By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Wow, I’m speechless. If you would have asked me at the beginning of Speedweeks which teams would have four cars on the final grid for the Daytona 500, I would have obviously answered Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, Joe Gibbs Racing — but never in my wildest dreams did I think BK Racing would pull off the feat.
For the mega teams I listed above, they are part of the new team charter system, which ensures that all of their cars will make every race in 2016 — BK Racing only has that luxury for two of their four teams that went to Daytona Beach looking to race in the biggest event of the season.
David Ragan (driving the No. 23) and Michael Waltrip (driving the No. 83) had their place in the field locked in by team charters. Matt DiBenedetto (driving the No. 93) and Robert Richardson, Jr. (driving the No. 26) on the other hand, would have to bank on fast cars, and a little bit of luck if they had any hopes of racing in the Great American Race.
Dibenedetto’s prayer for a fast car was answered as he locked his position in the field by being the second-fastest of the six “open” teams trying to make the field. Regardless of where he finished in the Can-Am Duels, Dibenedetto would race. With DiBenedetto’s place secured, the pressure rested squarely on Richardson’s shoulders to make the show.
Richardson, a Texas native, has competed in eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in his career, but none since 2012. In fact, Richardson hasn’t ran a race at the NASCAR National Series level since 2014. Despite that fact, and the fact that Richardson finished 18th out of 22 cars in his Can-Am Duel race, he will race on Sunday. And it was all thanks to a little help from his teammate, DiBenedetto.
Had DiBenedetto played it safe, and hung around at the back of the pack in his Can-Am Duel race, DiBenedetto would have still made the Daytona 500. However, by competing hard and mixing it up DiBenedetto wound up finishing ninth in the second qualifying race, which made DiBenedetto the highest “open” car in the field. As a result, DiBenedetto no longer had to rely on his qualifying speed from last Sunday to make the field. With that being the case, the next-highest “open” driver in qualifying, who wasn’t already in the show just so happened to be Richardson.
Richardson’s spot in the field was even more improbable, because just a couple of weeks ago he wasn’t even planning on attempting to make the race.
“Two weeks ago I was at home working on my ranch, got a phone call from Lane Segerstrom from StalkIt, saying he was trying to put a deal together trying to run the Daytona 500,” Richardson said after the race. “This was two weeks ago. A lot of guys start preparing for this race as soon as the season ends from last year.”
Richardson has ran the Daytona 500 twice before (2010 and 2011). DiBenedetto however, has never made the field for the biggest race in NASCAR. He will now get the chance to live out his childhood fantasy.
“Being able to race in my first Daytona 500 this weekend is going to be a heck of an honor,” DiBenedetto exclaimed. “I’ve dreamed of it since I was five, so I’m excited.”
In probably one of the bigger Cinderella stories of all of Speedweeks, BK Racing will now hold 10-percent of the positions in the Daytona 500 field on Sunday, and they have a decent shot at making some noise. Waltrip and Ragan are restrictor plate aces. Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, while Ragan has visited victory lane in the July Daytona race before. They’re two younger drivers DiBenedetto and Richardson are also exceeding expectations this Speedweeks. Perhaps, BK Racing will have a chance to show that the underdog team can still get it done at NASCAR’s highest level on Sunday.
Image: NASCAR Media Group