Sunday, February 28, 2010

CUP: Almirola 2-For-2 After Vexing Vibration; Takes Early 2010 Lead

Aric Almirola picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Shelby American at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his unsponsored #09 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet fell out with vibration problems after completing 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

Almirola’s second-consecutive last-place finish came on the heels of yet another thrilling performance in qualifying. On his first timed lap, Almirola pulled off a speed of 183.038 mph, but with a handful of “go-or-go-homers” still to qualify, he decided to run a second lap. It was then that Almirola lost control in turns one and two and slapped the wall, forcing him to abort the lap. Fortunately, neither Casey Mears nor Terry Cook beat Almirola’s time and the Florida driver secured the 43rd and final starting spot.

Unfortunately, the damage forced Almirola to skip the second practice on Saturday and run just 41st-fastest in Happy Hour. On Sunday, he was unable to run more than 23 laps before falling out under green with a vibration. Almirola is the first driver to finish last because of a vibration since Patrick Carpentier in Tommy Baldwin’s then-unsponsored #36 Toyota fell out of last year’s Pocono 500 at Pocono.

The race marked the first time Almirola, owner James Finch, and the #09 had ever finished last at Las Vegas, the scene of Almirola’s NASCAR Sprint Cup debut in 2007.

In addition, I would like to personally congratulate PRISM Motorsports and 2009 LASTCAR Champion Dave Blaney on their herculean efforts at Las Vegas. After Blaney’s outstanding 5th-place qualifying run at Fontana, NASCAR selected his #66 for random post-race inspection. The move forced Blaney to qualify the team’s only backup car at Las Vegas, which fortunately was able to run with some approved parts from the Fontana car. Not only did Blaney make the show with a 36th-fastest qualifying lap, but despite a lack of sponsorship, he still completed the entire race, finishing 3 laps down in 29th.

It is my sincerest hope that this is a sign of better things to come.

43) #09-Aric Almirola / 23 laps / vibration
42) #55-Michael McDowell / 40 laps / brakes
41) #87-Joe Nemechek / 65 laps / overheating
40) #26-Boris Said / 134 laps / rear gear
39) #36-Mike Bliss / 135 laps / crash

1st) Aric Almirola (2)
2nd) Joe Nemechek (1)

1st) #09-Phoenix Racing (2)
2nd) #87-NEMCO Motorsports (1)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CUP: Almirola’s Adventure Ends With Sour Engine at Auto Club

Aric Almirola picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Auto Club 500 presented by NAPA at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his unsponsored #09 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after completing 34 of the race’s 250 laps.

Almirola and team owner James Finch had a rough start to the 2010 season. They lost longtime sponsor Miccosukee Resorts and Gaming just days before the Daytona 500, a race they then missed after struggling to a 22nd-place finish in the Second Gatorade Duel. Last Friday during qualifying at Fontana, bad luck seemed to find both driver and team once again. The hood on Almirola’s Chevrolet caved in on top of his cowl, resulting in a sluggish first timed lap. However, a miraculous second lap vaulted the #09 to a 24th-place starting spot at a speed of 181.315 mph.

One lap before the start of Sunday’s race, Almirola made a pit stop during which his crew made adjustments under the hood. The move forced him to surrender his starting spot and take the green flag at the rear of the field. Joining Almirola was Denny Hamlin, who changed engines after Happy Hour, and a surprising Dave Blaney, whose unsponsored PRISM Motorsports Toyota qualified 5th in Sunday’s race. With one lap to green, Blaney pulled to the apron on the backstretch and fell to the rear. It was a move likely in response to Blaney’s run in last summer’s Sharpie 500 at Bristol, where he started 4th and was shoved into the wall in the opening laps. Blaney received some valuable TV time on Sunday when he stayed out and led 3 laps during the first round of green-flag stops. Soon after Jimmie Johnson passed Blaney on lap 43, Blaney pulled behind the wall to join his teammate, Michael McDowell.

Neither Blaney nor McDowell, however, were involved in the race’s competition for last place. Early on, Boris Said looked like he was going to secure his first last-place finish in a points race. Said’s Sacred Power / Southern Pride Trucking Ford broke down during his qualifying run, skipped Happy Hour, and lost a lap early in Sunday’s race. Then, on lap 27, last week’s and defending Auto Club 500 last-place finisher Joe Nemechek went behind the wall. However, after Almirola and Said went behind the wall in the next ten laps, first Nemechek, then Said returned to the track, dropping Almirola to last. Only then did Blaney and McDowell fall to 41st and 42nd, respectively, as Said and Nemechek moved up to 38th and 40th before falling out for good a few laps later.

