LONG POND, PA — Smart pit road strategy at Pocono Raceway gave Ryan Ellis one of his best finishes of the 2023 season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The Ashburn, VA native and noted Washington Capitals fan finished 18th at the Explore The Pocono Mountains 225, giving him consecutive top-20 finishes for the second time this season.
Austin Hill won the race in overtime after a thrilling shootout with JR Motorsports’ Josh Berry, who is graduating to the Cup Series in 2024.
We don't even know how to describe what just happened 🤯 pic.twitter.com/xC0LqaTorY
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) July 22, 2023
After qualifying 27th, Ellis inched through the field in the early portions of the race. The most pivotal moment of his day came when Ellis pitted consecutively during mid-race cautions. Topping off with gas the second time allowed him to reach the end of the race with one fewer stop than the leaders. Ellis could have challenged for a first career top 10 if not for a late race incident involving Joey Gase and Justin Allgaier with nine laps to go.
“My No.43 team at Alpha Prime Racing is really young – the average age on our crew is somewhere around 23, I believe,” Ellis explained. “They’re all really intelligent, and they do a great job and have great chemistry. At a track like Pocono, where a lot of the speed is found in motor, aero, etc., things that our team simply just doesn’t have because we’re a smaller team, they find ways to put us in positions to succeed.
“Michael Brandt, my crew chief, knew going in that we’d have to outsmart some of these teams with strategy to get track position, so we topped off with fuel as late as possible on one of the restarts in the final stage. We gave up some track position in the process, but we knew that our differentiator wasn’t going to be raw speed. I found myself behind the 02 car (Blaine Perkins), one of the teams that run on a leased motor program, a bit more budget and horsepower than our current program. I figured although we were just a bit quicker on pace that we could use him to reduce the drag on our car (drafting) to save some fuel. If not for the caution, I think we would’ve ended up somewhere between 11th and 16th as many drivers still had to pit for fuel. It wasn’t really a ‘gamble’ of a strategy. It was a straightforward great call by Michael and our team to put us in a great position as long as I saved fuel on that final run.”
All in all, 18th marked Ellis’s third-best finish of the Xfinity Series season. He previously finished career-high 11th at Talladega and 15th at Richmond.
But it was Ellis’s paint scheme and the story behind that which made his race weekend even more special.
Ellis drove a lavender and white hockey-themed race car that was primarily sponsored by Rich Mar Florist and The Laughlin Family Foundation – Craig Laughlin’s charity that raises money for rare cancer research. Howie’s Hockey Tape and RMNB were also featured on the wrap of the car while Tarik El-Bashir, a Capitals beat writer who contributes to The Athletic and TNT, drove up from Northern Virginia to show his support.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) July 22, 2023
Rich Mar Florist, which has served the Lehigh Valley with award-winning bouquets since 1955, re-designed their logo with a hockey puck as a nod to their growing partnership with Laughlin and Ellis’s biggest hobby outside the sport. Ellis once played on George Mason’s hockey team and is enrolled in a beer league near Charlotte, NC.
Photo: Barr Visuals via Ryan Ellis/Alpha Prime Racing
“Growing up as a Caps fan and always seeing Joe B and Locker on TV, it’s still really awesome to just chat with him,” Ellis said of Laughlin. “It’s great to be a small part of that and know that we’re all raising money for a great cause together. I never thought Locker would be a NASCAR fan, but he truly seems to love the sport, and we’re already talking about 2024 plans together. We went into the hockey theme a good bit, but I think we can go even further that way, and I hope that some of the players can come out as well.”
The collab between Rich Mar Florist and Craig Laughlin was set in motion years earlier after Jonathan Morrissey, president and owner of Rich Mar Florist, met the Capitals’ color commentator as he attended one of his first ever NASCAR races.
Ryan was nice enough to introduce me to Craig and I back in Martinsville two years ago when they ran with Keen Parts. Craig signed a couple pucks for us and took some pictures and I just thought, ‘Wow this guy is really cool.’
I didn’t know a whole about him. I’m a Philly guy by heart, to be honest. I got to know Craig a little bit – I reached out after the race and I said I’d be happy to help sponsor your golf tournament. Then I went out and played in his golf tournament. Craig is just an amazing human being. He made sure to introduce me to every player and all of the former players, Braden Holtby, he made sure to introduce me to everyone and made me feel so welcome, like I felt a part of his family instantly.
