Sunday, July 28, 2013

CUP: Jeff Burton Comes Home Under Power To Claim First Last-Place Finish Since 2007

Jeff Burton picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when his #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet finished under power, 50 laps down, completing 110 of the race’s 160 laps.

The finish was Burton’s first of 2013.  He and the #31 hadn’t finished last in a Cup Series race since October 7, 2007 when his #31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet lost the engine after he completed 91 laps of the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega.  That 2007 event was the most recent last-place finish for Richard Childress Racing until teammate Paul Menard lost an engine at Daytona, two races ago.

Competing in his twenty-first season, the 46-year-old Burton has had a quiet but decent 2013.  Two weeks ago at New Hampshire, he nearly pulled off his first victory since 2008 before he came home a season-best 3rd.  He’s also finished 5th at Richmond and 10th at both Phoenix and Michigan.  With just one DNF in the Daytona 500, he came into Indianapolis a solid 17th in points, already two positions better than his 19th-place rank at the end of 2012.

Burton qualified 16th for Sunday’s race at an average speed of 185.448 mph.  Starting last in the field, making his first Cup start since Pocono, was newcomer Timmy Hill in the #32 OXY Water Ford.  Joe Nemechek squeezed his way into the 40th spot after the last two qualifiers, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and pole and race winner Ryan Newman, both bumped Mike Bliss out of the Top 36.  With more than 43 cars on the Cup entry list for the first time since Michigan, five races ago, Bliss and the #19 Humphrey-Smith Motorsports crew failed to qualify for their first race since the Coca-Cola 600, headed home with Scott Speed and the #95 Leavine Family Racing team.

Sunday’s race marked the first time that all 43 starters finished under power since September 7, 2008, when the entire field was still running at the end of the rain-delayed Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond.  A.J. Allmendinger finished last that day, sixty-five laps behind race winner Jimmie Johnson.  It was Allmendinger’s third of four career last-place runs in Cup.  On Sunday, Allmendinger scored his third 22nd-place finish in the last four races, driving the pink-and-yellow #51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.  It was owner James Finch’s final turn as owner of the #51, though he will remain involved with the team through Atlanta in September.

Since every car finished, last place changed hands between several different drivers.  When the green flag dropped, Timmy Hill moved Joe Nemechek back to 43rd, but the spot then went to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who lost a lap when he came in for an unscheduled stop due to a loose wheel.  Earnhardt began his climb to a 6th-place finish by passing Nemechek, who again lost 43rd, this time to Michael McDowell in the #98 K-Love / Curb Records Ford.

Radio communications in the early laps indicated McDowell thought he had a right-rear tire going down, a problem which turned out to be a bad vibration.  From very early in the race, McDowell complained about large amounts of oil coming out of the back of Danica Patrick’s #10 Chevrolet.  The communications between McDowell and crew chief Gene Nead grew heated, and McDowell finally made an unscheduled stop, dropping him to 43rd.

As the rest of the field made green flag stops, last-place went to Dave Blaney, then back to Nemechek, who lost eleven laps for work behind the wall.  It appeared Nemechek would score his 32nd last-place finish in Cup, tying the late J.D. McDuffie for the most in Cup Series history.  However, when Timmy Hill’s fuel pump broke on Lap 60, bringing out the first caution of the day, Nemechek returned to the track.  Hill, getting repairs on pit road, then fell to 43rd before he, too, returned to the track.

Jeff Burton entered the equation on Lap 82 when a drive train failure caused his #31 to slow on the track, summoning the second caution of the day.  As the team made repairs, Burton fell to the Bottom Five almost immediately, but stalled in 42nd when Hill stopped for further repairs.  Hill remained in 43rd, one lap behind Burton, but when Hill stalled again to bring out the next yellow on Lap 115, Burton fell to 43rd on Lap 116.  Hill remained on track, increasing the gap between he and Burton.

The only three cautions of the race were caused by Hill and Burton’s slowing cars.

With 32 laps to go, reports from Twitter indicated Burton was set to return to the track with a new drive shaft.  He came out on Lap 130, twelve laps behind Hill and still in 43rd.  Burton got one of his laps back in the final green-flag run, but climbed no further.  He was exiting the final corner as Ryan Newman streaked across the yard of bricks.  Hill came home 42nd followed by Nemechek in 41st.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were David Stremme in the #30 Widow Wax Toyota for Swan Racing and the unsponsored dark orange #36 Tommy Baldwin Racing entry of J.J. Yeley.

Sunday was the first race Michael McDowell finished under power since Talladega in April.  After three 42nd-place finishes in the last four races, he came home 32nd at Indy, three laps down.

*This was first last-place finish in a Cup race at Indianapolis for both Burton and the #31.
*The 110 laps Burton completed are the most of any last-place finisher of a Cup race at Indianapolis.  The previous record was 91 laps completed by Michael Waltrip in the infamous 2008 running.  It’s also the most laps a last-place finisher has completed in a Cup race since 2010, when Bobby Labonte ran 197 laps at Martinsville before his #09 C&J Energy Services Chevrolet fell out with overheating problems.

43) #31-Jeff Burton / 110 laps / running
42) #32-Timmy Hill / 121 laps / running
41) #87-Joe Nemechek / 146 laps / running
40) #30-David Stremme / 151 laps / running
39) #36-J.J. Yeley / 156 laps / running

1st) Mike Bliss (5)
2nd) Michael McDowell, Scott Riggs (3)
3rd) Bobby Labonte (2)
4th) Trevor Bayne, Dave Blaney, Jeff Burton, Jason Leffler, Paul Menard, Joe Nemechek, Scott Speed (1)

1st) #19-Humphrey-Smith Racing (6)
2nd) #44-Xxxtreme Motorsports, #98-Phil Parsons Racing (3)
3rd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #27-Richard Childress Racing, #31-Richard Childress Racing, #47-JTG Daugherty Racing, #51-Phoenix Racing, #87-NEMCO Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Ford, Toyota (8)
2nd) Chevrolet (4)


Unknown said...

What a positive sign! No start-and-park teams in a non-Daytona 500 race has been rare since the start of 2009. This is such a positive direction for NASCAR, who last year was having races with as many as eight start-and-park teams.

Brock Beard said...

It is a very encouraging sign, especially since teams like Phil Parsons Racing that usually park actually ran the distance.

I would've liked if Mike Bliss was able to get the #19 Humphrey-Smith car into the show just to see them run a full race. It was fun rooting for them at Sonoma when they got sponsorship.

There's still a lot of work to be done, however. Both Tommy Baldwin cars didn't have any sponsorship and NEMCO Motorsports is still looking for funding. Also, I hope good days are still ahead for Phoenix Racing as James Finch scales back his involvement with the #51 this summer.