Friday, February 20, 2015

CUP: Josh Wise Unable To Start His Duel - Or The 500

Josh Wise finished last in Thursday’s Budweiser Duel #2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #98 Phoenix Construction / Curb Records Ford suffered electrical problems which allowed him to complete just 1 of the race’s 64 laps.

Wise and the Phil Parsons Racing team took a big step forward in 2014.  After three consecutive seasons as the LASTCAR Cup Series Champions with Michael McDowell, a manufacturer change to Chevrolet and a driver change with Josh Wise behind the wheel saw the team go without a last-place finish all season long.  Thanks to a crowd-funded Reddit effort, Wise not only ran competitively at both Talladega races, but earned the Fan Vote for the All-Star Race.

Heading into 2015, the Parsons team changed their car’s color from black to white, a scheme that debuted last November at Homestead.  For Daytona, the car would carry sponsorship from both co-owner Mike Curb’s record company as well as Phoenix Construction, the company owned by former #51 team owner James Finch.  The simple throwback scheme would debut at SpeedWeeks, where in 2014 Wise finished a strong 5th in Duel #1, earning him the 11th starting spot.

In qualifying, however, Wise put up just the 46th-fastest time overall out of 49 entrants, meaning that he would have to race his way into the 500 field.  He’d run 46th-fastest in last Saturday’s opening practice, 36th of 42 in the second session, then improved to 18th of 44 on Wednesday running in the draft before staying in the garage for the next two sessions.  All seemed ready for Wise to make his move on Thursday night.

As the field warmed up during the parade and pace laps, concerns arose around Carl Edwards’ new #19 ARRIS Toyota out of Joe Gibbs Racing, which had developed a soft brake pedal after a mistake while bleeding the brakes earlier that day.  While Edwards was rolling in the 3rd spot, Wise’s Ford stalled at pit entrance, complaining of an electrical issue with the fuel pick up.  The Parsons team faced a similar problem during last June’s race at Sonoma, where the team lost several laps trying to make repairs.  Though Wise’s car fired up when the race went green, the team soon pushed the car behind the wall.  He returned to the track 12 laps down, but after one circuit, went to the garage for good, knocking him from the 500 field.

Wise was the only retiree until Lap 36, when three drivers in new rides tangled in the tri-oval.  Rookie Jeb Burton in BK Racing’s #26 Toyota broke loose off Turn 4, then swerved into the right-rear of Sam Hornish, Jr.’s #9 Twisted Tea Ford out of the RPM stables, collecting Alex Bowman and his #7 Toy State / NIKKO Chevrolet fielded by Tommy Baldwin.  All three fell out of the race with two missing the 500 field: Burton, who would have made his Cup debut, and Bowman, who ended up with Baldwin’s first DNQ in the 500 since the team’s formation in 2009.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Bobby Labonte, whose first start in the car his brother Terry drove in his final start last fall, the #32 C&J Energy Services Ford from Frank Stoddard’s Go FAS Racing, took a detour when he collided with the wrecking Danica Patrick on Lap 58.  With the right-front tire shredding away bodywork, Labonte made it back to the pits, only to drop more debris on the track when he returned, ultimately taking him out of contention for the final green-white-checkered finish.

However, as in Race 1, underdogs stole the show as several made the 500 field.  Positions 6 through 8 all went to feel-good stories:

6th-place Ryan Blaney became the second rookie in five years to qualify for the Daytona 500 driving the Wood Brothers’ iconic #21 Motorcraft Ford, and he’ll attempt to equal Trevor Bayne’s upset win in 2011 in what will be his 3rd series start.

7th-place Reed Sorenson suffered heartbreak on Sunday when he blocked Clint Bowyer to try and get Johnathan Cohen’s underfunded #44 Team XTREME Racing into its first 500 field.  Contact between the two cars sent both hard into the outside wall in Turn 1, and both cars were the most destroyed in the ensuing wreck.  While Sorenson was himself unsure if the team had a backup ready, Team XTREME finished their backup in less than a day, got it race-ready, and locked themselves into the show with a late-race rally.  It is Team XTREME’s first Cup start since last October at Martinsville and their first-ever start at a restrictor-plate track.  Sunday, the team looks to improve on their team-best 34th-place finish with J.J. Yeley last June at Sonoma.

8th went to Mike Wallace, the 55-year-old NASCAR veteran who’s biggest successes have historically come at the restrictor-plate tracks.  Last fall at New Hampshire, Wallace made his first Cup start since 2009 driving for Identity Ventures Racing (now Premium Motorsports), the former NEMCO-JRR Motorsports team that owner-driver Joe Nemechek had started years before.  Though other drivers complained about the #66 team maintaining minimum race speed, Wallace and team looked to make a statement at Daytona with sponsorship from a Crazy Vapors, a small business out of Georgia.  Wallace did just that, remaining inside the Top 10 for most of the race’s second half, and avenging back-to-back DNQs in 2010 and 2012 with his first 500 start since a stunning 4th-place finish in the 2007 running.

*This is the first last-place finish in the Budweiser Duel for Wise, Phil Parsons Racing, and the #98.

24) #98-Josh Wise / 1 lap / electrical
23) #7-Alex Bowman / 36 laps / crash
22) #26-Jeb Burton / 36 laps / crash
21) #9-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 36 laps / crash
20) #32-Bobby Labonte / 60 laps / crash

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