Thursday, April 27, 2017

3/2/97: Morgan Shepherd’s hood flies up, then engine lets go at Richmond

PHOTO: ESPN
On March 2, 1997, Morgan Shepherd picked up the 10th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Pontiac Excitement 400 at the Richmond International Raceway when his #1 Delco Remy Pontiac fell out with engine trouble after 131 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Shepherd’s 449th series start, was his first since April 28, 1996 during the Winston Select 500 at Talladega, where his #75 Remington Arms Ford crashed after 20 laps.

2017 marks Shepherd’s 50th year in NASCAR, an incredible career dating back to his first-ever start at the tough Hickory Motor Speedway in 1967.  His first Cup start came at the same track three years later, a race where that year’s series champion Bobby Isaac won by two full laps.  Shepherd, who finished 19th in a 1969 Chevrolet, was 28 years old.  He went full-time in 1981 driving the #5 Performance Connection Pontiac.  The car owner, Cliff Stewart, had fielded Cup entries since 1962, when Jim Paschal scored the team’s only win.  But at Martinsville on April 26, 1981, a 39-year-old Shepherd ended the streak, lapping all 30 other starters but second-place Neil Bonnett.  It was one of the first NASCAR races broadcast by ESPN.

From then on, Shepherd continued to make a name for himself in NASCAR.  By 1997, Shepherd had driven for 32 different car owners in Cup, ranging from owner-drivers Cecil Gordon, Jimmy Means, D.K. Ulrich, Elmo Langley, and Buddy Arrington to some of the biggest teams of the day, including RahMoc Enterprises, Jim Stacy, Hal Needham, Kenny Bernstein, and Petty Enterprises.  He scored another three Cup victories, all of them at the fast 1.522-mile perfect oval in Atlanta, and each for a different single-car operation: Jack Beebe in 1986, Bud Moore Engineering in 1990, and the Wood Brothers in 1993.  He also fielded his own cars, both in Cup and in the brand-new Busch Series, where he scored the first two of his 15 wins during the inaugural season in 1982.  His best overall finish in points was a 5th in 1990, a year the 48-year-old started by racking up eleven consecutive Top 10 finishes, snagging the point lead for a week before mechanical trouble hit the next time out at Sonoma.  But a reunion with Butch Mock’s team in 1996 didn’t go well, leaving him outside the Top 15 in points for the first time since 1988, and he was with a new team by SpeedWeeks ’97.

Car owner Richard Jackson came to NASCAR in 1985, when he and brother Leo founded Jackson Brothers Racing, a two-car effort sponsored by smokeless tobacco companies Skoal and Copenhagen.  It was this two-car effort that brought on another brotherly pair on to drive, fellow racers-turned-analysts Benny and Phil Parsons.  The pair earned two wins together: Phil’s only checkered flag at Talladega in 1988, then a spring 1989 Darlington win for Harry Gant, whose iconic Skoal Bandit #33 changed hands from Hollywood director Hal Needham the previous year.

By 1990, Richard and Leo Jackson parted ways with Gant driving for Leo in the #33 Skoal Bandit.  Richard’s new team, which later became known as Precision Performance Racing, would campaign the #1.  The first black-and-white Oldsmobile, sponsored by Skoal Classic, raced to a close 2nd in the Daytona 500 with Terry Labonte behind the wheel.  Journeyman driver Rick Mast joined the team the following year, the start of a six-year business relationship.  During this time, Mast gave Richard Jackson his first three poles, including the famous 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta and the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.  Mast also earned a career-best 2nd in the penultimate race of ’94 at Rockingham, where he was edged for the win by newly-crowned seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt.  But by the end of 1996, Mast and Shepherd switched rides, putting the Virginian in #75 and Shepherd in the #1.  Skoal Classic had left as a sponsor after the 1995 season.  Hooters, which joined in ’96, was gone as well.  While Delco Remy America and Cruisin’ America signed on for ‘97, it was not yet clear if the team could run the full season.

Teamed with crew chief Michael “Fatback” McSwain, who years later would become a winning crew chief for Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte, Shepherd, now 55, qualified for his 15th Daytona 500 and bumped Rick Mast and his old ride out of the show.  After starting next-to-last in the 200-lapper, Shepherd’s white #1 Pontiac was in the lead pack, holding fast to a finish inside the Top 15.  Then, coming to four laps to go off Turn 4, a multi-car pileup unfolded directly in front of him, destroying his new car.  As Jeff Gordon cruised under caution to claim his first Daytona 500, Shepherd was left a disappointing 29th, out of the race.  He rebounded to finish 10th the next time out at Rockingham, then prepared to journey north to Richmond.

With rain washing out qualifying, Shepherd qualified 19th in the 43-car field based on the #1 team’s 1996 rank in Owner Points.  Sent home by the rain were perennial underdog Billy Standridge in Jim Wilson’s #78 Diamond Rio Ford, 1985 July Daytona winner Greg Sacks in the #20 Hardee’s Ford, one of the last Cup cars fielded by longtime car owner Harry Ranier, and Mike Wallace in the #91 SPAM Chevrolet fielded by current Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group co-owner Joe Falk.  According to ESPN, all three were sent home because their NASCAR entry forms were received last.

Starting last that day was Gary Bradberry, who was making his first start of the season after back-to-back DNQs at Daytona and Rockingham.  He would be driving the #19 Child Support Recovery Ford fielded by Mark Smith of TriStar Motorsports, the same team which currently fields Cole Whitt’s #72 Chevrolet in Cup and J.J. Yeley’s #14 Toyota in XFINITY.  1997 would be TriStar’s final season of Cup competition until the team began growing their current operation as a “start-and-park” effort in 2012.  Joining him were two backup cars: Johnny Benson, Jr. in the #30 Pennzoil Pontiac, and Ricky Craven, sent to a backup #25 Budweiser Chevrolet following a crash in Happy Hour.

Benson held the 43rd spot on the opening lap, and by Lap 6, the spot went to Dick Trickle in Junie Donlavey’s #90 Heilig-Meyers Ford.  On that same sixth circuit, contact from a fast-closing #10 Tide Ford of Ricky Rudd spun 7th-place starter Rusty Wallace in Turn 2, and Wallace’s #2 Miller Lite Ford had to stop on the apron as the entire field went by.  Wallace avoided any damage, but avoided losing a lap.  Not so fortunate was last-place starter Bradberry, who was held a lap by NASCAR prior to the Lap 10 restart.  By Lap 48, Bradberry was still last, three laps down, but Jeff Burton was then poised to take the spot.  That time by, Burton pulled his #99 Exide Ford behind the wall with brake issues.  Burton passed Bradberry for last on Lap 52.

Around Lap 125, Morgan Shepherd was running in the middle of the pack in a tight race with rookie Mike Skinner in Richard Childress’ #31 Lowe’s Chevrolet.  Skinner bumped Shepherd, and as the two entered Turn 3, Skinner slowed in front of Shepherd and the two made contact, caving in the nose of #1 and shearing the hood pins.  Moments later, as the two exited Turn 4, the hood flew up on Shepherd’s car.  Somehow, the veteran continued to run with the hood blocking his view, pulling to the inside and running a slower speed.  No caution was thrown, but the black flag came for Shepherd, and he was forced to make an unscheduled stop to remove the hood.  That same incident must have damaged the radiator as Shepherd ran just a few more laps before retiring with engine trouble.  Jeff Burton returned to finish 152 laps down, dropping Shepherd to last in the closing stages.

Behind 42nd-place Burton were Bobby Hillin, Jr., whose ride in Doug Bawel’s #77 Jasper Engines / Federal Mogul Ford ended with rear end trouble; 41st-place Kenny Wallace, who lost the engine on his #81 Square D Ford with 24 laps to go; Joe Nemechek in 40th, 20 laps down in Sabco Racing’s #42 BellSouth Chevrolet; and Gary Bradberry, 11 laps down, rounded out the Bottom Five.

The race ran at a torrid pace with 371 consecutive green-flag laps after Wallace’s Lap 6 spin.  Wallace raced back through the pack to take the lead in the final 100 laps, but was soon caught by Dale Jarrett.  With seven laps to go, Jarrett was leading when Ernie Irvan crashed in Turn 3, allowing the leaders to race back to the line.  As Jeff Gordon zipped past to get his lap back, Wallace caught Jarrett and raced side-by-side past Irvan’s wreck.  Gordon slowed at the crash site, allowing 3rd-place Geoffrey Bodine to catch all three, and the four drivers fanned out four-wide.  Jarrett held the lead over Wallace and Bodine, who also put Gordon back down a lap.  In the ensuing three-lap sprint to the finish, Wallace caught Jarrett sleeping on the restart, cut down low, and sped to his only win of the year.

The very next week, the Winston Cup teams arrived at Shepherd’s favorite track, the Atlanta Motor Speedway.  The veteran impressed once more, leading 10 laps and challenging Ernie Irvan for 2nd all the way to the finish line.  The 3rd-place finish turned out to be the 12th and final Top 5 finish for Precision Performance Racing, which closed its doors at season’s end.  Richard Jackson passed away on May 31, 2010.  It was also the 63rd and most recent Top 5 of Shepherd’s Cup career.

