Sunday, November 18, 2018

CUP: Regan Smith misses the start and scores first last-place finish, securing LASTCAR Cup Series title for Corey LaJoie

PHOTO: NASCAR
Regan Smith picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #95 Dumont Jets Chevrolet finished under power with 240 of 267 laps complete.

The finish came in Smith’s 224th series start. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 16th for car #95, the 36th where the driver finished under power, and the 756th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 25th for the #95, the 46th time the car was still running, and the 1,640th for Chevrolet.

While this is Regan Smith’s first LASTCAR article, he is no stranger to longtime readers. “Sleek and Swift, it’s Regan Smith” was the nickname adopted in my old starting grid videos when the driver from Cato, New York went full-time Cup racing in 2008. It was the culmination of a career that saw him climb the ranks across NASCAR’s top three ranks since 2002, when he made his Truck Series debut for Mike Mittler at South Boston. A full-time ride for Ed Rensi’s XFINITY team followed in 2006, followed by another for Bobby Ginn, which opened the door for his Cup debut at Bristol, sharing Mark Martin and Aric Almirola’s ride in the #01 U.S. Army Chevrolet.

But there was no shortage of challenges. Bobby Ginn abruptly left the sport midway through the 2007 season, and it was only a merger with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. that allowed the #01 to run at all in 2008. But the team still struggled for sponsorship, acquiring limited backing from the Principal Financial Group. All that seemed like it was going away at Talladega in November, when he was flagged the winner following a last-lap pass in the Amp Energy 500. But a yellow-line rule infraction dropped him to 18th in the final running order. Shortly after, DEI, along with several full-time Cup teams, were swept away by the recession.

It’s perhaps poetic that the race which would mark Smith’s first Cup Series last-place finish would also be the final one for Furniture Row Racing. It was Barney Visser’s single-car team that hired Smith to drive in 2009. At the time, the young team had just struggled to run their first full season with Joe Nemechek driving, and a rash of crashes secured them the 2008 LASTCAR Cup Series title. With Smith behind the wheel, Furniture Row debuted a new flat black paint scheme and would run a limited season – just 18 of the 36 races. A 12th at Daytona was their best run of the year. The pair went full-time again in 2010, then in 2011 came a breakthrough – a thrilling first victory for both driver and team in the Southern 500 at Darlington.

Late in the 2012 season, Smith and Furniture Row Racing went their separate ways. First Kurt Busch, then Martin Truex, Jr. would take the controls of the #78, ultimately steering them to the 2017 Cup Series Championship. Smith ended up in the XFINITY Series, where he won the 2012 finale at Homestead for JR Motorsports. Over the next three seasons, he’d finish no worse than 4th in points, picking up another five wins. He’d also become a familiar face at FOX Sports, both as a broadcaster and a pit reporter.

Other than a part-time ride with Phoenix Racing and a single season with Tommy Baldwin Racing, however, Smith’s Cup exposure has been as a relief driver. Right after his release from Furniture Row in 2012, he relieved Dale Earnhardt, Jr. following his concussion in a testing crash at Kansas. Two years later, he stepped in for Tony Stewart following his terrible leg injuries in a sprint car accident prior to Watkins Glen. He relieved Kurt Busch during an alleged domestic violence investigation in 2015, then for Kyle Larson after he fainted at Martinsville, and for Aric Almirola following his back injury at Kansas just last year. This past September, he’d fill this role again, this time for Kasey Kahne.

Kahne started this year looking to make a fresh start with Leavine Family Racing. However, other than a near-win in the crash-marred July race at Daytona, the veteran from Washington struggled to regain his competitiveness. He then announced on August 16 that he’d retire from full-time competition at the end of the year. Just a few weeks later in the Southern 500, Kahne was reportedly suffering from such extreme heat exhaustion that he couldn’t slow his heart rate enough to drink water. As Kahne recovered, at one point visiting his friend Ed Carpenter at Sonoma, he planned to return to the driver’s seat at Dover. Smith took over at Indianapolis, where he finished 20th. Dover came and went, and on October 9, following a test at Charlotte, Kahne announced the Darlington race had been his last. Smith would close out the year, a “Thanks Kasey” message on the TV panel.

Following Kahne’s announcement, Smith finished 10th at Talladega, his first top-ten finish since a 3rd in the fog-shortened Pocono race in 2016. In the four races leading into Homestead, he’d run no better than a 22nd, just last week at the ISM Raceway.

