Saturday, May 30, 2020

PREVIEW: Allmendinger's return, debuts of Ware and Emerling among Bristol storylines

PHOTO: @TaylorMorganRS
Sunday, May 31, 2020
CUP Race 9 of 36
Food City Presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Aric Almirola

There are exactly 40 drivers entered for as many spots in this Sunday’s short track race at Bristol, the fifth full field in nine races this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #77-Spire Motorsports
J.J. Yeley comes from the #77 to the #7, taking the place of Josh Bilicki, who isn’t entered after he drove the car on Thursday. Driving the #77 this week is a returning Reed Sorenson, who was scheduled to run last Thursday before Yeley was put into the car, and will campaign a 2019 Chevrolet. Sorenson finished 29th his last time out in the Sunday race at Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Prior to Garrett Smithley's unfortunate first-lap crash at Charlotte, Rick Ware announced that Bayley Currey would make his first Cup start of the season at Bristol with returning sponsorship from Belmont Classic Cars and associate backing from Fort Worth Screen Printing. Currey made 10 Cup starts for Ware last year with a best of 25th at Pocono.

Monday, June 1, 2020
XFINITY Race 7 of 33
Cheddars 300 Presented by Alsco at Bristol
2019 Last-Place Finisher: John Jackson

The postponement of last Wednesday’s Cup race in Charlotte moved the XFINITY Series to the day after the Cup race, where 37 drivers will line up on a grid allowing for 40 spots. The series has yet to hit the 40-car mark since NASCAR temporarily allowed field increases for races without qualifying.

RETURNING: #16-Kaulig Racing
The part-time third team from the Kaulig stables returns with A.J. Allmendinger behind the wheel. Allmendinger will certainly benefit from being locked-in after bizarre mechanical issues for the team at Daytona kept him out of the season opener.

NEW SPONSOR: #44-Martins Motorsports
Gilreath Farms Red Angus joins as sponsor for Tommy Joe Martins, who was running 11th last week in Charlotte when he was collected in a late-race wreck triggered by the leaders.

MISSING: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
After competing in all seven races at both Darlington and Charlotte, Kyle Busch will not run Monday’s XFINITY race. The postponement, however, means he will have run eight straight races through Sunday’s 500-lapper.

DRIVER SWAP: #61-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
With Austin Hill and the Hattori support out of the #61, Timmy Hill will take the wheel of a 2018 Toyota. Recall that Timmy ran well with limited Hattori support at Bristol just last summer, finishing 7th in an MBM car. Stephen Leicht returns to the #66 for the first time since his last-place run in Darlington.

Ronnie Bassett, Jr. takes over for brother Dillon Bassett. This will be just the second start of the season for Ronnie, who last took the wheel of DGM’s #36 Chevrolet at Darlington. Nearly flagged off the track for not maintaining minimum speed in the early laps, he managed to finish four laps down in 31st.

After a short night for Jeff Green in Charlotte, he will have returning sponsorship from C2 Freight this weekend in Bristol. However, Green tweeted on Thursday he will still not be running the full race. This will be Green’s 39th series start at Bristol, a track where he won the 2002 spring race with Richard Childress Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Our Motorsports
Fresh off the team’s first top-ten finish at Charlotte, Brett Moffitt is out of the #02 this week, making way for Patrick Emerling. The team will be sponsored by Robert B. Our Co., Inc. This will be Emerling’s first XFINITY Series start, and his first in any of NASCAR’s national touring series since 2017, when he ran two Truck Series races for D.J. Copp. His best finish was his series debut at Loudon, where he ran 23rd.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
Carson Ware, the younger brother of Cody Ware, will make his XFINITY Series debut, taking over for Garrett Smithley. Carson made his Truck Series debut last November for the Reaume Brothers, finishing 30th after early electrical issues. Longtime Ware sponsor Jacob Companies will back the run after Smithley's sponsor Dream Giveaway was on the preliminary list. Reports indicate Ray Black, Jr. has stepped out of the ride to help his family's business recover from the pandemic.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 30, 1998): Loy Allen, Jr., the polesitter for the 1994 Daytona 500, picked up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career when his #78 Mark III Financial Chevrolet fell out with rear end trouble after 18 laps of the MBNA Platinum 200 at Dover. Allen had rebounded from a DNQ in the previous round, but this early exit at Dover would become his fourth and final series start. He made his final two Cup starts the following year, driving for Scott Barbour in the #58 Turbine Solutions Ford at Michigan and Daytona.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

CUP: Mechanical failure sends Garrett Smithley into teammate Gase on opening lap of Thursday night Charlotte race

PHOTO: @RickWareRacing
Garrett Smithley picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Thursday’s Alsco Uniforms 500k at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #53 Dream Giveaway Chevrolet fell out in a multi-car pileup without completing any of the 208 laps.

