Sunday, March 8, 2015

CUP: Alex Bowman Last As Las Vegas’ Only Retiree

Alex Bowman picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #7 NIKKO / Toy State Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after he completed 28 of the race’s 267 laps.

The finish came in Bowman’s 38th series start.  It’s his first last-place finish since last fall at Talladega, 7 races ago.

Last year, Bowman participated in all 36 races of his rookie Cup Series season driving the #23 Toyota for BK Racing.  He came home 35th in points that year, earning a career-best 13th at Daytona last July.  When the series returned to Daytona this year, Bowman had just signed to drive the #7 for Tommy Baldwin Racing.  Baldwin’s team had scaled back its organization from two cars to just one, having sold the #36 team to Premium Motorsports, owners of Mike Wallace’s #66, where Baldwin’s entry now runs as Premium’s second car, #62, driven by Brendan Gaughan.

Bowman arrived at Daytona looking to make his second-consecutive start in the Daytona 500.  Last year, he raced his way in during his Budweiser Duel, finishing 14th in Race 1, then driving to a 23rd-place finish in the 500.  This year, Bowman was one of the many surprises in practice, leading 32 drivers in the fourth session on Wednesday afternoon.  In Thursday’s Duel Race 2, he started 12th in a field of 24 and was running right where he needed to transfer when he was taken out in a four-car wreck in the trioval.  Though uninjured, Bowman missed the 500 field, marking the first time Baldwin’s team missed has the race after six straight starts.

Bowman rebounded at Atlanta, clawing his way from 42nd to finish 23rd, and looked for another good run at Las Vegas.  At the desert track, Bowman was 28th-fastest in the opening practice, timed in 27th in qualifying with a lap of 189.947 mph, then ranked 37th and 29th in Saturday’s final two practice sessions.

Among the five drivers who missed the race this week was defending LASTCAR champ Mike Bliss, who ended up with the first DNQ for Frankie Stoddard and Archie St. Hillaire’s #32 Ford since the spring race at Bristol in March 2011, and Travis Kvapil, driving the same #44 Phoenix Warehouses Chevrolet that was stolen last week in Atlanta.

For the third-straight race, Premium Motorsports got just one of its cars into the race.  This time, it was Gaughan’s #62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet, which secured the 43rd and final starting spot.  After polesitter Jeff Gordon and 13th-place starter David Ragan’s backup cars started to climb through the pack, Gaughan retained the spot after one lap.  J.J. Yeley, driving Bowman’s old ride in the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota, took it on Lap 2.  Gaughan snagged 43rd again by Lap 8, then was the first car to lose a lap on Lap 16.  A half-dozen cars had lost a lap by the first competition caution on Lap 25, but no one had yet fallen out of the race.

Then, under the ensuing caution, smoke billowed from the right-side pipes on Bowman’s #7 Chevrolet.  NASCAR’s leaderboard indicated that Bowman had stayed out to lead a lap under the yellow and earned a bonus point.  However, when the final results were posted, Joey Logano was credited with that lap.  In either case, Bowman pulled off the track on Lap 28, his race done.

When the checkered flag fell, two big names joined Bowman in the Bottom Five.  42nd-place Carl Edwards led 2 laps and was looking for his first victory in Joe Gibbs’ #19 Comcast Business Toyota.  On Lap 195, he was in a tight race with Kasey Kahne for a spot inside the Top 10 when Edwards broke loose, slamming Kahne into the fence.  Kahne retaliated with a bump in the tri-oval, and Edwards broke loose in Turn 1, collecting the inside wall.  The wreck only dropped Edwards to 41st, however, as six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson had twice cut down a right-front tire, sending him behind the wall for more than 30 laps of repairs.  Johnson averted his fifth 42nd-place finish when he returned to the track before Edwards, causing the two drivers to switch positions by race’s end.

Finishing 40th on Sunday was Jeb Burton, whose lapped #26 Toyota was rammed by Jeff Gordon in Turn 1 as the two drivers checked-up during Johnson’s first accident.  Gordon apologized to Burton on pit road after the race.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Michael Annett, whose #46 Cypress Chevrolet clobbered the outside wall in Turn 4 during the middle stages of the race.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #7 since April 21, 2013, when Dave Blaney’s #7 SANY Chevrolet, also fielded by Tommy Baldwin, crashed after 36 laps of the STP 400.  The Baldwin team’s most recent last-place finish took place last November at Phoenix, when Mike Bliss secured his LASTCAR title in the #37 Accell Construction Chevrolet.
*For the second-straight year, the last-place finisher of the Cup Series race was the event’s only retiree.  Last year, Michael McDowell earned his only last-place finish of 2014 when his own engine let go after 141 laps.
*This marks the first season since 1999 where the first three last-place finishers of the season all fell out due to engine trouble.  That year began with runs by John Andretti (Daytona 500), Kyle Petty (Rockingham), and Ricky Rudd (Las Vegas).  Petty lost another engine the following week at Atlanta before Ken Schrader’s finish under power at Darlington ended the streak at four.

43) #7-Alex Bowman / 28 laps / engine
42) #19-Carl Edwards / 227 laps / running / led 2 laps
41) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 236 laps / running / led 45 laps
40) #26-Jeb Burton / 254 laps / running
39) #46-Michael Annett / 257 laps / running

1st) Landon Cassill (2)
2nd) Alex Bowman (1)

1st) #40-Hillman Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)

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