Monday, April 23, 2018

ARCA: Meunier trails for third time in rough underdog weekend

Meunier at Road America last year
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Mark Meunier finished last for the third time in his ARCA Racing Series career in Sunday’s Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem Raceway when his #0 Peterson Motorsports Ford did not start. The finish came in his 36th series start and was the first since Kansas in 2017, four races ago.

Meunier is a native Kentuckian from the Louisville area. Before transitioning to ARCA, he raced Street Stocks at Louisville Motor Speedway, which hosted Truck races until 1999, and has raced late models at Kentucky Motor Speedway, a 3/8-mile track not far from Owensboro. He made his ARCA debut at this very race five years ago for Carter 2 Motorsports, finishing 23rd in a 28-car field after a mid-race crash. In the 34 starts between then and now, he competed for Carter, Kimmel Racing, Dale Shearer Racing and Wayne Peterson Racing, who he first teamed up with in late 2016. Meunier finished nine of those starts with a best finish of 16th at Elko in 2013, in his second start. This race marked his first appearance of the year for Wayne Peterson Racing. According to his Twitter account, at one point he tried to compete in the April 2016 XFINITY race at Bristol, but a team was never made and the effort did not come to fruition. He also works as a driving instructor for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

The entry list for Sunday’s race topped out at 27 cars, which shrunk to 25 following the withdrawals of Hixson Motorsports’ two cars, which was due to the rising costs of the series. Among the drivers entered were four debuts: JR Motorsports late model driver Josh Berry, who teamed up with Chad Bryant Racing, who bought the assets of Cunningham Racing, in the team’s #22; Colby Howard, a sixteen-year-old Late Model Stock driver who originally drove motorcross, entered in Mason Mitchell Motorsports’ only entry; 2017 ARCA/CRA All-Star Tour champion Jack Dossey III, entered with his family team; and Matt Dooley, a Limited Late Model driver who competes at dirt tracks around Georgia, who was entered in Fast Track Racing’s #11 car, this week a Ford. Of the four, only Dossey has announced more races, as per and The Pit Lane he will return with an old Cunningham Motorsports car at Lucas Oil and the second Salem race of the season.

Meunier finished last in Friday’s lone practice session. His fastest lap was a 21.4, a tenth slower than his WPR teammate Con Nicolopoulos and 4.3 seconds off of leader Chandler Smith’s time. In qualifying, the field was shortened one more, as James Hylton Motorsports’ #48 car, driven by Brad Smith, suffered an engine failure in practice and was forced to skip the rest of the weekend. Again, the bottom of the charts were led by Meunier, who picked it up to a 20.576, four and a half tenths off of Dale Shearer, making his first start of the year.

Meunier’s car never registered as being on-track, according to ARCA’s timing and scoring. That left him 24th and last. 23rd went to Dooley, who went to the garage with two laps complete, came back around lap 50 and returned to the garage soon after, done for the day. Next to fall out was Fast Track Racing’s other driver, Richard Doheny. Similar to Dossey, Doheny went to the garage after four laps and came back around lap 50, only to retire after causing the race’s second caution. Nicolopoulos completed 9 laps, went to the garage, completed 11 more and then returned for the day, edging out Doheny for 21st by a lap. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Shearer, whose car made a hard impact with the wall to bring out the day’s first caution.

Looking ahead, only 24 entries are filed for next Friday’s General Tire 200 at Talladega. Jesse Iwuji and Wayne Peterson Racing have announced entries but have not filed. If only 26 cars show up, it will be the shortest restrictor plate field in an ARCA race since Racing-Reference started keeping ARCA stats. The current low is 35, at Talladega a few times in the early 2010s.

24) #0-Mark Meunier / 0 laps / did not start
23) #11-Matt Dooley / 15 laps / unknown
22) #10-Richard Doheny / 19 laps / unknown
21) #06-Con Nicolopoulos / 20 laps / unknown
20) #73-Dale Shearer / 45 laps / crash

1st) Max Force Racing, Darrell Basham Racing, Wayne Peterson Racing  (1)

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


Saturday, April 21, 2018

CUP: Sorenson’s last-place finish marks fifth time in four seasons that Premium Motorsports overcomes early mechanical gremlins

PHOTO: John Harrelson, LAT Images,
Reed Sorenson picked up the 16th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond Raceway when his #55 Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after 188 of 402 laps.

The finish, which came in Sorenson’s 294th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup Series race since May 7, 2017, just under one year ago, at Talladega. In the NASCAR Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 47th for car #55 (breaking a tie with the #19 for the second-most in series history), the 742nd for Chevrolet, and the 36th by reason of electrical trouble. Across the top three series, it’s the 60th for the #55, the 1,589th for Chevrolet, and the 114th for electrical trouble.

2018 marks Sorenson’s 14th season on the Cup Series tour. A member of the stacked 2006 Rookie of the Year class, the Georgia native has driven for the likes of Chip Ganassi and Richard Petty, served as a relief driver for Brian Vickers at Team Red Bull, and has driven for no less than eleven underfunded and single-car Cup operations. In the last eight seasons, Sorenson has finished no better than 14th and run just one full season, when he closed out Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #36 team in 2014.

Midway through 2015, Sorenson landed at Premium Motorsports, which longtime XFINITY Series car owner Jay Robinson had formed out of several shuttered teams, including LASTCAR contenders Identity Ventures Racing (former NEMCO Motorsports) and Phil Parsons Racing. When the Race Team Alliance’s new Charter system was instituted in 2016, Sorenson’s Premium-prepared #55 was entered as an “Open” team, filling the one remaining available spot after a series of short 39-car entry lists. This year, as the fields grew shorter still, Premium brought the team back at Las Vegas. Sorenson currently shares the ride with Joey Gase and J.J. Yeley.

Richmond would mark Sorenson’s fourth start of the season in the #55, following back-to-back DNFs including a late-race accident at Bristol that destroyed the rear clip. The Richmond car was either the repaired Bristol machine or a near-identical copy of it. The door and roof numbers of the black Chevrolet were changed from the Michael Waltrip Racing-style digits at Bristol to the same font used on teammate Ross Chastain’s #15 Chevrolet, which finished last that afternoon. For the second-straight race, Sorenson carried primary sponsorship from, a site geared toward arranging fan experiences and sponsorship packages.

With the Cup field still sitting at just 38 entrants for 40 spots, Sorenson and the rest of the drivers would start Saturday’s race. Sorenson himself began the weekend searching for speed, running next-to-slowest ahead of Harrison Rhodes in the opening practice, then improving just one spot in Happy Hour, besting Rhodes and Chastain. Chastain gapped Sorenson in qualifying, ranking 30th while Sorenson sat 37th with a lap of 119.745mph (22.548 seconds).

Rhodes started last in the #51 prepared by Rick Ware Racing. The XFINITY Series regular managed to keep pace in last Saturday’s Bristol race, but like Sorenson and Chastain, was eliminated in a crash. With the team’s Toyota now in need of repairs, Rhodes instead drove the team’s Chevrolet, though with the same backing from Industrial Construction Experts, Inc. The car struggled for speed early, falling 16 seconds behind the leader by Lap 12 and was lapped soon after.

Sorenson, meanwhile, had issues with the #55 from the start. According to his radio transmissions, the car almost didn’t fire on the grid. The issue re-appeared by Lap 23, when the now-lapped #55 pulled behind the wall with reports of a fuel pressure issue. By the time Sorenson entered the garage and parked near the Turn 4 side of the paddock, he’d promptly taken last from Rhodes, and was losing laps by the second.

Since Premium’s acquisition of Phil Parsons Racing in 2015, the team had faced this scenario no less than four times. Three of those times – twice with Timmy Hill and once last year with Gray Gaulding – the #55 failed to complete the opening lap, and had to spend several laps behind the wall for repairs. But in each case (the other being Derrike Cope’s run at Fontana in 2017), the team managed to get the car pieced back together. Only one time in those five – Hill’s snake-bitten run at Michigan in 2015 due to an oil leak – did the team fail to climb out of last place.

And so, for much of the race’s first half, the Todd Parrott-led crew set to work trying to get the #55 back on the track. Radio transmissions indicated the crew was looking to cannibalize parts from the team’s backup car. The team looked at the fuel system, but on Lap 86 reported that the engine wasn’t turning over. The crew then looked to replace the battery, and spent several laps looking for a new one. By Lap 96, attention turned to the starter, which was also replaced while the fuel cell was inspected. The work was completed by Lap 111, during which time the right side tires had been removed and re-secured. On Lap 120, the crew pushed the car out of the garage toward the exit at Turn 2. There, on Lap 122, Sorenson returned to the action, exactly 100 laps down.

Unfortunately for Sorenson, Saturday’s race took on a long green-flag look for most of its distance, its first 354 laps slowed only by the yellows at the end of Stages 1 and 2. The next-to-last-place runner of Harrison Rhodes was still on track along with the rest of the field, and was just 11 laps behind when Sorenson returned to action. Thus, if no one else retired by the 300-lap mark, it would be impossible for the #55 to gain any more spots. This ended up being the case. On Lap 297, Sorenson pulled behind the wall once more, and the crew packed up for the night. The #55 disappeared from RaceView on Lap 303.

Finishing 37th was Ryan Newman, the night’s only other retiree. Newman was involved in the second of four cautions that fell in the race’s final moments, his damaged #31 Childress Vineyards Chevrolet spraying oil around the track. The finish cost Newman a spot in the Top 16 in points, joining 16th-ranked Paul Menard, who finished a disappointing 24th. Rhodes took home 36th, coming home 16 laps behind race winner Kyle Busch. In 35th was Gray Gaulding, who on the preliminary entry list was reported to welcome back as sponsor. Instead, his #23 Toyota welcomed not one, but two new food-related backers – Hibachi Box and Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Landon Cassill, who despite finishing just three laps down could climb no higher than 34th in Derrike Cope’s #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Sorenson and the #55 in a Cup Series race at Richmond since April 24, 2016, this same race two years ago, when Sorenson finished under power, 10 laps down in the Toyota Owners 400.
*This is only the third time a Cup Series last-placer retired due to electrical issues. The other two occurrences were J.J. Yeley on April 30, 2011 and Scott Speed on April 28, 2012.

38) #55-Reed Sorenson / 188 laps / electrical
37) #31-Ryan Newman / 368 laps / rash
36) #51-Harrison Rhodes / 386 laps / running
35) #23-Gray Gaulding / 393 laps / running
34) #00-Landon Cassill / 397 laps / running

1st) Premium Motorsports, TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

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


XFINITY: Jeff Green scores Chevrolet’s 500th XFINITY Series last-place finish

PHOTO: Joshua A. Hill,
Jeff Green picked up the 106th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s ToyotaCare 250 at the Richmond Raceway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after 26 of 250 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 488th series start, was his fourth of the season and his first since Texas, two races ago. He has now finished last in every other race run since last fall's Homestead finale. In the NASCAR XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it’s the 31st for car #93, the 500th for Chevrolet, and the 45th by reason of electrical trouble. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 81st for the #93, the 1,588th for Chevrolet, and the 113th by reason of electrical issues.

One week after his teammates J.J. Yeley and Ryan Sieg swapped rides following Sieg’s wreck in qualifying at Bristol, Green was himself scheduled to swap rides with Yeley at Richmond. The preliminary entry list showed him in Yeley’s #38 with Yeley in the #93. However, this was corrected at mid-week, showing Yeley in the #38 with Superior Essex returning as sponsor. Green retained the #93, though without sponsorship.

Green started the Richmond weekend with a head-turning performance in Friday morning’s opening practice. Taking on fresh tires and a race setup, Green put his car 9th on the speed charts, harkening back to memories of his victory over Matt Kenseth in this same race 18 years ago. He then tweeted that he was running scuffs in qualifying and the race. After not participating in Happy Hour, Green and his older tires managed just 31st in time trialswith a lap of 115.880mph (23.300 seconds). With 40 drivers arriving for as many spots, no one failed to qualify.

Starting last on Friday was the #74 Tropions / Shadow Warriors Project machine of Fontana last-placer Mike Harmon, who fielded his 2015 Dodge for the second-straight race. Harmon held the spot on the opening lap, running 6.845 seconds behind the leader at the end of Lap 1. The next time by, he’d worked his way past Morgan Shepherd and opened up just over a tenth on the #89 VisOne RV Chevrolet. Shepherd held the spot until Lap 5, when David Starr encountered trouble on his #52 Circle Track Warehouse Chevrolet.

That time by, Starr fell from 37th to last, and was running noticeably off the pace. Starr and the Jimmy Means Racing crew talked over the issue, which RacingUnderdogs reported involved an electrical issue, the battery down to 14 volts, making the team think Starr hit the kill switch. The issue made Starr the first driver to lose a lap on that fifth circuit. He would continue to lose more laps as he continued to run a reduced pace.

Harmon, meanwhile, was re-passed by Shepherd on Lap 5 and gradually lost touch with the #89, falling two seconds behind him by Lap 10, then five seconds back on Lap 13. The next time by, Shepherd had worked his way out of the Bottom Five, dropping Timmy Hill to 38th in the #66 Dodge. Harmon closed to within three seconds of Hill by Lap 15, when the #74 lost its first lap. At the time, Starr was still last, now nine laps down.

Still struggling with his issues, Starr eventually stalled on the track, drawing the first yellow on Lap 20. He went behind the wall for repairs, which RacingUnderdogs indicated included the fuel lines as the car kept shutting off. If the problem proved terminal, it would have marked Jimmy Means Racing’s first XFINITY last-place run since 2013. As Starr’s repairs were continuing , Harmon was now five laps down and Shepherd was down two. As the only lapped machines, Shepherd got one of his laps back with the Lucky Dog. Harmon lost a sixth lap under the yellow, keeping him 39th.

Through the first caution, Jeff Green had remained on the lead lap, and climbed up as far as 31st. However, on Lap 27, as the field took the restart, Green dropped to the final car on the lead lap, 6.954 seconds back of the lead. The next time by on Lap 28, Green went behind the wall, losing his first lap in the process. As it happened, Green went behind the wall on the exact same lap that saw both Harmon pull down pit road and Starr return to action, the latter 19 laps behind. This allowed Starr to slowly close the gap on Harmon, ultimately dropping the #74 to last on Lap 43.

But Harmon wasn’t done, either. On Lap 67, his black Dodge returned to the track 44 laps behind, Just three laps behind Green, Harmon dropped Green to last on Lap 70, the final exchange for the position. Finishing 39th was Shepherd, who retired with brake issues  on Lap 33. Shepherd was passed by both the returning Harmon and Starr, but was classified ahead of Green by a margin of six laps due in part to Green’s exit five circuits earlier on Lap 28.

Harmon continued on, though he was up to 65 laps down by Lap 165 and still running 38th. He ended up climbing up to 36th before he was finally eliminated by clutch trouble inside the final 100 laps. The first of the two drivers Harmon passed was Timmy Hill, whose #66 Chris Kyle Foundation Dodge had the same issue as Starr with his car constantly shutting off. For Hill, the issue turned out to be the fuel pump. The other retiree was Stephen Leicht, whose #55 Jani-King Toyota cited brake trouble.

Jeremy Clements, who finished last for the first time in his career last Saturday at Bristol, recovered nicely to finish 8th – his first top-ten finish of 2018.

*This marked Green’s eighth XFINITY Series last-place finish at Richmond. It was in this race last year that Green made his first series start for RSS Racing, taking the place of Jordan Anderson.

40) #93-Jeff Green / 26 laps / electrical
39) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 32 laps / brakes
38) #66-Timmy Hill / 107 laps / fuel pump
37) #55-Stephen Leicht / 128 laps / brakes
36) #74-Mike Harmon / 133 laps / clutch

1st) RSS Racing (4)
2nd) Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford (2)


Friday, April 20, 2018

PREVIEW: At Richmond, the No. 8 returns, but the Cup invaders don’t

Friday, April 20, 2018
XFINITY Race 8 of 33
ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

There are 40 drivers entered for Friday’s race, down one entry from last week in Bristol. All entered drivers will qualify for the race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Welcome back Jeb Burton, who this Friday makes his first XFINITY Series start since August 18, 2017, when he ran 29th at Bristol for JGL Racing. Longtime sponsor Estes Express Lines joins the effort. Burton has two previous XFINITY starts at Richmond – a pair of 19th-place finishes in 2016.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Friday will also see the XFINITY Series debut of Truck Series upstart Noah Gragson. Gragson takes the place of Ryan Preece, who won a physical race at Bristol last Saturday. Currently 5th in the Truck Series standings, this will be Gragson’s first start at Richmond since September 10, 2015, when he finished 10th in a K&N Pro Series East race won by Austin Hill.

UPDATE: #28-JGL Racing
Tony Mrakovich, who was swapped out for Dylan Lupton following a pair of practice incidents at Bristol, is again entered this Friday for a second attempt at his XFINITY Series debut.

UPDATE: #38, #93-RSS Racing
One week after J.J. Yeley and Ryan Sieg swapped rides following Sieg’s qualifying wreck at Bristol, Yeley was originally entered in the #93 with Jeff Green in the #38. As of Thursday, the two have switched back with Superior Essex backing Yeley's #38. Sieg remains in the #39.

DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Ty Majeski was swept up in one of the many accidents last Saturday in Bristol, leaving him 34th at the finish. This week, he hands the steering wheel to Chase Briscoe, who slides over from the Biagi-DenBeste #98. It will be Briscoe’s first start at Richmond.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Cody Ware was headed to a solid finish in Mike Harmon’s Dodge before an accident knocked him out near the halfway point. Harmon himself is driving this week, and will again field the Dodge in place of his Chevrolet. Troptions is listed as the sponsor along with the Shadow Warriors Project.

Welcome back Brandon Brown, who is set to make his first XFINITY start since his family's team ran 36th in this year's  Daytona opener. This time, Brown takes the place of Josh Williams, who ran all seven races this season for car owner Mario Gosselin with a best of 21st at Las Vegas.

MISSING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste
The #98 team is not entered this week following Chase Briscoe’s 23rd-place finish at Bristol. Briscoe moves to the #60 in place of Ty Majeski.

For the second-straight XFINITY Series race, there are NO Cup Series regulars on the entry list.

Saturday, April 21, 2018
CUP Race 9 of 36
Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Erik Jones

There are 38 drivers entered for Saturday’s 40-car field, meaning that all entrants will start the race. It’s the eighth-consecutive short field of the 2018 Cup Series season and the second-straight 38-car field at Richmond, the shortest Cup fields at the track since 1995.

NEW TEAM: #8-Richard Childress Racing
Eleven years after the “Free The Eight” campaign, the number returns to the Cup Series for the first time since April 5, 2009. With Dale Earnhardt, Inc. fully absorbed into Chip Ganassi Racing, the number will return under the Richard Childress banner as a part-time third team (their second start will be on the Charlotte “Roval” in October). Driving the Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff machine is XFINITY Series regular Daniel Hemric, who last year made the championship four at Homestead. Hemric, currently second in this year’s XFINITY Series rankings, finished 3rd and 4th in the series’ two trips to the track last year. He will run double-duty on Friday with RCR's #21 car in XFINITY.

Last week in Bristol, Gray Gaulding’s #23 had noticeably fewer decals for sponsor Earthwater as both the hood and rear decklid only carried a sticker for BK Racing itself. This week, the team welcomes back, which backed Gaulding for five races last year, most recently at Talladega. UPDATE: did not sponsor the #23, and was instead replaced by new backers Hibachi Box and Pepe's Mexican Restaurant.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #31-Richard Childress Racing
As with Shane Lee's XFINITY debut last week, Ryan Newman will be sponsored by Childress Vineyards. This points to continued sponsorship issues at RCR, following Newman's Chevrolet Accessories backing at Fontana.

Go FAS Racing welcomes sponsorship from Superior Logistics Services, Inc., which last year backed the efforts of Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group’s #33 Chevrolet. Driver Matt DiBenedetto, who comes off finishes of 16th at Texas and 21st at Bristol, has a best Richmond finish of 28th in this race last year.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #43-Richard Petty Motorsports
Joining the #43 team after Darrell Wallace, Jr.'s strong run at Bristol is Food Lion, a grocery chain that hasn't been a primary sponsor on a Cup car since May 24, 1992, when they backed Dave Marcis at Charlotte.

Harrison Rhodes found himself in the middle of one of Bristol's biggest wrecks on Sunday, destroying his Toyota. He will instead drive a Chevrolet this weekend. Industrial Construction Experts, Inc. will back the effort for a second-straight race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
At Bristol, Corey LaJoie averted his third-consecutive last-place finish of the season and finished 25th, his best run since Pocono last August. Nevertheless, Cole Whitt returns to the seat of the #72 Chevrolet this weekend. Whitt’s best of 7 Richmond starts was a 27th-place finish for TriStar in this race last year.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
After back-to-back starts on the short tracks with finishes of 28th and 27th, Gaunt Brothers Racing has not fielded a car for D.J. Kennington this week. However, the hood from their Bristol car fetched $12,000 on Wednesday in a benefit supporting the Humboldt Broncos. Expect GBR to return at Talladega next week as the team last year focused on the restrictor-plate races.

UPDATE: #00-StarCom Racing
With strong finishes of 21st and 20th in his last two starts, Landon Cassill is again entered in Derrike Cope’s #00 Chevrolet this weekend. The team originally listed the return of VRX Simulators as sponsor, but instead Richmond will mark the 2018 debut of the StarCom Fiber paint job the team used in their first races last year. On Tuesday, it was reported that Joey Gase will drive the #00 at Talladega. Cassill's plans are still to be determined.

Friday, May 4, 2018
TRUCKS Race 5 of 23
Dover 200 at Dover
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Camden Murphy

The return of the Truck Series is now two weeks away.

A failed oil seal was the listed cause of exactly one last-place finish in NASCAR history. It occurred on May 29, 1983 during the World 600 at Charlotte. The late Ron Bouchard, who pulled his stunning upset victory at Talladega two years earlier, had qualified 27th in the field of 41 driving Jack Beebe’s #47 Race Hill Farm Buick. His race ended with “oil seal” in the results after just 14 of the 400 laps, three circuits before Tim Richmond’s engine let go. It was the first of only two last-place finishes for Bouchard in 160 career starts. The second occurred at Atlanta on November 2, 1986, this time when his own engine let go after 40 laps of the Atlanta Journal 500.