Austin Dillon aims to win back-to-back Daytona 500s
Last year’s dramatic last-lap win of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 produced one of the most talked about finishes in recent memory. Driving the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for his grandfather Richard Childress – the same car that the late Dale Earnhardt won the 500 with in 1998 – Austin Dillon maneuvered past final-lap contact to take the checkered flag.
This year he will try to become only the fourth driver in history to win back-to-back Daytona 500s. The last time it happened was 1994-95 with Sterling Marlin – the first two Cup Series victories of Marlin’s career. Only three drivers in history have won back-to-back Daytona 500s – joining Marlin are Richard Petty (1973-74) and Cale Yarborough (1983-84).
This year marks the 50th season of NASCAR competition for Childress. He’d like to start the anniversary celebration with a second straight Daytona win. He’s fielding cars for Dillon and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Daniel Hemric, as well as reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and Xfinity Series full-time driver Tyler Reddick, who is scheduled to make a few Cup starts in 2019. The last team owner to win consecutive Daytona 500s was Rick Hendrick with drivers Jimmie Johnson (2013) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014).
Almost for Aric Almirola
As the only Florida native in the 2018 Daytona 500 field, Tampa’s Aric Almirola came one lap away from winning the sport’s greatest race last year. After taking the white flag and holding off the field, Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang was hit by Austin Dillon’s No 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on the back straightaway, spinning Almirola out and sending Dillon on to take the checkered flag.
It was a heart-breaking finish for Almirola, who was making his first start for the Stewart-Haas Racing team. But the strong run in the Daytona 500 was a harbinger of good things to come. Almirola qualified for the Playoffs, won a Playoff race at Talladega, Ala. and ultimately finished a career-high fifth in the Monster Energy Series final points standings – ahead of all drivers except the Championship 4 contenders.
“Did I ever have a moment where behind closed doors I stomped my feet and hit some things? Maybe,’’ Almirola said with a smile this week at Daytona International Speedway. “In that time, in that moment, it was more important for me to go out and be a good representation for my sponsors and my partners and my kids.
“My kids were sitting back in my motorhome watching on TV like the rest of the world, so at that time it was an opportunity for me to be a good role model for my kids. You’ve got to be a good sport and sometimes things don’t always go your way. You’ve got two choices. You can either keep your head high and take the high road, or you can pout and piss and moan and the sponsors usually like the first one.
Almirola conceded, however, that the performance did set the tone for the 2018 season – a career year as it turned out.
“I think one thing that we took away from the Daytona 500 is we instantly, in the very first race, all had confidence in each other,’’ Almirola said. “New driver to the team. New crew chief, Johnny Klausmeier leading that team. Several new guys on the team. We’re all really young. … That makes it fun, but there’s also a lot of growing to do and newness, so instantly in that very first race it was like, ‘Hey, we can do this.’
“This is only race one and they’re gonna have to deal with us the rest of the year. This is only the beginning and we kind of fed off that and we used that as a motivator and that kept our heads down and made us just fight even harder and grind, and I think that it pulled us together.”
The Leader: Most laps led are not always a driver’s friend
The driver who has led the most laps in the Daytona 500 has only won two of the last five races (Denny Hamlin in 2016 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014). Twice in that time, a driver has led only the last lap for victory – Austin Dillon in 2018 and Kurt Busch in 2017.
Ryan Blaney’s 118 laps led last year was the most prolific time out front in the race since Davey Allison led 127 laps en route to the 1992 winner’s trophy. Since then, Blaney is the only driver to lead 100 laps or more since Tony Stewart led 107 laps in 2005. Both Blaney and Stewart finished seventh in those races.
In between those 100-lap efforts, the Busch brothers led 80 or more laps and did not win a race. Kyle Busch led 88 laps in 2009 and 86 laps in 2008. His older brother Kurt led 95 laps in 2007.
In fact, since 1993 a driver has led 100 or more laps only six times. Only twice did that result in a Daytona 500 win. Dale Earnhardt led 107 laps en route to his historic 1998 victory and Sterling Marlin led 105 laps en route to his 1995 win.
More on those leaders…
The 2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in laps led in the Daytona 500. He’s been out front 267 laps, which is 12th all-time. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch is next on the list with 245 laps led. Only four active drivers are on the list of the top-25 lap leaders in the Daytona 500. Kurt Busch is ranked 19th all-time with 205 laps out front. And Jimmie Johnson is 25th on the list-leading in 10 of his 17 starts for a total of 148 laps
The top mark in this category is – not surprisingly- held by seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty, who led 780 laps compiled in 20 of his 32 Daytona 500 starts.
Fireball Roberts led 170 of 200 laps in the 1961 Daytona 500 but did not win the race – the most laps led in a race without winning. Marvin Panch won the race – leading only 13 laps while Roberts ended up 20th.
Byron will battle the odds from the front
While 21-year old Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron is justifiably optimistic for his second Daytona 500 start, having earned the celebrated pole position in his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, it’s actually been 19 years since a pole winner won the race. Dale Jarrett won the pole and the Daytona 500 in 2000.
In fact, starting first has not been a promising indicator, in recent times, of where a driver would finish. The last top-five finish in the race for a pole-winner was Bill Elliott back in 2001 when he finished fifth.
One Daytona win leads to another
While it would appear a victory in one of the races leading up to the Daytona 500 would be a key indicator of who might win the race’s iconic Harley J. Earl Trophy or even go on to a season championship, that isn’t necessarily the case. Although Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash winner Jimmie Johnson would sure like to be a rare exception.
The last time a Clash winner also won the Daytona 500 was 2016 with Denny Hamlin. Only five drivers have accomplished the feat – with Dale Jarrett doing it twice – in 1996 and most recently in 2000.
The last time a Clash race winner won the Cup championship was 2002 when Tony Stewart won both the Clash and the season title.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year class outlook
This season marks yet another highly anticipated Sunoco Rookie of the Year class debut – and when it comes to the Daytona 500, a couple extra first-timers are on the list.
Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric (No 8 Chevrolet), JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ryan Preece (No. 47 Chevrolet) and Front Row Motorsports’ Matt Tifft (No. 36 Ford) will highlight the full season Sunoco Rookie of the Year competition. Hemric finished runner-up in the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship while driving for Childress. Tifft finished sixth in the Xfinity Series last year. Preece, a two-time Xfinity Series race winner, makes his full-time Cup debut after five starts in 2015.
Of the newcomers, Hemric earned the best starting position in Thursday’s Gander RV Duel races to set the Daytona 500 starting lineup. All three of the rookies are in the first Duel. Hemric will start third, Preece will start 15th and Tifft rolls off 18th in the 21-car field.
None of the three have ever won a race at Daytona International Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports sweeps the first weekend of Speedweeks in Daytona
Hendrick Motorsports was looking to kick off 2019 in the right direction and boy, did they ever. The newest addition to the team, William Byron, grabbed the Busch Pole Award for the Daytona 500 and then the veteran on the squad, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson followed it up with the win in the rain-shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash.
Though it was Byron’s first career pole, it was Hendrick Motorsport’s 13th Daytona 500 pole, the series’ most: Ken Schrader (1988, 1989, 1990), Jeff Gordon (1999, 2015), Jimmie Johnson (2002, 2008), Mark Martin (2010), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2011), Chase Elliott (2016, 2017), Alex Bowman (2018), William Byron (2019). On top of that, it was Hendrick Motorsport’s fifth consecutive pole for the Daytona 500 – also a series record.
The HMS organization was off to a great start last Sunday when they grabbed the pole, but the day got even better when Jimmie Johnson made a daring move to take the lead in the Advance Auto Parts Clash that resulted in him taking the win.
It was Johnson’s second win in the non-points event. In total he has made 17 starts in the Advance Auto Parts Clash posting two wins, six top fives and eight top 10s.
