Monday, September 6, 2010

CUP: Hamlin Is First Last-Place Polesitter In Two Years After Atlanta Engine Failure

Denny Hamlin picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Emory Healthcare 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #11 Sport Clips Toyota fell out with an engine failure after completing 143 of the race’s 325 laps.

On Saturday, Hamlin won the pole for the race at a speed of 187.380 mph. It was his first pole of the season, ending a nearly one-year drought back to last fall’s Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California, where Hamlin crashed while leading and finished 37th. In the Atlanta race, Hamlin still had one of the best cars on the track and traded the lead several times with Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards. In all, Hamlin would lead 74 laps, second only to Stewart’s 176.

Meanwhile, the battle for last-place was unusually competitive as five underfunded teams went in and out of the garage several times for the first half of the race. Kevin Conway, driving Robby Gordon’s #7 that finished last in the spring Atlanta race, held 43rd for much of the early stages as the first car to go a lap down. By lap 46, Conway had gone behind the wall along with LASTCAR Cup leader Joe Nemechek in his #87, plus three others who were making their first starts with new teams: Mike Bliss in PRISM Motorsports’ #55, J.J. Yeley in Tommy Baldwin’s #36, and Michael McDowell in Dusty Whitney’s #46. Unlike Conway, none of these four teams had any sponsorship, though McDowell was enlisted by Richard Childress to test a new engine package for the start of the #46 team’s partial switch from Dodge to Chevrolet.

However, inexplicably, all five cars were back on the track by lap 70, each more than 12 laps down to the leaders. This was the first time the underfunded teams had used such a strategy since the spring Phoenix race earlier this year:

43) #7-Kevin Conway / -22 laps
42) #46-Michael McDowell / -18 laps
41) #87-Joe Nemechek / -16 laps
40) #36-J.J. Yeley / -14 laps
39) #55-Mike Bliss / -12 laps

McDowell passed Conway for 43rd by lap 84, at which point his was the only car behind the wall. He remained in last when Nemechek, Conway, and Bliss returned to the garage by lap 92. First Bliss, then Conway and McDowell returned to the race by lap 110, at which point Yeley and Nemechek were the only two listed as “off.” This allowed Nemechek to bump McDowell out of the 43rd spot, where he seemed poised to extend his lead over McDowell in the LASTCAR Championship standings. However, Nemechek returned to the track 49 laps down on lap 128. The #87 held 43rd at that time, but Conway and McDowell returned to the garage immediately after, Conway edging ahead of McDowell for 42nd as Nemechek continued to log laps.

When the race’s opening 133-lap green flag run ended with a debris caution, only Bliss and Conway were behind the wall with Conway now in 43rd. Nemechek and Yeley, still on the track, took the wave-around and remained on the track when the green flag waved with Denny Hamlin’s dominant Toyota still out front.

Then, disaster struck.

Hamlin’s car was sluggish on the restart, putting him in a three-wide position with Carl Edwards and Martin Truex, Jr. as the field poured into turn one. Hamlin held his own in the Top 5 for ten more laps when, just past the start/finish line on the 144th circuit, the Sport Clips Toyota’s engine erupted in a tremendous plume of smoke. Hamlin slipped in his own oil and slid into the grass, narrowly avoiding contact with oncoming traffic as his #11 came to a rest in the infield. The failure ended Hamlin’s night.

When the race restarted, both Bliss and Conway in 42nd and 43rd were still listed as “off,” allowing both cars to return to the track and attempt to pass Hamlin. On lap 168, Conway was still 43rd, but back on the track 51 laps down. Nemechek was back behind the wall at that point, but he, too, returned on lap 177. Three laps later, Hamlin had slipped to 39th beneath 38th-place Mike Bliss, who finally parked his #55 for good at that point. Unfortunately, this prevented Bliss from passing Elliott Sadler, who retired with crash damage after 150 laps.

J.J. Yeley made another trip to the garage after Bliss’ departure and edged closer to passing Nemechek, still on-track, for 43rd. By lap 195, Yeley returned to the track in 43rd a full 60 laps down to the leaders while Kevin Conway again returned to the pits. With Hamlin and Bliss sliding down the rankings, Sadler’s own DNF pulled him down to 37th by lap 195, separated from the Bottom Five only by Michael McDowell, then 51 laps in arrears:

43) #36-J.J. Yeley / -60 laps
42) #7-Kevin Conway / OFF
41) #87-Joe Nemechek / -56 laps
40) #11-Denny Hamlin / OUT
39) #55-Mike Bliss / OUT

Conway passed Yeley for 43rd before he returned to the track yet again, finally dropping Hamlin to 43rd and Bliss to 42nd. Sadler slipped past Conway and Yeley for 41st five laps later. Only after Sadler moved by did Conway, Nemechek, McDowell, and Yeley finally leave the race for good in the space of a couple laps. The four drivers finished in that order from 37th through 40th.

*This was Hamlin’s first last-place finish in two years, dating back to when he was involved in the grinding multi-car crash on lap 17 of the 2008 Best Buy 400 at Dover.
*Neither Hamlin nor the #11 had ever before finished last in a Cup Series race at Atlanta.

