Saturday, April 23, 2011

N’WIDE: Chapman Ends Green’s Streak With 43rd at Nashville, Moves To 6th All-Time

Johnny Chapman picked up the 13th last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Saturday’s Nashville 300 at the Nashville Superspeedway when his unsponsored #75 Rick Ware Racing Ford fell out with a vibration after completing 1 of the race’s 225 laps.

With the finish, Chapman is now tied with Ed Berrier for the third-most last-place finishes in Nationwide Series history. He has also equalled Kevin Lepage’s mark of 22 finishes across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions, sixth-most all-time.

Like TriStar Motorsports, Rick Ware’s Nationwide Series program has been fielding three cars this season. The #41, shared by Patrick Sheltra, Carl Long, and Jennifer Jo Cobb, has made all eight races this season. The #15, which made its on-track debut with short tracker Timmy Hill at Phoenix, has made every race since. At Texas, Ware debuted an unsponsored third team, a #75 which exited the race after three laps with driver Carl Long. The #75 finished 42nd that night, edged by one lap for last place by TriStar’s Jeff Green in the #44.

Nashville would see the #75's second start of the year, this time with Johnny Chapman behind the wheel. With just 43 cars showing up to the concrete track, Chapman was guaranteed his 101st career Nationwide Series start. It would be his first since he finished 37th in Morgan Shepherd’s #89 during the final series race at Gateway last October.

Chapman, who finished next-to-last in Nashville’s truck race the night before, qualified 38th for the Nationwide event at a speed of 149.495 mph. Just like Texas, however, he and the #75 would leave the race early. This time, Chapman followed Jeff Green to the garage area after both completed the opening lap. Since Green, who qualified five spots ahead of Chapman in 33rd, was still ahead of him that lap, Chapman ended up with the last-place finish.  This ended Green's streak of two consecutive 43rds from Texas and Talladega.

Carl Long raced for Ware as well, returning to the #41, but fell out of the race after three laps. Timmy Hill and the #15 came home 33rd after a blown left-front tire tore up the fender on his Ford.

*Chapman had not finished last in a Nationwide Series race since 2010, when his #92 K-Automotive Motorsports Dodge fell out three laps into the 2010 Scotts Turf Builder 300 at Bristol. It was Chapman’s only last-place run with K-Automotive in 2010, a year that saw the three-car team score a Nationwide Series record of 13 by season’s end.
*This was Chapman’s second career last-place finish in a Nationwide Series race at Nashville: he and the #90 MSRP Motorsports Chevrolet fell out 15 laps into the 2009 Nashville 300 with brake troubles.
*The #75 had not finished last in a Nationwide Series race since 1998, when Kelly Denton’s Food Country Chevrolet lost the engine after eight laps of the 1998 Food City 250 at Bristol.
The number had never before finished last at Nashville. It was Denton’s one and only last-place finish in 36 series starts.

43) #75-Johnny Chapman / 1 lap / vibration
42) #44-Jeff Green / 1 lap / vibration
41) #05-Willie Allen / 3 laps / brakes
40) #41-Carl Long / 3 laps / overheating
39) #68-Matt Carter / 4 laps / electrical

1st) Kelly Bires, Jeff Green (2)
2nd) Johnny Chapman, Kevin Conway, Mike Harmon, Justin Marks (1)

1st) #25-Ed Rensi, #44-TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) #27-Baker Curb Racing, #74-Mike Harmon, #75-Rick Ware Racing, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (4)

TRUCKS: Garvey, Third Sieg Truck Finish Last in 2011 Debut

Mike Garvey picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Bully Hill Vineyards 200 at the Nashville Superspeedway when his #38 S&W Services Chevrolet fell out with a loss of oil pressure after 4 of the race’s 150 laps.

With the finish, Garvey now stands tied for 5th in the all-time LASTCAR Truck Series standings, tied with Mike Hurlbert and Butch Miller.

Garvey qualified 35th for the race at a speed of 150.038 mph, besting five other “go-or-go-homers” including Norm Benning, John King, Brian Johnson, Jr., and Jennifer Jo Cobb, who all failed to qualify. This allowed Garvey to make his first start of the 2011 season in a new third team for owner Shane Sieg. Sieg qualified his own #93 in 31st while brother Ryan Sieg timed in 19th in the #39.

