Sunday, July 3, 2016

XFINITY: B.J. McLeod out early as Jeff Green scores first top-ten finish since 2005

B.J. McLeod picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #78 Safecraft Safety Equipment / MOMO Ford lost the engine after 1 of the race’s 103 laps.  The finish came in McLeod’s 26th series start.

McLeod, himself a Florida resident, got his start running ATVs and go-karts.  As a teen, he developed into one of the Southeast’s most formidable short track drivers with over 100 super late model wins.  He honed his skills in the American Speed Association (ASA), Hooters Pro Cup (now CARS X-1R Pro Cup), and the ARCA Racing Series on his way to NASCAR.

McLeod made his NASCAR debut in the Truck Series in 2010, finishing 17th for Germain Racing.  For the next four seasons, he earned his stripes in the series, running part-time for six different teams including RSS Racing and SS-Green Light Racing.  He also developed his own race team, B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., which since 2011 has developed its own NASCAR program in addition to supporting new talents in late model and K&N Pro Series East competition.  Among McLeod’s alumni are Matt Tifft and Scott Heckert.  In 2015, McLeod’s team partnered with Tommy Regan, McLeod himself running ten races in the #45 Tilted Kilt Chevrolet.

2015 also saw McLeod’s XFINITY Series debut at Iowa, where he finished 36th for Rick Ware Racing.  As in the Truck Series, McLeod stayed true to his journeyman roots, driving for three other teams and earning a season-best 25th at Loudon driving for SS-Green Light.  Loudon was also the scene of McLeod’s Cup Series debut, where he finished 34th in Joe Falk’s #33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevrolet.

This year, McLeod took his biggest step yet, running two full-time cars in the XFINITY Series.  McLeod would drive his own car, a #78 Ford, while a rotating series of drivers would run his team car #99.  While the #99 has made just one start in five attempts - a 38th by Todd Peck at Atlanta - and hasn’t been entered since withdrawing from Fontana, McLeod has qualified for every race this season.  He returned to Daytona last week 21st in points, coming off his second career-best finish of 19th this season.

McLeod came to Daytona with a radical new paint scheme, his black-and-green colors replaced by a brilliant blue and white, featuring new sponsorship from Safecraft Safety Equpment, makers of fire extinguishers, and Italian racing performance company MOMO.  The car looked good, but there was trouble under the hood.  Unable to make it out during Thursday’s lone practice session, McLeod didn’t find out until his qualifying lap that the engine sounded flat.  He put up a lap of just 170.232mph - more than one second slower than the next-slowest car - and had to rely on Owner Points to secure the 40th and final starting spot.  Still, his strong season allowed him to make the race while Carl Long, Derrike Cope, and Mike Harmon were sent home.  McLeod’s crew changed the battery and hoped for the best on race day.

When the green flag flew, however, there was still something wrong with McLeod’s engine.  By the backstretch, he’d lost touch with the pack and was falling further behind.  He pulled onto pit road the next time by, then to the garage area - the motor had blown.

The silver lining to McLeod’s short day was that he avoided all the multi-car accidents that filled the Bottom Five.  39th-place Ray Black, Jr.’s #07 ScubaLife / Chevrolet was destroyed in a hard crash on Lap 9 when he tangled with 38th-place finisher Alex Guenette in Obaika’s #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet and three other cars.  37th went to Talladega last-placer Justin Marks, whose #42 Katerra Chevrolet suffered heavy nose damage in the Lap 15 tangle that ripped the driver’s side sheet metal off the side of Joe Nemechek’s 36th-place finishing #87 Fleetwing Toyota., both among the 14 drivers involved.  The early attrition left Morgan Shepherd 35th, tying his best finish of the year at Pocono.

Rick Ware Racing enjoyed one of its best NASCAR performances with teammates Ryan Ellis and all-time last-place leader Jeff Green.  Ellis, who brought sponsor ScienceLogic to Ware’s #15 Chevrolet, overcame two late incidents on the backstretch and heat exhaustion to finish a career-best 15th.  Jeff Green, who returned to Ware’s #17 for the first time since the season opener, finished a surprising 7th - his first top-ten finish since May 13, 2005 at Richmond.  This wasn’t the first time the two drivers have crossed paths.  Just nine months ago at Darlington, it was Ellis who ended Green’s record-setting streak of eight consecutive last-place finishes.  Friday also marked the first time Ford finished last in an XFINITY Series race since that day.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in an XFINITY Series race since September 11, 2009, when Kevin Lepage’s unsponsored Derrike Cope, Inc. Dodge was involved in a three-car accident on the opening lap of the Virginia College Savings 250 at Richmond.
*This was also the first time in more than a year that the last-place finisher of an XFINITY race fell out because of engine trouble.  The most recent time came on April 10, 2015, when Mike Harmon’s unsponsored #74 Mike Harmon Racing Dodge exited the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas after 2 laps.

40) #78-B.J. McLeod / 1 lap / engine
39) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 8 laps / crash
38) #97-Alex Guenette / 9 laps / crash
37) #42-Justin Marks / 14 laps / crash
36) #87-Joe Nemechek / 14 laps / crash

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

1st) TriStar Motorsports (9)
2nd) RSS Racing (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports (1)

1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (5)
3rd) Ford (1)

No comments: