Thursday, November 24, 2016

8/29/76: The story of 1976 LASTCAR Cup Champion Joe Frasson (1935-2016)

PHOTO: John Betts, Stock Car Racers Reunion
On August 29, 1976, Joe Frasson picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Volunteer 400 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #18 Excuse Lounge Chevrolet ran out of tires after 5 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Frasson’s 100th series start, was his fourth of the season and first since Pocono, three rounds earlier, when he tangled with Bill Hollar’s #29 Velvet Touch Furniture Chevrolet on Lap 3 of the Purolator 500.  The finish, the last of his career, secured him the 1976 LASTCAR Cup Series title.  He ended the year one finish ahead of Darrell Bryant, Henley Gray, and Bruce Hill.

Known as much for his temper as his independence, the no-nonsense Italian-American driver was born in Golden Valley, Minnesota in 1935.  At the suggestion of his friend and mentor, A.J. Foyt, Frasson made the move from USAC to NASCAR in 1969, and made his Cup debut at the Riverside road course on February 1 of that year.  Driving a #32 Plymouth sponsored by Mario Frasson Cement Company, which at the time he co-owned with his father, Frasson finished 41st in the field of 44, out early with engine trouble.  At a time when Northern drivers were a rarity, Frasson took the setback as motivation, and returned in 1970 to attempt a large part of the schedule.

After finishing 14th in his first Daytona 500 start, he made his first start in car #18 at Atlanta, the number he’d run for much of his career.  He earned his first two Top Tens that year - a pair of 9th-place runs at the Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway dirt oval, and the paved Albany-Saratoga Speedway in New York.  The effort put him just short of taking Rookie of the Year from Virginian driver Bill Dennis.  His first Top Five, a 5th at Michigan, came the following year, though he still preferred the short tracks.  He also reveled in his underdog status.  During NASCAR’s “aero wars,” he outpaced several of the winged factory Dodges and Plymouths in an older-model car.  Team owner Ray Nichels took notice, and Frasson’s #18 was awarded a wing of its own.

In each of his ten seasons, Frasson never ran all the races, and was known to lose his temper when he failed to qualify.  In 1975, he took a jack handle to an ill-handling Pontiac LeMans that wasn’t fast enough at Charlotte, earning him the nickname “Jackhandle Joe.”  As with other owner-drivers, the source of his stress was clear:  “I’m bitter because as long as I’ve been down here (South) purses haven’t increased,” he said in an interview.  “Yet the expense of racing is shooting up all the time.  I don’t see why a car that wins a race gets twice as much money as the second-place car, and the second place finisher get twice as much as the third.  I guarantee you if you don’t finish at least fifth, you can’t pay your motel and tire bill.”

The above interview came prior to the 1973 Winston 500 at Talladega, where he would be one of 60 starters to take the green flag.  An outspoken critic of NASCAR’s sanctioning body - especially the rule book - Frasson had clear misgivings about the size of the field.  “For one thing, there’s no money in it,” he said.  “They’ve increased the field but haven’ hiked up the purse.  And those cars starting 40 and on back are not gonna be competitive by any means.  They’ll be from 40 to 40 miles per hour difference in the first ear[sic] and the 40th, at minimum.  And all 60 cars will do is give up more caution flags.  NASCAR was talking earlier about cutting the field to 40 cars so there wouldn’t be so many cautions.  It looks like they’ve eliminated that idea.”

Both of Frasson’s fears came to pass.  After starting 9th, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a third of the field was destroyed in a multi-car melee, the same one which ultimately ended Wendell Scott’s driving career.  For his troubles, Frasson left with a 43rd-place finish and a mere $1,125 share of the purse.  Race winner David Pearson took home $26,345.

Unfortunately, Talladega wasn’t the only serious crash involving Frasson.  He was one of the last people to speak to Tiny Lund minutes before his fatal 1975 wreck at the Alabama track.  During the 1976 Southern 500, Frasson struck the driver’s side door of Skip Manning’s Billy Hagan-prepared Cherovolet.  Pinned in his destroyed car, Manning had to be cut free, and was hospitalized with a cracked pelvis, a concussion, and a fractured left foot.  Then, while running the 1979 opener for the NASCAR Sportsman Series, Frasson’s car exploded into flame when he was rear-ended by Delma Cowart during a grinding backstretch wreck.  Miraculously, Frasson walked away, but the same accident claimed the life of fellow competitor Don Williams.

According to the record books, Frasson was still searching for his first victory in 1976, but according to the driver, he was aiming for victory number two.  In an interview for Perry Allen Wood’s book Declarations of Stock Car Independents, Frasson stated he was two laps ahead of the field at Texas World Speedway in 1973, but a scoring error handed the win to Richard Petty.  He was awarded 3rd that day, tying his career-best mark at Darlington the previous year.  In ‘76, Petty and Frasson crossed paths again in one of NASCAR’s most famous finishes.  When Petty and David Pearson tangled for the win in the Daytona 500, Pearson nosed into Frasson, tearing up the right side of his car.  As Frasson limped home 14th, he watched Pearson take the victory.

The Daytona incident was Frasson’s first race with sponsorship from the Excuse Lounge, who backed his #18 for the rest of the 1976 season.  His best finish of the year came during the spring race at Darlington, where he came home 8th.  But, heading into Bristol, he’d racked-up four DNFs and three last-place finishes, and would one week later be involved in the aforementioned wreck with Skip Manning.  Still, he managed to secure the 30th and final spot in the Bristol field.  Sent home were Georgia driver Jerry Hansen, who looked to make his first start in two years, and Pennsylvania’s Earl Ressler, his only recorded Cup Series attempt.

Frasson’s exit after five laps due to “no tires,” remains the only time in NASCAR history that a last-place finisher retired for that reason.  The cause for Frasson’s lack of tires is not entirely clear, but given his concerns over tire costs, it may be that he simply couldn’t afford enough rubber to run the race.  Finishing 29th was fellow owner-driver Ed Negre, whose #8 Dodge broke the rear end after 12 laps.  Frasson drove Negre’s car in two races late in the 1970 season.  28th went to Dean Dalton, whose #7 Chevrolet lost the transmission three laps after Negre.  North Carolina driver Gary Myers fell out next, the engine gone on his #04 Hicks Pharmacy Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Walter Ballard, who also lost the engine on Baxter Price’s #45 Chevrolet.

Over the next two years, Frasson made seven more Cup starts.  His final race came at Rockingham on October 22, 1978, where his unsponsored Buick came home 23rd after late-race engine trouble.  But this wasn’t the end of his racing career.  In the years ahead, Frasson joined two newly-organized NASCAR divisions.  He was part of the NASCAR XFINITY Series’ first season in 1982, finishing 12th during the series’ first trip to Charlotte.  In 1991, at age 55, he joined the new NASCAR Southeast Series, running at least one race a year for its first five seasons.  His best finish there was a 20th at Myrtle Beach on November 19, 1995, where he again ran a #18 Chevrolet.  His last start in the series came in 1998, though he attempted at least one more start in 2002.  He moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he operated a successful insurance company.

This past Monday, Frasson passed away.  He was 81.

*This marked the first, and so far, only last-place finish for the #18 in a Cup Series race at Bristol.
*The #18 would not finish last in another Cup Series race until June 1, 1980, when Randy Ogden’s #18 Ogden Racing Chevrolet lost the engine after 13 laps of the NASCAR 400 at the Texas World Speedway.

30) #18-Joe Frasson / 5 laps / no tires
29) #8-Ed Negre / 12 laps / rear end
28) #7-Dean Dalton / 15 laps / transmission
27) #04-Gary Myers / 35 laps / engine
26) #45-Walter Ballard / 55 laps / engine

*“1973 - Joe’s bitter. . .Frasson loves racing, but Winston 500 may be his last,” May 2, 1973; reprinted at Midwest Auto Racing, May 2, 2013.
*Hembree, Mike. “From Nightmare To A Comeback.” Herald-Journal, October 8, 1976.
*Wood, Perry Allen. Declarations of Stock Car Independents, Interviews with Twelve Racers of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 2010.

Monday, November 21, 2016

BOOK UPDATE: New “J.D.” Release Date Coming Soon

A couple updates on the book I’m writing about J.D. McDuffie.

First of all, the original release date, set for January 10, 2017, has been postponed.  While I cannot give details as to why, I can say that I expect a new release date will be announced sometime this offseason.  I will announce the new date both on this site and on my Twitter feed @LASTCARonBROCK, so stay tuned for more details.  I apologize for the inconvenience.

The book itself is very nearly complete, and I am well into the editing and revision phase.  I have also updated the cover slightly, and shortened the title to simply “J.D.”  The current version is attached to this post.

Thank you for your attention and patience.  Although this delay was not planned, I am confident that it will only help this book be the very best it can be.  In the meantime, I am also still collecting interviews, so if any of you have other sources you’d like to recommend, or know of anyone who would like to be interviewed, please let me know.

I am also in the process of updating all of my LASTCAR history books on Amazon to reflect statistics through 2016.  Those updates will be available to download by the end of this month.  I will tweet when they, too, become available.

Have a relaxing offseason and a wonderful holiday.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

CUP: Aric Almirola’s third last-place finish of 2016 secures LASTCAR title for Josh Wise

PHOTO: @RPMotorsports
Aric Almirola picked up the 9th last-place finish of is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #43 Smithfield Ford finished under power, 54 laps down, in the 267-lap race.

The finish, which came in Almirola’s 215th series start, was his third of the season and first since Kansas, five races ago.

Though Almirola and the “Petty Blue” Smithfield car rebounded with a season-best 8th-place finish at Talladega, the team finished mid-pack in the following three races, coming home 15th at Martinsville, then 22nd at Texas and Phoenix.  Coming into his home track at Homestead, Almirola sat just 26th in the standings, eager for a fresh start in 2017.  The race would also be the 53rd and final series start for teammate Brian Scott, who two weeks ago announced his retirement.

Almirola began the weekend 29th in the opening practice session and earned the 25th spot in qualifying with a lap of 175.092mph.  He missed bumping Jamie McMurray for a spot in Round 2 by just nine-hundredths of a second.  The #43 found some speed in Saturday’s first practice, jumping to 12th ahead of Chase drivers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.  In Happy Hour, driver and team ranked 22nd.  For just the ninth time all season, more than four Open teams arrived to attempt the field - albeit just one - and Gray Gaulding’s #30 Feed The Children Chevrolet was too slow to make the cut.

Starting last for the fifth time in 2016 was Michael Annett, who has only one time all year qualified the #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet any better than 33rd.  But during the pace laps, the big story was Chase contender Jimmie Johnson, sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments on the driver’s side A-post of his #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.  Johnson didn’t spend much time there, and by the end of Lap 1, the spot fell to Dylan Lupton.

Lupton, making his fourth start of the season and first for Go FAS Racing in the #32 Can-Am / Ford, struggled with speed all night.  At the end of that first lap, he was already 5.879 seconds behind the leader and six-tenths behind 39th-place Annett.  By Lap 6, those gaps grew to 13.869 and 2.555, then on Lap 6 to 18.777 ad 4.035.  On Lap 14, Lupton’s #32 was the first to be lapped by the leader.  He held the spot until Lap 28, when Ryan Blaney’s #21 Motorcraft Ford required repairs following the first of three scrapes with the outside wall.  Lupton retook last on the Lap 32 restart and began to lose laps rapidly.  He lost a second on Lap 43, a third on Lap 59, and a fourth by Lap 72.

Almirola’s struggles began on Lap 65, when he pitted just before the first round of green-flag stops.  The decision, which cost Almirola two laps, came after the #43 had made contact with the outside wall.  From there, he remained down in the order, but outside the Bottom Five.  Lupton remained in 40th, losing more laps during the long green-flag stretches.  A fifth by Lap 97, a sixth by Lap 115, a seventh by Lap 129, an eighth by Lap 148, a ninth by Lap 165, and a 10th by Lap 168.

Just when it appeared Lupton would remain in 40th, handing the #32 its first last-place run at Homestead since Scott Pruett in 2000, Almirola’s day went from bad to worse.  On Lap 184, the #43 was suddenly eight laps down in 38th, having spent the previous few laps in the garage.  Another brush with the wall had broken something in the rear end housing, forcing extensive repairs.  Finally, the laps Almirola lost exceeded the rate at which Lupton lost his, dropping the #43 to the back on Lap 188.  Though it seemed the Richard Petty Motorsports team would not have enough time, they did manage to make repairs and send Almirola back on track on Lap 233.

While Almirola’s late return to the track meant that all 40 starters were still running, his issues all but ended the 2016 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship.  Stuck in a three-wide tiebreaker on Bottom Fives, Reed Sorenson and Matt DiBenedetto needed to finish last in order to snag away the title from Josh Wise.  At the time of Almirola’s return, DiBenedetto was 4 laps down and Sorenson was back 9, but there were only 34 laps to best Almirola’s 54 laps behind.  By the time the #43 returned to the track, both could not finish enough laps down to take 40th from Almirola.  In the end, both finished under power - Sorenson in 32nd and DiBendetto in 27th - while Almirola was never passed for last.

39th remained Lupton’s as the rookie finished 18 laps behind race winner and series champion Jimmie Johnson.  The remainder of the Bottom Five filled with three of the six retirees from a huge crash with 10 laps to go.  After contact between Chase contenders Joey Logano and Carl Edwards sent Edwards head-on into the inside wall entering Turn 1, the track closed.  38th went to Regan Smith, whose #7 Nikko RC / Road Rippers Chevrolet had to qualify on speed after Tommy Baldwin Racing sold its Charter to Leavine Family Racing with Circle Sport.  Smith struck the stopped car of Edwards after 37th-place Kasey Kahne, whose #5 Great Clips Chevrolet vaulted Edwards’ #19 ARRIS Toyota high into the air.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Martin Truex, Jr., whose miserable second half of the Chase ended with a terrible fire that consumed his #78 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Toyota.  Fortunately, no drivers were injured.

Josh Wise clinched his first LASTCAR title on a three-way bottom-five tiebreaker of 17-13-7 over Sorenson and DiBenedetto.  It was the closest LASTCAR Cup championship since 2001, when Andy Houston prevailed in a four-way tiebreaker over Stacy Compton, Kyle Petty, and Rusty Wallace.  Like Houston, Wise did not race in the season finale.

Jimmie Johnson, who won the race and his record-tying seventh Cup Series title, earned his first last-place finish in his 529th start this past August at Watkins Glen.  He is the first driver to score the Cup championship in the same season as his first last-place finish since Matt Kenseth in 2003.  Johnson is also the second-straight Sprint Cup Champion to also finish last in the same year, following Kyle Busch’s early crash at Michigan in 2015.

Tony Stewart ended his career Sunday after 618 Cup starts and 49 victories.  He retires with nine last-place finishes across NASCAR’s top three divisions, seven of them in Cup.  Two of those seven, including his first, came in the Daytona 500 (2002, 2007).  His most recent was at Watkins Glen in 2015.  As of this writing, he stands tied for 18th in the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings and tied for 22nd all-time.

Brian Scott retired with just one last-place finish, which came at Talladega in 2015.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #43 in a Cup Series race at Homestead.
*This marked the first time the last-place finisher of a Cup race at Homestead finished under power.  The record for most laps completed in this race, however, still belongs to Stacy Compton, who in 2001 ran 222 laps before a late-race crash.

40) #43-Aric Almirola / 213 laps / running
39) #32-Dylan Lupton / 250 laps / running
38) #7-Regan Smith / 255 laps / crash
37) #5-Kasey Kahne /257 laps / crash
36) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 257 laps / crash

1st) Premium Motorsports (5)
2nd) BK Racing, HScott Motorsports, The Motorsports Group (4)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Hendrick Motorsports (2)
5th) Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing, Go FAS Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Ford (8)
3rd) Toyota (7)


XFINITY: Matt DiBenedetto ends 2016 with third-most last-place finishes in XFINITY Series history

PHOTO: Jonathan Moore, Getty Images North America
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 16th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his unsponsored #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with a vibration after 2 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in DiBenedetto’s 68th series start, was his 14th of the season (3rd-most all-time) and second in a row.  Although on Sunday, he came just short of becoming the first driver to claim two LASTCAR titles in the same year, DiBenedetto now has sole possession of 3rd in the all-time LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings.  Only Jeff Green (89 last-place finishes) and Jeff Fuller (24) have more.

This time, DiBenedetto returned to TriStar as one of 44 drivers on the preliminary entry list, a list that grew to 45 when Mario Gosselin added his #90 BuckedUp Apparel / CrashClaimsR.Us Chevrolet last Tuesday.  DiBenedetto again put up fast times, running 20th in Friday’s opening practice, 29th in Happy Hour, then ran 24th in the first round of qualifying with a lap of 163.895mph.  He stood on his time in Round 2, and would roll off in that spot on Saturday.

Five teams missed the show.  Fastest of the group was David Starr, who looked to make his first start since Texas in RSS Racing’s #93 Massimo Motors Chevrolet.  Morgan Shepherd failed to qualify for the seventh time in 2016 (not counting three withdrawals).  Though his #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet never finished a race this year, nor came home better than 34th, he did not score a single last-place finish.  Mike Harmon’s #74 Dodge missed the cut for just the fourth time this year, and for the first time on a non-restrictor plate track.  Dexter Stacey ended the year 1-for-3 in attempts for Derrike Cope Racing’s #70 E-hydrate Chevrolet, and Ryan Ellis was unable to join Obaika Racing teammate Josh Bilicki.

Starting 40th for Saturday’s race with the Past Champion’s Provisional was none other than all-time last-place leader Jeff Green, again in B.J. McLeod’s unsponsored #99 Ford.  DiBenedetto joined Green at the back for the start, surrendering his 24th-place on the grid for an early exit.  At the end of Lap 1, DiBenedetto was already 6.946 seconds behind the leader, then 25.673 on Lap 2 as he prepared to pull down pit road.  He crossed the stripe as he exited the race under green, securing the last-place run.

39th went to Timmy Hill, who stayed out to lead three laps during the race’s second caution for Ryan Reed’s spin in Turn 2.  Hill’s #40 Phoenix Air / / OCR Gaz Bar Toyota had brake issues 41 laps after DiBenedetto’s retirement.  38th went to Gosselin, who prior to Hill’s troubles had an extended stay in the garage for a broken radiator hose.  The resulting overheating issues didn’t go away, and Gosselin’s #90 pulled out after he passed Hill.  37th went to Joey Gase, whose Jimmy Means Racing crew got a scare when something ignited under the hood on pit road.  Ignition failure was the official listed cause for the #52 Donate Life Florida Chevrolet’s short day.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Truck Series racer Jordan Anderson, whose first race for Precision Performance Motorsports ended when his #46 Chevrolet was collected in a multi-car wreck on the backstretch, starting a fire.  No drivers were injured.

*This marked TriStar Motorsports’ fourth-straight last-place finish in the XFINITY race at Homestead and the fifth in the last seven.

40) #10-Matt DiBenedetto / 2 laps / vibration
39) #40-Timmy Hill / 43 laps / brakes / led 3 laps
38) #90-Mario Gosselin / 49 laps / overheating
37) #52-Joey Gase / 87 laps / ignition
36) #46-Jordan Anderson / 134 laps / crash

1st) TriStar Motorsports (21)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (4)
3rd) RSS Racing (3)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., JD Motorsports (2)
5th) Chip Ganassi Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (23)
2nd) Chevrolet (7)
3rd) Ford (2)
4th) Dodge (1)