Sunday, May 26, 2019

CUP: Erik Jones becomes first NASCAR driver to finish last in All-Star and 600 in the same season

PHOTO: @erik_jones
Erik Jones picked up the 4th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s 60th Annual Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #20 Reser’s Main St. Bistro Toyota was eliminated in a crash after 22 of 400 laps.

The finish, which happened in Jones’ 88th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup points race since last fall in Las Vegas, 22 races ago. In Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 30th for car #20, the 156th for Toyota, and the 581st from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th for the #20, the 315th for Toyota, and the 1,177th from a crash.

Following a rough night in the All-Star Race, Jones returned to the Coca-Cola 600, where he finished 7th as a rookie for Furniture Row Racing and 19th last year for Joe Gibbs Racing. The race would come just days after Gibbs was himself inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It would also see Jones honor his late great uncle Corporal Richard Ellis Eckert, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps who was killed in action on Okinawa on April 12, 1945. As part of the NASCAR Salutes program, Corporal Eckert’s name would be printed on the banner above the windshield of Jones’ #20 Toyota.

Jones’ car showed speed early, ranking 11th in opening practice, 10th in the second session, and jumped to 6th in Happy Hour. In single-car qualifying, Jones ended up just 16th on the grid, timing in at 182.082mph (29.657 seconds). With exactly 40 cars entered for as many spots, all entrants started the race.

Starting 40th was Joey Gase in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota. Following last week’s Monster Energy Open, the MBM team elected not to enter their #46 Toyota following an apparent fuel cell issue during the qualifier. The omission moved Joey Gase from the non-entered #46 to the #66 driven previously by Timmy Hill. The blue car picked up sponsorship from Big Smoke BBQ, who catered for the MBM team at the track, and carried longtime team sponsor O.C.R. Gaz Bar on the quarter-panels by race day.

The only driver scheduled to join Gase at the back of the field Sunday was Matt Tifft, who for the second time this month failed inspection multiple times in his #36 Surface Suncreen / Tunity Ford. Unlike at Dover, Tifft’s car failed just twice instead of three times, sending him to the rear and ejecting a crew member, but avoiding a first-lap pass-through penalty. During the pace laps, Bayley Currey was slow coming off pit road and re-joined the pack in his black #52 Rick Ware Racing Ford. Currey’s car was the latest of the Ware team’s “squadron” of David Marrero-designed paint schemes resembling famous fighter planes. Currey’s #52 SR-71 Blackbird and Cody Ware’s #51 P-40 Warhawk joined B.J. McLeod’s returning Tuskegee Airmen “Red Tails” #53 from the Monster Energy Open.

As Currey got back up to speed, he passed Bubba Wallace, whose #43 Coca-Cola Orange Vanilla Chevrolet was stopped on the apron of Turn 4. Wallace, set to start 29th, came down pit road, where the crew helped him with the window net. He managed to rejoin the race just in time for the field’s three-wide salute, then was slotted back in his proper starting spot.

When the field returned to two-by-two formation, the rear of the field changed once more. Gase originally lined up to the outside of 39th-place Quin Houff in Spire Motorsports’ #77 NASCAR Mobile App Chevrolet. Ahead of them were the penalized Tifft, who was on the inside of original 35th-place starter Ross Chastain. Chastain’s #15 Chevrolet picked up new sponsorship from Cross Country Adjusting, switching from a black paint scheme to a white-and-blue layout. Houff then pulled behind Gase to take over 40th, and Gase found himself 38th to the outside of 37th-place Reed Sorenson in the #27 Chevrolet.

The green flag fell, and Houff closed the gap on Gase to his outside, leading to a brief side-by-side battle. Gase first prevailed, dropping the #77 to last halfway down the backstretch. Houff then pulled low in Turns 3 and 4, drawing inside of Gase, and dropped the #66 back to last on Lap 2. By this point, Gase was 11 seconds back of the lead, and on Lap 6 radioed that his water was at 245 degrees. Now by himself, Gase fell into the grasp of the leaders, and on Lap 17 William Byron cut to his inside at the stripe, pulled to the inside, and put him the first car one lap down.

At almost that exact moment, 32nd-place starter Landon Cassill pulled down pit road in his patriotic-themed #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet. The driver reported smoke in the cockpit, and the crew was working on at least one of the hood flaps which had come loose and needed to be screwed back into place. The crew jacked up the car and looked underneath, losing multiple laps in the process. On Lap 23, the team dropped the jack and Cassill returned to action – just as the first caution fell for a wreck.

On that 23rd lap, Jones was running 12th when the right-front tire failed in Turn 4, sending him hard into the outside wall. Jones kept his car in the outer groove, stopped just past the start / finish line, and dropped the window net. He climbed out under yellow, done for the day. Track officials towed the #20 behind the wall using the entrance to the infield portion of Charlotte’s Roval configuration near the end of pit road. Under that caution, Cassill passed Jones for last, where the #20 would remain. Jones was uninjured and released from the care center soon after. It was Jones' first bottom-five finish of 2019.

Finishing 39th was Matt DiBenedetto, also the victim of a right-front failure when his #95 Procore – Safety Qualified Toyota slapped the wall off Turn 2. The 38th spot fell to Cody Ware, whose Jacob Companies P-40 Warhawk Ford had an issue with the rear gear that eliminated him during the DiBenedetto caution. Cassill only climbed to 37th after his brief stay in last, the car filling with smoke once more due to a busted oil cooler. Rounding out the group was Chastain, whose new-look #15 made it just 134 laps before suspension woes.

Both the #77 of Quin Houff and the #53 of B.J. McLeod benefited from a pair of Lucky Dogs in the first half of the race, and each were still on the lead lap just past the race’s halfway point in 28th and 27th, respectively. Both would ultimately finish under power in 28th and 29th, Houff ahead of McLeod, each four and five laps down.

Dodging the night's many wrecks was Corey LaJoie, who finished 12th. It was just one spot short of matching his career-best series finish of 11th, and was easily his best run on a non-superspeedway race. The run was all the more sweet as representatives of his sponsor Superior Logistics Inc. were in attendance.

David Ragan also enjoyed one of his best recent runs on a non-plate track. Welcoming back Daytona sponsor Select Blinds, Ragan worked his way into the Top 10 late in Stage 3, then stayed out on old tires for the final five-lap restart. Though asked by Truex if he'd fall to the rear, Ragan restarted up front and stayed arpund 3rd for a couple laps before settling into 15th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #20 in a Cup points race at Charlotte.
*Jones is also the first driver to finish last in both the NASCAR All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same season. Prior to this year, the closest it had come to happening was when Kurt Busch trailed the 2005 All-Star Race, then the 600 in 2006.

40) #20-Erik Jones / 22 laps / crash
39) #95-Matt DiBenedetto / 47 laps / crash
38) #51-Cody Ware / 51 laps / rear gear
37) #00-Landon Cassill / 108 laps / oil cooler
36) #15-Ross Chastain / 134 laps / suspension

1st) Front Row Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing (3)
2nd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (2)
3rd) Germain Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (2)


XFINITY: Chad Finchum scores first last-place finish; Shepherd’s and Harmon’s cars show speed with Cassill and Murphy

PHOTO: @ChadFinchum
Chad Finchum picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Alsco 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #42 Smithbilt Homes Toyota fell out with a blown engine after 5 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Finchum’s 49th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th for car #42, the 126th for Toyota, and the 257th from engine failure. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 36th for the #42, the 314th for Toyota, and the 1,070th blamed on the engine.

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Finchum began racing go-karts when he was six, and drove to three championships in Bandoleros. According to his website, he graduated to Late Models by 2010 and won just his second time out at the Newport (Tennessee) Speedway. The next year, while continuing to rack up victories on local bullrings, he made his K&N Pro Series East debut at Greenville-Pickens, finishing 18th in a race won by Brett Moffitt. His own first win came five years later at his home track in Bristol, driving for retired XFINITY veteran Eric McClure.

The 2017 season saw Finchum make the move to XFINITY Series competition, where he first worked with Carl Long at Motorsports Business Management (MBM). His debut came at Dover, where he steered the #40 Chevrolet to a 34th-place finish after engine trouble. A 29th followed that summer at Kentucky, and he improved to a 28th in his return at Bristol. The #40 became Finchum’s regular ride in 2018, with sponsorship from Smithbilt Homes. His best finish of the year was a 14th at Daytona in July, but he also impressed that fall in back-to-back races in Kansas and Texas, finishing 16th and 17th. He even made his Cup debut with Long, again at Bristol, where a crash left him 33rd.

This year, MBM has increased its focus on the XFINITY Series with a four-car effort. For most of this season – except the plate races, where Max Tullman drove in his place – Finchum has driven the #42. The number was newest to the MBM effort, its Owner Points obtained after the closure of Chip Ganassi Racing’s XFINITY effort following the collapse of sponsor DC Solar. Cancelled qualifying efforts ended up giving Finchum outside-pole starts in his first two races this year in Atlanta and Las Vegas. His best finish of the year came the next time out at Phoenix, where he put the #42 20th on the grid, then finished 19th. Coming into Charlotte, he sat 29th in points.

Finchum was one of 39 drivers on the preliminary entry list for Charlotte, a list which didn’t at first have Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 despite David Starr’s earlier announcement of coming on as sponsor. Starr was added by Wednesday, averting the team’s first non-entry since 2013, meaning two teams would miss the show. It was perhaps this reason why two of the sport’s owner-drivers – Morgan Shepherd and Mike Harmon – handed over the wheel to other drivers. Shepherd’s #89 Visone RV Chevrolet went to Cup regular Landon Cassill, who most recently raced the car last fall at Homestead. This time around, Cassill ran 14th in the opening practice and jumped to an impressive 9th in Happy Hour. In qualifying, he turned this 13th-fastest lap. It was the best starting spot by a Shepherd-owned car since July 3, 2009, when the veteran rolled off 10th under the lights at Daytona.

Driving Harmon’s #74 The Journey Home Project / The Sign Shop Chevrolet was Monster Jam competitor and part-time Truck Series driver Camden Murphy, who had not run in XFINITY since 2016. Murphy had originally been entered in the #17, which Bayley Currey tweeted was a collaborative effort between Rick Ware Racing, which provided the car, and Harmon’s team. Currey instead took the wheel of the #17, which carried Harmon’s red numbers on the door. Murphy’s turn in the #74 put him 23rd in the first practice, 22nd in Happy Hour, and he qualified 20th, just five spots behind Currey. It was the best starting spot for one of Harmon’s cars since another race at Daytona - February 21, 2015, when he started 19th.

With both Harmon and Shepherd’s cars in the race, two other drivers missed the show. Jairo Avila, Jr. climbed aboard B.J. McLeod’s #99 JW Transport Chevrolet, and though his lap of 171.200mph (31.542 seconds) outpaced four other drivers, he was too low in Owner Points to rely on a provisional. Also sent home was Dillon Bassett, who was set to run against his brother Ronnie Bassett, Jr. in the same XFINITY race for the first time. Unfortunately, Bassett’s #90 didn’t complete a lap, and was out-ranked by two other drivers who didn’t put up a time. One was the #4 Florida Watermelon Association Chevrolet of Ross Chastain, whose clutch malfunctioned in qualifying. The other was Chad Finchum.

By the narrowest of margins, Finchum started the race in the 38th and final starting spot. He’d run better in the lead-up to the race, putting up the 28th-best lap of 35 drivers in opening practice, then improved to 25th of 37 in Happy Hour. The issue was technical inspection – a delay put him on the five-minute clock, and the #42 couldn’t present in time to take a lap.

As the cars prepared for the start, Finchum gained a few spots as other drivers fell to the rear. Unapproved adjustments sent to the rear 25th-place starter Brandon Brown, debuting a new second team from the Brandonbilt Motorsports effort with his #68 Vero Chevrolet; 35th-place Justin Haley, who suffered a broken axle on his #11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet; 15th-place Bayley Currey in the #17 and 37th-place Ross Chastain.

By one lap to green, all four of these drivers were back ahead of Finchum as the #42 joined others in voluntarily falling to the rear. Coming off Turn 4, FS1's cameras showed last place now belonged to Joe Nemechek - 31st on the grid and 19th in Happy Hour - making his first start in MBM's #13 Toyota. Ahead of him were four nearly identical black Chevrolets: 33rd-place qualifier Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet alongside 27th-place Jeff Green in the #38 RSS Racing Chevrolet, then 20th-place Camden Murphy in the Harmon #74 and 23rd-place Josh Bilicki in the #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet. Finchum was now 32nd, just ahead of the break back to the four-car pack. On his bumper was the #78 Lake Norman Patio & Game Rooms Chevrolet of Vinnie Miller. Behind them was a carlength's open track back to the two-by-two rows of Bilicki, Murphy, Green, and Mills, then another carlength to Nemechek in last.

On the break, Nemechek eased through the gears, dropping back even further behind the four black Chevrolets. From Finchum’s tweets, the driver reported on the very first lap of the race that his car had an engine issue. By Lap 4, Finchum had slipped behind the black Chevrolets and was back to 37th, just a half-second in front of the trailing Nemechek. He took over last on Lap 5, now more than 11 seconds back of the lead, and pulled into the garage. The crew found a plug wire was off, then sent him back out there to see if it was resolved. It wasn’t – the #42 slowed on the apron and had to be pushed by a tow truck to the garage. The team was done for the day. Although Finchum’s account tweeted that it was a mechanical issue, the official results cited “engine.”

Green and Bilicki's black Chevrolets finished 37th and 36th, both out in the first ten laps. Next was Timmy Hill, one of Finchum’s teammates, who welcomed returning sponsorship from on his Toyota, but lasted just 17 laps before his own engine let go. Rounding out the group was Landon Cassill, who turned 31 laps in Morgan Shepherd’s #89 before citing a vibration. Camden Murphy’s run in Harmon’s #74 nearly went the distance before a front hub failed after 173 laps, leaving him 29th, four spots ahead of Currey in the Ware / Harmon #17.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #42 in an XFINITY race since August 5, 2017, when Kyle Larson’s engine let go after 12 laps around Watkins Glen. The number had never before finished last in an XFINITY race at Charlotte. In fact, the number remains one of the rarest to trail a race in this series. It never one finished last between June 8, 1985 (Joe Kelly at Hickory) and July 18, 2009 (Kevin Hamlin at Gateway).

38) #42-Chad Finchum / 5 laps / engine
37) #38-Jeff Green / 6 laps / brakes
36) #93-Josh Bilicki / 10 laps / vibration
35) #66-Timmy Hill / 17 laps / engine
34) #89-Landon Cassill / 31 laps / handling

1st) Motorsports Business Management (5)
2nd) RSS Racing (3)
3rd) DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (5)


Thursday, May 23, 2019

PREVIEW: Rare car numbers add statistical significance to Charlotte entry lists

Saturday, May 25, 2019
XFINITY Race 11 of 33
Alsco 300 at Charlotte
2018 Last-Place Finisher: B.J. McLeod

The XFINITY Series returns for the first time since Dover at the beginning of the month. There are 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning one will miss the show. UPDATE: Make that 40 drivers following the late addition of Means Racing's #52 by Wednesday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Jeb Burton is set to make his second XFINITY Series start of the season, and first since a 5th-place finish in Texas. Then as now, his sponsor will be longtime Burton family backer State Water Heaters. Burton takes the place of Zane Smith, 9th at Dover.

RETURNING: #10-Kaulig Racing
The second Kaulig entry returns to the series this weekend for its fifth start of the year and first since Ross Chastain’s 30th-place run in Talladega. The driver this time is Austin Dillon, who turned in the car’s best finish of 2019 in Las Vegas – a 4th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
Joe Nemechek makes his first XFINITY Series attempt in exactly a year, dating back to an 18th-place run in this race for JD Motorsports. This time around, he takes John Jackson’s place in MBM’s #13 Toyota – his first time driving for team owner Carl Long. The rest of MBM’s driver lineup remains the same this week with Joey Gase (#35), Chad Finchum (#42), and Timmy Hill (#66). Hill welcomes back returning sponsorship from, which joined him last fall on the Roval.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing
Camden Murphy looks to make only his second XFINITY Series start and first since a 26th-place showing in his series debut at Bristol in 2016. Just like that night, he will drive for Rick Ware. Murphy takes the place of Bayley Currey, who will instead drive Ware’s #52 Cup entry on Sunday. UPDATE: As of late Wednesday, Murphy's return to the series will have to wait - Currey will run double-duty for Ware. According to Currey, the run will be a combined effort between the Ware team and Mike Harmon Racing. The car carries numbers in the Harmon team's font.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Jeffrey Earnhardt and his ubiquitous iK9 sponsorship return to the #18 team this week, taking the place of 15th-place Dover finisher Riley Herbst. It will be Earnhardt’s fifth XFINITY Series start of the season and first since a 26th-place finish in Talladega.

TEAM UPDATE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
Conspicuously absent from the preliminary entry list was Jimmy Means Racing and driver David Starr. A Means-prepared #52 has not missed an XFINITY Series race since the 2013 finale at Homestead, where the team likewise wasn’t entered. UPDATE: David Starr and the Means Racing team will be at the race on Saturday with new sponsorship from The team was added back onto the list by Wednesday.

NEW TEAM: #68-Brandonbilt Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
Brandonbilt Motorsports fields two cars for the first time this weekend, adding the #68 to their flagship #86. The addition comes as Mason Diaz rejoins the team to drive the #86 with sponsorship from Solid Rock Carriers and The Sign Shop, just as he had in Richmond. Unlike that night, where Brandon Brown had to drive in place of Josh Bilicki for RSS Racing, Brown will drive the new #68 with sponsorship from Vero. If Brown qualifies, it will mark the first XFINITY start for car #68 since July 1, 2011, when Carl Long made his final start for the short-lived Fleur-de-lis Motorsports at Daytona.

TEAM UPDATE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
In addition to the assistance given to Rick Ware's #17 (see above), Camden Murphy - displaced by Bayley Currey in the #17 - has practiced the #74 in place of Harmon. Harmon is still the listed driver for Saturday.

TEAM UPDATE: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Landon Cassill has been practicing Morgan Shepherd's #89 on Thursday, picking up a strong 9th in the second session. Shepherd is still the listed driver for Saturday.

Charlotte will also see brothers Dillon Bassett and Ronnie Bassett, Jr. run against each other in the same XFINITY race for the first time. Dillon takes the #90, bumping Ronnie to the returning #92, a third DGM entry last seen at Richmond. Dillon finished 15th in his lone series start that night, matching the best of Ronnie’s three starts this year. Both cars will be sponsored both by Bassett Gutters and Moore as well as American Wood Reface. Josh Williams remains the driver of DGM’s #36.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Jairo Avila, Jr. makes his second XFINITY start of the season and first since a 25th-place finish in Las Vegas. He takes the place of Tommy Joe Martins, 21st in Dover.

CUP INVADERS: #10-Austin Dillon

Sunday, May 26, 2019
CUP Race 13 of 36
60th Annual Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Kevin Harvick

There are exactly 40 entrants for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the fourth full field of 2019 and the third in the last four races.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #15-Premium Motorsports
On Wednesday came the announcement that Ross Chastain has picked up new sponsorship for the Coca-Cola 600. Cross Country Adjusting will back the #15 Chevrolet this Sunday.

MISSING: #31-Richard Childress Racing
Tyler Reddick turned heads in just his second Cup start, finishing 9th under the lights in Kansas. This week, he focuses on the XFINITY race on Saturday, and the #31 is not entered in Sunday’s main event.

MISSING: #46-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
As of this writing, Carl Long’s MBM effort has only entered one of its two Cup cars from Kansas and the Monster Energy Open. Joey Gase makes the move from the #46, not entered this week, to take Timmy Hill’s place in the #66. Hill will instead focus on Saturday’s XFINITY race in MBM’s other #66.

TEAM UPDATE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware will enter all three of their cars from the Open, including B.J. McLeod’s Tuskegee Airmen tribute car #53. As reported last week, the entry is the first for the #53 in a Cup points race since April 30, 1995, when Ritchie Petty missed the field for the Winston Select 500 at Talladega. If the car starts, it will be the number’s first green flag in a points race since Petty’s 41st-place finish in the Pepsi 400 on July 2, 1994.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman and the Gaunt Brothers team rejoin the Cup tour for the first time since his 27th-place showing in Talladega. No sponsor is yet listed for the #96 Toyota.

Friday, June 7, 2019
TRUCKS Race 9 of 23
Rattlesnake 400 at Texas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Todd Peck

The Truck Series takes the week off and will return in two weeks at Texas.

Today in LASTCAR history (May 23, 1965): Junior Spencer picks up the first last-place finish of his Cup Series career when his #17 1964 Ford suffers an oi leak after 9 laps of the World 600. Spencer, a native of Hamlin, West Virginia, was making his ninth of 25 career Cup starts, and his first at Charlotte. Though he started just 21 of 55 races in the ’65 season, he finished inside the Top 10 seven times, including a career-best 5th at the (Birmingham) Fairgrounds Raceway on June 6.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

ARCA: Hailie Deegan’s headlining debut done after 30 laps

PHOTO: @VenturiniMotor
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Hailie Deegan finished last for the first time in her ARCA Menards Series career in Sunday’s Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 at Toledo Speedway when her #55 Toyota Racing Development 40th Anniversary Toyota crashed out after completing 29 of 152 laps. The finish came in her series debut.

Deegan has caught the NASCAR world's attention the past twelve months, having won her first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Meridian Speedway in Idaho last August, then followed that up with another win on the Las Vegas dirt this spring. Besides those two, however, Deegan has seen less success. Sure, her West results many times were in the back half of the top ten, but when matched up against K&N East fields, those results have topped out at tenth. Many viewed her upcoming six-race ARCA slate with the series best team in Venturini Motorsports as a way to prove her worth. Granted, rarely are debuts easy, but both in practice and qualifying, Deegan was last of the 12 well-funded cars at Toledo this weekend. All evaluations, however, will have to wait until at least after her next start at Pocono next month.

An even 20 cars showed up on the entry list, with Deegan’s debut in the Venturini Motorsports #55 headlining the stories for the weekend. As usual, ARCA’s short track crew came out in full force, going for their "championship within a championship." Chandler Smith, Ty Gibbs, Sam Mayer, Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim continued their pursuit of the full Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge, while Tim Richmond, Alex Clubb and Eric Caudell continued their partial schedules. Rick Clifton and Richard Doheny filled out the #11 and #1 cars for Fast Track Racing, and Mike Basham returned to the #69 for Kimmel Racing.

After the first practice concluded, the car count was down to eighteen: Caudell did not make the trip to Ohio, and Brad Smith did not take the track either. Smith later posted on Twitter that engine complications from the previous contest at Nashville kept the team out of this race. It was the first race that Smith did not take the track for since this very same event four years ago, after running the first five events of the season for James Hylton before turning the car over to Rick Clifton and later James Swanson. As for the cars that took the track, Clifton was slowest, turning a lap of just over 18.5 seconds. He managed to slice about a tenth of a second off of his lap time for qualifying but remained at the bottom of the speed charts, leaving the #11 to line up last on Sunday with no post-qualifying penalties assessed.

Breaking with recent trend, this ARCA Menards Series race had all cars complete more than ten laps. The trio of Clifton, Doheny and Basham were near the tail of the field on lap 30 when a stack-up occurred in the back half of the Top Ten. Heading into Turn 3, Joe Graf, Jr., Deegan, and Gray were all running in close proximity. Deegan got under Graf, and while the MAVTV camera angle offered no definitive account of what happened, most reports indicated that Graf cut down just a tad on Deegan, which led to a check-up and Gray plowing into the back of the 55. Deegan and Graf then proceeded to bury their cars in the infamous foam that lines Toledo.

Soon after, the cars of Basham, Doheny and Clifton parked, rounding out the Bottom Five.

18) #55-Hailie Deegan / 29 laps / crash
17) #77-Joe Graf, Jr. / 29 laps / crash
16) #69-Mike Basham / 34 laps / suspension
15) #1-Richard Doheny / 38 laps / overheating
14) #11-Rick Clifton / 47 laps / brakes

1st) Brad Smith Motorsports, Venturini Motorsports (2)
2nd) Kimmel Racing, Mullins Racing (1)

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


Sunday, May 19, 2019

CUP: Fast and furious last-place battle ends with Erik Jones last in the All-Star Race

PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images
Erik Jones finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #20 Craftsman Toyota fell out with crash damage after 77 of 88 laps.

Jones arrived in Charlotte 14th in the point standings, jumping back into Playoff contention after back-to-back top-ten finishes in Dover and Kansas. Following his last-place run in the season-opening Clash at Daytona, Jones finished a strong 3rd in the Daytona 500, following his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch to the finish line. A 13th-place finish in Las Vegas was followed by three finishes of 19th or worse, though at Fontana he nearly overcame minor damage to the driver’s door before he faded late. A 4th-place run in Texas was followed by three more poor showings at Bristol, Richmond, and Talladega, before a 6th at Dover and a 3rd at Kansas brought him to the All-Star break.

Locked-in to his first All-Star Race after his first career win at Daytona last July, Jones’ #20 Toyota would carry sponsorship from Craftsman for the first time since Bristol. In opening practice, Jones turned the 10th-fastest lap, then improved to 7th in the second session. He also qualified 7th of the 15 locked-in cars, his combined pit stop and hot laps equaling out at 134.546mph (2 minutes, 0.405 seconds).

Starting last in Saturday’s All-Star event was Alex Bowman, who after three consecutive 2nd-place finishes finished 3rd in the Open and earned the All-Star Fan Vote. Bowman looked to turn things around from a difficult showing in 2018, where he gave Hendrick Motorsports its first All-Star last-place finish since 1995.

What ensued was one of the most competitive and fast-paced last-place battles in recent history.

At the start, Bowman pulled alongside Kyle Larson, whose #42 Advent Health Chevrolet won the final stage of the Open race. As the two raced side-by-side, William Byron’s #24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevrolet fell back in the far outer lane. Byron then reeled in Bowman, pulled to the inside, and on Lap 2 got by off the second corner. On Lap 3, Bowman worked his way past Aric Almirola, whose #10 Smithfield Ford trailed the race for the first time. Three circuits later, Almirola raced past Kurt Busch, putting the #1 Gear Wrench / Monster Energy Chevrolet to last. Kurt raced past Almirola on Lap 9, and Almirola slingshot past seconds later. On Lap 14, Busch passed Bowman on the inside, but this time the #88 stayed locked on the rear bumper of the #1. Bowman side-drafted Kurt to get by on Lap 20. Kurt did the same in Turn 1 on Lap 23, and Bowman again blasted past in Turn 3.

Jones entered the battle on Lap 27, when the caution fell for debris from his #20. Running 9th at the time, Jones slid up the track in Turn 4, then cut down a right-front tire, sending him sliding into the outside wall. He managed to get down to the apron with the right side of the car scraped-up and the right-front fender torn up, but a tire carcass from the right-front drew the yellow. Since caution laps didn’t count, Jones didn’t lose a lap as he made repeated stops for new tires and repairs. Kurt Busch also made an extended stop with his crew looking under the rear of the car. The incident forced a green-white-checkered restart with Jones still last and a patched-up right-front fender. Jones managed to keep up with the pack, and passed Bubba Wallace’s #43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet to his inside off Turn 2. On Lap 33, Wallace zipped past Jones on the backstretch, then both split around a slowing Almirola, who now had a loose wheel. The caution then fell to end Stage 1 with Almirola in last.

Under the Stage 1 caution, Jones made another long pit stop and resumed control of last place. But when the race restarted on Lap 34, Ryan Newman took over the spot in his #6 Acorns Ford. Newman suffered damage to the nose of his machine, forcing the crew to repair it with several strips of green tape. Newman then worked past Almirola in Turn 3 before sliding into Wallace’s left-rear and sliding into the infield grass. The Astroturf surface from last year’s Roval event prevented Newman’s splitter from digging into the soil.

After another lengthy stop, Newman managed to return to action for the Lap 40 restart for Stage 2, though now a full 22 seconds back of the pack. He was 27 seconds back on Lap 48, and in danger of becoming the first to lose a lap. This lasted only until Lap 52, when race leader Kevin Harvick in the #4 Busch Beer Millennial Car caught Newman in Turn 3 and made the pass. “That's pretty embarrassing right there, guys,” said Newman, who stayed in touch with Harvick as Stage 2 ended on Lap 53, allowing him the night’s first Lucky Dog. Under this caution, Wallace retook last since he pitted behind Newman. Wallace returned to the track first, however, dropping the #6 back to the rear.

Setting up for another two-by-two restart in Stage 3, Jones and Newman were in the final row with the #20 outside of the #6. When the green flag dropped, Jones held it briefly, but dropped Newman back to last in Turn 1 before Bowman slipped to 19th off Turn 2. On Lap 54, Ryan Blaney took last for the first time in his #12 Body Armor Ford. Just a moment later, Newman breathed yhe throttle in the high lane and dropped four seconds back. Newman then made an unscheduled stop on Lap 56 which again dropped Newman a lap down. Jones, meanwhile, tangled with Austin Dillon’s #3 Dow / RCR 50th Anniversary Chevrolet in Turn 4 after Dillon crossed the nose of Kyle Busch’s #18 M&M’s Hazlenut Spread Toyota. This saved Harvick from losing a lap to pit for a loose wheel, and also handed Newman his second Lucky Dog. With that, all 19 cars were not only still running, but all were on the lead lap.

Under caution, Dillon took over last on Lap 60 for repairs from the Jones accident andw as told he had just one set of sticker tires left. His current set had just five laps on them, but were likely flat-stopped from the accident. The only other set left were 20-lap scuffs. Regardless, Dillon passed Jones, who received additional repairs on Lap 61. The #20 crew said that nothing appeared broken on the #20 despite his multiple incidents, but the team may park the car if it was running too slow. The team thus decided on that stop to put on their last set of tires and see what Jones could do.

Newman also pitted on Lap 61, and once again came out by himself, struggling to catch the field as they took the restart. The #6 was 37 seconds back of the lead when the green flag fell, a gap which stabilized at 13 seconds when the field reached full speed. When Stage 3 ended on Lap 73, last place changed between several other drivers, including Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Ally Chevrolet, Wallace, and Dillon. Almirola took last for a brief moment when he was forced to serve a penalty for too many crewmen over the wall. But Newman again retook last under the caution and would restart in that spot.

Stage 4, the last of the night, began with Newman staring down a two-wide field in front of him. The next time by on Lap 75, as Newman was again making a move for 18th, Martin Truex, Jr. took the spot for the first time when his #19 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker ATVs & Boats / USO Toyota was shaken out in the middle line. Seconds later, the caution flew for an accident in Turn 3 when Hamlin had a left-rear tire go down in front of Blaney, who spun the #11 into a passing Dillon. Despite the damage, Hamlin took less time on pit road than Truex for his problems, and the #19 took last for the Lap 76 restart.

When the green flew once more, Truex remained last and fell back on the backstretch. He managed to catch Johnson off turn 4 at the stripe, but couldn’t clear him. Meanwhile, Jones re-enacted Fontana by charging up to 4th before he found the outside wall once more, drawing the caution before a single lap was completed. Shaken out of line once more, Jones was 14 seconds back of the lead when the yellow came out. This time, the #20 beat Blaney off pit road, dropping the #12 to last. Blaney then worked past Johnson on the Lap 77 restart, and Johnson slingshot past Blaney once more. Both then moved past Jones, who slowed on the backstretch on Lap 79.

It was then, with nine laps to go in the final stage, that Jones pulled down pit road, then made a left-hand turn into the garage area. Hamlin followed two laps later, and Busch four circuits after that. Blaney and Johnson were still on the track – and on the lead lap – when Larson took the hard-fought victory, rounding out the Bottom Five.

The feel-good story of the night turned out to be Bubba Wallace, who finished a strong 5th. A difficult start to the season saw his #43 just 29th in points coming into the All-Star Race. The driver revealed that he has been dealing with depression, and a series of increasingly-bizarre rumors surrounded the Richard Petty Motorsports team through the week. Not considered a favorite to make the main event, Wallace parlayed pit strategy in Stage 1 of the Open and found himself side-drafting Kyle Larson on the final lap before William Byron snatched away victory in a photo finish. Frustrated but undeterred, Wallace repeated the strategy in Stage 2, this time running the opposite lane alongside the #41 Arris Ford of Daniel Suarez. The two bumped across the line with Suarez spinning and Wallace racing in. After a second round of repairs and congratulations from his friend Ryan Blaney, Wallace started his first-ever All-Star Race. Though he spent his own times in last, as mentioned above, he clawed back into the Top 5 in Stage 4, running as high as 3rd before the finish.

*This was Jones’ first last-place finish in the All-Star Race, but the second in three years for Joe Gibbs Racing’s #20. In 2017, Matt Kenseth trailed the All-Star with a busted oil cooler.
*Jones becomes the first driver to finish last in both the Clash at Daytona and the All-Star Race in the same season since 2011, when Kasey Kahne did the same in Team Red Bull’s #4 Toyota. The only other time it happened was in 2000, when John Andretti drove for Petty Enterprises, though that time is was because the Petty team voluntarily made themselves ineligible for the Budweiser Pole Award at the time.

19) #20-Erik Jones / 77 laps / crash
18) #11-Denny Hamlin / 79 laps / crash
17) #1-Kurt Busch / 83 laps / crash
16) #12-Ryan Blaney / 88 laps / running
15) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 88 laps / running