Thursday, June 30, 2016

7/7/90: How “Days of Thunder” left Australia’s Terry Byers last at Daytona

SOURCE: Brian Cleary
On July 7, 1990, Terry Byers picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Pepsi 400 at the Daytona International Speedway when his unsponsored #06 Byers Racing Pontiac was involved in a spectacular 23-car wreck that ended his day after 1 of 160 laps.  The finish came in Byers’ fifth series start.

Fans new to the sport might be surprised to know that Marcos Ambrose wasn’t the first Australian to make it to NASCAR’s top division.  In fact, a number ran Cup events in the late 1980s.  The spark seemed to be Bob Jane, the four-time Australian Touring Car champion who in 1987 completed work on the Calder Park Thunderdome, a smaller 1.119-mile version of Charlotte Motor Speedway constructed as part of a motorsports complex in Melbourne.  The track gave an opportunity for Jane’s fellow touring car veterans, acclimated to road course racing, to try their hand at running ovals.  On February 28, 1988, just two weeks after the Daytona 500, the Thunderdome held the Goodyear NASCAR 500, a 280-lap exhibition race matching a handful of Winston Cup and Winston West Series stars against Australian competitors.  Neil Bonnett took the victory by less than a second over Bobby Allison with 4th-place Glen Steurer finishing best among the West drivers.  The top Australian in the 32-car field was 11th-place finisher Robin Best of Westbury, Tasmania.  Best, who started 4th, would win two titles in the new Australian stock car racing series “AUSCAR.”

Though 1988 would stand as the only NASCAR exhibition at the Thunderdome, AUSCAR stirred interest in bringing the Australian drivers stateside.  Five of the eight locals from the exhibition would go on to attempt at least one Cup points race each, and four of them qualified.  Allan Grice, twice a winner of the Bathurst 1000, ran the Coca-Cola 600 twice in 1987 and 1989, finishing a career-best 34th in the latter.  Tony Spanos drove for James Hylton’s team for three years, finishing an impressive 18th at Martinsville in 1987.  He attempted thirteen more races, including the 1988 and 1989 Daytona 500, but didn’t make any of them.  Hylton hired Robin Best to make the 1990 Coca-Cola 600, but he too missed the show.

Brisbane’s Dick Johnson, a five-time Australian touring car champ and three-time Bathurst 1000 winner, was the most successful of the group.  Johnson made his Cup debut in the inaugural Cup race at Sonoma in 1989, then a few weeks later earned a career-best 22nd at Pocono.  He would go on to make seven Cup starts - the most by an Australian before Marcos Ambrose.  Curiously, Ambrose also made his Cup debut at Sonoma nearly twenty years to the date in 2008.

Terry Byers finished 25th in the 1988 exhibition, his #26 Tooheys Chevrolet involved in a multi-car accident during the first half.  Born in Wollongong, New South Wales, Byers made his first Cup Series start in the 1989 Winston Open, where he finished a solid 16th in the 26-car field.  A week later, in qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600, Byers bested seven DNQs and earned the 35th spot on the grid for the 42-car field.  While the Foster’s Lager-backed Pontiac of fellow countryman Allan Grice dropped out with a blown engine after 294 laps, Byers’ unsponsored #06 Chevrolet finished under power, 21 laps down, in the 21st spot.  Byers returned to run both that summer’s races at Pocono, coming home a career-best 19th in the first and 21st in the second, this time just three lap back each time.  When Byers returned to the Coca-Cola 600, where Robin Best was one of 12 DNQs, Byers timed in 31st and gained sponsorship from Days Inn hotels.  Unfortunately, the engine on his Pontiac let go after 40 laps, leaving him 40th.

Byers’ next race would be July’s Pepsi 400 at Daytona.  He’d attempted the race the year before, along with the July round at Talladega, but missed the field both times.  The 1990 race promised to be just as challenging.  44 cars showed up to fill the 40-car field.  In the end, Byers prevailed, placing him 39th alongside last-place starter Philip Duffie in Row 20.  On Independence Day weekend, Byers would stand alone as the only foreign-born driver in the Pepsi 400.


Ten days before the 400, Paramount Pictures released the film “Days of Thunder” in the U.S.  Lauded and loathed by those inside and outside the sport, the film featured spectacular stunts mixed with film taken from actual race cars provided by Hendrick Motorsports.  One of the many drivers tabbed to help in the production was Greg Sacks.

Sacks, who five years earlier won the Pepsi 400 in an R&D car for DiGard Motorsports, had since become a journeyman driver.  Sacks and DiGard had parted ways midway through the 1986 season, and for the next three winless years, he’d switched between single-car teams like the Dingman Brothers, Buddy Baker, and Tom Winkle.  “Days of Thunder,” and its tie with Hendrick Motorsports, came at the perfect time.

Sacks was first brought onto the film as both a driver and a consultant.  During the production, Sacks found himself in the same position as Robert Duvall’s character Harry Hogge - debating about what a car can and cannot do.  During film days where only the movie cars were on the track, director Tony Scott wanted footage of cars running dangerously loose, weaving around the track.  Sacks pointed out the dangers of this, particularly when it came to superspeedway racing.

“What I have to keep in mind,” said Sacks during a behind-the-scenes featurette, “is to not let Tony make me go too far.  And yet, yeah, I want it to be a great film, so I push myself a little more.”

To get on-track footage during races, Hendrick had to provide race-ready cars and drivers to properly qualify them.  Again, Sacks was among those who helped.  In 1989 and early 1990, Sacks ran a handful of races in Hendrick’s green-and-gold #46 City Chevrolet that Tom Cruise’s character Cole Trickle ran in the film as a hard-scrabble rookie.  The car that ran at Phoenix in 1989 carried cameras that needed to be reloaded constantly, and the ill-handling machine parked at halfway.  The cameras came out during the 1990 Busch Clash at Daytona (now Sprint Unlimited), and Sacks finished a strong 2nd to Daytona 500 polesitter Ken Schrader.  He qualified 7th with the car at Darlington in April, surged into the Top 5, then fell out with mechanical issues.

Impressed with Sacks’ performance, Hendrick decided to make the “movie car” a permanent team in his stable.  With sponsorship from Ultra Slim Fast and a new car number, #18, Sacks impressed once more his first time out, leading 41 laps of the Winston 500 at Talladega before he was edged by Dale Earnhardt by two carlengths.  Sacks finished 14th in the Coca-Cola 600, led another 29 laps at Pocono on his way to a 7th-place showing, and came home 26th at Michigan.  Next on the schedule was the Pepsi 400, where the news was even better: Sacks’ first career pole.

By starting first, Sacks certainly hoped he’d avoid the dreaded “Big One.”


By the day of the Pepsi 400, six drivers had been sent to backup cars because of crashes.  Among them were the #71 Big Apple Market Chevrolet of owner-driver Dave Maricis and Hendrick’s own #17 Tide Chevrolet with driver Darrell Waltrip.  Waltrip, the previous year’s Daytona 500 winner, was shaking down his Chevrolet when he encountered oil entering the tri-oval, sending him into a spin.  Waltrip avoided the walls as he stopped in the middle of the track, but Marcis also lost control as he entered the scene and slid into him broadside.  The resulting collision left Waltrip with a concussion, two broken legs, and a broken arm.  Hendrick tabbed as relief driver of the backup car Jimmy Horton, whose #80 Miles Concrete Ford had narrowly missed the field.  Marcis, who didn’t have a backup car, worked out a deal with fellow owner-driver J.D. McDuffie, who also missed the race, to start McDuffie’s #70 before handing it over early on.  As part of the deal, McDuffie’s DNQ’d #70 Pontiac was renumbered #71 so Marcis could get the Owner Points.

When the green flag flew on Saturday morning, 3rd-place starter Dale Earnhardt once again got the drop on Sacks, cutting low in the tri-oval to make it three-wide with outside-polesitter Bill Elliott up top.  Sacks slotted in on the inside line while Earnhardt cleared Elliott in Turn 1.  Entering the backstretch, 7th-place starter Richard Petty looked to replicate Earnhardt’s move, cutting low on Sacks to drop him back even further.  The move cost both drivers a couple spots as the outside line formed up, turning their battle for 4th into a race for 7th.  Trapped on the outside now was 1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope and his bright orange #10 Purolator Chevrolet.

Cope, Sacks, and Petty stayed three-wide into Turn 3, bouncing off each other as the top six drivers pulled away heading into the tri-oval.  They remained that way in Turn 4, Petty bouncing into Sacks, who leaned into Cope.  Sacks and Cope touched again coming off Turn 4 with Petty now a full lane off the apron, holding up the two-lane pack forming up behind them.  Petty nudged Sacks again, who fought to keep the #18 straight between the two lines forming on either side of him.  Sterling Marlin, running behind Petty, threatened to make it four-wide down low, but Petty closed the door, and the trio fanned out across the start / finish line to complete Lap 1.  Sacks slid to the right this time, nudged Cope, then suddenly lost control.  He hooked left into the right-rear of Petty’s Pontiac.  Sacks and Petty broke loose, slid into the path of Cope, and suddenly 31 cars found themselves headed two and three-wide into a cloud of grey smoke.


