Sunday, February 28, 2021

CUP: Electrical gremlins leave Timmy Hill with one pound of fuel pressure at Homestead

PHOTO: @WookieAutomoTV

Timmy Hill picked up the 15th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #66 Motorsports Business Management Toyota fell out with electrical issues after 21 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 130th series start, was his first of the year and first since October 11, 2020 on the Charlotte “Roval,” seven races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 40th from electrical issues, the 62nd for the #66, and the 168th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 80th for the #66, the 130th for electrical issues, and the 351st for Toyota.

It’s already been a big year for Hill, who’s now a father after his wife Lucy gave birth to their first son, Hudson Grant Hill, on February 22nd. On the track, the defending LASTCAR Cup Series Champion has continued his efforts to compete in all three of NASCAR’s top series. Just last week on the Daytona road course, Hill drove his #56 Chevrolet to a 9th-place finish – already the fourth top-ten finish for the Hill Motorsports team. And with Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management, Hill bounced back from a DNQ in the Daytona 500 to run 20th in the XFINITY race, leading four laps in the process, then took 29th in Sunday’s Cup race.

Off the track, Hill’s wife Lucy gave birth to their first son, Hudson Grant Hill, on February 22nd.

Hill would run both Cup and XFINITY at Homestead, each time in one of MBM’s deep blue Toyotas. On the XFINITY side, where teammate David Starr’s flat tire cost him a 12th-place finish, Hill crossed the line in 17th, then took 16th after Tyler Reddick’s disqualification. This was Hill’s best-ever XFINITY finish at the Homestead track, improving on his 21st for Rick Ware Racing back in 2011.

For Sunday, Hill’s unsponsored #66 earned the 33rd spot on the grid.

Rolling off 40th was last week’s last-place finisher Quin Houff, whose StarCom Racing #00 Chevrolet picked up new sponsorship from 8 Ball Premium Chocolate Whiskey. He’d be joined at the rear by four drivers who incurred pre-race penalties. Unapproved adjustments were cited for 13th-place Alex Bowman in the #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet, 25th-place Corey LaJoie in the #7 Marwin Sports Apparel Chevrolet, and polesitter Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Toyota. James Davison also incurred a tail-end penalty after his unsponsored #15 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing failed inspection twice. Ultimately, by the time the field addressed the starter’s stand, Hill had dropped behind all of them to take over the 40th spot.

When the race started, Hill’s spotter reported a car ahead of him was against the outside wall. This was likely B.J. McLeod, whose #78 / Motorsport Games Ford soon pulled down pit road, taking over last place as the leaders began Lap 2. The crew changed tires and looked under the hood, finding that the belt had come off the power steering pump. McLeod returned to the track, unable to keep the car in the high lane, and discussed with his crew whether the repair could be made on pit road or in the garage. By then, he was already two laps down and on the verge of going down a third.

By Lap 10, Hill had dropped to 37th, two laps down, after a green-flag stop of his own. Engine trouble appeared to be the issue, though like McLeod, the crew got him back on the track during the opening run. NASCAR’s competition caution fell on Lap 25, when McLeod dropped Hill to last place. The yellow allowed both drivers to come in for repairs. While McLeod originally planned to get repairs done on pit road, both he and Hill pulled behind the wall on Lap 26. On Lap 28, McLeod’s repair was done first, and he returned to pit road for tires and fuel.

As for Hill, the team hooked up the computer to the car and tried to diagnose what now appeared to be an electrical issue. On Lap 31, Hill fired the engine, but was told to shut it off again as the car reported no fuel pressure. By Lap 38, the team indicated no water pressure and no oil pressure, either. At one point, the car indicated just one pound of fuel pressure. On Lap 52, NASCAR’s garage official reported “66 out, electrical.”

Finishing 37th was James Davison, who after his tail-end penalty had just lost a lap when his engine blew down the backstretch. Corey LaJoie also suffered an engine failure after the halfway point, leaving him 36th. Last-place starter Quin Houff took 35th with B.J. McLeod rounding out the Bottom Five, both of them nine laps down.

Michael McDowell’s streak of top-ten finishes continued with a strong 6th-place finish on Sunday, putting him sixth in the series standings, just 29 out of the lead held by Denny Hamlin. Next week’s race in Las Vegas has historically been a challenge for McDowell, who has run well, only to suffer mechanical issues. He currently has three last-place finishes in the spring race, most recently in 2018

*Hill is the fourth different driver to finish last in a Cup race at Homestead driving the #66, joining Darrell Waltrip (1999), Mike Bliss (2010), and Michael McDowell (2011). Bliss was also the most recent driver to finish last in this race due to electrical issues when, on November 18, 2012, his #19 Plinker Tactical Toyota dropped out after 16 laps.

38) #66-Timmy Hill / 21 laps / electrical
37) #15-James Davison / 61 laps / engine
36) #7-Corey LaJoie / 151 laps / engine
35) #00-Quin Houff / 258 laps / running
34) #78-B.J. McLeod / 258 laps / running

1st) Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Toyota (1)


Saturday, February 27, 2021

XFINITY: Runner-up finisher Tyler Reddick disqualified in series return; Starr’s 12th-place run undone by right-front tire


Tyler Reddick picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Contender Boats 250 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his unsponsored #23 Chevrolet finished 2nd, but was classified last by disqualification after completing all 179 laps.

The finish came in Reddick’s 85th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #23, the 14th by disqualification, and the 564th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 41st by disqualification, the 67th for the #23, and the 1,765th for Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Contender Boats 250 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #20 Hunt Brothers Pizza / Dex Imaging Toyota fell out with engine failure after 70 of 179 laps.

The finish, which came in Burton’s 45th series start, was his first of the season and first since October 5, 2019 at Dover, 40 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #20, the 145th for Toyota, and the 266th from engine trouble. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 53rd for the #20, the 351st for Toyota, and the 1,097th from an engine failure.

The last time Reddick started an XFINITY Series race at Homestead, he pulled into victory lane, having claimed his second consecutive series title. The last time Chris Our’s start-up team entered an XFINITY race there, they’d been sent to a backup car after Brett Moffitt crashed their unsponsored primary in Saturday’s first round of a double-header. The next day, Jairo Avila, Jr. started a car borrowed from B.J. McLeod, the #78 of McLeod’s team replaced by Our’s #02, and pulled out after just 15 laps. The very next race was Talladega, where Moffitt finished 5th – the team’s first-ever Top Five. Andy Lally matched that run two more times by season’s end.

This year, Our Motorsports looked to field two XFINITY Series entries, but timing was not on their side. With qualifying washed out, their second entry, the #03, was sent home, unable to be entered until qualifying returned in May. But the team still ran last week on the Daytona road course – again with the help of B.J. McLeod, who entered it in place of his #99 entry. A returning Andy Lally contended for a Top Five, but was bumped back late to 31st.

For Homestead, Our Motorsports was again without a primary sponsor, and entered two matching white Chevrolets with dual racing stripes across the hood, roof, and decklid. The black-striped #02 entry would go to Moffitt while Reddick’s bore red stripes and the #23. This was a collaboration with RSS Racing and Reaume Brothers Racing, whose team finished last on the Daytona road course with Natalie Decker. As with Lally’s run, this was an Our-prepared car, and the duo looked for a strong run on Saturday. Due to metric qualifying, Moffitt lined up 6th with Reddick back in 38th.

Rolling off 40th and last was David Starr in Motorsports Business Management’s #13 Whataburger Toyota. With no drivers sent to the rear before the start, Starr was reminded to hold his line on the outside of the last row until he crossed the start / finish line. 

When the race started, Starr remained in last place, but by the end of Lap 1 had worked his way around Jade Buford in the #48 Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers Chevrolet. Buford, now 5.813 seconds back of the lead, held the spot until the fourth circuit, when Josh Williams made an unscheduled green-flag stop in the #92 Starbrite / Star Tron Chevrolet. Due to issues with his dash indicator, Williams sped off pit road in Sections 1-8, forcing him to serve a pass-through penalty. By the time he was back up to speed on Lap 8, he was not only the only driver off the lead lap, but three circuits down.

Unfortunately for Williams, the caution didn’t fall until after race leader Austin Cindric started to lap the tail end of the field, meaning he wouldn’t earn the Lucky Dog. The caution fell on Lap 26 for Stefan Parsons, whose #99 Springrates Toyota spun in Turn 4. Parsons had to complete another lap under yellow with at least one flat tire, causing some minor damage to the bodywork. He dropped to 39th under caution, and was two laps down. Also two down was Brandon Brown, whose engine stumbled due to a loose plugwire on his #68 Brandonbilt Foundations Chevrolet.

Next to enter the last-place battle was IndyCar star Santino Ferrucci, who made his NASCAR debut Saturday in Sam Hunt Racing’s #26 Stillhouse Whiskey Toyota. Ferrucci ran solidly in the early laps despite slight wall contact, maintaining a spot inside the Top 20. But an unscheduled stop forced him to pit road, and on Lap 50 he incurred a pass-through penalty for running over the air hose. He served the penalty just before NASCAR could stop scoring his car, and took over last on Lap 56.

On Lap 70, the caution was out again for Parsons, whose damaged car was leaking fluid on the track. At the time, Harrison Burton’s #20 Hunt Brothers Pizza / Dex Imaging Toyota was running in 7th, having competed for the lead for much of the race. But that time by, he was suddenly on the apron of the track with smoke trailing from the exhaust pipes. He stopped in Turn 2, and received a push from a service truck to the garage area. On Lap 74 – just one lap after Parsons took last from Ferrucci – Burton took last from Parsons. The next time by, someone on Burton’s channel said “We’re done, right?” The response came back quietly – “Yes, sir.” NASCAR confirmed Burton was out of the race with 74 laps to go, and unofficially took last place.

Meanwhile, Reddick was on the charge. From the early laps, his #23 managed to hold the high line, and he remained inside the Top 10 for much of the night. At first, it appeared the win would go to his teammate, as Brett Moffitt engaged in some tight racing with Noah Gragson for the lead. But after Gragson opened up a lead, Moffitt hit the wall one time too many, cutting down the right-rear tire and forcing him to pit road. This opened the door for Reddick, who had worked his way into the Top Five and led 8 laps. When Gragson wrecked out of the lead with 3 laps to go, Reddick restarted on the front row in overtime with Myatt Snider. On the second attempt, Snider cleared Reddick, who still managed to finish a strong 2nd - barely a carlength behind.

But in post-race inspection, Reddick’s car failed post-race heights, and he was classified in 40th spot, moving Burton up to 39th and bumping Bayley Currey out of the Bottom Five. Finishing 38th was Justin Allgaier, who crossed the nose of Riley Herbst’s Ford on Lap 99, destroying his #7 Brandt Chevrolet. Ty Dillon took 37th in the #54 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, which went behind the wall with a hole in the radiator. Colby Howard stayed out to lead Lap 84-86 and restarted there, but was reported to be leaking fluid. On Lap 111, his #15 Project Hope Foundation Chevrolet was on the apron with a fire coming from the rear gear. 

J.J. Yeley’s first NASCAR start of 2021 ended with a strong 12th-place finish for Rick Ware Racing, whose XFINITY Series program has continued to impress since it returned late last year. Yeley, who started 39th, ran as high as 11th in the #17 Work Pro Chevrolet and overcame a spin to earn the finish.

But of all the night’s underdogs, the strongest run and biggest heartbreak belonged to David Starr. The last-place qualifier had climbed all the way to 14th inside the final 30 laps. By 18 to go, he’d reached 13th, and was getting some screen time from the FS1 broadcast crew. He gained one more spot to 12th after Brett Moffitt’s flat tire, and was still running there as race leader Noah Gragson prepared to lap him. Starr appeared to move down a lane to give Gragson the high lane, but then a right-front tire began to come apart, putting him into the outside wall and immediately in Gragson’s path. The two collided, knocking Gragson out of the race and damaging Starr’s car. Starr made it back to pit road for right-side tires and fuel, and was still 15th on the grid for the second overtime finish, but plummeted to 21st by the checkered flag.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #23 in an XFINITY Series race at Homestead.

40) #23-Tyler Reddick / 179 laps / disqualified / led 8 laps
39) #20-Harrison Burton / 70 laps / engine / led 1 lap
38) #7-Justin Allgaier / 98 laps / crash
37) #54-Ty Dillon / 102 laps / radiator
36) #15-Colby Howard / 109 laps / rear gear / led 3 laps

1st) RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
2nd) DGM Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)


Thursday, February 25, 2021

PREVIEW: Santino Ferrucci's debut, Steve Letarte's return among Homestead storylines

B.J. McLeod's Cup car for this Sunday
PHOTO: @teamlivefast

Saturday, February 27, 2021
XFINITY Race 3 of 33
Contender Boats 250 at Homestead
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Kody Vanderwal (Race 1 of 2, 250 miles)

The preliminary entry list for Saturday’s XFINITY race saw 43 drivers for 40 spots, including three of the four teams that have been on the wrong side of the rank in Owners Points in the first two races of 2021 (see below). All three will again miss the race Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Josh Berry returns after a one-week hiatus, looking to improve on his 27th-place finish in the Daytona opener. He takes the place of Miguel Paludo, who charged from 35th on the road course to finish 7th in his return to the series.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing / SS-Green Light Racing
J.J. Yeley rejoins Ware’s XFINITY team for the first time since last fall at Martinsville, when he outperformed with an impressive 14th-place finish. WorkPro Tools rejoins the team as Yeley takes the place of Cody Ware, 25th last week.

DRIVER SWAP: #23-RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing
DID NOT QUALIFY: #31-Jordan Anderson Racing
DID NOT QUALIFY: #77-Bassett Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
WITHDREW: #03-Our Motorsports
Along with their start-up teams, Jordan Anderson (#31) and Ronnie Bassett, Jr. (#77) will once again not be in the show due to the lack of qualifying. Tyler Reddick was originally slated to take the place of Andy Lally in the withdrawn #03 for Our Motorsports, but the team withdrew for the same reason. Reddick will start the race, this time in the RSS / Reaume effort, the #23 driven by Natalie Decker in last week’s last-place finish. It will be Reddick’s first XFINITY start since the 2019 race at this same track, where he locked-up his second series title. Andy Lally, who was entered in the withdrawn #03 last week before moving to the B.J. McLeod #78 for a 31st-place finish, will this week be replaced by Stefan Parsons with returning sponsorship from Springrates. 

DRIVER CHANGE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Making his debut this week is open-wheel upstart Santino Ferrucci, who will carry sponsorship from Stillhouse Whiskey on Sam Hunt’s #26 Toyota. Ferrucci, who will make the first of five consecutive XFINITY starts, takes the place of Kris Wright, who overcame multiple incidents on the Daytona road course to finish 18th in his own series debut.

DRIVER CHANGE: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
Ty Dillon and the Gaunt Brothers will not be in Sunday’s Cup Series race, but Dillon will be running Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, driving for the team that took the checkers last week. Ty Gibbs, who scored his first series victory in his first-ever start just last week, has since had 14 additional races added to his 2021 schedule. He’ll return to the team for the March 13 round at Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Another solid top-twenty finish for Stephen Leicht on the road courses went sour in Saturday’s final moments, where he spun and slipped to 29th. This week, teammate Chad Finchum takes the controls of the #61, looking to improve on his 30th-place showing in this year’s Daytona opener, driving MBM’s #13.

After his fourth entry from DGM Racing wasn’t able to qualify for this year’s Daytona opener, Dexter Bean makes his return on Saturday, this time in the flagship #90. He takes the place of Preston Pardus, whose top-ten run went south with a mechanical failure in the final laps, leaving him 33rd. The fourth #91 team is not entered this week following back-to-back withdrawals.


Sunday, February 28, 2021
CUP Race 3 of 36
Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead
2020 Last-Place Finisher: J.J. Yeley

After back-to-back races in Daytona with 40-car fields, the race taking place just south of the track will see just 38 entries for 40 spots, the first short field of 2021.

TEAM UPDATE: #7-Spire Motorsports
With crew chief Ryan Sparks on COVID-19 protocol, NBC broadcaster Steve Letarte will climb back atop the pit box as a Cup Series crew chief for the first time since the 2014 finale at the same track, when he last called the shots for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This time, he’ll work for Corey LaJoie, who ran 31st last week after a late-race encounter with the tire barriers.

NOT ENTERED: #16-Kaulig Racing
NOT ENTERED: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Both A.J. Allmendinger and Ty Dillon aren’t entered in this weekend’s Cup race, and each will instead focus their attention on top-tier XFINITY Series rides this Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
B.J. McLeod will again drive the car he co-owns with Matt Tifft this week, taking the place of Scott Heckert, who ran a solid 28th in his Cup debut last week on the road course. The #78 will carry its third different paint scheme in as many races, this time with and Motorsport Games as sponsor.

Friday, March 5, 2021
TRUCKS Race 3 of 23
Silver State 200 at Las Vegas
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Josh Bilicki

The Truck Series takes the week off and returns a week from Friday in Las Vegas.


TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (February 25, 1995):
L.W. Miller picked up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY (then Busch) Series career in the Goodwrench 200 at Rockingham when his #18 Unifirst Uniforms Ford lost an engine after 2 laps. This was Miller’s second of thirteen career series starts from 1995 through 1996.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

CUP: Quin Houff loses the engine after just three trips around Daytona road course

PHOTOS: Matthew Miller, @MGMiller17

Quin Houff
picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at the Daytona Infield Road Course when his #00 Mane ‘n Tail Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after 3 of 70 laps.

The finish, which came in Houff’s 55th series start, was his first since November 8, 2020, last year’s finale at Phoenix, three races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 29th for the #00, the 699th from engine trouble, and the 800th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44th for the #00, the 1,096th from engine failure, and the 1,764th for Chevrolet.

Houff enters his second season with StarCom Racing looking to improve on his first-ever full-time campaign in Cup. While he earned a career-best 13th last fall at Talladega, he had never finished better than 23rd in any other race. Things didn’t go much better in last week’s Daytona 500. While he made it through the grinding Lap 14 pileup to restart the race after the lengthy rain delay, NASCAR’s decision to not throw a caution for debris off William Byron’s damaged car proved disastrous. Houff was running behind Byron when the rear panel came loose, and the debris punctured a tire. Under green, the tire let go, and he crashed out with Chase Briscoe leaving him 29th. With metric qualifying, this gave Houff 29th on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Rolling off 40th and last was Timmy Hill in the #66 Toyota. After failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 last week, Hill started all three races on the road course, finishing 9th in Trucks on Friday, then 34th in the XFINITY race after his crew changed the right-rear axle on pit road. He’d be joined at the rear by Justin Haley, this week’s driver of Spire Motorsports’ #77 AirMed Care Network Chevrolet, after Haley’s car twice failed inspection.

During the pace laps, Daytona 500 winner and outside-polesitter Michael McDowell felt something strange in his steering, like the air pressure was low in one of his tires. He didn’t report this, and took the green flag with the rest of the field. As he did, his right-front went down further, and he slid out of the groove in Turn 1, dropping out of the Top 20. Now off-line for the entrance to Turn 2, he clipped the grass with the right-front.

Houff's No. 00 hauler leaves the track
with 30 laps to go.

An instant later, Kyle Busch, running just in front of him in the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, also ran wide into the grass, suffering even more damage to his right-front. McDowell slowed to the apron and made it to pit road, taking over last place at the end of the first lap. However, he entered pit road when it was closed as he dropped the tire carcass on the track, drawing the first caution. McDowell also drove through too many pit boxes, which drew a redundant tail-end penalty. During the stop, McDowell’s crew saw the right-front splitter was worn off after dragging the track. This required a packer to be pulled from the right-front. Because his stall was short of the stripe, McDowell had yet to complete the first lap, yet he returned to the track without losing a lap to the leaders.

Kyle Busch took over last on Lap 3, when he pulled down pit road so the crew could cut off part of the right-front fender and tape the hood. At the time, McDowell was again on pit road behind him.

By the Lap 4 restart, McDowell had moved up to 36th, while Busch was 10.763 seconds back of 39th-place Hill. It was only then that Houff entered the last-place battle. He lost power down the backstretch, and reported “66 on the oil pressure, 73 on the fuel.” He came down pit road, and pulled behind the wall for mechanical repairs, taking over last on Lap 5. “I think that’s it, buddy,” said someone on the radio. “That sucks.” The team kept Houff in the car through Lap 8 as they tried to diagnose the issue, but on Lap 9 said “We are finished for the day, sir.” NASCAR confirmed Houff was out with engine issues on Lap 22, and the hauler left the track with 30 to go. Michael McDowell, meanwhile, rebounded to finish 8th, and remained in the Top Ten in points following his 500 win.

Finishing 39th on Sunday was Ross Chastain, whose #42 McDonald’s Chevrolet collided with the wall in Turn 6 after possible contact from Ryan Blaney, destroying the right-front of his car. Tyler Reddick took 38th after both teammate Austin Dillon and William Byron forced him into the grass, destroying the front splitter, sending him into an infield sign, and causing an oil cooler fire on the #8 CAT Rental Store Chevrolet. Matt DiBenedetto apparently blew a right-rear tire with enough force to destroy the back-quarter of his car, and his #21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford made a brief stay in the garage late in the going before he returned to action. Josh Bilicki rounded out the Bottom Five after his #52 Jacob Companies Ford suffered brake failure in the final laps.

A.J. Allmendinger, making his first Cup start since he parted ways with JTG-Daugherty Racing at the end of 2018, rebounded from a disappointing XFINITY race to finish 7th in the #16 Hyperice Chevrolet – his first top-ten finish in the series since the fall Talladega race in 2018. Ryan Preece, who replaced Allmendinger at JTG in 2019, followed-up his 6th-place run in the 500 with a 9th on Sunday, keeping his “open” team high up the standings. Daniel Suarez got sick in his car in the final 15 laps, but still managed to finish 16th in just the second start for Trackhouse Racing, even leading two laps under caution. And both Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill rebounded from their DNQs in the Daytona 500 to finish inside the Top 30, taking 19th and 29th, respectively.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #00 for a Cup race on a road course.

40) #00-Quin Houff / 3 laps / engine
39) #42-Ross Chastain / 26 laps / crash
38) #8-Tyler Reddick / 58 laps / crash
37) #21-Matt DiBenedetto / 65 laps / running
36) #52-Josh Bilicki / 68 laps / brakes

1st) Rick Ware Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)


Saturday, February 20, 2021

XFINITY: Fluid leak after early spin ends Natalie Decker’s XFINITY Series debut


Natalie Decker
picked up the 1st last-place finish for her NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Super Start Batteries 188 presented by O’Reilly at the Daytona Infield Road Course when her #23 Red Street Records Chevrolet fell out with crash after 3 of 56 laps.

The finish came in Decker’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 12th for the #23, the 341st from a crash, and the 563rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 66th for the #23, the 1,239th from a crash, and the 1,763rd for Chevrolet.

Last year at Daytona, Decker scored her first-ever top-five finish, finishing 5th for Niece Motorsports. It was a huge moment for Decker, who prior to that had finished no better than 13th, and had been fighting rheumatoid arthritis since birth. It was during this partial season for Niece that Decker missed a race for medical reasons for a second-straight season. While set to start last September at Las Vegas, she was not medically cleared to take the green due to high blood pressure. With no driver able to fit in her seat, the entry was pushed behind the wall. She returned to action just one month later at Texas. 

Decker’s ride for Daytona – her first of 2021, and first in the XFINITY Series - was a combined effort between RSS Racing and Reaume Brothers Racing. In 2020, Myatt Snider split time between RSS’ #93 – teamed with Ryan Sieg’s flagship #39 - and Richard Childress Racing’s #21. After Snider’s last start with RSS at Texas, Josh Reaume became a partner in the #93 for the season’s last two races. Reaume himself finished last with the car in the fall race at Martinsville, followed by C.J. McLaughlin at Phoenix.

With RSS Racing’s manufacturer change in 2021 from Chevrolet to Ford, the team also changed the #93 team’s number to the #23, but kept the partnership with Reaume. While Sieg remained in the #39 Ford, which was eliminated by an oil leak, Jason White finished a strong 10th in the #23. For the road course, the #23 would be a Chevrolet with Reaume-styled numbers on the doors and roof. The white car carried a hood logo for musician Jason Crabb’s album “Just As I Am” from Red Street Records, plus a TV panel sponsor in Bigfoot Philly Cheese Steaks. N29 Technologies, her Truck Series backer, had small logos in front of the rear tires.

Thanks to Jason White’s strong run in the opener, Decker secured the 21st starting spot based on metric qualifying. When the starting lineup was posted, however, the car only showed “TBA” in the driver’s spot, even though Decker posted a February 13 video of her driver announcement. Four teams withdrew due to the lack of qualifying: Our Motorsports’ second car, the #03, Jordan Anderson Racing’s #31, Bassett Racing’s #77, and DGM Racing’s fourth car, the #91. Preston Pardus and Andy Lally, slated to run the #91 and #03 respectively, both picked up other rides to start the race.

Rolling off 40th and last as another “TBA” entry, the #13 Toyota from Motorsports Business Management. David Starr and his sponsor Whataburger came on board by race day. As his Supra rolled off pit road, however, one starter’s car was being pushed to his pit stall. This was 26th-place Noah Gragson, whose #9 Bass Pro Shops TrueTimber / BRCC Chevrolet had fired, then cut off again after the command. The crew set to work changing the ignition box, and had to take off the air filter to do so. They ended up missing the start of the race.

Back on the track, two drivers dropped to the rear to join Starr – 5th-place Daniel Hemric in the #18 Poppy Bank Toyota and 10th-place Matt Mills in the #5 Thompson Electric Chevrolet. Both soon passed Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet ran off course during the first lap and ripped the front splitter from his car. As Earnhardt came down pit road on Lap 2, Gragson’s engine fired, and he returned to the track just in front of race leader Austin Cindric. On Lap 3, Cindric passed Gragson to put him a second lap down. Earnhardt returned to the track and cleared the “Crash Clock,” though one lap down. This meant Earnhardt and not Gragson would take the Lucky Dog when the first caution fell a moment later.

That caution fell after Decker was involved in an incident in the frontstretch chicane. Entering the turn to complete Lap 2, she tangled with Mills, who was working his way up from the back of the field when he hit Decker in the left-rear. Decker pulled a full 360 and slid over one of the “turtles,” which damaged the underside of her car. She started to leak fluid from the right-rear in the tri-oval – perhaps rear gear fluid – which drew the caution. She was then told by NASCAR to stop at the exit of pit road. She backed up to her pit stall, but the crew told her to go back to the truck instead so they could look under the car. Decker also said something felt broken under the front of the car. NASCAR didn’t rule Decker’s trip to the garage as a mechanical issue, and she was thus out under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” The team apparently didn’t realize this until Lap 7, when someone said “Yeah, we’re done.” The team was also frustrated with Mills for the initial contact in the chicane. Decker’s tires were then transferred to their teammate, Ryan Sieg.

Decker backing up on pit road
before going to the garage.
PHOTO: Matt Miller, @MGMiller17

Finishing 39th was Riley Herbst, who cut through the tri-oval grass to avoid Austin Cindric and A.J. Allmendinger’s tangle battling for the win in Stage 1. The splitter of Herbst’s #98 Monster Energy Ford dug into the dirt, causing enough damage to knock him out of the race. Last-place starter David Starr took 38th with transmission problems. Ryan Vargas took 37th, returning to action more than 20 laps down after his Alvin Kamara-backed #6 The Big Squeezy Chevrolet stalled exiting the tri-oval. Rounding out the group was Jade Buford, whose first start for Big Machine Records Racing ended when his own #48 Big Machine Vodka Spiked Cooler Chevrolet stalled after 38 laps.

Ty Gibbs’ stunning victory in his XFINITY Series debut was just one of a number of surprising performances. Miguel Paludo, driving JR Motorsports’ #8 Brandt Chevrolet, overcame a flat left-front tire to finish 7th in his first XFINITY Series start since 2012. Brandon Brown took 8th in his #68 Jabs Construction Chevrolet – his first-ever top-ten on a road course. Both Mike Harmon Racing teammates finished 8th and 9th in Stage 1 with Kyle Weatherman taking 16th at the finish in the #47 Picture Perfect Chevrolet. Josh Williams rebounded from spinning into a tire barrier to finish 17th in his #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet. And Kris Wright overcame multiple spins to finish 18th in his XFINITY debut driving Sam Hunt Racing’s #26 F.N.B. Corporation Toyota.

Others came very close to joining this group, Preston Pardus stoved in the nose of his #90 Chinchor Electric / Danus Utilities Chevrolet in the opening laps, but was running 9th with four laps to go when the rear gear failed. Stephen Leicht was holding down 17th in the final stages driving Carl Long’s #61 Jani-King Toyota, only to be collected in an overtime accident to finish 29th. The same incident collected Cody Ware, whose #17 Nurtec ODT Ford was moving from 11th into the Top Ten, only to fall to 25th. Gray Gaulding briefly held the lead through pit strategy, but contact pushed in a fender, and he slipped to 21st in Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Panini Trading Cards Chevrolet. Andy Lally worked his way up as high as 3rd at one point, but ended up 31st after late-race contact in the #99 Energy Air Chevrolet. And Ryan Sieg inherited the lead in overtime, only to run wide in Turn 1 and drive through the grass, leaving his #39 CMR Construction & Roofing Ford in the 27th spot.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #23 in an XFINITY Series race since July 4, 2014, when Robert Richardson, Jr.’s #23 Cornboard Chevrolet – a backup car – fell out with rear end trouble after 13 laps on the Daytona oval in the Subway Firecracker 250.

40) #23-Natalie Decker / 3 laps / crash
39) #98-Riley Herbst / 15 laps / crash
38) #13-David Starr / 20 laps / transmission
37) #6-Ryan Vargas / 23 laps / running
36) #16-A.J. Allmendinger / 33 laps / suspension

1st) DGM Racing, RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)