Thursday, March 24, 2022

PREVIEW: "Road course ringers" and Cup invaders far from absent on COTA entry lists

IMAGE: Brad Perez, @bradxperez

Saturday, March 26, 2022 (1:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Xpel 225 at the Circuit of the Americas
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Cameron Lawrence

Kicking off NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season is the Truck Series, which sees 39 drivers entered for 36 spots. Three teams will miss the show.

WITHDREW: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
Not among the entrants this week is Jordan Anderson’s team, which was already withdrawn when the preliminary entry list was posted. Anderson, who did not have a driver listed at the time of the withdrawal, will take a couple races off to evaluate his program after a difficult start to the year. His XFINITY team is still entered with Myatt Snider. 

NEW TEAM: #5-Hill Motorsports
For the first time, Hill Motorsports will field two entries, and hopes to put brothers Timmy an Tyler Hill in Saturday’s event. Tyler will run the new entry, the #5, which photos indicated was an unsponsored gray Toyota. Timmy remains in the #56.

RETURNING: #7-Spire Motorsports
For the first time since Daytona, Spire Motorsports has entered their #7 Chevrolet. Taking the place of Austin Hill, who finished 15th in that race, will be Cup Series regular and Las Vegas winner Alex Bowman. Bowman seeks only the third Truck Series start of his career and first since March 4, 2017 at Atlanta, when he finished 6th for GMS Racing. His Spire entry will carry the blue-and-white colors of, reminiscent of Hendrick teammate Kyle Larson’s current Cup ride and, therefore, the late Ricky Hendrick’s own Truck Series ride.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-David Gilliland Racing
Fresh off his emotional ARCA Menards Series West victory in Phoenix, Taylor Gray seeks his first Truck Series start of the year, following his five-race stint for David Gilliland last season. Gray’s series debut came on a road course – Watkins Glen – where he finished 35th. He takes over for Ryan Preece, who was a strong 7th in Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young's Motorsports
Randy Young’s #20 team has its third different driver in four races as the 2020 Truck Series Champion returns for his first series start of the year. Creed takes over for Matt Mills, whose 15th-place run in Las Vegas was followed by early suspension issues at Atlanta. Creed will run double-duty with his full-time entry for Richard Childress Racing on the XFINITY side.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Will Rodgers has struggled to make his return to the XFINITY Series this year, having failed to qualify for the race in Fontana, then withdrawn from Las Vegas. The same Reaume Brothers team has apparently entered its Toyota in place of RSS Racing’s #38 for a second-straight XFINITY race (see below), and also entered Rodgers in the Truck Series this week, taking the place of last week’s 17th-place finisher Chris Hacker. Rodgers seeks just his third Truck start and first since last fall’s race at Phoenix, where he finished 22nd in Reaume’s #34 entry.

RETURNING: #37-AM Racing
AM Racing expands to two trucks for the first time since last summer in Knoxville, once again bringing the #37 to join Austin Wayne Self’s flagship #22. Driving the truck this time is Logan Bearden, who begins a part-time schedule in the series with sponsorship from Bearden Automotive. Bearden attempted to qualify for this race last year with Niece Motorsports, but missed the cut in the #44.

MISSING: #41-Niece Motorsports
Speaking of Al Niece, their part-time fifth entry is not among the trucks headed to Austin, and Ross Chastain will instead focus on an XFINITY effort with DGM Racing before attempting to continue his impressive Top Five streak in the Cup race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #43-Reaume Brothers Racing
The biggest news on Monday was that of Brad "Bread" Perez, who will have his first shot at making his debut in one of NASCAR’s top three series. The Spec Miata standout takes the place of Thad Moffitt, who was on the preliminary entry list following his 32nd-place run in Atlanta. Perez’ Toyota will carry multiple sponsors, including Greentech Energy, Kimberly Kirven, Victory SIM, The Mohawk Foundation and Apex Coffee.

Just like Logan Bearden in the #37, Samuel LeComte left COTA empty-handed last year, having been unsuccessful in qualifying a third entry from Ray Ciccarelli’s team CMI Motorsports. He then missed the show again in Watkins Glen. This time around, LeComte returns to his home track in place of Brennan Poole as Matt Jaskol’s teammate at G2G Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
One year after dominating the XFINITY race here, Kyle Busch will take the place of Atlanta’s first-time winner Corey Heim as driver of the #51 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota. Kyle likewise was one ill-timed pit stop from winning last year’s inaugural Cup race here, making one wonder why he needs the extra laps.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman returns to the seat of Charlie Henderson’s #75 for his 100th career Truck Series start, looking to build on his 5th-place finish in this year’s Daytona opener.

NEW TEAM: #79-Atwell Racing
John Atwell was still another driver who missed the inaugural Truck race at COTA last year – in fact, he was Samuel Lecomte’s teammate at CMI Racing, driving the flagship #49. This year, he has elected to field his own entry, and seeks to give the #79 its first Truck Series start since November 15, 2002 at Homestead, when Jerry Hill finished 25th for team owner Rodney Smith. Incidentally, the #79 is also one of the 12 current car numbers to have never finished last in a Truck Series race. A&J Lab Portal is the listed sponsor of his Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Young's Motorsports
Kaz Grala came up just short of victory in this race last year, and will get another chance with the same Randy Young team. Leading off his double-duty weekend with the Cup Series and The Money Team, Grala takes the place of Jesse Little, who ran 15th in Atlanta. RANDCO Industries is the listed sponsor..

CUP INVADERS: #7-Alex Bowman, #51-Kyle Busch

Saturday, March 26, 2022 (4:30 P.M. ET, FS1)
XFINITY Race 6 of 33
Pit Boss 250 at the Circuit of the Americas
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Noah Gragson

Qualifying will again be dramatic in the XFINITY Series as 42 drivers will contest 38 spots, meaning four will be sent home.

DRIVER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Scott Heckert seeks his 11th XFINITY start – all but two on road courses – as he rejoins B.J. McLeod Motorsports for the first time since the 2020 inaugural on the Daytona Infield Road Course. This time, he runs the #5 in place of Matt Mills, who finished 31st after a late-race crash in Atlanta. Heckert did not race in any of last year’s NASCAR events at COTA.

MISSING: #13-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s team elected to not enter the #13 this week, which the rain sent home in Atlanta along with driver Chad Finchum.

WITHDREW: #15-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware originally had a car listed to attempt this weekend’s XFINITY race, but it was withdrawn without a driver by the time the list was published.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Bubba Wallace will make his first XFINITY start since last August in Michigan, when he ran a strong 10th for the combined Hattori / MBM effort. This time, he takes the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing XFINITY car for the first time since 2014, and for the very first time in the flagship #18. Dr. Pepper joins him as sponsor as Wallace takes the place of Trevor Bayne, 28th in Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Following Jeffrey Earnhardt’s solid 13th-place finish in Atlanta, the Sam Hunt Racing team ranks ninth in this year’s Owner Points. The team looks to keep the momentum going with Parker Chase taking the wheel this week seeking his XFINITY Series debut. Chase’s most recent NASCAR start came at this same track last year, when he ran 18th in his second and most recent Truck start for KBM. Chase will drive a navy and off-white Toyota with sponsorship from Bahnbrecker.

Sports car racer Patrick Gallagher seeks his first XFINITY start since his 2019 debut at Mid-Ohio, where he finished 23rd for B.J. McLeod Motorsports in the #99. This time around, he’s entered in the third RSS Racing entry, replacing 24th-place Atlanta finisher Kyle Sieg.

DRIVER CHANGE: #35-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
Patrick Emerling, co-owner of Joey Gase’s new team, was originally set to attempt his first XFINITY start of the year and the fifth of his career, replacing Shane Lee, who ran 17th in Atlanta. Emerling’s previous four starts came with Our Motorsports, most recently October 23, 2021 at Kansas, where he crossed the line a series-best 24th. But Emerling will not make his first road course start as Parker Kligerman will run double-duty with the Truck Series.

On top of his Truck effort with Reaume, the entry list indicates Will Rodgers will run a Toyota under the RSS Racing banner, which with RSS’ Ford backing likely means it will again be a Reaume entry as it was in Atlanta. Hopefully, it will not be the same car – Loris Hezemans struggled from the start in the #38 last week before he was eliminated in a crash.

DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Alpha Prime Racing
Josh Bilicki will be the latest driver to get a start with the reincorporated Alpha Prime Racing as he takes over for Tommy Joe Martins in the #45, carrying sponsorship from The Boss and Lemons of Love. Bilicki’s only other XFINITY start this year came in Daytona, but he made the most of it, taking a series-best 9th in DGM Racing’s #36.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
After a DNQ in Daytona, and a washed-out qualifying session in Atlanta, Jimmy Means has replaced Harrison Rhodes with Texas’ own Gar Robinson, who seeks his NASCAR debut. Robinson boasts an impressive resume in endurance racing, and this past January was part of Riley Motorsports’ four-driver lineup that won the LMP3 class in the 24 Hours of Daytona, taking 13th overall.

MISSING: #77-Bassett Racing
Dillon Bassett is not entered after rain washed their bright-orange Chevrolet out of the field in Atlanta.

RETURNING: #88-JR Motorsports
Miguel Paludo begins his second year of road racing for JR Motorsports, which will campaign the #88 for the first time since Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s run at Richmond on September 21, 2018. Paludo will again share Justin Allgaier’s sponsorship from BRANDT Agriculture as he looks to bounce back from the rear gear failure that left him 34th here last year.

One week after Mason Massey surprised even himself with a career-best 6th-place finish in Atlanta, Spec Miata champion Preston Pardus will reunite with Mario Gosselin’s team for another shot at the series regulars. Danus and Chinchor Electric return as sponsors of his #91 in what would be his 15th series start. All three of his Top Tens have come on different road courses, and he finished 14th here last year.

Kyle Weatherman's career-tying 8th-place run in Atlanta was reportedly his last scheduled start for now. In his place comes Ross Chastain, who in this race last year barely got up to speed in a replacement role for Joe Graf, Jr. before the underside of his car was damaged on the rumble strips.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Speaking of Joe Graf, Jr., Cole Custer likewise returns to the XFINITY Series for the first time since his Fontana win with team owner Bobby Dotter. He runs the #07 once more, moving Graf to the #08 in place of David Starr, who’s not entered.

CUP INVADERS: #18-Bubba Wallace, #92-Ross Chastain, #07-Cole Custer

Sunday, March 27, 2022 (3:30 P.M. ET, FOX)
CUP Race 6 of 36
Echopark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Justin Haley

There are 39 drivers entered in this Sunday’s main event – second-most only to the Daytona 500 – but still marks the fifth consecutive short field in 2022.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Rick Ware Racing
Sacramento’s Joey Hand returns to the Cup Series for the first time since his NASCAR debut last fall on the Charlotte “Roval,” where he came home 27th. He again drives for Rick Ware Racing this year, and will be among the several road course ringers set to discover what the NextGen car holds for road courses. Hand takes the place of David Ragan, who ran 18th after the chaos in Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #16-Kaulig Racing
A.J. Allmendinger makes his second Cup start of the season and first since Phoenix, again as driver of Kaulig Racing’s #16 Chevrolet. The series veteran and road course specialist takes the place of Noah Gragson, whose hard hit into the Turn 2 wall left him last place in Atlanta.

RETURNING: #27-Team Hezeberg
Both brand-new teams from the Daytona 500 return to action in COTA, led by the Hezeberg effort with which Jacques Villeneuve finished 22nd in his series return. Driving this week is Loris Hezemans, who after a strong Truck debut in Las Vegas and a frustrating XFINITY run in Atlanta looks to make his Cup debut. 

MISSING: #44-NY Racing Team
Not among the entries this week is John Cohen’s #44, which earned an outstanding team-best 20th-place finish with Greg Biffle in Atlanta.

RETURNING: #50-The Money Team
Joining Team Hezeberg among the returning “open” teams is The Money Team, with whom Kaz Grala will run double-duty with the Truck Series. Coming off their 26th-place debut following a lost wheel in Daytona, driver and team look to turn heads on the road course. Pit Viper returns as team sponsor.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Welcome back Boris Said, who will make his first Cup start since August 6, 2017 at Watkins Glen. It hasn’t been nearly that long since we last saw Said tackle a road course in NASCAR – just last year, he drove for this same MBM team in the XFINITY Series, where he made the field at this same COTA track and finished 31st. He then missed the cut at Road America. By taking the wheel of Carl Long’s #66, the MBM team returns to Cup for the first time since their double DNQ in the Daytona 500 and is assured their first series start since last fall’s Phoenix finale.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
Perhaps the one “road ringer” to watch on Sunday will be racer-turned-broadcaster-turned-racer Andy Lally, the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year. Lally made his return to Cup competition last summer on the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, where rear gear trouble left him 39th. He looks for much better in COTA, where he ran 18th last year driving for Our Motorsports in the XFINITY Series., not the iriginally listed Surface Sunscreen, joins the Live Fast effort as sponsor.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (March 24, 2007): Jon Wood picked up the 1st and only last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in the Sharpie Mini 300 at Bristol when his #47 Clorox / American Red Cross Ford was involved in a crash with Brent Sherman after 5 laps. 

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