The wreck, which came in Smithley’s 24th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since June 10, 2018 at Michigan, 65 races ago. That race marked Smithley’s series debut, where he was eliminated by first-lap transmission woes in StarCom Racing’s #99 Victory Lane Quick Oil Change Chevrolet.

In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 20th for the #53, the 595th from a crash, and the 782nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 26th for the #53, the 1,205th from a crash, and the 1,712th for Chevrolet.

The 2020 season marks a significant transition in Smithley’s career as, for the first time since 2015, he is no longer a full-time XFINITY Series driver for JD Motorsports. The shift comes after a 14-race Cup schedule just last year, where he drove for the now-unified teams of Spire Motorsports, Premium Motorsports, and Rick Ware Racing. Among his sponsorship partners have been Victory Lane Quick Oil Change, which Smithley said is also trying to establish its own national presence. His best series finish remains a 28th last summer at Indianapolis, where former owner-driver Jeff Spraker served as his crew chief.

Prior to the pandemic’s pausing of the season, Smithley drove in three of the first four races of the year, finishing 35th at Las Vegas, 34th in Fontana, then 35th at Phoenix after mid-race engine trouble. He then became one of the biggest standouts of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, where his Rick Ware-themed #51 Chevrolet finished worse than 9th only once in the seven-race series. He also qualified no worse than 14th in each event, including a pole position in the series opener at Homestead.

When the series returned at Darlington, Smithley was moved from Rick Ware’s #51 to the #53. He’d been slated to run the #52, which was on a chassis dyno just days before the race, but new sponsors after the Premium Motorsports merger requested their third team use the former Premium #27. Smithley ran just 37th in the Sunday Darlington race after power steering issues, then just 34th in the return on Wednesday before a 33rd in the Coca-Cola 600. It was in NASCAR’s longest race that Smithley gave Victory Lane Quick Oil Change their first start of the season.

Following the 600, Smithley would run triple-duty for all three of NASCAR’s national series, making his first race of the year in both the XFINITY and Truck Series. He was first tabbed to replace Ray Black, Jr., who surrendered his ride with SS-Green Light Racing to help his family business recover from losses suffered during the pandemic. Smithley finished 31st, ten laps down. He then ran the #40 in Tuesday’s Truck Series race for Niece Motorsports, but was spun into the inside wall before breaking the rear end, leaving him 36th in a field of 40.

Smithley’s completion of the triple-header was scheduled for Wednesday night, where his XFINITY sponsor Dream Giveaway would back the #53 team for the first time. Since he finished outside the Top 20 for the field invert, Smithley would resume his 33rd starting spot in the main event.

Lining up 40th was Jimmie Johnson, whose runner-up finish in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was invalidated by a disqualification for failing OSS post-race inspection. Johnson’s #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet would be joined by 6th-place Aric Almirola for unapproved adjustments to his #10 Smithfield Ford and both 31st-place J.J. Yeley in the #77 Aquesta Bank Chevrolet and Josh Bilicki in the #7 Chevrolet for driver changes following Sunday’s 600. Bilicki slotted into the 40th spot first, followed by Almirola, who dropped back in the high line, then Yeley, who dropped below Bowyer and Johnson to fall to the rear.

When the green flag dropped, Bilicki was briefly running at or near the last spot, putting him in the middle of a sudden disaster in Turn 3. In front of him were Smithley and teammate Joey Gase, running the #51 Carolina Cooker Ford. Both were suddenly in a four-wide battle with another car as Clint Bowyer dove under them in his #14 Peak Ford. Just past corner entry, Smithley’s car didn’t turn and ran straight up the track, clipping Gase in the left-rear and sending both cars hard into the outside wall. Bilicki’s spotter shouted for his driver to go low, and the #7 cleared the wreck by mere inches.

Smithley’s car briefly caught fire behind the flat right-front tire as he slid down to the apron of Turn 4, then stopped short of the entrance of pit road. The right side of the car was flattened, and the driver soon climbed out, ending his day. A tow truck was dispatched to tow him to the garage.

Gase, who briefly took over last place despite pulling ahead of Smithley to reach his pit stall, was beside himself. “Who was in the 53 tonight?” he asked as the crew taped up the decklid. “I mean, come on, what is the 53 doing?” The spotter said Smithley’s car appeared to hit the splitter on the track before he drove into Gase’s left-rear. Initial speculation was that an oil line came loose, but this was later changed to a loose valve cover, which triggered the fire. Gase pulled back onto the track on Lap 6, dropping Smithley to last. Gase also asked if Smithley was driving the same car from Sunday, and if the team changed engines. The crew confirmed it was Smithley’s car from Sunday, but did not know if there as an engine change.

On Lap 12, Gase tried to keep up with the rest of the field on the restart, but with his quarter-panel catching air like a parachute, his car was loose center-off. Seconds later, NASCAR said Gase had failed to meet minimum speed, and was out of the race under the Damaged Vehicle Policy. Gase pulled into the garage on Lap 14, his day done after just eight completed laps. NASCAR Officials in the garage radioed the tower to confirm Smithley and Gase were out on Lap 20, but the message wasn’t relayed until Lap 23. The official listed both drivers out due to “accident,” even though Gase’s retirement was due to the DVP.

Brennan Poole took 38th after his #15 Spartan Go Chevrolet was damaged in a Lap 74 wreck where he slid into Quin Houff’s #00 Good Greek Movers Chevrolet, putting both cars into the Turn 2 wall. Both drivers continued on in the race, but Poole later pulled into the garage around Lap 95. On Lap 99, someone on the #15 team said “We’re done, boys, load it up.” They then gave one set of tires to Spire Motorsports’ #77, whose driver J.J. Yeley finished 34th.

The night’s biggest heartbreak belonged to Bubba Wallace, who was in and out of the Top 10 for much of the race’s second and final stages. Wallace was running 11th with 43 laps to go when he broke loose in Turn 2 and slapped the outside wall. The driver said the brake pedal was to the floor, and believed it was another of the hub issues that have plagued the team. He returned for another pit stop before he pulled out of the race after 165 laps. Bilicki rounded out the Bottom Five in 36th, coming home under power, eight laps down.

*The last time the #53 finished last in a Cup Series points race at Charlotte was October 7, 1984, when Donny Paul’s #53 Paul Brothers Chevrolet lost the engine after 1 lap of the Miller High Life 500. This was Paul’s first of just three series starts from 1984 through 1987.
*Smithley’s incident marks just the fifth time the last-place finisher of a Cup race at Charlotte failed to complete the opening lap. The first was the inaugural World 600 on June 19, 1960, when Lennie Page was the lowest-classified of six drivers disqualified for cutting the entrance to pit road. The remaining three also happened in the 600-miler: May 27, 1979, when Ron Hutcherson had rear end trouble on his #57 McClure Motors Ford; May 26, 1996, when Chad Little’s oil pump failed on the #97 Sterling Cowboy Pontiac; and May 28, 2006, when Dale Jarrett’s #88 UPS Ford was wrecked on the backstretch.

40) #53-Garrett Smithley / 0 laps / crash
39) #51-Joey Gase / 8 laps / damaged vehicle policy
38) #15-Brennan Poole / 86 laps / crash
37) #43-Bubba Wallace / 165 laps / crash
36) #7-Josh Bilicki / 200 laps / running

1st) Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Leavine Family Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Toyota (3)


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

TRUCKS: Spencer Davis gives #11 its first Truck Series last-place finish since 1996

PHOTO: Chris Graythen, Getty Images
Spencer Davis picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoor & RV Truck Series career in Tuesday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #11 Tower Sealants / Southern Premier Construction Toyota fell out with transmission issues after 54 of 134 laps.

The finish came in Davis’ 11th series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #11, the 34th from transmission issues, and the 36th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 57th for the #11, the 160th from transmission problems, and the 331st for Toyota.

Davis has much in common with Chase Elliott, who won Tuesday’s race. A second-generation racer from Dawsonville, Georgia, Davis has been racing since he was six. Nicknamed “The Show” according to the Rette-Jones Racing website, Davis started racing NASCAR modifieds in 2014 when he was just 15 years old and took Rookie of the Year. The next year, he ran closed-fendered cars in the K&N Pro Series East and took his first checkered flag in the 2016 round in Virginia’s Dominion Raceway, besting current XFINITY full-timer Justin Haley. Next came seven starts in the ARCA Menards Series, where his best run was a 3rd in his debut at Talladega.

