Thursday, February 20, 2020

PREVIEW: Full-time teams take center stage on Las Vegas entry lists

Joey Gase will recognize the Nevada Donor Network in XFINITY and Cup this weekend.
PHOTO: @RSS383993 and The Decal Source

Friday, February 21, 2020
TRUCKS Race 2 of 23
Strat 250 at Las Vegas
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Scott Stenzel

ENTRY LIST
There are 35 drivers entered for 32 spots, meaning three trucks will fail to qualify.

MISSING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Norm Benning is not entered in his #6 Chevrolet after he was the slowest driver to fail to qualify in Daytona.

MISSING: #8-NEMCO Motorsports
MISSING: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
As reported last week in Daytona, neither of the two NEMCO Motorsports entries are entered this week, just days after both trucks surprisingly failed to make Friday’s season opener.

RETURNING: #11-Rette Jones Racing
Spencer Davis returns driving the #11 Toyota with Hearn Industrial as sponsor. Davis made four Truck starts last year, three of them with Rette, including his season-best 8th-place run in Kentucky.

MISSING: #28-FDNY Racing
Jim Rosenblum’s team not entered after their truck was heavily damaged in a late wreck with Tate Fogleman.

DRIVER SWAP: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Josh Reaume moves from the #34, withdrawn last week after engine trouble, to his team’s primary #33. Into the #34 comes Josh Bilicki, who comes over from his XFINITY run last week in Daytona for B.J. McLeod. Bilicki seeks his first Truck Series start since last fall’s Homestead finale, where he ran 30th with electrical issues. No sponsor is yet listed for either truck.

DRIVER CHANGE: #49-CMI Motorsports
NEW TEAM: #83-CMI Motorsports
Ray Ciccarelli moves from his team’s primary #49, which failed to qualify in Daytona, to a new second team, the #83. A source indicated D.J. Copp is not a part of the #83 effort, one year after he most recently entered the former MB Motorsports team in a Truck Series race, but that Copp and Ciccarelli “will be working closely with one another at some point this year.” Taking Ciccarelli’s place in the primary #49 is Bayley Currey, who made three Truck starts last year, but none since Michigan in August. Both black Chevrolets are sponsored by Springrates – Currey’s #49 with white numbers while Ciccarelli’s #83 has yellow ones. UPDATE: On Thursday, Stefan Parsons was swapped into the #83 in place of Ray Ciccareli.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Kyle Busch returns to continue his undefeated streak in the series from last year, taking the place of Riley Herbst in the #51 Toyota. CESSNA returns as sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
After a career week in Daytona, Timmy Hill will this week drive his team’s #56, taking the place of Daytona starter Gus Dean, 26th in the opener. Hill will attempt triple-duty along with runs in XFINITY and Cup for Motorsports Business Management (see below).

MISSING: #68-Clay Greenfield Racing
Clay Greenfield is not entered after his Jeff Hammond-led team weren’t able to make the cut in Daytona.

MISSING: #96-Peck Motorsports
Todd Peck is likewise not entered after his Daytona DNQ.

MISSING: #97-Diverisifed Motorsports
Also missing is Jesse Little, who avoided several of the night’s accidents before he was collected in one on Lap 99, leaving him in 24th. Little remains in his full-time XFINITY Series ride for JD Motorsports this weekend, again driving car #4.

MISSING: #03-Mike Affarano Motorsports
Tim Viens, who made appearances at Daytona despite his truck withdrawing from the event, is not entered along with the Mike Affarano team.

CORRECTION: #04-Roper Racing
Cory Roper’s Carquest Auto Parts sponsor mentioned in last week’s article did not run on the truck at Daytona, and will instead debut as primary backer this Friday in Las Vegas.

CUP INVADERS: Kyle Busch

Saturday, February 22, 2020
XFINITY Race 2 of 33
Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Joey Gase

ENTRY LIST
There are exactly 36 drivers entered for as many spots, meaning no drivers will be sent home.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Daniel Hemric will make his first start of the season, taking the place of Jeb Burton, eliminated in a late wreck at Daytona that left him 23rd at the finish. This will be Hemric’s first start since he clinched Cup Series Rookie of the Year last fall at Homestead, driving the #8 Chevrolet now piloted by new rookie Tyler Reddick. South Point Hotel & Casino – of Brendan Gaughan fame - is the sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER SWAP: #61-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER SWAP: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Stephen Leicht, released from JD Motorsports for David Starr, makes his season debut in the #13. This bumps Chad Finchum from the #13 to the #66, and bumps Timmy Hill from the #66 to the #61, taking the place of Austin Hill, who isn’t entered.

MISSING: #16-Kaulig Racing
Matthew Kaulig’s part-time third team is not entered after the team’s disastrous afternoon in qualifying at Daytona. A.J. Allmendinger is likewise not entered in Saturday’s race.

MISSING: #25-ACG Motorsports
Chris Cockrum is not entered after his mid-race crash at Daytona.

MISSING: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Colin Garrett is not entered after his Toyota-backed Supra failed to make the cut at Daytona.

MISSING: #36-DGM Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #90-DGM Racing
Mario Gosselin’s #36 appears to have scaled back to a part-time effort as the car is not entered this week. Alex Labbe, who drove the #36 to a strong 10th-place finish, moves to the team’s #90, taking the place of Caesar Bacarella, who isn’t entered after a 29th-place finish.

MISSING: #38-RSS Racing
The entry Kaulig Racing bought to keep Ross Chastain in Saturday’s race is not entered this week, and Jeff Green will work behind the scenes for the Sieg team. The team has scaled back from “start-and-parking” in non-superspeedway races, and is expected to return at Talladega in April at the earliest.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
The preliminary entry list showed no driver listed for the #74 driven at Daytona by Mike Harmon, who scored a strong 16th-place finish behind teammate Joe Nemechek. Finlay Cadillac is the listed sponsor of the #74 Chevrolet.

RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Landon Cassill is back in his west coast swing driving for Morgan Shepherd. This is Cassill’s first NASCAR start since his final Cup run for StarCom Racing, and his first series start since his breakout performance last fall at Homestead, where tire money from longtime backers Dale & Sandra Dietrich culminated in a 15th-place finish. VisoneRV returns as sponsor once again.

DRIVER CHANGE: #93-RSS Racing
Joey Gase takes the place of C.J. McLaughlin, and brings with him sponsorship from his Sunday backer Nevada Donor Network. Interestingly, the rendering of the car showed the RSS Racing door and roof numbers replaced with a font style similar to that currently used by Rick Ware Racing. According to the press release, the scheme will be run in honor of the late Montana Amato, an organ donor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Mason Massey makes his XFINITY Series debut this week, one year after he made his first seven Truck Series starts for Reaume Brothers Racing with a best season finish of 17th at Pocono. Gerber Collision & Glass is the listed sponsor. Massey takes over for Josh Bilicki, who this week drives for the Reaume Brothers (see above).

CUP INVADERS: None

Sunday, February 23, 2020
CUP Race 2 of 36
Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Joey Gase

ENTRY LIST
There are 38 drivers entered for 40 spots, meaning all drivers will qualify. It also marks the first short field of the season, one week after three drivers were sent home before the Daytona 500.

DRIVER CHANGE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
Leading all stories this week is the injuries sustained to Ryan Newman in his scary crash while battling for the win of the Daytona 500. On Monday night, Newman remained in serious condition with non-life threatening injuries. On Tuesday, he was able to speak with his family and doctors. And on Wednesday, he walked out of the hospital under his own power. The preliminary entry list showed “TBA” in place of the driver. Newman has not been cleared to run on Sunday, putting an end to his consecutive start streak of 649 races dating back to the 2002 Daytona 500. Driving in his place Sunday is Ross Chastain, who last week drove for Spire Motorsports (see below).

MISSING: #16-Kaulig Racing
Neither Justin Haley nor the RCR-backed Kaulig Racing entry are in this Sunday’s field, one week after Haley recovered from a spin in the day’s biggest pileup to finish 13th. Haley will instead focus on his full-time XFINITY effort, driving Kaulig’s #11.

MISSING: #27-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Jay Robinson’s second car not entered after Reed Sorenson’s late crash in the 500. Sorenson moves back to the #77 from Robinson’s partners at Spire Motorsports, taking the place of Ross Chastain, who was on Wednesday named the relief driver for Ryan Newman (see above). As in 2019, it’s likely the car Sorenson drives this week will not have the support from Chip Ganassi Racing that Chastain enjoyed last week and Jamie McMurray did in 2019. The car has no listed sponsor.

MISSING: #36-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
RETURNING: #53-Rick Ware Racing
David Ragan is not entered after his sterling 4th-place finish in the Daytona 500, his first top-five finish since 2015, and best finish at Daytona since his win there in July 2011. Ragan’s car is also not entered - the Charter used to enter his #36 reverts back to its original owner, Rick Ware’s #53, which this week is driven by Joey Gase with matching XFINITY Series sponsorship from the Nevada Donor Network. Gase makes the move from the #51, which this week is driven by Garrett Smithley, his first start of the year. Victory Lane Quick Oil Change and Trophy Tractor will sponsor the Smithley effort for an “expanded schedule” in 2020. Smithley’s most recent Cup start was last fall at Phoenix, where he ran 31st.

MISSING: #49-Motorsports Business Management
Chad Finchum’s car that DNQ’d at Daytona is not entered this week, but Timmy Hill will still drive MBM’s primary #66 on Sunday. Like many drivers not entered in Sunday’s race, Finchum will focus on the XFINITY Series – his ride will be MBM’s #66 (see above).

