Monday, December 28, 2015

OPINION: How To Fix The Sprint Cup Schedule

A New NASCAR Sprint Cup Schedule
(click for larger size)
Last October, NASCAR entered into a contract with 23 tracks to host Sprint Cup races for the next five years, matching similar agreements for the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series.  Among other reasons for the agreement is to make it easier to set future schedules.  However, with the 2016 series set without any significant changes, NASCAR has still failed to fix one central problem with its schedule: tracks which have two Cup Series dates.

The problem has its roots in NASCAR’s modern era, which began in 1972 when the sanctioning body eliminated all dirt track races and set a minimum distance requirement of 250 miles for events run on ovals.  This cut the schedule from what in 1964 had been a 64-race series over 363 days to 31 races with a brief winter off-season.  Just 17 tracks remained on the 1972 Winston Cup schedule with 14 of them hosting more than one race.  Eight of those 14 tracks still host two Cup dates today: Bristol, Charlotte, Daytona, Dover, Martinsville, Michigan, Richmond, and Talladega.  When combined with the additional second races at Kansas, Loudon, Phoenix, Pocono, and Texas, the current 2016 Sprint Cup schedule is 13 weeks longer than if each track had just one date.

At the peak of NASCAR’s popularity in the early 1990s, it made sense to keep these second dates.  The sport left North Wikesboro and Rockingham for new venues in Las Vegas and Fontana while the seating capacity at fan favorites like Bristol increased by the thousands.  Fans on television and at the track couldn’t get enough, so supply met demand.  But as today’s empty grandstands make obvious, we don’t live in that time anymore.  Charlotte bulldozed its derelict Turn 2 stands in lieu of RV parking, and Daytona did the same along its once-crowded Superstretch.  Dover and Martinsville have more than half their grandstands covered by advertising banners.  Yet, even now, all four tracks still hold two dates, and are still struggling at the ticket counter.  Even now, tracks like Las Vegas are trying to get second dates of their own.  It’s a load the sport can no longer bear.

NASCAR’s Chase format, whose creation has popularly been blamed on Matt Kenseth’s dominating 2003 season, has in reality been an attempt to reduce the effects of NASCAR’s bloated schedule.  Eight of the 13 extra races are in the Chase, not including the championship cut-off round at Richmond.  Thus, viewers complaints about the Chase are also complaints about second races at Cup tracks.  What NASCAR has failed to understand is that, for television viewers, these races are essentially rematches of races run earlier in the year.  We’ve seen them already - we want to see something new.  Even for the most hardcore fans, listening to NBC try and come up with new superlatives for Pocono just weeks after FOX did the same isn’t nearly as interesting as the opening weeks of the NFL.  NASCAR should know this.  In reality, they never decided to take on the NFL - second race dates held since 1972 forced them to, and try as they have, it’s a battle they just can’t win.

NASCAR needs to follow-up its agreement with the tracks with a long-overdue mandate to ensure the survival of the sport.  Each track gets one Sprint Cup date.  Period.  No exceptions, ever.

How should this be enforced?  Simple.

Begin by eliminating the Chase.  Forget about Chase Races, the names of the elimination rounds, all of that.  Look at the current schedule as 36 races.  Then you start by getting rid of the duplicate races in September, October, and November, when the weather’s worst and the Air Titan spends the most time on the track: Richmond and Loudon (September), Dover, Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, and Martinsville (October), Texas and Phoenix (November).  Then you work your way up to the July race at Pocono and the August race at Michigan, races which for decades have held up two summer dates just days apart.  Get rid of the rain-plagued spring race at Bristol and keep the iconic night race in the summer.  Just like that, you’re left with thirteen open weekends added to the offseason.  Move Chicagoland back to Pocono’s July date and make the Homestead finale on Richmond’s Saturday night, one week after Labor Day at the Southern 500.  Using the 2016 schedule, that makes a 23-race championship at 23 races with three off-weekends and the season finale the night before NFL Week 1 in September.

This change is dramatic, but it doesn’t eliminate a single track on the circuit and instead creates a more traditional racing schedule where each and every event takes place at a different facility - much like Formula One.  It thus becomes much easier for broadcasters, track officials, and journalists to talk about each round’s unique traits while creating a season that isn’t so long that it exhausts any of them.  Drivers get the variety of venues they seek and without the need for a Chase format can actually vie for a full-season championship.  New fans can be attracted by each track’s unique character without taxing the patience of longtime fans.

With one date per track, it would also be easier to move races.  Atlanta can leave its frozen February date for one of the openings in the summer, perhaps as a night race.  Indianapolis’ sweltering July date can be moved as well, perhaps to the spring.  The open July 4 weekend from no second Daytona race can become the new home of the fireworks of the Bristol Night Race.  The current West Coast Swing can remain intact for the cold-weather days following the season-opening Daytona 500.  And new venues can be added during the February to September swing - with none of them having to contend with the NFL or the awful weather in the fall.  My personal hope is that NASCAR reconciles with the folks in Montreal to give us a Cup race on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

There are also several opportunities to create new traditions and bring back old ones.  By not eliminating the Daytona 500, the spring race at Talladega, the Coca-Cola 600, or the Southern 500, Sprint or its partners can bring back the Winston (Sprintston?) Million.  The All-Star Race doesn’t have to have a weekend of its own and can take place as part of the 600 weekend, perhaps the previous Friday.  My personal suggestion is to run the All-Star Race in its current format on the dirt track next to Charlotte Motor Speedway, a callback to NASCAR’s first-ever race at a different dirt track in the Charlotte area in 1949.

All of this sounds like fantasy and exaggeration, but with a little bit of selflessness on the part of track officials and NASCAR, perhaps a schedule like this which efficiently features the strengths of each of its venues can help the sport and be applied to the XFINITY and Truck Series.

Monday, November 23, 2015

CUP EXTRA: 1993 LASTCAR Champion Jeff Gordon Retires With Six Last-Place Finishes

SOURCE: ESPN
Sunday saw the 797th and final Cup start for Jeff Gordon, who came home 3rd in the championship after a late rally lifted him to 6th on the track.  Gordon retires with six last-place finishes in NASCAR’s top three divisions.  Looking at the circumstances of these finishes offers an intriguing view of how quickly he adjusted to stock car racing, and to the dedication of his team to get him back on track when things went sideways.

Gordon’s first last-place finish came on April 13, 1991, in his eighth career XFINITY Series start at Bristol.  Just 22 laps into the Budweiser 250, Gordon’s #1 Carolina Ford Dealers Ford lost an engine, taking him out of the race.  It was to be Gordon’s only last-place finish outside of Cup.  Much like Gordon’s debut in the Cup Series the next year, this race also saw a changing of the guard.  Three-time Sportsman champion and two-time XFINITY champion Jack Ingram failed to qualify for the second time that season and would ultimately retire from the tour at season’s end.

Gordon’s next two last-place finishes came during his first full rookie season in Cup in 1993, and both were due to early crashes at the series’ two trips to North Wilkesboro Speedway.  In the First Union 400 on April 18, Gordon’s rainbow-hued #24 DuPont Auto Finishes Chevrolet caught fire after backing into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 26.  Then, during the Tyson / Holly Farms 400 on October 3, his 16th-place car was damaged in a seven-car opening-lap crash when the outside lane failed to get going on the green flag.  Gordon parked the car with handling woes after running a quarter distance.  Gordon got his revenge in 1996, winning the final Cup race yet run at the North Carolina short track.

The next last-place run didn’t happen until the PRIMESTAR 500 on March 9, 1997, during the final race run on the Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 1.522-mile true oval configuration.  Gordon lasted just 59 laps into the site of his first Cup start before the engine let go.  It was to be the first of only two DNFs in an otherwise dominant 10-win season.  When he returned to the Atlanta track for its reconfiguration in the fall, he again struggled to finish 17th, but still walked away with his second Winston Cup.

The final two last-place finishes of Gordon’s career came at the Texas Motor Speedway, a track that vexed the champion after back-to-back early race crashes in the first two races run there in 1997 and 1998.  While he managed to avoid finishing last in both races, he was not so fortunate during the spring races in 1999 and 2008.  The first finish on March 28, 1999 was another crash, a solo shunt into the Turn 4 wall after 68 laps.  The other on April 6, 2008 saw Gordon fighting handling woes once again after a crash in the same spot on Lap 110.  Again, just as he had at North Wilkesboro, Gordon soon managed to solve the Texas puzzle, winning his lone race there in 2009.

Gordon remains the only driver in NASCAR history to win both a NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship and a LASTCAR title, the latter coming during his first Cup season in 1993 after a bottom-ten tiebreaker with ARCA veteran Bob Schacht.  On top of his 93 victories and countless other impressive statistics, it is perhaps this quick turnaround from challenger to champion that is most impressive of all.

CUP: Crash Eliminates Clint Bowyer From MWR’s Final Race; Landon Cassill Clinches First LASTCAR Title

SOURCE: Sarah Crabill - Getty Images N.A.
Clint Bowyer picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #15 5-Hour Energy Toyota was involved in a multi-car crash that ended his run after 45 of the race’s 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 361st series start, was second of the season and his first since Martinsville, three races ago.  Bowyer’s elimination from the race locked-up the 2015 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship for Landon Cassill, who ran as high as 19th before he came home 35th, four laps down.  Alex Bowman, his title challenger, finished 26th, two laps behind race winner Kyle Busch.  The two LASTCAR title contenders started side-by-side in Row 17.

Following his last-place run at Martinsville, Bowyer came home 15th at Texas and 23rd in the rain-shortened race at Phoenix, and he would remain 16th and last among the Chase field at season’s end.  The Homestead finale marked both Bowyer and teammate David Ragan’s final race with Michael Waltrip Racing as the team is set to close its doors this offseason.  MWR made its NASCAR debut in 1994 with all-time last-place leader Jeff Green coming home 3rd in an XFINITY Series race at Bristol driving the #17 Clabber Girl Pontiac.  In 1,203 combined starts across all its Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series teams, MWR earned 12 victories.  Bowyer’s Homestead run was the team’s 20th last-place finish.

Bowyer started the weekend 9th in the opening practice and ran 29th and 24th in Saturday’s two practice sessions.  He would start 24th on Sunday after a lap of 172.651 mph, fourteen spots ahead of Ragan.  Missing the race were Rookie of the Year contender Jeb Burton in the #23 Overture Promotional Product Agency / Estes Toyota and Reed Sorenson in Premium Motorsports’ unsponsored #62 Toyota.  Premium’s #62 attempted all 36 races in 2015, but qualified for only 16.  

Premium secured a starting spot for their newly-acquired second team as Ryan Preece made his fourth start in a row driving the #98 East West Marine / Logan’s / FireAde Chevrolet with the modified scheme he ran in his Cup debut September at Loudon.  Preece held the spot the opening four laps until Cole Whitt fell back in Front Row Motorsports’ #35 Speed Stick Ford.  Sam Hornish, Jr., making his final start for Richard Petty Motorsports in the #9 Cheney Brothers Ford, was next to take the spot on Lap 13 and was about to lose a lap when the first caution flew on Lap 15.

At that moment, polesitter Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Ground Toyota was running 2nd to Joey Logano when he lost a Wiggins clamp and his leaking axle grease caught fire under the hood.  Hamlin pulled behind the wall on Lap 16, and it first appeared he would score his first last-place finish since coming home 42nd in the short field last summer at Kentucky (LINK).  However, the crew got him back out on track three laps down on Lap 19.  He got two Lucky Dogs and one more lap back on the track en route to a surprising 10th-place finish.

The first of Hamlin’s Lucky Dogs came on Lap 41, when Kasey Kahne’s #5 Great Clips Chevrolet slowed in Turns 1 and 2 with a flat right-rear tire.  Contact with the was made, and Kahne lost a lap as the crew made repairs, dropping Kahne behind Hamlin for 43rd on Lap 43.  Kahne was still running in the spot when trouble broke out shortly after the restart.

On Lap 46, as the field stormed down the backstretch, Bowyer’s ill-handling Toyota lost control while racing Ty Dillon’s #33 Nexium 24 Hour Chevrolet mid-pack.  Bowyer’s car hooked to the right, collecting Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s #88 Nationwide Chevrolet as he nosed the outside wall, then cut left again.  The ensuing wreck collected Aric Almirola’s #43 Smithfield Foods Ford, Casey Mears’ #13 GEICO Chevrolet, and damaged the right-front to both Hornish and Bowyer’s teammate Ragan as they tried to get by on the inside.  No drivers were injured, and a disappointed Bowyer was unsure what caused his car to lose control.

The next time by on Lap 47, Mears was classified in last, the rear end of his #13 badly damaged, with Bowyer 42nd and Almirola in 41st.  The trio went to the garage for repairs, followed soon by 40th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whose team was unable to fix his car on pit road.  NBC Sports posted a picture of Bowyer’s crew hard at work with the others, the front valence removed from the #15 short of the halfway mark.  However, despite their efforts, Bowyer was listed as out of the race by Lap 92.  Mears, who completed the same 45 laps as Bowyer, was still listed as 43rd until Lap 150, the Germain Racing crew deciding not to rejoin the race until the next caution for debris.  Bowyer fell to last the next time by and stayed in that spot.

Mears pulled off the track a final time on Lap 203 and remained 42nd at the finish, he and Bowyer the only two retirees from the race.  Almirola remained 41st and Earnhardt, Jr. 40th, both laps down to race winner Kyle Busch.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Josh Wise, whose #32 Zak Products Ford trailed smoke in the final stages of the race.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing, and the #15 in a Cup race at Homestead.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #15-Clint Bowyer / 45 laps / crash
42) #13-Casey Mears / 104 laps / crash
41) #43-Aric Almirola / 209 laps / running
40) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. / 241 laps / running
39) #32-Josh Wise / 247 laps / running

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Landon Cassill (4) - 2015 CHAMPION
2nd) Alex Bowman (3)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Timmy Hill, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley (2)
4th) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Michael Waltrip Racing, Wood Brothers Racing (2)
4th) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (6)

XFINITY: Jeff Green Trails All But 10 XFINITY Series Races In 2015

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jeff Green picked up the 83rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #19 Premier Barter Exchange Toyota fell out with transmission problems after 3 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 420th series start, was his 23rd of the 2015 season.  He shatters his own record for the most last-place runs in a season by a NASCAR driver - 15, which he set in the 2013 XFINITY Series season, and is now a five-time LASTCAR champion.  By rounding out the 2015 season with six consecutive last-place finishes, Green can also break his record of eight lasts in a row if he sweeps the opening three rounds in 2016.

Green was 36th-fastest in the series’ final practice session of the season and timed in 27th in qualifying with a speed of 161.310 mph.  The lone driver who missed the field was Morgan Shepherd, whose #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet ended up with its seventh DNQ of the season.

Starting 40th on Saturday was ARCA driver Tim Veins, who after making his Truck Series debut at Dover this past May rejoined Mike Harmon to drive his #74 RaceDaySponsor.com Dodge.  On Lap 4, Green pulled behind the wall and secured the 40th spot while Viens, who spun in Turn 1 on Lap 11, recovered to ended up 33rd at the finish, the final car to come home under power.

The remaining members of the Bottom Five retired from the race between the start and the third caution for Josh Reaume hitting the Turn 4 wall in Motorsports Business Management’s #40 Braille Battery / Grafoid Chevrolet, the next lapped car to finish ahead of Viens.  39th went to T.J. Bell, his sixth-straight bottom-five finish in JGL Racing’s #26 Toyota.  38th was B.J. McLeod, his second-straight bottom-five finish for King Autosport in the #92 Bucked Up Apparel Chevrolet.  Mike Bliss, Green’s teammate and the defending LASTCAR Cup Champion, was 38th in TriStar’s unsponsored #14.  Rounding out the group in 36th was Carlos Contreras, who lost the engine on Rick Ware’s #15 BYBExtreme.com Chevrolet.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This is Green’s third last-place finish in an XFINITY Series race at Homestead, joining finishes in 2010 and 2014.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #19-Jeff Green / 3 laps / transmission
39) #26-T.J. Bell /23 laps / vibration
38) #92-B.J. McLeod / 36 laps / vibration
37) #14-Mike Bliss / 44 laps / vibration / led 1 lap
36) #15-Carlos Contreras / 59 laps / engine

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Jeff Green (23) - 2015 CHAMPION
2nd) Dexter Bean (2)
3rd) Ryan Ellis, C.J. Faison, Mike Harmon, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski, Carl Long, Morgan Shepherd, Derek White (1)

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) TriStar Motorsports (25)
2nd) King Autosport, Motorsports Business Management (2)
3rd) JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures (1)

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Toyota (27)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)
3rd) Dodge (2)
4th) Ford (1)

TRUCKS: Brandon Brown Last At Homestead; Caleb Roark Repeats As LASTCAR Champ

SOURCE: FOX Sports 1
Brandon Brown picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #86 Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet fell out with transmission issues after he completed 2 of the race’s 134 laps.  The finish came in Brown’s 8th series start.

His sights set on a career in NASCAR, the youngster from Woodbridge, Virginia jumped from go-karts to late models in 2010 when he was just 16 years old.  He and his family-owned team Brandonbuilt Motorsports scored their first feature win that July and as a rookie made a name for himself in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.  Last year, Brown and team made another jump to the Truck Series, where he finished 25th in his debut at Iowa.  This year, still running part-time, Brown improved his career-best finish to 14th at Dover.

Brown began the Homestead weekend with the 21st-fastest speed in practice among the 36 drivers who entered.  He ran 50 laps in the session, second only to Kyle Weatherman’s 57 in Lira Motorsports’ first two-entry venture outside of ARCA.  In qualifying, Brown scored the 26th spot on the grid, locking himself in on speed.  Missing the race were Ross Kenseth, who made his Truck Series debut last month at Martinsville driving Shigeaki Hatori’s #18 Green Brave Toyota, Bobby Pierce in MB Motorsports’ #36 Pixographs.com Chevrolet, Todd Peck in his family-prepared #45 Boobitrap / Arthritis Foundation Chevrolet, and series veteran Norm Benning.

Starting 32nd on Friday was Dexter Stacey, who returned to MAKE Motorsports for the second time this season and first since Texas two rounds ago.  This time, his MaddiesPlace.com sponsorship from his difficult 2013 XFINITY Series season graced the hood of MAKE’s #1 Chevrolet.  Stacey would come home 24th.

ho was making his first start in NASCAR’s top three divisions since a difficult 2013 season in the XFINITY Series.  This week, Stacey and his Maddie’s Place sponsorship graced the #1 Chevrolet fielded by MAKE Motorsports.  By Lap 4, last week’s last-place finisher Brandon Jones had dropped to the back of the field with right-rear damage to his #33 Lucas Oil Chevrolet after contact with Mason Mingus sent him into the outside wall in Turns 3 and 4.  At that same moment, Brown’s Chevrolet stalled on the apron of Turn 2, drawing the caution.  Brown did not re-enter the race while Jones continued to struggle before spinning on Lap 75, leaving him 31st.

Finishing 30th on Friday was XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year Daniel Suarez, whose #51 Arris Toyota left with damage following his own contact with the wall on Lap 83.  Jordan Anderson rounded out his first season in 29th driving Mike Harmon’s #74 Simmons & White / Columbia, South Carolina Chevrolet, the last truck to finish under power.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Georgia driver Garrett Smithley, who was making his series debut in Mike Mittler’s #63 Nimitz Chevrolet.

Caleb Roark clinched the 2015 LASTCAR Truck Series championship before the first lap was turned at Homestead.  Tyler Tanner, who needed a last-place finish on Friday, wasn’t entered in the season finale as MB Motorsports enlisted Smithley and Pierce to run its two trucks.  Caleb Roark himself was originally to drive Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #0, but was replaced by Scott Lagasse, Jr. following the withdrawal of Lagasse’s #20 fielded by Bob Newberry.  Lagasse finished 15th, the first finish better than 28th by the #0 all season.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #86 in a Truck Series race since June 28, 2012, when Scott Riggs’ #86 @ClayGreenfield RAM overheated after 3 laps of the UNOH 225 at Kentucky.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #86-Brandon Brown / 2 laps / transmission
31) #33-Brandon Jones / 67 laps / crash
30) #51-Daniel Suarez / 84 laps / crash
29) #74-Jordan Anderson / 115 laps / running
28) #63-Garrett Smithley / 126 laps / running

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Caleb Roark (4) - 2015 CHAMPION
2nd) Norm Benning, Tyler Tanner (3)
3rd) Justin Jennings, Jennifer Jo Cobb (2)
4th) Brandon Brown, Adam Edwards, Joey Gattina, J.J. Haley, Stew Hayward, Brandon Jones, Travis Kvapil, Justin Marks, Robert Mitten (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (7)
2nd) MB Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing (4)
3rd) MAKE Motorsports (2)
4th) Braun Motorsports, Brandonbuilt Motorsports, GMS Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, NDS Motorsports, Win-Tron Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) RAM (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

CUP: Rain Allows Timmy Hill To Hold Off Joey Gase For Phoenix Last-Place Finish

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Timmy Hill picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s rain-shortened Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #62 Prairie Auto Credit / Financial Concepts Chevrolet finished under power, but 91 laps down, after 127 of 219 circuits.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 47th series start, was his first since August at Michigan, 12 races ago, and is his second for Premium Motorsports - the other in the #98 which Premium acquired from Phil Parsons Racing this past summer.

Jerry Hill's Cup Series Pontiac at Rockingham, 1992
SOURCE: Historical Stock Car Racing Forum
Hill was pulling triple-duty at the Phoenix track.  In addition to running Premium’s #94 in the Truck Series, where he finished 18th, as well as Premium’s #62 in Cup, he also brought Tom Kapusta’s XFINITY Series team back to the track for the first time since the spring race at the Arizona track.  The race, where Hill finished 27th, had added meaning as he would run the same #56 his father Jerry Hill ran in Sprint Cup and ARCA in the early 1990s.

With 43 cars on the Sprint Cup entry list, Hill was guaranteed a starting spot for Premium’s #62.  It would be just the 16th start of the season for the car in a year where it had missed the show 19 other times.  However, in that span, Hill got the car into the field the last seven-straight times and accounted for only four of the DNQs.  With another driver tabbed to run the #62 at Homestead, Hill looked to make the most of his final start of the season in a car which carried new sponsorship from two backers.

Hill was slowest in Friday’s opening practice and was set to roll off shotgun on the field with a speed of 131.507 mph.  On Saturday morning, he remained the slowest in the second practice session as well as Happy Hour.

Hours of delays pushed the start of Sunday’s race well after sunset, and when the green flag finally flew, Hill remained at the back of the field for the opening eight laps.  Then, on Lap 9, outside-polesitter Kurt Busch ended up 43rd after serving a penalty for jumping polesitter Jimmie Johnson in his #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet.  Busch re-passed Hill on Lap 13, and the next time by, Hill was the first to lose a lap to Johnson, then a second on Lap 31.  He remained in 43rd through the first competition caution on Lap 42.

On the Lap 48 restart, teammate Ryan Preece in the #98 Xyience Ford had fallen to 43rd, then briefly conceded it the next time by to Joey Gase, who was making his Cup third start of the season and first since Kansas in May in the #32 R Factor 2 Ford for Go Green Racing, successfully rebounding from a DNQ last week in Texas.  Just short of the one-third mark, however, Hill retook the 43rd spot when he went behind the wall with engine trouble.  Although Hill reported on Twitter that the motor had let go due to a dropped valve, the #62 returned to the track 91 laps down, joined soon after by Gase, who remained laps down in 42nd after brake issues sent him to the garage.

The second and, ultimately, final caution of the night played a critical role in both the NASCAR and LASTCAR championship battle. When Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s #17 Cargill Ford lost the brakes in Turn 3 and slammed Gase’s wounded #32 into the outside wall, both cars were out of the race, giving Hill a chance to pass Gase if he ran approximately 40 more laps.  However, the final red flag came out when Hill was still 35 laps away from catching Gase, keeping the #62 at the back of the field.  The race was soon called, and it was Hill, not Gase, who ended up with his second last-place run of 2015.

Rounding out the Bottom Five behind Gase and Stenhouse were 40th-place Ryan Ellis in Circle Sport’s #33 Science Logic Chevrolet and the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota of Jeb Burton, both laps down to race winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  For Ellis, it was his Sprint Cup debut after 29 XFINITY Series and 20 Truck Series starts.  A lifelong Jeff Gordon fan, Ellis got to race against his hero in his penultimate event exactly 23 years to the day that Gordon made his own Cup debut in Richard Petty’s last.

Rick Wilson, 1981
SOURCE: jerry9car at Photobucket
LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #62 in a Sprint Cup Series race since July 4, 1981, when Rick Wilson’s #62 Florida Equipment & Service Oldsmobile started 8th in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, but lost the engine after only 8 laps.  Cale Yarborough edged Harry Gant for the race win.  Seven years later, when driving for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, Wilson earned a career-best runner-up in the same race after a photo finish with Bill Elliott.
*This is the first last-place finish for both Hill and the #62 in a Cup race at Phoenix.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #62-Timmy Hill / 127 laps / running
42) #32-Joey Gase / 161 laps / crash
41) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 194 laps / crash
40) #33-Ryan Ellis / 21 laps / running
39) #23-Jeb Burton / 213 laps / running

LASTCAR CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATE
Next week at Homestead, the LASTCAR Cup Series Championship will be decided between four-time last-placer Landon Cassill and three-timer Alex Bowman.  Two-time last-placers Michael Annett and J.J. Yeley were eliminated from contention at Phoenix when both did not finish last and came home 32nd and 29th, respectively.

