Spire Motorsports announced Thursday that it has replaced James Davison with B.J. McLeod in its No. 77 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox) after NASCAR reconsidered its approval of Davison for the race.
Sunday’s race would have been Davison’s Cup debut and his first start on an oval track in NASCAR. Davison, who is a veteran of the Indianapolis 500, has made four Xfinity Series starts on road courses.
Davison is now set to make his oval track debut in NASCAR next weekend at Pocono Raceway.
“I have been contacted by NASCAR and informed that although I was previously approved to race, they had to reconsider their position on Superspeedways, given there won’t be practice or qualifying prior to Sunday’s race at Talladega,” Davison said in a press release. “I was pumped about the opportunity to take the green flag, but I fully understand and appreciate NASCAR’s position. I’m approved to race next weekend at Pocono and equally thrilled to make my series debut there.”
Forty cars are entered for Wednesday night’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).
It’s the same 40 teams but there are driver changes from Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. They are:
Josh Bilicki will drive the No. 7 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing.
JJ Yeley will be in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports. He had originally been listed as driving the No. 27 car for Rick Ware Racing. Gray Gaulding is now entered in the No. 27.
All three cars will start at the rear because of the driver change. There is no qualifying for Wednesday’s race. The top 20 finishers from Sunday are inverted for Wednesday’s starting lineup. The remaining positions are based on where the car finished Sunday (except for those with driver changes).
The last 10 weeks provided surreal sight after surreal sight as the NASCAR community and the world at large navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of those odd sights came on May 5 courtesy of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch. In a video posted to Twitter, Busch showed off his racing gear as he prepped to take part in go-kart races at the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina, to get ready for NASCAR’s return 12 days later at Darlington Raceway.
At one point, Busch showed two figures social distancing in the parking lot. Busch referred to them as “secret weapons.”
The one sitting on a curb was 48-year-old Matt Kenseth, recently brought in from the cold to drive the team’s No. 42 Chevrolet 17 months after his last NASCAR start.
The other was 27-year-old Ross Chastain, the CGR development driver who competes full-time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing.
Last year, he competed in 77 of a possible 92 national NASCAR series races, competing full-time in the Truck Series while missing only one of 36 Cup Series races.
Before NASCAR entered its COVID-19 imposed lockdown in March, Chastain had competed in every national NASCAR series race – four Cup races, four Xfinity races and two Truck races. Over the course of those 10 races, Chastain drove vehicles for five different teams: Kaulig Racing, Niece Motorsports, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sieg Racing and Roush Fenway Racing as a substitute driver for Ryan Newman (and as one of its drivers in the Pro Invitational iRacing Series).
“It’s just been when opportunities come up in the top three levels of NASCAR like, yes, yes, take them as a driver and make the best of them,” Chastain told NBC Sports.
Chastain will be back in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 (Chip Ganassi Racing prepared) car for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. But before that, he returns to his full-time job driving Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series, which is scheduled to end its 10-week hiatus tonight at Darlington.
But for a brief window of time last month, Chastain seemed the logical choice to take over the CGR’s No. 42, and to be in it last Sunday.
However, that wasn’t part of the plan.
“Obviously, what all happened (with Larson) hit everybody really fast,” Chastain said. “I don’t know all of the details about it. But I just know that in my mind, we’re on a path. … Obviously, when Chip and (Chief Operating Officer) Doug Duchardt and (Managing Director) Max Jones and I … sat down two years ago or I guess the middle of 2018 and set out this plan, there was a lot of other factors involved like we all know and that all went away.
“All the other factors that supported me with them went away and they’ve kept me on, they’ve kept building out a plan for me and they didn’t give up whenever they very easily could have. … I just know that they haven’t given up on me and I surely haven’t given up on them.”
And you won’t hear Chastain complaining about having Kenseth as an unexpected teammate five months into the year.
“Too much of our plan was in place and obviously getting to know Matt now, he’s the right guy,” Chastain said. “He knows stuff and has been a part of stuff that I only watched as a kid on TV and he just rattles off this scenario, that scenario, this racetrack, that race car. And it’s great to be around him a little bit and learn from for sure.”
Kenseth and Busch took to the track Sunday at Darlington in the first NASCAR race in 71 days. It was also the first NASCAR race without Chastain in the field since last year’s Xfinity finale in Miami. Chastain expected to talk to Kenseth and Busch “a bit annoyingly” afterward to get feedback.
“They can just talk in such literal terms of, everything else aside, what did the track do?” said Chastain. “Doesn’t matter what kind of race car you had, if you were the leader, you were 32nd place, what did the racetrack do? What were the trends? Was it normal Darlington? What do you see? That’s where I found that Kurt is really, it’s why Matt says he’s such a good teammate so often is that he just can articulate what we all think, but we can’t put in words. … He genuinely wants to help.”
When Chastain straps into his No. 10 car at Darlington, it won’t be his first time in it since March. Last week, he and teammate Justin Haley visited Kaulig Racing’s shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus in Welcome, North Carolina, and gave their cars for the races at Darlington and Charlotte (Monday, May 25) shake down drives.
“We did the Charlotte car first and it worked fine, drove for two laps around the RCR compound and hopped over into the Darlington one,” Chastain said.
That’s when the team discovered an issue on Chastain’s car that could have resulted in a “big scare” tonight.
“We actually had a (radio) wiring harness in the Darlington car that did not work,” Chastain said. “I couldn’t hear my crew and they couldn’t hear me.”
Chastain said his team “kind of felt silly. … We all were laughing like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ And then as soon as that happened and we replaced the whole wiring harness … we were like, ‘Okay, it was all worth it.”
Chastain feels “confident” going into Darlington, the track where he made his debut with CGR two years ago in the Xfinity race and had a good shot at a win before an incident with Kevin Harvick. That performance helped lead to his signing with CGR later that year.
But Chastain admits “just because I had a good run there two years ago does not mean a whole lot.”
“I’ve used the end of that race as motivation for a lot of stuff and a lot of training,” he said. “Looking back at it. Yeah, obviously, you want to go replicate how the first two thirds that race went, if you can, and then clean up the end.”
Many teams announced last week that they were closing their shops to visitors to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.
NBC Sports reached out to Cup, Xfinity and Truck teams to see what their plans were for Monday and beyond:
Front Row Motorsports — Business as usual for the smaller team. Organization notes that all employees are taking the necessary precautions/recommendations of washing hands and keeping distance as much as possible.
Hendrick Motorsports — Its campus is closed for business for the rest of the week. Those who can work from home are doing so. There is some essential work being done on site with very limited staffing.
Joe Gibbs Racing — Closed shop on Monday and decisions would be made about what to do about the upcoming days.
Richard Childress Racing — Measures have been put in place to protect employees and keep them safe, including social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing work stations. Team continues to assess the situation and will adjust as needed.
Richard Petty Motorsports — Shop is closed this week with only a limited number of essential people working in the building.
Spire Motorsports — Operating with essential personnel only.
StarCom Racing — Sentevery employee home Monday.
Stewart-Haas Racing — Has closed its shop until March 22 and will reevaluate facility access and processes then.
Team Penske — Has closed its shop.
JD Motorsports — Xfinity team is business as usual as the team finalizes plans moving forward.
Kaulig Racing — General Manager Chris Rice said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the team is limiting staff in the shop and going with a staggered system so work continues but with limited staff.
ThorSport Racing — The Truck organization is operating under normal business hours with a full staff on site preparing for the Texas race weekend in less than two weeks.
AM Racing – Temporarily closing its facility.
Following Daytona International Speedway's lead – and joining other motorsports organizations around the world – the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America Museum is closed until further notice due to the coronavirus. Be safe and hope to see you all real soon https://t.co/PH8QItShQhpic.twitter.com/7CC1IeXasE
NASCAR fined car owners Jay Robinson (Premium Motorsports), Rick Ware (Rick Ware Racing) and TJ Puchyr (Spire Motorsports) $50,000 each, along with other penalties to their teams, for manipulating the outcome of the Cup season finale in Miami.
The scheme was set up to help one of Robinson’s teams finish the highest among unchartered teams and collect the largest postseason bonus for that group.
“Following a thorough review of race data and driver/team communication from the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as well as interviews with several competitors, NASCAR has determined that the Nos. 15, 27, 52 and 77 teams have violated Sections 12.8.g and 12.8.1 of the NASCAR rule book, which addresses manipulating the outcome of a race,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, in a statement. “As a result, those teams in violation of the rule book have been penalized as listed in the penalty report.”
Section 12.8.g of the Cup Rule Book states: In extraordinary circumstances, NASCAR may take whatever action it deems necessary to mitigate and/or rectify circumstances created by a Member’s actions including, but not limited to, negating the results of a driver’s performance and/or advancing a driver in the standings or The Playoffs.
Section 12.8.1.c of the Cup Rule Book states:
Member actions that could result in a loss of 25-50 driver and Team Owner Points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine and/or one Race suspension, indefinite suspension, or termination:
Physical confrontation with a NASCAR Official, media members, fans, etc.
Member-to-Member confrontation(s) with physical violence and other violent manifestations such as significant threat(s) and/or abuse and/or endangerment.
Attempting to manipulate the outcome of the Race or championship.
Intentionally wrecking another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from Competition as a result.
Each team penalized had cars fall out of the race to ensure that Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 car gained positions and finished with the most points for the season among unchartered teams and earn the largest bonus. The difference in bonus money from first to second for unchartered teams is about $175,000.
Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 car finished one point ahead of Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 car among the unchartered cars in the owners standings. Wednesday’s penalties made Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 the highest unchartered team in the car owner standings.
Here’s how the Miami race was impacted:
Joe Nemechek, driving the No. 15 car for Premium Motorsports, finished 38th. He completed 227 of the 267 laps. The reason listed for not finishing was steering.
Reed Sorenson, driving the No. 77 car for Spire Motorsports, finished 37th. He completed 236 laps. The reason listed for not finishing was brakes.
Josh Bilicki, driving the No. 52 car for Rick Ware Racing, finished 36th. He completed 240 laps. The reason listed for not finishing was brakes.
Ross Chastain, driving the No. 27 car, finished 35th, the last car running at the end. He completed 242 of 267 laps.
NASCAR also issued the following penalties related to this infraction:
Docked the No. 15 car of Premium Motorsports 50 team owner points, fined competition director Scott Eggleston $25,000 and suspended him indefinitely.
Penalized the No. 27 car of Premium Motorsports 50 team owner points.
Docked the No. 52 car of Rick Ware Racing 50 team owner points, fined competition director Kenneth Evans $25,000 and suspended him indefinitely.
Penalized the No. 77 team 50 team owner points and fined competition director Scott Eggleston $25,000 on top of the fine he received for his position with the No. 15 car.