DRIVER SWAP: #52-Rick Ware Racing
MISSING: #54-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware has also not entered his fourth “open” car, and J.J. Yeley moves from that machine to the #52, taking the place of B.J. McLeod, who isn’t entered after a mid-race spin left him 38th in the Daytona 500.

MISSING: #62-Beard Motorsports
Brendan Gaughan is not entered after he, like Justin Haley, recovered from involvement in the late-race pileup to charge back into the lead pack. Making his final Daytona 500 start, Gaughan left the track with a 7th-place finish – his third top-ten since he joined Mark Beard’s effort to run the superspeedways exclusively. Expect driver and team to return to action on the Cup side in Talladega in April.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Today in LASTCAR History (February 20, 1999): Kerry Earnhardt picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in the Alltel 200 at the North Carolina Speedway (Rockingham) when his #40 Channelock Chevrolet fell out with handling issues after 56 laps. Earnhardt qualified seventh for what was his fifth series start.

Monday, February 17, 2020

CUP: William Byron the first driver to finish last in the Daytona 500 after winning his Duel since 2007

PHOTO: @NASCAR
William Byron picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #24 Axalta “Color of the Year” Chevrolet fell out in a single-car accident after 58 of 209 laps.

The finish came in Byron’s 73rd series start. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 23rd for the #24, the 593rd from a crash, and the 778th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 38th for the #24, the 1,203rd from a crash, and the 1,703rd for Chevrolet.

Last season saw Byron overcome the “sophomore slump” thanks, in part, to a crew chief swap at Hendrick Motorsports. With Chad Knaus now leading the crew, three-time Rookie of the Year Byron scored his first career pole in the season-opening Daytona 500, his first of five poles on the season, and scored a pair of runner-up finishes in the July Daytona race and fall round in Martinsville. Byron earned his first spot in the Playoffs, made it up to the Round of 8, and finished eleventh in points, a twelve-position swing from 2018. Knaus and Byron continued on into 2020, and set their sights on their scoring Byron his first Cup victory.

Byron’s five poles meant his 2020 granted him a spot in the Busch Clash, where his Liberty University car drew the seventh starting spot, but finished 14th after a late-race pileup in the tri-oval. He’d run a much different looking car, sponsored by Axalta, in the 500. Axalta showcased their 2020 Global Automotive Color of the Year winner, Axalta Sea Glass, by making the faded purple shade the car’s primary color. Byron missed out on the pole, but placed eighth on the speed charts with a lap of 192.443mph (46.767 seconds). The fast lap gave Byron the 4th starting spot in Duel Race 2, which he won after he passed Kevin Harvick with three laps to go. The win kept Byron in the 4th spot for the Daytona 500.

Starting 40th and last in the field was Reed Sorenson, who was making his first Daytona 500 start since 2015. This time, he drove for Premium Motorsports in an unsponsored blue #27 Chevrolet, bumped into the field after J.J. Yeley wrecked in Duel Race 2. Another seven drivers joined him in the back of the field, starting with Ryan Blaney’s #12 Peak / Menards Ford and Corey LaJoie’s #32 RagingBull.com Ford, both backup cars after wrecks in the Duels. Also dropping back were Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Toyota and Brennan Poole’s #15 Spartan Go / Spartan Mosquito Chevrolet, both for failing inspection twice. Poole had also changed an engine, joining the mechanical penalties for Ty Dillon for a new gear on the #13 GEICO Chevrolet, a transmission change for B.J. McLeod’s re-wrapped #52 Christensen Arms Ford, and unapproved adjustments on Christopher Bell’s #95 Procore Toyota.

After all the pre-race penalties, the final two cars in the lineup were Hamlin and Blaney. Though they started 39th and 40th, they did not line up side-by-side, but from the backstretch to the starting line remained both on the inside lane with Blaney in Hamlin’s tire tracks. Hamlin fell to last at the end of Lap 1, followed on Lap 3 by Justin Haley, making Kaulig Racing’s first Cup start in the #16 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet. Haley then hitched onto the inside line, dropping Poole to last after four laps. Poole traded the spot with Clint Bowyer in the #14 Rush Truck Centers Ford, who was running last from Lap 6 to around Lap 8, when Poole took it back once more. Poole then lost touch with Bowyer and the rest of the pack, remaining in 40th until rain stopped the day’s action.

When the race resumed late Monday afternoon, the leaders came down pit road, handing the spot to David Ragan in the #36 Select Blinds Ford. Christopher Bell then took the spot on Lap 25, followed by LaJoie on Lap 26 before the race restarted. The spot then changed hands rapidly from Erik Jones’ #20 DeWalt Toyota after 27 laps to Bubba Wallace’s #43 Air Force Chevrolet on Lap 29. By then, Wallace was trailing a single-file pack that was losing touch with the leaders.

