Thursday, November 24, 2016

8/29/76: The story of 1976 LASTCAR Cup Champion Joe Frasson (1935-2016)

PHOTO: John Betts, Stock Car Racers Reunion
On August 29, 1976, Joe Frasson picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Volunteer 400 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #18 Excuse Lounge Chevrolet ran out of tires after 5 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Frasson’s 100th series start, was his fourth of the season and first since Pocono, three rounds earlier, when he tangled with Bill Hollar’s #29 Velvet Touch Furniture Chevrolet on Lap 3 of the Purolator 500.  The finish, the last of his career, secured him the 1976 LASTCAR Cup Series title.  He ended the year one finish ahead of Darrell Bryant, Henley Gray, and Bruce Hill.

Known as much for his temper as his independence, the no-nonsense Italian-American driver was born in Golden Valley, Minnesota in 1935.  At the suggestion of his friend and mentor, A.J. Foyt, Frasson made the move from USAC to NASCAR in 1969, and made his Cup debut at the Riverside road course on February 1 of that year.  Driving a #32 Plymouth sponsored by Mario Frasson Cement Company, which at the time he co-owned with his father, Frasson finished 41st in the field of 44, out early with engine trouble.  At a time when Northern drivers were a rarity, Frasson took the setback as motivation, and returned in 1970 to attempt a large part of the schedule.

After finishing 14th in his first Daytona 500 start, he made his first start in car #18 at Atlanta, the number he’d run for much of his career.  He earned his first two Top Tens that year - a pair of 9th-place runs at the Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway dirt oval, and the paved Albany-Saratoga Speedway in New York.  The effort put him just short of taking Rookie of the Year from Virginian driver Bill Dennis.  His first Top Five, a 5th at Michigan, came the following year, though he still preferred the short tracks.  He also reveled in his underdog status.  During NASCAR’s “aero wars,” he outpaced several of the winged factory Dodges and Plymouths in an older-model car.  Team owner Ray Nichels took notice, and Frasson’s #18 was awarded a wing of its own.

In each of his ten seasons, Frasson never ran all the races, and was known to lose his temper when he failed to qualify.  In 1975, he took a jack handle to an ill-handling Pontiac LeMans that wasn’t fast enough at Charlotte, earning him the nickname “Jackhandle Joe.”  As with other owner-drivers, the source of his stress was clear:  “I’m bitter because as long as I’ve been down here (South) purses haven’t increased,” he said in an interview.  “Yet the expense of racing is shooting up all the time.  I don’t see why a car that wins a race gets twice as much money as the second-place car, and the second place finisher get twice as much as the third.  I guarantee you if you don’t finish at least fifth, you can’t pay your motel and tire bill.”

The above interview came prior to the 1973 Winston 500 at Talladega, where he would be one of 60 starters to take the green flag.  An outspoken critic of NASCAR’s sanctioning body - especially the rule book - Frasson had clear misgivings about the size of the field.  “For one thing, there’s no money in it,” he said.  “They’ve increased the field but haven’t hiked up the purse.  And those cars starting 40 and on back are not gonna be competitive by any means.  They’ll be from 40 to 40 miles per hour difference in the first ear[sic] and the 40th, at minimum.  And all 60 cars will do is give up more caution flags.  NASCAR was talking earlier about cutting the field to 40 cars so there wouldn’t be so many cautions.  It looks like they’ve eliminated that idea.”

Both of Frasson’s fears came to pass.  After starting 9th, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a third of the field was destroyed in a multi-car melee, the same one which ultimately ended Wendell Scott’s driving career.  For his troubles, Frasson left with a 43rd-place finish and a mere $1,125 share of the purse.  Race winner David Pearson took home $26,345.

Unfortunately, Talladega wasn’t the only serious crash involving Frasson.  He was one of the last people to speak to Tiny Lund minutes before his fatal 1975 wreck at the Alabama track.  During the 1976 Southern 500, Frasson struck the driver’s side door of Skip Manning’s Billy Hagan-prepared Chevrolet.  Pinned in his destroyed car, Manning had to be cut free, and was hospitalized with a cracked pelvis, a concussion, and a fractured left foot.  Then, while running the 1979 opener for the NASCAR Sportsman Series, Frasson’s car exploded into flame when he was rear-ended by Delma Cowart during a grinding backstretch wreck.  Miraculously, Frasson walked away, but the same accident claimed the life of fellow competitor Don Williams.

According to the record books, Frasson was still searching for his first victory in 1976, but according to the driver, he was aiming for victory number two.  In an interview for Perry Allen Wood’s book Declarations of Stock Car Independents, Frasson stated he was two laps ahead of the field at Texas World Speedway in 1973, but a scoring error handed the win to Richard Petty.  He was awarded 3rd that day, tying his career-best mark at Darlington the previous year.  In ‘76, Petty and Frasson crossed paths again in one of NASCAR’s most famous finishes.  When Petty and David Pearson tangled for the win in the Daytona 500, Pearson nosed into Frasson, tearing up the right side of his car.  As Frasson limped home 14th, he watched Pearson take the victory.

The Daytona incident was Frasson’s first race with sponsorship from the Excuse Lounge, who backed his #18 for the rest of the 1976 season.  His best finish of the year came during the spring race at Darlington, where he came home 8th.  But, heading into Bristol, he’d racked-up four DNFs and three last-place finishes, and would one week later be involved in the aforementioned wreck with Skip Manning.  Still, he managed to secure the 30th and final spot in the Bristol field.  Sent home were Georgia driver Jerry Hansen, who looked to make his first start in two years, and Pennsylvania’s Earl Ressler, his only recorded Cup Series attempt.

Frasson’s exit after five laps due to “no tires,” remains the only time in NASCAR history that a last-place finisher retired for that reason.  The cause for Frasson’s lack of tires is not entirely clear, but given his concerns over tire costs, it may be that he simply couldn’t afford enough rubber to run the race.  Finishing 29th was fellow owner-driver Ed Negre, whose #8 Dodge broke the rear end after 12 laps.  Frasson drove Negre’s car in two races late in the 1970 season.  28th went to Dean Dalton, whose #7 Chevrolet lost the transmission three laps after Negre.  North Carolina driver Gary Myers fell out next, the engine gone on his #04 Hicks Pharmacy Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Walter Ballard, who also lost the engine on Baxter Price’s #45 Chevrolet.

Over the next two years, Frasson made seven more Cup starts.  His final race came at Rockingham on October 22, 1978, where his unsponsored Buick came home 23rd after late-race engine trouble.  But this wasn’t the end of his racing career.  In the years ahead, Frasson joined two newly-organized NASCAR divisions.  He was part of the NASCAR XFINITY Series’ first season in 1982, finishing 12th during the series’ first trip to Charlotte.  In 1991, at age 55, he joined the new NASCAR Southeast Series, running at least one race a year for its first five seasons.  His best finish there was a 20th at Myrtle Beach on November 19, 1995, where he again ran a #18 Chevrolet.  His last start in the series came in 1998, though he attempted at least one more start in 2002.  He moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he operated a successful insurance company.

This past Monday, Frasson passed away.  He was 81.

*This marked the first, and so far, only last-place finish for the #18 in a Cup Series race at Bristol.
*The #18 would not finish last in another Cup Series race until June 1, 1980, when Randy Ogden’s #18 Ogden Racing Chevrolet lost the engine after 13 laps of the NASCAR 400 at the Texas World Speedway.

30) #18-Joe Frasson / 5 laps / no tires
29) #8-Ed Negre / 12 laps / rear end
28) #7-Dean Dalton / 15 laps / transmission
27) #04-Gary Myers / 35 laps / engine
26) #45-Walter Ballard / 55 laps / engine

*“1973 - Joe’s bitter. . .Frasson loves racing, but Winston 500 may be his last,” May 2, 1973; reprinted at Midwest Auto Racing, May 2, 2013.
*Hembree, Mike. “From Nightmare To A Comeback.” Herald-Journal, October 8, 1976.
*Wood, Perry Allen. Declarations of Stock Car Independents, Interviews with Twelve Racers of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 2010.

Monday, November 21, 2016

BOOK UPDATE: New “J.D.” Release Date Coming Soon

A couple updates on the book I’m writing about J.D. McDuffie.

First of all, the original release date, set for January 10, 2017, has been postponed.  While I cannot give details as to why, I can say that I expect a new release date will be announced sometime this offseason.  I will announce the new date both on this site and on my Twitter feed @LASTCARonBROCK, so stay tuned for more details.  I apologize for the inconvenience.

The book itself is very nearly complete, and I am well into the editing and revision phase.  I have also updated the cover slightly, and shortened the title to simply “J.D.”  The current version is attached to this post.

Thank you for your attention and patience.  Although this delay was not planned, I am confident that it will only help this book be the very best it can be.  In the meantime, I am also still collecting interviews, so if any of you have other sources you’d like to recommend, or know of anyone who would like to be interviewed, please let me know.

I am also in the process of updating all of my LASTCAR history books on Amazon to reflect statistics through 2016.  Those updates will be available to download by the end of this month.  I will tweet when they, too, become available.

Have a relaxing offseason and a wonderful holiday.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

CUP: Aric Almirola’s third last-place finish of 2016 secures LASTCAR title for Josh Wise

PHOTO: @RPMotorsports
Aric Almirola picked up the 9th last-place finish of is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #43 Smithfield Ford finished under power, 54 laps down, in the 267-lap race.

