Tuesday, August 30, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Michigan August

SOURCE: Jery Markland, Getty Images
QUALIFIED

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 7th, Finished 4th

Blaney was in a class of his own Sunday.  He not only earned the best finish of an Open team in 2016, besting his own mark of 5th at Kansas, but was a factor in both the start and end of the race.  Blaney started 7th, but ran a close 2nd to Tony Stewart in Saturday’s first practice, trailing by just 0.123sec.  He was 4th for the final restart with nine laps to go and found himself crammed between leader Chase Elliott and 6th-place starter Kevin Harvick, nearly wrecking all three.  Kyle Larson, who started 2nd, was also shoved by Brad Keselowski, but caught traction first and went on to score the victory.  Blaney, the only driver in the Top 7 to not lead a lap Sunday, now sits 18th in points, fourth among winless drivers outside the Chase.  He has two races left to win his way in.  Next week at Darlington, Blaney looks to improve on his 30th-place finish last year driving a David Pearson throwback.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started 37th, Finished 34th

A distant second among Open drivers was Cole Whitt.  Whitt lost the first of his six laps on the 51st circuit and came home two and four spots ahead of the remaining two Open drivers.  Next week, Whitt looks to make his fourth Darlington start for a fourth different team.  The defending last-place finisher of the Southern 500 has finished no better than 38th at the track, and the Premium Motorsports team does not as yet have “throwback” schemes announced for either driver.

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started 39th, Finished 36th

The Vydox Plus scheme returned at Michigan for Sorenson, who finished seven laps down on the same circuit as Pocono winner Chris Buescher.  In seven previous Darlington starts, Sorenson’s best finish was an 11th in his track debut with Chip Ganassi Racing, which took the checkers Sunday with Kyle Larson.  It will be his first start at the track since 2014, when he ran 39th for Tommy Baldwin.

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

When Buescher managed to hold off Joey Logano before the competition caution, Josh Wise earned the first Lucky Dog on Sunday, but he wound up eight laps down on the same circuit as Jeffrey Earnhardt.  Wise briefly ran 40th on Lap 110, but gained two spots by the finish following the late-race struggles of Clint Bowyer and Landon Cassill.  Wise has three previous starts at Darlington with a career-best 21st coming in his most recent outing for Phil Parsons Racing in 2014.  According the team’s Twitter poll, Wise is slated to run a throwback to Michael Waltrip’s 1988 Country Time Pontiac next Sunday.

DID NOT QUALIFY

None.

DID NOT ENTER

#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, August 28, 2016

CUP: Clint Bowyer gives #15 first last-place run at Michigan since 1984

SOURCE: 5HourEnergy.com
Clint Bowyer picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet finished under power, 40 laps down out of 200.

The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 385th series start, was his second of the year and first since Sonoma, eight races ago.

Bowyer finished 9th the Saturday after his electrical fire at Sonoma, but his fortunes have hardly changed since.  Between then and Sunday, his best finish was an 18th at Watkins Glen, leaving him a distant 25th in points.  On the heels of Saturday’s announcement that he would run a Benny Parsons tribute car next Sunday at Darlington, Bowyer looked for a turn around at Michigan, where he finished 23rd in June.

Bowyer ran 29th-fastest in the opening practice, qualified 27th with a speed of 198.129mph, and on Saturday put up the 23rd and 25th-fastest laps.

Starting 40th on Sunday was Jeffrey Earnhardt, who had a difficult start to his weekend after crashing hard in Friday’s practice.  The team rolled out their backup, a completely non-decaled Ford with flat gray primer, and prepared the car in just five hours.  In place of the bright green-and-black scheme of the primary, Earnhardt would run a white car with yellow numbers on the doors for Sunday.  He was joined at the rear by a much happier Michael McDowell, fresh off his win at Road America the previous day.  McDowell’s #95 Thrivent Financial Chevrolet was sent to the rear as Sam Hornish, Jr. had practiced and qualified the car while he was away.

Earnhardt held 40th on the opening lap, but the next time by was joined by a dropping Chris Buescher.  Buescher, winner at Pocono at August, looked to nurse his #34 Dockside Logistics Ford to a solid finish and secure his Top 30 points position needed to qualify for the Chase.  What he did not need was an apparent broken spark plug that made his engine sound flat in the opening laps.  Buescher fell behind Earnhardt on Lap 2, re-passed Earnhardt on Lap 6, and barely stayed on the lead lap when the competition caution fell on Lap 22.  Buescher’s team raised the hood and began to replace spark plug wires, leaving him on pit road when the race restarted.  Fortunately, he was saved from going more than 2 circuits down when Kyle Busch spun on Lap 27.  Unfortunately, Buescher would flirt with 40th for the rest of the afternoon.

Buescher re-took 40th from Earnhardt during caution-flag pit stops on Lap 24, then went a third lap down by Lap 46.  On Lap 61, Alex Bowman, back in relief of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. after Jeff Gordon had a previous commitment, pulled behind the wall in the #88 Axalta / University of Michigan Chevrolet.  Bowman had started 6th, but like Buescher found himself fading back with a wrong-sounding engine.  The team reset Bowman’s ECU and got him back out on Lap 64, four laps down and in the 40th spot.  Buescher again took the spot on Lap 87, lost a fifth lap by Lap 96, and was passed for 40th by Josh Wise’s #30 Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet on Lap 110.  On Lap 120, Buescher again regained the spot from Wise and appeared set to remain there when trouble broke out one final time.

In the final quarter-distance of the race, Bowyer was among the many drivers lapped by the leaders.  Bowyer pitted his #15, then returned with what he thought was a loose wheel.  Back in the tri-oval, however, he slowed with what appeared to be a problem in the drive train.  Under the ensuing caution for debris, Bowyer pulled behind the wall, apparently done for the day, dropping him to last on Lap 126.  Somehow, the HScott Motorsports team got the #15 back on track, 39 laps down, and he lost one more by race’s end.  With just under 20 laps to go, Landon Cassill’s #38 MDS Transport Ford started smoking going into Turn 3 and pulled into the garage.  Suspension issues ended Cassill’s race, but there weren’t enough laps to drop him beneath 39th.  Thus, Bowyer still on track secured his second last-place run of 2016.

Behind Bowyer and Cassill were 38th-place Wise and 37th-place Earnhardt, who both wound up eight laps behind.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Reed Sorenson, whose #55 Vydox Plus Chevrolet ended up seven laps behind the leaders.

Completing a weekend of first-time winners was Kyle Larson, who scored his first Cup victory in his 99th series start.  Larson scored his first last-place finish at the Michigan track in 2014 and also crashed out at the sister track in Fontana this past spring.  Congratulations to Larson for bringing a Cup victory to Northern California.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first time the #15 finished last in a Cup race at Michigan since June 17, 1984, when Ricky Rudd’s Wrangler Jeans Ford lost an engine after 41 laps of the Miller High Life 400.  The finish was the 4th of Rudd’s career and his first in nearly three years.  Bowyer had never before finished last in a Cup race at this track.
*The 160 laps completed by Bowyer are the most of any Cup Series last-placer at Michigan.  The previous record of 159 was set on June 13, 1999, when Jimmy Spencer’s #23 Winston / No Bull Ford lost the engine during the Kmart 400 presented by Castrol Super Clean.  Spencer was the only DNF in the caution-free race won by Dale Jarrett.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #15-Clint Bowyer / 160 laps / running
39) #38-Landon Cassill / 174 laps / suspension
38) #30-Josh Wise / 192 laps / running
37) #32-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 192 laps / running
36) #55-Reed Sorenson / 193 laps / running

2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Premium Motorsports (5)
2nd) BK Racing (4)
3rd) HScott Motorsports, The Motorsports Group (3)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing (2)
5th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (3)

2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Garrett Smithley scores first last-place finish as LASTCAR star Michael McDowell earns first NASCAR win

SOURCE: NBC Sports
Garrett Smithley picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Road America 180 at the Road America when his unsponsored #0 JD Motorsports Chevrolet crashed out after 2 of 48 laps.  The finish came in Smithley’s 23rd series start.

Smithley, a 24-year-old driver from Georgia, has developed a passionate fan base in his brief XFINITY Series career.  The #NumberNuthin and #NuthinNation hashtags signify the #0 Smithley took over early this season, a JD Motorsports ride which passed between six drivers through this year at Daytona.  On the heels of a successful short track career in Bandolero and Legends cars, Smithley made his way into NASCAR through the Richard Petty Driver Search, becoming lead instructor.  He then got in touch with Derrike Cope, running a handful of superspeedway starts in ARCA before taking the helm of Cope’s XFINITY car at Homestead last year.  Following Eric McClure’s run for JD Motorsports in this year’s Daytona opener, Smithley climbed into JD’s #0 full-time, and he’s made every race since.

For more on Smithley, check out his site here.

Despite missing Daytona, Smithley came into Road America 17th in points, five spots away from the inaugural XFINITY Series chase.  He earned a season-best 12th in his restrictor-plate debut at Talladega, but has had mixed results on the road courses.  His lone DNF of the year came at Watkins Glen, where his car overheated after 13 laps of the Zippo 200.  He bounced back in the next road course round at Mid-Ohio, avoiding the many spinning cars on the rain-soaked track to finish 24th.  For Road America, anything was possible.

Smithley ran 28th of 33 drivers in the opening practice, 30th of 39 in Happy Hour, and timed in 29th with a lap of 105.621mph.  King Autosport withdrew their second car, to be driven by Dexter Bean, so all 40 remaining drivers qualified for the race.

Starting 40th on Saturday was Alon Day, who turned heads with a strong 13th-place finish in his series debut at Mid-Ohio.  This time around, Day would take the helm of the primary Motorsports Business Management car, the #13 FLWaterfront.com Dodge, with Iowa last-placer John Jackson driving the team car #40.  Day looked for another strong starting spot, but lost the brakes in qualifying and slid into a gravel trap, aborting his run.  Joining him in the final row was Ryan Sieg, whose #39 Nice Targets Chevrolet blew a right-front during time trails after a brake caliper issue.

Just before the green, Day and Seig were joined by six other drivers sent to the rear for pre-race penalties.  Among them was Smithley, whose team made unapproved adjustments.  By the end of the first lap, Day, Seig, and Smithley had begun to climb through the pack, leaving another penalized driver, John Jackson, trailing the fied in the #40 CrashClaimsR.us / Mohawk Markets Dodge.  By the end of that lap, Jackson and Paige Decker in the #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet trailed the rest of the field by 3 seconds.  The next time by, a number of drivers pulled onto pit road to make early pit stops, including LASTCAR record holder Jeff Green, who appeared to be parking his #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota.  However, at that moment, the caution flew, and Green joined Erik Jones and Alon Day in a race off pit road.  Sitting in front of them was the wrecked car of Garrett Smithley.

NBC was unable to catch the cause of Smithley’s wreck, but tire marks indicated the #0 lost control just past the start/finish line and slammed into the outer pit wall, causing damage to the wall.  The car then slid to a stop sideways in the middle of the track.  Fortunately, no other drivers were involved and Smithley walked away, apparently uninjured.  His car, however, was done for the day.

Green continued on under the caution, pulling off on Lap 5.  John Jackson appeared to be the next retiree, waving drivers by under caution on Lap 6, but ended up running 22 laps before the brakes let go, laving him 35th.  38th ended up going to Wisconsin driver Josh Bilicki, who made his NASCAR debut in Obaika’s second car, #77.  On Lap 9, Kenny Habul pulled his #88 Sun Energy 1 Chevrolet behind the wall with a busted axle, joined by Nicolas Hammann, who cut down a right-rear tire while making his NASCAR debut in Mike Harmon’s #74 Dodge.  Both returned to the track, dropping to 38th spot the #89 Chevrolet of Morgan Shepherd.  Shepherd, who withdrew from the previous two XFINITY road course races, ran 20 laps before a busted fuel pump stopped his car on track.  Hamman, who later broke a rear gear on Lap 36, rounded out the Bottom Five.

The race was won by Michael McDowell, who has been featured on LASTCAR.info 31 times since we went live in 2009.  McDowell led 24 of 48 laps in his #2 Rheem Chevrolet, holding off a determined challenge by Richard Childress Racing teammate Brendan Gaughan in the final moments.  We would like to congratulate McDowell for his inspiring determination.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #0 in an XFINITY Series race since May 6, 2011, when James Hylton’s #0 G&K Services Chevrolet, also entered by JD Motorsports, broke a rear end after 2 laps of the Royal Purple 200 at Darlington.  In doing so, Hylton set the current record as NASCAR’s oldest last-place finisher at 76 years, 8 months, and 10 days.
*This was the first time the #0 finished last in an XFINITY Series race on a road course since August 4, 2007, when J.R. Fitzpatrick picked up his own first series last-place run for JD Motorsports in the Home Hardware Chevrolet after first-lap electrical issues during the inaugural NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #0-Garrett Smithley / 2 laps / crash
39) #10-Jeff Green / 4 laps / brakes
38) #77-Josh Bilicki / 6 laps / electrical
37) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 20 laps / fuel pump
36) #74-Nicolas Hammann / 22 laps / rear gear

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (13)
2nd) RSS Racing (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing (1)

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (13)
2nd) Chevrolet (7)
3rd) Ford (2)
4th) Dodge (1)

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Ryan Ellis’ last-minute ride with Norm Benning ends after 2 laps

SOURCE: Jeff Zevelansky, Getty Images
Ryan Ellis picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Careers for Veterans 200 at the Michigan International Speedway when his unsponsored #6 Norm Benning Racing Chevrolet fell out with rear gear trouble after 1 of 100 laps.

The finish, which came in Ellis’ 24th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since June 26, 2014 at Kentucky, 51 races ago.

Ellis has continued to show his versatility in 2016, running a partial schedule in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.  He’s made three starts in Sprint Cup, coming home a season-best 32nd in his first-ever start at Indianapolis driving an Open team for BK Racing.  In the XFINITY Series, he’s made another 10, splitting time between Obaika Racing an Rick Ware Racing.  His best run across all three divisions came in the Ware car last month at Daytona, where he took the checkered flag in 15th.

Prior to Saturday, Ellis had made three Truck Series starts in 2016 for two different teams.  His most recent start was two rounds ago at Pocono, where he came home a season-best 20th for Jim Rosenblum Motorsprots.  Five of Ellis’ six best finishes in the series, including his career-best 16th at Daytona last year, came while driving Rosenblum’s #28.  The other two starts came for MAKE Motorsports, short-run efforts in the #1 CorvetteParts.net Chevrolet that ended with suspension issues in the first few laps.  This time at Michigan, he would run for Norm Benning.

Benning’s struggles are well-known.  The owner-driver has continued to struggle with reduced fields in the Truck Series, missing several races he used to make.  Benning fell short of making the field for the first nine races of the year before he drove in place of MB Motorsports at Kentucky, securing the 30th staring spot and finishing 28th.  He’d again be driving for MB at Michigan, one of 31 drivers on the preliminary entry list.  But until Friday, Benning did not have a driver listed to run his #6.  Ellis was named by practice.

Ellis and Benning both stalled during the first practice - Benning at the exit of the garage area and Ellis in Turn 3 - and ranked 30th and 28th, respectively.  Neither practiced in Happy Hour, then put up the 31st and 28th-best times in qualifying.

Ellis trailed the field coming to the green and pulled into the garage after the opening lap.  He edged defending LASTCAR Truck Series champ Caleb Roark by two laps, Roark’s 30th-place starting #10 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet pulling out after 3 laps.  29th went to Todd Peck, who was also making his first Truck Series start since Pocono in the #07 BoobiTrap.com Chevrolet for Bobby Dotter.  28th fell to Enrique Contreras III, who came back to his uncle Carlos’ #71 American Club Chevrolet for the first time since Gateway in June.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Benning, out with transmission issues after 47 laps.

Breaking through with the victory on Saturday was Brett Moffitt, who despite a lack of last-place finishes has fought through several obstacles on his way into NASCAR’s top ranks.  The defending Cup Series Rookie of the Year came into this year without a ride, joined Red Horse Racing at Kentucky, and in just his fourth series start earned a thrilling last-lap victory over Timothy Peters, Daniel Hemric, and William Byron.  Congratulations to Moffitt and his team.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #6 in a Truck Series race since July 9, 2015, when Norm Benning lost an engine on his Chevrolet after 2 laps of the UNOH 225 at Kentucky.  The number had never before finished last in a Truck Series race at Michigan.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #6-Ryan Ellis / 1 lap / rear gear
31) #10-Caleb Roark / 3 laps / electrical
30) #07-Todd Peck / 37 laps / engine
29) #71-Enrique Contreras III / 40 laps / crash
28) #63-Norm Benning / 47 laps / transmission

2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) AWS Racing, Bolen Motorsports, Brandonbilt Motorsports, GMS Racing, Jim Rosenblum Motorsports / FDNY Racing, MAKE Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, ThorSport Racing (1)

2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Toyota (4)

2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, August 25, 2016

8/16/87: Cale Yarborough’s final last-place finish was his first at Michigan

SOURCE: John Walczak
On August 16, 1987, Cale Yarborough picked up the 17th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Champion Spark Plug 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #29 Hardee’s Oldsmobile fell out with a blown engine after 22 of 200 laps.

The last-place finish, which came in Yarborough’s 545th start, was his second of the season and the last of his career.

1987 marked Yarborough’s 30th season on the Cup tour, entering the year as one of the sport’s most experienced veterans.  He started his first race when he was only 18, coming home 42nd in a field of 50 for the eighth annual Southern 500 at Darlington.  He’d have to wait until June 27, 1965 to take his first checkered flag, besting the field by three laps at Georgia’s tiny Valdosta 75 Speedway.  But once he signed with the Wood Brothers, then Junior Johnson, he was never far from victory lane.

From 1967 through 1985, Yarborough scored another 82 victories, including a pair of 10-win seasons in 1974 and 1978.  The ‘78 campaign capped an unprecedented streak of championship dominance where he became the first driver to score three consecutive titles, a feat unmatched until 2008 by Jimmie Johnson.  He won four Daytona 500s, becoming just the second driver to win them in consecutive years in 1983 and 1984, racked-up a season-record 14 poles in 1980, and took five checkered flags in the Southern 500 between 1968 to 1982.