Smith’s sponsor for Homestead was Dumont Jets, which had unknowingly backed some well-timed throwback schemes celebrating Kahne’s career at both his final All-Star Race and his final start in Darlington. This particular paint scheme wasn’t one such throwback, but a standalone scheme the team had run at Kahne’s planned return race in Dover. Smith ran 28th in the opening practice and qualified 30th with a speed of 169.715mph (31.818 seconds). He then jumped to 21st in the second practice session and was 28th once more in Happy Hour. Smith would also have someone riding with him on Sunday. Bill Mares tweeted that his daughter Allison thought Smith could use a good-luck charm, so she gave the driver a Winnie the Pooh doll. The doll was strapped to the roll cage near the rear of the car.




Starting 40th and last on Sunday was Ross Chastain. The day before, Chastain made his final XFINITY Series start for Johnny Davis’ JD Motorsports team, one week after announcing his full-time effort with Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019. Chastain finished 16th in Davis’ #4 Florida Watermelon Association Chevrolet. Due to a lack of pre-race penalties, no drivers would join him at the back of the field prior to the start. As it turned out, neither would Smith.

During the pace laps, Smith was black-flagged for leaking oil around the track. Smith pulled down pit road as the start was delayed to spread a layer of stay-dri around the track. Unhappy with the situation, NASCAR officials called crew chief Jon Leonard to the hauler after the race. The Leavine Family crew looked under the right side of the car, then put the #95 on jackstands. Ultimately, they pushed the Chevrolet behind the wall, meaning they would have to miss the start. Much like Jimmie Johnson at Dover earlier this fall, a strange mechanical issue would cause Smith to miss the start. And, like Johnson, he would eventually rejoin the race. Smith was rolling again on Lap 25, and by the time he was up to speed, was 26 laps back.

Smith’s setback proved critical in the 2018 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship. Following Timmy Hill’s last-place run last Sunday at the ISM Raceway, Hill was in position to beat Corey LaJoie for the title, but only if his #66 Rewards.com Toyota finished last. Hill was shaken out of line early in the event, passed by Chastain through Turns 3 and 4 to drop him to 38th. The Motorsports Business Management team was also employing their in-house engine problem which gave the team so many problems in the first race they ran it, their last-place showing in Kansas. Hill had been warned to maintain minimum speed as he fell laps down to the leaders, but was still well ahead of Smith in that regard. LaJoie, running around the 33rd spot at the time, was still set to claim the title.


In the end, very little changed at the back of the pack as only debris cautions slowed the night’s action. Smith took the wave-around at each yellow, forcing him to make green-flag stops when the next caution didn’t come out. Though he would lose just one more lap and closed within 14 laps of both Hill and Tanner Berryhill, once again driving Victor Obaika’s #97 Brand South Africa Toyota, Smith would advance no further. On the final restart with 15 laps to go, Smith secured the last-place finish, handing the 2018 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship to LaJoie, who finished 34th. Berryhill and Hill finished 38th and 37th respectively, followed by another pair two laps ahead of them. In 36th was Kyle Weatherman in the neon-hued #99 International Marine / Native Boatworks Chevorlet. The 35th spot fell to B.J. McLeod in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Jacob Companies Ford.

The NASCAR Cup Series Championship fell to Joey Logano, the first of his career. The 2018 season also marked a last-place finish at Watkins Glen, his first in a Cup points race since the 2009 Daytona 500. Logano’s run that day – and his crash in the Budweiser Shootout the previous week – were the first LASTCAR articles posted on this site.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*While Smith never finished last in Cup prior to Sunday, he did have one last-place finish in NASCAR’s top three series – October 20, 2007, when he was involved in a crash driving Bobby Ginn’s #47 Ginn Resorts Chevrolet in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville.
*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #95 since March 9, 2014, when Michael McDowell’s turn in Leavine Family Racing’s #95 WRL General Contractors Ford completed 141 laps before engine trouble in the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas. The number had never before trailed a Cup race at Homestead.
*Smith joins Aric Almirola (2016) as the only two Cup Series last-place finishers to finish a race at Homestead while still under power.
*Smith is the sixth first-time Cup Series last-placer in 2018, but the first since July 29, 2018, when B.J. McLeod trailed at Pocono, 15 races ago.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #95-Regan Smith / 240 laps / running
38) #97-Tanner Berryhill / 254 laps / running
37) #66-Timmy Hill / 254 laps / running
36) #99-Kyle Weatherman / 256 laps / running
35) #51-B.J. McLeod / 256 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) TriStar Motorsports (5)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management, StarCom Racing (4)
3rd) Premium Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing (3)
4th) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Penske Racing (2)
5th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Leavine Family Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Toyota (9)
3rd) Ford (8)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP – FINAL

XFINITY: Despite efforts of McLeod crew, Vinnie Miller handed first career last-place finish

PHOTO: David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078
Vinnie Miller picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #78 JAS Expedited Trucking Chevrolet fell out with clutch problems after 10 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Miller’s 34th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 5th for car #78, the 8th for clutch issues, and the 519th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 33rd for the #78, the 64th from clutch issues, and the 1,639th for Chevrolet.

