The finish is Bliss’ first of the 2014 season and his first since this exact race last year, 36 races ago. It is also Bliss’ 20th last-place finish across NASCAR’s top three divisions, giving him sole possession of the record for 9th-most all-time.
The 2013 running of the 301-miler was Bliss’ final start in the unsponsored #19 Toyota fielded by Humphrey-Smith Racing. The team was co-owned by Mark Smith, owner TriStar Motorsports, which fielded the same number for Bliss in the Nationwide Series, and Randy Humphrey. The car qualified for 15 of the season’s first 22 races, but finished under power just once - the season-best 29th by Alex Kennedy at Watkins Glen.
After three DNQs and a withdrawal at Chicago, Humphrey-Smith Racing ceased operations, surrendering the LASTCAR title to Phil Parsons Racing and driver Michael McDowell. Humphrey then prepared to start his own team in 2014 with Dave Blaney behind the wheel of the #77. Bliss, meanwhile, finished out his third consecutive season with TriStar in the Nationwide Series and prepared for a fourth in 2014.
Coming into last week’s race, Bliss had not started a Cup Series race since last fall at Atlanta, when he drove the #51 Phoenix Racing entry in relief of Bobby Labonte, the Texan driver injured in a bicycling accident. However, his performances in the Nationwide Series have continued to improve with ten finishes inside the Top 20 in seventeen starts, including a season-best 10th at Road America.
One week after the Road America race, only 42 cars were entered for the Cup Series race at Kentucky. Among them were three rookie drivers all fielded by BK Racing - Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, and Cole Whitt, the latter acquired from the collapse of Swan Racing heading into Richmond. With the threat of the first short field since 2001, BK entered a fourth car in Kentucky - one of Bowman’s backup cars with #93 decals from 2013 applied in place of the rookie driver’s #23. Bliss, tabbed to drive the car, still found himself in a short field after the subsequent withdrawal of Xxxtreme Motorsports and their #44 of J.J. Yeley. Bliss finished 41st of 42 at Kentucky, pulling out three laps after Denny Hamlin’s race-ending crash.
At Loudon, the #44 withdrew once more, joining Clay Rogers, who was looking to make his Cup Series debut in his family-owned #75 Beard Oil Chevrolet. Once again, BK re-entered Bliss and the #93, and this time kept the field at 43 cars. After running 41st-fastest in the opening practice, Bliss timed in 41st for Sunday’s field at an average speed of 130.779 mph. He did not turn a lap in either of Saturday’s two practice sessions.
Tire problems marred the weekend with both Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson struggling with left-rear tire issues. Johnson’s sent him to pit road for an unscheduled stop on Lap 7, dropping him a lap down after starting on the outside-pole. At the moment Johnson pulled back on track, the cameras caught Bliss making the hard left-hand turn into the garage area, his day done. His exit was timely for Johnson, who five laps later exploded a left-rear tire and collided with the wall in Turn 1, leaving him with his second-consecutive 42nd-place finish. Johnson is still without a last-place finish in 454 Cup starts.
Finishing 41st on Sunday was Timmy Hill, making his fifth start of 2014 and his first since his season-best 36th at Pocono, five races ago. Hill drove the #87 fielded by Identity Ventures Racing (formerly NEMCO Motorsports / NEMCO-JRR), a car that hadn’t been fielded in a Cup race since Las Vegas in March. At Loudon, as at Las Vegas, Jeff Burton drove the #66 for IVR, yet team owner Joe Nemechek was noticeably absent from both the Cup and Nationwide fields - perhaps due to his son’s competing in the weekend’s Truck Series race at Iowa. Hill struggled early before electrical issues ended his day just short of the one-third mark.
Rounding out the Bottom Five were Joey Logano and Morgan Shepherd, both involved in a controversial accident in the closing stages. Shepherd, making his first start for Circle Sport in the #33 Thunder Coal Chevrolet, successfully extended his record from Phoenix in March as the oldest driver to start a Cup Series race at age 72 years, 9 months, and 1 day. Unfortunately, Shepherd struggled to find speed in practice and qualifying, and he lost a lap early on Sunday. On Lap 212, just after letting 2nd-place Joey Logano by to his outside entering Turn 3, Shepherd lost control and collided with Logano, sending the #22 into the outside wall. It was Logano’s second wreck of the weekend, following a practice crash on Friday. In a post-wreck interview, Logano expressed frustration about Shepherd’s speed. Shepherd did, however, maintain minimum speed, and finished under power, 27 laps down, at the finish.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #93 in a Cup Series race since August 26, 2000, when Dave Blaney’s Amoco Pontiac crashed after 49 laps of the goracing.com 500 at Bristol. It is the second for BK Racing this season, joining Ryan Truex’s last-place run at Kansas, eight races ago.
*This is the first time a Cup Series last-place finisher was listed as out due to “electrical” issues since the 2012 Ford 400, the season finale at Homestead, which Bliss himself exited after 19 laps while driving Mark Smith’s #19 Plinker Tactical Toyota.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #93-Mike Bliss / 6 laps / electrical
42) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 11 laps / crash
41) #87-Timmy Hill / 76 laps / electrical
40) #22-Joey Logano / 211 laps / crash / led 3 laps
39) #33-Morgan Shepherd / 278 laps / running
LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Dave Blaney (2)
2nd) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Mike Bliss, 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)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
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, #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-Identity Ventures Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #93-BK Racing, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (7)
2nd) Chevrolet, Ford (6)