Canadian driver D.J. Kennington will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the second year in a row, the team announced Monday.
Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will drive the No. 96 Toyota sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts and Castrol.
The team, sponsor and driver combination made the 2017 edition of the race, making Kennington the first Canadian driver to compete in the Daytona 500 in 29 years.
Kennington started 28th and finished 36th following a multi-car crash at the start of Stage 2.
“Last year was an awesome experience for my sponsors, Lordco and Castrol, and me,” Kennington said in a press release. “We knew once it was over, we wanted to do it again. (Team owner) Marty (Gaunt) and everybody at GBR is pulling out all the stops for us this year. I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry and seeing the difference a year makes.”
The 40-year-old driver has five Cup starts with a best finish of 26th in last November’s race at Phoenix.
Gaunt Brothers Racing does not own a charter, meaning Kennington is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.
One of the best elements of the Daytona 500 is how unexpected drivers – some may call them underdogs – can emerge to win the “Great American Race.”
Over the last half-century, several unexpected drivers went on to win the 500, including Pete Hamilton (1970), Geoffrey Bodine (1986), Derrike Cope (1990), Ernie Irvan (1991), Sterling Marlin (1994-95), Michael Waltrip (2001, 2003), Ward Burton (2002) and one of the biggest underdogs to ever win the race, Trevor Bayne (2011).
Heading into Sunday’s 59th edition of the Daytona 500, two drivers stand out as underdogs: Canadian driver D.J. Kennington and Corey LaJoie.
Kennington, 39, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will be making his second career NASCAR Cup start Sunday. His previous start was last fall at Phoenix (finished 35th).
The 25-year-old LaJoie, son of former Xfinity Series champ Randy LaJoie, will be making his third career start in the NASCAR Cup Series. His other two starts came in the fall of 2014 (41st at New Hampshire and 35th at Charlotte).
Kennington may be relatively new to the Cup series, but he’s a veteran of CASCAR, NASCAR’s Pinty’s Canadian Series (108 starts, eight wins), the Xfinity Series (50 starts) and the Camping World Truck Series (five starts).
Don’t be surprised if Kennington is a bit wide-eyed and awestruck heading into Sunday’s race.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Kennington, who is driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing. “I can’t explain it really. Coming off of four (of Thursday’s Duel), I wasn’t in the race. When we crossed the line, I was, so just an unbelievable feeling for us.”
Kennington’s achievement is made all the more outstanding given he wasn’t able to practice prior to Thursday’s Duels.
“Never being in one of these cars, never drafting out here before, it was a pretty big deal for me, a lot of learning, I tell you,” he said. “At the end we made it in. That’s huge for us.
“The hard part is over. We’re going to have some fun now.”
Kennington is not only racing for himself and his team, he’ll also be racing for his country.
“There’s only been eight of us Canadians that have made the 500, so that’s huge for us,” he said
As for LaJoie, he qualified for BK Racing even though he was involved in a late crash with Reed Sorenson in the first of Thursday’s two Can-Am Duel races.
“Every kid in a race car dreams of racing in a Daytona 500, and I get to do that on Sunday,” LaJoie said.
He gets to race against his idols in the sport’s biggest race.
“Man, you come here idolizing Jimmie (Johnson), Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., all of these guys,” LaJoie said. “I’m fans of all of these guys and I get to race all of them on Sunday. It’s amazing. The big man has got a plan. I’m excited to get up there and dice it up.
“It’s been a hard road and I’ve still got a long way to go, but it starts Sunday.”
Among those entered into the race are two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, who is making his final NASCAR start. He will drive the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports. Elliott Sadler, a veteran of 12 full-time Cup seasons, will attempt to make his first Cup start since 2013 and his first Daytona 500 start since 2012. He will drive the No. 7 owned by Tommy Baldwin Racing.
Daniel Suarez, the defending Xfinity Series champion, will make his Cup debut driving the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Gaunt Brothers Racing plans to enter all four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series restrictor-plate races this season, beginning with the Daytona 500.
D.J. Kennington will seek for the qualify for the season-opening race. The team has no charter and is not guaranteed a starting spot.
Other non-chartered teams that have announced plans to vie for a Daytona 500 starting spot are: Tommy Baldwin Racing (Elliott Sadler) and car owner Mark Beard (Brendan Gaughan). Michael Waltrip also has stated on Twitter he will compete but has not offered any other details.
Gaunt Brothers Racing is owned by Marty Gaunt, president of Triad Racing Technologies.
“With the recent unveiling of the 2018 Toyota Camry, we feel that now is the right time to return to the racetrack,” said Gaunt, whose Triad engines powered five championship-winning Toyota drivers and contributed to multiple manufacturer championships at the NASCAR national level, in a statement.
The team competed in what is now the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in 2011. Gaunt Brothers Racing is fielding a Toyota Camry in partnership with Triad client RAB Racing, which is led by Robby Benton. RAB Racing will supply cars, shop space and technical support.
“Our aspirations will be no small task, but we know what we need to do to position ourselves to make this a successful effort,” Benton said in a statement. “We’ll transition over to the Daytona 500 after competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona with our sports car program later this month.”
Kennington, who is from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, is a two-time NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion. He made his Cup debut last fall at Phoenix International Raceway, placing 35th.
No driver has been announced for the team at the other three restrictor-plate races this season.