Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Bristol (Truck Series)

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
UNOH 200 at Bristol

34 trucks are entered to attempt tonight’s 32-truck starting grid at Bristol.  The only truck missing from the Michigan list is Jennifer Jo Cobb’s second truck, the #0 driven to a 26th-place finish by Ray Ciccarelli.  Five other teams are entered which weren’t in the Irish Hills:

The first is Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #46 Banfield Pet Hospital Toyota, last seen at Kentucky, as Busch, along with J.J. Yeley, are the only drivers attempting triple-duty.  While Busch’s entry may seem to limit the list of possible winners, the latest of Busch’s four Truck Series wins at Bristol was actually back in 2013, and he didn’t run this race last year.  Tonight also marks his last scheduled Truck start of the year.  Harrison Burton will run Busch's #51 in his first start since a 15th at Eldora.

Clay Greenfield looks to make his 3rd Truck Series start of 2017, his first since Gateway, in the #68 Titan Paint Sprayers Chevrolet.  Greenfield has three Bristol starts to his credit, but none since 2013, when he ran 34th.  His best finish at the track came back in 2010, when he drove Rick Ware’s truck to 16th.

Parker Kligerman eyes his first Truck start since Kentucky as Charlie Henderson’s iconic #75 Food Country USA Toyota looks to make its first start since Caleb Holman’s last-place run at Eldora.  Kligerman, who ran 20th in this race last year, was this race’s runner-up in 2012, following his Red Horse Racing teammate Timothy Peters to the checkered flag.

After finishing 28th at Mid-Ohio in his first start for Joe Gibbs Racing, Regan Smith looks to run his first Truck Series start since Kentucky, once again in Ricky Benton’s #92 BTS Tire & Wheel Ford.  Smith’s lone Truck start at Bristol came way back in 2007, when he ran 14th for David Dollar in the #47 Ginn Resorts Chevrolet.

Last of the group is Jesse Little, who earned a pair of strong runs with JJL Motorsports with a 14th at Dover and 9th in Iowa.  Little ran 17th in his lone Bristol start during this race last year.

Defending USAC Silver Crown Champion Chris Windom is back in the Truck Series for the first time since he ran 19th in his series debut at Eldora.  As at Eldora, he drives the #36 Chevrolet from the Mittler Brothers, though this time his sponsor is Baldwin Brothers.  Joining Windom on the Mittler team is North Carolina short tracker Landon Huffman.  Huffman has six CARS Late Model Stock Tour starts to his credit with a best finish of 5th twice at Hickory, and last year finished 16th in his ARCA debut at Berlin.  Bristol will mark Huffman’s Truck Series debut.

At the time the entry list was published, there was no driver listed for Beaver Motorsports, though Josh Reaume is now once again listed behind the wheel of the #50 Chevrolet.

MDM Motorsports won the day at Michigan as Darrell Wallace, Jr. took the checkers in his first drive for Matthew Miller’s team.  Driving the #99 Chevrolet this week is Brandon Jones, who nearly took the win himself in his last time in the truck at Kentucky.  Jones, who will run double-duty along with a turn in the XFINITY race for Richard Childress, will on the Truck Side carry sponsorship from HTPG Refrigeration Products.

On the LASTCAR side of the field, Mike Senica will drive Norm Benning’s #57 “start-and-park” truck for the third consecutive weekend.  If the speed charts from those weeks are any indication, it will be a steep challenge for Senica to beat two other teams and make the grid.

Monday, August 14, 2017

TRUCKS / XFINITY / CUP: Michigan and Mid-Ohio weekend sees extraordinary two-front battle between all four of NASCAR’s top last-place record holders

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Joe Nemechek picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s LTi Printing 200 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after he completed 2 of 100 laps.  The finish came in Nemechek’s 30th series start.

In addition to his 667 Cup Series starts and 427 in XFINITY, Joe Nemechek has dabbled in the Truck Series since 1996.  He made his series debut at Watkins Glen in 1996, where he won the pole and finished runner-up to Ron Hornaday, Jr.  Aside from three starts for team owner David Dollar in 2006, Joe has always competed in his own equipment under the NEMCO Motorsports flag.

In 2013, Joe began to turn his attention from his struggling Cup operation to the Truck Series, where his son John Hunter made his own series debut on October 26 at Martinsville.  In 2014, both Joe and John Hunter campaigned the #8 truck in honor of Joe’s brother John, who lost his life in a crash at Homestead in 1997.  Named for his late uncle, John Hunter broke through with his first of five Truck Series wins at Chicagoland in 2015.  After sharing the #8 ride for two seasons, Joe stepped aside last year, and John Hunter immediately made a bid for the Truck Series title before an engine failure at Talladega knocked him out of contention.

This year, Joe has returned to the Truck Series for the first time since 2015, and is again driving NEMCO’s iconic #87 which he’d made a fixture in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.  He began the year competing in the opening three races at Daytona, Atlanta, and Martinsville.  He ran 5th at Daytona - Joe’s first Top 5 in the series since 2014 – and followed 4th-place John Hunter to the checkered flag.  NEMCO’s #87 didn’t return until June, when a series of short fields encouraged other fellow owner-drivers such as Norm Benning and Jennifer Jo Cobb to enter second trucks.  Here, Joe’s role changed once more as he “start-and-parked” at Gateway, Iowa, and Pocono, then missed the field at Kentucky.

Joe Nemechek is no stranger to the “start-and-park” strategy.  In the early 2000s, Joe and teammate Jeff Fuller parked the team’s backup cars in the XFINITY Series, and Fuller stormed to three consecutive LASTCAR XFINITY Series titles in 2003, 2004, and 2005.  The 2008 economic collapse inspired Joe to bring NEMCO back to the Cup Series for the first time in more than a decade, and as he rebuilt the program by parking in several races, took his second LASTCAR Cup title in 2010.  Joe’s 33rd Cup last-place finish, which came at Martinsville in 2014, broke the career record of the late J.D. McDuffie, whose 32nd finish came in his tragic final race at Watkins Glen.  Combined with another six in XFINITY, Joe came into 2017 with 39 NASCAR last-place finishes, the 2nd-most all-time.  But, even as he parked his truck this summer, he’d yet to finish last in it.

