Friday, October 20, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Kansas

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing
CUP SERIES
Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

Cup Series Qualifying will not be a formality this weekend as 41 teams have arrived to attempt the 40-car field for the final race in the Round of 12. The 41st car belongs to StarCom Racing, whose postponed debut at Dover has finally arrived. Cope finished 39th here in the spring for Premium Motorsports, and this week will give car #00 its first Cup Series start since 2011 – if he qualifies on time.

Two Open Teams from Talladega aren’t entered this week: Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #7 and Beard Motorsports’ #75. After running exclusively on the plate tracks in 2017, the Beard team and driver Brendan Gaughan have much to be proud of in their first season, having finished no worse than 26th, scored a season-best of 7th at Daytona, and Gaughan leading his first Cup laps since 2004. In their place are the two teams which skipped Talladega, and have returned as two of the four drivers who will put StarCom Racing to the test in qualifying:

The first is Motorsports Business Management, returning to the track that saw their Cup effort’s debut back in May. Timmy Hill will be behind the wheel of the #66 O.C.R. Gaz Bar Chevrolet following a 33rd-place performance his last time out at Charlotte. He will also run the MBM’s #13 on the XFINITY Series side, where his teammate will be Bobby Dale Earnhardt, who himself will run double-duty between XFINITY and ARCA.

The second is Rick Ware Racing, which did not start a single restrictor-plate race in 2017 after they came up short in the Can-Am Duels in February. The team made the show in Kansas in May, one of 24 starts in 31 races, and Timmy Hill finished 28th, eight laps down. With Hill driving for MBM, Ware's driver has yet to be announced.

Premium Motorsports’ Open team, the #55 Toyota driven to a 33rd-place finish last week with D.J. Kennington, will this week be driven by Gray Gaulding. Gaulding, who earned a career-best 9th-place finish last Sunday with BK Racing, will carry sponsorship from the local Harrah’s North Kansas City casino, which backed one of Premium’s cars in the last two races here. The Chartered #15 Chevrolet, which saw Mark Thompson’s unheralded Cup return last week, will return to Reed Sorenson with sponsorship from Low T Centers.

The final Open team is BK Racing’s #83 Toyota, the team which carried Gaulding to his strong run last Sunday. Rejoining the team this week is Brett Moffitt, who eyes his seventh Cup start of 2017 and his first series race at Kansas since a 32nd-place run for Front Row Motorsports in 2015. Sponsoring Moffitt’s ride is EarthWater, the brand we last saw with the team in June for Alon Day’s series debut at Sonoma. BK’s Chartered #23 Toyota returns to Corey LaJoie, who after a driver change, sat out last week at Talladega.

XFINITY SERIES
Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas

41 teams are also entered for Saturday’s XFINITY race, the second-straight round where at least one car will be sent home after qualifying. Missing from the Charlotte entry list are Penske Racing’s #12 Ford with Sam Hornish, Jr., and King Autosport’s second car, the #92 Chevrolet, with Dexter Bean. Both Obaika Racing’s #77 and GMS Racing’s #96, withdrawn before track activities at Charlotte, are this week not entered at all.

As on the Cup side, the XFINITY Series will also welcome a new team: the #55 March Network Toyota fielded by Jennifer Brown. The team's first driver is to be announced.

Also returning for the first time since last month at Kentucky is Precision Performance Motorsports' #46 beatincancerwithduke.org Chevrolet and driver Quin Houff. Houff’s season-best finish remains his 12th-place run at Iowa, second only to last week’s Truck Series winner Parker Kligerman’s 10th-place showing at Road America. It will be both driver and team’s first XFINITY start at Kansas.

Truck Series owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb makes her first XFINITY Series race of the year, this time driving B.J. McLeod’s #78 Mark One Electric Chevrolet. All five of Cobb’s most recent XFINITY Series starts came in this same fall race at Kansas, each one-off start with the same Mark One sponsorship. Her best finish at the track was a 22nd in 2012. It will be Cobb’s first start for McLeod after driving her own equipment and for Rick Ware since mid-2011. McLeod himself will drive his #8 Chevrolet with sponsorship from JW Transport, LLC.

After surviving with a 13th-place finish in last Saturday’s Truck race at Talladega, Spencer Boyd returns to SS-Green Light Racing’s #07 for his fifth XFINITY start of 2017 and his first since a 28th-place run at Chicagoland. Sponsorship will come from GruntStyle.com, just as it has in his other NASCAR starts, including his lone Kansas start in Trucks earlier this year, when he ran 20th for Rick Ware. On Thursday, it was reported that Boyd will drive for SS-Green Light full time in the 2018 XFINITY season, piloting car #76.

