Sunday, October 12, 2014

N’WIDE: Opening-Lap Pileup Gives Jeffrey Earnhardt First Last-Place Finish

SOURCE: Terry Renna, AP
Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Friday’s Drive for the Cure 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #4 Flex Seal Chevrolet was involved in a grinding 11-car pileup just seconds after the green flag, preventing him from completing a any of the race’s 200 laps.  The finish came in Earnhardt’s 57th series start.

Jeffrey, the 25-year-old son of Kerry Earnhardt, came into the Charlotte race near the end of his first full season in Nationwide Series competition.  Following two seasons in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with a career-best 5th-place ranking in the 2007 standings, Earnhardt made his Nationwide debut at Watkins Glen in 2009, driving the #40 for what is now The Motorsports Group to a 24th-place finish.  After three partial seasons with Rick Ware Racing and Go Green Racing, Earnhardt signed with another veteran organization - Johnny Davis’ JD Motorsports - for the full 2014 campaign.  JD’s lineup would include Cup regular Landon Cassill in the #01 and a part-time third entry, #87, shared with NEMCO Motorsports and Rick Ware.

This season, Earnhardt improved on his career-best finish of 16th at Talladega in 2013 with a 12th-place run at Bristol in August, but six DNFs in the first 29 races held him to 18th in points with an average finish of 25.7.  He looked to improve at the Charlotte track, where he’d come home 25th in the spring.

Earnhardt timed in 28th in Thursday’s opening practice, then slipped to 31st in Happy Hour.  He picked up a couple more spots in qualifying, improving to the 29th spot on the grid with an average speed of 174.622 mph.  Though he was a locked-in driver, it was a competitive qualifying session behind him as 45 drivers showed up for 40 spots, leaving two team cars and three single-car teams on the DNQ list, including Morgan Shepherd and Mike Harmon.

When the green flag flew on Friday’s race, however, 13th-place starter Chris Buescher lost traction on his #60 Ford in the quad-oval, causing Mike Bliss to check-up in the unsponsored #19 TriStar Motorsports Toyota.  As the field accordioned behind them, Earnhardt rear-ended the #28 Texas 28 Spirits Stage Dodge, turning Yeley directly into the path of oncoming traffic.  As the field piled-up behind him, Earnhardt clipped the infield grass and spun backwards into the inside retaining wall, where it stayed under the caution.  Earnhardt was uninjured, but his car couldn’t get out of the grass.  After a tow to the garage, he was done for the night.

The remainder of the Bottom Five consisted entirely of the other four drivers most seriously damaged in the opening-lap wreck.  39th-place went to Yeley, who like Earnhardt, had to be towed to the garage and did not complete the opening lap.  38th-place Will Kimmel suffered extensive nose damage to his #44 Ingersoll-Rand Toyota, ending his fifth start of the year for TriStar Motorsports.  37th went to Tanner Berryhill, who after losing his Dodge to a wreck at Dover had originally planned to drive the renumbered blue-and-gold #13 Dodge entered by Carl Long.  However, Vision Racing completed work on Berryhill’s brand-new Toyota just in time for Happy Hour - only to have its front valence crunched in the pile-up.  36th went to The Motorsports Group’s Matt DiBenedetto, debuting a new white-and-blue paint job on the #40.  DiBenedetto suffered nose and hood damage to his Chevrolet, the only TMG car in the field after the DNQ of Ryan Ellis in the #46.

Six other drivers were involved in the wreck, but all of those drivers continued to run the race.

The crash also proved crucial to the LASTCAR Championship prospects of Jeff Green.  The all-time last-place leader finished 35th on Friday in TriStar’s #91 - just outside the bottom five.  Now, with three races to go, teammate Blake Koch holds both a two-finish lead in the standings and is ahead of Green in bottom-fives 16-12.  Unable to surpass Koch in bottom-fives, Green cannot win a tiebreaker with Koch.  This means for Green to claim the 2014 title, he must finish last in all three remaining races (Texas, Phoenix, Homestead).  A single last-place finish by anyone else will end Green’s three-year reign, whether or not Koch runs any more Nationwide races this season.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #4 in a Nationwide Series race in exactly six years, dating back to this very Charlotte race on October 10, 2008.  That night, in the Dollar General 300, Derrike Cope trailed the field when his #4 JVC / ALLINENERGY.COM Chevrolet, fielded by Jay Robinson Racing, broke the suspension after 3 laps.
*Earnhardt is the first Nationwide driver to finish last at Charlotte without completing a lap since Angela Cope, one of Derrike’s twin nieces, did in the 2012 running.

40) #4-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 0 laps / crash
39) #28-J.J. Yeley / 0 laps / crash
38) #44-Will Kimmel / 1 lap / crash
37) #17-Tanner Berryhill / 1 lap / crash
36) #40-Matt DiBenedetto / 1 lap / crash

1st) Blake Koch (8)
2nd) Jeff Green (6)
3rd) Kevin Lepage (3)
4th) Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Ellis (2)
5th) Tanner Berryhill, Milka Duno, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Matt Frahm, Roger Reuse, Robert Richardson, Jr., Tim Schendel, Jimmy Weller, Josh Wise (1)

1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (11)
2nd) #46-The Motorsports Group (6)
3rd) #91-TriStar Motorsports (3)
4th) #74-Mike Harmon Racing (2)
5th) #4-JD Motorsports, #17-Vision Racing, #23-R3 Motorsports, #29-RAB Racing, #55-VIVA Motorsports / SS Green Light Racing, #77-Mike Harmon Racing, #87-Rick Ware Racing, #93-JGL Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (15)
2nd) Chevrolet (10)
3rd) Dodge (5)

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