Thursday, May 20, 2021

PREVIEW: Qualifying at COTA a huge opportunity for multiple road ringers, new teams, and returning veterans

PHOTO: @eugenesince83

Saturday, May 22, 2021 (1:00 P.M. Eastern)
TRUCKS Race 9 of 22
Toyota Tundra 225 at the Circuit of the Americas
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Event

The return of practice and qualifying for these next two rounds kicks off with the Truck Series in Austin, where this time only 36 spots are open for the 44 entrants, meaning eight teams will be sent home. UPDATE: As of Thursday, make that 43 entrants and seven DNQs.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
The Reuse brothers continue their longstanding business relationship with Jordan Anderson for another run on a road course. In February, it was Bobby Reuse driving Anderson’s #3 with sponsorship from I Heart Mac & Cheese, finishing 27th. This time, it’s brother Roger Reuse behind the wheel of the same entry, back in the show after his #49 CMI Motorsports entry was withdrawn at Daytona. Anderson himself finished a strong 10th in Darlington, and also looks to get his XFINITY team into its first race of the season (see below).

WITHDREW: #6-Norm Benning Racing
On Thursday came reports that Norm Benning had withdrawn hos #6 from the field.

DRIVER SWAP: #9-CR7 Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #98-ThorSport Racing
Once again, Christian Eckes will run ThorSport’s #98 with sponsorship from Farm Paint, moving Grant Enfinger back to the #9 Chevrolet in place of Codie Rohrbaugh, 38th in Darlington. Thanks again to Marcus Lemonis, Enfinger will be among a number of teams sponsored by Good Sam Club, carrying a similar red-and-gold paint scheme to fellow underfunded drivers Dawson Cram (#41) and Timmy Hill (#56), among others.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Spencer Davis Racing
Camden Murphy makes his series return for the first time since the Daytona Road Course, where he ran a strong 13th for NEMCO Motorsports. This time, he takes the place of Spencer Davis in the #11 Inox Supreme Lubricants Toyota. Davis ran 29th most recently at Darlington.

MISSING: #14-Trey Hutchens Racing
Ironically, Trey Hutchens is not entered this week in what would’ve been his first attempt to qualify for a Truck Series race in 2021. All four of his previous attempts this season came in entry lists with more than 40 entrants and no qualifying.

MISSING: #17-David Gilliland Racing
David Gilliland is likewise not entered after his 28th-place showing in Darlington.

Looking for his first Truck Series start is ARCA Menards Series competitor Jack Wood, who has already finished 9th at Daytona and 4th at Kansas in GMS Racing’s ARCA effort, placing him 6th in the standings after four events. Wood will run GMS’ #24 this week, taking the place of Ryan Reed, who’s not entered following his 12th-place showing in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Taking the place of Danny Bohn, who had a potential career night going at Darlington before a spin left him 18th, is Las Vegas native Michele Abbate. Abbate has experience running at COTA in particular, having finished second in her class during the 2020 Trans-Am West Coast Championship Series, and went on to be the vice-champion. Backing her multi-colored Toyota will be tech firm Scosche and supplement company Ghost Lifestyle, each longtime backers of her sports car efforts.

RETURNING: #32-Sam Mayer Racing
Sam Mayer is back for his third series start of the season and first since Richmond, where he ran a strong 9th. His season debut came on the previous road course race in Daytona, where his run for Charlie Henderson ended 10 laps short of the finish, putting him 37th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Six years ago in the 24 Hours of Daytona, Cameron Lawrence was part of the five-driver lineup whose Riley Technologies Dodge Viper SRT finished first in class, 11th overall. Now, the two-time SCCA Trans Am Series TA2 champion seeks his NASCAR debut with Josh Reaume’s team, taking the place of B.J. McLeod in the #33 Impact Health Chevrolet. McLeod finished 32nd in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Lawless Alan is still another competitor returning to the Truck Series for the first time since the Daytona Road Course – his a 36th-place finish in Reaume’s #34 Toyota. Alan will run with the same team and sponsor again, this time replacing 34th-place Darlington finisher Akinori Ogata.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #45-Niece Motorsports
Saturday will also see the debut of Logan Bearden, a Super Late Model competitor from Texas, whose Bearden Automotive company will sponsor his NASCAR debut in Al Niece’s #44 Chevrolet. Bearden’s arrival moves Bayley Currey to the team’s #45 in place of Erik Darnell, who isn’t entered after finishing 17th in his series return at Darlington. Currey took 21st that night.