However, Garvey’s night did not last long when he went behind the wall during the race’s opening green-flag run. In doing so, Garvey scored his first last-place finish since last fall at Martinsville, the series-leading 4th of his 2010 campaign for the Siegs.

Ryan’s #39 scored the team’s best finish of the night in 21st. Shane’s came home as the first truck a lap down in 26th.

*This was the first time the #38 had finished last in a Truck Series race since 2009. In that race, the 2009 Ford 200 at Homestead, Garvey himself scored his first-ever last-place finish in the series while driving owner Susan Bates’ #38 S&W Services Chevrolet. An overheating problem knocked him out of the race after 2 laps.
*Neither Garvey nor the #38 had ever before finished last in a Truck Series race at Nashville.

36) #38-Mike Garvey / 4 laps / oil pressure
35) #07-Johnny Chapman / 18 laps / vibration
34) #63-Nick Hoffman / 126 laps / crash
33) #99-Chase Mattioli / 144 laps / running
32) #20-Johanna Long / 147 laps / running

1st) Norm Benning, James Buescher, Mike Garvey, Travis Kvapil, Brad Sweet (1)

1st) #5-Randy Moss, #31-Turner Motorsports, #32-Turner Motorsports, #38-Shane Sieg, #57-Norm Benning Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (1)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

LASTCAR EXTRA: Media’s Disrespect of Blaney, Baldwin Reprehensible

It was the spring of 2009. At the far end of the Sprint Cup garage area, a sponsorless blue #66 Toyota was being tuned-up by the PRISM Motorsports crew. The next morning, Dave Blaney would climb into the driver’s seat of the outdated Michael Waltrip Racing car, start the race, then be called to the garage area before the first caution had a chance to fall. By the end of the season, the Ohio driver will have finished last eight times for PRISM, setting a dubious all-time season record. It was a terrible set of circumstances, but with his ride at Bill Davis Racing shot out from under him by the down economy, this was ironically the best deal available.

Nearby, another blank car, a white #36 Toyota, sat on jack stands. There, another rag-tag group of crewmen ran through their pre-race checklist under the watchful eye of Tommy Baldwin. Another victim of BDR’s demise, Baldwin decided to start his own team with driver Scott Riggs. At the start of the 2009 season, Riggs and Baldwin became one of the feel-good stories of SpeedWeeks, racing their way into the Daytona 500 with a strong 8th-place finish in their Gatorade Duel. Sponsorship followed, but then dried up following a DNQ at Las Vegas. Now, the money was tighter than ever. So tight, in fact, that Baldwin, too, knew he would have to park his car just to so he could run it in the next race. Soon, Riggs would leave as well, and the team became ensnared in the “start-and-park” quagmire.

Ever since, Blaney and Tommy Baldwin Racing have come to symbolize an all-too-familiar struggle in today’s NASCAR: the desire to race trampled by the tyranny of the dollar. In that time, both driver and team have appeared on this website far too often. Blaney now stands fifth in the all-time LASTCAR standings with 23 last-place finishes. Baldwin’s #36 has qualified for 59 of the last 80 races, but has six 43rd-place finishes of its own, mostly from parking.

Perhaps, then, it was fate that this driver and this team would find each other in August of last year. Blaney became frustrated at PRISM, with whom he’d qualified as high as 3rd at Bristol in the spring of 2010, and left the team following his fifth DNQ of the season at Watkins Glen. Tommy Baldwin was looking for his 13th different new driver after Casey Mears left to replace Max Papis in Germain Racing’s GEICO-sponsored Toyota. Blaney and Baldwin missed the field for that Bristol race, but a new working relationship had been formed. And, after a brief stint with Front Row Motorsports, Blaney signed on to run for Baldwin in 2011.

It was then that the pair began to turn heads. Blaney and a still-unsponsored black #36 squeaked their way into the Daytona 500 field with the 26th-best qualifying time, 5th among the “go-or-go-homers,” giving Tommy Baldwin his third consecutive 500 start as an owner with three different drivers. Once again, primary sponsorship followed, this time from Golden Corral, and Blaney was set to run the entire distance of his first Daytona 500 in three years.

