Tuesday, December 12, 2017

UPDATE: New LASTCAR Statistics Available

PHOTO: @spencertitans
As we prepare for 2018, there are now two new pages of statistics now available here at LASTCAR.info: Last-Place Finishes By Car Number, and Last-Place Finishes By Reason Out. Both have been updated through the completion of the 2017 season with rankings for Cup, XFINITY, Trucks, and all three combined. Both pages will be updated weekly along with the rest of this site’s statistics.

In addition, the existing rankings are now formatted without 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. in order to make each driver's number of last-place finishes more visible.

Last-Place Finishes by Car Number
Among the statistics which stand out are that all currently-available numbers (from #0 to #09) have finished last in at least one Cup and XFINITY Series race. However, in the Truck Series, fifteen numbers have yet to finish last, including the former Germain Racing #30 made famous by Todd Bodine and Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #54. Anchoring the chart are fifty currently ineligible numbers, including three-digit numbers and those mixed with letters. Fifty-four more are unknown, primarily from the early years of the Cup and XFINITY Series.

On the Cup side, four of car #20’s most recent six last-place finishes have all come in the Daytona 500, and all six have come within the first three races of the season. Among the less common numbers is #29, which hasn’t trailed a Cup Series race since September 1996, when Chad Little scored back-to-back lasts at Richmond and Dover. A big reason for this is that Kevin Harvick never finished last in a single Cup points race he ran for Richard Childress Racing from 2001 through 2013. As of this writing, he hasn’t scored one for Stewart-Haas Racing, either – the longest active streak without a single last-place finish.

Jeff Green’s record-breaking last-place streaks are also reflected on the XFINITY Series car number rankings. Five of the top six – #10, #91, #93, #19, and #44 – were numbers Green drove to his six LASTCAR Championships with TriStar Motorsports and RSS Racing. Car #10 has more than double the XFINITY Series last-place finishes of any other number, and the prolific TriStar entry is responsible for more than half of the 121 total last-place finishes for the number in NASCAR history.

Last-Place Finishes by Reason Out
As of this writing, there have been 124 reasons listed for a NASCAR driver to finish last (125 if you include the “unknown” category). Forty-nine XFINITY Series races show the last-place finisher as out by “dnf,” but the reason the driver failed to finish isn’t recorded. Eighty-nine more times – all of them in Cup – there is no designation at all, meaning that it’s unclear whether or not the driver finished under power. Many of these are again from NASCAR’s earliest seasons, and may have been lost to history.

There are some redundant reasons out listed, but I have decided against merging them together. Among these are drivers black-flagged off the track for failing to keep up the pace. The designations older designation “flagged” and newer “too slow” are separate, as well as the broader “parked,” which can also designate a driver black-flagged for reasons other than speed. There are also separate entries for “shocks” vs. “shock” as well as “timing” versus “timing chain,” “gear” versus “rear gear,” “rod” versus “rods,” and so on.

Engine failures and crashes are by far the most common reasons for a driver to finish last, though only in Cup do the engine failures outnumber crashes, and by a margin of 115 finishes. The recurrence of “start-and-parks” in NASCAR is also somewhat hidden in these statistics. “Quit,” last used in Cup in 1993, ranks just twelfth overall. Others frequently used in its place, including “overheating,” “transmission,” “brakes,” and especially “vibration,” all rank much higher.

The stories behind some of the rarest reasons out have already been featured in articles on LASTCAR. The single instance of “No tires” belonged to the late Joe Frasson at Bristol in 1976. The appearance of “valve spring” fell to the late Kenny Irwin, Jr., when he drove for Robert Yates Racing at Talladega in 1998. The only one to arise in a regular weekly article was “rear axle,” which occurred during Blake Koch’s early exit from the Truck Series race at Dover in 2014. Koch’s is the most recent reason out to not be duplicated.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and stay tuned in 2018 and beyond as we update these statistics all season long.

Reason Out Rankings (1949-present)

Last Update: September 24, 2023
(list excludes non-points races)

(717) engine
(659) crash 
(117) overheating
(82) transmission 
(79) brakes 
(60) rear end 
(58) quit 
(56) handling 
(47) ignition 
(45) oil pressure 
(43) electrical
(42) clutch
(41) running, vibration
(35) did not start
(31) oil leak 
(28) disqualified, piston 
(25) steering
(21) axle, flagged
(20) driveshaft, fuel pump
(17) rear gear
(16) head gasket 
(15) radiator 
(14) oil line 
(13) carburetor, suspension
(12) bearing
(11) distributor, valve
(10) oil pump
(9) a-frame 
(8) wheel 
(7) dvp
(6) hub, spindle
(5) differential, right-front hub, right-rear axle
(4) ball joint, camshaft, con rod, crankshaft, gas line, gasket, oil cooler, power steering, rocker arm, shocks, tie rod
(3) cam, crank, fire, fuel pressure, gas tank, oil pan, parked, sway bar, timing, timing chain, tire, too slow, water pump, wheel bearing
(2) coil, cylinder head, fan, fuel line, fuel tank, mount, push rod, rear hub, right-rear hub, rod, spin out, stalled, tires, wiring, withdrew
(1) alternator, bell housing, brake cylinder, chassis, cylinder, dnf, driver ill, driver injury, engine mount, fan belt, fatal crash, fender, flywheel, freeze pl, fuel leak, gear, header, housing, injury, leak, left-front hub, left-front wheel, left-rear axle, lifter, lug bolts, manifold, mechanical, mud, no reason, no tires, oil seal, oil temperature, right-front wheel, right-rear wheel, rods, shock, spark plug, spin, t bar, time gear, tortion b, track bar, valve spring, windshield 
(85) Unknown

(386) crash
(278) engine 
(140) vibration
(59) brakes
(57) electrical
(54) transmission
(53) handling
(47) dnf
(41) ignition 
(37) overheating 
(29) rear end
(23) suspension
(18) rear gear
(16) disqualified
(12) oil leak
(10) clutch
(8) fuel pump, oil pump
(6) running
(5) did not start
(4) radiator, valve
(3) dvp, fuel pressure, oil pressure, quit, steering
(2) distributor, driveshaft, mechanical, power steering, rocker arm, shock
(1) alternator, axle, camshaft, carburetor, chassis, head, parked, push rod, spring, too slow, track bar

(188) crash
(142) engine
(41) transmission
(39) electrical
(34) vibration
(28) brakes
(24) overheating
(22) ignition 
(18) clutch, handling, rear end
(16) suspension
(15) rear gear
(9) mechanical
(8) fuel pump, running
(6) disqualified, driveshaft
(5) axle
(4) oil leak, steering, too slow
(3) parked, oil pump
(2) did not start, oil cooler, oil line, oil pressure, power steering, radiator
(1) battery, chassis, dnf, drivetrain, dvp, fatigue, fuel pressure, rear axle, shock, tire, water pump

(1356) crash
(1137) engine 
(214) vibration 
(178) overheating
(177) transmission 
(166) brakes 
(138) electrical
(127) handling
(110) ignition
(107) rear end
(70) clutch
(61) quit
(55) running
(52) suspension
(50) disqualified, oil pressure, rear gear
(49) dnf
(47) oil leak
(43) did not start
(36) fuel pump
(33) steering
(28) driveshaft, piston
(27) axle
(21) flagged, oil pump, radiator
(16) head gasket, oil line
(15) valve
(14) carburetor 
(13) distributor 
(12) bearing, mechanical
(11) dvp
(9) a-frame
(8) power steering, too slow, wheel
(7) fuel pressure, parked
(6) hub, oil cooler, rocker arm, spindle
(5) camshaft, differential, right-front hub, right-rear axle
(4) ball joint, con rod, crankshaft, gas line, gasket, shock, shocks, tie rod, tire, water pump
(3) cam, chassis, crank, fire, gas tank, oil pan, push rod, sway bar, timing, timing chain, wheel bearing
(2) alternator, coil, cylinder head, fan, fuel line, fuel tank, mount, rear hub, right-rear hub, rod, spin out, stalled, tires, track bar, wiring, withdrew 
(1) battery, bell housing, brake cylinder, cylinder, driver ill, driver injury, drivetrain, engine mount, fan belt, fatal crash, fatigue, fender, flywheel, freeze pl, fuel leak, gear, head, header, housing, injury, leak, left-front hub, left-front wheel, left-rear axle, lifter, lug bolts, manifold, mud, no reason, no tires, oil seal, oil temperature, rear axle, right-front wheel, right-rear wheel, rods, spark plug, spin, spring, t bar, time gear, tortion b, valve spring, windshield 
(85) Unknown

Car Number Rankings (1949-present)

Last Update: September 24, 2023
(list excludes non-points races)

(65) #66
(48) #19, #55
(45) #7
(43) #37
(42) #4, #77
(41) #11, #14, #41
(40) #1
(39) #10, #23
(37) #18, #34, #43
(36) #33, #47
(35) #6, #9, #78, #87, #98
(34) #8, #20
(32) #15, #17
(31) #12, #51
(30) #27, #44, #49, #50, #52, #88
(29) #2, #25, #31, #70, #74, #75, #97, #00
(28) #22, #32, #36, #42, #93
(27) #40
(26) #26
(25) #90
(24) #30, #45, #48
(23) #5, #24, #53, #64, #71, #91
(22) #21, #83, #09
(21) #28, #67
(20) #46, #68, #96
(19) #0, #3, #29, #38, #60, #62, #99
(18) #13, #95
(17) #16, #72, #86, #01
(16) #59
(15) #80, #89, #02, #06
(14) #54, #57, #81
(13) #79
(12) #84, #94
(11) #39
(10) #35, #61, #63
(9) #73
(8) #85
(7) #56, #69, #76, #82, #04, #05
(6) #92, #08
(4) #65, #03
(3) #58, #110, #120
(2) #07, #100, #118, #171, #188, #421
(1) #1A, #2jr, #4-X, #7A, #12N, #17X, #20W, #22N, #26W, #44.5, #56W, #75N, #80N, #104, #107, #108, #111, #112, #122, #126, #135, #137, #162, #196, #203, #264, #285, #291, #296, #297, #302, #303, #310, #319, #349, #420, #444, #480, #711, #791, #B-29, #J12, #M-1, #X
(33) Unknown

(74) #10
(45) #93
(32) #19. #91
(31) #44
(27) #49
(24) #52
(23) #88, #92
(22) #0, #90
(21) #4, #27
(20) #38, #61
(19) #1, #6
(17) #35, #46, #74
(16) #26, #28, #47, #66, #99
(15) #16, #36, #89, #01, #07
(14) #7, #8, #9, #17, #41, #45, #05
(13) #5, #18, #23, #55, #75
(12) #20, #60
(11) #11, #13, #15, #24, #77
(10) #3, #22, #34, #39, #40, #78, #84, #96, #04
(9) #12, #14, #32, #43, #48, #50, #62, #97
(8) #51, #64, #70, #79, #85, #87, #98, #02
(7) #25, #33, #42, #56, #63, #71, #00, #08
(6) #21, #58, #68, #72
(5) #2, #31, #54, #57, #81, #86
(4) #29, #37, #53, #59, #67, #73, #82, #03, #09
(3) #83, #94, #95
(2) #30, #69, #76, #80
(1) #65, #06
(16) Unknown

(49) #0
(23) #63
(22) #93
(21) #10
(19) #23
(16) #6, #38
(15) #1
(14) #57
(13) #20, #25
(11) #50, #74, #87
(10) #9, #14, #21, #34, #44, #02
(9) #12, #33, #46, #72, #07, #08
(8) #4, #8, #27, #36, #40, #45, #52, #75, #00
(7) #11, #13, #15, #22, #24, #81, #86, #89, #95
(6) #26, #51, #73, #83
(5) #7, #16, #19, #28, #42, #47, #65, #66, #78, #84, #90, #06
(4) #5, #17, #32, #35, #41, #43, #71, #85, #88, #98, #99, #03
(3) #18, #29, #49, #53, #59, #68, #77, #04
(2) #3, #31, #37, #54, #58, #60, #61, #62, #91
(1) #2, #48, #55, #70, #76, #82, #92, #97, #05
(0) #30, #39, #56, #64, #67, #69, #79, #80, #94, #96, #01, #09

(134) #10
(95) #93
(90) #0
(86) #66
(85) #19
(74) #1
(71) #4, #23, #44
(70) #6
(62) #52, #55
(60) #14, #49
(59) #9, #11, #20, #27, #41
(57) #34, #47, #74, #88, #91
(56) #77
(55) #38
(54) #7, #87
(53) #18
(52) #8, #33, #90
(50) #15, #17, #43, #50, #78
(49) #12, #25, #37
(48) #26, #36
(47) #75
(46) #45, #46
(45) #22, #51
(44) #98, #00
(42) #28, #40 
(41) #24, #32
(40) #5, #42, #63
(39) #97, #99
(38) #21, #70
(37) #13, #16, #89
(35) #2, #31
(34) #48, #71
(33) #57, #60, #02
(32) #61, #72, #01
(31) #3, #35, #64, #83
(30) #62, #92, #96
(29) #53, #68, #86
(28) #95
(27) #84
(26) #29, #30, #81, #07, #09
(25) #67
(23) #59
(22) #05, #08
(21) #39, #54, #79, #06
(20) #85, #04
(19) #73
(17) #80
(15) #94
(14) #56
(12) #82, #03
(11) #58
(10) #65, #76
(9) #69
(3) #110, #120
(2) #100, #118, #171, #188, #421
(1) #1A, #2jr, #4-X, #7A, #12N, #17X, #20W, #22N, #26W, #44.5, #56W, #75N, #80N, #104, #107, #108, #111, #112, #122, #126, #135, #137, #162, #196, #203, #264, #285, #291, #296, #297, #302, #303, #310, #319, #349, #420, #444, #480, #711, #791, #B-29, #J12, #M-1, #X
(49) Unknown

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

TRIBUTE: Bud Moore Engineering’s twelve last-place finishes tell the story of one of NASCAR’s most celebrated single-car operations

A decorated Army veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. A Hall of Fame crew chief and car owner with 958 combined Cup starts and 63 wins over 37 seasons. Bud Moore filled every one of his 92 years with more stories than this or any other article can tell.

As the racing world mourns Moore’s passing on Monday, we at LASTCAR.info look back at the history of Bud Moore Engineering through the team’s last-place finishes, of which there were only twelve. Much like our feature on Robert Yates earlier this year, each finish tells the story of a single-car operation that was one of the strongest in the sport’s history, attracting some of NASCAR’s most famous drivers.

After years as a championship crew chief, Moore opened his team in 1961. Right away, he struck gold with Joe Weatherly, NASCAR’s “Clown Prince of Racing.” Active in Cup since 1951, Weatherly put Moore’s #8 Pontiac into victory lane in his very first attempt, taking the checkers in his qualifying race at Daytona in 1961. The pair would win 20 races together, claiming back-to-back Cup Series titles in 1962 and 1963. Their only last-place finish together came on August 14, 1963 at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds, where the duo were on their way to another strong weekend. Weatherly won the pole for the 200-lapper, led the opening 33 laps, then lost the engine while still out front. It was the fifth and final last-place run of Weatherly’s career. Tragically, he would lose his life just five months later in a crash during the race at Riverside. It was the first time NASCAR’s defending series champion lost his life the following year.

Moore’s next driver was Houston native Billy Wade, who like Kevin Harvick years later would find great success in the shadow of tragedy. Just weeks after Weatherly’s crash, Wade finished 10th in his own Daytona qualifier, then 6th in the Daytona 500. During the Northern Tour that summer, he would become the first driver in NASCAR history to score four consecutive Cup Series wins. Like Weatherly before him, Wade scored just one last-place finish in Moore’s equipment, though not for an incident on the track. It came at Martinsville on April 26, 1964, where his Mercury was entered in the Virginia 500. A dispute over the brake ducts on car #1 led to Moore withdrawing his entry. The withdrawal is recorded in the race results as a “did not start” with Wade classified last. Unbelievably, Wade would also lose his life months later in a testing crash at Daytona.

The Moore team would never again lose a driver, and the owner played a key role in improving safety in the sport. Weatherly’s accident was one of several which led to the institution of driver’s side window nets while Wade’s saw changes made to seat belts, specifically the “jockey strap” or “submarine belt” that goes between the driver’s legs. During this period, Moore changed his car number to the #15, which the team would run for the rest of its existence. The team’s driver in 1973 was another sterling talent, Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip was in just his second season then, and after fielding his own cars as a freshman, Moore was the first owner to hire him. With sponsorship from Sta-Power Industries, the pair finished 8th in their first race together, the 1973 Southern 500. Later that month came their only last-place run together, an engine problem after 75 laps at North Wilkesboro on September 23, 1973.

The next two last-place runs both came in 1981, the year NASCAR decreased the standard wheelbase of its cars. Driving the team’s downsized Melling Tool Ford Thunderbirds was 1973 series champion Benny Parsons. Parsons won three times that season, culminating with a 10th-place finish in points, but finished last in both Cup races at Dover. The first came on May 17, the same day that another World War II veteran turned NASCAR team owner, Junie Donlavey, scored his only Cup win after Jody Ridley took the checkers. Parsons’ short day came after a crash with Dave Marcis on Lap 2. Things went no better on September 20, when the Ford overheated after just 31 laps. To date, Parsons is one of only three drivers to sweep both Cup Series last-place finishes at Dover, joining Dick May (1975), Bruce Hill (1976), and Graham Taylor (1992).

