn 1 after Ross Chastain broke loose in front of him. He charged at Enfinger and moved to the outside lane, where the two made contact all the way to the stripe. This opened the door for a closing Codie Rohrbaugh, who recovered from a Turn 4 spin that didn’t draw a caution and was now pulling up on the inside in his #9 GCM / CR7 Motorsports Chevrolet. One more bump shot Enfinger ahead of Anderson by one-hundredth of a second with Rohrbaugh just over a trucklength behind on the inside. Anderson and Rohrbaugh were elated with their own first Top Five finishes – Anderson’s previous career-best was a 9th while Rohrbaugh’s was a 10th.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked only the third last-place finish for the #45 in Truck Series history, joining Rich Bickle at Martinsville on April 17, 1999 and Tommy Regan at Iowa on July 11, 2014.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #45-Ty Majeski / 15 laps / crash
31) #22-Austin Wayne Self / 15 laps / crash
30) #02-Tate Fogleman / 62 laps / crash
29) #28-Bryan Dauzat / 65 laps / crash
28) #00-Angela Ruch / 65 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Niece Motorsports (1)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, February 13, 2020

CUP: Daniel Suarez misses his first Daytona 500 field after crushing pit entry accident

PHOTO: Getty Images, MRN Radio
Daniel Suarez finished last in Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota was collected in a multi-car accident after 28 of 60 laps.

After finishing just outside of Playoff contention with Stewart-Haas Racing, taking 17th in the standings, Suarez, the 2016 XFINITY Series Champion did not get a contract extension. His ride in the #41 Ford went to SHR’s own XFINITY Series challenger Cole Custer, who would join fellow series standouts Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in this year’s Rookie of the Year class.

Suarez now found himself driving for a third different Cup Series team in only his fourth season. It was long rumored over the offseason that Suarez would land at Gaunt Brothers Racing, whose 2019 driver Parker Kligerman had no plans to run any of NASCAR’s top three series in 2020. It was not confirmed until January 28. Suarez would also bring with him sponsorship from Coca-Cola and CommScope, allowing the Gaunt team to attempt their first full-time season. The Gaunt Brothers had only run part-time as an open team, but climbed to the highest-ranked team without a Charter, putting them in position to earn one.

Driver and team’s first step would come at Daytona, where the Gaunt Brothers elected not to enter Suarez in the season-opening Busch Clash. Although this kept Suarez from capitalizing on his pole last summer at Kentucky, it was perhaps for the best – only Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman escaped that race without significant damage, and Erik Jones took the checkers in a battered Toyota.

Suarez showed speed in opening practice, ranking highest of the “open” drivers and eighth overall on the charts. He then slipped to 37th in the second session of the day, leaving it anyone’s guess how the car would perform in qualifying. As the 23rd car on track and last of the “open” cars to time in, Suarez needed to best Brendan Gaughan to become one of the cars locked in on speed. His lap of 185.479mph (48.523 seconds) fell short, locking Gaughan into the show for his final Daytona 500. And for the first time in his brief career, Suarez would have to race his way into the 500 field, starting 19th in the 22-car field of Duel Race 1.

Starting last in Thursday’s first qualifier was Joey Gase, locked in by virtue of one of Rick Ware Racing’s three Charters. Gase drove the team’s flagship #51 Chevrolet with sponsorship from EFX Corp, but turned in the slowest completed lap in qualifying (teammate B.J. McLeod ranked below him when his #52 Ford failed to post a time). Gase would be joined at the back by Ryan Newman, who surrendered 8th on the grid due to a penalty for unapproved adjustments. Not penalized was Brad Keselowski, who still started 12th in his #2 Discount Tire Ford since his incident striking a barrier leaving the garage happened in final practice before qualifying.

Suarez towed behind the wall after his wreck.
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
When the race started, Newman found himself side-by-side with Chad Finchum, who like Suarez needed to race his way into the Daytona 500. Finchum’s #49 Garrison Homes Toyota, a second car from Motorsports Business Management, fell to last by the end of the first lap, then worked his way past Gase the next time by. Radio communications indicated Gase apparently slid up the track in the opening laps, which broke his momentum and caused him to lose touch with the pack. He also reported overheating issues around Lap 11, and was the first to be lapped the next time by. By then, Finchum had also lost touch with the pack and lost a lap of his own.

Gase lost a second lap on the 20th circuit, and the lap after reported his water temperature was at 240 degrees with his oil at 206. Gase then pulled to the high lane in Turns 1 and 2 as another draft of lead-lap cars rushed past to his inside. Finchum took over last from Gase during pit stops, and the #49 was still running there when trouble broke out. “They’re wrecking behind you,” said Finchum’s spotter. “96 is done.”

Heading into the tri-oval, Suarez was also running by himself and had been caught by the same draft line of Fords that lapped Gase. As the Fords slowed to head to pit road, a reported miscommunication between Ryan Blaney and his crew chief caused Blaney’s #12 Peak / Menards Ford to collide with Suarez past pit entrance, steering Suarez nose-first into the outside wall. The #96 then careened into the grass, where the splitter dug in and destroyed what remained of the front clip. While Blaney managed to continue on (though he will go to a backup for the Daytona 500), a disgusted Suarez climbed out of his car, done for the night, and out of the Daytona 500 field. Suarez officially took the last spot on Lap 32.

Suarez turned out to be the race’s only retiree. The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by lapped cars, who all at one point pulled out of the draft to let the leaders get by. Gase took 21st, matching the three laps down of Finchum. Finchum’s 20th-place eliminated him from the Daytona 500 field along with Gase. Quin Houff pulled low on the backstretch in the final five laps, putting his #00 Jacob Companies Chevrolet in 19th.

Rounding out the group was Reed Sorenson, whose unsponsored blue #27 Chevrolet benefited from Suarez’ misfortune. Sorenson lost his lap with a pull to the inside with less than three to go. By besting both Finchum and Suarez, Sorenson locked himself into the 500 field.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #96 in the history of the Duels.
*Daytona was also the scene of Suarez' first Cup Series last-place finish, when he was collected in a wreck here last July.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
22) #96-Daniel Suarez / 28 laps / crash
21) #51-Joey Gase / 57 laps / running
20) #49-Chad Finchum / 57 laps / running
19) #00-Quin Houff / 58 laps / running
18) #27-Reed Sorenson / 59 laps / running

CUP: Tight battle for final transfer spot wrecks J.J. Yeley out of 500 field

PHOTO: Getty Images, MRN Radio
J.J. Yeley finished last in Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel Race 2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his unsponsored #54 Rick Ware Racing Ford was collected in a multi-car accident after 41 of 60 laps.

At this time last year, Yeley arrived in media day wearing a Steakhouse Elite driver’s uniform for a planned 2019 Cup Series campaign with the NY Racing team owned by Johnathan Cohen. The deal fell through, however, and the veteran from Phoenix remained a journeyman for the rest of the year. When Jeff Green had surgery over the summer, Yeley stepped into his XFINITY ride as a “start-and-park,” claiming the 2019 LASTCAR XFINITY Series title. And on the Cup side, he made fifteen starts for Rick Ware Racing with a best finish of 12th under the lights at Daytona. He also made a lone Truck Series start at Bristol, though his ride with the Reaume Brothers ended early with transmission trouble.

This year, Yeley continues on in both the XFINITY and Cup Series. While RSS Racing has scaled back their “start-and-park” entry beyond the superspeedways, Yeley was tabbed to drive for Jimmy Means Racing in place of David Starr, who took his Whataburger sponsorship to JD Motorsports. Yeley will run the first three races, including Daytona, before Kody Vanderwal will complete the schedule. He also continues on with Ware’s Cup team, which now has four entries and three Charters. Unfortunately for Yeley, he landed the one “open” car, the #54, a Ford with no guaranteed starting spot, no sponsor, but some brilliant red-chrome painted rims.

In opening Cup practice, Yeley ran 22nd, second-best of the Ware group behind David Ragan, whose #36 Select Blinds Ford was a one-off using the Charter from Ware’s #53 team. He then slipped in the second session, turning the slowest completed lap of 41 drivers (the only one ranked beneath him was Brad Keselowski, who didn’t turn a lap due to damage caused by hitting a pit road barrier on his way out of the garage). Yeley drew an early spot in qualifying, coming out eighth on the track, but his lap of 183.292mph (49.102 seconds) was just 39th overall and second-slowest to Chad Finchum among “open” teams. Like Finchum, Yeley would have to race his way in. He would start 19th in the 21-car field for Race 2.

Starting 21st and last on Thursday was one of Yeley’s teammates, B.J. McLeod, the only driver to not turn a lap in qualifying. Though McLeod, like Yeley, ran the previous week without a sponsor, it was revealed on race day that Christensen Arms had come on board to sponsor McLeod’s locked-in car for the Daytona 500. McLeod held the last spot when the green flag fell, 1.783 seconds back of the lead, but Brendan Gaughan then took the spot by the end of Lap 1 in his #62 Beard Oil / South Point Casino Chevrolet.

Gaughan, along with Justin Haley from Race 1, had locked himself into the Daytona 500 field as one of the two fastest open cars in last Sunday’s qualifying. By dropping to the tail end of the line, the focus shifted to Yeley and Timmy Hill, who after the drama of Race 1 now battled for the final spot in the Daytona 500 field. Since Hill had the faster speed of the two, his #66 RoofClaim.com / VSI Racing Ford had the advantage over Yeley, but both cars looked evenly matched. As early as Lap 4, the two ran side-by-side, and that time by Kyle Larson made it three-wide on the inside. McLeod linked up with Yeley up high to try and move him past. Yeley and Hill would remain in each other’s sights for much of the night.

Yeley limps onto pit road after his late-race crash.
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
Meanwhile, Gaughan remained in last place, but didn’t lose as much ground as Gase in Race 1. He linked up with Brennan Poole, secured his first Daytona 500 start in Premium Motorsports’ Chartered #15 Spartan Go Chevrolet. Gaughan sized up Poole on Lap 7 and made it by the next lap, dropping the #15 to last place. Poole then started to lose touch with the field, but found a new drafting partner in McLeod. Poole passed McLeod on Lap 11, then dropped back behind him again on Lap 14. Both then worked their way past Gaughan on Lap 16, but Poole re-took the spot on Lap 20 due to an unscheduled stop for a right-front tire that was coming apart. Poole returned to action two laps down and gained one back during green-flag pit stops.

On Lap 41, Yeley and Hill were still battling for the final transfer spot. While Hill’s Ford was able to switch lanes and weave through traffic, Yeley was content to stay in the outside lane, benefitting from the drafting help of his teammates Ragan and McLeod. But, heading down the backstretch, Yeley was leading Corey LaJoie’s #32 RagingBull.com Ford with Hill behind LaJoie. Hill and LaJoie made contact, which steered Yeley’s right-front into the outside wall. Yeley managed to limp to pit road, but the a-frame was bent, and the car also had serious damage to the right-rear. Done for the night, Yeley dropped to last on Lap 44. Hill finished 16th to qualify for his first-ever Daytona 500.

As in Race 1, the last-place finisher was the race’s only retiree, and was knocked out of the Daytona 500 because of a mid-race crash. The rest of the Bottom Five was likewise filled with lapped cars still running under power. McLeod took 20th, two laps down to the leaders. One lap down were both 19th-place LaJoie, who had to make a number of repairs after the Yeley incident, and will have to go to a backup car, followed by 18th-place Poole after his unscheduled stop. Gaughan rounded out the group in 17th, the last car on the lead lap.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #54 in the history of the Duels.
*This marked the first time since 2010 the last-place finishers of both Duel races qualified in the same starting spot (19th). In 2010, both Jeff Fuller and Boris Said started in 23rd.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
21) #54-J.J. Yeley / 41 laps / crash
20) #52-B.J. McLeod / 58 laps / running
19) #32-Corey LaJoie / 59 laps / running
18) #15-Brennan Poole / 59 laps / running
17) #62-Brendan Gaughan / 60 laps / running

PREVIEW: Reviewing a multitude of changes in the XFINITY and Truck Series entry lists

Tommy Joe Martins brings back his owner-driver operation in 2020
PHOTO: @bradxperez
Friday, February 14, 2020
TRUCKS Race 1 of 23
NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Natalie Decker

ENTRY LIST
There are 41 trucks entered for 32 spots, meaning nine trucks will miss the show for the season opener of the newly renamed NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. UPDATE: Make that 40 trucks for 32 with eight DNQs as of Thursday afternoon.

TEAM UPDATE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
COMING SOON: #??-Jordan Anderson Racing
In a December 18 interview, Jordan Anderson indicated he was interested in starting a second team for development drivers in 2020. That second team is not entered this week. Anderson will remain in his primary #3 Chevrolet, which will now come out of the same shop as AM Racing, the #22 Chevrolet team of Austin Wayne Self. Anderson also welcomes new backing from K-Seal in addition to previous sponsor Bommarito.com.

DRIVER CHANGE: #4-Kyle Busch Motorsports
NEW TEAM: #38-Front Row Motorsports / DGR-Crosley
TEAM SUSPENDED: #92-RBR Enterprises
NASCAR Pinty’s Series driver Raphael Lessard continues on with KBM this year, taking the place of Todd Gilliland in the #4 Toyota with JBL as sponsor. Gilliland makes the move from KBM to a new team from Cup Series program Front Row Motorsports, thanks to a technical alliance with DGR-Crosley. The DGR-Crosley team has completely restructured their team and driver lineup, while also switching from Toyota to Ford. The #38 team carries sponsorship from Black’s Tire and Wheel Distributors, a longtime backer of Ricky Benton’s No. 92 team, plus Highland Construction and Restoration. Benton himself will not be fielding a truck this year but will be part of the No. 38 effort in the four races they run this year. Future plans for Benton’s own No. 92 are yet unknown.

