Sunday, March 22, 2015

CUP: Sam Hornish, Jr. Finishes 43rd - But Under Power - For First Time Since 2008

SOURCE: Richard Petty Motorsports
Sam Hornish, Jr. picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his #9 Medallion Bank / Mercury Marine Ford finished under power, completing 155 of the race’s 209 laps.

The finish occurred in Hornish’s 136th series start and was his first since the 2008 running of the same race on the Fontana track, 256 races ago.  On that day, February 25, 2008, Hornish was a rookie driving Roger Penske’s #77 Mobil 1 Dodge.  On Lap 20, he was involved in a four-car accident off Turn 2 that collected Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Reed Sorenson.  Curiously, the wreck that dropped Hornish to 43rd on Sunday occurred in nearly the same spot.

The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion came into 2015 as one of a number of returning series veterans.  He made his XFINITY Series debut in 2006 and Cup in late 2007, leading to three full Cup seasons in Penske’s #77.  He earned a career-best 4th at Pocono in the summer of 2009, but struggled to find consistency and ultimately moved back to XFINITY.  There, a late-season rally in 2011 led to his first stock car victory at Phoenix, then the first of two successful seasons where he finished 4th and 2nd in the standings driving Penske’s #12.

Hornish had also developed into a stead relief driver.  In 2012, he ran additional races for Penske in place of the then-suspended A.J. Allmendinger, running 19 races in the #22 Shell / Pennzoil Dodge.  The half-season run netted him his most recent top-five finish, a 5th at Watkins Glen.  He also ran eight XFINITY races for Kyle Busch last year, earning 2 poles and the third of his series victories at Iowa.  And just last year at the same Fontana track as Sunday, Hornish was the eleventh-hour replacement for Denny Hamlin, forced to withdraw due to metal debris in his eye.  Hornish came home 17th that afternoon in what was his only Cup start of the season.

This year, Hornish drives the #9 Ford fielded by Richard Petty Motorsports, a ride vacated by road racer Marcos Ambrose, who returned to the V8 SuperCar Series after last November’s Homestead finale.  Hornish showed speed at Daytona, and while a crash in his Budweiser Duel sent the team scrambling fora backup, he rebounded nicely to finish 12th.  Unfortunately, the three races since have seen him finish worse each week, slipping to 21st at Atlanta, 24th at Las Vegas, and a 40th at Phoenix, leaving him 24th in points.

At Fontana, Hornish was 32nd fastest of 45 drivers in the opening practice session, but improved enough to make the second round of qualifying, securing the 16th starting spot at an average speed of 182.904 mph.  On Saturday, he continued to look for speed on the long run, ranking just 34th-fastest after 23 laps in the second session and 29th after another 23 circuits in Happy Hour.

On race day, David Gilliland rolled out 43rd in his #38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford.  It was the first time he’d started from that spot since Watkins Glen in 2010.  By Lap 2, Gilliland had picked up a couple spots, dropping Mike Bliss to 43rd in the #32 King Taco Ford.  Rookie driver Matt DiBenedetto took 43rd on Lap 4, and his #83 Burger King Toyota was the first to lose a lap on Lap 16.

On Lap 21, DiBenedetto’s teammate Jeb Burton briefly held 43rd in the #26 Toyota when the caution flew for a spinning David Ragan in Turn 4.  Ragan’s #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota was one of the fastest in practice, and though he didn’t suffer any damage after Jeff Gordon took the air off his spoiler, he lost a lap and spent nearly the entire race trying to get it back.

Bliss retook 43rd on the Lap 28 restart as Ragan climbed his way through the field, followed again by DiBenedetto on Lap 30 and Burton on Lap 64.  As these drivers were lapped for a second time, DiBenedetto retook 43rd on Lap 67 when he lost another lap due to a pass-through penalty for an uncontrolled tire.  He was still in the spot on Lap 99 when trouble broke out in Turn 2.

By this point in the race, Hornish had also lost a lap and was in a battle for 30th with Trevor Bayne.  Coming off Turn 2 to the inside of Bayne, Hornish’s spotter said he was clear, but called it too soon, and Hornish’s Ford hooked to the right, destroying the right-front suspension.  In hte ensuing third caution of the day, Hornish pulled behind the wall, where the team made extensive repairs.  With the other 42 drivers, including Bayne, still on the track, Hornish dropped to last on Lap 101.

However, the Richard Petty Motorsports team managed to get Hornish back on the track on Lap 148, 51 laps down to the leader.  With everyone else running and no more than a handful of laps down, Hornish locked-up the 43rd position just 7 laps later, but remained on track at the finish.  DiBenedetto, Bliss, and Burton all remained in the Bottom Five along with 41st-place Brendan Gaughan in his unsponsored #62 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet.

*This marks only the 29th last-place finish for the #9 in the history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the first since March 30, 2003.  That day, Bill Elliott started 6th and led 43 laps of the Samsung Radio Shack 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway before his #9 Dodge Dealers / UAW Dodge lost its engine while leading after 46 laps.  It was the 7th of Elliott’s 8 last-place finishes in Cup.
*As reported, this is the first time all 43 drivers have finished a Cup Series race under power since the 2013 Brickyard 400, when Jeff Burton finished 50 laps down in the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.  However, it is not the first time since then that the last-place finisher finished under power - that occurred last June at Pocono, when Dave Blaney’s #77 Amy R. Fochler / Ford finished 18 laps down in the Pocono 400.

43) #9-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 155 laps / running
42) #83-Matt DiBenedetto / 203 laps / running
41) #62-Brendan Gaughan / 205 laps / running
40) #32-Mike Bliss / 205 laps / running
39) #26-Jeb Burton / 205 laps / running

1st) Landon Cassill (2)
2nd) Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sam Hornish, Jr. (1)

1st) #40-Hillman Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #9-Richard Petty Motorsports, #88-Hendrick Motorsports (1)

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

XFINITY: Jeff Green In Position To Score Four Straight NASCAR Last-Place Finishes

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jeff Green picked up the 63rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s 300 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his unsponsored #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with brake issues after he completed 2 of the race’s 150 laps.

The finish came in Green’s 395th series start and his third last-place run in a row.  When the series next competes at Texas on April 10, Green will have a chance to tie his own record as NASCAR’s only driver to finish last in four consecutive races.  Green’s previous streak occurred in the XFINITY Series in August 2011.

Green was one of three drivers who did not participate in the opening practice session, then timed in 35th in Happy Hour and 33rd for the race at an average speed of 171.127 mph, the slowest car that did not need a provisional to start the race.  Under green 2 laps into the event, Green pulled behind the wall.  David Starr was the highest-finishing of Green’s teammates, coming home 15th in the #44 Zachry Toyota, one spot ahead of Cale Conley in the #14 Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America Toyota.

Finishing 39th was Carl Long, whose Lap 18 exit due to suspension issues put Derek White’s #40 Braille Battery / Grafoid Dodge into the next-to-last spot for the third time this season.  38th went to Austin Dillon, the Las Vegas winner, who after starting 7th lost the engine on his #33 Ruud Chevrolet after 42 laps, followed five laps later by Cup Series last-placer Sam Hornish, Jr., and his #98 DenBeste Water Solutions / Biagi Bros. Ford.  Finishing 36th with suspension issues was Dakoda Armstrong and the #43 WinField Ford, his first-ever finish inside the Bottom Five.

*This is Green’s second-consecutive last-place finish in the XFINITY Series race at Fontana and his fourth out of the last six.
*Green is the first driver to finish last in a XFINITY Series race at Fontana with brake issues as the listed cause since October 10, 2009, when Chase Miller’s #47 Toyota exited after 3 laps of the Copart 300.

40) #10-Jeff Green / 2 laps / brakes
39) #40-Carl Long / 18 laps / suspension
38) #33-Austin Dillon / 42 laps / engine
37) #98-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 47 laps / engine
36) #43-Dakoda Armstrong / 76 laps / suspension

1st) Jeff Green (3)
2nd) Dexter Bean, Morgan Shepherd (1)

1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (3)
2nd) #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures, #92-King Autosport (1)

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

CUP: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s Crash Leads Chevrolet To Longest Last-Place Streak Since 1978

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #88 Nationwide Insurance Chevrolet was involved in a single car crash that ended his race after 179 of the race’s 312 laps.

The finish came in Earnhardt, Jr.’s 545th series start and is his first since last year’s Duck Commander 500, the spring race at Texas, 33 races ago.

Earnhardt, Jr. rebounded from his fiery Texas exit with a runner-up finish the next week at Darlington, ultimately leading to a season sweep of both races at Pocono after a pair of late-race charges to the front.  A championship bid that began with a victory in the Daytona 500 reached its end with a crash that fall at Talladega, but the very next week at Martinsville, he earned his fourth win of the year by muscling past Tony Stewart with 4 laps to go.  In terms of wins (4) and Top Fives (12), 2014 was Earnhardt, Jr.’s best season since 2004, when 6 wins carried him to 5th in the inaugural Chase.

This year, with new sponsorship from Nationwide Insurance, Earnhardt, Jr. picked up where he left off, earning a pair of 3rd-place runs in the Daytona 500 and Atlanta, then a 4th at Las Vegas.  Only Vegas and eventual Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick, now on a streak of 7 straight top-two finishes, was off to a better start.  Coming into the Phoenix race, Harvick led Earnhardt, Jr. by just 9 points.

At Phoenix, Earnhardt, Jr. was 8th-fastest in the opening session, then just missed the final round of qualifying with the 16th-fastest time at 138.814 mph.  On Saturday, he began the day 11th fastest in the next practice session, then improved to 6th-best in Happy Hour.

Sunday’s 43rd starting spot went to Alex Kennedy, the fourth different driver in as many races to drive the #33 Chevrolet.  Kennedy, who was making his first Cup start since last August at Michigan, passed Mike Bliss on the opening lap, dropping Bliss’ #32 Ford to the back of the field.  Bliss only held the spot for a moment when trouble broke out in the middle of the pack.

18th-place starter Brian Vickers was trying to slot his #55 Aaron’s Toyota in front of Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet when the two made contact, turning Vickers’ machine hard into the outside wall just past the start/finish line.  Vickers’ damaged car stopped up the track in Turn 1, bringing out the first yellow of the day.  With severe damage to the right-front of the #55, Vickers quickly took 43rd from Bliss and went behind the wall for nearly 80 laps of repairs.

Vickers was still in the garage on Lap 63 when Michael Annett’s #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet, then running a lap down in 38th, slowed suddenly exiting Turn 2.  Reports from the team’s Twitter indicated the #46 had transmission issues.  Vickers brought his battered car back onto the track on Lap 83, then bumped Annett to last on Lap 140.  Although hard work by the HScott Motorsports team managed to get Annett back on track around Lap 170, the #46 was still 110 laps down, apparently headed to the first last-place finish of Annett’s young Cup career.

Then, on Lap 182, Earnhardt, Jr.’s right-rear tire exploded as he ran the high lane down the backstretch, causing his right-rear to slap the outside wall.  The contact did a surprising amount of damage, virtually tearing the rear clip from his Chevrolet, and sending him spinning to the apron.  Although no other drivers were involved in the wreck, the right-rear of the #88 then caught fire at the entrance of pit road.  The car’s onboard fire extinguishers kept the blaze in check, but once they were activated, Earnhardt, Jr. was unable to return to the race, making him the first retiree from the event.

Earnhardt, Jr. is now 6th in points, 56 behind Harvick, but 4th among drivers without a win in 2015.

Annett finished the race under power to come home 42nd, 28 laps behind Vickers in 41st.  40th went to Sam Hornish, Jr., who had also blown a right-rear tire 70 laps before Earnhardt, Jr.’s wreck.  Initial reports indicated both tire failures were due to melted beads.  Hornish pulled behind the wall with 18 laps to go, but official results indicate his #9 Medallion Bank / Camping World Ford was still under power at the finish.  Not so fortunate was Tony Stewart, whose physical run into the Top 10 ended with a pair of crashes in the closing laps, the second knocking his #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet from the race on Lap 290.

*This is Earnhardt, Jr.’s second last-place finish in a Cup Series race at Phoenix.  On November 11, 2007, his #8 Budweiser Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident on Lap 120, ending his run in the Checker Auto Parts 500.  He did not finish last again until the Texas race of a year ago.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #88 in a Cup race at Phoenix.
*This marks the 7th consecutive Cup Series last-place finish by Chevrolet.  The last time 7 Chevrolets finished last in a row occurred from September 25, 1977 through January 22, 1978: Baxter Price (Martinsville), Junior Miller (North Wilkesboro), Bruce Hill (Charlotte), Lennie Pond (Rockingham), Jimmy Means (Atlanta), Donnie Allison (Ontario), and Gary Johnson (Riverside).

43) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. / 179 laps / crash
42) #46-Michael Annett / 202 laps / running
41) #55-Brian Vickers / 230 laps / running
40) #9-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 277 laps / running
39) #14-Tony Stewart / 282 laps / crash

1st) Landon Cassill (2)
2nd) Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (1)

1st) #40-Hillman Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)

XFINITY: Jeff Green Takes Early 2015 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Lead

Jeff Green picked up the 62nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his unsponsored #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with a vibration after he completed 3 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish came in Green’s 394th series start and his second last-place run in a row.  He now holds a one-finish lead in the LASTCAR standings over Daytona last-placer Dexter Bean and Morgan Shepherd, who was 40th at Atlanta.

Green returned to the controls of TriStar’s white #10 Toyota, and after sitting out the opening practice along with 3 other drivers, put up the 37th-fastest time of the 41 drivers entered.  He put up a lap of 125.462 mph in qualifying and made the field on Owner Points, securing the 36th starting spot in the field of 40.  Missing the show was Shepherd, whose #89 was edged for the final starting spot by less than two tenths of a second.  That spot went Charles Lewandoski, who got start-up team Kapusta Racing’s #56 Ole Energy Chevrolet into the show in the team’s first-ever attempt.  Lewandoski would finish 30th.

Three laps into the start of Saturday’s race, Green pulled behind the wall, followed four laps later by the #40 Braille Battery / Grafoid Dodge of owner-driver Derek White.  Between qualifying and the race, White traded rides with teammate Carl Long.  In qualifying, White secured Long the 39th starting spot in a #13 painted identically to the #46 Al Smith Dodge that Long famously flipped in the final Cup race at Rockingham in 2004.  Long came home 32nd.

Finishing 38th on Saturday was Mario Gosselin, who this week didn’t enter teammate Dexter Bean’s #92 into the show alongside his #90 King Autosport Chevrolet.  37th went to Landon Cassill, whose #01 G&K Services Chevrolet crashed hard into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 95, bringing out the second caution of the afternoon.  The third caution fell for the 36th place finisher, Peyton Sellers, whose engine let go on the backstretch on Lap 124.  Sellers had jumped from his NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car ride in South Boston, Virginia to give owner Victor Obaika his first XFINITY Series start since Atlanta.

*This is Green’s fourth last-place finish in a XFINITY Series race at Phoenix.  The previous runs came November 2010, March 2012, and November 2013.  All four came while driving for TriStar Motorsports.

40) #10-Jeff Green / 3 laps / vibration
39) #40-Derek White / 7 laps / brakes
38) #90-Mario Gosselin / 59 laps / brakes
37) #01-Landon Cassill / 91 laps / crash
36) #97-Peyton Sellers / 118 laps / engine

1st) Jeff Green (2)
2nd) Dexter Bean, Morgan Shepherd (1)

1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures, #92-King Autosport (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (2)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

CUP: Alex Bowman Last As Las Vegas’ Only Retiree

Alex Bowman picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #7 NIKKO / Toy State Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after he completed 28 of the race’s 267 laps.

The finish came in Bowman’s 38th series start.  It’s his first last-place finish since last fall at Talladega, 7 races ago.

Last year, Bowman participated in all 36 races of his rookie Cup Series season driving the #23 Toyota for BK Racing.  He came home 35th in points that year, earning a career-best 13th at Daytona last July.  When the series returned to Daytona this year, Bowman had just signed to drive the #7 for Tommy Baldwin Racing.  Baldwin’s team had scaled back its organization from two cars to just one, having sold the #36 team to Premium Motorsports, owners of Mike Wallace’s #66, where Baldwin’s entry now runs as Premium’s second car, #62, driven by Brendan Gaughan.

Bowman arrived at Daytona looking to make his second-consecutive start in the Daytona 500.  Last year, he raced his way in during his Budweiser Duel, finishing 14th in Race 1, then driving to a 23rd-place finish in the 500.  This year, Bowman was one of the many surprises in practice, leading 32 drivers in the fourth session on Wednesday afternoon.  In Thursday’s Duel Race 2, he started 12th in a field of 24 and was running right where he needed to transfer when he was taken out in a four-car wreck in the trioval.  Though uninjured, Bowman missed the 500 field, marking the first time Baldwin’s team missed has the race after six straight starts.

Bowman rebounded at Atlanta, clawing his way from 42nd to finish 23rd, and looked for another good run at Las Vegas.  At the desert track, Bowman was 28th-fastest in the opening practice, timed in 27th in qualifying with a lap of 189.947 mph, then ranked 37th and 29th in Saturday’s final two practice sessions.

Among the five drivers who missed the race this week was defending LASTCAR champ Mike Bliss, who ended up with the first DNQ for Frankie Stoddard and Archie St. Hillaire’s #32 Ford since the spring race at Bristol in March 2011, and Travis Kvapil, driving the same #44 Phoenix Warehouses Chevrolet that was stolen last week in Atlanta.

For the third-straight race, Premium Motorsports got just one of its cars into the race.  This time, it was Gaughan’s #62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet, which secured the 43rd and final starting spot.  After polesitter Jeff Gordon and 13th-place starter David Ragan’s backup cars started to climb through the pack, Gaughan retained the spot after one lap.  J.J. Yeley, driving Bowman’s old ride in the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota, took it on Lap 2.  Gaughan snagged 43rd again by Lap 8, then was the first car to lose a lap on Lap 16.  A half-dozen cars had lost a lap by the first competition caution on Lap 25, but no one had yet fallen out of the race.

Then, under the ensuing caution, smoke billowed from the right-side pipes on Bowman’s #7 Chevrolet.  NASCAR’s leaderboard indicated that Bowman had stayed out to lead a lap under the yellow and earned a bonus point.  However, when the final results were posted, Joey Logano was credited with that lap.  In either case, Bowman pulled off the track on Lap 28, his race done.

When the checkered flag fell, two big names joined Bowman in the Bottom Five.  42nd-place Carl Edwards led 2 laps and was looking for his first victory in Joe Gibbs’ #19 Comcast Business Toyota.  On Lap 195, he was in a tight race with Kasey Kahne for a spot inside the Top 10 when Edwards broke loose, slamming Kahne into the fence.  Kahne retaliated with a bump in the tri-oval, and Edwards broke loose in Turn 1, collecting the inside wall.  The wreck only dropped Edwards to 41st, however, as six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson had twice cut down a right-front tire, sending him behind the wall for more than 30 laps of repairs.  Johnson averted his fifth 42nd-place finish when he returned to the track before Edwards, causing the two drivers to switch positions by race’s end.

Finishing 40th on Sunday was Jeb Burton, whose lapped #26 Toyota was rammed by Jeff Gordon in Turn 1 as the two drivers checked-up during Johnson’s first accident.  Gordon apologized to Burton on pit road after the race.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Michael Annett, whose #46 Cypress Chevrolet clobbered the outside wall in Turn 4 during the middle stages of the race.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #7 since April 21, 2013, when Dave Blaney’s #7 SANY Chevrolet, also fielded by Tommy Baldwin, crashed after 36 laps of the STP 400.  The Baldwin team’s most recent last-place finish took place last November at Phoenix, when Mike Bliss secured his LASTCAR title in the #37 Accell Construction Chevrolet.
*For the second-straight year, the last-place finisher of the Cup Series race was the event’s only retiree.  Last year, Michael McDowell earned his only last-place finish of 2014 when his own engine let go after 141 laps.
*This marks the first season since 1999 where the first three last-place finishers of the season all fell out due to engine trouble.  That year began with runs by John Andretti (Daytona 500), Kyle Petty (Rockingham), and Ricky Rudd (Las Vegas).  Petty lost another engine the following week at Atlanta before Ken Schrader’s finish under power at Darlington ended the streak at four.

43) #7-Alex Bowman / 28 laps / engine
42) #19-Carl Edwards / 227 laps / running / led 2 laps
41) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 236 laps / running / led 45 laps
40) #26-Jeb Burton / 254 laps / running
39) #46-Michael Annett / 257 laps / running

1st) Landon Cassill (2)
2nd) Alex Bowman (1)

1st) #40-Hillman Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)

XFINITY: Jeff Green Edges Teammate Bliss For First Last-Place Run of 2015

SOURCE: FOX Sports 1
Jeff Green picked up the 61st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Boyd's Gaming 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #10 Holiday Inn Club Vacations Toyota fell out with a vibration after he completed 3 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish came in Green’s 393rd series start.  It his first since last fall’s season finale at Homestead, 3 races ago.  In all Green, now has 66 last-place finishes across NASCAR’s top three divisions, 27 more than the next-highest mark set 39-time finisher Joe Nemechek.

Green returned to the XFINITY Series in 2015 for his sixth season driving for Mark Smith’s TriStar Motorsports.  At the Daytona opener, Green timed in a solid 22nd, having not turned a lap in Round 2 of qualifying after is flat white Toyota made the cut.  However, when TriStar teammate Scott Lagasse, Jr. failed to make the show in the #19, Green stepped out of the car so Lagasse could drive.  The team managed to re-skin the car just in time for the race, where a crash left him 37th.

Las Vegas would be Green’s first appearance since then, TriStar having not entered his “start-and-park” #10 last week at Atlanta.  His car, as well as that of teammate and 2014 LASTCAR Cup champ Mike Bliss, carried sponsorship from Holiday Inn, which was likely because of an arrangement between the team and the hotel where they stayed for the weekend.

Green didn’t participate in the weekend’s opening practice and ran just 36th-best in Happy Hour, but while 42 cars gunned for 40 starting spots, Green was locked-into the field on Owner Points.  He secured the 34th spot in qualifying, the highest-ranked of those taking provisionals, at a speed of 171.964 mph.  Daytona last-placer Dexter Bean ran two-tenths faster than Green in time trials, but his #92 King Autosport Chevrolet was sent home with the Victor Obaika-owned #97 entry driven by Josh Reaume.

Cody Ware started last in his father Rick’s #15 Lily Trucking of Virginia Chevrolet, but just 3 laps into the race, Green pulled behind the wall and out of the event.  Just 9 laps later, Mike Bliss brought out the first caution when he lost control of his #19 in Turn 1, made contact with the #51 / Casedhole Solutions Chevrolet of Jeremy Clements, then turned head-on into the outside wall.  Bliss was uninjured, but after just 12 laps, TriStar had two of its cars out of the race.

Outside-polesitter Brian Scott became the race’s next retiree when his #2 Albertson’s / Sanderson Farms Chevrolet lost the engine after 14 laps.  It was Scott’s second DNF in three races this season, and his worst finish in the series since a career-worst 41st at Phoenix in the fall of 2011.  Morgan Shepherd, who trailed last week’s race at Atlanta, fell out one lap after Scott, citing suspension issues on his #89 Racing With Jesus / Courtney Construction Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was the Dodge of Carl Long, his 40 Braille Battery / Grafoid machine out with electrical issues.

TriStar’s top finishing car on Saturday belonged to David Starr, whose #44 Zachry Toyota finished two laps down in 17th.  One spot in front of Starr was J.J. Yeley, who earned his second-consecutive top-twenty finish in Gregg Mixon’s Texas 28 Spirits Stage Toyota.  Mixon’s JGL Racing has quietly had a solid start to 2015 ever since Daytona, when two of its cars finished 13th and 17th with Mike Wallace and Eric McClure, respectively.

*This is Green’s second-consecutive last-place finish in the XFINITY Series race at Las Vegas.  Last year, his #10 also exited after 3 laps with a vibration.

40) #10-Jeff Green / 3 laps / vibration
39) #19-Mike Bliss / 12 laps / crash
38) #2-Brian Scott / 14 laps / engine
37) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 15 laps / suspension
36) #40-Carl Long / 34 laps / electrical

1st) Dexter Bean, Jeff Green, Morgan Shepherd (1)

1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports, #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures, #92-King Autosport (1)

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

CUP: Landon Cassill First Driver To Sweep Opening Two Last-Place Finishes Since 1949

Landon Cassill picked up the 7th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #40 Snap Fitness Chevrolet fell out with engine failure after he completed 92 of the race’s 325 laps.  The finish came in Cassill’s 153rd series start.

It is Cassill’s second-consecutive Cup Series last-place finish.

Following their Lap 19 exit from the Daytona 500, Cassill and the Hillman Racing team faced another peculiar on-track challenge.  Having timed in 29th and 30th in Thursday’s two test sessions, then 23rd in Friday’s opening practice session, Cassill looked to turn in a fast lap in qualifying, where he’d line up 39th that afternoon.  Unfortunately, this random draw left his Chevrolet one of the 13 cars trapped in the inspection cue at the start of qualifying, preventing him from taking a lap before time ran out.

As NASCAR attempted to figure out how to set the grid for the back of the field, PRN Radio reported Cassill had secured the 43rd spot - then minutes later said Cassill had lost the spot to the #66 Premium Motorsports entry of Mike Wallace based on his number of race attempts.  It wasn’t until later that day that the grid was corrected a final time with Cassill confirmed as the final starter of the race.

Wallace was sent home with four other frustrated drivers who never had a chance to qualify.  None were more frustrated than Travis Kvapil, whose first start for Team XTREME Racing was scratched when the team’s #44 Phoenix Warehouses Chevrolet was stolen Thursday, forcing them to withdraw.  On Saturday, the still-intact car was recovered by local police in the woods outside Loganville, Georgia, followed by the truck a few hours later.  Reports indicate that Team XTREME will return to attempt next week’s race in Las Vegas.

Following a 33rd-place run in Happy Hour and a 17th-place finish in the XFINITY Series race on Saturday, Cassill rolled off at the tail end of the field on Sunday.  Just a few spots ahead of him were past series champions Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth, who were also unable to get out of inspection in time to take a lap.  Outside-polesitter Kevin Harvick joined Cassill as well, having lost his engine after turning the fastest lap in Happy Hour.  Sent to the back with Harvick was Michael Annett, who took over Brian Scott’s unsponsored #33 Joe Falk-owned entry after the botched qualifying session dropped Annett’s #46 from the field following a 13th-place run in the Daytona 500.

By the first lap of the race, however, all these drivers conceded last place to four-time Truck Series Champion Ron Hornaday, Jr.  The 57-year-old Hornaday, who hadn’t made a Cup Series start since the 2003 finale at Homestead where he drove an R&D car for Richard Childress, signed this year with The Motorsports Group, Curtis Key’s venerable XFINITY Series team.  Following a DNQ in the Daytona 500, the qualifying chaos locked Hornaday into the 34th starting spot.  Hornaday fell to the rear at the start, however, moved past the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota of J.J. Yeley on Lap 4, then fell behind again on Lap 14.

When the competition caution fell on Lap 26, Hornaday and Yeley were both a lap down to the leaders along with the #98 Phil Parsons Racing Ford of Josh Wise, who had also bounced back from a 500 DNQ along with Yeley’s rookie teammate Jeb Burton.  Wise took the 43rd spot under the caution after a penalty for his crewman jumping over the pit wall too soon, then Hornaday moved behind him once more by Lap 34.

On Lap 49, Austin Dillon stayed out too long with fender damage after contact with Regan Smith and cut down his left-rear tire, dropping debris all over the backstretch.  For some reason, NASCAR credited the debris and not Dillon with the caution, so Dillon received the Lucky Dog for bringing out the yellow.  This mistake was rectified less than 10 laps later when Dillon cut down another tire in Turn 3, sending him spinning into the grass.  With the back of his car both damaged and covered in mud, Dillon pulled behind the wall and took 43rd away from Hornaday during several laps of repairs.

If he remained in 43rd, Dillon, who did not DNF a single time during his rookie season in 2014, would have earned the first Cup Series last-place finish for the #3 since September 28, 1992, when the late Dale Earnhardt lost the engine on his GM Goodwrench Chevrolet after 111 laps of the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville.  It was the fifth and final last-place finish of Earnhardt’s career, and with smaller fields being common at the time, he never finished 43rd.  As it turned out, Sunday’s finish would go to someone else.

On Lap 95, Cassill was running 31st, trying to stay on the lead lap during what was becoming a very fast race.  Cassill’s Chevrolet sustained damage to the nose in Dillon’s first caution, a piece of debris punching a fist-sized hole near his left-side headlight decal.  While repairs had been successful, the engine tightened up, then let go off of Turn 2, dropping oil on the backstretch.  For the second week in a row, an engine failure had knocked the #40 out of the race after less than one-third distance.

Dillon returned to the track on the ensuing Lap 98 restart, then finally passed Cassill for 42nd on Lap 134.  Dillon climbed to 39th in the final running order, first moving past Hornaday, whose lapped #30 broke a rear gear after 187 laps.  The other two spots went to Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray, who tangled during the day’s first multi-car pileup triggered by a spinning Denny Hamlin on Lap 258.  Hamlin finished 38th, just two laps ahead of Dillon and outside the Bottom Five.

Turning heads during Sunday’s race was Brett Moffitt. Coming into his Sprint Cup debut last summer at Dover, the 9-time race winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East had made just 3 starts in the XFINITY and Truck Series. Driving the #66 for Identity Ventures Racing (now Premium Motorsports), Moffitt started 18th and finished 22nd, a career-best prior to Sunday. In the six races that followed, Moffitt had not finished better than 34th, failed to qualify at Indianapolis, and endured a miserable night in the Homestead finale where he brought out 2 of the race’s first 3 cautions. Sunday was Moffitt’s first start since Homestead, a one-off driving in relief of Brian Vickers, who returns next Sunday at Las Vegas. In his first start driving the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine, Moffitt stayed on the lead lap most of the afternoon, led a lap late in the event, and rallied in the closing laps to finish 8th. It’s the best finish by the #55 team since Vickers’ runner-up finish last July at Daytona.

*Cassill is just the second driver in Cup Series history to finish last in the first two races of the season.  The only other time it happened was in NASCAR’s inaugural season in 1949, when Glenn Dunaway followed up his disqualification at Charlotte with a DNF at the Daytona Beach-Roadcourse.  Dunaway claimed the inaugural LASTCAR title as the eight-race season’s only repeat finisher.
*This is the first-ever last-place finish for Cassill and the #40 in a Cup Series race at Atlanta.

43) #40-Landon Cassill / 92 laps / engine
42) #30-Ron Hornaday, Jr. / 187 laps / rear gear
41) #24-Jeff Gordon / 256 laps / crash
40) #1-Jamie McMurray / 256 laps / crash
39) #3-Austin Dillon / 282 laps / running

1st) Landon Cassill (2)

1st) #40-Hillman Racing (2)

1st) Chevrolet (2)