2013 NASCAR Georgia drivers review
There were no Peach State drivers seriously campaigning for a championship in any of NASCAR's top three series, but that shouldn't shade over the potential some have. 2013 is the year that Chase Elliott made is foray into the Truck Series - and he made some noise. And each driver covered here is under 30. Get this: David Ragan and Reed Sorenson are the oldest of this gang at 27 years old. If Georgia’s crop of drivers can keep the funding and steadily improve results, there could be quite a few on the national stage for quite a while.
David Ragan: Ragan staged a huge coup in 2013, capitalizing on the pure madhouse that is Talladega racing and winning the first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race for Front Row Motorsports. The win assured him and the team places in both the 2013 and 2014 All-Star Races, meaning extra income for the small operation. Ragan also won at Daytona in July 2011 for Roush Fenway Racing. Ragan’s 2nd season in the FRM No. 34 was similar to 2012 - about what any would expect. The David’s (Ragan and teammate Gilliland) fought Goliath all year in subpar equipment. The "Unadilla Gorilla" placed 28th in points, just one spot behind Danica Patrick, with his only other top 10 coming at Talladega in October. Bad mechanical luck really hurt the team late in the season and two DNFs with crashes early in the season also got 2013 off on the wrong foot. But Ragan, on average, finished each race about where he started, which isn’t bad. He is slated to drive for the team in 2014.
Starts: 36 Wins: 1 Top 5s: 1 Top 10s: 2 Avg. St.:26.6 Avg. Fin.: 26.9 Best Fin.: 1 Rank: 28
Reed Sorenson: Peachtree City’s Reed Sorenson has been trying to hang on in NASCAR for the past two years. This season brought him a full-time Nationwide Series campaign with The Motorsports Group (TMG). The team hired Sorenson to drive its only full-time, non-start-and-park No. 40 Chevy. Sorenson opened the season with the team at Daytona with sponsor Swisher e-cigarettes. But friend Michael Annett broke his sternum in a Daytona crash and Sorenson took the reins of his No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports for seven races, his best ride since Turner Motorpsorts fired him in 2011. Sorenson’s best finish was 10th in that stretch (his best finish of the year) and finished most races just inside the top 20. When he returned to TMG, he battled the ills of a lightly-funded team that built its own engines (something it decided to do starting this season). Sorenson left the team after the Kentucky race in September and joined Leavine Family Racing’s NNS team, crashing in his only start at Charlotte in October. Sorenson missed five of the final six races. He may drive for that team in NNS in 2014 and he started-and-parked LFR’s Sprint Cup ride six times this year, his only six Cup starts.
NNS Starts: 28 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 0 Top 10s: 1 Avg. St.: 26.1 Avg. Fin.: 25.3 Best Fin.: 10 Rank: 18
Kyle Fowler: NASCAR action for Kyle Fowler is solely reliant on how much sponsorship he can find and bring to a team. Last season, he drove seven NNS races for Randy Hill Racing, which Go Green Racing essentially merged with or bought out for 2013. The No. 79 Ford ran Jeffrey Earnhardt in the races that he brought sponsorship or that others did not. Fowler mustered seven races again in '13 with sponsors Techniweld, Town and Country Ford, Koma Unwind, Sarge’s Tailgate Grill, Pull-A-Part, and his family’s sponsor Commercial Disposal. The 21-year-old from Smyrna also ran a decal to help raise money for Emily Bowman’s Medical Fund at Atlanta Motor Speedway Labor Day weekend. Fowler fought an uphill battle (notice the theme here) with a small team, but did manage to finish 20th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, his best career finish. The No. 79 hired crew chief Ben Leslie late in the season (yes, the Ben Leslie that used to crew chief Mark Martin and be in management at Ford racing), meaning Fowler got to work with a wrench man that has worked with a great driver and worked for top teams. His 2014 plans hinge on money, but seats will be available when the dollars come.
Starts: 7 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 0 Top 10s: 0 Avg. St.:28.9 Avg. Fin.: 27 Best Fin.: 20 Rank: 43
John Wes Townley: Watkinsville’s John Wes Townley has come a long way from "John Wrecks Weekly." 2013 is the year that Townley, 23, finally earned some respect. His 2nd year back in NASCAR, after a hiatus that followed a disastrous attempt at the full 2010 season in the NNS with Richard Childress Racing, saw Townley run consistently for Red Horse Racing in the No. 7 Zaxby’s Toyota. Teamed with veteran crew chief Mike Beam, Townley did crash in two of the first four races and again in the penultimate race at Phoenix. He also embarrassingly spun out about a half dozen times in the practices for the Eldora dirt race, awakening a barrage of jokes related to his crash-prone reputation. Townley finished the rest of the events and flirted several times with the top 5, but failed to ever lead a lap. Townley finished 6th twice (best career finish) and 7th three other times. He also ended the year 11th in points, though 42 points behind 10th place teammate Timothy Peters. Another good mark for Townley was staying out of trouble with the law. Townley was busted as a minor with possession of alcohol in 2010 and then again with a DUI after a crash in early 2012 (the latter caused him to miss the first race of his NASCAR comeback as punishment). No 2014 plans have been announced for the 23-year-old, but he is currently in talks with his current team to return with the sponsorship backing by his family’s business. Townley also drove a three-race NNS schedule with ARCA powerhouse Venturini Motorsports, finishing 17th at Bristol in March, failing to qualify at Talladega in May, and crashing out to 35th at Charlotte in October.
NCWTS Starts: 22 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 0 Top 10s: 7 Avg. St.:17.9 Avg. Fin.: 14.9 Best Fin.: 6 Rank: 11
Max Gresham: After an incomplete 2012 season that saw Gresham start the year with Joe Deanette Motorsports, leave the team, and then join up with Eddie Sharp Racing, 2013 was a fresh start for the Griffin driver with ESR, which became Sharp Gallaher Racing midway through the year. Chris Showalter, who has not missed a NCWTS race since the season started in 1995, called the shots atop the team’s pit box. Gresham piloted the No. 8 Made in the USA brand Chevy in all 22 races, but aggression from both Gresham and drivers around him crashed him out of three of the first eight races. In that midst, he did run an extremely impressive 3rd at Charlotte, his best career finish and he also led three laps in that race, his first and only led in his career. After crashing at Kentucky in race eight, Gresham typically started and finished around mid-pack, though he did rise to place 10th at Las Vegas and 8th at Talladega. Gresham also started 5th near the end of the year at back-to-back races at Texas and Phoenix, even running as high as 2nd and passing Kyle Busch at Phoenix. But as both those races wore on, the No. 8 truck fell to 18th and 15th at the finish. At season’s end, Gresham ranked 16th in points, lowest among drivers that ran every race. Gresham drives with a sponsorship partnership that is largely backed by his family, so their 2014 plans lie largely on where they decide to run and they have not announced those plans yet. Gresham’s 2013 season had some highlights, but also was disappointing for the team. ESR won two races (Justin Lofton and Cale Gale) and ran much better in 2012. But a lack of funding for 2013 shut down or limited their teams and left Gresham as ESR/SGR’s only full-time ride. Rumors have circulated about SGR running Daniel Hemric and/or Trey Hutchens in both Trucks and/or the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2014 and Gresham likely will not have the funding to keep a full-time slot with the team, unless he finds more sponsorship. The "G" in SGR is for driver Will Gallaher, who has run for ESR in the UARA late model series and whose family bought into SGR midway through 2013.
