Sunday, February 23, 2014

CUP: Martin Truex, Jr. First Daytona 500 Outside-Polesitter To Finish Last Since 1973

Martin Truex, Jr. picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s 56th Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet lost the engine after he completed 30 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish was Truex’s first since Phoenix in the fall of 2012, thirty-nine races ago, when he also started in the second position.

To say the least, Truex’s past eight months have been a roller coaster ride.  Last June, he finally laid rest to a six year, 218-race losing streak with a convincing win in the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway.  The win put Truex in position to race his way into the Chase at Richmond in September, which he did in the closing laps.  But after the controversy surrounding the intentional spin of teammate Clint Bowyer during that race, NASCAR knocked Truex out of the Chase, leading to NAPA’s withdrawal from Michael Waltrip Racing and the end of Truex’s four-year career with the team.

Truex found his way to Furniture Row Racing, a team which made the Chase for the first time with Kurt Busch.  Like Truex, Busch lost a high-profile ride two years prior and had a breakout season with the single-car team, nearly winning a handful of races and finishing 10th in points.  With Busch moving to the new fourth team at Stewart-Haas Racing, Furniture Row hired Truex for the 2014 season.  The two seemed to hit it off from the start - Truex was very relaxed during his now-famous poolside media interview over the offseason.

Despite skipping the testing session in January, Truex’s new ride was exceptionally fast.  After just two laps in the first practice session of SpeedWeeks, he put up a lap of 194.263 mph, the 6th-fastest among 49 drivers.  The team skipped the second practice, then in last Sunday’s qualifying session nearly wrestled the pole away from Austin Dillon with a lap of 195.852 mph.  Truex ended up on the outside-pole for the 500, his second front row start in the event in five years and Furniture Row’s tenth front row start in less than a year.

On Wednesday, Truex timed in 23rd-fastest and was fortunate to miss both multi-car wrecks which eventually cut the session short.  The team again skipped the second session of the day, then set their sights on their run from the pole position in Thursday’s Budweiser Duel Race 2.

After 60 near-perfect laps, Truex was trying to help his younger brother Ryan Truex make his first Daytona 500, then rejoined the leaders as the field thundered off the final corner.  There, disaster struck.  Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel in the outer groove, triggering a nine-car wreck that included both Truex brothers.  The nose of Martin’s #78 was destroyed in the wreck, causing an oil fire as he limped across the finish line.  Ryan’s #83 BK Racing entry, already one lap down, missed the field for the 500.

Sent to a backup car, joining eight other drivers who would have to start in the rear of the field for the 500, Truex and team set their sights on the few remaining practice sessions.  With Friday afternoon’s session washed out by rain, Truex put up the fifth-fastest time in Happy Hour, and was confident that his backup was even faster than his primary car.

Then came the Daytona 500.

Last place first went to Michael Waltrip, also in a backup from Thursday’s wreck, then to rookie Kyle Larson, whose #42 Target Chevrolet cut down tires twice in the opening laps.  As Larson fought to get his laps back, Truex was running near the leaders when he suddenly slowed on the backstretch, then ducked out of line.  Smoke billowed from his #78, drawing the second caution of the race.  The engine had let go, ending his day.

The thunderstorm that stopped the race for more than six hours occurred during the ensuing caution, allowing the Furniture Row team to leave the track early for a test in Nashville.

Joining Truex in the Bottom Five were former teammate Clint Bowyer, whose engine also let go just past the halfway point, plus three drivers involved in the first of four multi-car accidents that took place in the final 54 laps.  Michael Waltrip’s backup car was the first, collected along with Danica Patrick and Aric Almirola.  All three had led laps earlier in the event.

Six drivers failed to make the 500 field, including three of the LASTCAR contenders described in Wednesday’s feature.  Dave Blaney’s only Plinker Arms Ford was lost in a crash on Wednesday while both Joe Nemechek and Michael McDowell ended up off the lead lap in the First Budweiser Duel, keeping both out of the field.

