OXFORD — There won’t be any Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered in the 44th annual Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway, but the race will have a direct connection to one of circuit’s rising stars.

Windham native Derek Kneeland, who is a spotter at Chip Ganassi Racing, will attempt to qualify for the Oxford 250 for a second time. Kneeland works with Kyle Larson, a three-time Cup winner this season who ranks third in the current point standings.

“We’ve got the right driver,” Kneeland said at Oxford 250 media day Wednesday. “Kyle has to be one of the top three best in NASCAR, just on raw talent. If we can make it to (the final race of the season at) Homestead, I think we’re going to have a great shot at the championship.”

Kneeland returned to his Sebago home this week planning to use the off-weekend on the Cup schedule to race in the Oxford 250. He’s attempted to qualify on four prior occasions, making the race for the first and only time in 2015. He finished 13th that year.

In addition to the Oxford 250, Kneeland will also enter the Granite State Pro Stock Series 100 on Saturday night.

“I’m going to race. I’m not going there to just ride around and get seat time and see what the track’s going to be like on Sunday,” Kneeland said. “I’ve got to make the laps. A lot of it is just seat time for a guy that only gets to get in the car, really, just 250 weekend every year. We’ll get eight hours of practice just with the 250 car, plus whatever the added practice is for the Granite State car, plus the 100-lap race.”

Even though he’s been through the process a few times now, Kneeland admits that the Oxford 250 never gets any easier.

“It’s hard. It’s super hard,” said Kneeland, who has won races as a spotter in four different NASCAR divisions, including the Xfinity Series and the Truck Series. “You see the company I’m around today. These are all good guys; these are all guys that have a chance to win come Sunday. Me, I don’t know if I have a chance at all, but if I just make it in that’s the biggest thing.

“Each year I’ve come, it just seems to get harder and harder. We’ll see what happens. I’m ready to get going.”

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D.J. Shaw, the reigning Pro All Stars Series champion who finished third last year, is the Shaw family’s best hope of finally winning the Oxford 250.

His father, Dale Shaw, made 20 career 250 starts, but only finished in the top five once (1992) despite winning the pole twice.

“We’ve tried for so long, and none of us have ever captured it between me, Dale and (cousin) Andy,” Shaw said. “We’ve all gotten top threes, and we all have the smaller version of the trophy that we want to upgrade.”

In six starts himself, D.J.’s best finish came last year. He thought he was in perfect position to challenge for the win before his bid was undone by pit strategy.

“It would definitely mean a lot to me after all the years of Shaws trying to win it to be the first one,” he said.

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The Granite State Pro Stock Series will be a part of Oxford 250 weekend for the first time.

The division typically races for smaller purses at shorter distances than the PASS tour does.

“We felt that we wanted to try and keep this a Pro Stock/Super Late Model weekend for the fanbase and try to build it that way,” Oxford Plains owner and PASS president Tom Mayberry said Wednesday. “Even if only four or five of those (GSPSS) teams stay over and run on Sunday, it does nothing but help the whole weekend. That was the thought behind it.”

The winner of the GSPSS 100 will earn a guaranteed starting spot in the Oxford 250.

The American-Canadian Tour and the Modified Racing Series have both held events on the Saturday night before the Oxford 250 in recent years.

Shaw and Hudson, New Hampshire native Derek Griffith are entered in both races this weekend, along with Kneeland.

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Mayberry said Wednesday he expects about 65 cars will attempt to qualify for the Oxford 250. He added that the starting grid will have between 42 and 44 cars.

“We have the same spots from the heats and the consis that we’ve had,” Mayberry said.

Some of the additional starting spots — 37 cars qualify through heat races, consolation rounds and a last-chance qualifier — will come from five “Road to the Oxford 250” events held earlier this season in the United States and Canada. One former Oxford 250 winner and the highest-ranked drivers in the Oxford Plains and PASS standings are also eligible for provisional starting spots.

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Luce, whose 2015 Oxford 250 win was his first touring series win of any kind, still has a hard time believing he won it. “I said that if I (win) this again, I’ve won a few races since then, and now I know how to celebrate.” … Two-time Oxford 250 winner Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Massachusetts, is also entered in the race.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC