Sunday, September 21, 2014

CUP: Clay Rogers’ Cup Debut Ends Early At Loudon

Clay Rogers picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway when his #93 Iowa City Capital Partners Toyota fell out with overheating problems after he completed 45 of the race’s 303 laps.  The finish came in Rogers’ series debut.

Rogers is the fourth different driver this season to trail a Cup field in the #93 BK Racing entry, joining Mike Bliss (Loudon in July), Johnny Sauter (Pocono in August), and J.J. Yeley (Richmond in September).  The team now takes a one-finish lead in the LASTCAR Cup Series Owner’s Championship over the #37 Tommy Baldwin Racing entry, which did not compete Sunday.

Sunday was Rogers’ first Cup start, but not his first in NASCAR.  The 33-year-old from Mooresville, North Carolina excels at the short tracks.  He’s competed in the X-1R Pro Cup Series since the age of 18, scoring 36 wins and five championships in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2013.  He’s also the 2006 winner of the Snowball Derby.

At Rockingham in 2001, Rogers finished 18th in his first NASCAR start - the Nationwide Series race at Rockingham - driving the Robbie Reiser-owned car previously driven by Matt Kenseth.  Late that season, he’d improve to a career-best 12th at Memphis.

When Reiser turned his attention to Kenseth’s Cup career, Rogers branched out into ARCA and the Camping World Truck Series.  In 36 Truck starts, he’s scored two top-fives and three top-tens, including a career-best 3rd in the 2011 race at Daytona.  And in just thirteen ARCA starts, Rogers has scored two top-five finishes and four top-tens, including a career-best 4th at Iowa in his most recent start in 2012.

More than half of Rogers’ ARCA starts have come driving for longtime car owner Mark Beard, who had also entered a handful of Nationwide Series races from 1982 through 1991.  This year, Rogers and Beard teamed up once more with designs on entering a white #75 Beard Oil Chevrolet the Sprint Cup Series.  The team’s first race was supposed to be Loudon in July, but the team withdrew before qualifying.  They returned to the track at Richmond earlier this month, but came just three spots shy of bumping their way into the field.

Surprisingly, neither Rogers nor the #75 team were on the preliminary entry list for NASCAR’s return to Loudon.  However, by Tuesday, a shake-up at BK Racing presented another opportunity.  Struggling rookie Ryan Truex, the original driver of BK’s #83 Burger King Toyota, was replaced by Travis Kvapil, originally slated to run BK’s “start-and-park” #93.  With the #93 ride freed-up, Rogers was announced as the replacement.  And with only 43 cars showing up for 43 spots, Rogers would this time be guaranteed his first Sprint Cup start.

Rogers turned in the 37th-fastest time in the opening practice, then timed in 33rd with an average speed of 136.560 mph.  He was the only driver to not participate in Saturday’s opening practice, but returned to the track in Happy Hour to put up the 38th-fastest time.

On Sunday, Timmy Hill started last in Frankie Stoddard’s #32 U.S. Chrome Ford, and was making his first Cup start since the July race at the New Hampshire track.  Two laps later, Hill was passed by the flat white #66 Royal Teak Collection Toyota of Mike Wallace, who was making his first Cup start since this same race in 2009.  On the 16th circuit, Wallace was the first driver to be lapped.

Hill again took the last spot when the competition caution on Lap 36, then after pit stops lost it to Corey LaJoie.  LaJoie, son of two-time Nationwide champion Randy LaJoie, was also making his Cup debut.  He drove the #77 Fochler Veterans Law Ford owned by Randy Humphrey, whose team was making just its third start since suspending operations in June.  Hill briefly retook 43rd on the restart before Rogers pulled behind the wall on Lap 44.

The remainder of the Bottom Five shuffled for much of the remainder of the race.  On Lap 94, LaJoie’s Ford pulled behind the wall after trailing smoke in Turn 3.  Around twenty laps later, David Stremme’s black #33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevrolet had a similar problem and crept onto the access road entering the same corner.  Both returned to the track 102 and 74 laps down, respectively - just in time for a series of late-race wrecks involving Chase contenders.

Finishing 42nd was David Ragan, who snared the spot from LaJoie with just twenty laps to go.  On Lap 181, Ragan was involved in a four-car accident that steered his #34 Taco Bell Ford head-on into the outside wall before being tagged by the lapped machine of Denny Hamlin.  Hamlin, himself as low as 41st after a broken fuel probe, had clawed his way to 36th before slipping back to 39th.  Hamlin ended up 37th at the checkers, passing Cole Whitt, damaged in the Ragan wreck, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., involved in two tangles in the final 100 laps, the last being a hard shot to the Turn 1 wall after a cut right-front tire.  LaJoie and Stremme finished between Stenhouse and Ragan, completing the Bottom Five.  LaJoie brought out the eleventh caution on Lap 258 when he spun in Turn 2, but still finished under power.

*The BK Racing #93 team swept both last-place finishes at Loudon in 2014 - the first team to sweep a track this season.  This has not happened since 2011, when Jeff Green and Travis Kvapil finished last at Loudon driving Front Row Motorsports’ #55 Ford.
*Rogers is the first driver to finish last at Loudon due to overheating problems since September 20, 2009, when Tony Raines’ #37 Long John Silvers Dodge fell out after 8 laps.

43) #93-Clay Rogers / 45 laps / overheating
42) #34-David Ragan / 177 laps / crash
41) #77-Corey LaJoie / 201 laps / running
40) #33-David Stremme / 228 laps / running
39) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 263 laps / crash

1st) Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss (3)
2nd) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Clay Rogers, Johnny Sauter, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers, Cole Whitt, J.J. Yeley (1)

1st) #93-BK Racing (4)
2nd) #37-Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
4th) #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, #42-Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, #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 (11)
2nd) Chevrolet (10)
3rd) Ford (7)

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