News also broke on Thursday that Joey Gase will paet ways with Jimmy Means Racing at the end of this season, closing a partnership that covered seven seasons and yielded Means' first top-five finish as an owner. This week, Gase returns to the scene of his 2nd Cup start at a track where his best XFINITY finish was 19th in 2012.

Following his 76th birthday on October 12, Morgan Shepherd is entered in his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet, looking to make his first start at the track since this same race in 2015, when he ran 35th. His best series finish at the track came in 2008, when he ran 24th.

Two weeks after scoring his 100th XFINITY Series last-place finish, Jeff Green will make his second-straight start in RSS Racing’s #38 Chevrolet. Gray Gaulding, who took over Green’s #93 at RSS at Charlotte, will again drive that car as part of a double-duty weekend. Ryan Sieg will make his fourth XFINITY Series start at Kansas on Saturday, a track which saw him finish 8th in this race two years ago.

TRUCK SERIES
Next Race: Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville
Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

4/20/80: Tommy Houston finishes last in rare Cup start at North Wilkesboro

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On April 20, 1980, Tommy Houston picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Northwestern Bank 400 at the North Wilkesboro Speedway when his #95 Carpenter Designs Chevrolet suffered an oil leak after 9 of 400 laps. The finish came in Houston’s third series start.

In 1945, Houston was born just a few miles up the road from the Hickory Motor Speedway, a track that would feature prominently in his racing career. It was there in the 1960s that he competed against his brothers Hal and Ken. In 1967, the same year Hickory was paved and Morgan Shepherd began his own racing career on that same pavement, Houston won his first-ever Hobby Stock Division race.

Four years later, Houston was in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series, modifieds, and the NASCAR Grand National East. His first victories in the former came on consecutive days in April 1974, including when he led flag-to-flag in a 100-lap feature at Hickory. Among those he beat that day were 3rd-place finisher Harry Gant, 5th-place Morgan Shepherd, and Dale Earnhardt, who wound up 8th in the field of ten. Houston continued to excel at NASCAR’s short tracks, but also branched out onto the superspeedways, finishing 29th in his first Daytona start in 1975, then 8th in his return in 1976. That same year, he scored the North Carolina State Championship, and would also claim track titles at both Hickory and New Asheville Speedway. By the close of the decade, Houston followed many of his fellow racers into Winston Cup.

The first Cup owner to hire Houston was Junior Miller, the Winston-Salem native who decades later would score back-to-back titles on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Campaigning his #95 Chevrolet in Cup, Miller had been driving a handful of races in the southeast since 1976. By the end of the 1979 season, Miller’s best finish was a 14th in his series debut at North Wilkesboro, where his car carried logos for his roofing company. Early in 1980, Miller began to drive for fellow owner-driver Frank Warren, who would later close out a decade in the sport by selling his #79 team to Miller. With Miller’s own #95 now open for the ‘80 season, the opportunity came to put in another driver. He chose Tommy Houston.

The 35-year-old Houston made his Cup debut at Richmond on February 24, 1980, where he once again turned heads on one of NASCAR’s smallest tracks. After qualifying 21st, he took the lead on an early restart and held it for ten laps before Harry Gant passed him. Despite a late spin with Richard Childress, Houston came home 17th, 46 laps down to race winner Darrell Waltrip. A month later at Bristol, Houston improved once more, matching Junior Miller’s career-best 15th in just his second series start. The next month would see his third-consecutive short track start, this time at North Wilkesboro.

Houston qualified 13th in the field of 31, which lined him up next to Slick Johnson on the inside of the seventh row. Unfortunately, his race ended during the opening green-flag run with an oil leak, handing him his first Cup Series last-place finish. Coming home 30th that day was 12th-place starter J.D. McDuffie, who broke a cam on his #70 Bailey Excavating Chevrolet. 29th fell to Tommy Gale, driving for Elmo Langley in the #64 Sunny King Ford & Honda Ford. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Ohio native John Anderson in owner-driver Henley Gray’s #19 Belden Asphalt Chevrolet and veteran Dick Brooks in the #7 Sanyo Chevrolet.

The race was won by Richard Petty, his fourteenth of fifteen checkered flags at North Wilkesboro. Finishing 6th was Dale Earnhardt, driving a blue-and-gold Rod Osterlund-owned #2 Mike Curb / Hodgdon Chevrolet similar to (or identical to) the one given to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last week at Talladega.

