By Dustin Albino
MBM Motorsports had a busy offseason, changing over from Toyota to Ford, in preparation for the Daytona 500. Their driver lineup? That wasn’t finalized until the week leading into Speedweeks, when Garrett Smithley announced he would be piloting the No. 13 car.
Along with Smithley at MBM for the 500 was veteran driver, Timmy Hill, who raced in all 36 Cup Series races last season with the race team. However, MBM doesn’t own a charter, meaning both of its cars would have to qualify its way into the Great American Race.
That began on Wednesday evening (Feb. 10) in single-car qualifying. Unfortunately for the Nos. 13 and 66 teams, they turned the 37th and 39th quickest speed, meaning both would have to race into the Daytona 500 through the Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel races.
Early on, it was looking good for both. Prior to pitting on lap 35 in the opening Duel, Hill was second among the open cars, only behind Austin Cindric. When Cindric sped on pit road, it opened up an opportunity for the No. 66 team, though Hill lost the draft after pitting with Toyota drivers Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Ty Dillon (also an open car). By losing the draft, Hill had to stay in the throttle longer, and evidently came up one lap short on fuel, finishing 19th, 14 positions short of clinching a spot for Sunday.
“It was looking decent and when we came in and pitted we got back out, but I don’t know if we had a brake drag or a transmission problem,” Carl Long, owner of MBM told Jayski.com on Friday morning. “It just did not want to get up to speed between third and fourth gears and he lost the draft. Very disappointed that we didn’t get that one in.”
For Hill, it’s the second time he’s failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 in three attempts. Last season, he was the Cinderella story in the second Duel after JJ Yeley wrecked out late, handing the No. 66 car a spot.
But for Smithley, he was attempting to make his first start in the Great American Race via the second Duel. The No. 13 car would have to finish ahead of David Ragan (timed his way in on Wednesday), Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala.
Just like the first Duel, it was looking good for MBM, with Smithley slicing and dicing his way through the field, even after going for a spin on lap 35 when a multi-car crash ensued after Chase Briscoe spun in the middle of the pack. Following that, the No. 13 raced as high as eighth, having his eyes set on Gragson, who was hovering around the cutoff position.
But that all changed with four laps remaining when, Smithley began coming down the racetrack entering Turn 1 as Brad Keselowski was coming up. Ultimately, the No. 13 hooked the No. 2 car, causing a five-car wreck, including Gragson.
Ragan went on to race his way into the 500, and based on qualifying speed, Grala was awarded the final spot into Sunday’s big race. Smithley finished two laps down in 16th.
“He was racing the [No.] 62 car, that’s the one he needed to pass,” Long said. “You’ve got two people aiming at the same spot on the racetrack. Smithley got into the back of Keselowski and turned him into [Gragson]. I hate that happened and everybody else that got involved.
“We had no choice. But you’re trying to race your way in; maybe that move could have been changed a little bit. Everybody can say would of, could of, should of, but that’s what Smithley was there to do. He was very quick and I think although we did not make the 500, his Trophy Tractor sponsor that he brought along with him got a ton of TV time. They should be proud.”
For each Duel, Long sat atop the pit box for both of his racecars. With the pressure-packed racing, the 53-year-old said he’s “immune” to the duress it takes of making the 500. In all his times coming down to Daytona as a team owner, just once has he been guaranteed a spot because all 40 cars made the race (2018 with Mark Thompson).
Though the result didn’t have a favorable outcome for Long, he’s delighted that his drivers left it all out on the racetrack and came close to getting into the show.
“To be where we were at and have a legitimate shot of making the race, staying in the lead draft and the chance of racing our way in makes you proud as a team owner,” Long stated. “But pride has nothing to do with paying the bills. I hope that we ran well enough that people who are drivers that have sponsors – or sponsors themselves – will realize that we are a legitimate place for them to do business with.
“The ultimate goal is to come out here and show people we can produce a product that they can spend money on. We don’t need that much, but we do need some influx of cash, especially since the $20,000 of money from the open purse has disappeared.”
Over the offseason, NASCAR took away the money for the open cars to compete in. That, as well as missing out on two potential huge payouts with the 500 leaves MBM in a precarious situation.
“At least we do get a small check for running in the qualifying races,” Long noted. “It’s not like we go home completely broke, but we spent way more than what’s coming in.
“That’s one of the things I do as a team owner is, I make sure that if we come to the racetrack and we fail and don’t go home with a check, that we’re not out of business. … We will go forward and be back with Timmy racing on the road course down here.”
For now, the plan is to have Hill run the Daytona road course race next Sunday (Feb. 21) and at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Feb. 28) to pile up some much needed points. That would go along way for when NASCAR switches over to 2021 points to determine the starting lineups.
Certainly, though, missing the Daytona 500 has put MBM behind.
“That’s slowing me down quite a bit,” Long said. “I’ve made revisions for us to try to get through Phoenix in the Cup car. We hope that we’ve put on a decent enough show and stirred up enough interest that some of the people we’re talking with will jump on board to sponsor us. Right now for next week at the Daytona road course race, we absolutely have zero sponsorship.”
Because NASCAR took away the open team money, Long added he would need at least $20,000 in sponsorship money to break even from last year. But in a perfect world, the team would generate somewhere between $35,000 and $50,000 to be able to compete every weekend.
So why continue if the team is losing money?
“Because if you’re not out there playing and showing people that you are a legitimate team, and the thing we have to do is – it’s kind of like playing poker and I don’t know if I need to reveal my hand,” Long said. “With the qualifying situation being set on current points, I need to run these few races to make sure we have enough points with our Cup team so when a sponsor doe materialize and come together, we’re able to go race. If I sit at home and I’m able to sell the sponsorship, but we didn’t go to the races and don’t have any points and not in the top 40 , there’s no use of selling the sponsor because we can’t even go to the racetrack.
“I’m just trying to get ahead of the other guys that I’m racing without a charter.”