Sunday, May 17, 2015

CUP: Mike Bliss Exits Early In Sprint Showdown

SOURCE: Getty Images, NASCAR
Mike Bliss finished last in Friday’s Sprint Showdown at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #32 Alpha Canvas Race Covers / Ford fell out with a vibration after he completed 6 of the race’s 40 laps.

The Showdown was Bliss’ first race in the #32 Ford fielded by Archie St. Hilaire and Frankie Stoddard since Bristol, when he tied his season-best finish of 31st at Atlanta.  Bliss had not suffered a DNF in any of his points-race starts this season, but he’d not finished on the lead lap, either, and he missed the show at Las Vegas.  The team’s two best finishes of the season came with Bobby Labonte at the restrictor-plate tracks - a 24th in the Daytona 500 and a 27th at Talladega - and Joey Gase scored the team’s only last-place run of the year at Richmond.

This year’s Showdown was to have the biggest field since 2009 with 30 cars on the preliminary entry list.  However, after the withdrawal of Hillman Racing’s second car #39 with driver Travis Kvapil, the 29-car field would instead equal the field in 2010.  Bliss ran a solid 14th-fastest in Friday’s lone practice session and qualified 18th at an average speed of 185.414 mph.  Bliss looked to help his team prepare for the Coca-Cola 600 in an event he came just short of winning a decade ago before Brian Vickers spun him out of the lead in the final corner.

Starting last in Friday’s field was Tanner Berryhill, who was making his first laps in Cup since his DNQ at Phoenix in March.  Friday, as at Phoenix, Berryhill was driving the #66 Chevrolet fielded by Premium Motorsports, a car which had not made an appearance at the track since the team withdrew from the field at Fontana.  However, by the end of Lap 1, Bliss had already taken last from Berryhill, and he pulled behind the wall under green on Lap 7.

Finishing next-to-last was current LASTCAR Cup Series leader Landon Cassill, whose #40 Snap Fitness Chevrolet slowed on the back straightaway late in the first 20-lap segment of the Showdown and exited at the halfway break with engine trouble.  During the ensuing caution, Alex Bowman retired his unsponsored black #7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet with electrical issues.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were two drivers who finished under power, but laps down - Michael Annett, who lost three laps in his #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, whose thrilling 3-wide battle for the lead with Martin Truex, Jr. and Clint Bowyer was followed by late misfortune.  Still fighting in the Top 5, Larson was bumped by Sam Hornish, Jr. In Turn 3 and made contact with the outside wall, forcing him to pit for repairs.

*This is the second time in three years that the #32 has finished last in the Sprint Showdown.  The number and team most recently trailed the field in 2013 when Timmy Hill’s OXY Water Ford overheated after he completed 6 laps.
*Bliss is the second-straight driver to finish last in the Showdown with “vibration” as the official listed reason.  In 10 of the last 15 runnings of the Showdown, the last-place finisher was taken out in a crash.

29) #32-Mike Bliss / 6 laps / vibration
28) #40-Landon Cassill / 20 laps / engine
27) #7-Alex Bowman / 22 laps / electrical
26) #46-Michael Annett / 37 laps / running
25) #42-Kyle Larson / 38 laps / running / led 1 lap

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