Friday, March 16, 2018

PREVIEW: Premium’s #55 returns, Gaunt Brothers’ #96 missing on Fontana entry list

PHOTO: Prudential Overall Supply
Saturday, March 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 5 of 33
Roseanne 300 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jordan Anderson

There are exactly 40 drivers entered to attempt this Saturday’s 40-car field, meaning that all entrants will start the race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Austin Dillon steps in for brother Ty Dillon this Saturday in a #3 Chevrolet sponsored by Red Kap and Prudential Overall Supply. Ty finished 13th last week in Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Fontana will see the season debut of Ryan Preece, last year’s Iowa winner, as he takes the controls of Joe Gibbs’ flagship #18 driven last week by Kyle Busch. It will be Preece’s first XFINITY start at the track since 2016, when he finished 25th for JD Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Following Brad Keselowski’s win last Saturday in Phoenix, Cup teammate Joey Logano drives the #22 this weekend. Logano and Dillon are the only Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s race, improving the odds for the series regulars.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-John Hunter Nemechek
John Hunter Nemechek makes his second career XFINITY start on Saturday, following a sterling 4th-place run last month in Atlanta. It will be Nemechek’s first race on the Fontana track, where his father Joe won the first Cup Series pole in 1997.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Austin Dillon, #22-Joey Logano

Sunday, March 18, 2018
CUP Race 5 of 36
Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeffrey Earnhardt

There are 37 drivers entered to make the 40-car field, the fourth-consecutive short field in 2018 and the third with just one Open team entered. It is the shortest Cup field in the history of the Fontana track, two cars fewer than the previous record of 39 in the last two runnings.

UPDATE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Bubba Burger, which backed the Ware team in 7 races last year, returns to sponsor Timmy Hill this weekend. The team has also stuck with the new number font that debuted last month at Atlanta with Harrison Rhodes.

RETURNING: #55-Premium Motorsports
Fontana sees the return of Premium Motorsports’ Open team, two weeks after Joey Gase gave the car a 32nd-place finish in its season debut. Sponsorship for the #55 Chevrolet is still to be announced, though the entry list has Reed Sorenson listed as driver. It will be Sorenson’s first start of 2018 after running 28 races for Premium last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Corey LaJoie’s second engine failure in as many starts this season will be followed with Cole Whitt back in the #72. Whitt, who finished 28th in both his starts in 2018, has a track-best finish of 18th in the 2014 running, when he drove for Swan Racing. SoCal Chevrolet is listed as the car’s sponsor.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
D.J. Kennington earned a quiet 31st-place finish last Sunday in Phoenix, finishing three laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick. The team is not entered this weekend. Given their 2017 schedule, expect GBR to return next month at Talladega the latest.

Saturday, March 24, 2018
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Bryce Napier

The Truck Series returns next week at Martinsville for the first short track race of the 2018 NASCAR season.

The first XFINITY Series race at Fontana was held on October 19, 1997, four months after the first Cup race, and during a weekend shared with the Camping World Truck Series. Finishing last that day was Johnny Chapman, the very first of his career. That day, Chapman was driving a second car belonging to Phil Parsons, who at the time was running the full season in his #10 Channelock Chevrolet. Chapman drove the #0 with sponsorship from Bowl Fresh and Honeywell, but turned just three laps before the engine let go. In his career, Chapman would go on to score 13 more XFINITY last-place finishes, including the 2009 LASTCAR XFINITY title. In that 2009 season, Chapman again drove for Phil Parsons and co-owner Randy Humphrey under the banner MSRP Motorsports.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at the Ontario Motor Speedway

PHOTO: Getty Images
Less than seven miles west from the Auto Club Speedway, where NASCAR runs this weekend, is the site of the Ontario Motor Speedway. Nothing remains of the track today other than the roads that once formed a rectangle around the property. The Citizens Business Bank Arena dominates what would have been the infield of the 2.5-mile Indianapolis-style oval. Even a small park named for the track sits about one block west of where Turns 3 and 4 actually were.

“The Big O” hosted nine Cup Series races from 1971 through 1980. And, though the track was 2,481 miles west of tiny Sanford, North Carolina, J.D. McDuffie made the long drive each year. He qualified for all nine races, and never once finished last there.

In the inaugural race, held February 28, 1971, McDuffie entered a two-year-old Mercury, the marque he would run for most of that season. After radiator trouble in his 125-mile qualifier knocked him out of the Daytona 500 field, McDuffie arrived in California with new sponsorship from the T.D. Welker Construction Company. He qualified 42nd in a tremendous 51-car field – no small accomplishment, since another 30 drivers failed to qualify. He finished 35th when the engine let go short of halfway.

McDuffie’s best Ontario finish came on November 24, 1974, when his 1972 Chevrolet climbed from 25th to finish 10th in a race won by Bobby Allison. McDuffie finished nine laps down to Allison, on the same circuit as Richard Childress, who lost an engine in the final laps. McDuffie came just short of a second Top Ten two years later, this time coming one lap short of taking 10th from the late Bruce Hill. Again, McDuffie was nine laps down, this time to race winner David Pearson. Among the drivers McDuffie beat that day were Bobby and Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, and last-place finisher Darrell Waltrip, out with engine failure.

McDuffie’s own engine let go in three of his nine Ontario starts, though in all but the inaugural race, he completed more than half distance of the 200-lap, 500-mile marathon. In 1979, he made it 104 laps into the Los Angeles Times 500, ending a day where he’d qualified a respectable 20th.

The final running of the Los Angeles Times 500, won by Benny Parsons on November 15, 1980, saw McDuffie qualify 31st in his Bailey Excavating Chevrolet. This time, he closed within six laps of the winner to finish 14th. He was also second among owner-drivers that day, four positions behind Buddy Arrington in an old Petty Enterprises Dodge. It was on that same day that Dale Earnhardt scored his first of seven Winston Cups, having edged Cale Yarborough by 19 points thanks to a 5th-place finish. It was also the first title for his crew chief, Doug Richert, who was just 19 at the time.

Reserve your copy of "J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend" at Waldorf Publishing. Click here for more details.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

CUP: Two starts, two engine failures, two last-place finishes for Corey LaJoie in 2018

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon, The Racing Experts
Corey LaJoie picked up the 4th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500 at the ISM Raceway when his #72 Schluter Systems Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after 23 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 36th series start, was his second of the season, his first since the Daytona 500, three races ago. In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 14th for #72, the 739th for Chevrolet, and the 678th by reason of engine failure. Across the top three series, it’s the 29th for #72, the 1,581st for Chevrolet, and the 1,052nd by reason of engine failure.

This year, LaJoie is sharing TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet with Cole Whitt, who drove the car full-time in 2017. Following LaJoie’s brief Daytona run, Whitt ran 28th at both Atlanta and Las Vegas, each time five laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick. The ISM Raceway would see the return of both LaJoie and sponsor Schluter Systems, which followed the driver from his tenure at BK Racing.

LaJoie began his Phoenix weekend 33rd in Friday’s opening practice session and kept that same spot in qualifying with a lap of 130.378mph (27.612 seconds). The car still struggled for speed in Saturday’s practice sessions, running 35th in the morning and 33rd in Happy Hour.

Starting last on Sunday was Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose sponsor VRX Simulators agreed earlier in the week to sponsor StarCom Racing’s #00 Chevrolet through the conclusion of the “West Coast Swing” next Sunday in Fontana. Earnhardt was the only driver to turn a lap in qualifying as he slapped the outside wall on his first circuit, forcing him to a backup. Joining him at the rear were Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., also sent to a backup after his own first-lap misadventure in Friday’s opening practice, and D.J. Kennington, back with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the first time since the Daytona 500, with a tire change on his #96 Northern Provincial Pipelines Toyota.

Jeffrey Earnhardt got a slow start at the green, and was already gapped by more than a second on the very first lap, 5.8 seconds back of the leader. By the fifth circuit, he was 13.2 seconds back, and on Lap 12, was running completely by himself. At the start of the 15th lap, Earnhardt moved high as race leader Kyle Larson moved past, putting him the first car one lap down. Larson caught LaJoie on Lap 24 – just in time for the #72 to erupt in smoke in front of him. LaJoie pulled to the inside, then made it into the garage, and several caution laps were needed to clean up the oil. He took last from Earnhardt on Lap 26, and the team rolled the car to another part of the garage a few minutes later. When LaJoie was six laps down, the car was pulled off RaceView, and listed officially out soon after.

Finishing 36th was Paul Menard, whose #21 Menards / Dutch Boy Ford broke coming off Turn 2 and backed hard into the outside wall. Jeffrey Earnhardt made it to 35th, finishing under power despite an extended stay in the garage area on Lap 234. 34th went to Atlanta last-placer Gray Gaulding, his #23 Earthwater Toyota eight laps down. Two laps in front of Gaulding in 33rd was Timmy Hill, making his season debut in Rick Ware Racing’s #51. The Ware team brought a red Chevrolet to the track, and on Saturday debuted new sponsorship from Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #72 in a Cup Series race at Phoenix since November 12, 2006, when Brandon Whitt’s only Cup start ended with rear end trouble 123 laps into the Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil.

37) #72-Corey LaJoie / 23 laps / engine
36) #21-Paul Menard / 189 laps / crash
35) #00-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 292 laps / running
34) #23-Gray Gaulding / 304 laps / running
33) #51-Timmy Hill / 306 laps / running

1st) TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports (1)

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


XFINITY: Jeff Green swaps rides at RSS Racing, exits early at ISM Raceway

PHOTO: Joshua A. Hill, The Racing Experts
Jeff Green picked up the 104th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s DC Solar 200 at the ISM Raceway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 18 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 484th series start, was his second of the season and his first since Atlanta, two races ago. In the LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings, it’s the 29th for car #93, the 496th for Chevrolet, and the 52nd by reason of brake issues. Across the top three series, it’s the 79th for car #93, the 1,580th for Chevrolet, and the 150th by reason of brake trouble.

Early last week, Ryan Sieg at RSS Racing announced that Jeff Green would be swapping rides at Phoenix, moving teammate J.J. Yeley to his #38 with sponsorship from Superior Essex. Green, in turn, would drive the #93 with which he scored ten last-place finishes in 2017. Green’s car carried a gray carbon fiber paint scheme to his teammates’ black cars, reminiscent of Sieg’s Code Rum sponsored car at Daytona.

Green didn’t participate in Friday’s opening practice, but jumped to a strong 19th in Happy Hour, beating Yeley by three-thousandths of a second and Ryan Sieg by more than two tenths. Green also came just short of making Round 2 in qualifying, falling just seven-hundredths short of 24th-place Alex Labbe. Green’s lap of 128.742mph (27.963 seconds) would put him 25th on the grid.

Starting 40th on the grid was Daytona winner Tyler Reddick, who like Jeffrey Earnhardt in Cup qualifying, hit the wall on his timed lap and was unable to post a time in his #9 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Chevrolet. Reddick’s backup car was joined at the rear by Cole Custer, his #00 Haas Automation Ford sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments, and the #1 Cessna / Beechcraft Chevrolet of Reddick’s teammate Elliott Sadler, whose team changed engines after one let go in a small fire during practice.

Jeff Green was the first driver behind the wall, retiring during the opening 26-lap green-flag run. When the red flag fell for rain on Lap 47,’s leaderboard listed Matt Mills 39th in the #15 Flex Shot Chevrolet. However, by that point, David Starr had lost the motor on Jimmy Means’ #52 Whataburger Chevrolet. Mills returned to the track at least 30 laps down, only to be eliminated in a crash on Lap 84. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Morgan Shepherd, out with brake trouble on his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet, and Chad Finchum, who lost the engine on Carl Long’s only composite-body car, the green-and-gold #40 Angry Crab / Mohawk Market Toyota.

*This marked the second-consecutive last-place run for car #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Phoenix, following Gray Gaulding’s early electrical problem with the same team last November.

40) #93-Jeff Green / 18 laps / brakes
39) #52-David Starr / 24 laps / engine
38) #15-Matt Mills / 54 laps / crash
37) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 56 laps / brakes
36) #40-Chad Finchum / 104 laps / engine

1st) RSS Racing (2)
2nd) JGL Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, RSS Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (2)