Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kvapil Edges Cope When Brakes Go Kaput In Martinsville; Blaney Clinches 2009 Title

Travis Kvapil picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #37 Long John Silver’s Dodge fell out with brake problems after completing 30 of the race’s 501 laps.

Sunday’s race was Kvapil’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup start in seven months. He’d been out of the series since he lost his #28 Yates Racing ride when, following March’s Food City 500 at Bristol, sponsorship woes forced the team to shut down. Coming into the Martinsville race, the #37 had also missed three straight races with three different drivers: Kevin Hamlin at Kansas, Tony Raines at Fontana, and Kvapil himself at Charlotte just last week. Kvapil qualified a solid 25th at Martinsville, however, at a speed of 95.381 mph. Despite hanging tough in the middle of the pack, he pulled behind the wall after 30 laps with brake problems.

It was Kvapil’s first last-place finish since his rookie season when his Penske-backed #77 Kodak Dodge lost an engine in the 2005 USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland. It is the first time the #37 has finished last at Martinsville since John Andretti’s Little Caesar’s Ford fell out with rear end problems in the 1996 Goody’s Headache Powder 500.

Kvapil finished last by completing just one fewer lap than 26-time last-place finisher Derrike Cope, who was making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start in over three years. In that time, Cope amassed 15 DNQs, including two of the last three runnings of the Daytona 500, where Cope’s stunning first victory came in 1990. Four of these 15 DNQs came when rain washed out qualifying, including both of his last two attempts to qualify at Martinsville. On Friday, with rain again threatening to wash out qualifying and his self-owned #75 team positioned to be the one team “washed out” of the 44-car entry list for the 43-car field, Cope worked out a deal to replace Mike Wallace in Larry Gunselman’s #64 Toyota. Gunselman’s #64 was in position to pull the season sweep at Martinsville, having finished last with Todd Bodine in the spring race. Though the rain did not come, Cope still got the #64 into the show - 43rd at a speed of 93.539 mph.

Interestingly, Cope’s most recent Sprint Cup start was the 2006 UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega, where he finished last for the sixth time in 2006, setting the very single-season last-place record that Dave Blaney beat this year. Cope still has several records of his own: he leads all active drivers in last-place finishes, has the most finishes ever collected in the Modern Era (tracing back to 1972), and is just six last-place finishes away from the all-time lead held by the late J.D. McDuffie. However, in 2009, Dave Blaney, Todd Bodine, and Joe Nemechek have all tied Cope’s record of 13 last-place finishes since 1998.

Speaking of Dave Blaney, the Ohio driver has now successfully clinched the 2009 last-place driver’s championship. Blaney came into the race with a four-finish lead on Tony Raines and a five-finish lead on Mike Bliss and Joe Nemechek. Since neither Raines nor Bliss entered the Martinsville race and only five races remained, only Nemechek was mathematically in a position to tie Blaney’s eight last-place finishes in 2009. But to do this, Nemechek would have to follow up his last-place finish at Charlotte with five more in all five of the final races, starting with Martinsville. Unlike Charlotte, both Blaney and Nemechek qualified for Martinsville: Blaney snagged 39th at 94.689 mph and Nemechek was 28th at 95.304 mph, but both ended up 40th and 38th, respectively.

As I was informed by a reader, three teams also came into Sunday’s race in a three-way tie for the most different drivers finishing last in their cars: Bob Jenkins’ #37 (with drivers Tony Ave and Tony Raines), Kevin Buckler’s #71 (David Gilliland and Bobby Labonte), and Larry Gunselman’s #64 (Todd Bodine and Mike Wallace). While Gilliland still qualified the #71 at Martinsville, both the #37 and the #64 were driven by different drivers (Travis Kvapil and Derrike Cope, respectively), and thus both were in a position to break the tie. Kvapil’s finish has not only broken this tie, but has given the #37 team its fifth last-place finish of 2009. This means that if the #37 finishes last in each of the last four races, Bob Jenkins’ team will have earned more last-place finishes than Phil Parsons’ #66 team (for which Dave Blaney drives).

43) #37-Travis Kvapil / 30 laps / brakes
42) #64-Derrike Cope / 31 laps / brakes
41) #36-Michael McDowell / 36 laps / brakes
40) #66-Dave Blaney / 38 laps / overheating
39) #71-David Gilliland / 48 laps / brakes

1st) Dave Blaney (8)
2nd) Tony Raines (4)
3rd) Mike Bliss, Joe Nemechek (3)
4th) Patrick Carpentier, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte (2)
5th) Tony Ave, Todd Bodine, P.J. Jones, Matt Kenseth, Travis Kvapil, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Mike Wallace (1)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nemechek Joins Battle For The Most Last-Place Finishes Since 1998 When Car’s Rear End Fails at Lowe’s

Joe Nemechek picked up the 16th last-place finish of his career in Saturday’s NASCAR Banking 500 only at Bank of America at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota fell out with rear end problems after completing 26 laps.

The late Thursday night qualifying session for this 500-mile race was particularly tough for this year’s last-place contenders. Despite getting sponsorship from the Denny Hamlin Foundation, last-place leader Dave Blaney failed to qualify for only the second time in 2009, dating back to the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas back in March. Joining Blaney on the DNQ list were three teams with multiple last-place finishes in 2009: Michael McDowell in Tommy Baldwin’s #36 (2 last-place finishes), Sterling Marlin in James Finch’s #09 Dodge (3 last-place finishes), and Travis Kvapil in Bob Jenkins’ #37 Dodge (4 last-place finishes).

Nemechek, on the other hand, qualified 35th for the race at a speed of 187.780 mph. He remained on the track through the race’s first two cautions before his Toyota’s rear end failed 26 laps into the race.

The finish was Nemechek’s third last-place finish of 2009 and first in nearly three months, dating back to this year’s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in July. 13 of Nemechek’s 16 career last-place finishes have come since the 1998 Daytona 500, tying him with Dave Blaney, Todd Bodine, and Derrike Cope for the most last-place finishes collected since that race. It is only the second time in NASCAR Sprint Cup history that the #87 finished last at Charlotte: Randy Baker’s unsponsored Baker Racing Chevrolet finished last after losing an engine in the 1986 Oakwood Homes 500, the fall Charlotte race of that year.

43) #87-Joe Nemechek / 26 laps / rear end
42) #11-Denny Hamlin / 192 laps / engine
41) #13-Max Papis / 286 laps / engine
40) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 298 laps / running
39) #99-Carl Edwards / 299 laps / engine

1st) Dave Blaney (8)
2nd) Tony Raines (4)
3rd) Mike Bliss, Joe Nemechek (3)
4th) Patrick Carpentier, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte (2)
5th) Tony Ave, Todd Bodine, P.J. Jones, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Mike Wallace (1)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bliss Blows Engine, Finishes Last In Fontana

Mike Bliss picked up the 5th last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club speedway of Southern California when his #09 Miccosukee Dodge fell out with engine problems after completing 11 of the race’s 250 laps.

Bliss qualified 23rd for the race at a speed of 180.845 mph, but deliberately fell to the back of the field before the start of the race. As the race began, it appeared last place would go to David Gilliland, back in the #71 that finished last at Kansas last week. Gilliland had arranged to park his car on lap 6 and relieve Kyle Busch, who was suffering from the flu. However, as the race stayed under green, Gilliland stayed out until lap 14. By then, Mike Bliss had been behind the wall for three laps, giving him the 43rd finishing position. Gilliland drove Busch's Toyota to a 24th place finish.

It was the third last-place finish for both Bliss and owner James Finch in 2009 and their first since the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 in May. The #09 has one other last-place finish at the Auto Club Speedway: Joe Ruttman finished 43rd in the 2004 Auto Club 500 while also driving Finch’s Miccosukee Dodge.

Tony Raines, second in this season’s last-place rankings, failed to qualify for Sunday’s race. Raines did not lose any ground to last-place leader Dave Blaney, however, as Blaney’s #66 finished 41st after completing 22 laps.

43) #09-Mike Bliss / 11 laps / engine
42) #71-David Gilliland / 13 laps / overheating
41) #66-Dave Blaney / 22 laps / overheating
40) #36-Michael McDowell / 25 laps / overheating
39) #87-Joe Nemechek / 29 laps / electrical

1st) Dave Blaney (8)
2nd) Tony Raines (4)
3rd) Mike Bliss (3)
4th) Patrick Carpentier, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, Joe Nemechek (2)
5th) Tony Ave, Todd Bodine, P.J. Jones, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Mike Wallace (1)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Labonte Wrecks Early, Finishes Last at Kansas

Bobby Labonte picked up the 10th last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Price Chopper 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #71 Mahindra Tractors / Adobe Road Winery Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car crash on lap 7 of the 267-lap race.

On Friday, Labonte qualified 26th for the race at a speed of 173.349 mph. Although the #71 team lacked sponsorship coming into the race, they gained sufficient sponsorship from Mahindra Tractors and Adobe Road Winery to run the entire race. The #71 gained similar last-minute sponsorship two weeks ago at New Hampshire where Labonte qualified 8th. On Sunday, Labonte was racing mid-pack when he was taken out in a multi-car wreck that brought out the second caution of the race on lap 7.

The wreck began when Paul Menard’s Ford lost control coming off turn two, causing him to slide up directly in front of David Ragan and Bobby Labonte, who were running nose-to-tail in the outside groove. Both had nowhere to go. As Ragan hit Menard, Labonte banged into the back of Ragan’s Ford, then was clipped by Michael Waltrip, who was forced up into the wreck by Reed Sorenson.

Labonte and Waltrip suffered the most damage in the incident and, for several laps, it appeared that Waltrip would finish last for the first time since last summer's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono. However, when Waltrip returned to the race 80 laps down, Labonte did not, and Labonte finished last. Labonte completed just 6 laps. Last-place leader Dave Blaney finished 40th. Tony Raines was denied a chance at three straight last-place finishes when Kevin Hamlin stepped into car #37 to make his first Sprint Cup attempt. Hamlin failed to qualify on Friday, but will again be in car #37 in next week’s Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.

The finish was Bobby Labonte’s second of 2009, and his first since his #96 DLP Ford fell out with engine problems at August’s Carfax 400 at Michigan. Labonte now sits 10th on the all-time last-place rankings. It is also the third last-place finish for owner Kevin Buckler for The Racer’s Group, the first for the #71 team since David Gilliland’s CompUSA Chevrolet fell out with power steering problems in the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover back in May. It is also the first time the #71 has ever finished last in a Sprint Cup race at the Kansas Speedway.

43) #71-Bobby Labonte / 6 laps / crash
42) #87-Joe Nemechek / 25 laps / rear end
41) #09-Mike Bliss / 26 laps / overheating
40) #66-Dave Blaney / 28 laps / engine
39) #17-Matt Kenseth / 134 laps / engine

1st) Dave Blaney (8)
2nd) Tony Raines (4)
3rd) Mike Bliss, Patrick Carpentier, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, Joe Nemechek (2)
4th) Tony Ave, Todd Bodine, P.J. Jones, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Mike Wallace (1)