In the 500, Blaney made some noise early, avoiding the huge wreck on Lap 29 to snag the lead for three laps soon after the restart. As crash after crash continued to deplete the field, Blaney remained on the lead lap and firmly in contention, seeking his first Top 10 since he came home 9th at Dover in the spring of 2008. With two laps to go, he was running with the leaders when Kurt Busch turned Regan Smith into the outside wall a few cars in front of him. Blaney made it safely to the apron, but the new reinforced front valence dug into the infield grass, tearing up the nose of the car bad enough to put him out of the race.

He finished 26th that day, but the sponsors took notice.

Originally, Baldwin had only planned to run a part-time schedule in 2011, but his #36 has never been without primary sponsorship since that day at Daytona. Though his team remains outside the Top 35, they haven’t missed a race since. And, with the exception of Phoenix, where a crash in Happy Hour forced the team to roll out their Las Vegas car at the last minute, Blaney and Baldwin have never again resorted to starting and parking. In fact, the duo scored a season-best 25th at Bristol, one of Blaney’s favorite tracks.

Then came Talladega.

By now, this chapter of the story is well-known. Bringing back the same car from the Daytona 500, completely rebuilt over the last two months, Blaney and Baldwin welcomed back Golden Corral and its “Top 10 Kids Eat Free” campaign. The #36 qualified 35th, extending the team’s streak of consecutive starts, and were not only ready to again run the whole race, but also to close the six-point gap they needed to break into the Top 35. It would be Blaney’s 370th Sprint Cup start.

Early in the race, Blaney took a more conservative approach, but inside the final 80 laps rocketed into the lead when he formed a two-car draft with defending race winner Kevin Harvick. Using the unheralded restrictor-plate skill he’d shown not only in this year’s 500, but also in the 2004 Budweiser Shootout and his 3rd-place finish at Talladega in the fall of 2007, Blaney went on to lead 21 laps, second-most on the day. In fact, with five laps to go, the #36 was still out front, headed for what many perceived to be a tremendous upset.

Then, with an errant bump from Kurt Busch in turn three, Blaney was spun to the apron, left hopelessly out of contention. He saved the car from crashing, but the lack of a caution left him a disappointing 27th.

This whole story is worth telling because, too often, my fellow members of the media refuse to give drivers like Blaney and teams like Baldwin the respect they deserve. After a weekend that saw a stunning performance by not just Blaney, but also J.J. Yeley, Terry Labonte, Landon Cassill, and, in the Nationwide race, Joe Nemechek and Mike Wallace, I was shocked to see question whether Blaney’s near-victory should be celebrated.

After reading the background I’ve provided here, you should be shocked, too.

In fact, their argument is a false one. Recognizing Blaney’s run along with the weekend’s other surprises isn’t even about celebrating a near-victory. It’s not even that demanding. It’s only about recognizing a driver and team’s potential and respecting the progress they’ve made. And it saddens me that there are people out there who are unwilling to even do that.

Some may say that I’m not the right person to be saying all this, being the guy who covers the last-place finisher’s beat. And I see where they’re coming from: the tale of a driver finishing 43rd never has a happy ending. But, as Blaney’s story shows, the tale of a driver and a team more known for finishing last than running up front is so much more than what the box score shows. It’s also how that one performance in that one race adds to the story both have written so far and what it means for their future. Too often, those stories are overlooked as either flukes or failures that are hardly worth reporting. Excuses are made for the writer’s or commentator’s lack of curiosity to their plight. They turn a blind eye to a team that “starts-and-parks” even one time, qualifying every future accomplishment with that label so they don't have to follow up on them.  All breeding apathy for a group of drivers and teams who need more help than anyone else on the circuit.

But not here.

When, like on Sunday, a LASTCAR-featured driver or team mixes it up with the leaders, showing signs of the success that I wish them to have, rest assured that story’s getting a spot on this website.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

CUP: Conway Gives NEMCO’s #97 Second-Straight Talladega Last-Place Finish

Kevin Conway picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #97 ExtenZe Toyota fell out with an electrical problem after completing 1 of the race’s 188 laps. The finish came in Conway’s 29th series start.