Next to fall into the mix was Joey Gase, whose #51 EFX Corp. / PageKC.com Chevrolet took last place for the first time on Lap 42. Gase drafted with Wallace, but the two started to lose touch with 38th-place Jones, who was now 0.668 of a second in front. Three laps later, Gase lost touch with Wallace, complaining that his car was too free in the corners. Completely alone, Gase awaited the leaders catching him before the end of Stage 1. On Lap 52, he stayed in the high line as race leader Chase Elliott pulled his own single-file train past him on the inside lane of the tri-oval. The second trailing pack of cars dropped Gase even further back on Lap 54. The Rick Ware Racing crew was reminding Gase to drag the brake rather than lift the throttle when the caution came out.

On Lap 59, Byron was running in the 4th spot and sizing up the three leaders in front of him. Behind him, 5th-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., the polesitter, lined up in the #47 Kroger Chevrolet. First Byron, then Stenhouse peeked out of line, and the two made contact, sending Byron spinning across the track and into the grassy infield. Byron remained in a full four-wheel drift until he slammed head-on into the inside wall, destroying the front of his car. Under the caution, Byron climbed out, and his car was towed to the garage, done for the day.

Finishing 39th was Quin Houff, whose first turn in the #00 Jacob Companies Chevrolet ended when Aric Almirola bumped him into a spin on the backstretch, also collecting the #52 of B.J. McLeod. McLeod slammed into the outside wall, then followed him into the infield grass, where McLeod’s front splitter dug into the grass to cause further damage. Houff was done for the day, but McLeod managed to complete a few more laps, clearing the Crash Clock before he fell out of the race.

The 37th spot fell to Cole Custer, whose first turn in Stewart-Haas Racing’s #41 Ford ended with rear end trouble. Rounding out the group was Brad Keselowski, who like Byron was running among the leaders when a bump from Joey Logano into Almirola sent Keselowski’s #2 Discount Tire Ford into a spin, triggering a nineteen-car pileup that decimated the field.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Byron is the first driver to finish last in the Daytona 500 after winning his Duel race since 2007, when Tony Stewart won Race 1 in his #20 The Home Depot Chevrolet, led 35 laps in Sunday’s race, then wrecked out of the lead in a tangle with Kurt Busch.
*This is Byron’s second last-place finish in a NASCAR national touring series race. His first came February 27, 2016, when his #9 Liberty University Toyota lost an engine after 59 laps of the Great Clips 200 at Atlanta.
*This marks the first time the #24 finished last in a Cup race with a driver other than Jeff Gordon since November 3, 1991, when Kenny Wallace had steering issues after 1 lap of the Pyroil 500 at Phoenix. The number’s most recent finish in a Cup points race since April 6, 2008, when Gordon’s #24 DuPont Chevrolet crashed after 124 laps of the Samsung 500 at Texas.
*This also marks the first last-place finish for the #24 in the Daytona 500 since February 22, 1970, when Cecil Gordon followed Richard Petty to the garage area the day Pete Hamilton won the race. Gordon’s 1968 Ford fell out with a busted a-frame after 7 laps.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #24-William Byron / 58 laps / crash
39) #00-Quin Houff / 89 laps / crash
38) #52-B.J. McLeod / 105 laps / crash
37) #41-Cole Custer / 174 laps / rear end
36) #2-Brad Keselowski / 183 laps / crash / led 30 laps

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hendrick Motorsports (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday, February 16, 2020

XFINITY: Joe Graf, Jr. gives #08 its first series last-place finish since 2012

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
Joe Graf, Jr. picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #08 CORE Development Group Chevrolet was collected in a multi-car accident after 37 of 120 laps.

The finish came in Graf’s 4th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 5th for the #08, the 329th from a crash, and the 541st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 20th for the #08, the 1,202nd from a crash, and the 1,702nd for Chevrolet.

Graf enters just his second season in the XFINITY Series after a part-time campaign last year. Prior to that, he’d competed full-time in the ARCA Menards Series for Chad Bryant Racing. He scored his lone victory on the short track at Berlin, where he tangled with leader Chandler Smith and held off Zane Smith. Graf finished eighth in the standings that year, then fifth the following year with new sponsor Eat Sleep Race, a motorsports apparel company geared toward kids.

While Graf has never competed in the Truck Series, Eat Sleep Race backed Graf for five races in the XFINITY Series instead. He bounced back from a DNQ at Michigan to make his series debut at Iowa with a 19th-place finish. He drove for Richard Childress in the team’s part-time #21 Chevrolet, running 23rd in the night race at Daytona after a late crash, then 14th in the fall race at Richmond. He also attempted the night race at Bristol for Kaulig Racing, but again failed to qualify.

Graf then landed a ride with SS-Green Light Racing, whose #08 team enjoyed a breakout season last year with Gray Gaulding. Gaulding nearly scored the victory at Talladega and had an outside shot at a spot in the Playoffs until the very last round of the regular season, but reportedly chose to part ways with the team at the end of the year. Even the glass trailer containing Gaulding’s show car ended up redecorated for Josh Bilicki at Rick Ware Racing. Graf’s sponsorship from Eat Sleep Race continued, though late in the offseason new primary backing came from New Jersey solar panel firm CORE Development Group.

Graft was one of 40 drivers entered to attempt a field that had been reduced for the third time in eight years, down from 43 cars in 2012 to 40 in 2013, 38 in 2019, and now just 36. Graf ran 23rd in the opening practice session, did not participate in Happy Hour, and qualified a strong 5th with a lap of 187.790mph (47.926 seconds), backing up the speed Gaulding showed in this same race last year.

Missing the race were Colin Garrett in the second-ever race for Sam Hunt Racing, driving the #26 The Rosie Network Toyota, Tommy Joe Martins in the return of his own team Martins Motorsports with AAN Adjusters as sponsor of his #44 Chevrolet, and most surprising, two cars from Kaulig Racing: part-timer A.J. Allmendinger in the #16 Ellsworth Advisors Chevrolet and full-timer Ross Chastain in the #10 Nutrien Ag Chevrolet. Brake issues were to blame at least for Chastain’s DNQ, which then saw his car catch fire in the garage afterward. A deal was then worked out with RSS Racing, whose part-time driver Jeff Green qualified 23rd in the #38 Chevrolet fully-sponsored by C2 Freight Resources. While Green has run strong in his limited plate race appearances, he stepped aside as the Kaulig team re-decaled his #38 and the in-car camera equipment was installed.

Graf's car unloaded in the garage after the crash.
PHOTO: @Frontstretch
The change sent Chastain and the #38 team to the back of the field, where Joe Nemechek had used his Past Champions Provisional to earn the 36th and final starting spot. Nemechek returned to driving Mike Harmon’s second car, re-numbered #47, with sponsorship from the Patriots PAC of America to promote the re-election of President Donald Trump. Unapproved adjustments sent Nemechek to the rear before the start along with J.J. Yeley, the new driver of Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Circle Track Warehouse Auction Chevrolet. Scoring also indicated that C.J. McLaughlin had fallen to the rear after qualifying 21st in the #93 Sci Aps Chevrolet along with Mike Harmon, 36th in his #74 Veterans 4 Child Rescue Chevrolet.

On the break, Harmon slipped back into the 36th spot, 4.439 seconds back of the lead. But coming off Turn 4 for the first time to complete Lap 1, 15th-place runner Caesar Bacarella blew a right-rear tire on his #90 Alpha Prime Chevrolet, sending him spinning toward the inside wall. Bacarella avoided a crash, but shed at least one crush panel before he backed into his pit stall. Since he didn’t draw a caution, this cost Bacarella two laps by the time he returned to action, and he nearly lost a third by Lap 9.

On Lap 19, Jeremy Clements was now running in 15th when he noticed his hood begin to come loose down the backstretch. Moments later, the hood of his #51 RepairableVehicles.com Chevrolet flapped up and smashed itself over the windshield and roof, breaking the hood into pieces. The impact also knocked loose the roof hatch, which now dangled from its tethers. The caution flew to retrieve the resulting debris, and Clements pulled behind the wall for repairs. While he did go to the garage for damage, this did not apparently trigger the “Crash Clock” as going to the garage did not result in an immediate DNF. While that same rule prevented the crew from replacing the hood, they were able to repair the hatch, and Clements returned to action on Lap 23, three laps down. Air buffeting through the open engine compartment made the car a handful, and the driver would later pit just short of the end of Stage 1 for bear-bond to keep the exposed radiator in place.

Clements was still in last place, three laps down, when another wreck ended the last-place battle. On Lap 38, just after the start of Stage 2, defending race winner Michael Annett spun his #1 AHA / Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet from the 10th position in Turns 1 and 2. As Annett spun up the track, Graf was looking for a way around Austin Hill’s #61 AISIN Group Toyota on the inside line. Hill came down and hooked Graf, spinning the #08 head-on into the outside wall and slamming Hill into Annett’s spinning car. While Annett kept going, both Hill and Graf were eliminated. Graf was running 0.233 second behind Hill at the end of the previous lap – a 1.255 to Hill’s 1.022. This ranked Graf behind Hill and secured him the last-place finish on Lap 42. Hill took 35th.

Completing the Bottom Five was another pileup on the final lap of Stage 2, when Riley Herbst’s #18 Monster Energy Toyota crossed the nose of Josh Williams’ #92 Sleep Well / Harkin Construction Chevrolet on the apron of Turn 3. Herbst slid up the track, collecting polesitter Myatt Snider in the #21 Tax Slayer Chevrolet, then a hard impact from Chris Cockrum in the #25 Advanced Communications Group Chevrolet. Cockrum took the 34th spot with Snider 33rd and Herbst in 32nd.

Two days after locking himself into his first Daytona 500 field, Timmy Hill secured a third-place finish, besting his previous career-best XFINITY finish of 7th he scored three other times, including two XFINITY races at Daytona in 2012 and 2018. The finish came despite last-minute issues in inspection where NASCAR discovered Bondo in the front valence. According to the team, they didn’t know the Bondo was there as it was added by a body shop after the sponsor requested the nose be painted. Repairs left the nose of Hill’s Toyota half-unpainted, but apparently without seriously affecting the aerodynamics.

Brandon Brown also ran strong by running near the front all day and matching his career-best 6th-place finish at Daytona last July. Brown’s #68 Larry’s Lemonade Chevrolet narrowly averted disaster on the final lap when he bumped into Michael Annett’s damaged car, sending Annett into a spin that caused the final wreck which forced the race to end under caution.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-finish for the #08 in an XFINITY Series race since September 15, 2012, when Tim Andrews’ run in the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland ended after 9 laps with ignition problems on his Randy Hill Racing Ford.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #08-Joe Graf, Jr. / 37 laps / crash
35) #61-Austin Hill / 37 laps / crash
34) #25-Chris Cockrum / 59 laps / crash
33) #21-Myatt Snider / 59 laps / crash
32) #18-Riley Herbst / 59 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Ty Majeski roof-slides into last place; Anderson, Rohrbaugh, Decker, and White are underdog heroes of Daytona thriller

PHOTO: FOX Sports
Ty Majeski picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #45 Plan B Sales Chevrolet was involved in a spectacular multi-truck accident after 15 of 106 laps.

The finish came in Majeski’s 2nd series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place history, it was the 3rd for the #45, the 156th from a crash, and the 384th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 37th for the #45, the 1,201st from a crash, and the 1,701st for Chevrolet.

Majeski has showed much promise in his rise through the ranks, but has been victim of the sport’s unpredictability. In 2017, he made his national series debut as a development driver with Roush-Fenway Racing, running part-time in the team’s prolific #60 Ford in the XFINITY Series. He made 15 starts over two seasons with a best finish of 7th in Iowa, but was left without a ride after Roush-Fenway ended their XFINITY program at the end of 2018.

Last year, Majeski moved to the ARCA Menards Series to run a six-race slate of speedway races with Chad Bryant Racing. The driver found sure footing once again, finishing no worse than fourth in all his starts and taking three victories – one each at Charlotte, Pocono, and Chicagoland. After the season wrapped up in the fall, Majeski was then invited to make his Truck Series debut at Phoenix, driving for Al Niece in the #44. Again, he excelled, qualifying a strong 5th and finishing 11th. The performance landed him his current full-time effort with Niece, taking the place of Ross Chastain in the #45 that finished second in last year’s championship.

Majeski was one of 41 drivers entered to attempt the 32-truck field, but the list shrank by two entries for qualifying day. First to withdraw was Tim Viens, whose #03 Trump Pence 2020 / Patriots PAC of America Chevrolet was reportedly damaged when the Affarano Motorsports team’s hauler drove into a ditch. The other withdrawal was Josh Reaume, whose #34 Motorsports Safety Group Chevrolet made it onto the track for the second practice session, only to lose the engine.

The seven drivers who failed to qualify were headlined by NEMCO Motorsports, whose two Fords both missed the cut with Joe Nemechek in the #87 and son John Hunter Nemechek in the #8. The remainder of the group were single-truck entries for other owner-drivers: Norm Benning in his #6 H&H Transport Chevrolet, Jennifer Jo Cobb in her #10 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet, Ray Ciccarelli in his #49 CMI Motorsports Chevrolet, Clay Greenfield’s #68 Racklet Roofing Toyota (with a returning Jeff Hammond as crew chief) and Todd Peck in his family’s #96 Holla Vodka Chevrolet.

Majeski, meanwhile, turned a strong 3rd-fastest lap in opening practice, slipped to 30th in Happy Hour, and qualified 17th with a lap of 178.848mph (50.322 seconds).

Qualifying 32nd and last was Angela Ruch, who over the offseason made the move from Niece Motorsports to Reaume Brothers Racing. Her #00 The Ruch Life Chevrolet was joined at the rear by two trucks penalized for unapproved adjustments: Ruch’s teammate Jason White in the #33 YourGMCTruckStore.com Chevrolet, and second-year driver Natalie Decker, one of Majeski’s teammates, in the #44 N29 Technologies Chevrolet. Both fell to the rear before the start along with Jordan Anderson, who surrendered the 23rd starting spot in his #3 K-Seal / Bommarito.com Chevrolet. While Ruch would be eliminated in an accident, Anderson, Decker, and White all bounced back in a big way.

On the break, Decker slipped behind Ruch and Anderson, but remained within a tenth of a second of both trucks. By the end of Lap 2, the last nine trucks in the running order had formed a small pack of their own, led by 24th-place Korbin Forrister in the #7 50 Egg Music Toyota. The lead 23 trucks continued to battle among themselves, though soon after, 23rd-place Bryan Dauzat in FDNY Racing’s #28 FDNY / American Genomics Chevrolet started to lose touch with them and ran by himself in the widening gap between the two packs. By then, Jason White had taken last from Decker.

The next challenger came on Lap 10, when Derek Kraus made an unscheduled stop for a loose window net on his #19 Shockwave Marine Suspension Seating Toyota. He lost a lap in the process, and Cory Roper slipped from the lead pack to 31st place in his #04 Alliance Aviation Ford, lifting Forrister to the 22nd spot. Forrister’s pack finally caught Dauzat, who dropped to 31st place, bringing up the rear of the pack, on Lap 15. The lapped Kraus, however, remained in last place until trouble broke out in Turn 1.

As the field crossed the stripe to begin Lap 16, Majeski was running in the 9th spot, 0.792 of a second behind the leader and leading an inside line of trucks. To his outside were a two-truck tandem of Todd Gilliland and Tate Fogleman with another long outside line to the high side, led by Austin Wayne Self. Exiting the tri-oval, Gilliland’s #38 Black’s Tire & Wheel Ford got Fogleman’s #02 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet loose. Fogleman slid up into Self and clipped him, sending Self careening across the track and into Majeski’s door. The impact yanked Majeski’s truck to the right, sending him airborne and sliding down the banking on his roof. Majeski was uninjured and the red flag was drawn to allow him to be safely removed.

It was not until after the yellow flag was displayed on Lap 17 that scoring reset, showing both Majeski and Self out of the race. Self, instructed by NASCAR to not drive his battered truck around the track, was classified just ahead of Majeski at the completion of the previous lap. The gap between the two trucks was just six-thousandths of a second – Self’s 0.786 to Majeski’s 0.792. This proved decisive in deciding which driver was classified last – the spot went to Majeski with Self in 31st.

The rest of the Bottom Five was promptly filled by another multi-truck pileup on Lap 66, which began when Angela Ruch lost control in Turn 3. Joining her in the Bottom Five were Fogleman and Dauzat, who collided on the apron with Fogleman’s battered Chevrolet catching fire. None of the drivers were injured.

After several close calls, one more pileup in the lead pack set up a dramatic finish where several drivers earned career-best runs. Among these were several drivers who contended for last place in the early laps. Jason White, who held the spot before Kraus’ window net issue, recovered to finish 10th, his first top-ten finish in just his fourth series start. Natalie Decker made her way up to the fifth spot after Kraus nipped her for fourth off the final corner, her first career top-five finish and one year after finishing last in the same race.

Two more underdogs threatened to snatch away victory from winner Grant Enfinger. Coming the closest was fan favorite Jordan Anderson, who after his own turn near the rear of the field found himself in 2nd place coming out of Turn 1 after Ross Chastain broke loose in front of him. He charged at Enfinger and moved to the outside lane, where the two made contact all the way to the stripe. This opened the door for a closing Codie Rohrbaugh, who recovered from a Turn 4 spin that didn’t draw a caution and was now pulling up on the inside in his #9 GCM / CR7 Motorsports Chevrolet. One more bump shot Enfinger ahead of Anderson by one-hundredth of a second with Rohrbaugh just over a trucklength behind on the inside. Anderson and Rohrbaugh were elated with their own first Top Five finishes – Anderson’s previous career-best was a 9th while Rohrbaugh’s was a 10th.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked only the third last-place finish for the #45 in Truck Series history, joining Rich Bickle at Martinsville on April 17, 1999 and Tommy Regan at Iowa on July 11, 2014.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #45-Ty Majeski / 15 laps / crash
31) #22-Austin Wayne Self / 15 laps / crash
30) #02-Tate Fogleman / 62 laps / crash
29) #28-Bryan Dauzat / 65 laps / crash
28) #00-Angela Ruch / 65 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Niece Motorsports (1)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, February 13, 2020

CUP: Daniel Suarez misses his first Daytona 500 field after crushing pit entry accident

PHOTO: Getty Images, MRN Radio
Daniel Suarez finished last in Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota was collected in a multi-car accident after 28 of 60 laps.

After finishing just outside of Playoff contention with Stewart-Haas Racing, taking 17th in the standings, Suarez, the 2016 XFINITY Series Champion did not get a contract extension. His ride in the #41 Ford went to SHR’s own XFINITY Series challenger Cole Custer, who would join fellow series standouts Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in this year’s Rookie of the Year class.

