Sunday, April 17, 2016

CUP: Reed Sorenson’s first last-place run since 2012 comes amid many underdog triumphs

SOURCE: Sean Gardner, Getty Images
Reed Sorenson picked up the 11th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #55 Chevrolet fell out with suspension problems after 169 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Sorenson’s 237th series start, was his first of the season.  It was his first Cup last-place run in 118 races dating back to November 4, 2012, when his #91 Humphrey-Smith Racing Toyota had electrical issues after 6 laps of the AAA Texas 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway.

The 30-year-old Sorenson has remained the very definition of a journeyman driver, moving between multiple small teams in NASCAR.  Following his departure from Humphrey-Smith at the end of 2012, he split his time in 2013 between Leavine Family Racing in Cup, running The Motorsports Group’s flagship #40 in XFINITY, and relieving an injured Michael Annett at Richard Petty Motorsports.  His efforts secured him a full-time Cup ride driving the #36 for Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2014, finishing a season-best 14th at Talladega despite limited funding.

2015 began with Sorenson as the Cinderella story of Speedweeks when his new ride at Xxxtreme Motorsports raced a backup #44 Chevrolet into the Daytona 500 field after a costly qualifying crash.  A detour to RAB Racing turned out to be frustrating as Robby Benton’s #29 Toyota failed to qualify for four straight races, and by summer, Sorenson found himself at Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports.  Curiously, the cars Sorenson raced at Premium were once the same Chevrolets he drove at Baldwin in 2014: Robinson acquired the #36 team over the following offseason.

Premium sold off its charter from Phil Parsons Racing prior to the 2016 season, forcing former Front Row Motorsports driver Cole Whitt to qualify the #98 on time.  Short fields since the Daytona 500 have allowed the team to make every race since.  Early this month at Martinsville, Premium entered a second team to make the 39-car fields an even 40.  To drive it, they welcomed Sorenson, who’d also missed the 500 field with Mike Hillmaan’s open team.  Sorenson finished 37th in Premium’s #55 at Martinsville and 36th at Texas, coming home under power both times.  Bristol’s high banks would prove a greater challenge.

Sorenson was 38th-fastest of the 40 entrants in Friday’s opening practice and remained 38th in qualifying with a lap of 123.245mph.  He was 38th again in Saturday’s opening practice, but fell to the bottom of the chart in Happy Hour.

The 40th starting spot in Sunday’s race went to Michael Annett, holder of Premium’s purchased charter, in the #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet.  Annett, who blew an engine one-quarter lap into the previous Bristol race last August (LINK), continued to struggle over the weekend, at one point seeing smoke in the driver’s compartment during practice.  When the green flag waved, however, another car quickly plummeted behind him.  20th-place starter Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s electrical system failed at the start, stopping his car dead in its tracks at the start/finish line.  22nd and 24th-place starters Aric Almirola and David Ragan had nowhere to go and slammed into his rear bumper, damaging all three cars.  Earnhardt lost two laps in the pits as the crew restarted the ECU and switched ignition boxes, dropping him to 40th.

Earnhardt took the wave-around under the first caution on Lap 53, but it wasn’t until Lap 58 that he moved past Sorenson, who had also been lapped on the 16th circuit.  David Ragan #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota, damaged in the opening-lap incident with Earnhardt, briefly held the 40th spot amid a number of pit road penalties, but Sorenson retook it on Lap 78 as he went down a second lap.  On the 110th circuit, Jeffrey Earnhardt fell behind Sorenson in his #32 Keen Parts / Visone RV Ford, moments before the third caution flew for Kyle Busch’s spin in Turn 2.  Again, Sorenson slipped to 40th on the restart, falling four laps down on Lap 119.

The next last-place contender was Regan Smith, who around Lap 121 pulled his #7 APC Chevrolet behind the wall after losing the power steering.  3rd-place running Kyle Larson joined Smith in the garage on Lap 148 with a broken track bar mount.  Smith returned to the track first on Lap 154, followed by Larson on Lap 188.  At that moment, when Matt Kenseth struck the Turn 2 wall and drew the fifth caution, both Smith and Larson were 37 laps in arrears with Smith in 40th.  Smith was still running there when Sorenson made his own trip to the garage around Lap 175 with a broken left-front bracket on the suspension.  Sorenson, already 28 laps behind at the time, then became the race’s firs retiree.

David Ragan’s own bad luck took him out of the race for good on Lap 219 when he lost the engine.  Ragan was seven laps behind at the time of the failure.  38th went to Kyle Busch, whose bid at three consecutive Sprint Cup victories was stifled following two hard slams to the Turn 2 wall after tire failures on his #18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota.  37th went to Regan Smith, whose new power steering couldn’t avert disaster on Lap 492 when he was hooked by Danica Patrick and slammed the outside wall flush with the passenger side.  Rounding out the group was Matt Kenseth, whose #20 Dollar General Toyota led 142 of the first 186 laps before he, too cut a tire and pounded the wall.

Carl Edwards took the victory over Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who rebounded from his brief stay in 40th place to come home 0.766 seconds back in 2nd.  5th-place Trevor Bayne scored his first top-five finish since his victory in the 2011 Daytona 500 and the first top-five for the team’s flagship #6 since David Ragan’s 4th-place run at Richmond in the fall of that year.  Matt DiBenedetto bounced back from a pair of last-place runs in Saturday’s XFINITY race to pick up a career-best 6th, also a team best for BK Racing in its fifth season of operations.  Clint Bowyer’s difficult start to the season with HScott Motorsports was salved by an 8th-place run, besting his paltry season-best 18th at Fontana with his first top-ten finish since last fall at Talladega.  And defending LASTCAR Cup Champion Landon Cassill led 20 laps - his first since Talladega in the fall of 2014 - and was set for a top-ten finish of his own before a late tangle with Ty Dillon left him 22nd.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #55 in a Sprint Cup race since June 1, 2014, when Brian Vickers’ #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota lost the engine after 73 laps of the FedEx 500 Benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover.
*It’s the first last-place run in Cup for the #55 at Bristol since August 21, 2010, when Michael McDowell’s #55 PRIM Motorsports Toyota lost an engine after 16 laps of the Irwin Tools Night Race.
*This was Sorenson’s first last-place finish in a Cup race at Bristol since March 25, 2007, when his #41 Target Dodge crashed after 21 laps of the Food City 500.
*Sorenson is the first driver to finish last in a Cup race at Bristol due to suspension issues.

40) #55-Reed Sorenson / 169 laps / suspension
39) #23-David Ragan / 211 laps / engine
38) #18-Kyle Busch / 258 laps / crash
37) #7-Regan Smith / 451 laps / crash
36) #20-Matt Kenseth / 460 laps / running / led 142 laps

1st) Josh Wise (2)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Reed Sorenson, Cole Whitt (1)

1st) Premium Motorsports, The Motorsports Group (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)

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