Thursday, September 22, 2016

7/21/02: One of three late entries, Geoffrey Bodine unable to complete a lap at Loudon

SOURCE: Eric Morse, posted at 
On July 21, 2002, Geoffrey Bodine picked up the 11th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the New England 300 at the New Hampshire International Speedway when his #66 Discover Card Ford fell out with rear end issues without completing any of the 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Bodine’s 558th series start, was his first of the season and first in Cup since his #35 Bari Italian Foods Chevrolet crashed out of the 2000 NAPA 500 at Atlanta, 55 races earlier.

By 2002, the eldest of the three Bodine brothers had already had a tremendous NASCAR career.  Already a star in modifieds, his Cup debut came in CBS’ first live broadcast of the Daytona 500 in 1979, where he led six laps before losing an engine.  In 1984, he scored Hendrick Motorsports’ first three victories, saving the team from financial collapse.  He and Hendrick went on to win the Daytona 500 two years later, took the checkers the day Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt spun from the lead in the 1989 Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro, all the while becoming “The Intimidator’s” arch-nemesis.  He won with Junior Johnson and Bud Moore, then bought the late Alan Kulwicki’s team to become a successful owner-driver, leading the way for Hoosier in the short-lived tire wars.  His 1996 victory at Watkins Glen set the standard for modern-day road course pit strategy.  And after five winless seasons marred by perhaps the most terrifying crash in NASCAR history during the inaugural Truck Series event at Daytona, he returned to the Daytona 500 to finish a strong 3rd driving for James Finch at Phoenix Racing.

The 2002 season was much more stressful for Geoffrey’s younger brother Todd.  Since replacing Darrell Waltrip at Travis Carter Racing at the end of the 2000 season, Todd had an up-and-down season in 2001, earning three poles and a pair of Top 5s, only to end up 29th in points after 12 DNFs.  The one constant through it all was primary sponsor Kmart, which for 2002 promised to return for both Todd and new teammate Joe Nemechek at what was now Haas-Carter Motorsports.  However, just two races into the season, Kmart declared bankruptcy, and both Todd’s #66 and Nemechek’s #26 were suddenly without sponsorship.  Somehow, Todd managed to win the pole in an unsponsored car for the very next race at Las Vegas, but with only a 29th-place finish to show for it, Carter scaled back to one team, putting Todd on the sidelines.  Nemechek left after Fontana to replace Jerry Nadeau at Hendrick Motorsports, and from there Carter’s #26 team brought aboard ARCA veteran Frank Kimmel with his sponsorship from Advance Auto Parts and the Pork Council.

Into the fray came a new sponsor, Discover Card, which presented NBC’s pre-race “Countdown to Green” segment.  Discover’s black, orange, and silver scheme first debuted at Dover in June, were Todd Bodine returned for the first time since Las Vegas.  Todd started last on the grid, but marched his way to 18th at the finish, the first car one lap down.  Geoffrey joined in to help at Michigan, starting 17th and finishing 19th in what was the team’s third-straight top-twenty finish.  Todd returned at Sonoma, and then Daytona, where he finished what was then a season-best 7th behind race winner Michael Waltrip.  Following a 26th-place showing at Chicagoland, the team headed to the 19th round at New Hampshire.

Just 42 cars made the preliminary entry list for the New England 300, threatening to create the first short field for a Cup Series race since the delayed fall race at the track the previous year.  Added late in the order were 60-year-old veteran owner-driver Morgan Shepherd, looking to make his first Cup start since Rockingham on February 21, 1999, and former RCR crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine, who entered three races earlier in the 2002 season but had not started one since 1994.  When Carl Long withdrew his #79, one spot remained open, and into it Haas-Carter brought back the #66, a re-numbered backup of the Discover Card Ford.  Though Todd Bodine’s signature was still on the driver’s door, Truck Series racer Dennis Setzer was tabbed to drive.

Now with a full field, all 43 entrants would be guaranteed a starting spot in the race.  Setzer’s #66, Shelmerdine’s #27, and Shepherd’s #89 secured the final three spots.  Setzer put in a timed lap of 123.715mph, slowest of the session, but helped by the Owner Points earned during the first three races of the season.  Geoffrey Bodine put the #66 through its paces in Friday’s lone practice session, in which he ran 122.340mph, nearly 10mph off the speed of Rusty Wallace’s track record from 2000.  Geoffrey and Setzer did not run the car on Saturday, and Geoffrey did not complete a lap on Sunday, securing the 43rd and final spot.  Todd, sent to the rear along with Geoffrey’s #66 and Bobby Labonte’s backup car, finished a strong 6th behind race winner Ward Burton.  It was to be the 5th and final win of Burton’s Cup career.

Finishing 42nd that day was Shelmerdine, whose self-prepared Naturally Fresh Foods #27 Ford.  Nemechek came home 41st, his #25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet destroyed in a hard crash coming through Turn 1.  40th went to Shepherd, handling woes the blame for his #89 Red Line Oil / Berlin City Ford’s exit.  Both Shelmerdine and Shepherd returned for the following race at Pocono, where they finished 41st and 42nd, respectively.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Tony Stewart, whose #20 Home Depot Pontiac pounded the Turn 4 wall on Lap 122.  An infuriated Stewart left the race 7th in points, 227 markers behind leader Sterling Marlin.  But after the Homestead finale 17 rounds later, Stewart lifted his first Winston Cup.

Geoffrey Bodine ran a combined 10 Cup races in 2002 between Haas-Carter, James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, and Bill Davis Racing.  He followed up his 3rd-place run in the Daytona 500 with a 10th in the July race.  Over the next eight seasons, he’d run eleven more races, splitting time with his other brother Brett’s #11 Hooters Ford in 2003, the William Edwards-prepared #98 Lucas Oil Products Ford in 2004, then raced for Larry Gunselman and Tommy Baldwin, Jr.  His 575th and final Cup start came November 20, 2011, where he came home 30th during one more historic race - Tony Stewart’s tiebreaker championship over Carl Edwards during the Ford 400 at Homestead.

*This marked the first last-place run for the #66 in a Cup Series race since July 29, 2001, when Todd Bodine won the pole in the #66 Kmart Blue Light Special and led 2 laps of the Pennsylvania 500 presented by Pep Boys at the Pocono Raceway, but fell out with handling issues after 128 laps.  It was also the first last-place run for both Geoffrey Bodine and the #66 in a Cup race at New Hampshire.
*To date, this remains the only time a Cup Series last-place finisher at New Hampshire failed to complete a single lap of the race.

43) #66-Geoffrey Bodine / 0 laps / rear end
42) #27-Kirk Shelmerdine / 10 laps / oil pressure
41) #25-Joe Nemechek / 28 laps / crash
40) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 43 laps / handling
39) #20-Tony Stewart / 121 laps / crash / led 1 lap

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