NASCAR Cup SeriesNASCAR Truck SeriesNASCAR Xfinity Series

Chase Elliott, Brett Moffitt, Ben Rhodes to start NASCAR Daytona RC from poles

9 Mins read
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A week removed from the season-opening Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Truck Series prepare to hit the infield road course for the second year. After qualifying was conducted for the oval, the starting lineup for the three RC races will be set using a formula introduced during the 2020 season.

The formula, which was created as a means to bypass physical qualifying as part of condensed race weekends in the wake of COVID-19, is calculated based on a driver’s finish in the previous race (weighted 25 percent), the car’s finish in said race (25 percent), 2021 owners’ points (35 percent), and the fastest lap in the race (15 percent). For the Xfinity and Truck races, both of their fields were increased from thirty-six and thirty-two drivers to forty, and this will continue to be the case for all races without qualifying. Nevertheless, controversy has pervaded the lineup as numerous smaller teams within the lower series find themselves locked out after being unable to run last week’s races.

After running the numbers, Ben Rhodes will lead the field to green in Friday’s BrakeBest Select 153, while Brett Moffitt does so in Saturday’s Super Start Batteries 188 and Chase Elliott in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 325.

Cup: Elliott starts on pole for O’Reilly Auto Parts 325

If it’s a road course race, you have to put money on Elliott to make some noise. The reigning Cup champion enters the Daytona RC looking for his second straight win on the layout and fifth consecutive on a road course.

Michael McDowell, the Daytona 500 winner, will start second. Although a longtime underdog who went 357 Cup races without a win (the second most in series history), he has proven to be a more-than-capable road racer as a former open-wheel and sports car driver; in 2016, he won the Xfinity race at Road America in a one-off, while he finished tenth in last year’s Daytona RC event. The front-row start will be the best of McDowell’s Cup career, topping his third at Charlotte’s Thursday night race last spring (courtesy of a field invert). It is also the first time that McDowell started inside the top ten on a road course, with his previous best being eleventh at Watkins Glen on three occasions (2012, 2016, 2019).

As the formula accounts for finish in the previous race and the Daytona 500 took out numerous drivers due to wrecks, the rest of the field includes unconventional names starting in different spots than one may expect. For example, Corey LaJoie finished ninth in the 500 for Spire Motorsports—a team whose lone top ten prior to 2021 was a rain-shortened win with Justin Haley—and will start seventh, a nine-spot improvement over his previous high, coincidentally at said 500. Haley will serve as LaJoie’s team-mate as he replaces the one-off Jamie McMurray in the #77; while McMurray finished eighth in the 500, the driver change knocks the #77 down to twenty-second as the formula counts a driver’s finish in addition to the car (Haley did not run the 500, giving him no priority in the math).

Other driver changes include A.J. Allmendinger taking over the #16 of Kaulig Racing from Kaz Grala and starting his first Cup race since 2018 in thirty-fourth, James Davison replacing newly-retired Derrike Cope in Rick Ware Racing‘s #15 (starting thirty-ninth), and Garrett Smithley in RWR’s #53 over Joey Gase. Scott Heckert will make his Cup début in the #78 for Live Fast Motorsports in place of owner/driver B.J. McLeod (who has often tasked Heckert with road starts for his Xfinity team), though the team will likely announce the move later in the week. Some names at the back are teams that failed to qualify for the 500 such as Ty Dillon for Gaunt Brothers Racing (thirty-eighth) and Timmy Hill for MBM Motorsports (fortieth).

StartNumberDriverTeamManufacturer
19Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
234Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord
33Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
411Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
54Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord
637Ryan PreeceJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet
77Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet
85Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
942Ross ChastainChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet
1023Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota
1122Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord
1220Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
1341Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord
1418Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
152Brad KeselowskiTeam PenskeFord
1647Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet
171Kurt BuschChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet
1814Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord
1919Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota
2077Justin Haley*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet
2151Cody WareRick Ware RacingChevrolet
2224William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
2352Josh BilickiRick Ware RacingFord
248Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
2553Garrett Smithley*Rick Ware RacingFord
2610Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord
2712Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord
2878Scott HeckertLive Fast MotorsportsFord
2900Quin HouffStarCom RacingChevrolet
3017Chris BuescherRoush Fenway RacingFord
3138Anthony AlfredoFront Row MotorsportsFord
3221Matt DiBenedettoWood Brothers RacingFord
336Ryan NewmanRoush Fenway RacingFord
3416A.J. Allmendinger*Kaulig RacingChevrolet
3599Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet
3648Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
3743Erik JonesRichard Petty MotorsportsChevrolet
3896Ty Dillon*Gaunt Brothers RacingToyota
3915James DavisonRick Ware RacingChevrolet
4066Timmy Hill*MBM MotorsportsFord
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points
Credit: Our Motorsports