Kyle Busch Motorsports took notice of the young upstart, earning him a part-time effort in 2018. He finished 7th in his Truck Series debut at Daytona and led seven laps at Texas. Just last year, he worked with Mark Rette of Rette-Jones Racing, pairing up a full-season effort in the K&N Pro Series East with a few more Truck Series starts. He nearly matched his best Truck Series finish at Kentucky last summer, finishing 8th in the team’s #11 Toyota. Davis himself became the listed owner of the #11 entry for 2020, which he debuted in February’s race in Las Vegas with a strong 12th-place finish.

Charlotte hosted the first Truck Series race in over three months, and thanks to NASCAR’s rule temporarily allowing fields of 40 in XFINITY and Trucks, tied a series record. Only six times before had the Truck Series seen more than 38 starters in a points race, and never more than 40. The last 40-truck field was seen on November 8, 1998 at Las Vegas. This was of little comfort to seven drivers and teams who failed to qualify based on their rank in Owner Points (and inability to trade ranks with a locked-in team). Left out of the field were Norm Benning, Parker Kligerman, Trey Hutchens, Tim Viens, Erik Jones, Bryant Barnhill, and Dawson Cram.

Davis lined up 28th. Although his team had made just one previous start all season, he was locked-in thanks to his previous employer at Kyle Busch Motorsports, who allowed him to use the points of their non-entered part-time #46 team.

Taking 40th and last was Ray Ciccarelli, who not only made his first start of the season and first at Charlotte, but for the first time in 2020 got both his Springrate-sponsored Chevrolets into the show. Ciccarelli drove the team’s primary #49 while T.J. Bell was at the controls of the #83, which rolled off three spots ahead in 37th. Before the race, Bayley Currey swapped into Ciccarelli's #49.

Sent to the rear before the start was 36th-place Bryan Dauzat, whose Jim Rosenblum-owned FDNY Racing has often attempted the Charlotte race. The FDNY crew rebuilt their damaged Daytona truck for the race, but incurred a tail-end penalty before the start as they had to change alternators on the day of the race.

When the race started, Dauzat raced Clay Greenfield, who was running the “Tennessee Strong” paint scheme his #68 team had planned to run for the postponed race in Atlanta. Both made quick work of Jesse Iwuji, who by the end of Lap 1 was 1.4 seconds back of Dauzat in his #33 RBR Graphics Chevrolet. On Lap 2, Iwuji’s spotter alerted him to a truck slowing in front of him – Jordan Anderson, whose #3 Chevrolet was forced to make an unscheduled green-flag stop. Anderson returned to the track two laps down, taking last from Iwuji, who lost his first lap on the 8th circuit.

Dauzat re-took last place on Lap 13, after he’d made an unscheduled pit stop of his own, then was nabbed for speeding, forcing a pass-through penalty. When the competition caution fell on Lap 15, Dauzat was back on the track five laps down. He’d pit again under the yellow for a can of fuel. Dauzat continued to struggle on the restart, saying he had to lift off the gas in Turns 3 and 4. The team also had concerns that their tires were too worn out. On top of this, NASCAR Officials alerted the team to something dragging under Dauzat’s truck on Lap 41. He was then advised again to pick up his speed on Lap 51, just three laps after Iwuji was advised to do the same. Iwuji’s crew told him to keep his truck on the bottom lane, which would play a role in how his night ended.

On Lap 54, Dauzat was posted for not meeting the minimum speed and came back down pit road, dropping him eight laps down. Iwuji made a stop of his own the next time by. Only then did Spencer Davis enter the last-place battle. The driver reported he’d climbed to 17th when his truck suddenly wouldn’t pull, forcing him to the garage area. “It just let loose,” said Davis. “Wasn’t putting no drive to the tires.” As he pulled behind the team’s hauler, the team worked to replace an axle, then the rear gear. Both proved difficult – the axle wouldn’t budge, and the rear gear was well away from where they had parked, sitting on jack stands next to a fence. They also had difficulty finding the tool to unhook the u-joint.

On Lap 70, Davis’ crew radioed that they may be done for the night, and for the first time said “it’s the transmission.” But it wasn’t until Lap 110 – with just 24 laps to go – that NASCAR Officials confirmed Davis was out with transmission issues. Also confirmed in that message was the retirement of 39th-place Iwuji, who was involved in one of the night’s biggest wrecks. On Lap 81, Iwuji couldn’t hold the bottom when he was being passed by Brennan Poole and Stewart Friesen. The three trucks collided, collecting the #26 of Tyler Ankrum. Iwuji, who was at least six laps down at the time, was done for the night. Poole was collected in a second accident on the restart with Natalie Decker, and when the six-minute "Crash Clock" ran out, his #30 Remember Everyone Deployed Toyota took 38th.

For a time, it appeared Matt Crafton would finish his night in the Bottom Five. His #88 Oklahoma Joe’s Smokers / Menards Ford came down pit road late in the race with the rear end traveling around, the result of a snapped bolt on the track bar. Crafton tumbled to 37th spot, but returned to the track on Lap 126. In those final eight laps, Crafton climbed past two other wrecked trucks to take 35th – Todd Gilliland, whose #38 Black’s Tire Service Ford was turned into the wall by John Hunter Nemechek, and Garrett Smithley, who walled the #40 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet when he spun down the backstretch, then fell out with rear end trouble.

Dauzat, whose FDNY crew continued to try and raise their truck to keep it from dragging, managed to finish under power in 34th, 14 laps down to race winner Chase Elliott.

Mike Hurlbert and his Bud Light Ford, 1995.
PHOTO: @ForRaceFansOnly
*Prior to Tuesday’s race, just one driver had ever finished last in a Truck Series race driving the #11 –Mike Hurlbert. The Lynden, Washington-born driver made 22 series starts from 1995 through 1997 with a career-best 16th three times during the inaugural season at the bullrings of Tucson, I-70, and Colorado. He also finished last six times, most recently at Loudon on September 8, 1996, when his #11 RPM Racing Ford lost an engine on the first lap of the Pennzoil VIP Tripleheader. Hurlbert’s five last-place finishes in 1996 were enough to claim the LASTCAR Truck Series Championship, and set a single-season record that stood until 1999, when Phil Bonifield took six.

40) #11-Spencer Davis / 54 laps / transmission
39) #33-Jesse Iwuji / 74 laps / crash
38) #30-Brennan Poole / 83 laps / dvp
37) #38-Todd Gilliland / 102 laps / crash
36) #40-Garrett Smithley / 105 laps / rear end

1st) Niece Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing, Spencer Davis Motorsports (1)

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


Monday, May 25, 2020

XFINITY: Overheating car hands Colby Howard first last-place finish

PHOTO: @JDMotorsports01
Colby Howard picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Monday’s Alsco 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #15 SANY America Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues after 11 of 203 laps.

The finish came in Howard’s third series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #15, the 34th from overheating issues, and the 545th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 40th for the #15, the 174th from overheating issues, and the 1,711th for Chevrolet.

Just 18 years old from Simpsonville, South Carolina, Howard is among the many series newcomers trying to gain experience in national competition. According to his website, Colby began racing Bandloeros at Greenville Pickens Speedway and Anderson Motor Speedway, then worked his way to mini-stocks, limited late models, and full-blown late models. Through much of his career, Howard has been sponsored by the Project HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit benefiting the autistic.

On April 22, 2018, Howard made his ARCA debut at Salem Speedway, finishing 8th for Mason Mitchell. His Truck Series debut came the following November at Phoenix, where he ran 21st for Youngs Motorsports. Over the ensuing offseason, Howard signed with JD Motorsports, joining several drivers who would alternate between the team’s four different cars. Howard made his series debut in the last XFINITY race before the season’s suspension, running 34th after a mid-race crash at Phoenix. He then ran 27th in the series return at Darlington. Project HOPE sponsored both efforts.

Howard drew the 29th spot in Monday’s field, placing him behind JD Motorsports teammates B.J. McLeod in 14th and Jeffrey Earnhardt in 23rd, but ahead of Jesse Little in 34th. Bayley Currey was swapped into the 36th-place starting #74 Chevrolet, taking the place of Robby Lyons.

Starting 37th and last was Alex Labbe, who was swapped from DGM Racing’s #90 to the #36 Larue Snowblowers Chevrolet. Among those joining him at the rear were 33rd-place Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet and Jeff Green, who drew 20th in an unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet and confirmed he wouldn’t be running the whole race.

When the race started, Mills was so far back of the field that his car didn’t register an interval back of the leader as he crossed the stripe. Moments later, he was shown 6.81 seconds behind. He took over last at the end of Lap 1 with Green holding 36th, two seconds in front of Mills. Mills had dropped a full 11 seconds back of the lead when the first caution fell on Lap 5 for Kody Vanderwal, who struck the wall in Jimmy Means’ #52 Chevrolet.

Under the caution, Mills radioed he had smoke in the cockpit while Green said his car’s splitter was hitting the track. Green’s pit stop for adjustments and tightening the lug nuts dropped him to last on Lap 6, when he lost a lap to the leaders. Back on the track, Vanderwal was the last car on the lead lap, but this time he quickly lost touch with the rest of the field. On Lap 9, Vanderwal met minimum speed to clear the “Crash Clock,” but Howard now dropped to 35th place.

On Lap 11, Green’s spotter radioed that a car “sounds like they might be blowing up” and was smoking. It first appeared to be Vanderwal, who was now 5.5 seconds back of Howard. But Howard himself then pulled into the garage, and took last on Lap 14. Moments later, NASCAR Officials confirmed Howard had gone to the garage, and the team said overheating issues ended their day.

Green pulled into the garage on Lap 16. After his earlier splitter issues, he now believed he had a flat tire, then issues with the steering that kept the car from turning to the right. Perhaps due to smoke from the Green car, NASCAR Officials kept an eye on the #93 as he pulled in, four laps ahead of Howard. Vanderwal’s engine then let go down the backstretch on Lap 29, taking him out of the event and placing him 35th.

On Lap 39, NASCAR Officials in the garage confirmed Howard was out with overheating, Green with power steering, and Vanderwal with engine trouble.

Timmy Hill finished 34th when his #66 Toyota lost an engine in Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 156, dropping fluid that caused both Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe to slap the wall. Austin Hill, whose #61 AISIN Group Toyota was fully-backed by Hattori Racing Enterprises, crashed out on Lap 177, collecting Jeremy Clements in the #51 All South Electric Chevrolet.

The heartbreaker of the night had to be Tommy Joe Martins, who clawed his way to 11th in his #44 Market Rebellion Chevrolet with just two laps to go. He was running in the low lane when three of the leaders tangled coming off Turn 2, triggering a pileup he couldn’t avoid. Martins spun and was struck by a passing Justin Haley, sending both cars hard into the inside wall. Martins finished 24th.

Finishing inside the Top 10 were both Brett Moffitt and Brandon Brown, each earning strong runs for their underfunded efforts. Moffitt’s #02 FR8 Auctions Chevrolet climbed to 6th in the final running order, scoring the first top-ten finish for Our Motorsports after a previous season-best of 11th last week in Darlington. Brown finished 8th in the #68 Coastal Carolina University Class of 2020 Chevrolet, just one spot shy of his season-best of 7th in the Daytona opener.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #15 in an XFINITY Series race at Charlotte. The number hadn’t finished last in the series since September 16, 2017, when Matt Mills had a vibration after 3 laps of the at Chicagoland.
*Howard is the seventh driver to score his first XFINITY Series last-place finish in the #15, joining Dale Earnhardt (1982), Jeff Purvis (1990), Clay Brown (1993), Michael Annett (2010), Todd Peck (2016), and Matt Mills (2017).

37) #15-Colby Howard / 11 laps / overheating
36) #93-Jeff Green / 15 laps / power steering
35) #52-Kody Vanderwal / 26 laps / engine
34) #66-Timmy Hill / 151 laps / engine
33) #61-Austin Hill / 173 laps / crash

1st) Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
2nd) JD Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, Motorsports Business Management, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

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


CUP: Jimmie Johnson’s disqualification nixes strong runner-up finish in Coca-Cola 600

Jimmie Johnson picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #48 Ally Patriotic Chevrolet finished 2nd, but was disqualified for failing post-race inspection, classifying him last with all 405 laps complete.

The finish, which came in Johnson’s 658th series start, was his first of the season, and his first in a Cup race since Martinsville on October 27, 2019, ten races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place history, this was the 23rd for the #48, the 24th from disqualification, and the 781st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, this was the 30th for the #48, the 35th from disqualification, and the 1,710th for Chevrolet.

Clint Bowyer picked up the 9th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #14 Rush Truck Centers / Mobil Delvac 1 Ford was involved in a hard single-car crash after 96 of 405 laps.

The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 512th series start, was his first of the season and first since March 17, 2019 at Fontana, 38 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 41st for the #41, the 595th from a crash, and the 698th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 60th for the #14, the 959th for Ford, and the 1,205th from a crash.

Despite the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the current schedule, Johnson reaffirmed his decision to retire from full-time Cup Series competition at the end of the 2020 season. Prior to the national emergency declaration in March, Johnson had secured 5th in the series standings, bouncing back from a late wreck at Daytona to finish 5th in Las Vegas, 7th, and Fontana, and 12th at Phoenix. The Fontana run was perhaps the most emotional, as he nearly took the pole from Clint Bowyer and led a five-wide salute at his home track with his wife and children waving the green flag from the flag stand.

Johnson also participated in several iRacing events during the suspension, including six of the seven rounds of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. After a disastrous opener in Homestead, where he was involved in several accidents, he continued to struggle for the rest of the series, finishing no better than 19th. He ran better in two IndyCar rounds at digital Indianapolis and Barber Motorsports Park, which seemed better suited to his open-wheel designed sim rig: Johnson finished 16th in the former and 12th in the latter.

Back in action at Darlington, Johnson looked to pick up where he left off in March. Incidentally, he’d won at Darlington the last time the track hosted two Cup dates, taking the spring race in 2004. He drew the 8th starting spot and chased down teammate Alex Bowman in the early laps, taking the lead on Lap 81. He was still leading on the final lap of Stage 1 when he caught Chris Buescher off Turn 2 and bumped the #17 Fastenal Ford into the wall. Buescher’s car bounced back into Johnson’s, sending the #48 careening head-on into the inside wall. Johnson was uninjured, and as his crew chief Cliff Daniels rallied the troops on pit road, the #48 team left the track 38th in a field of 40. This placed him 37th on the grid for Wednesday’s return to the track, where he bounced back with an 8th-place finish.

Charlotte was next, another of Johnson’s best tracks. He’d won there eight times, including four Coca-Cola 600s – three in a row from 2003 through 2005. Though he hadn’t won at the track since 2016, he’d also finished worse than 8th just once since then – a 17th in the spring of 2017. He’d even come within one swerve of taking the inaugural Charlotte “Roval” race in 2018 before his last-turn spin collected race leader Martin Truex, Jr.

As part of NASCAR’s Memorial Day tribute, Johnson’s windshield would carry the name of Army Corporal Patrick Deans, who served in the 101st Airborne Division. On December 12, 2010, Corporal Deans and five other soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Adding to the tribute, Johnson’s car and helmet would be painted an olive drab color with stenciled white graphics and an exposed rivet pattern. “To have Corporal Deans on my car and run a special paint scheme is a big honor for me to recognize the individual, and all those who have lost a loved one,” said Johnson.

Johnson qualified a strong 2nd with a lap of 181.214mph, but held the provisional pole for most of the session before Kurt Busch edged him by nine-thousandths of a second.

Starting 40th and last in Sunday’s race was Aric Almirola, whose #10 Smithfield Ford spun out during his qualifying lap and backed lightly into the Turn 4 wall. By rolling past the stripe during his spin, Almirola was the only driver to not record a completed qualifying lap. Repairing the minor damage also incurred Almirola a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, joined by 9th-place qualifier Brad Keselowski in the #2 Miller Lite Ford, 32nd-place Timmy Hill in the #66 Toyota, and 34th-place J.J. Yeley in the #7 VCP Chevrolet. Also sent to the rear was Matt DiBenedetto, who during qualifying slapped the Turn 4 wall with the passenger side of his #21 Menards / FVP Ford. Unlike Almirola, DiBenedetto’s wreck sent him to a backup car. However, none of these drivers spent much time in last place.

Clint Bowyer's wreck that left him last at the end of the race.
As the field rolled off pit road into Turn 1, wisps of smoke were seen from 13th-place Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx #SupportSmall Toyota. As he climbed the banking, two chunks of Tungsten ballast tumbled from the driver’s side rail. According to 39th-place Joey Gase in the #51 ACS Chevrolet, at least three drivers ran over the debris. Among these drivers was the penalized Aric Almirola, who avoided one piece with a swerve to the left that caused him to clip the other with his left-front fender. Gase had also winged one of the pieces, starting a slow leak in one of his tires. But Hamlin was the first to pit road, making an unscheduled stop during the final pace laps.

Hamlin was still on pit road when the race went green, the crew scrambling to find new ballast. Someone on the FedEx crew suggested they just go home, but someone else on the team said “we can’t do that.” Hamlin remained in last place while Gase came down pit road in the first six laps. Contact with Hamlin’s ballast cut the inside sidewall of one of the tires on the #51, forcing a pit stop, and on Lap 6 he lost more time serving a penalty for too many crew members over the wall. Hamlin then returned to the track on Lap 8, completing his first lap on the ninth circuit. Hamlin then tried to focus on his car’s handling, saying it was running tight while in traffic.

Hamlin and Gase remained in the final two positions for much of the first stage. On Lap 69, Gase was three laps ahead of Hamlin. Then on Lap 97, with just three laps to go in Stage 1, the caution fell for a wreck in Turn 4. Involved was Clint Bowyer, whose #14 Rush Truck Centers / Mobil Delvac 1 Ford suffered a lower control arm failure that sent him hard into the outside wall. Bowyer, who was running 11th at the time of the accident, was slow to get out of the now-burning car, catching his breath as crews put out the flames. On Lap 100, as Stage 1 ended under yellow, Bowyer’s car was towed to the garage. He took last from Hamlin on Lap 106, the first car out of the race.

Bowyer’s car carried the name of Private First Class Andy Krippner of Garland, Texas. Just six weeks into his tour in Afghanistan, and just days after his 20th birthday, Private Krippner and three other soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when their vehicle was struck by an IED. “I am incredibly honored to carry Andy’s name on our car and can’t thank him and his family and friends enough for the sacrifices made for our country,” said Bowyer in an interview with NBC Sports.

From then through the end of the race, Bowyer seemed assured of his second last-place finish at Charlotte, following an engine failure on October 11, 2014. Car #14 hadn’t finished last in a Cup Series race at Charlotte since October 7, 1979, when Jimmy Means made a one-off start in H.B. Cunningham’s #14 Cunningham-Kelley Chevrolet for the NAPA National 500. Means qualified 19th and falling out after 1 lap with handling woes. The car was most commonly driven by the late Coo Coo Marlin, who finished last in both Charlotte races in 1975, including the only previous last-place finish for the number in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 1975.

Meanwhile, Johnson enjoyed one of his best runs of the season. After saving his car when it broke loose early in Turn 2, he led six laps and earned stage points in all three stages, finishing 8th, 10th, and 4th, respectively. Twice in the final laps, he was in contention for the win, including the final restart, when he took the green on the front row alongside eventual race winner Brad Keselowski. Johnson closed to Keselowski’s bumper on the final lap, and came just short of making a move in the high lane. The runner-up finish was Johnson’s best of the season and jumped him three positions in points, from 12th to 9th, tied with Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola as 82 points back of the lead.

But after 2 A.M. local time, following post-race inspection, news broke that Johnson’s car failed the Optical Scanning Station (OSS), specifically the rear alignment tolerance. The result was an immediate disqualification, dropping Johnson from 2nd to last place, and forfeiting his 11 stage points earned during the night. The disqualification lifted Bowyer from last place, bumped Quin Houff out of the Bottom Five, and Brennan Poole out of the Bottom Ten. UPDATE: Johnson now loses three spots in points, tying him with Tyler Reddick for 15th.

Finishing 38th was Bubba Wallace, whose #43 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet suffered a hub failure that sent him behind the wall just before the halfway point. Wallace fell 70 laps down before he returned to the track briefly on Lap 209. But someone then said “Something broke in the rear. Let’s go to the garage – we’re done.” Wallace ultimately fell out with 164 completed laps, citing a vibration for the hub issue.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were J.J. Yeley, whose #7 VCP Chevrolet was eliminated under the damaged vehicle policy following an undisclosed accident that didn’t draw the caution flag, and Joey Gase, whose #51 ACS Ford spun on Lap 349, drawing the caution flag just short of scheduled green-flag pit stops. Gase finished as the final car under power, 20 laps down to the leaders.

Tyler Reddick’s incredible first season continued with a 9th-place finish, his third top-ten finish in just nine career Cup starts. He finshed just one spot ahead of Christopher Bell, who like at Las Vegas, saved his car from a wreck in a four-wheel drift after contact from Ryan Blaney entering Turn 3. Bell’s 10th-place finish was his first career Top Ten in his seventh series start.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #48 in a Cup Series points race at Charlotte.
*Johnson is also the fourth driver to be classified last at Charlotte by reason of disqualification. The first came in the June 19, 1960 inaugural, when Lennie Page was the lowest-ranked of six penalized for cutting off the entrance to pit road. Buddy Baker was disqualified on October 7, 1973 after a disagreement between his team owner and NASCAR officials over inspecting the engine. And Bobby Hillin, Jr.’s disqualification on October 11, 1992 was the last for a Cup driver in a points race until Erik Jones’ penalty at Richmond just last year.

40) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 405 laps / disqualified / led 6 laps
39) #14-Clint Bowyer / 96 laps / crash
38) #43-Bubba Wallace / 164 laps / vibration
37) #7-J.J. Yeley / 251 laps / dvp
36) #51-Joey Gase / 385 laps / running

1st) Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (3)