Thursday, May 23, 2019

PREVIEW: Rare car numbers add statistical significance to Charlotte entry lists

Saturday, May 25, 2019
XFINITY Race 11 of 33
Alsco 300 at Charlotte
2018 Last-Place Finisher: B.J. McLeod

The XFINITY Series returns for the first time since Dover at the beginning of the month. There are 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning one will miss the show.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Jeb Burton is set to make his second XFINITY Series start of the season, and first since a 5th-place finish in Texas. Then as now, his sponsor will be longtime Burton family backer State Water Heaters. Burton takes the place of Zane Smith, 9th at Dover.

RETURNING: #10-Kaulig Racing
The second Kaulig entry returns to the series this weekend for its fifth start of the year and first since Ross Chastain’s 30th-place run in Talladega. The driver this time is Austin Dillon, who turned in the car’s best finish of 2019 in Las Vegas – a 4th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
Joe Nemechek makes his first XFINITY Series attempt in exactly a year, dating back to an 18th-place run in this race for JD Motorsports. This time around, he takes John Jackson’s place in MBM’s #13 Toyota – his first time driving for team owner Carl Long. The rest of MBM’s driver lineup remains the same this week with Joey Gase (#35), Chad Finchum (#42), and Timmy Hill (#66). Hill welcomes back returning sponsorship from, which joined him last fall on the Roval.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing
Camden Murphy looks to make only his second XFINITY Series start and first since a 26th-place showing in his series debut at Bristol in 2016. Just like that night, he will drive for Rick Ware. Murphy takes the place of Bayley Currey, who will instead drive Ware’s #52 Cup entry on Sunday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Jeffrey Earnhardt and his ubiquitous iK9 sponsorship return to the #18 team this week, taking the place of 15th-place Dover finisher Riley Herbst. It will be Earnhardt’s fifth XFINITY Series start of the season and first since a 26th-place finish in Talladega.

MISSING: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
Conspicuously absent from the preliminary entry list was Jimmy Means Racing and driver David Starr. A Means-prepared #52 has not missed an XFINITY Series race since the 2013 finale at Homestead, where the team likewise wasn’t entered.

NEW TEAM: #68-Brandonbilt Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
Brandonbilt Motorsports fields two cars for the first time this weekend, adding the #68 to their flagship #86. The addition comes as Mason Diaz rejoins the team to drive the #86 with sponsorship from Solid Rock Carriers and The Sign Shop, just as he had in Richmond. Unlike that night, where Brandon Brown had to drive in place of Josh Bilicki for RSS Racing, Brown will drive the new #68 with sponsorship from Vero. If Brown qualifies, it will mark the first XFINITY start for car #68 since July 1, 2011, when Carl Long made his final start for the short-lived Fleur-de-lis Motorsports at Daytona.

Charlotte will also see brothers Dillon Bassett and Ronnie Bassett, Jr. run against each other in the same XFINITY race for the first time. Dillon takes the #90, bumping Ronnie to the returning #92, a third DGM entry last seen at Richmond. Dillon finished 15th in his lone series start that night, matching the best of Ronnie’s three starts this year. Both cars will be sponsored both by Bassett Gutters and Moore as well as American Wood Reface. Josh Williams remains the driver of DGM’s #36.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Jairo Avila, Jr. makes his second XFINITY start of the season and first since a 25th-place finish in Las Vegas. He takes the place of Tommy Joe Martins, 21st in Dover.

CUP INVADERS: #10-Austin Dillon

Sunday, May 26, 2019
CUP Race 13 of 36
60th Annual Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Kevin Harvick

There are exactly 40 entrants for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the fourth full field of 2019 and the third in the last four races.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #15-Premium Motorsports
On Wednesday came the announcement that Ross Chastain has picked up new sponsorship for the Coca-Cola 600. Cross Country Adjusting will back the #15 Chevrolet this Sunday.

MISSING: #31-Richard Childress Racing
Tyler Reddick turned heads in just his second Cup start, finishing 9th under the lights in Kansas. This week, he focuses on the XFINITY race on Saturday, and the #31 is not entered in Sunday’s main event.

MISSING: #46-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
As of this writing, Carl Long’s MBM effort has only entered one of its two Cup cars from Kansas and the Monster Energy Open. Joey Gase makes the move from the #46, not entered this week, to take Timmy Hill’s place in the #66. Hill will instead focus on Saturday’s XFINITY race in MBM’s other #66.

TEAM UPDATE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware will enter all three of their cars from the Open, including B.J. McLeod’s Tuskegee Airmen tribute car #53. As reported last week, the entry is the first for the #53 in a Cup points race since April 30, 1995, when Ritchie Petty missed the field for the Winston Select 500 at Talladega. If the car starts, it will be the number’s first green flag in a points race since Petty’s 41st-place finish in the Pepsi 400 on July 2, 1994.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman and the Gaunt Brothers team rejoin the Cup tour for the first time since his 27th-place showing in Talladega. No sponsor is yet listed for the #96 Toyota.

Friday, June 7, 2019
TRUCKS Race 9 of 23
Rattlesnake 400 at Texas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Todd Peck

The Truck Series takes the week off and will return in two weeks at Texas.

Today in LASTCAR history (May 23, 1965): Junior Spencer picks up the first last-place finish of his Cup Series career when his #17 1964 Ford suffers an oi leak after 9 laps of the World 600. Spencer, a native of Hamlin, West Virginia, was making his ninth of 25 career Cup starts, and his first at Charlotte. Though he started just 21 of 55 races in the ’65 season, he finished inside the Top 10 seven times, including a career-best 5th at the (Birmingham) Fairgrounds Raceway on June 6.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

ARCA: Hailie Deegan’s headlining debut done after 30 laps

PHOTO: @VenturiniMotor
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Hailie Deegan finished last for the first time in her ARCA Menards Series career in Sunday’s Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 at Toledo Speedway when her #55 Toyota Racing Development 40th Anniversary Toyota crashed out after completing 29 of 152 laps. The finish came in her series debut.

Deegan has caught the NASCAR world's attention the past twelve months, having won her first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Meridian Speedway in Idaho last August, then followed that up with another win on the Las Vegas dirt this spring. Besides those two, however, Deegan has seen less success. Sure, her West results many times were in the back half of the top ten, but when matched up against K&N East fields, those results have topped out at tenth. Many viewed her upcoming six-race ARCA slate with the series best team in Venturini Motorsports as a way to prove her worth. Granted, rarely are debuts easy, but both in practice and qualifying, Deegan was last of the 12 well-funded cars at Toledo this weekend. All evaluations, however, will have to wait until at least after her next start at Pocono next month.

An even 20 cars showed up on the entry list, with Deegan’s debut in the Venturini Motorsports #55 headlining the stories for the weekend. As usual, ARCA’s short track crew came out in full force, going for their "championship within a championship." Chandler Smith, Ty Gibbs, Sam Mayer, Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim continued their pursuit of the full Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge, while Tim Richmond, Alex Clubb and Eric Caudell continued their partial schedules. Rick Clifton and Richard Doheny filled out the #11 and #1 cars for Fast Track Racing, and Mike Basham returned to the #69 for Kimmel Racing.

After the first practice concluded, the car count was down to eighteen: Caudell did not make the trip to Ohio, and Brad Smith did not take the track either. Smith later posted on Twitter that engine complications from the previous contest at Nashville kept the team out of this race. It was the first race that Smith did not take the track for since this very same event four years ago, after running the first five events of the season for James Hylton before turning the car over to Rick Clifton and later James Swanson. As for the cars that took the track, Clifton was slowest, turning a lap of just over 18.5 seconds. He managed to slice about a tenth of a second off of his lap time for qualifying but remained at the bottom of the speed charts, leaving the #11 to line up last on Sunday with no post-qualifying penalties assessed.

Breaking with recent trend, this ARCA Menards Series race had all cars complete more than ten laps. The trio of Clifton, Doheny and Basham were near the tail of the field on lap 30 when a stack-up occurred in the back half of the Top Ten. Heading into Turn 3, Joe Graf, Jr., Deegan, and Gray were all running in close proximity. Deegan got under Graf, and while the MAVTV camera angle offered no definitive account of what happened, most reports indicated that Graf cut down just a tad on Deegan, which led to a check-up and Gray plowing into the back of the 55. Deegan and Graf then proceeded to bury their cars in the infamous foam that lines Toledo.

Soon after, the cars of Basham, Doheny and Clifton parked, rounding out the Bottom Five.