DRIVER CHANGE: #49-CMI Motorsports
Another local driver from Texas is John Atwell, who like Cameron Lawrence hails from the TA2 division of Trans Am, most recently as an owner-driver at Atwell Racing. While still seeking his first podium in Trans Am, Atwell will lead a three-truck group of “road ringers” at CMI Motorsports, taking the place of Ray Ciccarelli in the flagship #49. To date, the #49 has made just three series starts in 2021 with a best of 29th at Richmond with Ryan Reed. Multibuilding Incorporated and Texas Tool Traders are among the team’s sponsors.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Parker Chase is still another returning to Trucks for the first time since he Daytona Road Course, where he drove to a 23rd-place finish in his series debut. Again driving for KBM with Vertical Bridge as sponsor, Chase takes the place of Corey Heim, who ran well in his series debut at Darlington until his wreck from the lead triggered the night’s biggest wreck, leaving him 23rd.

NEW TEAM: #66-ThorSport Racing
Welcome back “The Bright Yella Fella,” Paul Menard, who on Saturday looks to make a surprise return to NASCAR after his characteristically quiet exit from Cup at the end of 2019. This time around, Menard drives a new fourth ThorSport entry with Mattei Air Compressors as sponsor. If he qualifies, this will be Menard’s first Truck Series start since March 31, 2007 at Martinsville, and his first in a Truck race on a road course.

NEW TEAM: #72-CMI Motorsports
Second of the CMI group of “road ringers” is Sam LeComte CORRECTION: of Flower Mound, Texas, who has driven for John Atwell’s team in Trans Am. Appropriately, he and Atwell will share sponsorship from Multibuilding Incorporated and Texas Tool Traders in nearly identical red-white-and-blue Chevrolets. This team is a new third truck for the CMI effort, and looks to bring back a truck number that hasn’t started a race since November 19, 2010 with John Jackson at Homestead.

RETURNING: #83-CMI Motorsports
Rounding out the CMI trio is another Texan looking to make his series debut - 2015 SCCA GT2 Champion Brad Gross. Gross runs a white Chevrolet this week with Manufacturing News as sponsor, and runs for a team that has twice failed to qualify in 2021 and once withdrew for the Daytona Road Course.

MISSING: #96-Peck Racing
Todd Peck is not entered after his Holla Vodka entry was on the wrong side of the DNQ line again in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Young’s Motorsport
Always one to watch on the road courses – whether for GMS Racing, Fury Race Cars LLC, or more recently Kaulig Racing and his one-off for Richard Childress’ Cup team, Kaz Grala will seek his return to the Truck Series, taking the place of 39th-place Darlington finisher Kris Wright. Grala drove this same team to a solid 8th-place finish on the Daytona Road Course this past February.


Saturday, May 22, 2021 (4:00 P.M. Eastern)
XFINITY Race 11 of 33
Pit Boss 250 at the Circuit of the Americas
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Event

There are 43 drivers entered, but this time all will have a chance to qualify for the 36-car field, including Jordan Anderson Racing and Bassett Racing, which have both been denied since Daytona. Curiously, Our Motorsports’ #03 team, also 0-for-10 in 2021, is not entered. Andy Lally, the original entrant, will instead run Chris Our’s since-acquired #23.

DRIVER SWAP: #4-JD Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #6-JD Motorsports
The one-race swap between Landon Cassill and Ryan Vargas has switched back again with Cassill back in his #4, but Vargas out of the #6. In Vargas’ place is longtime sports car racer Spencer Pumpelly. Pumpelly has seven ALMS wins with The Racers Group and Flying Lizard Motorsports and another ten in Rolex Grand-Am, including four at Watkins Glen and one at this Austin track in 2013 driving a Porsche. On the stock car side, his resume is much shorter – just one ARCA Menards Series start at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 13, 2009. That day, Pumpelly finished 3rd behind Patrick Long and Parker Kligerman. Fast Life and Grid Rival will sponsor the #6.

DRIVER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
The XFINITY race will be punctuated by several “Cup Ringers,” most of whom driving for teams running near the bottom of this year’s Owner Points and in need of a good run. First of these is Kevin Harvick, who returns to the XFINITY Series for the first time since he wrecked Ross Chastain out of his first career win at Darlington in 2018. This time, Harvick drives for B.J. McLeod in place of Matt Mills, who finished last at Darlington after Noah Gragson’s disqualification was overturned. Rush Truck Centers will sponsor Harvick’s effort, which will be in a Ford in place of McLeod’s typical Chevrolets and Toyotas. At the same time, the three McLeod cars have swapped points - the #5 now takes the #78’s rank, the #78 takes the #99, and the #99 takes the #5.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Austin will also see Miguel Paludo return to the XFINITY Series in for the first time since his 7th-place run in February on the Daytona Road Course. Much has changed at the JR Motorsports team since then – most notably Josh Berry’s breakout part-time season in the same #8 with three finishes of second or better in his last four starts. Paludo will look to keep the momentum going on the road course.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Kaulig Racing
As of this writing, Justin Haley is listed to return from COVID-19 protocol after missing out on the Dover weekend, taking the place of Zane Smith, who wrecked with Brandon Jones and finished 36th that Saturday. 

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
Welcome back Boris Said, who makes a surprising return to NASCAR after announcing his retirement back in 2017. Said, whose only XFINITY win came on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2010, will this week replace Matt Jaskol in the #13 Toyota with Whataburger as sponsor. Jaskol finished next-to-last in Dover after his frightening tangle on the backstretch that left his car perched atop Jesse Little’s #78. This will be Said’s first XFINITY start since August 29, 2015, when he ran 6th for Joe Gibbs Racing at Road America.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing / SS-Green Light Racing
Another Cup regular in the field is Cole Custer, who takes the place of Cody Ware in the #17, and like his Cup teammate Harvick switches a typical Chevrolet team to Ford. Production Alliance Group is the sponsor for Custer’s first XFINITY start since the 2019 finale at Homestead, where he closed out a seven-win season for Stewart-Haas Racing with a runner-up finish in the title race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-Our Motorsports
MISSING: #03-Our Motorsports
When metric qualifying prevented Our Motorsports from getting their second car, the #03, into the Daytona Road Course race, the team had been entered in every race since with Andy Lally as the listed driver. For the first time in 2021, the #03 is not entered at all, and Lally himself has been moved to the #23 that Chris Our has since acquired. Lally takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who finished 14th at Dover despite a lack of sponsorship. Lally carries sponsorship from “The A Team” and MFI Fantasy Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
With Kaz Grala in his Truck Series entry for Young’s Motorsports, Kris Wright will rejoin Sam Hunt Racing, with whom he finished 18th in his series debut on the Daytona Road Course earlier this year. This time, Wright’s #26 is listed with “Discus” as the sponsor, but the car is actually adorned with logos for the “Boot The Ban” campaign, which seeks new Texan legislation to allow for seven-day sales of distilled spirits. Wright takes the place of John Hunter Nemechek, who ran 32nd in his XFINITY return at Dover.

DRIVER CHANGE: #31-Jordan Anderson Racing
Jordan Anderson’s XFINITY team will finally get their chance to qualify on speed for the first time since the Daytona opener. Taking no chances, Anderson will not be driving, and has put Richard Childress Racing competitor and two-time XFINITY champion Tyler Reddick behind the wheel of his #31 Bommarito Automotive Group Chevrolet.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #44-Martins Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins welcomes new sponsorship from YouTube gamers "SuperMega" on his #44 Chevrolet. CORRECTION: This sponsor will run next week in Charlotte.

DRIVER CHANGE: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
Ty Gibbs will not be running this Saturday and thus will not have a chance to follow-up his surprising victory in the previous road course event in Daytona this past February. Instead, Kyle Busch will drive in his place with Skittles Gummies as sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long will once again put his road course ace Stephen Leicht behind the wheel of the #61 on Saturday with a returning Jani-King as sponsor. Leicht takes the place of the team’s full-time driver David Starr, who finished last at Dover after early overheating issues. Liecht ran 29th in this year’s Daytona Road Course race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Bassett Racing
Like Jordan Anderson’s team, the effort fielded by Ronnie Bassett, Jr. and Dillon Bassett has also hired a Cup driver from Richard Childress Racing in Austin Dillon. Dillon will carry Maestro’s Classic as sponsor on the team’s #77 Chevrolet and eyes a two-race schedule in Austin.

After Kyle Sieg crashed out his second RSS Ford in Dover, leaving him 33rd, Mario Gosselin’s flagship #90 will again be a Chevrolet for a returning Caesar Bacarella along with sponsors Maxim and AP Sports Regimen. This is a curious choice as, up until now, Bacarella has only run for DGM on the ovals with an emphasis on the superspeedways. Saturday would be his first series start on a road course.

Bacarella’s run in the #90 also moves DGM’s own road race ace, Preston Pardus, to their newest #91, which has yet to start a race this season after back-to-back DNQs in Daytona. But regardless of car number, the Spec Miata standout has continued to turn heads on the road courses, and will again run his familiar Chinchor Electric and Danus Utlities sponsorship in the race Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Ryan Ellis gets his next chance to run part-time for McLeod in the XFINITY Series, returning after an off-week for his first series start since Darlington. Ellis takes the place of McLeod himself in the #99 Toyota with and Keen Parts as sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
A late-week driver change has Ross Chastain running in place of Joe Graf, Jr.

CUP INVADERS: #5-Kevin Harvick, #17-Cole Custer, #31-Tyler Reddick, #54-Kyle Busch, #77-Austin Dillon, #07-Ross Chastain

Sunday, May 23, 2021
CUP Race 14 of 36
Echopark Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Event

For just the fourth time in 14 races and the first time since Talladega, four races ago, 40 drivers will start on Sunday. Unlike Trucks and XFINITY, there are exactly 40 drivers entered for as many spots.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #15-Rick Ware Racing
James Davison, who won Wednesday's iRacing Pro Invitational Series event at digital Austin, will carry sponsorship from the Skip Barber Racing School and Clubhouse Media Group. This marks the first time Skip Barber has ever sponsored a Cup team.

RETURNING: #16-Kaulig Racing
When we last saw A.J. Allmendinger in a Cup car this past February, he was once again as much a threat for the win as he’s been with Kaulig Racing in XFINITY. Allmendinger finished 7th that day, and will look for more in the Hyperice Chevrolet’s return. The team last ran in Cup at Talladega, where Kaz Grala also turned heads with a 6th-place finish.

RETURNING: #33-Penske Racing
Defending XFINTIY Series Champion Austin Cindric is back in his wheelhouse on Sunday, running both Cup and XFINITY on the road courses he’d dominated before his breakout season last year. Cindric and his “open” #33 team rejoin the Cup garage for a fifth time in 2021 and the first time since Kansas, where he ran 22nd.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Again, so long as he’s officially cleared COVID-19 protocol, Justin Haley is set to take the wheel back from Josh Berry, who finished 30th in his unexpected Cup debut at Dover.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
Live Fast has again decided to give a driver their first Cup start at one of the series’ new venues as England’s Kyle Tilley, part of the four-driver lineup that claimed the LMP2 crown in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, seeks his NASCAR debut. Bremont and Battle Associates are the listed sponsor for Tilley’s #78 as he takes the place of B.J. McLeod, out late at Dover with engine trouble to finish 36th.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Ty Dillon makes just his third Cup start of the year and first since the Bristol Dirt Race, where he ran 26th for the Gaunt Brothers. Bass Pro Shops and Black Rifle Coffee are the listed sponsors as he returns to the road course, looking to follow up his 19th-place run on the Daytona infield after his heartbreaking DNQ in the previous week’s 500.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 20, 2001): Stockbridge, Georgia native Ricky Sanders picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Truck Series career in the Jelly Belly 200 presented by Dodge at Pikes Peak International Raceway when his #19 Ford, fielded by James Murphy, lost the engine on the opening lap. This was the 10th of Sanders’ 27 series starts, scoring a best finish of 16th at Texas the night Tony Roper was fatally injured. He made his lone XFINITY start in 2001, finishing 41st for Jimmy Means at Darlington. 

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