With two races to go, the finish, Yeley’s sixth of 2011 and first since Kansas, four races ago, ties Michael McDowell for the lead in the 2011 LASTCAR Cup Driver’s Championship. Also, when combined with the efforts of teammates Travis Kvapil and Jeff Green, the #55 Front Row Motorsports Ford has now assumed a one-finish lead in the 2011 LASTCAR Cup Owner’s Championship over McDowell’s #66 HP Racing Team and the disbanded #60 Germain Racing entry.
Yeley qualified 27th at a speed of 191.069 mph, earning the #55 team its best starting spot of 2011. Though three teams failed to qualify, none of them were Yeley’s LASTCAR Championship contenders. Mike Skinner made his second-straight start for Larry Gunselman and started 38th, defending LASTCAR Cup Champion Joe Nemechek timed in 40th, and Michael McDowell put the #66 HP Racing entry in the 35th position.
However, on Saturday morning, NASCAR’s decision to park Kyle Busch for the weekend following a controversial wreck in the Truck Series gave McDowell the opportunity to run the entire race. McDowell, who had driven for Joe Gibbs’ Nationwide team in five races this season, was tabbed as Busch’s replacement for the Cup race. This put Josh Wise, recently released from Gunselman’s #37 team, back in the race as McDowell’s replacement in the #66.
Thus, when Sunday’s race began, McDowell was fighting his way through the pack in Busch’s #18 when Yeley pulled his #55 behind the wall. Nemechek and Skinner followed suit within the next nine circuits, followed by Wise and the #66 on Lap 23.
McDowell, who struggled with handling woes all afternoon long, fought his way to a 33rd place finish, three laps down to race winner Tony Stewart. As of this writing (late Sunday night), McDowell’s plans next Sunday for the Cup race at his home track at Phoenix are unknown.
*Yeley has just one other Cup Series last-place finish at Texas - which, interestingly, came while driving Joe Gibbs’ #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet - in 2007. That day, Yeley was involved in a multi-car crash with Casey Mears, Ricky Rudd, and David Ragan after the opening lap of the 2007 Samsung 500. It was also the first last-place finish of Yeley’s Cup career.
*The #55's most recent Cup Series last-place finish at Texas came in 2010, when the suspension on Dave Blaney’s #55 PRISM Motorsports Toyota failed after 20 laps of the 2010 Samsung Mobile 500.
*A Cup Series driver had not finished last due to “fuel pressure” issues since way back on July 26, 1964, when Darrell Bryant’s #36 Wade Younts-owned 1962 Dodge fell out after the opening lap of the Volunteer 500 at Bristol.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #55-J.J. Yeley / 10 laps / fuel pressure
42) #87-Joe Nemechek / 14 laps / clutch
41) #37-Mike Skinner / 19 laps / brakes
40) #66-Josh Wise / 23 laps / rear gear
39) #46-Scott Speed / 30 laps / rear gear
LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER’S CHAMPIONSHIP
Although two finishes out of the lead in the LASTCAR Cup Driver’s Championship, Joe Nemechek can still clinch his second-straight title with 43rd-place finishes at both Phoenix and Homestead. In the event of a tiebreaker with Nemechek last in those two races and both he, McDowell, and Yeley, scoring Bottom-Five Finishes in both races, Nemechek would claim the title with 32 bottom-fives to McDowell’s 27 and Yeley’s 23. Those two finishes would also give Nemechek the all-time LASTCAR record of 36 career NASCAR last-place runs.
Mike Skinner, currently with 16 bottom-fives, can also only claim the LASTCAR Cup Driver’s title with 43rds in these final two races. In short, McDowell, Yeley, Skinner, and Nemechek are all mathematically still in contention for the title, but Skinner and Nemechek will be eliminated from contention if they don’t finish 43rd next Sunday at Phoenix.
1st) Michael McDowell, J.J. Yeley (6)
2nd) Mike Skinner (5)
3rd) Kevin Conway, Joe Nemechek (4)
4th) Robby Gordon, Travis Kvapil (2)
5th) Dave Blaney, Landon Cassill, Jeff Green, P.J. Jones, Scott Riggs, Scott Speed (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER’S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #55-Front Row Motorsports (7)
2nd) #60-Germain Racing, #66-HP Racing LLC (6)
3rd) #87-NEMCO Motorsports (4)
4th) #46-Whitney Motorsports, #97-NEMCO Motorsports (3)
5th) #7-Robby Gordon Motorsports (2)
6th) #37-MaxQ Motorsports, #81-Whitney Motorsports, #77-Robby Gordon Motorsports (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER’S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (18)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Chevrolet (4)
4th) Dodge (3)