A total of 10 different drivers have multiple Advance Auto Parts Clash wins: Dale Earnhardt (1980, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995), Dale Jarrett (1996, 2000, 2004), Kevin Harvick (2009, 2010, 2013), Tony Stewart (2001, 2002, 2007), Denny Hamlin (2006, 2014, 2016), Neil Bonnett (1983-1984), Ken Schrader, (1989-1990), Jeff Gordon (1994 and 1997), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2008) and Jimmie Johnson (2005, 2019).
Hendrick Motorsports will look to carry the winning ways into this weekend’s Daytona 500, a race the organization has won eight times (1986, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2006, 2013, 2014).
Defending series champ looking to join elite Daytona 500 company
Joey Logano marked his name among the greats last November when he won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and earned the Monster Energy Series champion title. Now he’s looking to join another exclusive list – that of drivers who followed up a championship run with a Daytona 500 win the following February.
And it hasn’t been done in 18 seasons.
Five reigning Monster Energy Series champions have gone on to win the Daytona 500 the following season – Lee Petty (1959), Richard Petty (1973), Cale Yarborough (1977), Jeff Gordon (1999) and, most recently, Dale Jarrett (2000).
There’s another list the champ is looking to join – those who have won multiple Daytona 500 trophies. Logano captured his first in 2015.
Just 11 drivers have won the prestigious season opener more than once, led by Richard Petty’s seven victories. The most recent repeat winner was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the race in 2004 and 2014.
Open cars fighting for spots in “Great American Race”
Entering last weekend’s qualifying, 36 cars were locked into the field for the 61st annual Daytona 500, leaving four spots to be filled.
This year, six entries – Casey Mears (No. 27 Germain Racing Chevrolet), Tyler Reddick (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet), Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet), Joey Gase (No. 66 MBM Motorsports Toyota), Ryan Truex (No. 71 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet) and Parker Kligerman (No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota) – battled for those final slots.
The top two fastest times from qualifying on Sunday locked themselves in – Mears and Reddick.
That leaves Gaughan, Gase, Truex and Kligerman to race for their Daytona 500 starting spots in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duel At Daytona. Kligerman and Truex will face off in the first race while Gaughan and Gase are in the second race.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Daytona kicks off a highly anticipated 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season
Last February at Daytona International Speedway, the NASCAR Xfinity Series not only set the NASCAR national series record for the closest finish to a race ever (0.0004 secs. margin of victory), but did it in spectacular fashion, as the race reached a record five NASCAR Overtimes, and extended the race to a record 143 laps – 23 more laps and 57.5 more miles than originally scheduled. Fast-forward a year and the NASCAR Xfinity Series has returned to Daytona to deliver more great racing action in the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Edging his then-JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler by the slightest of margins, 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick, etched his name in the record books and took home the spoils of victory in last year’s season-opener at Daytona. Reddick was able to use the win as a spring board to the Xfinity Series Playoffs where he closed out his rookie season with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway to clinch the 2018 title. After winning the title with JRM last season, Reddick has made the move to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet team for 2019.
|Margin of Victory||Date|
|0.0004||Saturday, February 17, 2018|
|0.2180||Saturday, February 25, 2017|
|0.0430||Saturday, February 20, 2016|
|0.0890||Saturday, February 21, 2015|
|0.0130||Saturday, February 22, 2014|
Last season wasn’t an anomaly when it comes to close racing at Daytona. Over the last five years, the Xfinity Series season opener has produced finishes with a margin of victory of less than a second.
But the unpredictability doesn’t end there, passes for the win have happened in the closing laps of the last five season-opening races at Daytona; including two on the last lap:
In 2014, Regan Smith passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap to win; in 2015 Ryan Reed passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap for the win, in 2016 Chase Elliott passed Joey Logano and led the last 14 laps to win; in 2017 Ryan Reed passed Brad Keselowski with two laps to go to take the checkered; in 2018 Tyler Reddick took the lead with 11 laps to go in NASCAR Overtime and then held off the field for two more overtime restarts to win the closest race in NASCAR history.
Toyota Supra is in the house
In 2019, Toyota is taking the next step in its evolution in NASCAR and with it comes the introduction of the Toyota Supra in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. This will be the first time the Toyota Supra has competed in NASCAR.
