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MILNER: Sorenson Favorite Among Open Teams Not Locked In

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In addition to putting the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the front row of the Daytona 500, Sunday’s qualifying also ensured two of the four spots for those without charters, were set.

Ironically, of the six drivers competing for those four spots, it was the two favorites, Elliott Sadler and Brendan Gaughan, who secured their spots in The Great American Race, based on their qualifying speeds.

Sadler, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, will make his fourteenth appearance in the Daytona 500 and his first since 2012. With six top 10 finishes in the race, Sadler has come close to winning previously.  He finished runner-up to Ward Burton in 2002 and, in 2009, was passed by Matt Kenseth on the last green flag lap.

Gaughan, like Sadler, has been a regular competitor in the XFINITY Series over the past several years. In his first Daytona 500 since a nineteenth place finish in 2004, Gaughan will be racing for Beard Motorsports in the same Leaving Family Racing car that Michael McDowell drove to a fifteenth-place finish in last year’s Daytona 500, with an ECR Engine and Gaughan’s Richard Childress Racing XFINITY Series pit crew.

For the four drivers yet to lock themselves in via speed or a charter, they will be competing for two spots in Thursday’s Can-Am Duels. With Sadler and Gaughan already locked in, no one stands out among the four remaining hopefuls.

Reed Sorenson has the most Daytona 500 experience of the four, with six starts with four different teams. He snagged a top five in 2008, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing and followed it up with a ninth-place finish a year later, driving the iconic No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Entry into the 2017 Daytona 500 would be his 263 career Cup start, with 15 top 10s to his credit.

Timmy Hill first arrived on the national scene in 2011 and was the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year. In six years, he has made 171 starts in XFINITY, Trucks, and Cup, with three top 10s in total. Hill has raced at Daytona five times in NASCAR’s three touring series with a seventh-place finish in the XFINITY Series 2012 opener.  One plus he has is, in 2017, he reunites with Rick Ware Racing which gave him his start in all three major series (he also competed for the team in the 2012 24 Hours of Daytona) in his attempt to make his first Daytona 500.

DJ Kennington will seek to become the first Canadian since Trevor Boys in 1988. Daytona will be only his second Cup race, the first coming back in Phoenix. He has three XFINITY starts at Daytona but none since a seventeenth-finish in 2009. He will be driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing team, fielding their first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry after running in the Pinty’s Series in 2010 and 2011. Notably, Kennington is a two-time series champion, having scored both those titles with his family-run team. 

Cory LaJoie, son of two-time Busch (now XFINITY) Champion Randy LaJoie, returns to attempt to make his third Cup start and his first since 2014. Lajoie ran for JGL Racing in last year’s July Daytona XFINITY race, finishing 30th.  While BK Racing may not be challenging Joe Gibbs Racing for Toyota prominence, they do have extensive experience in the Cup series, dating back to David Reutimann’s entry into the 2012 Daytona 500. LaJoie has twenty NASCAR starts, spread across all three national series.

Based on experience from both driver and team, it would seem Sorenson could be the favorite to claim one of the two spots in the Can-Am Duels. Who would join him in racing their way into the Daytona 500 remains very much unclear. LaJoie’s alignment with BK Racing could give him the edge over Hill and Kennington.

Until the checkered flag drops on Thursday night, however, it is too close to call.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

John Milner

John Milner resides in Thamesford, Ontario, Canada where he is currently working as a freelance writer and exploring his next opportunity in the communications field. He was first published in his high school newspaper more years ago than he cares to remember. Since then, John has worked as a communications associate, freelance and staff writer and has written about everything from charity bake sales to multi-million dollar military contract awards and from Michael Moore movie premieres to pro wrestling. He first began watching NASCAR with his Dad and would annually book the Daytona 500 off from work (back when he worked in retail) so the two of them could watch it together.