The 2018 season marked Miller’s first full season in NASCAR XFINITY Series competition. Miller began racing quarter midgets in his native Michigan when he was five, competed in Pure Stocks when he was thirteen, and was crowned 2012’s Rookie of the Year in the Sportsman division. He then jumped to Super Late Model competition in 2014, and in 2016 took his first checkered flat at the Franklin County Speedway. His next move was to stock cars, making a combined thirteen starts in 2017 between the K&N Pro Series East and ARCA Racing Series. His best finish between the two was at South Boston in K&N, where he followed Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland to a 3rd-place finish. He also made it to NASCAR that year, finishing 29th in his XFINITY Series debut at Chicagoland, then 7th for Jeff Bolen in the Truck Series round at Talladega.

Miller began this season with Johnny Davis, whose JD Motorsports team gave him his first XFINITY start. He took over the team’s #01 Chevrolet which, for much of last year, was driven by Harrison Rhodes. Miller again ran well at Talladega, finishing 17th in his first XFINITY race there, and matched that run with another 17th at Indianapolis. But with just four runs of 20th or better and seven DNFs, Miller and JD parted ways after Richmond in September. From the Roval onward, Miller has driven for B.J. McLeod in the #78 Chevrolet. His best run in that span was a 22nd at Kansas.

At Homestead, Miller was one of 45 drivers entered for 40 spots, meaning that five drivers would miss the show. He began the weekend 38th on the speed charts for the opening practice, didn’t turn a lap in Happy Hour, and relied on Owner Points to secure the 36th spot on the grid following his lap of 153.956mph (35.075 seconds). Stephen Leicht, one of Miller’s teammates at the McLeod team in the #99 Chevrolet, was second-fastest of those who missed the cut.

Fastest of the four drivers who joined Leicht on the early ride home was Josh Williams, driving DGM Racing’s second car, the #92 Sleep Well / StarTron Chevrolet. Both JP Motorsports cars also missed the race – Josh Bilicki in the #45 Prevagen Toyota and Bayley Currey in the #55 Rollin Smoke Barbecue / Touched by Pros Toyota. Tim Viens was denied his first XFINITY start since 2015 when he couldn’t get Mike Harmon’s #74 811fitness.com Chevrolet up to speed.

Morgan Shepherd missed the race, too, but his car didn’t. After JD Motorsports again prepared Shepherd’s #89 Visone RV Chevrolet, the veteran put Cup regular Landon Cassill behind the wheel. Cassill impressed in Round 1, securing the 24th best starting spot, then settling on the spot in Round 2. It was the best qualifying run for Shepherd’s #89 since April 30, 2016, when he qualified 23rd at Talladega.

Prior to the start of Saturday’s race, just one driver fell to the rear – Carl Long. Long swapped himself into the team’s “Zombie Dodge,” the last Dodge Challenger still running on the XFINITY Series circuit. Due to NASCAR’s current regulations with composite bodies, the Dodge would no longer be an eligible model for the XFINITY Series in 2019, making Homestead its final start. To make sure the car made this final race, he and Chad Finchum swapped car numbers, putting the #40 on the Dodge in place of last week’s #13. Long relied on those Owner Points to start 38th. His car carried a “thank you” message to Dodge on the hood and a “For Sale” sign on the sides. Unapproved adjustments dropped him to 40th for the start.

The McLeod crew pushes Miller's car behind the wall.
PHOTO: @EdLovesNASCAR
Long started the race with an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire on Lap 3, then was called in to serve a pass-through penalty on Lap 10 for speeding down pit road. He returned to competition in the 40th spot, a full seven laps down to the leaders. At the same time, Miller was beginning to have clutch problems on the #78. He was seen on camera returning to the track on Lap 12 from his own unscheduled pit stop, at which point he was four laps behind. Soon, after he returned to pit road, then was pushed behind the wall. Miller took last from Long on Lap 16, but wouldn’t officially claim it until much later. On Lap 36, the McLeod crew was still talking about going back out.

By then, Miller was just four laps behind 39th-place Jeff Green, the seven-time LASTCAR XFINITY Series Champion, in just the second start of the year for RSS Racing’s #37 Chevrolet. All three RSS Racing drivers had swapped rides to allow for a returning Angela Ruch, who drove the flagship #39. Green got the #37 into the show with the Past Champion’s Provisional, securing the last spot on the grid. Ruch was flagged twice for not meeting minimum speed, but managed to just climb past Green before she was parked. Green, Ruch, and J.J. Yeley’s RSS cars would take up three of the Bottom Five positions. The 38th spot would go to Landon Cassill, who was still running 27th in Shepherd’s #89 on Lap 15 before he pulled into the garage.

