Sunday, June 29, 2014

CUP: Denny Hamlin Trails First Short Cup Field Since 2001

SOURCE: Action Sports Photography,
Denny Hamlin picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway when his #11 FedEx Office Toyota was involved in a single-car crash that ended his race after 27 of the race’s 267 laps.

The finish was Hamlin’s first of 2014 and his first in a Cup race since last August’s race at Pocono, 32 races ago.

After a miserable 2013 season ended with a much-needed win in the season finale at Homestead, Hamlin looked to 2014 for a much-needed rebound.  He then surprised many by having perhaps the strongest car throughout SpeedWeeks at Daytona, coming just one position short of becoming the first driver ever to sweep the Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duel, and Daytona 500 - a feat even more remarkable considering his radio wasn’t working in the frantic final stages of the 500.  He then put himself in position for a Chase berth with his first-ever win at Talladega.

However, Fontana, the scene of his critical injury last season, was once again the site of heartbreak when he was sidelined for a shard of metal in his eye, forcing him to hand the wheel over to Sam Hornish, Jr.  Combined with two finishes outside the Top 20 heading into Kentucky, Hamlin came into Saturday’s race just 13th in points.

On Friday, Hamlin was 21st-fastest in the opening practice, then jumped to 10th in Happy Hour before he made it to the final round of qualifying, securing him the 4th starting spot with an average lap of 186.374 mph.  It was Hamlin’s ninth top-ten start in seventeen races this season, a year when he’s scored two poles at Bristol and Pocono.

Saturday’s race marked the first time that fewer than 43 cars started a Cup Series event since the season finale at New Hampshire in November 2001.  That race, postponed from September due to the atrocities of 9/11, had a short field after two full-time teams folded during those two months: #27 fielded by Eel River Racing and the #96 from Cal Wells’ PPI Motorsports.  The last time too few cars showed up for a regularly-scheduled Cup race was on September 15, 1996, when 41 cars ran in a race for 42 after the withdrawal of Eric Smith’s #49 Campbell Racing Ford.  It was Smith’s seventh and final attempt to make a Cup race.

Kentucky’s situation occurred in much the same way.  On June 25, the #77 Randy Humphrey Racing team announced they would be “retooling” their team over the next month and planned to return at Indianapolis at the end of July.  With just 42 cars on the Entry List, BK Racing brought back its #93 for the first time since SpeedWeeks at Daytona, bringing the number to 43.  The car, one of Alex Bowman’s backup cars with the #93 decals from Travis Kvapil’s BK ride in 2013, was qualified and driven by Mike Bliss, who was set to make his first Cup start since last fall at Atlanta.  However, on practice day, Xxxtreme Motorsports withdrew J.J. Yeley’s #44 All City Leasing & Warehousing Chevrolet from the list, citing the same plan as Humphrey, leaving just 42 cars on the grid for Saturday.

At the start of Saturday’s race, Bliss and the #93 Dr. Pepper Toyota remained in the 42nd spot while Tony Stewart, sent to the back due to a transmission change, picked his way through the field.  Bliss was the first driver to lose a lap around Lap 15, and he and the rest of the field awaited NASCAR’s competition caution on Lap 30 in response to late-afternoon showers washing the rubber off the race track.

Seconds before the caution was to fly, Hamlin, running 3rd at the time, lost a right-front tire heading into Turn 3, sending his car hard into the outside wall.  Though Hamlin was uninjured and climbed out under his own power, his car was too damaged to return to the track, and his night was done.  Hamlin now sits 17th in points.

Mike Bliss parked the #93 under the ensuing caution, three laps behind Hamlin.  Right-front tire problems also knocked-out 40th-place Kyle Larson and 39th-place Aric Almirola, the latter having tangled with Jamie McMurray earlier in the race.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Joe Nemechek, whose #66 Identity Ventures Racing team carried new sponsorship from male enhancement company Vydox.

*This was the first last-place finish for both Hamlin and the #11 in a Cup race at Kentucky.
*Hamlin is the fourth driver this season to start inside the Top 10 and finish last in the same race, joining Martin Truex, Jr. (Started 2nd in the Daytona 500), Clint Bowyer (3rd at Richmond), and Brian Vickers (9th at Dover).

42) #11-Denny Hamlin / 27 laps / crash
41) #93-Mike Bliss / 30 laps / transmission
40) #42-Kyle Larson / 75 laps / crash
39) #43-Aric Almirola / 175 laps / crash
38) #66-Joe Nemechek / 239 laps / running

1st) Dave Blaney (2)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers (1)

1st) #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
2nd) #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #40-Hillman Racing, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Ford, Toyota (6)
2nd) Chevrolet (5)

N’WIDE: Matt DiBenedetto’s First Last-Place Finish Is Number 1400 For Chevrolet

SOURCE: Mike Neff, Frontstretch
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Friday’s John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at the Kentucky Speedway when his unsponsored #46 The Motorsports Group Chevrolet fell out with rear gear problems after he completed 2 of the race’s 200 laps.  The finish came in DiBenedetto’s 32nd series start.

DiBenedetto, a 22-year-old racer from Grass Valley, California, made his Nationwide Series debut at Memphis in the fall of 2009, where he started 4th and finished 14th in the #20 entry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.  He made six more starts with Gibbs the following season, scoring his first two top-ten finishes and a career-best 9th at Iowa.  However, DiBenedetto’s races for Gibbs went to Drew Herring and Ryan Truex for 2011, leaving him without a ride for nearly two seasons.

DiBenedetto made his return to the series at Dover, when he signed with Curtis Key to drive a “start-and-park” entry to help fund the team’s primary #40 car.  With the exception of a five-race stint for Vision Racing in mid-2013, DiBenedetto has remained with Key’s team, now known as The Motorsports Group (TMG).  TMG currently runs two cars with DiBenedetto mostly running in the #46 while Josh Wise runs the #40.

Coming into Friday’s race, DiBenedetto had driven TMG’s #40 twice in 2014, finishing 25th at Iowa and a season-best 11th for the team last week at Road America - TMG’s best finish since Mike Bliss came home 9th at Fontana in the fall of 2010.  As it turned out, DiBenedetto was just one of several great small-team stories on the day.  Tops among them was 3rd-place finisher Kevin O’Connell, who scored owner Rick Ware’s first-ever top-five finish after 279 Nationwide starts, 234 Truck Series starts, and one Cup start at Las Vegas in 2012.

With all three of NASCAR’s top series running at Kentucky, DiBenedetto again returned to the #46 while Wise climbed aboard the #40.  47 cars were originally going to battle for starting spots in the 40-car field, and while four withdrew before practice, DiBenedetto’s starting spot was still far from guaranteed.  He stepped up with the 21st-fastest speed in the opening practice, skipped Happy Hour, then sped to the 28th-fastest time in qualifying with a speed of 170.159 mph - two spots in front of Wise - earning him a spot in the field.

At the start of Friday’s race, previous LASTCAR record holder Derrike Cope held the final spot, but was passed by DiBenedetto after he pulled behind the wall, beating current LASTCAR record holder Jeff Green by two laps.  Mechanical problems sent Cope behind the wall twice before his car finally fell out with brake problems after 80 laps, leaving him 37th.  Finishing behind Cope was Tanner Berryhill in his family’s Dodge while ahead of Cope was Cup regular Matt Kenseth, who lost control off Turn 2 and crashed out of the race after 102 laps.

*Although this is the second last-place finish for the #46 this season, joining Ryan Ellis’ run at Iowa, it is the first last-place finish for the number in a Nationwide Series race at Kentucky.
*DiBenedetto’s last-place finish was the 1400th for Chevrolet across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.  Chevrolet remains second in the 2014 LASTCAR Nationwide Manufacturer’s standings, five finishes behind Toyota.

40) #46-Matt DiBenedetto / 2 laps / rear gear
39) #10-Jeff Green / 4 laps / vibration
38) #17-Tanner Berryhill / 53 laps / brakes
37) #70-Derrike Cope / 80 laps / ignition
36) #20-Matt Kenseth / 102 laps / crash

1st) Blake Koch (6)
2nd) Jeff Green (3)
3rd) Tanner Berryhill, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Lepage, Tim Schendel, Jimmy Weller (1)

1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (7)
2nd) #46-The Motorsports Group, #91-TriStar Motorsports (2)
3rd) #17-Vision Racing, #55-VIVA Motorsports / SS Green Light Racing, #87-Rick Ware Racing, #93-JGL Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (4)
3rd) Dodge (2)

TRUCKS: Ryan Ellis Scores Third-Straight Last-Place Finish For Cobb’s #0 At Kentucky

SOURCE: Twitter @ryanellisracing
Ryan Ellis picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Thursday’s UNOH 225 at the Kentucky Speedway when his #0 Grimes Irrigation & Construction Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after he completed 3 of the race’s 150 laps.

The finish was Ellis’ second of the 2014 season and his first since Texas, two races ago.  He is the first driver to finish last more than once in the series this season.

Ellis did not participate in the weekend’s opening practice, then ended up 30th out of 31 trucks in Happy Hour.  Ellis turned in a lap well ahead of Adam Edwards in Norm Benning’s second truck, renumbered from 75 to 71 since Caleb Holman was making his first start for Charlie Henderson since Martinsville.  With just 32 trucks showing up for 36 spots, Ellis secured the 32nd and final starting spot without completing a lap in qualifying.

At the start of Thursday’s race, Ellis pulled behind the wall after three laps just as the first caution of the night came out for debris.  Charles Lewandoski, making his fifth start of the season in Randy Young’s #42 Chevrolet, pulled out of the race on the following lap, followed by Adam Edwards eight laps after that.  In 29th was J.J. Yeley, making his first Truck start of the year in Bobby Dotter’s #07 Thunder Exhaust Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Chase Pistone, who lost the engine on Bob Newberry’s #9 NTS Motorsports Chevrolet.

*This was the third-consecutive Kentucky last-place finish for Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #0 team.  The previous two took place with Blake Koch in 2012 and defending LASTCAR Truck Series Champion Chris Lafferty in 2013.

32) #0-Ryan Ellis / 3 laps / engine
31) #42-Charles Lewandoski / 4 laps / vibration
30) #71-Adam Edwards / 12 laps / rear gear
29) #07-J.J. Yeley / 24 laps / suspension
28) #9-Chase Pistone / 78 laps / engine

1st) Ryan Ellis (2)
2nd) Alex Guenette, Justin Jennings, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski, Scott Stenzel, Jason White (1)

1st) #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb, #36-Mike Mittler (2)
2nd) #42-Randy Young, #63-Mike Mittler, #74-Mario Gosselin, #93-RSS Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) RAM (1)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

CUP / SONOMA WEEK: Landon Cassill’s Engine Expires Early At Sonoma

SOURCE: Brock Beard
Landon Cassill picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway when his #40 Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after he completed 29 of the race’s 110 laps.

The finish was Cassill’s first of 2014 and his first in 75 Cup races, dating back to when his #83 Burger King Fruit Smoothies Toyota was involved in a crash after he completed one lap of the Pocono 400 on June 10, 2012.

After his release from BK Racing after the 2012 season, Landon Cassill moved to Circle Sport, a single-car team owned by Joe Falk.  Circle Sport runs the #33 for the most of the season except for the handful of races when a fourth Richard Childress team runs the number with Childress equipment.  Last year at Indianapolis, Circle Sport essentially expanded to two teams with the debut of Hillman Racing, named for Mike Hillman, whose son Mark is the crew chief for Circle Sport.  Cassill debuted the car and finished 33rd while Childress driver Austin Dillon drove the #33 to a 26th-place run.

After a sterling 12th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, the Hillman team’s first run with Sonoma sponsor, Cassill failed to qualify for the next two races, then qualified for the following race at Bristol only to lose the primary car in a vicious practice crash.  The team bounced back a few weeks later at Talladega, where Cassill ran with the leaders in an unsponsored #40 and finished a career-best 11th.

At Sonoma, Cassill proved elusive as both he and J.J. Yeley competed in both the Nationwide event at Road America and Sunday’s race.  Both earned top-ten finishes on Saturday while their cars were qualified by alternates.  Yeley’s #44 Phoenix Warehouses Chevrolet was qualified by K&N Pro Series West driver David Mayhew.  And after Cassill timed in 42nd in the opening practice session on Friday, Timmy Hill moved to 40th in Happy Hour, then secured the 37th starting spot Sunday with a lap of 94.012 mph.

On Sunday morning, with Cassill and Yeley back at the track with just hours to spare, I spoke with Hill, who was still on standby at the Hillman Racing hauler.  I asked him about his first Sonoma experience.

“It was really neat for me because I’ve never been to this track,” he said.  “The first time I’ve ever seen this place is this weekend.  I’ve raced in different road races in the past in Nationwide and ran a couple Grand-Am races and a few races growing up.  It’s not really my background, but it’s something I’ve done well on in the past.  It’s neat for me to come here.  This is the last track on the schedule I’ve never been to, so now I’ve been to every single racetrack."

Hill has made four Cup starts this season with a season-best finish of 36th at Pocono two weeks ago and a last-place finish at Bristol in March.

The 21-year-old Hill has made 28 Cup starts for Frank Stoddard, Rick Ware, Joe Nemechek, and the Circle Sport / Hillman Racing team.  His best career finish came at Kansas in 2012, when he finished 22nd driving Stoddard’s #32.  This year, he’s made three starts in the #33 Circle Sport Chevrolet.  I asked what his plans were for this year.

“This sport, you get a lot of support.  There’s a lot of good people in the garage.  I’ve known a lot of different people here and I take every opportunity I can get.  I haven’t been able to race too much this year, I guess five or six races so far, but it’s neat getting to come out here and run this track for the first time.  We’ve got some more deals lined up for the rest of the season.”

Before the start of Sunday’s race, Cassill and Yeley climbed back in their cars and started in the final two spots on the field due to the driver change.  Both passed road course driver Tomy Drissi in the early laps, putting Drissi’s #66 Hercules Toyota and the Identity Ventures Racing back to 43rd.  Drissi held the spot until Martin Truex, Jr.’s unscheduled stop in his #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet dropped him three-quarters of a lap behind leader A.J. Allmendinger.  Boris Said, who spun Go FAS Racing’s #32 7-11 / AmeriGas Ford in Turn 11 on Lap 4, was in 42nd.

On Lap 13, Truex caught Drissi, but both now competed for the 41st spot.  Michael McDowell, making his first start since the Coca-Cola 600, made an early pit stop for fresh tires and came out just a few carlengths in front of Allmendinger.  McDowell managed to widen the gap between he and the leader, then passed Said, who was the first to go down a lap by Lap 17.  Said was then passed by Cassill for the spot after Cassill pitted the #40 for the first time around Lap 24.

On Lap 30, Alex Kennedy, this week’s driver of the Circle Sport #33, had just taken the 43rd spot when Cassill’s #40 lost the engine in a huge plume of smoke on the frontstretch.  Cassill slowed to a stop at the Turn 1 entrance to the garage area, bringing out the first caution of the day.

“I don’t know what happened,” said the crew chief over the radio.  “But it looked big over here.”

The tow truck pushed Cassill to the garage area, and the team packed up.  By the time the race ended, their hauler had already left the track.

Finishing 42nd on Sunday was Matt Kenseth, who experienced the most vicious accident of the afternoon when contact from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sent his #20 Dollar General Toyota head-on into the tire barriers entering the Esses.  Kenseth walked away from the accident, and though Cassill’s exit kept him from his first last-place finish since 2009, he was left with his first 42nd-place run since June 17, 2007 at Michigan.

Finishing 41st was rookie Ryan Truex, who broke the rear gear on his #83 Burger King Toyota and stopped in the Esses on Lap 62.  “I work my (expletive) off and get nothing for it,” said a dejected Truex.  He returned to the track on Lap 75 and finished under power, nineteen laps down.

Also under power was 40th-place Josh Wise, who for the third time this year carried sponsorship from Dogecoin thanks to the well-known Reddit crowdfunding effort.  Wise avoided the early-race carnage only to slow in the Esses on Lap 84.  The culprit, according to a crewman after the race, was an electrical problem with the fuel system.  Wise spent fifteen laps behind the wall, then came back to finish the race.  “We never give up,” said the crewman.  During Sunday's Tweetup, Wise said the Phil Parsons Racing team is still looking for sponsorship for much of their remaining 2014 season.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Alex Kennedy, whose struggles with lateral grip in practice turned into a rear gear failure that stopped his #33 just six laps from the finish, making him one of only three DNFs in Sunday’s field.

Yesterday, I asked Carl Edwards what it would mean if he could give Ford its first win at the Sonoma Raceway since 2002.  He was surprised by the statistic, and said “it would mean a lot to me considering how terrible I was, when my road course career started.”  Less than a day later, he raised the ceremonial goblet in victory lane, having won ahead of a charging Jeff Gordon.

The finish was strikingly similar to the end of the 1997 event, Roush-Fenway’s most recent Cup win at Sonoma, when Mark Martin took the checkered flag when Gordon was unable to make the same Turn 11 pass stick.  In the media center, Jack Roush expressed his pride at picking up another road course win, which reminded him not only of Martin, but of his team winning its first-ever race at Sonoma with Greg Pickett during an SCCA Trans-Am race:

“We’ve really enjoyed our success road racing,” said Roush.  “Mark Martin was a good raod racer, and of course the Trans-Am in the SCCA programs we had and the IMSA programs we had before that that took us to this racetrack, it was always a lot of fun to do that.  There’s an expectation on my part.  I come out here and I tell the gys you need to get lots of toe out to get this thing t turn, and you need los of toe in in the back to get the forward bite.  There’s certain things about the racetrack that are unique, and they apply to all the cars that we’ve had here over the years.”

“So there was a lot of effort going into getting Carl to the point where he could do what he needs to do and trying to get the car what it needs to do.  The brakes did a nice job today.  The brakes are really important here.”

And the driver didn’t do half bad either.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #40 in a Cup Series race since last fall at Talladega, when Tony Raines’ turn in the Hillman Racing entry ended with engine trouble after two laps.
*It is the first last-place finish for the #40 in this event since 2002, when Sterling Marlin’s Coors Original Dodge slipped a belt and lost the engine after 19 laps of the race.  It is Cassill’s first last-place finish in the event - he came home 31st in his only other start here in 2012.

43) #40-Landon Cassill / 29 laps / engine
42) #20-Matt Kenseth / 74 laps / crash
41) #83-Ryan Truex / 91 laps / running
40) #98-Josh Wise / 95 laps / running
39) #33-Alex Kennedy / 104 laps / rear gear

1st) Dave Blaney (2)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers (1)

1st) #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
2nd) #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #40-Hillman Racing, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Ford (6)
2nd) Chevrolet, Toyota (5)

I hope you’ve enjoyed Sonoma Week here at LASTCAR.  Be sure to get your FREE copy of LASTCAR: The First Year-By-Year Chronicle of Last-Place Finishers in the NASCAR Cup Series (1949-2013).  Click here and enter promo code HG74S to download yours today!  But hurry - this promotion ends Monday!

N’WIDE: Kevin Lepage Finishes Last At Rain-Soaked Road America

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Kevin Lepage picked up the 13th last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Saturday’s wild Gardner Denver 200 at Road America when his unsponsored #93 JGL Racing Dodge broke the rear gear without completing a lap of the 53-lap race.

The finish was Lepage’s first of 2014 and his first in a Nationwide Series race since Charlotte in the spring of 2012, 69 races ago.  It is also Lepage’s second last-place finish in this event, joining his early exit in the inaugural race in 2010.

Lepage, a series veteran, was set to make his 345th Nationwide Series start on Saturday and his ninth of 2014.  The 52-year-old driver’s best finish of the season came with JD Motorsports, with whom he finished 19th at Darlington.  For Road America, Lepage would make his first start of the year for Gregg Mixon in the unsponsored #93 JGL Racing Dodge.  The team’s best finish of the year was a 16th with J.J. Yeley at Texas.  Yeley, pulling double-duty with the Cup race in Sonoma, drove the second JGL entry, #28, with sponsorship from Texas 28 Spirits Stage.

Just 37 cars were on the preliminary entry list, but 38 showed up at the track with the addition of a second Jimmy Means entry, #79, last seen at Fontana, this time driven by Michigan last-placer Tim Schendel.  Schendel qualified 32nd while Lepage timed in 37th, one of four drivers to not complete a qualifying lap on Saturday.  Lepage was 31st in the weekend’s only practice session.

Rain wreaked havoc with the entire race weekend.  During the early-race chaos, Lepage did not complete the opening lap and ended up with the last-place finish.  Both Schendel and LASTCAR record holder Jeff Green pulled out after the opening lap to take the next two spots.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were Carl Long in Rick Ware’s #15 and Ryan Ellis, driving in place of Matt DiBenedetto in the #46 The Motorsports Group entry.  With Josh Wise in Sonoma, DiBenedetto took a turn in TMG’s primary #40 and came home 11th.

DiBenedetto was one of many surprises in the final running order.  Not only had Brendan Gaughan scored his first Nationwide Series win in his 98th start, holding off a rallying Alex Tagliani who went from 23rd to 2nd in just two laps, but Ware’s second car driven by Corvette factory driver Kevin O’Connell nearly pulled the upset before finishing 3rd.  J.J. Yeley, Lepage’s teammate, finished a season-best 5th, his second top-ten finish of the year.  Road ringer Andy Lally gave the #55 its best finish since an 18th at Charlotte with a 7th-place run, and Landon Cassill finished 8th for his third top-ten finish of the year.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #93 in a Nationwide Series race since February 23, 2002, when Bill Hoff’s Pro-Mech USA Pontiac suffered a vibration after 4 laps of the 200 at Rockingham.
*This is the first time two consecutive Nationwide Series races had last-place finishers who did not complete a lap since July of 2005, when Shane Hall broke the rear end on his #28 Jay Robinson, Inc. Ford at Gateway, then Bryan Reffner lost the rear gear of his #67 Panasonic Dodge at Gateway.

38) #93-Kevin Lepage / 0 laps / rear gear
37) #79-Tim Schendel / 1 lap / water pump
36) #10-Jeff Green / 1 lap / vibration
35) #15-Carl Long / 2 laps / rear hub
34) #46-Ryan Ellis / 2 laps / ignition

1st) Blake Koch (6)
2nd) Jeff Green (3)
3rd) Tanner Berryhill, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Lepage, Tim Schendel, Jimmy Weller (1)

1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (7)
2nd) #91-TriStar Motorsports (2)
3rd) #17-Vision Racing, #46-The Motorsports Group, #55-VIVA Motorsports / SS Green Light Racing, #87-Rick Ware Racing, #93-JGL Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)
3rd) Dodge (2)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

SONOMA WEEK: LASTCAR Sonoma Report: Carl Edwards, Justin Allgaier, and K&N Pro Series West Veteran Jack Sellers

Saturday, the stars of the Sprint Cup Series had their game faces on for the first-ever road course qualifying session with the new rules for 2014.  The closing stages featured a thrilling battle that was settled in the final few seconds.  In the first of two sessions, A.J. Allmendinger, who tested at the Sonoma Raceway earlier this month, put up the 2nd-fastest time, having been nipped by Joey Logano in the final few seconds.  Allmendinger led for much of the second session as well, but with just a few seconds to go, lost the top spot to Jamie McMurray, who shattered the two-year-old track record with a lap of 95.262 mph.  Allmendinger will start 2nd.

Starting 4th on Sunday is Carl Edwards, who found himself one of a half-dozen drivers racing the clock in the final few seconds of qualifying.  Following Ryan Newman off Turn 11 with less than 10 seconds to go, Newman got to the stripe, but time expired when Edwards was within sight of the stripe.  Regardless, Edwards completed the lap at full song, but did not improve his overall time.

“I went ahead and finished that lap (last lap of qualifying) just to see how fast it would be,” said Edwards a few minutes after qualifying.  “That would’ve been really bad if that was the pole lap and I missed it by 20 feet, but it wasn’t a fast lap so it ended up okay.  I had a good time.  This is fun, this is what it’s about is having fun.  We got four or five attempts at it and ended up 4th so it’s a good day for me.”

Despite a three-wide logjam exiting pit road at the start of qualifying, Edwards was thrilled with the new format.

“It’s exciting, and that’s the whole idea.  We’re coming out here to race cars and have fun.  With our AFLAC car, it ended up being a good run but it could’ve gone bad too, and that’s what makes it exciting being a part of something exciting and having to perform and the fans see that.”

Ford has not won at the Sonoma Raceway since Ricky Rudd’s win for Robert Yates Racing in 2002.  When asked what it would mean if he could break that streak with a victory Sunday, Edwards was even more excited.

“It would mean a lot to me considering how terrible I was, when my road course career started, I was awful, so this would be big for me.  We got a really fast car, it was good in practice, and we’re starting up front, so we’ve got as good a chance as anyone to win.”

After qualifying came the Carneros 200, the 64-lap support race for the K&N Pro Series West.  Polesitter Kyle Larson, who qualified 3rd for Sunday, won the pole and dominated much of the 66-lap event.  A late-race restart forced a green-white-checkered finish, and Larson held off a determined Greg Pursley to score his first career road course victory at his home track.

Larson was one of several rookie Cup drivers in Saturday’s field, joining fellow rookies Austin Dillon, Michael Annett, and Justin Allgaier.  Allgaier rallied in the closing stages of the race and was running 3rd when he was caught-up in a multi-car melee that dropped him to 14th.  The day before, on my way out of the track, I found Allgaier in the garage area and asked him about his thoughts.

I asked Allgaier about how he’s prepared for his first start at the Sonoma Raceway.

“To be honest with you, this race track is obviously extremely challenging and there’s really nothing that can replicate driving here.  The rookies are all struggling for experience.  Austin (Dillon) and Kyle (Larson) and really all the rookies we have here are all extremely talented race car drivers.  There’s no question in my mind that they’ll all be up there battling it out.”

“Unfortunately for me this one was the NASCAR video game and iRacing as much as I could which wasn’t very much, but I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve run this racetrack online and on the simulator and things.  Coming up here, I watched a lot of video, listening to shifting points, trying to see what guys are doing on the braking zones, things like that.  You can learn a lot by watching race car drivers because you can get in a simulator, but you don’t know you’re making mistakes when you’re making them.  So it really helps to see what they do, it helps a lot.”

Allgaier has two wins on the road courses in the Nationwide Series - one each at Road America and Montreal.  I asked him if that would give him an advantage for Sunday’s race.

“The racecraft of a Cup Series road course is totally different than the Nationwide Series road race.  So, just figuring out the racecraft, figuring out what these guys are doing, seeing how the race plays out over the full distance.”

“I’m looking at this as a test and then really looking forward to Watkins Glen we’re running in a few weeks where I kind of have a better understanding of how things play out, you know, and coming back here next year, I feel like I can come back a lot more comfortable right off the bat.”

I then asked Allgaier about his thoughts on practice, where he ran 33rd in the first session and 30th in Happy Hour.

“We struggled for speed today and finally at the end of practice we got to where we want to be.  The problem is we spent all of practice trying to get to the spot where we want, so we didn’t get to work on it as much as we’d want.  But we’ve got a really good Brandt Chevrolet and I’m just really looking forward to the race.”

Allgaier starts 35th on Sunday.

As always, the K&N race had a lot of close racing and wild action.  Bringing out one of the final cautions of the day was 69-year-old series veteran Jack Sellers, whose race ended with a wreck in the Esses that left him 26th of 29 drivers at race’s end.  After the crash, I headed back to the garage area as Sellers climbed from his car.  Though he was lifted from the car, he was uninjured.

“I fouled up,” he said.  “I was coming down the chicane going down into the last two turns coming through the Esses just as you make the sweeping left as you’re coming down the hill and I got too far to the left and got two wheels off and it bit me.  I did a 180 and went into the tires.  I’m all right.  We were having fun and I was really doing what I wanted to do and I was starting to move a little and I couldn’t ask for a better weekend, then I made it such a bad finish.”

Sellers made two Cup Series starts at Sonoma, both when the Toyota / Save Mart 350 was a “combination race” with West Series competitors like himself.

“This is my thirtieth year here.  Well, thirty years since I started here.  I was in two (Cup races at Sonoma).  I didn’t fare too well, but anyway it was fun running with the Cup.”

Sellers ran the #44 Buick in both 1990 and 1992, finishing 40th - but not last - both times.

“It was a Kenny Bernstein car.  I bought it at Phoenix.  Ricky Rudd drove the car.  It was his backup car at Phoenix in 1988, and it was the fall race at Phoenix.  It was the last of the rear-steer cars.”

“I bought the car when I was 44 years old and that’s what I numbered it and I kept driving it until I bought another car and changed my number and it went up (to 48).  I’ve still got that car.  I’m making it kind of a show car and I’ll play around with it and do some of the hobby road courses with it.”

Sellers attempted to qualify for thirteen others Cup races from 1987 through 1994, the last of which coming at the inaugural Brickyard 400.  In all, he has competed in 378 races for the K&N Pro Series West as one of the series’ most popular drivers.  The series’ next stop is at the StateLine Speedway in Post Falls, Idaho on July 12.

Just 2 more days to get your FREE copy of LASTCAR: The First Year-By-Year Chronicle of Last-Place Finishers in the NASCAR Cup Series (1949-2013).  Click here and enter promo code HG74S to download yours today!

Friday, June 20, 2014

SONOMA WEEK: LASTCAR Trackside Report: Fast Friday at Sonoma

It was a very busy Friday at the Sonoma Raceway as 43 drivers took to the track for the first road course weekend of 2014.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. dominated the opening practice before Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex, Jr., then finally Kurt Busch topped the leaderboard with a track-record lap of 95.470 mph.  In the second session, Bowyer was the fastest, but Kyle Busch had the most spectacular moment when he spun in Turn 10, then under green drove backwards toward the entrance of pit road.

In between, I met with several drivers.  One of the first I met was Boris Said, whose #32 7-11 / AmeriGas Ford sat at the far end of the Sprint Cup Series garage.  Said, set to make his 15th Sonoma start on Sunday, was quite candid about the plight of road course ringers in today’s NASCAR.

“I think the road course ringer’s kind of extinct,” he said.  “The cars are so safe now that no one ever gets hurt, so you don’t need substitute drivers, which is a good thing, and two, the regulars have gotten a lot more serious about road course racing than in the past.  I mean, they’re really good now.  I still like being called a road course ringer, but I really feel lucky I still get to come here and compete.  And a chance with 7-11 and Frankie (Stoddard) I’ve known forever and it’s still a lot of fun for a 51-year-old to get to come and do this twice a year.”

Regardless, Said was thrilled to be back at the track where he scored his only career pole in 2003.

“I still feel like I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world.  Only 43 drivers are privileged enough to run this series.  Out of all the other series I’ve run, I don’t think there’s one harder than this.  So, to test yourself against the best drivers in the world is a challenge and you want to do it.  Even if sometimes you swallow humble pie, it’s still a thrill to get to compete against them.”

Next to Said’s machine was the #66 Toyota fielded by Identity Ventures Racing.  The driver this week is Tomy Drissi, slated to make his third-consecutive start in the Toyota / Save Mart 350.  Drissi, a businessman involved in promoting major motion pictures, once again drives a brightly-colored paint scheme for a summer release.  His uniform is plain black with strips of velcro on the front, allowing him to attach a fabric logo of the movie his race is promoting, this time July’s “Hercules” reboot.

Drissi was the only driver unable to complete any laps in the opening session.  When I went up to him in the closing stages of practice, the #66 crew was still hard at work, reaching inside the driver’s side opera window with a welding torch.

“We were all ready to go with the Hercules in theaters July 25 car,” said Drissi.  “The 66 team is real good.  They were ready to go.  NASCAR came over and noticed because of my height there was a different seat in there from the past few drivers.  So, I’m a little taller of a driver and they noticed the angle on the seat belts weren’t correct, so they had to do in a little time with the seat and the roll bar and the seat belts for safety.”

Four cars sat in the second garage area at the far end of the paddock: the #95 K-LOVE Ford of Michael McDowell, the #44 Phoenix Warehouses Chevrolet of J.J. Yeley (practiced by K&N West driver David Mayhew), Ryan Truex and his #83 Burger King Toyota, and the #33 MediaCast Chevrolet of Alex Kennedy.  Midway through the first practice session, Kennedy was the only driver out of his car, discussing what to do with the Circle Sport team.

“We’re fighting grip bad,” said Kennedy, who has competed at the Sonoma Raceway since he was twelve years old.  “It’s our biggest issue right now.  The track’s a little hot and our car is fighting lateral grip issues right now, it’s just killing us in every single corner.  But the track looks good, beautiful day here, but we need grip if we’re gonna go fast. . .Some of the issues I had with the car last year, I know what the reasoning was.  It gave us a head start on this car.  But you can’t really apply that with some of the different rules this year with track packages and stuff.”

Kennedy, who last raced at Pocono two races ago, is slated to do another five or six races in 2014.  “Watkins Glen is for sure,” he said, “everything else is up in the air.”  Kennedy's Pocono car is his backup.

Last, but not least, during Friday morning’s press conference, I asked Jimmie Johnson what he thought about being one of only three drivers to run every race since 2004 without ever finishing last.

“It definitely is important, and I think championships really speak to durability than that (last-place) finishing stat.  Some cases I wish I would’ve been 43rd so I could’ve gone home earlier so I wouldn’t have to run around and finish 42nd,” Johnson said with a laugh.  “You know, that stat speaks more to the guys getting the car fixed.  And I think these crew members, they’re supposed to work delicately on the race car.  And then when there’s crash damage they’re looking for the biggest hammer and the biggest saw and just looking forward to cutting stuff up and trying to get you back out.  So, I’ve got a group of guys who love to swing hammers and run saws, so they do a nice job getting us back on the road.”

Those hammers and saws have so far kept Johnson, the 2010 winner, from finishing last in 450 Cup starts.

Just 3 more days to get your FREE copy of LASTCAR: The First Year-By-Year Chronicle of Last-Place Finishers in the NASCAR Cup Series (1949-2013).  Click here and enter promo code HG74S to download yours today!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

SONOMA WEEK: "NASCAR Sonoma Style" - 25 Races In 4 Minutes!

For today's "Sonoma Week" article, I have a brand-new video saluting the first twenty-five runnings of the Toyota / Save Mart 350!  Check out "NASCAR: Sonoma Style!"

In just a few hours, the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hit the track for the opening practices of the 26th Annual Toyota / Save Mart 350, and I will be there in the garage area.  Stay tuned to this site and my Twitter @LASTCARonBROCK starting tomorrow for trackside updates, pictures, and more!

Click here to get your FREE copy of LASTCAR: The First Year-By-Year Chronicle of Last-Place Finishers in the NASCAR Cup Series (1949-2013).  Enter promo code HG74S to download yours today!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

SONOMA WEEK: Don't Underestimate Road Course Ringers

SOURCE: Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel
True, but not accurate.

I love that phrase.  It fits perfectly when somebody says something that is technically true, but is still misleading.  I think of that when someone says “Who cares about road ringers? They never win anyway.”

While a ringer hasn’t won a Cup race on a road course since Mark Donohue’s win at Riverside in 1973, this does not mean ringers have never contended for wins.  Ringers add an extra dose of excitement to what are already two of the best races of the season.  In fact, Sonoma alone has seen a number of ringers come close to pulling the upset in just twenty-five runnings.

The 1991 race is well-known for NASCAR’s controversial decision to penalize leader Ricky Rudd for spinning leader Davey Allison in Turn 11.  However, the only reason both drivers were in a position to win was because of another late-race spin involving road ringer Tommy Kendall.  Kendall, the defending Trans-Am champion, qualified 5th the #42 Felix Sabates entry after Kyle Petty broke his leg in a wreck at Talladega.

On Lap 60 of the 74-lap race, Kendall took the lead from Rusty Wallace and appeared headed for a tremendous upset.  However, while leading with two laps to go, Mark Martin caught Kendall for the lead, and the two made contact in the hairpin of Turn 7.  The contact sent Martin into the guardrail and cut down Kendall’s right-front tire, forcing him to make an unscheduled stop.  Kendall finished 18th.

A savage accident in an IMSA race at Watkins Glen prevented Kendall from running the Cup race at the track that August, but in 1992, he returned to Sonoma and turned in another strong finish.  Kendall, this time driving for Jimmy Means, passed eventual series champion Alan Kulwicki coming off the final corner to snag a 13th-place finish.  Kendall ran the Sonoma race three more times and finished 16th in his last start at the track in 1998.

In 2000, Sonoma was the scene of Robby Gordon’s first top-ten finish in three seasons, and it came while driving for his own team.  Coming into the 2001 race, however, Gordon had still yet to run a full season in Cup, and a deal with Morgan-McClure Motorsports came apart after just five races.  He came to California as the road ringer in Jim Smith’s #7 NationsRent Ford, a team which had struggled to find consistency with regular driver Mike Wallace.

Gordon qualified 7th for the Sonoma race and found himself running right behind leader Jeff Gordon.  On Lap 85, Gordon, the point leader, locked the brakes in Turn 11 and Robby pounced, jumping into the top spot.  Robby held the lead for ten laps until, with ten laps to go, he blocked the lapped car of Kevin Harvick exiting Turn 7 and lost the lead to eventual winner Tony Stewart.  Robby had to settle for 2nd.

The run netted Robby a ride with Richard Childress Racing after Mike Skinner was injured at midseason, a union that paid dividends when he took the checkered flag in he season finale at New Hampshire.  Two years later, now as a full-time driver, Robby snagged his elusive Sonoma win and went on to sweep the road courses for the year.

The year before Robby’s Sonoma win, Jerry Nadeau found himself in position for a road course redemption of his own.  As a rookie in 1998, he had run off-course while battling Jeff Gordon for the lead and ended up crashing out of the race.  His career roller-coaster continued through a move to Melling Racing, then Hendrick Motorsports, with whom he scored his first Cup win at Atlanta in 2000.  However, just one week after Jimmie Johnson’s maiden Cup win at Fontana, Hendrick released Nadeau, leaving him without a ride.

At Sonoma, Nadeau climbed aboard the #44 Georgia-Pacific Dodge driven by struggling Nationwide competitor Roy “Buckshot” Jones.  The Petty Enterprises team had not won since 1999, and the untimely passing of Adam Petty in 2000 put the team’s future in doubt.

Pit strategy scrambled the running order for the 2002 Sonoma race, and after spinning on Lap 68, Nadeau stayed out on old tires and found himself leading for a restart on Lap 88 of 110.  As Ricky Rudd and Tony Stewart fought their way through the more than half-dozen cars who stayed out with Nadeau, the #44 pulled away to more than a two-second lead and looked to be on the way to victory.  He was still leading by more than one full second when the rear gear failed coming off Turn 11 with just two laps to go, ending his day with a 34th-place finish.

Like Robby before him, Nadeau earned a new full-time ride for the following season.  Driving for Nelson Bowers in the #01 U.S. Army Pontiac, Nadeau was running with the leaders before a brutal practice crash at Richmond ended his racing career.

In a strange twist, Nadeau was himself replaced by another road ringer for the 2003 race.  Fan favorite Boris Said had been instructing Cup Series drivers on road racing since the 1990s, but had just one top-ten finish in seven starts.  But on qualifying day, Said put the #01 on the pole and led a lap before finishing 6th.  Although Said has never competed in a full Cup season, he proved to be a competitive racer at Daytona.  In 2006, he won the pole for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona and was leading in the closing stages before a late pass dropped him to 4th - all in the second start for No Fear Racing, a single-car operation founded by longtime crew chief Frank Stoddard.

Said’s toughest competitors at Sonoma in 2003 were both race winner Robby Gordon and Canadian road ringer Ron Fellows, who led 21 laps in the #1 Pennzoil Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. after the release of Steve Park.  Although Fellows enjoyed most of his road course success at Watkins Glen, where he twice finished 2nd in the Cup Series, he rejoined DEI at Sonoma in 2008 to run the road courses for rookie Regan Smith in the #01 Principal Financial Group Chevrolet.  With just four laps to go, Fellows was running inside the Top 5 when Kevin Harvick overdrove Turn 7 and collected 2nd and 3rd-place runners Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray.  Lost in the dust, Fellows collected McMurray, dropping him to 29th.  Reports indicate Fellows retired from Cup racing last season.

Marcos Ambrose may be a full-time competitor today, but the reason for that dates back to that same race in 2008.  Ambrose was making his Cup debut as a road course ringer for the Wood Brothers, who had failed to make the field for the Daytona 500 despite having two-time winner Bill Elliott behind the wheel.  Ambrose qualified 7th, and though he never led, he remained near the leaders until Lap 83, when Elliott Sadler spun him entering Turn 7.  Ambrose’s transmission failed, and he ended up 42nd out of 43.  In the five Sonoma races since, Ambrose has finished no worse than 8th.

The list goes on and on.  Trans-Am driver Irv Hoerr finished 8th for Richard Jackson in 1990.  Brian Simo finishing 10th in a part-time Richard Childress Chevrolet in 2005.  Swedish DTM racer Mattias Ekstrom putting Brian Vickers’ #83 Red Bull Toyota out front for 7 laps in 2010.  Even two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte came out of retirement to drive the #96 DLP Chevrolet to a 3rd-place finish in 2006.

Yes, a road ringer hasn’t won since 1973.  Sure, there are hardly any on this year’s entry list at Sonoma.  But it would be misleading to say they’ve never been a threat to win.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

SONOMA WEEK: Last-Place Finishers of the Toyota / Save Mart 350 (1989-2013)

Curiously, just one driver in Sunday’s field for the Toyota / Save Mart 350 has ever finished last in the event.  That driver is Joe Nemechek, who in 2012 drove a Ferrari red #87 AM/FM Ernergy Pellet & Wood Stoves Toyota.  The car’s engine had a strange high pitch in qualifying, and as it turns out, the engine was what put him out after just one lap.  On Sunday, Nemechek will drive the #66 Land Castle Title Toyota for his co-owned Identity Ventures Racing.

The other twenty drivers who have finished last at Sonoma are an eclectic group of NASCAR champions, road course specialists, and lesser-known figures in the sport.

The inaugural event, run on June 11, 1989, saw future three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett trail the field when his Cale Yarborough-owned #29 Hardee’s Pontiac broke the transmission after only eight laps.  Jarrett, competing in only his second full season on the tour, would score his first Top Five with the team at Martinsville that fall, then in 1990 moved to the famed Wood Brothers team to relieve the injured Neil Bonnett.

Another racing legend, the ageless Hershel McGriff, finished last at Sonoma twice in 1990 and 1993, both while driving his familiar #04.  The 1993 finish, McGriff’s 85th and final Cup Series start in a career that dated back to 1950, made him the oldest driver to ever finish last in a NASCAR Cup Series race at 65 years, 5 months, and 2 days.  The record stood until this past March, when Morgan Shepherd drove Joe Nemechek’s second car at Phoenix at 72 yeas, 4 months, and 18 days.

McGriff was one of several drivers to run “combination races” with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  Drivers in what is today known as the K&N Pro Series West used to compete in Cup Series races at Sonoma, Phoenix, NASCAR’s exhibition races in Japan, and even the inaugural Brickyard 400.  The practice faded away as several new Cup teams ran the full season, but not until two other drivers joined McGriff in the LASTCAR standings.  In 1995, Portland driver Dan Obrist finished last in his only Cup start when his #72 Fight Team USA Chevrolet broke down in the Esses after 7 laps.  And in 1999, Butch Gilliland’s final Cup start ended when he lost the engine on his #38 Ralph’s / Food4Less / Coca-Cola Ford after three laps.  Butch’s son David currently runs the #38 in Cup.

“Road course ringers” took the place of West coast regulars in the 1990s, and three have finished last at Sonoma.  In 2008, Brian Simo stunned everyone when his #34 No Fear Ford, an outdated 2007 Car of Tomorrow, bumped out four teams in qualifying, including the fully-sponsored rides of J.J. Yeley and Dario Franchitti.  Unfortunately, Simo’s ride lost the transmission after 20 laps.

P.J. Jones has finished last at Sonoma twice, both while running a second car for former owner-driver Robby Gordon.  In 2009, Jones’ #04 Jim Beam / Menards Toyota left the race with power steering issues after two laps while in 2011, his #77 SPEED Energy Drink / GNC Dodge left the race after five laps with suspension woes.  Gordon, the 2003 winner, finished 36th and 18th in those races.

But of this list, the most significant name in LASTCAR history is Tom Hubert, who became the first driver ever to finish last in the same race in three consecutive years.  Each time, Hubert was the road course driver for the independent operation owned by former crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine.  And each time, he exited the race for a different reason.  In 2004, Hubert’s #72 Freddie B’s Ford was flagged off the track after 5 laps for running too slow.  In 2005, his #27 Freddie B’s / NAPA Ford lost oil pressure after 33 laps.  And in 2006, his #27 Interush Ford was taken out in a hard opening-lap crash with Ken Schrader and Sterling Marlin.

Marlin himself has two last-place finishes at Sonoma.  In 2002, fresh off two early season wins, Marlin came to the track as the point leader by 110 points over Jeff Gordon.  He left 62 points ahead of Mark Martin and 82 over Gordon, thanks in part to a blown engine due to a slipped belt on his #40 Coors Original Dodge, and also to a 37th-place finish by Gordon.  In 2007, one year after Gordon’s most recent win at the track, Marlin finished last again in one of the last events for Ginn Racing when his #14 WileyX Chevrolet lost another motor after 12 laps.

Sonoma holds the distinction of running the last points race with more than 43 starters.  In both 1996 and 1997, 44 cars took the green flag, and both times last place went to a Cup Series regular.  In 1996, Mike Wallace, driving for the late Junie Donlavey, was one of only two retirees when the rear end broke on his #90 Heilig-Meyers Ford.  In 1997, Geoffrey Bodine, winner of the most recent road course race at Watkins Glen, started 7th only to lose the engine on his #7 QVC Ford after 10 laps.  Bodine’s team would go on to finish last in the next two races.

While Bodine is the only driver to both win and finish last at Sonoma, the only team to match Bodine’s feat is Morgan-McClure Motorsports.  While driving for MMM in 1992, Ernie Irvan drove one of the most impressive races of his brief career when he was black-flagged for jumping the start, then came back to win the race.  In 2001, Kevin Lepage finished last in the Kodak Film #4 when the engine let go after two laps.  Finishing last the day Irvan won was Greg Sacks, whose turn in the #41 Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Chevrolet for owner Larry Hedrick also ended with engine failure after two laps.

The hilly terrain of the Sonoma course has seen some spectacular exits among its last-place finishers.  In 1991, Trans-Am driver R.K. Smith lost the engine on his #09 Midgley Racing Pontiac entering the Carousel and ended up on two wheels against an embankment.  Three years later, Derrike Cope hit that same spot even harder in a tangle with Winston West driver John Krebs, sending Krebs tumbling into a vacant spot on the other side and leaving Cope with the finish.

In 1998, the Sonoma track was reconfigured to leave out the Carousel, only to see another hard crash.  Outside-polesitter and then-rookie Jerry Nadeau broke the track bar on his #13 FirstPlus Financial Ford while running off course during a bid for the lead on the opening lap.  Thirteen laps later, he slammed into the side of a hill entering the Esses, ending his race.  The #13 finished last at Sonoma one other time in 2010, when Max Papis’ GEICO Toyota was gobbled-up in a multi-car accident on the frontstretch during a Lap 66 restart.

In 2000, John Andretti was driving for Petty Enterprises.  In accordance with a new sponsorship contract, Sonoma was to be the final race the iconic #43 would be sponsored by STP before General Mills took over at Daytona the following week.  However, while running mid-pack on Lap 16, Brett Bodine’s spin caused Andretti to rear-ended another car, and the #43 was ablaze.  Andretti escaped unhurt, but after the 43rd-place finish, it was decided to run the STP colors one more time in the season finale at Atlanta, where he came home 19th.

In 2003, Japanese racer Hideo Fukuyama made the fourth and final start of his Cup career in a #66 Kikkoman Ford fielded by Travis Carter.  Years before Kickstarter and the Dogecoin efforts, Fukuyama was crowd-funded by an effort known as the “Hideo Fukuyama Racing Project.”  Unfortunately, Fukuyama’s gearshift came apart on the opening lap, and though he managed to complete 68 laps, the rear end gave out.

That brings us to last year, when Bobby Labonte became the first driver since Brian Vickers at Watkins Glen the year before to finish last without completing a lap.  Mechanical gremlins nearly prevented Labonte from starting his 704th consecutive Cup start, dating back to the 1993 Daytona 500.  Labonte’s streak ended the next week at Kentucky, when current #47 driver A.J. Allmendinger drove in his place.

Will Nemechek repeat his last-place run in 2012?  Or will we see a new Sonoma last-place finisher?  We’re just a few days from finding out.

UPDATE (June 19): It now looks like there will be no past Sonoma last-place finishers in Sunday's race as Tomy Drissi will fill in for Nemechek to make his third consecutive start in this race.  Also, Landon Cassill will run with sponsorship from returning Daytona backer

Click here to get your FREE copy of LASTCAR: The First Year-By-Year Chronicle of Last-Place Finishers in the NASCAR Cup Series (1949-2013).  Enter promo code HG74S to download yours today!

And for more individual LASTCAR track statistics like today's article, click here to check out the LASTCAR Track Guide!

Monday, June 16, 2014

SONOMA WEEK: Rookie and Underdog Storylines For The 2014 Toyota / Save Mart 350

For the second-consecutive year, there are just 43 entries for the Toyota / Save Mart 350, but there are several interesting stories beyond the championship leaders.

Unlike last season, the so-called “road course ringers” are noticeably absent.  The only one on this year’s list is Boris Said, who for the fourth consecutive year drives the Go FAS Racing #32 entered by his former crew chief Frank Stoddard.  Last Sunday at Michigan, Travis Kvapil ended up with Stoddard’s first-ever last-place finish in a Sprint Cup points race when Kvapil was caught up in an opening-lap wreck with Brian Vickers.  Said, the 2003 polesitter, finished 18th at Sonoma last year, his best finish since an 8th here in 2010.

Last year, four drivers made their Sprint Cup debut.  Two of them - Justin Marks and Victor Gonzalez, Jr. - drove both entries owned by Tommy Baldwin, but this year, series regulars Michael Annett and Reed Sorenson will remain in the #7 and #36, respectively.  For Sorenson, it’s his first Sonoma start since 2009 - his best finish remains a 29th as a rookie in 2006.

Annett will race on Sunday along with the remaining members of this year’s rookie class, and all will be making their first-ever Cup starts at the California road course.  Justin Allgaier and Ryan Truex have the only road-course wins of the group: Allgaier has two in the Nationwide Series - Road America in 2011 and Montreal in 2012 - while Truex won a K&N Pro Series East race at Watkins Glen in 2009.  Annett’s best road course finish was a 7th the day Allgaier won at Road America.  Alex Bowman’s was an 11th last summer at Mid-Ohio.

Rookie frontrunners Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon have been impressive this year, but as of yet, their road course finishes are on par with the rest of the class.  Dillon finished 7th in a Canadian Tire Series race at Montreal in 2012, scene of his best Nationwide finish of 9th that same weekend.  Larson’s best is a 7th last year at Road America, though he was part of the same Chip Ganassi team that finished 8th overall in this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona.

A good sleeper pick could be rookie Cole Whitt.  The driver of the #26 Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters Toyota finished 2nd to Andrew Ranger in a K&N East race at Lime Rock in 2010 and has finished inside the Top 10 in three of his last five Nationwide Series starts on the road courses.  Whitt’s best finishes are a pair of 8th-place runs with TriStar Motorsports at Road America and Watkins Glen last year.

Alex Kennedy returns to the scene of his challenging Sprint Cup debut of a year ago.  Driving for Randy Humphrey, whose #77 Ford isn’t on this week’s list, the Nationwide Series competitor was rear-ended on pit road by Paulie Harraka, then wrecked in the Esses near the midway point.  This year, he makes his second start of the year in Circle Sport’s #33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevrolet, the team which road ringer Ron Fellows drove for his final two Cup road course starts last year.  Kennedy finished 39th in the #33 two weeks ago at Pocono.

Landon Cassill, Kennedy’s teammate from Circle Sport's partner Hillman Racing, makes just his second start at the Sonoma Raceway and his first since a 31st-place showing in 2012.  This year, Cassill’s #40 entry has yet to acquire sponsorship for the race.  Cassill’s best Cup road course finish remains a 23rd at Watkins Glen in 2012, but his best in Nationwide is a 14th at Montreal back in 2008.

On Sunday, Michael McDowell and Joe Nemechek will both make their first Cup start since the Coca-Cola 600.  It will be McDowell’s first start in the race since 2011 and the first for Nemechek since a last-place run in 2012.  Since his departure from Phil Parsons Racing over the offseason, McDowell has remained a part-time competitor in the #95 for Leavine Family Racing, a team that hasn’t raced at Sonoma since a 25th with Scott Speed in 2012.  His best finish of the season remains a pair of 30th-place runs at Texas and Charlotte, but in his last six Nationwide road course starts, he’s won two poles and finished 2nd twice.

J.J. Yeley makes his sixth Sonoma start on Sunday for his fifth different team.  After a timely Owner Points arrangement with Swan Racing, Yeley will give Xxxtreme Motorsports its first-ever road course start in the distinctive #44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet.  Yeley’s best finish at the track is a 21st in 2007, when he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Sonoma could not have come at a better time for David Gilliland, whose best finish this season is 22nd at Bristol and Texas.  He scored the first of his two runner-up finishes here in 2008, then finished 19th and 12th in his first two Sonoma starts with Front Row Motorsports.

Josh Wise, Gilliland’s former teammate, returns to Sonoma for the first time since the first Cup Series race he finished under power in 2012.  This time, he drives for Phil Parsons Racing as one of the most surprising stories of the season.  After exceeding a crowdfunding goal for October’s Talladega race, the Parsons team will use the money to again carry the Reddit and Dogecoin colors at Sonoma.

Another great story this season has to be A.J. Allmendinger.  Last year, Allmendinger was driving for Roger Penske in both the IndyCar Series and the Nationwide Series, scoring his first NASCAR wins at Road America and Mid-Ohio.  This year, Allmendinger is back in the Cup Series for his first Sonoma start since 2012.  Earlier this month, Allmendinger had a successful tire test, and this year looks for another solid finish - since a 37th in his Sonoma debut in 2008, he has finished no worse than 13th in his last four starts at the track.  This is good news for his JTG-Daugherty team, which finished last at Sonoma in 2013 without completing a lap.

Click here to get your FREE copy of LASTCAR: The First Year-By-Year Chronicle of Last-Place Finishers in the NASCAR Cup Series (1949-2013).  Enter promo code HG74S to download yours today!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

SONOMA WEEK: LASTCAR Reporting Trackside at the Sonoma Raceway This Weekend!

The week before the NASCAR race at the Sonoma Raceway is my favorite time of the year.  And this time, I’m even more excited.  Not only will this be my twentieth Toyota / Save Mart 350, dating back to my very first race in 1992, but for the first time, I will be there as a credentialed media member for LASTCAR!

This is a huge step for myself and for this website, and I am thankful to the staff of the Sonoma Raceway for making this happen.  It has been a long journey since LASTCAR started in early 2009.  A lot of long nights assembling my statistics and updating them each week.  It’s been great sharing these stories with you readers, and I hope to give you even more this weekend.

To celebrate this occasion, I’m declaring this week “Sonoma Week.”  From now through Sunday, I will be posting daily articles about the Toyota / Save Mart 350 with a continued focus on NASCAR’s single-car and independent operations.  This will include trackside blog posts on Friday and Saturday in addition to Sunday’s LASTCAR articles for both Sonoma and the Nationwide Series event at Road America.

In addition, I will also be tweeting from the track on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so be sure to follow me on Twitter @LASTCARonBROCK for insider updates all weekend long!

To kick off Sonoma Week, my first LASTCAR book is now downloadable for FREE from today through Monday, June 23.  To get your copy, click this Smashwords link and enter promo code HG74S.  There, you can also check out free samples of my other three LASTCAR books, which are also available at Amazon, Nook, iTunes, and other participating eBook retailers.

In the meantime, stay tuned to this blog and Twitter @LASTCARonBROCK as we count down to the 26th Annual Toyota / Save Mart 350!

CUP: Opening-Lap Tangle With Vickers Nets Kvapil First Last-Place Finish Since 2011

SOURCE: Twitter - @TravisKvapil
Travis Kvapil picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #32 / Ford fell out with crash damage after he completed 23 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish is Kvapil’s first of the 2014 season and his first in a Cup race since Phoenix on November 13, 2011 - 89 races ago - when his #55 Aloft Hotel Tempe Ford fell out with brake problems after 20 laps of the Kobalt Tools 500.

Following his departure from BK Racing after the 2013 season, Kvapil, the 2003 NASCAR Truck Series Champion, now drives the lion’s share of the races for Go FAS Racing.  Go FAS’ #32 team was founded in 2011 by Frankie Stoddard after the reorganization of the #26 Latitude 43 Motorsports team, and this year has merged with Archie St. Hilaire’s Go Green Racing to continue running the full season.  In eleven starts for Go FAS in 2014, Kvapil’s best finish is a 29th last week at Pocono.

At Michigan, Kvapil trailed both of the first two practice sessions, then improved to 36th in Happy Hour.  In qualifying, he secured the 43rd and final starting spot with an average speed of 194.963 mph.  Locked-in on Owner Points, this allowed Kvapil to bump from the field Ryan Truex, one of his replacements at BK Racing.  Truex was the only driver to miss the show after the withdrawal of last week’s last-place finisher Dave Blaney and the #77 Randy Humphrey Racing team.

On the very first lap of Sunday’s race, 10th-place starter Brian Vickers ran too high in Turn 4 and lost control, sending his car spinning to the inside.  The rest of the field took evasive action, including Kvapil, who clipped the infield grass as he ran to the inside.  Unfortunately for him, Vickers’ Toyota hooked left at the last second and the two collided, shearing all the sheet metal from the passenger side of Kvapil’s Ford.

While Vickers remained stopped on the apron, Kvapil made it to the garage area under his own power and crossed the start-finish line, putting Vickers in a position to finish last without completing a lap for the second time in two years.  However, both Vickers and Kvapil committed to returning to the track.  Vickers returned first, 83 laps down, with duct tape numbers on the door of his #55.  Kvapil returned to the track 112 laps down, just as Brett Moffitt brought out the sixth caution of the afternoon.  Mathematically unable to improve his position unless Vickers fell out, Kvapil pulled behind the wall after running just 22 more laps, ending his day.

Vickers finished under power in 42nd, narrowly averting his second last-place finish in three races despite three consecutive top-ten starts.  41st went to Kyle Busch, who ended up with his second Bottom Five since Dover after he broke a hub on an early restart.  In 40th was rookie Alex Bowman, whose struggles continued with a mid-race accident that made him only the second retiree from the race.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was David Stremme in the Circle Sport #33, his second Bottom Five in five starts this season.

Next week at the Sonoma Raceway, it is likely the #32 will be driven by Boris Said for the fourth straight year as Said’s longtime crew chief Frank Stoddard owns the team.

Speaking of which, this weekend at Sonoma, I will be reporting from the track as a credentialed media member!  Click here for the full details, including a special deal on my LASTCAR eBooks!

*This is the first last-place finish for the #32 in a Cup Series race since September 11, 2010, when the late Jason Leffler’s #32 Braun Racing Toyota fell out with brake problems after 30 laps of the Air Guard 400 at Richmond.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #32 at Michigan since August 21, 1994, when the late Dick Trickle’s #32 Active Trucking Chevrolet was involved in a huge opening-lap accident in Turn 1 during the GM Goodwrench Dealer 400.
*It is Kvapil’s first last-place finish in a Cup race at Michigan.

43) #32-Travis Kvapil / 23 laps / crash
42) #55-Brian Vickers / 110 laps / running
41) #18-Kyle Busch / 169 laps / running
40) #23-Alex Bowman / 169 laps / crash
39) #33-David Stremme / 195 laps / running

1st) Dave Blaney (2)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers (1)

1st) #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
2nd) #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Ford (6)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Chevrolet (4)

N’WIDE: Tim Schendel Trails First Nationwide Field Since His Series Debut

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Tim Schendel picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Saturday’s Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at the Michigan International Speedway when his unsponsored #87 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet fell out with engine problems without completing a lap of the 125-lap race.

The finish was Schendel’s first of the 2014 season and his first in the Nationwide Series since his series debut at Memphis on October 28, 2006 - 257 races ago.  That day, his #56 Power Equipment Company / Texpar Inc. Chevrolet crashed after 51 laps of the Sam’s Town 250.

Saturday’s race was the 23rd of Schendel’s career.  In six partial seasons on the tour, his best finish remains a 24th at Indianapolis Raceway Park on July 30, 2011, when he was driving for Jimmy Means.  The majority of Schendel’s starts came with Means that season, when he ran eleven races and finished 42nd in the season’s point standings.  On April 8 of that year, he made the highlight reel when a blown tire at Texas sent him into the wall, collecting 2nd-place driver Kyle Busch.

At Michigan, Schendel would make his second start of 2014 and his first since a 34th at Iowa, three races ago.  The car he would drive was owned by Rick Ware Racing, but his #87 has been fielded by two other teams this season: JD Motorsports, owned by Johnny Davis, and under the NEMCO banner of owner-driver Joe Nemechek.

Nemechek drove the #87 in four races, including its best finish of the season at Talladega, where he came home 6th.  In JD Motorsports’ seven other starts for the #87, the best finish was a 19th by Kevin Lepage at Darlington.  Rick Ware Racing picked up the remaining two starts: Chris Cockrum made his series debut at Charlotte in a backup car following a practice crash, then finished 35th.  Schendel would drive that same backup car (pictured) at Michigan.

Schendel qualified 38th for Saturday’s race at an average speed of just 124.297 mph to make the field based on owner points.  Though ranked 41st and last in the opening practice, he showed much more speed with a lap of 170.794 mph.

At the start of Saturday’s race, Schendel was the first to pull behind the wall without completing a lap.  Series veteran Kevin Lepage took his first turn of the season in TriStar Motorsports’ #10 Toyota and pulled out of the race after 3 laps, finishing 39th.  Tommy Joe Martins failed to qualify his #76, joining Morgan Shepherd and Matt DiBenedetto in The Motorsports Group’s #46, but started the race in teammate Benny Gordon’s #67 only to fall out after five laps.  Matt Carter put John Carter’s Nationwide Series team into its first race since 2012, then fell out after eight laps.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Charlotte last-place finisher Tanner Berryhill.

Jeff Green and Blake Koch, the current LASTCAR Nationwide Series leaders, both ran the full distance in TriStar’s other cars.  Green once again filled in for Eric McClure in the #14 Hefty Toyota and came home 23rd.  Koch climbed aboard the #44 Toyota and finished right behind Green in 24th.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #87 in a Nationwide Series race since March 5, 2011, when Kevin Conway’s NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet overheated after 2 laps of the Sam’s Town 300.  The number had never before finished last in a Natiowide race at Michigan.
*Schendel is the first Nationwide Series driver to finish last without completing a lap since last summer at Watkins Glen, when Mike Wallace was involved in an early crash.

40) #87-Tim Schendel / 0 laps / engine
39) #10-Kevin Lepage / 3 laps / vibration
38) #67-Tommy Joe Martins / 5 laps / engine
37) #72-Matt Carter / 8 laps / brakes
36) #17-Tanner Berryhill / 10 laps / vibration

1st) Blake Koch (6)
2nd) Jeff Green (3)
3rd) Tanner Berryhill, Ryan Ellis, Tim Schendel, Jimmy Weller (1)

1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (7)
2nd) #91-TriStar Motorsports (2)
3rd) #17-Vision Racing, #46-The Motorsports Group, #55-VIVA Motorsports / SS Green Light Racing, #87-Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)
3rd) Dodge (1)

TRUCKS: Justin Jennings Gives #63 First Truck Series Last-Place Finish Since 2006

SOURCE: Fox Sports 1,
Justin Jennings picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Drivin’ For Lineman 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park when his #63 LGSds / Mittler Bros. Machine / Ski Soda Chevrolet was involved in a hard single-truck crash after he completed 2 of the race’s 160 laps.  The finish came in Jennings’ 17th series start.

With the sole exception of last week’s run for Randy Young’s second team at Texas, Jennings has only driven for Mike Mittler, the only team owner to have entered at least one Truck Series race every season since its inception in 1995.  This season, he’s improved his career-best finish with a pair of 16th-place runs at Daytona and Kansas, and he entered the weekend a solid 15th in points.

The site of Saturday’s race was Gateway Motorsports Park, a track that had been off the NASCAR schedule since 2010  Thirty-two trucks showed up to qualify, the biggest field since Dover, but the fifth-straight short field for the series guaranteed all would start.

Jennings timed in 19th in the opening practice, 21st in the second, and 21st again in Happy Hour.  He stayed 21st in qualifying with a lap of 132.159 mph, where he would start for Saturday’s race.  It was a solid starting spot given that Jennings was one of at least a half-dozen drivers to run a truck with a pre-2014 body on it, giving him an aerodynamic disadvantage on the track’s long straights.

Just three laps into the race, Jennings tangled with Charles Lewandoski in Turn 4 and slapped the outside wall, then stopped abruptly against the inside retainer.  It was a hard hit, but he climbed out of the truck without serious injury.  During the ensuing caution, Caleb Roark parked the #0 Th Parkway Hotel / Grimes Irrigation & Construction Chevrolet owned by Jennifer Jo Cobb, followed the next lap by Lewandoski.  Adam Edwards, making his first Truck start since 2012, brought back Norm Benning’s second entry #75 and pulled out after 6 laps.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Kansas last-placer Scott Stenzel in the same Mittler-owned RAM Blake Koch trailed the field with at Dover.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #63 in a Truck Series race since July 8, 2006, when while driving for Mittler, Justin Allgaier’s #63 Dave Porter Truck Sales Ford was involved in a three-truck crash with Kraig Kinser and Wayne Edwards after 2 laps of the Built Ford Tough 225 at Kentucky.
*This marks the fourth-consecutive last-place finish by a Chevrolet in a Truck Series race at Gateway, joining Butch Miller (2008), John Jackson (2009), and Johnny Chapman (2010).
*Jennings is the fifth first-time Truck Series last-place finisher in seven races run so far in 2014.

32) #63-Justin Jennings / 2 laps / crash
31) #0-Caleb Roark / 3 laps / vibration
30) #42-Charles Lewandoski / 4 laps / vibration
29) #75-Adam Edwards / 6 laps / clutch
28) #36-Scott Stenzel / 22 laps / vibration

1st) Alex Guenette, Ryan Ellis, Justin Jennings, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski, Scott Stenzel, Jason White (1)

1st) #36-Mike Mittler (2)
2nd) #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb, #42-Randy Young, #63-Mike Mittler, #74-Mario Gosselin, #93-RSS Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) RAM (1)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Donlavey, Ellington, Negre, and DeWitt: A History of Four Single-Car Teams

Clockwise from top-left: Junie Donlavey, Hoss Ellington,
Ray DeWitt, and Ed Negre 
Wesley Christian Donlavey, Jr., better known as “Junie,” passed away Monday in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.  A veteran in every sense of the word - from his service for the U.S. Navy to his leadership of perhaps the most prolific single-car operation in NASCAR history - Donlavey lived to see 90, the number his Fords, Mercurys, and Chevrolets carried for 45 seasons.

Donlavey is the fourth former NASCAR team owner we have lost in the last twelve days, joining Hoss Ellington, Ray DeWitt, and Ed Negre.

As the news broke, I looked through my statistics, wondering what else these men had in common.  Donlavey, Ellington and Negre were all former drivers, and all ran teams which operated more than seventeen years each.  DeWitt entered cars for less than a decade, but in that time managed to be competitive in both the Cup and Nationwide Series.

What I feel contributed to the longevity of all four of their teams was how few last-place finishes each of received in that time.

It is well-known that Donlavey earned just one win.  Fresh off his successful Rookie of the Year campaign, short-tracker Jody Ridley took the checkered flag at Dover on May 17, 1981, outlasting Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnett in a dramatic finish.  What I was not aware of is that Donlavey’s cars finished last just 21 times in 863 starts.

Donlavey Racing’s first finish took place on July 4, 1958 when Emanuel Zervakis’ 1957 Chevrolet overheated after six laps at the one-mile Raleigh Speedway.  The next didn’t occur until 1971, when Bill Dennis’ Mercury broke the driveshaft at South Boston.  Donlavey’s team went full-time in the 1970s, and in that decade trailed just seven more fields.  His cars finished last in just three races in the 1980s, and in 1985 followed-up Ridley’s Rookie of the Year season with another for future veteran Ken Schrader.  When longtime sponsor Heilig-Meyers left the team in the late 1990s, Donlavey scaled back, but still ran as late as 2004, when Andy Hillenburg fell short of qualifying for the Daytona 500.

Like Donlavey, Raleigh, North Carolina’s Charles Everett “Hoss” Ellington developed young talent with his single-car race team.  Among his drivers were Kyle Petty, Sterling Marlin, and Dale Jarrett.  He also fielded cars for four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

After back-to-back last-place runs at Bowman Gray Stadium and Asheville-Weaverville Speedway in 1969, Ellington stepped out of the driver’s seat after 21 starts to become a full-time owner.  The result was a team that competed in 243 more races as late as 1988.  The team picked up five wins, all of which in the maroon Hawaiian Tropic-sponsored #1: four with Donnie Allison, who was one last-lap crash away from taking Ellington’s car to victory in the 1979 Daytona 500, and one with David Pearson - the 105th and final of “The Silver Fox’s” legendary career.

In those seventeen seasons, Ellington’s cars finished last just four times, each with a different driver.  Donnie Allison had electrical problems at Ontario in 1977.  Buddy Baker broke a flywheel after winning the pole at Darlington in 1982.  Lake Speed lost the engine on the opening lap of the historic 1984 Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Daytona.  And the late Davey Allison ended up with his first last-place finish at Atlanta in 1985 when the engine let go.  Both Speed and the younger Allison would go on to win their first races in the Cup Series.

If you saw the 55 car on the track in the early 1990s, there was a very good chance it was fielded by Ray DeWitt.  DeWitt began a partnership with longtime owner-driver D.K. Ulrich in 1990, looking to give USAC star Rich Vogler a chance to make his Cup Series debut.  However, following Vogler’s tragic death, the team returned in 1991 with future Truck Series champion Ted Musgrave, who narrowly lost Rookie of the Year to Bobby Hamilton.  Musgrave and what became RaDiUs Motorsports enjoyed moderate success for the next two seasons, but despite three 5th-place finishes, couldn’t quite find victory lane.

Other than the withdrawal of Vogler’s entry, it wasn’t until 1994, when Jimmy Hensley replaced Musgrave, that RaDiUs ever finished last in a Cup Series race.  That race was Michigan on June 19, where the #55 lost the engine after two laps.  However, by that point, DeWitt’s Nationwide Series team was starting to gain traction.  Current Cup Series spotter Tim Fedewa finished 10th in the 1994 standings, then jumped to 7th in 1995 after earning his lone series win at Nazareth.  In 106 Nationwide starts, the DeWitt team finished last just three times - all of them at Darlington.  Bobby Dotter finished last in one of the DeWitt team’s final starts in 1996.

Of this list, Kelso, Washington driver Ed Negre ranks the highest in the LASTCAR rankings, scoring ten last-place finishes to be tied for 15th-most in the Cup Series rankings.  Like Ellington, Negre ran as an owner-driver, but for much longer, competing in 338 starts over seventeen seasons between 1955 and 1979.

But as an owner, Negre’s cars finished last just two other times, both of which took place in 1975: Dean Dalton at Martinsville and Dick May at Dover.  The very next week after the Dover race, Negre put a then-unknown Dale Earnhardt in his #8 Dodge, resulting in a 22nd-place finish in the grueling World 600 at Charlotte.  Negre himself turned in a number of strong runs despite limited sponsorship.  Three of Negre’s four career top-five finishes occurred in his first three seasons on the tour during the west coast races at Portland and Eureka.  But as late as 1973, Negre still clawed his way into contention, finishing 5th at Nashville.  Negre’s team made its final start with fellow Mopar loyalist Buddy Arrington in 1981.

In all, Donlavey, Ellington, DeWitt, and Negre entered cars in more than 1,600 races, but finished last only 44 times between them.  In spite of running single-car operations with limited funding, all four still managed to fight for every position on the track, and as a result achieved the kind of longevity all teams still seek to accomplish.