Today, Shepherd is known for his longevity and his devout religious beliefs.  A born-again Christian, Shepherd has carried “Racing With Jesus” on the hood of nearly all his cars since 2002, when he returned to Cup as a team owner of the #89.  Shepherd Racing Ventures transitioned from Cup to XFINITY competition in 2007.  As of this writing, he has competed in 517 Cup races, 404 in XFINITY, and 57 in the Truck Series.  At Loudon in 2014, he beat his own record as the oldest driver to start a Cup Series race at 72 years, 9 months, and 1 day (in addition to the oldest driver to finish last in Cup, set earlier that year at Phoenix).  Now 75, Shepherd can still be seen either roller skating down pit road or preparing another car painted like those he’d raced over the past five decades.  For more on Shepherd and how you can support his team, check out his website at http://www.morganshepherd.com/ and follow the team on Twitter @MShepherd89.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was Shepherd’s first last-place finish in a Cup Series race at Richmond since September 13, 1987, when his #26 Quaker State Buick crashed out after 12 laps of the Wrangler Jeans Indigo 400.  He was the second driver to finish last on both Richmond’s half-mile fairgrounds configuration and today’s three-quarter-mile oval, following Derrike Cope (Spring 1988, Fall 1992).  As of this writing, Shepherd has four Cup Series last-place finishes at Richmond, which ties J.D. McDuffie for the most all-time.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #1 in a Cup Series race since February 24, 1991, when Rick Mast’s Skoal Classic Oldsmobile – also owned by Richard Jackson – finished under power, 179 laps down, in the same event, the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #1-Morgan Shepherd / 131 laps / engine
42) #99-Jeff Burton / 248 laps / running
41) #77-Bobby Hillin, Jr. / 336 laps / rear end
40) #81-Kenny Wallace / 376 laps / engine
39) #42-Joe Nemechek / 380 laps / running

SOURCES
*1997 Pontiac Excitement 400, ESPN
*MorganShepherd.com
*Racing-reference.info

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Richmond

PHOTO: @XFINITYRacing
CUP SERIES
Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

For the seventh time in 2017 and the second race in a row, there will be a short field this Sunday.  And for the second time this year (joining Martinsville, three rounds ago), it will be a season-low 38 cars taking the green flag.  This marks the shortest starting field for a Cup race at Richmond since September 9, 1995, when 38 took the green in the Miller Genuine Draft 400.

Missing this week are both Derrike Cope and the #55 Premium Motorsports entry.  Cope, who finished 34th in that 1995 race, steered clear of danger Monday at Bristol and finished a season-best 31st.  It was his best finish since May 15, 2004, when he ran 29th at Richmond for Arnold Motorsports.  As at Bristol prior to Monday, Cope has not run at Richmond since 2006, when he finished last for Raynard McGlynn.

Cope’s teammate Reed Sorenson in Premium’s #15 Chevrolet, Timmy Hill in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, and Cole Whitt in TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet, are the three teams which do not have sponsors listed for this weekend’s race.

Like Cope, Sorenson enjoyed his best run of 2017 at Bristol, finishing 28th, and Whitt flirted with his first Top 20 finish since Atlanta before settling for 21st, matching his standout performance at Martinsville.  It was TriStar’s best Cup finish at Bristol since March 31, 1996, when the late Dick Trickle came home 8th driving the #19 HealthSource Ford during the Food City 500.  Hill ended up 37th when suspension issues left them more than 50 laps behind in the garage before they called it a day.  Hill’s best Richmond finish was also his only Cup start at the track, a 34th for Go FAS Racing in the spring of 2013.

Speaking of Go FAS Racing, kudos to Matt DiBenedetto, who finished a strong 19th at Bristol.  Shades of his breakthrough Top 10 in the same race in 2016, DiBenedetto’s run was his second-best of the year and his first Top 20 finish since coming home 9th in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Jeffrey Earnhardt finished 27th at Bristol, the best run for both driver and team at the track, and just one spot shy of matching Earnhardt’s season-best 26th in the Daytona 500.  This week, Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group welcomes Towne Bank as sponsor of the #33 Chevrolet.  Earnhardt’s best Richmond finish in three starts was also a 27th, which came last September.

XFINITY SERIES
ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond

42 drivers are slated to attempt this Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, and barring another rain storm, the same number will arrive this weekend.

Back on the list after withdrawing at Bristol is Tommy Joe Martins and his #45 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet.  If he makes the show, it will be his first XFINITY start at Richmond since April 25, 2014, when he finished 36th in an unsponsored Dodge.  Missing this week is Obaika Racing and the #97 for Stephen Leicht, which made Bristol’s preliminary list before being withdrawn.  It’s still possible, however, that the team will be added late in the week as they have several times in the past.

Set to make his series debut is 19-year-old Kyle Benjamin, fresh off a K&N Pro Series East win earlier this month at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway.  Benjamin climbs aboard the high-powered Joe Gibbs Racing #20 which won the last two rounds with Erik Jones.  Race sponsor ToyotaCare will also back his entry.

Making his first XFINITY start of 2017 is Dylan Lupton, who made two series starts last year and four in the Cup Series.  Lupton climbs aboard JGL Racing’s “Young Guns” entry, the #24 Nut Up Toyota.  Lupton’s lone NASCAR start at Richmond came driving for BK Racing in last September’s Cup race, where he finished 25th – his only Cup finish inside the Top 30.  Matt Mills also returns for the first time since Phoenix this past March, again driving B.J. McLeod’s #8 Chevrolet in place of Jeff Green (who finished a season-best 25th at Bristol).

Driving for Precision Performance Motorsports, Quin Houff enjoyed a strong run in his XFINITY debut at Bristol, finishing on the lead lap in the 16th spot.  Driver and team are once again entered this weekend as Precision looks to make their first start at Richmond.  Fellow ARCA driver Josh Williams had a strong run as well, climbing aboard Mario Gosselin’s #90 BuckedUp Apparel Chevrolet and finishing 22nd.  Williams will not be racing this week as Truck Series driver Brandon Brown was already signed to drive the W.G. Speeks Chevrolet this Saturday.  Brown finished 23rd with the team earlier this year at Atlanta.

Also give a call to Motorsports Business Management, which had both its cars finish inside the Top 30 for the first time since Talladega in the spring of 2015, and for the first time ever since Carl Long took over the team from Derek White at the start of 2016.  What’s more, both Long and teammate Timmy Hill both drove Dodges, finishing 27th and 24th, respectively.  Both drivers – and Dodges – are again entered in Richmond, and along with B.J. McLeod’s #78, have not yet announced a primary sponsor.

Driving for TriStar Motorsports, J.J. Yeley finished 11th at Bristol, his best finish since he ran 10th last fall at Kansas.  Superior Essex will again sponsor his #14 at Richmond, where in this race last year he tied a track-best 12th set in 2007 with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.

Bristol marked Morgan Shepherd’s first XFINITY Series start since Phoenix in March, and he’s again entered this Saturday.  Fellow owner-driver Mike Harmon is there as well in the #74 Veterans Motorsports Dodge, having picked up a season-best 30th, the last car to finish under power.

TRUCK SERIES
Next Race: May 12, 2017
Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas

Monday, April 24, 2017

CUP: Chris Buescher’s rough Bristol weekend results in two wrecked cars

PHOTO: @spencertitans
Chris Buescher picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Monday’s Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #37 Bush’s Beans / Scott Products / Kingsford Chevrolet was eliminated in a two-car accident after 53 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Buescher’s 50th series start, was his first of the season and his first in a Cup race since last July at Daytona, 27 races ago.

Buescher’s only other last-place finish came less than a month before his breakthrough win at Pocono, where he was leading when a fogbank cut the race short at 138 of 160 laps.  A thrilling five-race battle ensued where Buescher looked to stay inside the Top 30 in driver points to maintain his place in the Chase.  His most serious challenger was David Ragan and the #23 BK Racing entry.  With just 36 laps to go in the cutoff race at Richmond, both Ragan and Buescher found themselves in the middle of a multi-car pileup.  Ragan wrecked out while Buescher went on to finish 24th, locking him into the Chase.  While Buescher was eliminated in the first round, it was a stellar rookie season and another impressive accomplishment by Front Row Motorsports.

This season, Buescher debuts a second team for JTG-Daugherty Racing, his #37 fielded alongside the #47 of A.J. Allmendinger.  The deal came about after Roush-Fenway Racing leased JTG the Charter belonging to Greg Biffle and the now-defunct #16 team.  Buescher’s Chase berth secured him a spot in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, where he came home a strong 9th of 17 cars, and his best run of the season came at Martinsville, where he ran 11th.  Bristol looked to be a chance for another strong run, as a 5th-place run there last August helped pave the way for his spot in the 2016 playoffs.

Unfortunately, the weekend began with frustration.  Qualifying on Friday was rained out, leaving him 27th on the grid based on Owner Points.  He ran just 25th of the 39 entrants in opening practice, 19th in the second, and in Happy Hour, lost control off Turn 4, damaging the right-rear of his car.  22nd on the charts at the end of that session, Buescher’s team elected to roll out the backup, meaning that he would have to start at the tail end of Sunday’s 39-car field.  To make it up to his crew, Buescher bought a pair of large chocolate chip cookies with “My Bad 37” written in blue-and-white frosting.

The persistent rains which pushed the 500-lap race to Monday morning caught many campers in gathering floodwaters.  Buescher, still at the track late Sunday night, went out with a friend to help campers move their mobile homes to safety.  He posted pictures of RVs to Twitter to help alert their owners.  “We didn’t get recognized to the very end,” said Buescher, “incognito.”

On Monday morning, Buescher lined up at the tail end of the field.  Moving up one spot as a result was 39th-place starter Derrike Cope, who was making his first Bristol start since 2006.  Both Cope and Premium Motorsports teammate Reed Sorenson carried sponsorship from the Low T Centers, which joined the program two weeks ago on Cope’s #55.

By the end of the first lap, Buescher had dropped Cope to last, and on Lap 2, was running the high lane, six seconds behind the leaders.  By Lap 4, Cope had passed Timmy Hill, whose Rick Ware Racing-prepared #51 Chevrolet carried new sponsorship from SleepFresh Mattresses.  On Lap 9, Hill caught Cope in another challenge for position, but on Lap 13, race leader Kyle Larson sped by them both to put them a lap down.  On the 26th circuit, Hill and team discussed a potential problem with the engine, though little more was said about it under green.  On Lap 30, Hill went down a second lap, then a fourth the 46th time by.  Hill was still last when the first caution flew.

That moment came on Lap 56, when Kurt Busch’s #41 Haas Automation / Monster Energy Ford slid into Trevor Bayne’s #6 AdvoCare Ford off Turn 2, sending Busch sliding into the inside wall.  As the field slowed behind them, Buescher, who had passed more cars than anyone else to that point, rear ended the slowing #15 of Reed Sorenson.  Sorenson managed to keep going and, in fact, picked up a season-best 28th.  Buescher, however, trailed oil over some distance of the track before stopping on the apron.  As #37 was towed to the garage, Buescher was done for the day, and a five-minute red flag was needed to clean up all the oil.

Buescher officially took last from Timmy Hill on Lap 57.  Hill himself fell out with suspension issues after 234 laps, leaving him 37th.  Between Hill and Buescher was 38th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whose #88 Nationwide Insurance Chevrolet crashed hard when he slipped in more oil on a Lap 218 restart.  36th went to Danica Patrick, whose #10 Mobil 1Annual Protection Ford was damaged in an earlier incident, then eliminated after tangling with David Ragan on Lap 325.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Kyle Busch, who hit the wall on Lap 210, then raced his way back into the Top 10 only to crash even harder on Lap 384.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for #37 in a Cup Series race since November 9, 2014, when Mike Bliss’ Accell Construction Chevrolet fell out with brake trouble after 16 laps of the Quiken Loans Race For Heroes 500 at Phoenix.  The number hadn’t finished last at Bristol since August 23 of the same year, when Dave Blaney’s turn in the Tommy Baldwin-prepared Accell Construction machine ended after 37 laps with overheating issues.

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (3)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (2)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Jordan Anderson sets second-longest last-place streak in NASCAR history

PHOTO: @j66anderson
Jordan Anderson picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after he completed 13 of 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Anderson’s 12th series start, was his fifth of the season and fifth in a row, the second-longest last-place streak in NASCAR history.  The record is eight, set by all-time last-place leader Jeff Green in the summer of 2015.

Anderson, back in RSS Racing’s “start-and-park” entry, was originally one of 42 drivers who would attempt to qualify, but the very real threat of rain forced two withdrawals.  First on April 19 was Tommy Joe Martins, who was set to make his first XFINITY start of the year in his self-prepared #45 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet, and thus did not have a guaranteed spot in the field.  Next on April 21 was Obaika Racing, which again only entered the #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet for Stephen Leicht.  Reports indicate that the Obaika team arrived late to the track – minutes before practice – and was not allowed to pull into the infield.

In the weekend’s lone practice session on Friday, Anderson timed in 38th of the remaining 40, having turned just 12 laps, third fewest behind B.J. McLeod (6), Carl Long (8).  The washed-out qualifying session secured him the 39th spot in the 40-car field, one position ahead of Mike Harmon’s #74 Somerset Hardwood Flooring Dodge.  Prior to the start, both were joined by four drivers sent to the back: Roush-Fenway Racing teammates Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Ryan Reed for inspection penalties, Dakoda Armstrong’s #28 WinField United Toyota for unapproved adjustments, and Joey Gase’s #52 The Racing Warehouse Chevrolet for a tire change.

By Lap 14, Anderson was behind the wall, securing the last-place finish.  Two laps later came Morgan Shepherd, back in the race for the first time since Phoenix, his #89 Racing With Jesus / King’s Tire Chevrolet out with overheating as the listed cause.  38th went to Ryan Reed, who while climbing his way from the back pounded the Turn 2 wall on Lap 81, ripping the right-front tire from his #16 Lily Diabetes / ADA Drive to Stop Diabetes Ford.  37th was where Ray Black, Jr. finished in his #07 ScubaLife / HBOT Chevrolet following two accidents.  The second accident, which came off Turn 4 on Lap 221, also eliminated 36th-place David Starr – the Daytona last-placer – when B.J. McLeod’s #99 Double D Meat Co. / Striping Technology Chevrolet clipped the nose of Black’s stopped car.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for both Anderson and the #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Bristol.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #93-Jordan Anderson / 13 laps / electrical
39) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 15 laps / overheating
38) #16-Ryan Reed / 79 laps / crash
37) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 213 laps / crash
36) #99-David Starr / 227 laps / crash

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (5)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Kaulig Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (7)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, April 20, 2017

5/21/83: Mike Potter and family share deep ties with NASCAR and native Tennessee

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On May 21, 1983, Mike Potter picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Valleydale 500 at the Bristol International Speedway when his #76 Larry’s Nightclub Buick fell out with rear end trouble after 50 of 500 laps.  The finish came in Potter’s 16th career start.

Born in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1949, Mike Potter was a second-generation racer whose roots go back to NASCAR’s inception.  His father Jess Potter was arrested for bootlegging, impressed into becoming a mechanic for the U.S. Army, and returned home to start his own NASCAR team.  Potter Racing began in 1954, competing in NASCAR’s modified division with fellow Johnson City native Brownie King behind the wheel.  On December 2, 1956, Jess and King moved to what is today the Cup Series, finishing 11th in their series debut at Concord (North Carolina) Speedway.

For the next eight seasons, Jess Potter entered cars in 298 Cup races.  Among those who joined Brownie King on the list of drivers were U.S. Army Sergeant George Green, who was stationed in Germany when he wasn’t racing; Ken Hunley, who adopted an alias (perhaps Bob Hundley) to make sure his health insurance provider wouldn’t cut his coverage over his racing career; and in 1960 a 19-year-old speedster named Buddy Baker.  The notoriously aggressive Baker was so hard on equipment that Jess Potter would use the winnings from his teammate, Paul Lewis, to rebuild the #1 Chevrolet.  The rising costs forced the two to part ways after just seven races.  Even so, Baker was forever grateful for the opportunity.

“Buddy told me if it wasn’t for my daddy he never would have had a racing career,” said Mike Potter years later. “He said Buck couldn’t afford him and those races he ran for Daddy got him noticed.”

Jess Potter’s cars never won a race.  George Green picked up the team’s best finish at Jacksonville (North Carolina) Speedway on June 30, 1957, the #33 Chevrolet coming home 4th behind Buck Baker, Jim Paschal, and Tiny Lund.  To supplement the team’s income, Jess worked a full-time job at the Rainbow Bakery, and on weekends was so tired driving back to Tennessee that every five minutes, he and Brownie King would switch off driving the hauler.  By 1965, Jess handed over his team to owner-driver E.J. Trivette, who would go on to have one of the best seasons of his 13-year career.

Mike Potter’s own start in NASCAR followed a similar path to his father.  He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years, including a tour in Vietnam in 1967.  In 1971, during his first race at the Sportsman Speedway, he walked away from a terrifying wreck where he flipped his car five times.  He operated his own tow truck business during the week, during which time he rescued a man named Charlie McKay.  In 1979, when Mike Potter eyed a move to Winston Cup, McKay built his cars and served as crew chief.  Mike’s brother Gary, who had a brief XFINITY Series career and later worked for Hendrick Motorsports, was the team’s mechanic.

Like his father, Mike Potter fielded his own cars, but unlike him, would drive as well.  The first start for his #76 Miller Chevrolet came April 1, 1979 at his home track in Bristol.  That same day, when Dale Earnhardt went on to the first of his 76 career victories, Potter finished a respectable 16th.  Two years later, when he drove for Roger Hamby, Potter improved on that finish at the Nashville Fairgrounds, where he ran 15th.

In 1983, Potter returned to his own team for his first attempt to make the Daytona 500.  His #76 Cam Farm Oldsmobile missed the race, finishing 33rd of 35 starters in Race #1 of the UNO Twin 125-Mile Qualifiers, then 7th of 14 in the Consolation Race.  His next attempt would again come at Bristol, which that year was held on a rainy Saturday in May.  Potter qualified 27th in the 28-car field in a car sponsored by Larry’s Nightclub, a club based back in Johnson City.  Starting last was Rick Newsom, who was driving an unsponsored #02 Buick owned by Bud Reeder.  This was the same Reeder was the listed owner of the same #02 when a young Mark Martin made his Cup debut at North Wilkesboro.

