NASCAR team should fill Daytona 500 vacancy with a familiar face

Rick Ware Racing still have a seat to fill for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
Riley Herbst, Rick Ware Racing, Daytona 500, NASCAR
Riley Herbst, Rick Ware Racing, Daytona 500, NASCAR / Chris Graythen/GettyImages

The entry list for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 officially hit 40 cars when Legacy Motor Club confirmed the addition of the No. 84 Toyota for two-time race winner Jimmie Johnson for the second year in a row, and it hit 41 when Front Row Motorsports confirmed the addition of the No. 36 Ford for Kaz Grala.

Of those 41 entries, the only one without a confirmed driver is Rick Ware Racing's No. 15 Ford. Justin Haley is set to drive the No. 51 Ford full-time for the team in 2024 after spending the last two seasons at Kaulig Racing, but the team's second car is set to be shared.

Grala recently signed a 25-race deal (including 24 of the 36 points races) with Rick Ware Racing to drive the No. 15 Ford. It was initially confirmed that the Daytona 500 is not one of those 25 events, and his separate Front Row Motorsports deal was then announced.

Rick Ware Racing still need second Daytona 500 driver

Cody Ware, who had been competing full-time for his father's team up until his arrest and suspension last April, is expected to return for select races in 2024 after being reinstated by NASCAR, but according to Fox Sports' Bob Pockrass, he is not slated to make his first start until April.

So Rick Ware Racing will need to bring in somebody other than Grala or Ware to open up the season next month.

Who will drive the No. 15 Ford in the season-opening 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida oval?

Riley Herbst drove the car last year and finished in 10th place in his Cup Series debut after starting back in 38th. He also competed for the team at Talladega Superspeedway later in the year and finished in 20th after starting in 36th.

In two additional starts later in the year for Front Row Motorsports, one at each track, he qualified in sixth place, and after leading 10 laps at Talladega, he finished in ninth.

Herbst has by no means been an Xfinity Series standout, having recorded just one top 10 points finish and one victory in four full seasons in top-tier equipment. And he really hasn't been anything to write home about in Xfinity Series superspeedway races either.

But in his limited Cup Series starts, all in superspeedway races, Herbst has demonstrated an ability to stay poised and bring the car home in one piece -- and with respectacle results on every occasion. A single DNF in four starts is to be expected and nothing to be ashamed of, with the "big one" always lurking at Daytona and Talladega. Everybody becomes a victim at one point or another.

Considering the fact that his Cup Series debut netted Rick Ware Racing just their sixth top 10 finish in team history, how can you say no to giving him another shot in 2024, especially if he can bring significant funding?

Herbst is said to be involved in discussions about returning to the "Great American Race" this year, but whether or not he is aiming to come back with Rick Ware Racing remains to be seen.

It would probably be his best bet, however, since the No. 15 Ford is one of the 36 charter entries and thus locked into the 40-car field. If another team were to add a car for him, he would need to lock himself in either via the single-car qualifying session or the Bluegreen Vacations Duels, since there are already more than 40 cars on the entry list and he would be in one of the (at least) six without a charter.

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All things considered, Rick Ware Racing bringing back Herbst for the Daytona 500 is a win-win. The race is scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 18, with live coverage set to be provided by Fox beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss it!