The finish, which came in Almirola’s 215th series start, was his third of the season and first since Kansas, five races ago.

Though Almirola and the “Petty Blue” Smithfield car rebounded with a season-best 8th-place finish at Talladega, the team finished mid-pack in the following three races, coming home 15th at Martinsville, then 22nd at Texas and Phoenix.  Coming into his home track at Homestead, Almirola sat just 26th in the standings, eager for a fresh start in 2017.  The race would also be the 53rd and final series start for teammate Brian Scott, who two weeks ago announced his retirement.

Almirola began the weekend 29th in the opening practice session and earned the 25th spot in qualifying with a lap of 175.092mph.  He missed bumping Jamie McMurray for a spot in Round 2 by just nine-hundredths of a second.  The #43 found some speed in Saturday’s first practice, jumping to 12th ahead of Chase drivers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.  In Happy Hour, driver and team ranked 22nd.  For just the ninth time all season, more than four Open teams arrived to attempt the field - albeit just one - and Gray Gaulding’s #30 Feed The Children Chevrolet was too slow to make the cut.

Starting last for the fifth time in 2016 was Michael Annett, who has only one time all year qualified the #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet any better than 33rd.  But during the pace laps, the big story was Chase contender Jimmie Johnson, sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments on the driver’s side A-post of his #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.  Johnson didn’t spend much time there, and by the end of Lap 1, the spot fell to Dylan Lupton.

Lupton, making his fourth start of the season and first for Go FAS Racing in the #32 Can-Am / Ford, struggled with speed all night.  At the end of that first lap, he was already 5.879 seconds behind the leader and six-tenths behind 39th-place Annett.  By Lap 6, those gaps grew to 13.869 and 2.555, then on Lap 6 to 18.777 ad 4.035.  On Lap 14, Lupton’s #32 was the first to be lapped by the leader.  He held the spot until Lap 28, when Ryan Blaney’s #21 Motorcraft Ford required repairs following the first of three scrapes with the outside wall.  Lupton retook last on the Lap 32 restart and began to lose laps rapidly.  He lost a second on Lap 43, a third on Lap 59, and a fourth by Lap 72.

Almirola’s struggles began on Lap 65, when he pitted just before the first round of green-flag stops.  The decision, which cost Almirola two laps, came after the #43 had made contact with the outside wall.  From there, he remained down in the order, but outside the Bottom Five.  Lupton remained in 40th, losing more laps during the long green-flag stretches.  A fifth by Lap 97, a sixth by Lap 115, a seventh by Lap 129, an eighth by Lap 148, a ninth by Lap 165, and a 10th by Lap 168.

Just when it appeared Lupton would remain in 40th, handing the #32 its first last-place run at Homestead since Scott Pruett in 2000, Almirola’s day went from bad to worse.  On Lap 184, the #43 was suddenly eight laps down in 38th, having spent the previous few laps in the garage.  Another brush with the wall had broken something in the rear end housing, forcing extensive repairs.  Finally, the laps Almirola lost exceeded the rate at which Lupton lost his, dropping the #43 to the back on Lap 188.  Though it seemed the Richard Petty Motorsports team would not have enough time, they did manage to make repairs and send Almirola back on track on Lap 233.

While Almirola’s late return to the track meant that all 40 starters were still running, his issues all but ended the 2016 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship.  Stuck in a three-wide tiebreaker on Bottom Fives, Reed Sorenson and Matt DiBenedetto needed to finish last in order to snag away the title from Josh Wise.  At the time of Almirola’s return, DiBenedetto was 4 laps down and Sorenson was back 9, but there were only 34 laps to best Almirola’s 54 laps behind.  By the time the #43 returned to the track, both could not finish enough laps down to take 40th from Almirola.  In the end, both finished under power - Sorenson in 32nd and DiBendetto in 27th - while Almirola was never passed for last.

39th remained Lupton’s as the rookie finished 18 laps behind race winner and series champion Jimmie Johnson.  The remainder of the Bottom Five filled with three of the six retirees from a huge crash with 10 laps to go.  After contact between Chase contenders Joey Logano and Carl Edwards sent Edwards head-on into the inside wall entering Turn 1, the track closed.  38th went to Regan Smith, whose #7 Nikko RC / Road Rippers Chevrolet had to qualify on speed after Tommy Baldwin Racing sold its Charter to Leavine Family Racing with Circle Sport.  Smith struck the stopped car of Edwards after 37th-place Kasey Kahne, whose #5 Great Clips Chevrolet vaulted Edwards’ #19 ARRIS Toyota high into the air.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Martin Truex, Jr., whose miserable second half of the Chase ended with a terrible fire that consumed his #78 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Toyota.  Fortunately, no drivers were injured.

Josh Wise clinched his first LASTCAR title on a three-way bottom-five tiebreaker of 17-13-7 over Sorenson and DiBenedetto.  It was the closest LASTCAR Cup championship since 2001, when Andy Houston prevailed in a four-way tiebreaker over Stacy Compton, Kyle Petty, and Rusty Wallace.  Like Houston, Wise did not race in the season finale.

Jimmie Johnson, who won the race and his record-tying seventh Cup Series title, earned his first last-place finish in his 529th start this past August at Watkins Glen.  He is the first driver to score the Cup championship in the same season as his first last-place finish since Matt Kenseth in 2003.  Johnson is also the second-straight Sprint Cup Champion to also finish last in the same year, following Kyle Busch’s early crash at Michigan in 2015.

Tony Stewart ended his career Sunday after 618 Cup starts and 49 victories.  He retires with nine last-place finishes across NASCAR’s top three divisions, seven of them in Cup.  Two of those seven, including his first, came in the Daytona 500 (2002, 2007).  His most recent was at Watkins Glen in 2015.  As of this writing, he stands tied for 18th in the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings and tied for 22nd all-time.

Brian Scott retired with just one last-place finish, which came at Talladega in 2015.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #43 in a Cup Series race at Homestead.
*This marked the first time the last-place finisher of a Cup race at Homestead finished under power.  The record for most laps completed in this race, however, still belongs to Stacy Compton, who in 2001 ran 222 laps before a late-race crash.

40) #43-Aric Almirola / 213 laps / running
39) #32-Dylan Lupton / 250 laps / running
38) #7-Regan Smith / 255 laps / crash
37) #5-Kasey Kahne / 257 laps / crash
36) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 257 laps / crash

1st) Premium Motorsports (5)
2nd) BK Racing, HScott Motorsports, The Motorsports Group (4)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Hendrick Motorsports (2)
5th) Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing, Go FAS Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Ford (8)
3rd) Toyota (7)


XFINITY: Matt DiBenedetto ends 2016 with third-most last-place finishes in XFINITY Series history

PHOTO: Jonathan Moore, Getty Images North America
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 16th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his unsponsored #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with a vibration after 2 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in DiBenedetto’s 68th series start, was his 14th of the season (3rd-most all-time) and second in a row.  Although on Sunday, he came just short of becoming the first driver to claim two LASTCAR titles in the same year, DiBenedetto now has sole possession of 3rd in the all-time LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings.  Only Jeff Green (89 last-place finishes) and Jeff Fuller (24) have more.

This time, DiBenedetto returned to TriStar as one of 44 drivers on the preliminary entry list, a list that grew to 45 when Mario Gosselin added his #90 BuckedUp Apparel / CrashClaimsR.Us Chevrolet last Tuesday.  DiBenedetto again put up fast times, running 20th in Friday’s opening practice, 29th in Happy Hour, then ran 24th in the first round of qualifying with a lap of 163.895mph.  He stood on his time in Round 2, and would roll off in that spot on Saturday.

Five teams missed the show.  Fastest of the group was David Starr, who looked to make his first start since Texas in RSS Racing’s #93 Massimo Motors Chevrolet.  Morgan Shepherd failed to qualify for the seventh time in 2016 (not counting three withdrawals).  Though his #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet never finished a race this year, nor came home better than 34th, he did not score a single last-place finish.  Mike Harmon’s #74 Dodge missed the cut for just the fourth time this year, and for the first time on a non-restrictor plate track.  Dexter Stacey ended the year 1-for-3 in attempts for Derrike Cope Racing’s #70 E-hydrate Chevrolet, and Ryan Ellis was unable to join Obaika Racing teammate Josh Bilicki.

Starting 40th for Saturday’s race with the Past Champion’s Provisional was none other than all-time last-place leader Jeff Green, again in B.J. McLeod’s unsponsored #99 Ford.  DiBenedetto joined Green at the back for the start, surrendering his 24th-place on the grid for an early exit.  At the end of Lap 1, DiBenedetto was already 6.946 seconds behind the leader, then 25.673 on Lap 2 as he prepared to pull down pit road.  He crossed the stripe as he exited the race under green, securing the last-place run.

39th went to Timmy Hill, who stayed out to lead three laps during the race’s second caution for Ryan Reed’s spin in Turn 2.  Hill’s #40 Phoenix Air / / OCR Gaz Bar Toyota had brake issues 41 laps after DiBenedetto’s retirement.  38th went to Gosselin, who prior to Hill’s troubles had an extended stay in the garage for a broken radiator hose.  The resulting overheating issues didn’t go away, and Gosselin’s #90 pulled out after he passed Hill.  37th went to Joey Gase, whose Jimmy Means Racing crew got a scare when something ignited under the hood on pit road.  Ignition failure was the official listed cause for the #52 Donate Life Florida Chevrolet’s short day.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Truck Series racer Jordan Anderson, whose first race for Precision Performance Motorsports ended when his #46 Chevrolet was collected in a multi-car wreck on the backstretch, starting a fire.  No drivers were injured.

*This marked TriStar Motorsports’ fourth-straight last-place finish in the XFINITY race at Homestead and the fifth in the last seven.

40) #10-Matt DiBenedetto / 2 laps / vibration
39) #40-Timmy Hill / 43 laps / brakes / led 3 laps
38) #90-Mario Gosselin / 49 laps / overheating
37) #52-Joey Gase / 87 laps / ignition
36) #46-Jordan Anderson / 134 laps / crash

1st) TriStar Motorsports (21)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (4)
3rd) RSS Racing (3)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., JD Motorsports (2)
5th) Chip Ganassi Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (23)
2nd) Chevrolet (7)
3rd) Ford (2)
4th) Dodge (1)


TRUCKS: Ryan Truex the lone retiree of Homestead finale

PHOTO: @Ryan_Truex
Ryan Truex picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #81 Chiba Toyopet Toyota fell out with engine trouble after 49 of 134 laps.  The finish, which came in Truex’s 19th series start, made him the 12th first-time last-place finisher in 2016.

The two-time K&N Pro Series East Champion and younger brother of Martin Truex, Jr. has continued to fight to make a name for himself in NASCAR’s top three divisions.  He made his XFINITY Series debut in 2010, his first in Trucks in 2012, and debuted in Cup in 2013.  He and fellow newcomer Alex Bowman signed with BK Racing for a run at the 2014 Cup Rookie of the Year, but both struggled.  Truex was released by the September race at Loudon, and other than a four-race XFINITY stint for Biagi DenBeste Racing in 2015, had been missing from the grid.

This year, Truex signed with Hattori Racing Enterprises, a part-time XFINITY and Truck Series operation owned by Shigeaki Hattori.  Hattori, a former open-wheel racer with ten Truck starts as a driver, planned at least a partial schedule with Truex, contingent on sponsorship.  During the season opener at Daytona, Truex nearly came up big, finishing a close 2nd to Johnny Sauter when a last-minute caution froze the field.  It was far and away the best finish for Hattori, who himself ran no better than 27th in the series, and whose team ran 17th in its only two previous starts.

Heading into Homestead, Truex had racked up three more Top Tens: a 6th at Kansas, 8th at Dover, and another 8th at Talladega.  No less than ten sponsors signed with the team for one and two-race deals, but still the team was only able to run 15 of the season’s 23 races.  Still, the team qualified for each race they attempted and failed to finish just once - at Michigan, where the rear gear failed in the final laps.  Following a 21st-place showing at Texas, the team skipped the next-to-last race at Phoenix, then eyed a return at Homestead.

Truex was one of 35 drivers who arrived to attempt the 32-truck field for the season finale.  Among them was Tommy Joe Martins, whose team labored for a full week to rebuild the truck that wrecked at Texas.  Chassis 025, nicknamed “The Unlucky Lady” by Martins Motorsports, made it to Homestead, but was a handful in qualifying.  29th in both practices, Martins ended up the fastest truck to miss the show, a half-second short of bumping Austin Wayne Self for 27th.  Joining the #44 Boot Daddy / Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet on the ride home were Jennifer Jo Cobb, who was a late entry in her #10 Chevrolet, and Norm Benning.  Benning, once again driving for Mike Mittler in the #63 Strategic Public Affairs Chevrolet, made just eight starts in 2016, his fewest in the series since 2008.

Truex, meanwhile, earned a strong 15th-place run in qualifying and had run 17th and 20th in the twin practice sessions.

Starting last in Friday’s race was Travis Kvapil, who returned to MAKE Motorsports’ #1 Chevrolet.  By Lap 2, 32nd fell to his teammate, Spencer Boyd, in the #50 Chevrolet, who after eight laps was already 19.7 seconds behind the leader.  Boyd still trailed the field on Lap 15, when the first yellow fell for Stewart Friesen’s spin off the fourth corner in the #16 Halmar International Chevrolet.  Friesen fell to last as a result, then climbed ahead of Matt Tifft, who took last on Lap 32 in his #11 Brain Gear / Surface Sunscreen Toyota for Red Horse Racing.  Friesen retook the spot from Tifft on Lap 40 and held it until the second caution, drawn by Patrick Staropoli.

Staropoli’s night in Bobby Dotter’s #07 Auto Nation Cure Bowl proved a struggle as he drew three of the night’s four cautions for spins and accidents.  But for all his issues, he still finished under power, nine laps down, in 31st.  Between his second and third incident, Truex had pulled into the garage, having reported smoke in the cockpit.  The discovered engine problem proved terminal, and the #81 was done for the night.  His turned out to be the only DNF of the evening.

Staropoli, Boyd, and Friesen finished 31st, 30th, and 29th, respectively.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Reed Sorenson, who stayed out during the first caution to lead Lap 17, then settled back for a 28th-place finish in Premium Motorsports’ #49 Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #81 in a Truck Series race since August 13, 2013, when Ricky Ehrgott’s #81 Platinum Wealth Partners / Rev1 Power Services Toyota was eliminated in a single-truck accident after 2 laps of the Pocono Mountains 125 at Pocono.

32) #81-Ryan Truex / 49 laps / engine
31) #07-Patrick Staropoli / 125 laps / running
30) #50-Spencer Boyd / 128 laps / running
29) #16-Stewart Friesen / 128 laps / running
28) #49-Reed Sorenson / 130 laps / running / led 1 lap

1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (7)
2nd) GMS Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (2)
3rd) AWS Racing, Bolen Motorsports, Brandonbilt Motorsports, Hattori Racing Enterprises, Jim Rosenblum Motorsports / FDNY Racing, MAKE Motorsports, MB Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing,  ThorSport Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Toyota (5)


CUP: Open Team Roundup - Homestead

PHOTO: Getty Images

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 8th, Finished 26th

After five straight finishes of 20th or better, Blaney’s up-and-down 2016 season ended with frustration.  He ran 5th in the second practice and started 8th, but made contact with the wall twice in the first 27 laps, dropping him to the Bottom Five, then last on Lap 30.  An apparent flat right-front tire sent him into the wall on Lap 208, and after another unscheduled stop with 23 laps to go, he wound up four laps down.  Still, despite all his struggles, Blaney topped all Open teams for the 27th time in 34 races, securing the 20th spot in Driver Points.

#49 BK Racing (former #93)
Driver: Matt DiBenedetto
Started 31st, Finished 27th

DiBenedetto rejoined the Open team contingent at Homestead, where Jeffrey Earnhardt would again drive his #83 BK Racing entry.  For the first time this year, the #93 had its number changed to #49 to promote the $49.99 price of the new video game “NASCAR Heat: Evolution.”  After holding fast to a lead-lap run through the first half, DiBenedetto lost four laps in the final stages.  Still, he came within one spot of having BK Racing lead the Open teams for the first time all season.

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started 37th, Finished 32nd

Sorenson, the other LASTCAR contender, came closer to the 40th spot, running 39th for most of the race’s early laps.  The multi-car melee with 10 laps to go hoisted him to 32nd, his best finish since Charlotte in October.  Premium ended the year topping the Open teams eight times between the #98, not entered in the race, and Sorenson’s #55.  The team’s best finish of the year came with Cole Whitt in the #98, who ran 11th in the July race at Daytona.

#7 Tommy Baldwin Racing (former #59)
Driver: Regan Smith
Started 35th, Finished 38th

After a difficult season, Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) announced last Thursday that they had sold their Charter to Leavine Family Racing with Circle Sport (LFR).  The move guaranteed a starting spot for LFR’s second team, the #59 Chevrolet Michael McDowell debuted in the Daytona 500, and the car carried logos for TBR sponsors Nikko and Toy State.  While McDowell went on to equal his season-best finish of 10th in the July race at Daytona, continuing a streak of driver and team-best finishes in 2016, Smith found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  After running near the back of the field, the wrecking Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards slid directly into his path, ending his night in a hard crash.  It was a sad end for TBR, which since 2009 had worked to earn a guaranteed starting spot.  Next year, TBR plans at most a partial schedule.


#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Gray Gaulding
2016 Stats: 30 starts, 5 DNQs, 1 Withdrawal

The third and final leg of Gaulding’s 2016 Cup campaign ended early.  38th in the opening practice, a half-second behind Sorenson for the next Open spot, Gaulding anchored the field in qualifying, three-tenths away from staving off elimination.  As of this writing, Gaulding’s plans for 2016 are still in the works.  While TMG never led all Open teams in 2016, they ranked second seven times, including their season-best (and team-best) 24th at Kentucky with Josh Wise.


#26 BK Racing
#35 Front Row Motorsports
#40 Hillman Racing
#98 Premium Motorsports
#99 Roush-Fenway Racing

None of the other part-time Open teams attempted the race in Homestead, including Premium Motorsports’ #98 which for the first time in 2016 did not make the preliminary entry list.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

11/14/99: For the second time, Darrell Waltrip finishes last in an inaugural Cup race

PHOTO: R. Kurtycz,
On November 14, 1999, Darrell Waltrip picked up the 14th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Kmart at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #66 Big Kmart / Route 66 Ford fell out with handling issues after he completed 85 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Waltrip’s 780th series start, was his second of the season and first since an early engine failure during the Coca-Cola 600, 21 races previous.

For nearly three decades, the outspoken driver from Franklin, Tennessee was a fixture in the garage area.  He made his first Cup start as an owner-driver in 1972, finishing 38th in a field of 50 at Talladega.  He won his first of 84 career races in his own equipment as well, taking the checkered flag at his home track, the Nashville Fairgrounds.  Behind the wheel of DiGard Racing’s #88 Gatorade Chevrolet, he banged fenders with the likes of David Pearson and Richard Petty.  With Junior Johnson, he claimed his three titles and two 12-win seasons, besting names like Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison.  His long-awaited Daytona 500 victory came in Rick Hendrick’s “Tide Ride,” besting new rivals like Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace.  And in 1991, he returned to his roots with DarWal Enterprises, scoring five more wins over two seasons.

As the 1990s progressed, however, the rest of the field began to catch up.  After coming just short of a fuel mileage victory in the Atlanta finale, Waltrip’s Western Auto Chevrolet went winless in the 1993 season.  In 1996, he slipped to 29th in points, picking up just two Top Tens.  1997 saw the celebration of Waltrip’s 25th year in racing, and his #17 ran seven different paint schemes, including five that represented his time with DiGard, Johnson, and Hendrick.  But that season also saw his first DNQ since 1974.  In the fall race at Charlotte, Waltrip lost the Past Champions’ Provisional to Terry Labonte.  Western Auto left after ‘97, and when new sponsors SpeedBlock and Builders Square failed to meet their obligations in early 1998, DarWal closed.  Waltrip ran one more race in his #17 at Darlington, the flat white paint scheme honoring the ailing Tim Flock.  Many thought the 30th-place run that day would be the end of his career.

But the very next week at Bristol, help came from a most unexpected source: his longtime rival  Dale Earnhardt.  Earnhardt’s rookie driver Steve Park had been injured at Atlanta, and the team needed a relief driver.  Following two unsuccessful attempts with Phil Parsons and Ron Hornaday, Jr., Earnhardt tabbed Waltrip to run at Bristol.  At a track where he’d won 12 times before, Waltrip not only bested four cars to make the field, but finished 23rd, his best run of the season.  Four races later, he came home 5th at Fontana, then five races after that came up just short of his first checkered flag since 1992.  Waltrip was out front with 21 laps to go when Jeremy Mayfield made the winning pass, taking his own first victory.

Park’s return at Indianapolis moved Waltrip to Tyler Jet Motorsports (TJM).  TJM’s “Team Tabasco” #35 Pontiac had endured a miserable start to the season, failing to qualify for eight of the first 16 races with Todd Bodine, then struggling with Wally Dallenbach, Jr., Gary Bradberry, and even Jimmy Horton, who had been out of the series for more than three years.  When Waltrip came aboard and finished 13th, driving a Chevrolet that TJM bought from Waltrip, it was a breath of fresh air.  However, ongoing legal disputes between sponsor and team forced a switch back to Pontiac.  Though Waltrip didn’t miss a race all season, the Pontiac never finished better than 18th.  At season’s end, Waltrip put the “Tabasco Fiasco” behind him.

For the 1999 season, Waltrip signed with Travis Carter Racing, which previously fielded a single-car entry, the #23 Winston / No Bull Ford, for Jimmy Spencer.  Waltrip would drive for a new second team, #66, with sponsorship from K-Mart.  In each of the first four races of the season, Waltrip rounded out the field in qualifying with the final provisional spot, but he finished no worse than 27th.  A strong 12th-place start at Bristol and 12th-place finish at Martinsville showed the team had potential.  But by the closing months of the season, Waltrip had gone through five crew chiefs and failed to qualify six times.  On August 5, during the lead-up to the Brickyard 400, Waltrip had announced he would retire following the 2000 season, which he would call the “Victory Tour.”  By the time the series rolled into Homestead, Waltrip sat a distant 37th in points.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway opened in 1995 with the arduous name “Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex.”  The track, constructed in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, opened as a rectangular oval similar to Indianapolis, though 1.5 miles long in place of Indy’s 2.5.  The flat track hosted the XFINITY Series finale in 1995, and the Truck Series opener the following year, but the racing didn’t satisfy viewers.  Worse, the track proved dangerous.  On March 21, 1997, John Nemechek, Joe’s younger brother, was killed in a hard crash five days earlier.  That same season, Homestead was reconfigured to a 1.5-mile true oval.  The four corners remained virtually flat at just six degrees.

Two years before they picked up the second half of the NASCAR calendar, NBC broadcast the inaugural Pennzoil 400 with Alan Bestwick as the lead announcer.  The biggest storyline, other than the race itself, was Dale Jarrett, who had all but clinched his first Winston Cup Championship, and the first for Robert Yates Racing after several near-misses.  Another was rookie driver Tony Stewart, who claimed his second win of the season the previous week at Phoenix and would roll off 7th.  Starting up front was Busch Series veteran David Green, TJM’s new driver, who after quietly finishing 12th at Phoenix had earned his first career pole in his 72nd series start.  TJM’s #45 Pontiac, sponsored by AT&T’s 10-10-345 long distance rate plan, was originally driven by Rich Bickle until Green took over at New Hampshire in September.

Waltrip rolled off 42nd in the field, one spot ahead of fellow owner-driver Brett Bodine in the #11 Paychex Ford.  Bodine had purchased his team from Junior Johnson, who Bodine drove for in 1995.  Both were joined by Kevin Lepage in the #16 TV Guide Ford for Roush Racing and Rick Mast’s #98 Team Woody Ford from Cale Yarborough Motorsports, each sent to the rear after crashes sent them to backup cars.

Five drivers missed the cut: Dave Marcis in his #71 RealTree Camouflage Chevrolet; prospective 2000 rookie candidate Ed Berrier in Donlavey Racing’s #90 Hills Brothers Coffee / NesQuik Ford; Derrike Cope in Larry Hedrick’s #41 Kodiak Chevrolet, and ARCA drivers Andy Belmont and Bob Strait.  Belmont’s #04 AOL Ford was fielded by Charles Meacham, who was looking to make his first Cup start as an owner since 1991.  Strait’s #61 Rent-A-Wreck / Phoenix Air Racing Ford, owned by fellow ARCA racer Mark Thompson, had previously qualified for a Cup race that season at Watkins Glen with Porsche racer David Murry.

By Lap 14, Waltrip had taken 43rd from Brett Bodine, and was already 20.690 seconds behind the leaders.  Around Lap 28, Bodine fell back to last once more and was the first to lose a lap to leader Bobby Labonte off Turn 4.  Around Lap 43, Bodine pitted, then went to the garage under green.  By Lap 80, Bodine was back on track, still in 43rd and 14 laps behind.  Waltrip held 42nd, six laps in arrears, but made his own trip to the garage soon after, having been “somewhat off the pace most of the afternoon” according to the booth.  Waltrip reurned to the track near the 100 lap mark, then pulled off once more.  NBC listed him as officially “out” on Lap 146.  Bodine finished under power in 40th, 26 laps down.

Just one caution slowed the day’s action, resulting in an average speed of 140.335mph and a race just under three hours in length.  The caution fell for Ricky Rudd, whose #10 Tide Ford flirted with a 10th-place finish when the experimental motor he acquired from Robert Yates let go.  Seconds earlier on the same lap, Michael Waltrip slipped into the wall in Turn 2 from an unrelated incident.  The rest of the Bottom Five was filled with mechanical issues.  42nd went to Ted Musgrave, whose #75 GameWorks Ford suffered ignition failure.  41st went to Rudd, out after 184 laps.  Ahead of 39th-place Bodine was Chad Little, the only other retiree in Roush Racing’s #97 John Deere Ford.

The next week, Waltrip was handed his seventh DNQ of the 1999 season when he missed the field for the season finale at Atlanta.  He’d miss five more races during the 2000 “Victory Tour,” including both rounds at Richmond, though Carl Long sold him his spot to make his final Coca-Cola 600.  Waltrip’s best run by far that year came at Indianapolis, where he nearly won the pole for the Brickyard 400 - the 60th of his career - before he was bumped to 2nd by Ricky Rudd.  Waltrip came home 11th that day, one of only two finishes inside the Top 20.  He finished 34th in the Atlanta finale, where Jerry Nadeau claimed his first series win.  The following February, he was in the booth for FOX Sports’ call of the Daytona 500, where brother Michael’s own first win was marred by tragedy.

Dale Jarrett clinched the series title with a 5th-place finish at Homestead.  Stewart won that day, cruising to Rookie of the Year, and won there again in 2000. When progressive banking was added to the track for the 2003 season finale, Stewart would not win there again until 2011, when he bested Carl Edwards in a tiebreaker for his third and final series championship.  This Sunday, Stewart returns to south Florida with eyes on his 50th career victory.  Edwards, one of the Championship Four, is in contention for his first title for the fourth time in his career.

*This marked the second time Waltrip finishes last in an inaugural Cup race.  On April 6, 1997, during the first Interstate Batteries 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, his #17 Parts America Chevrolet was knocked-out of the race in a grinding first-lap, first corner wreck that involved 12 other cars.  Only Waltrip failed to complete the opening lap.
*The #66 has finished last in the Cup finale at Homestead two times since, both with Phil Parsons' team: Mike Bliss in 2010 and Michael McDowell in 2011.