Just four cautions slowed the day’s action for 22 laps, resulting in a race less than three hours long.  Potter’s early mechanical troubles left him as the only retiree for more than half the event.  The next three retirees had all started inside the Top 10.  27th-place finisher Harry Gant started 4th in his #33 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet, but also broke the rear end after 317 laps.  Next was 3rd-place starter Ricky Rudd, out with engine trouble on Richard Childress’ #3 Piedmont Airlines Chevrolet.  Fifteen days later, Rudd would score his first Cup victory at Riverside.  25th went to Geoffrey Bodine, whose #88 Gatorade Pontiac - now fielded by Cliff Stewart in place of DiGard – was the last car to finish under power, 103 laps down.  53 laps ahead of him in the 24th spot was J.D. McDuffie, who was looking for sponsorship on his #70 McDuffie Racing Pontiac.

Potter made another 10 races in 1983, making the move to Bud Reeder’s #02 for the final part of the schedule.  In the years ahead, he would continue to run on a part-time basis, driving for various single-car operations belonging to team owners Jimmy Walker, Elmo Langley, Corey Fillip, O.C. Welch, Bobby Wawak, Thee Dixon, Buddy Arrington, Henley Gray, and himself.  It wasn’t until 1992 that he ran as many races as the ’83 season.  That year, he drove the #77 Kenova Construction Chevrolets and Buicks owned by Steve Balogh, attempting 18 races and making 11, including his first-ever Daytona 500, where he came home 30th.

Potter’s 60th and final Cup start was the 1993 TranSouth 500 at Darlington on March 28, 1993, where he drove a second Jimmy Means-prepared #53 Hurley Limo Ford to a 38th-place finish in the 39 car field, out with handling issues.  Curiously, that same race saw the final starts in a Cup points race for Alan Kulwicki (finished 6th), James Hylton (34th), and Norm Benning (39th and last).  But this was not the end of Potter’s racing career.

In 1999, Potter looked to compete in ARCA, attempting both races at Pocono.  After back-to-back DNQs, he finally broke through in 2000 and finished 37th.  In 2001, he made his first start in what is today the NASCAR XFINITY Series since the inaugural season in 1982, driving for Jimmy Means Racing at IRP for a 41st-place finish.  In 2003, now 53 years old, Potter ran 11 more XFINITY races for Means as well as a one-off in the X-1R Pro Cup Series, finishing 16th in the latter.  As recently as June 28, 2008, Potter has taken the green flag in XFINITY, and that day at Loudon ran 29th for Johnny Davis’ prolific JD Motorsports.

All the while, Potter has continued to get the absolute most out of his equipment.  “The car I drove in the Daytona 500 in 1992, the frame and chassis was built in 1983.”  Incredibly, the very same car may have also been his ride ARCA, X-1R, and even the Super Cup Stock Car Series in 2014.  “The veteran driver brings a car with a good amount of history,” read an article on the division’s homepage.  “The number 14 Chevrolet sponsored by Surplus Brokers and Wrench Rags was originally a Cup car he competed with in the early 1990s, was later converted to an ARCA and Pro Cup car, and now is able to run with Super Cup.”

While his Cup career was brief, Mike Potter’s passion for racing remains.  “My dad never had any money when he was racing, and I guess like father like son,” Potter said. “I never had any money either and I ran 60 Winston Cup races. I guess I got my Daddy’s determination.”

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the seventh last-place finish for #76 in a Cup Series race, and the first since October 29, 1967, when Earl Brooks’ 1966 Ford crashed after 15 laps of the American 500 at Rockingham.  As of this writing, the #76 has not finished last in a Cup race since.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
28) #76-Mike Potter / 50 laps / rear end
27) #33-Harry Gant / 317 laps / rear end
26) #3-Ricky Rudd / 393 laps / engine
25) #88-Geoffrey Bodine / 397 laps / running
24) #70-J.D. McDuffie / 450 laps / running

SOURCES
*Bobo, Jeff. “Moonshine sparked 50 years in NASCAR for Potter family,” Times News (Kingsport, Tennessee), August 20, 2007.
*Racing-Reference.info
*“Super Cup Continues Ties to Stock Car Racing’s Roots While Looking Ahead to Next Series Race at CNB Bank Raceway Park,” SuperCupStockCarSeries.com, June 23, 2014.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Bristol

PHOTO: @TommyJoeMartins
CUP SERIES
Food City 500 at Bristol

For the sixth time in 2017, and the first time in two races, there’s going to be a short field for Sunday’s Cup Series race.  39 drivers are listed to attempt the 40-car field.  Missing this week is Tommy Baldwin Racing, which two weeks ago at Texas finished 27th with J.J. Yeley.  Given the team’s past emphasis on plate racing, expect TBR to return at Talladega in two weeks.

Derrike Cope continues his return to Cup competition this weekend for his first Bristol start since August 26, 2006, when he finished last in Raynard McGlynn’s #74 Dodge.  The Low T Center, which backed Cope’s #55 at Texas, is listed as the sponsor for teammate Reed Sorenson in the #15.  Cope is one of three drivers with no sponsor listed.  Joining him is Matt Kenseth, who was also without backing at Texas, and the Rick Ware Racing entry of Timmy Hill.  Hill’s sixth start of the season in Ware’s #51 Chevrolet will mark his first Bristol start since August 2015.

At Texas, Cole Whitt’s longtime sponsor RTIC Coolers returned to the hood of TriStar Motorsports’ #72, the first race of an eight-race deal in 2017.  The scheme returns this Sunday, where Whitt looks to improve on a career-best 27th at the track in the spring of 2015, back when he was driving for Front Row Motorsports.

Two more drivers to watch will be Trevor Bayne and Matt DiBenedetto, who finished a strong 5th and 6th in this race last year.  Bayne comes into Bristol off back-to-back 13th-place finishes in the #6 AdvoCare Ford, hanging on to 12th in points without a single DNF this season.  DiBenedetto, who drove for BK Racing last year and Go FAS Racing this season, looks for a turnaround after runs of 35th and 31st the last two races.  Cosmo Motors, which sponsored DiBenedetto’s car last spring, returns to back Go FAS’ #32 this Sunday.

Jeffrey Earnhardt enters Bristol with three last-place finishes following a hard crash at Texas.  Last year, The Motorsports Group finished 33rd and 36th at Bristol, but Earnhardt outpaced the team both times, finishing 32nd and 29th.  Little Joe’s Autos and Curtis Key Plumbing are still listed as the sponsor for Earnhardt’s #33, but don’t be surprised if that changes: the team has continued to excel at grabbing up last-minute sponsorship by race day.

XFINITY SERIES
Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol

The preliminary entry list shows 42 drivers to attempt the 40-car field, a second “Dash 4 Cash” event which excludes Cup veterans with five or more years of experience.

This weekend sees the return to XFINITY Series competition for Tommy Joe Martins and his team, Martins Motorsports.  In 2014, Martins made 11 XFINITY starts, a season highlighted with a 14th-place finish at Talladega.  But it was at Bristol that year where driver and team struggled the most as both Martins and teammate Willie Allen were the only two sent home.  This year, after a season and change in the Truck Series, Martins and sponsor Diamond Gusset Jeans are back, looking to kick off a nine-race schedule this season.

Back for the first time since Daytona is Rick Gdovic’s #46 Chevrolet.  In place of Belgian road racer Anthony Kumpen, who ran a solid 22nd at Daytona, ARCA driver Quin Houff looks to make his series debut.  The 19-year-old Houff (pronounced “howf”) brings with him backing from the Duke Cancer Institute, which backed his ARCA debut with Mason Mitchell’s team, where he ran 28th.  The #46 may again turn heads as they did in this race last year, when Brandon Gdovic finished 18th.

Owner-drivers Morgan Shepherd (#89), Mike Harmon (#74), Mario Gosselin (#90), and B.J. McLeod (#78) have all made this week’s preliminary list.  Harmon and McLeod are among the five teams whose primary sponsor has yet to be determined.  Joining them are Jeff Green in McLeod’s #8 Chevrolet and both Motorsport Business Management cars of Timmy Hill (#40) and Carl Long (#13).  In this race last year, Shepherd and Long missed the field while the best run of the group belonged to Gosselin, who finished 24th, three laps down.

Obaika Racing has again entered just one car, the #97, with Stephen Leicht behind the wheel.  Josh Bilicki, frequently withdrawn from entry lists this season in the second Obaika #77, has now been tabbed as the road course ringer for Rick Ware Racing’s Cup team, which he will drive for at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

Texas saw Jordan Anderson finish last for the fourth-consecutive XFINITY Series race, tying a mark set three times prior by Jeff Green.  Anderson, who continues to work out of Mike Harmon’s shop on his own Truck Series effort, is again entered in RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet, and may be expected to make it five in a row.

TRUCK SERIES
Next Race: May 12, 2017
Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas

Thursday, April 13, 2017

8/23/60: G.C. Spencer scores first last-place three-peat in NASCAR history

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On August 23, 1960, G.C. Spencer picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Grand National Series career in Race #34 of the season, held at Bowman Gray Stadium, when his #48 1958 Chevrolet broke a sway bar after 62 of 200 laps.  While the “G.C.” in Spencer’s name stood for Grover Cleveland, the only U.S. President to serve two non-consecutive terms in office, the finish, which came in Spencer’s 49th series start, was his third in a row.  It was the first time a NASCAR driver ever finished last in three consecutive races.

Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, home of Jeff Green and Michael Waltrip, Spencer served in the Navy during World War II, then stateside developed a passion for hot rodding.  According to a 2007 interview with the Times-News, Spencer made his first short track start on a dare, finished 2nd, and took more checkered flags than he could count.  His NASCAR debut came on September 1, 1958, during the eighth Southern 500 at Darlington, when he drove a second Chevrolet fielded by Buck Baker.  Baker finished 2nd to Fireball Roberts that day while Spencer came home a respectable 16th of 48 starters.  The next season, Spencer fielded his own Chevrolets for 28 races.  His first top-five finish came in just his seventh start, when he ran 4th at the Piedmont Intestate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

When interviewed for my upcoming book on J.D. McDuffie, longtime friend Bobby Hudson recalled Spencer as one of a “core group” of friends who played poker together between races.  “Most people called him G.C. and I called him Grover,” said Hudson.  “But G.C., I believe he was the cussingest guy I’ve ever met.  Not at anyone in particular, he was just ‘why?’”

Perhaps the reason for Spencer’s colorful language was the dubious record he set in 1960.  At the time, Spencer was driving for Weldon Wagner, who had started his own team at Daytona with Iowa driver Darrell Dake.  In April, the duo produced Spencer’s second Top Five, a fifth at the Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.  But, following a broken axle at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway, Spencer endured a frustrating three-race stretch.  On August 18, he started on the front row at Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway next to Tommy Irwin, but broke the rear end after 42 laps.  Two days later, the rear end failed again, 22 laps into the race at South Boston.  Bowman Gray followed three days later.

Spencer started 10th in the 17-car field, but was out after 62 laps, the race’s only DNF.  Last-place starter Jimmy Pardue finished in 13th, driving a #54 1959 Dodge sponsored by Lowe’s.  Filling out the Bottom Five were E.J. Trivette in his #35 1959 Plymouth, owner-driver Curtis “Crawfish” Crider in his self-prepared #83 1958 Ford, and rookie Paul Lewis in Jess Potter’s #1 Faircloth 1958 Chevrolet.  All five drivers each made over 100 Cup starts.  The race was won by the Wood Brothers own Glen Wood, who for the third-consecutive Bowman Gray race led all 200 laps on his way to victory.

Spencer’s three-race stretch is but a footnote to a much more impressive statistic.  In 415 career starts, he finished runner-up seven times, the most of any winless driver.  Six different drivers with Hall of Fame careers held him off: Jim Paschal, Darel Dieringer, Dick Hutcherson, Junior Johnson, Marvin Panch, and Ned Jarrett.  Spencer lost to Jarrett twice, the second of which coming May 30, 1965 at the one-third-mile Harris (North Carolina) Speedway.  That day, Spencer started 2nd, passed polesitter Paul Lewis the first time around and led the first 23 laps, then ran out of gas with four laps to go.

The 1965 season was the best of Spencer’s career.  Driving his own #49, Spencer made 47 of the 55 races, scoring 14 Top Fives and 25 Top Tens with an average finish of 11.9.  By campaigning a Ford in a season where Chrysler boycotted NASCAR over the banning of the “Hemi” engine, Spencer outpointed big names like Richard Petty and David Pearson, and trailed only Ned Jarrett, Dick Hutcherson, and Darel Dieringer.

Spencer campaigned as an owner-driver in the #49 for most of his Cup career, the reason that his Inman, South Carolina neighbor James Hylton chose #48 for his own team in 1966.  Spencer drove that number to his 55th and final Top Five came July 15, 1971 at the Islip (New York) Speedway, a day which saw Richard Petty lead all 230 laps.  His final season as a driver came in 1977, and at Darlington, scene of his Cup debut, he earned his 138th and final Top Ten, an 8th in his #49 Lady & Son Auction Dodge.

Though he’d fielded cars for a handful of other drivers since 1964, he did so exclusively from 1978 through 1982, giving Gary Baker, Connie Saylor, and French road racer Claude Ballot-Lena their first starts in NASCAR.  Spencer also gave a team its first start in 1983, when he sold a car to Larry McClure and Tim Morgan, laying the foundation for prolific single-car team Morgan-McClure Motorsports.  Spencer remained as Morgan-McClure’s team manager for the next three years.  Spencer’s driver Connie Saylor gave the team its first start at Talladega.  Their next start went to a 24-year-old Mark Martin.

Spencer passed away on September 20, 2007, Morgan-McClure’s final season in operation.  The team’s fourteen wins stand as a legacy to both.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*G.C. Spencer scored 19 last-place finishes in his Cup career, which as of this writing ties him with Mike Bliss for the sixth-most in series history.
*No driver would score three consecutive last-place finishes in Cup again until August 2009, when Dave Blaney pulled off his #66 PRISM Motorsports Toyota at Bristol, Atlanta, and Richmond.  The article, written during LASTCAR's first season, erroneously reports Blaney was the first to score three lasts in a row.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
17) #48-G.C. Spencer / 62 laps / sway bar
16) #35-E.J. Trivette / 173 laps / running
15) #83-Curtis Crider / 174 laps / running
14) #1-Paul Lewis / 176 laps / running
13) #54-Jimmy Pardue / 177 laps / running

SOURCES
*Legends of NASCAR: G.C. Spencer
*Morgan-McClure Motorsports: Team History
*Racing-reference.info
*Wood, Perry Allen. Declarations of Stock Car Independents: Interviews with Twelve Racers of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2010.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

CUP: Austin Dillon avoids first “did not start” since 1993, handing last place to unlucky Jeffrey Earnhardt

PHOTO: FOX Sports
Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #33 Superior Logistics Services / Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 9 of 334 laps.

The finish, which came in Earnhardt’s 31st series start, was his third of the season and his third in four races.  It’s also his fourth last-place finish across NASCAR’s top three divisions, tying him for 25th overall with, among other drivers, his father Kerry.

Last week at Martinsville, Earnhardt avoided his third-consecutive last-place finish, but a hard crash into the Turn 2 wall left him a disappointing 36th at the finish.  Since finishing 26th in the Daytona 500, the Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group team has not finished better than 32nd, leaving the driver 37th in points.  However, Circle Sport’s Charter, combined with just 40 cars arriving in Fort Worth, guaranteed that #33 would be in the race once more.

Earnhardt arrived at the track with returning sponsorship from Superior Logistics Services, Inc., which carried its logo on the hood of the #33 during the Can-Am Duels at Daytona as well as Las Vegas.  By race day, hos quarter-panels (as well as XFINITY Series driver Carl Long’s #13 Toyota) carried logos for the fourth annual Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit, a veteran’s fundraiser named in honor of Texan SOC (SEAL) Chris Kyle, USN, whose life was dramatized in Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film “American Sniper.”

In practice, Earnhardt ran 38th in the opening session, .  He qualified 31st in time trials with a lap of 182.852mph.  While it was the slowest lap turned that session, nine other drivers didn’t get through inspection in time, thus giving Earnhardt his best starting spot of 2017.

Starting last on Sunday was the lowest-ranked of the group in Owner Points, the #55 Low T Centers Toyota of Derrike Cope.  Cope, making his first Texas start since 2006, rolled off as the only driver in Sunday’s field to have also competed in the inaugural event at the track in 1997.  Driver and team were back from a one-week hiatus where both had skipped last Sunday’s race at Martinsville.  Combined with the return of Tommy Baldwin Racing (with J.J. Yeley behind the wheel) Texas marked the first 40-car field since Baldwin’s team last ran in the Daytona 500.  Three cars joined Cope at the rear of the field: Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne had both wrecked in practice on Saturday, sending them to backup cars.  Eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson was sent back as well, a spin in practice forcing him to change tires after qualifying.

At the same time, another last-place story was developing.  By the one lap to go signal, 25th-place starter Austin Dillon made an unexpected trip down pit road, then turned and headed to the garage.  Initial reports of a broken track bar gave way to news that something had come off the passenger side truck arm, forcing the crew to make emergency repairs.  In a situation reminiscent of Timmy Hill’s two runs for Premium Motorsports at Indianapolis and Michigan in 2015, the Richard Childress Racing crew missed the start, but looked to make a return.  If they were unsuccessful, Dillon would not only be handed his first last-place finish since Chicagoland in 2015, but would be the Cup Series’ first “did not start” in a points race since September 5, 1993, when Bob Schacht didn’t turn a lap of the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington in Thee Dixon’s #85 Burger King Ford.

On Lap 12, the work was done, and Dillon pulled out of the garage and onto the track, 11 laps behind.  He returned under what was already the second caution of the day, triggered by a three-car accident.  Jeffrey Earnhardt had broken loose in Turns 1 and 2, sending his car backwards into the outside wall.  Also collected was Reed Sorenson, the debut of new sponsor Xchange of America on his #15 Chevrolet marred with damage to the left-rear, then a lost right-rear wheel under caution.  Gray Gaulding also suffered damage to the right-front corner of his #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota as he tried to clear the wreck to the inside.  Earnhardt, however, climbed out of his car, which was then towed through the backstretch wall to the infield, done for the day.

On Lap 22, Earnhardt took last from Dillon, who went on to finish 33rd.

Finishing 39th was Timmy Hill, the only other retiree from the race.  Hill’s #51 Fenton Motors Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing lost an engine during the early laps of Stage 2.  38th-place Kasey Kahne went to the garage late with a broken axle, but still limped the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet home in the 38th spot.  Cope came home 37th, having run the extreme high lane in Turns 1 and 2 to let faster traffic go by.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Paul Menard, his #27 Dutch Boy / Menards Chevrolet returning from several laps in the garage with a new battery cable.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*The nine laps completed by Earnhardt are the fewest by a Texas Cup race last-place finisher since November 4, 2012, when Reed Sorenson turned six laps in Humphrey-Smith Racing’s #91 Plinker Tactical / MCM Elegante Toyota before electrical issues.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #33 in a Cup Series race at Texas.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 9 laps / crash
39) #51-Timmy Hill / 104 laps / engine
38) #5-Kasey Kahne / 303 laps / running
37) #55-Derrike Cope / 313 laps / running
36) #27-Paul Menard / 314 laps / running

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (3)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Toyota (2)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Jordan Anderson goes head-to-head with Jeff Green in securing fourth-consecutive last-place finish

PHOTO: @j66anderson
Jordan Anderson picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after he completed 17 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Anderson’s 11th series start, was his fourth of the season and fourth in a row.  He now joins all-time last-place leader Jeff Green as the only two drivers in NASCAR history to trail four straight races.  The NASCAR record remains Green’s streak of eight in a row, also in XFINITY, during the summer of 2015.

Anderson was one of 41 drivers on a preliminary entry list which, once again, changed several times.  On Monday, Mike Harmon and his #74 SupportMilitary.org Dodge were added, growing the list to 42 for 40 spots.  Three days later, fellow owner-driver Morgan Shepherd withdrew his #89 Racing With Jesus / Visone RV Chevrolet.  Finally, the day after, Obaika Racing entered its #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet, once again with Stephen Leicht aboard.  In the end, Harmon and Leicht would be the two drivers sent home after qualifying.

Anderson ran 30th-fastest in Friday’s opening practice, 29th in Happy Hour, and timed in 31st in qualifying with a lap of 184.080mph, the third-slowest car to make the field on speed.

Starting last on Saturday was none other than Jeff Green in B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ #8 Chevrolet.  While he’d started in that spot one other time this season, at Daytona, he’d yet to finish there in 2017.  But last fall, the Texas track saw his 94th and, to date, most recent NASCAR last-place run.  During the pace laps, Anderson joined Green at the back of the pack and stole away last on the opening lap.  In four previous starts this season, Anderson had completed no more than three laps, but this time he stayed out there, challenging Green for the spot on track.  The two cars began to lose touch with the leaders, and Green fell behind Anderson on Lap 8.

Lap 11 saw the first yellow, and a new challenger broke up the battle.  Daniel Hemric, running 2nd in Richard Childress Racing’s #21 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff Chevrolet, broke loose in the first corner and backed into the outside wall, damaging the right-front corner as well.  By Lap 13, Hemric took last from Anderson and Green, but had made it to pit road for repairs.  The crew beat the Crash Clock, returning to competition two laps behind, but struggled to meet minimum speed.  Within two laps of the restart, it was Anderson who pulled off the track first, and by the 20th circuit, he’d taken last from Hemric.  Hemric managed to finish 32nd while Green remained past the halfway mark, coming home 36th.

39th on Saturday went to Carl Long, whose #13 Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit Toyota struggled to catch the field for the restart following Hemric’s wreck.  Motorsports Business Management cited steering issues as the reason for Long’s exit; his teammate Timmy Hill ran 31st.  38th went to Casey Mears, out with rear gear issues on the #98 GEICO Military Ford.  One spot behind Jeff Green was Brennan Poole, his #48 DC Solar Chevrolet eliminated in the day’s biggest accident on Lap 67.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the second-consecutive last-place finish for RSS Racing’s #93 in the spring race at Texas.  Last year, Josh Wise trailed in the car with early brake trouble, starting a weekend sweep with the Cup race.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #93-Jordan Anderson / 17 laps / electrical
39) #13-Carl Long / 24 laps / steering
38) #98-Casey Mears / 50 laps / rear gear
37) #48-Brennan Poole / 66 laps / crash
36) #8-Jeff Green / 114 laps / suspension

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (4)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Kaulig Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (6)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, April 6, 2017

6/7/81: First Baxter Price, then Texas World Speedway “quit”

Jimmy Means' #52 Chevrolet, which may have become
Baxter Price's #50 at College Station, Texas
PHOTO: Unknown
On June 7, 1981, Baxter Price picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Budweiser NASCAR 400 at the Texas World Speedway when he “quit” driving his #50 Broadway Motors Chevrolet after 1 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in his 90th start, was his first since that February at Richmond, 11 races earlier, when his #45 McWhirter Grading Buick broke a driveshaft after 16 laps of the Richmond 400.

Price excelled in the Grand National East Series, a circuit consisting of tracks recently cut from the Winston Cup tour.  In 1972, he scored three Top Fives and 11 Top Tens on his way to a 4th-place showing in the standings.  The series was stacked with Cup Series veterans, including season champion Neil Castles and fellow owner-driver Elmo Langley, who finished 1-2 in points.  Among the drivers Price outpointed that season were Wendell Scott, Richard Childress, Tiny Lund, Buck Baker, and Bobby Allison.

With this success, Price made his Cup debut at Richmond on September 9, 1973.  He filled out the 34-car field in his #33 Price Racing Chevrolet, starting in the final spot.  On Lap 4, Price spun in the fourth corner and couldn’t restart.  With the track still in its tight half-mile configuration, outside-polesitter Darrell Waltrip couldn’t avoid Price’s car and slammed into the rear of #33.  The result was a 14-car pileup that also triggered a fuel fire in Baxter’s car, leaving the last-place finishing rookie with second-degree burns to his face and hands.  It was an inauspicious start to a brief career.

Price didn’t run another Cup race until May 10, 1975, when he returned at the Nashville Fairgrounds to run the Music City USA 420.  Now driving the #45 he would campaign for much of his career, the driver started next-to-last in the 28-car field and climbed to 20th despite running just 38 laps.  He improved to 22nd in his return to Nashville that summer, then ran 18th in his superspeedway debut at Pocono, the first track where he finished under power.  He slowly built his program over the next two seasons, running six races in 1976, 12 in ’77, and 24 for back-to-back seasons in 1978 and 1979.  He also picked up a series of local sponsors for his #45, including Tire King, Ray Cook’s Bar-B-Q, Ideal Maintenance, and Iron Peddlers, the last of which being his most consistent backer through the 1979 and 1980 seasons.

The Virginia 500 at Martinsville on April 23, 1978 saw Price earn what would be his best career finish, an 11th-place run, 45 laps behind Darrell Waltrip.  At Charlotte that October, Price was also tabbed to drive in relief of none other than Dale Earnhardt, who was preparing for his Rookie of the Year campaign.  Two competing deals arrived for Earnhardt to run Charlotte in Will Cronkrite’s #96 Cardinal Tractor Ford and run Atlanta in Rod Osterlund’s Chevrolet.  Since running both races would exceed the maximum number of starts Earnhardt could make and still run for rookie honors, Price was tabbed to start the #96 at Charlotte.  And so it was on October 8, 1978, that Baxter Price and Dale Earnhardt split time in the same car for 179 laps before the engine let go.

By 1981, when NASCAR downsized its cars from 115-inch to 110-inch wheelbase models, Price had scaled down his operation.  A fourth bid to make an elusive Daytona 500 start ended in disappointment, though he finished 4th in the 12-car “Consolation Race” run the Friday before the race.  A last-place finish at Richmond turned out to be the final green flag taken in his black-and-gold #45 Buick.  Then, in June, came a call from another owner-driver.

Jimmy Means was in his sixth season of competition on the Winston Cup tour, and headed toward the second-best season of his Cup career.  By June, he was 14th in the point standings, and he’d finish there at season’s end.  While preparing his #52 Broadway Motors Pontiac for the upcoming race in College Station, Texas, Means tabbed Price to drive a second car for him.  Price would drive a renumbered #50 Chevrolet, likely the same Chevrolet that Means ran four times earlier that season at Daytona, Bristol, North Wilkesboro, and Nashville.  The agreement was made and both drivers arrived at the track.

The venue was the Texas World Speedway, a blistering-fast two-mile oval similar in construction to Michigan International Speedway, but with steeper corners banked between 12 and 22 degrees.  The circuit joined the Winston Cup schedule in 1969, where Bobby Isaac prevailed in a 38-car contest.  Over the next four seasons, the fields grew as large as 49 cars with both Richard Petty and lead-footed Buddy Baker taking the checkered flag.  But the track was dropped from the schedule in 1974, and when it returned five years later, the fields were noticeably depleted.  Just 34 cars took the green in 1979, then 31 in 1980.  Means and Price were among just 34 drivers to arrive in 1981.

Kirk Shelmerdine at Texas World Speedway, 1981
PHOTO: Unknown
According to the official results, it appears that Price’s car was one of at least three brought in to fill out the field.  Unlike the more recent examples of “start-and-park” teams, which often list mechanical failure as the reason out, it was then common for such cars to list the more direct “quit.”  Price pulled out first after the opening lap.  The next time by came Kirk Shelmerdine, who was making his Cup debut.  Like Price, Shelmerdine arrived in a second car belonging to an owner-driver, his future boss Richard Childress: Shelmerdine drove a #8 McDonald’s Pontiac renumbered from Childress’ #3.  By 2002, Shelmerdine would start his own team.  Third among the “quit” group was D.K. Ulrich.  Ulrich’s exit is a strange one as, just one month earlier, he’d piloted his #98 UNO Buick to a career-best 4th at Dover.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were 39-year-old Morgan Shepherd, fresh off his first Cup victory that April.  Shepherd’s #5 Performance Connection Pontiac prepared by Cliff Stewart exited with radiator issues.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Darrell Waltrip, one of only four DNFs in a 12-win season that vaulted he and his Junior Johnson-prepared car to the first of three Winston Cup titles.

As it turned out, June 7, 1981 was both Baxter Price’s final Cup start and the final Cup race at the Texas World Speedway.  Price’s 90-race career set a mark for the most Cup starts without a Top 10 finish - a record which stands to this day.  Texas World Speedway hosted ARCA and K&N Pro Series West races until 1993, and in 2009 made the news when Greg Biffle turned a lap of over 218mph during a test session.  While one report in January 2016 indicated the track would be torn down to make way for a housing development, as of this writing, the track’s online calendar still has private tests and other track events scheduled for the rest of 2017.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #50 in a Cup Series race since August 3, 1980, when Bruce Hill lost the engine on his #50 Global Heat Exchanger Oldsmobile after 12 laps of the Talladega 500 at Talladega.  The number would not finish last in Cup again until October 11, 1987, when Greg Sacks’ #50 Valvoline Pontiac crashed after 20 laps of the Oakwood Homes 500 at Charlotte.  This was the first and only last-place finish for the #50 in a Cup Series race at Texas World Speedway.
*In 2,505 Cup Series races, “quit” has been the listed reason out for just 59 last-place finishers.  The first time it was used was February 24, 1967, when Daytona 500 polesitter Curtis Turner pulled off the track in Smokey Yunick’s #13 1966 Chevrolet after one lap of his qualifying race.  The last time was June 13, 1993, when another Jimmy Means backup car, this time driven by Graham Taylor, pulled the #53 State Shuttle Ford off track after 3 laps of the Champion Spark Plug 500 at Pocono.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
34) #50-Baxter Price / 1 lap / quit
33) #8-Kirk Shelmerdine / 2 laps / quit
32) #98-D.K. Ulrich / 4 laps / quit
31) #5-Morgan Shepherd / 17 laps / radiator
30) #11-Darrell Waltrip / 33 laps / cylinder head / led 12 laps

SOURCES
*Legends of NASCAR.com “Owner – Crew Chief Will Cronkrite.”
*McLaughlin, Matt. 50 Years of NASCAR Racing. “The Fall of Richmond (Post 87).” Reposted at RaceFansForever.org
*Racing-reference.info

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Texas

PHOTO: Tommy Baldwin Racing
CUP SERIES
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas

After five consecutive short fields, Texas will see the first 40-car starting lineup since the season-opening Daytona 500.

Rejoining after a one-week hiatus at Martinsville is Premium Motorsports’ second team, the #55, once again driven by veteran Derrike Cope.  The yet-unsponsored #55 Toyota will carry Cope to his first Texas start in the Cup Series since April 9, 2006, when he finished 41st in Raynard McGlynn’s #74 myguardian911.com Dodge.  Reed Sorenson, 31st at Martinsville after a flat tire sent him into a spin on Lap 335, is again entered in Premium’s #15, which is also looking for sponsorship.

Also returning is Tommy Baldwin Racing, absent since their 20th-place finish at Daytona with Elliott Sadler.  This week, J.J. Yeley is the listed driver for what will be his first Cup start since the 2015 finale at Homestead, where he ran 34th for BK Racing, and his first for Baldwin since 2013.  Yeley’s best finish in 14 Texas starts was a 17th in 2007, though he was also the outside-polesitter in the spring of 2006.  TBR’s best finish at the track came in the fall of 2014, when Michael Annett came home 22nd.  Accell Construction, Inc., a longtime backer of the Baldwin team, returns to back #7.

This weekend, Cole Whitt’s longtime sponsor RTIC Coolers moves to the primary backer of TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet.  At Martinsville, Whitt turned heads on the track and in the booth, ultimately coming home 21st, the first car one lap down.  Whitt looks to carry that momentum into Fort Worth, where his best finish in five previous starts was a 26th in 2014.  If Whitt doesn’t DNF, it will mark the first time Mark Smith’s car has done so in a Cup race at the track following four “start-and-park” entries in 2012 and 2013.

Timmy Hill is slated to make his fifth-straight start in Rick Ware Racing’s #51, which last week at Martinsville came one spot short of equaling their season-best 32nd-place finish at Phoenix.  Hill’s best finish at the Texas track was a 35th his last time out in the fall of 2014, when he drove for Circle Sport.  The Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group #33 Chevrolet is entered as well with Jeffrey Earnhardt.  Earnhardt avoided his third-consecutive last-place finish at Martinsville, but not his third-straight DNF, out after slamming the Turn 2 wall hard on Lap 392.  Earnhardt’s best finish in two Texas starts came last fall with BK Racing, where he ran 34th.

BK Racing’s rookie duo of Gray Gaulding and Corey LaJoie are back once more, having made some progress at Martinsville.  Gaulding spun on Lap 310, but finished 29th, his first finish inside the Top 30 in seven career starts.  LaJoie came home one spot and one lap in front of his teammate in 28th, his best finish since a 24th-place run in this year’s Daytona 500.  Both drivers will be making their first Cup starts in Texas.

Matt DiBenedetto left Martinsville with his first DNF – and his first finish worse than 29th – of 2017.  The hard Turn 3 crash dropped him from 28th to 32nd in points.  The Texas track has also proved challenging: in three previous starts, he’s finished 34th, 35th, and 34th.  The preliminary entry list indicates the bright green Can-Am / Kappa paint scheme will likely return.

XFINITY SERIES
My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas

A preliminary list of 41 drivers are listed to attempt Saturday’s 40-car field, yet there are still teams missing that have attempted previous races.

Just as at Phoenix, neither Obaika Racing’s #77 for Josh Bilicki nor the #97 for Stephen Leicht have been entered.  The last time out at Fontana, Mike Harmon was entered in his #74 Dodge while Morgan Shepherd’s #89 did not.  This week, it’s the opposite: Shepherd is entered with returning sponsorship from Visone RV while Harmon has yet to be added.  The two times Shepherd has finished an XFINITY race at Texas under power, he came home a respectable 28th.  Based on prior performance, it’s likely that Harmon and at least one of the Obaika cars will be added later this week.

Six teams are listed with the sponsor “to be determined.”  Two belong to B.J. McLeod’s team: McLeod’s own #78 Chevrolet and the #8 Chevrolet once again driven by last-place record holder Jeff Green.  David Starr, still with Striping Technology on his McLeod #99 Chevrolet, finished a season-best 24th his last time out at Fontana.  Two more yet-unsponsored cars belong to Motorsports Business Management, which again has Carl Long listed in the #13 Chevrolet and Timmy Hill looking for double duty in the #40 Dodge.  MBM’s driver lineup has often changed between the preliminary entry list and race day, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that happens again.  The other two of the TBD group are the TriStar #14 of J.J. Yeley, a driver who will be running double-duty with Tommy Baldwin in Cup, and Brandon Jones’ Richard Childress Racing #33.

The only car entered without a listed driver is King Autosport’s #90 Can-Am Chevrolet, fielded by Mario Gosselin.  Martin Roy drove the car at Fontana to a 25th-place finish.  At least one source has indicated that Truck Series driver Brandon Brown will be driving the #90 at Richmond later this month.

Dakoda Armstrong continues a strong start to the season in the #28 Toyota for James Whitener.  In five starts this season, he’s finished no worse than 21st and completed all but one lap.  Armstrong’s best XFINITY finish at Texas was a 10th in the fall of 2014 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Jordan Anderson is entered in the #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet.  If the team remains on “start-and-park” duty, is in position to score his fourth-consecutive last-place finish, joining Jeff Green as the only two drivers to do so.

TRUCK SERIES
Next Race: May 12, 2017
Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas

Sunday, April 2, 2017

CUP: Jamie McMurray’s tire woes hand #1 first Martinsville last-place finish since 1964

PHOTO: @KicknTheTires
Jamie McMurray picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s STP 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #1 Cessna / Beechcraft Chevrolet was involved in a single-car crash after 105 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in McMurray’s 516th start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup Series race since last fall at Dover, 13 races ago.

The engine failure that left McMurray last at Dover ended McMurray’s Chase in the first round for the second-straight year.  It also ended a streak of 312 races without a last-place finish, dating back to the spring Bristol race on March 16, 2008.  But the 13th-place showing in points and third-straight season without a win motivated the veteran from Joplin, Missouri, and he and teammate Kyle Larson have performed much better this season.

Following a 28th-place finish after a late crash in the Daytona 500, McMurray came into Martinsville having finished no worse than 15th in each of the following races.  His best run came last Sunday at Fontana, a 6th.  That same day, McMurray’s young teammate Kyle Larson broke through with his second career victory, ending a streak of near-misses and runner-up finishes.  With the short track approaching, Larson had the point lead and McMurray sat 6th, 81 points behind.

McMurray was one of just 38 drivers to arrive in Martinsville, the shortest field for a Cup Series race since 37 rolled off in the final race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on September 29, 1996.  The #1 car again showed speed early, running 5th in opening practice, 15th in Saturday morning’s session, and 3rd in Happy Hour.  When rain washed out Friday’s qualifying, McMurray secured the 6th starting spot on points with Larson on pole.

For the fourth time in six races this season, Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet lined up last, this time with new sponsor Go-Parts.com partnered with driver Timmy Hill.  Joining him at the rear was Daniel Suarez, sent to a backup car during Friday’s opening practice when he backed into the outside wall.  When the green flag dropped, Suarez held last on the first lap, then passed Gray Gaulding’s #23 SunFrog.com Toyota.  Gaulding caught teammate Corey LaJoie, and he passed his #83 RMC Events Toyota on Lap 4.

Jeffrey Earnhardt came into Sunday’s race on the heels of back-to-back last-place finishes.  His #33 Chevrolet, which by Sunday carried a hood decal for the Honor And Remember Foundation, fell to last the first time on Lap 6, 11.1 seconds behind the leader.  By Lap 15, Earnhardt was hugging Timmy Hill’s rear bumper, but both the #33 and #51 had lost touch with the rest of the pack.  On Lap 21, Earnhardt was the first to be lapped by race leader Kyle Larson, but three circuits later Earnhardt caught Hill in traffic, dropping the #51 to the rear once more.  Hill lost a second lap on Lap 45, a third on Lap 67, and a fourth on Lap 98.

McMurray, meanwhile, was again battling hard for position at the front of the pack.  By Lap 106, however, his #1 was smoking heavily from the left-rear tire.  A few laps earlier, McMurray was on the outside of both Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson, who both made contact and slid into McMurray’s left-rear.  In a questionable decision, the crew kept McMurray out on the track for several laps.  The gamble didn’t pay off.  On the 106th circuit, heading into Turn 3, the left-rear cut down, sending McMurray spinning into the outside wall.  The car made hard contact with the driver’s side, in particular the left-front, and had to be towed back to the garage area.  Under NASCAR’s new “Crash Clock” rules, this eliminated McMurray from competition.  On Lap 110, he took last from Hill.

A series of other crashes during the final segment filled the Bottom Five.  37th went to Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch.  Busch’s #41 Monster Energy / Haas Automation Chevrolet was damaged in a multi-car accident on Lap 290, beat the five-minute clock, then on the restart lost a tire and slammed the wall in Turn 3.  Jeffrey Earnhardt ended up 36th, having hit the Turn 2 wall on Lap 392.  35th-place Matt DiBenedetto’s Lap 408 wreck appeared even harder than McMurray’s when his damaged #32 KeenParts.com / CorvetteParts.net Ford switched ends in Turn 3 and hit with the driver’s side.  Rounding out the group was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who broke the radiator of his #88 Axalta Chevrolet in a Lap 419 pileup.

PHOTO: Legends Of NASCAR
LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #1 in a Cup race at Martinsville since April 26, 1964, when Billy Wade did not start his Bud Moore-prepared Mercury during the Virginia 500.  Wade, the 1963 Rookie of the Year, scored all four of his Cup victories during the summer of 1964.  What’s more, the wins were in consecutive races, marking the first time a Cup driver had a four-race winning streak.  His final win on July 19, 1964 was the last race run at Watkins Glen before it rejoined the schedule in 1986.  Tragically, Wade lost his life at Daytona on January 5, 1965 in a crash during a Goodyear tire test.
*This was McMurray’s first last-place finish in a Cup race at Martinsville.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
38) #1-Jamie McMurray / 105 laps / crash
37) #41-Kurt Busch / 295 laps / crash
36) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 385 laps / crash
35) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 401 laps / crash
34) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr, / 418 laps / crash

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (2)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Bryce Napier’s oil leak begins rough weekend for #1 in NASCAR

PHOTO: @RacingNapier
Bryce Napier picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #1 ASAP Appliance Service Chevrolet was parked 3 laps into the 250-lap race.  The finish came in Napier’s fourth series start.

Napier is just 17 years old, but has already been racing for over a decade.  Born outside Santa Cruz, he’s raced quarter midgets to late models at tracks all across California, including the All American Speedway and Stockton 99 Speedway, the latter the site of two wins in 2014.  In 2015, Napier was part of the inaugural class for the Kulwicki Driver Development Program.  Named for his hero, the late 1992 Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki, Napier was one of just 15 finalists, including Ty Majeski.

Just last year, Napier made his Truck Series debut at Martinsville.  Driving for Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #1 Lily Trucking Chevrolet, he finished a career-best 23rd, then finished inside the Top 30 in two more starts at Bristol and Phoenix, both while driving for Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports.  Saturday’s return to Martinsville would be Napier’s first attempt of the 2017 season.  Sponsorship from ASAP Appliance Service (based in Napier’s home town of Scotts Valley, California) was joined by a collection of others, including Veterans Motorsports Inc., Harry’s Auto Repair, Tim Rose Construction, and First Security Services.

Napier would drive for TJL Motorsports, a new team announced on February 15, 2017.  The team splintered off from MAKE Motorsports (now Beaver Motorsports), which itself was aligned with Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing last year.  The #1 team is owned by Tracy Lowe, MAKE’s Chief Operating Officer, who is operating her own team for the first time.  While driver Tim Viens missed the cut for TJL’s debut at Daytona, the #1’s rank in Owner Points was enough to lock Mike Harmon into the field at Atlanta, and would also help Napier make the show in Martinsville.

Napier and TJL weren’t on Martinsville’s preliminary entry list, which first indicated just 32 trucks would arrive to attempt that many spots.  However, by Friday, Napier was added in the #1 along with Beaver Motorsports’ #50 with Travis Kvapil, T.J. Bell in the #45 Neice Equipment / Autry Grading Chevrolet, and Brandon Brown.  Brown’s #44 Chevrolet, fielded by Brandonbilt Motorsports and Martins Racing, wasn’t originally going to enter until a successful fan-supported push during the week.  By Friday, his white truck had a large decal on the rear deck with the Twitter handles of 680 supporters.  When Richie Wauters withdrew Korbin Forrister’s #5 Toyota, this meant that 35 trucks would now compete for a spot in the field.

Napier ranked 33rd of the 34 drivers to run in Friday’s opening practice, then secured the 29th starting spot on Owner Points, having put up a lap of 89.587mph.  Bumper from the field were Austin Wayne Self, who purchased Martins Motorsports’ spot in the Martinsville field last year, owner-driver Norm Benning in his #6 Houston Roll Pipe / Diamond G Inspection Chevrolet, and Jennifer Jo Cobb’s entry, which she this week handed to Chuck Buchanan, Jr.  Buchanan, who in three previous unsuccessful attempts fielded his own Spring Drug-sponsored entry, did not complete a lap in qualifying, and will once again have to wait for his series debut.

Starting last on Saturday was Jordan Anderson, who like Brandon Brown had a fan-supported story of his own.  Just weeks after a devastating wreck at Atlanta totaled Rick Ware’s only truck, the team got the #12 Lucas Oil Chevrolet back from the chassis shop on Thursday.  In just over 24 hours, the team fashioned a front and rear clip onto the machine, brought it to Martinsville, and made the cut with a lap of 86.092mph.  By race day, Anderson was joined by Justin Haley, Travis Kvapil, Donnie Levister, and Napier, all sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments.

As it turned out, the TJL team continued to struggle with the #1 truck.  During the pace laps, Napier made an unscheduled stop, then returned to the track just in time for the green.  He held the last spot the first time by, passed Anderson for 32nd on Lap 2, but soon after noticed smoke in the cockpit.  NASCAR issued the black flag, forcing Napier to pit road.  The caution flew on Lap 4 as he entered the pits, smoke pouring from the windows.  In the pits, the crew discovered an oil leak which they couldn’t fix in time to return to the track.  Although this leak actually caused him to fall out of competition, the official results – perhaps because of the black flag – list the reason as “parked.”

Anderson exited the race 21 laps later, citing brake trouble on the rebuilt #12.  Behind him in 30th came Donnie Levister.  Like Chuck Buchanan, Jr., Levister had been entered in five races previous and was now locked-in driving D.J. Copp’s #83 Frontline Designs Chevrolet.  Brake issues eliminated Levister from the field just short of the halfway mark, 86 laps before the engine let go on Travis Kvapil’s #50 Motorsports Safety Group Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was John Hunter Nemechek, who lost 24 laps with recurring engine troubles on his #8 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet.

For more on Bryce Napier, check out his website here: http://www.brycenapierracing.com/

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the second-consecutive last-place finish for the #1 in a Truck Series race at Martinsville.  Last fall, when Jennifer Jo Cobb fielded the #1 Hurricane Master Garage Doors / Liftmaster Chevrolet, driver Josh White was eliminated in a crash after 45 laps of the Texas Roadhouse 200.
*This marked just the second time a Truck Series driver was classified last with “parked” as the official listed cause.  The other time also occurred at Martinsville.  On April 9, 2005, Casey Kingsland, making his series debut, was parked after 104 laps of the Kroger 250 after his #24 Speed Zone Energy Drink Dodge brought out three of the race’s first six cautions.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #1-Bryce Napier / 3 laps / parked
31) #12-Jordan Anderson / 24 laps / brakes
30) #83-Donnie Levister / 100 laps / brakes
29) #50-Travis Kvapil / 186 laps / engine
28) #8-John Hunter Nemechek / 226 laps / running

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Copp Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (3)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP