Saturday, May 21, 2022

OPINION: The time has come for NASCAR to ban Cup drivers from the lower series

PHOTO: @WilliamByron

Despite multiple rule changes that have allowed the lower series to develop unique identities of their own, there remains a concerted effort to get Cup Series regulars into the lower series, and the XFINITY Series in particular. 

As with too many things these days, this subject has become a war of semantics. Those happy with Kyle Busch running fewer XFINITY races have been dismissed by their detractors as obsessed with “the Kyle Busch problem,” as if the source of their frustration was just from Kyle Busch running in the lower series, and not the presence of any Cup regulars. This forgets that Busch made himself the problem by staying in the series longer and for more races per season than the other post-2001 “Buschwhackers.” The culmination of this was the perversion of Richard Petty’s 200-win mark that allowed Busch’s combined top three series wins to be made part of the same conversation. But the concept of a “Kyle Busch problem” has now been used to silence these same critics as other Cup drivers creep back into the XFINITY series unchecked.

Some “Buschwhackers” are brought in under the guise of helping smaller teams evaluate their competitiveness. This occurred in February at the Auto Club Speedway, where SS-Green Light Racing brought on Stewart-Haas Racing driver Cole Custer, and this past Saturday in Texas, where Big Machine Racing brought on Richard Childress Racing driver Tyler Reddick. Both drivers were far from picked at random – SS-Green Light is as closely aligned with SHR as Big Machine (thanks to a renegotiation last October) is to RCR. These technical alliances have undoubtedly helped these teams become more competitive – both Custer and Reddick brought those teams their first wins. 

But, as with anything, this benefit has not been given freely. Running Cup level equipment has cost these smaller teams some of their identity and autonomy. Custer and Reddick's wins, while tremendous for their respective teams, are not equal stories to Jeremy Clements' win at Road America in 2017, nor David Gilliland's at Kentucky in 2006. Only the latter were true examples of series regulars sticking it to the big teams. Instead, too many small teams have become Trojan Horses, creating a path for Cup drivers to more easily slide into the XFINITY Series and at a direct detriment to series regulars. For barely over a season’s work, Jade Buford’s full-time schedule has now been reduced to just one more regular season race, to be replaced by not one, but both of RCR’s Cup drivers. Say what you will about Buford's performance in just 44 series starts, but other up-and-coming drivers for Cup-affiliated programs should be concerned if this becomes a trend.

In another case, Cup drivers are being airdropped into the field with impunity. Enter the case of JR Motorsports’ #88, which in April decided to expand its part-time schedule to allow the last two series champions Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott – plus current point leader William Byron – to run a combined five additional XFINITY races. This announcement came while Hendrick drivers were also entered in Truck Series races for fellow Chevrolet team Spire Motorsports. In both cases, none of the traditional excuses for Cup guys running the lower series adds up. There's no sponsor demanding the drivers be entered - both the XFINITY and Truck efforts carry logos for The selected races are not at new venues, negating a reason to familiarize themselves with the track. Even if they were, the Hendrick quartet are all championship winning or title-caliber drivers. Each drive new NextGen cars in Cup that are radically different from any other vehicles raced in NASCAR national competition. This feels no different than the 2001-era “Buschwhackers” – a means of racking up easy victories by taking spots from other teams trying to qualify.

Neither of these phenomena are entirely new, but this steady escalation this season should raise an eyebrow. I personally believe that Kyle Busch finally scaling back has encouraged other Cup teams to stuff the field with their own drivers. NASCAR has not responded by making any changes to their current rules. Part of this is because, to some, there is no issue. Many XFINITY drivers themselves have been on record saying they like having Cup guys in the field to match their skills. But just because someone wants something doesn’t mean they should have it. The very reason we have XFINITY drivers capable of regularly contending for wins is because Cup drivers are not allowed to earn points and are limited in their number of starts. But these are passive measures, and teams will continue to find workarounds for as long as they’re able. 

The time has finally come for NASCAR to make things black-and-white. If their intent with past rule changes has been to keep Cup drivers out of the lower series, then they need to ban Cup drivers outright. Anything less will only encourage Cup teams to come up with even more workarounds to get their Cup drivers into races where they don’t belong, which will remain a threat to both the identity and health of the lower series.

XFINITY: Ryan Vargas shows speed early before engine lets go in Texas

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Ryan Vargas picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s SRS Distribution 250 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #6 Twin Liquors Chevrolet lost the engine after 21 of 167 laps.

The finish, which came in Vargas’ 53rd series start, was his first of the season and first since April 9, 2021 at Martinsville, 38 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 18th for the #6, the 273rd from engine issues, and the 594th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #6, the 1,120th from engine woes, and the 1,841st for Chevrolet.

Last year marked Vargas’ first bid at running nearly a full season, ultimately starting 29 of 33 races with a best finish of 14th in the summer race at Atlanta. Using his social media presence to welcome new sponsors like Monarch Roofing and Swann Security, Vargas also led the first three laps of his XFINITY career during the spring race at Talladega. This also proved to be a transitional year for team owner Johnny Davis, whose four-car lineup was reduced to just two. Vargas has returned this year in the #6, joined by former Mike Harmon Racing driver Bayley Currey, who started running for Davis midway through last season.

Through this season’s first 11 races, both Vargas and Currey have fought to finish inside the Top 20. Vargas’ best run of the year again came at Atlanta, this time taking 12th on the reconfigured speedway. Currey’s best remains a pair of 17th-place showings in consecutive races at Martinsville and Talladega. Vargas has also run a few special paint schemes, including a “throwback” to Jeff Gordon’s Pepsi car at Darlington, and a continued effort with Craniosysnostosis outfit Cranio Care Bears to honor the life of Brentley Ehmann.

For Texas, Vargas would welcome returning sponsorship from Twin Liquors Fine Wine & Spirits along with the company’s sister company Siegel’s, which previously backed him at COTA in March. The result was a different look from a traditional JD Motorsports entry, this time running a black car with a red roof and white rims. The scheme would be run on Chassis 059, which had to be rebuilt following a three-car tangle with Jesse Iwuji and Stefan Parsons at Las Vegas. It was at this same Texas track on October 24, 2020 that Vargas – running another distinctive paint scheme for TikTok – flew to an 8th-place finish in the closing laps, which remains his career-best performance. 

This year, Vargas’ weekend began with a spin 13 minutes into the lone practice session, though he managed to keep his car out of the wall. The resulting tire change would incur him a tail-end penalty for Saturday’s race after he qualified 31st with a lap of 175.558mph (30.759 seconds). 

Vargas was far from the only driver to find trouble on Friday. Before his incident, Landon Cassill bounced off the Turn 3 wall with his #10 Voyager: Crypto for All Chevrolet, sending him to a backup car and preventing him from turning a qualifying lap. A.J. Allmendinger couldn’t turn a lap in practice when NASCAR suspected a height issue with his #16 Action Industries Chevrolet, requiring another trip though the inspection queue. In the time trials themselves, Anthony Alfredo bounced his #23 First Phase Chevrolet off the Turn 4 fence and cancelled his lap. Kyle Weatherman secured the 17th starting spot when he was swapped into the #34 Equity Prime Mortgage Chevrolet due to a military obligation. Iwuji would still start Saturday’s race at team co-owner Emmitt Smith’s home track. The lone DNQ was Brennan Poole, whose #47 Mike Harmon Racing Chevrolet carried new backing from apparel company American Scroll.

On race day, Allmendinger didn’t incur a tail-end penalty after securing 13th in qualifying with no practice. But last-place qualifier Cassill was docked for his backup car along with 37th-place Alfredo’s repaired #23 and 17th-place Iwuji’s driver change. This is not counting another five drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: 7th-place Ty Gibbs for a tire change on the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, 18th-place Stefan Parsons in the #45 Market Rebellion / Sokal Chevrolet, 22nd-place Bayley Currey in the #4 Chasco Constructors Chevrolet, 23rd-place Brandon Brown in the #68 BrandonBilt Foundations Chevrolet, and 29th-place David Starr in the #08 Ticket Smarter Ford.

By the end of Lap 1, Iwuji had taken last from 37th-place Cassill, and the gap was already 1.961 seconds between the two. The gap continued to grow in the early laps as Iwuji turned his first laps of the weekend, growing to 2.791 seconds on Lap 4, 3.549 on Lap 7, and 4.152 on Lap 11. By Lap 13, Iwuji began to find his footing, and for the next two laps closed the deficit on new 37th-place runner Timmy Hill in the #13 TX Remodeling / Toyota. Hill was struggling with a vibration, and had himself started to lose ground with new 36th-place runner Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. Hill’s deficit to 36th place grew to 4.157 seconds on Lap 15, then 5.4 on Lap 18. In between, Iwuji became the first driver lapped on the 16th circuit followed by Hill, who was caught in Turns 1 and 2.

On Lap 22, just moments after Emmitt Smith was interviewed about Iwuji by the FS1 crew, Ryan Vargas had clawed his way to 31st on the track. Earlier in the run, he’d fought Ty Gibbs’ high powered Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota off Turn 4, running the high line as he defended the position. He’d climbed to 23rd in just five laps, the biggest mover in the early stages. But this time off the fourth corner, the engine suddenly and violently let go, resulting in a massive plume of white smoke from the pipes and underneath the car. Vargas coasted to a stop on the apron of Turn 1 as the first caution came out. The broadcast estimated that the engine may have let go because of his spin in practice. NASCAR officially declared Vargas out on Lap 48.

Taking 37th was Mills, whose #5 was collected in a multi-car pileup off Turn 2 seconds after the Lap 88 restart. Noah Gragson was likewise involved in his #9 Bass Pro Shops / TrueTimber / BRCC Chevrolet, but continued on, only to wreck a second time four laps later, shoving in the rear clip of his car. Ryan Sieg’s day went a similar trajectory, suffering early damage to the right-rear of his #39 / A-Game Ford before he was involved in two more accidents in consecutive cautions, ultimately ending his day. Iwuji also didn’t escape the Bottom Five when he became the last car involved in the day’s biggest accident off Turn 4, sliding into a pair of stopped cars in the infield grass.

Among those involved in the same wreck as Iwuji was J.J. Yeley. Yeley came into Saturday’s race with one of his best cars. According to Bob Pockrass, his #66 Workpro Ford was a former Penske Racing car the team sold to Motorsports Business Management after CarlLong helped Penske with backup parts during the West Coast Swing. The car showed tremendous speed, ranking 4th-fastest in opening practice behind Ryan Truex, Justin Allgaier, and Tyler Reddick, then qualified in 14th. After 10 cautions, most of them for multiple wrecks, Yeley was battling between 11th and 13th in the final stage. But with just 30 laps to go, Alex Labbe broke loose by himself off Turn 4. Yeley cut low, only for Labbe to clip him in the right-rear, sending him head-on into the outside wall and triggering a massive pileup. Yeley climbed out uninjured, but was left a disappointing 31st with his car in shambles.

Taking the checkered flag for the first time was Scott Borchetta’s second-year team Big Machine Racing, which over the last four races has re-evaluated their program by benching Jade Buford in favor of Kaz Grala, then Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and soon, Austin Dillon. In his second start for Big Machine, Reddick in the #48 Big Machine Racing / JAG Metals Chevrolet started outside-pole, led 31 laps, and took the checkered flag over the JR Motorsports entry of William Byron. For now, Buford’s future remains up in the air beyond  planned start in the upcoming road race in Portland. Reddick and Dillon will share the car in the remaining races leading into the Playoffs, with the driver from the Playoffs moving forward to be determined at a later date.

Damon Lusk wrecks after the first lap of the Busch Series race at Texas.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #6 in a XFINITY race at Texas since March 29, 2003, when Damon Lusk’s #6 Sta-Rite Pumps Dodge, entered by Tommy Baldwin Racing, crashed in Turn 2 after completing just the opening lap of the O’Reilly 300. The other occurrence was on April 4, 1998, when Joe Bessey’s #6 Power Team Chevrolet tangle with Doug Reid III in Turn 3 after 2 laps of the Coca Cola 300.

38) #6-Ryan Vargas / 21 laps / engine
37) #5-Matt Mills / 87 laps / crash
36) #9-Noah Gragson / 95 laps / crash / led 32 laps / won stage 1
35) #39-Ryan Sieg / 129 laps / crash
34) #34-Jesse Iwuji / 137 laps / crash

1st) Alpha Prime Racing, JD Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing (2)
2nd) Big Machine Racing, Kaulig Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)


Friday, May 20, 2022

TRUCKS: A rough night for the McAnally team in Texas as Derek Kraus takes first last-place finish

ALL PHOTOS: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Derek Kraus picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s 220 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet fell out due to crash damage after 88 of 149 laps.

The finish came in Kraus’ 59th series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it as the 4th for the #19, the 422nd from Chevrolet, and the 171st for a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 82nd for the #19, the 1,289th from a crash, and the 1,840th for Chevrolet.

Continuing the legacy of impressive drivers from the state of Wisconsin, including Dave Marcis and Matt Kenseth, Kraus burst onto the NASCAR scene in 2017, when the 15-year-old claimed his first series win in the K&N Pro Series West finale at Kern County. He drove for longtime regional team owner Bill McAnally, and soon became the latest from that team to carry sponsorship from NAPA. Over the next two seasons, Kraus and McAnally stormed to nine more West wins and three in the East, culminating with another win in Kern County as he was crowned series champion.

By then, Kraus made his Truck Series debut in the penultimate round at Phoenix on November 9, 2018, bringing McAnally back to the series for the first time since his 2001 campaign with Brendan Gaughan. Kraus qualified 8th for the race, and even more impressively also finished there, beating two of the championship contenders. Following a part-time campaign in 2019, he went full-time Truck Series racing in 2020, kicking things off with his first Top Five in his first-ever Daytona start, finishing 4th. He finished the year a strong 11th in points with 13 top-ten finishes. But his 2021 campaign was somewhat of a disappointment. Though he scored his first two poles, he earned just one Top Five and four Top Tens. 

This year, the McAnally-Hilgemann team has made a manufacturer change from Toyota to Chevrolet, and brought on XFINITY Series competitor Colby Howard as Kraus’ teammate in the #91. But coming into Texas, Kraus’ 8th-place run at Kansas the previous week had been his best of 2022 so far.

Texas offered the opportunity for a turnaround. Kraus had one of the fastest trucks, taking 5th in opening practice and securing 9th on the grid with a lap of 179.856mph (30.024 seconds), fastest of the Chevrolets. He also avoided the misfortunes faced by many of his fellow competitors. 

Taking the 36th and final starting spot was the #33 Dal Dirt Chevrolet of Chris Hacker, whose spin into the Turn 2 wall, combined with teammate Armani Williams’ DNQ due to mechanical troubles on the #43 Ice Cold Technologies Toyota, continued what has been a frustrating May for the Reaume Brothers Racing team. While Williams joined Garrett Smithley in the #20 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet on the early ride home, Hacker’s team completed repairs, and would incur a redundant tail-end penalty prior to the start. 

Three other trucks didn’t turn a lap in qualifying. Matt DiBenedetto in the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet was prohibited from qualifying when his crew adjusted the wedge bolts under the hood after practice, an adjustment NASCAR had just prohibited. Lawless Alan’s #45 MG Machinery Chevrolet likewise rolled off in the back after he did not complete a timed lap. Colby Howard in the #91 Gates Hydraulics Chevrolet was another victim of Turn 2 when he spun in qualifying, sending him to a backup truck. Howard incurred a tail-end penalty for his backup, joining the unapproved adjustments penalties for polesitter John Hunter Nemechek after a crew member was spotted stepping on the splitter of his #4 Tom Thumb / Albertson’s Toyota, 11th-place Grant Enfinger in the #23 Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet, 23rd-place Austin Wayne Self in the #22 AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet, 27th-place Jordan Anderson in the #3 Dometic Outdoor Chevrolet, 31st-place Bret Holmes in the #32 Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet, and the aforementioned Chris Hacker.

Across the stripe, Hacker remained in the 36th spot, 4.199 seconds back of the leader with Howard and DiBenedetto the next two trucks in front. On Lap 3, Hacker passed Kris Wright in Al Niece’s #44 America’s Auto Auction Chevrolet, but Wright passed Hacker back on Lap 7. From there, Hacker dropped to 1.897 seconds back of Wright before he spun by himself, again in Turn 2, drawing the first caution of the day on Lap 10. Hacker avoided hitting the wall this time – and also any other trucks by running last – though the crew admonished him to drive more carefully until they could make adjustments. Now one lap down, Hacker reported he’d been driving at 80%, but would run more conservatively on the next run. The crew made significant adjustments when he pitted by himself after the leaders.

The race restarted on Lap 15 with Hacker looking for a quick caution to secure the Lucky Dog. But the rest of Stage 1 ran without incident, putting him nearly two laps down by the 29th circuit. Then with three to go in the stage, the leaders lapped 35th-place Spencer Boyd in the #12 Montucky Cold Snacks Chevrolet, followed by 34th-place Jordan Anderson at the stripe with the one to go signal. This secured Anderson the Lucky Dog when the yellow fell moments later. By the restart on Lap 43, Hacker was shown two laps down to Boyd’s one, each still tying to maintain pace.

But on Lap 47, current LASTCAR Truck Series championship leader Dean Thompson faced another issue on his #40 Worldwide Express Chevrolet. He made at least one unscheduled pit stop under green for a fender rub, then believed he had a right-rear tire going down. Losing multiple laps in the process, Thompson fell to last on Lap 48, and now reported his water temperature sat at 250 degrees. The team wasn’t concerned about this, saying the stop-and-go of pitting increased his temperature, and now four laps down on Lap 50, focused on improving his truck’s handling. By Lap 59, he said the #40 was loose on exit.

Hacker continued to struggle as well. On Lap 61, he suddenly slowed on the frontstretch with other trucks flying around him at speed. The #33 resumed race pace without incident, but soon fell into the leader’s clutches. By Lap 67, he’d lost a fourth lap, putting him on the same circuit as Thompson just before the end of Stage 2. Under the ensuing caution, Hacker’s team pulled out a spring rubber and gave their driver a water bottle while Thompson’s team continued to examine the tire they’d changed earlier. The #40 crew said it was a mistake to not change four tires earlier, perhaps contributing to the issue.

On Lap 75, Thompson dropped Hacker back to last, and soon after the #33 was sent to the tail end for bringing equipment over the wall too soon. When the green flag dropped to begin the final stage, Hacker was now shown four laps down to Thompson’s three, again separating the two competitors. 

Next to enter the last-place battle was Colby Howard, whose backup truck apparently made contact with the wall but did not draw the caution flag. He dropped off the pace on Lap 81 and came down pit road, the crew clearing the fenders with particular focus on the right-rear. The team then discovered a fluid leak, and narrowed this down to the brake lines. Howard had no brake pressure, and the crew lifted the hood as they attempted to clamp the line. But on Lap 86, just as Howard took last from Hacker, the caution came out for his teammate.

Kraus on pit road after the tangle with Majeski.

Derek Kraus had finished 9th in Stage 1 and 6th in Stage 2. His #19 was still among the leaders in the final stage when he and Ty Majeski entered the treacherous second corner. Majeski broke loose and slid up into Kraus, whose #19 pounded the outside wall enough to dislodge the rear decklid. Kraus joined his teammate on pit road, dropping three laps down by the 88th circuit. On Lap 92, when Majeski’s #66 Road Ranger Toyota was determined to have met minimum speed, Kraus’ truck was pushed behind the wall, out of the race under NASCAR’s “Damaged Vehicle Policy,” or DVP. Around this time, Howard returned to the race 11 laps down with the brake issue apparently solved. He’d only climb to 34th by the checkered flag, passing Kris Wright, whose #44 wrecked after a tangle with Tyler Hill’s unsponsored #5 Toyota entering Turn 3. Wright pulled behind the wall on Lap 108, also out under the DVP. 

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Tyler Ankrum, whose #16 Toyota Tsusho Toyota had an incident leaving pit road before he spun on track, ultimately citing overheating issues, and Zane Smith, involved in the same pit road incident, who later bounced his #38 Speedy Cash Ford off the outside wall.

Some of the drivers sent to the back before the start bounced back with solid finishes. Matt DiBenedetto climbed from 34th to finish 10th, his second-straight top-ten finish and fourth of the year. Jordan Anderson recovered to finish 14th – a new season-best and his strongest performance since last fall at Talladega, where he ran 11th. Right behind came Bret Holmes, who clawed his way from 31st to 15th – his second-best finish of the season so far.

Ricky Sanders' #19 pushed behind the wall at Pikes Peak on May 20, 2001.

*The 88 laps completed by Kraus stands as the second-most of the 48 last-place finishers of Truck Series races at Texas, trailing only Ross Chastain’s disqualification from this race last year after a lead-lap finish.
*This marks the first last-place finish for the #19 in a Truck Series race in exactly 21 years. This dates back to May 20, 2001, when Ricky Sanders’ #19 Ford lost the engine and was pushed behind the wall before the green flag dropped to start the Jelly Belly 200 Presented by Dodge at the Pikes Peak International Raceway.

36) #19-Derek Kraus / 88 laps / crash
35) #44-Kris Wright / 106 laps / crash
34) #91-Colby Howard / 139 laps / running
33) #16-Tyler Ankrum / 139 laps / overheating
32) #38-Zane Smith / 143 laps / running

1st) Reaume Brothers Racing, Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) AM Racing, David Gilliland Racing Ford, Front Row Motorsports, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)


Thursday, May 19, 2022

PREVIEW: Return of Hacker, Holmes, and a Smithley double-header part of Texas All-Star weekend

SCREENSHOT: @TeamAlphaPrime

Friday, May 20, 2022 (8:30 P.M. ET, FS1)
TRUCKS Race 9 of 23 220 at Texas
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Ross Chastain

After the series’ first short field of 2022 with 35 trucks, there are 38 trucks entered for 36 spots, meaning two teams will be sent home.

RETURNING: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
For the first time since Jordan Anderson withdrew his truck from COTA, five races ago, the #3 team is back in the lineup with Dometic Outdoor as sponsor. The team eyes its first series start since Atlanta, where after a DNQ in Daytona and a 26th-place crash in Las Vegas finished a solid 18th. Myatt Snider will continue to compete in Anderson’s #31 XFINITY entry on Saturday, currently sitting 19th in the series standings.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-David Gilliland Racing
Ryan Preece rejoins the Gilliland effort for the fourth time in 2022 and for the first time since Darlington. He enters this event with finishes of 4th, 7th, and 7th in his prior three races, and designs on keeping that streak going with Morton Buildings as sponsor of his Ford. Preece takes the place of XFINITY regular Riley Herbst, who finished 12th last week in Kansas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Garrett Smithley is set to make his 10th career Truck Series start, his first since a one-off for Nice Motorsports at Charlotte on May 26, 2020, where rear end issues left him in 36th. As in that race, Smithley will carry sponsorship from Trophy Tractor, which also backs his Rick Ware Racing #15 in the All-Star Open on Sunday. Smithley takes the place of Matt Mills, who fractured an axle in Kansas and finished in 34th place.

RETURNING: #32-Bret Holmes Racing
Bret Holmes rejoins the Truck Series field for the first time since Martinsville, where he finished 24th, and looks to replicate the 8th-place run in his most recent 1.5-mile track run at Las Vegas this past spring. Holmes brings back his #32 Chevrolet with Holmes II Excavation as sponsor. He has yet to make a Truck Series start at the Texas track.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
“Hackerman,” Chris Hacker, rejoins the Reaume effort for only the second time in 2022 and the first since Atlanta, where he ran 17th in only his second lead-lap finish in five starts. Dal Dirt, his Atlanta backer, rejoins the #33 as Hacker takes the place of team owner Josh Reaume, who finished 30th last time out in Kansas.

RETURNING: #41-Niece Motorsports
Texas sees Ross Chastain back in the part-time fifth Al Niece entry for the first time since Darlington, and returning to the site of his disqualification in the 2021 running. Still tied with William Byron for the most Cup wins this season, Chastain again shares Dean Thompson’s sponsor Worldwide Express on the #41 Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #43-Reaume Brothers Racing
It’s been two frustrating weeks for the second Reaume entry, following Akinori Ogata’s tangle with Reaume in the early laps at Darlington and Jesse Iwuji flagged off the track for running too slow in Kansas. Taking the wheel this time is another relative newcomer in Armani Williams, who made his series debut last summer at Gateway, finishing 21st. Williams carries new sponsorship from Ice Cold Technologies.

Returning to his home track is Brennan Poole, who again pilots the #46 G2G entry in place of Ryan Huff, 28th in his series return last week in Kansas. Poole looks to pull double-duty again as his XFINITY ride with Mike Harmon Racing welcomes new sponsorship from apparel company American Scroll. Poole looks to make both starts after he was washed out of Darlington’s XFINITY race.

RETURNING: #62-Halmar Racing
The next step in Todd Bodine’s march to 800 NASCAR starts comes at the track where he’s won more Truck Series races than any other – six in total. Bodine brings back the second Halmar entry with Camping World sponsoring the effort. His last series start here was in 2013, when he finished 18th for ThorSport.

CUP INVADERS: #41-Ross Chastain

Saturday, May 21, 2022 (1:30 P.M. ET, FS1)
XFINITY Race 12 of 33
SRS Distribution 250 at Texas
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Bayley Currey

There are 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning one team will fail to qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Once again, Jeffrey Earnhardt debuts a new look to his ForeverLawn sponsored entry as he rejoins Sam Hunt Racing in the #26 Toyota. Earnhardt, who we last saw finish runner-up at Talladega for Richard Childress and crew chief Larry McReynolds, takes the place of John Hunter Nemechek, who ran a strong 4th last time out in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Jesse Iwuji Motorsports
After he was flagged off the track for running too slow in Kansas’ Truck race, Jesse Iwuji returns to the #34 in place of Kyle Weatherman, who finished a team-best 12th in his last outing at Darlington. Iwuji has one previous XFINITY start at Texas on October 24, 2020, when he ran 23rd for B.J. McLeod.

C.J. McLaughlin attempts his first XFINITY race since Las Vegas, where he finished a season-best 24th. He takes the place of Kyle Sieg, who ran 32nd in Darlington. is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Alpha Prime Racing
Ryan Ellis rejoins Alpha Prime Racing for the first time since Dover, and drives the #44 for the first time since Talladega, this time with Limetree Marketing as sponsor. This will be Ellis’ first XFINITY start at Texas since 2016, when he finished 33rd for Obaika Racing. Ellis takes the place of Josh Bilicki, who finished 28th in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Alpha Prime Racing
MISSING: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
With the McLeod #99 not entered following his season-best 20th-place finish in a paint scheme resembling his father’s 1988 Talladega winner, Stefan Parsons brings sponsor Sokal to the second Alpha Prime team, replacing team co-owner Tommy Joe Martins in the #45 Chevrolet, also backed by Market Rebellion. The younger Parsons eyes his fourth XFINITY start at Texas, where he finished 18th for McLeod in 2020.

DRIVER CHANGE: #88-JR Motorsports
William Byron, the aforementioned two-time race winner in the Cup Series this season, takes his turn in JR Motorsports’ #88 Chevrolet, washed out of the Darlington field when Chase Elliott was entered.

CUP INVADERS: #48-Tyler Reddick, #88-William Byron

Sunday, May 22, 2022 (5:30 P.M. ET, FS1)
CUP Exhibition Race
NASCAR All-Star Open at Texas
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Daniel Suarez

Four drivers from this list of 16 will transfer into the All-Star Race: winners of the 20, 20, and 10-lap segments, plus a fan vote winner. This entry list – consisting of only the Chartered entries not already qualified – is the second-smallest in the event’s history, trailing only the 14-car grid for the inaugural Atlanta Invitational in 1986. The record for the largest Open field is 36 – the exact number of total Chartered entries today – which was matched in 1994, 1995, and 1996. There were 22 starters last year. Garrett Smithley (#15) and Landon Cassill (#77) return to replace Kansas starters J.J. Yeley and Josh Bilicki, respectively.

#3-Austin Dillon
#7-Corey LaJoie
#8-Tyler Reddick
#15-Garrett Smithley 
#17-Chris Buescher
#21-Harrison Burton
#31-Justin Haley
#38-Todd Gilliland
#41-Cole Custer
#42-Ty Dillon
#43-Erik Jones
#47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
#51-Cody Ware
#77-Landon Cassill 
#78-B.J. McLeod
#99-Daniel Suarez

Sunday, May 22, 2022 (8:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
CUP Exhibition Race
NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Denny Hamlin 

The four transferred drivers from the Open will compete against these 20 locked-in drivers for a total starting field of 24, tied with 2003, 2004, and 2008 for the second-most cars in the history of the event. The record for the most is 27 cars which took the green in 2002. The total length of Sunday’s race is 125 laps split among four stages.

#1-Ross Chastain
#2-Austin Cindric
#4-Kevin Harvick
#5-Kyle Larson
#6-Brad Keselowski
#9-Chase Elliott
#10-Aric Almirola
#11-Denny Hamlin
#12-Ryan Blaney
#14-Chase Briscoe
#16-A.J. Allmendinger
#18-Kyle Busch
#19-Martin Truex, Jr.
#20-Christopher Bell
#22-Joey Logano
#23-Bubba Wallace
#24-William Byron
#34-Michael McDowell
#45-Kurt Busch
#48-Alex Bowman

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 19, 1991): Mike Skinner is credited with last place in the Winston Open at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #13 Glidden Chevrolet, fielded by Thee Dixon, did not start the event. Skinner would ultimately make nine more starts in the Open with a best finish of 3rd in 2003.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

FORMULA E: Antonio Giovinazzi scores a lead lap last-place finish

PHOTO: Motorsport Images

by Ben Schneider Guest Contributor

Former Alfa Romeo Formula 1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi finished last for the second time in his Formula E career in Sunday’s Berlin ePrix Race 2 when his #99 Dragon / Penske Autosport Penske EV-5 finished 1 minute, 1.933 seconds behind race winner Nyck de Vries.

The finish came in Giovinazzi’s eighth career Formula E start.

As is the case in Formula 1, the definition of a last-place finish is a bit more ambiguous than it is in NASCAR, ARCA, or IndyCar. Those that fail to finish the race are simply listed as “retired” at the bottom of the results sheet, or “not classified” if they are still running at the finish but completed less than 90% of the race distance.

The first time Giovinazzi appeared at the very bottom of the race results was in Rome earlier this season when he retired with a technical issue after completing 7 of the race’s 27 laps.

On Sunday, however, Giovinazzi’s last-place finish had another significant distinction: it was also a lead lap finish.

The chaotic and complicated nature of motorsports makes the coexistence of these two things an astonishment. Throughout all disciplines of racing, a majority of race weekends will see at least one caution or safety car period due to an on track incident that takes out at least one starter. The complex technology in racing cars often leads to mechanical issues or engine failures that can end a team’s day early. And even on the rare occasion where every driver is running at the finish, the discrepancy between the top competitors and the backmarkers means that the lower-funded teams and lesser-experienced drivers are prone to getting lapped by the leaders before the race is over.

Formula E, however, is a series with enough parity in the competition and where the races are short enough that Giovinazzi is not even the first driver to accomplish such a feat in the series. Stéphane Sarrazin finished on the lead lap in last place at Berlin four years ago when his #27 Andretti ATEC-03 finished 1 minute and 6.954 seconds behind race winner Daniel Abt.

In Sarrazin’s case, it was his first race back after missing the first eight rounds of the 2017-18 Formula E season, making a surprise return to the series to replace Tom Blomqvist at Andretti. Giovinazzi, meanwhile, has run the complete season so far this year, though his success has been limited; he and teammate Sérgio Sette Câmara are the only drivers yet to record a Top Ten finish this season and score a championship point. While many ex-F1 drivers have made a successful switch to Formula E, Giovinazzi will certainly be looking for some positive momentum when the series returns to action on June 4 in Indonesia.