MISSING: #5-DGR-Crosley
MISSING: #7-DGR-Crosley
DRIVER AND MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #15-DGR-Crosley
David Gilliland’s expansion team which Dylan Lupton ran solidly for late last season is not among the entrants this week, nor is the truck Tanner Gray ran to a 16th-place finish that night. The team that is returning is the #15, previously driven by Anthony Alfredo before he landed his part-time XFINITY Series effort with RCR, set to start at Fontana. In Alfredo’s place this week is Tanner Gray, who finished Top Twenty in all three of his Truck Series starts late last season. The DGR-Crosley team also announced a switch from Toyota to Ford on December 11.

RETURNING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Norm Benning is back on the entry list for the season opener after he did not enter last fall’s races at Phoenix and Homestead.

RETURNING: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister is back on this week’s entry list with new sponsorship from 50 Egg Music on his #7 Toyota. Forrister last took the green flag in the series last fall at Talladega, where he ran a season-best 13th.

DRIVER SWAP: #8-NEMCO Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
Father and son, Joe and John Hunter Nemechek, are again entered in competing trucks from their own team. Joe takes the place of Camden Murphy in the #87 with Fleetwing and DAB Constructors returning as sponsors. John Hunter will run double-duty with the Cup Series and brings Fire Alarm Services once again to the #8. As a twist, the traditionally Chevrolet-based NEMCO team will field a Ford for John Hunter, likely due to the younger Nemechek's new Cup ride with Ford team Front Row Motorsports.

PAINT SCHEME: #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Jennifer Jo Cobb debuts a new variant of her white, pink, and camouflage Driven2Honor.org paint scheme on her team’s Chevrolets. NASCAR stepped in to require further changes, citing that they don’t allow white numbers on a white vehicle. Cobb then had Paradigm Racing alter the scheme to add black numbers.

MISSING: #11-Rette Jones Racing
Spencer Davis is not entered this week after he failed to qualify Mark Rette’s #11 in last fall’s Homestead finale.

MISSING: #12-Young’s Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
Gus Dean makes the move from his full-time effort with Randy Young to a one-off start for Timmy Hill’s single-truck team at Daytona. Mashonit is the listed sponsor. The effort is part of a busy week for Dean, who will compete in both the ARCA Menards Series opener at Daytona and the Super Late Model races at New Smyrna. Dean's former ride, the #12, is not entered this Friday.

MISSING: #17-DGR-Crosley
NEW TEAM: #26-GMS Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
MISSING: #54-DGR-Crosley
Tyler Ankrum makes the move from DGR-Crosley, whose #17 is also not entered this week, to the new #26 team at GMS with sponsorship from LiUNA. Natalie Decker will also move teams from DGR-Crosley to one of Al Niece’s trucks and will also scale back from full-time to part-time. Decker takes the place of Angela Ruch, who moves to the Reaume Brothers this season. The #54 that Decker drove last year is also not entered this week.

DRIVER SWAP: #18-Kyle Busch Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Christian Eckes moves from KBM’s #51 to the #18, taking the place of Harrison Burton, who isn’t entered in the series this week. Taking Eckes’ place in the #51 is Riley Herbst, who will pull double-duty with his XFINITY Series effort for Joe Gibbs Racing. Safelite Auto Glass remains Eckes’ sponsor while Mobil 1 backs Herbst.

TEAM UPDATE: #19-McAnally-Hilgemann Racing
Derek Kraus will run full-time in the Truck Series this year, thanks to a technical alliance between Bill McAnally’s team, Hattori Racing Enterprises, and a new partner in the team from Wisconsin businessman Bill Hilgemann. Shockwave joined the team as their sponsor for Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Talladega winner Spencer Boyd returns to Young’s Motorsports in place of Colby Howard, who drove the truck at Homestead. CuraLife is the listed sponsor.

RETURNING: #21-GMS Racing
NUMBER CHANGE: #23-GMS Racing
Following a 5th-place finish in his lone Truck Series start at Gateway last summer, Zane Smith will drive for GMS Racing this year, taking the controls of the returning #21 team with sponsorship from ICON Vehicle Dynamics. Brett Moffitt’s entry goes from the #24 to the team’s previously used #23, still fielded by GMS, with CMR Roofing as sponsor. Sheldon Creed remains in the GMS #2.

COMING SOON: #24-GMS Racing
It was then revealed in January the #24 will return this July at Eldora, where it will be driven by Knoxville Nationals champion David Gravel with sponsorship from Axalta. This will start a five-race Truck schedule for Gravel, with dates and sponsors to be announced.

RETURNING: #28-FDNY Racing
Jim Rosenblum’s team continues plugging away in the Truck Series, and will once again field Bryan Dauzat in the Daytona season opener. American Genomics joins the team as primary sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Brennan Poole will make at least one more start with his former Truck Series team in Daytona as his Cup sponsor, Spartan Mosquito, is also on board the #30 Toyota for the Friday race. Poole takes the place of Danny Bohn, who enjoyed some strong performances with the #30 team last fall.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Jason White returns to the superspeedway to drive the #33 in place of Josh Reaume. Reaume is expected drive the #34, which withdrew from last fall’s Homestead race, and Motorsports Safety Group is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER AND NUMBER CHANGE: #40-Niece Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Niece Motorsports
Ryan Truex takes his sponsorship from Marquis Spas from his XFINITY ride with JR Motorsports to the Truck Series, driving for Al Niece in the #40 Chevrolet. Truex will run in six races this season, starting with Texas in March. Ross Chastain will drive in Truex's place Friday, a slide over from the team's #45. This appears to take the place of the part-time third team Al Niece had run in previous years, the #38 driven last year by T.J. Bell, Mark Smith, and Colin Garrett. The #38 will instead be fielded by the Front Row Motorsports / DGR-Crosley effort driven by Todd Gilliland (see above). Ty Majeski takes Chastain's place in the full-time #45 after a strong 11th-place finish in his series debut at Phoenix last fall.

TEAM UPDATE: #49-CMI Motorsports
Ray Ciccarelli confirmed on January 24 that he will be running the first five Truck Series races of the season in a new red-and-gold paint scheme with Ciccarelli Moving & Installations LLC as his sponsor. Bayley Currey will run the truck in Las Vegas.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #52-Halmar Friesen Racing
Stewart Friesen will see a manufacturer change from Chevrolet to Toyota, driving trucks from Kyle Busch Motorsports. Halmar International remains the team’s sponsor.

CREW CHIEF CHANGE: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Surprising news came in late January when it was revealed that veteran crew chief turned racing analyst Jeff Hammond would come out of retirement to sit atop the pit box for Clay Greenfield’s eight Truck Series races this season. Hammond hasn’t served as a crew chief since 2002, when he reunited with Darrell Waltrip for a pair of Truck Series races at Martinsville and IRP. Rackley Roofing remains the sponsor.

MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Charlie Henderson’s Truck Series team, a longtime part-time effort, announced on December 18 that they planned to increase their schedule in 2020 and bring on several developmental drivers. They were not, however, entered in this Friday’s race. Parker Kligerman, one of the team’s drivers from last year, said he had no plans to run any of NASCAR’s top three series this year.

