Sunday, August 10, 2014

CUP: Cole Whitt’s Last-Place Finish Is First For #26 At The Glen Since 1995

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Cole Whitt picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen at Watkins Glen International when his #26 Bully Hill Vineyards Toyota was involved in a hard single-car crash after he completed 9 of the race’s 90 laps.  The finish came in Whitt’s 36th career start.

The 23-year-old native of Alpine, California is competing in his first full Cup Series season.  He climbed quickly from a full season in the K&N East Series in 2010, one in Trucks in 2011, and one in Nationwide in 2012, finishing top-ten in points each year.  Whitt made his Cup debut at Phoenix in the fall of 2011, looking to drive for Team Red Bull.  However, when the team collapsed, Whitt ran on a part-time basis for Stacy Compton and Joe Falk in 2012 before joining Swan Racing in late 2013.

A single-car effort at the time, Swan Racing had grown steadily from its roots as the start-up Inception Motorsports in 2011.  Veteran driver David Stremme helped transition the team into a full-season effort, following a transition from Chevrolet to Toyota and ownership to Brandon Davis.  However, at the start of the 2013 Chase, Stremme was released so Whitt could share the ride with Kevin Swindell and Parker Kligerman.  Whitt’s best finish of 27th at Dover fell short of Kligerman’s best of 18th at Texas, but both were signed for the team’s expansion to two cars in 2014 - Kligerman in the #30 and Whitt in the new #26.

Unfortunately, a combination of sponsorship troubles and a series of costly crashes forced Swan Racing to shut down heading into Richmond, leaving Kligerman without a ride.  Whitt’s #26 was absorbed by the two-car team BK Racing, a team itself formed from the shutdown of Team Red Bull.  To date, Whitt has yet to improve on his career-best finish of 18th in Swan’s car at Fontana earlier this year.  However, he had failed to finish just two Cup races in 2014 - both due to late-race crashes at Daytona.

Since the Swan-BK merger, Whitt’s car has run nine different primary sponsors.  For Watkins Glen, he carried the bright gold and purple shades of local restaurant Bully Hill Vineyards, a fixture at The Glen since road course specialist Ron Fellows carried the colors in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Whitt turned in the 35th-fastest speed in Friday’s first practice, improved to 26th in Happy Hour at the end of his last run, then jumped to 18th in qualifying with a lap of 127.715 mph.  The lap made Whitt the second-fastest rookie in the field, trailing only 15th-place Justin Allgiaer, and was his best Cup start since his career-best 17th at Daytona last month.

In the race itself, the 43rd spot on the grid belonged to Danica Patrick, who was having a particularly frustrating weekend.  In the opening practice, Patrick lost the engine, forcing her to start in the back regardless of her timed run.  Then, with less than three minutes left in Happy Hour, she cut a tire and slammed the Turn 9 wall, sending her to a backup which was the slowest car in qualifying.  By the chicane on the first lap, however, she had passed a handful of cars along with Regan Smith, the last-minute replacement of the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing entry following Stewart’s withdrawal after the tragic accident of the night before.

Slipping to 43rd after the moves by Patrick and Smith was Joe Nemechek, making his first Cup start at Watkins Glen in two years.  Then on Lap 4, Nemechek and his #66 Land Castle Title Toyota suddenly found themselves ahead of Kevin Harvick, forced to pit on Lap 4 for bean bags the crew mistakenly left in his #4 after pre-race inspection.  Justin Allgaier pitted with Harvick, putting the two in the final two spots.  The first car to lose a lap, however, was Paul Menard, who on Lap 5 went behind the wall after a lengthy stop for an early brake issue.

Menard’s crew was just finishing repairs when the first caution of the afternoon fell on Lap 10.  Whitt, running 19th at the time, suffered either a brake or throttle failure (or the combination of both) and completely missed the first corner.  His #26 shot off the track, then plowed head-on into the tire barrier separating the track from the grandstands.  Whitt climbed out unhurt, but his half-buried Toyota was done for the afternoon.  Menard returned to the track under the caution, dropping Whitt to last by the restart.

The remainder of the race was a slugfest, featuring several changes in the Bottom Five.  First Kyle Busch, then Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski spent time behind the wall, but all three returned to the track.  Busch suffered the biggest setback of the three.  Frustrated by a pit miscue for taking his gas can out of his stall, he banged doors with Martin Truex, Jr. in Turn 9, forcing more than twenty laps of repairs.  When Busch returned to the race in 42nd, a frightening crash on Lap 56 between Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell forced a nearly 90-minute red flag.  Busch managed to pass Newman and McDowell, but not Ryan Truex, whose #83 Burger King Toyota suffered a suspension failure in the closing laps.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #26 in a Cup race since October 7, 2012, when Josh Wise’s MDS Transport Ford overheated after 5 laps of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega.  It is the first last-place finish for the #26 in a Cup race at Watkins Glen since 1995, when Hut Stricklin’s Quaker State Ford broke a valve after 20 laps.
*This is the second-straight last-place finish for BK Racing at Watkins Glen.  Last year, David Reutimann’s #83 Burger King Toyota lost the engine after four laps.

43) #26-Cole Whitt / 9 laps / crash
42) #95-Michael McDowell / 55 laps / crash
41) #31-Ryan Newman / 55 laps / crash
40) #18-Kyle Busch / 69 laps / running
39) #83-Ryan Truex / 69 laps / suspension

1st) Dave Blaney (2)
2nd) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Mike Bliss, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers, Cole Whitt (1)

1st) #77-Randy Humphrey Racing, #93-BK Racing (2)
2nd) #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #26-BK 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, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Ford (7)
3rd) Chevrolet (6)


Ignacio Rodríguez said...

Changing the subject. What is your opinion about what happened to Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr.?

Brock Beard said...

To be honest, I don't feel comfortable offering opinions or conclusions about what happened on Saturday. I am encouraged by what I have heard thus far pointing to it being an accident. But I'll leave the investigating to the investigators. More than anything, I feel awful for both the Ward family and for Stewart because this really is a tragedy for both of them.