On Saturday, two months after J.J. Yeley edged him for the final transfer spot into the Daytona 500 field, Conway returned to NEMCO Motorsports’ #97 and qualified 32nd at a speed of 176.195 mph.
Sunday would be Conway’s first start in a points race since he and sponsor ExtenZe left Robby Gordon’s team following last fall’s Homestead finale.

Car owner Joe Nemechek secured the 21st spot in an unsponsored #87 that was completely rebuilt after it was destroyed 29 laps into the Daytona 500. Sunday’s 500-miler would mark the second-straight Cup race at Talladega that Nemechek had two of his cars in the race. As it turned out, both times his #97 would finish last.

Though Nemechek finished 3rd in a wild Nationwide race after a last-lap caution ended his side-by-side battle with winner Kyle Busch, both NEMCO Toyotas were unable to run the whole distance on Sunday.  At the green flag on Sunday, both Conway and Nemechek fell to the rear and formed their own two-car draft at the rear of the field. After the opening lap, Conway pulled behind the wall.

Nemechek followed four laps later, one lap after Steve Park’s first race since Daytona last July ended with an early exit after the fourth circuit. Park was running an unsponsored #35 owned by Tommy Baldwin in preparation for another one-race deal in Baldwin’s #36 at Daytona in July.

*Conway is the first driver to finish last in more than one series in the same season since Dave Blaney in 2009, when he scored eight last-place finishes in Cup and two in Nationwide.
*Conway is the first driver to score his first Cup last-place finish since Brendan Gaughan also fell out after the opening lap of last fall’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix.
*Conway is the first Cup driver to ever finish last at Talladega due to an electrical problem.

43) #97-Kevin Conway / 1 lap / electrical
42) #35-Steve Park / 4 laps / electrical
41) #87-Joe Nemechek / 5 laps / vibration
40) #21-Trevor Bayne / 89 laps / crash / led 5 laps
39) #6-David Ragan / 89 laps / crash / led 2 laps

While Michael McDowell and Mike Skinner were two of the three drivers who failed to qualify (the third being Tony Raines in Larry Gunselman’s #37 Ford), Landon Cassill enjoyed his career-best qualifying run of 6th and ran with the leaders through the early stages of the race. Unfortunately, Cassill ended up a disappointing 31st after a Lap 27 crash where Kurt Busch turned him off turn two into the passing car of Brian Vickers.

Around that time, J.J. Yeley climbed into the #46 that was qualified and started by Bill Elliott, then with drafting help from Terry Labonte’s #32 ran as high as 3rd with 76 laps to go. However, soon after Labonte fell out with engine failure, Yeley slipped out of competition and finished 26th, the next-to-last car on the lead lap.
1st) Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek (2)
2nd) Landon Cassill, Kevin Conway, Mike Skinner, J.J. Yeley (1)

1st) #60-Germain Racing, #66-HP Racing LLC, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (2)
2nd) #46-Dusty Whitney, #97-NEMCO Motorsports (1)

1st) Toyota (7)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)

N’WIDE: Green’s Second-Straight 43rd Is Chevrolet’s 400th In Nationwide Series History

Jeff Green picked up the 18th last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his unsponsored #44 TriStar Motorsports Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 1 of the race’s 124 laps.

Green’s finish marked the 400th last-place finish for Chevrolet in the history of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. No other manufacturer has more than 163 (set by Pontiac).

Green qualified 30th at a speed of 174.321 mph, besting seven other “go-or-go-home” drivers on the 43-car entry list. Just after the opening lap of the race, he pulled behind the wall, followed on the next circuit by Carl Long in the Craig Partee-owned #68 Marro’s Truck Ford.

*This was Green’s first Nationwide Series last-place finish at Talladega since 1993, when his Wayne Day-owned #16 31-W Insulation Chevrolet fell out with an engine failure after 2 of the race’s 117 laps. It was Green’s fifth career last-place finish in the series.
*The #44 had never before finished last in a Nationwide race at Talladega.