Following a 24th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, Houston and Miller parted ways. The driver returned to North Wilkesboro the following spring, this time driving for Roger Hamby, and by the time he returned to the track that fall, he had improved his career-best Cup finish with an 11th. But after that season, Houston would start just two more Cup Series races in his career. His final start – his first in more than three years – became a footnote to the famous 1985 Southern 500 at Darlington. While Bill Elliott took his historic win and the “Winston Million” bonus, Houston ran just 47 laps in his own #32 Chevrolet before he retired with engine trouble.

Instead, Houston would go on to become one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR’s new Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series, the second-tier series which would become today’s NASCAR XFINITY Series. During the inaugural 1982 season, Houston won the first short track race ever run, taking the checkers at Richmond, and ranked 4th in the series standings. Over the next decade, he would win another 23 races. Three times in 1986 alone, his #6 Southern Biscuit Flour Buick won from the pole, leading 478 of 500 combined laps. His career in what was now the Busch Grand National Series was capped in 1992 by a record eighth win at Hickory, a come-from-behind win that came the weekend his father passed away. Houston’s 417th and final series start ended with a crash at Rockingham on October 19, 1996, then a DNQ in the season finale at Homestead. This stood as the record for most starts in the series until 2007, when Jason Keller started his 418th.

Houston remains active in racing through his family. His sons Marty, Andy, and Scott would all go on to have NASCAR careers of their own. Scott served as his father’s crew chief in the XFINITY Series. Marty drove for Wayne Spears in the Truck Series, earning a career-best finish of 4th at Kentucky in 2000. Andy won three Truck Series races for Mike Addington, and after a difficult Cup Series effort in 2001, Andy became a spotter for Richard Childress Racing, where he now spots for Austin Dillon. Tommy Houston’s niece, Teresa, also has ties to the Childress team – she married Dale Earnhardt in 1982, and remains the CEO of Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

One of Tommy Houston's most recent races outside of XFINITY came in the Truck Series race at Las Vegas on September 24, 1999, where he ran as a teammate to son Andy in a race where Marty was racing for Spears. Marty finished best of the three, coming home 13th with Andy 22nd and Tommy 35th. Today, Tommy still lives in Hickory with his wife Martha of 52 years. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #95 in a Cup Series race since October 2, 1977, when Houston’s car owner Junior Miller in his #95 Miller Roofing Chevrolet quit after five laps of the Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro. The number would not finish last in Cup again for nearly twelve years – February 16, 1992 – the engine failure on Bob Schacht’s #95 Shoney’s Oldsmobile (fielded by Sadler Brothers Racing) in the Daytona 500.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
31) #95-Tommy Houston / 9 laps / oil leak
30) #70-J.D. McDuffie / 88 laps / cam
29) #64-Tommy Gale / 115 laps / oil pressure
28) #19-John Anderson / 149 laps / engine
27) #7-Dick Brooks / 153 laps / rear end

SOURCES
*Racing-reference.info
*Southers, Tim. “Where are they now – Tommy Houston,” motorsport.com, January 2, 2017.
*Speed Sport Staff. “Tommy Houston Was Among Greats Out Of Hickory, N.C.,” Speed Sport, August 17, 2010.
*UltimateRacingHistory.com

Sunday, October 15, 2017

CUP: Justin Marks’ off-screen accident leads off Talladega wreckfest

PHOTO: John K Harrelson, NKP
Justin Marks picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #7 Golden Corral / Katerra Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 16 of 188 laps. The finish came in Marks’ third series start.

Marks, a sports car driver from California, was no stranger to Talladega. He transitioned into stock cars through the ARCA Racing Series in 2004, and made five starts on the superspeedway with a best finish of 8th in 2007. While more popularly known for his rain-soaked win at Mid-Ohio in the XFINITY Series last year, it’s interesting to note that his second-best finish of that limited schedule was an 11th at Talladega.

Marks’ ride on Sunday was the #7 Chevrolet fielded by Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR). Baldwin, a race-winning crew chief who has entered Cup cars since 2009, gave Marks his Cup Series debut in 2013, when he drove a GoPro-backed Chevrolet to a 30th-place finish at his home track in Sonoma. Other than a one-off for Front Row Motorsports in 2015 – again at Sonoma, and again a 30th-place finish – this had been Marks’ only Cup Series effort.

