When the initial entry list for the NASCAR Xfinity Series‘ race at Daytona International Speedway was posted on Monday, Natalie Decker was tabbed as the driver of the #5 Ford Mustang for B.J. McLeod Motorsports. Two days later, however, the team announced Patrick Emerling has come aboard to pilot the car.
As Decker revealed later on Wednesday, the driver change came due to her sponsor Diesel Beverages not having been approved by NASCAR in time for the #5 to be wrapped in the branding. Diesel sells drinks made from terpene, an aromatic compound that can be found in cannabis plants, though the company stresses cannabinoids like THC and CBD are not present in their products. While drug sponsors have increased as NASCAR grows more accepting in recent years (notably with Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick being supported by hemp product company 3CHI), prospective sponsors must still undergo the approval process. Such steps are different for makers of cannabis and other related drug products due to federal laws surrounding them, which might evoke comparisons to the ban on tobacco sponsorship, and their legalisation is a fiercely debated topic in Congress.
“A lot of you have already seen that I’m on the entry list for Daytona racing in the Xfinity series,” began a statement posted by Decker. “I wanted to put this post out so there is no confusion, I will not be racing Daytona Because my sponsor is not cleared yet to be on a car in NASCAR.
“The product is having to go through testing and this is a standard protocol for any hemp/CBD company wanting to be apart of any NASCAR race. We had this deal come together very last minute and the testing takes a few days so with that being said we wouldn’t have gotten the results back in time for NASCAR to ok the paint scheme in time for the race. The product has gone through testing very similar because it’s sold on Amazon. I don’t want there to be any confusion to it not passing the test. NASCAR just has their own protocol and testing facility that they have to use in order to clear it.
“I’m really thankful and excited to have this opportunity with Diesel beverages and hopefully soon you will see me at a track near you with this paint scheme.”
A mock-up of Emerling’s #5 indicates it will be a blank car.
Had the sponsorship been approved, Decker would be making her sixth attempt at an Xfinity start in 2022. After failing to qualify for the season opener at Daytona with Reaume Brothers Racing, she finished thirty-fifth at Martinsville for RSS Racing. Another DNQ came with MBM Motorsports at Talladega before she made her next two tries with the team at Nashville (thirty-second) and Atlanta (twenty-seventh). While limited, the six entries are an increase from her five in 2021, her début season in Xfinity.
Emerling co-runs Emerling-Gase Motorsports, who is fielding the #35 for his fellow owner Joey Gase. The team also has a #53 that showed up to the first Daytona and Talladega races with Gase, though is not entered for Saturday as the #5 will be a de facto EGM machine. Emerling has run eight Xfinity races in 2022 with a pair of top-twenty finishes at Portland and New Hampshire. Daytona will be Emerling’s first crack at superspeedway racing.
The #5 is thirty-third in owner points with eight other drivers behind the wheel: Brandon Brown, Joe Graf Jr., Scott Heckert, Matt Mills, Stefan Parsons, Ryan Preece, Nick Sanchez, and Josh Williams. Preece, a Cup veteran, is the only driver to score a top ten with a fifth and sixth in his two runs at Charlotte and Nashville, respectively.