43) #44-Jeff Green / 1 lap / vibration
42) #68-Carl Long / 2 laps / electrical
41) #79-Tim Andrews / 4 laps / rear end
40) #74-Mike Harmon / 11 laps / ignition
39) #4-Kevin Harvick / 21 laps / engine / led 4 laps

Joe Nemechek returned to the #87 that finished last with Kevin Conway at Las Vegas and enjoyed his first top-five finish in nearly six years. After pushing Mike Wallace to the lead in the middle stages of the event, Nemechek’s ExtenZe Toyota led for four laps and paced the field as late as Lap 118. He was still running side-by-side with race winner Kyle Busch when Wallace’s flip ended the race under caution.
1st) Kelly Bires, Jeff Green (2)
2nd) Kevin Conway, Mike Harmon, Justin Marks (1)

1st) #25-Ed Rensi, #44-TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) #27-Baker Curb Racing, #74-Mike Harmon, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford (3)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

CUP: Skinner Scores Third Texas Last-Place Finish

Mike Skinner picked up the 10th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Saturday’s Samsung Mobile 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #60 Big Red Toyota fell out with a rear gear failure after completing 36 of the race’s 334 laps.

At Martinsville last week, Skinner became the third different driver in as many races to drive for Germain Racing’s second team, following Landon Cassill’s final start in the #60 at Bristol and Todd Bodine’s run at Fontana. While Germain’s primary team, Casey Mears’ #13 GEICO Toyota, in a tight battle for 35th in Owner Points, the #60 has still yet to run a full race, never completing more than 68 laps. Though the team finished last with Cassill at Las Vegas, the Big Red Toyota has made all six races since Todd Bodine missed the Daytona 500.

Skinner maintained this streak at Texas by qualifying 36th at a speed of 185.122 mph, besting five “go-or-go-homers” including Travis Kvapil, whose #38 ended up with its first DNQ of 2011. For the first time, the race would see Skinner sharing the team’s Big Red sponsorship with another car, Ken Schrader’s Frankie Stoddard-owned #32, who timed in 41st.

In the race itself, it once again appeared that Tony Raines would finish last when his #37 blew smoke down the frontstretch on Lap 10 in an incident similar to one he suffered early in the Fontana race. Under the yellow, Skinner and Michael McDowell in the #66 stayed out trying to a lead a lap, then went behind the wall. On Lap 22, with Raines still on the track three laps down, first Skinner, then McDowell decided to return to the track ten laps down. Over the next twenty laps, Joe Nemechek and J.J. Yeley also spent time in the garage and returned twelve laps down.

Then, on Lap 46, David Gilliland’s #34 Gander Mountain Ford blew a right-front tire in turn one and slammed the outside wall very hard. Gilliland was uninjured, but the right side of his Front Row Motorsports machine was completely destroyed, ending his afternoon. While Nemechek, Yeley and McDowell stayed out on the track long enough to shuffle Gilliland down to 42nd, Skinner never brought the #60 back out and ended up with his first last-place finish of the season.

Ken Schrader in the other Big Red-sponsored car finished 33rd after he dropped a cylinder early in the race. Casey Mears finished 26th in the GEICO Toyota and reclaimed 35th in Owner Points from Tony Raines, whose 34th-place finish slipped him two spots to 37th in points.

*This was Skinner’s first last-place finish since 2009, when his unsponsored #70 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet fell out with brake problems 6 laps into another Texas race, the 2009 Dickies 500. Skinner finished last in one other Texas Cup race, the 2005 Dickies 500, when his #37 Patron Tequila / Dodge lost the rear end after 151 laps.
*The #60 had never before finished last in a Cup race at Texas.

43) #60-Mike Skinner / 36 laps / rear gear
42) #34-David Gilliland / 44 laps / crash
41) #46-J.J. Yeley / 52 laps / electrical
40) #66-Michael McDowell / 56 laps / electrical
39) #87-Joe Nemechek / 60 laps / clutch

1st) Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek (2)
2nd) Landon Cassill, Mike Skinner, J.J. Yeley (1)

1st) #60-Germain Racing, #66-HP Racing LLC, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (2)
2nd) #46-Dusty Whitney (1)

1st) Toyota (6)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)

N’WIDE: Jeff Green Moves To 8th In All-Time LASTCAR Standings

Jeff Green picked up the 17th last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Friday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #44 TriStar Motorsports Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 2 of the race’s 200 laps.

Green now has 20 last-place finishes across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions, breaking a tie with Todd Bodine, G.C. Spencer, and Darrell Waltrip to rank him 8th all-time. In the Nationwide Series standings, Green remains seven finishes away from tying series leader Jeff Fuller’s mark of 24.

Earlier on Friday, Green qualified 32nd at a speed of 172.035 mph, besting six “go-or-go-homers,” including the #55 of Brett Rowe, the race’s only DNQ. This put Green into his fifth race of the 2011 season, again joining TriStar Motorsports teammates Mike Bliss in the #19 and Eric McClure in the #14. Green and the #44 did not enter the 40-car field at Phoenix in February.

Without sufficient sponsorship for all three cars, owner Mark Smith has again put Green’s #44 on “start-and-park” status, just as when Green drove the team’s #36 to eight last-place finishes in 2010. Thus, in his four previous starts this year, Green has never completed more than 41 laps, resulting in four finishes between 37th and 42nd.

In the Texas race, it first appeared that defending LASTCAR Nationwide Champion Dennis Setzer would score his first last-place finish of 2011. Setzer, driving owner Jay Robinson’s #49, was the first car to go behind the wall during the race’s opening stages. However, soon after Green, Carl Long, Matt Carter, J.J. Yeley (driving Fontana last-place finisher Mike Harmon’s #74), and Kevin Lepage fell out in consecutive laps starting on Lap 3, Setzer returned to the track and passed them all, ultimately falling out in 38th after he completed 13 laps. Only then did Green fall to 43rd.

TriStar teammates Bliss and McClure finished 19th and 31st, respectively.

*Green had not finished last in a Nationwide Series race since the 2010 season finale, the Ford 300 at Homestead, where his unsponsored #36 TriStar Motorsports Chevrolet also fell out after two laps with a vibration.
*The #44 had not finished last in a Nationwide Series race since 2009, when Danny O’Quinn, Jr.’s Pete Szekeres-owned Dynamic Technology, Inc. Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems three laps into the 2009 Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas.

43) #44-Jeff Green / 2 laps / vibration
42) #75-Carl Long / 3 laps / handling
41) #68-Matt Carter / 4 laps / vibration
40) #74-J.J. Yeley / 5 laps / rear gear
39) #24-Kevin Lepage / 6 laps / power steering

None of the 2011's other Nationwide Series last-place finishers were entered into Friday’s race.
1st) Kelly Bires (2)
2nd) Kevin Conway, Jeff Green, Mike Harmon, Justin Marks (1)

1st) #25-Ed Rensi (2)
2nd) #27-Baker Curb Racing, #44-TriStar Motorsports, #74-Mike Harmon, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (3)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

CUP: Nemechek Tied For 2nd-Most Last-Place Finishes After Controversial Martinsville Weekend

Joe Nemechek picked up the 26th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #87 AM FM Toyota fell out 25 laps into the 500-lap race with brake problems.

With the finish, Nemechek is now tied with Derrike Cope for the second-most last-place finishes in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. It is also Nemechek’s 32nd last-place finish across NASCAR’s top three divisions, tying him for the third-most all-time with the late J.D. McDuffie.

At Martinsville, Nemechek welcomed back returning primary sponsor AM FM, who funded his successful bid to make the Daytona 500 in February. He was the fastest “go-or-go-home” car in Friday’s opening practice session (29th overall) and qualified 37th for the race at a speed of 94.209 mph. However, the nose of Nemechek’s #87 was found to be too low in post-qualifying inspection, so the time was disallowed. This dropped Nemechek to 43rd for the start of the race.

No cars were sent home in qualifying as, for the second straight race, only 43 cars attempted to qualify. All-time LASTCAR leader Derrike Cope’s #75 was the first to withdraw prior to practice. Dennis Setzer, returning to K-Automotive’s #92 after the team did not enter the race at Fontana, withdrew after Happy Hour when a brake failure resulted in a turn three crash that destroyed the only car the team had at the track.

Although he appeared to have adequate sponsorship, Nemechek’s was still the first car to go behind the wall on race day, falling out during the opening green-flag run. Mike Skinner in Germain Racing’s #60 fell out six laps later. Radio communications from the #87 indicated Nemechek was considering returning to the track to pass Skinner, but decided not to when he noticed how banged-up the right side of Skinner’s car was after just 31 laps.

*This was Nemechek’s second career last-place finish in a Cup race at Martinsville. The first came in the 2008 Tums QuikPak 500, where his #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 115 laps following a tangle with Matt Kenseth.
*The #87 had never before finished last in a Cup race at Martinsville.
*It’s the second straight year that the last-place finisher of the spring Cup race at Martinsville fell out with brake failure. Last year, Michael McDowell’s #55 PRISM Motorsports Toyota fell out 24 laps into the 2010 Goody’s Fast Relief 500.

43) #87-Joe Nemechek / 25 laps / brakes
42) #60-Mike Skinner / 31 laps / brakes
41) #46-J.J. Yeley / 33 laps / brakes
40) #56-Martin Truex, Jr. / 219 laps / crash
39) #4-Kasey Kahne / 219 laps / crash / led 1 lap

1st) Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek (2)
2nd) Landon Cassill, J.J. Yeley (1)

1st) #66-HP Racing LLC, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (2)
2nd) #46-Dusty Whitney, #60-Germain Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (5)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)

LASTCAR EXTRA: Michael McDowell Leaves It All On The Track At Martinsville

After scoring back-to-back last-place finishes at Bristol and Fontana, Michael McDowell finished 32nd in Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville, having been given the opportunity to run a full race for owners Phil Parsons and Randy Humphrey for the first time since the 2010 Daytona 500. Throughout the race, McDowell’s car, still flat black except for decals carrying HP Racing LLC’s web address at, had an eventful afternoon, running as high as 25th before some late misfortune dropped him seven spots back.

After starting 35th, McDowell lost a lap, scored the first Lucky Dog on Lap 50, then defended his spot on the lead lap by holding off leader Jimmie Johnson just before the second yellow came on Lap 106. McDowell’s spotter aided his defensive driving, though on Lap 87, he replied in frustration, “You know, one time I was a race car driver.” On Lap 125, Marcos Ambrose crossed McDowell’s nose entering turn one. McDowell held his line and shoved Ambrose into the corner, sending the #9 backwards into the outside wall. The incident, and McDowell’s radio communication that he was going to make the most of the race, scored McDowell some TV time during the FOX broadcast:

"I'm not gonna take it, man. This ain't mind games. [sic] They're not messing with me. I got one race a year; I'm gonna make it count."

Despite the handling problems and brake woes that plagued his run, McDowell remained on the lead lap between 25th and 29th for the first 299 laps, never once needing another Lucky Dog to stay there. He traded paint on a number of other occasions, sheetmetal flapping off his smoking left-rear quarter-panel by Lap 187. Following a multi-car accident that occurred just ahead of McDowell on Lap 237, his spotter passed on a message from Greg Biffle’s spotter that “Biffle said ‘Thank you’ ” to which he replied, “For not killing him or for letting him in?”

Soon after on Lap 242, McDowell had another close call when Brad Keselowski sent Paul Menard and Casey Mears spinning in front of him in turn one. McDowell avoided significant damage to his car, had the brake ducts cleared on pit road, and said the plan was “Let’s stay on the lead lap and then go crazy with 75 to go.”

Unfortunately, while running 25th and still on the lead lap on Lap 299, McDowell lost a right-rear tire coming off turn two and slowed, trying to make it onto pit road. When NASCAR failed to throw the yellow, even as Casey Mears’ #13 was also off the pace with damage to the rear end, McDowell was furious: “Why don’t they throw the stinking caution instead of trying to get me run over out here?” He eventually made it to pit road, though apparently his crew didn’t understand his warning about his failing brakes: “What did you not get about ‘I have no brakes, don’t stand in front of me?’ ”

McDowell spent 25 laps behind the wall, during which time the crew discovered some debris was wrapped around the #66's right-rear brake line, choking off the fluid. After the team removed the debris and bled the brakes, McDowell returned to the track with 177 to go. He lost five more laps by race’s end, losing the fifth when he slowed a lap too soon, thinking the white flag was the checkered. This allowed race winner Kevin Harvick to barely nip his accelerating Toyota at the finish line.

As reported last week, HP Racing LLC came into the 2011 season with plans of running only a part-time season. However, with this full-race performance scoring the team’s best finish since Michael Waltrip’s 28th-place run at Talladega last fall, there is no indication as yet if that plan will change.

