Craig Murto: Ryan Ellis gets best Xfinity finish

Craig Murto

Ryan Ellis scored a 15th-place finish in the 250-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona last weekend, his best finish in NASCAR’s top divisions.

The 26-year-old, originally from Ashburn, ran as high as 10th in the Rick Ware Racing entry before cutting a rear tire with about 30 laps remaining in the 100-lap race. He did a great job keeping the car off the wall and out of harm’s way – not an easy task at 190 mph – but damaged the crush panel in the wheel well, which allowed fumes to enter the cockpit.

As the end of the race wore on, Ellis found himself affected by the carbon monoxide and heat. Following the race he spent an hour in the infield care center receiving medical attention.

It’s unusual for Ellis to need assistance following a race; he is somewhat of a “gym rat” when he’s home. He works out at least five times each week and plays in an adult hockey league. He also expects again to take up boxing once he’s settled in to Mooresville, North Carolina, known as “Race City USA.”

A third-generation racer, he nearly won his first championship race at the age of 4 in a car known as a Quarter Midget. He became one of the most successful Quarter Midget racers in Virginia before moving up into Legends Cars, where he also won titles. Following a brief stint as the top rookie at a local track in a NASCAR Late Model, he followed a career in sports car racing and won in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Series event at Daytona International Speedway.

“It was weird,” Ellis said “It was my first race in Grand-Am of my rookie season; I didn’t know where to set expectations. It was all kind of a whirlwind and before I knew it I was leading the points championship as a rookie. I wasn’t sure what the future held, but I just knew I had to keep moving forward. I certainly wasn’t thinking I was going to be moving back to the oval racing world at that point.”

But since he made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2012, he’s been focused on NASCAR, which is primarily oval racing. And being focused for Ellis means putting the marketing degree he received from George Mason University to use. Unlike ball-and-stick sports, where athletes make the team and get the lucrative commercial endorsements later, race drivers usually have to bring money to the table to get a ride.

“Typically I work and find the sponsorship money and then shop around to find the best deal,” Ellis said. “If I’ve been working with a certain team beforehand, I try and stay loyal to that team, but ultimately it comes down to where the money goes the furthest and is best for the sponsor. There are probably six months of talks before a deal ever comes together and a lot of planning before the car ever hits the track.”

The life of a journeyman racer is never certain. Ellis is constantly networking to secure sponsorship. Across the three top NASCAR divisions, Ellis ran 22 races in 2015 for six Xfinity teams, two Camping World Truck teams, and made his Sprint Cup debut at Phoenix with Circle Sport.

ScienceLogic, an information technology management company based in Reston, sponsored Ellis’ Daytona Xfinity ride. They were also on his car for his Cup debut at Phoenix, his Cup start at Richmond in April with BK Racing, and will be on the car for his attempted Cup start in the upcoming Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. You can stay informed of Ryan Ellis’ progress by visiting or following him on Twitter @ryanellisracing.

Gregg Satterlee won the $5,000-to-win Super Late Model feature at Winchester Speedway last weekend. The track will again see action Saturday night as it hosts the Mike Clore/Huey Wilcoxon Memorial Winchester/Hagerstown Shoot-out. Hagerstown Speedway’s half of the Shoot-out will take place Friday night.

Nick Smith won the NASCAR Late Model feature at Dominion Raceway on Saturday night, but the big winner in regional NASCAR competition was Lee Pulliam, who grabbed the lead of South Boston Speedway’s annual 200-lap Independence Day celebration on Friday night with 11 laps to go. The defending NASCAR National Whelen All-American Series champion has now won the annual South Boston event six years straight.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.