Friday, August 18, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Bristol (Cup and XFINITY)

PHOTO: @spencertitans
Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol

For the first time since Indianapolis, there will be a 40-car field for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and for the first time since Talladega – way back on May 7 – at least one team will fail to qualify.

All 39 teams from Michigan will once again run at Bristol, as well as Timmy Hill, driving for Motorsports Business Management’s #66 (and running double-duty in XFINITY), and J.J. Yeley in Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #7 (running triple-duty), both drivers and teams last seen at Indianapolis.  It will be Yeley’s first Cup start at Bristol since 2011, while Hill ran 37th in the spring for Rick Ware Racing.  As of this writing, Ware's driver has yet to be announced, but the sponsor of the #51 Chevrolet will be NEX Transportation.

Bristol also marks the fifth Cup start of the season for Joey Gase, who will again bring sponsorship from Best Home Furnishings to BK Racing.  Gase last drove for the team at Kentucky, where a crash left him 36th, and his season-best 21st came with Premium Motorsports at Talladega.  Corey LaJoie returns to BK’s #83 Toyota for the first time since Michigan in June.  Brett Moffitt, Stephen Leicht, and Ryan Sieg, who all drove that car earlier this year, are not entered in Saturday’s Cup race.

Gray Gaulding moves back to Premium Motorsports’ #55 team for the first time since Indianapolis for his first start with Premium since the following round at Pocono.  The car was originally listed with Derrike Cope and returning sponsor Twin Peaks Restaurants, but today was revealed Pocono sponsor La Colombe would back Gaulding's ride.  Gaulding finished 29th at Bristol in the spring, when he drove for BK Racing.  Reed Sorenson returns to Premium’s #15, and will bring with him last week’s sponsor Low T Centers.

Last week at Michigan, Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing fell just short of their fourth-consecutive Top 20 with a 27th-place run after a late spin.  They return to Bristol, site of a 26th-place finish in the spring, with new sponsorship from bulk cleaning wipe supplier

Chris Buescher turned heads at Michigan with a daring four-wide pass heading into Turn 3 to finish a season-best 6th.  It’s his third finish of 11th or better in the last four races.  Buescher returns to Bristol, where an early crash left his backup car last in the spring, but don’t forget that he ran 5th here last August, taking a big step toward shoring up his surprising spot in the Chase.

Food City 300 at Bristol

42 teams are listed to run Friday’s XFINITY race in Thunder Valley, the most cars entered in the series since last month at Kentucky.

New this week is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who will run double-duty in Cup and XFINITY for the first time since his XFINITY victory at Richmond last year.  Junior’s Hendrick Motorsports-prepared #88 Chevrolet carries sponsorship from Goody’s headache medicine, specifically their “Mixed Fruit Blast” flavor.  It will be Junior’s first XFINITY start at Bristol since 2012, when he finished 5th, and will eye his first series win at the track since 2004.  Fellow Cup regulars Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, and Reed Sorenson will also run on Friday.

Sorenson’s XFINITY ride is the “start-and-park” #15 Chevrolet belonging to JD Motorsports, a team we last saw in July at Iowa.  Last week at Mid-Ohio, Ross Chastain challenged for a Top 10 early, spun, then recovered to finish 15th.  A crash and a transmission issue knocked-out his JD Motorsports teammates Garrett Smithley and Sheldon Creed.  Chastain and Smithley are back this week, as is Harrison Rhodes, who returns to his #01 Chevrolet.  Rhodes picked up his track-best 23rd-place finish at Bristol this past spring.

Following a 26th-place finish for Richard Childress Racing at Mid-Ohio, Ben Kennedy moves back to GMS Racing’s #96 Chevrolet, a team which hasn’t run since Brett Moffitt took it to an 11th-place finish at Iowa.  Kennedy’s teammate, Spencer Gallagher, will look to rebound from a mid-race crash that left him 36th.  Gallagher finished 18th at Bristol in the spring and 12th in the Truck Series last summer.

Welcome back Tommy Joe Martins, who also returns to the series for the first time since Iowa.  This past spring, Bristol was to mark the return of his team, Martins Motorsports, to the XFINITY Series for the first time they missed the show in 2014 before rain forced their withdrawal.  This time around, Martins will again drive for B.J. McLeod in the #78 Chevrolet.  McLeod, who ran 36th in Sunday’s Cup race due to a cracked exhaust pipe, will run his own #8 for the first time since Iowa.

Also returning to XFINITY for the first time since Iowa are Brandon Brown, back in Mario Gosselin's #90 Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet, and Mike Harmon, who will again be behind the wheel of his #74 Veterans Motorsports, Inc. Dodge.  This weekend marks 15 years since Harmon’s terrifying crash into a loose crossover gate at the track.  After he miraculously walked away, Harmon parked Larry Gunselman’s backup car in the race itself.

Jeb Burton will make his first XFINITY start since Indianapolis, and will again run JGL Racing’s #24 Toyota.  Burton last ran at Bristol this past spring, where he finished 26th, and his season-best finish remains a 4th at Daytona. This week, he carries sponsorship from his father Ward's wildlife foundation.

Driving for Motorsports Business Management are Timmy Hill in the #13 Dodge and Chad Finchum in the #40 Chevrolet.  Finchum makes just his fourth XFINITY start of 2017 and his first since Indianapolis, where he ran 32nd in MBM’s Dodge.  After several races of running plain black machines, both MBM cars debut new paint schemes this week.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

8/25/01: The story of Buckshot Jones, his return to Cup with Petty Enterprises, and a rough night in Bristol

On August 25, 2001, Roy “Buckshot” Jones picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Sharpie 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #44 Georgia-Pacific Dodge was eliminated in a crash after 67 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Jones’ 36th start, was his first of the season and his first in Cup since his series debut at Atlanta, 35 races prior.

The story of Buckshot Jones begins with the nickname itself.  When Jones was running around as a child, he accidentally banged his head into a table, then jumped back up, causing his grandfather to remark “you’re tough as buckshot.”  That same resilience would come to define his career.

The Florida-born driver who then moved to Monticello, Georgia wanted to run motocross, but was steered toward late models when he was in college, then the NASCAR Winston All Pro Series in 1992.  His All Pro debut came June 20 of that year at the Lanier National Speedway, where handling issues left him 28th.  From the start, he ran car #00, and drove for his father Billy.  The Joneses tried to make the jump into the NASCAR Busch Series (now XFINITY) as far back as 1993, but didn’t break in until July 2, 1995 at the Milwaukee Mile.  Through he finished just 34th that day, he returned two rounds later at South Boston to finish a strong 9th, beating some of the sport’s top drivers including Tommy Houston, Johnny Benson, Jr., and Jeff Green.

In 1996, Jones returned for a full-season effort in Busch with sponsorship from Aquafresh toothpaste.  After a difficult start to the season where he failed to qualify for five of the first 14 races, he returned to the Milwaukee Mile that July and scored a dramatic first victory, edging Mike McLaughlin in a photo finish.  Other than a pole that fall at Rockingham, this proved to be the lone highlight of the year, as he made just 18 of 26 races, leaving him 25th in points.  Driver and team then improved the following year, making all 30 rounds with 14 Top 10s, earning 7th in points.  He also made his Cup debut in the Atlanta finale, besting seven teams in qualifying, but an early crash left him last.

1998 was Jones’ biggest year yet.  He scored a second Busch Series win, this time at Loudon, and with added sponsorship from Alka-Seltzer and Bayer Aspirin, finished 9th in the standings.  He also drove for the venerable Stavola Brothers team in Winston Cup.  At Dover on May 31, his first start driving the Stavolas’ #8 Circuit City Chevrolet, Jones stunned with an 8th-place finish at a track where he’d only once finished better than 17th in Busch.  The finish, combined with struggles faced by the Stavola Brothers, led to the decision to combine Jones’ independent effort with the Stavolas.  Once again running #00, the duo made four more starts that year, but none better than the run at Dover.

In 1999, Jones made a bid for Winston Cup Rookie of the Year.  The original plan was again to go independent, campaigning the #00 Pontiac with sponsorship from Crown Fiber and Cheez-It.  But, matched against open-wheel phenom Tony Stewart in Joe Gibbs Racing’s new second team and fellow Busch Series standout Elliott Sadler in the Wood Brothers’ Citgo Ford, Jones made only ten races and failed to qualify for another nine.  His best run of the season this time came at Talladega, where the Crown Fiber machine ran 21st.  He also attempted one-offs for both Bahari’ Racing in the second Talladega event and Mark Simo’s effort at Charlotte.

Jones had continued to split time between Busch and Cup in the 1999 season, and despite his aggressive driving style, had turned in a number of respectable performances.  He earned two Top 10s that year – 10th-place finishes at Dover and Phoenix – and failed to finish just four of his 19 starts.  Cheez-It stayed with the team when Jones returned to full-time Busch racing in 2000.  Again, the results were respectable – a runner-up finish to Joe Nemechek at Talladega and just three DNFs.  Though his average finish had dropped, leaving him just 21st in the point standings, Jones had shown just enough consistency to earn a second chance at Winston Cup.  This time, he wouldn’t have to go independent to do it.  Instead, he would drive for one of the sport’s biggest names.

For all intents and purposes, Kyle Petty was going to remain in Petty Enterprises’ #44 for the 2001 season.  In 2000, while Kyle continued to drive the Hot Wheels Pontiac, his son Adam would attempt five Cup races.  Adam would drive car #45, a number they picked up from Tyler Jet Motorsports, allowing Adam to run the same red-and-black Sprint-sponsored scheme he would campaign in Busch.  Adam made his Cup debut on April 2, 2000, where he ran in the middle of the pack before an engine failure left him 40th.

On May 10, the Pettys brought two cars to Charlotte for Adam to test – one a Chevrolet, the other a Pontiac.  But two days later, while practicing for the Busch race at New Hampshire, Adam lost his life in a crash in Turn 3.  Adam’s passing came just over a month after the family’s patriarch, Lee, died at age 86.

Overshadowed by these tragedies were the Petty family’s brave efforts to keep their team going.  Kyle vowed to be his son’s relief driver for the rest of his career.  He returned to the track for the first time since the accident in the Busch Series race at Dover on June 3, where he drove Adam’s #45 to a 26th-place finish.

Though Kyle would also rejoin the #44 Cup team at Michigan on June 11, he began to make plans toward the 2001 season.  On July 18, Kyle announced he would step out of the #44 after the night race at Bristol, after which point he would only run Adam’s #45.  In addition to finishing out the 2000 Busch Series season, he would also make at least two Cup attempts in Adam’s car at Martinsville and Homestead.  Driving the #44 for the rest of 2000 was Steve Grissom, who also drove in place of Kyle in the immediate aftermath of Adam’s death.  Short on provisionals, Grissom failed to qualify 8 times, including 7 of the last 9.

On September 22, 2000, six days after Grissom failed to qualify at Loudon, Petty Enterprises announced that Buckshot Jones would drive the #44 in 2001 with sponsorship from Georgia-Pacific.  Explaining the choice of Jones, Kyle Petty said “Obviously, we started with one plan, but we had to have another plan after Adam's death. . .We were looking for a young driver to fill the gap at Petty Enterprises, since I'm 40 years old all of a sudden. We had the opportunity to talk with Buckshot and his father and Georgia-Pacific, and we were able to do that.”

Kyle Petty also saw potential in Buckshot, just as Roush did in Mark Martin years earlier.  “That's the same thing Mark Martin did. . .His first Winston Cup deal didn't work out, and then we went back, he ran some Busch and then hooked up with Jack Roush. I think his career since then pretty much speaks for itself. . .That's what we're trying to do with Buckshot. He's got a lot of potential that hasn't been tapped yet, so for what we're trying to do, he's a perfect fit.”

Jones was elated at having a second chance at racing in Cup.  “Our biggest problem, looking back now, is we never knew what Winston Cup was like. . .That's what I like so much about how the Pettys run their operation. They've been in Winston Cup racing for a lot [of] years.”

Jones’ #44 would be one of three Dodges on the Petty team in 2001, joining John Andretti in the Cheerios #43 and Kyle in Adam’s Sprint-backed #45.  It was NASCAR’s biggest team commitment to Dodge – the only three-car program to join Dodge’s return at Daytona.  The team also rewarded Steve Grissom for his help in 2000 by securing him a Petty ride at Daytona as well, driving the #45 Petty Driving Experience Chevrolet in the Busch Series opener.

Jones raced his way into the 2001 Daytona 500 with a 14th-place finish in Race 1 of the Gatorade Twin 125s, but was one of the cars destroyed in the Lap 175 wreck that left Tony Stewart with a concussion, leaving Jones 29th.  As tragedy once again overshadowed the season following Dale Earnhardt’s last-lap accident, Jones tried to shake off the rust.  Though he qualified for the first nine races, he finished no better than 16th at Talladega and scored four DNFs.  After back-to-back DNQs at Fontana and Richmond, Jones suffered a particularly hard crash in the final moments of the Winston Open.  Tom Hubert helped get the #44 into the show at Sonoma, where Jones finished just 35th.  From there until the night race at Bristol, he failed to qualify two more times and finished 38th, 24th, 39th, and 36th.

Jones arrived in Thunder Valley a distant 39th in driver points.  His #44 was one of 49 drivers on the entry list, meaning he’d once again have a challenge in qualifying to beat six other drivers.  One advantage Jones had in his back pocket was a NASCAR rule change enacted at Indianapolis, allowing the Dodge teams to extend the front air dam forward two inches.  In a qualifying session that was aired commercial-free on CNNSi, Jones made the show, securing 36th in the 43-car field.  The pole went to Jeff Green, driving Richard Childress Racing’s #30 AOL Chevrolet.  It was Green’s first of two poles in Cup competition.

Among the six teams to miss the race was Kyle Petty, his frustrating 9th of 12 DNQs in the 2001 season.  Joining him on the early ride home were Daytona 500 outside-polesitter Stacy Compton in Melling Racing’s #92 Kodiak Dodge; current FS1 analyst Hermie Sadler in his self-prepared #13 Virginia Lottery Chevrolet, owner-driver Dave Marcis in the #71 Team Realtree Chevrolet; Hut Stricklin, who was aiming for his 300th Cup start in Junie Donlavey’s #90 Hills Brothers Coffee Ford; and current MBM team owner Carl Long in Thee Dixon’s #85 Mansion Decorators Ford.