After several difficult seasons, Baldwin sold his Charter near the end of 2016 and scaled back to a part-time effort in 2017. Through August, Elliott Sadler and J.J. Yeley shared driving duties for TBR in seven races with a best finish of 17th by Sadler at Talladega in the spring. On September 1, it was announced that Baldwin would join Premium Motorsports as the team’s Competition Director and also return to crew chief duties for their #15 Cup Series program. By the end of the month, Baldwin had sold his remaining assets in his #7 Cup Series team to Premium’s owner Jay Robinson.

At the time of the TBR sale to Premium, Baldwin had two races remaining on its 2017 schedule: Talladega, which was originally going to see J.J. Yeley drive once more, and a one-off by Hermie Sadler at Martinsville. By Thursday, Yeley was replaced by Marks, whose XFINITY sponsor Katerra would join the Golden Corral-backed run at Talladega.

With exactly 40 drivers at Talladega for 40 spots, TBR’s lack of a Charter didn’t come into play, allowing driver and team to focus on race setup. The car ran 37th in Friday’s opening practice with his best of 12 laps clocking in at 185.722mph, just over 3 seconds off the pace of session leader Brad Keselowski. Marks joined the remaining Open Teams in skipping Happy Hour and grabbed 31st in qualifying with a lap of 187.384mph, fastest of all Open Teams by a full half-second over Beard Motorsports’ #75 Chevrolet with Brendan Gaughan.

Starting last on Sunday was Canadian star D.J. Kennington, back in NASCAR for the first time since a one-off Truck Series effort in Mosport. Kennington had rejoined Premium Motorsports for the first time since a disastrous engine failure at Daytona in July, and this time welcomed sponsorship from Dirt and Rock on his #55 Toyota. Like Norm Benning the day before, Kennington was handed a redundant unapproved adjustments penalty that kept him in the rear along with the penalized Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch along with Mark Thompson, Kennington’s teammate.

Unable to turn a lap in practice, Thompson’s first timed circuit came in qualifying, where he outpaced four other drivers to line up 36th. With that run, the 65-year-old driver made history. Sunday’s race was the first Cup Series event he had entered since the 1994 Daytona 500, where his car was withdrawn following a serious crash in the ARCA 200. His timed lap was his first qualifying effort since July 1993, when he missed the cut for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. And, with exactly 40 cars for 40 spots, Thompson was assured to make his first Cup start since June 14, 1992 at Pocono, when he drove for Henley Gray.

When the race started, Thompson lost touch with the draft, and by Lap 2, was already three seconds behind Kennington and the rest of the field. On Lap 15, as officials alerted him that the leaders were closing, a first round of pit stops by the Ford teams shuffled the order, dropping Aric Almirola to the rear in his #43 Smithfield Ford.

It was around this time that Marks, running at the back of a second smaller pack behind the leaders, smacked the outside wall. Marks made it to pit road on Lap 17 without drawing a yellow, and the crew made repairs to the right side of the machine. As Thompson slipped by to 39th on the track, it was Marks who instead became the first to lose a lap. Inside two minutes on the “Crash Clock,” Marks returned to the track, only to pit again on Lap 19, this time complaining of a battery issue. Marks again made it out before time expired on Lap 23, but a vibration forced him to complete just one more circuit. After limping around on the apron, he pulled behind the wall, where the car was soon retired.

Seconds later, Thompson’s day ended when the Chevrolet teams attempted their own green-flag stops as a group on Lap 26. A slowing Jamie McMurray was rear-ended by Erik Jones at pit entrance, steering McMurray’s #1 Cessna Chevrolet into the path of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s 333 Hulu Chevrolet. As Thompson neared the scene, he turned to the right, nearly clearing McMurray’s car. But instead, the two made contact, steering Thompson into the outside wall. All four cars involved, including Jones, who caved in the nose of his #77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota, were eliminated in the wreck, filling out the Bottom Five.

