Jerry Bonkowski

Getty Images

Natalie Decker to run part-time Truck slate for Niece Motorsports in 2020

Leave a comment

Niece Motorsports announced Thursday that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2020.

The Eagle River, Wisconsin, native will drive the No. 44 Chevrolet Silverado. It’s expected that Decker will run at least eight Truck races, with the possibility of adding more as the season plays out. Decker’s first race will be the season-opening NextEra 250 on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

“Change is inevitable, change is expected and exciting, and change is also frightening,” Decker said in a media release. “But this year is a year I’m ready for! I have never felt so prepared with my health, in the gym, and mentally.

“There are so many things to be excited about working with Niece Motorsports, starting with my teammates Ross (Chastain) and Ty (fellow Wisconsin native Ty Majeski). I’m ready to learn from them and be 100% open minded going into the season!”

Decker joins Niece Motorsports after competing in 19 races last season for DGR Crosley. Photo: Niece Motorsports.

The 22-year-old Decker will also have Carson Hocevar as a Niece Motorsports teammate.

“We are excited to have Natalie join the team,” said team owner Al Niece.  “Natalie has shown a lot of talent, and we are excited to see her continue to develop that at Niece Motorsports.  We are certain we will put her in competitive equipment that will really give her a chance to shine.”

Decker, who spent the 2015 season as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program with Rev Racing, joins Niece Motorsports after making 19 starts last season for DGR-Crosley and finishing 19th in the overall standings.

Her best finish last season was 13th at Las Vegas. It was a difficult first year in the Truck Series for her, recording nine DNFs, including eight early exits due to crashes.

She previously raced full-time in the ARCA Menards Series in 2018, including earning the pole and finishing fifth in the season opener at Daytona. She went on to finish seventh overall in the season standings.

Decker also announced that in addition to her part-time Truck Series slate with Niece Motorsports, she’ll run a full six-race schedule in the SGT-Trans Am West Coast Series for AVE Motorsports. She’ll be behind the wheel of a GT-4. The season begins March 14 at Sonoma Raceway.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Meet the NASCAR Cup rookie Class of 2020

Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the most talented and promising rookie classes in recent NASCAR Cup history is ready to get its motor racing.

Six drivers have declared for their first full Cup season as well as being eligible for Rookie of the Year honors.

Highlighting the Class of 2020 are the so-called “Big 3,” Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and two-time Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick, who all reached the Xfinity Championship 4 round at Miami.

Also in the rookie class are Brennan Poole, John Hunter Nemechek and Quin Houff. Each of the six has an opportunity to become the first full-time rookie to win a Cup race since Chris Buescher did so in 2016.

Here’s a breakdown of each rookie class member (in alphabetical order):

Christopher Bell (Getty Images)

Christopher Bell
2020 team: Leavine Family Racing
2019 team: Joe Gibbs Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 0
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 16/7
What’s ahead: Bell makes the long-anticipated move to the Cup Series in 2020. Because his former Xfinity Series team, Joe Gibbs Racing, had a full driver roster in the Cup Series, Bell has been farmed out to Leavine Family Racing in a partnership/technical alliance with JGR, similar to when JGR placed Erik Jones with Furniture Row Racing in 2017 (which was also the year Bell won the Truck Series championship). Bell will be sponsored by Rheem and Procore and his crew chief from the Xfinity Series, Jason Ratcliff, follows him as his Cup crew chief. Bell replaces Matt DiBenedetto, who has moved on to take the place of Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing, who has stepped away from Cup racing

Cole Custer (Getty Images)

Cole Custer
2020 team: Stewart-Haas Racing
2019 team: Stewart-Haas Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 3 (all in 2018; best finish was 25th at Las Vegas)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 9/2
What’s ahead: Like Bell and Reddick, it’s time for Custer to make the big jump from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series. Custer will drive the No. 41 Ford, replacing Daniel Suarez, whose racing plans for 2020 are still unclear. Custer had a breakthrough season in the Xfinity Series in 2019, earning a career-best seven wins, 17 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. He also finished second in the Xfinity Series for the second straight season. He’ll bring his Xfinity crew chief Mike Shiplett to the same role in Cup. … Is the son of SHR general manager Joe Custer.

Quin Houff (Getty Images)

Quin Houff
2020 team: StarCom Racing
2019 team: Split Cup season between 13 starts for Spire Motorsports and four starts for Premium Motorsports)
Number of Cup starts to date: 17, all in 2019 (best finish 28th in Coca-Cola 600)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 0
What’s ahead: The 22-year-old Houff replaces Landon Cassill in the No. 00 Chevrolet. Houff’s contract covers both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. … Houff competed in 17 Cup races last season but remains eligible for Rookie of the Year honors in 2020. … No crew chief has been named for the team yet; Joe Williams was crew chief for Cassill last season but was released from the team after the season-ending race at Miami. … Houff’s racing resume includes not only his 17 Cup starts last year, but also 10 career Xfinity starts, one ARCA Menards West start, five ARCA Menards Series starts and 19 CARS Super Late Model Tour starts.

John Hunter Nemechek (Getty Images)

John Hunter Nemechek
2020 team: Front Row Motorsports
2019 team: GMS Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 3 (all in 2019, best finish 21st in fall Texas race)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 1/6
What’s ahead: The son of veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek moves to Front Row Motorsports to drive the No. 38 Ford Mustang in 2020 after 1 ½ seasons of racing in the Xfinity Series. He earned one career Xfinity win (2018 at Kansas), but reached victory lane six times while driving a Truck (2013-2019). … Barely missed making the Xfinity Championship 4 round at Miami; finished seventh in the season standings. … Takes over the No. 38 from David Ragan, who has retired from active full-time racing in the Cup Series. Ragan’s former crew chief, Seth Barbour, remains in that role with Nemechek

Brennan Poole (Getty Images)

Brennan Poole
2020 team: Premium Motorsports
2019 team: On Point Motorsports (Truck Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 0
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 0/0
What’s ahead: Poole is slated to compete in his first full season since the 2017 Xfinity campaign. He was supposed to run a full slate in 2019 in the Truck Series, but On Point Motorsports was forced to scale back plans due to sponsorship issues. Still, he managed to score one top-five and four top-10 finishes in 13 starts for the underfunded team. … Poole has never driven in a Cup race before, but he has 83 starts in the Xfinity Series, including eight top five and 36 top-10 finishes. … Crew chief is NASCAR veteran Pat Tryson.

Tyler Reddick (Getty Images)

Tyler Reddick
2020 team: Richard Childress Racing
2019 team: Richard Childress Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 2 (both in 2019, best finish of ninth at Kansas 1)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 9/3
What’s ahead: After winning consecutive Xfinity Series championships, Reddick moves up to the Cup Series in the No. 8 Chevrolet, replacing Daniel Hemric. It’s notable that Reddick won the 2018 Xfinity championship with JR Motorsports, and then won the 2019 title with RCR. … Caterpillar will once again sponsor the car. … Randall Burnett will be Reddick’s crew chief.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Bill McAnally Racing names 2020 ARCA Menards West driver lineup

Bill McAnally Racing
Leave a comment

Bill McAnally Racing on Tuesday announced its 2020 roster of drivers in the ARCA Menards West Series.

The roster includes two male and two female drivers: Giovanni “Gio” Scelzi, Jesse Love, Gracie Trotter and Holley Hollan.

Plans call for all four drivers, who are also part of Toyota’s driver development program, to run the full schedule in the ARCA Series West, along with other additional select ARCA races. In addition to each driver running for the West championship, they will all also contend for the West Rookie of the Year award.

There will also be bragging rights on the line, as the next race winner for BMR will give the organization its 100th career win between the ARCA Menards Series West and East divisions (formerly NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and East).

“We’re very enthusiastic about our lineup of drivers for the 2020 season,” McAnally said in a media release. “We anticipate plenty of excitement from this talented roster of newcomers to the series. We see great potential in each of them.”

Here’s a breakdown of each of McAnally’s four newest drivers:

* Gio Scelzi, 18, of Fresno, California, will drive the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Records Toyota Camry. Son of four-time NHRA drag racing champion Gary Scelzi, the younger Scelzi is competing this week in his second Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. … Scelzi has been a rising star in sprint and midget cars on dirt the last three years. He shifts to pavement racing with BMR this season, but also expects to continue racing sprints and midgets as well. Began racing Junior Micro Sprints at the age of 6. Made transition to full-sized sprint cars in 2016. Became the youngest race winner in World of Outlaws history in 2018, and also the youngest winner at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway in the All Star Circuit of Champions race. Also won his first-ever start on pavement in a late model race at Irwindale Speedway outside Los Angeles last year.

* Jesse Love, 15, from Menlo Park, Calif. Will drive the No. 19 NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota Camry for BMR. Started racing quarter midgets at 5 years old. Has won multiple track, regional, state and national championships. In 2019, split time between dirt and asphalt racing, including finishing in the top 10 in the SRL Southwest Tour Series and finished runner-up in rookie points.

* Gracie Trotter, 18, of Denver, North Carolina, will drive the No. 99 ENEOS Toyota Camry. The third-generation racer began competing in go-karts at 8 years old. She eventually moved to Legends cars and in 2017 became the first female to win the Young Lions division at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and finished second in points in the 2018 Summer Shootout at CMS. She went on to win the 2019 Winter Heat Series championship and reached Round 5 of the Summer Shootout in the Semi-Pro Division. Began racing super late models in 2017 and in 2019 joined the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program, which she continues to be a part of as a late model driver for Rev Racing.

* Holley Hollan, 18, a fourth-generation racer from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, will drive the No. 50 JBL/NAPA Filters/NAPA Belts & Hoses Toyota Camry. Began racing at the age of 5 in Junior Sprints and up to 600 cc micros at the age of 12. Has been competing in midget cars the last two seasons and finished fifth in the points in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League in 2019.

Bill McAnally Racing has become one of the top feeder organizations to NASCAR. Past drivers who’ve raced for McAnally include Hailie Deegan (who has moved up to ARCA this season), Cole Custer, Clint Bowyer, Todd Gilliland, Brendan Gaughan and Derek Kraus (who it was announced Monday will drive full-time in the NASCAR Truck Series in a partnership between Bill McAnally and Wisconsin businessman Bill Hilgemann).

McAnally is also the only owner in the NASCAR touring series to have nine championships with a variety of drivers, including four of the last five seasons (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019). He also enters the 30th consecutive seasons with NAPA sponsorship, one of the longest running sponsorships in motorsports history.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Derek Kraus to race full-time for new Truck Series partnership

Photo courtesy: McAnally-Hilgemann Racing
Leave a comment

Derek Kraus, the 2019 NASCAR ARCA Menards Series West champion, will compete full-time in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series for a new team co-owned by Bill McAnally and Bill Hilgemann, it was announced Monday.

The new team will be known as McAnally-Hilgemann Racing and carry the No. 19 on its side. It has also formed an alliance with 2018 Truck Series championship team, Hattori Racing Enterprises, the announcement stated.

The new partnership extends the 18-year-old Kraus’s relationship with McAnally, for whose team he drove for the past three seasons in the ARCA Menards Series West (formerly the K&N Pro Series West). During that time, Kraus made 42 starts and earned 10 wins, 28 top five and 33 top 10 finishes.

Derek Kraus. (Getty Images)

“We have been working hard to put things in place to move Derek to the next level in NASCAR,” McAnally said in a media release. “It’s been great to be part of his development in the K&N Series these past three years. We look forward to moving ahead in advancing his career.”

Hilgemann is a businessman who hails from the same town as Kraus, Stratford, Wisconsin.

“Bill McAnally has a great reputation in the industry and I’m pleased to put this program together with him,” Hilgemann said in the release. “Derek is a talented young driver and we are excited to have him behind the wheel.”

Kraus has five prior starts in the Truck Series for Bill McAnally Racing, with four races in 2019 and one in 2018. His best finishes were eighth at Phoenix in 2018 and at Dover last season.

Kevin Bellicourt, who served as general manager at BMR last season, will return in a similar role for the newly-formed team this season, as well as add crew chief duties.

“Moving up to the truck series will be a big learning experience for me,” Kraus said. “I am looking forward to continue working with Kevin Bellicourt and the team. It’s going to be a fun year.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Todd Gilliland to pilot new Front Row Motorsports Truck entry in 2020

Photo: Front Row Motorsports
Leave a comment

Front Row Motorsports is expanding its NASCAR presence, announcing Monday it has formed a partnership with DGR-Crosley to compete full-time in the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series.

Todd Gilliland, the 19-year-old son of NASCAR driver David Gilliland, will pilot the No. 38 Ford F-150 for the Mooresville, North Carolina organization.

This will be the younger Gilliland’s third full-time season in the Truck Series, having previously competed in 48 starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Gilliland has one win (2019 at Martinsville), as well as 12 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes.

The younger Gilliland also recorded 20 wins in a combined 53 starts in the former NASCAR K&N Pro West and East series (now known as the NASCAR ARCA Menards West and East series). He won back-to-back championships in the K&N West series in 2016 and 2017. He also has two wins in nine starts in the ARCA Menards Series.

“I’m really looking forward to racing an F-150 in the Truck Series this year with Front Row Motorsports as part of the Ford family,” Todd Gilliland said in a media release. “I’ve been around (FRM owner) Bob Jenkins and the whole Front Row crew for a long time growing up with my dad racing for them.

“The talent that they’ve brought in for my program is really exciting. I know or have worked with almost every person that’s on my team this year at some point in my career. That helps tremendously in building relationships and trust with each other.”

Todd Gilliland will be continuing a family tradition of sorts: the No. 38 has long been associated with his grandfather, Butch, as a racer, as well as for much of his father David’s Cup career. David Gilliland competed in 214 NASCAR Cup races as a driver for Front Row Motorsports from 2010-16.

“Car numbers are important to a driver because they are essentially your identity when you’re on track,” Todd Gilliland said. “It’s cool to think about a Gilliland being back in the No. 38, and I’m really proud to be able to drive the same number that my dad and grandpa did.”

Jon Leonard was also named as crew chief for Todd Gilliland’s Truck Series entry. Leonard previously served as a team engineer, as well as interim crew chief for Leavine Family Racing and in a prior engineering role with Richard Childress Racing.

NASCAR veteran Coleman Pressley will be Gilliland’s spotter.

“We’re all very excited for this expansion,” Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins said. “I’ve watched Todd grow up in this sport and have seen the talent he brings firsthand.

“Not only does he come from a racing family, but he’s got the natural ability of a winning driver. I’m confident that having him drive in our debut season will be a great success.”

Front Row Motorsports will also field NASCAR Cup teams in 2020 for Michael McDowell and John Hunter Nemechek.

The Truck Series begins its 23-race season on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

Follow @JerryBonkowski