In addition, for the first time since Toyota has joined NASCAR, the manufacturer will run a different type of automobile in each of NASCAR’s three national series – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will have the Toyota Camry, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will have the newly introduced Toyota Supra and the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series will have the Toyota Tundra truck.
Fun fact: The name Supra is derived from a Latin prefix meaning “to surpass” or “go beyond.”
Since Toyota joined NASCAR’s national series in 2004, the OEM has won a total 452 races (Cup 124, Xfinity 149 and Truck 179); including 15 at Daytona (Cup eight, Xfinity four and Truck three).
Toyota has won four manufacturer championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series all previously with the Camry (2008, 2009, 2010, 2016). The OEM’s first win in the series was with driver Jason Leffler at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2007.
Toyota has won four times at Daytona in the NASCAR Xfinity Series:
|7/5/2013||Matt Kenseth||Matthew Lucas||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|7/1/2011||Joey Logano||Adam Stevens||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|7/4/2008||Denny Hamlin||Dave Rogers||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|2/16/2008||Tony Stewart||Dave Rogers||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
Offseason shakeups have fresh faces in new places in 2019
With every new NASCAR Xfinity Series season comes fresh faces in new places. Below is a quick look at some of drivers and teams that will be going for the series title this season who made changes during the offseason.
Noah Gragson Joins Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett At JR Motorsports – Coming off the organization’s third NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship in the last five seasons, all with rookies, JR Motorsports is setting its sights high in 2019. The Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller-led company has re-racked the lineup this season, adding rising star Noah Gragson to fill the seat Tyler Reddick left with his move to RCR. Joining Gragson will be 2018 regular season champion Justin Allgaier and veteran Michael Annett, as well as a bevy of other drivers rotating in and out of the recently returned No. 8 team – made famous by team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. This weekend, 2014 series champion Chase Elliott will be strapped into the No. 8 looking for his second win (2016) at Daytona.
JR Motorsports has been quite impressive at Daytona International Speedway lately, winning five of the last 10 Xfinity Series races, including three of the last five season-openers (2014, 2016, 2018).
2018 Series Champ Tyler Reddick Jumps To Richard Childress Racing – Richard Childress Racing hit the jackpot when they signed 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick at the end of last season. Now the California kid is driving the RCR flagship No. 2 Chevrolet in an attempt to become the first driver since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011-12) to win back-to-back series titles. Plus, let us not forget Reddick is the defending winner of the season-opener at Daytona, after he beat his former teammate Elliott Sadler by a mere 0.0004 second to win the race.
Richard Childress Racing has four NASCAR Xfinity Series owner championships (2001, 2003, 2006 and 2007) and two driver titles (2001, 2006), but hasn’t won either in over a decade. Reddick hopes to change that this season and put RCR back on top.
RCR is always a contender at Daytona, as the powerhouse team has six Xfinity wins (2002, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015) on the Florida high banks.
Chase Briscoe Saddles Up With Cole Custer at Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi – After a successful part-time season in 2018 that saw him take home the win at the Charlotte road course, Chase Briscoe has been tapped by Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi to drive the No. 98 fulltime in 2019 and compete for a championship alongside his new teammate Cole Custer. Custer is definitely in the conversation of early favorites to win the championship in 2019, as the California native had a career-best season last year, winning at Texas and making the Championship 4; ultimately finishing runner-up to Tyler Reddick in the final standings. His No. 00 car did go home with the owner championship at the end of the season.
Both drivers will have their work cut out for them this weekend at Daytona though, Custer has made four starts at Daytona with a best finish of 14th in this race last year (average finish of 24.5). Briscoe has yet to make a NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Daytona or Talladega, making this weekend his series track debut.
Austin Cindric To Compete For A Title With Team Penske – Team Penske has tasked Austin Cindric with bringing the organization its fifth owner title and second driver title in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2019, as the North Carolina native will be driving fulltime in the famed No. 22 Ford Mustang this season. Last year, Cindric ran the full season while splitting time with Team Penske’s No. 22 team and Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 team. In 33 starts he made the Xfinity Series Playoffs and posted seven top fives and 13 top 10s. Cindric’s task is tall, as Team Penske hasn’t won a driver title since Brad Keselowski did so in 2010.
