Saturday, April 12, 2014

CUP: Dave Blaney Scores First Darlington Last-Place Finish

Dave Blaney picked up the 22nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway when his unsponsored #77 Randy Humphrey Racing Ford fell out with brake problems after he completed 65 of the race’s 374 laps.

The finish was Blaney’s first of the season and his first in a Cup race in nearly a year, dating back to last April’s race at Kansas, thirty-six races ago.

Blaney is the eighth different last-place finisher in eight Cup races in 2014.  This last happened in 2012, when the streak ended at Richmond.  Since the Cup schedule was shortened in 1972, there have only been five other seasons with longer streaks.  The all-time record is 21, set in 1978 and equaled in 1993.  The others are 1984 (20 in a row), then 1995 and 2008 (17 each).

Blaney has endured an extremely difficult start to the 2014 season.  After nearly four years of helping Tommy Baldwin Racing get up to speed, Blaney lost his ride to rookie Michael Annett.  He found a home with another start-up team owned by Randy Humphrey, who with Phil Parsons in 2009 and 2010 co-owned the PRISM Motorsports entries Blaney drove those two seasons.  Humphrey and Parsons parted ways in 2012, and when Humphrey’s subsequent partnership with TriStar Motorsports ended last season, Humphrey signed Blaney to run for his own team.

Blaney arrived at Daytona behind the wheel of the team’s only restrictor-plate car, a Fusion purchased from Germain Racing with the #77 used in place of Germain’s #13.  Blaney was slow in qualifying, but was ready to race his way into his fourth consecutive Daytona 500 in the Gatorade Duels.  Unfortunately, Blaney’s only car was destroyed in a grinding practice crash, forcing the team to withdraw.

Humphrey’s team struggled to adjust to NASCAR’s new qualifying format.  They failed to qualify for the next four races, then withdrew from the next two.  Finally, at Texas, Blaney squeezed into the field in the 35th starting spot, besting four “go-or-go-homers,” then nearly ran the whole race before steering issues left him 41st.  Driver and team looked to build on this at Darlington, scene of one of Blaney’s best career finishes in 2003.

At Darlington, Blaney again made the field, timing in 36th at an average speed of 179.606 mph, bumping David Reutimann’s Front Row Motorsports #35 out of the field.  He had bested Reutimann in both practice sessions, turning in the 32nd-fastest time in the opening practice session and 33rd in Happy Hour.  However, Blaney’s #77 Ford was still flat white without any sponsorship.

In the race, Blaney was the first driver to take 43rd from Joe Nemechek when Blaney pulled the #77 behind the wall on Lap 33.  Blaney returned to the track on Lap 87 to catch Ryan Truex, who had crashed his #83 Borla Exhaust Toyota on Lap 42.  Blaney passed Truex, only to fall ot once more around Lap 115, still 30 laps short of catching Michael Annett, who also lost several laps after a cut tire on Lap 94.  On Lap 129, Truex then returned to the track 88 laps down, and he knocked Blaney to 43rd for good on Lap 155.

Annett returned to the track after Lap 200 before another cut tire knocked him out of the race after he completed less than ten more circuits.  Truex ended up passing Paul Menard, who on Friday broke the track record in the first round of qualifying, but also had a pair of tire issues in the middle stages of the race.  Like Menard, Truex finished the race under power, though fifteen laps from the overheating Chevrolet of Annett’s teammate Reed Sorenson, who rounded out the Bottom Five.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #77 since June 26, 2011, when P.J. Jones’ Speed Energy / GNC Dodge broke the suspension after 5 laps of the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway.  The number hasn’t finished last here since March 24, 1996, when Bobby Hillin, Jr.’s Jasper Engines Ford was involved in a crash after 29 laps of the TranSouth Financial 400.
*This is Blaney’s first last-place finish in a Cup Series race at Darlington.
*This is the first last-place finish for a Randy Humphrey-owned Cup car since last July at New Hampshire, when Mike Bliss’ #19 Plinker Tactical Toyota fell out with rear gear problems after 75 laps of the Camping World RV Sales 301.

43) #77-Dave Blaney / 65 laps / brakes
42) #7-Michael Annett / 101 laps / crash
41) #27-Paul Menard / 270 laps / running
40) #83-Ryan Truex / 274 laps / running
39) #36-Reed Sorenson / 289 laps / overheating

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

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

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