Get ready for lots of fireworks this 4th of July weekend – both on and off the race track at Daytona International Speedway.
This race marks the first time the 2.5-mile track hosts a Cup race without restrictor plates since 1988, utilizing instead the tapered spacer – which we’ve already seen used once this year at Talladega Superspeedway.
Both the Cup and Xfinity Series will be in action at Daytona. The Truck Series is off until July 11 at Kentucky Speedway.
Here are the updated entry lists for this weekend’s races:
Cup – Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)
There is a full 40-car field of cars and drivers entered for this race.
For the second time this season, Garrett Smithley is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.
Quin Houff will drive the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports.
When it comes to his front yard located just north of Dallas, Texas, David Starr is a “clean freak.”
If the B.J. McLeod Motorsports driver has any free time, he can be found diligently making sure it looks perfect.
“I love mowing my grass,” Starr told NBC Sports. “I always have my grass manicured to the max. … It takes me a day to do my front yard. I like all my bushes perfect. You look at my grass, I got perfect lines in them. I wash my driveway, and I wash the street in front of my house.
“That’s my therapy.”
The therapeutic effects of his lawn were hard to come by for the 49-year-old Xfinity Series driver last week.
It was just beginning the recovery and rescue efforts from Hurricane Harvey, the Category-4 storm that made landfall in southeast Texas while Starr raced at Road America in Wisconsin the previous weekend.
“It was hard to do it, you know what I mean?” Starr says. “Here I am, sun shiny day in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and I’m mowing my grass, trimming my bushes and my yard looks great. You can’t help but think about the people that their yards are the least of their worries. They’re trying to figure out what the next step is. It was tough, man. It plays on you emotionally just because you feel so bad.”
Starr says all of his family is accounted for, but one cousin “lost everything” and is living with his parents.
“In the big scheme of things I’ve got a lot of family there and everybody’s doing well and helping out,” Starr says. “It could have been a lot worse. It’s just amazing that much rain can fall and flood the fourth largest city in the United States.”
While at Road America, Starr’s attention was “glued” on the TV in his team’s hauler when he wasn’t practicing or racing his No. 99 Chevrolet.
The images being transmitted from over 1,200 miles south showed streets and highways flooded to historic levels, air rescues and other surreal visuals in a place Starr called home until 1996.
Starr grew up in north Houston on Highway 45, near the Intercontinental airport and the Greenspoint Mall.
“They’re in locations where I grew up at,” Starr says. “They’re doing live remotes and you can see the grocery store where as a kid you went shopping with your mom with. Just all the different locations. Over there by the Astrodome and Meyarland, there was a race track called Meyar Speedway. That whole Meyarland area was under water.”
Meyar Speedway was a half-mile asphalt track in southwest Houston where Starr was introduced to stock car racing through to his father, Jimmy Starr.
Though it closed in the late 70s, Meyar Speedway once hosted the most famous names in NASCAR: Petty, Allison, Foyt and more. It was the site of one Cup Series race in June 1971, the Space City 300, won by Bobby Allison.
For seven years, the elder Starr was part of the stock car scene as a member of the team owned by Houston orange juice magnate Gordon Van Liew.
“My dad got out of the sport when I was about 7 years old,” Starr says. “I was hooked. I have all the programs. All the drivers that raced at Meyar Speedway.”
Two years ago, Starr hosted a reunion for the veterans of Meyar Speedway, with 170 showing up.
“I thought if Meyar Speedway hadn’t been there (with) all those drivers that raced there, I might not be doing what I do today,” says Starr, who is 20 years, 442 starts and four wins into his NASCAR career.
“I fell in love with it as a little boy and I wanted to make sure I gave back. … A lot of the drivers are in their 80s and 90s. I had a lot of people hug me. Grown men in their 80s hugged me. They were in tears just to tell me thank you.”
Now with Houston and its citizens in need of help, Starr wanted to start giving back again as soon as he returned to Texas from Road America. But his father cautioned him against journeying to Houston.
“They’ve got the city closed down,” Starr recalls his father telling him. “I don’t think you guys could get here. Even by some chance you did get in here and you started helping people, you’ve got to race next week and you might get stuck in here. I reckon you’d probably be best if you stayed there with your family.”
After a week of physically being in Dallas and emotionally in Houston, Starr made his way to Darlington, South Carolina. He was met with his sport having fully embraced his home’s plight.
“Texas Strong” stickers dotted all the cars. Ben Kennedy’s No. 96 Chevrolet was dedicated entirely to encouraging support of relief efforts. Elliott Sadler announced he would donate all of his race winnings to relief causes.
“It’s cool to come to Darlington, South Carolina, and man, your fellow competitors, your sport that you love and that you’re a part of really cares,” Starr says. “It meant a lot to me. I went over to and thanked Ben Kennedy and some of his team members for what their car looked like. It was just amazing.”
When Starr watched the TV in his hauler, in the midst of images showing chaos and despair were just as many showing hope and heroism.
“One of the things I was really proud of as all this was happening and I was tuned into television, watching everything, was all the people helping everybody,” Starr says. “It was really touching. It didn’t matter what your nationality was or the color of your skin was. It was really cool. That makes you really proud of all the people, the different cultures that live there. … It was just like, man, you are all Houstonians and it was just cool to see everybody helping everybody and rescuing people. It was very touching.”
Once Starr is done with is racing duties next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, he plans on finally joining those in Houston and doing what he can.
“I got some friends that are helping some other friends,” Starr says. “These are high school buddies. Helping some other people work on their houses. I’m going to go down there and just help out for three or four days. Just lend a helping hand, see if I can make a difference in somebody’s life.”
After four starts in 2016 in the Camping World Truck Series, 19-year-old Matt Mills will make his Xfinity Series debut this Saturday at Phoenix Raceway.
The Lynchburg, Virginia native will drive the No. 8 Thompson Electric Chevrolet for B.J. McLeod Motorsports in the DC Solar 200. Mills will be making his second career start at Phoenix, having finished a career-best 21st in the Truck Series race there last fall.
“This is a great opportunity and I’m excited, yet humbled to be making my NASCAR Xfinity Series debut,” Mills said in a media release. “I’m hoping that my prior experience at Phoenix should be to some benefit to myself and the B.J. McLeod Motorsports team.
“I’m really hoping for a good result on Saturday afternoon.”
Veteran Keith Wolfe will serve as Mills’ crew chief.
In addition to Mills, B.J. McLeod Motorsports will have two other drivers entered in Saturday’s race: team principal B.J. McLeod in the No. 78 Chevrolet and veteran driver David Starr in the No. 99 Chevy.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Matt have a great Xfinity Series debut on Saturday,” McLeod said. “He is a sharp kid who takes his racing very seriously and is anxious to learn and succeed.
“I think with prior experience at Phoenix, it offers the chance to make that transition that much smoother.”
B.J. McLeod Motorsports, which recently revealed it would field two full-time teams in the Xfinity Series, announced new sponsorship Wednesday for the first two races of the season.
Batteries Plus Bulbs will sponsor team owner B.J. McLeod’s No. 78 Ford Mustang in the season-opening PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 20.
Batteries Plus Bulbs will also offer additional sponsorship for McLeod’s team in the following race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“We’re looking forward to Daytona and the rest of the year,” McLeod said in a media release. “A lot of good things are happening with our team and we’re anxious to get to Daytona and see what we can produce right out of the box.”