Tuesday, March 30, 2010

CUP: McDowell’s Brakes Go Bust At Martinsville

Michael McDowell picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his career in Monday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his unsponsored #55 PRISM Motorsports Toyota fell out with brake problems after completing 19 of the race’s 508 laps.

Friday’s rained-out qualifying session snagged McDowell the 41st spot in the 43-car field, lining him up next to fellow unsponsored PRISM Motorsports teammate Dave Blaney, the defending LASTCAR Champion. During the opening green-flag run, McDowell pulled behind the wall with brake problems on lap 19, followed 5 laps later by teammate Blaney, who overheated. Blaney has still yet to score a single last-place finish in 2010.

It was McDowell’s first last-place finish since last year's season finale at Homestead and the first for the #55 since Michael Waltrip’s NAPA Toyota lost an engine 24 laps into the 2008 Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono. Mike Skinner, driving a second TRG Motorsports car, was the last driver to finish 43rd with brake problems, the finish having come in the 2009 NASCAR Banking 500 at Charlotte.

It was also the first time the #55 had finished last in a Sprint Cup race at Martinsville since Tommy Ellis scored his first last-place finish when a lap 14 crash K.O.’d Ellis’ self-owned Industrial Boiler Chevrolet in the 1981 Old Dominion 500. Just as in Monday's race, the #11 went to victory lane that day, though back then Darrell Waltrip was behind the wheel.

The Martinsville event also marked the return of the rear spoiler to NASCAR Sprint Cup competition after a more than two-year hiatus that dates back to the 2007 Ford 400 at Homestead. In that race, Johnny Benson, Jr. picked up his 4th and most recent last-place finish when the engine let go on his Bill Davis-owned #36 360 OTC Toyota.

43) #55-Michael McDowell / 19 laps / brakes
42) #66-Dave Blaney / 24 laps / overheating
41) #09-Aric Almirola / 43 laps / brakes
40) #13-Max Papis / 52 laps / brakes
39) #87-Joe Nemechek / 67 laps / crash

1st) Aric Almirola, Joe Nemechek (2)
2nd) Robby Gordon, Michael McDowell (1)

1st) #87-NEMCO Motorsports, #09-Phoenix Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Robby Gordon Motorsports, #55-PRISM Motorsports (1)

Monday, March 22, 2010

CUP: Nemecheck Tied For 3rd All-Time After Rear Gear Shears At Bristol

Joe Nemechek picked up the 19th last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his ComputerWorks Toyota fell out with rear gear problems after completing 30 of the race’s 500 laps. Nemechek is now tied with G.C. Spencer for the third-most last-place finishes in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. He is seven finishes away from tying Derrike Cope for 2nd in those rankings.

Prior to qualifying, Nemechek gained sponsorship from ComputerWorks, a Bristol-area business, for both the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup events. This marked just the second time in the season’s five races that Nemechek’s #87 had primary sponsorship on the hood of his car. The other sponsorship deal, which came from England’s Stove Works, was also in his most recent last-place finish in February’s Daytona 500.

On Friday, Nemechek qualified 35th at a speed of 121.190 mph, marking the first time since 2006 that the Florida driver had qualified for the first five races on the Sprint Cup schedule. Unfortunately, Nemechek was unable to enjoy the moment for long as he went behind the wall under green on lap 30.

It marked the third time Nemechek had finished last in the Food City 500; his other two came in back-to-back years driving Andy Petree’s #33 in 2001 and Travis Carter’s #26 in 2002. Nemechek has never finished last in the August race at the half-mile. This race marked the first time the #87 has ever finished last at Bristol.

Nemechek is only the second last-place finisher in NASCAR Sprint Cup history to finish last with a rear gear problem. The first was not until the fall of 2006, when Kevin Lepage’s #34 Oak Glove Co. Chevrolet fell out of that year’s Subway 500 at Martinsville.

Eleven laps after Nemechek’s departure, 2009 LASTCAR Champion Dave Blaney, who swept the last-place finishes at Bristol that year, stopped his car at the top of turns three and four. A cut tire dropped him off the pace and Blaney was unable to find a break in traffic to get to pit road. Blaney had scored his third consecutive top-10 start at Bristol as driver of the PRISM Motorsports #66, his 3rd-place run the best-ever qualifying performance by the team. However, just like when he qualified 5th at Fontana, Blaney dropped to the back before the green flag. The lap 41 incident gave Blaney a two-lap penalty for deliberately bringing out a caution, but he went behind the wall under the yellow and was credited with 40 laps, finishing 42nd. Michael Waltrip, Blaney’s one-race teammate, fell out six laps later. PRISM Motorsports is still 0-for-5 in last-place finishes for 2010.

43) #87-Joe Nemechek / 30 laps / rear gear
42) #66-Dave Blaney / 40 laps / crash
41) #55-Michael Waltrip / 46 laps / suspension
40) #33-Clint Bowyer / 56 laps / engine
39) #09-Aric Almirola / 59 laps / brakes

1st) Aric Almirola, Joe Nemechek (2)
2nd) Robby Gordon (1)

1st) #87-NEMCO Motorsports, #09-Phoenix Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Robby Gordon Motorsports (1)

Monday, March 8, 2010

CUP: Robby Gordon Loses Tire In Early Atlanta Crash

Robby Gordon picked up the 9th last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #7 Warner Music Nashville / Blake Shelton Toyota was involved in a single-car crash after completing 3 of the race’s 341 laps.

For Gordon, one of the last owner-drivers in NASCAR, the 2010 season has already been a tremendous struggle. Forced to a part-time schedule after the departure of sponsor Jim Beam late last season, Gordon has finished no better than 28th in the season’s first four races and has been in jeopardy of falling out of the Top 35 in Owner Points. Thanks to a partnership with the returning BAM Racing team, however, Gordon was able to share BAM’s sponsorship deal with Warner Music for three of the season’s first five races, providing much-needed funding.

Unfortunately, the Atlanta weekend - his third in the Warner Music colors, faced an early setback. His brand-new primary car did not arrive at the track until it came in a second trailer around 3 A.M. Friday morning. The team then fought to find speed in the day’s first practice session, winding up 33rd of the 46 cars, and locked up the 39th starting spot at a speed of 186.403 mph. Aric Almirola, who finished last the previous two races in 2010, failed to qualify in his Phoenix Racing entry.

Things did not go much better on Sunday. Gordon’s Toyota fell off the pace by lap 4, when his left-rear tire suddenly came apart going into turn one, sending his car driver’s side first into the outside wall. While Gordon was okay, the car was not, and he did not return to the track. Gordon now sits 27 points outside the Top 35 headed to Bristol. Under NASCAR’s new inspection rules, this means 42nd-place finisher Michael McDowell’s car will be inspected as the lowest-finishing car who did not DNF as a result of a crash. Curiously, McDowell, who fell out after 37 laps with transmission trouble, narrowly avoided colliding with Gordon during the lap 4 crash.

The finish was the first for Robby Gordon and his self-owned #7 team since the 2008 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, where Gordon’s Jim Beam Toyota fell out with an engine failure after completing 181 of the 400 laps. It was also Gordon’s first-ever last place finish at Atlanta. Gordon’s part-time teammate P.J. Jones finished last in his a #04 Jim Beam Toyota in last June’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Infineon.

The race also marked just the second time a car number 7 finished last at Atlanta. The only other time was Canadian driver Jack Donohue’s exit on the very first lap of the 1976 Dixie 500, the fall event at the track.

On a historical note, Robby Gordon’s first-ever last-place finish in Cup competition came in the 1993 DieHard 500 at Talladega, his lone ride in the fabled #28 Texaco / Havoline Ford. Gordon was tabbed as a substitute driver by owner Robert Yates after the untimely passing of rising superstar driver Davey Allison. Gordon qualified 14th, but was involved in a single-car accident in the tri-oval on lap 54.

43) #7-Robby Gordon / 3 laps / crash
42) #55-Michael McDowell / 37 laps / transmission
41) #66-Dave Blaney / 48 laps / brakes
40) #00-David Reutimann / 167 laps / overheating
39) #99-Carl Edwards / 170 laps / parked

1st) Aric Almirola (2)
2nd) Robby Gordon, Joe Nemechek (1)

1st) #09-Phoenix Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Robby Gordon Motorsports, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (1)