43) #11-Denny Hamlin / 143 laps / engine / led 74 laps
42) #55-Mike Bliss / 145 laps / electrical
41) #19-Elliott Sadler / 150 laps / crash
40) #36-J.J. Yeley / 152 laps / electrical
39) #46-Michael McDowell / 160 laps / power steering

1st) Joe Nemechek (6)
2nd) Dave Blaney, Michael McDowell, Max Papis (4)
3rd) Aric Almirola (2)
4th) Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Johnny Sauter, Reed Sorenson, Scott Speed (1)

1st) #87-NEMCO Motorsports (6)
2nd) #13-Germain Racing, #55-PRISM Motorsports, #66-PRISM Motorsports (4)
3rd) #09-Phoenix Racing (2)
4th) #7-Robby Gordon Motorsports, #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #32-Braun Racing, #36-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #82-Team Red Bull (1)

*Hamlin is the 36th different polesitter to finish last in a Cup Series race. The last time it happened was when Greg Biffle’s 3M Ford lost the engine after completing 234 laps of the 2008 Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington. The 95 laps Biffle led in that race were the most of any last-place finisher, but Hamlin’s 74 laps led at Atlanta moved him into a close 2nd.
*The last time a polesitter finished last in a Cup race at Atlanta was 1983, when Geoffrey Bodine’s valve failed 18 laps into the Coca-Cola 500.
*The #11 had not won a pole, then finished last in a Cup race since Cale Yarborough’s engine failed while leading 5 laps into the 1980 Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

The following is a complete list of Sprint Cup polesitters who finished last, including drivers who were awarded the pole after qualifying was cancelled:

Driver’s Name - Year and Track - Laps Complete / Total Laps - Reason Out - Laps Led (if any)
Al Bonnell - 1949 Heidelberg Speedway - 0/200 - ?
Dick Linder - 1950 Funk’s Speedway - ?/200 - crash - led 3 laps
Frank Mundy - 1951 Southern 500 - 12/400 - oil pressure
Don Porter - 1956 Portland Speedway - 38/200 - axle
Lee Petty - 1956 Raleigh Speedway - 9/250 - oil pressure
Tiny Lund - 1957 Southern States Fairgrounds - 1/200 - gas line
Bill Amick - 1957 Norfolk Speedway - 29/250 - distributor
Johnny Allen - 1957 Coastal Speedway - 10/200 - fan
Rex White - 1958 Monroe County Fairgrounds - 10/200 - overheating
Tiny Lund - 1958 Gastonia Fairgrounds - 1/200 - a-frame
Ken Rush - 1959 Wilson Speedway - 33/200 - clutch
Emanuel Zervakis - 1960 Wilson Speedway - 200/200 - disqualified
Buck Baker - 1960 Hickory - 68/250 - fuel pump
Junior Johnson - 1961 (Jacksonville) Speedway Park - 4/200 - distributor
Cotton Owens - 1962 Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds - 20/200 - engine
Richard Petty - 1963 Savannah Speedway - 38/200 - crash - led 6 laps
Joe Weatherly - 1963 Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds - 33/200 - engine - led 33 laps
Junior Johnson - 1965 Southern 500 - 1/364 - ignition
Curtis Turner - 1967 Daytona Qualifier #1** - 1/40 - quit
David Pearson - 1968 (Birmingham) Fairgrounds Raceway - 159/160 - disqualified
Buddy Baker - 1969 Daytona Qualifier #1** - 2/50 - quit - led 1 lap
John Sears - 1970 North Carolina State Fairgrounds - 16/200 - engine - led 10 laps
Cale Yarborough - 1980 Daytona 400 - 5/160 - engine - led 5 laps
Buddy Baker - 1982 Darlington I - 3/367 - flywheel - led 1 lap
Geoffrey Bodine - 1983 Atlanta I - 18/328 - valve - led 16 laps
Cale Yarborough - 1983 Daytona 400 - 5/160 - engine - led 1 lap
Geoffrey Bodine - 1986 Darlington I - 1/367 - camshaft
Davey Allison - 1987 Rockingham II - 74/492 - gear - led 22 laps
Geoffrey Bodine - 1997 Charlotte II - 100/334 - crash - led 1 lap
Ward Burton - 1999 Michigan II - 52/200 - crash - led 1 lap
Stacy Compton - 2001 Talladega I - 116/188 - engine - led 2 laps
Ryan Newman - 2001 Charlotte 600 - 11/400 - crash - led 10 laps
Todd Bodine - 2001 Pocono II - 128/200 - handling - led 2 laps
Ryan Newman - 2008 Phoenix I - 134/312 - engine - led 37 laps
Greg Biffle - 2008 Darlington 500 - 234/367 - engine - led 95 laps
Denny Hamlin - 2010 Atlanta II - 143/325 - engine - led 74 laps

**Daytona's Qualifying Races counted as points races prior to 1972. All other qualifying races and non-points races are excluded from this list.


PrayerDavid Opanga said...

hahaha love this stuff

Mel Baker said...

This is awesome! Thanks Brock :)