BK Racing Retrospective: Who Thrived, Who Survived, Who Never Recovered

          NASCAR has had its fair share back marker teams in the recent past – Starcom Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Spire Motorsports…. That list could go on for ages. The sport has also seen a number of teams that belong in their own tier. Teams whose poor performance on the track is only matched by their poor business acumen off of it. Teams like Obaika Racing, NY Racing, and TRG Motorsports come to mind, but none of these teams were ever really able to establish themselves or run full time seasons.

          That is not the case for BK Racing. From 2012 to 2018 this Ron Devine owned team often fielded some of the worst cars on track every week, while hemorrhaging money and engaging in dishonest business practices off it at the same time.

            Several articles and videos have been made about the business decisions that led to the ultimate collapse of B.K. Racing. That will not be the topic of this article – here, I will take a look at some of the drivers who wheeled the ill-fated team’s cars throughout BK’s 7 seasons of operation. I will file each driver into one of three categories: Thrived, survived, and never recovered. It is often discussed that young drivers going to bad cup teams hinders their careers – part of the goal here is to see what kind of validity those claims have.

            A bit about my criteria: I am only interested in drivers who were relatively early in their careers while at BK, not drivers who had already established themselves, or already “had their shot” so to speak. So drivers like Travis Kvapil, David Ragan, or JJ Yeley will not be evaluated – though some will be discussed later. I am also only interested in drivers who spent a considerable amount of time with BK – so only drivers who ran more than 15 races will be considered. Without further delay let’s begin.

Thrived tier: This portion of this list is reserved for drivers whose careers were largely unhindered – or even helped – by their time at BK Racing.

1) Alex Bowman: Without question the most successful former BK Racing driver, Alex Bowman’s struggles at BK were well documented. After early success, Bowman joined the Nationwide series in 2013. He had a solid first year running for relatively small RAB Racing, finishing 11th in the standings and 2nd in rookie of the year to Kyle Larson. Instead of remaining in the Nationwide series to build off of that season though, Bowman made the decision to jump straight to the Cup Series with BK Racing. The decision would nearly go on to ruin Bowman’s career.

            2014 was a terrible season for him, as he only managed an average finish of 32.6, finished outside of the top-30 in 25 of 36 races, with the only bright spot being a 13th place run at Daytona. 2014 would see Bowman finish 35th in the final standings – last of the drivers who ran all 36 races. Bowman went from one of the best prospects in the sport, to dead last in just one year thanks to the premature jump to Cup.

            Following the disastrous 2014 campaign, Bowman would run full time in 2015 for Tommy Baldwin Racing, but things only marginally improved as he would go on to finish 33rd in the standings, and went into the 2016 season without a Cup Series ride. However, he did manage to lock up a part-time ride with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in a deal that would ultimately save his career. He ran well in those Xfinity races, and when Dale Jr suffered a concussion that took him out of the 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports halfway through the season, Bowman was tapped to split driving duties with Jeff Gordon for the remainder of that season. Bowman performed well enough in those races in 2016 that he was announced as Dale Jr’s replacement for the 2018 season following his retirement. Since taking over that ride, Bowman has made the playoffs in each of his four seasons, and has racked up 6 wins, 24 top-5’s, and 54 top-10’s. He’s now regarded as one of the sports best young talents.

            Alex Bowman was almost the ultimate cautionary tale against jumping to the Cup Series early for a bad team. His 2014 and 2015 seasons almost ruined what had been a promising career. However, his ability to land on his feet with JRM and eventually with Hendrick Motorsports has allowed him to become one of the biggest figures in the sport, and a true success story in resilience. However, to say his success was because of BK Racing wouldn’t really be true, as he survived in spite of them. That is not the case for the next driver.

2) Matt DiBenedetto: Ah yes, Matty D… say what you want about DiBenedetto’s last couple of years (both on the track, and off of it), but there is no doubt that he benefited from his time at BK more than anybody.

            After a relatively lackluster Nationwide Series career, the former Joe Gibbs prospect was struggling to find his footing in the sport, having to run for several back marker, non-competitive Nationwide Series teams just to stay around. “Just staying around” went on to pay off though, as he eventually made the jump to NASCAR’s top level, running full time for BK in both 2015 and 2016. All told he had about the results you would expect from that team in those seasons – average finishes of 32nd and 30th respectively. However, he would have his career defining moment at Bristol in his second year with BK.

            In the 2016 Food City 500, he managed to wheel a BK Racing car to a 6th place finish, the team’s best ever result, and an incredibly impressive feat in a race that wasn’t marked by loads of attrition. It was that one shining moment that every small team driver dreams of – that one race that says to the bigger teams “look at me, look what I can do, sign me!” The finish, and subsequent publicity, allowed DiBenedetto show off his – at least at the time – exceptionally likeable personality, and plucky underdog attitude, that many fans identified with and gravitated towards. It also showed that he was the kind of driver that could get the most out of the equipment he was given.

            He managed to parlay all of that into two full time seasons at semi-competitive Go Fas Racing, a season with JGR affiliated Leavine Family Racing, and two years running for the legendary Wood Brothers. Throughout that journey he racked up 30 top-10’s, 9 top-5’s, and a few well documented “almost” wins.

            The recent decline of his career that has led him to a recently announced full time Truck Series ride with Rackley WAR has been well documented, so I will not discuss it here. Regardless, there is no doubt that DiBenedetto – particularly thanks to that fateful 6th place run at Bristol – made the absolute most of his time with BK Racing, and carved out a very nice career for himself because of it.

Survived tier: This portion of the list is for drivers who, while they were never able to find great success following their tenures with BK, have been able to put together solid careers since, and have prospects of continued improvement.

1) Landon Cassill: This almost feels like a tentative spot in light of him securing a full-time ride with Xfinity Series powerhouse Kaulig Racing in 2022, but he’ll need a win or two before he can jump to the “thrived” tier. A former Hendrick Motorsports prospect, Landon Cassill was one of two full time drivers – along with Travis Kvapil – during BK’s inaugural season in 2012, after two part time seasons in cup, and a series of solid but mostly unsuccessful part time seasons in the Nationwide Series. I also want to throw in that he ran two races for Randy Moss Motorsports (yes, THAT Randy Moss) in the Truck Series in 2008 because I think that’s cool – he even got a top-10 at Talladega for them!

            In his lone season at BK in 2012, Cassill actually performed relatively well by the team’s standards, securing seven top-20’s, and an average finish of 27.5 – the second best such mark in the team’s history, only trailing his teammate Travs Kvapil’s mark of 25.7 from that same year. He even coined his memorable quote “rule number 1 in stock car racing is learn to wreck someone else without wrecking yourself” when Danica Patrick tried – and ultimately failed – to wreck him. Cassill helped BK put together a decent debut season, but when the season concluded the two sides could not come to terms on a contract, and went their separate ways.

            Following his lone season at BK, Cassill would become something of a journeyman, running three mostly full time campaigns in both the Cup and Xfinity series. He managed to secure a full time cup series ride with semi-competitive Front Row Motorsports in 2016 and 2017, but despite performing about as well as could be expected would lose that ride and would not secure another full time ride entering the 2018 season.

            When Jeffrey Earnhardt backed out of his arrangement to run full time for Starcom Racing in 2018 after only 5 races, Cassill would take over and provide exactly what the young team needed – a veteran driver who could keep the car clean. He ran the remainder of 2018 and all of 2019 for Starcom, not producing great results, but very rarely getting the car into trouble. At the end of the 2019 season, Starcom made the… we’ll just say “infamous” decision to replace Cassill with unproven rookie Quin Houff. We all know how that worked out.

            In 2020 Cassill ran a few start and parks – with some exceptional qualifying efforts – in the Xfinity Series with Shepherd Racing Ventures before running full time for JD Motorsports in 2021, providing a consistent veteran presence to the team.