18) #55-Hailie Deegan / 29 laps / crash
17) #77-Joe Graf, Jr. / 29 laps / crash
16) #69-Mike Basham / 34 laps / suspension
15) #1-Richard Doheny / 38 laps / overheating
14) #11-Rick Clifton / 47 laps / brakes

1st) Brad Smith Motorsports, Venturini Motorsports (2)
2nd) Kimmel Racing, Mullins Racing (1)

1st) Ford (4)
2nd) Toyota (2)


Sunday, May 19, 2019

CUP: Fast and furious last-place battle ends with Erik Jones last in the All-Star Race

PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images
Erik Jones finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #20 Craftsman Toyota fell out with crash damage after 77 of 88 laps.

Jones arrived in Charlotte 14th in the point standings, jumping back into Playoff contention after back-to-back top-ten finishes in Dover and Kansas. Following his last-place run in the season-opening Clash at Daytona, Jones finished a strong 3rd in the Daytona 500, following his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch to the finish line. A 13th-place finish in Las Vegas was followed by three finishes of 19th or worse, though at Fontana he nearly overcame minor damage to the driver’s door before he faded late. A 4th-place run in Texas was followed by three more poor showings at Bristol, Richmond, and Talladega, before a 6th at Dover and a 3rd at Kansas brought him to the All-Star break.

Locked-in to his first All-Star Race after his first career win at Daytona last July, Jones’ #20 Toyota would carry sponsorship from Craftsman for the first time since Bristol. In opening practice, Jones turned the 10th-fastest lap, then improved to 7th in the second session. He also qualified 7th of the 15 locked-in cars, his combined pit stop and hot laps equaling out at 134.546mph (2 minutes, 0.405 seconds).

Starting last in Saturday’s All-Star event was Alex Bowman, who after three consecutive 2nd-place finishes finished 3rd in the Open and earned the All-Star Fan Vote. Bowman looked to turn things around from a difficult showing in 2018, where he gave Hendrick Motorsports its first All-Star last-place finish since 1995.

What ensued was one of the most competitive and fast-paced last-place battles in recent history.

At the start, Bowman pulled alongside Kyle Larson, whose #42 Advent Health Chevrolet won the final stage of the Open race. As the two raced side-by-side, William Byron’s #24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevrolet fell back in the far outer lane. Byron then reeled in Bowman, pulled to the inside, and on Lap 2 got by off the second corner. On Lap 3, Bowman worked his way past Aric Almirola, whose #10 Smithfield Ford trailed the race for the first time. Three circuits later, Almirola raced past Kurt Busch, putting the #1 Gear Wrench / Monster Energy Chevrolet to last. Kurt raced past Almirola on Lap 9, and Almirola slingshot past seconds later. On Lap 14, Busch passed Bowman on the inside, but this time the #88 stayed locked on the rear bumper of the #1. Bowman side-drafted Kurt to get by on Lap 20. Kurt did the same in Turn 1 on Lap 23, and Bowman again blasted past in Turn 3.

Jones entered the battle on Lap 27, when the caution fell for debris from his #20. Running 9th at the time, Jones slid up the track in Turn 4, then cut down a right-front tire, sending him sliding into the outside wall. He managed to get down to the apron with the right side of the car scraped-up and the right-front fender torn up, but a tire carcass from the right-front drew the yellow. Since caution laps didn’t count, Jones didn’t lose a lap as he made repeated stops for new tires and repairs. Kurt Busch also made an extended stop with his crew looking under the rear of the car. The incident forced a green-white-checkered restart with Jones still last and a patched-up right-front fender. Jones managed to keep up with the pack, and passed Bubba Wallace’s #43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet to his inside off Turn 2. On Lap 33, Wallace zipped past Jones on the backstretch, then both split around a slowing Almirola, who now had a loose wheel. The caution then fell to end Stage 1 with Almirola in last.

Under the Stage 1 caution, Jones made another long pit stop and resumed control of last place. But when the race restarted on Lap 34, Ryan Newman took over the spot in his #6 Acorns Ford. Newman suffered damage to the nose of his machine, forcing the crew to repair it with several strips of green tape. Newman then worked past Almirola in Turn 3 before sliding into Wallace’s left-rear and sliding into the infield grass. The Astroturf surface from last year’s Roval event prevented Newman’s splitter from digging into the soil.

