Further towards the back of the Cup Series garage, there’s plenty of new to go around. New faces, new team members, and new experiences on stock car racing’s biggest stage.
Take Brennan Poole. A former ARCA Racing Series standout that saw a supposed full-time Xfinity Series deal with Chip Ganassi Racing go up in the first smoke cloud from the eventual bonfire that was the DC Solar sponsorship, Poole is locked in to his first Daytona 500 as the full-time driver for Premium Motorsports.
“I’ve always dreamed of being part of the 500, so to be locked into it is pretty awesome” Poole told Frontstretch. “We’re going to take our time and get the best finish that we can. Of course, with that purse, getting that good finish helps us make our program better.”
With the serious money that comes with just starting the Great American Race, a small team such as Poole’s can see their season’s director radically change with a good finish. For Poole and the No. 15, this creates a balancing act for the Duel; the driver is confident with his reputation in the draft, but the carrot of a strong 500 finish might make the risks of 150 miles of live practice worthwhile.
“I don’t think there’s a lot I have to prove” observed Poole. “I’ve raced with a lot of these guys in Xfinity over the years and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job on the superspeedways, so I don’t think that’ll be an issue.
“I think maybe other guys seeing how good my car actually is, just seeing that they’ll be able to work with me when they get to the end of the race.”
One new face that does not have a lot of drafting history to rely on is the new driver of the Starcom Racing No. 00, Quin Houff, who replaced Landon Cassill after a part-time Cup campaign with Spire Motorsports last year. Despite driving for a locked-in team, Houff recognizes the Duel will carry importance for him.
“I think the Duel race for me as a rookie is going to be something for me to learn a lot” Houff said of his plans for Thursday night. “I haven’t drafted a lot with these cars, especially in the middle of the pack. I hope to get up in there in the middle with these guys and learn a lot for Sunday.”
Houff, who fondly told Frontstretch that being a full-time Cup driver allowed him to quit his other job, knows he’s living the dream this Speedweeks.
“It’s neat to be able to say I’m doing this for a living now. I’m living the dream and we’re here.
“I’m looking forward to… finishing on all four wheels Sunday.”
For another new full-time Cup driver in defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick, the Daytona 500 is nothing new… he qualified as an at-large driver last season and is now running full-time for Richard Childress Racing (yes, I’m considering RCR as the other side of the garage… the organization didn’t crack the top 20 in points in 2019 and hasn’t won a Cup race in nearly two full seasons). Being full-time in Cup, however, is very new.
Said Reddick of his new home, “In the Xfinity Series, you can kinda get away with not having a great day until the last stage and then try to get it back.
“In the Cup Series, it’s a day-long, race long ordeal. You’ve got to execute.”
Execution is paramount for the driver that has arguably become the consummate underdog in Cup racing, Corey LaJoie. Though LaJoie is in a steady home with the No. 32 team, he’s got a new crew chief in Ryan Sparks, and new cars from Stewart-Haas Racing. And while LaJoie has “embraced the underdog” role, the same can’t be said for the small-team story that has followed his No. 32 operation for years.
“I don’t like to beat that drum about the small team. I feel like that drum gets beat enough, and I’ve beat it a lot myself” LaJoie told Frontstretch. “I think we’re just going to try to maximize what we have on hand. We don’t have a lot of the resources the other teams do, but there’s no excuses for [not] doing what I can do inside the car, as well as what the guys can do with the racecars in the shop.”
“We are the underdog, but at the end of the day we’re on the same racetrack as the other guys.”
New and old alike will Duel on Thursday.
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