At the moment of contact, Terry Byers and Philip Duffie had already lost touch with the leaders and were running by themselves entering the tri-oval.  Duffie moved low, slowed, and rolled straight across the infield grass, out of harm’s way.  Byers stayed on the track, following another car as they, like Cole Trickle, hurtled through the cloud at full speed.  The car in front cut left, and suddenly Byers saw it: the #2 U.S. Racing Pontiac of Charlie Glotzbach, wrecked, turned backward, and sitting directly in his path.  Byers and Glotzbach made contact, then spun into the infield grass, his Pontiac stopped facing the shocked crowd.  In all, 23 of the 40 starters were involved.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.  Many, however, were furious.

Ernie Irvan, whose #4 Kodak Oldsmobile had to settle for 33rd, pointed to the Hendrick team’s setup on Sacks’ #18.  “Every other car has a 33-degree spoiler an he (Sacks) had a 25.  Something told me he was going to be loose.  I could go fast with a 25 degree spoiler, but I knew I might not be around at the finish.”  Geoffrey Bodine, whose #11 Budweiser Ford limped around to finish 25th, blamed the new Tom Cruise flick: “Three idiots wrecked.  They saw the damn movie.”

The race was red-flagged for 36 minutes and 7 seconds to clear the wreck.  Per NASCAR rules, the finishing order in the event of a multi-car crash where several cars are unable to continue reverts back to the order they crossed the stripe the previous lap.  By crossing it in 39th a moment before becoming involved, Byers took the spot, followed by fellow victims Rick Wilson in the #75 Dinner Bell Foods Oldsmobile and A.J. Foyt in his #14 Copenhagen Oldsmobile.  Richard Petty edged Sacks for the final spot in the Bottom Five - the drafting help from Sterling Marlin allowed him to edge Sacks at the stripe a split-second before the wreck.

The 1990 Pepsi 400, won by Dale Earnhardt in a walk, turned out to be Byers’ final Cup Series start, but it wasn’t his final attempt.  At age 45, he once again entered his own car at Daytona in 1995, looking to make his first start in the Daytona 500.  While his #82 Ford missed the field, he once again turned in a surprising run, coming home 18th of the 32 starters.

Among Byers’ fellow 21 DNQs was Greg Sacks.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #06 in a Cup race since October 21, 1984, when Mike Potter’s #06 Walker Enterprises Ford fell out with engine trouble after 9 laps of the Warner W. Hodgdon American 500 at the North Carolina (Rockingham) Motor Speedway.  It would not finish last in the series again until August 20, 2006, when Todd Kleuver’s 3M Post-It Ford crashed out after 10 laps of the GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan.

40) #06-Terry Byers / 1 lap / crash
39) #75-Rick Wilson / 1 lap / crash
38) #14-A.J. Foyt / 1 lap / crash
37) #18-Greg Sacks / 1 lap / crash
36) #43-Richard Petty / 1 lap / crash

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Sonoma

SOURCE: Brock Beard

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 26th, Finished 23rd

All five of the Open teams who arrived in Sonoma had a difficult time negotiating the twists and turns of the season’s first road course.  Blaney prepared for his track debut by using Ford’s computer simulator.  He ran 30th in Friday’s opening practice session, tops among Open teams, and 35th in Happy Hour, trailing only Cole Whitt.

2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Glen Wood, who arrived Sunday morning, recalled his own memories of seeing the northern California track for the first time:

“I can remember coming out here in ‘87, they had a team (the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving), the instructors would tell you how to get around this track and I was up on the hill and this Thunderbird come down and went in that turn on top of the hill there and the thing, it’s crashed as far as I’m concerned and the thing hung sideways, he got in the gas, and went on - he knew what he was doing.  But it just looked like he was gonna crash, but he’d do that every lap.  They’re a lot of fun to watch.”

The Wood Brothers made a combined 43 starts at the old Riverside International Raceway road course in Southern California, including nearly all of the races run there from 1963 through the track’s closing in 1988.  Wood said there’s not much of an old Riverside setup you can use on a modern car at Sonoma, but some guiding principles still help: “You just baby your right hand turns, you know, you basically set the same kind of setup, you have a little different float levels, you have to - you can’t go too much one way, you’ll skip on the other turns so, adjusting your floats and adjusting your chassis and baby the right hand turns.”

Ryan Blaney stoved in the nose of his #21 early in the race, and there appeared to be a heavy amount of oil on his front valence when the car returned to the garage after the race.  Still, he managed to finish tops among the Open teams once more, finishing better than he had at Atlanta, Fontana, Richmond, and Texas.

Blaney is the only driver among this week’s group of Open teams who made the field for February’s Daytona 500.  Blaney finished 19th.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started 35th, Finished 34th

Newly-engaged Cole Whitt and the #98 team entered a Toyota for just the third time in 2016, one which carried a brand-new look.  The all-blue car arrived without any decals and a carbon-fibre hood - the driver indicated it was a former Michael Waltrip Racing car, a PEAK Toyota Clint Bowyer ran last year that changed hands at least once after.  The car wasn’t repainted before it was decaled at the track with RTIC Coolers logos, but the driver was quick to point out it was “RTIC Coolers Blue,” so the repainting wasn’t necessary.  Whitt outpaced Ryan Blaney in Happy Hour, good enough for 25th overall and the best of the Open teams in that session.  He was pleased with the car on race morning:

“It’s been better than we’ve been on the leaderboard. . .I think we’ll run pretty good, we’ve got a good race car.  It just doesn’t show good one-lap speed, but it doesn’t fall off too bad, so hopefully that’ll work out for today.”

Whitt ran near the Top 20 through the middle stages of the Toyota / Save Mart 350, entered the Top 5 during the array of different pit strategies, and held fast to 25th during a late caution, very much in position for his best run since Talladega.  Unfortunately, the car lost a cylinder in the final laps.  Though he came home a disappointing 34th, he remained on the lead lap.

Whitt and the #98 came up just short of making the field for the Daytona 500, spinning out of the last transfer spot in his duel and coming home in the last position.  At Talladega in May, Whitt was inside the Top 10 coming to the checkered flag when he was involved in a multi-car wreck in the final corner.

#93 BK Racing
Driver: Dylan Lupton
Started 38th, Finished 35th

Several members of Dylan Lupton’s familywere on hand at the Sonoma Raceway wearing t-shirts in anticipation of the 22-year-old’s Sprint Cup debut.  BK Racing had brought back its third car, #93, which had made both of its attempts in 2016 at Daytona (Matt DiBenedetto) and Richmond (Ryan Ellis).  “We’ve got our fingers crossed,” said his uncle Robert, “we know how difficult it is to, you know, move up.”

Of the 41 entrants, Lupton was 39th in the opening practice and 37th in Happy Hour, ranking him fourth among the five Open teams at the track.  By qualifying, he had climbed to third of five, outpacing both The Motorsports Group’s #30 and Premium Motorsports’ #55, locking the youngster into his first Cup start.  Lupton rolled off 38th, ran near the back, and caught a break when he was lapped moments before the second caution on Lap 47, giving him the Lucky Dog.  Exhausted with a sore left foot from the heat, Lupton ended up the final car on the lead lap, but was critical of his own performance:

“You know, I guess it wasn’t too bad, you know, we completed every lap, that was the main goal.  I just made too many mistakes out there, I kept trying to make passes on the outside and kept getting pushed wide, so I guess lack of experience led to mistakes out there on my part.  It’s all about seat time and that’s something I don’t have.  Seemed like the car was just a little too tight in the slow hand stuff, but we were good on the second-to-last run but that last run we gave up way too many positions, so we’ll just move on and try to get better.”

Lupton’s schedule for the rest of 2016 is still to be determined.

Neither Lupton nor the #93 team is entered in this Saturday’s race, but in February the team took the 40th position with Matt DiBenedetto, who was involved in an early crash with Chris Buescher.  Michael Waltrip, who took the controls of DiBenedetto’s #83 in the 500, is also not entered.

#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
Started 39th, Finished 38th

Josh Wise returned to the scene of his first full-race Sprint Cup run in 2012 for The Motorsports Group’s debut at the Sonoma track.  Returning as sponsor was SBC Contractors, which backed Boris Said’s run at the same track last year for Go Green Racing.  Just like last year, SBC owner Steve Brandenberg was at the track with several employees, customers, and VIPs, all of them wearing the company’s red shirts and white caps.

“We sponsored (Wise) down at Fontana earlier this year, you know, we’re out of the Sacramento area so we wanted to do the home track, so we sponsored him here,” said Brandenberg.

Wise was near the bubble in practice, running 38th and 36th, but nailed down a lap of 93.027mph in qualifying, making the field by more than one full mile per hour.  Wise struggled during the race as both he and last-place starter Michael Annett lost touch with the rest of the pack.  Wise continued on until the motor let go inside the final ten laps, leaving him 38th at the finish.

Josh Wise and The Motorsports Group have missed the field for both restrictor-plate races this year at Daytona and Talladega.  The team will again look to make its first superspeedway start.


#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cody Ware
Team Stats: 10 Starts, 1 DNQ

In 1990, 29-year-old Rick Ware made his Sprint Cup debut in the Budweiser at the Glen, finishing 36th in a #22 Otter Pops Pontiac owned by Buddy Baker.  Last Friday, Ware’s 20-year-old son Cody arrived with Premium Motorsports to attempt the field for the Toyota / Save Mart 350.

“I’m good, man, I’m ready to go, gonna be a lot of fun,” said Cody on Friday.  “Carport definitely did a really good job setting us up pretty much last minutes, so it’s really awesome for them to come on board, I think I’ll have some fun with it.”

“He’s trying to run harder, but keep it, you know, without having to make any mistakes,” said Rick after Cody’s first day of practice. “He’d never been here and it’s put him behind.  But he’s doing a good job, making some big strides time-wise.  It’ll be close, it’ll be a tough battle tomorrow.  So it’ll be exciting, that’s for sure.”

Like Dylan Lupton in the #93, Cody took to the track for the first time in Friday’s dual practices.  His #55 Carport Empire Chevrolet ran 20 laps in the first session, where he was slowest overall at 88.472mph.  He found much more speed in Happy Hour, improving to 91.700mph after just five laps, besting Michael Annett’s chartered #46.  Cody nearly matched the Happy Hour speed in qualifying, running 91.676mph on his second attempt.  Still needing another second on the track to bump Josh Wise from the field, Ware crossed the stripe with eight seconds remaining in Round 1 to attempt a fourth lap, but the attempt was aborted, and the #55 missed the show.  As with Lupton, there are no reports as yet when Ware will make his next Cup attempt, though with his family’s background in road racing, Watkins Glen should be a possibility.

This weekend, Reed Sorenson will return to the controls, looking to make his 13th Daytona start.  His best finish at the track was a 5th in the 50th Daytona 500 in 2008.  Premium Motorsports did not enter the #55 in the Daytona 500, but Michael Waltrip gave it a 12th-place showing at Talladega.


#26 BK Racing
#35 Front Row Motorsports
#40 Hillman Racing
#59 Leavine Family / Circle Sport Racing

None of the other part-time teams attempted the race in Sonoma, however following Saturday’s K&N Series race, David Gilliland confirmed that he will return to the #35 Ford for Front Row Motorsports this Saturday at Daytona.  Gilliland missed the field for the Daytona 500, but was running 3rd at the end of the spring Talladega race before he was shuffled back to 17th.  Both the #26 and #59, which made the Daytona 500 with Robert Richardson, Jr. and Michael McDowell respectively, are not entered, nor is the #40 Hillman Racing team.  McDowell is slated to run the #95 while Reed Sorenson, February’s driver of the #40, will again drive Premium Motorsports’ #55.

Monday, June 27, 2016

CUP: Clint Bowyer’s 2016 struggles continue with Sonoma last-place finish; Patrick Carpentier turns in gutsy performance

SOURCE: Brock Beard
Clint Bowyer picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway when his #15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet suffered a fire from apparent electrical issues after 5 of 110 laps.

The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 377th series start, was his first of the season and first since last fall’s season finale at Homestead, 16 races ago.

Last November’s accident which ended Bowyer’s run at Homestead not only put him at the end of NASCAR’s final 43-car field before this year’s Charter system was enacted, but also was his final start with Michael Waltrip Racing.  After the withdrawal of MWR’s backer Rob Kauffman, Bowyer signed to replace Tony Stewart in Stewart-Haas Racing’s #14 for 2017, following Stewart’s retirement.  In the interim, Bowyer would run a single season with fellow Chevrolet team HScott Motorsports, replacing Justin Allgaier at what was the #51 team Harry Scott, Jr. acquired from Phoenix Racing.

For whatever reason or reasons, Bowyer and HScott haven’t been able to find success this season.  The pair finished no better than 18th through the first seven races, then finally broke through at Bristol with their first top-ten finish, an 8th.  The team improved one more spot, coming home 7th at Talladega, but continued to run near the middle of the pack.  Coming into Sonoma, Bowyer sat 24th in the driver’s point standings, having improved from a season low of 35th after the second round in Atlanta.  Bowyer looked for another good run on the road course, where he’d not only won in 2012, but finished outside the Top Ten only twice in ten career starts.

Bowyer began the weekend running as high as 8th in Friday’s opening practice before he settled for 20th, which was also where he ranked in Happy Hour that afternoon.  The next day, he also came just short of making the cut for Round 2 of qualifying, earning the 18th spot on the grid at a speed of 94.897 mph.

Starting 40th and last on Sunday was Bowyer’s teammate Michael Annett, the third time this season he’d rolled off in that spot.  Annett struggled on the road course all weekend, and only edged Cody Ware, the lone DNQ, for the second-slowest qualifying lap in the session’s final seconds.  When the green flag flew, Annett’s #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet  immediately began to lose touch with the field, along with Josh Wise in the SBC Contractors / Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet #30 for The Motorsports Group.  After one lap, Annett was 12.289 seconds behind the leader and a full second behind 39th-place Wise.  On Lap 6, Annett was still trailing, now 29.024 seconds off the lead, when his teammate found trouble.

Bowyer had climbed from 18th to 13th in the opening stages when his car shut off going into Turn 7 at the far end of the course.  He pulled off the track, trying to get the car restarted, when smoke rolled from beneath his dashboard.  Bowyer climbed out quickly, but was nauseated by the smoke and frustrated with another disappointed run, throwing his helmet into the driver’s window.  While his car was towed back to the garage area, Bowyer was checked and released from the infield care center.

“No, it just shut off.  I thought - the switch—” said Bowyer when asked if there was any warning.  “It’s terribly frustrating.  It’s my favorite race track, we’ve run really good - I’ve run really good at it. . .we’ll make sure a wire, you know, rubbing against something and it shorted out and burned up, but it’s a shame.”

Bowyer’s team attempted repairs for several minutes, but finally pulled out of the race by Lap 31.

Much like the practice and qualifying sessions that preceded it, the rest of the 110-lap race was run with few incidents.  Just 10 caution-flag laps slowed the event, none of them due to crashes.  39th wasn’t settled until Lap 93, when Michael McDowell, who was 8th the opening practice and running near the middle of the pack in the race, broke a rear gear and pulled his #95 K-LOVE Radio Chevrolet off the track in the Esses.  38th went to Josh Wise, whose #30 lost a lap early, then blew an engine inside the final ten laps.  Wise, McDowell, and Bowyer were the race’s only three retirees.  Bowyer’s teammate Michael Annett could only climb to 36th, the lone car one lap down.

38th went to Patrick Carpentier, who on Saturday was excited to be making his first Cup start since Kansas in early 2011.  “Oh, I love it,” said Carpentier of the Gen-6 car, “the CoT was like driving a bus, just really weird, really big - this one feels like a race car, the way it’s done it feels is smaller like a go-kart and I love it, I love driving these things.”  His goal for the weekend was to help out the Go FAS Racing team, which had previously tabbed Boris Said to run on the road courses. “Just to get points, you know, finish the race and get some points for these guys and that’s it, you know, finish in one piece.”  After the race on Sunday, Carpentier was visibly exhausted.  “Oh man, it was tough.  We lost the AC in the helmet at the beginning of the race.  It got so hot, I couldn’t see where I was going, I thought I was gonna stop.  A couple laps I just wanted to stop, I said ‘I can’t’ and I just kept going, but I couldn’t drive, I was really slow and sliding around and just surviving.  Midpoint was not too bad, we had some good laps.”  With 12 laps to go, Carpentier stopped for a moment in Turn 7 to let the leaders pass.  He managed to finish just two laps down, the last car under power, without aid from a relief driver.

*This was the first last-place finish for Bowyer and the #15 in a Cup Series race at Sonoma.
*Bowyer was the first driver to finish last in a Cup race due to electrical issues since August 3, 2014, when Johnny Sauter’s #93 Dr. Pepper Toyota fell out after 11 laps of the 400 at Pocono .

40) #15-Clint Bowyer / 5 laps / electrical
39) #95-Michael McDowell / 91 laps / rear gear
38) #30-Josh Wise / 97 laps / engine
37) #32-Patrick Carpentier / 108 laps / running
36) #46-Michael Annett / 109 laps / running

1st) Matt DiBenedetto, Reed Sorenson (3)
2nd) Josh Wise (2)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Cole Whitt (1)

1st) Premium Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing (3)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, The Motorsports Group (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (1)

TRUCKS: Brandon Brown out early during wild night at Gateway

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Brandon Brown picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park when his #86 Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble without completing any of the race’s 160 laps.

The finish, which came in Brown’s 16th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since last fall’s season finale at Homestead, nine races ago.

Brown rebounded with authority at the start of the 2016 season, finishing a career-best 4th in the Daytona opener behind Johnny Sauter, Ryan Truex, and Parker Kligerman.  Up until then, the Virginian had finished no better than 14th.  Three more top-20 finishes followed the Daytona run at Atlanta, Martinsville, and Kansas, but he then finished 31st, 26th, and 24th in his next three starts.  Brandonbilt Motorsports developed an alliance with Mike Harmon’s truck team, and Harmon put Tim Viens in the truck at Texas leaving them 29th.  Gateway would be Brown’s second start since the alliance.

Brown didn’t participate in Saturday’s opening practice session and ran just 30th of the 31 who attempted took time in the second.  Bringing up the rear by more than half a second was defending LASTCAR Truck Series champion Caleb Roark, who was making his first Truck Series start of the season.  Both Brown and Roark made the show.  They would fill out the 16th and final row with Roark rolling off in last driving Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 Chevrolet.  34 trucks had originally been slated to qualify, but both Norm Benning and Austin Hill withdrew prior to practice, locking in the 32 who remained.

Joining Brown and Roark at the rear of the field was rookie Rico Abreu.  Already sent to the rear for going to a backup truck, Abreu was forced to make at least one unscheduled stop before the green flag to fix a clutch issue.  The crew made repairs and got him back on the track.  Abreu would finish 14th.

At the green flag, Brown slipped behind Roark with engine trouble on his #86.  Brown retired from the event without completing a lap.  Roark ran up to the eighth circuit before he pulled his own truck to the garage.  Both were already behind the wall when the first caution flew for 30th-place finisher Jake Griffin, who lost the engine on the #63 Vatterott College / Backlotauctionscom Chevrolet for MB Motorsports.  Griffin, making his second start of the year following a 21st-place showing in Iowa, was done for the night.

The remainder of the field made it past the 100-lap mark.  On Lap 149, Jennifer Jo Cobb, once again running MAKE Motorsports’ #1 on her truck in place of Roark’s #10, crashed with Jordan Anderson and Dover last-placer Austin Wayne Self.  Cobb and Self rounded out the Bottom Five.

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Brown and the #86 in a Truck Series race at Gateway.

32) #86-Brandon Brown / 0 laps / engine
31) #10-Caleb Roark / laps / vibration
30) #63-Jake Griffin / 14 laps / engine
29) #1-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 113 laps / crash
28) #22-Austin Wayne Self / 118 laps / crash

1st) Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) Christopher Bell, Brandon Brown, William Byron, Claire Decker, Johnny Sauter, Austin Wayne Self, Andy Seuss (1)

1st) Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) AWS Racing, Brandonbilt Motorsports, GMS Racing, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Jim Rosenblum Motorsports / FDNY Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (3)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

5/16/93: Hershel McGriff bests own record as NASCAR’s oldest last-place finisher; Interview with K&N Pro Series West point leader Todd Gilliland

SOURCE: UMI Publications
On May 16, 1993, Hershel McGriff picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Save Mart Supermarkets 300 at the Sears Point International Raceway when his #04 J.T. Carriers Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after he completed 27 of 74 laps.

The finish, which came in McGriff’s 87th series start, was his first since June 10, 1990, when at the same Sonoma track his #04 U.S. Bank Pontiac lost an engine after two laps of the Banquet Frozen Foods 300.  The 1990 race was also the most recent time the #04 finished last in Cup competition.

McGriff’s accomplishments and longevity in the sport of stock car racing are truly the stuff of legends.  His first race in 1945 was barely a month after the end of World War II and three years before the founding of NASCAR.  In 1950, when he was just 22, McGriff made his Cup debut in the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington.  His Oldsmobile started 44th in a field of 75 and came home an impressive 9th.  He’d been invited to run the event by Bill France, Sr. himself, who saw McGriff win the first Carrera Panamericana on Mexico’s new Pan-American Highway.

In 1954, McGriff drove for Frank Christian, a driver turned owner who nearly won the 1951 championship with Bob Flock.  Running just 24 of the season’s 37 races, McGriff racked up four victories, three of them from the pole, including one at North Wilkesboro.  An offer then came to drive for Carl Kiekhafer, who with factory support from Chrysler was about to create one of the most dominant multi-car teams in NASCAR history.  McGriff passed on the offer and spent more than a decade off the track, returning to his home in Oregon to tend to his timber business.

In 1968, already 40 years old, McGriff returned to racing, running a three-race stint in the Pacific Coast Late Model Division (known today the K&N Pro Series West).  It was in this series that McGriff saw his greatest success, scoring 33 victories and the 1986 championship.  Curiously, the 1986 season wasn’t his most dominant - he racked up 12 of 30 wins in 1972, but ranked just 2nd in the standings behind Ray Elder.

The rest of McGriff’s career would favor this west coast series over Cup, crossing over in the “companion races” where Cup competed on the west coast.  The lion’s share of these “companion races” came at the old Riverside International Raceway in southern California, where he made 33 of his 87 career Cup starts, scoring eight Top Tens and a career-best 5th in 1972.  McGriff’s career spanned such a long period that he was the only driver in the final Riverside race in 1988 who also started NASCAR’s first road course race at the Linden Airfield in 1954.

Riverside closed its doors after the 1988 season, and the Sears Point International Raceway secured its mid-summer spot on the Cup calendar the following year.  Five of McGriff’s final six Cup starts came on the Sonoma road course, starting with a sparkling 14th in the 1989 inaugural when he was 61 years young.  McGriff was fielding his own cars by that point, carrying his West series sponsor U.S. Bank on his white and blue Pontiacs.  Bob Lipseia fielded McGriff’s #04 in 1990 and 1991, then John Strauser in 1992 and 1993.  In 1994, Strauser would go on to enter the #50 Tyson Foods Chevrolet driven by Mike Chase that bested McGriff and the other 13 West Series competitors for the final starting spot in the inaugural Brickyard 400.

Back at Sonoma in 1993, McGriff qualified 42nd in the field of 43, besting only fellow West Series competitor Rick Carelli in his #37 Chesrown Auto Group Chevrolet.  Both bested six other West competitors who made up the entirety of the DNQ list.  Sent home were owner-driver Rick Scribner, who made the 1992 race; 1991 Sonoma last-placer R.K. Smith; fellow series veteran Jack Sellers, who changed his car number from 44 to 48 to match his age; Tony Hunt, husband of Hunt’s Race World shop owner Jeanie Hunt; Scott Gaylord in Jimmy Means’ #52 Pontiac; and future Brickyard 400 DNQ Wayne Jacks.

While Carelli went on to finish 21st, McGriff puled behind the wall after 27 laps, taking the spot from four-time West Series champion Bill Schmitt, who wrecked on Lap 9.  Schmitt finished 31st that afternoon, passing fellow series racer Jeff Davis, whose #81 Van-K Karting Wheels Ford wrecked on Lap 49.  41st-place Bobby Hillin, Jr. wound up the lowest-finishing Cup Series regular when his #90 Heilig-Meyers Ford fielded by Donlavey Racing felt something break in the rear end after 57 circuits.  Also out that lap was 5th-place starter Mark Martin, whose fleet Valvoline Ford had the same issue as Hillin.  Rounding out the group was third-year driver Ted Musgrave, whose #55 Jasper Engines Ford tangled with Butch Gilliland (father of David and grandfather of Todd) on Lap 54.  Musgrave managed to finish under power, thirteen laps behind.

At 65 years, 5 months, and 2 days, McGriff set a record that day in 1993 for the oldest driver to finish last in Cup Series history, beating his own previous record of 62 years, 5 months, and 27 days from the 1990 race.  It was to be McGriff’s final Cup start.  McGriff’s record would stand for more than two decades.  It was passed on March 2, 2014, when Morgan Shepherd parked at Phoenix at 72 years, 4 months, and 18 days.  The all-time record across NASCAR’s top three divisions still belongs to James Harvey Hylton, who on May 6, 2011 trailed an XFINITY Series race at Darlington at 76 years, 8 months, and 10 days.  Hylton last ran stock cars in ARCA, where he retired on October 4, 2013 at 78 years, 1 month, and 10 days.

Hylton’s career lasted longer than McGriff’s, but by then the Oregonian had extended another record.  On June 23, 2012, McGriff returned to the Sonoma Raceway to run the K&N Pro Series West event, the Pick-N-Pull Racing To Stop Hunger 200.  At 84 years, 6 months, and 9 days, McGriff climbed back in the #04 and came home an impressive 18th in a field of 30.


On the complete other side of the age spectrum, 16-year-old Todd Gilliland, the youngest winner in ARCA Racing Series history, talked about how veterans like McGriff have helped rookies like him on the track:

“I think that variety is what makes (the K&N Pro Series West) so tough.  Some of these veterans of the series have been to all these tracks a lot and those are the people you can follow and learn a ton in just a couple laps.  Some of the younger guys you’re out there with are making some of the same mistakes and those are people I’ve raced against since I was five years old in the quarter midgets.  So, it’s cool to move up with all those younger guys and learn with them.”

Gilliland, the current K&N Pro Series West point leader, will make his first road course start at the Sonoma Raceway this Saturday.  He’s the third generation in his family to do so.  Todd’s grandfather Butch Gilliland won two straight races at Sonoma in 1996 and 1997, and followed the latter up with the series championship.  His father David Gilliland, who currently runs the #35 for Front Row Motorsports part-time in Sprint Cup, scored two K&N wins of his own in 2007 and 2012.  Both Butch and David also made their Cup debuts at the track: Butch in 1990 and David in 2006 following his breakthrough XFINITY Series win at Kentucky.  Both have been a tremendous help getting Todd ready for his track debut:

“We watched a bunch of videos of (David) out here and also my grandpa, so it’s crazy to hear all the history about my family in the K&N Series on the west coast going to all these tracks.  He’s definitely been a big help thus far and I’m sure he’s gonna continue to be a big help.  He’s helped me a lot and I can’t wait to get out on track.”

Todd Gilliland drives for veteran race team Bill MacAnally Racing (BMR) based out of Roseville, California.  BMR will enter four cars in this Saturday’s Chevy’s Fresh Mex 200.  Joining Gilliland’s #16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota are fellow rookies Riley Herbst in the #19 NOS Energy Drink Toyota, Julia Landauer in the #54 Curb Records Toyota, and defending series champion Chris Eggleston in the #50 NAPA Filters / H2O Fire Protection Toyota.

*The #04 would not finish last in a Cup Series race again until June 21, 2009, when P.J. Jones’ Jim Beam / Menards Toyota lost the power steering after 2 laps of the Toyota / Save Mart 350, also at Sonoma.

43) #04-Hershel McGriff / 27 laps / engine
42) #81-Jeff Davis / 46 laps / crash
41) #90-Bobby Hillin, Jr. / 57 laps / rear end
40) #6-Mark Martin / 57 laps / rear end
39) #55-Ted Musgrave / 61 laps / running

Sunday, June 19, 2016

XFINITY: Josh Reaume scores first career last-place finish

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums, FS1
Josh Reaume picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Suday’s American Ethanol E15 250 at the Iowa Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after he completed 4 of 250 laps.  The finish came in Reaume’s 30th series start.

Nicknamed the “African Squirrel,” Reaume’s racing career has a decidedly international flavor.  He was born in northern California, grew up in Nigeria where his parents did humanitarian work, then began racing go-karts in Vancouver.  It was also in Canada where he earned his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Victoria.  The degree opened doors back in the States, where Reaume worked as an engineer for Rick Ware Racing, Motorsports Business Management, and now Rod Sieg’s RSS Racing.  From these jobs, Reaume has enjoyed a unique racing career where he balances the technical work during the week with driving on the weekends.

Reaume made the leap from the K&N Pro Series to Trucks in 2013, finishing 25th in his series debut at Iowa diving for SS-Green Light Racing.  His XFINITY debut came the following year at Richmond, a 30th for Rick Ware.  He improved with a 25th in his second start at Dover, driving for Gregg Mixon’s JGL Racing, then last year came home 23rd for Obaika Racing in his first-ever Daytona start.  When he moved to Motorsports Business Management, Reaume switched “start-and-park” duty with a handful of full-race runs, then this spring made the move to his current job at RSS Racing.

RSS has been one of the XFINITY Series’ best developing stories.  Since the team moved from Trucks in 2013, driver Ryan Sieg has had a number of impressive runs, including a career-best 3rd at Daytona that put him in the “Dash 4 Cash” at Loudon.  Building on their business model from Trucks, the team has this year expanded to two cars with the backup #93 often entered as a “start-and-park.”  Reaume has shared that ride this year with Josh Wise, who has finished last twice during double-duty weekends at Texas and Richmond.  With the Cup Series off for the weekend, Reaume was tabbed on Friday to return.

Reaume did not participate in Friday’s opening practice, but ran 34th-best of 38 in Happy Hour.  He lost just two spots in qualifying, earning the 36th spot with a lap of 130.235mph.  The only driver who failed to qualify was Claire Decker.  While Claire edged her older sister (and Obaika Racing teammate) Paige by nearly three-hundredths of a second, Claire’s #77 was making its first attempt of 2016 and had no Owner Points to fall back on.  John Jackson, who was expected to run the #72, a third car for Carl Long (formerly Motorsports Business Management), was withdrawn before time trials.

The 40th starting spot went to Paige Decker, whose #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet finished 31st, 56 laps down in the Decker family’s XFINITY Series debut.  In the opening 41-lap run, Reaume was first to pull behind the wall, followed in short order by the #40 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota of Carl Long and the prolific white #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota driven this week by Truck Series regular Tyler Young.  Long returned to the track and ran a few more laps, dropping Young to 39th, and closed on Ray Black, Jr., who pulled the #07 Scuba Life / Chevrolet into the garage around that time.  Black returned by the time Long ended his afternoon for good, eventually coming home 30th.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Morgan Shepherd, whose #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet completed its most laps since Daytona, and Dexter Bean, back with King Autosport in the #92 BuckedUp Apparel Chevrolet for the first time since Dover last October.

*This was the third last-place finish of the season for RSS Racing’s #93 team and first since Josh Wise’s run at Richmond, six races ago.  It is the first XFINITY last-place run for the #93 at Iowa.

40) #93-Josh Reaume / 4 laps / electrical
39) #10-Tyler Young / 6 laps / brakes
38) #40-Carl Long / 43 laps / brakes
37) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 53 laps / brakes
36) #92-Dexter Bean / 68 laps / vibration

1st) Matt DiBenedetto (5)
2nd) Jeff Green (4)
3rd) Josh Wise (2)
4th) Justin Marks, Ryan Preece, Josh Reaume (1)

1st) TriStar Motorsports (9)
2nd) RSS Racing (3)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports (1)

1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (5)

TRUCKS: Claire Decker picks up Cobb team’s fourth last-place finish in five Iowa races

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Claire Decker picked up the 1st last-place finish of her NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Speediatrics 200 at the Iowa Speedway when her #10 Grimes Irrigation & Construction Chevrolet fell out with fuel pump issues after she completed 5 of 200 laps.  The finish came in Decker’s 2nd series start.

The 19-year-old Claire, her older sister Paige, and her younger cousin Natalie participated in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program in 2014 and 2015.  The Decker family has a history in snowmobile racing and are now branching out into stock car racing with their own family-run effort.  Claire, who runs the #01 on the short tracks, got her start in Super Stocks and Super Late Models.

This year, Claire and Paige have already broken into NASCAR’s top three ranks.  All three attempted the spring race at Martinsville this past April.  In qualifying, driving Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 Chevrolet, Claire came less than one-tenth of a second of besting Paige’s ride, the #74 RAM owned by Mike Harmon.  Natalie missed the show in Mark Beaver’s #14.  Both Paige and Claire were involved in separate spins that drew cautions, but both finished the race under power: Paige finished the race 25th, nine laps down.  Claire was 27th, twelve behind.

Last weekend at Iowa saw Paige and Claire back at the track to make their XFINITY Series debuts, running team cars for Obaika Racing.  Claire’s newly-renumbered #77 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet missed the show while Paige came home 31st after starting last in the flagship #97.  Unlike her big sister, Claire was running double-duty in the Truck Series race, again for Jennifer Jo Cobb.  The arrangement, made official on Friday, put Decker in the #10 while Cobb this time ran the #1 for MAKE Motorsports.  Cobb is the seventh different driver to drive the #1 this season.

Claire secured the 32nd and final starting spot in qualifying despite running the slowest lap in time trials: just 119.804mph to polesitter John Hunter Nemechek’s 136.087.  She had also struggled to find speed during her lone practice appearance in Happy Hour, where her best lap after 19 circuits was 120.069.  Still, she was able to bump from the field Donnie Levister, whose Faith Motorsports entry was still unable to make the show after his new technical alliance with Mike Harmon.  Norm Benning, still fighting to make his first Truck start of the year and first since Texas last November, withdrew from the event along with Ryan Truex in the Hattori Racing Toyota.  Truex is expected to run next Saturday in Gateway, but there are no reports yet about when Benning will run between now and Eldora.

Claire Decker pulled behind the wall after five laps under green-flag conditions.  The next retirement didn’t come until Lap 43, when Parker Kligerman’s #92 Technet Professional / Valvoline / BTS Tire Ford crashed in Turn 3.  Kligerman, who began the year with three consecutive finishes of 8th or better, is now reported to be scaling back to a part-time effort.  Tommy Joe Martins, who wrote an excellent mission statement earlier in the week, endured another difficult weekend when he tangled with Derek Scott, Jr. late in the race.  The evening’s low attrition dropped him back to 30th, his fifth-straight finish of 24th or worse.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were Kaz Grala, whose run in GMS Racing’s #24 began with a 4th-place qualifying run and ended with a mid-race wreck, and Cobb in the MAKE #1.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #10 since Cobb’s run last October at Talladega, and the first for Cobb’s team since Caleb Roark’s run at Texas two rounds later.
*Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing has now finished last in four of the last five Truck Series races at Iowa: two with Chris Lafferty, one with Caleb Roark, and this one with Decker.

32) #10-Claire Decker / 5 laps / fuel pump
31) #92-Parker Kligerman / 41 laps / crash
30) #44-Tommy Joe Martins / 173 laps / crash
29) #24-Kaz Grala / 189 laps / running
28) #1-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 191 laps / running

1st) Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) Christopher Bell, William Byron, Claire Decker, Johnny Sauter, Austin Wayne Self, Andy Seuss (1)

1st) Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) AWS Racing, GMS Racing, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Jim Rosenblum Motorsports / FDNY Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Toyota (3)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

3/13/77: Bruce Hill headed back to the track for first time in 30 years, says Allmendinger

SOURCE: Brian Norton
On March 13, 1977, Bruce Hill picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Carolina 500 at the North Carolina Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #47 Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after he completed 21 of 492 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 51st series start, was the first for both him and the #47 since September 26, 1976 during the Old Dominion 500, when his Chevrolet overheated after 37 laps of the rain-shortened event.

Born in Topeka, Kansas, Hill made his NASCAR debut in 1974 as a Winston West competitor.  The Winston Cup season finale at the Ontario Motor Speedway on November 24 was a companion event matching the series regulars against Winston West drivers like Hill.  While Bobby Allison won the race in his Roger Penske-prepared Matador, Hill finished highest among the 15 West competitors and 13th overall.  Hill even finished two spots and a full lap ahead of Richard Petty, who not only won the pole and led a race-high 89 of the 200 laps, but had also clinched his fifth Cup title.

In 1975, Hill continued to impress.  He finished 9th in his first ever Daytona 500 qualifying race, 5th in just his fourth career start at Rockingham, then followed it up with back-to-back 5th-place runs at Darlington and Dover.  16th in the final season standings despite running just 26 of the 30 races, Hill was an easy choice for Rookie of the Year, defeating Carl Adams, Bruce Jacobi, Grant Adcox, Chuck Bown, Joe Mihalic, Travis Tiller, Ferrel Harris, and Dick May.  What’s more incredible is that Hill did all this with just one car and one regular employee.  It was to be the best season of Hill’s career.

Mechanical gremlins made 1976 a challenging season for Hill.  In 22 starts, he failed to finish 16 times, and came home last in three of them.  But in the six races he did finish under power, Hill finished in the Top Ten four times and never finished worse than 18th.  Sponsorship from Howson Algraphy had come aboard late in his 1975 rookie campaign, and remained on his #47 for several races that season, but despite his strong results with limited resources, Hill continued to struggle to find more backing.

When the series came to Rockingham in 1977, his bright white #47 Chevrolet with blue and red stripes timed in a strong 13th, right between Dick Brooks and Neil Bonnett.  Unfortunately, the engine let go during the early laps.  Longtime independent driver Frank Warren was next to retire when his brown-and-gold #79 Naive Tan Dodge pulled behind the wall, followed by the late Lennie Pond, who four years earlier defeated Darrell Waltrip for Rookie of the Year.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were Tight Scott, driving the Walter Ballard-owned #30 Scotty’s Fashions Chevrolet that Hill made two starts with the previous year, and 4th-place starter David Pearson, who crashed his #21 Purolator Mercury on Lap 133.

Eleven cautions slowed the Rockingham race for 111 of its 492 laps, requiring 5 hours, 6 minutes, and 46 seconds to complete.

In all, Hill competed in 100 Cup Series races, the last of which coming on August 16, 1981 during the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan, where Hill finished 33rd in a field of 36.  He also attempted at least one USAC Champ Car Series race at the Milwaukee Mile in 1980 and in 1978 was leading coming off the final corner during the ARCA 200 at Daytona when Jim Sauter wrecked Hill’s pole-winning car, leaving him 2nd.

Today, Hill still lives in Kansas, where he owns a hotel in Great Bend.  But that’s not the end of the story.

On May 4, JTG-Daugherty Racing announced that driver A.J. Allmendinger would be running the same scheme Hill ran during the 1977 season for this September’s second-annual “Throwback Weekend” at Darlington.  I had the opportunity to talk with Allmendinger about the tribute during his visit to the Sonoma Raceway earlier this month.

“Yeah, well, last year we didn’t do a throwback scheme, it kind of came on late.  And to be completely honest, Kroger didn’t know much about it.  You know, they’re fairly new to the sport when it comes to all the stuff we’re doing and we kept talking about it and said, you know, last year was just kind of an experiment and now everybody’s jumping on board and it’s a cool idea.”

“So, we were - really, (Kroger) just kind of looked at what fit their scheme already and found the Bruce Hill scheme and it kind of worked out we were going to Kansas - Bruce Hill’s a Topeka native - and, you know, I think there’s a little bit of a bonus there that, you know, we’re one of the small teams that keep trying to get recognition.”

“Bruce Hill’s the guy that - I’ll be honest - I didn’t hear about him until I got to meet him and you start learning about his career and he was a guy who basically put his life savings into it and was really good, I mean, won Rookie of the Year, had a lot of top-five, top-ten finishes in the short amount of races that he did, so it all worked out.  I thought the scheme when I caught it out was like, ‘that’s pretty cool.’  So, it’ll be fun at Darlington for sure.”

“And it was cool to actually meet - (Bruce Hill) hadn’t been to a race track in thirty years.  He left the sport and said, ‘It’s too hard to come back.  I don’t want to come back and watch.’  And he hadn’t been back to a race track in thirty years and it was the first time, you know, we invited him out and a couple of his old crew members and he just loved it.  But he was - guys like Richard Childress and Richard Petty, guys he raced against.  So I think it was pretty special for him.  We’ve invited him and as many of his crew guys that want to come out to Darlington, so yeah, it was cool.”

And now, thanks to JTG's partners, Hill’s car will have plenty of sponsorship.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #47 in a Cup race at Rockingham since March 14, 1971, when Raymond Williams’ #47 MARC Times 1970 Ford wrecked after 5 laps of the Carolina 500.

36) #47-Bruce Hill / 21 laps / engine
35) #79-Frank Warren / 32 laps / engine
34) #54-Lennie Pond / 52 laps / engine
33) #30-Tighe Scott / 107 laps / oil pump
32) #21-David Pearson / 133 laps / crash / led 12 laps

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Michigan


#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 5th, Finished 17th

Hopes were high that Michigan would be the site of Ryan Blaney’s breakthrough win for the Wood Brothers, their first at the track since Dale Jarrett’s maiden victory in 1991, but NASCAR’s new low-downforce aero package proved a handful.  Blaney timed in 5th, ran 4th in Saturday’s opening practice, and was never ranked worse than 14th for most of the weekend.  He made several daring passes on Sunday and was still inside the Top 10 when he found the outside wall on Lap 163.  In the first of two separate incidents, Blaney was shoved into the outside lane in Turn 2 and slapped the fence, followed behind by a tangle between Jimmie Johnson and Trevor Bayne.  Blaney fell outside the Top 20 on the restart, but made his way back inside by the checkered flag.

In two weeks, Blaney is set to make his first Cup start on the road course in Sonoma, California for the Toyota / Save Mart 350.  The Wood Brothers have not competed on the track since 2008, but when they did, Marcos Ambrose had a stellar run going in his Cup debut.  Ambrose started 7th in the #21 Littel Debbie Honey Buns Ford and ran in the Top 5 for much of the afternoon, but after a late spin from contact by Elliott Sadler in Turn 7 broke the tranmission and finished a disappointing 42nd.

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started 36th, Finished 27th

Premium Motorsports brought two identical black Chevrolets to Michigan for Cole Whitt and Reed Sorenson, who would again run each other’s rides as they did last week at Pocono.  However, by Sunday, Whitt’s #55 again bore the white-and-purple scheme for Vydox Plus Extra Strength.  Whitt started in the Bottom Five, for spots ahead of Sorenson, and once again fought hard to stay on the lead lap.  He didn’t get passed until Lap 28, when he was running 34th, 6.9 seconds behind 33rd-place Regan Smith.  Persistence paid off in the end, and Whitt earned the Lucky Dog under the Lap 156 caution for the wreck between Brian Scott, Danica Patrick, and Casey Mears.  Whitt defended his lead-lap position all the way to the finish, marking just the fourth time in 2016 either of the Premium Motorsports cars finished on the lead lap (the most recent being a team sweep at Talladega with Whitt and Michael Waltrip).

Whitt returns to his home track at Sonoma in two weeks, where last year he improved on his 27th-place run in his 2014 debut with a 22nd for Front Row Motorsports in the #35 Upono Plumbing Systems Ford.  Team owner Jay Robinson has only been the listed owner of one Cup Series entry on the California road course - in 2014, Robinson earned a 38th-place finish by road racer Tomy Drissi in the #66 Toyota sponsored by the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson film “Hercules.”

#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
Started 37th, Finished 30th

Wise joined the fellow Open drivers Whitt and Sorenson in the Bottom Five at Sunday’s green flag and was also buoyed by the early-race attrition for his second-best finish of the year and fourth-straight finish under power.  Around Lap 18,Wise slid up the track and fell behind Michael Annett for 39th, then was lapped two circuits later.  Unlike Annett, who would go on to earn the final two Lucky Dogs of the afternoon, Wise fell short of becoming the first car one lap down and ended up three down at the finish, another three laps ahead of 31st-place Reed Sorenson.

The next Sprint Cup Series round at Sonoma will see The Motorsports Group attempt the race for the first time.  The #30 hasn’t run at the track since 2013, when David Stremme came home 36th for the now-defunct Swan Racing (formerly Inception Motorsports).  Wise, however, is no stranger to the road course.  He made his first full-race run for Front Row Motorsports there in 2012, saving his #26 MDS Transport Ford from an off-course excursion in Turn 10.  The last two years, Wise ran the Dogecoin Digital Currency Chevrolet for Phil Parsons Racing.  The 2015 running saw his white #98 come home 28th, the driver’s career-best.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started 40th, Finished 31st

Sorenson again seemed an early favorite for LASTCAR’s Michigan feature.  His black #98 Chevrolet was the first to lose a lap on the 17th circuit, and he’d lose two more through the first round of green-flag pit stops.  Though he came home six laps behind race winner Joey Logano, he managed to keep his nose clean among the sliding cars, earning his second-best finish of 2016 (the best being last Sunday’s 28th-place run at Pocono).  Among the cars in Sorenson’s rear veiw mirror were 39th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and last-place finisher Kyle Busch.

Sorenson has four career Cup starts at Sonoma, but none since his 32nd-place run for Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2014.  His three previous starts in 2006, 2007, and 2009 came in Dodges for Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, respectively.  Sorenson’s best run came in his track debut as a rookie, when he ran 29th in his only lead-lap finish.




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

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

CUP: Kyle Busch trails June’s Cup race at Michigan for second-straight year

Kyle Busch picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #18 M&M’s Red-White-Blue Toyota fell out with a fiery engine failure after he completed 52 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish was Busch’s first of the season and second in a row in this event.  Busch’s last-place finish in the June 14, 2015 running 36 races ago was also his most recent, and his #18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota was also eliminated after 52 laps, though that time due to a single-car accident.

This year, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion picked up where he left off at Homestead, scoring three wins in the first eleven races of the year including firsts at Martinsville and Kansas.  In that span, he finished worse than 4th only two times - a 25th at Fontana and a 38th at Bristol after a series of crashes.  But starting with the late-race pileup on a restart at Dover, Busch began to slide back in the standings, dropping from 2nd to 5th.  He crashed in the final laps at Charlotte and finished 33rd, then found the wall again at Pocono and came home 31st.

Busch arrived at Michigan, another track that has been a challenge to both driver and the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.  Though Busch won at the track in August 2011, he endured a stretch of four straight finishes of 31st or worse from 2013 through his last-place run in 2015.  He rebounded with an 11th last August, but benefited from an experimental high-downforce package which the team figured out during their victory at Indianapolis a month earlier.  This year, the package was changed the opposite direction, shortening the rear spoiler and front splitter to make the cars more of a handful.

Busch made the adjustment in practice, his patriotic-themed Toyota running 13th in the opening session.  He was nearly bumped from Round 2 in qualifying by Matt DiBenedetto, but clicked off the 8th-fastest lap in the final moments, ultimately leading to his 9th spot on the grid at a speed of 197.819 mph.  Busch ran 2nd-fastest behind teammate Carl Edwards in Saturday’s practice, 18th in Happy Hour, then battled with teammate Daniel Suarez in the XFINITY race until Suarez prevailed, claiming his first series victory.

Sunday’s field rolled off with Reed Sorenson in the 40th and final starting spot.  Back in the black #98 Chevrolet for the second-straight week, Sorenson was joined by David Ragan, who was sent to a backup car after his #23 Weaver Media Toyota lost control and crashed in practice on Saturday.  Ragan passed Sorenson on Lap 1, and Sorenson began to lose touch with the ill-handing pack.  By Lap 9, Sorenson was 3.2 seconds behind 39th-place Michael Annett, and he was the first to go down a lap on the 17th circuit.

The next change for 40th occurred around Lap 37 during the opening round of green-flag pit stops.  First to move in was Matt DiBenedetto, whose #83 Cosmo Motors Toyota was the first to go two laps down.  Next was rookie Jeffrey Earnhardt, back in the #32 Can-Am Ford after Jeb Burton drove for Go FAS Racing last week at Pocono, who was the first to go 3 down on Lap 39.  By the time the stops cycled through on Lap 44, Sorenson was again in 40th, now three laps behind himself.

On Lap 52, Casey Mears, who was running mid-pack after starting 24th in the #13 GEICO Chevrolet, slowed going down the backstretch with oil all over his rear TV panel.  Something punctured his oil cooler, forcing him to go to the garage area for repairs.  Right before Mears could take last from Sorenson, who was still on track, Kyle Busch found trouble on Lap 54.  For more than 30 laps, Busch’s #18 had been running funny, and he thought the engine was about to let go.  Those fears were realized on the backstretch, when the engine detonated, spreading fire and smoke beneath the car.  The flames were quickly extinguished, but Busch’s day was done.  Mears’ team completed repairs and got the #13 back on track on Lap 61, dropping Busch to last on Lap 65.  Mears managed to come home 32nd, 11 laps down.

Finishing 39th behind Busch was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who was involved in a three-car accident on Lap 62.  Heading into Turn 4, Earnhardt was running three-wide between Chris Buescher and A.J. Allmendinger when Buescher and Earnhardt came together, forcing the other two into the outside wall.  Both Earnhardt’s #88 Axalta Chevrolet and Allmendinger’s #47 Kroger / Hungry Jack / Crisco Chevrolet had too much right side damage to continue.  Behind them in 37th was Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose lapped #32 hit the wall twice on Lap 102 and 108, the second causing a fire of his own that he leapt from at the entrance to pit road.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Brian Scott, whose #44 Albertson’s / Shore Lodge Ford nosed head-on into the backstretch wall after a Lap 155 tangle with Danica Parick and Casey Mears.

Kyle Busch, meanwhile, now sits 9th in points heading into the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway in two weeks, the race whose victory vaulted him to the season championship.

*Busch is the first driver to finish last in the same Cup Series race in consecutive years since July 13, 2014, when Mike Bliss fell out with electrical issues after 6 laps of the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire after exiting with rear gear issues after 75 laps of the July 14, 2013 running of the same race.
*By starting 9th, Busch is the second-highest qualifier to finish last in the 2016 Sprint Cup season, trailing only Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s 3rd-place start before his crash at Talladega.

40) #18-Kyle Busch / 52 laps / engine
39) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. / 61 laps / crash
38) #47-A.J. Allmendinger / 62 laps / crash
37) #32-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 101 laps / crash
36) #44-Brian Scott / 154 laps / crash

1st) Matt DiBenedetto, Reed Sorenson (3)
2nd) Josh Wise (2)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Cole Whitt (1)

1st) Premium Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing (3)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, The Motorsports Group (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (1)

XFINITY: Matt DiBenedetto takes 2016 LASTCAR XFINITY lead with third-straight finish

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 7th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Menards 250 Presented by Valvoline at the Michigan International Speedway when his unsponsored #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with transmission issues after he completed 6 of 53 laps.

The finish, which came in DiBenedetto’s 56th series start, was his fifth of the season and his third in a row.  He now takes the lead in the 2016 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship over teammate Jeff Green, who finished 33rd in TriStar’s #14.

DiBenedetto once again ran double-duty between Cup and XFINITY between BK Racing and TriStar Motorsports.  His XFINITY weekend began on Friday, when he timed in a strong 23rd in the opening practice after just two laps, then sat out Happy Hour that afternoon.  With 40 drivers arrived to fill the 40-car field following the withdrawals of team cars for JGL Racing and Obaika Racing, DiBenedetto came up just one-tenth of a second short of advancing to Round 2 in qualifying, earning the 25th spot at 185.965 mph.

The 40th starting spot belonged to ARCA underdog Josh Williams, who just this April broke through with his first series victory at Nashville in his 81st start.  Williams, now 2nd in the ARCA standings, was rewarded with an invite from Jimmy Means Racing to bring back Means’ second entry, the #79 DB Sales Chevrolet.  As in years past, this was Joey Gase’s renumbered backup #52 Chevrolet and was there to “start-and-park” to help fund the team.  Still, it was Williams’ first XFINITY Series start and first race in NASCAR’s top three divisions since a 34th-place showing in the Martinsville Truck Series race in 2014.  In the end, Williams pulled his car in after 11 laps, leaving him 38th.

DiBenedetto pulled behind the wall after three laps and took the last spot.  Between Wiliams and DiBenedetto was Josh Wise, again in RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet which now has three 39th-place runs in 2016.  37th went to Scotsman driver John Jackson, back in the XFINITY Series for the first time since Talladega, who this time drove Carl Long’s #40 TLC Vacations Toyota.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Morgan Shepherd, whose #89 Racing With Jesus / Courtney Construction Chevrolet has now made two straight races since his last DNQ at Charlotte.

*This was not only the first last-place finish for both DiBenedetto and the #10 in an XFINITY Series race at Michigan, but the first for TriStar Motorsports.

40) #10-Matt DiBenedetto / 3 laps / rear gear
39) #93-Josh Wise / 8 laps / rear gear
38) #79-Josh Williams / 11 laps / overheating
37) #40-John Jackson / 13 laps / clutch
36) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 16 laps / oil leak

1st) Matt DiBenedetto (5)
2nd) Jeff Green (4)
3rd) Josh Wise (2)
4th) Justin Marks, Ryan Preece (1)

1st) TriStar Motorsports (9)
2nd) RSS Racing (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports (1)

1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (4)

TRUCKS: Christopher Bell scores first Truck Series last for #4 since 2006

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Christopher Bell picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Rattlesnake 400 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #4 Toyota lost an engine on the opening lap of the 167-lap event.  The finish came in Bell’s 14th series start.

The 21-year-old driver from Norman, Oklahoma has been racing for just over five years, but in that time has turned heads.  The 2013 USAC National Midget Champion signed with Kyle Busch Motorsports the following year and racked up victories on both paved and dirt ovals, breaking through in the World of Outlaws at Jacksonville Speedway at mid-season.  By 2015, when Busch moved Bell into the CARS Super Late Model Tour, he won three of his four series starts.  Following Bell’s 5th-place run in his Truck Series debut at Iowa, Busch quickly moved Bell into Justin Boston’s #54 Toyota, which Bell took to victory at Eldora after a thrilling battle with MB Motorsports’ Bobby Pierce.

2016 marks Bell’s first full season in Truck Series competition.  The year began with three bad runs in a row - a terrible flip coming out of the tri-oval on the final lap at Daytona, a crash while leading late at Atlanta, and two late accidents at Martinsville.  In the three races that followed, however, Bell finished 4th at Kansas, 3rd at Dover, and 8th at Charlotte.  Having vaulted from 21st to 9th in points heading into the seventh round at Texas, the goal was to break through with that first victory of the season and lock-up a spot in the Chase.

Bell ran 14th-fastest of 26 drivers in Thursday’s opening session, improved to 8th in Happy Hour, and ended up 9th in qualifying with a lap of 179.319 mph.  Of the 34 entrants, the two drivers who missed the show were Norm Benning, who this time missed out on starting his first race of 2016 by 0.016 second, and Jennifer Jo Cobb, more than a mile an hour off the pace in her first DNQ since Daytona.  Team owner Mark Rette also withdrew Jesse Little’s #30 Carolina Nut Co. Toyota earlier in the week.

Starting last on Friday was Tim Viens, who this week climbed behind the wheel of the #86 Team Manny / Chevrolet previously driven by Brandon Brown and fielded by Brown’s family-owned team.  This week, Brown’s entry was fielded by Mike Harmon, who has fielded #74 trucks for Viens in the past.  Next week at Iowa, Harmon will partner with Faith Motorsports, who previously withdrew their #62 Property Pros / SMD Toyota for driver Donnie Levister at Martinsville, to give the Faith team its first Truck Series start.  However, back at Texas, Viens did not stay last for long.

When the green flag flew on Friday night, Bell missed a shift and suddenly slowed, plummeting from the front of the pack.  His truck pulled behind the wall without drawing the yellow, citing engine issues.  Engine trouble also ended Carlos Contreras’ day four laps later, his #71 American Club Chevrolet scoring its first DNF since Martinsville.  Ryan Ellis came home 30th for MAKE Motrosports, which this week resumed fielding the #1 / Fuzzy’s Taco Shop Chevrolet after FDNY Racing’s Andy Seuss drove in the team’s place at Charlotte.  29th went to Viens in Harmon’s #86 followed by Mike Bliss, who crashed MB Motorsports’ unsponsored #63 on Lap 97.

*This marked the first last-place run for the #4 in Truck Series competition since November 10, 2006, when Chase Miller’s #4 Dodge Motorsports Dodge fielded by Bobby Hamilton Racing fell out with crash damage after 5 laps of the Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix.
*Bell is the first Truck Series driver to fail to complete a lap of a Truck Series race since Caleb Roark (electrical issue) and Tyler Tanner (blown engine) pulled out on the opening lap of last fall’s Winstar World Casino and Resort 350 at the Texas Motor Speedway.  Roark, who started one position behind Tanner, was given the last-place finish.

32) #4-Christopher Bell / 0 laps / engine
31) #71-Carlos Contreras / 4 laps / engine
30) #1-Ryan Ellis / 30 laps / suspension
29) #86-Tim Viens / 56 laps / vibration
28) #63-Mike Bliss / 92 laps / crash

1st) Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) Christopher Bell, William Byron, Johnny Sauter, Austin Wayne Self, Andy Seuss (1)

1st) Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) AWS Racing, GMS Racing, Jim Rosenblum Motorsports / FDNY Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (3)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

8/11/85: Tim Richmond scores one of just two career last-place finishes

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On August 11, 1985, Tim Richmond picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Champion Spark Plug 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #27 Old Milwaukee Pontiac lost an engine after 3 of 200 laps.

In just eight seasons from his transition out of open-wheel racing in 1980 through his 185th and final start in 1987, Richmond made a name for himself as one of NASCAR’s purest racing talents.  He excelled at some of the sport’s most difficult tracks.  He made his Cup debut at Pocono, where he finished an impressive 12th.  His first Top Ten came at Bristol the following year.  In 1982, he scored his first victory on the sprawling road course in Riverside, California.  Richmond was also one of the most aggressive drivers the sport had seen since Dale Earnhardt, and it wasn’t long before the two waged war as friendly rivals.

Through it all, Richmond finished last only twice, and both occurred during the 1985 season.  By then, Richmond was entering his third season with car owner Raymond Beadle, whose Blue Max Racing team would win the Winston Cup with Rusty Wallace in 1989.  Richmond had scored two more victories with the team - one from the pole at Pocono in 1983, the other at North Wilkesboro in 1984 - but was not a championship contender.  Over those two seasons, Richmond failed to finish 25 times in 60 starts - nearly one of every two.  Leadership came from veteran crew chief Tim Brewer, who had come over from Junior Johnson’s team, but the team had yet to come together.  For 1985, Barry Dodson - Rusty’s future championship crew chief - took Brewer’s place.

Richmond’s first last-place run came in the 1985 spring race at Bristol, the Valleydale 500, where his Pontiac was gobbled-up in a five-car tangle with Joe Ruttman, Geoffrey Bodine, Neil Bonnett, and Harry Gant.  The other came four months later at Michigan, scene of Richmond’s 138th series start.

Richmond qualified 3rd for the race - the third time he’d made the Top Five that season.  40th went to owner-driver Rick Baldwin, whose own life ended tragically as a result of a qualifying crash at the same track the following year.  Baldwin’s #04 Schlitz-sponsored ride - the only Chrysler Imperial in the field - held the spot briefly before Richmond pulled behind the wall.  Baldwin’s own engine let go afer 142 laps, but the race’s high attrition rate lifted him to 28th.

Richmond wasn’t the only big-name driver to find trouble that Sunday.  39th went to “The Silver Fox” himself David Pearson, who burned a piston on his #21 Chattanooga Chew Ford.  Pearson endured one of his most frustrating seasons in 1985, qualifying inside the Top Ten in nine of his 12 starts, but failing to finish ten of them.  38th-place Ron Bouchard, who prevailed on a three-wide last-lap pass on Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte, lost the engine on his #47 Valvoline Buick.  37th belonged to Richard Petty, whose second season with Mike Curb as owner yielded his own wildly inconsistent season of 13 Top Tens and 10 DNFs in 28 starts.  Rounding out the group was Bobby Allison, who left DiGard Racing three races earlier to become an owner-driver once more.  Allison’s inconsistency was with his manufacturer: after running Buicks with DiGard, Allison’s #22 Miller American ride switched between Buick, Chevrolet, and Ford for the rest of the year.

In all, the Bottom Five of the 1985 Champion Spark Plug 400 would go on to score 404 Cup wins between them.

Richmond finished the 1985 season a disappointing 11th in points without a win.  He’d leave the team over the off-season, opening the door for Rusty Wallace and new sponsor Alugard.  Richmond, meanwhile, made his fateful move to Hendrick Motorsports as driver of Hendrick’s new #25 Folger’s Chevrolet as teammate to that year’s Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine.  Reunited with no-nonsense crew chief Harry Hyde, who had previously worked with Richmond on a failed bid to make a 1982 race at Rockingham, the two sparked a mid-season rally that vaulted them to seven wins and third in points.

What followed is remembered as much for its tragedy as it was for Richmond’s bravery.  Failed drug tests and complications for what was initially rumored to be “double pneumonia” sidelined Richmond for the first part of the 1987 season.  Visibly weakened, he returned by the summer to win his first two races back - again at the sport’s most difficult venues - at Pocono and Riverside.  By August, he was sidelined again.  Two years later, he lost his life to AIDS.  He was only 34.

Richmond’s larger-than-life personality lives on in the same Hollywood for which he was nicknamed.  During production for the 1990 film “Days of Thunder,” Richmond was the first person star Tom Cruise asked Rick Hendrick about during his research for the lead role.  His life story was also the feature of ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentary “Tim Richmond: To The Limit.”

*This was the first last-place finish for the #27 in a Cup race at Michigan since August 20, 1978, when Buddy Baker’s M.C. Anderson Racing Oldsmobile lost the engine after 9 laps of the Champion Spark Plug 400.  As of this writing, the number has not finished last at the track since Richmond’s run in 1985.

40) #27-Tim Richmond / 3 laps / engine
39) #21-David Pearson / 14 laps / piston
38) #47-Ron Bouchard / 79 laps / engine
37) #43-Richard Petty / 79 laps / engine
36) #22-Bobby Allison / 85 laps / crash