Saturday, April 26, 2014

CUP: Clint Bowyer Scores First NASCAR Last-Place Finish During Fiery Night At Richmond

Clint Bowyer picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond International Raceway when his #15 AAA Insurance Toyota fell out with suspension troubles after he completed 159 of the race’s 400 laps.  The finish came in Bowyer’s 298th Cup start.

It is not only Bowyer’s first last-place finish in Cup, but also his first last-place finish in a combined 490 Cup, Nationwide, and Truck Series starts dating back to his Nationwide debut at Texas on April 3, 2004.  Among all active drivers who have raced full-time in Cup since Bowyer's Nationwide debut, only Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne have yet to finish last in a single Cup Series points race.  Harvick’s streak is the longest: 475 Cup starts with three 42nd-place finishes in 43-car fields.  Johnson has finished 42nd twice in 444 Cup races.  Kahne has finished 42nd four times in 369 Cup starts, all while starting in the top twenty.

Bowyer began the 2014 season, his third with Michael Waltrip Racing, with high hopes.  In his first season with the team in 2012, he scored three wins and a career-best runner-up finish in the point standings behind Brad Keselowski.  Last year, however, Bowyer went winless, and was the subject of controversy last September at Richmond when he allegedly spun on purpose to help then-teammate Martin Truex, Jr. qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Truex lost his Chase berth - and his ride - while Bowyer picked up just two more Top Fives before season’s end.

At Daytona this past February, Bowyer had a fast car for the Daytona 500, but it was destroyed in a spectacular flip on the last lap of his Budweiser Duel.  Following a 42nd-place finish for an engine failure in the 500 itself, he scored just two top-ten finishes in the season’s first eight races: a 9th at Martinsville and an 8th at Texas.  After an off week following his 12th-place run at Darlington, Richmond once again came up on the calendar.

On Friday, Bowyer put up the 3rd-fastest time in the opening practice and was 25th in Happy Hour.  A huge evening storm washed out qualifying, so Bowyer’s 3rd-fastest run netted him the 3rd spot on the starting grid.  Darlington last-place finisher Dave Blaney and Las Vegas last-place finisher Michael McDowell missed the field as a result.

In the race, Bowyer would carry sponsorship from AAA Insurance for the first time.  By the time the field reached the backstretch for the first time, polesitter Kyle Larson had a claim to file.  Going into the first corner, Bowyer looked to make a three-wide move on the inside of Larson and outside-polesitter Brad Keselowski.  Bowyer made contact with Larson, spinning him into the outside wall, and giving the lead to Keselowski.

On the restart, Larson sliced through the field quickly, dropping Joe Nemechek and the #66 Virginia Farm Bureau Toyota to the 43rd spot.  Nemechek was the first car to lose a lap to Keselowski, but Josh Wise lost four laps before the competition caution by pitting his #98 Phil Parsons Racing Chevrolet.  Wise, who had made contact with Kevin Harvick as Harvick tried to lap him, remained at the tail end of the field until a series of strange events bumped him up the field.

On Lap 159, Cole Whitt, his #26 now fielded by BK Racing following the off-week disbandment of Swan Racing, suddenly had smoke pouring from his Scorpyd Toyota.  He made it safely to pit road, but the caution came out when Bowyer found he had the exact same problem.  Whitt returned to the track, only to find his right-front hub was on fire, and when Bowyer followed him, his own hub ignited with such intensity that it began to melt the front valence of his Toyota.  Both Whitt and Bowyer pulled behind the wall.  Whitt held 43rd at that point, having logged five fewer laps than Bowyer.  But while Whitt returned to the track around Lap 190, Bowyer’s team found the damage too severe, and Bowyer fell to 43rd before the halfway mark.

Whitt ended up 41st at the end of the night.  Finishing 42nd was Reed Sorenson, who fell victim to a car fire even more severe than those of Whitt and Bowyer.  Sorenson’s #36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet had thick black smoke in the cockpit when it pulled onto pit road, and swift work by a member of Kasey Kahne’s pit crew allowed him to get out quickly.

Finishing ahead of Whitt in 40th was J.J. Yeley, making his first start of the year for Xxxtreme Motorsports.  Xxxtreme’s #44 had sponsorship, but struggled to find speed.  Yeley missed the races at Las Vegas and Texas and the team withdrew from Bristol to re-organize.  But when Swan Racing folded for lack of sponsorship, the points for Parker Kligerman’s #30 were sold to Xxxtreme, putting Yeley into the field on points while leaving Kligerman without a ride.  The team will switch from the #30 to the #44 next week at Talladega.

Josh Wise finished 39th in the Phil Parsons Racing #98, just the fourth time in eight races he has finished in the bottom five.  Next week at Talladega, Wise and the #98 will be sponsored by internet cryptocurrency DogeCoin in an effort to which I have also contributed.  As of this writing, it appears Wise will be running the same Ford with which he finished 5th in February’s Budweiser Duel and last year Michael McDowell finished 9th in the Daytona 500 and 15th at Talladega.

*The #15 has not finished last in a Cup Series race since April 29, 2007, when Paul Menard’s Menards Chevrolet fielded by DEI lost an engine after 22 laps of the Aaron’s 499.  The number has not finished last in a Cup race at Richmond since March 3, 1996, when Wally Dallenbach, Jr.’s Hayes Modems Ford, fielded by Hall of Fame owner Bud Moore, crashed after 19 laps of the Pontiac Excitement 400.
*This is the first last-place finish for Michael Waltrip Racing in a Cup race since November 11, 2012, when Martin Truex, Jr.’s #56 NAPA Toyota lost an engine after 10 laps of the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix.
*A Cup Series driver had never before finished last at Richmond due to suspension trouble.

43) #15-Clint Bowyer / 159 laps / suspension
42) #36-Reed Sorenson / 225 laps / electrical
41) #26-Cole Whitt / 367 laps / running
40) #30-J.J. Yeley / 380 laps / engine
39) #98-Josh Wise / 390 laps / running

1st) Aric Almirola, Dave Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Timmy Hill, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Martin Truex, Jr. (1)

1st) #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #77-Randy Humphrey Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #87-NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota (3)

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