|SOURCE: Getty Images, NASCAR|
The finish was Lewandoski’s first of the season and his first in the XFINITY Series since September 29, 2012, when he also drove the same #10 to an early exit due to a vibration after 3 laps of the OneMain Financial 200 at Dover, 82 races ago. The finish occurred in Lewandoski’s 28th series start.
At Phoenix this past March, Lewandoski made his first XFINITY Series start in more than two years when he debuted a new team owned by Tom Kapusta. Lewandoski qualified the #56 Ole Energy Chevrolet in the 40th and final starting spot, bumping Atlanta last-placer Morgan Shepherd from the field, and went on to finish 30th, five laps down. It was the first XFINITY Series race Lewandoski finished under power since he rove for Curtis Key at Iowa in the summer of 2011, finishing 22nd in Key’s flagship #40. It was also a welcome change from 2014, when he parked seven times in the Truck Series driving for Randy Young and Kevin Cywinski, resulting in two last-place finishes.
Coming into the Talladega race, TriStar’s #10 was again slated to be driven by current 2015 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship leader Jeff Green, his name still on the rear window banner of the machine. However, in the weekend’s only practice session on Friday, Green shared his ride with Lewandoski, the two of them putting up the 37th-fastest lap of 45 entrants. Although Green also qualified the car, not needing to use his Past Champion’s Provisional with the 30th-best time of 175.832 mph, it was Lewandoski who climbed aboard on race day, sending the #10 to the back before the green flag.
Starting 40th on Saturday was Peyton Sellers, who was making his sixth start of the season in Victor Obaika’s #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet. Sellers had squeezed his way into the field ahead of five DNQs, including Texas last-place finisher Mike Harmon and the new Deese Racing Enterprises team with Chris Cockrum in their #35 Advanced Communications Group Chevrolet. By Lap 3 of the race, Lewandoski had taken 40th from Sellers and was more than 4 seconds behind the leader when trouble broke out up front.
Heading into the third corner, Elliott Sadler cut across the nose of Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s Ford, triggering an accident that collected the Chevrolet of Brendan Gaughan and Lewandoski’s teammate Mike Bliss in TriStar’s #19. Under the ensuing caution, Lewandoski followed Bliss to the garage area. Bliss spent 13 laps behind the wall before returning to the track by Lap 19. Lewandoski, who had by then parked the #10, fell to last once Bliss resumed the race. Gaughan resumed the race with Bliss, only to be collected in a second accident on Lap 74, leaving his #62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet 39th at the checkered flag.
Finishing 38th was Kenny Wallace, driving in relief of brother Mike Wallace during the elder Wallace’s heart surgery. Kenny’s turn in the #26 JGL Racing Toyota ended in the same crash that eliminated Gaughan in the tri-oval. 37th went to Chase Elliott, who slipped from 2nd to 3rd in the point standings after his #9 NAPA Chevrolet found the Turn 2 wall on Lap 40. Elliott managed to finish the race under power, 29 laps down, and he came just one circuit short of passing Harrison Rhodes’ #0 Flex Seal Colors Chevrolet for the 36th spot. Rhodes also suffered damage in the Lap 74 wreck, but was ultimately stopped by transmission issues after he completed just 12 more laps.
Meanwhile, at the front of the field, two underdogs from last year’s Talladega race burned even brighter when the race was over. 4th place went to the #28 Texas 28 Spirits Stage Toyota of J.J. Yeley, 7th in the 2014 running, his best finish since he came home 3rd at Lucas Oil Raceway on August 5, 2006. Yeley led two laps on Saturday, pacing the field as late as with 19 to go. The next day in the Cup race, Yeley would pilot BK Racing’s #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota to a 14th-place finish, the team’s third-best finish in its brief existence.
Less than a week after his first last-place run in Cup, Joey Gase earned his first top-five finish with a remarkable 5th in the #52 Donate Life / Alabama Organ Center Chevrolet. Last year in this event, Gase finished 11th despite the car overheating in the closing laps. This is also the first-ever top-five and top-ten finish for veteran Jimmy “Smut” Means in 14 years and 284 XFINITY Series starts. During his own Cup career as an owner-driver, Means himself had a career-best finish of 7th at the Talladega track on May 1, 1983. That run was one of just 17 top-ten finishes he earned in 455 starts over 18 years from 1976 through 1993.
*This marks the third-consecutive year that the #10 TriStar team has finished last in the XFINITY Series race at Talladega, and each came with a different driver. In 2013, Jeff Green fell out after 3 laps with a vibration. In 2014, Blake Koch’s vibration ended his run after 1 lap. Both drivers went on to claim the season’s LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship.
*Lewandoski is the first driver to finish last in an XFINITY Series race at Talladega due to transmission issues.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #10-Charles Lewandoski / 3 laps / transmission
39) #62-Brendan Gaughan / 72 laps / crash
38) #26-Kenny Wallace / 72 laps / crash
37) #9-Chase Elliott / 84 laps / running / led 1 lap
36) #0-Harrison Rhodes / 84 laps / transmission
2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jeff Green (4)
2nd) Dexter Bean, Mike Harmon, Charles Lewandoski, Morgan Shepherd, Derek White (1)
2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (5)
2nd) #40-Motorsports Business Management, #74-Mike Harmon Racing, #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures, #92-King Autosport (1)
2015 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (5)
2nd) Chevrolet, Dodge (2)