Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Richmond

PHOTO: @XFINITYRacing
CUP SERIES
Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

For the seventh time in 2017 and the second race in a row, there will be a short field this Sunday.  And for the second time this year (joining Martinsville, three rounds ago), it will be a season-low 38 cars taking the green flag.  This marks the shortest starting field for a Cup race at Richmond since September 9, 1995, when 38 took the green in the Miller Genuine Draft 400.

Missing this week are both Derrike Cope and the #55 Premium Motorsports entry.  Cope, who finished 34th in that 1995 race, steered clear of danger Monday at Bristol and finished a season-best 31st.  It was his best finish since May 15, 2004, when he ran 29th at Richmond for Arnold Motorsports.  As at Bristol prior to Monday, Cope has not run at Richmond since 2006, when he finished last for Raynard McGlynn.

Cope’s teammate Reed Sorenson in Premium’s #15 Chevrolet, Timmy Hill in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, and Cole Whitt in TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet, are the three teams which do not have sponsors listed for this weekend’s race.

Like Cope, Sorenson enjoyed his best run of 2017 at Bristol, finishing 28th, and Whitt flirted with his first Top 20 finish since Atlanta before settling for 21st, matching his standout performance at Martinsville.  It was TriStar’s best Cup finish at Bristol since March 31, 1996, when the late Dick Trickle came home 8th driving the #19 HealthSource Ford during the Food City 500.  Hill ended up 37th when suspension issues left them more than 50 laps behind in the garage before they called it a day.  Hill’s best Richmond finish was also his only Cup start at the track, a 34th for Go FAS Racing in the spring of 2013.

Speaking of Go FAS Racing, kudos to Matt DiBenedetto, who finished a strong 19th at Bristol.  Shades of his breakthrough Top 10 in the same race in 2016, DiBenedetto’s run was his second-best of the year and his first Top 20 finish since coming home 9th in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Jeffrey Earnhardt finished 27th at Bristol, the best run for both driver and team at the track, and just one spot shy of matching Earnhardt’s season-best 26th in the Daytona 500.  This week, Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group welcomes Towne Bank as sponsor of the #33 Chevrolet.  Earnhardt’s best Richmond finish in three starts was also a 27th, which came last September.

XFINITY SERIES
ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond

42 drivers are slated to attempt this Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, and barring another rain storm, the same number will arrive this weekend.

Back on the list after withdrawing at Bristol is Tommy Joe Martins and his #45 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet.  If he makes the show, it will be his first XFINITY start at Richmond since April 25, 2014, when he finished 36th in an unsponsored Dodge.  Missing this week is Obaika Racing and the #97 for Stephen Leicht, which made Bristol’s preliminary list before being withdrawn.  It’s still possible, however, that the team will be added late in the week as they have several times in the past.

Set to make his series debut is 19-year-old Kyle Benjamin, fresh off a K&N Pro Series East win earlier this month at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway.  Benjamin climbs aboard the high-powered Joe Gibbs Racing #20 which won the last two rounds with Erik Jones.  Race sponsor ToyotaCare will also back his entry.

Making his first XFINITY start of 2017 is Dylan Lupton, who made two series starts last year and four in the Cup Series.  Lupton climbs aboard JGL Racing’s “Young Guns” entry, the #24 Nut Up Toyota.  Lupton’s lone NASCAR start at Richmond came driving for BK Racing in last September’s Cup race, where he finished 25th – his only Cup finish inside the Top 30.  Matt Mills also returns for the first time since Phoenix this past March, again driving B.J. McLeod’s #8 Chevrolet in place of Jeff Green (who finished a season-best 25th at Bristol).

Driving for Precision Performance Motorsports, Quin Houff enjoyed a strong run in his XFINITY debut at Bristol, finishing on the lead lap in the 16th spot.  Driver and team are once again entered this weekend as Precision looks to make their first start at Richmond.  Fellow ARCA driver Josh Williams had a strong run as well, climbing aboard Mario Gosselin’s #90 BuckedUp Apparel Chevrolet and finishing 22nd.  Williams will not be racing this week as Truck Series driver Brandon Brown was already signed to drive the W.G. Speeks Chevrolet this Saturday.  Brown finished 23rd with the team earlier this year at Atlanta.

Also give a call to Motorsports Business Management, which had both its cars finish inside the Top 30 for the first time since Talladega in the spring of 2015, and for the first time ever since Carl Long took over the team from Derek White at the start of 2016.  What’s more, both Long and teammate Timmy Hill both drove Dodges, finishing 27th and 24th, respectively.  Both drivers – and Dodges – are again entered in Richmond, and along with B.J. McLeod’s #78, have not yet announced a primary sponsor.

Driving for TriStar Motorsports, J.J. Yeley finished 11th at Bristol, his best finish since he ran 10th last fall at Kansas.  Superior Essex will again sponsor his #14 at Richmond, where in this race last year he tied a track-best 12th set in 2007 with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.

Bristol marked Morgan Shepherd’s first XFINITY Series start since Phoenix in March, and he’s again entered this Saturday.  Fellow owner-driver Mike Harmon is there as well in the #74 Veterans Motorsports Dodge, having picked up a season-best 30th, the last car to finish under power.

TRUCK SERIES
Next Race: May 12, 2017
Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas

Monday, April 24, 2017

CUP: Chris Buescher’s rough Bristol weekend results in two wrecked cars

PHOTO: @spencertitans
Chris Buescher picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Monday’s Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #37 Bush’s Beans / Scott Products / Kingsford Chevrolet was eliminated in a two-car accident after 53 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Buescher’s 50th series start, was his first of the season and his first in a Cup race since last July at Daytona, 27 races ago.

Buescher’s only other last-place finish came less than a month before his breakthrough win at Pocono, where he was leading when a fogbank cut the race short at 138 of 160 laps.  A thrilling five-race battle ensued where Buescher looked to stay inside the Top 30 in driver points to maintain his place in the Chase.  His most serious challenger was David Ragan and the #23 BK Racing entry.  With just 36 laps to go in the cutoff race at Richmond, both Ragan and Buescher found themselves in the middle of a multi-car pileup.  Ragan wrecked out while Buescher went on to finish 24th, locking him into the Chase.  While Buescher was eliminated in the first round, it was a stellar rookie season and another impressive accomplishment by Front Row Motorsports.

This season, Buescher debuts a second team for JTG-Daugherty Racing, his #37 fielded alongside the #47 of A.J. Allmendinger.  The deal came about after Roush-Fenway Racing leased JTG the Charter belonging to Greg Biffle and the now-defunct #16 team.  Buescher’s Chase berth secured him a spot in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, where he came home a strong 9th of 17 cars, and his best run of the season came at Martinsville, where he ran 11th.  Bristol looked to be a chance for another strong run, as a 5th-place run there last August helped pave the way for his spot in the 2016 playoffs.

Unfortunately, the weekend began with frustration.  Qualifying on Friday was rained out, leaving him 27th on the grid based on Owner Points.  He ran just 25th of the 39 entrants in opening practice, 19th in the second, and in Happy Hour, lost control off Turn 4, damaging the right-rear of his car.  22nd on the charts at the end of that session, Buescher’s team elected to roll out the backup, meaning that he would have to start at the tail end of Sunday’s 39-car field.  To make it up to his crew, Buescher bought a pair of large chocolate chip cookies with “My Bad 37” written in blue-and-white frosting.

The persistent rains which pushed the 500-lap race to Monday morning caught many campers in gathering floodwaters.  Buescher, still at the track late Sunday night, went out with a friend to help campers move their mobile homes to safety.  He posted pictures of RVs to Twitter to help alert their owners.  “We didn’t get recognized to the very end,” said Buescher, “incognito.”

On Monday morning, Buescher lined up at the tail end of the field.  Moving up one spot as a result was 39th-place starter Derrike Cope, who was making his first Bristol start since 2006.  Both Cope and Premium Motorsports teammate Reed Sorenson carried sponsorship from the Low T Centers, which joined the program two weeks ago on Cope’s #55.

By the end of the first lap, Buescher had dropped Cope to last, and on Lap 2, was running the high lane, six seconds behind the leaders.  By Lap 4, Cope had passed Timmy Hill, whose Rick Ware Racing-prepared #51 Chevrolet carried new sponsorship from SleepFresh Mattresses.  On Lap 9, Hill caught Cope in another challenge for position, but on Lap 13, race leader Kyle Larson sped by them both to put them a lap down.  On the 26th circuit, Hill and team discussed a potential problem with the engine, though little more was said about it under green.  On Lap 30, Hill went down a second lap, then a fourth the 46th time by.  Hill was still last when the first caution flew.

That moment came on Lap 56, when Kurt Busch’s #41 Haas Automation / Monster Energy Ford slid into Trevor Bayne’s #6 AdvoCare Ford off Turn 2, sending Busch sliding into the inside wall.  As the field slowed behind them, Buescher, who had passed more cars than anyone else to that point, rear ended the slowing #15 of Reed Sorenson.  Sorenson managed to keep going and, in fact, picked up a season-best 28th.  Buescher, however, trailed oil over some distance of the track before stopping on the apron.  As #37 was towed to the garage, Buescher was done for the day, and a five-minute red flag was needed to clean up all the oil.

Buescher officially took last from Timmy Hill on Lap 57.  Hill himself fell out with suspension issues after 234 laps, leaving him 37th.  Between Hill and Buescher was 38th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whose #88 Nationwide Insurance Chevrolet crashed hard when he slipped in more oil on a Lap 218 restart.  36th went to Danica Patrick, whose #10 Mobil 1Annual Protection Ford was damaged in an earlier incident, then eliminated after tangling with David Ragan on Lap 325.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Kyle Busch, who hit the wall on Lap 210, then raced his way back into the Top 10 only to crash even harder on Lap 384.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for #37 in a Cup Series race since November 9, 2014, when Mike Bliss’ Accell Construction Chevrolet fell out with brake trouble after 16 laps of the Quiken Loans Race For Heroes 500 at Phoenix.  The number hadn’t finished last at Bristol since August 23 of the same year, when Dave Blaney’s turn in the Tommy Baldwin-prepared Accell Construction machine ended after 37 laps with overheating issues.

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (3)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (2)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Jordan Anderson sets second-longest last-place streak in NASCAR history

PHOTO: @j66anderson
Jordan Anderson picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after he completed 13 of 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Anderson’s 12th series start, was his fifth of the season and fifth in a row, the second-longest last-place streak in NASCAR history.  The record is eight, set by all-time last-place leader Jeff Green in the summer of 2015.

Anderson, back in RSS Racing’s “start-and-park” entry, was originally one of 42 drivers who would attempt to qualify, but the very real threat of rain forced two withdrawals.  First on April 19 was Tommy Joe Martins, who was set to make his first XFINITY start of the year in his self-prepared #45 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet, and thus did not have a guaranteed spot in the field.  Next on April 21 was Obaika Racing, which again only entered the #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet for Stephen Leicht.  Reports indicate that the Obaika team arrived late to the track – minutes before practice – and was not allowed to pull into the infield.

In the weekend’s lone practice session on Friday, Anderson timed in 38th of the remaining 40, having turned just 12 laps, third fewest behind B.J. McLeod (6), Carl Long (8).  The washed-out qualifying session secured him the 39th spot in the 40-car field, one position ahead of Mike Harmon’s #74 Somerset Hardwood Flooring Dodge.  Prior to the start, both were joined by four drivers sent to the back: Roush-Fenway Racing teammates Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Ryan Reed for inspection penalties, Dakoda Armstrong’s #28 WinField United Toyota for unapproved adjustments, and Joey Gase’s #52 The Racing Warehouse Chevrolet for a tire change.

By Lap 14, Anderson was behind the wall, securing the last-place finish.  Two laps later came Morgan Shepherd, back in the race for the first time since Phoenix, his #89 Racing With Jesus / King’s Tire Chevrolet out with overheating as the listed cause.  38th went to Ryan Reed, who while climbing his way from the back pounded the Turn 2 wall on Lap 81, ripping the right-front tire from his #16 Lily Diabetes / ADA Drive to Stop Diabetes Ford.  37th was where Ray Black, Jr. finished in his #07 ScubaLife / HBOT Chevrolet following two accidents.  The second accident, which came off Turn 4 on Lap 221, also eliminated 36th-place David Starr – the Daytona last-placer – when B.J. McLeod’s #99 Double D Meat Co. / Striping Technology Chevrolet clipped the nose of Black’s stopped car.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for both Anderson and the #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Bristol.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #93-Jordan Anderson / 13 laps / electrical
39) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 15 laps / overheating
38) #16-Ryan Reed / 79 laps / crash
37) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 213 laps / crash
36) #99-David Starr / 227 laps / crash

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (5)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Kaulig Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (7)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, April 20, 2017

5/21/83: Mike Potter and family share deep ties with NASCAR and native Tennessee

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On May 21, 1983, Mike Potter picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Valleydale 500 at the Bristol International Speedway when his #76 Larry’s Nightclub Buick fell out with rear end trouble after 50 of 500 laps.  The finish came in Potter’s 16th career start.

Born in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1949, Mike Potter was a second-generation racer whose roots go back to NASCAR’s inception.  His father Jess Potter was arrested for bootlegging, impressed into becoming a mechanic for the U.S. Army, and returned home to start his own NASCAR team.  Potter Racing began in 1954, competing in NASCAR’s modified division with fellow Johnson City native Brownie King behind the wheel.  On December 2, 1956, Jess and King moved to what is today the Cup Series, finishing 11th in their series debut at Concord (North Carolina) Speedway.

For the next eight seasons, Jess Potter entered cars in 298 Cup races.  Among those who joined Brownie King on the list of drivers were U.S. Army Sergeant George Green, who was stationed in Germany when he wasn’t racing; Ken Hunley, who adopted an alias (perhaps Bob Hundley) to make sure his health insurance provider wouldn’t cut his coverage over his racing career; and in 1960 a 19-year-old speedster named Buddy Baker.  The notoriously aggressive Baker was so hard on equipment that Jess Potter would use the winnings from his teammate, Paul Lewis, to rebuild the #1 Chevrolet.  The rising costs forced the two to part ways after just seven races.  Even so, Baker was forever grateful for the opportunity.

“Buddy told me if it wasn’t for my daddy he never would have had a racing career,” said Mike Potter years later. “He said Buck couldn’t afford him and those races he ran for Daddy got him noticed.”

Jess Potter’s cars never won a race.  George Green picked up the team’s best finish at Jacksonville (North Carolina) Speedway on June 30, 1957, the #33 Chevrolet coming home 4th behind Buck Baker, Jim Paschal, and Tiny Lund.  To supplement the team’s income, Jess worked a full-time job at the Rainbow Bakery, and on weekends was so tired driving back to Tennessee that every five minutes, he and Brownie King would switch off driving the hauler.  By 1965, Jess handed over his team to owner-driver E.J. Trivette, who would go on to have one of the best seasons of his 13-year career.

Mike Potter’s own start in NASCAR followed a similar path to his father.  He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years, including a tour in Vietnam in 1967.  In 1971, during his first race at the Sportsman Speedway, he walked away from a terrifying wreck where he flipped his car five times.  He operated his own tow truck business during the week, during which time he rescued a man named Charlie McKay.  In 1979, when Mike Potter eyed a move to Winston Cup, McKay built his cars and served as crew chief.  Mike’s brother Gary, who had a brief XFINITY Series career and later worked for Hendrick Motorsports, was the team’s mechanic.

Like his father, Mike Potter fielded his own cars, but unlike him, would drive as well.  The first start for his #76 Miller Chevrolet came April 1, 1979 at his home track in Bristol.  That same day, when Dale Earnhardt went on to the first of his 76 career victories, Potter finished a respectable 16th.  Two years later, when he drove for Roger Hamby, Potter improved on that finish at the Nashville Fairgrounds, where he ran 15th.

In 1983, Potter returned to his own team for his first attempt to make the Daytona 500.  His #76 Cam Farm Oldsmobile missed the race, finishing 33rd of 35 starters in Race #1 of the UNO Twin 125-Mile Qualifiers, then 7th of 14 in the Consolation Race.  His next attempt would again come at Bristol, which that year was held on a rainy Saturday in May.  Potter qualified 27th in the 28-car field in a car sponsored by Larry’s Nightclub, a club based back in Johnson City.  Starting last was Rick Newsom, who was driving an unsponsored #02 Buick owned by Bud Reeder.  This was the same Reeder was the listed owner of the same #02 when a young Mark Martin made his Cup debut at North Wilkesboro.

Just four cautions slowed the day’s action for 22 laps, resulting in a race less than three hours long.  Potter’s early mechanical troubles left him as the only retiree for more than half the event.  The next three retirees had all started inside the Top 10.  27th-place finisher Harry Gant started 4th in his #33 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet, but also broke the rear end after 317 laps.  Next was 3rd-place starter Ricky Rudd, out with engine trouble on Richard Childress’ #3 Piedmont Airlines Chevrolet.  Fifteen days later, Rudd would score his first Cup victory at Riverside.  25th went to Geoffrey Bodine, whose #88 Gatorade Pontiac - now fielded by Cliff Stewart in place of DiGard – was the last car to finish under power, 103 laps down.  53 laps ahead of him in the 24th spot was J.D. McDuffie, who was looking for sponsorship on his #70 McDuffie Racing Pontiac.

Potter made another 10 races in 1983, making the move to Bud Reeder’s #02 for the final part of the schedule.  In the years ahead, he would continue to run on a part-time basis, driving for various single-car operations belonging to team owners Jimmy Walker, Elmo Langley, Corey Fillip, O.C. Welch, Bobby Wawak, Thee Dixon, Buddy Arrington, Henley Gray, and himself.  It wasn’t until 1992 that he ran as many races as the ’83 season.  That year, he drove the #77 Kenova Construction Chevrolets and Buicks owned by Steve Balogh, attempting 18 races and making 11, including his first-ever Daytona 500, where he came home 30th.

Potter’s 60th and final Cup start was the 1993 TranSouth 500 at Darlington on March 28, 1993, where he drove a second Jimmy Means-prepared #53 Hurley Limo Ford to a 38th-place finish in the 39 car field, out with handling issues.  Curiously, that same race saw the final starts in a Cup points race for Alan Kulwicki (finished 6th), James Hylton (34th), and Norm Benning (39th and last).  But this was not the end of Potter’s racing career.

In 1999, Potter looked to compete in ARCA, attempting both races at Pocono.  After back-to-back DNQs, he finally broke through in 2000 and finished 37th.  In 2001, he made his first start in what is today the NASCAR XFINITY Series since the inaugural season in 1982, driving for Jimmy Means Racing at IRP for a 41st-place finish.  In 2003, now 53 years old, Potter ran 11 more XFINITY races for Means as well as a one-off in the X-1R Pro Cup Series, finishing 16th in the latter.  As recently as June 28, 2008, Potter has taken the green flag in XFINITY, and that day at Loudon ran 29th for Johnny Davis’ prolific JD Motorsports.

All the while, Potter has continued to get the absolute most out of his equipment.  “The car I drove in the Daytona 500 in 1992, the frame and chassis was built in 1983.”  Incredibly, the very same car may have also been his ride ARCA, X-1R, and even the Super Cup Stock Car Series in 2014.  “The veteran driver brings a car with a good amount of history,” read an article on the division’s homepage.  “The number 14 Chevrolet sponsored by Surplus Brokers and Wrench Rags was originally a Cup car he competed with in the early 1990s, was later converted to an ARCA and Pro Cup car, and now is able to run with Super Cup.”

While his Cup career was brief, Mike Potter’s passion for racing remains.  “My dad never had any money when he was racing, and I guess like father like son,” Potter said. “I never had any money either and I ran 60 Winston Cup races. I guess I got my Daddy’s determination.”

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the seventh last-place finish for #76 in a Cup Series race, and the first since October 29, 1967, when Earl Brooks’ 1966 Ford crashed after 15 laps of the American 500 at Rockingham.  As of this writing, the #76 has not finished last in a Cup race since.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
28) #76-Mike Potter / 50 laps / rear end
27) #33-Harry Gant / 317 laps / rear end
26) #3-Ricky Rudd / 393 laps / engine
25) #88-Geoffrey Bodine / 397 laps / running
24) #70-J.D. McDuffie / 450 laps / running

SOURCES
*Bobo, Jeff. “Moonshine sparked 50 years in NASCAR for Potter family,” Times News (Kingsport, Tennessee), August 20, 2007.
*Racing-Reference.info
*“Super Cup Continues Ties to Stock Car Racing’s Roots While Looking Ahead to Next Series Race at CNB Bank Raceway Park,” SuperCupStockCarSeries.com, June 23, 2014.