Monday, August 13, 2018

CUP: Engine woes drop Corey LaJoie to last place for a fourth time in 2018

PHOTO: @CoreyLaJoie
Corey LaJoie picked up the 6th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Consumer Energy 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #72 Schluter Systems Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after 37 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 47th series start, was his series-leading fourth of the 2018 season and his first since Dover, 12 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 16th for car #62, the 683rd for engine trouble, and the 752nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st for the #72, the 1,062nd from engine trouble, and the 1,618th for Chevrolet.

LaJoie and teammate Cole Whitt have continued to share time behind the wheel of TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet. Since Dover, LaJoie has driven in 9 of 12 races, starting with Kansas, where sponsor Schluter Systems debuted a new inverted version of the black-and-orange paint scheme. The 24th-place finish LaJoie earned that night stands as his season-best, offsetting an uneasy start to 2018 that saw him blow engines in three of his first four starts, finishing last each time, and a hard crash in Pocono’s third turn.

The orange Schluter scheme returned for Michigan, where LaJoie would be one of 40 starters to fill the 40-car field. He began the weekend 33rd in the opening practice session and improved to 27th of 38 in the second. He qualified 32nd with a lap of 193.553mph (37.203 seconds) and ran 24 laps in Happy Hour, ranking 34th of 36.

Starting last was Daniel Suarez, a surprise given his career-best runner-up finish at Pocono and his top-five showing in Watkins Glen. Suarez showed speed in the opening practice, ranking 3rd behind Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch, but in Round 1 of qualifying slapped the wall in Turn 2. Knowing their car was fast, the Joe Gibbs Racing crew decided to fix the #19 rather than roll out the backup. The repairs and lack of a completed timed lap meant that the #19 would have to roll out 40th and last on the grid.

On Sunday, Michigan saw last place change hands before the race even began. After the first pace lap, Watkins Glen last-placer Joey Logano pulled his #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford down pit road. The Penske Racing crew had discovered in inspection that they had installed the wrong left-front shock in the Ford, forcing the crew to make the switch on pit road. This cost Logano his starting spot, and he closed in on the tail end of the field.

Logano didn’t hold last for long, however, as several drivers were sent to the back. While Ross Chastain competed in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, where he got in a scuffle with Joey Gase after the checkered flag, Reed Sorenson practiced and qualified his #15 Solomon Plumbing Chevrolet. Chastain returned to compete on Sunday, and the driver change sent him to the back. Also sent back there were Blake Jones (#23 Tennessee XXX Moonshine Toyota) and David Ragan (#38 Louis Kemp Crab Delights Ford), both sent to the rear for transmission changes.

Two other drivers fell back voluntarily: 37th-place starter Timmy Hill, whose Motorsports Business Management team not only switched from Toyota to Chevrolet, but acquired new sponsorship from Rewards.com, and Jeffrey Earnhardt, returning to the Gaunt Brothers’ #96 Xtreme Concepts, Inc. / Project K9 Hero Toyota.

Thus, when the race started, Logano was already ahead of five drivers and lined up 35th on the inside of Gray Gaulding (#99 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet), back in Cup for the first time since his release from BK Racing.

When the race began, Gaulding made contact with the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet of B.J. McLeod, causing a tire rub on Gaulding’s car. Behind them in 40th, Blake Jones had taken last on the break, but was quickly reeling in Timmy Hill’s #66. On Lap 3, Jones drove past Hill near the start / finish line, dropping the #66 to the last spot. Hill only held this spot briefly as Gaulding dropped behind both cars, preparing to make an unscheduled stop due to the tire rub. Gaulding returned to action on Lap 6, when he was two laps down. McLeod made an unscheduled stop of his own the next time by and lost one lap. He was saved from falling two down by a spinning Erik Jones off Turn 4, the incident drawing the first yellow of the day.

On the restart, Gaulding was still in last when trouble once again broke out among the leaders. This time, it was Martin Truex, Jr., whose #78 5-hour Energy / Bass Pro Shops Toyota was knocked into a Turn 1 spin after William Byron’s #24 Liberty University Chevrolet broke loose under him. While Truex managed to avoid any contact, Byron did not, backing the #24 into the outside wall. Both cars came down pit road, where they again faced different outcomes. While Truex managed to stay on the lead lap after minor repairs, Byron lost two laps and took last from Gaulding on Lap 18.

Byron managed to return to competition for the restart, and on Lap 22 passed Gaulding for 39th coming off Turn 4. Though still two circuits behind, Gaulding began to show competitive speed as on Lap 24, he caught and passed Jeffrey Earnhardt’s 33rd-place car that was still on the lead lap. Byron earned the Lucky Dog when a competition caution came soon after, then retook last from Gaulding when he stopped at pit entrance just prior to the restart. Despite the lost ground, Byron caught and passed Timmy Hill by the end of the next lap, and looked to gain the one-circuit deficit he had on 39th-place Gaulding.

LaJoie didn’t enter the last-place battle until Lap 38, when he slowed suddenly down the backstretch, then turned into the garage area. With all other cars still running, LaJoie took last from Byron on Lap 40, and would hold it the rest of the afternoon. While the TriStar team looked to get the #72 back on track, puzzled by a dropped cylinder, what the driver later tweeted as a “broken valve spring retainer” proved to be enough to end their race. The car was pulled off RaceView at the end of Stage 1 on Lap 60, then listed as “OUT” on NBCSN’s leaderboard by Lap 73.

Jeffrey Earnhardt finished 39th, citing engine trouble of his own on the Gaunt Brothers entry. Earnhardt’s twitter feed showed him give his driving gloves to two young fans in the infield as he left the garage. 38th-place Ty Dillon encountered the day’s scariest incident, when his #13 GEICO Chevrolet struck what appeared to be either a piece of tungsten ballast or a battery, exploding beneath the car and sending him hard into the Turn 3 wall. Timmy Hill’s first race with Rewards.com ended with electrical woes while William Byron lost a total of 13 laps before he crossed the line 36th, the final car under power.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for the #72 since June 20, 2004, when owner-driver Kirk Shelmerdine’s #72 Fairfield Inn by Marriott Ford had handling woes after 13 laps of the DHL 400.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #72-Corey LaJoie / 37 laps / engine
39) #96-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 102 laps / engine
38) #13-Ty Dillon / 131 laps / crash
37) #66-Timmy Hill / 138 laps / electrical
36) #24-William Byron / 187 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (4)
2nd) StarCom Racing (3)
2nd) Penske Racing, Premium Motorsports (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (3)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Dylan Murcott’s NASCAR debut ends in China Beach after only four corners

PHOTO: @NASCARonFOX
Dylan Murcott picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Rock ‘n Roll Tequila 170 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after his #55 Prevagen / Pets For Warriors Toyota was involved in a single-car accident on the opening circuit of the 75-lap race.

The finish occurred in Murcott’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 13th for car #55, the 121st for Toyota, and the 318th because of a crash. Across NASCAR’s  top three series, it was the 61st for the #55, the 300th for Toyota, and the 1,157th because of a crash.

The 26-year-old from Ancram, New York came to Mid-Ohio having already earned two IMSA championships, including last year’s IMSA Continental Tire Series GS Championship. That same season, he claimed a victory in Dillon Machavern’s RS1 Porsche at Virginia International Raceway. On August 7, it was announced that Murcott would make his NASCAR debut at the Mid-Ohio course, where this past May he competed in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Championship. That same circuit saw Kevin Conway, the NASCAR’s 2010 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, take the World Championship in 2014.

Murcott’s first NASCAR ride would be the second JP Motorsports Toyota, teammate to Josh Bilicki’s #45. The #55 had been driven for much of the year by Stephen Leicht and Brandon Hightower, but since Hightower parted ways with JP last month, has seen even more drivers run one-off starts. Bayley Currey made his series debut in the car at Loudon. Peter Shepherd III returned to the series after a 12-year absence to run Iowa. David Levine was scheduled to run Watkins Glen, but the team withdrew and left the car on the hauler. Murcott was tabbed for Mid-Ohio, where he likely drove the same car JP withdrew at The Glen.

Murcott’s weekend began with a seven-lap run in opening practice, where he ranked 34th of the 39 drivers to take time. He was not among the six drivers to take time in Happy Hour, then settled on 34th on the grid in qualifying with a lap of 90.827mph (1:29.498), the first driver locked-in on Owner Points.

Starting last was Morgan Shepherd, whose #89 Visone RV Chevrolet was back in action after withdrawing at Watkins Glen. Shepherd’s qualifying lap of 80.818 mph  (1:40.582) was more than six seconds off the next-slowest car and 16 seconds off the pole speed.

Prior to the start, Shepherd was joined at the rear by four drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: JD Motorsports teammates Garrett Smithley (#0 Wheeling Nailers Chevrolet) and Vinnie Miller (#01 JAS Trucking Chevrolet), plus Alex Labbe (#36 Larue Chevrolet) and Murcott’s teammate Josh Bilicki in the #45. Bilicki would rebound impressively, finishing 20th in the race - his new season-best.

In addition to the four penalized drivers, Stephen Leicht had fallen to 40th by the green flag. Leicht, the lone DNQ at The Glen, was making his second-straight attempt in Mike Harmon’s #74 Horizon Transport Dodge. With no teams sent home after time trials, Leicht was locked-in, but faced a 34.139 second gap back of the lead at the start, 29.360 seconds back of Shepherd.

As Leicht looked to close the gap, trouble broke out in front of him. At the time, Murcott’s #55 was running 34th when he drove off the course into the gravel trap known as “China Beach.” From what the driver later reported to be a brake failure, the car overshot Turn 4 and drove along the left side of the pit. Whether the car was out of control or simply traveling too fast, the result was the same – the #55 slammed head-on into the tire barriers. Fortunately, Murcott climbed out unhurt, but his day was done. The car also had noticeable damage around the left-rear wheel, but it was unclear what brought that about.

The garage filled gradually through the rest of Stage 1. Finishing 39th was Jeff Green in the #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet, citing brake issues after six laps. Shepherd wound up 38th with overheating. Leicht took 37th, two circuits after Shepherd. Three laps after Leicht, Vinne Miller rounded out the Bottom Five after only 14 laps.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for car #55 since April 25, 2014, when Jimmy Weller III lost the engine on SS-Green Light Racing’s Chevrolet at Richmond. The number had never before trailed the XFINITY race at Mid-Ohio.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #55-Dylan Murcott / 0 laps / crash
39) #93-Jeff Green / 6 laps / brakes
38) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 9 laps / overheating
37) #74-Stephen Leicht / 11 laps / clutch
36) #01-Vinnie Miller / 14 laps / brakes

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (10)
2nd) JP Motorsports (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports (2)
3rd) Fury Race Cars LLC, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Toyota (4)
2nd) Ford (3)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Timmy Hill continues MB Motorsports’ LASTCAR Owner’s Title bid in 2018

Bayley Currey in the #63 at Pocono
PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Timmy Hill picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #63 Fr8Auctions.com Chevrolet exited with suspension issues after 7 of 100 laps.

The finish came in Hill’s 23rd series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 22nd for truck #22, the 13th for suspension issues, and the 358th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 39th for the #63, the 35th for suspension trouble, and the 1,617th for Chevrolet.

The journeyman Hill continues to accrue valuable seat time as he splits his efforts across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions. Last weekend saw him enter both Saturday’s Truck Series race for Mike Mittler, then Sunday’s Cup race with Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management, where his #66 Chevrolet would debut new sponsorship from Rewards.com.

Saturday’s race was Hill’s 30th combined start of the season and his third in Trucks. He’d previously finished 28th at Charlotte for Beaver Motorsports, failed to qualify at Kentucky with the same team, then run 28th again at Pocono in NEMCO’s #87 Chevrolet.

In practice, Hill ranked 24th of 28 drivers in the first session, 27th of 32 in Happy Hour, and split the middle in qualifying, taking the 25th spot with a best lap of 177.109mph (40.653 seconds). The lone DNQ of the weekend was Camden Murphy in the #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet for Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing. Murphy, who joined the withdrawn Mike Harmon Racing entry on the early ride home, was faster than three qualified trucks: Josh Reuame, Norm Benning, and last-place starter Bayley Currey in Copp Motorsports’ #83 Nutriblade Chevrolet.

Sent to the rear prior to the start were Tate Fogelman (#20 Randco Chevrolet) and Justin Haley (#24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet), both for engine changes, as well as tire changes on the fleet Toyotas of Spencer Davis (Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #51 JBL / SiriusXM Toyota) and Matt Crafton (ThorSport’s #88 Hormel / Menards Toyota).

In the race itself, Hill pulled behind the wall during the opening 21-lap green-flag run, done for the afternoon with suspension issues.

31st went to Matt Mills, who had earned a strong 4th-place starting spot in DGR-Crosley’s #54 J.F. Electric / Crosley Brands Toyota. Mills’ day ended on the restart following Stage 1 when he broke loose in the first corner and backed hard into the outside wall.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled in short order. 30th went to Joe Nemechek, whose #87 Petron Plus Chevrolet pulled out as the race restarted from the Mills caution. B.J. McLeod parked the Reaume Brothers’ second truck, #34, eight laps later. Closing out the group was Reed Sorenson, who had a busy day splitting time in Ross Chastain’s Cup car, out after 47 laps in Beaver Motorsports’ #50 SobrietyNation Chevrolet.

Hill closed out his Michigan weekend with a 37th-place finish in Sunday’s Cup race, citing electrical issues in the closing stages.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked MB Motorsports’ sixth last-place finish of 2018 and their second in a row, following Bayley Currey’s run in the #63 two weeks ago in Pocono.
*This was the first time that the #63 has finished last in a Truck Series race at Michigan.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #63-Timmy Hill / 7 laps / suspension
31) #54-Matt Mills / 27 laps / crash
30) #87-Joe Nemechek / 33 laps / ignition
29) #34-B.J. McLeod / 41 laps / fuel pump
28) #50-Reed Sorenson / 47 laps / electrical

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) MB Motorsports (6)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (3)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (2)
4th) Mike Harmon Racing, NEMCO Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, TJL Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (15)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, August 11, 2018

#JD70: Photos unearthed from 1991 may hold clues to determining the cause of J.D. McDuffie's accident

J.D. McDuffie takes the checkered flag at Watkins Glen, 1990
PHOTO: Charlie Berch
Twenty-seven years ago today, J.D. McDuffie lost his life on the fifth lap of the Budweiser at the Glen. During the research for my book on the subject, I found no evidence of an investigation into the accident by NASCAR. Freedom of Information filings with both the New York State Police and Schuyler County Police also turned up nothing.

The only investigation into the accident I could find was commissioned through investigator Terry Shaw at Automotive Legal Service, Inc. (ALS). ALS examined the car in September 1991, well after it was taken from the Watkins Glen track and driven to the Medford Speed shop in New Jersey. ALS also supplemented their report with an examination of McDuffie’s helmet.

ALS focused their investigation on the cause of the fatal injury, details of which can be found in the book. They did not draw conclusions about the cause of the accident, nor what triggered the sequence of events. ALS cited they were not present at the scene after the accident and obtained no reports about the position of the car, the position of the driver inside the car, the autopsy report, nor anything else derived from the scene itself other than the car.

ALS did, however, take several pictures of the car at Medford, focusing on several points of interest. After obtaining permission to use these pictures, I decided against putting them in the book. Instead, I used them to describe the state of the car in the chapter entitled "Holding Pattern."  Today, in this article, I’ll be sharing some of those photos as a supplement to the book itself.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear what is NOT in this article.

There are no autopsy pictures. There are no photos of McDuffie’s helmet. There are no photos of the driver at all. To my knowledge, none of these 28 pictures contain visible blood.

Instead, these pictures focus on McDuffie's car as it appeared during and after the accident on August 11, 1991, including photos inside the car.

All pictures are hidden behind links (EXHIBIT X) with a description of what they are so they viewer can choose which ones to see at their own discretion.

Reader discretion is strongly advised.

My purpose in sharing these pictures is to further demystify what took place that day at Watkins Glen, and to encourage a discussion that can come even closer to finding out what really happened that day. As I described in the book, it is still unknown what actually started the chain of events that triggered the accident. It’s unclear when or how the left-front wheel came free, and the wheel’s whereabouts are unknown to this day. Perhaps the clues are on this page.

I. THE ACCIDENT

To provide context, I have included a couple pictures of the accident itself with extra attention given to the left-front wheel that came off entering Turn 5.

EXHIBIT 1 and EXHIBIT 2 were found in a coffee table book called “Legends of the Track” by Duane Falk. The pictures, taken by Tom Bernhardt show the moment McDuffie left the track, and the moment of impact. In EXHIBIT 1, the loose left-front wheel is above and in front of the car, and appears to have some of the assembly still attached. EXHIBIT 2 reveals how much damage there was to the driver’s side of the car before impact.

EXHIBIT 3, EXHIBIT 4, and EXHIBIT 5 are the first three photos taken on slide film by Charlie Berch, also from the same corner. The left-front wheel is also visible just to the right of McDuffie’s car in EXHIBIT 3. The full sequence of these photos can be found in the book.

EXHIBIT 6 by The Leader, and EXHIBIT 7 by David Stephenson were taken during the red flag as McDuffie’s car was being loaded up onto a flatbed. Again, the damage to the driver’s side of the car is clearly visible.

II. THE INVESTIGATION

This next collection of pictures are those taken by ALS.

EXHIBIT 8 is McDuffie’s car on the back of Old Blue in September 1991. The photo is taken from the left-front corner looking back. As you can see, the front valence from EXHIBIT 6 is now missing. Like the left-front wheel, its whereabouts are unknown.

EXHIBIT 9 and EXHIBIT 10 are closer shots of the same left-front corner, looking at where the wheel came off entering Turn 5.

EXHIBIT 11 is a close-up of the end of the lower ball joint mounting for the missing left-front wheel, which is visible at bottom-center in the previous two pictures.

EXHIBIT 12, EXHIBIT 13, and EXHIBIT 14 are closer looks at the suspension inside the exposed left-front corner.

EXHIBIT 15 and EXHIBIT 16 are of the open passenger-side window. The marks on this opening were what ALS believed to be evidence of an object entering the car. EXHIBIT 15 is looking down from the roof toward the bottom edge of the passenger side window, the door numbers visible at bottom-center. EXHIBIT 16 is a close-up of the bottom-right corner of the passenger-side B-post.

EXHIBIT 17 and EXHIBIT 18 are the wrap-around headrest in McDuffie’s car. Marty Burke indicated this part was new at the time of the race, and called attention to slight damage on the leading edge of it.

EXHIBIT 19 and EXHIBIT 20 are both photos of the top of the car, looking from the front and back. Rumors after the accident persisted that something pierced the roof. These photos show the roof bent, but not pierced.

EXHIBIT 21 shows an investigator sitting in McDuffie’s seat. The investigator, who was taller than McDuffie, still has enough headroom, indicating the roll cage held up. The steering wheel, however, has been pulled to the right by the impact.

EXHIBIT 22 and EXHIBIT 23 are the right-front and right-rear wheels, respectively. Despite impacting the tire barrier, both wheels and tires are still intact.

EXHIBIT 24 is the left-rear wheel. Unlike the other side, the rim is bent and the tire is flat.

EXHIBIT 25 and EXHIBIT 26 show the passenger side of McDuffie’s car, looking back from the right-front corner.

EXHIBIT 27 is the right-rear corner of the car. This part of the car was last to strike the tire barrier.

EXHIBIT 28 is the left-rear corner of the car, also looking forward.

Thank you for your support of my book, and of the memory of J.D. McDuffie. Please be respectful to the McDuffie family in any use or discussion of this material.