With only 30 trucks on the entry list for Saturday’s 32-truck field at Michigan, Joe returned once more to help fill the field.  Joe didn’t participate in Friday’s opening practice, then turned in a single lap in Happy Hour.  His #87 was slowest overall, putting up a lap of 166.902mph, nearly five seconds slower than his son’s lap of 186.795mph.  Joe picked up speed in qualifying, shaving nearly two seconds off his practice lap with a speed of 174.787mph, good enough for 23rd on the grid.  John Hunter placed 3rd on the grid with a lap of 183.791, trailing only the front row of Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter.

Starting 30th and last was Pocono last-placer Mike Senica, who was again driving for Norm Benning.  Bell Plantation, Senica’s sponsor for many of his short-track rides, added its name to the quarter-panels of his black #57 Chevrolet.  Senica was over 25mph slower than Matt Crafton’s fastest lap in opening practice, then turned in the slowest qualifying lap of 157.604mph, more than six seconds off the pole.  On race day, he was joined in the back by Jordan Anderson, whose #1 Kool Chevrolet-Buick-GMC / Sturgis Bank Chevrolet was sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments.

On the first lap, 25th-place starter Todd Peck, who swapped rides with Camden Murphy to drive D.J. Copp’s #83 Pulse Transport / National Arthritis Foundation Chevrolet, pulled down pit road.  Similar to Matt DiBenedetto in last month’s Cup race at Pocono, Peck crossed the start/finish line as he pulled into the garage area, crediting him with one lap complete.  On Lap 3, Joe Nemechek, now 20 seconds behind the leader, pulled into the garage as well, crediting him with two laps complete.  This ranked Joe one lap and one position ahead of Peck in 29th.  Peck then rejoined the race on Lap 4, three laps down to the leaders.

When the leaders poured into Turns 1 and 2, John Hunter Nemechek was locked in a tight race for 2nd.  Running on the inside of Chase Briscoe’s #29 Cooper Standard Ford, Briscoe turned left past the apex in an attempt to side-draft the #8.  The move caused John Hunter to lose control, slide up the track, and back hard into the outside wall.  John Hunter managed to drive his truck back to pit road, then pulled into the garage.  Like Peck, John Hunter crossed the start/finish line as he exited, crediting him with four laps complete.  Peck remained on the track until Lap 8, still under John Hunter’s caution, before parking his #83 for good.  Since he was three laps down, this gave Peck 5 laps complete to the Nemecheks’ 4 and 2, placing father and son in the final two spots.  Mike Senica fell out next, finishing 27th, with Ray Ciccarelli, back for the first time since Eldora, rounding out the Bottom five for Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing in the #0 Chevrolet.

Taking the checkered flag on Saturday was Darrell Wallace, Jr., his first win in the series since 2014, and incredibly, in his first start since that same year.  Wallace was the latest driver to run for MDM Motorsports, and the first to win for them in the Truck Series.  Matthew Miller’s team is relatively new in NASCAR, having branched out from the K&N Pro Series East into both ARCA and the Truck Series.  The team finished last this year at Daytona with Tommy Joe Martins.

30) #87-Joe Nemechek / 2 laps / vibration
29) #8-John Hunter Nemechek / 4 laps / crash
28) #83-Todd Peck / 5 laps / engine
27) #57-Mike Senica / 8 laps / brakes
26) #0-Ray Ciccarelli / 11 laps / fuel pump

*Nemechek’s last-place finish was just the fourth for truck #87 in Truck Series history, and the first for the number in the series since August 20, 2011, when Chris Jones’ #87 Garbee’s Truck & Trailer Chevrolet lost the engine on the opening lap of the VFW 200, also held at Michigan.

1st) Norm Benning Racing (3)
2nd) Copp Motorsports, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (2)
3rd) Halmar Friesen Racing, Henderson Motorsports, MB Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (13)

Joe Nemechek’s finish at Michigan made significant LASTCAR history.

Joe and John Hunter became the first father-son pair in NASCAR’s top three divisions to finish in the final two positions of a NASCAR points-paying race.  This includes some of the sport’s most famous families and longest-active veterans, including the Pettys, Allisons, Earnhardts, Bakers, Marlins, and Sauters. (CORRECTION (August 15): This is actually the second time in NASCAR history, the first since March 27, 1988, when Richard and Kyle Petty finished at the tail end of the TranSouth 500 at Darlington.  As of this writing, it's the first time it's happened in Truck Series history.

With this, his first last-place run in the Truck Series, Joe also joined a select list of drivers – including Mark Martin, Aric Almirola, and J.J. Yeley – who have finished last at least once in each of NASCAR’s top three series.

Most significantly, this marked Joe’s 40th last-place finish across NASCAR’s top three series, breaking a tie with Morgan Shepherd for the 2nd-most last-place finishes in NASCAR history.

But the day wasn’t over yet---

Morgan Shepherd picked up the 17th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when his #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet fell out with handling issues after he completed 5 of 75 laps.  The finish, which came in Shepherd’s 413th series start, was his second of the season, his first since suspension issues after 19 laps at Michigan, eight races ago.

As Shepherd continues to celebrate his 50th year in racing, he has also begun to make more races than he has missed.  After missing the cut in four of his first seven attempts, the 75-year-old driver came to Mid-Ohio having made seven of the previous ten (and two of the three missed races having been withdrawals at Daytona and Watkins Glen).  Still, Shepherd’s best finish of the season remained only a 35th at Talladega, and he’d come within striking distance of finishing last at both Bristol, Iowa, and Indianapolis.