In that same race, Josh Wise turned heads with a surprising 5th-place finish, securing him the 11th spot in the 500 field.  Driving the same Ford that McDowell finished 9th with in the 2013 Daytona 500, Wise came home 24th, recovering from his involvement in the Lap 146 accident to finish four laps down.  Next week at Phoenix, Phil Parsons Racing will make the move to Chevrolet, using cars that appear to have been purchased from Furniture Row Racing.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #78 at the Daytona International Speedway.  However, the #78 did finish last once on the old Daytona Beach-Roadcourse in 1953 when Indianapolis native Frank Arford’s 1953 Oldsmobile blew a gasket after 2 laps, putting him at the back of a 57-car field.  Tragically, on June 20 of that year, Arford became the first NASCAR driver to lose his life in a qualifying accident.  The crash occurred during an event at the Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania.  He was 41.
*This is Furniture Row Racing’s first last-place run in the Daytona 500 since 2008, when Kenny Wallace’s #87 Furniture Row Chevrolet lost the engine after 141 laps.  Teammate Joe Nemechek two spots ahead of Wallace in the #78.
*Truex is the first outside-polesitter of the Daytona 500 to finish last since 1973, when Pete Hamilton’s #9 Housby Mack Inc. 1972 Plymouth lost the engine after 33 laps.  That race was the next-to-last of Hamilton’s 64 Cup starts, a brief career highlighted by a win in the 1970 Daytona 500.

43) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 30 laps / engine
42) #15-Clint Bowyer / 127 laps / engine
41) #66-Michael Waltrip / 144 laps / crash / led 4 laps
40) #10-Danica Patrick / 145 laps / crash / led 2 laps
39) #43-Aric Almirola / 146 laps / crash / led 5 laps

1st) Martin Truex, Jr. (1)

1st) #78-Furniture Row Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)

N’WIDE: Jeff Green Scores Fifth Last-Place Finish In Seven Daytona Races

Jeff Green picked up the 54th last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #91 Toyota fell out with a vibration after he completed 3 of the race’s 121 laps.

The finish was Green’s first since last year at Phoenix, two races ago.  It is also the sixth consecutive last-place finish for TriStar Motorsports and the second-straight run for their #91 team, following Michael McDowell’s run in last November’s finale at Homestead.

As in his previous rides with TriStar, Green was outstanding in qualifying.  He put up the 8th-fastest time at an average speed of 190.783 mph, two positions ahead of Truck Series veteran David Starr in Green’s old #10.  It was a huge turnaround for a team that had run just 41st and 18th in the weekend’s two practice sessions, locking him into a race nine other drivers did not make, including Cup driver David Ragan.

At the start of Saturday’s race, Green fell to the back of the field along with another LASTCAR record holder, Derrike Cope.  Cope, the 1990 Daytona 500 winner, had timed in 35th in the #70 Chevrolet and lost a lap early to the leaders.  However, it was about this time that Green pulled his #91 off the track, securing him a last-place finish for his fifth consecutive Nationwide Series season.  Cope finished six laps down in 37th, claiming a spot in the Bottom Five.

Joining Green and Cope were Harrison Rhodes, whose blown engine in the tri-oval brought out the first yellow of the day, Robert Richardson, Jr., who exited the race during that yellow, and Josh Wise in the lone entry for LASTCAR competitors The Motorsports Group.

*This was Green’s third consecutive last-place finish in the season-opening Daytona event, all of them coming with TriStar Motorsports.  It’s also his fifth last-place finish in the last seven Nationwide races at Daytona.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #91 in a Nationwide Series race at Daytona.

