Friday, May 26, 2023

TRUCKS: Keith McGee’s last NASCAR start – for now – ends early with fuel pump issues

McGee (far left) looks over his truck after his early exit Friday.
PHOTO: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Keith McGee scored the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #34 JAG Metals LLC Ford had fuel pump issues after 20 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in McGee’s 11th series start, was his second of the season and first since Atlanta, eight races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 8th for fuel pump issues, the 9th for the #34, and the 120th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th from the fuel pump, the 55th for the #34, and the 1,013th for Ford.

With the finish, McGee becomes the first repeat last-place finisher of the 2023 LASTCAR Truck Series season, taking the lead from Dean Thompson. It was Thompson who turned in the strongest run of the night, finishing a strong 3rd after a thrilling late-race battle for position with both Corey Heim and Carson Hocevar. Barely a week after his frustrating afternoon in North Wilkesboro, Thompson earned his first career Top Five in his 35th series start.

The Charlotte race had particular significance to McGee for two reasons. First, as a disabled U.S. Air Force veteran, competing on Memorial Day weekend afforded an opportunity to honor fallen comrades and continue to speak out on the cause of veterans’ assistance. Second, McGee announced in a Twitter video earlier in the month that next month he would be returning home to Alaska to spend more time with his family. 

Between all this, McGee had also designed the Reaume Brothers Racing team’s tribute to the late Ken Block, with which Josh Reaume narrowly missed the field at Darlington. Reaume would run an altered version of that scheme at Charlotte alongside McGee, who brought the team’s second entry – the #34 – back to the track for the first time since Texas. McGee would run a patriotic paint scheme of his own which featured the name of Lt. Col. Larry Undercoffer, McGee's grandfather, beneath the driver’s side window.

McGee during practice.
PHOTO: Reaume Brothers Racing, @RBR_Teams

McGee began the weekend 35th of the 36 entrants, just under two-tenths faster than Justin S. Carroll in the #90 Carroll’s Automotive / Duratrain Toyota. McGee then turned the slowest lap in qualifying with a speed of 164.029mph (32.921 seconds), 2.985 seconds off Tanner Gray’s pole speed. But McGee ranked 33rd ahead of three drivers who were unable to take time. 

In 34th came the #2 Gainbridge Chevrolet of Nick Sanchez, whose oil cooler was punctured by debris in practice. The 35th spot went to Tyler Ankrum, whose #16 LiUNA! Toyota came out of gear in Turn 3 and overrevved the engine, requiring a new engine, transmission, and driveshaft. Rounding out the field was Ryan Vargas, who required unapproved adjustments of his own in the #30 Rangeline Group Toyota. The three were ranked in descending order by Owner Points, and prior to the start both Sanchez and Ankrum would incur tail-end penalties.

When the race started, Vargas began his climb through the field. The first incident of the night occurred on Lap 3, when Armani Williams apparently made contact with the outside wall, causing his truck to trail smoke and sparks as he worked his way to the apron. The incident did not draw the caution flag, and as he lost a lap coming to pit road, McGee had fallen to the last truck on the lead lap. The G2G Racing crew managed to get Williams back on track two laps down, but incurred a speeding penalty for Sections 12-16. He served the penalty by Lap 9, when he returned to the track between four and five laps down. During this run, crew chief Tim Silva bucked up his driver, telling him on Lap 8, “Armani, calm down – you’re a good driver. . .just drive smoothly, you got this.” Steadily, Williams’ lap times began to improve.

On Lap 20, the leaders lapped both McGee and Carroll, which took Williams out of the Lucky Dog spot. Two laps later, McGee was seen running slow on the apron, the truck bouncing over the humps from the “Roval” layout. “Yeah, it shut off,” said McGee as he pulled his truck behind the wall and stopped behind the team’s hauler. McGee asked for his crew to come check if a plug wire came loose, but each member was too far from where the #34 had stopped. In the meantime, the Ilmor representative arrived, ad indicated the truck had lost fuel pressure. On Lap 27, McGee took last from Williams, who was still running five laps down on the track. On the 29th circuit, McGee called for a fuel can at Ilmor’s suggestion, likely to check the fuel pump. Moments later, McGee climbed from the truck, and on the Lap 37 restart, the #34 was declared out of the race with the fuel pump issue.

Williams continued, and the crew remained positive over the radio, reminding him of their plan from before the race, “I don't care if you finish 20 laps down, my goal is for you to have fun and finish this race. . .Doing a helluva job. Helluva job.” Williams still had some issue communicating with his crew, including on Lap 63 where they asked if he wanted something to drink. On Lap 66, the #46 stalled on pit road, and the crew had Williams pop the clutch to coast behind the wall in second gear. On Lap 74, Williams returned to the track once more, 14 laps down, only to seconds later be involved in a scary incident off Turn 4. Coming off the corner, Williams lost control and slid onto pit road, striking the wall with the left-front just past the first opening to the garage. No crew members were injured, and Williams climbed from his truck, done for the night. McGee and Williams were the night’s only two retirees.

Finishing 34th was Justin S. Carroll, whose #90 finished 12 laps down at the checkered flag. Taking 33rd was Hailie Deegan, whose #13 Ford Performance Ford dropped off the pace in the final laps after damage suffered earlier in the event during a tangle in the quad-oval with Zane Smith. Kris Wright rounded out the group after his #02 F.N.B. Corporation Chevrolet suffered damage of its own in a backstretch wreck with Tyler Ankrum.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Truck Series race at Charlotte.
*This was the first time a Truck Series last-place finisher fell out with a fuel pump issue since September 23, 2017, when Ray Ciccarelli had issues on the first lap at New Hampshire. The issue had never been a reason for a Truck Series last-place finisher at Charlotte.

36) #34-Keith McGee / 20 laps / fuel pump
35) #46-Armani Williams / 65 laps / crash
34) #90-Justin S. Carroll / 122 laps / running
33) #13-Hailie Deegan / 128 laps / running
32) #02-Kris Wright / 130 laps / running

1st) G2G Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing (3)
2nd) AM Racing, G2G Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
3rd) Niece Motorsports, Roper Racing, TRICON Garage (1)

1st) Ford (5) 
2nd) Chevrolet, Toyota (3)


Thursday, May 25, 2023

PREVIEW: Speedway regulars young and old rejoin the field in Charlotte triple-header

David Gilliland climbs back behind the wheel in this truck on Friday.

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Friday, May 26, 2023 (8:30 P.M. ET, FS1)
TRUCKS Race 11 of 23
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Brennan Poole

There are 36 trucks entered for as many spots, meaning all will qualify.

For the first time since May 7, 2021, David Gilliland will start a Truck Series race, this time piloting the #1 entry he co-owns under the TRICON Garage banner. Serial 1 E-Bikes will sponsosr Gilliland’s first Truck start at Charlotte since 2015, when he finished 27th for RAB Racing. Gilliland takes the place of Bubba Wallace, who enjoyed a tight battle with Kyle Larson for the win at North Wilkesboro en route to a 5th-place finish.

MISSING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Among the teams not entered this week is that of Norm Benning, who after extensive upgrades to his truck joined his crew in rebuilding it a second time at the track following a hard crash in practice. Benning did not qualify.

MISSING: #7-Spire Motorsports
North Wilkesboro winner Kyle Larson is not entered along with the Spire #7 entry.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Matt Mills returns to the Truck Series for the first time since his hard crash with Dean Thompson at Texas, again carrying sponsorship from J.F. Electric on the #20 Chevrolet. Mills takes the place of Kaden Honeycutt, who despite a lack of sponsorship enjoyed back-to-back strong runs at Darlington and North Wilkesboro, taking 10th and 17th, respectively.

Mason Maggio will make his first Truck Series race since Kansas, where he ran 27th, and will run for his third different team in as many starts this season. After running both Randy Young’s #20 and Josh Reaume’s #33, he takes the place of 28th-place North Wilkesboro finisher Josh Williams in AM Racing’s #22 entry. ACE Hardware Rock Hill is the listed sponsor with HMY Yachts rejoining as associate.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Following Chris Hacker’s strong 12th-place finish in North Wilkesboro, the On Point Motorsports team looks to keep the momentum going as Ryan Vargas returns for the first time since Darlington, where he 14th and 8th-place runs this year were followed by a challenging 27th. Rangeline Group remains as sponsor.

RETURNING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Following his recent announcement that he’d step away from racing to move back to his native Alaska, it was surprising to see Keith McGee back on the entry list this week. He’s also entered in Josh Reaume’s second truck, the #34, which has not run since McGee drove it in Texas to a 33rd-place finish.

DRIVER CHANGE: #41-Niece Motorsports
Bayley Currey reunites with Al Niece’s team to make his 35th series start and first since Atlanta, where he earned his first series top-five finish with a 4th-place run. Unishippers, which backed Currey that day, is again sponsoring him as he takes the place of Ross Chastain, who took 9th in North Wilkesboro. 

Following a double-DNF due to early engine issues on both its trucks in Darlington, G2G had to withdraw from North Wilkesboro after a third engine failure in practice resulted in a fire that seriously damaged Akinori Ogata’s Toyota. Regardless, the team has pieced together another entry for Armani Williams, who last ran for the team in Texas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Jack Wood makes his 39th series start and first since Texas, where he finished a season-best 9th in Kyle Busch’s #51 Chevrolet. With sponsorship from Eberlestock, Wood takes the place of Cup regular William Byron, who finished 11th in North Wilkesboro.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
Tyler Hill swaps in for brother Timmy Hill, who struggled after multiple incidents damaged his #56 en route to a 31st-place finish in North Wilkesboro. Tyler and his sponsorship seek to improve on Tyler’s only Truck start this season, when he took 22nd in Kansas.

MISSING: #61-Hattori Racing Enterprises
The HRE team will not enter its second truck, which was brought back as a one-off in North Wilkesboro for Cup regular Christopher Bell, who took 16th.

MISSING: #66-ThorSport Racing
Conner Jones struggled in North Wilkesboro, ultimately dropping out with electrical issues just short of the finish that left him 29th. His part-time fourth ThorSport entry is not entered this week.

MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman was a surprising DNQ last week after he turned fast laps in practice, ultimately making it a short weekend for the Charlie Henderson team. Driver and team are also not on this week’s list.

RETURNING: #90-Terry Carroll Motorsports
Following his series debut in Kansas, Justin S. Carroll will again be locked-in for Charlotte for his second series start. Carroll finished a solid 23rd, two laps down, in Kansas.

WITHDREW: #04-Roper Racing
After a freak alternator fire sent him out of the race in North Wilkesboro, both Johnny Sauter and the Roper Racing team were originally entered this week but were withdrawn at first posting of the list on Monday.

This is a “Triple Truck Challenge” race, so no Cup or XFINITY drivers.

Saturday, May 27, 2023 (1:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
XFINITY Race 13 of 33
Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Timmy Hill

There are 40 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning two teams will fail to qualify.

MISSING: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Ty Dillon is not entered this week along with RCR’s iconic #3, which made its first XFINITY start of the year last time out in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Kaulig Racing
It’s a lateral change of Cup regulars in the Kaulig #10 entry as Kyle Busch swaps in for Darlington winner Kyle Larson.

DRIVER CHANGE: #19-Joe Gibbs Racing
Another Cup regular is rookie Ty Gibbs, who takes the place of Ryan Truex, who was 35th in Darlington after he was collected in the race’s biggest pileup off Turn 4.

DRIVER CHANGE: #24-Sam Hunt Racing
After Corey Heim took home 10th in only his second career XFINITY Series start, Connor Mosack returns to the #24 for the sixth time this year and first since Martinsville, where he ran 33rd.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Alpha Prime Racing
Rajah Caruth will pull double-duty with his full-time Truck Series effort as he rejoins Alpha Prime Racing, taking the place of 31st-place Darlington runner Sage Karam. Winston Salem State University is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
C.J. McLaughlin will make his 35th XFINITY start and fifth of the 2023 season, his first since Dover, where he ran 34th. Taking the place of Matt Mills, who will focus on Randy Young’s Truck Series ride following a 28th-place run in the “Herbie” scheme in Darlington, McLaughlin will again be sponsored by Sci-Aps.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MBM looks for a turnaround in a year that’s seen them start as many races – five – as they’ve failed to qualify. Taking the place of Darlington DNQ Chad Finchum is a returning Timmy Hill, who gave the team its most recent start at Dover and finished a season-best 30th.

After the preliminary entry list only indicated a “TBA,” the Gosselin team’s #91 will this week go to Kyle Weatherman, who we haven’t seen on track in the series since Dover, where he steered Our Motorsports’ #02 to a 14th-place finish in relief of Blaine Perkins. Weatherman this time takes the place of Ross Chastain, who ran 18th in Darlington. CreatiVets is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Natalie Decker takes the place of Gray Gaulding and brings on Cracker Jack as sponsor of the #08 entry.

CUP INVADERS: #10-Kyle Busch, #19-Ty Gibbs

Sunday, May 28, 2023 (6:00 P.M. ET, FOX)
CUP Race 14 of 36
Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Ryan Preece

There are 37 drivers entered for 40 spots, marking the 13th consecutive short field after 40 cars took the green in the Daytona 500.

NUMBER CHANGE: #4-Stewart-Haas Racing
After much anticipation, it was a rough evening for Kevin Harvick in what would be his final start running the #29. He finished 18th in North Wilkesboro, two laps down. This week, he returns to campaigning the #4 for the remainder of his final season.

MISSING: #13-Kaulig Racing
Not among the entrants this week is Kaulig Racing’s part-time third team with which Chandler Smith finished last in the All-Star Open following crash damage.

DRIVER CHANGE: #38-Front Row Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #51-Rick Ware Racing
The 600 marks the next race for Zane Smith to pilot FRM’s #38 in place of Todd Gilliland, who moves to Rick Ware Racing’s #51 in place of Ryan Newman. Gilliland finished a strong 11th in his most recent points race at Darlington while Smith took 37th in his most recent run in the #38 at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
After Josh Bilicki drove in his place at North Wilkesboro, B.J. McLeod is back behind the wheel of the #78 B’laster Chevrolet for what will be his sixth start in the Coca-Cola 600. McLeod survived much of the chaos last year and finished a track-best 19th.

RETURNING: #84-Legacy Motor Club
The lone “open” team on this week’s entry list is that of four-time 600 winner Jimmie Johnson, who is back in the third Legacy Motor Club entry for the first time since a first-lap crash left him next-to-last in COTA. This is Johnson’s first start in the 600 since 2020, when he was classified last due to a disqualification.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 25, 1985): Morgan Shepherd scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Busch Grand National Series career when his #1 Advance Auto Parts Buick lost the engine after 3 laps of the Winn-Dixie 300. Across the seven seasons from 1982 through 1988, this 1985 season was the only one in which Shepherd did not score a Busch Series victory.

ARCA EAST: Jeff Smith takes last on a weekend of several ARCA returns

Jeff Smith's No. 49 Ford next to his brother Brad's No. 48 Chevrolet
PHOTO: Gavin Newton, @runnings_racing (via Colby Evans @StartAndParkCar)

by Ben Schneider Staff Writer

Jeff Smith finished last for the 1st time in his ARCA Menards Series East career in Saturday’s Dutch Boy 150 at Flat Rock Speedway when his No. 49 Ford retired with clutch issues after completing 1 of 150 laps.

The finish came in Smith’s ARCA East debut.

Jeff is the older brother of longtime ARCA Menards Series veteran Brad Smith. Jeff made his ARCA debut on August 8, 1987, at Rockford Speedway in Illinois, where he finished 28th and last due to an engine failure on the opening lap. Since then, he has primarily served as a crew member for Brad’s ARCA team. Last season at Michigan, Jeff made headlines at Milwaukee by being the sole pit crew member for Brad’s No. 48 car. Brad would go on to finish 21st in the 28-car field, completing 136 of the race’s 150 laps. Jeff would later tell, “I did it because it was for my brother. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else….it was his 400th start and I wanted to give him his best shot.”

This past weekend, Jeff made a return to the driver’s seat, 35 years, 9 months, and 12 days after his previous one-off appearance. Driving the team’s backup car, renumbered with red tape to create the No. 49, Jeff completed one lap before pulling behind the wall with “clutch” as the reason out. While Saturday’s race was strictly an East Series event, it is believed to be the longest-ever stretch between last-place finishes in ARCA-sanctioned competition.

Jeff and Brad Smith on Saturday at
Flat Rock Speedway
PHOTO: @DriverBradSmith
Just 16 cars appeared on the entry list in total. In the days leading up to the event, Jeff’s comeback was not the only ARCA return making headlines. The return of Flat Rock to the ARCA schedule for the first time since 2000 also brought series team owner Billy Venturini out of retirement for a one-off return of his own. Venturini did not compete full-time in ARCA until 2002, two years after Flat Rock was dropped from the schedule. “It was really something that was on my bucket list my whole life,” Venturini told Frontstretch. “I grew up watching my father race there, [he] won his first ARCA race there. [He] had done countless races, and it was always my favorite track.” The opportunity to check the track off of his bucket list inspired Venturini to make his return behind the wheel of his team’s No. 20 Toyota.

While ARCA timing and scoring indicates Jeff Smith ran a total of nine practice laps, he not make a lap in qualifying, locking him into the 16th and final starting spot. Nate Moeller joined Smith on the back row of the grid, placing 15th with a time of 14.879 seconds. Dale Shearer, Brad Smith, and Ryan Roulette rounded out the Bottom Five qualifying positions.

After Jeff Smith pulled off on Lap 3, Dallas Frueh became the next retirement when he pulled behind the wall with overheating issues after running 18 circuits. Brake issues forced Moeller and Brad Smith out of the race after 25 and 31 laps respectively, while Roulette rounded out the Bottom Five with an engine issue after 42 laps.

Up front, William Sawalich scored another win after executing a bump-and-run pass on polesitter Sean Hingorani with 48 laps to go. Lavar Scott scored a career-best finish of second, bumping Hingorani back to a third-place finish. Venturini, meanwhile, enjoyed a successful return to the driver’s seat, placing fourth in his first ARCA-sanctioned start since Talladega on October 5, 2007.

16) #49-Jeff Smith / 1 lap / clutch
15) #01-Dallas Frueh / 18 laps / overheating
14) #06-Nate Moeller / 25 laps / brakes
13) #48-Brad Smith / 31 laps / brakes
12) #12-Ryan Roulette / 42 laps / engine

1st) Toyota, Ford (2)

1st) Wayne Peterson Racing (2)
2nd) Fast Track Racing, Brad Smith Motorsports (1)


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

PREVIEW: The debut of Abel Motorsports and R.C. Enerson awaits at Indy

PHOTO: Luis Torrres, @TheLTFiles

by William Soquet Staff Writer

Sunday, May 28, 2023 (12:45 P.M. EDT, NBC)
INDYCAR Race 6 of 17
Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Rinus VeeKay 

There are 34 drivers entered for 33 spots on the grid. All part-time entries locked in on the first day of qualifying, sending four full-time teams to the last row shootout on Sunday, May 21. Graham Rahal was the lone driver that failed to qualify - at least at first - leaving the starting grid set a week in advance.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Chip Ganassi Racing
Takuma Sato takes over the #11 machine for the second of four scheduled oval starts. He is splitting the car with Marcus Armstrong this year as the two inherit what was the #48 team last season. His first start, which came at Texas, yielded an early crash and a last-place finish. Sato now goes to Indianapolis, the track that has treated him the best as an IndyCar driver. Two of his six IndyCar wins have come on the famed oval: in 2017 with Andretti Autosport and in 2020 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. CGR was a dream pairing for Sato, with the team excelling at Indy year in and year out. Sato led two days of practice and qualified eighth for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

MISSING: #11-A.J. Foyt Racing
Foyt's expansion has, in the past, been a constant at Indy. After moving over from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, J.R. Hildebrand had been the driver of the team’s third entry each of the past two years. However, for whatever the reason, a third Foyt entry was not rolled out for the 500 this year. The IndyStar newspaper reported that Hildebrand was waiting on the team to roll out a third entry, wanting to keep his consecutive starts streak alive (which sat at 12 after 2022). IndyCar media member Marshall Pruett said on his podcast that Foyt was an option for R.C. Enerson to land for this year’s 500 before ultimately deciding to bring his chassis to Abel Motorsports. It was probably more of the former, as Foyt brought in two new drivers and an organizational overhaul for 2023 – something from which a third team could pull resources.

MISSING: #16-Paretta Autosport
Ever looking to get back on the grid, Beth Paretta worked all her possible connections in an attempt to get her team and Simona de Silvestro back on the IndyCar grid. Previous partners Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing were not interested in being partners this time around, and with the team’s limited resources, the #16 ultimately did not wind up making an attempt.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Ryan Hunter-Reay started no IndyCar races in 2022 after he did not return to Andretti Autosport. He did serve as an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing’s IMSA efforts. Hunter-Reay did not return to that role this year, just as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing was looking for a new driver for their #23. The driver that the Indy 500-only team contracted last year, Santino Ferrucci, moved on to a full-season ride with A.J. Foyt Racing, which promptly put his car on the second row. DRR and RHR announced the pairing on March 15, although the deal was worked out quite in advance of that date. Hunter-Reay qualified 18th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #24-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
It seemed as though Sage Karam and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing would be a pairing that would stand the test of time. The two first partnered in 2014 for Karam’s IndyCar debut, which came at Indianapolis. They shocked the world, finishing ninth. Save for a 2015 season where Karam ran full-time for Chip Ganassi Racing, driver and team have run every Indy 500 since. The 2021 annual was another highlight year for the pairing, with two laps led and a seventh-place finish. Despite that, DRR filled the entry early, and Karam was left on the outside looking in. The driver signed was Stefan Wilson. Fresh off a scramble in 2022 to fill out the grid with a DragonSpeed entry, Wilson and backer Don Cusick decided to take care of things early for 2023 - so early, in fact, that they announced the Indy 500-only deal in November 2022. Wilson was set to start 25th in the race, but a savage crash with Katherine Legge in Monday practice resulted in a fractured vertebra that has put Wilson out of the race. Graham Rahal, who failed to qualify in his usual Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry, was tabbed as the replacement driver on Tuesday.

RETURNING: #33-Ed Carpenter Racing
Texas, Iowa, and Gateway are fine and all, but Indianapolis is the main reason that Ed Carpenter still hangs around the IndyCar Series as a driver. Now in his 10th year of an ovals-only driving schedule, the month of May remains a highlight for both Carpenter as a driver and his entire team. Carpenter has finished as high as second at Indy before, and his team has speed, with Rinus VeeKay putting his Ed Carpenter Racing car on the front row. The team owner will start 13th in this year’s running.

RETURNING: #44-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
With a 17th Honda engine lease up for grabs, RLL jumped on it in order to once again expand for the Indy 500. The team most recently did this in 2021, when it fielded the #45 for Santino Ferrucci. Now at three full-time entries with Christian Lundgaard piloting the #45, the fourth entry was numbered #44. The driver selected was Katherine Legge, tabbed for her third Indy 500. Legge drove ten races in 2012 for the ill-fated Dragon/Lotus effort and was signed by then-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for a 2013 Indy 500 bid, in which she finished 26th. From there, Legge became immersed in the world of sports cars, becoming a GTD mainstay in IMSA. She also dabbled in other series, and actually drove for RLL in the Jaguar I-PACE series, winning in Mexico in 2019. This year’s driver and team pairing were announced on February 9. After a tense week of practice leading up to qualifying, Legge was the only RLL car to lock in on the first day, nabbing the 30th starting spot.

NEW TEAM: #50-Abel Motorsports
Five years ago, a seventeen-year-old Louisville native debuted in the U.S. F2000 championship at Road America, running a car fielded by his father. Fast forward to 2023, and that small team has now blossomed into the newest entrant in the IndyCar Series. Bill Abel, a construction businessman, got in the ownership game when his son Jacob entered single-seater racing, but he had eyes set much higher than that. When Jacob moved up to then-Indy Lights in 2022, the team expanded to multiple entries, and that whetted an appetite to go IndyCar racing. The team found a match in driver R.C. Enerson, who owned the chassis that Top Gun Racing tried to qualify for the 2021 Indy 500. The team and driver worked out a provisional agreement before the IndyCar season started and secured one of the final Chevrolet engine leases during the Texas race weekend. Despite being the obvious pick for ‘slowest car at the Speedway’, Abel and Enerson did well on their efforts, with the car locking in during the first day of qualifying and avoiding any potential Bump Day shenanigans. If all goes well, Abel is exploring a move to a full-time IndyCar operation in 2024.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Arrow McLaren
A year ago at the Indianapolis 500, Tony Kanaan was running a special fourth entry for Chip Ganassi Racing during what was supposed to be his farewell oval tour. He came tantalizingly close to another victory at the Speedway, mixing it up for the lead after a late caution en route to a third-place finish. After becoming the Tom Brady of IndyCar with his many retirement tours, TK is back for one final Indy 500, this time with Arrow McLaren. The team once again fields an extra entry for the 500, although this year it is a fourth entry and numbered #66. Last year, Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th in the extra entry, third-best of all Indy 500 one-offs. Kanaan will start ninth in this year’s 500.

RETURNING: #98-Andretti Autosport
As noted by the man himself, Marco Andretti has now been running the Indianapolis 500 for half of his life. The 36-year-old returns for his 18th attempt at a Borg-Warner trophy, driving for his family’s team. Despite not running any additional IndyCar races in 2022, it was still a busy summer for Marco, as he drove the entire Superstar Racing Experience schedule and was named the champion of that series. A year removed from a 23rd-place starting spot, Andretti qualified 24th, looking to improve upon his 22nd-place finish last year.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

CUP: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. spins early, finishes last in North Wilkesboro endurance race

PHOTO: Steven Taranto, @STaranto92

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished last in Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at the North Wilkesboro Speedway when his #47 Kroger / Coca-Cola Chevrolet finished under power after completing 196 of 200 laps.

Coming into the 2023 season, Stenhouse had started the All-Star Race four times, transferring in from the All-Star Open in both 2013 and 2022. His win in this year’s Daytona 500 secured him a guaranteed spot in the field for the first time since 2018, placing him into the landmark race at North Wilkesboro. Stenhouse arrived at the track fresh off six straight finishes of 15th or better since Richmond, where he had the fastest car in the early laps before a mechanical issue left him 35th.

At North Wilkesboro, Stenhouse ran 20th of the 37 entrants in opening practice, then retained his 20th spot in the pit crew competition with a stop of 15.063 seconds, incurring no penalties in the process. This placed Stenhouse 6th on the grid for the first of two 60-lap heats on Saturday night. Due to a damp track, the 11-car field of Heat Race 1 ran on wet weather tires. Starting last was Erik Jones, slowest in the pit crew competition, whose #43 STP Chevrolet was decorated to resemble Richard Petty’s Pontiac from his 1992 “Fan Appreciation Tour.” Jones started last, 1.478 seconds back of the leader, then on Lap 8 dropped Kevin Harvick to last in the #29 Busch Light Ford, a tribute scheme to the car with which Harvick scored his first Cup win in 2001. Harvick dropped Jones back to last on Lap 9 as the #43 fought a brutal tight condition. A caution on Lap 37 dropped Christopher Bell to last in the #20 Interstate Batteries Toyota on Lap 39, followed by Jones on Lap 40, Harvick on Lap 42, then Jones again on Lap 43. The pair were just 0.017 second apart at the stripe, but Jones lost ground in the final laps with Stenhouse slipping back to 10th, securing him 19th on the grid for Sunday’s main event.

Heat Race 2, run under dry conditions, saw Tyler Reddick roll off 10th and last in his #45 The Beast Unleashed Toyota. The group remained tighter together at the start, separated just 0.901 second from first to last. Lap 4 saw Brad Keselowski fall to last after his #6 Nexlizet Ford was stuck in the high lane as traffic passed by down low. On Lap 5, Keselowski dropped Kyle Busch to last in the #8 Thorntons Chevrolet, and Busch fell 1.006 seconds back of Busch by Lap 17. Busch closed on Keselowski by the time the caution fell for rain, looking to fix a loose condition as the field performed noncompetitive stops for wet tires. Busch remained last until 13 laps to go in the event, when he dropped Ross Chastain to 10th in his #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet through Turns 3 and 4. Chastain then passed Reddick on Lap 57, and opened a 3.028-second gap on the #45 by the end of the 60-lap event. This placed Reddick 20th on the grid for Sunday ahead of 21st-place Jones, last in Heat Race 1.

Completing Sunday’s field were Josh Berry in the #48 Ally Chevrolet and Ty Gibbs in the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, the top two finishers of the All-Star Open, plus Fan Vote winner Noah Gragson in the #42 Sunseeker Resorts Chevrolet. The now last-place Gragson incurred significant damage after striking the pit wall in the All-Star Open, forcing the team to tape up much of the bodywork. On a strip of silver tape across the nose, the words “Thanks Fans” was written in felt pen. No other cars incurred pre-race penalties for Sunday’s 200-lap race, so Gragson’s repaired car would line up outside of Gibbs’ #54 in the final row of the 24-car field.

At the start, Gragson remained in last, and by Lap 4 was 0.142 back of Berry’s #48. On Lap 7, Gragson dropped Reddick to last and opened an advantage of 0.503 second, 7.303 back of the leader. On Lap 17, Jones’ #43 bumped Stenhouse into a spin off Turn 4, drawing the first caution of the night and immediately dropping Stenhouse to last as he recovered without damage. Still under caution on Lap 19, Bubba Wallace took over last in his #23 Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota. This was during pit stops, during which Kyle Larson incurred a speeding penalty in his #5 Chevrolet. This dropped Larson to last on Lap 20.

Larson restarted in last for the Lap 21 restart, and immediately found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle for position. This dropped Stenhouse to last the next time by while Larson jumped to 18th, setting the stage for Larson to retake the lead on Lap 55 and pace all but one of the remaining laps on his way to a dominant victory. Meanwhile, Stenhouse dropped Chastain to last on Lap 25, followed by Gibbs on Lap 27, and Gibbs edged Stenhouse by 0.025 apart at the end of Lap 32. By Lap 35, Gibbs had shaken off Stenhouse, opening an advantage of 1.035 seconds. On Lap 46, Stenhouse was told he was the only driver reaching 100% throttle, and his lap times were improving. 

On Lap 62, William Byron’s #24 Liberty University Chevrolet took over last place as he pitted early for tires, Stenhouse passing him on the track at the exit of Turn 4. Kyle Busch pitted soon after, dropping him off the lead lap with Byron as he took last on Lap 65. Busch aimed to get one of his laps back on the 69th circuit, by which point Stenhouse was lapped on track. Both Busch and Byron dropped Stenhouse to last on Lap 89, where the #47 remained at the race’s halfway point. Stenhouse was still fighting a loose condition, and by now was showing two laps down. “Pray for a bunch of cautions,” Stenhouse’s crew said before the Lap 111 restart.

The rest of the race finished under green, during which point Stenhouse lost another two laps, the last of these in Turn 3 with just three laps to go. During the stretch run, Stenhouse’s crew remarked that the racing appeared “boring, the spotter saying, “Yeah, it's just follow the leader. Only time anybody passes is when someone screws up.” Then on Lap 134 came the transmission, “Those cars that ran the second heat race are sure running good, aren't they?” referring to the differing rain tire use between Saturday’s two heat races.

Gragson, Busch, and Byron remained in the Bottom Five along with Austin Cindric, whose #2 Keystone Light Ford slipped to 21st in the final laps.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #47 in both a Cup Series race at North Wilkesboro and in the All-Star Race itself.
*This is the third time in the last four years the last-place finisher of the All-Star Race finished under power – all at different tracks.

24) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 196 laps / running
23) #42-Noah Gragson / 197 laps / running
22) #8-Kyle Busch / 198 laps / running
21) #2-Austin Cindric / 198 laps / running
20) #24-William Byron / 198 laps / running