Sunday, October 19, 2014

CUP: Alex Bowman Scores First Last-Place Finish at Talladega

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Alex Bowman picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #23 Dustless Blasting Toyota was involved in a ten-car pileup that ended his race after 102 of the 194 laps.  The finish came in Bowman’s 32nd series start.

Bowman, a 21-year-old rookie from Tucson, Arizona, has risen rapidly through the stock car racing ranks.  In 2010, Bowman finished 8th in his X-1R Pro Cup Series debut at the venerable North Wilkesboro Speedway.  In 2011, he won his first two ARCA starts at Madison International Speedway and Kansas Speedway, paving the way to a 4th-place finish in the 2012 ARCA standings and 6th in that year’s K&N Pro Series East.  This led to Bowman’s Nationwide Series debut driving at Chicago in late 2012, where he finished 17th.

In 2013, Bowman attempted his first full season in Nationwide competition driving for Robby Benton and the familiar RAB Racing team.  The pair showed promise early with a 3rd-place finish in the crash-marred Daytona opener, his first pole at Texas, and two Top Fives and six Top Tens.  Despite being released by RAB prior to the Homestead finale, Bowman failed to finish just one race all year - an early engine problem at Atlanta - and came home 11th in the standings.  His performance was rewarded with an opportunity to move to the Cup Series this season, joining fellow rookie Ryan Truex at BK Racing in the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota.

This year, however, Bowman has struggled to make the adjustment.  After racing his way into the Daytona 500 and coming home 23rd, he’s finished better than that only two other times in thirty-one starts with a season-best 13th in the series’ return to Daytona in July.  35th in points coming into Talladega, and with Truex out of the #83 since last month at Loudon, Bowman and team looked for a turnaround at the superspeedway.

Carrying sponsorship from Dustless Blasting, which last ran on the car at Watkins Glen, Bowman was just 43rd-fastest of the 46 cars in the opening practice and did not participate in Happy Hour.  Qualifying, however, worked in Bowman’s favor.

As several drivers tried to play the clock and wait until the last minute to make a run, Bowman turned in the 17th-fastest time in Round 1, moving him on to Round 2, where he qualified a season-best 14th at an average speed of 193.376 mph.  Several other teams waited too long and failed to complete more than a warm-up lap, putting five Chase drivers in the back and sending home full-timers Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Justin Allgaier.  Reed Sorenson, also out in the initial cut, later made the field when RAB Racing lost their first Cup starting spot when the time for Joe Nemechek’s #29 Toyota was withdrawn for a technical infraction.

In the race itself, a handful of drivers were sent to the back for unapproved adjustments, moving Jeff Gordon up from only the second 43rd-place starting spot in his entire career.  By the first corner of the race, the 43rd spot went to Mike Wallace, who had put the #49 Royal Teak Collection Toyota into the 23rd spot.  Wallace’s first Talladega Cup race since 2008 came with the same Jay Robinson-owned Identity Ventures Racing that has fielded the #66 for much of this season, the car renumbered to #49 in part due to Michael Waltrip running the #66 on Sunday.

Wallace pulled behind the wall after just one lap, but concerns over a possible “start-and-park” went away when he returned on Lap 9, eight laps down.  Wallace remained in the 43rd spot for most of the afternoon and was the only car off the lead lap until Lap 61, when Terry Labonte was lapped seconds before a six-car accident dropped Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, and Michael McDowell one lap back.

Then, heading onto the backstretch on Lap 102, contact from Aric Almirola sent J.J. Yeley’s #83 Burger King / Dr. Pepper Toyota hard into the outside wall, triggering a ten-car wreck.  As the rest of the field slowed, Chase competitor Kyle Busch was turned into the path of A.J. Allmendinger, collecting Bowman’s Toyota in the process.  Both Busch and Bowman made hard contact with the inside wall in what would be just the second caution of the afternoon.  Busch, Bowman, and Yeley fell to the final three spots on Lap 112 with Busch in 43rd - potentially headed for his first last-place finish since Dover in the fall of 2008.

Trying to keep Busch in the Chase, the Joe Gibbs Racing team banded together and got Busch back on the track with just 37 laps to go.  By completing a single lap, Bowman and Yeley fell to the final two spots.  Busch climbed no higher than 40th and missed the Chase cutoff by seven points.  Finishing between them was McDowell, whose #95 Jordan Truck Sales Ford was finished off in a hard slam into the Turn 4 wall after an apparent cut right-front tire.  Almirola, also involved in the Busch accident, rounded out the Bottom Five.

Talladega also saw several underdogs turn in great finishes.  In his 147th series start, Landon Cassill ran near the front all day and finished a career-best 4th in Hillman Racing’s #40 Chevrolet.  The run bested Cassill’s previous mark of 11th in the spring race at the Talladega track.  7th went to Travis Kvapil, Cassill’s teammate in an unsponsored #33 Circle Sport Chevrolet.  The finish tied Kvapil’s career-best 6th-place run at the same track in the spring of 2008, when he was driving the #28 Northern Tool & Equipment Ford for Yates Racing.  Rounding out the Top 10 was Casey Mears, running the title sponsor’s #13 GEICO Chevrolet to his fourth-straight Top-15 finish in the season’s four plate races.

Finishing 33rd on Sunday in the #32 C&J Energy Services Ford was Terry Labonte, who ran his 890th and, as confirmed through numerous sources, final Cup Series start.  In those nearly 900 starts dating back to 1978, Labonte won 22 races and two championships in 1984 and 1996.  In his Cup career, he finished last in just 12 points-paying races.  The first came at Riverside’s season-opener in 1979 and the last at Chicagoland in the summer of 2006.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #23 in a Cup Series race since August 5, 2012 when Scott Riggs’ North Texas Pipe Chevrolet fell out with brake problems after 9 laps of the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono.  It’s also the first last-place finish for the number in a Cup race at Talladega.
*With this race, all four of BK Racing’s teams (#23, #26, #83, #93) have each finished last at least once in 2014.

43) #23-Alex Bowman / 102 laps / crash
42) #83-J.J. Yeley / 102 laps / crash
41) #95-Michael McDowell / 127 laps / crash
40) #18-Kyle Busch / 145 laps / running
39) #43-Aric Almirola / 166 laps / running

1st) Mike Bliss (4)
2nd) Dave Blaney (3)
3rd) Clint Bowyer, Timmy Hill (2)
4th) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, 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) #37-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #93-BK Racing (4)
2nd) #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
3rd) #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #23-BK 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, #44-Team XTREME Racing, #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 (13)
2nd) Chevrolet (12)
3rd) Ford (7)

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