40) #91-Jeff Green / 3 laps / vibration
39) #24-Harrison Rhodes / 8 laps / engine
38) #23-Robert Richardson, Jr. / 12 laps / engine
37) #70-Derrike Cope / 114 laps / running
36) #40-Josh Wise / 114 laps / running

1st) Jeff Green (1)

1st) #91-TriStar Motorsports (1)

1st) Toyota (1)

TRUCKS: Jason White Scores First Last-Place Finish In More Than Three Years

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jason White picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #93 Chevrolet lost the engine after 45 of the race’s 100 laps.

The finish was White’s first Truck Series last-place finish since Bristol in the summer of 2010, eighty races ago.

Rain canceled qualifying, so White started 31st in the 36-truck field.  He turned in the 33rd-fastest speed in the first practice, 24th in the second, and 25th in the third.  White had driven RSS Racing’s #93 in the 2013 running of the Daytona event, but came home 30th following a multi-truck crash.

In the race, French rookie Michel Disdier trailed the field early following an unscheduled stop due to a passenger side window that came loose on his Bobby Dotter-owned #07.  He was still running laps down to the field when White slowed in the middle of turn three.  White made it to pit road without bringing out a caution, but after the crew looked under the hood, his day was done.

The rest of the Bottom Five included four of the sixteen trucks involved in a grinding accident on Lap 75: Chris Cockrum in Mike Harmon’s #74, Tyler Young in the #02, Brian Ickler in his first Truck Series start since 2011, and Joey Coulter for Gallagher Motorsports, a new team making the move from the ARCA series.

White’s teammate Ryan Sieg finished 11th after starting 12th in the #39.

*This was the first last-place finish for both White and the #93 in a Truck Series race at Daytona.
*The 45 laps completed by White are the most ever completed by a Truck Series last-place finisher at Daytona, beating Boston Reid’s old record of 41 in 2006.

36) #93-Jason White / 45 laps / engine
35) #74-Chris Cockrum / 73 laps / crash
34) #02-Tyler Young / 73 laps / crash
33) #7-Brian Ickler / 73 laps / crash
32) #21-Joey Coulter / 73 laps / crash

1st) Jason White (1)

1st) #93-RSS Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

CUP: Blaney’s Rough Week Ends With Withdrawal From First Budweiser Duel

Dave Blaney finished last in Thursday’s First Budweiser Duel at the Daytona International Speedway when his #77 Plinker Arms Ford was withdrawn from the event on Wednesday.

It was Blaney’s second last-place finish in the event, his first since 2002, when his #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford crashed after 9 laps of Race 2.  That was also the most recent time the number finished last in this event.

While the #77 car Blaney drove in 2002 was owned by Doug Bawel, the one he entered last week was owned by Randy Humphrey.  Humphrey has co-owned Cup Series teams since 2009, beginning with Phil Parsons’ PRISM Motorsports and continuing through Humphrey-Smith Racing in 2012.  This year, Humphrey came to Daytona as the sole owner of his own team, using Fords purchased from Germain Racing.

Humphrey’s team had just one superspeedway car for SpeedWeeks, likely because Germain’s other machine was destroyed in a wreck on the final lap of last fall’s Talladega race.  This would prove decisive on Blaney’s fortunes for the week.

On Saturday, Blaney timed in 41st and 35th in the opening two practices.  In Sunday’s qualifying session, Blaney trailed all 49 cars when he aborted his run before the green flag.  This meant he would have to not only race his way into the Daytona 500 in Thursday’s Budweiser Duel, but do so from the 25th and final starting spot in Race 1.  This put a premium on race setup for the two practice sessions on Wednesday.

Unfortunately, just a few minutes into the early afternoon practice, Blaney was trapped in the outside lane when Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano tangled in the tri-oval.  Blaney collided with the spinning cars of Ryan Truex and Parker Kligerman, completely destroying the nose of his Ford.

No drivers were injured in the accident, but Blaney was the only victim without a backup car.  He withdrew late Wednesday night, leaving him out of the field for the Budweiser Duel and the Daytona 500.  Blaney had not missed a 500 since 2010.