Both Cassill and Bowman finished outside the Bottom Five in 35th and 38th, respectively - Bowman edged by Jeb Burton for 39th by a single lap.  This means that if Bowman finishes last at Homestead while Cassill finishes 38th or better, Bowman will take the LASTCAR title by a single bottom-five finish, 8-7.  Otherwise, Cassill will either claim the title outright or by a bottom-ten tiebreaker of at least 14-10.

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (4)
2nd) Alex Bowman (3)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Ryan Blaney, Timmy Hill, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley (2)
4th) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing (2)
4th) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (5)

XFINITY: Last-Place Jeff Green Races In Honor Of His Father At Phoenix

SOURCE: Diane Green
Jeff Green picked up the 82nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s DAV 200 Honoring Americas Veterans at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #19 Premier Barter Exchange Toyota fell out with rear gear issues after he completed 3 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 419th series start, was his 22nd of the 2015 season, his fifth in a row, and his seventh in the last nine races.  He can extend both streaks with another 40th-place run in next week’s Homestead finale, an event he trailed for TriStar in 2010 and 2014.

The Green family raced with heavy hearts after the passing of David, Mark, and Jeff’s father David “Dave” Lee Green passed away on November 1 at the age of 77.  In his memory, Green’s #19 carried Dave’s name over the driver’s side window.  Green did not participate in Friday’s opening practice, but returned to put up the 30th-fastest time in Happy Hour, then improved to 25th in qualifying with a lap of 131.670 mph.

Missing the race were Morgan Shepherd - his eighth of the season and first since Chicagoland - and late model racer Matt Waltz, whose first XFINITY Series attempt ended after he found the Turn 4 wall in qualifying driving Derrike Cope’s #70 Ehydrate / Ashurt American Honey Chevrolet.

At the start of Saturday’s race, Green pulled behind the wall after three circuits, followed six laps later by Carl Long, who was making his first start since Dover in early October as driver of Motorsports Business Management’s #40 Braille Battery / Grafoid Dodge.  Long’s teammate, NASCAR Mexico Series star Ruben Pardo, brought out the first caution when he lost the engine on the #13 BYB Extreme Fighting Series Toyota.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were two team cars - the second King Autosport entry, the #92 CrashClaimsR.us Chevrolet of B.J. McLeod, and T.J. Bell in JGL Racing’s #26 Toyota.  Both McLeod and Bell exited the race during the Pardo caution.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was Green’s fifth last-place finish in an XFINITY Series race at Phoenix, including a season sweep for 2015 in both the #10 and the #19.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #19-Jeff Green / 3 laps / rear gear
39) #40-Carl Long / 9 laps / engine
38) #13-Ruben Pardo / 15 laps / engine
37) #92-B.J. McLeod / 19 laps / ignition
36) #26-T.J. Bell / 19 laps / brakes

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jeff Green (22) - 2015 CHAMPION
2nd) Dexter Bean (2)
3rd) Ryan Ellis, C.J. Faison, Mike Harmon, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski, Carl Long, Morgan Shepherd, Derek White (1)

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (24)
2nd) King Autosport, Motorsports Business Management (2)
3rd) JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures (1)

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (26)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)
3rd) Dodge (2)
4th) Ford (1)

TRUCKS: Brandon Jones’ Crash Gives #33 First Last-Place Run In Trucks Since 2004

SOURCE: NASCAR, FOX Sports 1
Brandon Jones picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #33 Lucas Oil Chevrolet was involved in a three-truck accident after 6 of 150 laps.  The finish came in Jones’ 24th series start.

A two-time winner in ARCA and 4th in the 2014 K&N Pro Series East Championship standings, 18-year-old Jones is already in his third partial season in the Truck Series.  Jones entered the series with Turner Motorsports in 2013, then in late 2014 moved to the growing GMS Racing team owned by Maury Gallagher.  As one of a number of part-time teammates to GMS’ primary #23 fielded by ARCA star Spencer Gallagher, Jones earned a career-best 2nd to Erik Jones at Iowa this past June, one of five career Top Fives and nine Top Tens.

At Phoenix, Jones looked to improve on a 12th in his only previous Truck Series start at the track in late 2014.  He ran a strong 3rd in Thursday’s practice session, trailing only Jones and oerall leader Cameron Hayley, then qualified 7th at an average speed of 136.090 mph.

Starting 32nd on Friday was Akinori Ogata, making his third start of the season in MB Motorsports’ #63 ENEOS Chevrolet.  Ogata was joined by three trucks sent to the rear - Tyler Young in his family’s #02 Randco / Young’s Building Systems Chevrolet, the #74 Mike Harmon Racing entry of Jordan Anderson, and Corbin Forrister in the #08 Tilted Kilt Chevrolet.  By the end of Lap 1, all of them moved past Timmy Hill, who briefly trailed the field in Premium Motorsports’ #94 Testoril Chevrolet before Forrister fell to the back on Lap 4.  Forrister was still trailing when trouble broke out on the backstretch.

Coming off Turn 2, Jones was locked in a battle to defend his 7th starting spot on the outside from K&N East Series racer William Byron, making his series debut in the #9 Liberty University Toyota for Kyle Busch’s team, and on the inside from Cole Custer’s #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet.  While negotiating the dogleg, Jones made contact with Byron’s Toyota and was hooked directly into Custer’s right-front, triggering a wreck that sent all three vehicles into a spin.  Jones and Byron’s trucks, the most severely damaged, were done for the night, and Custer required laps of repairs before returning to the race and finishing 26th.

30th went to Forrister, who was bumped into a spin by Hill coming off Turn 4 on Lap 17.  Anderson’s #74 lost an engine and stalled in Turn 4 on Lap 40, drawing the third caution of the night.  The Bottom Five was rounded out by fan favorite Rico Abreu, whose own Truck Series debut faced a sudden end on Lap 46 when he was caught up in a wreck between three other trucks.  The short tracker’s #31 AccuDoc Solutions Chevrolet suffered nose damage in the accident, ending his night.

Michael Waltrip's wreck at LOR, 2004
SOURCE: Michael McIntyre
LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #33 in a Truck Series race since August 6, 2004, when Michael Waltrip’s #33 Monaco Coaches Chevrolet fielded by Andy Petree Racing was involved in a crash after he completed 14 of the 200 laps in the Power Stroke Diesel 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.  The number has never finished last in any other Truck Series points races.
*This was the first last-place finish for GMS Racing in NASCAR’s top three divisions.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #33-Brandon Jones / 6 laps / crash
31) #9-William Byron / 6 laps / crash
30) #08-Korbin Forrister / 15 laps / crash
29) #74-Jordan Anderson / 36 laps / engine
28) #31-Rico Abreu / 44 laps / crash

LASTCAR CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATE
Before Friday’s race even started, the four challengers for the 2015 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship were whittled down to two.  Eliminated from contention were Justin Jennings, who was not on the entry list (substituted at MB Motorsports by Bobby Pierce in the #36 and Akinori Ogata in the #63), and Norm Benning, who scored his third DNQ of 2015.

Like Jennings, MB Motorsports teammate Tyler Tanner wasn’t on the list, but Tanner can win the title simply by finishing last at Homestead.  If Tanner comes home 32nd, it won’t matter where Roark finishes in the race.  If Roark finishes outside the Bottom Ten, Tanner will win a bottom-ten tiebreaker, 9-8.  If Roark finishes inside the Bottom Ten, Tanner will still win a bottom-fifteen tiebreaker, 10-9.

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Caleb Roark (4)
2nd) Norm Benning, Tyler Tanner (3)
3rd) Justin Jennings, Jennifer Jo Cobb (2)
4th) Adam Edwards, Joey Gattina, J.J. Haley, Stew Hayward, Brandon Jones, Travis Kvapil, Justin Marks, Robert Mitten (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (7)
2nd) MB Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing (4)
3rd) MAKE Motorsports (2)
4th) Braun Motorsports, GMS Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, NDS Motorsports, Win-Tron Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) RAM (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

CUP: Ryan Blaney Last As Tire Issues Fill Texas Bottom Five

SOURCE: NASCAR Media
Ryan Blaney picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #21 Snap-On Tools Ford was involved in a single-car crash that ended his run after 26 of 334 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Blaney’s 17th series start, was his first since Talladega, two races ago.

Texas was Blaney’s first Cup start since the last-place run at Talladega, the Wood Brothers team passing on the race at the Martinsville track near the team’s birthplace near Stuart, Virginia.  While Blaney had finished 2nd, 8th, and 3rd in his three XFINITY Series starts at the 1.5-mile quad-oval, an early engine failure in the Cup race this past spring left him 42nd, when he was edged for last by J.J. Yeley.

In what turned out to be the weekend’s only practice session for the 45 entered Cup drivers, Blaney put up the 7th-fastest time overall, besting half of the Chase field.  Qualifying proved less fruitful, however, as Brian Scott edged him by six-thousandths of a second for the final spot in Round 2.  He would start Sunday’s race 25th with an average speed of 195.525 mph.  Missing the show were Reed Sorenson, his #62 Premium Motorsports entry the slowest to take time, and the #32 ZAK Products / Donate Life Texas Ford of XFINITY Series regular Joey Gase, who was looking to make his first Cup start since Kansas in May.

Starting 43rd on Sunday was Justin Allgaier, whose HScott Motorsports teammate Michael Annett suffered the latest in a series of yet-unexplained hauler fires.  While no one was injured in the fire, Annett’s Texas cars were destroyed, and the Iowa driver rolled out 37th in Allgaier’s backup.  By the end of Lap 1, 42nd-place starter Ryan Preece fell to last in the #98 Xyience Chevrolet.  Preece was still running in the back on Lap 10, when the first caution fell with championship implications.

Joey Logano qualified 4th in his #22 AAA Insurance Ford and was a favorite to lock himself into the Championship Round of the Chase with a win.  In the aftermath of NASCAR’s controversial two-race suspension of Matt Kenseth, who had wrecked Logano at Martinsville in retaliation for his own championship-ending incident at Kansas, the Texas crowd cheered on Lap 11 when Logano’s #22 spun by himself on the apron of Turn 3 with a cut left-rear tire.  The tire shredded away sheet metal and foam from the inside of his car, and after turning one more lap, the Penske Racing crew pulled Logano behind the wall.  Logano was the first driver to lose a lap as he quickly took 43rd from Preece.

The race restarted on Lap 18, but just eight circuits later the caution fell once more.  This time, Blaney was the victim, his #21 contact with the wall off Turn 4 cutting a tre before he slowed with heavy right-front damage in Turn 2.  The Wood Brothers team pulled Blaney’s ride to the garage to join Logano, and soon after his Ford was listed out of the race.  Logano returned to the track on Lap 76, his damaged ride 64 circuits back of the leaders, and on Lap 92, Blaney fell to last in the final change for 43rd.

Logano made it to only 40th at race’s end, and with the other seven Chase drivers finishing inside the Top 10 combined with teammate Brad Keselowski’s narrow loss to Jimmie Johnson, both Penske Racing cars need to win at Phoenix to make the title fight at Homestead.  42nd went to Tony Stewart, who narrowly avoided his first last-place run since Watkins Glen when his #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet lost control and dug into the infield grass on Lap 53.  41st went to Alex Bowman, who Logano nipped in the final laps when the LASTCAR runner-up’s #7 Nikko / Road Rippers Chevrolet lost an engine.  39th went to Trevor Bayne, whose #6 AdvoCare Ford was among the many other victims of cut or blown tires, his triggering the eighth yellow on Lap 198.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This is the first last-place finish for the #21 in a Cup Series race at Texas.  The Wood Brothers team also never finished last in any of the eight Cup races held at the old Texas World Speedway in College Station from 1969 through 1981.  The team’s best run at the two-mile track was by A.J. Foyt, whose Purolator Mercury started on pole and came home 2nd on November 12, 1972.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #21-Ryan Blaney / 26 laps / crash
42) #14-Tony Stewart / 52 laps / crash
41) #7-Alex Bowman / 236 laps / engine
40) #22-Joey Logano / 268 laps / running
39) #6-Trevor Bayne / 296 laps / running

LASTCAR CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATE
With two races to go, Landon Cassill’s only challengers mathematically eligible for the 2015 LASTCAR Cup Series Championshp are Alex Bowman, Michael Annett, and J.J. Yeley.

Bowman can only control his destiny by sweeping both last-place finishes at Phoenix and Homestead, thus taking the lead from Cassill outright.  He can also win with just one more last-place finish, but only if Cassill doesn’t finish inside the Bottom Five in either race - Bowman is currently tied with Cassill with 7 Bottom Fives apiece, but trails Cassill in Bottom Ten finishes, 14-10.

Annett and Yeley can claim the title by sweeping the final two last-place runs no matter where Cassill finishes.  Annett already leads Cassill on Bottom Fives, 8-7.  Yeley, who has matched Cassill’s 7 bottom-fives, leads Cassill in Bottom Tens by an insurmountable 21-14.  At least one of these two drivers will be eliminated by not finishing 43rd at Phoenix, and both will fall from contention if they both come up short.

While Ryan Blaney now sits in a five-way tie for third in the LASTCAR standings and can match Cassill’s four finishes with a sweep of the final two 43rd-place runs, he has been mathematically eliminated from title contention along with the remaining two-timers - Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne.  Almirola and Kahne have only 2 and 3 bottom-five finishes to Cassill’s 7, preventing a successful tiebreaker on Bottom Fives.  Blaney, meanwhile, has 5 Bottom Fives, but due in part to his limited schedule trails Cassill in Bottom Tens 14-5.  Blaney is also not listed to run in next week’s Cup race at Phoenix, making a two-race sweep impossible.

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (4)
2nd) Alex Bowman (3)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley (2)
4th) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing (2)
4th) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (5)

XFINITY: For The Third Time, Jeff Green Scores Four Last-Place Finishes In A Row

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jeff Green picked up the 81st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #19 Premier Barter Exchange Toyota fell out with transmission issues after he completed 4 of 204 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 418th series start, was his 21st of the 2015 season, his fourth in a row, and his sixth in the last eight races.  It is the second four-race last-place streak of Green’s XFINITY Series career, matching the streaks in August 2011 and July-August of this year.

As the XFINITY Series returned to action for the first time in three weeks, Green rejoined a list of 40 entrants for 40 spots in the second event of the Texas race weekend.  Green put his #19 34th in Friday’s lone practice session and remained in that spot for the race after qualifying was cancelled by rain.

During the opening 26 laps of green-flag racing, four drivers pulled behind the wall, led by Green on Lap 5.  Four laps behind him was Canadian owner-driver Mario Gosselin, who started last in his #92 Bucked Up Chevrolet while Martin Roy ran the full race in King Autosport’s #90 Gamache Truck Center / Cote Chevrolet.  38th spot went to T.J. Bell, his fourth-straight bottom-five finish in JGL Racing’s unsponsored #26 Toyota.  37th belonged to Motorsports Business Management with Josh Reaume in Derek White’s #40 Lodestar Guidance / VictoryWeekend.com Dodge - Reaume’s first XFINITY Sries start since last month at Charlotte, when he took a turn for JD Motorsports.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was the #14 Toyota, one of Green’s teammates at TriStar Motorsports.  Through the season’s first 30 races, West Virginian short tracker Cale Conley competed with limited funding for his second season on the tour, carrying logos representing the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America.  Despite making all the races and finishing a season-best 16th, however, sponsorship woes took Conley out of this ride.  Mike Bliss, who earlier this year at Iowa was similarly excused from TriStar’s #19, found himself back with the team in a now-unsponsored #14.  Bliss ran more laps than any other driver in the Bottom Five, turning 40 in total before officially exiting with transmission issues.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marks Green’s fourth last-place finish in an XFINITY Series race at Texas, but his first in the fall race.  It is also the first time the #19 has trailed an XFINITY Series race at the track.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #19-Jeff Green / 4 laps / transmission
39) #92-Mario Gosselin / 9 laps / vibration
38) #26-T.J. Bell / 12 laps / electrical
37) #40-Josh Reaume / 14 laps / suspension
36) #14-Mike Bliss / 40 laps / transmission

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jeff Green (21) - 2015 CHAMPION
2nd) Dexter Bean (2)
3rd) Ryan Ellis, C.J. Faison, Mike Harmon, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski, Carl Long, Morgan Shepherd, Derek White (1)

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (23)
2nd) King Autosport, Motorsports Business Management (2)
3rd) JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures (1)

2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (25)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)
3rd) Dodge (2)
4th) Ford (1)

TRUCKS: Caleb Roark Bids For Second-Straight LASTCAR Title After Close Texas Contest

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Caleb Roark picked up the 7th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at the Texas Motor Speedway when electrical issues prevented his #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet from completing any of the 147 laps.

The finish, which occurred, in Roark’s 23rd series start, was his first since Pocono, 9 races ago and breaks a three-way tie with Norm Benning and Tyler Tanner for the 2015 LASTCAR Truck Series lead.  With two races to go, Roark is now in position to claim his second-straight LASTCAR title.

Roark’s truck made it an even 32 for as many spots in Friday’s field, and he was guaranteed to make his first series start since last month’s 30th-place finish at Las Vegas.  With just one lap turned in Thursday’s opening practice, Roark was 29th-fastest overall, and in Happy Hour later that day, he failed to complete a lap at all.  One week after engine issues cancelled Brad Foy’s series debut in the truck, electrical issues now reared their ugly head, and the #0 was now having issues starting.  These issues persisted in qualifying, and when time expired on the five-minute clock, he was unable to put up a time and was set to roll off 31st.

With just one caution on the night, Friday’s race was the fastest in series history, and the last-place battle ended just as quickly - Roark’s electrical issues prevented him from completing a lap.  Roark managed to edge fellow LASTCAR contender Tyler Tanner, whose backup #36 Mittler Bros. Machine & Tool Chevrolet for MB Motorsports lost an engine in practice, and the team couldn’t get a functioning backup.

Both Roark and Tanner were six laps behind 30th-place Mike Harmon, who debuted a second unsponsored truck of his own, #49, which he drove in addition to Jordan Anderson’s 21st-place #74 Columbia, South Carolina / Knight Fire Protection Chevrolet.  MAKE Motorsports again had both trucks in the show, and this time former XFINITY Series driver Dexter Stacey pulled the team’s unsponsored #50 Chevrolet behind the wall after 11 laps.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Todd Peck, who was making his first series start since coming home next-to-last at Michigan in June.  Peck’s family-owned team, which ran the #40 earlier this season, on Friday became the third different program to run the #45 in the series in 2015.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing’s #0 has swept both last-place runs at Texas in 2015 and has trailed in four of the last five Truck Series races held at the track.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #0-Caleb Roark / 0 laps / electrical
31) #36-Tyler Tanner / 0 laps / engine
30) #49-Mike Harmon / 6 laps / engine
29) #50-Dexter Stacey / 11 laps / electrical
28) #45-Todd Peck / 17 laps / suspension

LASTCAR CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATE
With two races to go, four drivers remain in contention for the LASTCAR Truck Series Championship - joining Roark are Tyler Tanner, Norm Benning, and Justin Jennings.

Three-time last-placers Norm Benning and Tyler Tanner can only control their own destiny by finishing last at both Phoenix and Homestead, taking the lead outright.

Benning will be eliminated if he doesn’t finish last at Phoenix - he trails Roark in bottom-fives 8-4 and cannot rely on a tiebreaker.  Tanner can finish last in one race and prevail in a tiebreaker if Roark fails to finish in the Bottom Ten in both races - in that situation, Tanner would match Roark’s 8 Bottom Fives, but prevail by a single Bottom Ten, 9-8.  This will be challenging, however, as Roark’s “start-and-park” ride has not finished outside the Bottom Ten all season.

Two-time last-placer Jennings has a good chance of winning the title, but only if he sweeps the final two last-place finishes of the season.  Jennings currently has 9 bottom-five finishes and 13 in the Bottom Ten, meaning that if he ties Roark, Tanner, or Benning, he will win either tiebreaker no matter where those three drivers finish in both races.  It would be a surprising development after this site prematurely awarded Jennings the title after Phoenix in 2014.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Jo Cobb, who also has two last-place finishes and 11 Bottom Tens, has been eliminated from LASTCAR contention.  Cobb has just 3 Bottom Fives in 2015 and, even with a two-race sweep, cannot win the tiebreaker against Roark’s season total of 8.  Cobb’s two-truck team, however, has now clinched the 2015 LASTCAR Truck Series Owner’s title by three finishes over Mike Mittler and Norm Benning.

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Caleb Roark (4)
2nd) Norm Benning, Tyler Tanner (3)
3rd) Justin Jennings, Jennifer Jo Cobb (2)
4th) Adam Edwards, Joey Gattina, J.J. Haley, Stew Hayward, Travis Kvapil, Justin Marks, Robert Mitten (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (7)
2nd) MB Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing (4)
3rd) MAKE Motorsports (2)
4th) Braun Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, NDS Motorsports, Win-Tron Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) RAM (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

CUP: As Chaos Reigns Up Front at Martinsville, Clint Bowyer Finishes In The Back

SOURCE: Motorsport.com
Clint Bowyer picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #15 Maxwell House Toyota crashed after he completed 185 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 358th series start, was his first of the season and his first in Cup since last fall at Charlotte, 38 races ago.

2015 has been a season of beginnings and ends for the Kansas veteran.  Bowyer opened his fourth season with Michael Waltrip Racing with a 7th-place run in he Daytona 500, locked in the three-wide battle for position behind race winner Joey Logano.  Just four races later, however, he had dropped to 20th in points with four-straight finishes outside the Top 20.  He steadily improved over the summer, picking up three top-ten runs in June including a season-best 3rd at Sonoma.  But in late July, while in the thick of a battle for a Chase berth, the news broke that MWR had lost its partner, Rob Kauffman, and the two-car team would be ceasing operations at the end of the year.

Without a win, but a 10th-place finish at Richmond in September, Bowyer still secured a berth in the 2015 Chase, his first playoff run since 2013.  He came home 19th in the Chase opener at Chicago - second-worst among the sixteen contenders - but was then docked 25 driver points for an unapproved rear end suspension discovered during pre-qualifying inspection.  The penalty dealt a fatal blow to Bowyer’s title chances, and he was eliminated after the first cutoff race at Dover.  A few days later, it was announced that Bowyer and sponsor 5-Hour Energy would move to HScott Motorsports in 2016 in preparation to replace a retiring Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017.  As MWR has continued to wind down operations, the effort has turned to getting as many good finishes as possible.

Bowyer started the Martinsville weekend with the 9th-fastest time in the opening practice session and secured the 17th-fastest time in qualifying, just missing the cut for the final round with a lap of 97.714 mph.  On Saturday, Bowyer was just 22nd in the first session, then climbed to 11th in Happy Hour.

Starting last on Sunday was Alex Kennedy in the black #33 Little Joe’s Auto Chevrolet for Circle Sport, the California driver 33rd in his Martinsville debut in March.  During the opening 7 laps run under a green/yellow start due to rain, Kennedy was joined by Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, who both went to backup cars after crashes in qualifying and practice, respectively.  When the race finally went green on Lap 8, Kennedy followed Kahne and Stewart through the field, dropping Timmy Hill to 43rd in Premium Motorsports’ unsponsored #62 Chevrolet.  Around Lap 28, Hill became the first driver to lose a lap, and he held the spot until Lap 82, when Trevor Bayne made an unscheduled green-flag stop in the #6 AdvoCare Ford, costing 3 laps.

Hill’s Chevrolet fought a persistent oil leak in the first quarter of the race, trailing whisps of smoke that soon drew the attention of NASCAR officials.  On Lap 84, Hill retook last from Bayne when he pulled into the garage to allow the team to make repairs.  Joining Hill at the bottom of the field was Brett Moffitt, whose #34 Dockside Logistics Ford came in for a new battery on Lap 85.  On Lap 102, Moffitt returned to the track in 42nd, and on Lap 114, Hill also came back, 33 laps down and still in 43rd.

On Lap 128, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was struggling with damage to the nose of his #17 Zest Ford suffered in a chain-reaction accident on Lap 114.  On Lap 128, Stenhouse was 5 laps down when the car veered into the wall entering Turn 3, drawing the fifth caution of the afternoon.  The lengthy repairs to Stenhouse’s right-front cost several more laps, and he took last from Hill on Lap 155.  Stenhouse’s girlfriend Danica Patrick, also involved in the Lap 114 accident, lost her temper with David Gilliland and his #38 Jerry Cook Tribute Ford.  The first of these two fender-benders came on Lap 158, and she pulled into the garage on Lap 174 before dropping to 41st on Lap 180.  Stenhouse, still last, returned to the track on Lap 189, followed by Patrick on Lap 192, her #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet just 8 laps from taking 42nd from Timmy Hill.  If things stayed the same, Stenhouse would score his first Cup Series last-place finish with Hill in 42nd and Patrick in 41st.

However, just before Stenhouse and Patrick returned, Bowyer ran into trouble.  On Lap 187, running on the high side of a three-wide battle with Kyle Larson and David Ragan entering Turn 3, the two cars to Bowyer’s inside made contact and sent him spinning into the outside wall.  Though Bowyer managed to get his car rolling again under the ninth caution of the afternoon, he immediately pulled into the garage.  The Michael Waltrip Racing crew found the damage too severe to continue, and the #15 never returned to the track.  On Lap 201, Bowyer fell to 40th and was listed as “out” soon after.  He fell to last on Lap 256, taking the spot from Stenhouse.

Patrick and Stenhouse finished 40th and 39th, respectively.  Patrick tangled with Gilliland a second time on Lap 430 and chased him to the apron, destroying the nose of her Chevrolet.  Although she returned to the track, the damage proved too substantial, and she exited the race with crash damage in the final laps.  Between Bowyer and Patrick in the Bottom Five were 42nd-place Ryan Preece and 41st-place Kyle Fowler, who were both making their second Cup Series starts.  Preece’s #98 Vydox Plus Ford for Premium Motorsports caught air when he ran over the grass entrance to pit road on Lap 137 while Fowler’s pink #32 Keen Parts.com / CorvetteParts.net Ford bashed the wall on Lap 379 following brake failure.  Preece returned to the race in the closing stages, 135 laps back, while Fowler retired.

LASTCAR STATSTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #15 in a Cup race at Martinsville since April 26, 1992, when Geoff Bodine’s #15 Motorcraft Ford - fielded by Hall of Famer Bud Moore’s single-car operation - lost the engine after 104 laps of the Hanes 500.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #15-Clint Bowyer / 185 laps / crash
42) #98-Ryan Preece / 365 laps / running
41) #32-Kyle Fowler / 373 laps / brakes
40) #10-Danica Patrick / 391 laps / crash
39) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 423 laps / running

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (4)
2nd) Alex Bowman (3)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley (2)
4th) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports (2)
4th) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Wood Brothers Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (10)
3rd) Toyota (5)

TRUCKS: J.J. Haley Only Retiree From Martinsville Slugfest

SOURCE: jjhaleyracing.com
J.J. Haley picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Kroger 200 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #32 Great Clips Chevrolet was involved in a single-truck crash that ended his run after 119 of 200 laps.  The finish came in Haley’s second series start.

A sixteen-year-old development driver for Braun Motorsports, Haley has moved from quarter midgets to a number of sporadic starts in NASCAR.  In 2014, Haley competed in ARCA and both the West and East divisions of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.  This year, Haley has earned a combined nine top-five finishes across the three divisions and made the move to NASCAR’s top three divisions.  His Truck Series debut came two months ago at Bristol, where he came home a solid 14th.  Martinsville would be his next attempt.

A season-high 39 drivers were on Martinsville’s preliminary entry list - so many, in fact, that three withdrew in the lead-up to qualifying.  On Friday, B.J. McLeod’s #45 Tilted Kilt Chevrolet was pulled along with MB Motorsports’ “start-and-park” #36 entry, which did not have a listed driver.  The withdrawals followed the once-again late entries fielded by MAKE Motorsports, who this week put Camden Murphy in the #1 and Travis Kvapil in the #50.

Late model racer Brad Foy looked to make his NASCAR debut in Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet.  Foy entered the race while grieving from a devastating tragedy - his father Brian was murdered in May when burglars broke into his home.  Foy turned in the 31st-fastest time in the opening practice session, outpacing Cobb’s locked-in truck that was 36th, but an engine failure forced the team to pull his entry.

Haley ran 22nd in the opening session and 20th in Happy Hour before he secured the 22nd starting spot with a speed of 94.200 mph.

The four drivers who missed the field were led by Norm Benning, who scored just his second DNQ of the year and his first since New Hampshire.  Benning is still tied for the lead in the 2015 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship, but his four bottom-five finishes trail co-leaders Caleb Roark’s 7 and Tyler Tanner’s 6.  Joining Benning were Brandon Brown, his fourth DNQ of his sophomore season, Chuck Buchanan, Jr., his fourth unsuccessful attempt to make his series debut, and K&N West Series driver Jimmy Weiler, the 42-year-old Sonoma, California driver missing the cut in his first series attempt.

Starting 32nd in Saturday’s race was Cobb, who ran an old Chevrolet body on her #10 Driven2Honor.org-sponsored entry.  Cobb was among the first drivers to lose a lap, and by Lap 100 was joined by only two other lapped machines with drivers making their first series starts:  Louisiana’s Brandon Hightower in MB Motorsports’ #08 St. Jude Children’s Hospital / Operation 2nd Chance Chevrolet and Wisconsin short tracker Paige Decker in Mike Harmon’s #74 Eagle River Derbytrack RAM, returning from a DNQ in the spring race.  Decker and Hightower both spun in the early stages with Decker taking last from Cobb as the trio lost laps.  The #74 was still trailing the field on Lap 120 when trouble broke out in Turn 1.

That time by, J.J. Haley was running on the lead lap in 26th when his brakes failed going into the first corner.  His truck switched ends and backed hard into the outside wall, stopping the machine against the outside wall.  Haley was uninjured, but his truck was too damaged to continue, and he became the first - and only - retiree from the event.

Cobb and Decker finished under power in the next two spots while Hightower climbed to 27th.  29th went to Spencer Gallagher, whose #23 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet briefly entered the Top 5 on old tires only to be involved in his second-straight late-race accident with just six laps to go.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was 17-year-old K&N Pro Series West rookie Dalton Sargeant, who brought out three cautions in the #5 Galt Toyota.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This is the first last-place finish for the #32 in a Truck Series race since March 12, 2011, when Brad Sweet’s own turn in the Great Clips Chevrolet - then fielded by Turner Motorsports - crashed after 13 laps of the Too Tough To Tame 200 at Darlington.  The number had never before finished last in a Truck Series race at Martinsville.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #32-J.J. Haley / 119 laps / crash
31) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 186 laps / running
30) #74-Paige Decker / 193 laps / running
29) #23-Spencer Gallagher / 196 laps / running
28) #5-Dalton Sargeant / 196 laps / running

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Norm Benning, Caleb Roark, Tyler Tanner (3)
2nd) Justin Jennings, Jennifer Jo Cobb (2)
3rd) Adam Edwards, Joey Gattina, J.J. Haley, Stew Hayward, Travis Kvapil, Justin Marks, Robert Mitten (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (6)
2nd) MB Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing (4)
3rd) MAKE Motorsports (2)
4th) Braun Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, NDS Motorsports, Win-Tron Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (17)
2nd) RAM (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

Monday, October 26, 2015

OPINION: The Final Lap Is Sacred

Gordon versus Junior, 2004 Aaron's 499
SOURCE: FOX Sports
The final lap.  Those final few seconds of recklessness, where the few drivers who’ve managed to keep their cars together keep the gas pedal down and try daring moves to bid for every position.  When it’s a battle for the lead, these seconds become the stuff of legends.  Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough locking bumpers at Daytona.  Dale Jarrett’s photo finish with Davey Allison at Michigan.  Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven bumping and sliding around Darlington.  It can be argued, in fact, that the best races are remembered most by what happens after the white flag drops.

Consider, if you will, all the moments we’d have lost if the caution froze the field on the final lap.  What if Doug Heveron’s crash on the apron of Turn 1 denied us the photo finish between Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough in 1984?  Or if Lake Speed and John Andretti’s spin forever made us wonder if Dale Earnhardt really could hold off Bobby Labonte that final half-lap of the 1998 Daytona 500?  Sure, those races really did end under caution.  Sure, the lead didn’t change either time.  Sure, Petty’s 200th and Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 win were landmarks in their own right.  But on those days, the drivers knew that the caution flag meant something very different.  The broadcasters’ voices kicked up a notch, because they knew it too.  It meant that lap now constituted the white, and that who reached the finish line first would still determine the winner.

Do you remember the thrills of Talladega in the spring of 2004?  Or at Daytona, in July 2008?  No?  That seems hard to believe.  In 2004, with four laps to go, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were side-by-side in Turns 3 and 4, two of the most popular drivers set for a legendary photo-finish in a physical race.  In 2008 on a green-white-checkered, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were side-by-side, too, looking to settle who was the driver of the year, the one who would truly challenge Jimmie Johnson’s title reign.  But both of those finishes, like that on Sunday, were denied to us.  Denied because a wreck that happened well behind them froze the field with acres of clear track in front of them.  And so their stories are lost, just as Sunday’s debacle will be forgotten by all but infamy.

The current rules cite safety, saying that crews need a chance to get to the cars quicker, as if the wreck will just magically stop at the moment of caution and as if the leaders don’t have spotters alerting them to slow down once they reach the finish.  These feigned concerns only mask the inconsistency of NASCAR’s enforcement.

On the final lap at Talladega in the fall of 2005, Dale Jarrett was leading when Kyle Petty spun by himself into the inside wall on the backstretch.  In the last corner of Talladega in 2006, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s wreck was also on the apron as Brian Vickers looked to hold off Kasey Kahne for the lead.  And just this year at the Daytona 500, Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon spun to the inside while Joey Logano steamed safely into Turn 3.  While each of these three wrecks were well clear of the remaining cars on the track, all three races ended under caution.  Still, when 20-car pileups came at the end of Talladega in the fall of 2001 and again in 2012, the race still ended under green.  This inconsistency based on a fallacy of safety cannot stand any longer.

The final lap, the final push to the finish line - whether with one to go or heading to the final caution - is sacred.  It’s what every driver dreams of, earning a win as they cross the stripe.  And it’s what every fan in the stands pays for, hopes for, waits for through hours of strategy and daring to witness.  Some fans watch racing for the personalities, others for the crashes, but all of them want to see a green-flag finish.  They expect it, and they should.  They should because racing isn’t like football, isn’t like baseball, isn’t like some ordinary game where one team can build an insurmountable point lead, making the final moments a formality.  It’s a race.  In the final stages, a legend like David Pearson can lose an engine, or two champions like Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip can tangle, opening doors for first-time winners like Terry Labonte and Kyle Petty, who did under those very circumstances in 1980 and 1986.

I, for one, am sick of being robbed of those final few seconds - especially when the series heads to its most precarious and most intimidating tracks at Daytona and Talladega.  I’m sick of believing the hype, of remembering a time where the finish line meant something and wasn’t some wandering point on the track arbitrarily moved by a late-race altercation.  I’m sick of being disappointed by a lackluster ending to an entertaining race, sick of being derided for saying I wasn’t entertained when, in reality, racing is both sport and entertainment.  When it fails to enthuse, it fails as entertainment, just like a bad movie.  But unlike a movie, what plagues NASCAR isn’t a poor script but a misguided effort to control the one thing that shouldn’t.

The solution is simple.  Make it a rule on the last lap, anything goes - no exceptions.  When a caution flies on the last lap, or within a pre-determined number of laps short of the finish that is announced in each drivers meeting, let the leaders race to the caution flag.  Let them do whatever they want - race below the yellow line while you’re at it.  You can still freeze the field under prior cautions, freeze it after the leaders reach the stripe and end it under caution, but at bare minimum let the fans have their moment beforehand.  The moment they paid for.  And best of all, you don’t even need a single red flag or green-white-checkers to accomplish this.

If this rule is in place, and the drivers know about this beforehand, know also that the rule won’t be changed on the fly during the event, there will be no confusion from both drivers and fans.  There will be, crash or no crash, a race to the finish line - whether on Lap 198 or Lap 200.

With this rule in place in April 2004, we would have seen the photo-finish between Gordon and Junior.  In July 2008, we would have known if Kyle really would have defeated Carl.  And on Sunday, during the first yellow for what NASCAR deemed a “false start,” we would have seen if Logano really could have held off Junior for 2.66 miles.  Who knows?  Maybe they would have rivaled Daytona 1979, Michigan 1991, or Darlington 2003.

It’s time we stop coddling our drivers and insulting their skill.  And it’s time the sport start clearing away pointless and contradicting rules in place of practical procedures that are the core of racing.

To NASCAR, I say this.  You say these are the best stock car drivers and teams in the country?  Fine, then trust them to pick their way through whatever separates them from the moment of caution to the finish line.  You say these cars and tracks are safer than before?  Fine, then show more trust in what you’ve created that they and their drivers can survive to make it that final mile.  You say you should be the number one motorsport in the country, that you have the most passionate fans and best racing?  Fine, then don’t deny those fans their final sprint to the finish line.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

CUP: Ryan Blaney Scores First Cup Series Last-Place Run After Fourth Blown Engine of 2015

SOURCE: Motorsport.com
Ryan Blaney picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford lost an engine after he completed 84 of the race’s 196 laps.  The finish occurred in Blaney’s 16th series start.

The 21-year-old son of sprint car legend, NASCAR veteran, and 2009 LASTCAR Cup Champion Dave Blaney has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks.  In 2011, he won his lone K&N Pro Series West start at Phoenix, then in 2012 signed with Brad Keselowski’s Camping World Truck Series team, which he’s since carried to four wins and a 2nd-place showing in the 2014 point standings.  In 2012, he finished 7th in his XFINITY Series debut at Richmond driving for Tommy Baldwin, Jr., and he soon found himself sharing a fleet Penske Racing ride with Keselowski and Joey Logano.  Blaney’s first of three XFINITY victories came at Kentucky in 2013, and he followed this by a 27th-place run in his Cup debut for Penske at Kansas in 2014.

This year, Blaney’s triple-duty schedule was skewed toward more Cup and XFINITY Series starts with a handful in Trucks.  His Cup ride for 2015 was with the Wood Brothers, whose iconic #21 was vacated by Trevor Bayne the previous season.  The Woods’ venerable single-car operation has become a satellite Penske team, its cars prepared alongside those of Keselowski and Logano, and there are indications - but as yet nothing confirmed - that he will run full-time for Penske in the near future.  In the meantime, Blaney’s second season in Cup would remain on a part-time basis.

This past May, the Talladega track was the scene of Blaney’s career-best Cup finish when he finished 4th after starting 3rd, following Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Paul Menard across the finish line.  However, other than that finish and a 7th last week at Kansas, Blaney’s 2015 Cup schedule has been marred by several frustrations.  Coming into Sunday’s race, he’d lost engines in three of his 14 starts and missed another three when rain washed out qualifying, eliminating his ride from the field based on a lesser number of race attempts.

Heavy cloud cover moved in through the weekend, but this time the rain stayed away.  On Friday’s opening session, he put up the 20th-fastest time and was 2nd of the 30 drivers in Happy Hour behind Keselowski.  He made it through the first round of qualifying and settled for 9th in the race for the pole, putting up a lap of 192.509 mph.  This time, the two drivers missing the race were two team cars debuting new sponsors: the #23 Overture Toyota of rookie Jeb Burton - his eighth of 2015 - and Michael Annett, whose #46 PJ Fresh / Flying J Chevrolet missed its first race since Atlanta in February.  While in Atlanta, Annett secured a ride from Circle Sport in the #33, this time Travis Kvapil remained in the ride and would roll off 42nd on Sunday.

Starting 43rd on Sunday was Chase contender Martin Truex, Jr., whose #78 Furniture Row / Visser Protection Chevrolet had its time disallowed when he went below the line during his lap in the first session.  Joining him in the rear were fellow Chevrolet drivers Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, and Justin Allgaier, whose cars were repaired before the race.  Ryan Newman, 10th in points entering the event, also conceded his 18th starting spot to drop to the back.  But before a single lap was completed, 43rd went J.J. Yeley, whose #26 Adirondack Tree Surgeons Toyota spent the opening three laps on pit road.  On Lap 3, Timmy Hill pulled the #62 Royal Teak Collection Ford behind the wall, dropping him back in his first Cup start since Dover earlier this month.  Yeley’s return on Lap 4 dropped Hill to last on Lap 6, but Hill then came back out on Lap 9, 7 circuits behind the leaders.  At this point, Hill and Yeley were running by themselves, just a few seconds ahead of the leaders.

On Lap 18, the leaders caught Hill entering Turn 1, and he guided the #62 safely up the track to let the traffic pass three-wide below him.  Yeley was caught a few laps later, and the two remained on-track, albeit at a slower pace than many of the frontrunners.  As the race remained under green, the two drivers held the final two spots until nearly the one-half mark.

Coming off Turn 2 on Lap 86, Blaney’s #21 slowed suddenly in the high lane, forcing the leaders to take another evasive maneuver to avoid him.  He made it safely to pit road without drawing a caution, but the crew quickly discovered an engine problem that ended their day for a fourth time in 2015.  Blaney fell to 43rd on Lap 94, lifting both Yeley and Hill.

Hill ended up 41st, his Ford suffering an electrical issue that made his car slow down the backstretch in the race’s closing stages.  Yeley ended up one spot outside the Bottom Five in 38th, one spot ahead of Jamie McMurray, whose #1 Cessna Pink Chevrolet drew the second caution of the day when the engine let go while racing the leaders inside the final 5 laps.  40th went to Matt DiBenedetto, whose #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota dropped to 42nd on Lap 97 with mechanical issues of his own, but returned to the track before Lap 120 to come home 19 circuits back.  Behind Hill in 42nd was Justin Allgaier, whose struggles in practice and qualifying were capped by an engine failure on his #51 Auto Owners Insurance Chevrolet that ended the race’s opening green-flag run of 132 laps.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This is the first last-place finish for the #21 in a Cup race at Talladega since May 5, 2013, when Trevor Bayne’s own turn in the Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford ended due to engine issues after 22 laps of the Aaron’s 499.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #21-Ryan Blaney / 84 laps / engine
42) #51-Justin Allgaier / 130 laps / engine
41) #62-Timmy Hill / 168 laps / electrical
40) #83-Matt DiBenedetto / 177 laps / running
39) #1-Jamie McMurray / 182 laps / engine

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (4)
2nd) Alex Bowman (3)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley (2)
4th) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports (2)
4th) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Wood Brothers Racing (1)

2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (10)
3rd) Toyota (4)