|SOUCE: Sean Gardner, Getty Images|
The finish, which came in Sorenson’s 238th series start, was his second in a row. He is now tied with Josh Wise for the lead in the 2016 LASTCAR Driver’s Championship.
Sorenson remained the driver of Premium Motorsports’ second team, but by Friday found himself the lone Jay Robinson entry in the field. For the first time since the Daytona 500, more than 40 cars entered the race with the return of BK Racing’s #93 with Ryan Ellis as the 41st. This meant the fastest four Open teams would make the race. In Friday’s opening practice, where Sorenson timed in 35th, Ryan Ellis turned 21 laps to the 14 made by Sorenson’s teammate Cole Whitt in the #98. On Ellis’ 16th lap, Ellis edged ahead of Whitt for the 37th position.
Unfortunately for Whitt, rain washed out qualifying, meaning that the field was set by practice speeds - including the fastest four Open cars in practice. Under the old rules, where practice speeds only locked-in a portion of the field, Whitt would have made the race based on attempts. But this year, an Open team can make the field simply by being one of the fastest four in pre-qualifying practice, meaning that Ellis was in and Whitt was out. Sorenson remained 35th with his practice lap of 121.250 mph.
In a curious twist, the 40th starting spot went to Michael Annett, the beneficiary of the charter medallion Premium Motorsports sold to HScott Motorsports before the start of the season, thus denying Whitt a guaranteed spot in the first place. One week after driving with smoke in the cockpit at Bristol, Annett had wrecked on the backstretch during practice without turning a lap. It was not a positive sign for Annett, who had also crashed out and finished last in the series’ most recent trip to Richmond last September.
Prior to the start of Sunday’s race, Annett was joined by Clint Bowyer, whose #15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet was already 39th before the team changed transmissions. Bowyer held 40th on the first lap, Annett on Lap 2, and Sorenson on Lap 3. Sorenson became the first of many cars to lose a lap during the first 157-lap green-flag stretch when he was passed by race leader Jimmie Johnson around Lap 25. Josh Wise, last in the previous day’s XFINITY race, took 40th from Sorenson on Lap 28, followed by Chris Buescher during the first round of green-flag stops on Lap 86. Annett retook the spot on Lap 88, followed the next time by with Wise, now three circuits behind. When the first caution finally fell on Lap 158, Wise still held the spot and was now five laps back. Under this caution, Sorenson took the spot for good - a cut tire on the #55 on Lap 252 put him two laps behind Wise, and it wasn’t until the end of the race that both were on the same lap, ten behind.
This marked the second time in 2016 that all the starters finished the race under power (the other being Atlanta in February), and the first time it has happened at Richmond since September 7, 2008 - a race that was also run during the daytime.
Behind Sorenson and Wise in 38th was Jeffrey Earnhardt, who equaled his season-worst 38th-place finish during the last green-flag gauntlet at Atlanta in Go FAS Racing’s #32 Visone RV / Corvettepats.net Ford. 37th went to Ryan Ellis, who stayed out several laps during the first green-flag pit stops, then spun off the nose of Landon Cassill on Lap 327 in his #93 ScienceLogic Toyota. 36th went to Annett, who came home six laps behind in HScott’s #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #55 in a Sprint Cup race at Richmond since September 10, 1989, when Phil Parsons’ #55 Crown Petroleum Oldsmobile crashed with Dale Jarrett on Lap 4 and completed just 8 circuits of the Miller High Life 400.
*This was Sorenson’s first Cup last-place finish at Richmond since September 8, 2012, when his #91 Plinker Tactical Chevrolet lost power steering after 57 laps of the Federated Auto Parts 400.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #55-Reed Sorenson /390 laps / running
39) #30-Josh Wise / 390 laps / running
38) #32-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 392 laps / running
37) #93-Ryan Ellis / 393 laps / running
36) #46-Michael Annett / 394 laps / running
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Reed Sorenson, Josh Wise (2)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Cole Whitt (1)
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Premium Motorsports (3)
2nd) The Motorsports Group (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports (1)
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)