NASCAR Cup Series
Do it again, Denny!
Last year’s emotional win of the NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 was the start of an exciting and noteworthy season. Denny Hamlin, who won the historic race once before in 2016, did it again – but this time in honor of team owner Joe Gibbs’ late son J.D. Gibbs. J.D. was a big part of Hamlin’s life and career, but lost his battle with a neurological illness the month in January of 2019.
The win was the first of a career-high six on the season for Hamlin. He finished the 2019 season with 19 top fives, 24 top 10s and three pole awards. He automatically locked into the Playoffs with his win and went on to continue his run all the way to the Championship 4.
The season was also one to remember for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. Three of their four drivers made it into the Championship 4, with Kyle Busch winning the season-ending trophy. The team won a combined, record-setting 19 wins in 2019.
Hamlin has two wins at the 2.5-mile superspeedway with eight top fives and nine top 10s.
Hamlin and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson are the only two active drivers to have won two Daytona 500 races, and only three drivers in series history have ever won back-to-back Daytona 500 events (Sterling Marlin – 1994, 1995; Cale Yarborough – 1983-1984; Richard Petty – 1973, 1974).
There would likely be a pretty big party at Daytona if Hamlin were able to become the fourth.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year class outlook
This season marks one of the most highly anticipated Sunoco Rookie of the Year classes.
Tyler Reddick, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, made the jump to the Cup Series with Richard Childress Racing and will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet.
Cole Custer, two-time runner-up in the Xfinity Series championship standings, will compete for Stewart-Haas Racing in the No. 41.
Christopher Bell, one of the winningest drivers in the Xfinity Series in recent years, will be behind the wheel of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota in 2020.
John Hunter Nemechek took over the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford for Matt Tifft at the end of the 2019 season after he suffered health issues and then ended up signing with the team fulltime for 2020.
Quin Houff will be making his rookie debut in the No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet.
Brennan Poole will pilot the No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet in 2020 and will make his Cup Series debut at Daytona.
Seven drivers in NASCAR Cup Series history secured their career-first victory with a win in the Daytona 500. Could a rookie be the one to do it?
With a stacked rookie class that showed so much talent and took the Xfinity Series by storm, Sunday’s Daytona 500 might be one for the records.
Who gets it done first?
Aside from the rookies this season in the NASCAR Cup Series, there are still some drivers that have yet to get their first career win.
William Byron has come close multiple times but hasn’t been able to get it done. Byron started on the pole in the 2019 Daytona 500 and got his career-best finish at the track in the July race in second. And he’s had a great 2020 Speedweeks – winning the second BlueGreen Vacation Duel on Thursday night – his first trip to Victory Lane with legendary crew chief Chad Knaus.
Matt DiBendetto has a lot of momentum on his side, too. DiBenedetto and Leavine Family Racing parted ways after the 2019 season and DiBenedetto signed with the famous Wood Brothers Racing team to pilot the No. 21 Ford. He’s come close to a win multiple times, too, and has shown his talent week in and week out. A first win for him isn’t too far off, either.
Bubba Wallace is another driver looking for his first career win and Daytona is a very good place for the driver of the famed No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet. In 2018, Wallace finished runner-up in the Daytona 500 – one of his most memorable career moments to date.
New team, new results
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who made the move from Roush Fenway Racing to JTG Daugherty Racing in the offseason, won the Busch Pole Award for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
This is Stenhouse’s third career pole. His second pole, which came at Talladega Superspeedway in 2017, led to his first career victory. Stenhouse had never won a pole at the famed Daytona International Speedway prior to last weekend.
Stenhouse is making his 16th start at Daytona on Sunday. He has one win at the track (2017) and two top fives, three top 10s and has led 97 laps.
With the motivation of a new team and a whole lot to prove, Stenhouse might be able to pull off a major victory for himself and his small team in JTG Daugherty Racing.
The Daytona 500 has been won from the pole position nine times; a winning percentage of 14.7 percent.
There have been a total of 43 different drivers to have won a pole for the 500 and only seven of those 43 drivers are active this weekend.
The pole position is the most important starting position in the Daytona 500 field, producing more winners than any other position (nine). Sixteen of the 61 Daytona 500s have been won from the front row.
But, Stenhouse will have to reverse recent history to make it to Victory Lane for the second time from pole.
It’s been 20 years since a pole winner won the race. Dale Jarrett won the pole and the Daytona 500 in 2000. And the last top-five finish in the race for a pole-winner was Bill Elliott back in 2001 when he finished fifth.
Bowman back up front
While Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leads the field to green on Sunday, Alex Bowman will be right beside him on the front row. The Hendrick Motorsports driver earned his third consecutive front-row starting position in the 500.
In fact, in all three of his Daytona 500 starts since joining Hendrick Motorsports for the 2018 season, he has started on the front row. He earned the Busch Pole Award in 2018 and last season, he started second.
In general, Hendrick Motorsports tends to be extremely hot at Daytona.
Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 Daytona 500 poles, the series-most, and won a record five Daytona 500 poles in a row (2015-2019).
Jimmie Johnson, who announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2020 season, has three wins at Daytona with 12 top fives, 16 top 10s and two pole awards.
He is responsible for 83 of the fastest laps run and has 4,225 quality passes to lead the series. Johnson, along with Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch lead all active Cup Series drivers in Daytona 500 starts with 18.
Johnson won the Cup Series championship twice in the same season that he won the Daytona 500 (2006, 2013).
Winners on winners on winners
There are only seven active Daytona 500 winners set to hit the track for Sunday’s 62nd running of the historic race. They are Denny Hamlin (two wins), Jimmie Johnson (two wins), Austin Dillon (one win), Joey Logano (one win), Kevin Harvick (one win), Kurt Busch (one win) and Ryan Newman (one win).
Richard Petty leads the series all-time in Daytona 500 victories with seven. The NASCAR Hall of Famer won in 1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, and 1981.
The youngest Daytona 500 winner is Trevor Bayne. He won at 20 years old in 2011 and Bobby Allison is the oldest Daytona 500 winner. He won in 1988 at 50 years old.
Five reigning NASCAR Cup Series champions have gone on to win the Daytona 500 the season after winning the championship. Lee Petty in 1959, Richard Petty in 1973, Cale Yarborough in 1977, Jeff Gordon in 1999 and Dale Jarrett, most recently, in 2000.
Five drivers have also gone on to win the championship in the same season they won the Daytona 500.
Six times in history the winner of the Busch Clash at Daytona has gone on to win the Daytona 500 the following weekend.
1982: Bobby Allison
1987: Bill Elliott
1996, 2000: Dale Jarrett
1997: Jeff Gordon
2016: Denny Hamlin
FYI: Stats to know for the Daytona 500
- Dale Earnhardt leads the list of all-time Duel winners with 12. Of active drivers, Denny Hamlin leads the list with three.
- Kyle Busch has the best driver rating (91.2) at Daytona but has never won the 500.
- A total of 554 different drivers have competed in at least one Daytona 500 and 334 have competed in more than one.
- Chase Elliott leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series in average starting position in the Daytona 500 at 6.0 and he became the youngest Daytona 500 pole winner at the age of 20 in 2016.
- The Daytona 500 race record is held by Buddy Baker from 1980 (177.602 mph, 02:48:55).
- The Wood Brothers have won 15 races at Daytona, more than any other organizations.
- A total of 65 different drivers have won at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Daytona International Speedway sets the stage for Xfinity’s 2020 season opener
The 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season is upon us and Daytona International Speedway is all set to host this weekend’s NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Daytona International Speedway has hosted 56 NASCAR Xfinity Series races (1982-2019) producing 41 different pole winners and 31 different race winners.
Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick won the pole for the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona last season and JR Motorsport’s Michael Annett won the race.
Close Xfinity Series finishes are the norm at Daytona
Ever since the inception of electronic scoring in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 1996, close finishes of less than a second have been the norm at Daytona International Speedway.
Since 1996, the Xfinity Series has competed at Daytona 42 times. 31 of the races ended under green and all 31 finished with a margin of victory of less than a second; including the closest finish in NASCAR national series history (0.0004 second) in the 2018 Xfinity season opener.
Below are the last five margins of victory in the season-opening race at Daytona:
|Margin of Victory||Race Winner||Runner-Up||Date|
|0.1160||Michael Annett||Justin Allgaier||February 16, 2019|
|0.0004||Tyler Reddick||Elliott Sadler||February 17, 2018|
|0.2180||Ryan Reed||Kasey Kahne||February 25, 2017|
|0.0430||Chase Elliott||Joey Logano||February 20, 2016|
|0.0890||Ryan Reed||Chris Buescher||February 21, 2015|
Stealing Wins: Late race passes happen at Daytona
Unpredictability. That’s what comes to mind when you think of the finishes at Daytona International Speedway, especially as of late in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Last-lap passes for the win have happened in the closing laps of the last six season-opening races at Daytona; including two on the last lap:
2014: Regan Smith passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap to win by just 0.013 second.
2015: Ryan Reed passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap to win by just 0.089 second.
2016: Chase Elliott passed Joey Logano and led the last 14 laps to win by a scant 0.043 second.
2017: Ryan Reed passed Brad Keselowski with two laps to go to take the checkered flag and the victory by a mere 0.218 second.
2018: Tyler Reddick took the lead with what turned out to be 11 laps to go in NASCAR Overtime and then held off the field for two more overtime restarts (for five total overtime restarts in the race) to win the closest race in NASCAR history (0.0004 second).
2019: Michael Annett took the lead on the final restart with 45 laps to go and held off several hard chargers to win his first NASCAR Xfinity Series career race by 0.116 seconds over Justin Allgaier.
Five drivers make up 2020 Xfinity Sunoco Rookie of the Year class
This season five drivers are vying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors – Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst, Jesse Little, Joe Graf Jr., and Kody Vanderwal.
Each week the highest finishing rookie of the race will be awarded with Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award and the rookie who finishes the season highest in the driver championship points will win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Harrison Burton (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) from Huntersville, N.C. will work with crew chief Ben Beshore this season. The 19-year old has nine previous Xfinity starts in his career but will be making his series track debut this weekend at Daytona. Among his nine previous Xfinity starts, his best finish was fourth at Iowa in 2019. Burton is the son of former NASCAR Cup Series driver and current NBC Sports TV analyst Jeff Burton.
Riley Herbst (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) from Las Vegas, Nev. will work with crew chief Dave Rogers this season. The 20-year old has made 10 Xfinity Series starts, all for Joe Gibbs Racing, including the July Daytona race last season where he started 11th and finished 18th.
Jesse Little (No. 4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet) from Sherrills Ford, N.C. will work with crew chief Bryan Berry this season. Little will be making his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Little is the son of former NASCAR Cup Series driver Chad Little.
Joe Graf Jr. (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing Chevrolet) from Mahwah, New Jersey will work with crew chief Patrick Donahue this season. Graf made three starts last year for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series, including a start at Daytona – where he started sixth and finished 23rd. This season he will compete fulltime with SS Green Light Racing.
Kody Vanderwal (No. 52 Means Motorsports Chevrolet) from LaSalle, Colorado is not entered this weekend at Daytona International Speedway but is expected to compete for rookie of the year this season. J.J. Yeley is driving the Means Motorsports No. 52 this weekend at Daytona. Vanderwal has cut his teeth competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series driving for Levin Racing.
Garage Talk: Lots of new faces in new places
The NASCAR Xfinity Series offseason saw some shuffling of the drivers and teams, below is a quick update on who is where:
Ross Chastain has been tapped to run fulltime with Kaulig Racing and their No. 10 team with crew chief Bruce Schlicker. Chastain won the July race at Daytona last year, giving Kaulig Racing their first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory. Now the Florida native and famous watermelon farmer is looking to bring the organization its first series title. Chastain has made 11 series starts at Daytona, posting one win, six top 10s and an average finish of 12.4.
Myatt Snider makes his Richard Childress Racing debut as a part-time driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet this season. Snider will share time behind the wheel with Anthony Alfredo as newly named crew chief Andy Street will try and guide them to an owner’s championship for RCR. Snider is slated to drive five of the first seven races on the schedule, as well as the fall race at Martinsville and the season-ending race at Phoenix. This will be Snider’s Xfinity Series track debut this weekend at Daytona.
Joe Graf Jr. joins SS Green Light Racing at run for championship this season in the No. 08 Chevrolet. Graf has three Xfinity career starts under his belt, all for Richard Childress Racing last season. He participated in the July Daytona race in 2019; he started sixth but finished 23rd after being caught in an incident.
Jeb Burton will be in the JR Motorsport’s No. 8 Chevrolet this season on a part-time basis with crew chief Taylor Moyer; including this weekend at Daytona. The Virginia native and son to former Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton, ran seven Xfinity races last season with JRM posting a career-bests in starting position (fourth at Texas) and finishing position (fourth at Indianapolis). Has made two series starts at Daytona posting one top five.
Grizzled Vets: Drivers to watch in 2020
As always, the drivers we recognize, know and love are returning for another shot at a NASCAR Xfinity Series title this season – the veterans.
The JR Motorsports contingent of Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season looking to bring JRM its fourth Xfinity driver championship and third consecutive season-opening victory. A win this weekend would be JR Motorsport’s seventh overall win at Daytona International Speedway (2019-1, 2018-1, 2017-2, 2016-1 and 2014 sweep). Annett won last season’s opener by a scant 0.116 second over his teammate Justin Allgaier in second.
Team Penske’s Austin Cindric returns to challenge for a 2020 title after his breakout season in 2019 where he posted his first career wins (Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio), made the Playoffs and finished the year a career-best sixth in points. He’s made four starts at Daytona in the Xfinity Series posting two top fives – including a fifth-place finish in this event last season. Team Penske has four owner championships in the Xfinity Series, but Cindric is looking to bring them their first driver title this season.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones returns to the No. 19 Toyota Supra with crew chief Jeff Meendering atop the pit box in 2020. Jones will have two rookie teammates this season in Harrison Burton and Riley Herbst. Both will lean on Jones this season, especially after his breakout season in 2019 where he produced his first Xfinity career victory (Kansas) and finished a career-best third in this race at Daytona last season.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe returns for the 2020 season looking to build on his successful first season with the team. Briscoe finished 2019 as the Sunoco Rookie of the Year with a career-best fifth in the Xfinity Playoffs, and he got his second career Xfinity win (Iowa). Looking to this weekend he has made just two starts at Daytona, both last season for SHR, posting a finish of 12th in this event. SHR won its first Xfinity Series owner championship last season with Cole Custer and this season looks to capitalize on a driver championship with Briscoe.
Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley returns to the No. 11 Chevrolet team led by crew chief Alex Yontz for the 2020 season. Haley is looking to build on his rookie season last year that saw four top fives, 20 top 10s and a Playoff berth. This year, Haley will have a new fulltime teammate in Ross Chastain. Haley has just three series starts at Daytona posting a best finish of runner-up in the July race last season. Haley also won the rain-shortened NASCAR Cup Series July Daytona race last season for Spire Motorsports.
Xfinity party part-timers at Daytona
For some drivers, this weekend is the beginning of a 33-race championship, but for others it’s just about the checkered flag, the win and the celebration in Victory Lane. Which makes it no surprise several part-time Xfinity Series drivers are taking aim at Daytona this weekend.
One such driver specifically tapped to drive this weekend to challenge for the win is veteran AJ Allmendinger. The California wheelman will be jumping into the Kaulig Racing No. 16 Chevrolet this weekend with crew chief Lennie Chandler calling the shots from the pit box. Allmendinger was dominate in his lone Xfinity Series Daytona start last season leading 33 laps and crossing the start-finish line in the top five but was subsequently disqualified and dropped to 38th after failing post-race inspection. In total last season Allmendinger made five starts with Kaulig Racing, posting one win (Charlotte ROVAL), two top fives and a pole.
2018 Gander Trucks champ Brett Moffitt will help the newly formed Our Motorsports make their NASCAR Xfinity Series debut this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Moffitt will pilot the No. 02 Chevrolet. Moffitt has only made three Xfinity Series starts in his career with a best finish of ninth at his home track Iowa Speedway. This will be Moffitt’s series track debut this weekend.
Hattori Racing Enterprises made their NASCAR Xfinity Series debut last season with driver Austin Hill and this weekend return to the series for a shot at Daytona. Hattori Racing Enterprises primarily races in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and the organization won the Gander Trucks season-opener last year. Hill made his Xfinity Series debut last season with owner Carl Long at Indianapolis – he started 17th and finished ninth.
Parade Laps: Insights to the drivers in the media breakouts this week
To kick off the 2020 season at Daytona International Speedway four NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers – JR Motorsports driver and defending winner of this race Michael Annett, Stewart-Haas Racing driver and 2019 Xfinity Sunoco Rookie of the Year Chase Briscoe, Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones – will participate in the Xfinity media breakout sessions on Friday, February 14 at 3:30-3:45 p.m. ET at the Media Center Press Conference Room.
Michael Annett (No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro)
Birthdate: June 23, 1986
Driver’s Age: 33
Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa
Hobbies: Cycling, working out, boating
Team: JR Motorsports
Crew Chief: Travis Mack
Xfinity Career Highlights:
- Won first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race in the 2019 season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, qualifying him for the Playoffs; ultimately finished the season ninth in points.
- In 2017, he made the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs and finished the season ninth in the championship standings.
- In 2012, finished a career-best fifth in the series championship driver standings.
Daytona International Speedway Performance:
- Has made 16 series starts at Daytona posting one win (2019), two top fives and three top 10s.
- Average start, 13.9 and his average finish, 20.7.
Chase Briscoe (No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang)
Birthdate: December 15, 1994
Driver’s Age: 25
Hometown: Mitchell, Indiana
Hobbies: Spending time with family, online racing, watching sports
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
Crew Chief: Richard Boswell II
Xfinity Career Highlights:
- In 2019 — his first fulltime Xfinity Series season – Briscoe made a huge statement in the series with one win, 13 top fives, 26 top 10s and two poles. He also made it into the Playoffs and competed for a spot in the Championship 4 before being eliminated in the Round of 8.
- In 2018, he ran 17 races for Roush Fenway Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi and won the inaugural race at the Charlotte Road Course.
- Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2018 at Atlanta.
Daytona International Speedway Performance:
- Has made two series starts at Daytona posting a best finish of 12th in this race last season.
- Average start, 10.0 and average finish, 23.5.
Justin Halley (No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro)
Birthdate: April 28, 1999
Hometown: Winamac, Ind.
Hobbies: Muscle car restoration, surfing, fishing and hunting, triathlons, mountain biking
Team: Kaulig Racing
Crew Chief: Alex Yontz
Xfinity Career Highlights:
- In 2019, he posted four top fives and 20 top 10s and made the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in his rookie year but was eliminated in the first round; finished the season 12th.
- He secured his career-best finish in the Xfinity Series of second in July at Daytona.
- Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Iowa Speedway in 2018.
Daytona International Speedway Performance:
- Has made three series starts at Daytona, posting one top five.
- His average start, 17.0 and his average finish is 12.3.
Brandon Jones (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra)
Birthdate: February 18, 1997
Driver’s Age: 22
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Hobbies: Woodworking, antique car restoration, metal fabrication, farming
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew Chief: Jeff Meendering
Xfinity Career Highlights:
- In 2019, Jones earned his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Kansas Speedway. He qualified for the Playoffs for the third time and finished 10th in the final standings.
- In 2018, he tallied a career-best finish of second at Talladega and reached the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs for the second time, finishing a career-best ninth in the standings.
- In 2017, he captured his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series pole (Daytona-1).
- In 2016, he made the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in his rookie season; ultimately finishing a then career-best 10th in the standings.
Daytona International Speedway Performance:
- Has made eight series starts at Daytona, posting one top five, three top 10s and a pole (2017).
- His average start, 12.2 and his average finish is 17.4.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
New year, new name
The start of the 2020 series is also bringing an adjustment to the look of the trucks.
In 2019, NASCAR and Camping World announced an expansion to their partnership providing naming rights to the rebranded NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
In 2020, that name is going to change, again… but just a little. It will now be referred to as the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
With the logo change also comes a new sponsor for the pole award. Cometic Gasket is now the official sponsor of the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series pole award.
Daytona’s NextEra Energy 250 will be the start of the Cometic Gasket Pole Award for the Gander Trucks Series.
Tilton Engineering and Xceldyne Valve Train Component also joined the series as contingency sponsors this season.
Daytona kicks off highly anticipated Gander Trucks field
The offseason brought a lot of changes to the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Although there will be a lot of familiar faces on the Gander Trucks lineup, there will also be a lot of new fulltime faces. Familiar faces will stick with familiar teams, while others have jumped to different ones to start off 2020. There will also be quite a few names that moved to another series making starts in the series.
The following drivers are 2020 rookie-of-the-year candidates:
- No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota – Raphael Lessard
- No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet – Zane Smith
- No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota – Christian Eckes
- No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet – Ty Majeski
- No. 15 DGR-Crosley Ford – Tanner Gray
With a handful of new full-time faces in the Truck Series, take a look at some of the names that might make the biggest impact on the 2020 season.
Zane Smith made 10 Xfinity Series starts in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. He accumulated two top fives and seven top 10s. With only one Gander Trucks start under his belt at Gateway, Smith will be tackling his rookie season with Kevin Manion leading the way as crew chief. In the ARCA Menards Series, Smith has driven for Venturini Motorsports and MDM Motorsports, finishing second in the championship with MDM in 2018. Smith is also a member of the 2020 NASCAR Next class and the Drivers Edge Development program.
Ty Majeski turned heads with his successful Late Model career and is taking over the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet from Ross Chastain. Majeski has made one career start in the series and finished 11th at Phoenix. Majeski started his career on dirt karts in Wisconsin and later moved up to racing those Late Models on asphalt. After that, he went on to the touring series and was the ARCA Midwest Tour champion in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, while winning the Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2014.
Raphael Lessard is only 18 years old and has made five starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He earned two top 10s and his experience in Late Models could certainly help him while competing for the rookie-of-the-year honors. Champion crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. will also take the lead for Lessard. Lessard became the second non-American to win the CARS Super Late Model series championship at age 15.
Tanner Gray made three starts in the Gander Trucks in 2019 and will now pilot the No. 15 DGR-Crosley Ford fulltime in 2020, while competing for Sunoco Rookie of the Year. The 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champion made his debut on the Martinsville short track just eight months after making his first stock car start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and New Smyrna Speedway. Gray became the youngest NHRA national event winner in April in 2017 and then he went on to with the championship in 2018, his second year in the division.
Christian Eckes was crowned the 2019 ARCA Menards Series champion and made eight starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports, where he also shined. He earned three pole awards, three top fives and four top 10s. Rudy Fugle, another champion crew chief, will be atop the pit box for Eckes and it’s expected that they’ll be contending for a lot of wins.
Todd Gilliland notched his first career win in 2019 for Kyle Busch Motorsports but will be transitioning to Front Row Motorsports for 2020. Front Row Motorsports partnered with DGR-Crosley to field in an entry for Gilliland.
The veteran scoop
Johnny Sauter is no stranger to success at Daytona International Speedway. Sauter will be making his 12th start at the superspeedway, looking to clinch his fourth win at the historic track. The driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford has three wins (2013, 2016, 2018) with four top fives and five top 10s. Four of Sauter’s finishes outside of the top 10 were a product of being involved in a crash (2009, 2010, 2012, 2019). In 2019, Sauter finished 23rd after starting 17th. But, with the experience he has, he’ll be looking for redemption on Friday night.
On the other side of things, veteran and reigning champion Matt Crafton, hasn’t had the best of luck at Daytona International Speedway. He will be making his 20th start at the track on Friday, the most of any active driver but has yet to take home the trophy. Crafton’s best finish at the track is fifth (twice; 2010 and 2019). He only has those two top-five finishes and eight top 10s. He’s only led eight laps at Daytona in his career and has four DNF’s. But, since 2019 was one of his two fifth-place finishes and he’s coming off another championship season, maybe 2020 will be the year he checks a Daytona win off his list.
