Tuesday, May 22, 2018

ARCA: Will Kimmel finds Kimmel Racing’s first last-place in a season marked by early start-and-parks

Kimmel at Talladega earlier this season
PHOTO: Kimmel Racing Facebook
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Will Kimmel recorded the 6th last-place finish of his ARCA Racing Series career in Sunday’s Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care at the Toledo Speedway when his #69 FASS Diesel Fuel Systems / Kimmel Racing Ford fell out after 19 laps due to mechanical issues.

The finish came in Kimmel’s 113th series start and was his first since Elko last year, 19 races ago.

By now, the Kimmel family name has become almost synonymous with the ARCA series. Frank Kimmel, of course, has had arguably the most successful career of anyone who has driven in the series, and is still hard at work as a crew chief. His relatives have soldiered on from their Clarksville, Indiana base. Bill and Will Kimmel have traditionally run a relatively competitive team on a small budget, always putting on strong shows at their beloved home track, Salem Speedway. Last year, the team campaigned a number of drivers, including Kimmel and Kevin Hinckle for eight races apiece to fill out the majority of the schedule.

Unfortunately, like all race teams, this one is not immune to financial problems. Before the season, Kimmel and the team announced a seven-race slate with sponsor FASS Diesel Fuel Systems as well as plans for Hinckle and David Sear to run a couple races. The team also announced an alliance with Finney Racing Enterprises for that team to utilize the owner points of the #69 in select races. Still, however, not all the races were covered. In an effort to likely keep valuable owners points up and to receive extra funding from the sanctioning body for attempting all races, Will Kimmel has been forced to "start-and-park" races not covered by any of the aforementioned scenarios. This weekend was one of these, as the team said in a Monday Facebook Live from the shop that Toledo would be a "start-and-park" effort due to insufficient funding.

The initial entry list for Toledo had 24 cars. Not among them for the first time in over 100 races was Thomas Praytor, who announced earlier this month that his #9 Max Force Racing team would scale back to a partial schedule in 2018. Also, for the second-straight race, Chad Bryant Racing withdrew their #22 entry without ever naming a driver, bringing the entry list down to 23. They did, however, confirm plans for a full season with driver Joe Graf, Jr. Two debut drivers also showed up on the entry list: Venturini Motorsports development prospect Eddie Fatscher in the #55 and KBR Development driver Carson Hocevar. Former ARCA champion Grant Enfinger returned to the series, teaming up with another former champion, Mason Mitchell.

The lone practice session saw 63-year-old Rick Clifton take last on the speed charts. Toledo was Clifton’s second race of the year with Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing team. His lap was about a second slower than session leader Chandler Smith’s time. Alas, qualifying was washed out by the rain that moved through that afternoon, so by virtue of practice speeds, Smith lined up first and Clifton last.

The last-place battle was hampered by the malfunction of ARCA timing and scoring for the opening handful of laps. Kimmel was the first to retire, going out after completing 19 laps. Con Nicolopoulos followed him 13 laps later. Immediately farther up the leaderboard saw big names fall to tire failures – Christian Eckes, Gus Dean, Riley Herbst and Sheldon Creed all fell victim to some kind of problem.

23) #69-Will Kimmel / 19 laps / mechanical
22) #06-Con Nicolopoulos / 32 laps / unknown
21) #15-Christian Eckes / 70 laps / tire
20) #32-Gus Dean / 92 laps / tire
19) #18-Riley Herbst / 155 laps / running

1st) Max Force Racing, Darrell Basham Racing, Wayne Peterson Racing, James Hylton Motorsports, Kimmel Racing (1)

1st) Ford (3)
2nd) Chevrolet (2)


Saturday, May 19, 2018

CUP: Alex Bowman scores Hendrick’s first All-Star last-place finish since 1995

Alex Bowman finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #88 Axalta Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident after 68 of 93 laps.

Bowman’s fourth season in the Cup Series has found the 25-year-old from Tucson, Arizona the center of attention. After two difficult seasons driving for underfunded BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, it was Bowman who was tabbed to replace a retiring Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in Hendrick Motorsports’ high-powered #88 Chevrolet. His audition came in 2016, when Earnhardt’s concussion symptoms led to Bowman sharing driving duties with Jeff Gordon. Bowman won his first pole in the car at Phoenix and very nearly took the checkered flag before a late-race tangle with Matt Kenseth.

This year, with Earnhardt retired and Chevrolet introducing the new Camaro ZL1 model, Bowman has been showing steady improvement. He began the year by earning the pole for the Daytona 500, then scored six-straight finishes inside the Top 20 before an opening-lap wreck at Texas. He impressed again the next week at Bristol, finishing a season-best 5th, and two weeks later ran 8th at Talladega. Coming into the All-Star break, Bowman sat 14th in the point standings.

Bowman began the weekend 6th in Friday’s opening practice and secured 3rd on the grid for the Monster Energy Open when qualifying was rained-out. In Stage 1, Aric Almirola appeared headed to a convincing victory until 7 laps to go, when Bowman caught, then passed Almirola’s tightening car in Turn 1. As the rest of the field continued to figure out the new aero package introduced in last summer’s XFINITY race at Indianapolis, Bowman cruised to the stage win, advancing him to the All-Star Race, where he’d start 18th. Bowman would be joined by fellow Open racers Daniel Suarez, A.J. Allmendinger, and fan vote winner Chase Elliott.

Elliott started last in the All-Star main, but was joined at the rear by Jamie McMurray, whose #1 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet was sent to the rear due to an engine change. When the race began, McMurray moved past Suarez, who was now locked in a side-by-side battle with Elliott. Suarez fell to last by the end of the first lap, then tried to pick a lane to catch Elliott. On Lap 3, he had caught Elliott just as Kurt Busch lost control in front of him, backing the #41 Monster Energy Ford into the outside wall. Suarez passed Elliott, who checked-up to avoid Busch. Busch fell to last behind the pair, and lost a lap for repairs on pit road before rejoining the pack under caution on Lap 4.

On the Lap 6 restart, Busch managed to work his way past the cars of Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, and Austin Dillon in three laps. But by Lap 10, all three had passed him back, and the wounded #41 Ford began to lose touch with the field again. Busch managed to not lose a second lap before the first stage ended, and he was awarded the Lucky Dog to put him back on the same circuit as the leaders.

At the start of Stage 2, Kurt Busch managed to stay closer to the tail end of the pack, but steadily lost ground under green. By Lap 35, he was 3.7 seconds behind. Busch held the last spot until Lap 45, when A.J. Allmendinger came down pit road. Allmendinger, who won the final stage of the Monster Energy Open, had made a pair of daring moves in his #47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet, and was making exceptional use of the high lane, charging into the Top Five from 20th in Stage 1. Unfortunately, he smacked the wall off Turn 4, forcing the pit stop and costing him a lap. Like Busch, Allmendinger got the lap back with a Lucky Dog at the end of the stage.

In the caution before Stage 3, Allmendinger made a second pit stop, keeping him in last after Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Ryan Newman took turns briefly holding it. The repairs seemed to help, and when Lap 51, Allmendinger was doing a better job than Busch of keeping up with the field. The next time by, Allmendinger had raced past Clint Bowyer in the high lane, dropping Bowyer’s #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Fan Club Ford to last. On Lap 55, the spot fell to polesitter Matt Kenseth, running Roush-Fenway Racing’s throwback to Mark Martin’s 1998 All-Star winner. Kenseth was still in the spot when the next caution fell on Lap 56.

Bowman played a role in this fourth caution of the night, having made contact with the #95 Dumont Jets Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne. The contact turned Kahne’s #95 hard into the outside wall, wrinkling the right side of his throwback scheme to his 2008 All-Star winner. Kahne made it back to pit road, where he spent three laps under yellow for repairs. Kahne looked like he was certain to finish last until Lap 59, when he rolled down pit road, then stopped at pit exit to let the restarting field pass by for a fourth time. Now running by himself, Kahne was last, but still on the track.

What ended the night for Bowman came on Lap 68, when the #88 was running 10th. Racing Brad Keselowski for 9th off of Turn 2, Bowman lost control and whacked the outside wall, causing heavy damage to the rear clip and right side of his Chevrolet. The crew told him to pull behind the wall, which he did, ending his night under the “Crash Clock” protocol. The wreck forced Stage 3 into overtime, and the lengthy caution allowed Kahne to drop Bowman to last under yellow on Lap 72.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by the night’s biggest accident on the ensuing restart. Heading through Turn 4, a four-wide battle went awry when Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. made contact with Martin Truex, Jr.’s #78 5-hour Energy / Bass Pro Shops Toyota. The contact sent Truex up the track directly into the closing pack, collecting seven other drivers. Truex ended up the highest ranked of the four drivers whose damage eliminated them from competition. The other three were Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, and Brad Keselowski. Of the Bottom Five, only Truex and the #2 Discount Tire Ford of Keselowski had not taken turns in last earlier that night. Both led for a combined 20 laps.

*This was Hendrick Motorsports’ first All-Star last-place finish since May 20, 1995, when Ken Schrader’s turn in the #25 Budweiser Chevrolet ended after 32 laps of the Winston Select following a tangle with Jimmy Spencer, Dale Earnhardt, and Terry Labonte. Schrader’s #25 team became the current #88 team when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. joined Hendrick in 2008.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #88 and for Bowman in the All-Star Race.

21) #88-Alex Bowman / 68 laps / crash
20) #2-Brad Keselowski / 74 laps / crash / led 3 laps
19) #14-Clint Bowyer / 74 laps / crash
18) #41-Kurt Busch / 74 laps / crash
17) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 76 laps / crash / led 17 laps

CUP: Reed Sorenson becomes first repeat Open last-placer since 1998

PHOTO: John Harrelson, LAT Images
Reed Sorenson finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #55 Internetwork Engineering Chevrolet finished under power and on the lead lap at the conclusion of the 50-lap event.

The finish marked Sorenson’s second last-place finish in the Open. The other occurred in 2016, where he also finished under power in Premium Motorsports’ #55, then sponsored by World Record Striper Company and Hauling Bass. With the finish, Sorenson becomes just the third driver in the history of the Open to finish in the event more than once, joining Trevor Boys (1985, 1986) and Andy Hillenburg (1996, 1998).

Sorenson reprised his role in Premium’s #55, which he’d driven in seven races this season, including each of the last six. His best finish of the year came just last Saturday in Kansas, where he ran 27th. As with previous preliminary entry lists, the #55 was listed as a Toyota, but arrived as an identical black Chevrolet to teammate Ross Chastain’s #15. The cars further resembled themselves by race day as each shared sponsorship from Internetwork Engineering. Sorenson’s car ran without sponsors in practice.

Sorenson didn’t turn a lap in Friday’s opening practice, and a washed-out qualifying session meant he’d start 20th in the 21-car starting field, ranked by Owner Points. Starting last would be the only other “open team” in the starting field – Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota for Timmy Hill, which debuted a brand-new black-and-purple wrap from debuting sponsor SentinelOne.

At the start of Saturday’s Open, Hill hugged the inside lane in a door-to-door battle with Sorenson. The #55 lost ground off Turn 4, dropping Sorenson to last. Though a gap opened between the two drivers, Sorenson began to catch Hill on Lap 6, caught him on Lap 8, then fell back again on Lap 10, when he was now 17 seconds back of the leaders. The rubber band effect continued for the rest of Stage 1: Sorenson caught Hill again on Lap 15 as the pair closed on Landon Cassill’s #00 Dairi-O Chevrolet. Sorenson worked over Hill on Lap 17, but the #66 held him off at the Lap 20 end of Stage 1.

Alex Bowman took the Stage 1 win in the #88 Axalta Chevrolet and transferred to the All-Star main. His 20 laps complete technically classified him last in the 21-car field.

Among the 20 remaining starters, Cassill briefly took last under the ensuing yellow when his car was the last off pit road. Hill retook it seconds later, followed by Kansas last-placer Ty Dillon, who had a long pit stop in the #13 GEICO Chevrolet. The tail end of the field shuffled once more coming to one lap to go with Cassill and Chastain running in the final row.

When Stage 2 began, Chastain lost touch with the pack as it pulled away in front of him. By Lap 23, Chastain had caught up to Sorenson, beginning a friendly battle between teammates. Chastain worked high in the corners while Sorenson ran low until the #15 made it by both Sorenson and Hill. By Lap 26, Sorenson was last and once again was catching up to Hill. This time, he made it by, passing him low off Turn 4 on Lap 31. Sorenson held off Hill to the end of Stage 2 on Lap 40, but Sorenson lagged back down the backstretch.

Daniel Suarez took the Stage 2 victory in the #19 ARRIS Toyota, classifying him 20th in the final running order as he transferred to the All-Star Main with Bowman.

Once again, Ty Dillon had a long pit stop on the #13. The field lapped him under yellow, but since the laps didn’t count, he left pit road with one to go on the same circuit as the leaders. This time, Dillon incurred a penalty for too many men over the wall, sending him to the back of the field.

Sorenson pulled behind Dillon for the restart on Lap 50, and this time held the last spot from wire to wire in Stage 3. Sorenson remained in the tire tracks of Timmy Hill, and this time was two carlengths behind the #66 as the pair crossed the stripe.

A.J. Allmendinger took the win – his third in the Open - and was soon joined by Fan Vote winner Chase Elliott – his third in a row.

Omitting Stage 1 and 2 winners Bowman and Suarez, the Bottom Five from 19th on up consisted of drivers who all completed the entire 50-lap distance. Behind 19th-place Sorenson and 18th-place Hill was Ross Chastain, who held down 17th. B.J. McLeod took 16th for Rick Ware Racing in the #51 Prefund Capital Chevrolet, the driver returning to the team after his Cup season debut at Kansas. Rouning out the group was defending Open last-placer Corey LaJoie in TriStar Motorsports’ unsponsored #72 Chevrolet.

*Sorenson is the only driver to finish last under power in the Open and the only driver to finish last in the #55.

19) #55-Reed Sorenson / 50 laps / runnning
18) #66-Timmy Hill / 50 laps / running
17) #15-Ross Chastain / 50 laps / running
16) #51-B.J. McLeod / 50 laps / running
15) #72-Corey LaJoie / 50 laps / running

TRUCKS: In and out of the garage, J.J. Yeley extends Mittler team’s last-place streak

PHOTO: Max Neuwirth, @racingfan83
J.J. Yeley picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #63 Fr8Auctions Chevrolet fell out with transmission problems after 21 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Yeley’s 31st series start, is his first since last summer at Iowa, 21 races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it’s the 19th for truck #63, the 33rd by reason of transmission failure, and the 350th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 36th for the #63, the 156th by reason of transmission failure, and the 1,597th for Chevrolet.

It was also Yeley’s 22nd last-place finish across NASCAR’s top three series, breaking a tie with Mike Harmon for 12th in the all-time rankings. Curiously, Harmon would play a role in Friday’s finish.

As through much of his NASCAR career, Yeley has remained a journeyman across the sport’s top three series. Since 2014, his focus has been on the XFINITY Series, where this year he moved from TriStar Motorsports to RSS Racing, teamed with Ryan Sieg and all-time last-place leader Jeff Green. Yeley’s best XFINITY finish was his 11th-place showing at Talladega, where Sieg and Green all finished in the lead pack. He’d also made a single Cup start at Martinsville, driving Premium Motorsports’ #55 Chevrolet to a 31st-place finish.

Prior to last Friday, Yeley’s most recent start in the Truck Series came last fall at Texas, where he ran 29th for MB Motorsports in the #63 Fr8Auctions.com Chevrolet. Despite their past history, Yeley was a last-minute driver change on for Charlotte. Up until Friday, Camden Murphy had been entered in the #63 truck, following a last-minute ride with TJL Racing in the #1 Chevrolet last week in Kansas. But Murphy was swapped out before opening practice, leaving him without a ride.

The driver swap at MB Motorsports was the latest of several driver and team swaps through the week. The preliminary entry list for Friday’s race saw 38 entries, meaning that six trucks would miss the cut. But on Wednesday, two teams withdrew: TJL Racing’s #1 Chevrolet, which hadn’t picked a driver for Charlotte, and Clay Greenfield, who was slated to return to his family’s #68 AMVETS Please Stand Chevrolet for the first time since his strong run at Daytona. By Friday, Joe Nemechek had withdrawn the #87 Chevrolet he was slated to run.

The remaining drama of the resulting 35-truck list went away with steady rain on Friday, cancelling qualifying and setting the field on Owner Points. The three teams washed out of the field were part-time efforts with strong entries. Korbin Forrister and All Out Motorsports have been solid in 2018, but the #7 Now Matters More Chevrolet missed out in their first attempt since Dover. Series race winner Timothy Peters was sent home with RBR Enterprises’ #92 BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors / Carquest Ford, marking the first time he’d missed the series race at Charlotte since 2007. Last to miss was Bo LeMastus, who was set to debut DGR-Crosley’s new second team, the #17 Crosley Brands Toyota.

With qualifying rained out, Yeley and the #63 team took the final starting spot on Owner Points. The truck showed some speed in practice - Yeley ran 25th of 35 trucks in Friday’s opening session, then 27th of 35 in Happy Hour.

Yeley’s truck was sponsored by Fr8Auctions.com, an infrequent backer of Front Row Motorsports’ Cup operation. The auction company had sponsored both Yeley’s most recent truck race at Texas, but also two other starts with Copp Motorsports’ #83 Chevrolet. As with the Mittler’s #63 and Copp’s #83 last week in Kansas, both decorated with MB Motorsports graphics, Charlotte would show cooperation between the two teams. Bayley Currey would run Copp’s #83, which carried sponsorship this time from the Ingersoll-Rand corporation.

On race night, Yeley rolled out last, but was joined at the rear by Austin Wayne Self, who was sent to a backup truck after wrecking Al Niece’s primary #22 Don’t Mess With Texas / AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet. Falling to the rear voluntarily was Timmy Hill, tabbed to pull double-duty in the #50 Crossbar E-Cigarettes Chevrolet for Beaver Motorsports. When the race started, it was Hill who was classified last, 4.293 seconds back of the leader. Hill lost another two seconds at the end of the first lap, still holding down 32nd, 6.059 seconds back.

After the completion of Lap 2, NASCAR’s leaderboard was slow in updating the intervals for the final four trucks of Yeley, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Robby Lyons, and Hill. The issue, similar to the tracking of Mike Senica’s run at Martinsville earlier this year (LINK), was likely caused by the trucks running off the pace and being lapped in the very early going. On Lap 4, Cobb’s #10 Think Realty Chevrolet was moved to last, 13.051 seconds back with a speed of just 160.815mph - more than 20mph slower than Matt Crafton’s top speed in practice of 181.129mph. On Lap 5, Yeley was classified last, having slowed onto pit road with a lap of just 105.064mph. The running order was refreshed on that circuit to show Yeley two laps down. Cobb, warned by NASCAR to pick up the pace, pulled down pit road after Lap 9, placing her 31st.

On Lap 22, the first caution fell for tire debris off Grant Enfinger’s #98 Champion Power Equipment / Curb Records Ford. By the next time by, both Cobb and Yeley had returned to the track. Yeley was still last, 19 laps down, with Cobb 8 down, 11 laps in front of Yeley’s #63. On the ensuing restart, Yeley picked up his pace from earlier, improving on his sluggish best of 168.713mph to a 170.686. Cobb, meanwhile, could only improve slightly on her best, putting up a 161.329mph.

When Stage 1 ended on Lap 32, Mike Harmon entered the last-place battle. Harmon had started 31st that night, placing him alongside Yeley in the final row. At the end of the stage, Harmon had fallen to 30th, two laps down to the leaders in his #74 Koolbox / Horizon Transport Chevrolet. Harmon continued to lose laps during the caution and through the restart, dropping him down the rankings. On Lap 38, when Stage 2 began, Harmon took 31st from Cobb, who was now nine laps down. If things stayed the same, Yeley would pass Harmon on Lap 48, dropping Harmon’s #74 to last.

But on Lap 43, Yeley, then 20 laps down, lost a 21st circuit. Then a 22nd the next time by. Just eight laps from losing last to Harmon, Yeley was now widening the gap between his truck and the #74, apparently from another trip to the garage. With 10 laps to go in Stage 2, the FS1 leaderboard showed Yeley and Harmon off the track while Cobb, still 30th, was still logging laps. Harmon returned to action on Lap 60, just before the end of Stage 2. When Yeley still didn’t return to the track, this opened up the margin between the two trucks.

Still another competitor entered the picture when Norm Benning suffered crash damage after 55 laps, dropping his #6 Zomongo / H&H Transport Chevrolet into the Bottom Five. On Lap 67, Benning took 30th from Cobb. Harmon, who continued to keep his truck running after his Lap 60 return to action, passed Benning soon after, leaving Benning’s #6 in 31st. But Benning would fall no further. By Lap 68, FS1’s leaderboard indicated that J.J. Yeley was out of the race, having not turned another lap since the 43rd circuit. Thus, Yeley secured last place by 34 laps over Benning.

Finishing 30th was Justin Fontaine, whose #45 ProMatic Automation / Superior Essex Chevrolet backed into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 82. Fontaine’s truck was the last one Harmon’s #74 passed before the finish, doing so by just two laps. Harmon came just two laps from passing 28th-place finisher Timmy Hill, who lost an engine on the #50 in the final laps.

*This marked the second-straight truck race at Charlotte where MB Motorsports’ #63 finished last. In 2017, it was Todd Peck behind the wheel. The Mittler team has now finished last in three of the most recent five Truck Series races this season.
*UPDATE (May 21): Yeley's 21 laps completed are the most by a Truck Series last-placer since the 2016 Homestead finale, where Ryan Truex completed 49 laps before engine woes. In that span, only two other times did the last-place finisher complete more than 8 laps: Caleb Holman at Eldora and Stewart Friesen at Kansas.

32) #63-J.J. Yeley / 21 laps / transmission
31) #6-Norm Benning / 55 laps / crash
30) #45-Justin Fontaine / 97 laps / crash
29) #74-Mike Harmon / 99 laps / running
28) #50-Timmy Hill / 100 laps / engine

1st) MB Motorsports (3)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (2)
3rd) Copp Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)