Xfinity: Moffitt gets super starting spot for Super Start Batteries 188, debate surrounds DNQs

While Moffitt is racing for the Truck championship, he is also running the full Xfinity schedule for Our Motorsports. After finishing second to Austin Cindric in the opener, the two will flip places for the road course event; Cindric won the 2020 RC race.

Rookie Ryan Vargas, who acquired sponsorship from New Orleans running back-turned-NASCAR fan Alvin Kamara‘s Big Squeezy juice chain, will start a career-best twelfth; he is not the only NFL RB-backed driver as Joe Graf Jr. is supported by Buffalo Bills’ Antonio Williams, who issued a friendly challenge to Kamara in which whoever finishes behind the other donates to a charity of the winner’s choice. Ty Gibbs takes over the #54 of Joe Gibbs Racing from Ty Dillon and will start fifteenth in his maiden Xfinity race, while Kris Wright starts nineteenth in his own series début for Sam Hunt Racing, replacing Brandon Gdovic in their #26. Miguel Paludo will start thirty-fifth in his first NASCAR race since 2013 for JR Motorsports, driving the #8 piloted by Josh Berry in the opener. Natalie Decker is scheduled to make her Xfinity début for RSS Racing in the #23 (driven by Jason White last week, no relation to the Truck driver).

Forty-four drivers were on the initial entry list, but the lack of qualifying prompted four teams to withdraw: the #03 of Andy Lally (Our), the #31 of Jordan Anderson (Jordan Anderson Racing), the #77 of Ronnie Bassett Jr. (Bassett Racing), and the #91 of Preston Pardus (DGM Racing). The four cars are new for the 2021 season and had missed the previous week’s race because they had no 2020 owners’ points to lock them in when the field was set by points due to a rained-out qualifying. Although the #48 of Big Machine Racing, which sports car veteran Jade Buford will drive after Danny Bohn did so on Saturday, is also a new team, they acquired points from the #93 of RSS; Buford will start twenty-eighth, incidentally alongside RSS driver Ryan Sieg.

As they could not compete in the opener to accumulate 2021 points, it is also unlikely that the quartet, all of whom had full-time plans, will be able to race in the immediate future unless entry list sizes decrease. The next race with qualifying is not until Circuit of the Americas in May, effectively prohibiting them from joining the grid regardless of their equipment and driver capabilities.

“With the qualifying rainout in Daytona and no chance to race on Saturday, our new team is essentially blocked from racing in the Xfinity Series until the next event that allows qualifying in late May,” Anderson wrote in a statement on Sunday“We needed to be in the race Saturday to earn points to be able to race in the events with no qualifying going forward, as those fields are set by points.

“We are only made stronger when we weather the storms and persevere to keep fighting. This is just another chapter in our journey to learn from and be thankful for.”

On a preseason episode of his podcast The Drivers MeetingTommy Joe Martins, who rolls off the grid in twentieth, went into detail about the owner points and how the Xfinity lineup is set for the Daytona RC and next week’s Homestead race.

“Only thirty-six cars get into Daytona (oval). We’re not qualifying at the Daytona road course, so forty cars get in there,” Martins said. “Well, that’s kind of strange, how are we going to set the other four cars that get in the Daytona road course, AND get in the following race at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

“Here’s how we’re going to do it: the top thirty in the points from last year are still going to be guaranteed that same ticket into those next two races. […] But for everybody thirty-first and back in the points: tough, hate it for you. Because what they’re going to do is revert to the current season points starting at the second race of the year.

“Those cars that get in at Daytona are then basically guaranteed entry into the next two because they’re going to have points over everybody else. But what about those four open spots? That still doesn’t get us the four open spots, that gets us thirty-six cars but that doesn’t give us the extra four. They’re going to base it off of your qualifying time at Daytona International Speedway. […]

“So your qualifying time wasn’t good enough to get you into the race at Daytona, but it actually WAS good enough to get you in at the Daytona Road Course and at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of those four open spots, which is […] you’re not getting the full paycheck here, but you are getting entry into the race and a chance to earn points. Some people might turn that down, they might just go, ‘You know what? We’re not getting paid enough to even go down there,’ and if they do, then it would kind of move back to the next person that would.

“[…] In a way, not making it still gets you into the next two races, and it’s kind of crazy. In NASCAR’s defense here, I don’t really see how they do it any other way. What’s the other fair way of doing it?”

Despite the situation dooming the #03 and #91, Lally and Pardus will still get their opportunities to race in locked-in cars. Lally moves to B.J. McLeod Motorsports‘ #99 car, which was driven by Stefan Parsons in the opener but did not have a driver listed on the preliminary entry list, while Pardus replaces Caesar Bacarella in DGM’s #90. The two will start next to each other in Row #12.

With the withdrawals, all forty drivers will make the race.

StartNumberDriverTeamManufacturer
102Brett Moffitt*Our MotorsportsChevrolet
222Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord
310Jeb BurtonKaulig RacingChevrolet
420Harrison BurtonJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
518Daniel HemricJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
616A.J. AllmendingerKaulig RacingChevrolet
768Brandon BrownBrandonbilt MotorsportsChevrolet
82Myatt SniderRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
907Joe Graf Jr.SS-Green Light RacingChevrolet
105Matt MillsB.J. McLeod MotorsportsChevrolet
1147Kyle WeathermanMike Harmon RacingChevrolet
126Ryan VargasJD MotorsportsChevrolet
1378Jesse LittleB.J. McLeod MotorsportsChevrolet
144Landon CassillJD MotorsportsChevrolet
1554Ty GibbsJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
1698Riley HerbstStewart-Haas RacingFord
1766Timmy HillMBM MotorsportsFord
1851Jeremy ClementsJeremy Clements RacingChevrolet
1926Kris Wright*Sam Hunt RacingToyota
2044Tommy Joe MartinsMartins MotorsportsChevrolet
2123TBARSS RacingChevrolet
2292Josh WilliamsDGM RacingChevrolet
2390Preston PardusDGM RacingChevrolet
2499Andy LallyB.J. McLeod MotorsportsChevrolet
257Justin AllgaierJR MotorsportsChevrolet
269Noah GragsonJR MotorsportsChevrolet
2739Ryan SiegRSS RacingChevrolet
2848Jade BufordBig Machine RacingChevrolet
2911Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet
3052Gray GauldingJimmy Means RacingChevrolet
3174Bayley CurreyMike Harmon RacingChevrolet
3215Colby HowardJD MotorsportsChevrolet
331Michael AnnettJR MotorsportsChevrolet
3461Stephen LeichtMBM MotorsportsToyota
358Miguel PaludoJR MotorsportsChevrolet
3636Alex LabbéDGM RacingChevrolet
370Jeffrey EarnhardtJD MotorsportsChevrolet
3817Cody Ware*SS-Green Light RacingChevrolet
3919Brandon JonesJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
4013TBAMBM MotorsportsFord
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Xfinity points
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Truck: Rhodes receives best selection for BrakeBest Select 159

Last Friday, Rhodes edged out Anderson and Cory Roper to win the Truck race on the oval. Unlike the parent series, the Truck race winner will start on the pole for the road race. Niece MotorsportsRyan Truex and Carson Hocevar will start second and third, respectively, while Roper’s sixth is his second-best career starting position.

Various teams made changes to their driver lineup for the race, including bringing in ringers and other one-off names. For example, Anderson’s #3 will be piloted by Trans-Am Series driver Bobby Reuse; his brother Roger was initially entered in the #49 of CMI Motorsports before withdrawing, as did CMI’s #83 for Tim Viens. Bobby was previously Jordan Anderson Racing’s ringer in 2019. Wright has been replaced by Grala in the #02 Young’s Motorsports truck as the former prepares for the Xfinity race instead.

Three teenage drivers—Jett Noland, Parker Chase, and Lawless Alan—are making their series débuts. Last year’s Trans-Am TA2 Rookie of the Year, Noland’s 2020 plans with Niece Motorsports were aborted due to COVID-19 and pushed to 2021, and he will finally get his shot when he starts thirty-fifth in their #44 that he takes over from James Buescher. Chase, an IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge driver with experience on the Daytona RC in both his series and the Rolex 24 Hours, will start twenty-second in a #51 owned by his 2020 Rolex team-mate Kyle Busch. Alan, an ARCA Menards Series West driver and holder of one of the coolest names in racing, will run Reaume Brothers Racing‘s #34 in Jesse Iwuji‘s place and start last.

Riley Herbst, new to the Ford camp, will drive the #17 for David Gilliland Racing as a means to gain more track time on the road course ahead of the Xfinity race; he finished seventh in last year’s Xfinity event on the layout as a Toyota driver. It will be his first Truck race since the Daytona oval opener in 2020 and his first career road race in the series. Gilliland piloted the #17 to a fourteenth-place run last Friday. Interestingly, the move means DGR will have two Monster Energy-endorsed drivers in their lineup for the race as rookie Hailie Deegan will be Herbst’s team-mate, though Factory Canopies will sponsor the latter’s truck.

Sam Mayer will run his first race in Henderson Motorsports‘ #75, which has been driven by Parker Kligerman on a part-time basis since 2016. Kligerman missed last Friday’s race.

Starting in thirty-seventh is Camden Murphy for NEMCO Motorsports. A Monster Jam driver who has sporadically competed in the Truck and Xfinity Series since 2014, Murphy finished nineteenth at Bristol in his lone 2020 Truck race with NEMCO. NEMCO owner Joe Nemechek failed to qualify the #8 in the previous week’s race.

StartNumberDriverTeamManufacturer
199Ben RhodesThorSport RacingToyota
240Ryan TruexNiece MotorsportsChevrolet
342Carson HocevarNiece MotorsportsChevrolet
44John Hunter NemechekKyle Busch MotorsportsToyota
52Sheldon CreedGMS RacingChevrolet
604Cory RoperRoper RacingFord
79Codie RohrbaughCR7 MotorsportsChevrolet
818Chandler SmithKyle Busch MotorsportsToyota
988Matt CraftonThorSport RacingToyota
1020Spencer BoydYoung’s MotorsportsChevrolet
1121Zane SmithGMS RacingChevrolet
1224Raphaël LessardGMS RacingChevrolet
133Bobby ReuseJordan Anderson RacingChevrolet
1422Austin Wayne SelfAM RacingChevrolet
1530Danny BohnOn Point MotorsportsToyota
1698Christian EckesThorSport RacingToyota
1710Jennifer Jo CobbJennifer Jo Cobb RacingChevrolet
1833Jason WhiteReaume Brothers RacingChevrolet
1913Johnny SauterThorSport RacingToyota
2016Austin HillHattori Racing EnterprisesToyota
2145Brett MoffittNiece MotorsportsChevrolet
2251Parker ChaseKyle Busch MotorsportsToyota
231Hailie DeeganDavid Gilliland RacingFord
2402Kaz Grala*Young’s MotorsportsChevrolet
2517Riley HerbstDavid Gilliland RacingFord
2626Tyler AnkrumGMS RacingChevrolet
2725Timothy PetersRackley WARChevrolet
2812Tate FoglemanYoung’s MotorsportsChevrolet
2923Chase PurdyGMS RacingChevrolet
3052Stewart FriesenHalmar Friesen RacingToyota
3119Derek KrausMcAnally-Hilgemann RacingToyota
3238Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord
3315Tanner GrayDavid Gilliland RacingFord
3456Timmy Hill*Hill MotorsportsChevrolet
3544Jett NolandNiece MotorsportsChevrolet
3675Sam MayerHenderson MotorsportsChevrolet
378Camden MurphyNEMCO MotorsportsFord
3841Dawson CramCram Racing EnterprisesChevrolet
396Norm BenningNorm Benning RacingChevrolet
4034Lawless AlanReaume Brothers RacingToyota
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Truck points
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History major at San Jose State University and lifelong motorsports fan who covers NASCAR and the Stadium Super Trucks.
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