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)

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