Sunday, November 8, 2015

CUP: Ryan Blaney Last As Tire Issues Fill Texas Bottom Five

Ryan Blaney picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #21 Snap-On Tools Ford was involved in a single-car crash that ended his run after 26 of 334 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Blaney’s 17th series start, was his first since Talladega, two races ago.

Texas was Blaney’s first Cup start since the last-place run at Talladega, the Wood Brothers team passing on the race at the Martinsville track near the team’s birthplace near Stuart, Virginia.  While Blaney had finished 2nd, 8th, and 3rd in his three XFINITY Series starts at the 1.5-mile quad-oval, an early engine failure in the Cup race this past spring left him 42nd, when he was edged for last by J.J. Yeley.

In what turned out to be the weekend’s only practice session for the 45 entered Cup drivers, Blaney put up the 7th-fastest time overall, besting half of the Chase field.  Qualifying proved less fruitful, however, as Brian Scott edged him by six-thousandths of a second for the final spot in Round 2.  He would start Sunday’s race 25th with an average speed of 195.525 mph.  Missing the show were Reed Sorenson, his #62 Premium Motorsports entry the slowest to take time, and the #32 ZAK Products / Donate Life Texas Ford of XFINITY Series regular Joey Gase, who was looking to make his first Cup start since Kansas in May.

Starting 43rd on Sunday was Justin Allgaier, whose HScott Motorsports teammate Michael Annett suffered the latest in a series of yet-unexplained hauler fires.  While no one was injured in the fire, Annett’s Texas cars were destroyed, and the Iowa driver rolled out 37th in Allgaier’s backup.  By the end of Lap 1, 42nd-place starter Ryan Preece fell to last in the #98 Xyience Chevrolet.  Preece was still running in the back on Lap 10, when the first caution fell with championship implications.

Joey Logano qualified 4th in his #22 AAA Insurance Ford and was a favorite to lock himself into the Championship Round of the Chase with a win.  In the aftermath of NASCAR’s controversial two-race suspension of Matt Kenseth, who had wrecked Logano at Martinsville in retaliation for his own championship-ending incident at Kansas, the Texas crowd cheered on Lap 11 when Logano’s #22 spun by himself on the apron of Turn 3 with a cut left-rear tire.  The tire shredded away sheet metal and foam from the inside of his car, and after turning one more lap, the Penske Racing crew pulled Logano behind the wall.  Logano was the first driver to lose a lap as he quickly took 43rd from Preece.

The race restarted on Lap 18, but just eight circuits later the caution fell once more.  This time, Blaney was the victim, his #21 contact with the wall off Turn 4 cutting a tre before he slowed with heavy right-front damage in Turn 2.  The Wood Brothers team pulled Blaney’s ride to the garage to join Logano, and soon after his Ford was listed out of the race.  Logano returned to the track on Lap 76, his damaged ride 64 circuits back of the leaders, and on Lap 92, Blaney fell to last in the final change for 43rd.

Logano made it to only 40th at race’s end, and with the other seven Chase drivers finishing inside the Top 10 combined with teammate Brad Keselowski’s narrow loss to Jimmie Johnson, both Penske Racing cars need to win at Phoenix to make the title fight at Homestead.  42nd went to Tony Stewart, who narrowly avoided his first last-place run since Watkins Glen when his #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet lost control and dug into the infield grass on Lap 53.  41st went to Alex Bowman, who Logano nipped in the final laps when the LASTCAR runner-up’s #7 Nikko / Road Rippers Chevrolet lost an engine.  39th went to Trevor Bayne, whose #6 AdvoCare Ford was among the many other victims of cut or blown tires, his triggering the eighth yellow on Lap 198.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #21 in a Cup Series race at Texas.  The Wood Brothers team also never finished last in any of the eight Cup races held at the old Texas World Speedway in College Station from 1969 through 1981.  The team’s best run at the two-mile track was by A.J. Foyt, whose Purolator Mercury started on pole and came home 2nd on November 12, 1972.

43) #21-Ryan Blaney / 26 laps / crash
42) #14-Tony Stewart / 52 laps / crash
41) #7-Alex Bowman / 236 laps / engine
40) #22-Joey Logano / 268 laps / running
39) #6-Trevor Bayne / 296 laps / running

With two races to go, Landon Cassill’s only challengers mathematically eligible for the 2015 LASTCAR Cup Series Championshp are Alex Bowman, Michael Annett, and J.J. Yeley.

Bowman can only control his destiny by sweeping both last-place finishes at Phoenix and Homestead, thus taking the lead from Cassill outright.  He can also win with just one more last-place finish, but only if Cassill doesn’t finish inside the Bottom Five in either race - Bowman is currently tied with Cassill with 7 Bottom Fives apiece, but trails Cassill in Bottom Ten finishes, 14-10.

Annett and Yeley can claim the title by sweeping the final two last-place runs no matter where Cassill finishes.  Annett already leads Cassill on Bottom Fives, 8-7.  Yeley, who has matched Cassill’s 7 bottom-fives, leads Cassill in Bottom Tens by an insurmountable 21-14.  At least one of these two drivers will be eliminated by not finishing 43rd at Phoenix, and both will fall from contention if they both come up short.

While Ryan Blaney now sits in a five-way tie for third in the LASTCAR standings and can match Cassill’s four finishes with a sweep of the final two 43rd-place runs, he has been mathematically eliminated from title contention along with the remaining two-timers - Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne.  Almirola and Kahne have only 2 and 3 bottom-five finishes to Cassill’s 7, preventing a successful tiebreaker on Bottom Fives.  Blaney, meanwhile, has 5 Bottom Fives, but due in part to his limited schedule trails Cassill in Bottom Tens 14-5.  Blaney is also not listed to run in next week’s Cup race at Phoenix, making a two-race sweep impossible.

1st) Landon Cassill (4)
2nd) Alex Bowman (3)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley (2)
4th) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)

1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing (2)
4th) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (5)

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