Shepherd is another driver to have finished last at least once in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.  He’s also the only driver to score a LASTCAR Championship in both the Cup and XFINITY Series, claiming the former in 1983 and the latter in 2007.  In all, Shepherd came into 2017 with 18 last-place runs in Cup, 15 in XFINITY, and 5 in Trucks for a combined total of 38, good enough for 3rd in the all-time LASTCAR rankings.  He then finished last once more in the XFINITY race at Michigan in June, tying him with Joe Nemechek for 2nd in those rankings with 39 apiece.  And now, on the morning of the Mid-Ohio race, Nemechek had once again pulled ahead, taking sole possession of 2nd with his 40th career run.

Shepherd didn’t complete a lap in Saturday morning’s rain-postponed practice session, though he was listed along with Stephen Young’s #78 for owner B.J. McLeod and owner-driver Jeremy Clements in the #51 as three drivers who likely aborted their one attempted lap.  His first completed lap came in qualifying, where he ran the slowest time of 85.591mph, 11 seconds slower than Sam Hornish, Jr.’s pole lap.  With exactly 40 drivers arrived to attempt the 40-car field, this put Shepherd 38th on the grid.

Starting last was Cody Ware, who along with 39th-place starter Joey Gase did not complete a qualifying lap.  For the second-straight race, Ware drove for Veterans Motorsports, Inc. in Mike Harmon’s #74 Dodge.  He was involved in a pair of incidents earlier that day, first by spinning Stephen Young, and then losing his own engine.  Both he and 39th-place starter Joey Gase didn’t put in a time during qualifying.  At race time, Ware only held the last spot briefly.  Seven drivers fell to the rear of the field before the starts, including 31st-place starter Jeff Green, who elected to pull his #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet out of line.  Already, Green looked poised to score his third-straight last-place finish at Mid-Ohio, and he would attempt it in the same all-black Chevrolet he raced at The Glen.

Two of the seven drivers sent to the rear started backup cars: Enrique Baca in the #13 Peak Coolant & Motor Oil Toyota and Cole Custer in the #00 Haas Automation Ford.  In qualifying, Custer’s Ford ran off-course twice, the second causing the splitter to dig into the wet grass, tearing off much of the right-front bodywork.  Though he’d managed the 9th-fastest time in qualifying, the pre-race penalty meant he’d line up 38th.  When the race started, Custer’s car immediately began smoking, and he was black-flagged to come down pit road.  Two more drivers also had issues on that first lap: Sheldon Creed, who cited transmission trouble on JD Motorsports’ #01 United Rentals Chevrolet, and Shepherd.

Shepherd, who started alongside Jeff Green at the tail end of the field when Custer passed them at the start, dropped behind Green after the first couple of corners, and was two seconds behind Green by Turn 4.  An undisclosed mechanical issue caused Shepherd to follow both Custer and Creed onto pit road, and thus Shepherd was ranked 40th, Custer 39th, and Creed 38th.  Shepherd must also have used a garage entrance before the start / finish line, much as Trevor Bayne did in last Sunday’s Cup race at Watkins Glen, as he was not credited with completing any laps while Custer and Creed were listed one lap ahead.  Since Shepherd has only completed a handful of laps in each of his starts this year, it appeared the #89 was already done for the day.  If this were the case, Shepherd would rejoin Nemechek in a tie for the 2nd-most last-place finishes in NASCAR history just hours after Nemechek trailed in Michigan.

However, on Lap 7, Shepherd rejoined the race and, as he came down pit road, was finally credited with his first lap.  The next time by on Lap 8, Shepherd had passed both Custer and Creed, dropping Custer to last.  On Lap 9, Jeff Green made his own bid for the spot when he pulled his #93 off the track, and became the race’s first retiree.  Shepherd struggled on until Lap 12, then retired with handling woes after completing five laps.  This kept Shepherd in 38th, behind Green, but ahead of both Creed and Custer.  Both the #00 and #01 were repaired, and on the 18th circuit, Creed rejoined the race, followed by Custer on Lap 23.  First Creed, then Custer passed Shepherd, who took last for the final time on Lap 28.  Green was shuffled to 39th four circuits later.  Creed and Custer finished 34th and 35th, respectively.

Finishing 38th was Matt Bell, who experienced the day’s most frightening crash when Mario Gosselin’s #90 Chevrolet, ran off-course in Turn 1 and slammed head-on into a tire barrier, upending the car on the concrete barrier behind.  Bell, making his first XFINITY start since 2012, walked away uninjured.  The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by an accident on Lap 53, when 37th-place Jeremy Clements in the #51 BRT Extrusions Chevrolet and 36th-place Spencer Gallagher in the #23 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet ran nose-to-tail into Ryan Reed, who himself could not avoid the spinning Blake Koch.  Reed was later eliminated in another hard crash with Justin Marks, leaving Reed 33rd.

40) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 5 laps / handling
39) #93-Jeff Green / 9 laps / transmission
38) #90-Matt Bell / 15 laps / crash
37) #51-Jeremy Clements / 51 laps / crash
36) #23-Spencer Gallagher / 51 laps / crash

*Shepherd’s last-place finish was the first for car #89 – and for Chevrolet – in an XFINITY Series race at Mid-Ohio.  It also marked the first time an XFINITY Series last-place finisher was listed out due to “handling” issues since March 16, 2013, when Michael McDowell’s #27 Team Boom Toyota fell out after 2 laps of the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 at Bristol.

1st) RSS Racing (12)
2nd) Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Dodge (1)

In all, the runner-up spot in LASTCAR’s all-time rankings changed hands four times on Saturday before it ultimately resulted in the same tie.  Both Shepherd and Nemechek now stand at 40 last-place finishes each, a full 60 finishes behind all-time leader Jeff Green’s current mark of 100.  Shepherd also broke a tie with Matt DiBenedetto for the 3rd-most last-place finishes in XFINITY Series history, and now trails only Green and Jeff Fuller.

Incredibly, Saturday’s battle would carry over into Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, where the third-ranked last-placer would also have his say---

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Derrike Cope picked up the 27th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #15 StarCom Fiber Toyota lost the engine after 107 of 202 laps.

The finish, which came in Cope’s 420th series start, was his first in a Cup race since October 8, 2006, when overheating issues stopped his drive in Raynard McGlynn’s #74 Royal Administration / Sundance Vacation Dodge after 9 laps of the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega, 389 races ago – a race best known for Brian Vickers’ controversial first Cup victory after a last-lap wreck involving Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

From October 8, 2006 until just this year, Cope would attempt another 26 Cup Series points races through 2011 and make just one – a next-to-last-place effort at Martinsville for Larry Gunselman on October 25, 2009.  Outside of occasional attempts to make both the Daytona 500 and the All-Star Race, Cope turned his focus to the NASCAR XFINITY Series, where he started his own team.  The latest incarnation of his program came in 2014, when he bought Mary Louise Miller’s ML Motorsports program and campaigned the #70 Chevrolet for three years.  Late last year, following a 38th-place finish at Kansas in October, Cope suspended operations once more.

On top of his 1990 Daytona 500 victory, one of two in the Cup Series, and an XFINITY checkered flag at Loudon in 1994, Cope has also carved out his own share of LASTCAR history.  As the 1996, 2003, and 2006 LASTCAR Cup Series Champion, Cope also claims the same mark as Joe Nemechek (after Saturday) and Morgan Shepherd as a driver with at least one last-place finish in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.  Cope ended the 2016 season with 26 Cup Series last-place finishes, 9 in XFINITY, and one in Trucks for a career total of 36 – 3rd most in NASCAR history, and three finishes behind both Nemechek and Shepherd.

Most significantly, Cope’s lone Truck Series finish, which came May 16, 2008 at Charlotte, was Cope’s 33rd last-place run across NASCAR’s top three series, breaking a tie with the late J.D. McDuffie for the all-time last-place record.  Cope held the all-time mark until June 23, 2012, when current record holder Jeff Green passed him at Road America.

On February 8, 2017, it was announced that Cope would be returning to the Cup Series part-time this year with Premium Motorsports, the number of races determined by sponsorship.  At Atlanta on March 5, Cope, now 58, made his first start in a Cup points race in more than a decade, finishing 36th.  Heading into Michigan, Cope had started 11 of the previous 22 races with a season-best 31st at both Bristol and Charlotte, and in between worked with the crew in the garage.  The car has carried a number of sponsors, including Sundance Vacations, which backed his 2006 ride with McGlynn Motorsports.  Through it all, Cope had yet to finish last in 2017, thanks in part to the determination of his crew.  He held last for much of the race at Fontana, but returned to the track and passed Jeffrey Earnhardt for 38th.  The team had done the same for Gray Gaulding in his team debut at Kentucky, this time at the expense of Jimmie Johnson.

At Michigan, Cope would drive Premium’s Chartered car, the #15, with returning Pocono sponsor StarCom Fiber.  Cope’s teammate, Reed Sorenson, would drive the #55 with sponsorship from fellow Premium backer Low T Center.  Cope ran 38th of the 39 entered drivers in Friday’s opening practice, qualified 37th with a lap of 188.132mph, then on Saturday ran 38th in the morning session before skipping qualifying.

Starting last in Sunday’s race was B.J. McLeod, the same driver who trailed Cope in each of the first two practices.  As McLeod’s team repaired its two battered XFINITY Series cars for “road ringers” Stephen Young (finished 24th) and Josh Bilicki (29th) after a physical race at Mid-Ohio, McLeod himself would drive the #51 Corrigan Oil Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing.  It was the first Cup start for driver and team since Indianapolis, where they came home 32nd.  Joining McLeod at the rear were Matt DiBenedetto, whose Go FAS Racing Team failed pre-qualifying inspection four times on Friday, and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, both sent to backup cars after each found the Turn 1 wall in Happy Hour.

“There’s a one-million-dollar bonus if you keep that 5 and 48 behind you for one lap,” the crew joked with McLeod before the start.  “We’re gonna lose that one,” said the driver.  “I’m gonna let them go by.”  True to his word, both Johnson and Kahne zipped past McLeod at the start, and the #51 Chevrolet quickly lost ground to the leaders.  On Lap 6, when McLeod was more than 10 seconds behind the leader, he was closing in on both Premium Motorsports cars.  “Faster than Cope,” said the spotter, “catching up to Sorenson.”  The next time by, McLeod was within two-tenths of a second of catching Cope, only to lose ground over the next five circuits.  On Lap 16, McLeod was the first to be lapped by the then-dominant Brad Keselowski.  He lost another on Lap 31.

Matt DiBenedetto showed speed in his #32 Can-Am / Kappa Ford.  However, a fueling issue put the team off sequence, costing them laps to the leaders.  On the 33rd circuit, this misfortune briefly put DiBenedetto in last until McLeod retook it on Lap 35.  Next to bid for the last spot was Reed Sorenson, three laps behind on the 43rd circuit.  He only held it for a lap, as on Lap 44, McLeod pulled his car onto pit road, where the crew raised the hood.  He then went behind the wall, citing a crack in the exhaust.  Back in the paddock, the Rick Ware Racing crew once again set to work on making in-race repairs, which were completed by Lap 62.  That time by, during the caution that ended Stage 1, McLeod drove out of the garage and onto pit road, rejoining the field 20 laps behind.

Other than being in McLeod’s sights during the opening laps, Cope didn’t enter the last-place picture until Lap 117.  Nine laps down at the time, Cope’s car began trailing smoke down the backstretch, and the car pulled low on the backstretch as it slowed.  Thanks to directions from the crew, Cope managed to pull off the track through the rear entrance to the paddock, thus avoiding a caution short of the finish to Stage 2.  “I should’ve just stopped and let them push it in,” said Cope as he waited for a tow.  It wasn’t until Lap 123 that the #15 finally made it into the garage area itself, and not until Lap 131 that Cope took last from McLeod.  Done for the day with engine troubles, Cope’s bid for last was the final one of the day.