Cindric will look to turn his luck around at Daytona this weekend. He has made two starts on the high banks and both ended early with DNFs – his series average finish at Daytona is a 36.5.
Jeffrey Earnhardt Joins Brandon Jones and Christopher Bell in Joe Gibbs Racing’s Stable – A well-known last name will be joining the already talented stable at Joe Gibbs racing this season – Jeffrey Earnhardt – grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, nephew of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and son of former driver Kerry Earnhardt, will be piloting the No. 18 Toyota alongside teammates Brendan Jones and Christopher Bell.
Earnhardt will be stepping into the new level of expectations this season at JGR as his teammates are coming off solid 2018 seasons. Jones made the Playoffs last year for the second time in his Xfinity career and rallied off 17 top-10 finishes. Bell was even more impressive, setting the NASCAR Xfinity Series single-season record for wins with seven and making the Championship 4.
Bell has made two series career starts at Daytona. His series debut ended in a wreck and 39th-place finish, but when he returned in July, he redeemed his previous effort with a third-place finish. Bell’s teammate Brandon Jones has made six starts at Daytona, posting one pole (2017 Feb. race), two top 10s and an average finish of 17.7. Of Earnhardt’s seven career Xfinity Series starts, his most recent, 2015, was his best finish (16th).
John Hunter Nemechek Will Attempt To Lead GMS Racing To Their First Xfinity Title – John Hunter Nemechek made a splash in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last season with Chip Ganassi Racing despite only running part-time – so much so, GMS Racing has signed him to pilot their No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro team with crew chief Chad Norris in 2019.
Nemechek has 18 starts in the Xfinity Series with one win, six top fives and 11 top 10s. His average finish last season was a strong 10.1.
Justin Haley To Try His Luck In Xfinity With Kaulig Racing – Capitalizing on his recent success in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Justin Haley has taken the next step in his career and will drive the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet with crew chief Nick Harrison in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2019.
Haley ripped off three wins last season in the Truck Series and made the Championship 4. This season he heads to Daytona looking to not only go for a championship but also rookie of the year honors.
Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 team has made six starts at Daytona with drivers Blake Koch and Ryan Truex and both were able to finish in the top 10 at least once.
2019 Sunoco Rookie of The Year Class Full Of Big Talent
Each season the NASCAR Xfinity Series takes pride in showcasing the up-and-coming talent in NASCAR and this season is no different as the 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year class is full of high-quality talent. Below is a quick look at the four drivers that vie for this year’s rookie honors (alphabetical order):
Representing Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi this season will be Chase Briscoe, driving the No. 98 Ford Mustang with crew chief Richard Boswell II. Briscoe won the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year award in 2017 and the series’ most popular driver award that season, as well.
Representing JR Motorsports this season will be Noah Gragson, driving the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro with crew chief David Elenz. Yes, the David Elenz that has led the last two rookie drivers to drive the No. 9 car, William Byron (2017) and Tyler Reddick (2018), not only to the rookie of the year title but also the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship.
Representing Kaulig Racing this season will be Justin Haley, driving the No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro with crew chief Nick Harrison. Both Haley and Harrison are new to Kaulig Racing this season. Haley is making the jump to the Xfinity Series after a career year in the Truck Series with GMS Racing. Harrison has worked in all three NASCAR national series as a crew chief and most recently was working with RCR in the Xfinity Series before moving over to Kaulig Racing this season.
Representing GMS Racing this season will be John Hunter Nemechek, driving the No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro with crew chief Chad Norris. Nemechek has continued progress with his driving talents with each time he is behind the wheel. On a limited schedule last season, he won one race and grabbed 11 top 10s. Nemechek was also most popular driver in the Truck Series back in 2015.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
What’s in a name?
The 2019 season brings a new look to NASCAR’s Truck Series.