After another lengthy stop, Newman managed to return to action for the Lap 40 restart for Stage 2, though now a full 22 seconds back of the pack. He was 27 seconds back on Lap 48, and in danger of becoming the first to lose a lap. This lasted only until Lap 52, when race leader Kevin Harvick in the #4 Busch Beer Millennial Car caught Newman in Turn 3 and made the pass. “That's pretty embarrassing right there, guys,” said Newman, who stayed in touch with Harvick as Stage 2 ended on Lap 53, allowing him the night’s first Lucky Dog. Under this caution, Wallace retook last since he pitted behind Newman. Wallace returned to the track first, however, dropping the #6 back to the rear.

Setting up for another two-by-two restart in Stage 3, Jones and Newman were in the final row with the #20 outside of the #6. When the green flag dropped, Jones held it briefly, but dropped Newman back to last in Turn 1 before Bowman slipped to 19th off Turn 2. On Lap 54, Ryan Blaney took last for the first time in his #12 Body Armor Ford. Just a moment later, Newman breathed yhe throttle in the high lane and dropped four seconds back. Newman then made an unscheduled stop on Lap 56 which again dropped Newman a lap down. Jones, meanwhile, tangled with Austin Dillon’s #3 Dow / RCR 50th Anniversary Chevrolet in Turn 4 after Dillon crossed the nose of Kyle Busch’s #18 M&M’s Hazlenut Spread Toyota. This saved Harvick from losing a lap to pit for a loose wheel, and also handed Newman his second Lucky Dog. With that, all 19 cars were not only still running, but all were on the lead lap.

Under caution, Dillon took over last on Lap 60 for repairs from the Jones accident andw as told he had just one set of sticker tires left. His current set had just five laps on them, but were likely flat-stopped from the accident. The only other set left were 20-lap scuffs. Regardless, Dillon passed Jones, who received additional repairs on Lap 61. The #20 crew said that nothing appeared broken on the #20 despite his multiple incidents, but the team may park the car if it was running too slow. The team thus decided on that stop to put on their last set of tires and see what Jones could do.

Newman also pitted on Lap 61, and once again came out by himself, struggling to catch the field as they took the restart. The #6 was 37 seconds back of the lead when the green flag fell, a gap which stabilized at 13 seconds when the field reached full speed. When Stage 3 ended on Lap 73, last place changed between several other drivers, including Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Ally Chevrolet, Wallace, and Dillon. Almirola took last for a brief moment when he was forced to serve a penalty for too many crewmen over the wall. But Newman again retook last under the caution and would restart in that spot.

Stage 4, the last of the night, began with Newman staring down a two-wide field in front of him. The next time by on Lap 75, as Newman was again making a move for 18th, Martin Truex, Jr. took the spot for the first time when his #19 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker ATVs & Boats / USO Toyota was shaken out in the middle line. Seconds later, the caution flew for an accident in Turn 3 when Hamlin had a left-rear tire go down in front of Blaney, who spun the #11 into a passing Dillon. Despite the damage, Hamlin took less time on pit road than Truex for his problems, and the #19 took last for the Lap 76 restart.

When the green flew once more, Truex remained last and fell back on the backstretch. He managed to catch Johnson off turn 4 at the stripe, but couldn’t clear him. Meanwhile, Jones re-enacted Fontana by charging up to 4th before he found the outside wall once more, drawing the caution before a single lap was completed. Shaken out of line once more, Jones was 14 seconds back of the lead when the yellow came out. This time, the #20 beat Blaney off pit road, dropping the #12 to last. Blaney then worked past Johnson on the Lap 77 restart, and Johnson slingshot past Blaney once more. Both then moved past Jones, who slowed on the backstretch on Lap 79.

It was then, with nine laps to go in the final stage, that Jones pulled down pit road, then made a left-hand turn into the garage area. Hamlin followed two laps later, and Busch four circuits after that. Blaney and Johnson were still on the track – and on the lead lap – when Larson took the hard-fought victory, rounding out the Bottom Five.

The feel-good story of the night turned out to be Bubba Wallace, who finished a strong 5th. A difficult start to the season saw his #43 just 29th in points coming into the All-Star Race. The driver revealed that he has been dealing with depression, and a series of increasingly-bizarre rumors surrounded the Richard Petty Motorsports team through the week. Not considered a favorite to make the main event, Wallace parlayed pit strategy in Stage 1 of the Open and found himself side-drafting Kyle Larson on the final lap before William Byron snatched away victory in a photo finish. Frustrated but undeterred, Wallace repeated the strategy in Stage 2, this time running the opposite lane alongside the #41 Arris Ford of Daniel Suarez. The two bumped across the line with Suarez spinning and Wallace racing in. After a second round of repairs and congratulations from his friend Ryan Blaney, Wallace started his first-ever All-Star Race. Though he spent his own times in last, as mentioned above, he clawed back into the Top 5 in Stage 4, running as high as 3rd before the finish.

*This was Jones’ first last-place finish in the All-Star Race, but the second in three years for Joe Gibbs Racing’s #20. In 2017, Matt Kenseth trailed the All-Star with a busted oil cooler.
*Jones becomes the first driver to finish last in both the Clash at Daytona and the All-Star Race in the same season since 2011, when Kasey Kahne did the same in Team Red Bull’s #4 Toyota. The only other time it happened was in 2000, when John Andretti drove for Petty Enterprises, though that time is was because the Petty team voluntarily made themselves ineligible for the Budweiser Pole Award at the time.

19) #20-Erik Jones / 77 laps / crash
18) #11-Denny Hamlin / 79 laps / crash
17) #1-Kurt Busch / 83 laps / crash
16) #12-Ryan Blaney / 88 laps / running
15) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 88 laps / running

CUP: Debut of Rick Ware Racing’s third team ends with blown engine for B.J. McLeod

PHOTO: David Marrero, @DavidMarrr
B.J. McLeod finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #53 Enlisted Nine Flight Company Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after 15 of 62 laps.

All-Star Weekend marked the debut of Rick Ware Racing’s third team, the #53 that had been withdrawn without a driver at Dover. Driving the car would be B.J. McLeod, whose last-place run at Dover was his latest of six Cup points races in 2019. It also marked the first time car #53 had been entered in the Open since May 16, 1992, when Johnny McFadden entered a second car for Jimmy “Smut” Means, only to end up 28th of 29 drivers as one of four cars that didn’t start the race.

On Thursday, it was revealed that McLeod’s car would carry one of the most distinctive paint schemes of the weekend. Sponsored by the Enlisted Nine Fight Company branding at Nine Line Apparel, the scheme would honor the Tuskegee Airmen. The grey car with red nose and rear resembled the “Red Tails” fighter planes the African-American pilots flew during World War II. This scheme - along with the #32 Freedom Hard Ford of Corey LaJoie – was designed by combat veteran and Go FAS Racing team artist David Marrero. Marrero admitted he got goosebumps when he saw the finished product for the first time.

At Charlotte, McLeod was one of four drivers who didn’t participate in opening practice, but was fastest of the three Ware cars in qualifying with the 19th-best time of 175.319mph (30.801 seconds). Joining him were teammates Bayley Currey, 20th in an unsponsored #52 Chevrolet, and Cody Ware, 21st in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet.

Starting 24th and last was Joey Gase, the only driver who didn’t turn a lap in qualifying. Gase ran the same #46 Toyota he ran in second Motorsports Business Management team’s debut at Kasnas, but this time with added decals resembling the #66 that Gase drove in Las Vegas and Fontana. Over the radio during the pace laps, the MBM team told Gase “Alright, Joey, thanks for having patience . . .let's go have some fun out there, man,” then said they would be easily able to make it all 50 laps of the race on fuel.

With one lap to the green flag, two Jay Robinson-prepared cars voluntarily fell behind Gase. One was 18th-place qualifier Ross Chastain in Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet. The other was 23rd-place starter Quin Houff in Spire Motorsports’ unsponsored #77 Chevrolet. Houff lined up on the inside of Chastain, who radioed to his crew that “Water temperature's already at 190. Aero duct has it climbing higher than usual."

On the break, Chastain’s overheating car took last from the outside lane and started to lose touch with the pack. Coming off Turns 1 and 2, the #15 was already 3.2 seconds back of the lead with open track in front. On Lap 4, Chastain caught Gase and made the pass on the inside of Turn 4, dropping the #46 back to last. Chastain then made quick work of Houff, who Gase started tracking from about one corner back. By Lap 14, Gase reported his car was shoving the nose bad, and the crew alerted him to the fast-closing leaders. On Lap 15, leader Daniel Hemric got under Gase in Turns 1 and 2, putting the #46 the first car one lap down.

Two circuits later on Lap 17, Gase reported he was fuel pressure, the gauge reading it was down to 30 pounds. He said they had the same issue the day before with the pressure fluctuating, which may have accounted for their lack of a qualifying attempt. But before Gase could come down pit road, trouble broke out in Turn 2. McLeod was running a few cars ahead when the engine let go in a tremendous plume of smoke. He managed to steer the #53 to the apron and stop halfway down the backstretch before climbing out, done for the day. Nine laps of caution were needed to clean up fluid on the track as the #53 was pushed behind the wall near the Roval chicane and into the garage area.

Under the same yellow, 8th-place starter Chris Buescher saw his strong run come undone when the rear track bar came apart, forcing his #37 Kroger – Your Personal Pit Stop Chevrolet out of the race. Gase’s radio broke in with “We’ve got something big going on – let’s bring it in.” Like Buescher, Gase pulled down pit road before it was open, but the penalty was negated when he went into the garage. The team tried for several laps to figure out the issue and run some more laps, bringing out their computer to look over the readings. But on Lap 31, the #46 team called it a day and had the pit box broken down. The team continued to look over the car for several laps after, wanting to make sure the same issue didn’t bite them in the 600. Carl Long and team paid special attention to both the ECU and the fuel cell, and also believed it could be a collapsed line since the pressure fluctuations grew worse the longer the car was running.

William Byron was credited with 21st when he nudged past Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson at the end of Stage 1 to transfer his #24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevrolet into the All-Star Race. Chastain finished 20th, citing engine issues perhaps stemming from his overheating issue at the start.

Next week, McLeod’s #53 will be among the entrants for the Coca-Cola 600. The entry is the first for the car number in a Cup race since April 30, 1995, when Ritchie Petty missed the field for the Winston Select 500 at Talladega. If the car starts, it will be the number’s first green flag in a points race since Petty’s 41st-place finish in the Pepsi 400 on July 2, 1994.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car No. 53 in the Open race.

24) #53-B.J. McLeod / 15 laps / engine
23) #37-Chris Buescher / 16 laps / suspension
22) #46-Joey Gase / 21 laps / engine
21) #24-William Byron / 27 laps / won stage 1
20) #15-Ross Chastain / 35 laps / engine

TRUCKS: Joe Nemechek tied for seventh in Truck Series last-place rankings after Charlotte

Joe Nemechek picked up the 7th last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #87 ROMCO / TMS Titanium Chevrolet fell out with rear gear issues after 19 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Nemechek’s 62nd series start, was his second of the season and first since Atlanta, six races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 9th for the #87, the 11th from rear gear trouble, and the 372nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #87, the 41st from rear gear issues, and the 1,659th for Chevrolet.

Friday’s result not only gave Nemechek the early lead in defending his LASTCAR Truck Series Championship, but also moved him into a tie with Mike Harmon for the sixth-most last-place finishes in Truck Series history.

Coming into Charlotte, the veteran Nemechek had started all but two Truck Series races in 2019, skipping Las Vegas and withdrawing from a stacked entry list at Martinsville. In four of those remaining five starts, Nemechek drove his NEMCO Motorsports team’s flagship #8 Chevrolet which his son John Hunter drove for most of last season. Paired with limited backing from companies like ROMCO Equipment Company, TMS Titanium, and Acme Markets, Nemechek followed-up his last-place run at Atlanta with a 25th in Atlanta, a 26th in Dover, and 24th in Kansas. He’d yet to finish a race under power all season.

At Charlotte, Nemechek slid over to his second truck, the #87 Chevrolet, which he piloted to his season-best finish of 16th in Daytona. Driving duties in the unsponsored #8 Chevrolet would fall to Monster Jam competitor Camden Murphy, who eyed his first Truck Series start of the season.

Despite the withdrawals of Beaver Motorsports’ #1 Toyota with Bayley Currey and fellow owner-driver Norm Benning in the #6 H&H Transport Chevrolet, 36 trucks remained to attempt the Charlotte race, meaning four would miss the show. Nemechek found speed early in practice, turning just five laps – second-fewest of the session - and jumping to 5th on the speed charts. He followed this up with 19th in Happy Hour, and as the first qualifier, took 24th with a lap of 175.234mph (30.816 seconds). Murphy lined up two spots back in 26th.

Sent home after qualifying were Timothy Peters in the return of Ricky Benton’s #92 Black’s Tire Service Ford; Trey Hutchins in his new owner-driver operation, the #14 Heintz Performance Chevrolet; Josh Bilicki in Josh Reaume’s second truck, the #34 Chevrolet; and Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 Osage Contractors Chevrolet. For Cobb, it was just her second DNQ of the season and first since Daytona.

Starting 32nd and last was Josh Reaume, who picked up sponsorship from Hertz Kompressoren and P&B Compressor on his #33 Chevrolet. With Bilicki unable to qualify his team truck, Reaume looked for a good showing. He was joined at the rear by two trucks sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: 29th-place starter Austin Wayne Self in the #22 Go Texan / AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet, and 30th-place Spencer Boyd in the #20 1A Auto Chevrolet. Boyd’s truck, fielded by Randy Young, carried a large hood decal honoring the life of longtime Truck Series owner Mike Mittler, who passed away last week at age 67.

At the start, the tail end of the field uncoiled quickly with at least two trucks trailing the pack at the end of the first lap. Among them were both NEMCO trucks with Nemechek back in 30th and Murphy in 32nd. First to challenge for the spot was Natalie Decker, who after starting 21st in the #54 N29 Technologies Toyota continued her difficult rookie season when she slapped the wall in Turn 4 after four laps. As Decker lost a lap under green, Nemechek moved up to 28th, then 27th by Lap 8. Decker returned to the track on Lap 9, four laps down, but continued to struggle with speed. On Lap 27, Decker was five laps down, and leader Kyle Busch was putting tail-end cars a lap down, starting with Reaume.

Nemechek pulls into pit road under green before parking.
Then on Lap 20 and with 10 to go in Stage 1, Nemechek, now a lap down in 30th, slowed in Turn 4 and came down pit road before pulling into the garage area. Decker climbed past Nemechek five laps later, but only made it a few more before her crash damage eliminated her under green, leaving her 31st. Murphy followed Nemechek to the garage shortly after the start of Stage 2, taking 30th. The 29th spot fell to owner-driver Codie Rohrbaugh, whose #9 Grant County Mulch Chevrolet slapped the Turn 2 wall on Lap 72, drawing the fourth caution of the night. Reaume rounded out the group, still under power but a full 36 laps down to winner Kyle Busch. Friday marked Busch’s final Truck start of the season, during which he’d won all five of his entered events. Murphy and Rohrbaugh earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019.

Finishing a close 2nd to Busch was one Brennan Poole in the return of Steven Lane’s On Point Motorsports. Poole struggled the last two weeks, qualifying in the Top 10 at Dover only to slap the wall on the first lap, then withdrawing from last week’s race in Kansas. With new sponsorship from Madvapes on his #30 Toyota, Poole worked his way into the Top 10 from the 17th starting spot and, running 5th when Brett Moffitt’s tire carcass drew the caution, restarted 4th. Poole jumped to 2nd on the backstretch, worked to Busch’s inside and nearly drew alongside before Busch walked away. It was Poole’s best series finish.

Chad Finley restarted 8th for the final four-lap restart, but found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when 6th-place restarter Johnny Sauter stalled in front of him, dropping Finley’s #42 / Air Lift Chevrolet to a disappointing 18th-place finish. Finley had been in position to earn his first Top Ten since Gateway last summer, when he ran a strong 6th in his return to the series.

Cory Roper made his return to Truck Series competition for the first time since scaling back to a part-time effort following their withdrawal at Dover. As in many of his previous starts, his #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford turned in a sterling qualifying effort, lining up 7th on the starting grid. But a slow start dropped him back through the field and he ultimately finished 20th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Joe Nemechek and the #87 in a Truck Series race at Charlotte. It’s also the first time a Truck Series last-placer finished last due to rear gear issues.

32) #87-Joe Nemechek / 19 laps / rear gear
31) #54-Natalie Decker / 32 laps / crash
30) #8-Camden Murphy / 40 laps / suspension
29) #9-Codie Rohrbaugh / 72 laps / crash
28) #33-Josh Reaume / 98 laps / running

1st) NEMCO Motorsports (2)
2nd) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Toyota (1)