Starts: 22 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 1 Top 10s: 4 Avg. St.:13.8 Avg. Fin.: 17.7 Best Fin.: 3 Rank: 16
Ryan Sieg: Sieg and his family-owned RSS Racing team out of Tucker have been solid in their few years in the Camping World Truck Series, but have had meager results. 2013 probably wasn’t a step forward in stats, but it certainly was a testament to staying involved in a sport, when so many teams fold. Veteran wrench Kevin “Cowboy” Starland, who has worked with many teams over the years, joined the team at the end of 2012 and was crew chief in each race. Sieg did start the year with his only top 10 finishes of the year: 10th at Daytona and 8th at Martinsville. But the results slipped a little bit through the season’s first couple of months. Two engine failures, another mechanical problem, and a crash pushed the DNF total to four in the 22-race season. Sieg’s finishes hovered around 20th most of the year, but good runs at Texas (11th) and Homestead (12th) made two of 2013’s last three races better pills to swallow. Driver Ryan Lynch ran the No. 39 in two races, as he brought sponsorship to the table, so Sieg ran the No. 93, a truck that RSS normally start-and-parks. Sieg also skipped two races - the Mudsummer Classic on the dirt at Eldora and the road course race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park – both run on types of tracks the team and driver don’t normally run. Austin Dillon drove the No. 39 (technically owned by RSS, but really fielded by Richard Childress Racing) to victory in the inaugural Eldora NCWTS race. Canadian Alex Guenette, who raced a late model at Jefferson’s Gresham Motorsports Park earlier this year, made his NCWTS debut in the No. 39 (also technically owned by RSS, but fielded by another team) at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, but dropped out with mechanical problems. Sieg ran four Nationwide Series races in 2013, the first of his career. He drove the No. 51 at Phoenix and Las Vegas early in the year for Clements Racing, while driver Jeremy Clements served a NASCAR-mandated suspension for using a racial slur. Sieg finished 21st and 18th, driving for an underfunded, family-run team that resembled his own. RSS Racing fielded Sieg at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, placing 21st, and Kansas, placing 24th. The team planned on running the NNS race at its home track Atlanta Motor Speedway, but skipped the race, because of engine issues. Sieg says that RSS Racing will run a full NCWTS schedule in 2014 and hopefully some more NNS races.
NCWTS Starts: 20 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 0 Top 10s: 2 Avg. St.: 21 Avg. Fin.: 19 Best Fin.: 8 Rank: 17
NNS Starts: 4 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 0 Top 10s: 0 Avg. St.: 25.8 Avg. Fin.: 21 Best Fin.: 18
Chase Elliott: He just turned 18-years-old, but Chase Elliott has been on the radar of many race fans for several years. The son of NASCAR star Bill, Elliott just finished his 3rd season as a Hendrick Motorsports development driver, winning both his first ARCA race (Pocono) and first NCWTS race (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) this year. The highlight of the Dawsonville driver’s season was the nine-race partial schedule he ran for Turner Motorsports, with backing from HMS (including longtime HMS crew chief Lance McGrew, who has worked with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Brian Vickers). The year started at Martinsville and a 6th-place finish. Elliott then ran 5th, 4th, 5th, and 5th, before spinning Ty Dillon in the last turn of the last lap to win his first NCWTS race on the Canadian road course. Dillon confronted him after the race and said he would make sure he didn’t finish the next NCWTS race he ran. Elliott did not, crashing out to 31st at Iowa, but he cut a tire and brought his own demise, something he admitted to bringing on himself after the wreck. Elliott also got caught up in the Dillon-Kevin Harvick tangle at Martinsville, finishing 20th, and ended his NCWTS season 10th at Phoenix. Elliott also won the pole at Bristol in August and generally qualified very well. He set himself back in a couple of races by speeding on pit road. 2013 was the first time NASCAR allowed drivers under 18 to compete, as drivers 16 or over could run at tracks 1.1-mile (Dover) or less. This allowed Elliott his first opportunity to run a NASCAR national series race, after two years running in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and four years running late models all over the south. A seven-race ARCA schedule was also part of Elliott’s diet and he won the first of those races at Pocono. He scored top 10s in the other races except Kentucky, where a broken fuel pump sidelined his No. 9 Aaron’s Chevy. Elliott also won the legendary All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville in November, meaning he now has won all four of southern late model racing’s crown jewel races in his career: World Crown 300, Winchester 400, Snownball Derby, and now the AA400. That distinction, plus the wins in the NCWTS and ARCA, prompted voters for the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame to name Elliott Georgia’s 2013 Driver of the Year. Overall, Elliott won 12 races in 31 starts in NCWTS, ARCA, pro late models, super late models, and dirt late models. He won in each kind. Part of Elliott’s NASCAR development has been constant testing with his HMS crew, including running simulated 500-mile races with pit stops, a regiment that most drivers do not get in their younger years. Despite the accolades, the pedigree, and the results, Elliott’s 2014 plans have not been announced. He told News/Talk WSB in August that he hoped to run a full NNS or NCWTS schedule, but the funding from his longtime sponsor won’t be there. Aaron’s is upping its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series backing, meaning Elliott’s endeavors are cut from their budget. Hendrick Motorsports has the money or will find the money to put Elliott in a full-time, competitive situation in NCWTS or NNS, likely with Turner Motorsports. But those plans are still to be determined.
NCWTS Starts: 9 Wins: 1 Top 5s: 5 Top 10s: 7 Poles: 1 Avg. St.: 7.2 Avg. Fin.: 9.7 Best Fin.: 1
ARCA Starts: 5 Wins: 1 Top 5s: 3 Top 10s: 4 Avg. St.: 17.2 Avg. Fin.: 8.8 Best Fin.: 1
Chris Cockrum: Cockrum is another of the many drivers looking for a footing in NASCAR with meager sponsorship and mainly opportunities with small teams. After running four races for RSS Racing in 2012, Cockrum and his family, who own sponsor Advanced Communications Group, decided to move to SS/Greenlight Racing for a very limited 2013 schedule. The No. 07 Toyota was a decent piece at Daytona, surviving an early race spin and several late race cautions (one that almost took him out) to finish 15th. Cockrum did not race again until Charlotte in May, where he finished 22nd. He also started-and-parked the No. 07 at Texas and then was off for several months before running Talladega. Cockrum was fast in the practice sessions that October weekend, but qualified poorly. But in race trim, the truck was fairly fast and was able to hang with the lead pack. Damage from rear-ending a truck when the field checked up didn’t derail Cockrum’s hopes in that race. But being unable to avoid a nasty crash just after that did, forcing a DNF. Cockrum had to stay in the infield care center until after the rest of the race, because his carbon monoxide numbers were too high. The crush paneling in the truck from the first crash allowed the fumes into the cockpit. The Conyers driver does not have any plans set for 2014, but did like the atmosphere and competitiveness at SS/Greenlight Racing. So if he and his father Lynn can rub the pennies together, they will go racing again and likely there. Unlike some drivers, who just like off of their family’s wealth and ride it into NASCAR, Cockrum works around the clock for Advanced Communications Group, traveling all over the country installing fiber optic cabling in businesses. Given more opportunities to develop, Cockrum has the hard work and determination to stick around in NASCAR.
Starts: 4 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 0 Top 10s: 0 Avg. St.: 33.2 Avg. Fin.: 24.8 Best Fin.: 15
Brandon Jones: This kid was born in 1997. Yes. Jones turned 16 February 18th, meaning he was just old enough to run some NCWTS races and did compete in three for Turner Scott Motorsports. The Atlanta driver’s family owns Rheem, which joined TSM as James Buescher’s full-time sponsor this season. Jones ran six NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races for the team, with Cale Gale (who drove with Rheem sponsorship in NCWTS in 2012), serving as crew chief in most of them. Jones scored only two top 10 finishes in NKNPSE this year, but is young and had several teammates in the same good equipment to contend with, including eventual series champ Dylan Kwasniewsky. Jones also ran out of a full TSM stable in the NCWTS, finishing 27th (Bristol), 20th (Iowa), and 19th (Martinsville). He did lead his first two laps at Iowa and started a solid 11th in that race. Jones spent most of the season running late model stock cars in the UARA series, which races in the southeast, finishing in the top 10 in most of those races. Expect Jones to continue driving for TSM as long as the Rheem money is there and expect to see him more often in NCWTS and NKNPSE in 2014, though no firm plans have been announced.
NCWTS Starts: 3 Wins: 0 Top 5s: 0 Top 10s: 0 Avg. St.: 20 Avg. Fin.: 22 Best Fin.: 19