On November 21, 1982, still another last-place finish by the Moore team took on added significance. That day’s running of the Winston Western 500 saw the first last-place finish of 31-year-old Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt, who wouldn’t win on a road course until 1995, started 7th in his #15 Wrangler Jeans Ford, but suffered an oil leak after just eight laps. “The Intimidator” would finish last just four more times in Cup – all in his iconic GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, and none after 1992. Ricky Rudd, who shared Earnhardt’s Wrangler sponsorship in 1984, picked up Moore’s next finish on June 17 of that year at Michigan. Just months earlier, Rudd had driven the same car to a gutsy win at Richmond with his swollen eyes taped open following his brutal wreck in the Busch Clash at Daytona.

The next two finishes came with Brett Bodine in 1988, a season which began with another terrifying crash after his Crisco / Motorcraft Ford collided with a tumbling Richard Petty in the Daytona 500. Bodine finished last in the July 2 return to Daytona when he was collected in another six-car pileup off the fourth corner, this time eliminating Cale Yarborough and Alan Kulwicki. The second finish came November 6, when Kulwicki earned his first Cup win in the inaugural race at Phoenix. Bodine was out after 13 laps that day with a blown engine.

Geoffrey Bodine joined the Bud Moore team in 1992, replacing Morgan Shepherd as driver of the team’s red #15 Motorcraft Quality Parts Ford. The team scored back-to-back wins at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro that fall, the latter run without a single caution flag. It was a strong performance after a difficult Martinsville afternoon on April 26, where another engine failure stopped Bodine after 104 laps of the Hanes 500. The next year, Bodine would score Moore’s 63rd and final Cup Series win at Sonoma, doing so in dramatic style. With dirt and debris on the track, Bodine slipped around the road course in the final laps, holding off a determined Ernie Irvan and Ricky Rudd. At the time, Bodine had just completed the purchase of Alan Kulwicki Racing, and would begin his owner-driver effort soon after.

Moore very nearly won again at Sonoma three years later, when road racer Wally Dallenbach, Jr. came on board with sponsorship from Hayes Modems. Dallenbach finished 3rd that day, within shouting distance of Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. The sponsorship from Hayes was an eleventh-hour deal prior to the Daytona 500, where Dallenbach overcame front valence damage to finish 6th. The team also had the benefit of owner-driver Jimmy “Smut” Means as the crew chief, Means joining the team after he closed his own Cup effort. As it turned out, Sonoma marked the 298th and final top-five finish for Moore. The pair also finished last for the penultimate time at Richmond on March 3, when crash damage ended their day 19 laps into the Pontiac Excitement 400. Following a 25th-place finish in the season standings, it was to be Moore’s final season as a full-time competitor.

After Dallenbach’s departure, Bud Moore Engineering made just seven more starts. With two DNQs and a withdrawal from the Brickyard 400, 1997 marked the first season without one of Moore’s car in the field since 1971. In 1998, the team acquired sponsorship from Rescue Engine Formula and, after a DNQ with Loy Allen, Jr. at Indianapolis, made two starts with Ted Musgrave at Michigan and Darlington. It was the second of these starts on September 6 that Moore picked up his twelfth and final last-place finish. Musgrave lined up 32nd for the Pepsi Southern 500, but dropped a cylinder at the end of a long green-flag run and pulled off the track.

The last Bud Moore car to qualify at Talladega, April 16, 2000.
PHOTO: Bryan Hallman
In 1999, Moore sold his team to Fenley Motorsports, and the renamed Fenley-Moore Motorsports eyed a return to Cup competition in 2000 with Derrike Cope. Still carrying Moore’s iconic #15, the team made its Cup debut at Charlotte on October 11, 1999, where Cope finished 35th. Then, although the team didn’t have one of Ford’s new 2000-model Tauruses at the time, Cope raced the car into the Daytona 500. Following a 19th-place finish with Cope at Atlanta, the team’s final green flag came at Talladega on April 16. That day, Ted Musgrave returned to drive a “throwback” scheme to the white-and-blue Ford that Bobby Allison steered to victory in the team’s lone Daytona 500 triumph in 1978. Musgrave was running in the lead pack when “The Big One” collected him in the final stages.

While the car number 15 has since bounced from team to team (at the end of 2017, it was the Chartered entry for Premium Motorsports), Bud Moore’s legacy will live on. Two of the last three "Throwback" weekends at Darlington saw the #15 decorated as one of Moore's cars. Through both good days and bad, the team’s endurance in changing sport played a critical role in NASCAR history.

*Legends of NASCAR – Billy Wade

Thursday, November 23, 2017

OPINION: Thank goodness the “Junior Singularity” is over

PHOTO: John Harrelson, LAT Images
A few thoughts on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s retirement, and what it means for NASCAR going forward.

It’s easy to forget just how high expectations were for Junior before February 18, 2001. He won twice in his rookie season in Cup – once more than his father in 1979 – and took his first All-Star Race in dramatic fashion. “Junior Nation” was already well past its founding. But once that final lap happened, everything became so much bigger. From that point on, Junior was now carrying the hopes, dreams, and expectations of two equally-massive fan bases – his own and his father’s. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for him, on top of everything else.

From then on, there was was what I call the “Junior Singularity.” The Cup Series became “Junior and Friends,” a weekly show where everyone else in the field – even its newest seven-time champion – played a supporting role. I was told by a friend in the NASCAR merchandise business that Junior outsold every other driver in the field 10-to-1. I believed it, especially when FOX broadcasts were constantly interrupted with a “Nationwide Dale Jr. Performance Report.” Junior was always a story - even if that story involved a terrible final season with DEI, a four-year winless streak, and a worrying series of concussions.

It wasn’t like Big E in the 1990s, when he was presented as one of a number of quirky stars – Wallace, Martin, Jarrett, Irvan, Gordon, and Bodine, to name a few. He stood out, of course, but not in the James Dean kind of way he does today. Some of the best proof of this are those old skits ESPN put together to open their Cup broadcasts. Earnhardt wasn’t the star of all of them, and some didn’t mention him at all. If another driver was the story – such as Rusty Wallace and his short-track dominance in early 1993 – then he carried the narrative instead. Earnhardt’s hardly mentioned at all in the 1992 Hooters 500, widely regarded as NASCAR’s greatest race. For Earnhardt, it was known ’92 was a season to forget, a year where accidents and mechanical issues left him 12th in points.

This isn’t to say that any of this is Junior’s fault – far from it. A big part of his popularity has been the result of things completely out of his control, and he’s consistently steered that celebrity toward charity. From the very beginning, he’s remained humble, compassionate, and about as down-to-earth as one can get. I’ve always found it ironic that the sport’s most popular driver remains a fan of Jimmy Means, a driver who raced without any wins in 455 starts. He’s also a studied student of the sport, not only from spending his youth in the garage, but also his clear dedication to the sport’s history, such as his “Back In The Day” program. I also can’t fault the fans for supporting who they want, nor the media for filling the need for Junior news that they desire. Much larger forces steered both that direction.

But I can say I’m glad that it’s over.

I am thankful that Junior retired on his own terms – not just for himself, but for his sport. I believe that the “Junior Singularity” has distracted too much of us from the state of NASCAR as a whole. We need to look at the lingering effects of the Charter system, how it has continued to prevent start-up teams from forming while doing nothing to prevent a proven winner like Matt Kenseth from being squeezed out of the sport. We need to re-examine how broadcasts are handled in the internet age and create leaner, more efficient, more informative experiences for fans old and new. And, most of all, we need to start talking again about the rest of the field, the big names and the small, who will each play a role in shaping NASCAR’s future. Let’s celebrate that Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson are now the old guard, fending off a rising tide of Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Erik Jones, and many others.

I don’t think anyone really knows Junior. Maybe his family. Maybe his wife. But that’s about it. I don’t know how he’s handled everything thrown at him with such grace. And I can only imagine the relief he now feels with that Axalta Chevrolet in his garage and a baby on the way. I’d like to imagine he’d complement his new career in broadcasting with another NASCAR history show. I can see him in the role of Neil Bonnett when he did “Winners” on TNN, though without that return to Daytona in 1994. But I can’t say what’s right for him, never mind tell him. Nobody can. For perhaps the first time in his life, Junior is free. It’s not a time for sadness. We should be happy for him.

To anyone out there in an 88 shirt, you need to realize that the sky isn’t falling just because one of its stars isn’t on the track. Like Ned Jarrett, Benny Parsons, and Buddy Baker before him, you’re gonna enjoy him even more in the booth. And the sport will be better for it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

CUP: Joey Gase scores third last-place finish in as many seasons one day after final start with Jimmy Means Racing

PHOTO: John Harrelson, LAT Images
Joey Gase picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #83 Eternal Fan / Premier Millwright Toyota was involved in a single-car accident after 4 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Gase’s 22nd series start, was his first of the season and first in Cup since September 18, 2016 at Chicagoland, 45 races ago.

Homestead was the site of a number of dramatic endings, not the least of which the retirement of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and what could also be the final races for Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick. It’s also seen the end of several longstanding driver-team partnerships, including the end of Kasey Kahne’s term at Hendrick Motorsports, where he joined in 2012, Michael McDowell’s last turn at Leavine Family Racing, where he first ran in 2014, and Landon Cassill, who’s still looking for a new ride after his second season at Front Row Motorsports.

One of the longest relationships to end on the XFINITY side was driver Joey Gase with Jimmy Means Racing. Gase first drove for Means at Iowa on May 20, 2012, when Gase was driving for Go Green Racing (fielded by Archie St. Hilaire, the current owner of the #32 Go FAS Racing team in Cup). When interviewed for my upcoming book on J.D. McDuffie, Means reflected on how he met with Gase.

“When [Gase] drove for Archie St. Hilaire the 79 car in XFINITY, he was renting that ride and I know he ran well and didn’t tear his stuff up.  And when the money ran out with Archie, basically was rent-a-ride if you wanted to drive the car you paid money, and I’m an old school racer so we don’t make a dime but we race, that’s our downfall.  But somebody introduced me to him and Joey was able to find some money so it kind of helped keep both of us going, so it’s been a good relationship, it’s kept him in it, kept me in it.”

Helping the team bring in a number of sponsors, most notably the Donate Life organ donor program, Gase helped Means to the #52 team’s first full XFINITY season in 2014, finishing 20th in points. The team’s best run that year came at Talladega, where they also led their first lap. When they returned to Means’ home track the following year, Gase kept his overheating Chevrolet in the lead pack, and carved out a 5th-place finish. It was Means’ first Top 5 in NASCAR, a proud moment for a driver whose best finish in 455 Cup starts over two decades was a 7th at Talladega in 1983.

Gase has continued to run strong on the restrictor plate tracks, finishing 7th and 10th in this year’s races at Daytona and 16th at Talladega. But on October 19, it was announced that Gase and Means Racing would part ways amicably at the end of the season.

The two parted ways as Gase has focused more on making it to the Cup Series, where he reunited with Archie St. Hilaire in 2014. This season saw Gase make more Cup starts than in any previous season – nine -  including his first Daytona 500 with BK Racing. He also drove for Premium Motorsports, finishing a season-best 21st at Talladega and a 26th at Indianapolis.

Gase wasn’t originally slated to run Sunday’s race. The preliminary entry list showed that BK Racing wasn’t going to enter the #83 Toyota, while Premium Motorsports’ #7 Chevrolet, Gase’s ride from the last two weeks, was going to be driven by fellow XFINITY regular Ross Chastain. But Premium ended up withdrawing the #7, resulting in Homestead’s first short field for the Cup finale, and BK entered the #83 for Gase on Wednesday. Although Gase’s car was first listed with Earthwater as the sponsor, as it had when Gray Gaulding finished last at Texas, Phoenix sponsor Eternal Fan, also based in Iowa, signed to sponsor the car. Premier Millwright also joined the effort, sponsoring Gase’s run in Cup as well as his final start for Means on Saturday.

Gase began the weekend running 37th in Friday’s opening practice, then qualified 35th in the field with a lap of 164.654mph. He ran 38th in Saturday’s first session and 37th in Happy Hour. In between, he started 32nd in the XFINITY finale and brought Jimmy Means’ car home under power, five laps down, in 29th.

Starting last on Sunday was Ray Black, Jr., another XFINITY regular looking to break into Cup. Homestead saw Black make his third Cup start of the season, closing out Rick Ware Racing’s return season to the Cup Series. By the time the cars were pushed out to the grid, however, his #51 ScubaLife Chevrolet was already ahead of two cars.

Behind Black on pit road were two of the day’s biggest stories: the #20 DeWalt Hurricane Relief Toyota of Matt Kenseth and the #88 Axalta Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt had been moved back there in anticipation of leading the field during a special fourth parade lap. Earnhardt then asked NASCAR if Kenseth could join him, at which point the #20 lined up in front of his car. Curiously, Earnhardt was the only driver to incur a pre-race penalty, having been forced to change engines on Friday.

By the time the field took the green, Earnhardt was already passing cars, and had made his way to 30th after the first lap. Black, on the other hand, lost touch with the rest of the field with a slow start, and was back to last by the first set of corners. He was 3.864 seconds behind the leader after Lap 1. With two laps complete, the spot fell to Corey LaJoie, Gase’s teammate in the #23 myfreedomsmoke.com Toyota. According to BK’s Twitter, LaJoie was forced to make an unscheduled stop for a flat right-rear tire, putting him a lap down. Three laps later, trouble would find the second BK car.

With four laps complete, Gase was running in 35th ahead of Reed Sorenson. As the pair headed into Turn 1, Gase’s car cut sharply to the right, reportedly due to a flat right-front tire, and smacked the wall hard. This drew the day’s first caution, and Gase managed to just barely get his car back to pit road. With the steering tweaked and the passenger side pancaked, the team’s day was done, and the car was promptly pushed behind the wall.

Black finished 38th, flagged off the track for running too slow. Much like John Graham the day before, NASCAR had called his #51 to pit road early, allowing the team to make adjustments to get the car back up to speed. Like Graham, Black was called in once more, flagged off the track for running too slow.

37th went to Danica Patrick, whose final start for Stewart-Haas Racing did not go to plan. A flat tire caused her to lose control in the outside of Turns 1 and 2, and her #10 Aspen Dental Ford smacked the outside wall before being rear-ended by Kasey Kahne. Patrick reported earlier in the week that she will “cap it off” with next year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, but there is no news as of yet who she will drive for.

In 36th was David Starr, back in one of Motorsports Business Management’s Chevrolets after BK Racing lent Carl Long’s team a car last week in Phoenix. Starr was running a handful of laps down in the final 100 laps when the left-front brake rotor failed. The debris didn’t cause a caution – or a fire, in the case of Chris Buescher last week – but did leave a small puncture in the right-front fender of Playoff contender Kevin Harvick’s Ford.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Reed Sorenson, citing engine trouble on Premium’s #15 Xchange of America Chevrolet.

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship went to Martin Truex, Jr., the first for both the New Jersey driver and his Denver-based team, Furniture Row Racing. Truex has six last-place finishes – none this season – including one in the fall Phoenix race in each of the last three election years. Furniture Row Racing has nine last-place finishes and took the 2008 LASTCAR Cup Series title with Joe Nemechek, who trailed three races that season and edged A.J. Allmendinger on a Bottom Five tiebreaker, 9-6. Congratulations to both Truex and Furniture Row on coming so far this past decade.

*Gase has now finished last in exactly one Cup Series race in each of the last three seasons.
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #83 in a Cup race at Homestead.
*Gase’s four laps complete are the second-fewest for a last-place finisher in a Cup race at Homestead. The fewest was 0 laps in 2004, after Hermie Sadler’s #02 Drive For Diversity / Sam Bass Chevrolet was eliminated in a multi-car accident at the start of the Ford 400.

39) #83-Joey Gase / 4 laps / crash
38) #51-Ray Black, Jr. / 39 laps / too slow
37) #10-Danica Patrick / 139 laps / crash
36) #66-David Starr / 175 laps / brakes
35) #15-Reed Sorenson / 212 laps / engine

1st) BK Racing, Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (5)
2nd) Rick Ware Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Toyota (10)
3rd) Ford (6)


XFINITY: Jeff Green closes out record-breaking season with 13th last-place finish of 2017

PHOTO: David PeQueen
Jeff Green picked up the 102nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his unsponsored #38 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with clutch problems after 10 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 480th series start, was his first since Kansas, three races ago, and his series-leading thirteenth of the season.

RSS Racing shuffled their driver lineup for the season finale with Ryan Sieg driving the #93 Chevrolet for the first time in 2017, welcoming sponsorship from Code Rum. The #39 that Sieg ran for the rest of this season would go to Stephen Leicht, who last drove for RSS when he trailed the field at Charlotte in May. Leicht’s #39 would be the same black-and-blue Chevrolet that Gray Gaulding debuted as the #93 in Charlotte last month, and was set to run half the race distance. Green, however, would remain in his #38 Chevrolet, the roof numbers now the same shade of red as the roof, and was set to exit the race before Leicht.

The preliminary list for Saturday’s race saw 45 cars, which was pruned once to 44 after Penske Racing withdrew the #12 Ford for Truck Series title contender Austin Cindric, then again to 43 cars after Motorsports Business Management withdrew their third “start-and-park” car, which John Jackson was set to drive for the first time since his last-place run at Loudon. There were also a pair of driver changes for two independent teams: John Graham in place of Mike Harmon in the #74 Magellan Aviation Dodge (though Harmon helped practice the car in Happy Hour) as well as Josh Williams replacing Mario Gosselin in the #90 Starbrite Startron Chevrolet.

Green earned the Past Champion’s Provisional in qualifying, having turned in the slowest lap of Round 1 with a speed of 149.052mph. He’d run faster in practice, ranking 27th in the first session before skipping Happy Hour. According to David PeQueen, who captured the pictures used in today’s article, Green’s slow timed lap was due to him being “super conservative, staying well off the wall on corner exit.”

Three other drivers were sent home after qualifying: Quin Houff in the Precision Performance Motorsports #46 BeatinCancerWithDuke.org Chevrolet, Matt Mills in the #55 www.kplay.club / J.D. Electric Toyota for start-up team NextGen Motorsports, and owner-driver Morgan Shepherd in the #89 VisOne RV Chevrolet. All three drivers ran around two seconds faster than Green.

Green took the green in last, and was one of two cars to trail the field in Turn 2 by the time the leaders hit Turn 3. Joining him was John Graham, who was struggling with speed in Harmon’s Dodge from the very start. Green passed Graham by the end of Lap 1 by which time the #74 was already 10.991 seconds behind. Graham was 15.042 seconds behind the next time by and 21.576 behind on Lap 4. That time by, Ryan Reed served a penalty when his #16 Lilly Diabetes Ford passed to the inside at the start, dropping Reed to last on Lap 5. Reed got back up to speed, catching and passing Graham at the completion of Lap 8.

Graham was the first to be lapped on Lap 10, and was being warned by NASCAR to pick up the pace. By the time that lap was done, Jeff Green pulled down pit road, then into the garage, promptly taking last from Graham. Green was listed out on NBCSN’s leaderboard by Lap 31. Graham made contact with the outside wall, and came down pit road at least twice early in Stage 1. The second stop forced him to pull behind the wall, his Dodge flagged off the track for not maintaining minimum speed.

Finishing 39th between Green and Graham was Harrison Rhodes, who according to David PeQueen was running white rims on the right side of the car and black ones on the left. Rhodes, who was swapped to JD Motorsports’ #15 Masters Properties / Industrial Piping Chevrolet as Joe Nemechek ran his #01, retired nine laps after Green.

In 37th came Timmy Hill, running the renumbered blue #13 OCR Gaz Bar Dodge that had been Motorsports Business Management’s Pete Hamilton throwback at Darlington. He pulled into the garage 24 laps before Christopher Bell, who one day after clinching the Truck Series title lost the engine on Joe Gibbs Racing’s #20 GameStop / Power A Toyota.

Taking the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship was third-place finisher William Byron, set to join Hendrick Motorsports’ #24 Cup team in 2018. Byron did not score a single last-place finish this season with just one Bottom Five – a 36th at Talladega – and two Bottom Tens.

*This was Green’s third last-place finish in the last four XFINITY Series races at Homestead.
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #38 in an XFINITY Series race at Homestead since November 10, 2001, when Christian Elder lost the rear end on his #38 Great Clips Ford after 19 laps of the GNC Live Well 300.
*This was just the seventh time in XFINITY Series history where the last-place finisher fell out with clutch issues. The last time it happened was May 5, 2012, when Kevin Lepage’s #52 TTTR Racing Engiens Chevrolet fell out after 1 lap of the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega.

(All Photos by David PeQueen)

40) #38-Jeff Green / 10 laps / clutch

39) #15-Harrison Rhodes / 19 laps / electrical

38) #74-John Graham / 31 laps / parked

37) #13-Timmy Hill / 54 laps / vibration

36) #20-Christopher Bell / 78 laps / engine

1st) RSS Racing (20)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (30)
2nd) Dodge (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)


TRUCKS: Ciccarelli takes last at Homestead, Senica takes the title

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Ray Ciccarelli picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #10 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet had engine problems that kept him from completing any of the race’s 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Ciccarelli’s sixth series start, was his second of the season and his first since New Hampshire, six races ago.

Ciccarelli was originally one of 33 entries on the preliminary list, but that list shrank back to 32 on Wednesday as Mike Harmon pulled his #74 Chevrolet. Ciccarelli was originally listed to run Cobb’s #0 Chevrolet, as he had in four of his previous five starts, but by Friday had been swapped over to the team’s primary #10 Chevrolet with Cobb herself running the #0. Ciccarelli’s best finish of the year had been in the Cobb team’s flagship #10, when he ran 22nd at Eldora despite a series of late-race spins. He’d run no better than 26th since, each time retiring in the first twenty-one laps.

Ciccarelli didn’t turn a lap in either practice session while Cobb turned just one lap in Happy Hour, anchoring the charts with a lap of 135.098mph, more than seven seconds off John Hunter Nemechek’s session-leading speed. Both Ciccarelli and Cobb didn’t turn a lap in qualifying, either, joined by Bayley Currey in D.J. Copp’s #83 Preferred Industrial Contractors Chevrolet. This put Currey, Ciccarelli, and Cobb in the final three positions.

The last-place headline for Friday was the three-way battle for the 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship, the only title among the top three series to be decided in the season finale. Todd Peck came into the race with the lead, but wasn’t entered in the race. This left both Mike Senica and Joe Nemechek in position to take the title. Senica, tied with Peck on Bottom Fifteens, needed only a Bottom Ten to take the title. Nemechek, who had more Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens than either Senica or Peck, needed to finish last. Senica, carrying returning sponsorship from Pennsylvania Power Products, qualified 29th, one spot behind Nemechek. A LASTCAR poll run Friday on Twitter had Senica as the title favorite, receiving 82% of the votes.

Last-place starter Cobb incurred a redundant tail end penalty before the start of the race for unapproved adjustments. She was running alongside Ciccarelli at the start, and both trucks were already losing touch with the pack as the leaders took the green. By the time the field came back around, both trucks were already behind the wall. Although Cobb started one spot behind Ciccarelli and was sent to the rear, she was still classified ahead of her teammate.

The dual retirements of the Cobb trucks promptly eliminated Joe Nemechek from LASTCAR title contention as he could no longer finish last. Senica’s bid for a Bottom Ten was settled soon after. On Lap 3, Senica’s #57 was already 30th, eighteen seconds behind the leaders. Two laps later, he pulled his truck into the garage. While Senica indicated on Twitter that he pulled out with brake issues, forcing him to park earlier than the Benning team had planned, NASCAR listed the #57 as “parked” in the official results. Regardless of reasoning, the run was enough to steal away the 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series title from Todd Peck. It was the only week all season that Senica led the season standings.

Senica’s championship was the first by a rookie Truck Series driver since 1999, when Phil Bonifield took the title in Tom Mazzuchi’s #23 Red Line Oil Chevrolet. Bonifield’s mark of six last-place finishes remains tied for the most by a single driver in Truck Series history, equaled first in 2011 by Mike Garvey, and then again by Caleb Roark just last year. Roark’s title was his third in a row and the fourth-straight for Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing – the same team Ciccarelli drove for on Friday.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was title contender Joe Nemechek, three laps behind Senica in his #87 D.A.B. Constructors / fire Alarm Services Chevrolet. Senica’s title-clinching Bottom Five prevented Nemechek from becoming the first driver in NASCAR history to claim at least one LASTCAR title in both the Cup Series and the Truck Series. Behind him in 28th, one lap beyond, was Bayley Currey in the Copp #83.

Taking the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship on Friday was runner-up finisher Christopher Bell, who didn’t score any last-place finishes in 2017 and just two Bottom Tens.

*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #10 in a Truck Series race at Homestead.
*Chevrolet became the first manufacturer in NASCAR history to sweep every last-place finish in a single season in any of the series’ top three divisions.

32) #10-Ray Ciccarelli / 0 laps / engine
31) #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 0 laps / electrical
30) #57-Mike Senica / 4 laps / parked
29) #87-Joe Nemechek / 7 laps / electrical
28) #83-Bayley Currey / 8 laps / engine

1st) Norm Benning Racing (7)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (3)
4th) MB Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports (2)
5th) Halmar Friesen Racing, Henderson Motorsports, Martins Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (23)


Friday, November 17, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Homestead

PHOTO: Joe Gibbs Racing
Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead
Championship 4: #78-Martin Truex, Jr., #2-Brad Keselowski, #4-Kevin Harvick, #18-Kyle Busch

Thanks to Wednesday's addition of BK Racing's #83 Earthwater Toyota with Joey Gase now set to make his third-consecutive Cup Series start, Homestead averted its first short field in the history of the Ford EcoBoost 400. The 2017 season will now end with nine consecutive full fields after seventeen of the first thirty-five rounds - nearly half the races run - fell short of 40 cars. The only team missing from the Phoenix entry list is StarCom Racing, which Derrike Cope wheeled to a 32nd-place finish.

The addition of BK's #83 comes with news Thursday that Motorsports Business Management will not be entering the #66 Toyota that BK helped field last week, but instead one of MBM's two Chevrolets. The Eureka sponsorship remains, as does David Starr, who ran 28th last Sunday. It will be Starr’s first Cup start at Homestead.

Ray Black, Jr. will round out the season for Rick Ware Racing, making his third start of the year in the #51 ScubaLife Chevrolet. This season, Ware’s return to Cup for the first time since 2012 will have seen his team make 28 of 36 races. Their season-best finish coming into Sunday came at Kansas this past May, where Timmy Hill ran 28th. Black fought hard for a 34th-place finish at Texas, still finishing under power despite a pair of late-race spins.

Joining Black is fellow XFINITY Series regular Ross Chastain, who will also make his third start of 2017. After finishing 20th and 38th in both Dover races for Premium Motorsports, Chastain will this time drive the #7 Chevrolet that Premium absorbed from Tommy Baldwin Racing (once again the apparent reason Premium’s #55 isn’t entered). Joey Gase drove the #7 the last two races, finishing 32nd at Texas and 30th at Phoenix. Reed Sorenson will join Chastain at Premium, driving the #15 Toyota with sponsorship from Exchange of America. Gase will run the aforementioned #83.

Then, of course, there are Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth, both set to make their final Cup starts 17 seasons after they battled each other for Rookie of the Year. It’s appropriate, then, that both drivers will be running identical paint schemes to those they ran in 2000. While Earnhardt’s red Axalta Chevrolet was revealed months ago, Kenseth’s DeWalt Toyota was revealed this past Tuesday. One week after his emotional win at Phoenix, Kenseth will also be raising awareness of DeWalt’s efforts in Florida to recover from Hurricane Irma. Kenseth’s lone Homestead win came a decade ago, the last ever run by the pre-CoT cars. Earnhardt’s best Homestead finish was a 3rd in 2013, his lone Top Five at the track.

Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead
Championship 4: #9-William Byron, #1-Elliott Sadler, #7-Justin Allgaier, #21-Daniel Hemric 

44 drivers are set to attempt the field for Saturday’s 40-car field. The preliminary entry list showed 45 cars, but by the time of its publication, Penske Racing withdrew the #12 Ford in what would have been Austin Cindric’s first XFINITY start since Road America. The withdrawal may have to do with Cindric competing for the Truck Series title on Friday.

The same 40 teams from Phoenix have returned, plus four more, which could make Round One of qualifying very interesting.

First to return is Quin Houff, back with Precision Performance Racing for the first time since Kansas. Houff looks to round out a solid partial schedule where he’s finished a season-best 12th at Iowa and never run worse than 27th.

Start-up team NextGen Motorsports returns to the XFINITY Series, looking to make their first start since Josh Berry gave the team a 34th-place debut last month at Kansas. Driving this week is Matt Mills, eyeing his fourth XFINITY start of the season and first since a last-place finish at Chicagoland.

Third to return is Ty Majeski, who looks to make his third start of the season and first since he ran both Iowa races over the summer, running 34th and 16th. This week, his #60 Ford from the Roush-Fenway Racing stables doesn’t have a primary sponsor, and will instead carry logos for Ford EcoBoost.

The last to return is John Jackson and the #72 “start-and-park” Chevrolet that trailed earlier this year at Loudon. If the team qualifies, a second last-place finish is possible. Joining him at the MBM stable is Timmy Hill in the #13 Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit / Total Comfort Heating & Air Dodge and Chad Finchum in the #40 Buddy Gregg RV Toyota.

JD Motorsports shuffles its driver lineup with Joe Nemechek moved into the #01 and Harrison Rhodes in the #15. Whether either or both cars will be on “start-and-park” duty, as the #15 has to this point, is still to be determined. Rumors indicate that the switch may have been made to get the #01 into the Top 30 in Owners Points. Currently, Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 holds the spot by three points over the #01. Nemechek has three XFINITY wins at Homestead in 1997, 1999, and 2001.

It’s a similar situation at RSS Racing, where Ryan Sieg has moved to the #93, supplanting “start-and-park” driver Gray Gaulding. Sieg will not be parking, as he has welcomed new sponsorship for the race from Code Rum. As a Cup driver, Gaulding isn’t entered in either of the two remaining RSS Racing cars, which will both likely have short races if they qualify. Jeff Green remains in the #38 Chevrolet, joined this time by Stephen Leicht in the #39. It will be Leicht’s first XFINITY start since Charlotte in May, where he finished last.

With Cup drivers prohibited from participating in the lower tiers this weekend, Saturday could also be a chance for a part-timer to make noise with a top ride. Among them are Ben Kennedy (#2 for RCR), Scott Lagasse, Jr. (#3 RCR), Ryan Preece (#18 JGR), Christopher Bell (#20 JGR), Sam Hornish, Jr. (#22 Penske), and Tyler Reddick (#42 CGR).

Among the Championship Four, Justin Allgaier will be one to watch as he will be without his crew chief Jason Burdett following a brake cooling hose violation at Phoenix. In Burdett’s place will be Billy Wilburn, the team’s car chief for the last four seasons.

Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead
Championship 4: #21-Johnny Sauter, #19-Austin Cindric, #88-Matt Crafton, #4-Christopher Bell

The preliminary entry list for Friday’s Truck Series finale showed exactly 32 trucks for 32 spots. By Tuesday, it grew to 33 entries with the addition of Mike Harmon in his own #74 Chevrolet, one week after he finished 28th at Phoenix, but Harmon withdrew on Wednesday. The only truck missing from Phoenix’s entry list is JJL Racing’s #97 Toyota for Jesse Little, a team whose truck was destroyed in a heavy late-race crash with Ryan Truex and Dalton Sargeant. Both Truex and Sargeant are entered in Friday’s race. After Harmon's withdrawal, all the remaining entries will start Friday's race.

Two more teams have returned to attempt the season finale. The first entry is Ricky Benton’s #92 Ford with Cup veteran Regan Smith once again behind the wheel. Smith, who won the XFINITY race at Homestead in 2012, will make his 13th start of 2017 and eyes his third top-ten finish of the year.

Also, welcome back MB Motorsports’ second truck, the #36 Chevrolet, which hasn’t started a race since Chicagoland in September. Driving this weekend is Monster Jam competitor Camden Murphy, aiming for his 11th Truck Series start of the season and first since Las Vegas. Murphy will be teamed with Chris Windom, who on Sunday locked-up the USAC National Sprint Car Championship. Windom will drive MB’s #63 Chevrolet, and hopes for a better outing after failing to complete a lap last month at Martinsville.

Robby Lyons turned in an impressive 12th-place finish in his debut last Friday for Premium Motorsports, and he’s back again to put the #49 Chevrolet through its paces. Wendell Chavous, who has driven Premium’s #49 for much of this season, has for the first time been moved to the team’s second truck, the #15 Low T Centers Chevrolet, replacing Cup regular Gray Gaulding.

The LASTCAR Truck Series Championship will also be settled on Friday. Todd Peck, who currently leads on a Bottom Fifteen tiebreaker with Mike Senica, isn’t entered in Friday’s race, but could lock-up the 2017 title if Senica’s #57 Chevrolet fails to finish in the Bottom Ten and if Joe Nemechek’s #87 Chevrolet doesn’t finish last. Both Senica and Nemechek can claim the title if they finish last, but since Senica is already tied with Peck for the most last-place finishes, only Nemechek needs to.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

11/16/03: Matt Kenseth’s first last-place finish came on championship Sunday

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On November 16, 2003, Matt Kenseth picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford lost an engine after 28 of 267 laps. The finish came in Kenseth’s 148th series start.

Kenseth’s emotional victory in Sunday’s race at Phoenix harkened back fond memories of two Daytona 500 victories, the 2004 All-Star Race, an IROC championship, and countless quirky interviews. With it came the realization that it may be the final defining moment of a Hall of Fame career. Kenseth’s most impressive accomplishment was his 2003 Winston Cup Championship, a story made even more impressive when you realize how quickly and completely he accomplished that goal.

Kenseth cut his teeth on Wisconsin short tracks, where he raced against veterans like Robbie Reiser. In 1993, Reiser started his own NASCAR Busch Grand National Series team, but in twenty-nine starts managed just one top-ten finish. He the. became the crew chief of his own team, and hired Tim Bender to drive. But when Bender suffered a career-ending back injury in early 1997, he tabbed Kenseth to drive. Kenseth took the opportunity to race for Reiser in a handful of races, turning down a top-tier ride in the American Speed Association to do so. The pair finished 11th their first time out, and at Rockingham on February 21, 1998, Kenseth pulled a gutsy last-lap pass on Tony Stewart to win his first race. Once rivals, Kenseth and Reiser became one of the most successful pairings in NASCAR’s recent history.

With that first win in the books, the pieces continued to fall into place. In 1998, three Busch wins and a runner-up finish in points. In 1999, new sponsorship from DeWalt Power Tools and four more wins. Through it all came another fortuitous friendship – this time with Mark Martin. Kenseth caught Martin’s eye, and the youngster was groomed for a future with Roush Racing’s Cup effort. When Kenseth’s attempt to get a spare Roush car into Talladega fell short in qualifying, he broke through as a substitute driver. His debut came that September at Dover while driving in place of Bill Elliott, who was mourning the loss of his father George. Kenseth finished 6th. The next spring, he was chosen to relieve Bobby Labonte, who broke his shoulder in a savage practice crash at Darlington. He finished 10th.

The driver’s role as “super-sub” accelerated Roush’s plans to move Kenseth, Reiser, and DeWalt up to Cup as a new fifth team. A five-race exploratory run in the second half of the 1999 Winston Cup season yielded a 4th-place finish in his return to Dover. In 2000, he went full-time Cup racing. Among the rookies Kenseth raced against was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who defeated him for the Busch title in 1998. Kenseth outpaced his rival for Rookie of the Year despite scoring just one victory to Earnhardt’s two. Both drivers celebrated. Once again, rivalry had spawned a new friendship.

In hindsight, it’s surprising that Kenseth’s dominant run in 2003 was criticized to the point that it led to the creation of today’s Playoff format. The season matched the style that had earned him a spot in Cup, as well as countless comparisons to “The Silver Fox,” David Pearson. Much like his rookie battle with Earnhardt, Kenseth relied on just one victory – the season’s third round at Las Vegas – and used raw consistency to hold the point lead the rest of the year. Through the first thirty-five of thirty-six rounds, Kenseth racked-up twenty-five top-ten finishes (having finished worse than 20th just three times) and came home on the lead lap thirty-one times. This allowed him to lock-up the title in the penultimate round at Rockingham, scene of his breakthrough Busch win less than seven years earlier.

The championship surprised more than a few experts. Marty Smith, then writing for NASCAR Online, wrote before the season that he would dye his hair blue if a Ford managed to win the championship. As Smith followed through with his end of the bet, Kenseth prepared for the season finale at Homestead.

The 2003 Ford 400 was more than the end of a season. On top of Unocal 76 leaving as the sport’s exclusive fuel provider, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which had originally signed through 2007, decided to end its thirty-one-year relationship with NASCAR. In August, NASCAR created a “Victory Lap” tribute, where past Winston Cup champions – one active and one inactive – would be honored at each race. Richard Petty’s ceremonial laps in a blue-and-red #43 Dodge would be saved for Homestead, where he would make his first laps in a race car during a Cup Series points race since the checkered flag fell in the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta. He would be joined on the pace laps by Tony Stewart, who was running a similar paint scheme as the defending Winston Cup Champion.

The race was also about new beginnings. Homestead-Miami debuted its third configuration since the track first opened. The previous two flat track configurations were replaced with today’s gradient banking, ranging from eighteen to twenty degrees in the corners. The result was much faster speeds and wilder racing. The Cup pole, the first earned by newly-minted Rookie of the Year Jamie McMurray, came in at 181.111mph – nearly 26mph faster than the pole speed a year before. Kenseth didn’t find as much speed, lining up just 37th on the grid. Despite the strength of his season, this was not unusual. In fact, he started 37th six other times that year.

Five drivers missed the cut in qualifying. The first was series veteran Ken Schrader, whose BAM Racing #49 Dodge had struggled with sponsorship issues all season. Kyle Petty joined him in Petty Enterprises’ #45 Georgia-Pacific Dodge. A third Dodge sent home was driven by Mike Wallace for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, the #09 sponsored by the Miccosukee Resort & convention Center. Derrike Cope missed the cut in his first attempt for Arnold Motorsports in the #79 Dodge. Last was single-car Conely Racing, which hired Rich Bickle to drive their #78 SBC / Molykote Chevrolet. In addition, Hendrick Motorsports withdrew their fifth car, a #60 ditech.com Chevrolet to be driven by a Busch Series newcomer named Kyle Busch. Busch's car was confiscated by NASCAR after it was discovered the rear window didn't meet specifications. This delayed Busch's Cup debut to Las Vegas the following spring.

Several other part-timers made the cut. Rookie driver Larry Foyt endured a difficult first season, and arrived at Homestead out of provisionals and not guaranteed a spot in the field. In time trials, he stunned with the 12th-fastest lap, and on Sunday finished 16th in A.J. Foyt's #14 Harrah's Dodge. It was Foyt's only Cup finish better than 28th. Another standout was Truck Series veteran Ron Hornaday, Jr., who earned a spot in Richard Childress Racing's part-time fourth team, a #90 Chevrolet. The white car was sponsored by Childress' new winery, Childress Vineyards, which would start selling wine the following season. Like Foyt, Hornaday made the field on speed, snatching 28th on the grid, and improved to finish 20th. A third surprise was fellow Truck Series veteran Mike Skinner, released earlier that year by Morgan-McClure Motorsports. Skinner’s car was fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing – just the fourth Cup start made by the team – and had a DEI engine under the hood. The engine in his #00 Bacardi Silver / Raz Chevrolet put Skinner 17th on the grid, but he would end up in LASTCAR contention at race's end.

Starting 43rd and last on the grid was Kenny Wallace, who was rounding out his final season driving for Bill Davis Racing in the #23 Stacker 2 Dodge. Wallace only failed to finish three races that season, but averaged just a 26th-place finish with a single Top 10 coming in the spring race at Bristol. On Lap 4, as Wallace held on to the back of the field, trouble broke out up front. Heading into the first turn, 6th-place starter Kevin Harvick was reeling in Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, who were racing side-by-side. Harvick found an opening down low, but broke loose, sliding up the track into Newman and Busch. While Harvick steered into the grass to avoid serious damage, Newman and Busch’s cars were heavily damaged, barely able to limp onto pit road. Without the “Crash Clock,” however, both cars were repaired in the garage area. Newman was classified last with Busch 42nd.

Kenseth, meanwhile, was minding his own business until disaster struck. On Lap 29, as he came into Turns 3 and 4, trailed a long stream of white smoke, then coasted around the apron. He pulled into the garage in 41st, then dropped to 43rd when both Busch and Newman returned to the race, finishing 36th and 37th respectively. With points runner-up Jimmie Johnson finishing 3rd, Kenseth’s point lead dropped from 226 at Rockingham to just 90 after Homestead.

Finishing 42nd that day was John Andretti, who was driving Dale Earnhardt, Inc.’s #1 Chevrolet in the team’s final race with Pennzoil as the primary sponsor. Andretti’s engine let go twenty-nine laps after Kenseth’s, the nose caved-in after the Harvick / Busch / Newman incident. Behind him in 41st was Michael Waltrip, whose #15 NAPA Chevrolet crashed in Turn 2, drawing the day’s third caution. 40th fell to Jeff Green, who was closing out his first full season driving for Petty Enterprises in the #43 Chex by Petty Dodge. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Mike Skinner, whose Michael Waltrip car suffered crash damage.

The race ended in dramatic fashion with Bill Elliott blowing a tire on the last lap, handing Bobby Labonte his final Winston Cup victory. Once the dust settled, Kenseth returned to the track in the team’s backup car to do a burnout, then drove up to the championship stage for the season-ending ceremony. He would not finish last in another Cup Series race until March 1, 2009, and not for a third time until Daytona this past February. This different kind of consistency, which dates back to that day at Homestead in 2003, remains another of Kenseth’s enduring legacies.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #17 since August 23, 1997, when Darrell Waltrip crashed after 115 laps of the Goody’s Headache Powder 500 at Bristol. It remains the number’s only last-place run at Homestead. That race marked the fifth and final Cup last-place finish for Waltrip's team DarWal Enterprises.

43) #17-Matt Kenseth / 28 laps / engine
42) #1-John Andretti / 57 laps / engine
41) #15-Michael Waltrip / 72 laps / crash
40) #43-Jeff Green / 81 laps / engine
39) #00-Mike Skinner / 89 laps / crash

*Jayski’s Silly Season Site
*Staff Writer, “R.J. Reynolds’ decision to leave Winston Cup not surprising,” Savannah Morning News, February 7, 2003.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

CUP: Kyle Larson’s fourth-straight DNF results in last-place finish at Phoenix

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Kyle Larson picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Can-Am 500(k) at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #42 Refresh Your Car! Chevrolet lost an engine after 104 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in Larson’s 146th series start, was his first of the season, his first in a Cup Series race since March 20, 2016, when he crashed hard on the backstretch after 46 laps of the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.

For all intents and purposes, Larson should have arrived at Phoenix ready to lock-up his spot in the Championship Four at Homestead. When the series last arrived in Arizona this past March, Larson finished a close second to Ryan Newman, his third-straight runner-up finish, giving him the point lead. He’d hold that lead for ten of the next thirteen races. Fontana marked the first of four wins in 2017, followed by a season sweep at the sister track in Michigan, then roared into the Playoffs by winning the final regular season race at Richmond.

Once the Playoffs began, Larson cruised through the first round with three consecutive top-five finishes. His performance dropped somewhat in the Round of 12 with a 10th at Charlotte and a 13th at Talladega, but arrived in the Kansas elimination race relatively safe, 29 points ahead of the cutoff. With a 13th-place run in qualifying, it seemed certain that Larson would join the Round of 8. Unfortunately, it didn’t end that way. Engine issues forced an unscheduled stop, then the power plant let go after only 73 laps. Were it not for the handling woes suffered by Derrike Cope’s new start-up team, StarCom Racing, Larson would have been handed his first last-place run of 2017. Still, the damage was enough – the blown engine knocked him out of the Playoffs.

Things didn’t get much better after that. He spun into the inside wall at Martinsville, then blew a tire and plowed the outside wall at Texas, handing him back-to-back 37th-place finishes to double his DNF count for the entire season. At Phoenix, Larson indicated he wanted to simply finish the race, if only to close out the year on a high note. It was perhaps appropriate, then, that he debuted a new primary sponsor from “Refresh Your Car!,” a clip-on air freshener for passenger cars.

Larson began the weekend 10th in Friday’s opening practice, then qualified 3rd at a speed of 137.926mph, making him the fastest non-Playoff driver in the field. He continued to show speed on Saturday, running 10th in the morning session, then 12th in Happy Hour.

Starting last on Sunday was Derrike Cope, whose StarCom Racing team was making its first start since Larson’s untimely engine failure at Kansas. Cope was also struggling with engine troubles at Phoenix, cutting their first practice short and preventing them from participating in qualifying. In the race, he was joined at the rear by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., whose #17 Ford tribute to Robert Yates and Davey Allison changed tires after qualifying, and Corey LaJoie, whose BK Racing team changed engines and tires on the #23 Fresh Beards / Earthwater Toyota.

By the end of the first lap, Cope, Stenhouse, and LaJoie all passed Kyle Weatherman. Weatherman, who made his Cup debut two weeks ago at Martinsville, was again in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, this time with the name and logo of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. According to Rick Ware’s Twitter, Weatherman struggled with suspension problems, causing him to rapidly lose ground to the leaders. He was already 6.391 seconds back on the first lap, 8.335 on Lap 2, then 18.832 on Lap 8. The 15th time by, leader Chase Elliott caught and passed him in Turns 3 and 4, dropping him a lap down. He lost a second on Lap 34, a third on Lap 50, a fourth by Lap 63, and a fifth on Lap 96.

While Weatherman lost laps, Kyle Larson looked to play spoiler. He took the lead for the first time on Lap 68, allowing him to snatch away a Stage 1 victory from a dominant Denny Hamlin. Larson led until Lap 79, but was still among the leaders when he made an unscheduled stop on Lap 105. Reminiscent of Kansas, the crew looked under the hood, costing him a lap to the leaders. He was then sent back out, but drove slowly on the apron, well out of traffic, with smoke reportedly coming from the back of the car. The lap, he made his way to the garage entrance in Turn 1. Larson climbed out, the engine problem proved terminal. On Lap 110, Larson took last from Weatherman, who endured through a pit penalty for carrying the fuel canister out of his box to finish 34th, eighteen laps down.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by accidents, each one caused by excessive brake heat. 39th went to Jimmie Johnson, who fell from Championship contention when his #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet cut a tire on the backstretch on the final lap of Stage 2. In 38th was Trevor Bayne, the nose of his #6 Ford EcoBoost Ford damaged in an early incident, who blew a tire at the exit of Turn 4, sending him hard into the outside wall. Bayne walked away, but did say he jammed his wrist. 37th fell to Chris Buescher, whose right-front brake rotor exploded out of the #37 Clorox Chevrolet, then backed into the wall. The heated brake pieces fell behind the SAFER barrier, igniting at least two pieces of protective foam. 36th went to Cole Whitt, whose #72 TriStar Motorsports Chevrolet bashed the fence in the final laps.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #42 in a Cup Series race at Phoenix.
*Larson’s 3rd-place start makes him the highest-qualified last-place finisher of the 2017 Cup Series season. The previous record was 6th, by Jamie McMurray at Martinsville and Erik Jones at New Hampshire.
*Larson is the first Cup Series driver to finish last after winning a stage.

40) #42-Kyle Larson / 104 laps / engine / led 11 laps / won stage 1
39) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 148 laps / crash
38) #6-Trevor Bayne / 226 laps / crash
37) #37-Chris Buescher / 247 laps / crash
36) #72-Cole Whitt / 258 laps / crash

1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (5)
2nd) BK Racing, Rick Ware Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Toyota (9)
3rd) Ford (6)


XFINITY: One week after his first Cup last-place finish, Gray Gaulding gets his first in XFINITY

PHOTO: Colby Evans
Gray Gaulding picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after he completed 6 of 200 laps. The finish came in Gaulding’s seventh series start.

Gaulding was originally scheduled to run double-duty at Phoenix. The preliminary entry list was updated earlier in the week to show he would return to BK Racing’s #83 Earthwater Toyota, the same car that he finished 40th with last Sunday at Texas. But on Thursday, the car was withdrawn, and the Earthwater branding ran as an associate on teammate Corey LaJoie’s #23 Fresh Beards Toyota.

In place of the Cup effort, Gaulding continued his role as a “start-and-park” driver in the lower series. He was first tabbed by Premium Motorsports in September after owner Jay Robinson acquired the assets of Tommy Baldwin Racing, including the trucks originally prepared for Stewart Friesen. He’s since made four starts in the renumbered #15 Chevrolet with a best of 25th and a next-to-last-place finish at Martinsville.

The next offer came from RSS Racing, which had so completely dominated this year’s LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship with last-place record holder Jeff Green. Teamed with Ryan Sieg, Green scored his 100th NASCAR last-place finish in the “start-and-park” #93 Chevrolet at Iowa. Gaulding was brought in at Dover in September to debut a second “start-and-park” car for RSS – a #38 Chevrolet – and ran 34th. At Charlotte in October, Green was moved to the #38 and Gaulding to the #93, just in time for Green to snag his 100th XFINITY Series last-place finish that night. Gaulding, whose #93 changed paint schemes from black-and-red to black-and-blue, ran 39th.

The RSS Racing driver lineup remained the same at Phoenix, where both Gaulding and Green were locked-in as among the forty drivers who arrived for the forty-car field. Gaulding was one of three drivers who didn’t participate in Friday’s opening session (where Green outpaced Ryan Sieg with the 25th-best lap), then put up the 32nd-best lap in Happy Hour. He then qualified 35th in the field with a lap of 125.672mph, one spot behind Green.

Starting last on Saturday was Carl Long, who this week took the controls of his own #13 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota. Long was the only driver in time trials to not complete a lap, and remained at the back when the leaders took the green flag. On the first lap, Brendan Gaughan spun in Turn 4, and Corey LaJoie – running double-duty in JGL Racing’s #24 Youtheory Toyota – spun himself in the chain reaction. While both cars avoided serious damage, LaJoie took last under the resulting caution, then followed 38th-place Gaughan and 39th-place Morgan Shepherd down pit road. Gaughan’s stop apparently took longer as he took last from LaJoie under the yellow on Lap 3. The next time by, Jeff Green then fell back to take last from Gaughan.

When the race restarted on Lap 5, Green passed Carl Long, putting the #13 to last for the second time in the race. On Lap 6, Gaulding made his move, falling back from 31st, then losing a lap as he headed to the garage. Before the second caution on Lap 24, Carl Long made an extended stop of his own, and appeared headed for a 39th-place finish before he returned to the track, dropping Mike Harmon to 39th in his #74 Ramjet’s Speed Shop Dodge. Long ended up 36th before citing electrical trouble. Jeff Green finished 37th, seven laps behind Long.

In between came 38th-place Brennan Poole, whose #48 DC Solar Chevrolet drew the second caution when he tangled with the lapped #8 AphaPrimeUSA.com Chevrolet of Caesar Bacarella, who was making his NASCAR debut. Poole struck the outside wall with the right-front, then returned to the track only to slam it again under yellow, ending his day along with his bid at the Championship Four.

*Gaulding is the first driver other than Jeff Green to finish last in RSS Racing’s #93 since May 27, 2017, when Stephen Leicht had electrical problems early at Charlotte.

40) #93-Gray Gaulding / 6 laps / electrical
39) #74-Mike Harmon / 19 laps / engine
38) #48-Brennan Poole / 24 laps / crash
37) #38-Jeff Green / 30 laps / brakes
36) #13-Carl Long / 37 laps / electrical

1st) RSS Racing (19)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (29)
2nd) Dodge (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)