RETURNING: #96-Peck Motorsports
Todd Peck returns as owner-driver with sponsorship from Holla Vodka. Peck has not started a Truck Series race since 2018, when he ran 26th for Jay Robinson at Michigan. His family hasn’t fielded its own entry since 2017, when they finished last at Charlotte in partnership with MB Motorsports.

TEAM UPDATE: #97-Diversified Motorsports Enterprises
Logan Puckett completed his purchase of JJL Racing on December 20, completing the investment that began in last year’s Homestead finale. Teletrack Navman joined as sponsor for six Truck Series races, and have a bright neon-decorated truck for the Daytona opener. Jesse Little will continue to drive for Friday’s race in addition to his new XFINITY effort (see below).

NUMBER AND DRIVER CHANGE: #00-Reaume Brothers Racing
Angela Ruch revealed she would be competing full-time in the Truck Series this season, having landed a ride with the Reaume Brothers Racing team. She will run the #00 in place of Reaume’s part-time third team, the #32, and will run the same white-and-orange paint scheme from her sponsor The Ruch Life.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Young’s Motorsports
On January 27 came news Tate Fogleman, a part-time racer in the series last year, will become a full-time competitor in 2020, taking the place of Tyler Dippel. Fogleman hasn’t run in the Truck Series since 2018, when he made three starts in Young’s #20 with a best finish of 15th in his most recent start at Michigan.

WITHDREW: #03-Mike Affarano Motorsports
Mike Affarano continues his determined effort to break into the Truck Series part-time and has brought on Tim Viens to drive a truck with logos supporting the re-election of President Trump. Affarano’s most recent start as a team owner came last summer at Eldora, where Jake Griffin turned in a 26th-place finish in his #03. However, as of this writing, the effort may have taken a costly detour as the team's transporter drove into a ditch en route to the speedway. UPDATE: The incident appears costly as the team has withdrawn as of late Thursday.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #04-Roper Racing
Alliance Aviation and CarQuest have joined as sponsors for Cory Roper, who enjoyed a strong start to the 2019 season before financial woes forced his team to scale back. Roper made nine starts last year, most recently the Homestead finale where he ran 27th.

CUP INVADERS: None, technically. John Hunter Nemechek and Brennan Poole run the Daytona 500 as rookies.

Saturday, February 15, 2020
XFINITY Race 1 of 33
NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Stephen Leicht

ENTRY LIST
There are 40 drivers entered for 36 spots in Saturday’s race, meaning four teams will fail to qualify as the XFINITY Series reduced their field size once more this season.

DRIVER SWAP: #0-JD Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #4-JD Motorsports
B.J. McLeod will also return to the JD team this season, though his car number hadn’t yet been confirmed as of February 6. It was later confirmed to be the #0, which he will drive at Daytona in place of Garrett Smithley. Jeffrey Earnhardt will also run races for the #0 team later this season, one year after his limited-season run for Joe Gibbs Racing. Taking McLeod’s place in the #4 he ran at Homestead is Jesse Little, who will complement his Truck Series effort with a full-time XFINITY run.

MISSING: #2-Richard Childress Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #21-Richard Childress Racing
Myatt Snider will run a limited XFINITY schedule in 2020, starting this Saturday in Daytona. On December 3, it was confirmed the car will be the #21, which he will share with Truck Series driver Anthony Alfredo. Rounding out the group will be Kaz Grala, who will run a few races with this team during the summer. This car is running in place of the #2 vacated by Tyler Reddick, who will instead focus on his bid for Cup Series Rookie of the Year in RCR’s #8.

DRIVER SWAP: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
B.J. McLeod’s team returns to the XFINTY Series this season. Matt Mills makes the move from the #78 to the #5 with J.F. Electric returning as sponsor and new red numbers on his car. Vinnie Miller takes Mills’ place in the #78 and welcomes new backing from the United American Patriots organization. The #99 goes to a returning Josh Bilicki, who takes the place of Jairo Avila, Jr., who ran the car at Homestead. Bilicki welcomes returning sponsorship from Insurance King plus new backing from DITEC Marine.

DRIVER AND NUMBER CHANGE: #6-JD Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
For the first time since 2007, Johnny Davis will not campaign the #01 in this year’s XFINITY Series season. The team will now be the #6, and David Starr will end a two-year tenure driving for Jimmy Means Racing to drive it, bringing Whataburger with him as sponsor. Starr takes the place of Stephen Leicht, who does not have a ride with Johnny Davis this year. Taking the place of Starr at the Means team is J.J. Yeley, who will pull double-duty if he qualifies for the Daytona 500. Yeley is slated to run the first three XFINITY races of the season, then hand the wheel to Kody Vanderwal, who will make his NASCAR national touring series debut.

TEAM UPDATE: #8-JR Motorsports
Among the drivers slated to run this car in 2020 are Daytona driver Jeb Burton, who continues his part-time campaign with State Water Heaters, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who will run a Hellman’s paint scheme at Homestead. Also running will be Daniel Hemric, who rejoins the XFINITY series after his Rookie of the Year run in Cup. Hemric brings with him sponsorship from Poppy Bank and shares Brendan Gaughan’s Cup Series backing from South Point Casino.

TEAM UPDATE: #10-Kaulig Racing
Last season, Ross Chastain revealed he will go full-time – again - in the XFINITY Series in the car he ran part-time the year before. Chastain still plans on running all three series, with plans to be announced in Cup (driving for Spire this Sunday) and Trucks (for Niece on Friday). Nutrien Ag Solutions continues as sponsor as Chastain runs the Kaulig team’s second car alongside Justin Haley in the #11.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
MISSING: #35-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Tommy Joe Martins reported December 8 that MBM will scale back from four XFINITY entries to two, but this has since changed to three, according to the preliminary entry list. Not making the cut this year is the #35 driven full-time last year by Joey Gase. The #13 and #66 will go to Chad Finchum and Timmy Hill, respectively, who will attempt to run double-duty between the Cup and XFINITY Series races. Both carry the same sponsors from their Cup efforts with Timmy Hill’s #66 backed by VSI Racing and RoofClaim.com while Finchum’s #13 has Garrison Homes. Hill slides over from the #13 he ran at Homestead last fall to make way for Finchum, and takes the place of Bobby Dale Earnhardt, who DNQ’d at Homestead. Driving the #61 is Austin Hill, continuing the partnership with Hattori Racing Enterprises. Hill looks to bounce back from a disappointing DNQ at Daytona last July.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
Robby Lyons will drive the first three XFINITY races of the season, driving the #15 Chevrolet. For Daytona, Lyons’ sponsor is Carr & Sons Masonry, Inc. Jeffrey Earnhardt will also run races in this car this season in addition to his runs in the #0. On January 9 came word that Colby Howard will drive most of the 2020 XFINITY season with JD Motorsports, starting at Phoenix. Project Hope Foundation is the listed sponsor for his own runs in the #15.

RETURNING: #16-Kaulig Racing
As announced December 30, A.J. Allmendinger will run the Daytona opener after his entry rounded out a top-three sweep by the team here last July, only to be disqualified. Ellsworth Advisors returns as sponsor for the effort as Kaulig, like last July, will have three strong cars in the Daytona race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Joe Gibbs Racing
Harrison Burton makes the move from JGR’s flagship #18 to the #20 vacated by Christopher Bell, who now goes for Cup Series Rookie of the Year with Leavine Family Racing. Taking Burton’s place is a returning Riley Herbst, who will run his first full-time XFINITY Series season with Monster Energy as the sponsor. Brandon Jones remains in the third JGR car, #19, and with sponsor Interstate Batteries, will run a "throwback" scheme to Bobby Labonte's car from 1995.

TEAM CLOSED: #23-GMS Racing
Maury Gallagher’s team has closed their single-car XFINITY program and instead expand their Truck Series efforts. John Hunter Nemechek, the team’s XFINITY driver, advances to Cup with Front Row Motorsports as he competes for Rookie of the Year.

RETURNING: #25-ACG Motorsports
Chris Cockrum returns to run on the superspeedways once more in his #25 Advanced Communications Group Chevrolet. Jeff Spraker remains the crew chief with Rick Ware as the listed car owner.

TEAM UPDATE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
After a successful debut last fall at Homestead, the start-up Sam Hunt team announced in early February they have a formal alliance with Toyota Racing Development to power their Toyota Supra. Colin Garrett remains the team’s driver with Brian Keselowski as the team’s crew chief.

DRIVER SWAP: #36-DGM Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #90-DGM Racing
RETURNING: #92-DGM Racing
Alex Labbe tweeted on January 23 that he will return to Mario Gosselin’s #36 for Daytona and has two other races planned for the 2020 season with perhaps more on the way. His car will be sponsored by Globocam and Rousseau. Labbe takes the place of Josh Williams, who slides over to Gosselin’s returning part-time third team, the #92, with returning sponsorship of his own from Sleep Well and Harkin Construction. Taking Labbe’s place in the #90 is Caesar Bacarella, who confirmed he will drive for Mario Gosselin in the primary #90 Chevrolet this week with MAXIM and Alpha Prime returning as sponsors. Also, after a successful first season, both Ronnie Bassett, Jr. and Dillon Bassett will return to DGM Racing later this year, splitting 20 races between them.

DRIVER CHANGE: #38-RSS Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #39-RSS Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #93-RSS Racing
Jeff Green will run both the Daytona opener and the Talladega race for RSS Racing with returning sponsorship from C2 Freight Resources, taking the place of J.J. Yeley, who goes to Jimmy Means Racing. This #38 team will only run a limited number of additional races as Green will serve as crew chief for the #93 for most of the season (Clinton Cram is the listed crew chief of the #93 for Daytona). RSS Racing indicated they will instead focus on the #39 and #93 as their lone full-time entries. Among the drivers of the #93 will be a returning C.J. McLaughlin, who will run 20 races in 2020, and Myatt Snider, who in addition to his run for RCR will run some of his races, starting at Fontana, with Superior Essex as sponsor. Ryan Sieg remains in the #39 while C.J. McLaughlin is expected to again run the #93 in Daytona.

RETURNING: #44-Martins Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins tweeted on December 8 that he wasn’t going to be driving for MBM in 2020 as the team scales back from four cars to two. Martins said he had a couple Toyota Supras on hand and a speedway Chevrolet from Brandonbilt Motorsports, leaving open the option to run for another team or field his own entry. Martins then confirmed this on December 24, bringing back his team with new partner Rodney Riessen. Martins will drive his #44 with Diamond Gusset Jeans in a full-season effort. After the opening rounds, he will share the ride with other drivers.

NUMBER AND SPONSOR CHANGE: #47-Mike Harmon Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Last year’s #17, the second entry managed by Mike Harmon Racing but entered under Rick Ware Racing, will now exclusively be a Harmon entry this year and have a new car number, #47. The new number will be run by Joe Nemechek, Harmon’s driver of the #74 last fall, who at Daytona will carry logos endorsing President Trump’s re-election campaign through the Patriots PAC of America. The team’s #74 will also remain active for the two-car effort, which will see Mike Harmon drive and continuing partnership with Veterans for Child Rescue. Other drivers in the mix to run for the team this year are XFINITY part-timers Bayley Currey, Kyle Weatherman, Tyler Matthews, and possibly Camden Murphy.

DRIVER CHANGE: #68-Brandonbilt Motorsports
MISSING: #86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
Brandon Brown will drive his team’s #68, a number he’s raced since the early years of his career, instead of the #86. Larry’s Lemonade, formerly a sponsor at RSS Racing for Ryan Sieg, has joined Brown to sponsor his Daytona effort. The team may still run both numbers this season as they plan to make their second team a full-time operation. Will Rodgers drove a second Brandonbilt car for a number of races in 2019, most recently last fall at Homestead.

MISSING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd reported to Dustin Albino earlier this week that his team would not be attempting the season opener at Daytona, but would run the rest of the year with Landon Cassill as driver. Cassill, last year’s Cup regular with StarCom Racing who helped out Shepherd late last season, had arrived at Daytona’s Media Day wearing a Cup Series uniform, though he had no ride set up for the Daytona 500.

NEW TEAM: #02-Our Motorsports
Announced back on October 30, this team will run full-time with Andy Seuss among the drivers. To help get the team started, they have signed Brett Moffitt to run the first four races of the season, including Daytona. Plan B Sales is the listed sponsor for Moffitt’s fourth XFINITY Series start and his first since a 13th for JR Motorsports last spring at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Joe Graf, Jr. moves from a part-time role with Richard Childress Racing in the #21 to take the place of Gray Gaulding in the #08, bringing with him sponsorship from Eat, Sleep, Race from his time running with RCR. Core Development Group has also joined as the team's primary sponsor. Gaulding’s show car and display hauler have likewise been changed, having been acquired by Josh Bilicki and re-decaled to represent his Cup Series effort in the #53 for Rick Ware Racing (in addition to his run in the #99 for B.J. McLeod in XFINITY). Ray Black, Jr. remains his teammate in the #07 CDA Tech Chevrolet.

CUP INVADERS: None

Sunday, February 16, 2020
CUP Race 1 of 36
Daytona 500 at Daytona
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Casey Mears

For a full breakdown of this Sunday’s competitors, check out our feature from last week.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Today in LASTCAR History (February 13, 1955): Gober Sosebee picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in a 200-lap race at Speedway Park, a half-mile dirt track in Jacksonville, Florida, when his #51 Cherokee Garage 1954 Oldsmobile fell out with carburetor issues after 9 laps. Sosebee started third in a race won by Lee Petty, and the next month scored the third and final last-place finish of his career.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

ARCA: Return of now-independent Scott Reeves marred by early incident at Daytona

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Scott Reeves finished last for the first time in his ARCA Menards Series career in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona International Speedway when his #88 Reeves Racing Chevrolet fell out with drive train issues without completing any of the race’s 80 laps. The finish came in Reeves’ seventh series start.

Scott Reeves is a name well-known to those in the Florida short-track circles. A veteran Pro Truck racer, he has claimed World Series of Asphalt championships in the Pro Truck division in 2010, 2011 and 2013 - a borderline dynasty. Adding to his accomplishments is a FASCAR Pro Truck Series championship in 2007. He has also driven super late models around Florida since around the turn of the 21st century, venturing to various areas of the state like Orlando and Jupiter.

Reeves made the move to ARCA competition in 2015, partnering with Brian Finney, who had been competing as an owner/driver since 2012. Between 2015 and 2018, Reeves drove in six races for Finney. That stretch was highlighted by a four-race 2017 which included two eleventh-place finishes and three laps led at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. With legacy motors being phased out, however, he sold his steel-body car to Swedish road racers and acquired an Ilmor motor in mid-2019, and had his Daytona car just about done by the new year:



Joining Reeves would be a smaller entry list than usual, as ARCA chopped the starting grid to 33 cars for Daytona. A (mostly) new crop of championship contenders emerged, namely Michael Self, Hailie Deegan and Drew Dollar, along with Tim Richmond and Brad Smith, who will also compete full-time this year. As always, a potent crop of part-time drivers emerged, led by drivers with national series experience: Ryan Repko for Venturini Motorsports, Riley Herbst for Joe Gibbs Racing, Gus Dean for Win-Tron Racing, Natalie Decker for Ken Schrader Racing / Fury Race Cars, and Jason White for Fast Track Racing. The traditional ARCA superspeedway crowd showed up as well, with familiar names like Dave Mader III, Andy Seuss, Sean Corr, Thad Moffitt, Eric Caudell, Scott Melton, Bret Holmes, Willie Mullins, Con Nicolopoulos and John Ferrier all appearing. Finally, the grab bag of ARCA never fails to disappoint. Thomas Praytor returned with Max Force Racing, a welcome sight to those around the series. Rette Jones Racing rekindled their partnership with Dominique Van Wieringen, and Chad Bryant Racing signed two young drivers in Connor Hall and Jacob Heafner. Dirt star and future Trucks driver David Gravel made his ARCA debut for KBR Development. Part-time K&N Pro Series East driver Charles Buchanan Jr. made his national series debut, and Grant County Mulch Racing entered a car not for Codie Rohrbaugh, but for Jason Kitzmiller, making his series debut. Ryan Huff made his series debut for Fast Track Racing alongside teammate Chuck Hiers, making his fourth ARCA start at Daytona. A couple of old faces popped up in the garage as well: J.J. Pack in his trademark #61, and Benny Chastain, now 78 years old, making his first start since 2017 and his first start for a team owner other than Bob Schacht since 2006.

Opening practice was led by Hailie Deegan, making a splash with DGR-Crosley after a semi-lackluster ARCA slate with Venturini Motorsports last year. Last of the 32 cars that took times was Wayne Peterson Racing’s Con Nicolopoulos, who ran a lap of 53.3 seconds, about four seconds slower than Deegan’s lap. Practice two was a little more toned down, as only 24 of the 33 cars entered took times; Charles Buchanan Jr. ran a lap of 53.9 to anchor the charts, about 4.5 seconds off of leader Connor Hall’s fast time. In group qualifying, a familiar face led the field in Michael Self. At the bottom of the field was also another familiar face from last year in Thad Moffitt, his #46 being the only car not to take a time in qualifying.

All 33 cars were able to take the green flag for Saturday’s race, with Self jumping out to an early lead. Andy Seuss, the outside polesitter, thought he saw a hole in front of David Gravel down the backstretch but spun off Gravel’s nose, sliding through the grass and back up on to turn three in the midpack. Everybody moved down to the lower lane and the apron, and Jason Kitzmiller was the first car to spin through the grass from his 15th-place starting spot. Further back in the field, Reeves was running the high lane when Seuss spun up the track, and diving down to the bottom the banking, clipped the nose of Eric Caudell’s #7 car, sending both cars skidding to a stop in the grass. Tow trucks surrounded both cars as FS1 cut to commercial, and the damage was terminal for Reeves, who went down as the first last-place finisher of 2020 Speedweeks.

Kitzmiller retired next with a blown engine, followed by Brad Smith, who retired after 17 laps due to an oil leak. The final two spots of the Bottom Five were filled by Dave Mader III and John Ferrier, both victims of “The Big One” when the pack squeezed a little too tight when passing the lapped car of Scott Melton on lap 39. In true Big One fashion, it also filled out the remainder of the Bottom Ten.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
33) #88-Scott Reeves / 0 laps / drive train
32) #97-Jason Kitzmiller / 11 laps / engine
31) #48-Brad Smith / 17 laps / oil leak
30) #63-Dave Mader III / 38 laps / crash
29) #01-John Ferrier / 38 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR ARCA MENARDS SERIES OWNERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Reeves Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR ARCA MENARDS SERIES MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2020 LASTCAR ARCA MENARDS SERIES DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday, February 9, 2020

CUP: Crash leaves Kyle Busch last in the Clash

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
Kyle Busch finished last in Sunday’s Busch Clash at the Daytona International Speedway when his #18 M&M’s Toyota crashed after 65 of 88 laps.

Busch arrived in Daytona coming off his second series championship, his #18 Toyota decorated with decals of the final Monster Energy Cup before Monster pulled out as the Cup Series’ title sponsor at the end of the season. The car showed speed, ranking fourth of the eighteen entrants in final practice, then secured the ninth spot by random draw. His car for the Daytona 500 looked just as fast, taking sixth in single-car qualifying after running seventh and fourteenth in the first two practices.

With Daniel Suarez’ new ride at Gaunt Brothers Racing choosing not to run the event, and fellow polesitter Daniel Hemric out of his ride at Richard Childress Racing, Denny Hamlin drew the last starting spot in the shortest Clash field since 2017. On the break, Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Toyota stayed even with the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet of Kurt Busch. Hamlin edged ahead down the backstretch, then the two found themselves on the inside of a three-wide battle with Jimmie Johnson. At the stripe, Johnson held the last spot in his #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet.

Much of the opening twenty-five-lap run to the scheduled caution flag saw the field within shouting distance of each other. Johnson dropped Kurt to last on Lap 2, then linked together in a single-file draft. Next to take the spot was Aric Almirola, who dropped out of line in his #10 Pure Farmland Ford, slotting into last on Lap 6. Almirola, Johnson, and Busch traded the spot until Lap 9, when Almirola held it to Lap 21. That time by, Almirola got a run on the high lane, dropping Kurt back to eighteenth.

Pit stops short of the caution jumbled up the positions, trading it between Almirola, Clint Bowyer in the #14 Rush Truck Centers Ford and Ryan Blaney in the #12 Menards / Peak Ford. Almirola re-took the spot for the restart as he incurred the first tail-end penalty for crewmembers coming over the wall too soon. The following challenger was Austin Dillon, whose #3 Symbicort / Rig Up Chevrolet pitted with his fellow Chevrolet teams and the #6 Koch Ford of Ryan Newman, docked for speeding on pit road. Dillon took the spot on Lap 30 and held it for three circuits until Johnson took the spot, followed by Almirola on Lap 41. Three laps later, Joey Logano’s #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford dropped to the rear for the first time, then was unable to clear Almirola to take seventeenth.

The next challenger was Erik Jones, who on Lap 48 overshot his pit stall, forcing him to return to the track without a drafting partner. With the field now split into two different packs, Jones was soon passed by the leader, making Jones the first car to lose a lap. The second trailing pack caught and passed him on Lap 59, putting him even further behind, likely out of contention if the race’s green-flag complexion didn’t change. If no one else fell out of the race, it would have been Jones’ second-straight last-place finish in the Clash.

Busch, meanwhile, was locked in a tight battle for the lead when things suddenly came undone. On Lap 66, he moved to the inside of Logano with Hamlin to his inside. Logano and Busch collided and spun, bouncing Busch off Hamlin then back into traffic, blocking the path of Brad Keselowski’s #2 MoneyLion Ford. The ensuing pileup collected six cars, eliminating both Busch and Keselowski. Keselowski, who was running behind Busch, avoided the last-place finish by continuing across the start / finish line and stopping in Turn 1. Busch stopped at pit entrance and climbed out, handing him the finish.

The rest of the Bottom Five was decided on the ensuing restart, when another ten cars tangled just below the starter’s stand. Taking sixteenth was Martin Truex, Jr. in the #19 Sirius / XM Toyota, followed by Alex Bowman in the #88 Valvoline Chevrolet and William Byron in the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet. Jones also suffered damage in the accident – as well as the two that followed – but was ultimately pushed to the win by his lapped teammate Denny Hamlin. In the end, they were among the only six cars still running at the finish.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for both Busch and the #18 in the Busch Clash.
*Busch’s 65 laps complete breaks the record for most laps complete of 55, set by Erik Jones last year.
*Next Sunday, Busch looks to become the third driver to finish last in the Clash, then win the Daytona 500 in the same year, joining Jeff Gordon (1999) and Kurt Busch (2017).

THE BOTTOM FIVE
18) #18-Kyle Busch / 65 laps / crash
17) #2-Brad Keselowski / 66 laps / crash / led 33 laps
16) #19-Martin Truex, Jr. / 72 laps / crash / led 7 laps
15) #88-Alex Bowman / 74 laps / crash / led 2 laps
14) #24-William Byron / 74 laps / crash / led 4 laps

Thursday, February 6, 2020

PREVIEW: It's back to the beach as the Cup Series kicks off the action in Daytona

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing
Sunday, February 9, 2020
CUP Exhibition Race
The Busch Clash
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Erik Jones

On December 18, Busch Beer announced they would return as title sponsor of the event for the first time since 1997. The starting lineup will consist of 18 drivers, excluding two eligible drivers from last season: Daniel Hemric, who was replaced by Tyler Reddick in the Richard Childress Racing #8, and Daniel Suarez, replaced by Cole Custer at Stewart-Haas Racing. As of this writing, Hemric is not entered in the Daytona 500 while Suarez will drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing (see below).

ENTRY LIST
#1-Kurt Busch
#2-Brad Keselowski
#3-Austin Dillon
#4-Kevin Harvick
#6-Ryan Newman
#9-Chase Elliott
#10-Aric Almirola
#11-Denny Hamlin
#12-Ryan Blaney
#14-Clint Bowyer
#18-Kyle Busch
#19-Martin Truex, Jr.
#20-Erik Jones
#22-Joey Logano
#24-William Byron
#42-Kyle Larson
#48-Jimmie Johnson
#88-Alex Bowman

Thursday, February 13, 2020
CUP Exhibition Races
Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona, Races 1 and 2
2019 Last-Place Finishers: Cody Ware, B.J. McLeod

ENTRY LIST
This year’s Daytona 500 will see 43 drivers attempt to make the 40-car field. After Sunday’s qualifying session, five drivers will compete for the final two spots.

CREW CHIEF SWAP: #2-Penske Racing
CREW CHIEF SWAP: #12-Penske Racing
CREW CHIEF SWAP: #22-Penske Racing
On January 6 came news that Roger Penske would swap crew chiefs among all three of his Cup teams. Paul Wolfe will now helm Joey Logano’s crew while Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief, moves to Ryan Blaney’s team. Brad Keselowski will now work with Jeremy Bullins. On the sponsor side, Blaney welcomes new backing from Advance Auto Parts, the previous sponsor of what is now the Busch Clash, running it as primary sponsor for four races in addition to a full-time associate. For Keselowski, however, his Miller Lite sponsor will only be the primary for the Coca-Cola 600 and remain an associate the rest of the year. This is the smallest NASCAR presence by the Miller brand in years, not only with Penske dating back to 1991, but previously with DiGard Racing and Blue Max Racing.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
For Ryan Newman’s second season in the #6, Castrol has joined the team as one of their sponsors, running as a full-time sponsor in select races. Koch Industries joined on for other races, starting with the Busch Clash and the Daytona 500. And after a close contest between three different fan designs, Oscar Meyer will run the winner in the spring race at Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-Richard Childress Racing
This year sees all of last year’s XFINITY Series standouts advance to Cup at the same time, each in top-flite equipment. Leading the charge is two-time and defending XFINITY champion Tyler Reddick, who stays with Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet. Reddick takes the place of Daniel Hemric, who secured last year’s Rookie of the Year title after it was announced he would be leaving the team. Hemric will return to the XFINITY Series, driving part-time for JR Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
On December 11 came word that Brennan Poole will not only make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500, but run the full season in Jay Robinson’s primary #15 car. Spartan Mosquito was revealed as the team’s Daytona 500 sponsor in a recent announcement at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Poole has never made a Cup Series start but earned several strong runs in last year’s Truck Series season with All Out Motorsports, highlighted by a runner-up to Kyle Busch in Charlotte. Poole takes the place of Joe Nemechek, who ran the car at Homestead, as Joe will focus on both the Truck and XFINITY Series races next week.

NEW TEAM: #16-Kaulig Racing
Justin Haley was elusive about his Cup Series plans for 2020, but that changed on January 10 with news that the Coke Zero 400 winner would attempt his first Daytona 500 start – and the first Cup attempt for Kaulig Racing. Fraternal Order of Eagles returns as sponsor on his Chevrolet as the youngster looks to score the “reverse double” at the track.

DRIVER SWAP: #17-Roush-Fenway Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #37-JTG-Daugherty Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was first released from the #17 for Chris Buescher to take over in 2020, reuniting Buescher with the organization that earned him the XFINITY Series title in 2015. It wasn’t until sometime later that Stenhouse then was invited to drive for JTG-Daugherty Racing, filling the open seat. JTG added another wrinkle on December 2 when it was revealed Stenhouse would drive the team’s flagship #47 instead of the vacated #37, sliding last year’s rookie Ryan Preece to Buescher’s old ride.

TEAM UPDATE: #19-Joe Gibbs Racing
Martin Truex, Jr. will be without his crew chief Cole Pearn, who retired over the holidays in order to spend more time with his family. James Small leads the #19 team, as Truex looks to extend his streak of making the Championship Four.

DRIVER SWAP: #21-Wood Brothers Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #95-Leavine Family Racing
The controversial decision to replace the popular Matt DiBenedetto with XFINITY standout Christopher Bell will take effect this season. Bell will make his first start for Leavine Family Racing in the race where DiBenedetto led the most laps last year before he was eliminated in a late crash. DiBenedetto will make his debut with the Wood Brothers, taking the place of Paul Menard, who retired from full-time competition at the end of last season to make way for Matt.

DRIVER SWAP: #27-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #77-Spire Motorsports
After a sterling top-ten finish with Premium Motorsports in last year’s Daytona 500, Ross Chastain will this year run for Spire, who for the second-straight 500 will partner with Chip Ganassi Racing. As revealed on January 9, Chastain’s #77 Chevrolet will carry sponsorship from AdventHealth, the same sponsor Kyle Larson will run in the race. Chastain swaps rides with Reed Sorenson, who will take Chastain’s place in Premium’s #27.

TEAM UPDATE: #32-Go FAS Racing
Despite rumors that another driver, perhaps Daniel Suarez, would be replacing him as driver in 2020, it was confirmed on December 3 that Corey LaJoie will return as driver of the #32 Ford for a second season. The team already has another “throwback” scheme in mind for Darlington, plus a special paint job at Martinsville this fall. RagingBull.com signed as their sponsor for the Daytona 500.

DRIVER SWAP: #36-Front Row Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #38-Front Row Motorsports
Matt Tifft, who suffered a second seizure over the offseason, agreed to part ways with Front Row this season. As Tifft continues his recovery, John Hunter Nemechek closed out the 2019 campaign for him but on December 12 revealed a move to the #38 previously driven by David Ragan. Fire Alarm Services, Inc., a longtime Nemechek sponsor, will back four of John Hunter’s Cup races this season. Ragan wasn’t originally listed to drive in this year’s Daytona 500 as he retired from full-time competition at the end of last season. But on January 10 came news Ragan will run the #36 in the 500 with Select Blinds as sponsor. Ragan will be guaranteed a starting spot thanks to Tifft’s Charter, which will go to Rick Ware Racing the following week (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #41-Stewart-Haas Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman reported he has no plans to run any of NASCAR’s top three series this season. Most significantly, this includes his ride with the Gaunt Brothers in the Cup Series, which will have a new driver. After several rumors, it was finally confirmed on January 28 that Daniel Suarez, released from Stewart-Haas Racing for XFINITY graduate Cole Custer, will reunite with Toyota and run full-time in the #96. Suarez takes the place of Drew Herring, who made his Cup debut with the Gaunt Brothers last fall at Homestead. Suarez will do so without a Charter, though the team is now first in line to bid on one. Coca-Cola and CommScope join Suarez as sponsors.

TEAM UPDATE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Felix Sabates called it a career on December 12 when he ended three decades of team ownership in NASCAR. The majority of Sabates’ own Team Sabco operation was sold during the 2000 season to current owner Chip Ganassi. The team remains otherwise virtually unchanged with Kyle Larson remaining as driver of the Credit One Bank Chevrolet.

CREW CHIEF CHANGE: #43-Richard Petty Motorsports
Bubba Wallace reunites with Jerry Baxter, who comes on board as crew chief of the #43. Baxter previously was the crew chief for Wallace in the Truck Series during his successful time racing for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2014.

DRIVER UPDATE: #48-Hendrick Motorsports
Certainly one of the biggest stories of the season will be Jimmie Johnson’s final full-time season as a Cup Series driver, winding down the most successful career in the Chase era. In it, Johnson will look to end a winless streak that has now lasted more than two full seasons – other than a victory in last year’s rain-shortened Clash.

RETURNING: #49-Motorsports Business Management
Chad Finchum will attempt the Daytona 500 in a second MBM car. The car will be #49 in place of the #46 the team campaigned last year. Multiple sponsors have jumped on board, including Garrison Homes, Toyota of Knoxville, Ultra Commercial Services, Inc., Tile Market of Delaware, Contract Flooring, and First State Tile & Marble. Finchum, who has run nearly full-time in the XFINITY Series for Long the last two years, has just one previous Cup start at Bristol, where he finished 33rd in 2018.

TEAM UPDATE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #54-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware’s team will run three Chartered cars in 2020 for the #51, #52, and #53, with the #54 also set to run races as an open team. The #53’s new Charter is from Front Row Motorsports’ #36 team, which will use the spot one more time in the Daytona 500 for David Ragan, the reason why the #53 is not in the field. Driving the #51 in the Daytona 500 will be brand-new father Joey Gase, whose wife Caitlin gave birth to twins. Gase will carry sponsorship from E.F.X. Financial Services. B.J. McLeod, the defending LASTCAR Cup Series Champion, was among the last announcements as driver of the #52 Ford. J.J. Yeley will run the unchartered #54 in the Daytona 500, meaning he will have to compete for one of the remaining open spots in the field. Looking to the season ahead, Garrett Smithley and Josh Bilicki are among the other candidates to run races for the team.

DRIVER UPDATE: #62-Beard Motorsports
Brendan Gaughan reported he would end his NASCAR career after running all four plate races in 2020, citing the introduction of the Next-Gen car in 2021. This would conclude his career in the fall Talladega race, where he recorded his career-best 4th-place finish in 2004, his only full Cup season. Gaughan will look to build on his sterling performance at Talladega last fall, where he made a late bid for the lead before his car was sent airborne.

TEAM UPDATE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
On December 13 came news that Timmy Hill would attempt to make his first Daytona 500 field since he failed to make the cut driving for Rick Ware in 2017. This car will be a Ford, but the team will then switch to Toyota for the rest of the year as MBM attempts their first full-time season in Cup. RoofClaim.com has joined the team as sponsor for the Daytona 500, and will sponsor a few other races as well.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #88-Hendrick Motorsports
A full 26 races for Alex Bowman this year will be sponsored by Key Chevrolet Accessories, though Valvoline will also back the team for selected races. This appears similar to the Chevrolet Accessories sponsorship we’ve seen in years past for Richard Childress Racing, when drivers like Ryan Newman and Daniel Hemric were running with limited backing for certain races. Valvoline, which returns as sponsor this year, will be Bowman’s backer for the Daytona 500.

DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
The day before Thanksgiving, StarCom Racing announced Quin Houff would drive their #00 Chevrolet full-time in 2020 and 2021. Houff, who drove 17 races for Spire Motorsports and Premium Motorsports in his first part-time Cup season in 2019, takes the place of Landon Cassill. At the time of the report, StarCom still had no plans for Cassill, who was still under contract for the 2020 season. Houff’s car for the Daytona 500 will also carry a special logo near the front of the hood celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of team manager Derrike Cope’s victory in “The Great American Race.”

MISSING DRIVERS FROM HOMESTEAD 2019: Josh Bilicki, Daniel Hemric, Drew Herring, Paul Menard, Joe Nemechek

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Today in LASTCAR History (February 6): This year marks the first time in a decade the Busch Clash has been run before February 11. The last time this happened was on this day in 2010, when Derrike Cope picked up his second last-place finish in the event. Driving his own #75 Asset Protect / Strutmasterspro.com Dodge, Cope completed 15 laps before he fell out with engine trouble.