Suarez now found himself driving for a third different Cup Series team in only his fourth season. It was long rumored over the offseason that Suarez would land at Gaunt Brothers Racing, whose 2019 driver Parker Kligerman had no plans to run any of NASCAR’s top three series in 2020. It was not confirmed until January 28. Suarez would also bring with him sponsorship from Coca-Cola and CommScope, allowing the Gaunt team to attempt their first full-time season. The Gaunt Brothers had only run part-time as an open team, but climbed to the highest-ranked team without a Charter, putting them in position to earn one.

Driver and team’s first step would come at Daytona, where the Gaunt Brothers elected not to enter Suarez in the season-opening Busch Clash. Although this kept Suarez from capitalizing on his pole last summer at Kentucky, it was perhaps for the best – only Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman escaped that race without significant damage, and Erik Jones took the checkers in a battered Toyota.

Suarez showed speed in opening practice, ranking highest of the “open” drivers and eighth overall on the charts. He then slipped to 37th in the second session of the day, leaving it anyone’s guess how the car would perform in qualifying. As the 23rd car on track and last of the “open” cars to time in, Suarez needed to best Brendan Gaughan to become one of the cars locked in on speed. His lap of 185.479mph (48.523 seconds) fell short, locking Gaughan into the show for his final Daytona 500. And for the first time in his brief career, Suarez would have to race his way into the 500 field, starting 19th in the 22-car field of Duel Race 1.

Starting last in Thursday’s first qualifier was Joey Gase, locked in by virtue of one of Rick Ware Racing’s three Charters. Gase drove the team’s flagship #51 Chevrolet with sponsorship from EFX Corp, but turned in the slowest completed lap in qualifying (teammate B.J. McLeod ranked below him when his #52 Ford failed to post a time). Gase would be joined at the back by Ryan Newman, who surrendered 8th on the grid due to a penalty for unapproved adjustments. Not penalized was Brad Keselowski, who still started 12th in his #2 Discount Tire Ford since his incident striking a barrier leaving the garage happened in final practice before qualifying.

Suarez towed behind the wall after his wreck.
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles
When the race started, Newman found himself side-by-side with Chad Finchum, who like Suarez needed to race his way into the Daytona 500. Finchum’s #49 Garrison Homes Toyota, a second car from Motorsports Business Management, fell to last by the end of the first lap, then worked his way past Gase the next time by. Radio communications indicated Gase apparently slid up the track in the opening laps, which broke his momentum and caused him to lose touch with the pack. He also reported overheating issues around Lap 11, and was the first to be lapped the next time by. By then, Finchum had also lost touch with the pack and lost a lap of his own.

Gase lost a second lap on the 20th circuit, and the lap after reported his water temperature was at 240 degrees with his oil at 206. Gase then pulled to the high lane in Turns 1 and 2 as another draft of lead-lap cars rushed past to his inside. Finchum took over last from Gase during pit stops, and the #49 was still running there when trouble broke out. “They’re wrecking behind you,” said Finchum’s spotter. “96 is done.”

Heading into the tri-oval, Suarez was also running by himself and had been caught by the same draft line of Fords that lapped Gase. As the Fords slowed to head to pit road, a reported miscommunication between Ryan Blaney and his crew chief caused Blaney’s #12 Peak / Menards Ford to collide with Suarez past pit entrance, steering Suarez nose-first into the outside wall. The #96 then careened into the grass, where the splitter dug in and destroyed what remained of the front clip. While Blaney managed to continue on (though he will go to a backup for the Daytona 500), a disgusted Suarez climbed out of his car, done for the night, and out of the Daytona 500 field. Suarez officially took the last spot on Lap 32.

Suarez turned out to be the race’s only retiree. The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by lapped cars, who all at one point pulled out of the draft to let the leaders get by. Gase took 21st, matching the three laps down of Finchum. Finchum’s 20th-place eliminated him from the Daytona 500 field along with Gase. Quin Houff pulled low on the backstretch in the final five laps, putting his #00 Jacob Companies Chevrolet in 19th.

Rounding out the group was Reed Sorenson, whose unsponsored blue #27 Chevrolet benefited from Suarez’ misfortune. Sorenson lost his lap with a pull to the inside with less than three to go. By besting both Finchum and Suarez, Sorenson locked himself into the 500 field.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #96 in the history of the Duels.
*Daytona was also the scene of Suarez' first Cup Series last-place finish, when he was collected in a wreck here last July.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
22) #96-Daniel Suarez / 28 laps / crash
21) #51-Joey Gase / 57 laps / running
20) #49-Chad Finchum / 57 laps / running
19) #00-Quin Houff / 58 laps / running
18) #27-Reed Sorenson / 59 laps / running