Raphaël Lessard‘s 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season has come to an abrupt end. On Monday, GMS Racing announced Lessard will not return to the team or the #24 Chevrolet Silverado effective immediately. The team remained vague in its reasoning, but Lessard confirmed his departure is related to funding issues and clarified a return for 2022 is not out of the picture.
“Due to unfortunate circumstances, Raphaël Lessard will no longer compete in the #24 for GMS Racing for the remainder of the 2021 season,” read a team statement. “Information on the #24 entry will be announced at a later date.”
After losing his ride at Kyle Busch Motorsports, Lessard joined GMS last November on what was originally a twelve-race schedule with the possibility of elevating to a full-time slate if he acquired enough sponsorship. This prospect was realised in January as he was promoted to run all twenty-two races after securing the sufficient funding.
Across the first seven races, Lessard recorded two top-ten finishes and a best run of third at Bristol in March. He sits thirteenth in points. However, the pandemic resulted in his sponsorship taking a hit. In a personal press release, he cited “unfavourable conditions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic on the North American economy” that prevented him and his team from “implement(ing) their strategy in the search for funding in 2020. They are now turning their attention to preparing for the 2022 season, based on the driver’s major accomplishments since his start in NASCAR, on the groundwork already established this year, and on the anticipated economic recovery on both sides of the border.
“My management team and I have always believed in our ultimate success and we still do. Over the last years, we have focused all our energies on completing full seasons in the upper echelons of NASCAR, and we have achieved that goal recently,” said Lessard. “However, we are currently in a situation where we cannot continue this season, and it’s hard to accept that fact. All I have ever wanted is to be behind a steering wheel and win.”
While he has not revealed his 2022 plans, Lessard’s statement implies a potential return to GMS if possible: “We are not putting an end to all things racing. My dream is still to race in the Daytona 500 and see my parents sitting in the stands. We are open to opportunities and most importantly, we are working with GMS Racing to come back stronger in 2022. That is our goal.”
Ryan Reed is entered in the #24 for Friday’s race at Darlington Raceway. Reed made his return to NASCAR after a two-year absence in mid-April.
Despite finishing first and second in the 2020 Truck championship battle, sponsorship issues have plagued GMS throughout the 2021 season. Reigning champion Sheldon Creed and 2020 runner-up Zane Smith have run much of the year with blank trucks, with the former receiving funding from his grandfather while both drivers have leaned on series sponsor Marcus Lemonis for sponsorship at times.