Friday, April 20, 2018

PREVIEW: At Richmond, the No. 8 returns, but the Cup invaders don’t

Friday, April 20, 2018
XFINITY Race 8 of 33
ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

There are 40 drivers entered for Friday’s race, down one entry from last week in Bristol. All entered drivers will qualify for the race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Welcome back Jeb Burton, who this Friday makes his first XFINITY Series start since August 18, 2017, when he ran 29th at Bristol for JGL Racing. Longtime sponsor Estes Express Lines joins the effort. Burton has two previous XFINITY starts at Richmond – a pair of 19th-place finishes in 2016.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Friday will also see the XFINITY Series debut of Truck Series upstart Noah Gragson. Gragson takes the place of Ryan Preece, who won a physical race at Bristol last Saturday. Currently 5th in the Truck Series standings, this will be Gragson’s first start at Richmond since September 10, 2015, when he finished 10th in a K&N Pro Series East race won by Austin Hill.

UPDATE: #28-JGL Racing
Tony Mrakovich, who was swapped out for Dylan Lupton following a pair of practice incidents at Bristol, is again entered this Friday for a second attempt at his XFINITY Series debut.

UPDATE: #38, #93-RSS Racing
One week after J.J. Yeley and Ryan Sieg swapped rides following Sieg’s qualifying wreck at Bristol, Yeley was originally entered in the #93 with Jeff Green in the #38. As of Thursday, the two have switched back. Sieg remains in the #39.

DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Ty Majeski was swept up in one of the many accidents last Saturday in Bristol, leaving him 34th at the finish. This week, he hands the steering wheel to Chase Briscoe, who slides over from the Biagi-DenBeste #98. It will be Briscoe’s first start at Richmond.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Cody Ware was headed to a solid finish in Mike Harmon’s Dodge before an accident knocked him out near the halfway point. Harmon himself is driving this week, and will again field the Dodge in place of his Chevrolet. Troptions is listed as the sponsor along with the Shadow Warriors Project.

Welcome back Brandon Brown, who is set to make his first XFINITY start since his family's team ran 36th in this year's  Daytona opener. This time, Brown takes the place of Josh Williams, who ran all seven races this season for car owner Mario Gosselin with a best of 21st at Las Vegas.

MISSING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste
The #98 team is not entered this week following Chase Briscoe’s 23rd-place finish at Bristol. Briscoe moves to the #60 in place of Ty Majeski.

For the second-straight XFINITY Series race, there are NO Cup Series regulars on the entry list.

Saturday, April 21, 2018
CUP Race 9 of 36
Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Erik Jones

There are 38 drivers entered for Saturday’s 40-car field, meaning that all entrants will start the race. It’s the eighth-consecutive short field of the 2018 Cup Series season and the second-straight 38-car field at Richmond, the shortest Cup fields at the track since 1995.

NEW TEAM: #8-Richard Childress Racing
Eleven years after the “Free The Eight” campaign, the number returns to the Cup Series for the first time since April 5, 2009. With Dale Earnhardt, Inc. fully absorbed into Chip Ganassi Racing, the number will return under the Richard Childress banner as a part-time third team (their second start will be on the Charlotte “Roval” in October). Driving the Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff machine is XFINITY Series regular Daniel Hemric, who last year made the championship four at Homestead. Hemric, currently second in this year’s XFINITY Series rankings, finished 3rd and 4th in the series’ two trips to the track last year. He will run double-duty on Friday with RCR's #21 car in XFINITY.

Last week in Bristol, Gray Gaulding’s #23 had noticeably fewer decals for sponsor Earthwater as both the hood and rear decklid only carried a sticker for BK Racing itself. This week, the team welcomes back, which backed Gaulding for five races last year, most recently at Talladega.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #31-Richard Childress Racing
As with Shane Lee's XFINITY debut last week, Ryan Newman will be sponsored by Childress Vineyards. This points to continued sponsorship issues at RCR, following Newman's Chevrolet Accessories backing at Fontana.

Go FAS Racing welcomes sponsorship from Superior Logistics Services, Inc., which last year backed the efforts of Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group’s #33 Chevrolet. Driver Matt DiBenedetto, who comes off finishes of 16th at Texas and 21st at Bristol, has a best Richmond finish of 28th in this race last year.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #43-Richard Petty Motorsports
Joining the #43 team after Darrell Wallace, Jr.'s strong run at Bristol is Food Lion, a grocery chain that hasn't been a primary sponsor on a Cup car since May 24, 1992, when they backed Dave Marcis at Charlotte.

Harrison Rhodes found himself in the middle of one of Bristol's biggest wrecks on Sunday, destroying his Toyota. He will instead drive a Chevrolet this weekend. Industrial Construction Experts, Inc. will back the effort for a second-straight race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
At Bristol, Corey LaJoie averted his third-consecutive last-place finish of the season and finished 25th, his best run since Pocono last August. Nevertheless, Cole Whitt returns to the seat of the #72 Chevrolet this weekend. Whitt’s best of 7 Richmond starts was a 27th-place finish for TriStar in this race last year.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
After back-to-back starts on the short tracks with finishes of 28th and 27th, Gaunt Brothers Racing has not fielded a car for D.J. Kennington this week. However, the hood from their Bristol car fetched $12,000 on Wednesday in a benefit supporting the Humboldt Broncos. Expect GBR to return at Talladega next week as the team last year focused on the restrictor-plate races.

UPDATE: #00-StarCom Racing
With strong finishes of 21st and 20th in his last two starts, Landon Cassill is again entered in Derrike Cope’s #00 Chevrolet this weekend. The team originally listed the return of VRX Simulators as sponsor, but instead Richmond will mark the 2018 debut of the StarCom Fiber paint job the team used in their first races last year. On Tuesday, it was reported that Joey Gase will drive the #00 at Talladega. Cassill's plans are still to be determined.

Friday, May 4, 2018
TRUCKS Race 5 of 23
Dover 200 at Dover
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Camden Murphy

The return of the Truck Series is now two weeks away.

A failed oil seal was the listed cause of exactly one last-place finish in NASCAR history. It occurred on May 29, 1983 during the World 600 at Charlotte. The late Ron Bouchard, who pulled his stunning upset victory at Talladega two years earlier, had qualified 27th in the field of 41 driving Jack Beebe’s #47 Race Hill Farm Buick. His race ended with “oil seal” in the results after just 14 of the 400 laps, three circuits before Tim Richmond’s engine let go. It was the first of only two last-place finishes for Bouchard in 160 career starts. The second occurred at Atlanta on November 2, 1986, this time when his own engine let go after 40 laps of the Atlanta Journal 500.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at Richmond

J.D. at Richmond in 1981, one of his first downsized Pontiacs.
PHOTO: Rich Imlay, Janine Pestel Collection
One of the most interesting measures of J.D. McDuffie’s longevity in the sport is his career at the Richmond Raceway. McDuffie made 39 starts at the track, during which time he made at least one start on all five of its configurations.

McDuffie’s first two Richmond starts were on dirt, a callback to his roots on the clay ovals near his native Sanford. The first of these came on May 15, 1966, when the track was a half-mile bullring known as the Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds. That day, McDuffie lined up 19th in his 1964 Ford and finished 13th in a field of 30, 43 laps down to race winner David
Richmond 1985, with sponsorship from Restore and
Dutch Treats.
PHOTO: Rich Imlay, Janine Pestel Collection
Pearson. His last start on the dirt came that September, where this time he ran 24th of 29.

On September 8, 1968, McDuffie was in the 28-car field that was the first to run on the track’s new pavement. He was also the surface’s first last-place finisher, his 1967 Buick losing oil pressure after 12 laps of the Capital City 300. The track, now known as the Virginia State Fairgounds, was now measured at 0.625 of a mile. By his next start on April 13, 1969, it was the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway and again measured as an exact half-mile. McDuffie finished 6th that day, his first Top Ten at the speedway. A second last-place run came that September, this time due to engine failure. That race marked the first time the Fairgrounds was measured at 0.542 of a mile, its official size for nearly two decades.
Richmond 1986, Rumple Furniture and foil numbers.
PHOTO: Rich Imlay, Janine Pestel Collection

Richmond late 1986 / early 1987 - AC Spark Plug
and backing from Tom Winkle.
PHOTO: Rich Imlay, Janine Pestel Collection
McDuffie finished last four times at Richmond. His third of these took place on September 10, 1972, when the transmission let go after 3 laps. That day, McDuffie wasn’t driving his own #70, but a 1970 Plymouth fielded by Doc Faustina. From 1971 through 1976, Faustina would field cars for several stars of the sport, including Richard Childress, Harry Gant, and the final Cup car Hall of Famer Wendell Scott drove at Charlotte on October 7, 1973. The 1972 Richmond race was McDuffie’s only start for Faustina.

McDuffie’s final last-place run at Richmond took place on September 7, 1980, when a cylinder head issue knocked-out his Bailey Excavating Chevrolet after 44 laps. This finish had historical significance of its own. On that day, he broke a tie with fellow owner-driver G.C. Spencer for the most last-place finishes in NASCAR Cup Series history. McDuffie would hold this record well after his passing. Joe Nemechek exceeded his career mark in 2014.

In all, McDuffie scored eight Top Tens at Richmond and a single Top Five. The latter occurred on October 12, 1975, during a 500-lapper won by Darrell Waltrip. McDuffie finished 5th that day in a car sponsored by the Butler’s, Inc. and Glenn’s Landscaping. His 1975 Chevrolet finished 17 laps down to Waltrip, but was ahead of the likes of Benny Parsons (18th), Cale Yarborough (26th), and Richard Petty, who finished 28th and last due to engine failure. McDuffie also led his only two laps at the track on March 11, 1979 en route to a 7th-place finish.

McDuffie made just one Cup start on the current 0.75-mile configuration. On September 10, 1989, at what was then the Richmond International Raceway, his #70 Rumple Pontiac lined up 32nd in the 36-car field, having bested Greg Sacks for a spot in the field. He finished 31st in that day’s running of the Miller High Life 400, an event dominated by Rusty Wallace. In each of his final three attempts to make the Richmond field, McDuffie was the fastest car to miss the field. This included the 1991 running, when he brought the same dark blue Pontiac to the track that had barely missed out on the Daytona 500 field a week earlier.

This weekend, Richmond debuts yet another new name as "Richmond Raceway" with a new infield. It will be the first incarnation of the facility where McDuffie has not raced.

Reserve your copy of "J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend" at Waldorf Publishing, coming July 15, 2018. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

K&N EAST: Buchanan claims last for the eighth time in crowded Bristol race

Buchanan's car at New Smyrna earlier this year.
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Chuck Buchanan Jr. picked up the eighth last-place finish of his NASCAR K&N East career in Saturday’s Zombie Auto 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway when his #87 Spring Drug Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after 19 of 150 laps.

The finish, which came in his 20th series start, was his first since September 4th, 2017, at Hampton, four races ago.

Buchanan has been a perennial underdog in NASCAR. He and his family team have run a partial K&N East schedule since 2011, when Buchanan made his debut at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. In the 19 starts since, he has finished nine of them, and in all of his starts, he has carried funding from Spring Drug, a drugstore mere miles from the Wood Brothers’ former base in Stuart, Virginia.

Buchanan has also been trying to make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut for five years. Some previously garnered LASTCAR coverage, from a brief mention for his first attempt in the fall of 2014 to being a part of a lengthy list of DNQs in spring of 2017, both times at Martinsville. In fact, all but one of his six attempts to qualify have come at Martinsville, the one outlier coming at Bristol. Unfortunately, all have resulted in four DNQs, in which he was never above 35th in time trials, and two withdrawals.

For 2018, Buchanan switched from his usual K&N number, 19, to the number he had used in all of his Truck attempts (minus one for Jennifer Jo Cobb in 2017), 87. The #19 went to Bill McAnally Racing, which expanded its K&N East effort to three cars. At least for the first two races of the 2018 season, McAnally's #19 has been driven by Hailie Deegan.

The initial entry list at Bristol included 29 drivers. Aside from Jimmy Zacharaias, whose #31 Marsh Racing car withdrew, all entries made the race. In first practice, Buchanan anchored the speed charts with a lap of 17.664, about a tenth off the next driver, Salvatore Iovino, and just about two seconds off of pace setter Harrison Burton.

Starting last on Saturday was Chase Cabre, whose #4 Rev Racing team was the only one to not record a time in qualifying after he crashed on his attempt. Buchanan was the slowest car on time, running an 18.603, a half a second off the fastest car and three and a half off of Noah Gragson, the top qualifier. Interestingly enough, the next-fastest car on time, Anthony Alfredo, hit the wall off Turn 4 and still recorded a lap faster than Buchanan. Alfredo would start 26th but have good help moving up, as his spotter Landon Huffman spotted Zane Smith to an ARCA win last week.

Cabre fired off last, but would not remain there for long. Buchanan took last soon after, eight seconds down after one lap. He would soon surrender the spot to Brandon Oakley, who inherited the spot after a spin on Lap 4. After the ensuing round of pit stops, Cabre found last once more, only to vacate the spot on the restart and hand it to Salvatore Iovino, running his first full East slate this year. Buchanan, running on the same lap as Iovino, retired around Lap 18, though the exact lap is hard to tell because he was laps down when he retired. The decision to retire may have been influenced by a poor-handling car, as he almost turned Noah Gragson while getting lapped.

27th went to Jesse Iwuji, who was the victim of a spin on the backstretch that resulted in Tyler Dippel being called to the NASCAR hauler at the conclusion of the event. Chase Cabre wound up 26th, his awful weekend capped off by a terminal electrical issue a third of the way through the race. Matt Levin took 25th after an accident that did not draw a caution. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Derek Kraus, who encountered multiple issues throughout the day to finish under power 21 laps down.

28) #87-Chuck Buchanan Jr. / 19 laps / electrical
27) #36-Jesse Iwuji / 28 laps / crash
26) #4-Chase Cabre / 55 laps / electrical
25) #10-Matt Levin / 87 laps / crash
24) #16-Derek Kraus / 129 laps / running

1st) Bill McAnally Racing, Charles Buchanan Jr. (1)

1st) Toyota, Chevrolet (1)


Sunday, April 15, 2018

CUP: Early trouble at Bristol hands Ross Chastain first Cup Series last-place finish

PHOTO: Marcus Leno,
Ross Chastain picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #15 Low T Centers Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 3 laps.

The finish came in Chastain’s 9th series start. In the NASCAR Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 26th for car #15, the 563rd by reason of a crash, and the 741st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 38th for #15, the 1,134th by reason of a crash, and the 1,587th for Chevrolet.

A native of Alva, Florida, Chastain has been racing since he was twelve, getting his start in both late models and the Florida Fastruck Series (now the Florida Pro Truck Series). The biggest win of his early career came during the World Series of Asphalt at the New Smyrna Speedway in 2011.

That same year, Chastain made his Truck Series debut at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Driving for Stacy Compton’s Turn One Racing with sponsorship from the National Watermelon Promotion Board (Chastain grew up on his family’s watermelon farm in Alva), Chastain impressed with a 10th-place finish. Chastain’s melon-sponsored machines became a regular sight in the Truck Series for the next two seasons, including a strong partial schedule in 2013 with two poles and a runner-up to James Buescher at Iowa.

In 2014, Chastain made his XFINITY Series debut at Charlotte driving for Jimmy Dick. Once again, he impressed his first time out, finishing 18th – the fifth-best finish in the team’s 58 starts. In 2015, he landed his current XFINITY Series ride with Johnny Davis’ JD Motorsports in the #4 Chevrolet. The duo started out with a 9th-place finish in the Daytona opener. Over the next three seasons, driver and team showed measured improvement, culminating with a best points finish of 13th last year and a new career-best XFINITY finish of 4th at Iowa. As of this writing, that Iowa run remains one of only four top-five finishes earned by JD Motorsports.

Last year, it was again time for Chastain to take the next step, and again he excelled. This time, he’d run a tripleheader at Dover, culminating with his Cup Series debut in the 400-miler driving for Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports. His #15 carrying the watermelon colors and sponsorship from the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, Chastain was locked-into the field with the Charter acquired from the shuttered HScott Motorsports. After an 8th-place run by Michael Waltrip in the Daytona 500, the car hadn’t finished any better than 21st. Chastain improved on this with a 20th-place run, three laps down to Jimmie Johnson.

This year, Chastain and Premium Motorsports reunited at Atlanta, and the youngster has driven the #15 in every Cup race since. Coming into Bristol, Chastain had finished inside the Top 30 every week with a season-best 18th just last week in Texas, a new career-best for the driver. On the XFINITY side, he entered the weekend 12th in points after his first DNF of the year, a rear gear issue in Fort Worth. Bristol would make his first XFINITY start of the season with the Florida Watermelon Association on his #4 Chevrolet.

At Bristol, Chastain ran 17th and 23rd in Friday’s two XFINITY practices, but Happy Hour was marred by an incident not of his own making. The incident occurred while Chastain and teammate Garrett Smithley in the #0 slowed to avoid a wrecked Tony Mrakovich in Turn 2. At that same moment, Christopher Bell closed on the pair at full speed. Citing a brake issue, Bell couldn’t slow his #20 GameStop / Seagate Game Drive for Xbox Toyota in time and squeezed between the two JD Motorsports cars. Bell sideswiped Smithley, then struck the right-rear of Chastain. All four cars were repaired in time for the race. Chastain’s received a new TV panel while the right-rear quarter-panel was straightened and re-decaled. The team’s hard work was rewarded – Chastain qualified 15th and finished 9th, matching his season-best finish in this year’s Daytona opener.

On the Cup side, Chastain ran 34th in opening practice, didn’t complete a lap in the second session, and ran 33rd in Happy Hour. In qualifying, he jumped to 27th on the grid with a speed of 125.248mph (15.320 seconds), just over three-hundredths of a second from advancing to Round 2. It was Chastain’s best career Cup start, improving on his 31st-place showing a week ago in Texas.

Qualifying 39th and last in Sunday’s short field was Kevin Harvick, the only driver to not turn a lap in Round 1. Harvick had been sent to a backup car after his primary suffered a failure entering Turn 3 on Friday, sending the car hard into the outside wall. On race day, he was joined at the back by fellow Bristol winners Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. Johnson cut a tire in qualifying while Busch, the outside-polesitter, wrecked with five minutes left in Happy Hour, sending him to a backup car.

When the pace car lights turned off, Harrison Rhodes surrendered his 37th starting spot to drop to the rear, lining up behind Harvick and Busch. When the race started, Rhodes’ Toyota remained in last, watching as Harvick, Busch, and Johnson began to pick their way through the field. The group made quick work of Chad Finchum, making his Cup debut in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Concrete North, Inc. / Smithbilt Homes Toyota. On Lap 2, Rhodes passed Finchum off Turn 4, and Finchum got past D.J. Kennington in Turn 2. Kennington, his #96 Toyota honoring the lives lost in the Humbolt Broncos tragedy, had just been cleared by the #66 when trouble broke out in front of him.

Up until this point, Las Vegas last-placer Michael McDowell had been enjoying one of the best weekends of his career. He qualified 9th – his second-best starting spot behind a 6th at Talladega in 2014 – and early on was locked in a tight battle with 12th-place starter Daniel Suarez in the #19 ARRIS Toyota. But on Lap 4, as McDowell and Suarez came off the fourth corner, McDowell spun and collected Chase Elliott in the #9 Mountain Dew Baja Blast Chevrolet. At the time, Ross Chastain was slowing off Turn 4 when he rear-ended a slowing Martin Truex, Jr., steering the #78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota into the pileup.

Chastain in the garage after the Lap 3 wreck.
PHOTO: Bob Pockrass
Chastain steered his car to the apron with heavy damage to the front valence. He turned to the garage area, where the crew began repairs, waiting to see if they could come back out. On Lap 13, the crew reported that NASCAR would not let them return under the new Crash Clock protocol, and their day was done. “We’re done,” said a crew member over the radio. “We’re not allowed to go back out.” McDowell’s #34 ran another six laps before his Crash Clock expired, leaving him a disappointing 38th.

The final three cars in the Bottom Five were eliminated in another multi-car pileup on Lap 116. Contact between the #6 AdvoCare Ford of Trevor Bayne and the #37 Bush’s Beans Chevrolet of Chris Buescher steered Bayne into the #51 Industrial Construction Experts Toyota of Harrison Rhodes. Caught in the right-rear, Rhodes spun up the banking directly into the path of race leader Ryan Blaney’s #12 REV Ford. The accident eliminated Rhodes, Buescher, and Blaney, who led 100 of the first 117 laps. The trio soon took the final three spots in the Bottom Five from the lapped machines of Ty Dillon and Martin Truex, Jr.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #15 in a Cup race at Bristol.
*This was also the ninth-consecutive last-place run for Chevrolet in a Cup race at Bristol, a streak stretching back to Timmy Hill’s wreck in this race in 2014.

39) #15-Ross Chastain / 3 laps / crash
38) #34-Michael McDowell / 9 laps / crash
37) #51-Harrison Rhodes / 115 laps / crash
36) #37-Chris Buescher / 116 laps / crash
35) #12-Ryan Blaney / 117 laps / crash / led 100 laps

1st) TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Premium Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

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