He’s been nice enough to invite me and my friends to games. It’s been something really special to have there with them and when the opportunity came to have them on the car together with us on my home track, I thought it was just an absolutely amazing opportunity. A disease that just destroys your life connects you to random people. I lost my mom to cancer. Just lost my grandfather to cancer. My grandfather rode on the passenger side of the car this weekend and that was special. So immediately, Craig and I have a common enemy that isn’t orange and black. Imagine that. We might be the only brand anywhere near the Philadelphia area that Craig enjoys.
To see Craig and to see Courtney out there in our crew shirts and to be able to pull off an awesome collab like that, it’s just amazing. When you think about how rewarding the network NASCAR and racing builds, there it is in a nutshell. You see it all right there. It all came full circle at Pocono and gives people a voice and helps Craig, Linda, Courtney, and Kyle get their message out there so that somebody else doesn’t have to go through what everybody else went through.
He’s turning me into a Caps guy and the Caps will always have a special place in my heart.
Not only did the car raise more awareness for the Laughlin Family Foundation, but it also raised money for the cause itself. People who donated a sum could get their own names or a dedication on the hood of the race car, which turned out to be quite emotional.
“One of the names on the car was Christian Smith who tragically passed away in December from brain cancer,” Courtney Laughlin said with a heavy heart. “He was 30 and a huge Caps fan. That was such a wonderful tribute.”
As for Locker, he has found himself looking more and more forward to the NASCAR dates on his calendar.
“Over the last three years, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Ryan, see first hand how great of a driver and even better person he is,” Laughlin said. “I never thought I’d be a NASCAR fan, but he’s turned me into one!
“We’ve met some incredible people and made some new friends over the last few years, including Jonathan Morrissey of Rich Mar Florist who continues to believe in our mission and help us in our fight against rare cancers (and Ian too!). Thank you to Ryan, Team Alpha Prime, and Jonathan for helping us make sure that every cancer has a voice and a cure.”
Courtney added, “This partnership gets bigger and better every year. And seeing this car and our logo on it gave me chills – knowing that there are people out there who share our same mission and passion. We’re so grateful for everyone allowing us to be a part of the race to help us raise awareness.”
Lost in all of this was a career milestone for Ellis, a third generation race car driver, who only just a few years ago had believed his dream might be over. Always a part-time driver, Ellis’s drive at Pocono on Saturday marked the 17th race of his Xfinity Series season — topping his previous career high of 16 in 2017. He accomplished that through hard work and bringing together more sponsors than any other driver in the garage.
It’s so hard to reflect on how far things have come. Just a few years ago, I was working Public Relations/Marketing for Go Fas Racing. I did that for four years and have always, always, had a steady day job to pay the bills. Just a year ago, because of the hard work from my manager, Phillip Smalley, my team owners Tommy Joe Martins and Caesar Bacarella, and my two marketing folks, Sarah Handy and Garrett Miller – and obviously, with the support my amazing wife and family, I was able to jump back into racing…and because of the sponsorship from some great people like Tom and TJ Keen of CorvetteParts.net, people like Jon Morrissey and his family, and so many other long time supporters and friends like RMNB and Audio Video Specialists, etc, I can now call racing my profession. That, to me, is still the hardest thing to believe.
From a racing standpoint, I’ll never be satisfied, unfortunately. Things are already looking very good for 2024. Initially, I was only scheduled to run 15 races in 2023…now I’m looking at probably 30, and I don’t feel like I’ve reflected enough on just how crazy that is.
To steal a quote from Andy Bernard from The Office, he said, ‘I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.’
That quote really hits home because I truly know I am in the best days of my life with a fantastic family, my dream job, a great team surrounding me both at Alpha Prime and my internal team, my amazing sponsors, and everyone else that supports me. I’m running with the best team I’ve ever worked with, and I’m really blessed to be doing this for a living. I just don’t want to lose that, and I want to work hard to make sure that I don’t for myself and my family. I want to keep moving forward.
His next race will be Saturday at Road America.
Photos and video
Raceday raceday raceday @PoconoRaceway.
— Ryan Ellis (@ryanellisracing) July 22, 2023
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) July 22, 2023
Me and Jeffy ❤️
2015 -> 2023 pic.twitter.com/v8IjF5DNh6
— Ryan Ellis (@ryanellisracing) July 23, 2023
Headline photo: Barr Visuals via Ryan Ellis/Alpha Prime Racing
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