As mentioned earlier, this is only Almirola’s second last-place finish. His first came nearly three years ago during his inaugural Sprint Cup season when an electrical problem knocked his #01 U.S. Army Chevrolet out of the 2007 Subway 500 at Martinsville after completing 111 laps. While Nemechek finished last in the 2009 running of this event, it is actually the second-straight last-place finish for Phoenix Racing and the #09 at Fontana: Mike Bliss finished last for Finch in last fall’s Pepsi 500. Joe Ruttman also finished last in a James Finch-owned Dodge during the 2004 Auto Club 500, giving Finch a total of three Fontana last-place finishes as an owner.

43) #09-Aric Almirola / 34 laps / engine
42) #55-Michael McDowell / 40 laps/ engine
41) #66-Dave Blaney / 43 laps / engine
40) #87-Joe Nemechek / 48 laps / rear gear
39) #56-Martin Truex, Jr. / 64 laps / engine

1st) Aric Almirola, Joe Nemechek (1)

1st) #87-NEMCO Motorsports, #09-Phoenix Racing (1)

Monday, February 15, 2010

CUP: Nemechek Nears 3rd In All-Time Rankings After Disaster at Daytona

Joe Nemechek picked up the 18th last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s 52nd Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #87 England's Stove Works / Toyota was involved in a single-car crash after completing 64 of the race’s 208 laps.

Nemechek was the 16th-fastest car in Saturday’s qualifying session, good enough to lock him into Sunday’s field based on his qualifying speed. In the First Gatorade Duel on Thursday, Nemechek played it safe with an 18th place finish and had teammate Jeff Fuller park his car after four laps, giving Fuller a last-place finish of his own. The run gave Nemechek the 41st starting spot on Sunday and, with last-minute sponsorship from England Stove, he planned to run the entire race.

Unfortunately, while running three laps down on lap 66, Nemechek lost control on its own in turn three and slid up the track, slamming the right-front of his Toyota into the outside wall. Nemechek walked away unhurt, but angry at Sam Hornish, Jr., whose lapped Dodge was following Nemechek at the time.

For much of the race, Regan Smith looked like he was going to secure his first-ever last-place finish after his own car was involved in a multi-car wreck on lap 9. However, Smith returned to the track late in the event and completed 90 laps, more than enough to drop Nemechek to 43rd.

The finish extends Nemechek’s lead in the 1998-Present LASTCAR standings to two finishes over Dave Blaney, Todd Bodine, and Derrike Cope. Nemechek is now eight finishes away from tying Cope for the 1972-present lead (2nd overall) and is one away from tying G.C. Spencer for 3rd on the all-time LASTCAR standings.

The race marks the first time the #87 finished last at Daytona since Kenny Wallace, then Nemechek’s teammate at Furniture Row Racing, fell out with engine problems 141 laps into the 2008 Daytona 500. Nemechek also finished last in the 1995 Daytona 500 while driving another of his NEMCO Motorsports cars, then a Burger King-sponsored Chevrolet.

For next week at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California, Nemechek is the defending last-place finisher of the Auto Club 500.

43) #87-Joe Nemechek / 64 laps / crash
42) #36-Mike Bliss / 76 laps / crash
41) #47-Marcos Ambrose / 79 laps / engine
40) #13-Max Papis / 89 laps / engine
39) #78-Regan Smith / 90 laps / running

1st) Joe Nemechek (1)

1st) #87-NEMCO Motorsports (1)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

CUP: Fuller Falls Out With Engine Problem In First Gatorade Duel

Jeff Fuller finished last in Thursday's First Gatorade Duel at Daytona when his unsponsored #97 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota pulled behind the wall with engine problems after completing 4 of the qualifying race’s 60 laps.

Fuller, who started 22nd in the race, was attempting to make his first Sprint Cup start since the 2005 MBNA RacePoints 400 at Dover, which interestingly was the scene of his fourth and most recent last-place finish. The car Fuller drove was a team car to the #87 of owner Joe Nemechek, who locked himself into the Daytona 500 field in Saturday’s qualifying session. While Nemechek completed the entire qualifying race with an 18th place finish, Fuller pulled to the apron and off the track just four laps in. As a result, Fuller was one of the 11 cars who failed to qualify for the Daytona 500.

In the second Duel, defending LASTCAR champion Dave Blaney also failed to make the field, though Michael McDowell, his new teammate at PRISM Motorsports, made the show in the first Duel.

The race marked the first time that both Fuller and the car number 97 had ever finished last in a Daytona qualifying race.

27) #97-Jeff Fuller / 4 laps / engine
26) #31-Jeff Burton / 24 laps / crash
25) #51-Michael Waltrip / 52 laps / crash
24) #32-Reed Sorenson / 60 laps / running
23) #38-Robert Richardson, Jr. / 60 laps / running

CUP: Said Slowed By Electrical Woes In Second Gatorade Duel

Boris Said finished last in the Second Gatorade Duel at Daytona when his #26 Window World Cares Ford pulled behind the wall with electrical problems after completing 3 of the qualifying race’s 60 laps.

Said, along with his former Carter-Simo Racing crew chief Frankie Stoddard, was turning his first competitive laps for Latitude 43 Motorsports, a new start-up team that was formed in the offseason. The team did not necessarily start from scratch, however, as it had acquired both equipment and a top 35 owner’s points position (22nd) from the Roush-Fenway team for which Jamie McMurray drove in 2009. thus guaranteeing the #26 a spot in the first five races of 2010. McMurray’s team was closed and sold to Latitude 43 so that Roush-Fenway could conform with NASCAR’s new four-car limit for multicar teams.

While the top 35 spot guaranteed Said a spot in each of the first five races of 2010, including the Daytona 500, the team was still short on funds as their Window World sponsorship is shared with Front Row Motorsports and driver John Andretti. While additional sponsorship came in from Sacred Power, a solar energy company, the team has only two cars and planned to run the same engine through all of SpeedWeeks.

Thus, in his Gatorade Duel, Said fell from his 23rd spot to the back of the field before the start of his Gatorade Duel, then lagged back from the draft before pulling behind the wall after 3 laps. The team listed electrical problems as the cause; no engine damage was reported. Said’s was the only car that failed to finish the race, but again, he will race in Sunday’s Daytona 500 due to his top 35 ranking.

The finish was Said’s second straight last-place finish in the Gatorade Duels. He crashed driving for Carter-Simo in last year’s race, knocking him out of the 500 field despite being one of the fastest cars in qualifying. Other than these two qualifying races, Said still has yet to have a single last-place finish in any of his 35 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts.

It was the first time the #26 had finished last in a Gatorade Duel since Steve Kinser lost the engine on his Quaker State Ford early in the First Gatorade Twin 125 in 1995. Like Said, Kinser’s car was the only one which didn’t finish the race. Both Said and Kinser are also among the only nine drivers who have ever finished last in more than one Gatorade Duel.

27) #26-Boris Said / 3 laps / electrical
26) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 58 laps / running
25) #57-Norm Benning / 59 laps / running
24) #92-Mike Wallace / 60 laps / running
23) #66-Dave Blaney / 60 laps / running

Sunday, February 7, 2010

CUP: Cope’s Engine Combusts In Budweiser Shootout

Derrike Cope finished last in Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona when his #75 Asset Protect / Dodge fell out with an engine failure after completing 15 of the race’s 76 laps.

Cope, second in the all-time LASTCAR standings with 26 last-place finishes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, was making his first appearance in the Budweiser Shootout since 1999. That year, he gained entrance after winning his first career pole position in the 1998 UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte. This year, the race included past Daytona points race winners, giving Cope a spot due to his upset victory in the 1990 Daytona 500.

On Thursday, Cope drew the 18th starting position for the 24-car field, but he was forced to start in the back for failing to participate in either of the two practice sessions run that day. In the first 25-lap segment, Cope lost the lead draft and was trying to catch the trailing cars of Juan Pablo Montoya and Bobby Labonte when he pulled behind the wall with engine problems.

It was the second time Cope had ever finished last in the Budweiser Shootout. In the 1991 running, he drew the pole position, but was involved in a crash after completing 11 laps. Cope is also the seventh person to have finished last in more than one Budweiser Shootout; no one has finished last in the exhibition race more than twice. It is also the first time the #75 has finished last in the Shootout.

This coming Thursday, Cope will start 25th in the Race 2 of the Gatorade Duels and will have to race his way in to the field for the Daytona 500. If he qualifies, it will be Cope’s first Daytona 500 start in six years.

24) #75-Derrike Cope / 15 laps / engine
23) #2-Kurt Busch / 32 laps / crash
22) #34-John Andretti / 69 laps / crash
21) #51-Michael Waltrip / 69 laps / crash
20) #5-Mark Martin / 74 laps / crash