TRUCKS: Buescher’s Hard Crash Gives #31 First Last-Place Finish Since 1997

James Buescher picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Kroger 250 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #31 Wolfpack Rentals Chevrolet was involved in a grinding two-truck accident that ended his day after 134 of the race's 250 laps. The finish came in Buescher’s 51st series start.

The 21-year-old Buescher qualified 6th for Saturday’s race at a speed of 94.529 mph, securing him a top-10 start in all three races he’s run in 2011. Although he failed to qualify for the second race of the season at Phoenix, Buescher had finished 9th at Daytona and 5th at Darlington, securing him the 11th spot in the points standings heading to Martinsville.

On Friday, newcomer Billy Keyes was forced to withdraw from his first-ever Camping World Truck Series race when his unsponsored #34 Chevrolet locked its brakes during his first timed lap in Happy Hour, sending his truck hard into the inside wall along with Joey Coulter’s #22. Coulter’s Richard Childress-led crew was able to repair their truck in time for the race. Since only 36 trucks showed up to qualify, Keyes’ withdrawal made Saturday’s race the first short field of 35 trucks since last summer’s race at Nashville, 15 races ago.

Early in the race, Justin Lofton looked like he would be scoring his own first last-place finish in the Truck Series. On Lap 19, Norm Benning spun him entering turn three, sending Lofton’s #77 hard rear-first into the outside wall. The accident, which brought out the first caution of the day, required nearly 100 laps of repairs to the rear clip of his Germain Racing Toyota. Lofton eventually returned to finish the race 90 laps down in 32nd.

Not long after Lofton came back onto the track, two simultaneous accidents ultimately ended Buescher’s run, resulting in his first last-place finish. On Lap 137, a five-truck accident unfolded in turn one involving Nelson Piquet, Jr., Parker Kligerman, Brad Sweet, Justin Johnson, and Matt Crafton. As the field checked-up in turns three and four, Buescher and Jeffrey Earnhardt hooked bumpers in turn three, sending both trucks hard nose-first into the outside wall. While the five-truck wreck was not as serious, Buescher and Earnhardt’s wreck brought out a red flag. Fortunately, neither driver was injured.

Buescher now stands 20th in the Truck Series standings, 64 behind point leader and Martinsville race winner Johnny Sauter.

*No driver has qualified better than Buescher and finished last in a Truck Series race since 2007, when Jacques Villeneuve’s #27 UNICEF Toyota qualified 3rd at the 2007 Ford 200 at Homestead, then fell out in a single-truck crash 80 laps into the race.
*Prior to Saturday’s race, no Truck Series driver had completed more than 134 laps since 2008, when Tim Cowen’s #42 Cowen Truck Lines Ford fell out with overheating problems after 140 laps of the 2008 Ohio 250 at Mansfield. Between those two races, no last-place finisher had completed more than 99 laps (Kvapil’s run at Phoenix last month).
*The #31 had finished last in just one other Truck Series race, which came when the late Tony Roper lost the engine on his Concor Tool & Machine Ford nine laps into the 1997 Chevy Desert Star Classic at Phoenix. Roper lost his life three years later in a multi-truck accident on Lap 32 of the 2000 O’Reilly 400 at Texas.
*This was the third consecutive Truck Series race where a driver scored their first career last-place finish as the result of a crash. Such a thing has not happened since the fall of 2005 when a streak of four occurred: Tam Topham at Martinsville, Mike Bliss at Atlanta, Jack Bailey at Texas, and Erin Crocker at Phoenix.

35) #31-James Buescher / 134 laps / crash
34) #1-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 134 laps / crash
33) #39-Ryan Sieg / 142 laps / radiator
32) #77-Justin Lofton / 160 laps / running
31) #51-Justin Johnson / 202 laps / running

1st) Norm Benning, James Buescher, Travis Kvapil, Brad Sweet (1)

Following teammate Brad Sweet’s crash at Darlington, Buescher’s last-place finish at Martinsville was the second in a row for Turner Motorsports.
1st) #5-Randy Moss, #31-Turner Motorsports, #32-Turner Motorsports, #57-Norm Benning Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Toyota (1)