Miller remained in 40th – officially classified “off” the track rather than “out” – for more than half of the race. The McLeod crew had worked just as hard the previous week at the ISM Raceway, attending to an ignition issue on Lap 113. Seven laps later, Miller re-fired the engine in the closing laps, burning out of his pit stall on Lap 123 and returning to the track to finish 36th. But at Homestead, there would be no return. On Lap 111, the crew said the car’s “all torn apart” and likely wouldn’t make it back out on the track. It was an unfortunate turn of events, as five retired drivers were within 50 laps of the #78. On Lap 120, the #78 crew confirmed they were out of the race.

Carl Long made it to the finish in the “Zombie Dodge,” overcoming a minimum speed penalty on Lap 16 to finish 33rd. Long posted on Facebook that, after several offers from collectors and vintage racers, he plans to restore the Dodge and sell it at auction. Long’s team, Motorsports Business Management, looks to compete in both Cup and XFINITY next year with an increased commitment to running Toyotas.

The NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship went to Tyler Reddick, who doesn’t have a single last-place finish in 114 combined XFINITY and Truck Series starts.

For more on Vinnie Miller, check out his website here.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #78 in an XFINITY Series race since this past August 4 at Watkins Glen, when Tommy Joe Martins was eliminated in a single-car crash after 3 laps of the Zippo 200. The number had never before trailed an XFINITY Series race at Homestead.
*Miller is the first first-time last-placer in the XFINITY Homestead finale since November 17, 2012, when Dexter Stacey had engine issues on the opening lap. Curiously, Stacey was the final driver to finish 43rd before the fields were reduced to 40 starters. Miller was the last to run 40th due to next year's second reduction to 38.
*This race marked the first time since May 5, 2012 that an XFINITY Series last-place finisher fell out due to clutch trouble. That day saw Kevin Lepage, then driving for Jimmy Means Racing, fall out after just one lap at Talladega.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #78-Vinnie Miller / 10 laps / clutch
39) #37-Jeff Green / 14 laps / brakes
38) #89-Landon Cassill / 16 laps / suspension
37) #39-Angela Ruch / 36 laps / parked
36) #93-J.J. Yeley / 46 laps / rear gear

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) RSS Racing (15)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports (4)
3rd) JP Motorsports (3)
4th) JR Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
5th) Fury Race Cars LLC, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (25)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (4)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP – FINAL

TRUCKS: Camden Murphy’s late entry and driver swap result in an early exit at Homestead

PHOTO: Camden Murphy, @camdenmurphy
Camden Murphy picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #50 SobrietyNation Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 11 of 134 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Murphy’s 20th series start, was his first of the season and his first since June 2, 2017 at Dover, 40 races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 11th for truck #50, the 32nd for a vibration, and the 365th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 50th for the #50, the 210th from a vibration, and the 1,638th for Chevrolet.

Neither Murphy nor the Beaver Motorsports #50 team were slated to race in Friday’s season finale. Mark Beaver’s #50 Chevrolet last ran at Mosport in August and was then entered at Vegas, where they withdrew. In the time since, Beaver joined Mike Harmon in helping field the #15 Chevrolet, one of two trucks Premium Motorsports fielded alongside the #49. Like Beaver, Harmon had also scaled-back his Truck Series effort since his #74 last took the green at Mosport and then withdrew in Vegas. Around this time came news that Premium will close their four-year-old Truck Series effort at the end of 2018, leaving open a possibility that Beaver or Harmon could acquire the team’s assets for next season.

The cooperation between Beaver, Harmon, and Premium Motorsports appeared to take its next step last Wednesday, when the Beaver Motorsports #50 was entered with Mike Harmon driving. This grew the field from 31 entries to a full 32, averting the first short field in the series since Talladega last year (a 33rd entry, Niece Motorsports’ #38, would be added later with Ross Chastain as driver). This truck was essentially a third truck from Premium Motorsports’ shop, carrying the same white paint scheme, SobrietyNation sponsorship, and Premium team logo on the nose as the #49 Chevrolet. The only difference was Beaver’s #50 on the doors and roof.

As the teams arrived in Homestead, Camden Murphy was there, but not as a driver. Since his most recent Truck Series start at Pocono, Murphy had been entered at Bristol, Las Vegas, and Texas as driver of Jennifer Jo Cobb’s second Chevrolet, the #0, but was withdrawn each time. He’d since become the car chief for D.J. Copp’s #83 Chevrolet, which a week earlier at the ISM Raceway saw Dawson Cram finish a career-best 16th. Cram’s previous best was a 17th at Martinsville in the spring, when he too drove for Beaver Motorsports.