McLeod finished 36th, the final car running under power.  In between McLeod and Cope were Kasey Kahne and Daniel Suarez, who tangled off Turn 2 on Lap 140, triggering a hard two-car accident.  Suarez, who scored his first stage win last week at Watkins Glen, led for 3 laps and seemed to have one of the fastest cars before the accident ruined his day.  Rounding out the Bottom Five in 35th was Jeffrey Earnhardt, back behind the wheel of Circle Sport with The Motorsport Group’s #33 Hulu Chevrolet.

39) #15-Derrike Cope / 107 laps / engine
38) #5-Kasey Kahne / 138 laps / crash
37) #19-Daniel Suarez / 138 laps / crash / led 3 laps
36) #51-B.J. McLeod / 178 laps / running
35) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 196 laps / running

*This marks Cope’s fifth last-place finish in a Cup race at Michigan, the most of any driver in series history.  The previous four occurred June 23, 1991 (#10 Purolator Chevrolet lost an engine after 2 laps), June 23, 1996 (#12 Badcock Ford burned a piston after 53 laps), August 16, 1998, (#30 Gumout Pontiac crashed after 7 laps), and June 18, 2006 (#74 Howes Lubricator / Royal Administration Dodge overheated after 12 laps).  All of his Michigan last-place finishes each came for different teams (Whitcomb Racing, Bobby Allison Motorsports, Bahari’ Racing, McGlynn Motorsports, and Premium Motorsports).
*This marked the second-consecutive last-place finish for car #15 in the August Cup race at Michigan.  Last year, Clint Bowyer’s 5-hour Energy Chevrolet for HScott Motorsports finished 40 laps down, but under power, after mechanical issues.

1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (4)
2nd) BK Racing (3)
3rd) Hendrick Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Premium Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (4)

One day after losing a last-place finish to both Joe Nemechek and Morgan Shepherd, Cope’s engine failure kept him within the same three-finish gap behind both drivers.  He also closes within one finish of tying Michael McDowell for 3rd in the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings.  McDowell, who ran 27th on Sunday, has improved by leaps and bounds along with the Leavine Family Racing team.  After claiming three consecutive LASTCAR Cup Series titles as a “start-and-park” driver in 2011, 2012, and 2013, McDowell’s lone DNF of the season came after 168 of 188 laps at Talladega.  His 99.1% of laps completed remains a series record for the season.







Friday, August 11, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Michigan and Mid-Ohio

PHOTO: @Daniel_SuarezG
Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan

For the third-straight race, it will be a short field for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as just 39 drivers will fill Sunday’s 40-car field.

Returning to competition are two Open teams.  The first is Premium Motorsports’ #55 with Reed Sorenson slated to drive (Derrike Cope, with returning sponsorship from StarCom Fiber, will move to the #15).  The other, Rick Ware Racing’s #51, will hit the track for the first time since Indianapolis.  As at Indy, B.J. McLeod will drive while road ringers run his cars in Mid-Ohio.  The #51 will carry sponsorship from Corrigan Oil, which was also set to sponsor the car when the series last came to Michigan before the team withdrew, and the brand moved to Premium’s #15.

As BK Racing now contends with a tax lien issued against the team on August 4, the team still has its two cars entered this week.  Brett Moffitt, who collided with Kevin Harvick on pit road in his Cup return last Sunday, will return to the Open #83.  Moffitt could be one to watch on Sunday, as he scored his first Truck Series win at the track just last year.  Both Moffitt and teammate Corey LaJoie in the #23 will carry sponsorship from JAS Expedited Trucking.

Jeffrey Earnhardt returns to Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group for the first time since he equaled his season-best 26th-place finish at Daytona with a determined run at Indianapolis.  One week after a difficult Watkins Glen weekend where Boris Said was sent to a backup car in his final start, Earnhardt will run the familiar green-and-white Hulu colors on his #33.  Earnhardt finished 35th here in June after a race-long battle with Reed Sorenson at the tail end of the field.

Great job by Michael McDowell and the Leavine Family Racing team.  Not only did McDowell finish 12th last Sunday, his best Cup finish on the track, but the team returns to Michigan with three consecutive Top 20 finishes.  Driver and team finished 23rd here in June.  Also turning heads is Chris Buescher, 11th at The Glen, who has finished 19th or better in five of the nine races since Sonoma (a late crash left him 36th at Michigan in June).

Last but not least, congrats to Daniel Suarez on his first stage win - and first Top 5 - with a 3rd on Sunday.  The run by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has drawn more attention to the rookie’s streak of four consecutive finishes of 7th or better (he ran 24th at Michigan in June).

Mid-Ohio Challenge at Mid-Ohio

The XFINITY Series continues its road course stretch to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Saturday, where 41 drivers are entered to attempt the 40-car field.  Among the entrants is Morgan Shepherd, who withdrew his #89 Chevrolet prior to qualifying at Watkins Glen.  Missing from the list is Jeff Spraker’s #25, which missed the show at The Glen with P.J. Jones.

New to the list this week are two teams which have run partial schedules in 2017.  Precision Performance Motorsports is back with Anthony Kumpen set to make his first XFINITY start since a solid 22nd-place finish in the #46 back at Daytona.  JD Motorsports has brought back its fourth car, the #15, and team owner Johnny Davis has shuffled his driver lineup.  Sheldon Creed, who finished 16th and 27th in the last two Truck Series races at Eldora, will climb aboard Davis’ #01 for his XFINITY Series debut.  Harrison Rhodes, who was originalky moved to Davis' "start and park" #15, tweeted on Thursday he will not race at Mid-Ohio and return at Bristol.

Mid-Ohio was to see the return of Obaika Racing, the elusive two-car operation we haven't seen hit the track since they reportedly arrived too late at Bristol in April.  After a handful of entries with the #97 and Stephen Leicht, on Tuesday the team entered their second Vroom! Brands Chevrolet, the #77, with Ohio native Gregory Vandersluis getting a chance to race at his home track.  Vandersluis, who will aim for his XFINITY debut on Saturday, had been counting down to his debut since he first tweeted it on April 21, though the car wasn't originally on the preliminary entry list. Unfortunately, Obaika then withdrew on Thursday, leaving Vandersluis without a ride.

With the Cup Series racing in Michigan, Joe Gibbs Racing also touts a different driver lineup.  While Matt Tifft remains in the #19 Akron Community Foundation / Acquire Investment Toyota, the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota goes to Regan Smith.  Smith, whose “baby watch” duties for Denny Hamlin at The Glen weren’t needed, won this race two years ago for JR Motorsports, and will make his first start for Gibbs.

Completing the Gibbs trifecta is Always Evolving’s Pirelli World Challenge driver James “J.D.” Davison, who most recently drove in relief of an injured Sebastien Bourdais in the Indianapolis 500.  Davison made his XFINITY debut last year at Road America, and finished 19th in Mario Gosselin's #90.  This week, he  climbs aboard Joe Gibbs’ #20 SportClips Toyota, and will again be one to watch.  Gosselin is himself entered in his #90 this Saturday, one week after Brian Henderson finished 34th with ignition problems at The Glen.

Another "road ringer" on the list is 2011 Cup Series Rookie of the Year Andy Lally, who had a hard crash in the IMSA race at Road America just last week.  Like Davison, Lally impressed in his own road course starts for Mario Gosselin, finishing 7th in this race last year and 15th at Road America the year before.  This year, he joins SS Green Light Racing, a team with which Lally scored another 7th-place run at Road America in 2014.  The white-and-orange #07 Chevrolet resembles Alan Kulwicki's iconic Hooters Ford, though will carry sponsorship from Branson Supply.

B.J. McLeod Motorsports keeps its Watkins Glen driver lineup this week with Stephen Young in the #78 Wealth Recovery International Chevrolet (36th at The Glen), and Josh Bilicki (28th) in the #8 Prevagen Chevrolet.  Also remaining the same is Veterans Motorsports, Inc., which will keep Cody Ware in the #74 Dodge.  One driver not returning is Kyle Larson, last at The Glen on Saturday, as defending Mid-Ohio winner Justin Marks will drive the #42 BBR / Jason Aldean Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi.  In fact, none of the eight Cup regulars who ran Watkins Glen are entered.

Meanwhile, at Penske Racing, Sam Hornish, Jr. returns for his third XFINITY start of 2017.  After two disappointing finishes of 37th and 34th after two crashes at Iowa, the IndyCar champion returns to a track where he won two of the last three poles and finished runner-up to Justin Marks last year.  It will be his first start in the event for Penske since 2013, when he finished 3rd behind A.J. Allmendinger and Michael McDowell.

After entering Chevrolets, Toyotas, and Dodges, Motorsports Business Management will field a Ford for the first time, as Ford driver Tim Cowen will run Carl Long's #40 with sponsorship from Cowen's trucking company.  The 58-year-old Cowen has four XFINITY starts to his credit with a best finish of 18th in his series debut at the Mid-Ohio course in 2014.  Joining Cowen at MBM is Mexico Series driver Enrique Baca in the #13 Toyota. Baca made his debut at The Glen last week in MBM's #40 and finished 31st.

LTi Printing 200 at Michigan

For the second-straight race and the fourth time in 2017, there’s going to be a short field in the Truck Series.  30 drivers are entered to attempt Saturday’s 32-truck field.  Missing from the Pocono entry list is Bolen Motorsports, whose #66 finished 15th that day with Justin Fontaine.  Returning after withdrawing at Pocono is Beaver Motorsports, which has Josh Reaume back in the #50 Chevrolet.  Kyle Busch is the lone driver pulling double-duty with Cup, and is entered in his #51 Textron Off Road Toyota.

As with most of the lists this summer, the Michigan field will include two trucks each from both Norm Benning and Jennifer Jo Cobb.  Driving the second Benning truck, the black #57 Chevrolet, is ARCA driver Mike Senica, who trailed his last time out at Pocono.  Running alongside Cobb in the #0 Chevrolet is Ray Ciccarelli, who struggled in his series debut at Eldora after several late-race spins.

Pocono saw AM Racing combine its own efforts with the #44 team, which up to that point had been shared by Martins Motorsports and Faith Motorsports.  The relationship with AM continues at Michigan, where Austin Wayne Self will again drive the #44 Don’t Mess With Texas / AM Tecchnical Solutions Chevrolet.  Self finished 16th with the team at Pocono.

Mike Mittler and D.J. Copp continue to trade drivers as well.  Todd Peck, whose last three starts came in Copp’s #83, is this week entered in the second Mittler truck, the #36 Chevrolet.  Monster Jam driver Camden Murphy, who drove for Mittler, is now entered in Copp’s #83, which still carries Peck’s sponsorship from Pulse Transportation and the National Arthritis Foundation.  2003 series champion Travis Kvapil remains in Mittler’s primary #63 Chevrolet.

Like Benning’s #57, MDM Motorsports’ #99 Chevrolet didn’t have a listed driver on the preliminary entry list.  That all changed on Tuesday, when Darrell Wallace, Jr. revealed he would be behind the wheel with sponsorship from Maestro's Classic.  It will be Wallace's first Truck Series start since 2014, when he scored four of his five series wins.  After a solid four-race stint in Cup this summer, he will certainly be one to watch.

Ryan Truex’s 3rd-place finish at Pocono was the second-best of his career, and his best performance since he followed Johnny Sauter to the checkered flag at Dayotna just last year.  Truex finished 23rd in his lone series start at the track last year, and will again look to impress in his #16 Hino Toyota.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

8/20/00: Kerry Earnhardt’s brief Cup debut sets a 40-year NASCAR record

On August 20, 2000, Kerry Earnhardt picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Pepsi 400 Presented by Meijer at the Michigan Speedway when his #71 RealTree Camouflage Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 5 of 200 laps.  The finish came in Earnhardt’s series debut.