Yarborough’s longevity was largely due to his tenacious driving style, which also accounted for his number of last-place finishes.  Four times, he led laps early before engine failures or crashes left him at the back of the pack.  Eight times, he’d finished last after starting in the Top 10.  He’d also scaled-back to a partial schedule in 1981, when he signed with M.C. Anderson to drive the #27 Valvoline Buick, and ran 16 of the 29 races each year after, preferring the larger speedways of Daytona, Atlanta, Rockingham, Darlington, Charlotte, Pocono, Talladega, and Michigan.  Throughout his career, Yarborough won no fewer than twice at each track, accounting for 44 of his 83 career wins.

1987 was also a big year for Yarborough, who became an owner-driver for the first time in his career.  The familiar red-and-white Hardee’s Chevrolets and Fords he’d driven for Harry Ranier since 1983 had become his trademark, and he brought the sponsor and paint scheme with him to Cale Yarborough Motorsports.  For ‘87, the veteran would run a #29 Oldsmobile in place of Ranier’s #28, and again run his 16-race scheduled on NASCAR’s larger tracks.  He began the year strong, finishing 10th in the Daytona 500, and by summer earned a 4th at Pocono and a 5th at Talladega, but he was still searching for an 84th win.  The 1986 season, his last with Ranier, was Yarborough’s first without a win since 1972.  As the series rolled into Michigan, where Yarborough had won eight times previous, he looked for a turnaround.  His #29 had managed just 33rd there in June, sidelined by brake issues.

Winning the pole that weekend at Michigan was rookie driver Davey Allison, who took the controls of Yarborough’s old Ranier ride.  It was already the third career pole for Allison, who had also claimed his first two victories at Talladega and Dover.  “Psychologically, the pole is worth a lot,” said Allison in an interview with the Gadsden Times, “It gives our team a lot of confidence because we’re not a team that tricks things up for qualifying.  When we put our car on the pole, it’s on the polein race st-up and we know we’re going to be all right on race day.”  Allison’s #28 Havoline Ford put up a lap of 170.705mph.  Yarborough could only manage 32nd.

Nine drivers failed to qualify for the Champion Spark Plug 400, including Texas owner-driver H.B. Bailey, who made 12 starts at the two-mile track, Jocko Maggiacomo, and Eddie Bierschwale.  Also sent home was 34-year-old Tennessee native Rickey Hood, whose only two Cup attempts were both 1987 races at Michigan in the #38 Solar Sources Ford.

Starting last on Sunday was Greg Sacks, who after DiGard Racing closed now drove the #50 Valvoline Pontiac for the Dingman Brothers.  Two years after his lone Cup win at Daytona, Sacks was also attempting the same 16-race superspeedway schedule as Yarborough, but had faced even greater struggles.  Coming into Michigan, he’d run no better than 20th and failed to finish seven of his ten starts.  Ironically, this day at the races would see Sacks earn a season-best run of 19th, two laps down to race winner Bill Elliott.  Yarborough, however, would be out early with engine trouble.

Engine troubles accounted for four of the DNFs in the Bottom Five.  Three laps after Yarborough’s exit, Dale Jarrett, 84 points behind Allison in the Rookie of the Year standings, lost the motor on Eric Freedlander’s #18 Chevrolet.  Next was Derrike Cope, less than three years from his Daytona 500 victory, whose #19 Stoke Racing Ford fell out after 43 laps.  37th went to owner-driver Jimmy Means, his #52 Eureka Vacuum Cleaners Chevrolet knocked-out by engine woes after 65 laps.  A transmission failure rounded out the Bottom Five when New York driver Charlie Rudolph’s #04 Sunoco Chevrolet retired after 68 laps.  It was Rudolph’s fourth and final Cup start.

That day at Michigan also marked the 185th and final Cup start for Tim Richmond.  The third-place points man from the previous season was fast becoming one of the best drivers on the circuit when he was unexpectedly sidelined for the first part of the 1987 season.  Weakened by what was originally called “double-pneumonia,” Richmond returned to the series in June and won back-to-back races at Riverside and Pocono.  But by Michigan, his condition had worsened, so much so that he had to be carried by golf cart to the qualifying line.  He started 25th in his #25 Folger’s Coffee Chevrolet, but ended up 29th after a blown engine with 51 laps to go.  Two weeks later, Hendrick Motorsports issued a statement that, due to a “nagging cold,” Richmond wouldn’t return to defend his victory in the 1986 Southern 500.  Less than two years later, the 34-year-old succumbed to AIDS.

In 1988, Yarborough would start to put Dale Jarrett in his #29 for a handful of races.  Jarrett’s best run of 1988 came in Yarborough’s car at Riverside, where he came home 8th.  Yarborough made his final Cup start at Atlanta, going out with a 10th-place finish, the 319th Top Ten of his career.  Now the team’s full-time driver, Jarrett earned a pair of 5th-place runs at Martinsville and Phoenix in 1989.  Yarborough remained active as a team owner through the 1999 season, scoring a lone Cup win in the 1997 Pepsi 400 at Daytona with driver John Andretti.  His final driver, Rick Mast, ran the entire ‘99 season without a single DNF.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked Yarborough’s first and only last-place finish in a Cup race at Michigan, a track where he won eight times in 36 starts.
*It was also the first - and so far, only - last-place finish for the #29 in a Cup race at Michigan.  The number hasn’t trailed a Cup race since September 15, 1996, when Chad Little’s Cartoon Network Chevrolet crashed after 3 laps of the MBNA 500 at Dover.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #29-Cale Yarborough / 22 laps / engine
39) #18-Dale Jarrett / 25 laps / engine
38) #19-Derrike Cope / 43 laps / engine
37) #52-Jimmy Means / 65 laps / engine
36) #04-Charlie Rudolph / 68 laps / transmission

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Bristol Night / Day

SOURCE: @RisingStarMG
QUALIFIED

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started 36th, Finished 27th

For the first time all season, Premium Motorsports’ second team finished tops among the four Open teams, and did so by a wide margin - seven spots ahead of his teammate Cole Whitt.  Sorenson, Whitt, and Josh Wise all lost a lap before the rains came on Saturday night, but Sorenson managed to avoid an extended stay in the garage area on Sunday, putting him ahead of 10 chartered teams.  It also tied Sorenson’s second-best finish of the year at Kentucky in June.  Next week, Sorenson returns to Michigan, where in June he finished 31st driving Whitt’s #98.

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

Cole Whitt’s #98 was once again covered in an array of sponsor, highlighted by Carolina Skiff, which ran as a primary for the first time in 2016.  Unfortunately, trouble under the hood forced Whitt to spend 51 laps in the garage area starting around the 172nd circuit, dropping him to last around Lap 210.  The Premium Motorsports team did manage to get Whitt back into competition, and he leaped six spots in the second half of the race.  Whitt heads to Michigan looking to back-up his 27th-place run in June.

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 4th, Finished 35th

Clad in the colors of Virginia Tech, Ryan Blaney once again showed speed, and just as in the spring ran as high as 2nd during the opening green-flag run on Sunday afternoon.  After the first round of pit stops under the competition caution, however, Blaney never ran quite that close to the front, leaving him in the wrong place at the wrong time.  On Lap 373, Blaney checked-up as cars wrecked in front of him on the frontstretch, only to find Matt Kenseth’s Toyota spinning sideways directly in his path.  The two cars collided, taking Kenseth out of the race and forcing the Wood Brothers to spend more than 60 laps in the garage.  In the end, Whitt nipped Blaney for 34th by five laps.  When the Cup Series last raced at Michigan in June, Blaney started 5th and came home 17th.

#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
Started 40th, Finished 36th

Rounding out the Open teams was Josh Wise, who started last and held 40th for much of the day after several trips to the garage area.  Had the attrition of the final 200 laps not happened, Wise would have secured his 4th last-place finish of the year.  But, like his competitors, The Motorsports Group kept their driver on the track, and he finished 84 laps down, ranking him ahead of Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, and last-placer Justin Allgaier.  Michigan saw Wise finish 30th in June.

DID NOT QUALIFY

None.

DID NOT ENTER

#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 Bristol.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

CUP: Relief driver Justin Allgaier puts #46 last in second-straight Bristol night race

SOURCE: HScott Motorsports
Justin Allgaier picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Saturday and Sunday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #46 Pilot / Flying J / Battle at Bristol Chevrolet was involved in a four-car accident that ended his day after 354 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Allgaier’s 76th series start, was his first of the season in his first Cup start of 2016.

After two difficult full seasons in Sprint Cup with just one top-ten finish, Allgaier returned to XFINITY Series competition this year, bringing with him longtime sponsor Brandt Agriculture.  Teamed with JR Motorsports, Allgaier has assembled a respectable season, coming into Bristol 5th in series points with 18 Top Tens, 9 Top Fives, and two runner-up finishes, including a controversial “freeze the field” situation at Daytona.  Allgaier continued the momentum at the short track, finishing 2nd once more, this time behind Austin Dillon, lifting him to 3rd in series points.  Ordinarily, that would have been it for his Bristol weekend, and he’d set his sights on next Saturday’s round at Road America.  But it didn’t turn out that way.

Michael Annett was slated to run the #46 on Saturday, hoping to bounce back from a last-place run in the 2015 event where his engine shut down one-quarter of the way through the first lap.  To promote next month’s “Battle at Bristol” college football game between the University of Tennessee Volunteers and Virginia Tech Hokies, a game sponsored by Annett backers Pilot and Flying J, the Chevrolet would carry the same reversed scheme from the spring race with both team’s colors.  Annett ran 38th-fastest in both Friday’s practices and slipped to 39th in qualifying with a lap of 123.626mph.

Through the weekend, Annett was suffering from flu-like symptoms, and it was announced early Saturday that he would not be running the race.  Allgaier, who ran HScott’s #51 the last two years before he was replaced by Clint Bowyer, became the replacement.  The driver change meant Allgaier would move one spot back to the rear at the green flag.

On Saturday night, Allgaier joined last-place qualifier Josh Wise, his owner’s company Curtis Key Plumbing featured prominently on all corners of the #30 Chevrolet.  Wise had been forced to a backup after he blew a right-front tire in practice, damaging much of the right side of his machine.  Allgaier passed Wise by the end of the first lap, then on Lap 3 Jeffrey Earnhardt slowed on the apron of Turn 3.  Earnhardt reported no power on his #32 Can-Am / Kappa Ford and made an unscheduled stop for repairs.  On Lap 10, Earnhardt returned to the track eight laps behind.  He was nine down, still in last, when rain halted the night’s activities and pushed the race to Sunday.

Earnhardt re-started the race in 40th, and was quickly joined by Wise and Cole Whitt, who each made unscheduled green-flag stops that left them four and three laps behind, respectively.  On Lap 104, Wise slowed to make a second stop, this time for an extended stay, and finally wrestled last from Earnhardt on the 112th circuit.  By the time Wise returned to the track on Lap 135, he was 35 laps behind the leaders.  Cole Whitt then took his own turn behind the wall around Lap 172, dropping him to 39th behind Earnhardt, then behind Wise for last around Lap 210.  Whitt also returned to the track, his #98 circulating by Lap 224, 51 behind.

Next to enter the last-place battle was Tony Stewart, who on Lap 259 pulled behind the wall in his #14 Haas Automation Chevrolet.  Stewart, making his final Cup start at Bristol, had suffered a serious vibration which required he crew replace the right-rear hub and wheel assembly.  The driver was skeptical of returning to the race, saying “If there’s something we could gain, I’m all for it,” and the team convinced him to run as many laps as he could to shore up their place in the Chase.  On Lap 279, Stewart returned to the track 20 laps down in 38th.  By then, Wise had pulled the #30 into the garage for another ten laps, keeping him 39th, then taking last from Whitt on Lap 282.  Wise took a couple laps short of the 300-lap mark, pulled back in on Lap 296, then returned on Lap 324.  At that point, all 40 cars were still running: 40th-place Wise was 80 laps behind, 39th-place Whitt 51 down, and 38th-place Stewart back by 29.  They remained in that order when trouble broke out on Lap 358.

Kyle Busch had dominated the first part of the race, grabbing the lead from the 3rd starting spot just before Saturday’s rains came, then pacing the field for 256 of the first 347 laps.  But shortly before Kevin Harvick passed his #18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota, Busch noticed something was off inside his car.  Heading through Turns 1 and 2, the suspension gave way, and the #18 broke loose and spun to the inside of the track.  For an instant, the #18 remained otherwise intact, though with the passenger side exposed to oncoming traffic.  Entering the scene was Justin Allgaier.

Three laps down near the back of the pack, Allgaier briefly looked low to follow Regan Smith to the apron, then cut right.  The turn slammed the left-front of Allgaier’s #46 into the right-front of Busch’s Toyota, sending Allgaier’s car sliding up the track - directly into the path of the Top 5-running cars of Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Larson.  During his interview in the garage area, Busch was irate, blaming Allgaier and his spotter for what he felt was an unnecessary collision.  Both Busch and Allgaier failed to return to the race.  By track position and his number of laps down, Allgaier took 40th behind 39th-place Busch.

Finishing 38th was Kyle’s older brother Kurt, whose #41 Monster Energy / Haas Automation Chevrolet was gobbled-up in another multi-car wreck on the ensuing restart.  Busch’s #41 broke loose off Turn 4 and was helped around by Joey Logano’s #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford, giving Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski nowhere to go.  Keselowski’s #2 Autotrader.com Ford slammed into Busch, and the two spun to the apron, sparking a chain-reaction that collected nine other drivers.  One of them, 5th-place starter Matt Kenseth, ended up 38th after his #20 Dollar General Toyota was struck in the door by Ryan Blaney’s #21 Virginia Tech / Motorcraft Ford.  Wise, who came home 84 laps down, rounded out the Bottom Five.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was Allgaier’s first-ever last-place finish in a Cup race at Bristol.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #46-Justin Allgaier / 354 laps / crash
39) #18-Kyle Busch / 357 laps / crash / led 256 laps
38) #41-Kurt Busch / 372 laps / crash
37) #20-Matt Kenseth / 373 laps / crash
36) #30-Josh Wise / 416 laps / running

2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Premium Motorsports (5)
2nd) BK Racing (4)
3rd) The Motorsports Group (3)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing (2)
5th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (3)

2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, August 20, 2016

XFINITY: Matt DiBenedetto extends LASTCAR lead at Bristol

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 10th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Food City 300 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with brake issues after he completed 3 of 308 laps.

The finish, which came in DiBenedetto’s 60th series start, was his 8th of the season and first since New Hampshire, five races ago.

DiBenedetto returned to XFINITY Series competition for the first time since Indianapolis to drive TriStar’s “start-and-park” entry, again running double duty with his #83 BK Racing entry in Sprint Cup.  His was one of 42 entries slated to compete for 40 spots in the starting field, a list shortened to 41 after Obaika Racing withdrew their second car, #77.  DiBenedetto put up the 26th fastest lap in Thursday’s practice, then secured the 24th starting spot with a lap of 124.630mph.  The lone driver to miss the field was Timmy Hill in Motorsports Business Management’s #40 CrashClaimsR.us Toyota.

Starting 40th on Friday was Mike Harmon, who made his first XFINITY Series start since Iowa last month.  Within 3 laps, Harmon’s #74 TruckersFinalMile.org Dodge was passed by DiBenedetto for last.  Harmon would finish 36th, out with brake issues just past halfway.

39th went to Morgan Shepherd, also returning to XFINITY competition for the first time since Iowa, who had withdrawn from both road course races at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio.  Behind Shepherd’s #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet was Harrison Rhodes, who replaced Carl Long in his #13 Tredwear.com Chevrolet, and 37th-place Ryan Sieg, who this week ran without a sponsor on his #39 RSS Racing Chevrolet.

Friday also saw a number of strong runs from small teams.  Leading them was owner-driver Jeremy Clements, who in his 222nd series start finished 6th, tying his 2014 run at Road America for his second-best finish.  Blake Koch finished 8th for Kaulig Racing, his third top-ten finish of the year and first since Richmond in April.  Corey LaJoie earned his first-ever top-ten finish by coming home 10th in JGL Racing’s #24 Youtheory Toyota, setting the mark in just his 12th series start.  18-year-old Gray Gaulding came home 13th in his series debut driving for Roush-Fenway Racing.  B.J. McLeod equaled his season-best 19th-place finish for the third time in 2016.  Among the remaining starters in the Top 20 were Ray Black, Jr. (14th), David Starr (16th), Mario Gosselin (17th), and Travis Kvapil (20th), who all earned season-best finishes.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*DiBenedetto is the first driver to finish last in an XFINITY Series race at Bristol due to brake issues since August 20, 2010, when Jeff Green’s #36 Long John Silver’s Chevrolet fell out after 4 laps of the Food City 250.
*DiBenedetto and the #10 TriStar team have swept the season’s last-place runs at Bristol.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #10-Matt DiBenedetto / 3 laps / brakes
39) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 27 laps / handling
38) #13-Harrison Rhodes / 36 laps / engine
37) #39-Ryan Sieg / 165 laps / suspension
36) #74-Mike Harmon / 168 laps / brakes

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (13)
2nd) RSS Racing (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., Motorsports Business Management (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports (1)

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (13)
2nd) Chevrolet (6)
3rd) Ford (2)
4th) Dodge (1)

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Matt Crafton scores first career NASCAR last-place finish

SOURCE: Sean Gardner, Getty Images
Matt Crafton picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Wednesday’s UNOH 200 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota fell out with engine trouble after 70 of 200 laps.  The finish came in Crafton’s 374th series start.

Just days after Jimmie Johnson’s first last-place run in his 529th career Cup start, Wednesday saw the end of the longest last-place drought among active Truck Series drivers.  The 40-year-old Crafton made his series debut way back on October 28, 2000 at Fontana.  That weekend, veteran driver Terry Cook had left ThorSport’s #88 Chevrolet to drive K-Automotive Motorsports’ #29 Dodge.  In Cook’s place, ThorSport tabbed Crafton, who at the time was weeks away from securing a championship in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour.  Crafton impressed in his Truck debut, coming home a strong 9th, and became ThorSport’s full-time driver for 2001.  Other than a 2004 season with Kevin Harvick, Incorporated, he has not left the team since.

Crafton had to wait until 2008 to break into victory lane, taking the checkers that May at Charlotte.  The next year, he racked-up 21 top-ten finishes in 25 starts, ranking him a close second in points behind six-time race winner Ron Hornaday, Jr.  In 2012, ThorSport switched from Chevrolet to Toyota, and from 2013 through the current year, Crafton’s bright yellow Menards machine has been the truck to beat, racking up 11 victories and back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.  His two most recent victories, also back-to-back at Dover and Charlotte, came this past spring.

On the night of June 13, 2016, just three days after Crafton finished 2nd to William Byron at Texas, fire broke out at ThorSport’s shop in Sandusky, Ohio.  No one was injured in the blaze, but the team lost much of their equipment, including several race trucks.  Still, the crew banded together, piecing together their three entries for the upcoming race at Iowa in the shop’s parking lot.  The trucks of Crafton and teammates Cameron Hayley, Rico Abreu, and Ben Rhodes have not missed a race since the fire, but the team has not won since.

At Bristol, Crafton was one of 37 drivers to attempt the 32-truck field.  He ran 8th-fastest in the opening session, then was one of 11 drivers to break 15 seconds in Happy Hour, ranking 10th overall.  In qualifying, Crafton made it to Round 2, but missed the final cut by five spots, leaving him 17th on the grid.  Two trucks withdrew without putting up a time: the #68 Chevrolet owned by Bill Alger and the #74 of owner-driver Donnie Levister, who failed to complete a lap in qualifying.  Sent home after time trials were Jake Griffin with MB Motorsports, Clay Greenfield, who moved from Alger’s #68 into Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #1 PitStopsForHope.org RAM, and Cody MacMahan, who attempted his Truck debut in Cobb’s #10 Chevrolet.

Starting 32nd on Wednesday was 16-year-old Bryce Napier, who was making his 2nd Truck Series start and first since Martinsville this past spring.  Napier’s #49 SupportMilitary.org / Lily Trucking Chevrolet fielded by Premium Motorsports was joined by three drivers sent to the rear: Austin Cindric, Parker Kligerman, and Rico Abreu.  Abreu had backed his #98 into the wall in qualifying, and the ThorSport team had prepared the flat black backup truck in just enough time to roll onto the track.  When the green flag flew, Cindric’s #2 Pirtek Ford from Brad Keselowski Racing was slow through the gears, dropping him to last.

On Lap 2, Cindric climbed to 31st, dropping Matt Mills to last.  The 19-year-old Mills made his series debut on Wednesday in Bobby Dotter’s #07 Thompson Electric Chevrolet.  Mills was the first to lose a lap on the 7th circuit, and was four down by Lap 50.  Next to find trouble was Tommy Joe Martins, who successfully made his Bristol debut after more than three years of trying.  Martins had lost a lap early, then earned the Lucky Dog and was still on the lead lap on the 63rd circuit.  Unfortunately, his #44 Cross Concrete Construction Chevrolet trailed smoke, sending him to the pits.  Behind him, Mills and Napier spun, drawing the caution.  On Lap 71, Martins was just about to fall to last when trouble found Matt Crafton.

On Lap 71, right when the field prepared to take the green flag, Crafton unexpectedly pulled out of the Top Ten, slowed, then pulled onto pit road.  Crafton, reporting a loss of oil pressure, pulled behind the wall, joining Martins.  Crafton fell to 31st about Lap 80, then shortly after, Martins came back out, kicking the #88 back to 32nd.  By then, Crafton had pulled out of the race, its first retiree.  The last-place finish was Crafton’s first across NASCAR’s top three divisions, including not only his 374 Truck Series races, but his four XFINITY runs and Cup debut filling in for Kyle Busch in the 2015 Daytona 500.

Martins ended up 31st, pulling of track around Lap 132.  Crafton’s teammate Ben Rhodes also found engine trouble and pulled out after 128 laps, leaving him 30th.  29th went to outside-polsitter Daniel Suarez, who led 77 of the first 179 laps before his #51 Arris Toyota collided with Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Christopher Bell.  Napier rounded out the Bottom Five, finishing nine laps down with Mills.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #88 in a Truck Series race since April 4, 1998, when Terry Cook’s brand-new #88 Nokia / PBA Tour Chevrolet crashed hard in Turn 3 on the first lap of the Florida Dodge Dealers 400K at Homestead (then known as the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex).  The number had never before trailed a Truck race at Bristol.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #88-Matt Crafton / 70 laps / engine
31) #44-Tommy Joe Martins / 71 laps / power steering
30) #41-Ben Rhodes / 128 laps / engine
29) #51-Daniel Suarez / 186 laps / crash / led 77 laps
28) #49-Bryace Napier / 191 laps / running

2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (2)
2nd) AWS Racing, Bolen Motorsports, Brandonbilt Motorsports, GMS Racing, Jim Rosenblum Motorsports / FDNY Racing, MAKE Motorsports, ThorSport Racing (1)

2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Toyota (4)

2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, August 18, 2016

8/27/88: Rookie driver Brad Noffsinger caught-up in early Bristol chaos

SOURCE: ESPN
On August 27, 1988, Brad Noffsinger picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Busch 500 at the Bristol International Speedway when his #98 Sunoco Buick was involved in an accident after 1 of 500 laps.  The finish came in Noffsinger’s 13th series start.

Born in Huntington Beach, California on August 29, 1960, Noffsinger got his start racing motorcycles at age 10, then as he grew older ran his family’s midget and sprint cars.  He proved a quick study in open wheels, earning Rookie of the Year honors in Ascot Super Midgets, the United States Racing Club, and the California Racing Association.  He then signed with the Gardner Racing team and scored back-to-back USAC / CRA championships in 1986 and 1987.  All the while, Noffsinger raced in memory of his youngest brother Todd, who in 1983 lost his life in a racing crash at Ascot Park in Gardena, California.

In 1988, Noffsinger was offered a one-year contract to drive Winston Cup for car owner Mike Curb.  Curb had been active in Cup since 1984, when he became the car owner for Richard Petty’s final two victories following Petty’s controversial 198th victory at Charlotte the year before.  When Petty returned to his team in 1986, Curb fielded cars for Ron Bouchard, Dale Jarrett, and Ed Pimm, securing sponsorship from Valvoline and later Sunoco.  Pursuant to the wishes of business partner Cary Agajanian, whose family had and remains a long-time owner in open-wheel ranks, Curb’s post-Petty cars were numbered #98.  When Noffsinger was unable to make the November 8, 1987 race at Riverside, Pimm returned for the first three races of 1988, but that spring, Noffsinger became his full-time replacement.

Noffsinger made his Cup debut at Atlanta on March 28, 1988 and finished a strong 14th, the Curb team’s best series finish in nearly two years.  But the rest of the season proved a tremendous challenge.  Noffsinger failed to qualify for three of the next 11 races, DNF’d in three of the next four starts he made, and was unable to improve on his Atlanta finish.  He came into his first night race at Bristol 34th in points.

Noffsinger faced another stiff challenge in “Thunder Valley.”  His was one of 40 cars set to attempt the 32-car field, meaning he would have to beat at least eight drivers to earn a spot in the race.  During the series’ last visit to Bristol in April, his car wasn’t fast enough to beat three drivers.  But this time, things were different.  Noffsinger secured the 30th starting spot.  Sent home after time trials were Ken Bouchard, who led the Rookie of the Year standings, local driver Lee Faulk, and owner-drivers Ronnie Thomas, Jimmy Means, Morgan Shepherd, Mike Potter, and J.D. McDuffie.  Also missing the race was Tommy Ellis, who drove in relief of Benny Parsons in the #90 Sunny King Ford.  Ellis’ DNQ marked the first time since 1976 that Junie Donlavey’s #90 failed to make a Cup race.
 
On Saturday, Rusty Wallace rolled off 17th in a show car unused for several months, having survived a terrifying wreck in practice.  His #27 Kodiak Pontiac blew a right-front tire off the fourth corner and rolled at least seven times.  Wallace, attended to by Dr. Jerry Punch at the track, spent the night in the hospital.  Still, he didn’t miss a step, handing the team notes on the setup from his bed.  Larry Pearson would later relieve Wallace and come home 9th, seven laps down to race winner Dale Earnhardt.  There were also concerns about the track’s asphalt surface “chunking,” or coming up in pieces, requiring a large patch in Turn 3.  NASCAR issued a statement that the surface would be properly repaired by the spring of 1989.  The concrete surface wouldn’t come until 1992.

Starting last was Michael Waltrip, who that year acquired new sponsorship from Country Time Lemonade on his Bahari’ Racing #30 Pontiac.  This September at Darlington, The Motorsports Group is expected to run Waltrip’s throwback scheme for driver Josh Wise.  By the end of Lap 1, Waltrip had slipped up to 31st, dropping Noffsinger to last.  On Lap 2, polesitter Alan Kulwicki broke loose coming off Turn 2 and lost seven spots in the high lane.  Seconds later, trouble broke out at the rear of the field.

Dave Mader III was another surprise in qualifying that weekend at Bristol when he secured car owner Dick Bahre his first Cup start in nearly three years.  At the time, Bahre’s car had only attempted one race, the spring event at North Wilkesboro, where newcomer Alan Russell was unable to make his Cup debut.  Mader, then a part-timer in the Busch Series, was then given an opportunity to make his own debut which he did, bucking the same odds as Noffsinger to secure the 27th starting spot.  Mader would make his Cup debut at the same track where he’d recently won in the NASCAR All-American Challenge Series.

However, going down the backstretch, Mader lost control, slid to the apron, then hooked to the right - directly in Noffsinger’s path.  The two cars collided and slid down the banking.  Mader was able to keep going, eventually coming home 24th after a mid-race engine failure.  Noffsinger’s damage didn’t appear too severe, but it was enough to end his night.  Finishing 31st was Michael Waltrip, who after 54 laps lost the engine on the #30.  30th-place went to Derrike Cope, whose 69 Purolator Filters Ford overheated after 93 laps while 29th belonged to owner-driver Dave Marcis, whose #71 Lifebuoy Soap Chevrolet crashed out after a blown tire and spin on Lap 142.  38th went to yet another driver who made his Cup debut that night: 31-year-old Rick Mast.  The future 1994 Brickyard 400 polesitter was called in to relieve Buddy Baker, whose crash during the Coca-Cola 600 that May ultimately ended his driving career.  Mast’s own turn in the #88 Red Baron Frozen Pizza Oldsmobile vaulted him to the lead from Laps 74-76, but a Lap 208 crash with Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett ended his night.

Noffsinger made just four more starts after Bristol, failing to finish in three of them, and missed the field for five of the last nine rounds.  He finished third in the Rookie of the Year standings, trailing Ken Bouchard and Ernie Irvan, but ranked ahead of Jimmy Horton.  At season’s end, Sunoco left to sponsor Billy Hagan’s return to the sport in 1989, and Curb was forced to close down his Cup team.  Noffsinger attempted to make four more Winston Cup starts with two other single-car operations owned by Skip Jaehne and T.W. Taylor, but failed to qualify each time.  But he didn’t give up on his racing dreams, and returned to running sprints.  Later, he worked with Felix Sabates’ Team Sabco, working as a spotter, crew chief, and team manager.  Bristol 1988 was Noffsinger’s only NASCAR last-place finish.

Noffsinger and Curb both rejoined NASCAR in 1998, when Curb became a car owner in the Busch and Busch North Series.  That year, Noffsinger ran five races for Curb in the former an two in the latter, finishing a season-best 18th in the Busch North race at Loudon.  One of the drivers who shared Noffsinger’s #43 Curb Records Chevrolet in Busch competition that year was a 22-year-old Jimmie Johnson, who finished 33rd in the car at Homestead.  Following Noffsinger’s final Busch start at Richmond on September 11, 1998, he became a driving instructor for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, an owner-driver in USAC Triple Crown competition, and most recently a stunt driver in Jeff Gordon’s 2013 viral video “Test Drive.”

For more on Noffsinger, check out his website here.

Mike Curb would go on to field cars in a combined 336 Busch Series starts through 2013, scoring one thrilling victory with Johnny Sauter at Richmond on September 5, 2003.  He also entered 25 ARCA races from 2011 through 2013, scoring a victory with Kevin Swindell at Chicago on July 21, 2012.  In 2012, Curb returned to Cup competition for the first time since 1988, joining in the merger between HP Racing LLC and Whitney Motorsports to form Phil Parsons Racing.  The Fords driven by HP’s Michael McDowell were renumbered from #66 to Curb’s #98, and remained that way through the team’s eventual sale to Jay Robinson and Premium Motorsports in 2015.  Cole Whitt will run Premium’s #98 at Bristol this Saturday.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #98 in a Cup Series race since November 22, 1987, when Ed Pimm’s own turn in Mike Curb’s Sunoco Buick ended with a crash after 30 laps of the Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #98-Brad Noffsinger / 1 lap / crash
31) #30-Michael Waltrip / 54 laps / engine
30) #68-Derrike Cope / 93 laps / overheating
29) #71-Dave Marcis / 142 laps / crash
28) #88-Rick Mast / 207 laps / crash / led 2 laps

Sunday, August 14, 2016

XFINITY: Jeff Green takes last at Mid-Ohio, Andy Lally and Alon Day earn series-best finishes for two small teams

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jeff Green picked up the 88th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when his unsponsored #10 TriStar Motorsports Toyota fell out with rear gear issues after he completed 2 of 75 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 439th series start, was his fifth of the season and first since Talladega, 12 races ago.

Mid-Ohio marked Green’s only second start in the #10 since Talladega, a move which occurred after the National Arthritis Foundation came aboard to sponsor his previous TriStar ride, #14, with Tomy Drissi at Watkins Glen.  Drissi didn’t enter the Mid-Ohio race, but Green remained in the #10 once more with Mike Bliss taking the controls of the #14.  Bliss and Green were among the 41 drivers on the preliminary entry list, but on Thursday when Morgan Shepherd withdrew his #89 for the second-straight week, the remaining 40 drivers were guaranteed starting spots in Saturday’s race.  All carried decals on the A-pillar in honor of former Chip Ganassi development driver Bryan Clauson, who passed away late last Sunday after he wrecked while leading a USAC midget race in Kansas.

Green ran 27th in Friday’s opening practice session, did not participate in Happy Hour, then secured the 25th starting spot with a lap of 93.423 mph.

Starting 40th on Saturday was owner-driver Mario Gosselin, who this week took the controls of his second team car, the #92 BuckedUp Apparel Chevrolet.  Gosselin was originally set to drive his team’s primary #90, but when rain threatened, he decided on Wednesday to hand the controls over to someone more experienced running on wet-weather tires.  Gosselin was joined at the rear by seven drivers sent to the back for unapproved adjustments, including Ty Dillon, whose team needed to repair a leaking rear gear on the #3 WESCO Chevrolet.

Gosselin held 40th until the rain dampened the track on Lap 3, drawing the first caution of the day.  By then, Green had slipped back to join Gosselin in 39th, and pulled down pit road, done for the day.  Gosselin pulled off-track a lap later, then returned to pit road to help the #90 team the rest of the afternoon.  Green and the Canadian Gosselin trailed a multi-national Bottom Five which included drivers from four countries.  38th went to Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet, Jr., whose first XFINITY start in three years ended when his #98 DenBeste Water Solutions / Carroll Shelby Co. Ford struck a spinning Erik Jones on a Lap 32 restart.  37th fell to road racer Tim Cowen, whose first start of the year in Carl Long’s #13 Cowen Logistics Ford ended when he slid off-course with Australian Kenny Habul on Lap 57.  Habul’s #88 Sun Energy 1 Chevrolet was also done for the day.

In addition to a surprising first victory for road racer and Dover last-placer Justin Marks, two smaller teams turned heads on the wet track.

The first was 7th-place finisher Andy Lally, who on Wednesday was called away from a street luge competition to run King Autosport’s #90 3Dimensional.com Chevrolet.  Lally led three laps on Saturday, having twice rallied to the front of the field both on wet and dry tires, and recovered from a mid-race spin after contact from Erik Jones.  The run, Lally’s third top-ten finish, tied his best career XFINITY Series finish at Road America in 2014, when he came home 7th for Bobby Dotter.  It was also the best XFINITY Series finish for Gosselin’s team King Autosport, which until Saturday had finished no better than 20th all season.  The team’s previous-best finish in the series was 15th in the 2015 Daytona opener.  Across NASCAR’s top three divisions, Gosselin himself finished a team-best 6th in the Truck Series race at Talladega on October 31, 2009.

The other was Israeli road racer and NASCAR Next member Alon Day, who finished 13th.  Last year’s runner-up to Ander Vilariño in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series’ Elite 1 division, Day stormed to three of the season’s final four wins, including a weekend sweep at Circuit Zolder in Belgium.  The run earned Day a two-race ride with Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management (MBM).  Running MBM’s old #40 FLWaterfront.com Dodge, Day stormed from 22nd on the grid to 3rd on Lap 11 and also had to recover from an off-track excursion that was not of his own making, his #40 clipped by the spinning Kenny Habul around Lap 41.  In his first-ever start in NASCAR’s top three divisions, Day gave MBM its best-ever XFINITY finish in a combined 106 starts since 2014, besting the previous mark of 19th set by Stanton Barrett last week at Watkins Glen.  Day is slated to return to the XFINITY Series at Road America in two weeks.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #10-Jeff Green / 2 laps / rear gear
39) #92-Mario Gosselin / 3 laps / electrical
38) #98-Nelson Piquet, Jr. / 31 laps / crash
37) #13-Tim Cowen / 54 laps / crash
36) #88-Kenny Habul / 54 laps / crash

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (12)
2nd) RSS Racing (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., Motorsports Business Management (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports (1)

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (12)
2nd) Chevrolet (6)
3rd) Ford (2)
4th) Dodge (1)

2016 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, August 11, 2016

8/11/91: The story of J.D. McDuffie's final race, 25 years later

J.D. McDuffie working on No. 70 on August 11, 1991
SOURCE: Mike Demers
The morning of August 11, 1991 was mild for a late-summer day, just seventy degrees at its warmest.  A gentle breeze blew across the front stretch, fluttering the row of flags above pit road.  By noon, the dark, foreboding clouds that brought so much rain the day before were still there, blanketing the sky in a quilt of greys and whites.  Even so, there was only a thirty percent chance of showers hitting the track, and they weren’t expected until early evening.  With the green flag scheduled for 1:10 P.M., the race would be over by then.

Ernie Irvan looked forward to the start.  After his win in the season-opening Daytona 500, the hard-scrabble driver from Modesto, California had plenty of fans in the stands, but not many in the garage area.  His aggressive driving style sparked a series of multi-car accidents as his butterscotch-colored No. 4 Kodak Film Chevrolet raced for the lead, including an 8-car wreck at Pocono and a 12-car pileup at Darlington that critically injured veteran Neil Bonnett.  One week after the Pocono wreck, during the driver’s meeting for the DieHard 500 at Talladega, Irvan made a public apology to his fellow competitors.  “I want to earn everybody’s respect back,” he said, “I want to be liked in the garage area, and I’d appreciate it if you guys gave me a shot at it.”  Most in attendance clapped politely - except Rusty Wallace.

Irvan had an eventful weekend at The Glen, though he hadn’t ruffled any feathers.  He’d blown an engine on Thursday, rolled out last in qualifying, and somehow pulled out the 3rd-fastest time.  He’d also urged his fellow drivers to be cautious with Goodyear’s new radial tires.  “You just can’t get these tires broken loose,” he said in an interview Saturday with the Democrat and Chronicle.  “That doesn’t mean they’re bad tires, but we’ve just got to learn their limits. . .You’ve got to make sure you don’t go past the limit.  That’s when you wreck.”

Thus, to Irvan’s certain relief, he wasn’t the talk of the driver’s meeting.  Instead, everyone was talking about J.D. McDuffie and his win the night before at Shangri-La Speedway.  The outspoken Irvan couldn’t help but give the veteran a good-natured ribbing.  “J.D., you smoked ‘em last night, didn’t you?” he said.  “You’ve been holding out on us all these years!”  McDuffie, wearing a navy Son’s Auto Supply shirt, jeans, and his Rumple Furniture cap, only laughed.

Irvan knew McDuffie’s struggle too well.  In 1982, the Californian was a virtual unknown in NASCAR, a local racer who brought what his trailer could carry to North Carolina to make his name on the national circuit.  He’d worked odd jobs for years as a welder and fabricator, earning just enough to run late models at the Concord Speedway.  It wasn’t until 1987 that Irvan made his Cup debut with car owner Marc Reno, and for another three years, he ran near the back with limited sponsorship.  The fast No. 4 had been his for barely over a year.  Perhaps for this reason, his Morgan-McClure Motorsports team lent McDuffie the set of tires No. 70 practiced with on Saturday.

There wasn’t much left to do to the No. 70 that morning, so the McDuffie Racing team went over the car one more time.  By 9:30 A.M., the fluids had been checked, the brakes had been bled, and the wheel studs were lubricated.  The crew also waxed the car, tightened the wheel nuts, and installed a new radio.  Don Owens moved an air duct on the right side of the car.  The steering was one of the few parts McDuffie always instructed the crew to leave alone.  So Mike Demers stepped back and took a picture of McDuffie himself using a long socket wrench to tighten the nut on the end of the outer tie rod.  The driver also made a mount for the rear view mirror to keep it from vibrating during the race.

Six crew members wearing L.C. Whitford Co. trucker hats and t-shirts pushed No. 70 to the gas pumps and filled the 22-gallon tank.  Then they steered it to the inspection queue where NASCAR officials performed a visual check of the carburetor, manifold, fuel cell, and tires.  Despite its older body and chassis, the car fit all NASCAR’s templates for a 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix and weighed a proper 3,500 pounds.  At 10:00 A.M., the crew pushed the No. 70 onto pit road - the first car out.  As fans took pictures of the car, the crew set up their gear in pit stall No. 5, between the No. 24 Team III Racing crew for “road ringer” Dorsey Schroeder and Junior Johnson’s No. 11 Budweiser Ford for local hero Geoffrey Bodine.  The crew had tires mounted and ready to go.  There would be no rolling around today.

After the driver’s meeting, McDuffie saw his name on a banner on a beam twenty feet in the air and asked Demers who wrote it.  McDuffie then stayed in the paddock, relaxing in “Ol’ Blue” for a moment before he changed into his blue-and-white driver’s uniform, the same one he wore the night before at Shangri-La.  Marty Burke met him at the hauler, and asked once more about the green L.C. Whitford shirts and hats.  “If you don’t want us to wear this, we will not wear this,” said Burke.  The driver looked back at him, thought, then shook his head.  “Nah,” said McDuffie.  “That’s just kind of a silly thing anyway.”

On McDuffie’s way out to join the rest of the crew, he met with another photographer, Charles Berch.  Berch, publisher of the Instant Replay Sporting Photo News based out of Dundee, New York, also volunteered his time doing publicity work for McDuffie Racing.  A year earlier at Watkins Glen, No. 70 carried Instant Replay’s logo behind the rear tires, helping the paper through its second year in operation.  As the two met, Berch had McDuffie stand next to fellow drivers Dave Marcis and Richard Petty.  On July 14, 1971, the three drivers finished in that order at the Albany-Saratoga 250 a race on a third-mile paved track in Malta, New York, 233 miles east of Watkins Glen.  McDuffie’s third-place finish that day was his career-best.  Berch then worked his way toward his spot for the day on the inside of Turn 5.

McDuffie and Mike Demers walked out to the grid, where other cars now joined No. 70, lined up two-by-two.  On the way, a fan named Gary Westfall handed Demers a hat over the fence.  Gary asked for McDuffie to sign it and make it out to his wife Kathy.  McDuffie obliged, signing it in black pen.  He handed it back to Demers, who gave it to Gary.  McDuffie accidentally spelled his wife’s name “Cathy.”  She didn’t care.  She clutched the hat tightly as she and her husband took their position at their infield camper, the one with the big “Go J.D., No. 70” sign on one side.  Demers said “Thanks, J.D., I’ll talk to you later” and grabbed his radio - it was his turn to be crew chief.

Ed Peters, the L.C. Whitford employee on the crew, served as the front tire changer.  He helped McDuffie climb into No. 70 on pit road.  “I told him to run 100 (miles per hour) and win the race for us,” he recalled.  Once inside, the driver found his glasses which he lost at Pocono three weeks earlier.  They were wedged beneath his seat.  Within view of No. 70, another McDuffie banner appeared from the stands on the other side of the track.  Chico Reyes, the jack man, stuck his head in the window.  McDuffie pulled his hair.  The two laughed.  “He pulled my hair, every race,” said Reyes, a friend of McDuffie’s son Jeff.  “It was a tradition.  It was kind of like we’d put the window-net up and shove my head in there and he’d pull my hair and off he’d go.  He did it the night we won at Shangri-La.”  Ed and Chico were among the thirteen men and women on hand to pit No. 70.

Marty Burke spoke to McDuffie one more time, going over their strategy for the race: take it easy the first few laps, then in the final stages pick our way up to the Top 20, maybe even a Top 15.  This was no mere boasting.  McDuffie had often performed well on road courses.  In 1986, he was running 9th in the late stages of a race at Riverside when Tim Richmond spun him out.  This car was even better than that one.  “It was the most prepared we’d ever been for a race,” said Burke.

Mike Demers and McDuffie tested the team’s radios.  “Mike, can you hear me?” asked McDuffie.  “Loud and clear, J.D.”

Then came the command to fire engines.

~

With James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam” played over old racing footage, ESPN’s television broadcast kicked off just before 1 P.M.  The 40 starters idled on the grid, waiting for the signal from officials to enter the course.  Reporting from pit road, Dr. Jerry Punch summed up a weekend of “Injured Stars and Injured Cars.”  He stood behind Dave Marcis’ Darlington car as it warmed up in 20th, then moved one row back to point to the repairs made on Ricky Rudd’s Chevrolet.  In the garage area, fellow pit reporter John Kernan continued to discuss the challenges of Goodyear’s new radial tires, and how the drivers had to adjust their driving approach on the road course.  During the segment, ESPN’s camera man shoots Kernan through the center hole on a wheel in McDuffie’s pit.

For the road courses, ESPN’s trackside reporting wasn’t limited to pit road.  Lead announcer Bob Jenkins stood by himself in the infield booth while his two fellow play-by-play commentators stood at key passing zones.

First to introduce himself was Benny Parsons.  Parsons was cut from the same cloth as McDuffie, born in the small town of Ellerbe, less than fifty miles south-west of Sanford.  A Detroit taxi driver as a youngster, Parsons worked his way up the racing ranks from local short tracks to ARCA and Winston Cup.  He’d go on to claim the 1973 Winston Cup championship and the 1975 Daytona 500.  He also sold race car parts to McDuffie and in 1980 loaned the independent a motor that got him into a race at Talladega.  “I can’t afford the new stuff,” said McDuffie in 1977.  “But the used parts I buy from Benny Parsons usually are just as good as new.  It’s a matter of putting them together right.”  After his racing career, Parsons eased smoothly into his new life as a color commentator for ESPN.  His outgoing nature and excitable personality was a boon to ESPN, which organized pre-recorded segments to emphasize his playful side.  The Watkins Glen broadcast would include a new episode of “Buffet Benny” and “The Hat of the Week.”

On this day, Parsons was stationed on the outside of Turn 1, standing atop one of Watkins Glen’s several 20-foot-high wood spotter’s stands used by reporters, crewmen, and track officials.  “I’m in my favorite place on the race track, Turn 1,” said Parsons as McDuffie rolled off pit road behind him.  “Terry Labonte on the pole will be coming down through here up to 140mph, braking - slowest part of the race track - down to 65mph.  A good place to pass if the fella on the outside knows you’re there.  If he doesn’t, you’re in big trouble.”

Next was Ned Jarrett, another former NASCAR champion turned broadcaster.  “Gentleman Ned” had retired at the peak of his career in 1966, and in the decades that followed became a fixture on television and radio.  The eldest member of the ESPN group, his was the quieter, more studied voice in the booth, breaking down the intricacies of a sport he’d seen change over three decades.  Like Parsons, Jarrett was also a McDuffie supporter.  In fact, one of the first cars the Sanford man drove, a 1963 Ford Fairlane, was given to him by Jarrett.  The two struck up a friendship then, and no matter what network he worked for, Jarrett found time to meet and talk with McDuffie in the garage area.

This August at Watkins Glen, Jarrett was working Turn 5, standing atop another wooden tower behind the tire barriers.  Over his shoulder, the leaders crept through the turn.  “If you get in trouble here, it’s big time trouble,” he said.  “Most of that trouble that happened you fellas talked about happened right here in Turn 5.  But, after that much trouble in the days leading up to a race, it seems like the guys calm down a little bit.  Let’s hope that’ll be the case today.”

As ESPN went to commercial, the field came down pit road behind the black Ford F-150 pickup that would serve as the race’s “pace car.”  A pit road speed limit was one of the latest rule changes for 1991.  The sanctioning body’s hand was forced following a series of dangerous pit road accidents, culminating in the tragic death of Michael Ritch, who was struck by a spinning Ricky Rudd while changing Bill Elliott’s tires.  NASCAR’s first proposal for the season-opening Daytona 500 didn’t involve a speed limit, but instead a ban on pit stops under caution.  A blue or orange sticker with a big blue “1” or orange “2” was handed to each driver before the race.  The sticker determined which of the first two green-flag laps after a caution their team could pit.  Since the rule forced drivers to restart the race with worn tires, crashes and confusion ran rampant.  It wasn’t until the seventh race of the season at the tiny North Wilkesboro Speedway that a pit road speed limit was introduced.  The limit varied by track and the size of pit road.  Watkins Glen’s was one of the slowest - just 35mph.

That weekend at The Glen, NASCAR also debuted its own mascots.  The “NASCUBS,” a cadre of anthropomorphic animals in driver’s uniforms, were each matched with a lesson for young fans.  Towering over the billboards behind the entrance to Turn 2 was a giant inflatable “Rocky,” the grinning teddy bear whose message was “safety must come first, both on and off the track.”

After the first pace lap, Davey Allison surrendered his 9th starting spot to make a pit stop.  On top of his injured hand and rebuilt car, the throttle linkage on his Ford was now freezing up, making it difficult to slow the No. 28 on The Glen’s tight corners.  Quick work by the Robert Yates Racing crew got him back on the track as the field lined up for the start.  After two pace laps and ESPN’s run-through of the starting lineup, Terry Labonte and Mark Martin addressed the starter’s stand for a rolling start.  At that moment, Allison was running last in Turn 9, trying to catch the field as it drew away from him.  Flagman Doyle Ford waved the green, and the Budweiser at The Glen was underway.

As the field accelerated across the starting line, the leaders spread out four and five wide from 3rd on back.  On the inside, closest to the pit road wall, Wally Dallenbach, Jr. looked to make a move on Ernie Irvan, and was himself throwing a block on Dorsey Schroeder.  To the outside, Mark Martin had Geoff Bodine and Ken Schrader to contend with.  All of them followed Terry Labonte into “The Ninety” at Turn 1.  The leaders came off the corner two-abreast, then funneled down to single file trailing Labonte on the uphill march through “The Esses” of Turns 2, 3, and 4. Already, Labonte and Martin began to gap themselves from the rest of the field.

Meanwhile, at the back, six cars had already started to lose touch with the rest of the starters.  The group was led by 40th-place starter Michael Waltrip, who by the exit of Turn 1 had already drawn to the inside of McDuffie in a battle for 34th.  Five carlengths behind McDuffie was Jim Derhaag’s No. 54 with fellow “road ringer” Kim Campbell behind him in the No. 20 NAPA Oldsmobile.  Two carlengths behind 37th-place Campbell was the red No. 13 Buick of Oma Kimbrough.  In the first five laps, the trailing Davey Allison would catch and pass them all, climbing all the way to the 28th position.  The first car he caught trailed this six-car pack by over two seconds: the No. 71 of Dave Marcis.

Prior to the start, Marcis had voluntarily surrendered his 20th-place starting spot and joined Michael Waltrip at the rear of the field.  By the end of Lap 1, Marcis’s Darlington car had lost so much time to the rest of the field that he was completely by himself, his Chevrolet so slow in Turns 1 and 2 that it seemed to have lost an engine.  In reality, Marcis’ transmission wasn’t designed for the frequent gear-shifting of road course racing.  Trying to do so resulted in a terrible vibration.  To avoid losing another car with eleven races still to go in 1991, Marcis planned to pull out in the early laps.  Failing another on-track incident, the result would be Marcis’ first last-place finish in more than two years.

On Lap 3, Irv Hoerr’s experimental Oldsmobile was running in 15th.  His 13th-place starting spot was a promising start to the weekend, but things had already taken a turn.  Heading through Turns 2 and 3 on the third lap, his blue-and-silver No. 44 Oldsmobile started trailing white smoke from behind the left-front wheel.  Slight damage to the upper part of the front valence seemed to point to an overheating problem, but Hoerr later reported it was an oil leak “getting on the blowers.”  The smoke worsened as Hoerr slowed on Lap 4, the leaders maneuvering around him down the backstretch to put him a lap down.  Pit road was still more than a mile away.

When Hoerr’s car started smoking, J.D. McDuffie had just been passed by Allison, moving him back to 37th.  Heading through the Esses, No. 70 trailed Allison’s No. 28 by a full second, allowing Derhaag to close his No. 54 Oldsmobile to McDuffie’s rear bumper.  For the next two laps, Derhaag pondered a move around the burgundy Pontiac.  As the two sailed down the backstretch on Lap 5, McDuffie moved to the middle of the track, sizing up a car in front of him.  Derhaag saw an opening to pass on the inside.  A risky move, but possible.  Whoever braked last and caught traction first would get the spot.  But right when Derhaag was about to turn right and make a pass, something stopped him.

“I don’t mean to sound goofy,” said Derhaag, “but it’s always like I’ve had this little angel on my shoulder telling me what to do and what not to do.  Something just didn’t look right.”  So he backed off.

Then he spotted smoke coming from the left side of McDuffie’s car.

~

That same lap, ESPN’s broadcast held on the roof camera of Dale Jarrett’s No. 21 Citgo Ford, which ran just outside the Top 10.  Bob Jenkins relayed the real-time data from the computerized telemetry box displayed on the lower-right of the screen.  Jarrett’s top speed came on the backstretch - 174 mph - then slowed to 86 at corner apex.  Jarrett accelerated into in Turn 6 and slipped at corner exit, losing a spot to Brett Bodine’s No. 26 Quaker State Buick.  Then his father Ned broke in.

“And there’s trouble!  Big trouble here in Turn 5!”

McDuffie's No. 70 on the grid before the 1991 Budwesier at the Glen
SOURCE: Mike Demers
As Bryan Clauson’s tragic death reminds us, racing is a dangerous sport.  It takes both tremendous bravery and skill to climb behind the wheel, knowing that risk is there, and that others have lost their lives in competition.  J.D. McDuffie was another of these drivers.

The preceding is an excerpt from a book I am writing about McDuffie, the last of NASCAR’s independents, who 25 years ago today lost his life in a crash at Watkins Glen.  The book will focus not only on his final race, but the entirety of his racing career, including new details never before published.  Since our interview with McDuffie Racing crewman Marty Burke in 2011, LASTCAR.info has been compiling more research and conducting additional interviews.  A first draft is nearly complete, but I want to collect even more material to make this book the best it can be.

If you would like to be a part of this project, particularly if you knew or were a fan of J.D., or were at Watkins Glen that day in 1991, please contact me by E-Mail at brockbeard@gmail.com.  More details about the book and its release date will be available when ready.  Stay tuned to LASTCAR.info and my Twitter feed @LASTCARonBROCK for more details.

UPDATE (March 27, 2017): This book is now set for a July 15, 2018 release through Waldorf Publishing.  More details here.