Silver anniversary for ThorSport Racing
ThorSport Racing is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series at the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, February 14 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Their current drivers will sport special silver paint schemes on their Ford F-150s at the track this weekend to kick off the season.
Since its launch, ThorSport has accumulated 12 consecutive seasons with at least one win in the Gander Trucks series. They have made it to Victory Lane a total of 30 times with drivers Terry Cook, Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter, Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger and Chase Briscoe. The team has 253 top fives, 533 top 10s and 33 pole awards to their name. ThorSport has finished in the top 10 in points 27 times with reigning champion Matt Crafton doing it 13 consecutive seasons (2007-2019).
ThorSport Racing has four drivers’ championships total including one in the ARCA Menards Series with Frank Kimmel and three in the Gander Trucks series all with Crafton. The team also owns three Rookie of the Year titles (2007, 2009 and 2018).
Additionally, the top two drivers with the most consecutive starts in series history have done so behind the wheel of a ThorSport truck, including Crafton with 453 starts.
Can Hill do it again?
Austin Hill had a career-best season in 2019 and it all started off at Daytona International Speedway.
Hill secured his first career win in his first season with Hattori Racing Enterprises. The win was only the start, though, as he went on to win three more times, including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hill may not have hoisted the championship trophy at the end of the season, but he did have seven top-five finishes and 13 top-10 finishes with three pole awards.
Todd Bodine is the only driver in series history to have won back-to-back at Daytona (2008-2009).
Toyota dominated with eight consecutive wins at Daytona from 2007 to 2014, but Hill was the first Toyota driver to have won for the manufacturer at the track since 2014.
Coming off a career-best season with four wins and clinching the first races of the season as well as the last, Hill has to have some motivation heading into Friday night’s race.
To the pole
Only four drivers in NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series history have won the pole award as well as the race at Daytona International Speedway.
2001 – Joe Ruttman
2006 – Mark Martin
2007 – Jack Sprague
2017 – Kaz Grala
In total, seven races of the 20 races run have been won from the front row. Last season, Austin Hill started in the 10th position and went on to win the season-opener but before that, it was three years of winners from the front row.
NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Etc.
Hey, I know you: Some big names from Gander Trucks history will be back behind the wheel of a truck this weekend. John Hunter Nemechek, who now competes fulltime in the Cup Series for Front Row Motorsports, will pilot the No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports Ford. Ross Chastain will be back with Niece Motorsports for the weekend behind the wheel of the No. 40 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet, but is competing fulltime in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing. Riley Herbst will be competing for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the No. 51 Toyota.
Back, back again: Niece Motorsports enters the 2020 season with a hefty lineup of drivers for their three trucks. Ty Majeski is the only fulltime driver for the team in the No. 45 Chevrolet. Other drivers will be behind the wheel of the Nos. 40 and 44 throughout the season including Natalie Decker, Ross Chastain, Ryan Truex, Jett Noland and Carson Hocevar. Chastain ran fulltime for Niece Motorsports last year, earning the team their first career wins as well as a run for the title. They came up short, though, as Chastain finished second in the points behind Crafton.
ARCA takeover: The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will have a lot of champions hit the track on Friday night – ARCA Menards Series champions. Among those are Sheldon Creed (2018 champion), Christian Eckes (2019) and Grant Enfinger (2015). Additionally, Derek Kraus won the ARCA West championship last year. Creed was fulltime with GMS Racing last season, where he got four top fives and 11 tops 10s. Kraus ran select races in the Gander Trucks series for Bill McAnally Racing and Eckes ran on a part-time basis for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Enfinger is the veteran Gander Trucks competitor among the group, entering his fourth fulltime season with ThorSport Motorsports. Zane Smith finished second in the 2019 ARCA championship and will also run a truck fulltime this season. All of the ARCA champs will be completing fulltime this season for another crown – just in a different series this time.
— NASCAR —