Among the headlines at the front of the field was rookie driver Gray Gaulding, who in the current LASTCAR standings leads all drivers without last-place finishes in both Bottom Fives (8) and Bottom Tens (17). On Sunday, Gaulding bested his career-best finish of 20th at Talladega in the spring with an 8th in the #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota. It was just the third top-ten finish for BK Racing, and came despite heavy damage suffered in one of the many late-race accidents.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #7 in a Cup Series race since July 26, 2015, when Alex Bowman lost the engine after 78 laps of the Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at Indianapolis. It’s also the first for the number at Talladega since May 10, 1997, when Geoffrey Bodine’s #7 QVC Ford lost the engine after 78 laps of the Winston 500.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #7-Justin Marks / 16 laps / crash
39) #15-Mark Thompson / 25 laps / crash
38) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 25 laps / crash
37) #1-Jamie McMurray / 25 laps / crash
36) #77-Erik Jones / 26 laps / crash

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (5)
2nd) Rick Ware Racing (4)
3rd) BK Racing (3)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (2)
5th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (17)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (6)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Norm Benning extends record no-lap streak to five straight races

PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images North America
Norm Benning picked up the 11th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #6 H & H Transport Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble without completing any of the 95 laps.

The finish, which came in Benning’s 180th series start, was his second of the season, his first since Kentucky, nine races ago. The finish put Benning into a three-way tie for the third-most last-place runs in series history, tying 1999 LASTCAR Truck Champion Phil Bonifeld and two-time title winner Mike Garvey. There have now been five consecutive Truck Series races where the last-place finisher failed to complete a single lap, a new NASCAR record.

After missing the first three races of 2017, Benning has made every race since, and has also entered a second truck, the #57, in several races to fill out short fields. In that time, Benning’s best finish of the year came at Eldora, where he rebounded from a DNQ in 2016 to finish a strong 13th. For Talladega, Benning would not enter his team truck, the #57, and only field his primary #6. For the first time since Chicagoland, the #6 would also carry associate sponsorship as Woodstock, Georgia’s H & H Trucking would have its logos on the rear quarter-panels.

Benning ran slowest of the 29 drivers who completed at least one lap in Friday’s opening practice. His best lap of 167.968mph was more than seven full seconds off the pace of session leader Cody Coughlin. He found some speed in Happy Hour, ranking 21st of 26 with a lap of 175.298mph. But in qualifying, he was the only driver who failed to turn a lap, and would start 31st on the grid. He was still guaranteed a starting spot in the field, a grid which was reduced from a full 32 after Mike Affarano withdrew his #03 Calumet City Auto Parts / Stop Bullying Chevrolet on Friday.

On Saturday, Benning, along with Josh Reaume in Beaver Motorsports’ #50 Ever-Fi Chevrolet, was sent to the rear for the start for unapproved adjustments. Both were joined by Kaz Grala, who one lap before the green fell back from 12th on the grid due to an engine change. By that point, Benning was not on the track, citing engine trouble. Another truck, Joe Nemechek in his #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet, surrendered 21st on the grid to line up next to Reaume in the back, one row behind Grala.

When the field took the green, Nemechek lost touch with the pack as the field accelerated, then pulled in after two laps to take home 31st. Presiding over his son John Hunter Nemechek’s team, the NEMCO Motorsports crew recovered from a mid-race accident to come home 6th – just enough to make the next round of the Playoffs. Grala was next to fall out, eliminated in the day’s first multi-truck accident on Lap 19, and lost his own spot in the Playoffs as a result.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Ryan Truex, whose #16 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Toyota was gobbled-up in the Grala accident, and Regan Smith, whose #92 BTS Tire & Wheel / Advance Auto Parts Ford was eliminated in the Turn 3 wreck that damaged John Hunter Nemechek’s Chevrolet.

Saturday’s race went to Parker Kligerman, his second Truck Series victory and his first since this same Talladega round in 2012. This time around, Kligerman drove for longtime car owner Charlie Henderson, whose team was featured on this site earlier this year at Eldora. Though active in NASCAR’s top three series since 1982, this was only the team’s 41st Truck Series start, and marked Henderson’s first NASCAR victory since June 3, 1989.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked Benning’s first Truck Series last-place finish at Talladega and his first on a plate track since the 2011 opener at Daytona. It was also the first Talladega last-place finish for the #6 in Truck Series history.
*Benning joins Mike Harmon, whose engine let go in 2014, as the only two drivers to fail to complete a lap of a Truck Series race at Talladega. Harmon himself finished 20th on Saturday in TJL Racing’s #1 Chevrolet.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
31) #6-Norm Benning / 0 laps / engine
30) #87-Joe Nemechek / 2 laps / vibration
29) #33-Kaz Grala / 18 laps / crash
28) #16-Ryan Truex / 19 laps / crash
27) #92-Regan Smith / 53 laps / crash

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Norm Benning Racing (5)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (3)
4th) NEMCO Motorsports (2)
5th) Halmar Friesen Racing, Henderson Motorsports, MB Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (19)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP