Saturday, August 24, 2019

INTERVIEWS: Vargas, Finchum, Williams talk sponsorship, road racing and more

by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Friday at Road America was a busy day, with voluntary pre-practice tech as well as two practice sessions. Throughout the course of the day, we caught up with three drivers in varying scenarios: Ryan Vargas, making his second-ever XFINITY start; Chad Finchum, in his second full-time season for MBM Motorsports; and Josh Williams, who drove most of the season last year but did not attempt an XFINITY road course race until this year. The following interviews have been slightly edited for clarity.

ALL PHOTOS: William Soquet, @WilliamSoquet
RYAN VARGAS, NO. 4 JD MOTORSPORTS CHEVROLET

Q: YOU’VE BEEN ALL OVER THE PLACE THIS YEAR, RACING LATE MODELS ON BOTH COASTS, NOW XFINITY. WHAT’S IT BEEN LIKE BALANCING THAT DIFFERENT RACING SCHEDULE?
A: It’s been honestly really cool. Racing out west with Alec Martinez Racing and out east with Lee Faulk Racing and now I have an opportunity to make a couple starts with Johnny Davis, it’s really neat. It’s a lot of racing this year that I didn’t think I was going to be able to do. Once this offseason came around, I had zero races planned. I didn’t know what this year was going to be, I didn’t know if I was going to be racing, period. It’s really cool to be able to have these type of opportunities.

Q: HOW DID THE CONNECTION WITH LOMBARD BROTHERS GAMING COME ABOUT?
A: So I knew Joseph for about a year or two, met him for the first time in person 2018 in July at the July 4th race and just became really good friends with him through there. Once the Rev announcement came out and I had the opportunity to race at Irwindale, I knew that wasn’t something we could afford, but Joseph and his family were kind enough to step up and they wanted to do the whole season. Now we have a couple wins to our name this year and it’s been an awesome ride so far.

Q: YOU’VE TURNED SOME LAPS IN FIRST PRACTICE. HOW IS XFINITY ROAD RACING DIFFERENT THAN K&N ROAD RACING?
A: It’s definitely more competitive, and everybody is on their game. I have a lot more to learn, and I figured out a lot of the places that I needed to pick up a lot more speed, and this car definitely has that speed. I just need to go out there and learn more about the car, because I’m not just out here learning the track, I’m also learning the car. This is my second time ever in an XFINITY car. I’m having a lot of fun doing it, you know, learning. That’s the whole thing.

Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER RACES PLANNED WITH JD MOTORSPORTS THIS YEAR?
A: Yeah, we’re working on a couple other things, but it all comes down to sponsorship. We’re working hard to get something rolling, and hopefully son we’ll have some more done.

CHAD FINCHUM, NO. 13 MBM MOTORSPORTS TOYOTA

Q: I’VE NOTICED YOU’RE A PACKERS FAN. YOU’RE FROM KNOXVILLE. WHAT LED YOU TO BEING A PACKERS FAN?
A: Oh man, I love the Packers. One of the first Super Bowls that I watched growing up was when Aaron Rodgers stepped in and overtook the Steelers. That was a cool game to watch. Growing up racing, I was so busy racing that I never got super time-invested into football, but when I did have time I would watch it and that was the only Super Bowl that I watched from the first snap to the last snap and I’m like ‘you know what, I’m sold. I’m a Packers fan.’ And ever since then, I have been.

Q: THE CAR YOU ARE DRIVING THIS WEEKEND HAS BEEN DUBBED THE “BANANA SPLIT”. DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER COOL NAMES FOR CARS YOU’VE DRIVEN THIS YEAR?
A: No, I wish I did. The Banana Split is probably top of the charts. Carl (Long, team owner) decided to bring that little old throwback scheme out, he ran something similar to that scheme years ago when he used to race, so when that car needed to be re-wrapped we wrapped it with one of his throwback schemes. We put it online, and people started naming it. No better way than to name it than a banana split, because they taste good too!

Q: LOOKING AT THE REST OF THE SCHEDULE, WHICH TRACKS DO YOU HIGHLIGHT AND SAY ‘THESE ARE TRACKS WE CAN RUN REALLY WELL AT?
A: Well I think any time, for me at least, any time we go to a short track we have an advantage. I have a very strong short track background, a lot of success at short tracks, so of course Richmond, Phoenix, Dover, it’s not necessarily a short track but it has the characteristics of one. I think we’ll be pretty strong at Kansas. We’ve shown a lot of speed at Homestead but haven’t been able to put together a flawless race yet. We showed a lot of improvement from year one to year two of the aero package at Indy, so we’re looking forward to going back there, I think we finished twenty-first or twenty-second last year, so if we could finish top twenty, that would be another improvement. There’s a lot of races left on the schedule that we’re looking forward to.

Q: WITH A YEAR OF ROAD COURSE RACING IN THE XFINITY SERIES UNDER YOUR BELT, HOW DO YOU TAKE THAT KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU GAINED IN YEAR ONE AND APPLY THAT TO YEAR TWO?
A: The biggest thing is that when I came here last year, the only practice I had was iRacing. The difference in translating that to real life was a pretty big learning curve. When I came back here this year, I have on track experience, so I feel a lot more comfortable. You know where your braking zones are, where the bumps are at, you can actually feel it, see it and remember it. It still took a couple laps to get the memory refreshed, and everything’s kind of jiving together, hand-eye reflexes and everything. I think any time you come to a track the first time, when you come back the second time, if you can build an improvement. If you go the first time and get a baseline, say you finish twenty-fifth, if you can come back there and do twenty-fourth or better I think that’s an improvement.

JOSH WILLIAMS, NO. 36 DGM RACING CHEVROLET

Q: YEAR ONE OF XFINITY ROAD COURSE RACING FOR YOU, I’D SAY IT’S BEEN EVENTFUL TO SAY THE LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON IT?
A: It’s always fun. I think the road courses, everybody’s like ‘alright, it’s time to go hard’, so it’s fun, it’s a blast, I like it. Everybody’s a little bit rougher here than they are at other tracks, and it makes it interesting.

Q: YOU’RE A TENURED VETERAN OF THE ARCA MENARDS SERIES. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST WAY TO GO ABOUT THE ARCA/K&N MERGER FOR NEXT YEAR?
A: I think they need to pick a motor, in my eyes. I think you need to stick with the Ilmor motor, it’s more popular I think. I think it’d be cool to get them all under one roof with a similar rules package, but the motor deal is going to be really tough. Other than that I think it’s going to be fun.

Q: YOU’VE GOT HARKIN CONSTRUCTION ON THE HOOD THIS WEEKEND. HOW OFTEN DO THESE SPONSORS COME TOGETHER AND HOW LATE IN THE GAME DO THESE DEALS COME TOGETHER?
A: Oh man. It just depends. For us being a small team, sometimes it’s the same day we get here. Harkin Construction, they’re real good people, I’ve known them for a pretty good while now, I used to build some Bandolero and Legend cars for his son and daughter, so I’ve kind of got a long-lasting relationship there. Sponsors, I think, is the hardest thing about racing. Getting to the track and making the cars go, it’s all irrelevant if you don’t have the money to get there.

Q: SO YOU OWN BANDOLEROS AND OUTLAWS AND WHAT ELSE? 
A: Yeah, I’ve got some Bandoleros. Sold all my Legends cars, I got to get another one of those. We got a couple things in the shop we play around with, I still got all my ARCA stuff too. If it has four wheels and a motor, we work on it and make it go fast. 

After I finished interviewing Williams, he went back under the hood on his own car, just like the independent legends of the past.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

PREVIEW: Road America and Mosport see a slew of ringers, both young and old

PHOTO: Preston Pardus, @PrestonPardus
Saturday, August 24, 2019
XFINITY Race 23 of 33
CTECH Manufacturing 180 at Road America
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

LASTCAR TRACKSIDE COVERAGE
William Soquet, our guest contributor for the ARCA Menards Series, will be covering the action at his home track in Wisconsin. This will be his second-straight year covering the event for LASTCAR.info. For his updates, be sure to follow him on Twitter at @WilliamSoquet.

ENTRY LIST
There are 39 drivers entered for 38 spots in Saturday’s return to Elkhart Lake, meaning one team will fail to qualify. UPDATE: Make that 38 as the #17 has withdrawn, locking the rest of the field jnto the show.

DRIVER CHANGE: #4-JD Motorsports
Ryan Vargas returns to the XFINITY Series for the first time since a 17th-place finish in his series debut at Iowa last month. Then as now, he drives for Johnny Davis, but this time in the #4 Chevrolet, taking over for Landon Cassill, who ran a strong 10th in Bristol.

DRIVER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Ryan Ellis also seeks his first XFINITY race since Iowa, and also drives a different car from the team he ran that day, moving from B.J. McLeod’s #99, which he took to a 23rd-place finish after early issues, to the #5. He takes the place of Matt Mills, who ran 18th in his return last week in Bristol. Ellis has made four starts at Road America since 2012 with a best finish of 17th just last year, again for McLeod. The Wes Cook Band is his listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Regan Smith rejoins JR Motorsports for the first time since Mid-Ohio, and brings with him the same backing from Fire Alarm Services, Inc. He takes over for Jeb Burton, who suffered brake issues midway through the race and ended up 32nd. Smith has three XFINITY starts at Road America, but none since 2015, when he finished a track-best 8th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Kaulig Racing
Another road race means A.J. Allmendinger is back again, driving Matthew Kaulig’s #10 Chevrolet. Sponsorship this week comes from J.W. Speaker and race sponsor CTECH Manufacturing. Allmendinger has just one XFINITY start here, but made it count, winning from the pole for Penske Racing in 2013. Allmendinger takes the place of Joe Graf, Jr., who failed to qualify this car at Bristol.

DRIVER SWAP: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER SWAP: #66-Motorsports Business Management
One week after Chad Finchum failed to qualify MBM’s #66 while Tommy Joe Martins saw a solid finish fade with transmission issues, leaving him 31st in the #13, the two drivers have swapped rides. Finchum will run the #13 and Martins the #66, just as both had at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. Both times, Martins finished ahead of Finchum.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing
The preliminary entry list had no driver listed for Rick Ware’s #17 Chevrolet, one week after Joe Nemechek was brought on for Bayley Currey and Mike Harmon to secure a 28th-place start and 35th-place finish in Bristol. Driving this week is Kyle Weatherman, who seeks his first XFINITY start since Michigan in June. UPDATE: Aaron Quine, who drove for Harmon at Mid-Ohio, will drive in Weatherman's place. UPDATE 2: Quine has been withdrawn as of Friday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
MISSING: #81-XCI Racing
Matt DiBenedetto gained a large number of fans last Saturday with his runner-up finish at Bristol after dominating the late stages. While the Cup Series is off this week, DiBenedetto will race this weekend, taking over for Kyle Busch in the #18 Toyota. Following Busch’s engine failure after winning Stage 2 in Bristol, DiBenedetto will race with sponsorship from iK9, which moves from the #81 XCI Racing team. The #81 is not entered after Erik Jones’ early crash left him 37th in Bristol.

RETURNING: #21-Richard Childress Racing
Kaz Grala is no slouch at the road courses, including his 11th-place run for Fury Race Cars LLC in this race last season. This time around, he will have a strong car to match, returning to Richard Childress’ #21 Chevrolet for the first time since his 14th-place showing at Loudon. HotScream is again his listed sponsor.

MISSING: #28-H2 Motorsports
Shane Lee and the Circuit City Supra will not be competing this week following a quiet 13th-place finish in Bristol.

DRIVER SWAP: #38-RSS Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #93-RSS Racing
Rod Sieg’s team swaps J.J. Yeley from the #93, which he drove to a 16th-place finish at Bristol, back to the #38, which failed to qualify that night with Camden Murphy. Murphy himself is not entered, while Josh Bilicki will return to take over Yeley’s seat in the #93. It will be the fourth different XFINITY team Bilicki has raced for at Elkhart Lake, where his best finish was a 12th with B.J. McLeod in 2017.

NEW TEAM: #43-Pardus Racing, Inc.
Longtime race fans may remember Dan Pardus, the part-time Cup Series competitor from Florida who drove the Midwest Transit Chevrolet, attempting ten races and finishing 36th in his lone start at Daytona in the fall of 1998. Pardus is now a team owner who has fielded an XFINITY car for his son Preston Pardus. So long as they make it in on speed as they do not have Owner Points, the younger Pardus will make his NASCAR debut. The white #43 Chevrolet carries sponsorship from Chinchor Electric Inc. and Danus Utilities Inc.

DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management / Hattori Racing Enterprises
Bristol saw the unexpected debut of a new partnership between Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management and the Hattori Racing Enterprises XFINITY team that failed to qualify at Daytona in July. MBM driver Timmy Hill not only qualified the #61 Supra a strong 7th, but finished 7th as well, equaling his career-best finish. This week, the car will be driven by Dick Karth, who has run on this, his home track, twice in the ARCA Menards Series with a best finish of 21st in his own equipment. The 66-year-old Karth has never made a NASCAR start, and his lone ARCA race this year saw him run 16th of 18 cars at Madison, driving for Andy Hillenburg.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Nicolas Hammann becomes the third different road racer to run for Harmon in the last three road course races, following Dan Corcoran at Watkins Glen and Aaron Quine in Mid-Ohio. Corcoran will instead run Sunday’s Truck Series race at Mosport (see below). Hammann, an Elkhart Lake native, has made three XFINITY starts including two in this race in 2016 and 2017 with a best of 29th in the latter. His series-best finish is a 28th-place run for Harmon at Watkins Glen three years ago. Hammann also takes the place of Tyler Matthews, who finished 27th in the #74 at Bristol.

MISSING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd and his #89 Chevrolet will not be making the trip to Road America, but is expected to run next week at Darlington. His “throwback scheme” debuted briefly at Bristol before a DNQ, the white-and-blue scheme commemorating the Pontiac that Shepherd raced to his first Cup Series win at Martinsville in 1981.

DRIVER CHANGE: #90-DGM Racing
Welcome back Dexter Bean, who is looking to make his first XFINITY start of the year and first in the series since last summer at Iowa, where he ran 36th in Mario Gosselin’s #92 Chevrolet. This time around, Bean drives Gosselin’s primary #90, taking the place of Ronnie Bassett, Jr., who ran 33rd at Bristol. The team’s sponsor is still to be announced.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Saturday will also see the XFINITY Series debut of Dutch road racer Loris Hezemans, a three-time winner in the Elite 1 division of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Hezemans has three wins in the series, including the most recent two rounds at the Autodrom Most in Czechoslovakia and a 100-lapper at his home track, the Raceway Venray in the Netherlands. Fourth in the standings with six consecutive outside-pole starts in the series, Hezemans will be one to watch this weekend as he takes the place of C.J. McLaughlin, 23rd at Bristol. Koolbox, a past Mike Harmon sponsor, is listed as the primary backer this week.

CUP INVADERS: #18-Matt DiBenedetto

Sunday, August 25, 2019
TRUCKS Race 18 of 23
Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (Mosport)
Round of 8 – Race 2 of 3
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Joe Nemechek

LASTCAR TRACKSIDE COVERAGE
In addition to William’s coverage, I will be working the same weekend at Mosport, marking the first time LASTCAR.info has worked a track outside the United States. As always, stay tuned to this website and my Twitter at @LASTCARonBROCK for updates throughout.

ENTRY LIST
There are just 28 trucks entered to attempt the 32-truck field in NASCAR’s annual trip north of the border. It is only the second short field of the 2019 season and first since Kansas, where just 30 drivers took the green flag. UPDATE: Make that 29 trucks with a late addition of #32.

RETURNING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Ray Ciccarelli makes his return to the Truck Series for the first time since he finished 9th at Michigan, his first career top-ten finish. Unlike that day, he will not be driving for his own team, the #49 of CMI Motorsports, but will instead race the second truck for Jennifer Jo Cobb. It was somewhat surprising to see Cobb entering two trucks this week following Daniel Sasnett’s qualifying wreck at Michigan, which heavily damaged one of Cobb’s trucks. It will also be interesting to see what the race strategy will be since Cobb’s team has finished last in this race in four of the previous six runnings, including three by the #0 alone.

RETURNING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Making his return to the series this week is Norm Benning, who withdrew at Bristol to better prepare for the trip north of the border. According to a member of the team, Benning is expected to run the same truck he ran at Eldora and finished last with at Michigan. Those eager to write Benning off, however, do so at their own risk. Not only has he qualified for all six previous races, but he’s finished no worse than 22nd in each, finished under power each time, and completed all but 18 of the 387 combined laps. His best finish at the track came just two years ago, when he finished 18th.

MISSING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
MISSING: #15-DGR-Crosley
MISSING: #21-GMS Racing
MISSING: #46-Kyle Busch Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #54-DGR-Crosley
MISSING: #68-Clay Greenfield Racing
MISSING: #74-Lou Goss Racing
MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
MISSING: #92-RBR Enterprises
MISSING: #97-JJL Motorsports
The possibility for someone unexpected to earn a good finish is helped by nine teams entered at Bristol not making the trip up north this week. This includes the third entries from DGR-Crosley (#15), GMS Racing (#21), and Kyle Busch Motorsports (#46). Raphael Lessard, who drove the #46 last week, is the only driver from these teams entered in Sunday’s race. This week, he takes the place of Natalie Decker, who struggled under the lights at Bristol to a 25th-place finish, in DGR-Crosley’s #54 Toyota. Lessard is also the first of four NASCAR Pinty’s Series drivers in Sunday’s Truck Series field – in fact, he 12th-place finisher at Bristol won his Pinty’s debut at the Autodrome Chaudiere bullring in June.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Spencer Boyd is again expected back in Randy Young’s #20 Chevrolet this week after Landon Huffman raced in his relief for the second time in a month at Bristol, finishing 16th. This will be Boyd’s first-ever start at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. UPDATE: Dylan Lupton swapped in for Boyd by Thursday.

RETURNING: #32-Reaume Brothers Racing
Added Friday as a 29th entry is the third Reaume truck, to be driven by crew chief Greg Rayl, who crashed out early in his series debut at Gateway and finished last.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
The 61-year-old Dan Corcoran, the aforementioned road course ringer for Mike Harmon’s XFINITY Series team, will make the trip north to race at his home track. The Ontario native takes the place of Ryan Sieg, who finished 14th in the Reaume #33 at Bristol. Carrying sponsorship from his family’s construction firm, Len Corcoran Excavating, this will be Corcoran’s Truck Series debut. He joins series regular Stewart Friesen as the only two Canadian natives in this race not currently active in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Jason White makes his return to the Truck Series for the first time since his DNQ in the Daytona season opener and looks to make his third career start in the series. White is also the second Pinty’s Series regular in the field, though he is only 14th in the standings as he has been off the circuit since his 100th series start at Saskatoon. Powder Ventures, which backed White’s previous Pinty’s and Truck Series efforts, rejoins White as his sponsor in the second Reaume truck. He takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who finished next-to-last at Bristol.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
Gary Klutt is a Pinty’s Series part-timer who won the pole at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for the Pinty’s season opener on Victoria Day weekend this past May. This weekend, he both returns to the Pinty’s Series in his #59 Dodge, but also will take over for Angela Ruch in the Al Niece-prepared #44 Chevrolet. Klutt has a pair of starts in the Truck Series race here, finishing 11th for KBM three years ago, then 24th for Premium Motorsports in 2017. He also made his Cup debut that year, again for Premium, finishing 31st in the #15 Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Alex Tagliani is sure to be a favorite in Sunday’s race as he makes his fifth consecutive start in the event. His best finish came in 2015 for Brad Keselowski Racing, when he parlayed his second straight pole into a 5th-place finish. The last two years, he’s driven for Young’s Motorsports, finishing 19th and 10th in those attempts. This time, he takes the place of Bristol runner-up Chandler Smith (who instead will run Sunday's Pinty's Series race) in KBM’s fast #51 Toyota. Sponsorship comes from CanTORQUE, Spectra Premium and RONA. In the Pinty’s Series, he’s carried the RONA branding on his #18 to victory lane in Toronto, and stands 4th in the series standings, 33 markers behind series leader Andrew Ranger.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #04-Roper Racing
For the first time, two owner-driver operations will not have a family member behind the wheel. Both will be driven this week by brothers Roger Reuse and Bobby Reuse from Alabama. Roger takes over the #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors, Inc. Ford in place of Cory Roper while Bobby takes over Timmy and Tyler Hill’s #56 Chevrolet, bringing with him sponsorship from WCIparts.com. This marks the first time the Reuses will race against each other in this event, a race each had run once before - Roger ran it last year for JJL Motorsports, finishing 27th in their #97, while Bobby ran it in 2017, finishing 17th in Mark Beaver’s #50. The two have raced against each other in the XFINITY Series before, at Mid-Ohio in 2014, where they ran two cars for Mike Harmon. Bobby finished ahead that time, running 24th, while Roger finished last. Both teams are locked-in to the race due to the short field, locking in the #04 after a DNQ in Bristol, where Timmy Hill ran 17th in the #56.

DRIVER CHANGE #02-Young's Motorsports
Tyler Dippel was suspended indefinitely on Friday after an incident whose details are still coming to light. UPDATE: D.J. Kennnington will drive in his place, joining the other Pinty's drivers in the field.

CUP INVADERS: None

Sunday, September 1, 2019
CUP Race 25 of 36
Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Joey Gase

LASTCAR TRACKSIDE COVERAGE
The Cup Series takes the weekend off and will return for the Labor Day classic, where I will also be covering the action for the 70th Annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Today in LASTCAR history (August 22, 1993): Dick McCabe picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in the NE Chevy 250 at Loudon when his #0 Fisher Snow Plows Pontiac lost the engine after 18 laps, leaving him last in a 44-car field. It was just the second last-place run for car #0 in the series and the first since Allen Applegate’s engine failure at the Nashville Fairgrounds on May 21, 1988.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

ARCA: Late entrant Wayne Peterson does not sling any dirt at Springfield

PHOTO: WiseGuy on YouTube
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor
ARCA Menards Series

Wayne Peterson finished last for the 42nd time in his ARCA Menards Series career in Sunday’s Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds when his #0 Ford did not complete any of the race’s 100 laps before retiring with brake problems.

The finish came in his 107th series start and was his first since Gateway, five races ago.

Once again, Wayne Peterson Racing rolled out two cars for the event. Originally, Buck Stevens was slated to drive the car, but by later in the week, the entry list had been updated to show Peterson in the 0. Up-and-coming driver Tim Richmond continued to diversify his racing portfolio, as the road racer continued his maiden stock car voyage with an appearance on dirt in the #06.

The dirt also brought out some familiar faces to the ARCA dirt scene. “Dirt ringers” Kelly Kovski, Ryan Unzicker and Logan Seavey entered, all three in the same machines they drove in this race a year ago: Seavey in the #20 for Venturini Motorsports, Unzicker in the Hendren Motorsports #24, and Kovski in the Allgaier Motorsports #16. It was a local affair for Unzicker and Kovski, who both hail from Illinois. Will Kimmel drove his team’s flagship entry for the first time this year. Some part-timers also joined the effort. Dale Shearer entered in a second Kimmel Racing car, Bobby Gerhart returned after somewhat of a quiet summer stretch, Eric Caudell continued his partial schedule, and Fast Track Racing entered Richard Doheny in the #1 car and Mike Basham in the #11 machine.

Peterson on track Sunday.
PHOTO: Colby Evans, @COLBYEVANSBRAND
Rolling off on the grid last after qualifying was Peterson, whose lap of 51.7 seconds was twelve seconds slower than Shearer’s next-slowest lap and more than eighteen seconds off of Seavey’s pole time. Coming to the green, Peterson was a noticeable distance behind the field in a white car with rookie stripes on it. The car, however, stayed clean of a first-lap crash with Eric Caudell. The incident relegated Caudell to the garage after officially completing a mere one lap, filling two of the bottom five slots extremely early in the race. Tommy Vigh Jr., Basham, and Shearer filled out the Bottom Five with overheating problems, a common issue with old chassis at dirt tracks. This issue was potentially compounded by a wetter track surface for a majority of the race after an early red flag for rain. Give a call, however, to current LASTCAR championship runner-up Richard Doheny, who finished for the second time in his 34-race ARCA career, three laps down in 12th.

Looking to the LASTCAR championship battle with a mere four races left in the season, the drivers’ championship is still wide open, with Peterson now one of three drivers tied at two finishes apiece. Brad Smith currently leads on a Bottom Ten tiebreaker, 13-12 over Doheny, as both are tied with ten Bottom Five appearances. Ford leads all manufacturers with eight and has all but wrapped up the title; even if Toyota finished last in all four remaining races they could only tie Ford for the lead. As for the owners title, Wayne Peterson Racing holds a 4-3 lead over Fast Track Racing, but there is still a lot of time for things to seesaw one way or the other.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
21) #0-Wayne Peterson / 0 laps / brakes
20) #7-Eric Caudell / 1 lap / crash
19) #10-Tommy Vigh Jr. / 17 laps / overheating
18) #11-Mike Basham / 26 laps / overheating
17) #68-Dale Shearer / 33 laps / overheating

2019 LASTCAR ARCA MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Ford (8)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Chevrolet, Dodge (1)

2019 LASTCAR ARCA OWNERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Wayne Peterson Racing (4)
2nd) Fast Track Racing (3)
3rd) Brad Smith Motorsports, Kimmel Racing, Venturini Motorsports (2)
4th) KBR Development, Mullins Racing, Our Motorsports (1)

2019 LASTCAR ARCA DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, August 17, 2019

CUP: Kevin Harvick completes fourth-most laps of a Bristol last-place finisher in dramatic duel with Austin Dillon

PHOTO: @NASCARONFOX
Kevin Harvick picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #4 Busch Beer Ford fell out with clutch issues after 244 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Harvick’s 670th start, was his first of the season and first since May 27, 2018 at Charlotte, 47 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 41st for the #4, the 41st for clutch issues, and the 695th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 65th for clutch issues, the 67th for the #4, and the 956th for Ford.

The only other time Harvick was featured on this website turned out to be one of only a few setbacks during a strong 2018 season. He scored eight victories that year, though the last at Texas turned out to be the final “encumbered” finish before NASCAR brought back disqualifications. No one knew at the time that race would begin a puzzling losing streak that continued through his championship loss to Joey Logano and the first 19 races of this season. The streak finally ended at Loudon, where he held off a spirited charge by Denny Hamlin, and just last Sunday he scored a second victory with an economy run at Michigan.

At Bristol, where his most recent of two wins came in 2016, Harvick started the weekend 14th in opening practice and 20th in Happy Hour. He improved in qualifying to take 8th on the grid with a speed of 128.434mph (14.940 seconds), second among Fords to his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola in 5th.

Meanwhile, taking the 39th and final starting spot was Ross Chastain, who two days earlier finished 3rd in the Playoff opener for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Chastain was again in Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet with new sponsorship from the Chantz Scott Auto Group. During the pace laps, he was joined by teammate Quin Houff in the #27 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet as Houff surrendered the 34th spot to pull to the outside of the row in front, 38th on the grid.

When the race started, there was a scramble in the outside lane, and at one point, Houff’s car skated up the track just as it had last week in Michigan. Houff briefly held last the first time by, then worked his way past the #00 Permatex Chevrolet of Landon Cassill. It was Cassill who was last by Lap 7, and it was he who became the first car one lap down on Lap 13 when Denny Hamlin worked past him in the high lane in Turn 3. Cassill held the spot until Lap 37, when Cassill raced past former teammate Kyle Weatherman, Bayley Currey’s relief driver in the #52 Belmont Classic Cars Chevrolet.

The night’s first accident threw in a new contender. On Lap 80, Austin Dillon blew a right-front tire in Turn 3, and the trailing Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet could not keep from rear-ending Dillon’s #3 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. The contact caused Dillon to slam the outside wall with the right-front corner while Johnson caught race leader Hamlin as he passed in the middle lane. All three cars spent an extended time on pit road for repairs, none longer than Dillon. Dillon managed to clear the Crash Clock while Houff and Weatherman traded last place on the restart. That changed by Lap 107, when more repairs for Dillon dropped him to last place. Dillon apparently returned to action for around eight laps, then pulled into the garage near Turn 2. Having cleared the clock, the crew was able to work on Dillon’s car and avoid the #3 scoring its first-ever Cup Series last-place finish at Bristol.

Finally, on Lap 196, Austin Dillon re-fired the engine and returned to pit road at the head of the backstretch, 92 laps down to the leaders. As he got up to speed and passed both Houff and the #53 Chelle Corporation / AQRE Ford of Josh Bilicki, the crew reported no smoke coming from the #3 while the driver said the water temperature was sitting at 232 degrees Fahrenheit. Later in the race on Lap 258, Dillon recalled how strange his accident was, saying the right front “bound up” before it blew and he held the brakes. He also said he likely wouldn’t have hit the wall if Johnson hadn’t rear-ended him.

Harvick's crew stands by during transmission repairs.
PHOTO: NASCAR Streaming Services
Harvick didn’t enter the last-place picture until a routine pit stop near the end of Stage 2. With just two laps to go in the stage, NBC’s cameras caught the #4 being pushed behind the wall with transmission issues. Replays showed the transmission fail after the jack dropped, stopping the car in its tracks. Harvick’s car happened to be one of four in the field with livestream cameras on board, so viewers could watch as the Stewart-Haas Racing team set to work underneath the machine. By Lap 284, Harvick was within 65 laps of being passed by Dillon, who was still on the track. There was also the chance of getting another spot if they returned – Reed Sorenson pulled Spire Motorsports’ #77 Go-Parts Chevrolet off after Harvick, and was the first to retire from the race. If Harvick completed just 26 more laps, he’d finish ahead of the #77, who would inherit last place if Dillon also finished.

On Lap 301, Harvick’s crew seemed to have the car fixed. He was 58 laps down and rolling toward the exit to pit road at Turn 4. Then the car stopped directly in front of the media center. The crew pushed him back, and someone diagnosed a possible clutch issue stemming from a failure in the transmission’s input shaft. It was a clutch issue that also happened to eliminate Sorenson from the race. On Lap 328, Harvick was told he could hop out of the car. Two circuits later, someone on the crew said “We’re done.” And on Lap 336, Harvick’s car was unavailable on RaceView, out with clutch issues.

Harvick stalls in front of the media center after repairs.
PHOTO: NASCAR Streaming Services
Back on the track, Dillon fell 110 laps down, but still managed to catch and pass Harvick for 38th on Lap 353. In the end, he would escape the Bottom Five completely, losing just three more laps in the process en route to a 34th-place finish. Sorenson finished 38th. The next two spots fell to Front Row Motorsports as Michael McDowell’s #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford and David Ragan’s #38 MDS Ford were collected in a multi-car pileup that brought out the final yellow on Lap 373. Ragan’s finish came after a solid mid-pack run just days after he’d announced his intention to retire from full-time competition at the end of 2019. For McDowell, it was his first Bottom Five of 2019. Rounding out the group was Josh Bilicki, the second Rick Ware Racing driver to fall out due to fatigue this summer. Bilicki tweeted his helmet hose blower broke, forcing him to run with the visor up. The heat continued to get to him until he became sick, forcing him to pull off the track.

UPDATE: Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers tweeted Monday that a locker in the rear gear failed and not the clutch. However, clutch remains the official cause on record.

Matt DiBenedetto, the 2016 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Champion, earned a career-best runner-up finish in Leavine Family Racing’s #95 Toyota Express Maintenance Toyota. The finish continued a strong summer stretch that began with a previous best 4th-place run at Sonoma. After leading Happy Hour, qualifying 7th, and running Top 10 most of the night, he took 2nd place with a daring three-wide pass on the final restart, then the lead after a door-to-door battle with Erik Jones that ended with Jones in the wall. He led 93 consecutive laps and was trying to hold off polesitter Denny Hamlin until contact with Playoff bubble driver Ryan Newman allowed Hamlin to catch up and get by with just 12 to go. The run came just two days after DiBenedetto confirmed rumors that he would be out of a ride next year, released from the Leavine team likely in favor of a Joe Gibbs development driver. DiBenedetto, who has turned things around after 20 LASTCAR features, still has no plans for 2020.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #4 in a Cup Series race at Bristol.
*The 244 laps Harvick completed are the fourth-most by a last-place finisher of a Cup Series race at Bristol. The record remains 373 by Jamie McMurray on March 16, 2008.
*Harvick is the first Cup Series driver to fall out due to clutch issues since May 29, 2016, when Reed Sorenson’s World Record Striper Company / Hauling Bass Chevrolet fell out after 200 laps of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Harvick is also the first to finish last at Bristol for this reason since March 30, 1980. When Buck Simmons earned his first last-place finish in the #12 Ramey’s Chevy City Chevrolet during the Valleydale Southeastern 500.
*Harvick is just the third driver to ever lead at least one lap of a Cup Series race at Bristol and finish last in the same event. The only other two instances were March 29, 1981, when Dave Marcis’ #71 Bowlin Coal / Hudson Chevrolet broke the rear end after leading 18 of the first 60 laps, and August 24, 1991, when Rusty Wallace’s #2 Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac led 16 of the first 88 laps before a crash.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #4-Kevin Harvick / 244 laps / clutch / led 28 laps
38) #77-Reed Sorenson / 269 laps / clutch
37) #34-Michael McDowell / 368 laps / crash
36) #38-David Ragan / 371 laps / crash
35) #53-Josh Bilicki / 373 laps / fatigue

2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Rick Ware Racing (7)
2nd) Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Front Row Motorsports (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Spire Motorsports (2)
5th) Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management (1)

2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Toyota (2)

2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: While Tyler Reddick went from last to first at Bristol, Mason Diaz ended up staying there

PHOTO: Ricky Matthews, @WCYB_Ricky
Mason Diaz picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Food City 300 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #68 Brandonbilt Motorsports Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident after 3 of 300 laps.

The finish came in Diaz’ fourth series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 4th for the #68, the 326th from a crash, and the 533rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 27th for the #68, the 1,192nd from a crash, and the 1,680th for Chevrolet.

A 19-year-old driver from Manassas, Virginia, Diaz’ journey into NASCAR is a familiar one for many of today’s up-and-comers – go-karts, Bandoleros, then the INEX Legends Series. He made the move to NASCAR through the Whelen All-American Series, first in Limited Late Model class and then to Late Model Stock Cars. All the while, he carried sponsorship from Southern Rock Carriers, themselves sponsors in the CARS Super Late Model Tour. Soon, he was balancing racing with his full-time studies at Old Dominion University, where he pursues a major in business and a minor in motorsports engineering.

Diaz was originally scheduled to run the full K&N Pro Series East schedule this year with MAD Motorsports. He was off to a solid start, coming back from a 14th-place finish in the New Smyrna opener to take 8th at Bristol, placing him 9th in points. But in the next round at South Boston, Diaz crashed in practice trying to pass a lapped car, severely damaging the right-rear of his #24 Ford. To make matters worse, the weekend was a double-header, and by failing to start both races, he dropped out of title contention. The team re-evaluated their travel costs and decided to scale back to a part-time effort.

During his rise through the ranks, Diaz has also competed in two of NASCAR’s top three series. He made his Truck Series debut for Brandonbilt Motorsports at Martinsville on October 28, 2017, qualifying a strong 9th and finishing 23rd. Last year, he made his XFINITY Series debut with Mario Gosselin’s DGM Racing, steering the #90 Chevrolet to a 19th-place finish at Richmond after starting 22nd. Brandonbilt and Diaz then reunited just this year, again at Richmond, and once more he was fast in time trials, taking 16th on the grid. But engine woes ended his night after just 63 laps, leaving him 36th. A crash-filled race at Charlotte was equally unkind, leaving him 30th at the halfway point.

Bristol not only marked Diaz’ third XFINITY start of the season, but the return of his K&N Pro Series East effort for the first time since South Boston. In the lower series, Diaz capitalized by qualifying 4th in the 16-car field and finishing there, following Sam Mayer, Ty Gibbs, and Ruben Garcia, Jr. to the checkered flag. On the XFINITY side, Diaz drove the team’s second car, a red-and-white #68 that resembled the car Will Rodgers drove in his series debut at Iowa. Diaz didn’t participate in the opening practice, then ran 34th of 38 drivers in Happy Hour. But again, he improved in qualifying, taking the 27th spot with a lap of 116.129mph (16.523 seconds).

A strong entry list of 42 drivers added drama to qualifying as four teams were sent home. Just eight-thousandths of a second bumped Chad Finchum from the field in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota. Next in line was Joe Graf, Jr., who was unable to make it in on time driving Kaulig Racing’s #10 EatSleepRace.com Chevrolet driven to top-five runs this summer by A.J. Allmendinger. Camden Murphy missed the cut in RSS Racing’s #38 Chevrolet while J.J. Yeley, swapped out of the ride, put up the 18th-fastest time in RSS’ #93. Rounding out the group was Morgan Shepherd, who debuted his “throwback” scheme on his Visone RV Chevrolet – a tribute to the Cliff Stewart-owned Performance Connection Pontiac that Shepherd drove to his first Cup win at Martinsville in 1981.

Taking the 38th and final starting spot was Tyler Reddick in the #2 Tame the BEAST Chevrolet. Reddick, the regular season points leader, was not allowed to take a qualifying time after his car failed inspection four times. This also incurred Reddick the same penalty as Matt Tifft in the Cup race at Dover earlier this year, requiring him to take a pass-through penalty at the start of the race. Joining him at the rear was 9th-place qualifier John Hunter Nemechek, whose #23 Midnight Moon Moonshine Chevrolet was sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Diaz also surrendered his 27th spot and started alongside Reddick in 37th, moving Nemechek up to the inside of the row in front in 35th.

When the race started, Reddick ducked down pit road as soon as he could, losing one lap in the process. But he didn’t take last as Diaz lost two laps in the race’s opening moments from an apparent trip to pit road. Diaz returned to action four laps back, only to clobber the Turn 2 wall on Lap 6. The car ground to a stop against the fence, the driver reporting something broke in the right-front of his car. “That thing just shot straight into the wall,” said someone on the team shortly after the accident. Diaz went behind the wall, done for the day. The crew continued to look over the right-front, trying to figure out what happened. On Lap 28, they examined the right-front suspension, and on Lap 36 looked over the ball joint. The crew saw something wrong with the upper suspension, but couldn’t determine if it happened before or after hitting the fence.

On that same lap, a pileup ensued in Turn 1, triggered by contact between Matt Mills, running 30th, 1 lap down, as Cole Custer and Christopher Bell raced up behind them. The gap between Mills’ car and the outside wall closed quickly, causing Custer to spin into Bell and slide down the track. Unable to avoid contact were two Cup regulars – Erik Jones in the XCI Racing #81 iK9 Stars and Stripes Toyota and Joey Logano in the #12 Snap-On Tools Ford. First Jones, then Logano slid into Bell’s stopped car, and both were eliminated from crash damage.

It was a rollercoaster weekend for the crew of the #17 Chevrolet fielded by Rick Ware Racing in conjunction with Mike Harmon Racing. Bayley Currey was named as driver for the XFINITY team’s first start since Iowa, but that changed Thursday when Currey was suspended indefinitely for accidentally violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy. Currey said he’d been taking a sports supplement during his training which he didn’t realize contained the prohibited substance dimethylamylamine. The Ware team originally stated Kyle Weatherman would drive in Currey’s place for both the Cup and XFINITY races, but by Friday, it was Joe Nemechek behind the wheel of the #17. As in other times he’d been called upon during large entry lists, Nemechek stepped up with a 28th-best lap that put the car in the show. However, Nemechek lost at least four laps by the time of the Mills / Bell wreck and exited with a busted oil cooler.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Justin Haley, who was battling near the Top 5 for the first 79 laps until smoke trailed from the pipes of his #11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, forcing him behind the wall with a blown engine. For Haley, Logano, and Jones, it was their first Bottom Five of 2019.

Teams big and small all found adversity in the race’s final stage as blown tires and the outside wall collected many contenders. One of the night’s biggest heartbreaks was suffered by Justin Allgaier, who was leading with 11 laps to go when a tire let go on his #7 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet, leaving him 8th. The other was Ryan Sieg, whose top-ten car ran up as high as second inside the final 50 laps. But contact from Brandon Jones put his #39 Lombard Bros. Gaming Chevrolet into the outside wall, forcing an unscheduled pit stop, then a trip to the garage. He finished 25th.

But there were strong runs for underdogs as well, including Diaz’ teammate Brandon Brown, who rebounded after a track bar failure in opening practice put him into the outside wall. The crash forced extensive repairs before qualifying, and his car was even slow getting off the grid and joined the field halfway through the first pace lap. But Brown ran in or near the Top 10 for much of the night. He was 6th on Lap 73, and still held the spot on Lap 108 ahead of the big-dollar efforts of Chase Briscoe and Brandon Jones. Only late in the race did Jones slip off the lead lap for a 12th-place finish. Both he and Gray Gaulding, who impressed with a 6th-place finish in Bobby Dotter’s #08 Pannini Chevrolet, earned the second-best finishes of their young XFINITY Series careers. Gaulding’s run closed him within 97 points of Sieg for the final spot in the Playoffs.

Jeremy Clements finished 4th in his #51 RepairableVehicles.com Chevrolet, a return to form for his owner-driver operation at the track that also saw his first career last-place finish. It was the third top-five finish for Clements and his first since his upset victory at Road America two years ago.

And Timmy Hill with Motorsports Business Management made the most out of running the Hattori Racing Enterprises’ #61 entry that broke down in Austin Hill’s qualifying attempt last month at Daytona. Hill was a Top 10 car for much of the night and finished seventh, the first and only car one lap down. This matched Hill’s career-best finish in the series in two Daytona races in the spring of 2012 and fall of 2018.

For more on Mason Diaz, check out his website here: http://www.masondiazracing.com/

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #68 in an XFINITY Series race at Bristol. The most recent last-place finish for the number in the series was on April 29, 2011, when Matt Carter’s #68 Morro’s Truck & Welding Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 6 laps of the Bubba Burger 250 at Richmond.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
38) #68-Mason Diaz / 3 laps / crash
37) #81-Erik Jones / 36 laps / crash
36) #12-Joey Logano / 37 laps / crash
35) #17-Joe Nemechek / 43 laps / oil cooler
34) #11-Justin Haley / 79 laps / engine

2019 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Motorsports Business Management (6)
2nd) RSS Racing (5)
3rd) DGM Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Brandonbilt Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

2019 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Toyota (8)

2019 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP