NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Turner Motorsports’ Cup Debut: A Sign of More Things to Come?

It’s not often that new teams make their first laps on track after the beginning of the season these days, but when one does, its arrival is generally met with a lot of unknowns.

Such is not entirely the case for Turner Motorsports.

At this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, the team, which competes with full-time entries in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, will make its Sprint Cup debut, fielding the No. 50 Chevrolet for Bill Elliott with sponsorship from Walmart.

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Bill Elliott will return to the Cup Series this week at Daytona…and he could just surprise people.

Unlike most teams making their first forays into a given series, Turner Motorsports at least has a few years of successful competition under its belt. The organization began as a part-time truck team in 2009, moving to full-time status in 2010. Owner Steve Turner purchased Braun Racing, a formidable operation for many years in the Nationwide Series, later that year.

Since then, the team has notched eight wins total over both series, including four in 2012. James Buescher drove his No. 31 Silverado to first place at Kentucky just last weekend, while Nelson Piquet Jr. found Victory Lane in the Nationwide Series at Road America a week prior. So the team has definite momentum heading into its first Cup start.

All the pieces seem to be in place for a good run this weekend for the Walmart No. 50, barring unexpected car issues. As long as Turner’s Cup program is on par with that of the lower series, horsepower shouldn’t be an issue. Bill Elliott, while well past his prime, can still get it done adequately on a superspeedway, so there’s little to worry about on the driver side.

Turner’s entrance into Cup is most exciting because, provided that Elliott runs well, the door is open for more appearances on entry lists in the series. Perhaps a move to a full-time team (or teams) could be tangible in years to come.

It’s been awhile since Cup’s had a new team with the resources and proven results that Turner possesses, and the sport is currently in an age where the monster multi-car operations of yore have curtailed themselves to become smaller. The series isn’t hurting for full fields necessarily — yet — but on race day, at least five cars might be counted among the “start-and-parks;” many times more than that.

So it’s good to see a team that has a fair amount of funding entering Cup. Granted, many of Turner’s teams exist because the drivers have brought sponsorship, but that seems to be the nature of the beast these days, so it’s tough to fault them.

Should the team decide to enter Cup races on a regular basis? That doesn’t sound like too much of a bad thing.

The move would bring a well-managed and proven organization to the series ranks. If sponsorship can be found, it would provide another option for Cup elite, especially if a driver wants to hook up with a newer team trying to get its footing there. In fact, picture this: I think it is likely that Turner Motorsports will try to move to Cup eventually. Perhaps this is the new home of one former NASCAR champion, say from 2003?

Of course, a Turner move to Cup also gives its roster of young talent a shot at the big time — something none of them have experienced so far. James Buescher seems like one of the most likely candidates, given his connections to Turner off the track as well as on it, granted he gets a full Nationwide season under his belt. Then there’s Justin Allgaier, who would have probably made his debut already had he stayed with Penske Racing. If Brandt has the money to support him, I wouldn’t be surprised seeing Allgaier doing a few Cup races by the end of this year — again, if the team’s series debut goes well.

Still more options include Brazilian duo Nelson Piquet Jr. and Miguel Paludo, who have shown considerable promise in 2012. Brad Sweet might even figure into the equation, if he begins running the way many expected him to.

This is all surface-level speculation, though. Turner may have no aspirations to move to Cup for more than a one-off basis, instead sticking to the series where his teams have succeeded. The increased costs of Cup would shutter some of the Nationwide and Truck operations, at least in theory. The cost may even be too great for the team to operate at its fullest potential.

But the thought of a team like Turner Motorsports making the leap to the highest level of NASCAR is at the very least intriguing. It would be great to see another successful multi-car organization in the series, and currently, the Nationwide/Truck juggernaut seems like one of the best bets to fill that void.

Until then, keep an eye on the blue No. 50 this Saturday night. We could be in for a real surprise.

*Connect with Kevin!*
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