BK Racing rookies Jeb Burton and Matt DiBenedetto found themselves hunkered in their race haulers keeping warm on a blustery cold day, instead of digesting notes and embracing vital seat time during a three hour test session which officially introduced the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rule packages.
BK Racing’s No. 26 and No. 83 Toyotas had engines, fuel and manpower, but a team spokesperson said that a shipment of parts did not arrive in time for the drivers to participate in the test.
Things have to get better, right?
The spokesperson went on to say that the parts were expected to arrive tonight along with the team’s third entry driven by J.J. Yeley. The team opted to keep Yeley on the sidelines Thursday, while focusing their efforts on their newest protégés.
Thursday’s test session allowed teams to adjust and gather notes through NASCAR’s newest rule package, which includes a reduction of the rear spoiler from 8” to 6” high and the reduction of engine power from 840 to 725 HP through a tapered spacer.
Undoubtedly, the delay in the arrival of “parts” kept essential seat time for Burton and DiBenedetto from happening, but Thursday’s latest challenges continue to raise questions on whether the team is fully equipped to handle three full-time cars?
Since losing his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride last month, Burton was quickly picked up by the Concord, North Carolina-based team. It was expected that Burton’s young influential attitude and talent could enhance the team’s overall performance.However, Speedweeks 2015 proved to be two weeks that Burton would rather forget. After nearly avoiding disaster during Sunday’s qualifying session at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Burton found his No. 26 Toyota Camry swept up in a multi-car accident in practice two days later.
The team hustled to put together a back-up car together so the Halifax, Virginia native could race his way into the Daytona 500 through Thursday night’s qualifying races, but another accident during his Budweiser Duel forced Burton out of a starting spot in the “Great American Race.”
Even facing hardship to qualify for NASCAR’s Super Bowl event, Burton stayed focused and upbeat, arriving in Atlanta ready to do work.
All for not.
Adding insult to injury on why Thursday’s session was so important? Burton has never raced at Atlanta Motor Speedway before, hasn’t sat in a Cup car other than Daytona and only will have an hour and twenty-five minutes of practice Friday afternoon before qualifying. Tough task for any driver, let alone a rookie to conquer.
The son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ward Burton called the circumstances “disappointing,” but declined further comment. DiBenedetto also stayed hushed.DiBenedetto finds himself in a similar scenario to his new teammate.
DiBenedetto lost his NASCAR XFINITY Series ride last year when The Motorsports Group (TMG) decided to opt out of XFINITY competition for a new Sprint Cup Series team. In January, BK Racing said that the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver would compete in a limited schedule this season.
TMG missed last Sunday’s Daytona 500 with Ron Hornaday Jr. aboard, but DiBenedetto watched his No. 83 Toyota Camry piloted by Johnny Sauter race to a respectable 19th place run.
Big shoes to fill.
The 23-year old Grass Valley, Calif. native does have Cup seat time in testing opportunities for Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Ganassi Racing, but this weekend will be his debut in NASCAR’s newest generation of vehicles.
With both drivers likely having to earn a starting spot during knockout qualifying Friday night, the team’s absence from the test could easily put the three-car operation behind the eight ball before the weekend even starts.
Should Burton be unable to lock himself into the second race of the season on speed, the team is confident that his owner points from 2014 should aid him in making his Sprint Cup Series debut Sunday, DiBenedetto, however, finds himself in a must-do situation by making the field on speed, otherwise his Cup debut could be pushed back to another race.
Both teams will swap motors before Friday’s activities begin.
BK Racing officials also said the team will not use the optional driver adjustable track bar in all three racecars (No. 23, No. 26 and No. 83) this weekend at Atlanta. The team said they have submitted their plans to NASCAR to eventually work that feature into their drivers’ hands, but called the rule more of a luxury rather than a necessity.
Follow Chris Knight on Twitter @Knighter01.