Last May, NASCAR and Camping World announced an expansion to their partnership agreement that provides Gander Outdoors naming rights to the rebranded NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019.
Camping World originally became title sponsor of the Truck Series in 2009. In 2014, NASCAR and Camping World signed a landmark seven-year agreement, continuing the partnership through 2022. The newly expanded agreement announced last year provides official NASCAR status and naming rights to Camping World’s partner brand, Gander Outdoors.
Gander Outdoors, formerly known as Gander Mountain, was purchased and rebranded by Marcus Lemonis, Chairman of Camping World, in May 2017.
“Nearly a decade ago we felt strongly our entitlement sponsorship would dramatically increase Camping World’s customer base and it’s delivered,” said Lemonis. “We expect the passionate fans of NASCAR will embrace Gander Outdoors the same way they supported Camping World and we couldn’t be more excited about the future of the series.”
What’s old is new again for defending race winner
The 2018 winner of the NextEra Energy 250 is back to defend his Daytona crown – but it will be with a different team and number than rode into Victory Lane with him last year.
But don’t expect him to face any growing pains in his “new” ride.
Because Johnny Sauter is going home in a way – reuniting with ThorSport Racing in the No. 13 truck – a number he drove for them in one race in 2005 (Homestead-Miami Speedway) and then for the 2009-2012 seasons. He remained with ThorSport through 2015, switching to the No. 98 for his final three years under their umbrella.
Sauter and ThorSport parted ways after the 2015 season, and the 40-year old Wisconsin native then paired up with GMS Racing to capture the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship in 2016 and 13 wins over three seasons from 2016-2018.
It was announced at the beginning of January that Sauter would not be returning to GMS, and now he finds himself back with ThorSport for the season-opener in Daytona.
And he’ll have a familiar voice in his ear calling the shots from atop the pit box. Also moving over to ThorSport with Sauter is his good friend and crew chief Joe Shear Jr. The pair originally worked together from 2004-2012…and then reunited halfway through the 2016 championship run.
Together, Sauter and Shear have 20 wins in the series – accounting for all but three of Sauter’s 23 career truck wins. Of note – Shear also has 23 total career wins atop the pit box (his other three wins coming with Kasey Kahne in 2015 and with Cole Custer in 2014 and 2015).
Last year’s Daytona win was Sauter’s third in the season-opener. The first came in 2013 with a ThorSport Toyota and the other two with a GMS Chevrolet.
That makes Sauter the only driver to have won the Daytona race with two different manufacturers – and he’ll be looking to make it three as this time around with ThorSport, he’ll be driving for the win in a Ford.
New look for the reigning champ
Brett Moffitt put together a storybook season in 2018.
Widely considered the underdog on the little-team-that-could, Hattori Racing Enterprises, he won his first race of the season at Atlanta. And then went on to tally six wins total – including the most important of all – the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, netting him the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.
But the story didn’t have a perfectly happy ending as Moffitt and Hattori broke up at the end of the season. That was to the benefit of GMS Racing, who snagged the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year and put him in the No. 24 Chevrolet for this season.
In addition to his six wins in 2018, Moffitt recorded 13 top 10s – all of which also happened to be top-five finishes.
He’ll be partnered with veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter, who is no stranger to the truck series. He guided Kaz Grala to the Daytona season-opening win in 2017 for GMS. Prior to joining GMS in 2017, Baxter spent four seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports, mentoring the likes of Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez and Matt Tifft.
ARCA Menards Series drivers sticking around to enjoy Florida sun
If you’ve been following the Speedweeks activity this year, you’ll notice the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series entry list has a lot of familiar names.
Nine drivers have stuck around since their Saturday race in the Lucas Oil 200 to contend in Thursday night’s NextEra Energy 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). And that includes three of the top four and five of the top seven finishers from last weekend.
Race winner Harrison Burton and second-place finisher Todd Gilliland will be starting off their 2019 full-time campaigns for Kyle Busch Motorsports this Thursday under the lights.
Burton will be a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender this season in the No. 18 Toyota. He actually has 15 Truck Series races under his belt over the past three years – with a total of four top-five and seven top-10 finishes. He also won the pole at Iowa last year, where he posted one of his two third-place finishes (Phoenix).
Gilliland raced for the rookie title last year, but missed four races at the beginning of the year on tracks 1.5-miles or longer due to age restrictions – he had to wait until he turned 18 in May to race on those tracks. But in 19 series starts last year, he put together six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes while also grabbing the pole award at the fall Martinsville race. He’ll be back in the No. 4 for KBM.
Christian Eckes was fourth on Saturday and will looking to make his fifth career Gander Outdoors Truck Series start, Codie Rohrbaugh (seventh last weekend) is aiming for his third series start and Natalie Decker (sixth on Saturday) looks to make her first series start.
Tyler Dippel, Bobby Gerhart, Jason White and Gus Dean all also ran in Saturday’s ARCA race and are looking to make the field on Thursday night.
ARCA champ moving up
2018 ARCA Menards Series champion Sheldon Creed is making the jump to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series this year and will be piloting the No. 2 Chevrolet for GMS Racing with Doug Randolph atop the pit box.
Creed won four races last year en route to the title, while also posting an impressive 16 top fives and 18 top 10s in the 20 races. His average start was 4.7 while his average finish was 4.2.
A contender for the 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, Creed has seven Truck Series starts under his belt, including five last year – four with GMS Racing. His best result was a fifth-place finish in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Full stable of talent at Daytona for ThorSport
ThorSport Racing is coming to Daytona full of NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver star power with five well-known names behind the wheels of their Ford rides.
Two-time series champion (2013, 2014) Matt Crafton leads the driver line-up once again – and may arguably be the most hungry of the crew. The veteran of 430 races over 19 years in the series has been in an unusual drought – his last win was at Eldora, of all places, in July, 2017.
That marks 35 races since his last trip to Victory Lane – and 2018 was his first winless season since 2012.
2016 Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter returns to his former team after spending the past three seasons with GMS Racing. He is the defending winner of this Daytona race, and, in fact, is looking for his fourth win on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Grant Enfinger returns to the No. 98 for the team, coming off a Round of 8 appearance in the Playoffs and a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the fall. He other win in the series came in 2016 at Talladega, when he ran a part-time schedule of just eight races.
In 60 career Truck Series starts, he has 18 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes along with three poles.
Ben Rhodes enters his fourth full-time season in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, all with Thorsport, and hopes this is his breakout season. The Kentucky native has one win in each of the past two seasons (Las Vegas in 2017 and Kentucky in 2018) and those two years were a marked improvement over his rookie season.
He posted just two top fives and five top 10s in 2016, but jumped up to six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 2017, then had eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes last year.
Rounding out the ThorSport lineup for the season opener is 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Myatt Snider in the No. 27 Ford. Snider tallied a trio of top fives and eight top 10s last year.
Natalie Decker looking to make Truck Series debut
Natalie Decker hopes Daytona marks her first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Series.
DGR-Crosley announced in November that the ARCA Menards Series regular would be racing a combination of Truck, ARCA and NASCAR K&N Pro Series races in 2019 as part of their driver development program.
Decker ran a full-time slate in ARCA in 2018, recording two top-five and nine top-10 finishes. She also recorded a pole in the season-opening race at Daytona.
Last Saturday, Decker finished sixth in the ARCA Menards Series Lucas Oil 200 on the 2.5-mile track.
Decker does have one previous qualifying attempt in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series from Martinsville in 2016.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Gander RV Duel At Daytona
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Thursday, February 14
The Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 5:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: Two qualifying races – each race is 150 miles (60 Laps)
2018 Winner: Duel 1 – Ryan Blaney; Duel 2 – Chase Elliott
Next Race: Daytona 500
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Sunday, February 17
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 500 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)
2018 Winner: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: NASCAR Racing Experience 300
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, February 16
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (120 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 120)
2018 Winner: Tyler Reddick
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: NextEra Energy 250
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Friday, February 14
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 250 miles (100 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 100)
2018 Winner: Johnny Sauter
Article by NASCAR Media
Published with their permission