AP Sports Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Robert Richardson Jr. is ready to make hay at the Daytona 500.
The Texas driver only got the call two weeks ago from BK Racing to attempt the “The Great American Race.” With a newborn son at home, Richardson took a break from his full-time job at a ranch and will try and mow down a different kind of field.
Richardson raced his way into the Daytona 500, one more driver with a chance to win for NASCAR’S most eclectic team.
BK Racing has more cars in NASCAR’s marquee race than Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi, and the same number as Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs.
Richardson, David Ragan, Matt DiBenedetto and two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip have helped BK Racing somehow beat the odds and fill a 10th of the Daytona 500 field.
“This is my only opportunity to race this year,” Richardson said. “This is my opportunity to get my racing fix in for the season.”
Richardson should be used to waiting for a turn that might never come: the burly, 33 year old spent the 2001 season at SMU as a backup quarterback.
Can he throw one more Hail Mary and pull off Daytona’s wildest upset?
Starting 40th, probably not.
But for Richardson, who had more than 100 congratulatory text messages, just earning a ride in the No. 26 Toyota was a victory.
Only two spots were up for grabs in the 500 — one in each qualifying race. Michael McDowell earned the spot in the first race, while Richardson secured the final transfer spot on speed Thursday.
Not bad for Richardson, who has only eight career Sprint Cup starts and none since 2009.
“Man, that’s better than winning the lottery right there,” said Richardson, who added that every dollar he earns this weekend will go into a college fund for his newborn son. Richardson manages hay production as his full-time job at a ranch in Pilot Point, Texas.
BK Racing held a pair of winning tickets when it was granted two of the 36 charters available from NASCAR that guaranteed spots in the field each race.
DiBenedetto had one of the spots. But BK Racing was able to snag Daytona vet Waltrip for one race, forcing DiBenedetto to qualify as an open car. In exchange, DiBenedetto got to run with a Toyota engine instead of a Triad engine. DiBenedetto will return to the No. 83 Toyota next weekend at Atlanta.
BK Racing made its Sprint Cup debut in 2012 out of the ashes of Red Bull Racing. Ragan, with two career Cup victories, joined the team once Michael Waltrip Racing folded. DiBenedetto made 33 starts and posted an average finish of 32nd in his rookie 2015 season for BK Racing.
Waltrip sold his fleet of cars and chassis shops to BK Racing.
“We’re not afraid to run ‘em and race ‘em and wreck em,” BK Racing President Ron Devine said Friday.
He’s also not afraid to go against the grain and pluck a farmer out of obscurity for a Daytona ride.
Richardson drove the No. 23 back in previous stints in Cup and Xfinity. He also had a sponsor in Stalk It, which makes goods out of cornstalk.
Stalk It wanted back in racing and reached out to BK about putting Richardson in the 23. Ragan drives the No. 23 this year, but a deal was struck to bring Richardson into the fold for one race.
“I was skeptical about it,” said Devine, who once owned as many as 26 Burger King franchises before he sold them last May. “We were a pretty good three-car team. To have four cars was a bit much.”
Four proved the magic number at Daytona.
“I sat on my balcony on the beach at 2:30 in the morning trying to keep up with texts,” Devine said. “I was just in disbelief that it was going on.”
Devine said he’d like his cars to run inside the top 30 this season and become more competitive in the years ahead. BK Racing could run three cars in six to eight races this season.
So, who knows? Richardson might have another shot at a feel-good ride this season. But if this is the final straw of his racing career, he’s at peace.
“Whether this is my last race or not,” Richardson said, “this is a good way to go out.”