Last Wednesday, Copp intrigued many on Twitter when he posted a picture of Jeremy Mayfield standing next to the #83 in shop. Reports later came in that Mayfield’s status with NASCAR had not changed since his 2009 suspension since he had not completed the sport’s “Road to Recovery” program. Instead, Todd Peck would drive Copp’s truck at Homestead with Pulse Transport as sponsor. The result was disastrous – Peck wrecked on his warm-up lap in opening practice, forcing Copp’s team to withdraw. Thus, the remaining 32 entries would be guaranteed starting spots in the race.

Mike Harmon also didn’t complete a lap in opening practice, and Murphy was called in to help shake down the #50 truck for Beaver. Murphy took 30th in the second practice session, outpacing Reid Wilson in the Premium #15, and secured the 32nd and final spot in qualifying with a lap of 154.577mph (34.934 seconds). “They knew it needed some work,” said Murphy after Friday’s race. “She was definitely a hand full that’s for sure! Needless to say we had almost 2 inches of toe in. That was just one of our struggles we were overcoming.”

On Friday night, no drivers were sent to the back for pre-race penalties. Murphy remained at the back of the field, 4.591 seconds back at the green, then 7.262 back after Lap 1. Slipping to the rear was Joe Nemechek, who secured the 2018 LASTCAR Truck Series title last week in Phoenix, his #87 Fleetwing / D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet dropping back from 20th on the grid to 30th on the track.

On Lap 6, Murphy caught and passed Wilson’s #15 to take the 31st spot, and put 1.316 seconds on Wilson by the end of the seventh circuit. But Murphy’s truck was overheating, and he pulled onto pit road, then behind the wall with the truck spraying water. The team thanked Murphy for his help over the radio, mentioning that he was reeling in other drivers after he passed Wilson.

Nemechek pulled off the track nine laps later, securing the 31st spot. Wilson lost the engine after 80 circuits, leaving him 30th. The only other DNF of the night was Tanner Thorson, who lost the engine on Young’s Motorsports’ #20 Go Share Chevrolet after 120 circuits. Rounding out the group was Jennifer Jo Cobb, who finished six laps down to the leader in her #10 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet.

“Personally I have just been trying to find ways to get into the seat and start and parks have been the way lately,” said Murphy. “I’ve been fortunate enough to make the most of each of the opportunities and have created better ones, but unfortunately I do not have the sponsors and unlike most of the industry today, my family cannot support me financially. I have been on my own driving from track to track. Working [in] the shops, working on my stuff at the track, just to get opportunities to prove myself behind the wheel. Because I believe in myself and know what I can achieve behind the wheel.”

Shigeaki Hattori in 2005
PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
The race win and the championship went to underfunded Hattori Racing Enterprises and driver Brett Moffitt. The 2015 Cup Series Rookie of the Year landed the ride for the 2018 season, and scored his first of six victories this year in the second round of the season at Atlanta. With a small crew and a few loyal sponsors from overseas, Moffitt wasn’t sure if he was going to run the full season. But he developed a penchant for thrilling last-minute victories, capped by a late charge in the final three laps at the ISM Raceway that locked him into the Championship Four. And now former IndyCar driver Shigeaki Hattori, who finished last in one of his ten Truck Series starts as a driver in 2005, has his first championship as an owner.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
Jon Wood's wreck with Kelly Sutton in 2004
PHOTO: SPEED Channel
*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #50 since June 8, 2018, when Todd Peck’s run for Beaver Motorsports ended after 1 lap at Texas.
*The #50 had trailed a Truck Series race at Homestead just once before – November 19, 2004, when Jon Wood’s #50 roushracing.com Ford tangled with Kelly Sutton on Lap 2 of the Ford 200. Wood actually made it to pit road while Sutton did not, but without the “Crash Clock” in place, Sutton returned to the race and completed 19 more laps, moving up two spots to 34th.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #50-Camden Murphy / 11 laps / vibration
31) #87-Joe Nemechek / 20 laps / suspension
30) #15-Reid Wilson / 80 laps / engine
29) #20-Tanner Thorson / 120 laps / engine
28) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 124 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) MB Motorsports (6)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (4)
3rd) Copp Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports (3)
4th) Clay Greenfield Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Mike Harmon Racing, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, TJL Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (22)
2nd) Toyota (1)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL

Friday, November 16, 2018

New LASTCAR.info Merchandise Now Available!

UPDATE: The new LASTCAR.info Store can be found at this link.

I am pleased to announce the release of new “official” LASTCAR.info merchandise!
First, I am making available the same white FlexFit LASTCAR.info caps like the one I wear at the races. That hat proudly displays the LASTCAR.info logo in red. Also, for no additional charge, you can add up to two lines of custom text along with the logo. Add the name of your favorite last-place finisher, your favorite reason out, your Twitter handle – just about anything you like. All for just $40, including shipping to the U.S. (Cap orders are processed through Vistaprint.)




Second, LASTCAR.info bumper stickers are also available in two colors - red text on white - like the one on my computer - or white text on black - like on my daily driver. Both versions are available for $5 each or three for $10, which includes shipping to anywhere in the U.S. (Bumper sticker orders are processed through BuildASign).

ORDERING INFO

To order your caps and bumper stickers, you can complete payment by PayPal at my PayPal.me link: https://www.paypal.me/BrockBeard.

Check or money order also accepted at:

Brock Beard
3240 Lone Tree Way, Suite 101
Antioch, California 94509-5559

Be sure to include in your message which items you want. You can also e-mail me at brockbeard@gmail.com.

These new items are in addition to our existing store on RedBubble, featuring t-shirts with the LASTCAR.info logo. All profits (with the exception of those for #LAST100 gear, which goes to RSS Racing) will go to keeping LASTCAR.info going, and help us cover more races in 2019 and beyond.

Have a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season, and we’ll see you again for our tenth anniversary season next February!

INTERVIEWS: Victor Obaika and Tanner Berryhill return to NASCAR in a big way

Victor Obaika on race morning at ISM
PHOTOS: Brock Beard
In February 2015, Bixby, Oklahoma driver Tanner Berryhill was entering his fourth season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. His father Adrian founded Berryhill Estates, a company specializing in building custom luxury homes. Adrian formed Vision Racing, which by 2012 made the jump from ARCA to the XFINITY Series, and Tanner earned his NASCAR license to drive their #17 Dodges and Toyotas. National Cash Lenders backed most of the younger Berryhill’s starts along with companies like BWP Bats and Excel Therapy. Matt DiBenedetto became Berryhill’s teammate in a “start-and-park” #37, ultimately leading to a full-time effort for the #17 in 2014. That year, Berryhill earned a season-best 17th at Mid-Ohio, and ranked 22nd in driver points.

But in SpeedWeeks 2015, disaster struck during the controversial group qualifying session at Daytona. As time expired in Round 1, Berryhill was trailing a pack of nine cars entering the tri-oval. A slowing Carlos Contreras forced Daniel Suarez to move to the middle line, where he crossed the nose of Blake Koch’s Toyota, triggering a crash. Berryhill slowed and managed to pull to the high lane, avoiding two cars, but not a third. The contact damaged Vision Racing’s only car at the track, and ultimately forced the team to suspend operations. Berryhill made a pair of runs at Cup with Premium Motorsports, failing to qualify at Phoenix and running 22nd in the Sprint Showdown, before he returned to late model racing.

~

The same 2015 XFINITY opener marked the debut of a brand-new single-car team, Obaika Racing. African entrepreneur Victor Obaika, who had a law degree and companies founded in four different countries, started the team the previous December. The learning curve proved steep, as even his advisors were unsure where to start. “When I came in 2015, we bought assets – we just kind of collided assets together, which was the wrong thing to do,” said Obaika in an interview last week. “We should’ve just bought another team. But I guess my advisors at the time didn’t know what they were doing. So they collided assets together. That formed the bedrock of what we have, and I think in 2017 we bought out the assets of another team that was leaving XFINITY, so I added to that.”

Nevertheless, by SpeedWeeks 2015, Obaika Racing had a #97 Chevrolet ready in their Mooresville shop and signed current Truck Series owner-driver Josh Reaume to drive. Despite a complete lack of Owner Points on a list of 48 entrants for just 40 spots, Reaume advanced through the crash-marred Round 1 of qualifying and settled on the 24th starting spot for the Alert Today Florida 300. Reaume steered his machine to a 23rd-place finish, worth a much-needed $50,590. The team ended up qualifying for all but one race that season – Las Vegas – and Peyton Sellers gave Obaika a season-best run of 16th in their July return to Daytona.

“Honestly, it was a situation of too much time and money once upon a time, which racing has cured me of,” Obaika said with a laugh. “It wasn’t a reckless decision, but it was a more spontaneous one. But the thing with racing is that because it is a very serious discipline – not just the engineering, the technology, the people, the expense – you very quickly have to make a decision about what you are doing. So, while maybe I didn’t necessarily think it through, as soon as we got involved, it took on a life of its own.”

Obaika’s fascination with racing began in 2014, when he listened to a radio show about Formula One. He briefly considered starting a racing team in F1, whose closest race to the African continent was in Abu Dhabi. But beyond the expense, Obaika was turned-off by the culture of Grand Prix racing. “I just thought it was too elitist, while NASCAR was more ubiquitous,” he said. “When the guys win in Formula One, they’re popping champagne. When the guys win in NASCAR, they’re popping Gatorade and Coke. And that’s suited more to the demographics of my country and where I thought we would be.”

Through 2017, Obaika Racing had made 78 starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with 18 different drivers. Along the way, Obaika had formed Vroom! Brands, a company intended to bring others from outside the country into NASCAR. “It was meant to be a company built around NASCAR. NASCAR is quintessentially very itinerant – it moves from city to city, race to race. The people are traveling. So, the intent initially at the beginning was that since we were getting involved and were international, our desire was to bring in people from outside the country to participate in NASCAR. That was really why we set up Vroom! Brands. To bring more spectators, more people to the sport, and introduce them to it.”

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It wasn’t long ago that start-up teams like Obaika Racing were common in NASCAR. Entrepreneurs looking to give team ownership a try, bringing in new drivers, sponsors, and sometimes car manufacturers into the sport. Such was the case for Team Red Bull, the two-car operation Dietrich Mateschitz built from the ground up in 2007. The team’s brand-new Toyotas, sponsored almost entirely by the Austrian energy drink, brought open-wheel champion A.J. Allmendinger to NASCAR.

After five seasons and a pair of wins, one each with Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne, Red Bull and Mateschitz left at the end of the 2011 season. The team’s assets were then acquired by Burger King franchisee Ron Devine and his partners, who reincorporated the two-car effort as BK Racing. Though BK never visited victory lane and scored just three top-ten finishes in 520 combined starts over seven seasons, Devine helped launch the careers of several drivers still active full-time in the Cup Series, including Landon Cassill, Alex Bowman, and former Vision Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto.

As the ISM track opened on Friday, J.J. Yeley's #23 from Texas
in the final stages of becoming the Obaika #97.
When BK Racing arrived in Florida for this year’s Daytona 500, the car was flat white, the only entered machine without primary sponsorship. Gray Gaulding wasn’t even named the driver until later in the week. Persistent rumors of the team’s insolvency continued as the team had scaled back from three cars to two Chartered entries to just the one. Earthwater sponsored the car for what was reportedly little more than a barter arrangement for free product. Gaulding remained positive of the team’s prospects, but by May, the car was again without primary sponsorship.

Obaika watched the BK Racing saga with keen interest. His own XFINITY team had all but disappeared from NASCAR after they withdrew from the spring Bristol race in 2017. He had put Vroom! Brands on the back burner to try and stabilize his team. He understood what BK Racing was going through.

“I know that there are a lot of stories around about what BK did or did not do,” said Obaika, “but I have a lot of respect for what the gentleman put together, even though it didn’t turn out well. The equipment BK Racing had, relative to the position the teams were, was top-notch. That’s Red Bull equipment. Red Bull came in and spent a lot of money in the sport. It wasn’t just Ron Devine. And Ron Devine added to that…I have a lot of respect for that team. They operated under very difficult circumstances. They often get bashed a lot. I think they should get more credit. It’s very difficult to operate when you’re not certain what’s happening the next day, and they stayed the course.”

“My personal opinion – if they didn’t work through the winter and get to Daytona, there would’ve been no team to sell. So, those guys on BK Racing deserve a lot of credit, as in they don’t get the credit they deserve. That’s very unfair. It’s very easy for people to sit on their couches and write articles or post snide comments on social media, but that was their life, and they stayed the course. And I benefitted from it, Front Row benefitted from it. So, I have a lot of respect for the team members of BK Racing. It was not a walk in the park. It was very difficult.”

The August 2018 auction of BK Racing also presented an opportunity for Obaika Racing – a chance to reinvigorate his team by moving to the Monster Energy Cup Series.

J.J. Yeley's backup loaded on the Obaika hauler on Sunday.
“So, when we decided to go Cup racing, we looked around, checked around, and really the best opportunity was the BK Racing situation,” said Obaika, when asked about the auction. “So, we had to be deliberate about it and just calm down and go through the process. It took us six months, almost seven – I mean, we’ve been working this since February, and we came together at the end of August. So, we just had to bide our time, work through the trustee, work through the process, not get distracted. I mean, the temptation was there to take resources elsewhere and go XFINITY racing, or just buy what I could call haphazard Cup stuff, but fortunately we were able to stay the course, and I think we got what we needed. We got the assets to go Cup racing – everything from cars to pull-down rig, to truck and trailer – everything minus a Charter. So, we think we have a very very good opportunity, and we’re very happy with it.”

While Front Row Motorsports (FRM) acquired BK Racing’s Charter and most of its assets, fending off bids from GMS Racing, Obaika managed to acquire one of BK’s haulers and some of its cars. It was also revealed at the ISM Raceway that Front Row and Obaika continued to work together after the assets were distributed. At ISM, Obaika’s primary car was the BK/FRM #23 Maximum Elevation Off-Road Toyota that J.J. Yeley ran to a 36th-place finish at Texas the week before, still with a scratch on the passenger side. This car was itself a re-wrap of the #23 that Gray Gaulding ran for BK in this year’s Coca-Cola 600, the patriotic colors still visible. During our interview with Tanner Berryhill during the ISM weekend, BK’s #23 hauler unloaded its backup, the #23 Steakhouse Elite Toyota that Yeley drove earlier this year, and put it onto Obaika’s #97 hauler, likely a similar swap to make it Obaika’s Homestead car.

The ISM Raceway marked Obaika Racing’s third Cup attempt of 2018. The previous two came with XFINITY Series regular David Starr. After ending up the only driver who failed to qualify for the fall race at Talladega, Starr qualified at Texas. This time, he benefitted from the misfortune of Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management, which was forced to withdraw their #66 Rewards.com Toyota since they didn’t have a sealed engine on-hand. Starr finished 39th after several trips to the garage area. For the following week, Obaika picked Tanner Berryhill, giving the driver his long-awaited Cup debut.

Berryhill on the grid Sunday.
“We’re building some XFINITY cars to go and run some of that,” said Berryhill of the deal, “and then when the BK Racing deal went up for sale, team owner Victor (Obaika) was like ‘let’s go Cup racing.’ And I’m like ‘well, let’s do it, sure – why not?’ So, he called me up and said ‘hey, do you want to drive Phoenix’ And I said ‘yeah, sure.’”

Berryhill had been planning his return to NASCAR for nearly two years, and had been working with Obaika for much of that time. It was Berryhill who brought Obaika back to the XFINITY Series at the Roval in September, but ended up missing the cut when his brakes failed in qualifying. One phone call later, Berryhill was offered a ride to drive Yeley’s Texas car for Obaika at the ISM Raceway. Unlike in 2015, when Berryhill had failed to qualify for Premium Motorsports, his was only the 39th entry on the list, meaning he was guaranteed a starting spot. By Berryhill’s estimate, just eight or nine people worked for Obaika Racing, but the team would have their second Cup start.

At ISM, the #97 team made quick work rearranging the decals on Berryhill’s car. While the car numbers had already been updated, the Maximum Elevation stickers were still on the hood and quarter-panels, and had to be removed. Excel Therapy, which backed Berryhill’s XFINITY efforts, had rejoined the team and paid the Obaika effort’s tire bills. A small decal for Berryhill Estates was also added on either side. “We’re still getting worked out,” said Berryhill of the team’s plans. “Obviously, I’d love to race Homestead next weekend, the last race of the year. It just kind of depends how the day goes. I think if I do a good job, keep the car in one piece, he’ll be happy. And hopefully I’ll get another call.” Berryhill would get that call the following Wednesday.

In practice, Berryhill achieved some moderately impressive results in practice, outpacing both D.J. Kennington’s #7, Timmy Hill’s #66, and Cody Ware’s wrecked #51 in the first practice, then backing that up by qualifying ahead of all three to take 36th on the grid. He was again ahead of Hill in Saturday’s first session, then outpaced Hill and Ware’s backup car in Happy Hour.

On race day, Obaika was beaming. “To say that it’s been a lot of work would be an understatement,” he said. “It’s been more than I anticipated, but I think it’s been worthwhile. Just to see the progress we’ve made and the steps that we have been privileged to take. So, it’s been rough. But, where we stand this morning, it’s been worth it.”

The Obaika Racing #97 after Berryhill's late crash at ISM.
The race proved a more significant challenge as the championship cutoff race was marred by several tire failures. Berryhill slipped to last on Lap 11, was the first to be lapped three circuits later, and spun at the entrance to pit road on Lap 230. In the final laps, the ball joint in the right-front failed, sending Berryhill hard into the Turn 2 wall. As the driver was checked and released from the infield care center, the #97 was towed behind the wall, where crews took the jigsaws to the right-front fender. “Just being respectful to the leaders,” said Berryhill as the crew did their work. “That was our plan all day just to keep it in one piece and respect the leaders.”

Looking ahead, Obaika Racing will close out the 2018 season at Homestead, where Berryhill will again drive the #97 Toyota. According to Delana, in charge of Obaika Racing’s PR and social media, the team plans to run one Cup and one XFINITY car full-time in 2019. They’re also open to acquiring a Charter, she said, “if the price is right.”

“Obviously, I want to drive full-time,” said Berryhill, “and especially being in the Cup Series is unbelievable. So, that’s what I’m working toward right now.”