Sunday, May 3, 2015

CUP: Brian Scott Scores First-Ever NASCAR Last-Place Finish

Brian Scott picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #33 Shore Lodge Chevrolet lost the engine and crashed after he completed 18 of the race’s 188 laps.

The finish occurred in Scott’s 10th series start.  It was not only his first last-place run in Cup, but his first across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions following 184 XFINITY Series starts and 62 runs in the Truck Series - 256 starts in all.

In 2007, when he was 19 years old, Scott competed in a mix of X-1R Pro Cup, ARCA, and Camping World Truck Series races with an eye toward making NASCAR’s top division.  During that season, Scott earned four top-ten finishes in X-1R, a 13th in his ARCA debut at Kentucky, and a then-best 15th at Homestead in his last of 7 Truck Series starts for Xpress Motorsports.  One year later, Scott rounded out his first full Truck Series season by finishing runner-up to Todd Bodine in the 2012 Homestead finale.  During his second Truck season in 2009, Scott made his XFINITY Series debut at the Nashville Superspeedway, where he came home 25th for Braun Racing.  After he improved to a 14th-place run at Kansas, Scott went full-time into the XFINITY Series for 2010.

In the six years since, Scott has steadily improved in the XFINITY Series.  Funded primarily by Shore Lodge, a lakeside resort in his native Idaho, Scott has moved from series regulars Braun Racing and RAB Racing to Cup Series programs Joe Gibbs Racing and, currently, Richard Childress Racing.  Despite his quick ascent through the ranks, Scott’s early years in the XFINITY Series have been marked by a number crashes, mechanical failures, and rookie mistakes that have kept him from championship contention.  As of this writing, he remains winless in 184 series starts, though at least twice he has been within striking distance of the checkered flag, only to be bested by a Cup Series regular.

Scott made his Cup debut at Charlotte in the fall of 2013, driving for Childress in the #33 Chevrolet.  This is the same team currently co-owned by Joe Falk of Circle Sport, who enters the car whenever Childress does not use it to test his development drivers.  A 27th-place finish in Scott’s 2013 debut was followed by a difficult partial season in 2014.  That season included the spring Talladega event, where Scott surprised the field by earning the pole only to crash out and end up on the same lap as last-place finisher Tony Stewart.  However, with a career-best 13th in this year’s Cup race at Las Vegas, Scott looked to Talladega as a chance for an even better result.

On Friday, Scott timed in just 37th fastest of the 45 drivers entered, but jumped to 10th in Happy Hour.  Despite another change to NASCAR’s restrictor-plate track qualifying format, Scott came just four spots short of making the second round, timing in 16th at an average speed of 192.765 mph.

Starting last on Sunday was Matt DiBenedetto, who two weeks prior at Bristol had come just one spot short of his first finish inside the Top 20.  In the early laps of the race, DiBenedetto’s #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota traded the spot with two other drivers, all of them among a ten-car pack that was struggling to keep up with the leaders.  On Lap 2, it belonged to Chris Buescher, back in the #34 CSX Ford for Front Row Motorsports, the team that won the event in 2013.  Lap 3 saw 43rd go to Brendan Gaughan, who after four consecutive DNQ’s managed to get the #62 Dia Thrive Chevrolet into the show.  When Lap 19 began, DiBenedetto again held the spot when trouble broke out in the middle of the pack.

Heading into Turn 1, Scott had lost 10 spots and was running 26th in the middle lane of the lead pack when smoke burst from beneath his Chevrolet.  Scott fought for control, but spun to the inside of the track, nearly collecting the passing #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford of Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano.  Following Logano’s tire tracks was two-time Talladega winner Michael Waltrip.  Waltrip, again driving his own #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, couldn’t avoid Scott’s car and the two collided, sending Scott into the grass.  Waltrip made it to the garage while Scott climbed from his car in the infield, out of the event.

The wreck dropped Waltrip to the 43rd spot behind 42nd-place Scott, but while Scott was the first retiree, Waltrip’s team was hard at work getting him back on track.  When the #55 reappeared on Lap 55, he needed to complete just one lap to drop Scott to 43rd, where he remained for the rest of the race.

By the time Waltip rejoined the race, six other cars had already ended up in the garage area following a grinding backstretch wreck on Lap 47.  Too damaged to continue were the #6 AdvoCare Ford of Trevor Bayne, whose spinning 8th-place car triggered the wreck, and Kyle Larson’s #42 Target Chevrolet.  On Lap 55, Bayne and Larson were classified 39th and 41st as thirteen other drivers also suffered damage in the melee.  42nd soon went to David Ragan, whose final run as relief driver of the #18 Pedigree Toyota left him with a car wrecked as badly as the unsponsored #40 Hillman Smith Motorsports Chevrolet of 40th-place Landon Cassill.  Like Bayne, Cassill was inside the Top 10 at the time of the crash.  By race’s end, Ragan and Cassill returned to the race many laps down, lifting them to 38th and 39th, respectively and dropping the retired Bayne and Larson to 41st and 42nd.  Finishing 40th between Cassill and Bayne was Gaughan, whose #62 knocked down the wall exiting Turn 2 after a cut tire on Lap 92.

DiBenedetto spun during the Lap 47 wreck, but recovered to record a new career-best finish of 18th on Sunday.  As it turned out, his was just one of several surprising runs by underdogs in Sunday’s field.  4th went to Ryan Blaney, his first top-five finish in just 6 Cup starts, capping off a strong weekend where he qualified 3rd.  Engine troubles had prevented Blaney from finishing two of his previous three Cup starts, leaving him 39th in the Daytona 500 and 42nd at Texas.  6th went to Sam Hornish, Jr., his first top-ten finish since Watkins Glen in 2012 when he was driving for Roger Penske.  Hornish, who finished last at Fontana in March, had finished no better than 12th this season in the Daytona 500.  10th went to the #98 Royal Teak Ford of Josh Wise, who secured Phil Parsons Racing its first top-ten finish since the 2013 Daytona 500.  It was Wise’s career-best Cup finish - his previous best was 19th, which came while driving for Front Row Motorsports in this same race two years ago.

Just outside the Top 10 were Cole Whitt and J.J. Yeley, who finished nose-to-tail in 13th and 14th, respectively.  For Whitt, it was his best-career finish as well, improving on a 15th here last fall.  Yeley’s wasn’t quite a career-best Cup run (which remains his runner-up in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600), but it was BK Racing’s third-best finish behind Travis Kvapil’s 8th-place run at Talladega in the fall of 2012 and Alex Bowman's 13th-place run at Daytona last July.  Yeley also turned in a 4th-place run in the XFINITY race the day before, his second-straight season with at least one Top Five for JGL Racing.

Finally, Alex Bowman himself drove Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #7 Golden Corral Chevrolet to a 16th-place finish, just three spots shy of his own career-best finish of 13th in last summer’s July race at Daytona.  This was not only the best run of the young season for Baldwin’s Cup team, but the third-consecutive year where the Baldwin’s flagship #7 has finished 16th in the spring race at Talladega.  Bowman himself had finished last in his most recent outing at the Alabama track last fall.

*This marks the first time the #33 has ever finished last in a Cup race at Talladega.

43) #33-Brian Scott / 18 laps / engine
42) #42-Kyle Larson / 46 laps / crash
41) #6-Trevor Bayne / 46 laps / crash
40) #62-Brendan Gaughan / 90 laps / crash
39) #40-Landon Cassill / 91 laps / crash

1st) Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) A.J. Allmendinger, Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, Sam Hornish, Jr., Brian Scott, J.J. Yeley (1)

1st) #40-Hillman Smith Motorsports (3)
2nd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #9-Richard Petty Motorsports, #23-BK Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

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