Coke Whitt will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series return in 2017 with TriStar Motorsports. The newly-formed program will field the #72 Toyota Camry full-time. Florida Lottery will sponsor the car at the Daytona 500.
In 2016, Whitt ran much of the Cup Series schedule in the #55 and #98 for Premium Motorsports, recording a best finish of 11th at the July Daytona race and finishing 37th in points. He ran the last two Xfinity Series races of the year with TriStar in the #14. In addition to Florida Lottery, his car will be sponsored by Rinnai, RTIC Coolers and Carolina Skiff, all of whom had served as a sponsor during Whitt’s tenure with Premium.
“I’m looking forward to being back in the seat at TriStar Motorsports for the Monster Energy Cup Series for 2017,” Whitt stated. “We are glad to have Florida Lottery back with us for the season opener at Daytona and are fortunate to continue and expand our relationship with Rinnai, RTIC Coolers and Carolina Skiff throughout the year.”
TriStar fielded a full-time Cup Series car in the early 1990s for drivers such as Bobby Hamilton and Loy Allen Jr. The Cup program was shut down in 1998 and owner Mark Smith formed Pro Motor Engines, providing engines to various teams including Front Row Motorsports and Kevin Harvick Incorporated. TriStar returned to NASCAR competition in 2010 after purchasing FRM’s Nationwide (now Xfinity) team. The Xfinity team will run the #14 Camry for J.J. Yeley full-time in the Xfinity Series.
Smith returned to Cup ownership in 2012, partnering with HP Racing owner Randy Humphrey to form Humphrey Smith Racing. The team lasted two years, fielding the #19 Camry for Mike Bliss, Chris Cook, Jason Leffler, Reed Sorenson and Alex Kennedy. Smith sold his stake in the team to Humphrey after the 2013 season.
Frank Kerr, who served as Yeley’s crew chief in 2016, will serve the same position for Whitt’s #72 team. Prior to joining TriStar, he was the crew chief for Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43 Xfinity car driven by Dakoda Armstrong. His last stint in the Cup Series was with David Gilliland and FRM, a relationship that lasted two seasons and resulted in a pole at the 2014 Coke Zero 400.
“We are taking a different approach and expanding our competitive platform for 2017,” Smith said. “It is an opportunity we feel is the best direction for this season and we are pleased to have Cole and his partners involved in those efforts.”
The Daytona 500 will be held on February 26.
Featured image courtesy of Nigel Kinrade, Associated Press