From the age of two, BJ McLeod knew he wanted to be a part of racing. Come Sunday (May 17), McLeod will have taken his team to the top of motorsports, as BJ McLeod Motorsports will start its first NASCAR Cup Series race.
McLeod, 36, is set to drive the No. 78 Chevrolet this weekend at Darlington Raceway in NASCAR’s return to racing, the same number he began racing with in go-karts. The team got its chassis from Rick Ware Racing in an alliance that could see McLeod on track for upwards of 15 races throughout the 2020 season.
But the goal for 2020 wasn’t always to run a Cup team. McLeod’s primary focus for the past five years has been the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where the team fields three full-time cars with Matt Mills and Vinnie Miller as its primary drivers and a rotation of drivers for the third entry.
Now, the owner-driver is fulfilling a dream.
“It’s been a dream of mine for decades to drive and potentially own a Cup car,” McLeod told Frontstretch. “The week after Atlanta [Motor Speedway], I just started thinking a lot. … We thought it was a good chance because of how good of shape the Xfinity organization was in to be able to try the Cup Series out and see what it was like.”
McLeod’s move to Cup comes at a time where NASCAR is returning after a nine-week hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s halted the sports world. Even with a month stay-at-home-order issued by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper at the end of March, the team was able to be ready, not knowing until two weeks ago that they were officially going Cup racing at Darlington.
“We had time to get prepared, and that’s why [it was the right time to move to Cup], McLeod added. “Yes, there was a month where you basically couldn’t do any work, but there were also six, seven weeks that we were in really good shape and built a couple Xfinity cars during that time too. We definitely had a lot of time to get prepared.”
In Xfinity, McLeod’s teams are obligated to run all 33 races due to driver and sponsorship contracts. For Cup, the plan is to get the team’s feet wet, with a long-term goal similar to five years ago, when the Florida native issued a five-year plan for his team to make necessary steps to move up the ladder in Xfinity.
As of now, the BJMM plan is to run the next four races at the Cup level (Darlington, May 17 and May 20; and Charlotte Motor Speedway, May 24 and 27) with veteran Crew Chief Todd Parrott leading the charge atop the pit box. However, McLeod isn’t ruling out running the entire schedule, but says the team will race “easily 15” races, with chassis for short tracks, downforce tracks, superspeedways and road courses.
With NASCAR moving to one-day shows for the immediate future, it also becomes cheaper to start up a Cup team with fewer parts and pieces to buy, specifically tires, which are roughly $2,200 per set.
“I have a chance right now to be able to go run some races and get used to the way things work. And right now, there’s no qualifying and no practice, so it’s less expensive to try,” McLeod said. “There’s less wear and tear. It’s a good chance to go figure things out and get used to the system before it takes more money to do that.
“At the beginning of the year, I had no plans to run a Cup car. But I would say at least once per week it crossed my mind to at least run one race, because you never know when you’re going to be able to reach that level. With the facility we have, people we have and the stuff we’ve been able to do in the Xfinity Series, it’s been in the back of my mind and more realistic each year since we started Xfinity. It felt like the right time to be able to do this and get our start and see where it goes from there.”
Part of McLeod’s decision to run Cup came from NASCAR’s announcement on April 2 to postpone the debut of the Next Gen car until 2022. However, the owner-driver stated at the end of 2019, there was serious discussions on possibly starting a Cup team up for a few races towards the end of the season.
“The announcement came that the [Next Gen] car was going to get moved to 2022, and it opened up another basically two full years, because we’re only four races into the year,” McLeod said. “There’s the majority of 2020 left and the whole ’21 season left before we have to worry about an inventory switch or there not being a lot of used cars our there. When the Next Gen car comes out, it’s going to be all new cars for probably at least a year, if not two years before you can buy used inventory.”
McLeod admitted he had to hire more employees to field the BJMM Cup car, as the two sides — Cup and Xfinity — will be separate. He also doubled down, confirming this move will not affect the Xfinity team, where his three cars currently sit 21st, 34th and 37th in the owner standings, respectively.
From a personal standpoint, McLeod couldn’t be more appreciative of those that got him to this position: Mike Hillman, Mike Hillman Jr., Bobby Dotter, Rick Ware and Johnny Davis, as well as his family to name a few.
While knowing you have to walk before you can crawl, McLeod is hoping to make those people proud for “decades.”
“As of 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, we will have at least one start as an owner-driver in the Cup Series,” McLeod said. “We’re going to do our best to make this last decades, but we all know how tough this sport is and how hard it is to sustain a whole year. We’ve done five years in the Xfinity Series, and I believe we can work hard and stay here for the decades that I’m talking about.
“We’re in the Cup Series. The work now is a lot of work to keep going, but at least we did it once. We’re going to do our best to do it for a long, long time.”