Sunday, October 4, 2015

CUP: Jeb Burton - Not Jimmie Johnson - Last For The First Time At Dover

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jeb Burton picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s AAA 400 at the Dover International Speedway when his #23 Dr. Pepper / Estes Express Lines Toyota was involved in a single-car crash that ended his run after 186 of 400 laps.  The finish occurred in Burton’s 23rd series start.

Son of 2002 Daytona 500 champion Ward, the 22-year-old second-generation racer and 2013 Truck Series winner at Texas nears the end of his first Sprint Cup season.  He entered the Dover race 38th in points with a season-best 29th at Martinsville in March, missing the field six times but scoring just three DNFs all season.  Last month at Darlington, where Burton ran a “throwback” scheme reminiscent of Ward’s Caterpillar Dodge, BK Racing decided that Burton and teammate J.J. Yeley should swap rides, allowing Yeley the opportunity to bring Burton’s original #26 team higher in Owner Points.  Both driver and team looked to continue this effort at “The Monster Mile,” where Burton came home 30th in June.

The approaching Hurricane Joaquin brought enough rain to wash out Friday’s on-track activities, including both qualifying and the opening practice, and Burton secured the 39th spot on the grid.  Travis Kvapil, set to be the only DNQ because of the washout, withdrew along with The Motorsports Group’s #30 Chevrolet team on Thursday.  When Joaquin changed course and Saturday allowed for two practice sessions, Burton timed in 33rd and 41st.
Starting last in Sunday’s field was Timmy Hill, who brought back the black-and-gold scheme on the #62 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet campaigned earlier this year by Brendan Gaughan.  As the field gridded up, however, Hill was joined by Martin Truex, Jr., whose team was penalized for apparently pulling out the right-rear fender well on the #78 Furniture Row / Denver Mattress Chevrolet.  When the green flag dropped, Truex began his climb through the field, giving Hill the 43rd spot by the end of the first lap.

Heading into Turn 1 on Lap 3, Burton was racing Josh Wise’s #32 Schwarze Sweepers / Ford for position when Wise bumped Burton into a spin, drawing the first caution of the day.  While neither car was seriously damaged, both briefly exchanged the 43rd spot after yellow-flag pit stops.  On the Lap 6 restart, both passed Hill and dropped the #62 back to last, where he remained for most of the early stages.  Hill was the first to lose a lap on Lap 19, went down a second on Lap 33, a third by Lap 54, and a fourth on Lap 70.  Hill was still on the track with the rest of the field when the last-place battle took a dramatic turn.

Ten-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson entered the race fifth in points and, despite not being locked-into the Challenger Round, was expected by many to easily make the cut.  An early pit road speeding penalty dropped the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to the back of the field, but he was making up ground when he made an unscheduled stop on Lap 103.  The crew quickly discovered the car was leaking rear-end fluid from a busted seal behind the right-rear wheel, forcing the #48 to become the first car behind the wall.  By Lap 108, Johnson had not only taken last from Hill, but was suddenly at least ten points behind the cut line.

Sunday marked Johnson’s 500th Cup Series start, and in the 499 previous, the six-time champion had never once finished last.  Four times in his fifteen-year career, including twice last season, Johnson just barely extended the streak by coming home 42nd.  If the Hendrick Motorsports crew were unable to get Johnson back into the race, it would have been the first last-place run for the #48 since James Harvey Hylton’s 9th and final last-place run at Rockingham in the spring of 1993, and the first for the number at Dover since Freddie Crawford’s lone Cup start ended with a dropped cylinder on his Hylton car in 1990.

Then, on Lap 140, Johnson rejoined the race 36 laps down and promptly lost a 37th as Kevin Harvick’s dominant Budweiser Chevrolet flew by.  While Johnson regained this lap on Lap 149, he remained in 43rd as the entire field was still under power.  To make the Chase, Johnson now needed at least six cars - preferably Chasers - to fall out before the closing stages.  But unfortunately for Johnson, the number of Cup Series retirees has dropped in recent years while “start-and-park” efforts in Cup have all but disappeared.  Twice in 2015, all 43 cars finished under power, and two other times, just one car failed to finish.

It was not until Lap 192 that another car came to grief.  This time, it was Burton himself, his #23 slammed into the wall in Turn 2.  Burton climbed out apparently uninjured as his car caught fire, and soon after his entry was retired from the race.  Already laps down at the time of the crash, Burton fell to 43rd on Lap 222, again saving Johnson from his first 43rd.  But in the end, Johnson gained just one more spot - the #34 CSX “Play It Safe” Ford of Brett Moffitt that wrecked on Lap 355 - and did so with just 17 laps remaining.  Johnson ended up 41st and missed the cut by 12 points.  Hill finished on track 20 laps down in 39th, having passed Landon Cassill, whose engine let go on his #40 CRC Brakleen Chevrolet with 27 laps to go.

With seven races remaining, even drivers who have yet to finish last in 2015 are still mathematically in contention to claim the LASTCAR Cup Series Championship.  Cassill remains tied with Alex Bowman for the lead with three finishes apiece.  In the tiebreaker, Cassill’s 40th-place run on Sunday matches Bowman’s six bottom-five finishes, so Cassill now leads on Bottom Tens, 12-9.

Kyle Petty in Eddie Bierschwale's Oldsmobile, 1989
SOURCE: Stock Car Racer's Reunion
*This is the first last-place finish for the #23 in a Cup Series race at Dover since June 5, 1988 when Eddie Bierschwale’s Wayne Paging Oldsmobile dropped a valve after 15 laps of the Budweiser 500.  It was the third and final last-place finish for Bierschwale, a Texan driver who competed mostly for his family-owned team in 117 starts from 1983 through 1992.  Bierschwale’s best Cup finish was a 10th in the 1989 Daytona 500 - a race he started, but did not finish.  A crash in the qualifying races put Kyle Petty out of the starting lineup, and team owner Felix Sabates bought Bierschwale’s ride, putting Petty’s Peak Antifreeze logos on Bierschwale’s unsponsored Oldsmobile.  The arrangement was made for Bierschwale to start the race, then hand over the ride to Petty during an early caution.  The exchange was made, but under NASCAR rules, Bierschwale is credited with his only top-ten finish.

43) #23-Jeb Burton / 186 laps / crash
42) #34-Brett Moffitt / 346 laps / crash
41) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 364 laps / running
40) #40-Landon Cassill / 365 laps / engine
39) #62-Timmy Hill / 380 laps / running

1st) Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, J.J. Yeley (2)
3rd) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)

1st) BK Racing, Hillman Smith Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
2nd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports (2)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Toyota (4)

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