Thursday, March 30, 2017

9/22/63: Jimmy Massey, The Martinsville Bridesmaid, finishes last in one-off for Petty Enterprises

PHOTO:  Getty Images, RacingOne
On September 22, 1963, James “Jimmy” Massey picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Grand National career in the Old Dominion 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #43 Petty Enterprises 1963 Plymouth was involved in an accident on the first of the race’s 500 laps.  The finish came in Massey’s 46th series start.

Born December 1, 1928 in Mebane, North Carolina, Massey made his NASCAR debut August 20, 1955 at the one-mile paved Raleigh Speedway and finished a strong 10th in the 29-car field.  The #04 1955 Chevrolet he drove belonged to Hubert Westmoreland, who also owned the car Glenn Dunaway drove to NASCAR’s first last-place finish at Charlotte (following a disqualification for illegal rear shocks) on June 19, 1949.

The Massey-Westmoreland duo ran strong the rest of the ’55 season.  The driver picked up his first Top 5 in his fourth start at Langhorne, finishing 5th, then three rounds later finished a season-best 3rd at the Memphis-Arkansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile dirt oval.

The next year, Massey made a sterling debut in NASCAR’s short-lived Convertible Series, driving another Westmoreland car to a 2nd-place finish in his series debut at the one-third-mile Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Finishing one spot in front was Bob Welborn, who three years later won the first Dayton 500 pole.  The finish was the first of six consecutive Top Five finishes culminating in his first win at Columbia on May 26.  Two more wins followed by season’s end, earning him 8th in the season standings.  Back on the Cup side, he also turned in strong runs for Welborn, finishing 9th at Hillsboro, then drove to an 11th-place finish at Martinsville for Julian Petty.

In 1957, Massey became the first driver other than team founder Glen Wood to drive for the fabled Wood Brothers team.  His debut came in the fall race at Martinsville, driving a #11 Ford alongside Glen in the primary #21.  When the checkered flag fell, Massey stunned once more, leading seven laps before once again following race winner Bob Welborn to the finish line.  Glen finished 13th.  The Wood Brothers also fielded Convertible Series entries for Massey, which resulted in still another 2nd-place finish at Martinsville on August 11, 1957.  This time, race winner Bill Amick bested him by more than a lap.

Reminiscent of Kyle Larson’s streak of near-misses between his two wins, Massey’s runner-up finishes became legendary.  On April 10, 1960, during another Cup Series run for the Wood Brothers, his #21 Auto Sales & Body Co. 1958 Ford paced the Virginia 500 for 26 of 500 laps, leading as late as the 383th circuit.  But once again, Massey was the bridesmaid, left a full quarter-lap behind Richard Petty.  The finish sparked its own song, “Massey’s Run,” written and performed by Martinsville-area musicians Doug and Telisha Williams.  You can give it a listen at Bench Racing From The Volunteer State at this link.

As the song’s lyrics go, Richard Petty won his second career race that day, and his first of fifteen at Martinsville.  Massey, unfortunately, would never finish that well again.

Perhaps, then, it was fate that Massey got his own opportunity to race as Petty’s teammate at Martinsville in 1963.  That year, Massey was making his return to Cup competition after missing the previous two seasons.  He again began the year with Hubert Westmoreland, this time driving a #96 Chevrolet.  In his first race back at Richmond, Massey came home a strong 8th, and at the tight Hickory Speedway on September 5, he finished 4th behind Junior Johnson, G.C. Spencer, and, once again, Bob Welborn.  Richard Petty, meanwhile, was also looking to break through as Grand National Champion, having scored the first 12 of 14 wins, but unbelievably trailing Joe Weatherly for the championship.

As with Massey’s debut for the Wood Brothers, Petty Enterprises entered two cars at Martinsville, but this time Massey would drive the team’s flagship #43 with “The King” in #41.  As readily-identifiable Petty is with the #43, he didn’t run all his races in that number, nor did he win all 200 with it.  In fact, earlier that same season, team engine builder Maurice Petty drove the #43 once that year at Columbia, where Richard took the win in #41.  Jim Paschal made six starts in the #43, winning in his third start with the team at famous Bowman Gray Stadium.   At last, Massey would have an opportunity to overcome the near-miss in 1960, driving for the team that beat him.

Petty bested Massey in qualifying, though not by much – the former started 9th while the latter rolled off 13th.  But on the first lap of the race, something went wrong.  Though there is no record of what happened, it appears from the results that both Massey and 35th-place finisher Jimmy Pardue were involved in accidents on the opening lap.  Under today’s rules regarding multi-car accidents, the finishing order would revert to the car’s positions the previous lap, the lowest ranked taking the poorer finish.  For a first-lap wreck, the order would revert to the starting order.  However, 13th-place starter Massey is ranked behind 22nd-place started Pardue.  It’s unclear whether this is an oversight or an indicator of a different rule in place at the time.  Regardless, the order ranking Massey last on is confirmed in Greg Fielden’s “Forty Years” book series.

Finishing 34th that day was Jack Anderson, making his third career start for owner-driver Emanuel Zervakis.  33rd-place Bobby Keck was originally one of two DNQs for the race, his #57 Ford sent home along with Possum Jones’ #05 Pontiac, but Keck replaced Lee Reitzel in his #93 Ford.  Reitzel, finishing his third year in competition, would make just one more Cup start at North Wilkesboro the following week.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Spray, North Carolina driver Perk Brown.  Active on the circuit since 1952, the Martinsville race was the 28th and final of his own Cup career.

1963 proved to be Richard Petty’s third runner-up points finish in four seasons, bested by a performance so consistent by Weatherly that he only needed three victories to Petty’s 14.  While Petty would break through with his first of seven titles in 1964, and ultimately scored his 200 wins, Massey made just one more start that season, having never gone to victory lane.  He finished his career November 10, 1963 in the season opener at the Concord (North Carolina) Speedway, finishing last after another first-lap accident.

After racing, Massey became a mechanic and owned the Pleasant Grove Esso service station in North Carolina.  He passed away on August 21, 2015 after an accident at his home.  He was 85.

To date, the Wood Brothers have only scored two Cup victories at Martinsville – one with Cale Yarborough in 1968 and another with David Pearson in 1973.  Massey’s two runner-up finishes are among just 10 the team has scored at the short track.  This Sunday, current driver Ryan Blaney looks to give the team its first Top 5 finish at the track since April 24, 1994, when Morgan Shepherd came home 5th.

*This was the first time the #43 finished last with a driver other than Richard Petty since November 5, 1961, when Maurice Petty had a fuel tank issue after 16 laps at the Concord (North Carolina) Speedway.  No driver other than Petty would finish last in the #43 until March 27, 1994, when Wally Dallenbach, Jr.’s STP Pontiac had engine issues after 131 laps of the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #43 in a Cup Series race since July 7, 1962, when Richard Petty’s 1962 Plymouth had an early engine failure at the Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway.
*It was also the first last-place finish for the #43 in a Cup Series race at Martinsville.  The number wouldn’t trail there again until April 24, 1988, when Richard Petty’s engine let go after 31 laps.
*Drivers failing to complete the opening lap at Martinsville was a common occurrence in 1963.  Prior to Massey’s run, the last time it happened was September 24, 1961, when Joe Jones’ #77 1960 Ford lost an engine.  The next time after Massey was April 26, 1964, the following spring, when Billy Wade’s #1 1964 Mercury did not start.  With the exception of Jimmy Hensley’s relief driver role for Dale Earnhardt in 1989, every Cup driver has completed at least one lap of a race at Martinsville since April 22, 1979, when Dick May’s #19 Belden Asphalt Chevrolet lost the engine.

36) #43-Jimmy Massey / 0 laps / crash
35) #54-Jimmy Pardue / 0 laps / crash
34) #20-Jack Anderson / 13 laps / head gasket
33) #93-Bobby Keck / 26 laps / oil leak
32) #14-Perk Brown / 41 laps / bearing

*Barber, Wayne G. “Sad News – Justin Wilson & Jimmy Massey,” Race Chatter on or 1380 AM or 95.1 FM, August 25, 2015.
*Bruce, Kenny. “Driver James Massey Passes Away At 85,”, August 24, 2015.
*Toomuchcountry (username). “Massey’s Run,” Bench Racing From The Volunteer State, October 23, 2012.
*Wood, Jordan. “Jim Massey Was The Start Of Something Big For The Wood Brothers,”, August 26, 2015.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Martinsville

Chuck Buchanan, Jr.
PHOTO: FS1, Rubbin's Racin' Forums
STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

There are just 38 drivers for 40 spots on the preliminary entry list for Sunday’s race.  This is not only the fifth-straight Cup race with a short field, but if unchanged, will be the shortest Cup Series starting field since 37 drivers made the final Cup race at North Wilkesboro on September 29, 1996.  It will also be the shortest Cup field at Martinsville since September 22, 1996 – one week before the Wilkesboro finale - when 36 cars took the green.  The last 38-car Cup Series starting field was even further back: September 9, 1995 at Richmond.

Last year, it was this race at the Martinsville track that a four-race stretch of 39-car fields ended as Premium Motorsports entered its second Open car, the #55.  This year, it is that #55 and driver Derrike Cope who are missing from the list.  At Fontana, Cope and team edged Jeffrey Earnhardt in an unheralded battle for last, but as of this writing, Cope is not slated to make his first Cup race at Martinsville since 2009.  Teammate Reed Sorenson, 34th at Fontana, is still entered in Premium’s #15.

Jeffrey Earnhardt and Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group come into Martinsville on the heels of back-to-back last-place finishes – and back-to-back new sponsorships.  This week, the #33 Chevrolet is again listed with the team’s own backing of Little Joes Autos and Curtis Key Plumbing, but don’t be surprised if something is again on the hood by Sunday.  Earnhardt finished 33rd in his Martinsville debut last fall.

Timmy Hill is set to make his first Martinsville start since a track-best 36th for Premium Motorsports in the fall of 2015.  For the fourth-straight race, he will be behind the wheel of Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, which Hill placed 35th at Fontana.  Hill’s car is one of seven cars that does not have a primary sponsor listed.  Joining Hill on the “TBD” list are not only fellow underdogs Reed Sorenson and Cole Whitt, but also Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Phoenix winner Ryan Newman, and Erik Jones.

Like Jeffrey Earnhardt, Cole Whitt picked up sponsorship for Fontana from Southern California Chevy Dealers, their fourth different primary backer of the season.  Whitt also came home with the car in one piece, albeit in 32nd place, the team’s second-worst finish of the year.  Whitt’s best finish in six Martinsville races was an 18th for BK Racing in 2014.  TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith last entered a car in the Cup race here on October 28, 2012, when Reed Sorenson made the LASTCAR headline in the unsponsored #91 Humphrey Smith Racing Chevrolet.

As reported by Nick Bromberg, BK Racing is responsible for 10 of 23 caution flags this season, including two critical late-race yellows at Fontana.  Rookie teammates Gray Gaulding and Corey LaJoie are both entered this weekend at Martinsville, where cautions are already in abundance.  Both are again listed with primary sponsors: Gaulding with and LaJoie with RMC Events.

Next Race: April 8, 2017
Cowboy 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway

The Truck Series returns for the first time in nearly a month.  In the past, the Martinsville short track has had some of the largest entry lists as newcomers look to cut their teeth on the national stage.  But after 42 trucks in Daytona and 35 in Atlanta, just 32 are listed for this Saturday’s race – exactly enough to fill the field.

Among the missing?  Tracy Lowe’s #1 TJL Motorsports Chevrolet, which attempted Daytona and made Atlanta.  Mike Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet.  FDNY Racing, and the bright red #28 Chevrolet fielded by Jim Rosenblum.  The #45 Niece Equipment Chevrolet with which T.J. Bell made the race in Atlanta.  Beaver Motorsports’ #50, which ran both at Daytona and Atlanta.  Daytona starters Terry Jones in Mark Rette’s #30 Ford, Clay Greenfield in the #68 1-800-PAVEMENT Chevrolet, and the second Tim Self entry #32 (though Austin Wayne Self is still listed in the #22).  Chris Fontaine isn’t entered in his #47, though his schedule usually revolves around superspeedways.

Also missing from the list is the combined Brandonbilt Motorsports and Martins Racing #44 entry.  As of this writing on Monday afternoon, the effort is starting a Twitter campaign to attract a sponsor.  If one is found, driver Brandon Brown will enter in a truck covered with more than 2,300 Twitter handles of those who retweeted the message.

Who IS on the list?  Fan favorite Norm Benning.  And if the list stays the same, the Pennsylvania veteran will be locked-into his first Truck Series start since last fall at Phoenix and his first at Martinsville since the spring of 2015.  As of this writing, Benning’s #6 Chevrolet is one of eleven entries without an announced primary sponsor.

Four of those eleven sponsorless trucks do not have drivers listed, either.  Top of the list is Rick Ware Racing’s #12 Chevrolet, destroyed at Atlanta after a splitter-related accident in the closing stages.  Driver Jordan Anderson has continued to provide updates in his fan-backed effort, including the team’s rebuilding of the truck.  Whether it will be ready this Saturday, and whether Anderson will drive, has yet to be announced.

Mike Mittler’s iconic #63 Chevrolet finished 21st at Daytona with ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, but J.J. Yeley was bumped from the field in qualifying at Atlanta.  No driver has yet to be announced for Martinsville.  Also looking for a driver is new car owner D.J. Copp, whose #83 Chevrolet trailed the Atlanta field following Todd Peck’s early exit.  The other is the Daytona last-placer, the #99 Chevrolet fielded by Matthew Miller and driven this year by Tommy Joe Martins and Austin Dillon.

Jennifer Jo Cobb, who in past seasons has entered a LASTCAR-contending second entry as a “start-and-park,” remains with just one truck on the list.  This week, her #10 has new sponsorship from Spring Drug, which in previous years has backed the Truck Series attempts by Chuck Buchanan, Jr., who still seeks an elusive series debut.  Four of Buchanan’s five Truck Series attempts have come at Martinsville, but he’s not on this year’s entry list – yet.

One underdog to watch will be Wendell Chavous, who’s quietly put together a workmanlike season.  15th in driver points after a 19th at Daytona and a 20th at Atlanta, Chavous is again entered in Premium Motorsports’ #49 Chevrolet, which is also looking for sponsorship.  Chavous has one previous Martinsville start, a 27th for Mike Harmon in 2014.

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Release Date for J.D. McDuffie Book: July 15, 2018

Book title and cover subject to change
Last week, I signed with Texas-based Waldorf Publishing to publish my book on J.D. McDuffie.  And now, we have a release date set for Sunday, July 15, 2018.

The working title of the book is “J.D.” and a working draft of the cover is in this post.  Both title and cover are subject to change as the book is edited and readied for printing.

I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this project, most particularly the McDuffie family.  Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview both his wife, Ima Jean, and his daughter, Linda.  Their support has been invaluable.

It has continued to amaze me how many lives J.D. McDuffie has touched.  As of this writing, more than 30 people have been interviewed for this book.  Many have contributed stories, film, and pictures, as have several readers here at

If you’d still like to be a part of this project and I haven’t spoken with you yet, keep those stories coming.  I’m best reachable by e-mail at  Even if I’m unable to use your story in this book, I do have more plans going forward.

Thank you again to the staff at Waldorf Publishing, and to you readers for your support.  There will be more updates between now and the release date on Sunday, July 15, 2018, and of course much more after.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

CUP: Late-race return by Derrike Cope hands Jeffrey Earnhardt second-straight last-place finish

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his #33 Mike’s Tint Shop / K1 Speed Chevrolet fell out with transmission problems after 99 of 202 laps.

The finish, which came in Earnhardt’s 29th series start, was his second of the season and his second in a row.

After initial reports that Phoenix sponsor NiceRide Apparel would be back on the #33 at Fontana, not one but two west coast sponsors signed on with Circle Sport with The Motorsport Group.  The first, K1 Speed, is a series of indoor go-kart tracks in Northern California.  The second, Mike’s Tint Shop, is an automotive glass company out of Orange County.

Earnhardt ran 38th of the 39 entered cars in Friday’s opening practice, outpacing Timmy Hill’s Rick Ware Racing entry by a half-second, improved to 36th on Saturday morning, then ran 37th in Happy Hour.  In between, he ran a lap of 175.063mph during Friday’s qualifying session.  Though his lap was the third-slowest of the session, he ended up starting 32nd.  The reason: five other drivers didn’t turn in a qualifying lap.  Jimmie Johnson, who wrecked his primary car in the first practice, elected not to run.  The other four – Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto, and Gray Gaulding – were unable to get through the inspection line fast enough to make their attempt.

Lowest-ranked of the five drivers who did not put up a time was rookie Gray Gaulding, who on Sunday rolled off 39th in his #23 Toyota.  Before the start, he was joined by four other drivers.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Paul Menard were both sent to the rear for post-qualifying tire changes, Earnhardt notified by Goodyear the morning of the race.  David Ragan went to a backup car after his primary #38 Camping World / Good Sam Ford cut a tire near the end of practice Saturday morning, sending him hard into the Turn 3 wall.  The fourth member was Jeffrey Earnhardt, the #33 team electing to make a transmission change.

By the end of Lap 1, Timmy Hill had taken the 39th spot.  Hill’s #51 Bubba Burger Chevrolet put up the slowest time in qualifying, but the five cars missing from time trials kept the Rick Ware car from starting last for the fourth consecutive race.  Hill was 6.007 seconds behind the leader on Lap 1, then 8.935 back on Lap 2.  At the same time, trouble broke out up front.  Brad Keselowski started 3rd, but his Ford was damaged at the green flag when outside-polesitter Denny Hamlin got a slow start.  Trying to nurse his car around, Keselowski spun off the nose of Jimmie Johnson on Lap 3, sending him into the grass – and in last place.

The race restarted on Lap 7 with Keselowski still trailing, playing catch-up with the field as they drew away in front of him.  Thoughts of ending the second-longest active Cup streak without a last-place finish (273 races, behind Kevin Harvick’s 578) ended the next time by when he caught the unsponsored #55 Chevrolet of three-time LASTCAR Cup champion Derrike Cope.

Cope, making his first Fontana start since the fall of 2004, fought serious handling issues for most of the weekend.  By Lap 11, he was 18.743 seconds behind the leader, and losing another tenth each second.  Heading into Turn 1 on the 17th circuit, he was the first to be lapped by race leader Kyle Larson.  Ten laps later, Kevin Harvick made an unscheduled stop for a flat right-rear tire, lost a lap and briefly fell to 39th.  But within the same 28th circuit that he returned to action, Harvick blasted by Cope, dropping #55 to last once more.  There, the Premium Motorsports Chevrolet would remain for much of the day.

Green-flag stops to diagnose the handling issues continued to cost Cope laps.  He was five circuits behind on Lap 46, then eight down on Lap 76.  That time by, the crew called him in for a fuel-only stop while the remaining members looked under the hood, looking to make drastic adjustments to the suspension, specifically the sway bar and springs.  When Cope returned ten laps behind on Lap 79, he was still hanging on, saying “No authority getting in.  It’s just driving me getting in.”  On Lap 94, eleven circuits behind, the crew called him to the garage area to diagnose the problem, which turned out to be something dragging under the car that upset the balance.

Within five laps of Cope entering the paddock, Jeffrey Earnhardt joined him, saddled with engine woes for the second-straight week.  With 67 laps to go, Earnhardt’s #33 was the first car listed “OUT” of the race with Cope’s team still making repairs.  At that moment, Cope trailed Earnhardt by just 16 laps.  If he completed at least 17 more before the checkered flag, he would avoid his first Cup Series last-place finish since October 8, 2006 at Talladega.  That single finish would move Cope within one finish of Michael McDowell for the 3rd-most last-place finishes in Cup Series history and one finish of Morgan Shepherd for the 3rd-most across NASCAR’s top three divisions.

On Lap 167, with just 33 laps to go in regulation, the Premium Motorsports team pushed #55 back out of the garage – and onto the track.  Two circuits later, Cope made a stop for fresh tires, and now set his sights on finishing the race under power.  On Lap 185, during the caution for Matt Kenseth’s hard wreck on the backstretch, Cope officially passed Earnhardt for 38th, settling the last-place battle.  Cope finished under power, 85 laps in arrears.

Last-place starter Gray Gaulding came home 38th, eliminated when he crashed down the backstretch on Lap 181.  Kenseth’s wreck placed him 37th, his third Bottom Five of the year and second in a row.  Rounding out the group was Timmy Hill, nine laps down, but also under power.

For the second race in a row, the 2016 last-place finisher of the event took the checkered flag.  Kyle Larson, eliminated in a hard backstretch crash last year, claimed his second career win.  As pointed out by reader Justin Brookover, Larson’s first two last-place finishes were also at the sites of his first two Cup victories (a last at Michigan in August 2014 was followed by a win last summer).  For those of you making fantasy picks, Aric Almirola finished last in the 2016 running of the upcoming race at Martinsville.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #33 in a Cup Series race at Fontana since March 25, 2012, when Brendan Gaughan’s #33 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet had engine trouble after 1 lap of the Auto Club 400.

39) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 99 laps / engine
38) #55-Derrike Cope / 117 laps / running
37) #23-Gray Gaulding / 173 laps / crash
36) #20-Matt Kenseth / 184 laps / crash
35) #51-Timmy Hill / 193 laps / running

1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Toyota (2)


XFINITY: Jordan Anderson sweeps last place of the 2017 "West Coast Swing"

PHOTO: @j66anderson
Jordan Anderson picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday's Service King 300 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 3 of 150 laps.  The finish, which came in Anderson's 10th series start, was his third of the season and third in a row, completing a sweep of NASCAR's "West Coast Swing" at Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Fontana.

Anderson was one of 42 drivers on the preliminary entry list, and one of just 40 who arrived in Fontana to attempt the race.  On Wednesday, Josh Bilicki tweeted that he would once again not be running the #77 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet for Obaika Racing, which was withdrawn for the fifth consecutive race.  Bilicki indicated a possible 2017 debut at Texas in two weeks.  Also withdrawn on Friday was John Jackson, who was slated to drive John Carter's #72 Chevrolet for the first time in 2017.

Morgan Shepherd, who last week at Phoenix made his first XFINITY start of the season, was not on the preliminary entry list and did not join it that weekend.  It's the first time Shepherd has not been entered in an XFINITY race since the June 13, 2015 running of the Great Clips 250 at Michigan.

Back at the track, Anderson put up the 27th-fastest lap of 38 drivers in opening practice, sat out Happy Hour, and fell back on Owner Points for the 35th spot on the grid with a lap of 167.801mph.

Starting last in Saturday's race, nearly 10mph slower than Anderson in qualifying, was Mike Harmon.  During the pace laps, Harmon's #74 Dodge was joined by the #01 JD Motorsports Chevrolet of Harrison Rhodes, sent to the rear when crew chief Rob Winfield missed a pre-race meeting.  There is no report of Anderson falling to the rear by driver's choice, as he had at Atlanta, but by Lap 4 he was in the garage, the first retiree.

Finishing 39th was Stephen Leicht, running the same re-numbered #97 (former #77) Vroom! Brands Chevrolet.  Leicht, who again struggled for speed in practice, retired after 12 laps with a vibration.  38th went to Brandon Hightower, back with Motorsports Business Management for the third time this year and the first time since Las Vegas.  Swapped in for Timmy Hill in the only other Dodge besides Harmon in Saturday's field, his #40 Legacy Construction machine retired with suspension issues.  Hill, replacing Carl Long in MBM's #13, finished 30th

Two separate incidents filled out the Bottom Five.  37th-place Ross Chastain, whose #4 Florida Watermelon Association Chevrolet fell out after 81 laps.  Contact from another car cut his left-rear tire, which shredded the sheet metal inside the fender.  According to the driver's tweet, a hot chunk of tire rubber got in his driver's suit, forcing him to jump out.  The car was pulled out of the race with "crash" as the officially-listed cause.  36th went to Paul Menard's #2 Richmond / Menards Chevrolet.  4th in the final segment, Menard was moving up the track off Turn 4, completing a pass on Erik Jones.  At the same moment, Jones cut left, but caught the rear bumper, sending Menard into the outside wall.  An oil fire forced Menard to make an exit of his own, ending the team's day.

*This actually marks the second time that a single XFINITY Series driver has swept the “West Coast Swing.”  In 2015, last-place record holder Jeff Green and TriStar Motorsports’ #10 Toyota trailed the same three straight races at Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Fontana.  The next year, in 2016, TriStar swept the races once more, this time with Green at Las Vegas and Phoenix, then defending LASTCAR XFINITY Champion Matt DiBenedetto at Fontana.
*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish at Fontana for both Anderson and the #93.

40) #93-Jordan Anderson / 3 laps / electrical
39) #97-Stephen Leicht / 12 laps / vibration
38) #40-Brandon Hightower / 72 laps / suspension
37) #4-Ross Chastain / 81 laps / crash
36) #2-Paul Menard / 94 laps / crash

1st) RSS Racing (3)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Kaulig Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)


Thursday, March 23, 2017

2/28/71: The forgotten debuts of Dean Dalton and Ontario Motor Speedway

PHOTO: Getty Images, RacingOne
On February 28, 1971, Dean Dalton picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Miller High Life 500 at the Ontario Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #17 1969 Ford was flagged off the track after 2 of 200 laps.  The finish came in Dalton’s series debut.

Dalton’s story is as much about the track as it is about the driver.  Opened in August 1970, “The Big O” was constructed to quite literally be “The Indianapolis of the West,” a 2.5-mile rectangular oval with nine-degree banking in the corners.  The complex included a spacious garage area, a drag strip, and an infield road course – twenty years before Indianapolis built theirs.  The first race, held on September 6, 1970, welcomed the USAC open-wheelers in a 200-lap race of their own.  Taking the checkers was Jim McElreath, driving for A.J. Foyt, who took the lead from Art Pollard with five laps to go.

The following February, the 26-year-old Dalton arrived as one of 81 drivers looking to make the 51-car field for Ontario’s first NASCAR race.  Among them were a mix of Winston Cup and Winston West competitors, as well as both McElreath and Pollard.  When time trials were done, McElreath made the field, but Pollard did not.  Among the 29 joining Pollard on the ride home were owner-drivers D.K. Ulrich, Neil Castles, Ed Negre, and Bill Champion.  Dalton, meanwhile, secured the 43rd starting spot, lining up next to Bobby Wawak and Harry Schilling in a three-wide Indy-style formation.

Starting 51st and last that day was Daly City, California driver Bob England.  England, fourth in Winston West points the previous year, had made four previous Cup starts, all of them on the Riverside road course.  His best finishes were a pair of 13th-place runs in 1970 and 1971, though he had yet to finish any of his starts under power.  Only two laps into the race, Dalton was flagged off the track, perhaps for not maintaining minimum speed.  The exit wasn’t shown in “Car and Driver’s” highlights of the event, which can be seen here.

Finishing 50th that afternoon was another owner-driver, Frank Warren, whose engine let go on his #79 Prince Chrysler-Plymouth 1969 Dodge.  The next two spots went to Winston West competitors.  Another engine failure by the #82 Tognotti’s Speed Shop 1969 Ford of 49th-place Ron Gautsche, who finished 19th in his series debut at Riverside, drew the first caution of the race.  48th went to Dick Kranzler, 14th at Riverside, but out with overheating problems on his #4 Goodyear Tire Center 1970 Chevrolet.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was another standout, Mexico City’s Pedro Rodriguez.  By 1971, Rodriguez was one of the best drivers in the world.  He started racing bicycles and motorcycles with his brother Ricardo, ran the 24 Hours of Le Mans when he was just 18, entered Formula One in 1963, and won two Grands Prix at Kyalami and Spa.  Twice he finished 6th in the World Championship, once each for Cooper and BRM.

Long before Daniel Suarez and Carlos Contreras, Rodriguez had also been racing in Cup since May 17, 1959, when he finished a strong 6th in the 18-car field at Trenton, New Jersey.  He followed this up with a 5th in the 1965 World 600 at Charlotte, driving for Holman-Moody.  He even banged fenders with Benny Parsons during the Ontario race.  Tragically, subsequent electrical issues on his #20 Southland Auto Salvage Auction 1970 Ford marked the end of his final NASCAR start.  Less than five months later, Rodriguez was killed during a race at the Norisring in Nuremburg, West Germany.  The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course in his native Mexico City is named in honor of the Rodriguez brothers.

Unfortunately, the careers of Dean Dalton and the Ontario Motor Speedway that began that day in 1971 would not last a decade.  Dalton switched car numbers from #17 to #7, and ran that number in most of his 118 Cup starts.  His best finish was a 6th at Darlington in 1973.  Dalton also brought sponsor Belden Asphalt into the sport, a company which would then back owner-driver Henley Gray into the 1990s.  From 1971 through 1977, Dalton fielded cars for Gray as well as Ed Negre, Jackie Rogers, Walter Ballard, Jack Donohue, Cecil Gordon, D.K. Ulrich, and Frank Warren.

Ontario hosted its final Cup race, won by Benny Parsons, in 1980.  In the infield, Dale Earnhardt, then driving for Rod Osterlund, celebrated his first Winston Cup after edging Cale Yarborough by 19 points.  The track was demolished the next year.  Oval track Cup racing would not return to Southern California until Fontana’s debut in 1997.

*This marked the first last-place finish for #17 in a Cup race since June 8, 1968, when David Pearson’s #17 1968 Ford was disqualified for mismatched tire treads at the (Birmingham) Fairgrounds Raceway.  It would not finish last again until March 11, 1979, when Roger Hamby earned his own first last-place finish after his #17 Hamby-Ellis Chevrolet overheated 68 laps into the Richmond 400 at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway.
*This marked the first time a Cup last-place finisher was flagged off the track since February 11, 1971, when Ken Meisenhelder’s #41 1969 Chevrolet was waved off after 1 lap of Race 2 of the 1971 Daytona Qualifiers (then listed as a full-race points event).  It wouldn’t be long before it happened again.  On June 26, 1971, Ernest Eury’s #05 1969 Chevrolet was also flagged after just 1 lap of the Pickens 200 at Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

51) #17-Dean Dalton / 2 laps / flagged
50) #79-Frank Warren / 4 laps / engine
49) #82-Ron Gautsche / 10 laps / engine
48) #4-Dick Kranzler / 13 laps / overheating
47) #20-Pedro Rodriguez / 18 laps / electrical

*NASCAR Grand National @ Ontario 1971 – YouTube (posted by Mitch’s Racing Highlights)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Small Team Storylines: Fontana

Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California

The current entry list includes 39 drivers for 40 spots, one spot short of a full field for the fourth week in a row.

Derrike Cope finished 33rd last Sunday at Phoenix, his best run at the track since 1998 and his best finish of 2017.  This week, he’s back once again in a yet-unsponsored #55 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports.  It will be Cope’s seventh Fontana start and first in Cup since September 5, 2004, when he finished 40th driving for William Edwards in the #96 Mach One Inc. Ford.  Teammate Reed Sorenson is again in the #15, which has alternated between a Toyota and Chevrolet since Daytona.  After finishing 30th in the Chevrolet at Phoenix, he will run a Toyota on Sunday.

BK Racing endured another difficult weekend in Phoenix.  Corey LaJoie has now been involved in at least one accident in each of the first four races while teammate Gray Gaudling tangled with David Ragan in a hard Turn 1 accident.  However, the team again does not appear to be struggling for sponsorship., which previously backed Tommy Joe Martins’ Truck Series ride at Daytona, will be back to sponsor Gaulding for a second-straight week.  Bubba Burger, an associate sponsor of Rick Ware Racing among others, will be the primary for Corey LaJoie’s #83.

Speaking of Rick Ware Racing, Timmy Hill will again pilot the #51, having finished a season-best 32nd at Phoenix.  The team continues its search for speed and will look to improve on last-place qualifying runs earned in all three of their starts.  Also without an announced sponsor is Cole Whitt and TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet.  Left with their first DNF of the year and a season-worst 34th-place finish after a late accident, Whitt will be looking for a turnaround.  Sunday will be team owner Mark Smith’s first Cup start at Fontana since 2013, when Mike Bliss ran a “start-and-park” effort for Humphrey-Smith Motorsports.

One small team which will have a primary sponsor this weekend is Phoenix last-placer Jeffrey Earnhardt and Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group.  A “thank you” message on social media indicates that NiceRide Apparel will again grace the black-and-silver #33 Chevrolet.

Matt DiBenedetto continues to enjoy a quietly consistent season with Go FAS Racing.  After four races, he stands 27th in points, has yet to score a DNF, and has each time finished inside the Top 30.  Sunday will be DiBenedetto’s third Fontana start in Cup, and he finished inside the Top 30 again last year, running 27th for BK Racing.

California 300 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California

42 drivers are listed for 40 spots, marking the first time since Atlanta that there were 40 or more cars on the preliminary entry list.

Last week in Phoenix, Morgan Shepherd and Mike Harmon both made their first XFINITY starts of the season, but this week only Harmon is on the list.  Obaika Racing has also entered both its Chevrolets once more, but it will be anyone’s guess if the #77 and driver Josh Bilicki will actually make it into the field (Stephen Leicht is again entered in the #77 with Bilicki in the #97).

New this week is James Carter’s prolific #72 CrashClaimsR.Us Chevrolet with Scottish driver John Jackson behind the wheel.  We haven’t seen Jackson in XFINITY since last fall at Kentucky, when he finished 39th in the #40 Chevrolet for Motorsports Business Management, and the #72’s most recent green flag was last September at Darlington (another 39th).  In 16 previous starts, the Carter #72 has yet to finish better than 31st, making them a possible LASTCAR favorite alongside Jordan Anderson and the #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet, which may be headed to their third-straight last-place finish.

Motorsports Business Management retains the same two-car lineup at Fontana with Carl Long in the #13 Dodge and Timmy Hill in the #40 Toyota.  Hill’s double-duty weekend last week yielded a 26th-place finish in XFINITY, the team’s best run since Brandon Hightower’s 13th place in Daytona.

The return of the Cup veterans to XFINITY after the “Dash 4 Cash” hiatus has also brought back last-place record holder Jeff Green to B.J. McLeod’s #8 Chevrolet.  Green’s 26th-place run at Atlanta still remains the #8 team’s best performance of the year, four spots better than Matt Mills’ performance last Sunday at Phoenix.  Green will again be joined by McLeod (#78) and David Starr (#99) in the three-car effort.

Also back after skipping Phoenix is Biagi DenBeste Racing, which for the first time this year will put Cup veteran Casey Mears in its #98 Ford in place of Aric Almirola.  It will be Mears’ first XFINITY start at Fontana since 2007, when he scored the second of two career runner-up finishes at the track for Rick Hendrick.

Through the first three races of the season, each of Johnny Davis’ three drivers at JD Motorsports has had the privilege of beating their other two teammates.  But at Phoenix, Ross Chastain’s 22nd-place finish in the #4 ahead of 23rd-place Harrison Rhodes (#01) and 24th-place Garrett Smithley (#0) broke the tie.  Smithley and Rhodes still hold the team’s best finishes of the year, an 8th and 10th respectively at Daytona.

A fiery crash at Phoenix left Joey Gase with his first DNF of 2017 and a 35th-place finish.  Driver and team hope for better in Fontana, where other than a last-place effort in 2013, the duo have never finished worse than 30th.

An “atta-boy” to JGL Racing, which has finished inside the Top 20 in all four races so far in 2017.  The #24 youtheory Toyota returns to Corey LaJoie this Sunday, who despite his struggles in Cup produced a workmanlike 16th-place run at Fontana.  J.J. Yeley also earned a season-best 16th at Phoenix in TriStar’s #14 Toyota and continues his rebound after back-to-back DNFs at Daytona and Atlanta.  Superior Essex will back the Yeley effort.

Next Race: April 1, 2017
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville

Sunday, March 19, 2017

CUP: Jeffrey Earnhardt’s first Cup last-place finish equals a 2007 record

Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #33 NiceRide Apparel Chevrolet fell out with transmission problems after 9 of 314 laps.  The finish came in Earnhardt’s 28th series start.

Son of Kerry Earnhardt and nephew of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeffrey is currently competing in his third Cup Series season.  His famous last name overlooks what has been a difficult path to NASCAR’s upper ranks.  According to his website, Earnhardt began “piloting a silver 4 cylinder Yugo on the dirt tracks of Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Virginia.”

Earnhardt worked his way through the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, finishing 5th in the 2007 standings, and made his XFINITY debut in 2009 at Watkins Glen.  He remained a part-timer in national competition through 2010, when he partnered with Rick Ware Racing.  The Ware effort included an opportunity to both race Trucks as well as professional sports car racing in the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series, piloting Porsches and Mustangs at Daytona and Birmingham.  It wasn’t until 2014 that Earnhardt ran a full season in NASCAR, running the #4 Chevrolet for Johnny Davis’ JD Motorsports, and it wasn’t until this year that he now attempts a full Cup campaign.

2017 has been a reunion of sorts.  Earnhardt drives for The Motorsports Group, whose owner Curtis Key fielded his first XFINITY Series ride in 2009.  TMG came off its first full Cup season in 2016 with journeyman Josh Wise, who made all but five of the first 31 races and scored the LASTCAR Cup Series Championship.  This year, TMG merged with Joe Falk’s team Circle Sport, which came over after providing its Charter to Leavine Family Racing.  The move gave TMG a guaranteed starting spot for the first time in its existence.  As part of the change, Falk assumed ownership duties and switched the primary car’s number from TMG’s #30 to Circle Sport’s #33 (though the #30 may return as a part-time Open team this year). Earnhardt climbed behind the wheel of a car painted silver and black, much like his grandfather’s.

Coming into 2017, Earnhardt’s best Cup finish was a 26th last fall with Go FAS Racing, the #32 Ford team which now runs with driver Matt DiBenedetto.  A TMG car had yet to make a Cup restrictor-plate race, shut-out of three races in 2016, including their second-straight Daytona 500, and had withdrawn from Talladega last fall.  Thanks to Circle Sport’s Charter, however, the #33 was guaranteed its 32nd starting spot.  And, even after a late-race crash down the backstretch, Earnhardt matched his career-best 26th.

Earnhardt stood as one of the 39 entrants for the Phoenix race, and for the second-straight week acquired sponsorship for the main event.  This time, the backing came from NiceRide Apparel, a first-time sponsor in NASCAR.  Earnhardt ran 37th of 38 drivers in Friday’s opening practice, qualified 38th of 39 with a lap of 128.032mph.  He rounded out practice on Saturday with the 38th-best lap again in the second session, and 37th in Happy Hour.

Rick Ware Racing started last for their third-consecutive Cup start.  The team returned to Atlanta’s black-and-white #51 Spoonful of Music Foundation paint scheme on its Chevrolet with Timmy Hill aboard.  Joining him at the rear were Denny Hamlin, whose #11 FedEx Toyota picked up a screw in qualifying and had to change tires, and Aric Almirola, with a new engine under the hood of his #43 Smithfield Ford.

By the end of Lap 1, Jeffrey Earnhardt had fallen to 39th and was starting to lose touch with the field.  He was 5.647sec behind the leader after the first circuit, 6.909 on the second, and 8.438 on the third.  The fourth time by, Earnhardt’s car started smoking and he pulled down pit road, then entered the garage.  Reports indicated rear gear trouble, and though the car was soon pulled from NASCAR’s RaceView program, the team was still making repairs.  On Lap 80, the work was done, and #33 stopped at the end of pit road before re-entering the track, 76 laps behind.  Five circuits later, Earnhardt was back in the pits, and the crew instructed him to make another lap to return to the garage.  There, on Lap 90, the crew discovered a transmission issue.

Back on the track, on Lap 119, hard-luck Corey LaJoie found the outside wall for the fourth-straight race, striking the outside wall in his #83 BK Racing Graphics Toyota.  The impact knocked him out of the race.  However, Earnhardt, still behind the wall, would still secure last if he didn’t come back out on Lap 206 (or Lap 208, given the green-white-checkered finish).  Just short of that mark, on Lap 190, FOX Sports showed the #33 was listed “OUT,” securing the last-place run.  Curiously, prior to that, the FOX leaderboard showed Earnhardt multiple laps down, indicating he was on the track - even though he was still in the garage.  LaJoie ended up 38th.

37th went to Matt Kenseth, who took a savage hit to the outside wall on Lap 193 in his #20 Tide Toyota.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were 36th-place Gray Gaulding in the #23 Toyota and the #38 Jacob Companies Ford of David Ragan, both eliminated in a two-car wreck on Lap 206 when Ragan slid into Gaulding in Turn 1.

The win on Sunday went to Ryan Newman, who finished last in the same event a year earlier.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #33 at Phoenix since 2013, when Tony Raines’ Little Joes Autos Chevrolet, fielded by Joe Falk when Circle Sport was its own Cup team, exited with brake problems after 29 laps of the AdvoCare 500.
*This marked the first time three consecutive NASCAR Cup races had first-time last-place finishers since the spring of 2007, when J.J. Yeley’s #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet crashed at Texas, David Stremme came home laps down at Phoenix in the #40 Coors Light Dodge, and Paul Menard’s #15 Menards Chevrolet lost an engine at Talladega.
*Earnhardt is the first Cup last-place finisher to trail a race because of transmission issues since June 30, 2013, when Scott Riggs’ #44 No Label Watches Ford fell out after 6 laps of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky.

39) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 9 laps / transmission
38) #83-Corey LaJoie / 115 laps / crash
37) #20-Matt Kenseth / 190 laps / crash
36) #23-Gray Gaulding / 201 laps / crash
35) #38-David Ragan / 204 laps / crash

1st) BK Racing, Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (2)


*Championship rankings corrected to include an additional Bottom Five and Bottom Ten for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. that was previously not counted.

XFINITY: Late return by Obaika Racing gives Jordan Anderson 2nd-straight last-place finish

PHOTO: @j66anderson
Jordan Anderson picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s DC Solar 200 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues after he completed 3 of 200 laps.  The finish, which came in Anderson’s ninth series start, was his second in a row.

The preliminary entry list, which included Anderson, grew from 39 cars to 41 on Tuesday with the additions of owner-drivers Morgan Shepherd, who successfully raised funds to enter his #89 Racing With Jesus / Visone RV Chevrolet, and Mike Harmon in his #74 Dodge.  Shepherd seemed geared for an all-out qualifying attempt when he put up the 19th-best time of 32 drivers in Friday’s opening practice.

On Saturday, when Obaika Racing once again withdrew the #77 and driver Josh Bilicki, Shepherd and Harmon were locked-in to their first races of the season.  Shepherd and Harmon ended up timing in 29th and 30th in qualifying after eight drivers were unable to complete inspection in time.  Anderson’s #93, meanwhile, earned the 26th starting spot with a lap of 127.945mph.  He ran 30th of 37 after his only practice laps during Happy Hour.

Starting 40th on Sunday was the second Obaika Racing car of Stephen Leicht, once again moved to the #97 after the withdrawal of Bilicki and the #77.  Footage from the pre-race seemed to indicate that Leicht was driving the #77 as the “9” on the door number appeared to be a hastily-changed “7,” differing in style from the “9” used in previous races.  The car was also colored black over red, differing from the damaged Las Vegas car’s red over black.

The #97 behind the wall after 2 laps of the race, followed a lap later by Anderson, which first gave the impression that both would be “start-and-parks.”  Had the finish stayed this way, it would have been the first XFINITY last-place finish for the #97 since 2003, when Jeff Fuller exited after 3 laps at Rockingham.  But on Lap 125, Leicht pulled back out of the garage and completed 22 more laps, climbing to 37th before retiring with handling issues.  This dropped Anderson to last on Lap 127.

Between Anderson and Leicht were 39th-place Daniel Suarez, who on Lap 10 made contact with the outside wall after crossing the nose of Jeremy Clements’ #51, then cut down a right-rear two circuits later and slammed rear-first into the Turn 1 barrier.  38th went to Carl Long, who made his own 2017 debut in his #13 CrashClaimsR.Us Toyota, then pulled out with rear gear trouble as the listed reason.  Morgan Shepherd rounded out the Bottom Five, citing brake issues after 33 laps.  Fellow owner-driver Mike Harmon finished three laps down in 31st.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish at Phoenix for both Anderson and the #93.

40) #93-Jordan Anderson / 3 laps / overheating
39) #18-Daniel Suarez / 11 laps / crash
38) #13-Carl Long / 18 laps / rear gear
37) #97-Stephen Leicht / 24 laps / handling
36) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 33 laps / brakes

1st) RSS Racing (2)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., Kaulig Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)


Thursday, March 16, 2017

11/12/06: The story of Brandon Whitt and his lone Cup start at Phoenix

On November 12, 2006, Brandon Whitt picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Nextel Cup career in the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #72 Dutch Quality Stone Chevrolet fell out with rear end trouble after 123 of 312 laps.  The finish came in Whitt’s series debut.

The older cousin of fellow California native Cole Whitt, who runs full-time for TriStar Motorsports in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Brandon Whitt cut his teeth in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour with sponsorship from Moen Faucets.  On October 25, 2001, an 18-year-old Whitt made his series debut at Phoenix and finished 14th in the 42-car field.  The next year, he scored three top-ten finishes and a season-best 5th at the Cajon (California) Speedway, earning him 9th in the season standings and a narrow victory over Steve Belletto for Rookie of the Year.

In 2003, Whitt made his national touring debut in the Craftsman Truck Series.  Like his Southwest Tour entry, his Chevrolet Silverado was fielded by Clean Line Motorsports, a team owned by his father Daniel.  Sponsorship came from McMillin Homes, the Cure Autism Now foundation, and Moen Faucets, the latter having backed Whitt’s efforts on the Southwest Tour.  His series debut came March 23, 2003 at the Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, where he’d finished 11th the previous year.  Whitt’s #38 IPS / In-sink-erator / Simpson Chevrolet came home 19th of 36, and was followed by a season-best 13th that summer in Fontana.

The next year, Whitt and Clean Line switched to Ford and went full-time in Trucks.  He improved on his career-best finish with a 12th at Martinsville and came home 19th in the standings.  2005 saw another manufacturer change to Toyota, along with new partners in Tom DeLoach and retired crew chief Jeff Hammond.  The combination formed was renamed from Clean Line to Red Horse Racing, which continues to run today with drivers Brett Moffitt and Timothy Peters.

Coming into July, Whitt was struggling to find consistency.  25th in points with six DNFs, including five crashes in a seven-race span earlier in the year, the team struggled to close out good finishes.  “It was frustrating because we were running so well,” said Whitt that year.  “The team was really coming together, but. . .we just couldn’t make it through those last 15-20 laps when everything was happening.”  Then the team came home 6th at Kentucky.  “Finally, we reached the point where we could put it together, and we started making it to the end of races and getting some good finishes.”

The next race after Kentucky came on July 23, the O’Reilly 200 Presented by Valvoline at the tight three-quarter oval in Memphis.  The weekend started as well as it could, the driver earning his first career pole and leading the opening 46 laps.  But Ron Hornaday, Jr. had taken the lead on Lap 130, and even with a green-white-checkered finish caused by Debroah Renshaw, it looked as though Whitt would have to settle for 2nd.  Then, on the final lap, Jimmy Spencer spun in Turns 3 and 4, and Hornaday slowed in the smoke.  The two made contact, causing Hornaday to spin as Whitt sped to the finish line, a winner in his 46th career start.

Among those celebrating with him in victory lane that night in Memphis was Greg Biffle, who followed a similar path to Cup.  “I love Truck racing,” he said.  “So I’d been watching him [Whitt] have good runs.  You could tell the win was right around the corner. . .He doesn’t do anything stupid.  He was really using his head.  He got in the back of Hornaday a little bit but kept his cool, got back in the throttle and didn’t lose a position.”  For Biffle, his racing career had gone full circle - he was at the track scouting talent, just as Benny Parsons had for him before he teamed with Roush Racing in 1998.

In 2006, however, Whitt was out of a ride, replaced by David Starr at Red Horse Racing.  He first turned to ARCA, looking to get Ted Campbell’s #57 CLR Racing Ford into the season-opening Daytona ARCA 200, but ended up mired in a tremendous list of 27 DNQs.  That September at Chicagoland, he returned in his own unsponsored #51 Chevrolet and qualified an impressive 4th, but a multi-car crash left him 31st.  As the year neared its end, it appeared he would have to look ahead to 2007 for another opportunity.  Then he got a call.

In 2006, businessman Bryan Mullet invested in Morgan Shepherd’s team, Faith Motorsports, which at the time was fielding #89 Dodges in the Cup Series.  The deal brought in sponsorship from Dutch Quality Stone, which Shepherd’s car carried as a sponsor through the first nine rounds of the season.  After missing each one of those races, however, the two parted ways, and Mullet fielded his own team, CJM Racing, with car #72.

Following a DNQ with Kertus Davis in the Coca-Cola 600, CJM’s next Cup effort came that June at Sonoma, where Mullet offered a ride to new NASCAR phenom David Gilliland.  Gilliland, fresh off his upset Busch Series win at Kentucky, leaped at the chance to race Cup at a track both he and father Butch (and now son Todd) have all competed on in the K&N Pro Series West.  Driving an old 2004 Dodge Intrepid, Gilliland not only qualified 31st for his first Cup attempt, besting five teams, but missed the wild first-lap accident to come home 32nd.  The finish paved the way for Gilliland’s next offer with Yates Racing, where that August he replaced Elliott Sadler as driver of the #38 M&M’s Ford.

Mullet, meanwhile, switched from Dodge to Chevrolet and made two more races with veteran Mike Skinner at Charlotte and Martinsville, but crashes left his #72 just 43rd and 39th at the finish.  For the November race at Phoenix, Mullet looked for another driver, and during a trip to the Texas Motor Speedway met Brandon Whitt.

The effort to make the race would again prove difficult.  51 drivers arrived to make the 43-car field, and without a rank in the Top 35 in Owner Points, Whitt would have to best eight of the other “go-or-go-homers,” including Morgan Shepherd.  After running just 44th in opening practice, Whitt put up a lap of 130.985mph in qualifying, good enough for 37th on the grid, and ahead of all the drivers he had to beat.

Sent home were Jason Leffler, looking to make his first Cup start in over a year in the #71 Fort McDowell Resort Destination Chevrolet for Braun Racing; Roush development driver Todd Kluever in the #06 3M Vikuiti / Sharp AQUOS Ford; Morgan Shepherd’s #89; West Coast driver Brandon Ash in the #02 Sprinter Trucking, Inc. Dodge; Kevin Lepage for Front Row Motorsports in the #34 Oak Glove Co. Chevrolet, Kenny Wallace for Furniture Row Racing in the #78 Chevrolet; Derrike Cope (that year’s LASTCAR champion) in Raynard McGlynn’s #74 Sundance Vacations / Dodge; and Jeremy Mayfield in a one-off for James Finch driving the #09 Miccosukee Gaming & Resorts Dodge.

It was a coming home of sorts for Whitt, who returned to the scene of his Southwest Tour debut in 2001, and made him the 77th different driver to qualify for a Cup race that season.  41st in Saturday practice, then 31st in Happy Hour, the driver looked for a good finish on Sunday.

Starting 43rd and last that day was 1989 winner Bill Elliott, who secured the Past Champions Provisional driving a throwback #37 Melling Auto Parts Dodge for car owner John Carter of R&J Racing.  He was joined at the back by Robby Gordon, sent to the rear in his #7 Harrah’s Chevrolet due to an engine change, and could have been joined by others for driver changes.  A bout of the flu had spread through the garage, and drivers Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Scott Riggs were still feeling the effects.  Busch had Brandon Ash on standby as his relief driver.

By Lap 3, 43rd spot belonged to veteran driver Chad Chaffin, who that year was driving a second car, #61, for Front Row Motorsports.  Chaffin’s struggle for speed in practice continued on race day, and by Lap 21 he was already 21.580 seconds behind race leader Kevin Harvick.  Whitt took 43rd from Chaffin by Lap 37, and appeared to be the first driver a lap down before Lap 53.  Last place changed hands once more when Greg Biffle pitted his #16 National Guard Ford for a vibration in his right-front tire.  The stop, which revealed his right-front worn to the cords, cost him two laps.  By Lap 101, Whitt had retaken last from Biffle and was six laps behind by Lap 129.  He pulled behind the wall soon after, and was out by Lap 144.

42nd went to Michael Waltrip, whose difficult transitional season between Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2005 and his own team in 2007 continued with a persistent smoking problem, then engine failure on his Doug Bawel-owned #55 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge after 234 laps.  41st went to Mike Bliss, whose own engine went away on BAM Racing’s #49 Dodge.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were 40th-place Jamie McMurray in Roush Racing’s #26 Irwin Industrial Tools Ford and Dale Jarrett’s #88 UPS Ford for Yates Racing, both knocked-out in a multi-car frontstretch wreck triggered by Tony Stewart on Lap 274.

Following a DNQ in the season finale at Homestead, Whitt and Mullet looked ahead to 2007 for a bid at the Daytona 500.  The team, still sponsored by Dutch Quality Stone, remained with Chevrolet and had acquired an engine from Richard Childress Racing.  The preliminary press release also indicated Whitt would attempt the ARCA 200 once more, driving his own #51 Toyota.

“I still can’t believe where I was sitting just last year to where I am at in 2007,” said Whitt before SpeedWeeks.  “To be able to go to Daytona and race (in any series) is an incredible feeling but to be able to go to Daytona and compete in the NNCS … there are no words.  I’m thankful for this opportunity.  The team is ready to put what we’ve learned in the off-season to good use.  We know what we need to do heading into Daytona and I think that realistically this team is capable of making a great showing.”

While Whitt made the ARCA 200, finishing 34th after a crash on Lap 37, the run at the Daytona 500 fell short.  Lining up 29th of 31 in Race 1 of the Gatorade Duels, Whitt came home 21st – on the lead lap, but out of the race.  The team attempted the next two rounds in Fontana and Las Vegas, but after missing both races, driver and team pulled out of Cup.  As it turned out, Whitt’s last-place run at Phoenix marked the last time the #72 ran a Cup Series points race until this year’s Daytona 500, when cousin Cole Whitt’s 18th-place finish marked the series return of TriStar Motorsports.

Following a one-off return to Red Horse Racing that fall at Atlanta, where he ran 23rd, Whitt turned to the XFINITY Series, where he made 31 starts over the next two seasons.  Driving the #61 and #62 Fords for Charles Shoffner’s team Specialty Racing, Whitt’s best finishes were a pair of 20th-place performances at Dover and Nashville in 2009.

Though he hasn’t raced in NASCAR since, Whitt’s underdog status endures.  “Adversity will teach you something,” he said after his win in 2005.  “Every time something happened, I learned something.  The feel right before a tire blows out, for instance.  There were things I had never experienced before.  For me, I learned the different feels of stuff that was about to happen or could’ve happened.  From that aspect, there were a lot of pluses that came out of what seemed at the time like bad luck.”

It’s also interesting to note that, back in 2005, Whitt proposed a Chase format in the Truck Series.  In an interview published November 21 of that year, he suggested “a seven-race Chase, beginning with 10 eligible drivers.  At each race, the field would be narrowed, leaving only two drivers to compete for the title at the final race.”  The current format, introduced last year, is nearly identical.

*This marked the 12th and, to date, most recent last-place finish for the #72 in a Cup Series race, and the number’s only last-place run at Phoenix.

43) #72-Brandon Whitt / 123 laps / rear end
42) #55-Michael Waltrip / 234 laps / engine
41) #49-Mike Bliss / 262 laps / engine
40) #26-Jamie McMurray / 272 laps / crash
39) #88-Dale Jarrett / 289 laps / crash

*“CJM Racing profile,”, June 22, 2006.
*“Daytona Duel: Brandon Whitt preview,”, February 9, 2007.
*Dutton, Monte. “Patience Pays Off: Whitt’s breakthrough shows he’s learning how to pick his spots.” The Bryan Times, September 1, 2005.
*Dutton, Monte. “Veteran Rudd finally decides to call it quits … we think.” Ludington Daily News, November 21, 2005.
*Jayski’s Silly Season Site
*Ryan, Nate. “Who’s Next? NASCAR champ Greg Biffle sees potential in driver Brandon Whitt.” Spirit of Jefferson Farmer’s Advocate, December 15, 2005.
*“SWS: Stockton99: Brandon Whitt race remarks,”, April 30, 2002.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Small Team Storylines: Phoenix

Camping World 500(k) at Phoenix

The current entry list includes 39 drivers for 40 spots, one spot short of a full field for the third week in a row.

Derrike Cope’s return continues this Sunday, where he will be making his first Phoenix start since November 10, 2002, when he came home 38th in BAM Racing’s #49 Dodge.  As on that day, Cope’s Premium Motorsports #55 does not yet have sponsorship, and reports indicate the same for the following race in Fontana.  One of Cope’s best finishes came at Phoenix in 1995, where he finished a close 2nd to Ricky Rudd.

Reed Sorenson, Cope’s teammate at Premium Motorsports, will drive the #15 Chevrolet for the third-straight week, and is also looking for sponsorship.  Sorenson’s best finish in 12 Phoenix starts was a 12th for Richard Petty Motorsports in the spring of 2009.  Car owner Jay Robinson’s came in Canadian driver D.J. Kennington’s series debut – a 35th – last fall.

Cole Whitt’s streak of two consecutive Top 20 finishes ended at Las Vegas, where he came home 28th, three laps down.  Still, the driver sits tied for 23rd in points with Ty and Austin Dillon and is looking for more this Sunday.  Whitt’s best Phoenix finish was a pair of 25th-place runs in 2011 and 2015.  Car owner Mark Smith last entered a Cup machine here in 2013, when Mike Bliss’ “start-and-park” #19 Toyota finished 42nd with brake trouble.  TriStar’s best Cup run there came in 1992, when Bobby Hamilton ran 8th in the #68 Country Time Ford.  After back-to-back weeks of sponsorship from Rinnai, this Sunday’s #72 will carry logos for Standard Plumbing Supply.

Corey LaJoie picked up his first Cup Series last-place finish on Sunday, and is again entered on this weeks’ list, keeping it at 39 cars.  Sponsorship for his #83 Toyota is BK Racing Graphics, his third different backer in as many weeks.  Teammate Gray Gaulding, 37th last fall at Phoenix for The Motorsports Group, is back for his third-straight race in the #23, which will also carry new sponsorship from  Both companies will be making their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debuts.

Matt DiBenedetto came home 26th at Las Vegas in Go FAS Racing’s #32 Can-Am / Kappa Ford, and now stands 22nd in points, one point ahead of Cole Whitt and the Dillon brothers.  The same paint scheme is expected to run this Sunday, where the driver’s best finish was 20th in this race last year and the team’s best was 32nd with Joey Gase that same day.

Timmy Hill is listed as making his second-straight start for Rick Ware Racing, whose car’s sponsor is again to be announced.  Hill’s best finish in three Phoenix starts came driving the #32 Go FAS Racing Ford when it was fielded by Frank Stoddard, running 29th in the fall of 2012.  It will be Hill’s first start at the track since he finished last there for Premium Motorsports in the fall of 2015.

DC Solar 200 at Phoenix

39 drivers are listed for 40 spots, this time with Cup veterans off the list for the first time this season in this Dash 4 Cash event.  Again, if unchanged, Phoenix will mark the XFINITY Series’ first short field of 2017, and its first since Mid-Ohio in 2014.

Both owner-drivers Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd, each still looking for their first 2017 start, are again missing from this week’s list.  Shepherd’s team reported they have prepared their #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet in Las Vegas for a run at Phoenix, but are also collecting donations to help the effort at  Also missing from the list is Chris Cockrum’s #25, absent since his 34th-place finish at Atlanta.

After missing the preliminary entry list in Vegas, not one but both Obaika Racing Chevrolets are on the list for Phoenix.  The team’s driver arrangement returned to what was planned during the Vegas weekend: Stephen Leicht in the #77 VroomBrands Chevrolet and Josh Bilicki in the #97.  Both are driving 2015 Chevrolets, which may account for some of the team’s struggles in Las Vegas.  There, the #77 was withdrawn for the third-straight week while the #97 struggled for speed before crashing on Lap 5.  Bilicki and the #77 are still looking to make their 2017 debut.

Jeremy Clements, driving the only other 2015 Chevrolet on the list, again runs on his #51.  His 26th-place run last week in Vegas was his best of the season, and his best in 13 Phoenix starts was an 11th in the fall of 2014.

Joey Gase makes his 10th Phoenix start on Saturday.  His best drives at the track in Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Chevrolet were a pair of 24th-place runs in the spring of 2014 and last fall.  An interesting statistic with Gase is that he has only failed to finish one of those previous nine Phoenix races – a transmission issue in the spring of 2013 – and has finished no worse than 33rd.

The restriction on Cup veterans at Phoenix appears to have included Jeff Green, who is not listed as driver of B.J. McLeod’s unsponsored #8 Chevrolet.  As of this writing, the #8 is the only entered car without a driver announced.  McLeod himself will again be in the #78, which he drove to his track-best 25th last fall, while David Starr will again drive the #99 Striping Technology Chevrolet.

Jordan Anderson pulled RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet behind the wall at Las Vegas, securing his first XFINITY Series last-place finish.  He is again listed in the Chevrolet for Sunday, and may again be making an early exit.

Motorsports Business Management team owner Carl Long is again entered in one of his cars, this time the #40 Dodge.  If the driver isn’t switched out, he will look to make his first race of the season.  Timmy Hill, who drove the #40 the last two races, is this week entered in the team’s #13 Toyota, and if he qualifies, will run double-duty for the second-straight weekend.  Last fall, Brandon Hightower earned MBM’s best Phoenix finish when he drove the #13 Dodge to a 26th-place finish.

One week after Martin Roy’s narrow escape from disaster at Las Vegas, Mario Gosselin is again the entered driver for his #90 BuckedUp Apparel Chevrolet.  The all-Canadian Gosselin team got its best Phoenix finish last fall, when Quebec’s Alex Labbe came home a strong 23rd in his series debut.

Next Race: April 1, 2017
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville

Sunday, March 12, 2017

CUP: Corey LaJoie’s first Cup Series last-place finish comes after hard Vegas crash

PHOTO: @RacingUnderdogs
Corey LaJoie picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #83 JAS Expedited Trucking Toyota was involved in a single-car crash after 18 of 267 laps.  The finish came in LaJoie’s fourth series start.

The 25-year-old son of two-time XFINITY Series Champion Randy LaJoie, who now designs race car seats through his company The Joie of Seating, Corey LaJoie has been racing stock cars since his K&N Pro Series East debut at Thompson on July 11, 2009.  He then diversified across various short track divisions, winning his first-ever modified start at Atlanta in 2010, five K&N races in 2012, and three in ARCA in 2013.

In November 2013, on the heels of his limited ARCA season, LaJoie made his debut across NASCAR’s top three divisions in the XFINITY race at Homestead, where he ran 34th for Richard Petty Motorsports.  He then branched out into Trucks in 2014, running a pair of starts for Ricky Benton and coming home 10th at Bristol.  Less than a month later came his Cup debut at New Hampshire.  Replacing a retiring Dave Blaney at former “start-and-park” effort Randy Humphrey Racing, LaJoie ran the full race for 41st in the 43-car field, then improved to 35th the next month at Charlotte.

2017 sees LaJoie entering the battle for Cup Series Rookie of the Year, replacing Matt DiBenedetto as driver of BK Racing’s #83 Toyota.  Now an Open team (since BK sold the #83’s charter to Front Row Motorsports, who leased it to TriStar Motorsports’ #72 team), LaJoie had to race his way into his first Daytona 500, and did after a controversial accident with fellow Open driver Reed Sorenson.  A strange incident coming onto pit road during a green-flag stop left him 24th at the finish, and a smack to the outside wall on a restart at Atlanta left him 34th.  Curiously, LaJoie wasn’t originally listed as an entry for the Atlanta event, but the short field encouraged BK to enter the #83 for a guaranteed start.  He was already on the preliminary list for Las Vegas, where he would again be one of 39 drivers.

LaJoie’s sponsor for Las Vegas was JAS Expedited Trucking, which most recently backed Matt DiBenedetto’s run at Phoenix last fall.  The car ran 31st-fastest in Friday’s opening practice, qualified 34th with a lap of 185.554mph, then ran 34th and 35th in the final two sessions on Saturday.

Starting last for the second-consecutive Cup race Sunday was Rick Ware Racing, which this week brought Daytona driver Timmy Hill aboard the blue #51 Dashub Chevrolet.  Sunday was just over five years to the day of Hill’s Cup debut, when he got Ware’s team into its own first series race.  The team changed transmissions during the weekend, causing the team to incur an additional penalty that sent them to the rear.  Joining them were Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., sent to the back after wrecking his primary #17 Fastenal Ford in practice, and Danica Patrick, who had a new rear gear in her #10 Aspen Dental Ford.

On the first lap of the race, Hill lost last to Derrike Cope, who was making his first Cup start at the Vegas track since 2004.  Cope’s unsponsored black #55 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet trailed the leader by 5.302 seconds that time by, then passed Hill for 38th on Lap 2, leaving Hill last, 7.352 back.  On the twelfth circuit, Hill was the first driver to be lapped, and the leaders were soon catching Cope and the other drivers in front of him.  Then the first caution fell on Lap 19.

LaJoie was running near the back of the pack when his right-rear tire failed going into Turns 1 and 2, sending his car hard into the outside wall.  The right-front of his Toyota heavily damaged, the #83 slowed to a smoking stop against the inside backstretch wall, where he climbed out.  The car was towed to the garage, done for the day.

38th on Sunday went to point leader Kevin Harvick, whose late-race Atlanta misfortune was followed by a blown right-front tire that sent his #4 Mobil 1 Ford hard into the Turn 1 wall.  Hill came home 37th, out after 135 laps with suspension issues.  Patrick came home 36th, her #10 out with a late-race engine failure that triggered the deciding nine-lap sprint to the finish.  Rounding out the group was Cope, the final car to finish under power.  Cope spun down the backstretch on Lap 153 and took the checkers 13 circuits behind.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #83 in a Cup race at Las Vegas and the 19th in series history.  The number had not finished last in a Cup event since July 24, 2016 at Indianapolis, 19 races ago, when Matt DiBenedetto’s ScienceLogic Hybrid Cloud Toyota had engine trouble after 4 laps of the Combat Wounded Coalition 400.
*LaJoie is the third Cup driver to score his first last-place finish at Las Vegas, joining Steve Park (2000) and Kirk Shelmerdine (2004).

39) #83-Corey LaJoie / 18 laps / crash
38) #4-Kevin Harvick / 68 laps / crash
37) #51-Timmy Hill / 135 laps / suspension
36) #10-Danica Patrick / 246 laps / engine
35) #55-Derrike Cope / 254 laps / running

1st) BK Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (2)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)


XFINITY: Jordan Anderson makes ends meet as team, fans rebuild truck

PHOTO: @j66anderson
Jordan Anderson picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 1 of 200 laps.  The finish came in Anderson’s eighth series start.

Last year, when he drove for Bolen Motorsports in the Truck Series, Anderson earned a career-best 11th at Gateway, turned heads at Eldora when his crew twice rebuilt his damaged truck to get it into the main event, and all the while continued to build a passionate fan base.  While driver and team parted ways by season’s end, the South Carolina driver is undaunted in his effort to ascend through NASCAR’s ranks.

The road has been rough.  Last month at Daytona, Anderson reunited with car owner Mike Harmon, who had put him in his #74 trucks since 2014.  The team arrived with a Chevrolet rolled out of a small Featherlite trailer, but ended up sixth-fastest of the ten drivers who missed the show.

At Atlanta, Anderson teamed with Rick Ware Racing, where Lucas Oil followed him from Harmon’s effort as primary sponsor.  This time, he out-qualified four drivers, only to be involved in the most spectacular accident of the day.  Contact from Korbin Forrister sent him into the grass, where the splitter dug in, destroying the truck.

While Anderson was uninjured, the accident has left him without a Truck Series ride.  He has since re-opened his fan-supported site to raise funds for repairs, offering spots for both fans and sponsors to have their logos on his ride.

In the meantime, Anderson has also been tabbed by RSS Racing to drive their second entry, the #93 Chevrolet, during select XFINITY Series events.  The predominately “start-and-park” car, withdrawn from Daytona, made its 2017 debut with Anderson at Atlanta, where he started 26th and exited moments after Blake Koch’s accident for a 39th-place finish.  While the #93 was originally listed without a driver on Las Vegas’ preliminary entry list (along with the #24 for Drew Herring and #90 for Martin Roy), Anderson was added by Wednesday.  He did not participate in the opening practice, but ran 32nd of 41 drivers in Happy Hour.  His qualifying lap of 177.766mph was good enough for 30th on the grid.

By the same Wednesday that Anderson was added, the entry list itself grew from 39 to 43 cars, thanks to the addition of Mike Harmon’s #74 Dodge, Morgan Shepherd’s #89 Chevrolet, and what was going to be the first dual-entry of 2017 for Obaika Racing with its #77 and #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolets.  Obaika originally listed Stephen Leicht as driver of the #77 with the #97’s pilot to be announced, but Leicht struggled to find speed in the second practice session.  He turned just one lap of 146.163mph, more than 7 seconds off the leader’s pace.  By qualifying, the #77 and Bilicki were withdrawn, putting Leicht in the #97.  Although he again ran the slowest lap in qualifying, just 162.518mph, Leicht got the #97 in on Owner Points, placing him 40th and last on the grid.

Last place changed hands several times in the first two laps.  Anderson joined Leicht at the back of the field by driver’s choice, just as he had at Atlanta.  Brandon Hightower, who like Anderson was out of a ride, picked up Carl Long’s ride in the #13 MBM Motorsports Toyota and also fell to the back by choice.  Timmy Hill, driving the second MBM car #40, fell to the back due to unapproved adjustments, and Leicht fell back a second time by driver’s election, reassuming his spot.  By Lap 2, Anderson had pulled his car behind the wall, finally ending the battle.

Leicht’s race ended just three laps later with a crash on the backstretch, sending his #97 behind the wall.  Hightower came home 38th, out with a vibration.  The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by B.J. McLeod’s team.  McLeod himself returned to the #78 for the first time this year, but brake issues stopped his @CouchCrewChief Chevrolet after 159 laps.  All-time last-place leader Jeff Green exited 18 circuits later, this time citing crash damage on his #8 Safecraft Safety Equipment / Momo Chevrolet.  Green narrowly averted more serious damage when Martin Roy sped full speed between his car and the #28 of Dakoda Armstrong.

*This marked the 12th last-place finish for #93 in an XFINITY Series race and the first at Las Vegas.  The most recent last-place finish for the number - and the second RSS Racing team – came June 19, 2016 at Iowa, 22 races ago, when Josh Reaume scored his own first last-place run after electrical issues 4 laps into the American Ethanol E15 250.

40) #93-Jordan Anderson / 1 lap / electrical
39) #97-Stephen Leicht / 4 laps / crash
38) #13-Brandon Hightower / 18 laps / vibration
37) #78-B.J. McLeod / 159 laps / brakes
36) #8-Jeff Green / 177 laps / crash

1st) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Inc., Kaulig Racing, RSS Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)