Starting 43rd that Saturday night was Jason Leffler, who at the time was running for Rookie of the Year in Chip Ganassi Racing’s #01 Cingular Wireless Dodge.  At the start of the race, Ricky Craven’s #32 Tide Ford slipped from 39th on the grid to the tail end of the field.  By Lap 9, Craven had picked up speed again, moving Leffler back to last, 8.763 seconds behind.  On Lap 12, Jones had slipped back to 42nd in the field, but Leffler still held last.  With the leaders closing in on them on Lap 13, Leffler nudged Jones in the left-rear entering Turn 2, sending Jones into a spin.  Jones managed to avoid the outside wall, and most importantly, the leaders as they quickly raced past, putting him a lap down.

The race restarted on Lap 20, and Kurt Busch made an unscheduled second stop in his #97 Sharpie Ford because his transmission was stuck in second gear.  The pit road repair wasn’t successful, and as Busch limped around the apron, Brett Bodine spun off Sterling Marlin’s nose in Turn 4, his #11 Hooters Ford drawing the second caution of the night.  With Bodine and Busch both a lap down, Rick Mast’s #27 Duke’s Mayonnaise / Sauer’s Pontiac also trailed smoke after rear-ending the car in front of him.  This put the lapped Jones, Bodine, and Busch on the inside of the leaders for the Lap 30 restart.  By this point, last belonged to the damaged Mast, who was behind the wall along with Leffler in 42nd.  Jones sat behind Bodine in 40th, 1 lap down, with Kurt Busch, his transmission issue fixed, 2 down in 41st.

Mast returned to the race by Lap 52, 31 laps down, and by that time had dropped Leffler, still behind the wall, back to last once more.  Then on Lap 69, Jones lost control down the fronstretch and slammed the inside wall with the left-front.  Jones drove it back to pit road, then to the garage area, and was done for the night.  Leffler returned to the track a few moments later, dropping Jones to last.  Leffler made it out of the Bottom five and salvaged a 30th-place finish.  Mast’s damaged car only managed 41st before an accident with Geoffrey Bodine on Lap 150 ended his night.  In between in 42nd came polesitter Jeff Green, who led 71 of the first 85 laps before he rear-ended Joe Nemechek while running 3rd.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were rookie Andy Houston, his #96 McDonald’s Ford out after a wreck on Lap 129, and 39th-place Michael Waltrip, whose #15 NAPA Chevrolet wrecked on Lap 234.

Despite a difficult return to Cup with 10 DNFs, five DNQs, and no finishes better than 16th, Jones had once again enjoyed a successful partial Busch Series schedule.  The same Georgia-Pacific sponsorship supported his father’s #00 team for six races, starting at Dover on June 2.  In all six races, Jones finished under power and no worse than 19th, including a pair of Top 10s on the circuit’s newest tracks of Chicagoland and Kansas.  Perhaps it was for this reason that Jones remained with the Pettys in 2002.  Unfortunately, he missed the field for the Daytona 500, and despite a new team-best finish of 12th at his home track at Atlanta, he was out of the car after just eight races.  Curiously, the first of a series of drivers to replace him was Steve Grissom.

Jones made just two more Cup starts, both of them in 2003 – one each for Phoenix Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.  The run for MWR, which came that fall at Talladega, was perhaps the best of his career.  The same day that Larry Foyt finished last, Jones led the field for 19 laps before a blown right-front tire ended his run.  His final starts in NASCAR’s top three series came in the Busch Series in 2004, when Phoenix Racing hired him for two more races at Nashville and Kentucky.  Though reports indicate Jones has largely retired from racing, he has also dabbled on the short tracks of his youth, driving four Hooters Pro Cup races in 2007, and the Whelen Modified Tour in 2015.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #44 in Cup since March 14, 1999, when Kyle Petty’s Hot Wheels Pontiac lost an engine after 45 laps of the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta.  It remains the number’s only last-place finish in a Cup race at Bristol.

43) #44-Buckshot Jones / 67 laps / crash
42) #30-Jeff Green / 85 laps / crash / led 71 laps
41) #27-Rick Mast / 113 laps / crash
40) #96-Andy Houston / 127 laps / crash
39) #15-Michael Waltrip / 233 laps / crash

*Jayski’s Silly Season Site
* “’Buckshot’ Takes Aim At Brickyard 400.”, July 1, 1998.
*Parsons, Keith. “Buckshot Jones to join Petty Enterprises,” Las Vegas Sun, September 22, 2000.

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.