43) #66-Darrell Waltrip / 85 laps / handling
42) #75-Ted Musgrave / 182 laps / ignition
41) #10-Ricky Rudd / 184 laps / engine
40) #11-Brett Bodine / 238 laps / running
39) #97-Chad Little / 245 laps / engine

*1999 Pennzoil 400 Presented by Kmart, NBC
*“Darrell Waltrip, driver of the No. 66 K-Mart Taurus, announced his retirement as a NASCAR Winston Cup driver following the Victory Tour 2000 next...”, August 5, 1999.
*“Homestead-Miami to be reconfigured with 20-degree variable banking,”, May 21, 2003.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

CUP: Martin Truex, Jr. handed third career last-place finish in fall race at Phoenix

PHOTO: FOX Sports, NBC Sports
Martin Truex, Jr. picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #78 Furniture Row / Denver Mattress Toyota fell out in a two-car accident after 258 of 324 laps.

The finish, which came in Truex’s 404th series start, was his second of the year and first since Talladega, three races ago.

The engine failure which handed Truex that last-place run in Alabama eliminated driver and team from Chase contention, so the final four races would be played for pride.  In the two races since, the #78 showed the same speed that carried it to four wins this season.  Truex won his fifth pole of the season at Martinsville, his first on a Cup short track, led 147 laps in the first half, and came home 7th.  He looked even better at Texas, leading 66 laps and threatening to pull the victory until Carl Edwards caught him just before a race-ending rain storm, leaving him 3rd.

Next on the schedule was Sunday’s race at Phoenix, a track where Truex has had mixed results.  In 21 previous starts, his best finish was a 5th back in 2009, when he won the pole for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.  He also had just two DNFs, but each were last-place finishes during two separate fall races: 2008 and 2012.

When Truex arrived at the track on Friday, things didn’t go much better.  A crash during opening practice sent him scrambling to a backup car, which could not get through inspection in time to qualify.  This left Truex 40th and last on the grid for the first time since Talladega in the fall of 2015.  He then rose once more, topping the charts in Saturday’s second practice and running 9th in Happy Hour.  The team decided against changing engines, though the “tail end of the field” penalty would not change their situation.  Landon Cassill would join him on Sunday for a rear gear change on his #38 MDS Transport Ford.  40 drivers once again arrived to make the 40-car field, so no teams were sent home.

On the first lap of the race, a tight battle up front nearly led to disaster.  Kyle Larson’s move to the inside of Joey Logano in Turn 3 sent both cars sliding up the track, then Larson into a spin, and Trevor Bayne spun out to avoid them both.  Ironically, the only damage suffered in the incident happened to Tony Stewart, whose #14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet suffered a small puncture on the nose.  First Larson, then Stewart exchanged last under the yellow, and Larson’s #42 Target Chevrolet once again trailed on the Lap 6 restart.

On Lap 9, Reed Sorenson took 40th from Larson.  If he finished in that spot, he would clinch his first LASTCAR title, breaking a tie with Josh Wise and Matt DiBenedetto.  For Phoenix, Sorenson had switched rides at Premium Motorsports to the #98 Speed Stick Chevrolet, allowing two-time NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion D.J. Kennington to make his series debut in the #55.  Kennington’s red-and-white Northern Provincial Pipelines Chevrolet took last from Sorenson, followed on Lap 17 by Gray Gaulding in the #30 Feed The Children Chevrolet from The Motorsports Group.

The 20th time by, Gaulding was the first to be lapped, and he would hold the spot for most of the day.  On Lap 64, an extended stop from the #30 team dropped him three laps behind, and when he stalled the car after a four-tire stop on Lap 129, he was then eight down.  Gaulding’s stranglehold on the 40th spot seemed complete until the restart on Lap 217, when Austin Dillon slowed in front of Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson.  The incident sent both Johnson and Dillon to the garage area - the former with significant damage to the nose, requiring a new radiator, and the latter with an apparent battery or electrical issue.  Johnson took last from Gaulding on Lap 228, and Dillon fell to 39th on Lap 235, lifting Gaulding to 38th.  Johnson returned to the track first on Lap 241, dropping Dillon to last on Lap 250.  Dillon returned nine laps later, putting all 40 cars on track once more.

Truex entered the picture following another wreck in Turn 1.  Already two laps down following a penalty for passing the pace car on pit road, his #78 was shoved up the track by Ryan Newman’s #31 Cat Minestar Chevrolet.  While Newman managed to avoid the outside wall, Truex backed into it hard, destroying the rear clip.  After swerving off pit entrance to return to the track, Truex pulled his Toyota behind the wall.  With 39 laps to go in regulation, NBC’s leaderboard indicated Truex, now 38th, was out.  With Johnson and Dillon still on track, Truex took last on Lap 293.

39th-place Dillon and 38th-place Johnson both finished under power, 35 and 28 laps down, respectively.  37th went to Gaulding, who lost the fuel pump in the final moments.  The double-overtime finish left Gaulding on the same lap as Johnson, but the #48 took the 38th spot.  Sorenson, nine laps back, rounded out the Bottom Five.  Next week at Homestead, both Sorenson and Matt DiBenedetto can take the LASTCAR title by finishing last one more time, otherwise it will go to current leader Josh Wise.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in a Cup race at Phoenix.
*All three of Truex’s last-place finishes came with different teams.  The other two came with DEI and Michael Waltrip Racing.
*This marked Toyota’s 135th last-place finish in Cup competition, tying Oldsmobile for the fifth-most in series history.

40) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 258 laps / crash
39) #3-Austin Dillon / 289 laps / running
38) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 296 laps / running / led 13 laps
37) #30-Gray Gaulding / 296 laps / fuel pump
36) #98-Reed Sorenson / 315 laps / running

1st) Premium Motorsports (5)
2nd) BK Racing, HScott Motorsports, The Motorsports Group (4)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports (2)
5th) Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing, Go FAS Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (7)


XFINITY: Matt DiBenedetto scores TriStar’s sixth last-place run in seven Phoenix races

PHOTO: Jonathan Moore, Getty Images North America
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 15th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his unsponsored #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with a vibration after 3 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in DiBenedetto’s 67th series start, was his 13th of the season and first since Dover, four races ago.  He remains 10 finishes behind Jeff Green’s single-season record of 23, set with the same team last year.  However, he now ties Kevin Lepage for the third-most in series history.

Phoenix was DiBenedetto’s first start in the #10 since Dover.  Since then, he’d failed to qualify at Charlotte and crashed for a 36th-place run at Texas, but also scored a strong 11th-place run at Kansas in TriStar’s #14 Superior Essex Toyota.  For Phoenix, the #14 would go to Cole Whitt, who earlier this month announced he would not make any more Cup starts this season.  The #10 missed the Kansas race, and Jeff Green parked it once more at Texas for his 89th career XFINITY last-place run.  DiBenedetto was slated to do the same.

DiBenedetto was one of 44 drivers on the preliminary entry list, following another late entry on Wednesday of the Obaika Racing team with Ryan Ellis in the #77 and Josh Bilicki in the #97.  DiBenedetto ran a strong 19th in both practice sessions and qualified 29th with a speed of 130.411mph.  Missing the field were Ellis’ Obaika car, David Starr in RSS Racing’s #93 Massimo Motors Chevrolet, owner-driver Morgan Shepherd in the #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet, and Dexter Stacey, who on Thursday was again tabbed to drive for Derrike Cope in the #70 E-Hydrate / Ashurst American Honey Chevrolet.

Josh Bilicki’s Obaika #97 rolled off 40th on Saturday night, joined by Corey LaJoie and Brad Keselowski, whose cars were sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments.  DiBenedetto fell to the rear by the end of the first lap, already 9.462 seconds behind the leaders.  On Lap 2, he was 11.279 behind, then 25.908 on Lap 3, 11.809 behind 39th-place Mike Harmon.  That time by, DiBenedetto pulled the #10 behind the wall under green, the race’s first retiree.

Finishing 39th was two-time last-placer Timmy Hill in Motorsports Business Management’s #40 Phoenix Air / Toyota, out with brake issues.  38th went to Alex Bowman, who one day after winning his first Cup pole for Sunday’s race suffered the first of a series of hard crashes in Turn 3.  Jeff Green, who finished 21st in his last start for B.J. McLeod at Kansas, ended up 37th with his own wreck on Lap 93 in McLeod’s unsponsored #99 Ford.  Rounding out the Bottom Five in 36th was Ray Black, Jr., whose #07 ScubaLife Chevrolet narrowly missed a stack-up on the initial start only to crash in Turn 1 on Lap 106.

*This marked both Toyota’s ninth consecutive XFINITY Series last-place finish and the sixth in the last seven Phoenix races for TriStar Motorsports.

40) #10-Matt DiBenedetto / 3 laps / vibration
39) #40-Timmy Hill / 14 laps / brakes
38) #88-Alex Bowman / 54 laps / crash
37) #99-Jeff Green / 90 laps / crash
36) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 103 laps / crash

1st) TriStar Motorsports (20)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (4)
3rd) RSS Racing (3)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., JD Motorsports (2)
5th) Chip Ganassi Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (22)
2nd) Chevrolet (7)
3rd) Ford (2)
4th) Dodge (1)


TRUCKS: “Some random issue” hands Spencer Gallagher his first last-place finish

PHOTO: FOX Sports 1
Spencer Gallagher picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #23 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet was involved in a single-truck accident after 11 of 150 laps.  The finish came in Gallagher’s 57th series start.

The enthusiastic 26-year-old from Las Vegas began his NASCAR odyssey at age 12, running in short track Bandolero and Legends Car competition.  In 2009, he caught the eye of car owner T.J. Clark, who in 1995 was edged for the inaugural LASTCAR Truck Series championship by John Kinder in a bottom-five tiebreaker, 7-4.  In 2011, with sponsorship from Allegiant Air, the commuter airline owned by his father Maury, Gallagher drove Clark’s blue #23 in a combined 11 K&N Pro Series West, K&N Pro Series East, and ARCA events.  His best run of the season was a 7th in the West event on the Portland International Raceway road course, where he finished 7th.  One of his K&N cars was the Chevrolet which Max Papis drove to a close 2nd in the XFNITY race at Montreal in 2010.

In 2012, Gallagher competed in his first full ARCA season, earning six Top Tens, including a season-best 7th at Winchester, and a 7th-place rank in the points.  At mid-season, he began to race for his family’s team, which Gallagher Motorsports, which later became the present-day GMS Racing.  Driver and team nearly scored their first win the following season, leading 10 laps at Salem before Tom Hessert III took the lead on a last-lap green-white-checkered finish.  It wasn’t until his 51st and most recent ARCA race, the 2014 finale at Kansas, that Gallagher took the checkered flag, charging from next-to-last in the 33-car field.

At the time of the Kansas victory, Gallagher and GMS had already broken into NASCAR, making 12 starts over two seasons in the Truck Series.  He made his debut at Kansas on April 20, 2013, finishing 22nd after a late-race crash.  At Talladega on October 18, 2014, he made a thrilling last-lap high-lane charge to come home 3rd, the first time he’d finished better than 11th in NASCAR.  With the ARCA phase of his career done, Gallagher went full-time Truck racing in 2015, coming home 10th in the series standings.

All the while, GMS continued to build its program, thanks to a 2014 technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.  The #21, which Gallagher drove part-time in 2013, remained alongside his present #23, and in 2014 the team signed Kyle Busch driver Joey Coulter, then Brennan Poole.  In October came the #33 team, acquired from Turner Scott Motorsports, bringing such drivers as Brandon Jones and Grant Enfinger.  Austin Dillon gave the team its first win at Loudon.  This year, the team added a fourth part-time truck, #24, with its own mix of Cup regulars and rising stars.

Gallagher and GMS Racing have continued to make headlines in 2016.  Johnny Sauter, who left ThorSport for GMS this season, scored three wins and qualified for the Truck Series’ inaugural Chase.  After parting ways with Red Horse Racing, Ben Kennedy put the GMS #33 into victory lane at Bristol.  At Phoenix, Sauter, Kennedy, and Gallagher would be joined by rookie Kaz Grala, who’s shared GMS’ #24 with Kennedy, Grant Enfinger, and Shane Lee, as well as Cup drivers Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer.

Gallagher himself spearheaded the team’s XFINITY Series effort in 2016, debuting the #21 Kingman Chevrolet-Buick / Allegiant Travel Chevrolet Camaro at Phoenix with a 23rd-place run, then earning a season-best 8th at Daytona in July.  On the Truck Series side, he finished inside the Top Ten for five straight races after the season opener.  He ran strong at Gateway, where he narrowly missed his first win the year before, but was taken out in a wreck with John Wes Townley, culminating in an on-track fight between the two.  He led late at Mosport before being spun from 2nd in the final laps.  He was again strong at Talladega, working over teammate Grant Enfinger before coming home 2nd.  And his second of two poles this season came last week at Texas, where he led 88 of 147 laps, but a slow pit stop left him a disappointing 7th.  While outside the inaugural Truck Series chase, Gallagher came to Phoenix 12th in the series standings.

Gallagher ran 14th in the weekend’s opening practice, then led the field in Happy Hour with a lap of 135.150mph.  He picked up more speed in qualifying with a lap of 135.227, but 15 drivers ran even quicker, leaving him 16th in the field of 32.

Originally, 32 drivers arrived to make the 32-truck field.  A 33rd entry, Tommy Joe Martins, was added last Wednesday.  Martins’ late addition was a surprise - he had qualified for every race in 2016, including the spring race at Martinsville, where he sold his spot to Austin Wayne Self.  But it was a rough weekend for Martins Motorsports.  The driver lost one of his last two trucks in a crash at Texas, meaning he wouldn’t have a backup for Phoenix.  While the team did manage to qualify for Friday’s race in the 22nd spot, Martins was suffering a bad ear pain.  After several trips to the infield care center, he considered “start-and-parking” his entry.  He felt well enough to race, but unfortunately, an early crash eliminated him from the event.  Curiously, the cause of the wreck was Self.  As of this writing, Martins does not have a truck ready for Homestead and his plans for 2017 are up in the air.  If you’d like to help out, consider picking up one of his fan shirts here or, for sponsorship offers, check out his website here.

Starting 32nd was Jennifer Jo Cobb.  Cobb, who again drove MAKE Motorsports’ #1 Pit Stops For Hope / Grimes Irrigation Chevrolet, fielded the only truck to miss the show.  This time, the driver of her #10 Chevrolet was Tommy Regan, who brought with him sponsors Gaems and Unique AR’s.  She was joined at the rear by Norm Benning and Travis Kvapil, who missed the drivers meeting.  Kvapil had also hit the wall in MAKE’s #50 during practice.  Cobb and her group only held the spot for less than a lap, however, as Myatt Snider, the 21-year-old son of longtime pit reporter Marty Snider, spun off the nose of Austin Cindric.  Snider, driving the #22 The Original Louisiana Hot Sauce Toyota in place of Austin Wayne Self, who climbed aboard Jeff Bolen’s #66, recovered to finish 17th.

Eight laps after the restart, Gallagher was still running mid-pack when an apparent flat tire sent his truck skating up the track in Turn 1, sending him backward into the outside wall.  The damage was enough to end his night, making him the first retiree of the evening.

Finishing 31st was Amherstburg, Ontario driver Dominique Van Wieringen, who made her Truck Series debut after finishing 9th in this year’s K&N Pro Series East championship.  With backing from her K&N sponsor Durobyte, Van Weiringen recovered from a spin in practice to put Randy Young’s #02 Ford 24th on the grid, but was eliminated in the wreck between Austin Wayne Self and 30th-place finisher Tommy Joe Martins.  29th went to Jordan Anderson, who didn’t have a ride 15 hours before the race until Mike Harmon tabbed him to drive the #74 Chevrolet.  Anderson put the Harmon machine 25th on the grid and was still on the track near the midpoint when the engine let go.  Kaz Grala’s GMS truck rounded out the Bottom Five after a hard crash on Lap 77.

*This marked the first time the #23 finished last in a Truck Series race since August 18, 2010, when Jason White’s / Outdoor Channel Outfitters Dodge lost the engine after 28 laps of the O’Reilly 200 at Bristol.
*The #23 had not finished last in a Truck race at Phoenix since October 26, 2001, when Lance Hooper’s National Wild Turkey Federation Chevrolet had brake issues on the opening lap of the Chevy Silverado 150.
*This marked Chevrolet’s ninth-straight Truck Series last-place finish.

32) #23-Spencer Gallagher / 11 laps / crash
31) #02-Dominique Van Weiringen / 26 laps / crash
30) #44-Tommy Joe Martins / 36 laps / crash
29) #74-Jordan Anderson / 62 laps / engine
28) #24-Kaz Grala / 76 laps / crash

1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (7)
2nd) GMS Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (2)
3rd) AWS Racing, Bolen Motorsports, Brandonbilt Motorsports, Jim Rosenblum Motorsports / FDNY Racing, MAKE Motorsports, MB Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing,  ThorSport Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Toyota (4)


CUP: Open Team Roundup - Phoenix (November)


#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 8th, Finished 8th

Blaney enjoyed a much better run than the last time the blue-and-white SKF Ford ran at Richmond.  After starting in the Top 10, he held fast to the Top 20, then jumped to 11th for the restart on Lap 218.  With 58 to go, he finally wrestled his way into 10th, made a pit stop before overtime, and snagged two more spots by the finish.  It was Blaney’s best finish since Chicagoland, where he came home 4th, and improved on his 10th from the spring race on the Arizona oval.  Next week, Blaney makes his second Cup start at Homestead, where he ran 17th in his 2015 track debut.

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: D.J. Kennington
Started 39th, Finished 35th

Since 1998, Canadian driver D.J. Kennington had raced most every form of North American stock car racing.  26 starts in the X-1R Pro Cup, a Whelen Modified Tour start in 2011, eight in the K&N Pro Series West.  He’s scored three CASCAR Series wins, 19 in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, where he won the titles in 2010 and 2012.  And this season, he’s made the most recent two of his 55 combined XFINITY and Truck Series starts.  But until he picked up a ride Sunday with Premium Motorsports, he never made a Cup Series start.  Kennington didn’t have a spectacular run, losing his first of eight laps on the 22nd circuit, but came home under power ahead of two other Open teams.  As of this writing, who will drive the #98 and #55 at Homestead - and whether both will be entered at all - is still to be announced.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started 38th, Finished 36th

Sorenson arrived in Phoenix with a chance of securing his first-ever LASTCAR Cup Series Championship.  A 40th-place finish on the oval would clinch the title.  With Kennington in his #55, Sorenson moved over to the #98 Speed Stick Chevrolet, the team missing from the series since he last drove it at Kansas.  He held 40th on Lap 9, but no longer, climbing ahead of several drivers who had trouble, including Jimmie Johnson and last-place finisher Martin Truex, Jr.  Now, next week at Homestead, Sorenson is in a three-way title with Josh Wise (not entered) and Matt DiBenedetto to grab the title.  Sorenson’s best finish in six Homestead races was a 16th in 2006 - he has never finished last there.

#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Gray Gaulding
Started 37th, Finished 37th

Trailing the Open teams was Gray Gaulding, who returned to the #30 team for the first time since his Martinsville debut.  Gaulding held 40th for most of the afternoon, at one time stalling coming out of pit road, and losing double-digit laps by the halfway mark.  Still, he managed to stay out of the way of the leaders.  Unfortunately, as at Martinsville, mechanical issues dropped him even further back. This time, the culprit was a fuel pump, which knocked him out in the race’s final moments.  Gaulding returns with TMG next Sunday at Homestead, where he’s never raced in NASCAR’s top three divisions.




#26 BK Racing
#35 Front Row Motorsports
#40 Hillman Racing
#59 Leavine Family / Circle Sport Racing
#93 BK Racing
#99 Roush-Fenway Racing

None of the other part-time Open teams attempted the race in Phoenix.

Friday, November 11, 2016

CUP EXTRA: LASTCAR’s “Duel in the Desert” adds to 2016 championship drama

This Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix not only marks the end of the “Round of Eight” for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, but also could determine one of the closest battles for the LASTCAR Cup Series title.  With two races to go, the LASTCAR crown will be contested between Josh Wise, Reed Sorenson, and Matt DiBenedetto, who all have four last-place finishes.

Atlanta, Texas I, Loudon I, Texas II

Wise will win the title if NEITHER Sorenson nor DiBenedetto finish last at BOTH Phoenix and Homestead.  Wise is not expected to run the final two races - Gray Gaulding will pilot The Motorsports Group’s #30 at Phoenix and Homestead - so he no longer controls his destiny.  Thus, even if both Sorenson and DiBendetto finish in the Bottom Five for both races, but fall short of a last-place run, Wise will be champion on a Bottom Five tiebreaker of 17-14-9.

Bristol I, Richmond I, Charlotte I, Pocono II

Sorenson will win the title if he finishes last at EITHER Phoenix or Homestead, breaking his tie with a fifth last-place finish in 2016.  Even if DiBenedetto finishes last in the other race and Sorenson does not finish in the Bottom Five, thus tying the two with five lasts each, Sorenson will win the title on a Bottom Five tiebreaker of 13-9.  If Sorenson fails to finish last at Phoenix, he will still be alive at Homestead, but will have to finish last there to break his tie with Wise.

Daytona I, Dover I, Pocono I, Indianapolis

DiBenedetto can only win the title if he finishes the season with the most last-place finishes and does not have to rely on a tiebreaker.  This can occur in one of two ways.  First, he can finish last at Phoenix or Homestead while Sorenson does not finish last in the other race.  This would give him five lasts to Sorenson and Wise’s four.  The second is to sweep both lasts at Phoenix and Homestead, giving him six to Sorenson and Wise’s four.  But if DiBenedetto fails to finish last at Phoenix, he will only remain eligible for the title at Homestead if Sorenson fails as well, and DiBenedetto would still need to finish last at Homestead.  If DiBenedetto prevails, he will become the first driver in NASCAR history to win two LASTCAR titles in the same season.  He clinched the XFINITY Series title last month at Dover.

Regardless of outcome, this season will see a first-time LASTCAR Cup Series champion.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

11/3/91: Wallace brothers Rusty, Mike, and last-place finisher Kenny make history at Phoenix

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On November 3, 1991, Kenny Wallace picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Pyroil 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his unsponsored #24 Team III Racing Pontiac fell out with steering problems after he completed 1 of 312 laps.  The finish came in Wallace’s fifth career start.

That day at Phoenix marked a significant moment in NASCAR history.  For the first time since Bob, Tim, and Fonty Flock ran together on the “Strictly Stock” circuit, three brothers - the Wallaces - would race in the same Winston Cup event.  34-year-old Rusty Wallace was in his 12th Cup season and his first full year with Roger Penske’s new team, Penske Racing South.  His #2 Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac picked up a pair of wins at Bristol and Pocono, already wins 19 and 20 of his career.  Mike Wallace, age 32, made his Cup debut that day, driving the #52 Alka-Seltzer Pontiac in place of owner-driver Jimmy Means.  And starting 41st in a provisional spot was the youngest of the trio, 27-year-old Kenny.

The lighthearted driver they call “Herman” broke into NASCAR in 1988, when he made his Busch Series debut at Martinsville.  The #8 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet he raced to a strong 11th-place finish that day was owned by Dale Earnhardt, who had started his own race team four years earlier.  Rusty fielded a full-time car for Kenny the following year, and the new #36 Cox Treated Lumber Pontiac won the pole the first time out at Daytona, came home 6th in 1989 standings and 7th in 1990.  He also made his first Cup start at North Wilkesboro on April 22, 1990 finishing 26th of 32 in the Cox Lumber #36.

Heading into the final month of the 1991 season, Wallace was running even better.  On March 24, he broke through with his first victory at the Volusia County (Florida) Speedway, beating series veteran Tommy Houston by more than five seconds.  He then dominated the July 14 race at Loudon, New Hampshire, leading 202 of 300 laps and was just about to lap 2nd-place Chuck Bown, 27 seconds in arrears at the checkers.  He was also gaining more Cup experience.  When Kyle Petty broke his leg at Talladega in May, Wallace drove in his place during the All-Star Race, the Coca-Cola 600, and at Dover.  The 600 proved his best finish of the three, when he came home 13th.  When the series rolled into Richmond in September for the track’s first night race, he had another Pontiac ride - the #24 fielded by Team III Racing.

Named for team owner Sam McMahon IIII, Team III made its Daytona debut that year with Alabama driver Mickey Gibbs.  The same financial recession that left drivers Alan Kulwicki, Dave Marcis, Buddy Baker, and Greg Sacks without a sponsor had also caught Gibbs, and all five arrived in Florida with blank cars.  A joint effort between R.J. Reynolds, NASCAR, and Daytona International Speedway led to the spontaneous “Operation Desert Support” effort, where each of the five cars would carry logos representing the five branches of the U.S. Military.  Gibbs, representing the U.S. Air Force, squeaked into the 500 field and finished 17th, second-best of the group behind Kulwicki’s 8th-place U.S. Army Ford.

Though teamed with 1989 championship crew chief Barry Dodson, Team III ran a flat grey car without primary sponsorship for the rest of the season, and their performance reflected the struggle.  After finishing no better than 14th on two occasions, Gibbs was released at Pocono in July for Dick Trickle, who had lost his ride with Cale Yarborough Motorsports.  In his first five starts with the team, Trickle finished no better than 20th.  At Watkins Glen, “road ringer” Dorsey Schroeder led 3 laps, but mechanical woes left him 17th.  Kenny Wallace’s debut with the team didn’t go much better.  He finished 31st, out in the final 52 laps with a broken rear end.

The very next week at Dover, Trickle earned what turned out to be the team’s best-ever finish - 6th - the day Harry Gant lapped the field in his third of four consecutive victories.  Next, short track expert Jimmy Hensley picked up four-consecutive Top 10 finishes at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte, and Rockingham.  Then at Phoenix, with brother Mike’s debut for Jimmy Means Racing, Kenny Wallace returned to Team III.  Wallace qualified 41st on the grid with Mike in 38th and Rusty in 10th.  As a Winston West companion event, 13 drivers missed the cut for the field.  The only Cup regular sent home was Jim Sauter, driving the Mueller Brothers’ #89 Evinrude Outboards Pontiac.

One West driver did start last that day: Hershel McGriff, then 63 years young, in his familiar #04 U.S. Bank Pontiac.  At the start of the race, Mike Wallace cut to the outside in the Means #52, but was black-flagged for jumping the start.  Apparently, when he pulled onto pit road for his stop-and-go penalty, Kenny Wallace, who ran the middle line coming to the green, pulled his own car off the track.  Mike Wallace finished 31st with Rusty in 5th.  Curiously, when the Utsman brothers became the most recent triple-brother race in 1961, the youngest of the three - 28-year-old Layman Utsman - also finished last, out with handling problems after 35 laps in his #25 1960 Dodge.

Finishing 42nd that day was West competitor Gary Collins, whose family-owner #29 Justin Boot / Custom Printing Oldsmobile suffered crash damage in one of the race’s first incidents.  Richard Petty, who just announced his “Fan Appreciation Tour” retirement season the previous month, lost a #43 STP Pontiac in a five-car wreck on Lap 90 that also collected last-place starter McGriff.  Dave Marcis, also involved in the Petty crash, pulled out with a busted a frame and finished 40th.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Hut Stricklin, his #12 Raybestos Buick tangling with Cale Yarborough’s new driver Randy LaJoie on Lap 107.

Wallace finished the season with Team III in the Atlanta finale, where he finished 23rd.  Sam McMahon celebrated the team’s first full season by spending more than $15,000 in hotel accommodations for the weekend.  On December 5, during the lead-up to the NASCAR Awards Banquet in New York, it was announced that Wallace would drive full-time for Team III in 1992 with sponsorship from Dirt Devil Vacuum Cleaners.  Dirt Devil’s president John Balch pledged $1 million to the effort, and a red-white-and-blue paint scheme for the #24 was unveiled.  “Sam and I have told Kenny that the only thing hes gotta bring back is the steering wheel,” said Balch.  “We’re just going to have a lot of fun.”  Balch paid a $500,000 advance, and all seemed set for the next season.

Then the wheels quite literally came off.

In January, just days before the 1992 Daytona 500, Team III Racing declared bankruptcy.  The report indicated that McMahon had paid the bills at Team III with $2.2 million from his family’s hotel partnership in Florida, which then became insolvent.  In the process, McMahon made a series of large purchases during the ‘91 season, including a helicopter and a mobile home.  Most perplexing was that McMahon was approached by at least one sponsor who offered to pay $15,000 for one race, but the owner declined.  The unsustainable business model ultimately shuttered Team III’s doors.

“I’ve been racing all my life,” said Wallace in February 1992, “and I’ve heard of things happening like this, but I never thought it would happen to me - this deal crashing.”

Fortunately, Dirt Devil stayed with Wallace, backing his Busch Series ride in 1992, and kept their Winston Cup efforts alive with an attempt at Darlington.  Felix Sabates, looking to expand his one-car team, sought to acquire Team III’s assets for 1993.  In this, he was apparently successful: by the 1993 Daytona 500, SABCO Racing fielded a new Dirt Devil Pontiac for Wallace to run full-time with Jeff Hammond as crew chief.  The car #24 was no longer available, picked up by Hendrick Motorsprots in late 1992 for fellow rookie Jeff Gordon (who was originally going to run the #46).  Instead, the SABCO entry ran #40.  Wallace finished a season-best 9th at Watkins Glen and Bristol, but with a 23rd-place rank in points, lost Rookie of the Year to Gordon.

Wallace made 344 Cup Series starts through 2008.  While he never took a checkered flag in the series and finished last nine times, claiming the 1998 LASTCAR Cup title, he earned a career-best 2nd on three occasions from 1999 to 2001, most famously when he followed to Dale Earnhardt on the day of his 76th and final win at Talladega.  His best season came in 1999, when he ranked 22nd in the standings.  His greatest successes remained in the XFINITY Series, where he made 547 starts through the midpoint of 2015, and earned nine career victories.  Today, Wallace is a prolific broadcaster and can still be seen racing for victory on dirt tracks across the country.

*The only other time Team III Racing finished last was on April 21, 1991 at North Wilkesboro, where Mickey Gibbs fell out with a busted header after 110 laps of the First Union.  The number returned to the bottom of the field at the same track in 1993, when Jeff Gordon swept both last-place runs that season.

43) #24-Kenny Wallace / 1 lap / steering
42) #29-Gary Collins / 61 laps / crash
41) #43-Richard Petty / 89 laps / crash
40) #71-Dave Marcis / 91 laps / a frame
39) #12-Hut Stricklin / 105 laps / crash

*1991 Pyroil 500, TNN
*Fielden, Greg, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Forty Plus Four (1990-1993), Galfield Press, 1994
*Grubba, Fr. Dale, Alan Kulwicki NASCAR Champion: Against All Odds, Badger Books LLC, 2009
*Zeller, Bob. “Race Scandal / Team Crashes Amid Financial Shenanigans,”

Sunday, November 6, 2016

CUP: Josh Wise snags last place as Texas rain falls, forcing two-race showdown with Sorenson and DiBenedetto for 2016 LASTCAR Cup title

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Josh Wise picked up the 9th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #30 The Motorsports Group Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after he completed 257 of 293 laps.

The finish, which came in Wise’s 156th series start, was his fourth of the season and first since Loudon, 15 races ago.  With two races to go, Wise takes the lead in the 2016 LASTCAR Cup Series championship.  He prevails on a Bottom Five tiebreaker over Reed Sorenson and Matt DiBenedetto of 17 to 12 to 7, respectively.  This year has become one of the closest title battles in LASTCAR history.

Since his most recent Cup last-place finish in July, Wise made one XFINITY Series start for B.J. McLeod at Dover, where he fell out on Lap 2 when his engine let go, and his first Truck Series start in four years, finishing 27th in Premium Motorsports’ #49 Chevrolet at Loudon.  His focus has remained on Sprint Cup, where he’s continued to help The Motorsports Group (TMG) develop its single-car Open team through its first full season.  In that span, he earned his season-best finish at Watkins Glen, a 26th, and brought new sponsorship from Incredible Bank.  Through it all, Wise missed the field for only five races: the four restrictor-plate events and Indianapolis.

On October 20, just after TMG announced they would not enter the second Talladega race, the team announced that Truck Series newcomer Gray Gaulding will be driving the #30 in place of Wise at Martinsville, Phoenix, and Homestead.  New sponsorship for the Gaulding effort would come from the Feed the Children organization.  The team’s only remaining race of 2016 - Texas - would more than likely be Josh Wise’s last Cup start of the season.

Wise came into Texas third in the 2016 LASTCAR Cup Series standings, one finish behind both Reed Sorenson and Matt DiBenedetto.  Due to the aforementioned Bottom Five tiebreaker (in which Wise held the 2016 record), Wise could secure the title if he finished last at Texas so long as Sorenson and DiBenedetto did not trail Phoenix or Homestead.

Wise was one of 41 drivers on Texas’ preliminary entry list.  But when Premium Motorsports withdrew its #98 Chevrolet for the third straight race, and Cole Whitt tweeted that he did not have plans to run Cup the rest of the year, the remaining entrants all secured spots in the field.  Wise turned the slowest lap in Friday’s opening practice, secured the last starting spot with a speed of 180.741mph, then trailed both practices on Saturday.

When the field finally rolled onto the track after a lengthy rain delay, Wise was joined by the #83 ZAK Backs the Blue Toyota.  LASTCAR challenger Matt DiBenedetto qualified the car, but was under NASCAR’s concussion protocol following a hard wreck late in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race.  Jeffrey Earnhardt came on board, and the driver change sent him to the rear.  After nearly 20 unscored laps to finish drying the track, Earnhardt ran behind Wise for the next five circuits of a green-yellow start.

The green flag flew on Lap 6, and Wise dropped to last once more.  On Lap 11, he was 16.109 seconds behind the leader, 27.110 back on Lap 17, and was the first to be lapped the next time by.  The competition caution on Lap 30 brought Ryan Ellis into the fray.  Ellis, driving BK Racing’s #93 ScienceLogic Toyota for the second time this year and first time since Indianapolis, took the spot on Lap 29, followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt on Lap 30, then Wise as the field lined up for the restart on Lap 31.  On the restart, Ellis apparently made an unscheduled stop for a transmission stuck in second gear.  The crew worked under the car on pit road and got him back out after four laps, only to be penalized for speeding and lose a fifth.

Ellis held the 40th spot until around Lap 190, when Wise returned to the rear, nine laps behind to Ellis’ eight.  Ellis pitted on Lap 195, dropping him to ten laps behind, but Wise matched those laps and remained one spot behind.  Around Lap 245, Ellis made his move once more, this time taking a trip to the garage.  Now 16 laps down and counting with less than 100 to go, it looked as though Ellis was done for the day.  But on Lap 264, a grinding wreck between polesitter Austin Dillon and the lapped machines of Casey Mears and Brian Scott changed the race’s complexion.

Dillon and Mears were eliminated in the accident, becoming the night’s first retirees.  Mears, two laps down, ranked behind Dillon, who was on the same circuit as the leaders.  Ellis, still 40th, looked poised to edge them both for the spot, but during the same caution returned to the track 31 laps down.  Between 40th-place Ellis and 38th-place Mears was Wise, now 39th and more than 10 laps behind.  It now appeared that Mears and Dillon would drop to the final two spots with Mears scoring his second last-place finish in three Chase race.  On Lap 277, Mears was three laps away from taking 39th from Wise when Wise himself pulled off the track, his night done with electrical issues.  Those three laps prevented Wise from passing Mears for 38th, and both continued to lose laps to 40th-place Ellis.  If the race stayed green the rest of the way, Ellis would drop Wise to last on Lap 290.  Mears would follow on Lap 293.

However, Mother Nature threatened to keep last place from changing hands once more.  As rain approached the track, it wasn’t certain the race would even go the full 334 laps, much less 290.  As the mist turned to sprinkles, the final caution flew - on Lap 291.  By the narrowest of margins, Wise had taken last from Ellis, who would also pass Mears for 38th before the field headed down pit road.  Dillon ended up 37th with Joey Gase, back in the #32 Donate Life Texas Ford for Go FAS Racing, rounding out the Bottom Five, 13 laps down.

*Wise, The Motorsports Group, and the #30 have swept both Texas races in 2016.  Wise also swept the spring weekend between the Cup and XFINITY Series events.

40) #30-Josh Wise / 257 laps / electrical
39) #13-Casey Mears / 260 laps / crash
38) #93-Ryan Ellis / 261 laps / running
37) #3-Austin Dillon / 262 laps / crash / led 2 laps
36) #32-Joey Gase / 280 laps / running

1st) Premium Motorsports (5)
2nd) BK Racing, HScott Motorsports, The Motorsports Group (4)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports (2)
5th) Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, Go FAS Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Ford (7)
3rd) Toyota (6)