            At the conclusion of the 2021 season, it was announced that he had gotten his “big break”, and would run full time for Kaulig Racing. While it may have taken a long time for Landon to find his footing, if he is able to make the most of this opportunity with a top flite team, he could soon – and I think WILL soon – find himself in the “thrived” tier of this list.

2) Corey LaJoie: The son of two time Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie, Corey Lajoie nearly won a K&N East championship in 2012 driving for his dad’s team, finishing only 15 points behind series champion Kyle Larson. He was named a member of the 2012 NASCAR Next class, and would become a development driver for Richard Petty Motorsports. Despite this early success, he was only able to lock up a few part-time rides in the Xfinity Series from 2013 to 2016, and would ultimately make the decision to jump to the Cup Series in 2017 for BK Racing, running 32 races.

            Possibly marking a bad omen, his very first race with BK was embroiled in controversy, as he was an open car for the Daytona 500 – meaning that he was not guaranteed a starting spot, and needed to beat the other open cars in the Can Am Duels – and spun the only other open driver in his duel race, guaranteeing himself a spot in the race…yikes!

            Lajoie’s lone season at BK also marked the team’s second to last. Their financial struggles were fairly obvious at this point, and the cars being brought to the track struggled. LaJoie ultimately managed an average finish of 30.2, which was actually solid by BK’s standards. He generally kept the car out of trouble and finished in the top 30 in 15 of his 32 races, a better rate than some past BK drivers. He even managed to put up one of the team’s best ever runs, an 11th place finish at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. After one year at BK, and with the writing on the wall that the team was headed for failure, LaJoie moved on.

            LaJoie would run part time for TriStar Motorsports in 2018 before running full time for GoFas Racing in 2019 and 2020 finding modest success with three top-10’s. He would then go on to secure a full time ride with Spire Motorsports in 2021 on a “multi-year deal”. He hyped up the team heading into the season, praising the quality of equipment. While he had flashes of promise in 2021, including a top-10 in the season opening Daytona 500, it was a mostly underwhelming campaign and he only managed to finish 29th in the final standings – the same as his first season with GoFas. If LaJoie and Spire are able to improve on their first season LaJoie could see himself in the “thrived” tier, but for now, he is merely surviving.

3) Jeb Burton: Burton represents a great case for the argument that jumping to a bad cup series team early on can hurt your career more than it helps. After running two solid full time truck series seasons in which he racked up 18 top-10’s and a win, Burton made the jump straight to cup and had very little success.

            In his lone full time season with BK in 2015, he finished outside of the top-30 in all but 3 races, had a best finish of 27th, and failed to qualify for 9 races – a fairly astonishing mark in modern NASCAR. All told, Burton only managed an average finish of 36.3, the worst single season mark in BK Racing’s history – on odious distinction when you’re talking about a team as notoriously bad as BK. It had been reported when he joined the team that it was on a multi-year deal, but after the disastrous campaign both sides parted ways.

            After leaving the cup series following that horrible season, he was unable to find a full-time ride in any of the top three series. He would go on to drive part time for several other teams, though to his credit some of them were big names in the sport – Richard Petty Motorsports, RCR, and most notably JR Motorsports in 2019 and 2020. He didn’t manage to pick up any wins in those part time rides, but did manage to put together a few solid runs, particularly for JRM, where he notched 12 top-10’s in 18 races for the team.

            He didn’t manage to find a permanent landing spot until 2021 where he ran full time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing. He managed to put together a pretty successful season, winning his first career race at Talladega and making the playoffs, ultimately finishing 10th in the final standings. However, he would go on to lose his ride at Kaulig following the season, and will have to take a step backwards in terms of competitiveness as he moves to newly expanded Our Motorsports – though that is a young team that has already shown a few flashes in their two years of Xfinity competition – they may surprise some people this season.

            There is no doubt that his premature jump to cup with BK severely hurt his career, but two solid part time seasons with JR Motorsports, a playoff appearance with Kaulig, and a full time ride with Our Motorsports are just enough to keep him out of the “never recovered” tier.