In the Duel itself, Michael McDowell lost touch with the lead draft early and appeared headed for a costly finish at the back of the field.  Midway through the race, Reed Sorenson had an unscheduled stop for what was originally reported to be a stuck brake pad.  The final results, however, indicate that a wheel bearing came loose.  Regardless, Sorenson was the only retiree from an otherwise uneventful race.

But stealing the next-to-last spot in the field was none other than runner-up Kevin Harvick, whose three-wide battle with winner Matt Kenseth and 3rd-place finisher Kasey Kahne was followed by news Harvick’s car failed post-race inspection for a track bar violation.  This dropped Harvick to the 24th position, moving Sorenson and the others up a spot, but leaving Blaney in the back.

Joe Nemechek and McDowell rounded out the Bottom Five.  Both joined Blaney among the five drivers who failed to qualify for the 500.

*Blaney is just the tenth driver to finish last in the Budweiser Duels more than once.

25) #77-Dave Blaney / 0 laps / did not start
24) #4-Kevin Harvick / 60 laps / disqualified
23) #36-Reed Sorenson / 20 laps / wheel bearing
22) #87-Joe Nemechek / 59 laps / running
21) #95-Michael McDowell / 59 laps / running

CUP: Pit Road and Tire Troubles Keep Keselowski Down In Second Budweiser Duel

Brad Keselowski finished last in Thursday’s Second Budweiser Duel at the Daytona International Speedway.  Keselowski’s #2 Miller Lite Ford finished under power, three laps down.

It was Keselowski’s first-ever last-place finish in this event.  The #2 had not finished last in the Budweiser Duel since 2003, when Rusty Wallace’s Miller Lite Dodge was disqualified from Race 2 for a carburetor violation, invalidating a 4th-place finish.

Wallace was a part of Keselowski’s start to 2014.  In the wake of Keselowski’s unsuccessful title defense, Wallace helped test the #2 in January in an effort dubbed “One Last Round.”  The effort seemed to help, as both drivers were among the fastest of the session.

Keselowski then stormed into Daytona with a runner-up finish in the Sprint Unlimited, followed by the 11th and 21st-fastest speeds in practice.  He then timed in 6th-fastest in qualifying, locking him into the 500 field on speed.  He did not participate in Wednesday’s abbreviated third practice and was only 33rd in the fourth, so it was anyone’s guess how Keselowski would perform from the 3rd spot in the Second Budweiser Duel.

As it turned out, Keselowski had one of the fastest cars on the track.  He led 34 of the race’s first 35 laps, only to fall back in the pack with a two-tire stop.  Moments later, Keselowski was tagged for speeding off pit road.  Having lost a lap, he fell even further back when he cut down a tire on the backstretch, dropping him a total of three laps behind the leaders.

Though Keselowski finished last in the race, he did however avoid the last-lap crash, preserving his Ford for Sunday, when he’ll start 33rd.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Eric McClure, whose damaged fender slowed his 6th-fastest car in Wednesday’s practice, keeping him out of the 500 field along with 72-year-old Morgan Shepherd, who came home 22nd.  Rookies Michael Annett for Tommy Baldwin Racing and HScott Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier rounded out the Bottom Five, but both will start the race in 36th and 40th, respectively.

*Keselowski’s 34 laps led are second only to Trevor Bayne’s 37 in 2013 for the most laps led by a last-place finisher of the Budweiser Duel.

24) #2-Brad Keselowski / 57 laps / running / led 34 laps
23) #35-Eric McClure / 57 laps / running
22) #93-Morgan Shepherd / 59 laps / running
21) #7-Michael Annett / 59 laps / running
20) #51-Justin Allgaier / 59 laps / running

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

PREVIEW: Contenders for the 2014 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship Set To Do Battle In Budweiser Duel Race 1

This year, Race 1 of Thursday’s Budweiser Duel will feature not only a race to make the Daytona 500, but also a unique battle between four likely competitors for the 2014 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship.  With 49 cars competing for 43 spots, which of these four drivers makes the field and which do not could have a significant effect on this year’s LASTCAR championship battle.

Last year, Randy Humphrey was the co-owner of Humphrey-Smith Motorsports, which campaigned #19 Toyotas from Mark Smith’s TriStar Motorsports shop.  The #19 appeared headed for the 2013 LASTCAR title with drivers Mike Bliss and the late Jason Leffler racking up a combined six last-place finishes in the first nineteen races.  However, the team ceased operations just before the Chase, and they lost the LASTCAR title as a result.

This year, Humphrey returns as the sole owner of his own team.  The #77 Fords Humphrey purchased from Germain Racing after Germain’s switch to Chevrolet will be driven by 2009 LASTCAR Cup Champion Dave Blaney.  Blaney, ousted from his ride at Tommy Baldwin Racing to make way for rookie Michael Annett, carries sponsorship from Plinker Tactical, whose decals have been on Humphrey’s rides during their past “start-and-park” efforts.  Blaney has been off to a difficult start this season as he aborted his qualifying run on Sunday before he could take the green flag.  If Blaney is going to make his fourth consecutive start in the 500, he’ll have to find some speed on Thursday during Budweiser Duel Race 1, where he’ll start in the 25th and final spot.

Joining Blaney in Race 1 in the 21st spot is Michael McDowell, who this year goes for an unprecedented fourth consecutive LASTCAR Cup Series Championship.  McDowell’s three previous championships came while driving for Phil Parsons, including his 2011 run in the #66 HP Racing Toyota co-owned by Randy Humphrey.  In 2012 and 2013, McDowell and team showed marked improvement, thanks in part to Mike Curb taking over Humphrey’s interest in the renumbered #98 team.  This culminated in McDowell’s 9th-place finish in last year’s Daytona 500, followed by a 15th last fall at Talladega.

This year, McDowell and Parsons have parted ways.  The Phoenix driver now comes to Daytona in the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford, a ride vacated by Reed Sorenson, who now drives the #36 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin.  This Sunday, McDowell carries sponsorship from longtime backer K-LOVE, a Christian radio station which followed McDowell from the Parsons team.  K-LOVE will also sponsor McDowell at Sonoma and a third race, possibly Talladega.  Associate sponsorship has also flocked to the Leavine team through both Black Dragon Tools and Wiley-X sunglasses.  Although the team only plans on running 20 races this year, this upward trend in sponsorship could mean we’ll see McDowell parking in fewer races, and finishing last fewer times.  If this is the case, the 2014 LASTCAR title could be anyone’s to win.

One of the favorites for the 2014 LASTCAR championship has to be Josh Wise, who takes over McDowell’s ride in the #98 Phil Parsons Racing entry.  As a rookie in 2012, Wise cruised to an early lead in the LASTCAR standings, scoring three of the season’s first twelve last-place runs, including a weekend sweep at Bristol, while driving Front Row Motorsports’ #26 Ford.  However, like the #19 team last year, Wise lost ground to McDowell and Humphrey-Smith’s driver Reed Sorenson in the final stages of the season, setting up McDowell’s bottom-ten tiebreaker at Homestead after Sorenson’s DNQ.  This year, the union of Wise and the still-unsponsored #98 Ford could mean a fourth consecutive title for Parsons, not McDowell.  On Thursday, Wise will start between McDowell and Blaney - 22nd - in Budweiser Duel Race 1.

But when talking about finishing last at Daytona, one cannot overlook two-time LASTCAR champion Joe Nemechek, who will also compete in Race 1 in the 23rd spot.  Nemechek, who leads all drivers with three last-place finishes in the Daytona 500 (1995, 2010, 2013), enters the 2014 season with yet another adjustment to his self-owned team.  Following his merger with Jay Robinson Racing in 2013, Nemechek will now aid Michael Waltrip Racing in keeping the #66 team up in the owner points for co-drivers Michael Waltrip and Jeff Burton.

While Nemechek will run the #66 in the majority of his races this season, starting next week at Phoenix, he will again field his familiar #87 this weekend.  Perhaps due to his association with Hollywood businessman and part-time racer Tomy Drissi, Nemechek also carries sponsorship from the upcoming film “300: Rise of an Empire.”  Last year, Drissi drove Nemechek’s cars at Sonoma and Watkins Glen with similar schemes for “The Wolverine” and “The Counselor,” respectively.  Whether this funding will be enough to get Nemechek into his fourth consecutive 500 - and if he can prevent another early exit - is anybody’s guess as he, Blaney, McDowell, and Wise will all be fighting to get into the field in Thursday’s first Budweiser Duel.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

CUP: Terry Labonte Extends All-Time Lead In Sprint Unlimited Last-Place Finishes

Terry Labonte finished last in Saturday’s running of the Sprint Unlimited at the Daytona International Speedway when he parked his #32 C&J Energy Services Ford after he completed 1 of the race’s 75 laps.

The finish was Labonte’s fourth in the event, leading all drivers in that statistic.  In doing so, Labonte finished last in the Unlimited in consecutive years, following his Lap 2 exit in the #32 last year.  Labonte is the only driver to have accomplished this, and in fact he's done it twice: he also trailed the Unlimited in 2005 and 2006.  No other driver has finished last in consecutive runnings of this event.

This season, Labonte has rejoined the #32 team with which he’s competed on a limited basis since 2011, but now with new partial ownership.  Last December, it was announced that team owner Frankie Stoddard would enter into a joint venture, combining the efforts of Stoddard’s FAS Lane Racing team with Go Green Racing, owned by Archie St. Hilaire. Both would continue to campaign the #32 for the full season, using Stoddard’s shop and new crew chief hire Dan Stillman.  The combined team is now known as Go FAS Racing.

FOX Sports 1 reported Saturday that the Go FAS Racing #32 is expected to be shared beween Labonte, Timmy Hill, and Jeffery Earnhardt.  Ken Schrader, who also shared the ride through 2013, retired from Cup competition after last November’s Homestead finale, where he finished 34th in his 763rd career start.

On Friday, during practice for the Unlimited, Labonte was just 17th fastest of the 18 drivers in the first session, then slipped to the slowest of the 15 who ran in Happy Hour with a lap nearly two seconds off the pace.  On Saturday, his Daytona 500 car turned in the 42nd-fastest time of 49 cars during the first session, then improved to 39th in the second session.

For the first time in the history of the Unlimited, the starting lineup to Saturday’s race was determined by a fan vote.  41% of fans selected final practice speeds over two other options: career poles and the 2013 standings.  Thus, Labonte’s 15th-fastest time on Friday put him 15th on the grid.

After just one lap, however, Labonte pulled behind the wall, ending his night.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were Jimmie Johnson, involved in a single-car crash on Lap 28, plus Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Kurt Busch, three of the seven cars eliminated in grinding crash in the tri-oval on Lap 36.  In all, just eight of the eighteen starters finished the race.

This week, Labonte will attempt to make the field for the Daytona 500, a win that has eluded him in 31 previous attempts.  Labonte has twice finished 2nd in the event in 1990 and 1997.  He also  has dark horse potential for next week’s 500: in his three previous runs driving the #32 in the event, he has finished no worse than 20th with a best finish of 15th in 2011.

*Labonte is the first last-place finisher of the Unlimited to have the listed reason out as “parked.”  In Labonte’s three other last-place finishes, however, he has either withdrawn before the start of the race or pulled behind the wall in the early stages.

18) #32-Terry Labonte / 1 lap / parked
17) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 28 laps / crash
16) #10-Danica Patrick / 35 laps / crash
15) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 35 laps / crash
14) #41-Kurt Busch / 35 laps / crash