Though he shares the same famous name as his father Dale Earnhardt and half-brother Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it would be a mistake to assume that Kerry had an easy rise through the ranks.  Dale Sr. and his mother Latane Brown divorced when Kerry was an infant.  His stepfather Jack Key instilled in Kerry a love for the outdoors, and the two often hunted and golfed.  It was years before Kerry saw much of his biological father, and longer still until he began racing.  When Kerry first started racing late models and street stocks in his twenties, Key was on his crew, and he’d race against both Dale Jr. and his sister Kelley.  Soon, Kerry eyed a move to the professional ranks.

In 1993, as Dale Sr. battled for his sixth Winston Cup, Kerry joined NASCAR’s four-cylinder short track division, the Goody’s Dash Series, and turned heads with eight top-ten finishes in 11 starts.  He ranked 11th in the series standings behind champion Rodney Orr, whose ill-fated Daytona 500 attempt came just five months later.  Kerry stayed on the short tracks through 1994, competing in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Racing Series at the Hickory Motor Speedway.  On a track where legends like Richard Petty and David Pearson once dominated, Kerry earned Rookie of the Year and a Top 10 in the track standings.

On July 11, 1998, nearly five months after “The Intimidator” earned his lone Daytona 500 win, Kerry made his XFINITY Series debut at Myrtle Beach Speedway.  Driving for Doug Taylor in the #40 Channellock Chevrolet, Kerry started 22nd and finished 23rd.  Dale Jr., on his way to his first of two consecutive XFINITY championships, finished 5th that day in DEI’s #3 AC-Delco Chevrolet.  In 1999, Kerry made his first XFINITY start at Daytona, scene of his best Goody’s Dash Series finish, and earned a career-best 20th.  That same year, Kerry married his wife Rene.

In the spring of 2000, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. began fielding an ARCA entry for Kerry, and the driver responded with sterling results.  After an early crash in the Daytona opener, Kerry finished 2nd at Charlotte, 3rd at Michigan, and on June 17, took the checkered flag at Pocono by nearly two seconds over Mike Swaim, Jr.

With another runner-up finish coming in ARCA’s return to Pocono in July, rumors were already afoot that Kerry would try his hand at Cup.  A report on July 22 said that Kerry had tested a Cup car at Michigan, and that the speed he put up would have been enough to start 7th.  Over the next few days, reports indicated Kerry would attempt the Cup Series’ next appearance at Michigan in August, and would drive a third DEI car alongside Dale Jr. and Steve Park.  By the time the deal was announced on July 28, the plan changed once more.  Kerry would indeed attempt Michigan in August, but to guarantee a spot in the field, he would drive for car owner Dave Marcis.

59 years old at the time, Marcis was competing in his 33rd Cup Series season.  The prolific owner-driver with the Goodyear cap and the wingtip shoes has remained a longtime friend of the Earnhardt family.  Some of his #71 Chevrolets were sponsored by Earnhardt, and many others were prepared by Richard Childress.  By the summer of 2000, Marcis had qualified for just five of the season’s first 21 races and had finished no better that year than 29th.  Having missed the cut at Michigan in June, Marcis wasn’t planning on running the race at all – until the offer to have Kerry drive.

A deal was worked out where DEI would prepare Kerry’s car, providing technical support as well as the pit crew from Ron Hornaday, Jr,’s XFINITY Series effort.  The car itself would resemble Marcis’ #71, though this time painted all black without metallic green on the front fenders.  Marcis’ sponsor RealTree remained on board, and company president Bill Jordan was excited at the prospect: “We support Dave and Dale in their effort to give Kerry the best opportunity for his debut Cup appearance,” said Jordan, “We have enjoyed a long relationship with the Earnhardt family. Aside from Dale, Kerry is the next best hunter in the family so it's only natural that we support this effort. There is no doubt he'll do a good job representing RealTree.”

As Marcis Auto Racing’s hauler brought Kerry’s car into the Michigan paddock, theirs was one of 49 entrants bidding for a spot in the 43-car field.  Among those entered was Truck Series racer Andy Houston, who would debut a new second team from Cal Wells’ PPI Motorsports alongside Scott Pruett.  Both Kerry and Houston were among the drivers not fast enough to make the field after First Round Qualifying on Friday, but both topped the charts in Saturday’s opening practice – Houston’s #96 Ronald McDonald House Charities Ford top of the board at 189.145mph and Kerry 2nd at 188.887mph.  Both also picked up in Second Round Qualifying and locked themselves into the field.  Kerry tied with Hut Stricklin in Junie Donlavey’s #90 Hills Bros. Coffee Ford for the fastest speed in the second round.  Stricklin won the tiebreaker based on Owner Points, earning 26th on the grid, while Kerry secured 27th.  Houston would roll off 35th.

While Dale Sr. used his first provisional of the year to start 37th and Dale Jr. won the pole, Kerry’s entry into the race marked the first time since August 3, 1960 that a father would race against two of his sons in the same Cup race.  On that day, at Birmingham, Alabama, Lee Petty finished 3rd in his #42 Plymouth while his sons Richard Petty (finished 2nd in #43) and Maurice Petty (8th in #44) also drove in a 16-car event won by Ned Jarrett.

Four of the six teams sent home that afternoon at Michigan had run out of provisionals and were unable to qualify on speed: Geoffrey Bodine, just three months back from his terrifying crash in the Truck Series opener at Daytona, in Joe Bessey’s #60 Power Team Chevrolet; Darrell Waltrip, making his final Michigan start as part of his “Victory Tour 2000” retirement season in the #66 Big Kmart / Route 66 Ford; Stacy Compton, who scored his first DNQ of the year in Melling Racing’s #9 Kodiak / Cougar Ford; and Kyle Petty in the #44 Hot Wheels Pontiac.  Joining them on the trip home were Kentucky driver David Keith in his second attempt at his Cup debut for Sadler Brothers Racing, and current owner-driver Carl Long, still a month away from his own Cup debut in the #85 ST Wooten Ford owned by Thee Dixon.

Starting 43rd and last at Michigan was Robby Gordon.  After losing his Cup Series ride with Felix Sabates in 1997 and running a one-off for Buzz McCall at Sonoma in 1998, Gordon returned with John Menard for a full-season effort.  Gordon’s brightly-colored #13 Ford finished 18th in the Daytona 500, and despite a number of DNQs, the team excelled on the road courses with a 9th at Sonoma and a 4th just a week earlier at Watkins Glen.  Gordon held the 43rd spot on the first two laps, and was still running near the back when the first caution fell on Lap 6.

Heading through Turns 3 and 4, Kerry was racing Andy Houston for position when his #71 broke loose and slid up the track.  The #71 slammed the outside wall with the rear of the car, then hit again with the right-front, tearing up the suspension.  Kerry managed to keep his car at the top of the track before he limped his way to pit road.  The damage proved too severe to continue, and Kerry was done for the day.

“Car was a little loose there, Dave Marcis was coaching me on taking it easy and everything, and right there in Turn 3, car got up under me, took the air off, and it went on around.  Loose as it was, wasn’t no way I was gonna hold it.  We were just trying to, you know, stay outta trouble and just be patient, get the first caution and get it tightened up, but it didn’t work out that way.”  ESPN’s John Kernan also reported that other drivers indicated there was oil on the track, and that Kerry may have caught that oil before the spin.

Finishing 42nd was owner-driver (and current pace car driver) Brett Bodine, who lost the engine on his #11 Ralph’s Supermarkets Ford and dropped oil down the backstretch.  Next was Tony Stewart, who one week after an on-track scuffle with Jeff Gordon at Watkins Glen, found himself accidentally in his path.  Running inside of Dale Jr. with his #20 Home Depot Pontiac, Stewart broke loose and spun directly in Gordon’s path, damaging both cars.  While Gordon salvaged a 36th-place finish, Stewart was out in 41st.

Single-car crashes continued to slow the rest of the day’s action, filling the rest of the Bottom Five.  40th went to Elliott Sadler, who pounded the Turn 2 wall after a blown right-front tire on the Wood Brothers’ #21 Citgo Ford.  39th went to Hut Stricklin in the Donlavey car, the engine blowing in a huge plume of white smoke in Turns 3 and 4.

Sadly, August 20, 2000 was the only time where the three Earnhardts raced against each other.  Dale Sr. lost his life less than six months later, and Kerry wouldn’t race in Cup again for nearly four years.  Kerry made just one more race in 2000, where he finished 6th in the ARCA finale at Atlanta.  He scored another three ARCA wins the next year, one of them under the most tragic of circumstances.  On October 4, 2001, nearly ten months after Dale Sr.’s crash, Kerry was involved in a terrible two-car accident while battling Blaise Alexander for the lead.  Alexander struck the outside wall nearly head-on, killing him instantly.  Kerry, whose car flipped upside-down in the crash, was credited with the victory.

In the years to come, Kerry would continue to try his hand at NASCAR, most notably in the XFINITY Series.  After a three-race deal with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2001, Kerry signed with Fitz-Bradshaw Racing in 2002 for his first full-season effort in the series.  Kerry finished 22nd in points that year on the heels of two Top Fives, including a runner-up to Jeff Burton at Kansas.  The Fitz-Bradshaw team also made six more Cup Series attempts over the next two years, but each time he missed the cut – three times by a single position.

It wasn’t until April 25, 2004 that Kerry finally got another chance at the Cup Series, and he made the most of it.  Tabbed to drive a fourth Richard Childress car at Talladega, Earnhardt qualified his #33 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet into the field and contended for the lead through the race’s first half before a late crash left him 35th.  The run proved so popular that Kerry was a frontrunner for the inaugural “Fan Vote” in the All-Star Race, only for his Chevrolet to be destroyed in a freak accident caused by Casey Mears’ transmission failure at the start.

Kerry made a total of seven Cup starts through 2005 with a best finish of 17th, again at Talladega.  He drove one full season in the Truck Series in 2006, again finishing 22nd in points, and ran his 72nd and most recent XFINITY Series race at Daytona on July 3, 2009, finishing 38th for Rick Ware.  Kerry, who closely resembles his father, also drove one of his father’s GM Goodwrench Chevrolets at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Off the track, Kerry has still been actively involved in racing.  Kerry joined the management team at DEI as a driver development coach from 2006 through 2011, then turned his attention to the racing careers of his two sons, Jeffrey Earnhardt (now driving the #33 Hulu Chevrolet for Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group in Cup) and bobby Dale Earnhardt (who attempted his XFINITY debut last month at Iowa for Motorsports Business Management).

Kerry is also still an active outdoorsman, as both he, Kelley, and Dale Jr. are involved in his Earnhardt Outdoors program.  Kerry and his wife Rene have also branched out into real estate, designing the “Earnhardt Collection,” customizable homes built by Schumacher Homes.  A court case between Kerry and Teresa Earnhardt over the naming rights is ongoing.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #71 in a Cup Series race since July 26, 1998, when Dave Marcis’ #71 RealTree Camouflage Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 110 laps of the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono.  Earnhardt’s finish remains the only last-place run for the #71 in a Cup Series race at Michigan.

43) #71-Kerry Earnhardt / 5 laps / crash
42) #11-Brett Bodine / 23 laps / engine
41) #20-Tony Stewart / 36 laps / crash
40) #21-Elliott Sadler / 63 laps / crash
39) #90-Hut Stricklin / 101 laps / engine

*2000 Pepsi 400 at Michigan, ESPN
*Craig, Andrew. “GRR talks FoS and the legend of ‘Number Three’ with Kerry Earnhardt,” Goodwood Road and Racing, June 25, 2015.
*Fowler, Scott. “NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes a side in family feud over Earnhardt name,” Miami Herald, May 27, 2016.
*Jayski’s Silly Season Site