Never recovered tier: This portion of the list is for drivers whose careers never seemed to rebound since their time at BK. Whether or not that lack of recovery can be solely attributed to BK is open to interpretation, but in each case it almost certainly played a role.

1) Ryan Truex: A two time K&N Pro Series East champion with Michael Waltrip Racing, many had high expectations for Ryan Truex, but after a disastrous 2014 season with BK, Truex has simply never managed to fully recover.

            Following the aforementioned success in the K&N Series, Truex would run three part time seasons in the Nationwide Series between 2010 and 2012 for a number of teams, most notably Joe Gibbs Racing for whom he ran 13 races, collecting eight top-10’s and a runner up finish at Dover in 2012. In 2013 Truex and Gibbs would part ways, and he would sign on with Richard Petty Motorsports as a development driver, and would eventually make his Cup Series debut later that year with Phoenix Racing. The following season, Truex would go on to sign with BK Racing in what would prove to be a career altering decision.

            Truex’s 2014 season was truly the stuff of nightmares for a young driver trying to establish themselves. Across 26 attempted races in 2014, Truex would fail to qualify three times (including the Daytona 500), and would only manage one finish better than 30th. Yes, just one – a 20th place result at Pocono, in a race that was marked by heavy attrition. Truex’s average finish in 2014 would go on to be 35.6, which was the second worst single season mark in BK Racing’s history. Eventually the poor performances coupled with sub-par equipment caused the situation to deteriorate, and 27 races into the season Truex was replaced, and left the team.

            Following his departure from BK it took Truex a whole year to land on his feet again. In 2016 he managed to secure a part time ride in the Truck Series with Hattori Racing, where he had enough success that they signed him to run full time in 2017. He put together a solid 2017 campaign, racking up 13 top 10’s and narrowly missing a playoff berth. Despite the decent season, he would be released by Hattori at the end of the year.

            Soon after, Truex would sign on with then up and coming Kaulig Racing in 2018. He would put together another solid season, collecting 11 top-10’s and securing a playoff berth, but would be eliminated in the first round and finish the season 12th in points. Following that season Truex would again be released, and would run select races on part time schedules 2019 and 2020 in Xfinity & Trucks before having a mostly unsuccessful full time Truck season with Niece Motorsports in 2021. He has since signed with Sam Hunt Racing to run part time in the Xfinity Series for 2022, splitting duties in the car with Jeffrey Earnhardt.

            Looking at his full career arc thus far there is no doubt that his ill-fated stint with BK hurt Ryan Truex’s career prospects for a number of years following it, and he has not managed to produce good enough results since to fully recover, or “stick” with any teams since. There have been some flashes along the way, and Truex is obviously a talented driver. Given the right opportunity he could absolutely be successful, but for now, “never recovered” is the appropriate spot.

2) Cole Whitt: Similar to Truex, Cole Whitt never managed to find his footing in the sport after jumping to the cup series with BK. Juxtaposed to Truex however, where there has been a long fight since to salvage it, Cole Whitt seemed to simply fade into obscurity after only a couple of years.

            Following a successful USAC career, Whitt ran the last two races of the 2010 Nationwide Series for Red Bull Racing before making the jump to the Truck Series full time in 2011 at just 20 years old. He put together a solid rookie season with 11 top-10’s, narrowly missing out on the Rookie of the Year award to Austin Dillon. His performance was solid enough that he was tapped to run full time for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2012, where he put together another competitive year, finishing 7th in points. All told, it was as good a start to a NASCAR career as anyone could hope for.

            Unfortunately, following that hot start, Whitt struggled to find sponsorship and lost his ride with JRM. In 2013 he ran part time in both Nationwide and Cup before heading to the Cup Series full time with Swan Racing. However, Swan Racing underwent a major shuffle after only eight races due to financial issues, and were forced to sell assets. When the dust settled Whitt suddenly found himself driving for… none other than BK Racing.

            Whitt would go on to run 28 races for BK to finish out his first full-time Cup Series campaign, performing about on par with other BK Drivers, only finishing inside the top-20 twice at Talladega and Martinsville, and generally struggling in the sub-par equipment. He would end the season 31st in points, and would not be retained by BK following that season.

            Whitt would manage to parlay his time with BK into a single season with semi-competitive Front Row Motorsports, but after an unsuccessful tenure there with only two top-20’s and another 31st points finish his career would start a major decline. In 2016 he would run part time for Premium Motorsports with limited success save for two superspeedway top-20’s before moving to TriStar Motorsports full time in 2017, where he would again struggle to find success. In 2018 Whitt scaled back to only part time duties with TriStar before retiring at age 27.

            Whitt can be viewed as a victim of circumstance as much as anything. He had a hot start to his career, locked up a dream opportunity with JR Motorsports, but as is so often the case with young talented drivers, struggled to find sponsorship, and was forced to run for smaller teams after that. He was a talented driver, but was all but forced to make the jump to Cup early thanks to sponsorship issues, and never got a chance to show what he could really do.

3) Gray Gaulding: This may be a bit of a controversial spot as he is still very young at 23, and still securing full-time rides – but those rides haven’t been for competitive teams, particularly in the last two seasons, and as a former Roush prospect you would certainly expect more.

            Gaulding was something of a child prodigy in racing, with several wins in Legends and even a win in the K&N Series before turning 16. This early success led to him climbing the ranks relatively quickly, jumping to the Truck Series part time at age 16. He ran part time in Trucks the next two years, even running 3 races for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2015. He then joined Roush Racings driver development program in 2016, and ran two Xfinity races for them. After running two Cup Series races for The Motorsports Group in 2016, Gaulding signed on to run for BK Racing in 2017.

            Gaulding’s 2017 was going about how you would expect a BK Racing season to go, but it ran into problems halfway through the season as BK was forced to release Gaulding due to a litany of financial problems. He would run a few races for Premium Motorsports for the rest of the season before returning to BK for four more races that year. Notably, Gaulding would put together an impressive run at Talladega, securing one of the team’s three ever top-10’s -with a 9th place finish.

            In 2018 Gaulding returned to BK Racing to take another shot at a full-time season, but after only 17 races the team’s financial issues would reach a head, and Gaulding was forced to leave the team. Since then, he has run 13 Cup Series races for Premium Motorsports, StarCom Racing, and Rick Ware Racing.

            Gaulding was forced back to the Xfinity Series in 2019, and actually put together a very good season for underfunded SS-Green Light Racing, securing four top-10’s, a career best 2nd place run at Talladega, and would nearly earn a playoff berth, going on to finish the season 13th in points – the team’s best ever result. However, despite his solid performances Gaulding would lose his full time ride the following season.

            The move to part time officially started the downward trajectory that his career has been on, as he took a part time ride with Jimmy Means Racing in 2021 and had little success. He will return to Jimmy Means Racing in 2022 to run a full-time schedule, but expectations for improvement are not high.

            It seems as though all it will take for Gray to jump to the next level is a competitive ride. The talent is there as his 2019 Xfinity campaign and early career success showed, but he simply hasn’t gotten an opportunity in the right equipment. While it seems like his NASCAR career has stagnated over the last couple of years, all it takes is one big team to take a chance.

“Honorable” mentions: I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss a few other well known drivers that have run for BK, and explore a bit about the impact that their tenures at BK had on their careers. Most of these guys were either a little later in their careers when they got to BK, or only ran a small handful of races.

Travis Kvapil: I sincerely considered putting Kvapil in the “never recovered” tier, but as a 36 year old who had already driven 6 full time Cup Series seasons – most of which were for relatively competitive teams – by the time he arrived at BK he didn’t really fit the criteria of what I was trying to look at. But he is absolutely a case worth discussing, because his time at BK essentially marked the nail in the coffin on his career.

            The all-time leader in starts for BK Racing with 73, Kvapil ran a full time schedule for the team in 2012 & 2013. The 2003 Truck Series champion, he had previously driven full time campaigns in cup for Penske, Yates, and Front Row Motorsports without much success. Kvapil came to startup BK Racing likely viewing it as his “last chance” to make it in the Cup Series. His first season with the team was actually the best season in the team’s history, where he managed an average finish of 25.7, netted one of the teams only three top-10’s, and ended up 27th in the final standings.

            2013 would be a different story however as the team struggled mightily. Kvapil lost nearly 5 spots on his average finish down to 30.4, and fell to 31st in the standings before leaving the team at the end of the season. He would go on to run part time for Go Fas the following year, and then a few other part time rides across the top three series in the following years, with his last career race being a 28th place Truck Series run for Beaver Motorsports in 2019.

            You could certainly argue that Kvapil belongs in the “never recovered” tier, and I wouldn’t heartily disagree. However, his career had been on a downward trajectory for quite some time since his Truck Series championship a full decade before his arrival at BK, and he had already had his chance. His arrival at BK wasn’t a rush job like many of the drivers above – it was a last ditch effort that didn’t pan out.

J.J. Yeley: Another guy who had certainly already had his shot, JJ Yeley was the precursor to Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs 18 in 2006 & 2007, and most of us know how that turned out. For those of you that don’t, “badly” is a good descriptor – but we won’t get into that here.

            Following his time at JGR, Yeley essentially became a journeyman, with only one full time season between 2007 and 2013 when he arrived at BK for the second half of the season. He would run full time for BK in 2014, running 34 of 36 races, netting a truly abysmal average finish of 34.5 – the third worst such mark in the team’s history behind only Ryan Truex (35.6) and Jeb Burton (36.3) – in a year where he was actually running for points in the Xfinity Series rather than Cup. Since his full time season at BK, Yeley has continued his role as a journeyman across the top three series in NASCAR in mostly middling equipment.

David Ragan: Following 9 full-time seasons with mostly competitive teams – five driving the Roush Fenway 6 car, three seasons with Front Row Motorsports that saw him win at Talladega, and one season split between Joe Gibbs and Michael Waltrip Racing that saw him fill in for an injured Kyle Busch during his first championship season – Ragan moved to BK Racing in 2016. It would go on to be the worst season of his career, that saw him finish inside the top-20 only twice, and he ended up 33rd in points.

            Ragan would manage to have something of a minor revival to his career after his stint at BK, returning to Front Row Motorsports for three full time seasons before retiring from full time racing following the 2019 season.

David Reutiman: After running five fairly competitive, if not inconsistent seasons with Michael Waltrip Racing that saw him secure two wins and several good runs, Reutiman and MWR parted ways following the 2011 season after sponsorship issues. 2012 would see Reutiman run a part time schedule with four different teams, but he would secure a full time ride with BK Racing for 2013 in what would go on to be his last full time season.

            Following a solid 16th place run in the Daytona 500, Reutiman would not have another finish inside the top-20 for the rest of the season, and would end up 33rd in points. He would run three races for Front Row Motorsports the following year, and would retire shortly after.

Michael Waltrip: Mikey ran the 2016 Daytona 500 with BK Racing. He would finish 30th after two pit crew penalties hampered his efforts, which is appropriate given that we’re talking about BK Racing…

            BK Racing was a bad team. There is no way around that fact. In the grand scheme of things, it is relatively clear that they hurt more than they helped as it relates to both jumpstarting young careers, and reviving older ones. While there are exceptions, it appears as though the conventional argument that “young drivers jumping to cup for bad teams too soon hurts their career” seems to hold water. Plenty of the drivers discussed can still salvage their careers, but it will take a big break of some sort – and those are hard to come by.

Published by Walker Skeeter

Walker is a 4th year climatology PhD candidate at the University of Delaware. Despite being a climate scientist, Walker has been a NASCAR fan for over 20 years! His favorite drivers are Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, and Alex Bowman in cup, and AJ Allmendinger, Tommy Joe Martins, and Ryan Vargas in Xfinity. Outside of racing, he enjoys talking about (and studying) the weather, watching Baltimore sports, and playing video games.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: