Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Dover

PHOTO: @WilliamsonHS1
AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover

After three consecutive full fields, Dover will mark the eighth time in 2017, and the first time since Richmond, that there aren’t enough cars to fill the 40-car starting grid.  The 39 drivers who take the green on Sunday will comprise the shortest Cup field at Dover since September 19, 1993, when 37 drivers made up the SplitFire Spark Plug 500.

That said, there are new faces on this week’s grid, both of them well-known underdogs in the XFINITY Series, and both ready to make their Cup Series debut.  The first is Ryan Sieg, whose family-owned RSS Racing has done wonders since it moved from Trucks to XFINITY in 2013.  Both of his Top 5 finishes came in the summer classic at Daytona, and he was almost certainly headed toward another this year at Talladega before he was spun on the final lap.  On Sunday, Sieg will replace Corey LaJoie in BK Racing’s #83 JAS Expedited Trucking Toyota.  Sieg will pull double-duty this weekend, again driving RSS’ #39 Chevrolet on Saturday.

The other driver making his Cup debut is Ross Chastain, who for the first time will also attempt triple-duty in Dover’s Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series races.  His steed for Sunday will be Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet, swapping out regular driver Reed Sorenson for the third time this year.  In a peculiar combination of Chastain’s long-running sponsorship from the Florida Watermelon Association and the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, the latter a frequent Dover sponsor, Chastain’s red-and-green Chevrolet will carry the slogan “Protect Your Melon.”

Missing from this week’s entry list is Premium’s second car, #55, and driver Derrike Cope, who last Sunday in his first Coca-Cola 600 since 2004 recovered from a late-race mechanical issue to finish 31st.  Cope, the 1990 winner of Sunday’s race, hasn’t started at The Monster Mile since the fall of 2006, when he finished last for car owner Raynard McGlynn in the #74 Royal Administrative Services / Sundance Vacation Dodge.

Carl Long withdrew his #66 Chevrolet from last week’s Coca-Cola 600, but is back again this week, returning to the site of his Cup debut on September 24, 2000 (the same day Truck Series upstart Kurt Busch made his own debut in Jack Roush’s #97 John Deere Ford, replacing Chad Little).  Like Cope, Long’s most recent Cup start at Dover came for Raynard McGlynn, who Long put into both races at the track in 2005, driving the #00 Sundance Vacations Chevrolet, finishing 42nd both times.  Long and Motorsports Business Management are also entered in the XFINITY race with him in the #40 Chevrolet and teammate Timmy Hill in the #13 Dodge.

Sunday will also see the return of Cody Ware to Cup Series points competition, as he is listed to drive his father’s #51 Chevrolet for the first time since the Monster Energy Open (and his first in a points race since Atlanta in March).  It will mark the first time Ware has ever competed on the track in any racing division.  Joining Ware in the effort will be the East Carolina University athletics department, which kicks off a three-race sponsorship package that will include Indianapolis and the September return to Richmond.  The ECU Pirates are by no means strangers to NASCAR – they last sponsored car owner Ken Wilson’s XFINITY Series entry in 1996, which ran 39th at Rockingham with Rodney Combs, then 38th with Jeff Fuller at Atlanta.

Jeffrey Earnhardt had a Charlotte weekend he’d rather forget, breaking the rear end just as he was lapped, and triggering a two-car accident that eliminated Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.  With a series-leading four last-place finishes in 2017, Earnhardt looks for a turnaround at Dover, where he finished under power in 35th and 36th last year, both times driving for Go FAS Racing.  Both finishes were better than car owner Joe Falk’s last appearance here in Cup, where drivers Alex Kennedy and Landon Cassill ran 38th and 40th, respectively, in the fall of 2015.

As of this writing, there is no driver announced to pilot Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43 Smithfield Ford.  Aric Almirola, still recuperating from his injury at Kansas, is not expected back until August at the latest.  Regan Smith, who finished 4th in the Open, ran 22nd in the Coca-Cola 600, and will be at Dover driving Ricky Benton’s #92 Ford in the Truck Series.

Delaware 200 at Dover

40 drivers make up the entry list for Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, which sees Morgan Shepherd back on the list for the first time since Talladega.  Shepherd has made 30 XFINITY starts at “The Monster Mile,” including both races last year.  While he ran just 36th and 34th in those rounds, he also has a win at the track in 1986, where he won the pole and led half the distance in his own Buick.

Ray Black, Jr. is back as well, returning to SS Green Light Racing and the #07 Chevrolet.  Rising sponsorship troubles have put Black’s schedule for the season in jeopardy, and at Charlotte, Todd Bodine was tabbed as a last-minute replacement., which backed the team at Texas, Bristol, and Richmond, will again sponsor the car this weekend.  Black’s best finish in two XFINITY starts at the track was a 17th in his track debut here last spring.

Jeff Green missed the cut last week at Charlotte, but like last week, is again in B.J. McLeod’s flagship #78 Chevrolet.  Like Shepherd, Green is a one-time Dover winner, taking the checkered flag in the fall of 2001 and a pole in the spring of 2002.  Saturday will be his first start at the track for a team other than TriStar Motorsports since 2005, when he finished 38th for Fred Biagi.  Team owner B.J. McLeod drives the #8, and looks to improve on his track-best 19th-place finish in this race last year.  David Starr remains in the third McLeod entry, #99, which he drove to a 31st-place finish at Charlotte.

Veterans Motorsports, Inc. also looks to return to the starting grid after the team missed the Charlotte field with Jordan Anderson.  Mike Harmon is again listed as the driver of the #74 Dodge.  Harmon’s best finish in 16 Dover starts was a 25th in the fall race of 2015.  Speaking of Harmon and Anderson, there is no driver yet listed for RSS Racing’s second Chevrolet, #93, which continued its LASTCAR XFINITY Series domination last week with the returning Stephen Leicht.  While Leicht is not yet entered, Anderson himself is again entered in TJL Motorsports’ #1 “Fueled By Fans” entry for Friday’s Truck Series race with Harmon as crew chief.

Back in the XFINITY Series for the first time since Richmond is Brandon Brown, who is again scheduled to pilot Mario Gosselin’s #90 Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet.  Saturday will be Brown’s first XFINITY start at Dover, though he has started the last two Truck Series races there with a best finish of 14th in 2015.

Give a call to Jeremy Clements, who with his 17th-place finish last Saturday in Charlotte earned his third top-20 finish in the last four races.  Clements now stands 17th in points heading into Dover, where his best finish in 15 starts are a pair of 10th-place finishes in this same race back in 2012 and 2015.

Bar Harbor 200 Presented by Sea Watch International at Dover

With the closure of Tom DeLoach’s Red Horse Racing and its two strong entries driven by Timothy Peters and Brett Moffitt, there are still – somehow – 32 drivers at Dover to fill Friday’s field.  If this stays the same, it will mark just the second time this year, and the first time since Kansas, that there will be no trucks sent home after qualifying.

Peters and Moffitt could perhaps land in any one of the four trucks which have yet to name a driver as of this writing: Rick Ware’s #12 Chevrolet, the twin Mike Mittler-prepared MB Motorsports entries #36 and #63, and the #97 Toyota fielded by Jason Little.  Little returns to the series for the first time since 2015, when Dover marked the first of four races he entered for his son Jesse.  Driver and team earned their best finish the last time out at Homestead, coming home on the lead lap in 14th.

New this week?  Keep an eye on defending K&N West Series champion Todd Gilliland, the 17-year-old third-generation driver and son of Cup veteran David Gilliland.  The younger Gilliland is set to make his national series debut in a third Kyle Busch Motorsports truck, #46, with sponsorship from Pedigree.  He’ll be joined by teammates Christopher Bell, 4th in his XFINITY debut last week at Charlotte, and Harrison Burton, who we last saw in Trucks at Martinsville, where he ran 13th.

T.J. Bell returns to Al Niece’s #45 Chevrolet this weekend, having given his owner his best series finish two weeks ago at Charlotte – a 14th.  Bell has four Dover starts on his resume with a best finish of 12th way back in 2003, but as recently as 2014, he came home 15th driving for Mark Beaver (now the owner of Beaver Motorsports, which is not entered at Dover as of this writing).

Norm Benning has made seven Truck starts at Dover, but none since 2015.  He finished 26th that day, tying his second-best finish behind a 23rd in 2010.  He also has two Cup starts at the track, both back in 1989, when he ran 30th and 31st for car owner Jerry O’Neil.  Speaking of owner-drivers, Jennifer Jo Cobb looks to make her third Truck Series start of the season and her third in a row, having run 27th at Kansas and Charlotte.  In six Dover starts in the series, her best finish stands as a 20th in the spring of 2014.

Faith Motorsports has quietly cobbled together a decent start to its season.  Driver Matt Mills finished 17th at Kansas, then 24th at Charlotte, both two laps down but running at the finish.  The #44 Chevrolet is Mills’ again this Friday, and the 20-year-old will be making his Dover debut.

Kudos to Grant Enfinger, who has not only finished no worse than 17th this season, but earned a season-best 7th two weeks ago at Charlotte.  As with Mills, Friday will be something new for Enfinger, who has never piloted a Truck at Dover, though his short track experience as ARCA’s 2015 champion should certainly be an asset.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

CUP: Jeffrey Earnhardt’s ill-timed rear end failure leads to unfortunate crash

PHOTO: FOX Sports, @RPMReport
Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 4th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #33 Towne Bank Chevrolet fell out with rear end issues after 18 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Earnhardt’s 36th series start, was his fourth of the season and first since Texas, five races ago.

Since Texas, Earnhardt and the Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group team have continued to struggle near the back of the field.  A 27th-place finish at Bristol came within just one position of equaling the driver and team’s season-best 26th in the Daytona 500.  Talladega seemed like a good place to recapture that restrictor-plate magic, but contact at the start of the race forced early-race repairs that left him laps down, ultimately leading to an engine failure that left them 28th.  At the same time, the team has continued to put together sponsorship packages for their black-and-silver Chevrolet, including Towne Bank, which joined at Richmond and would return for both the Monster Energy Open and the 600.

PHOTO: NASCAR, @JEarnhardt1
As part of NASCAR’s newest Memorial Day tradition, all 40 starters carried the name of a fallen serviceman from the U.S. military.  Earnhardt’s windshield bore the name of U.S. Army Corporal Aaron D. Gautier of Hampton, Virginia, who was killed in action on May 17, 2007.

With the withdrawal of Carl Long’s #66 Chevrolet, Earnhardt and the remaining 39 other entrants were all guaranteed starting spots in Sunday’s field.  On Thursday, Earnhardt ranked 38th in the opening practice session, slowest of the 36 Chartered entries, and secured the 38th starting spot in qualifying, turning the slowest lap of the session at 176.459mph (nearly three full seconds slower than polesitter Kevin Harvick’s lap of 193.42mph).   Earnhardt remained 38th in Saturday’s second practice session, then was one of five drivers to sit out Happy Hour.

Starting 40th on the grid was rookie driver Corey LaJoie.  LaJoie’s #83 Hope For The Warriors Toyota, last in the Monster Energy Open the previous week, didn’t complete a qualifying lap as the car couldn’t get through inspection in time.  Also left in the back was point leader Kyle Larson, who damaged his #42 Target Chevrolet in practice with a slide into the Turn 2 wall.  Joining them in the rear would be Kasey Kahne’s #5 LiftMaster Chevrolet, dropped from 24th due to a rear gear change, and Ty Dillon’s #13 GEICO Military Chevrolet from Germain Racing, dropped back from 27th for an unapproved tire change.

By the first corner, LaJoie, Larson, Kahne, and Dillon had all passed Derrike Cope, who was making his first Cup points race at Charlotte since 2004.  Cope’s #55 Toyota, fielded by Premium Motorsports, picked up a number of sponsors by race day, including the Twin Peaks Restaurant, Internetwork Engineering, Sagebrush Steakhouse, and returning sponsor Xchange of America.  Fighting handling issues, Cope steadily lost touch with the rest of the field.  By Lap 3, Cope was nine seconds behind the leaders, 17.3 behind on Lap 7, and on the 15th circuit was the first to be lapped by race leader Kyle Busch, who moved to his inside in Turns 1 and 2.  Already, Cope was more than a full corner behind Jeffrey Earnhardt, who was holding down 39th, but with problems of his own.

Earnhardt’s #33 started smoking a few laps into the race, stopped briefly, then by the time Kyle Busch caught him in Turn 3 on Lap 19, the car’s rear end came apart, dousing the track in rear end fluid and metal debris.  Earnhardt fought to maintain control and pull to the inside, but not before debris damaged the front valence of Erik Jones’ #77 5-hour Energy Toyota and Chase Elliott’s #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.  Elliott’s car slowed suddenly past the start/finish line, a fire having broken out behind the front tires.  Behind him, a fast-closing Brad Keselowski was unable to slow his #2 Miller Lite Ford in time.  Caught in Earnhardt’s fluid, Keselowski slammed into Elliott at nearly full speed, destroying both cars.  Unable to return to the pit road, both were done for the day.

Earnhardt made it back to the garage area, where the team set to work on the rear end of the car.  While both Elliott and Keselowski’s cars were quickly taken off’s RaceView program, Earnhardt’s was still shown in the garage area through all of Stage 1 – even as FOX indicated Earnhardt was out of the race.  One lap behind Keselowski and Elliott since Kyle Busch lapped him at the time of the caution, Earnhardt needed to complete just two more laps to pass both Keselowski and Elliott.  If he did, Keselowski, ranked 39th after the accident, would be handed his first-ever Cup Series last-place finish in his 281st series points race.  By Lap 106, however, Earnhardt’s car was taken off RaceView, and did not return to the race, securing the last-place finish.  Keselowski and Elliott remained 39th and 38th, respectively.

37th went to Matt DiBenedetto, whose #32 Cosmo Motors Ford crashed hard on Lap 143, just before heavy rains delayed the race for nearly two hours.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Ty Dillon, who after frequent mid-race pit stops exited with a rear end issue of his own.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #33 in a Cup race at Charlotte since October 11, 1981, when Harry Gant’s Skoal Bandit Pontiac, then fielded by Hal Needham, started outside-pole next to Darrell Waltrip, only to break the crank after 4 laps of the National 500.

40) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 18 laps / rear end
39) #2-Brad Keselowski / 19 laps / crash
38) #24-Chase Elliott / 19 laps / crash
37) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 139 laps / crash
36) #13-Ty Dillon / 242 laps / rear end

1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Toyota (4)


XFINITY: Stephen Leicht – XFINITY race winner and Cup ROTY – continues to fight through “start-and-park” doldrums

PHOTO: @j66anderson
Stephen Leicht picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Hisense 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 11 of 200 laps.

The finish, which happened in Leicht’s 81st series start, was his first of the season and his first in an XFINITY Series race since July 28, 2012, 156 races ago, when his unsponsored #47 Chevrolet for The Motorsports Group had engine trouble on the opening lap of the Indiana 250 at Indianapolis.

Prior to this season, we last saw Leicht when he was declared the 2012 Cup Series Rookie of the Year.  It was the third in a series of small rookie fields, and the first since 1992 where the winner didn’t attempt to run the entire season.  Leicht drove 15 of 36 races for Joe Falk’s team Circle Sport, a car which ran the #33 for the half of the season where Richard Childress Racing didn’t enter the #33 in its place.  Leicht’s limited schedule and season-best 26th at Watkins Glen was still enough to beat Josh Wise for the title.  Wise drove 30 races in Front Row Motorsports’ #26, but “start-and-parked” for a large part of the schedule, finishing no better than a 30th at Sonoma.

Leicht also found himself on “start-and-park” duty in the XFINITY Series.  He made five starts in a fourth entry fielded by Curtis Key’s The Motorsports Group (TMG), finishing no better than 41st in TMG’s #47 Chevrolets.  His last-place finish that year at Indianapolis came quicker than the others.  During a pace lap interview with JR Motorsports Jackman Eric Ludwig, Leicht was seen driving down pit road behind him, then making the left turn into the garage.  He also made four Truck Series starts for Mike Hillman’s team.  There, he also exited early each time, finishing no better than a 30th at Michigan.

It must have been a frustrating turn of events for Leicht, whose NASCAR career began as a development driver for Yates Racing.  In 2007, he earned a breakthrough XFINITY Series victory at Kentucky, leading to a 7th-place finish in points, and for the next two years shared a ride at Richard Childress Racing.  Perhaps for this reason, he was absent from NASCAR for more than five years.  He returned to his short track roots in the CARS Late Model Tour, earning a pole at Hickory in 2015 and a best finish of 7th on two occasions – at the Motor Mile (Virginia) Speedway and the Concord (North Carolina) Speedway.

This past January, Victor Obaika announced that Leicht would be part of its new driver lineup for his two-car XFINITY effort.  Leicht would drive the flagship #97 Vroom! Brands Chevrolet with the #77 soon after entered for Josh Bilicki.  But Leicht’s return proved to have more in common with his time driving for TMG than with Yates.  After a DNQ for the Daytona opener, Leicht made the next four rounds, but each time fell out in the first 24 laps, most often due to parking, and finished no better than 37th.  The #77 withdrew or failed to qualify in all four of its entries, and Josh Bilicki soon left the team to driver Rick Ware Racing’s Cup entry in June’s upcoming race at Sonoma.  At Bristol, reports indicated that Obaika’s hauler was turned away at the entrance for arriving just moments before opening practice.  As of this writing, the Obaika team hasn’t entered an XFINITY race since.

Before Thursday’s opening practice at Charlotte, Leicht still didn’t have a ride, but was then tabbed to drive in place of current LASTCAR XFINITY leader Jordan Anderson in RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet – yet another “start-and-park” entry.  Leicht ran 39th-fastest of the 42 entrants in the first practice, skipped Happy Hour, and locked himself into the 30th starting spot with a lap of 175.228mph.  Anderson, who returned to drive for his mentor and Truck Series owner Mike Harmon, was one of the two drivers bumped from the field, joining Talladega standout and last-place record holder Jeff Green in B.J. McLeod’s #78 Chevrolet.

Starting 40th on Saturday was Dakoda Armstrong, who along with Brad Keselowski were unable to get through inspection in time to make a qualifying run.  Both were joined by Keselowski’s Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, sent to the rear for the team allegedly manipulating the decals on the car, and Carl Long, who replaced Austin Wayne Self in his #40 Dodge after final practice.

Long was running last on Lap 3 when the first caution fell for an accident between frontrunners Ryan Reed in the #16 Lilly Diabetes Ford and Christopher Bell’s #18 Sirius XM Toyota.  Daniel Hemric also made contact with the outside wall in his #21 Blue Gate Bank Chevrolet.  On top of it all, Austin Dillon was also sent to the rear when his #2 Rheem Chevrolet beat polesitter Justin Allgaier to the stripe at the start.  When the dust settled, Bell took last on Lap 5 followed by Hemric on Lap 6.

By the Lap 8 restart from the wreck, Leicht had fallen back to 40th for the first time, 6.762 seconds behind the leaders.  On Lap 10, that gap widened to 9.073 seconds, or more than two-tenths behind 39th-place Timmy Hill in Carl Long’s second Motorsports Business Management entry.  On the 11th circuit, Leicht was 25.737 seconds behind the leader, now 15 seconds behind Hill, and the next time by headed to the garage, done for the day.

39th went to Long, who smacked the outside wall on Lap 22 after an apparent blown tire.  38th went to Hill, his #13 Toyota out with electrical issues.  GMS Racing’s outspoken Spencer Gallagher ended up 37th after his #23 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet was involved in its second crash in as many races.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was 36th-place Michael Annett, whose #5 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet wrecked just moments before JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Charlotte since May 23, 1998, when Dave Blaney’s Amoco Pontiac crashed after 7 laps of the Carquest Auto Parts 300.  It was also Leicht’s first last-place finish at the track.

40) #93-Stephen Leicht / 11 laps / electrical
39) #40-Carl Long / 21 laps / crash
38) #13-Timmy Hill / 22 laps / electrical
37) #23-Spencer Gallagher / 166 laps / crash
36) #5-Michael Annett / 177 laps / crash

1st) RSS Racing (7)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)


Thursday, May 25, 2017

5/30/76: Terry Ryan’s journey from Iowa short tracks to NASCAR superspeedways continues to this day

PHOTO: Brian Norton Collection
On May 30, 1976, Terry Ryan picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the World 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #81 WAM Racing Chevrolet fell out with a broken hub after 11 of 400 laps.  The finish came in Ryan’s 3rd series start.

Born in Davenport, Iowa on May 13, 1938 and raised on his family’s farm north of Dewitt, Ryan’s journey into racing began as a teenager, when he befriended local driver Harold Schroeder.  He got a job working on Schroeder’s crew alongside Mel Kenyon.  While Kenyon would soon begin his career as “King of the Midgets” in USAC, Ryan spent more than a decade working his day job as a truck driver, and continued to volunteer on short track crews on the weekends.

Ryan’s chance to drive came in 1967, when he and a friend Jim Hanford built a 1957 Chevrolet hardtop to run in the Sportsman division.  Over the next two seasons, Ryan and his #61Jr. won track championships at Davenport and Maquoketa, Iowa, as well as East Moline, Illinois.  While Ryan had sponsorship from Don Hobbs, who owned a local Roto Rooter franchise, he couldn’t afford to graduate to Late Model competition, a move required for Sportsman champions.  Fortune came through tragedy when other racers petitioned car owner Gary Schomberg hire Ryan to replace Jack Henson, killed in an industrial accident.  With Hobbs remaining as sponsor, Ryan and Schomberg had continued success on the Midwest Late Model circuit.

Ryan’s first taste of professional stock car racing came in 1971, when Hobbs bought him a 1969 Chevelle that Whitey Gerken raced in USAC.  Prior to USAC, Gerken had raced in NASCAR, having graduated from the short-lived Convertible Series to finishing 16th in his first-ever Daytona 500 in 1960.  Gerken’s car gave Ryan valuable seat time, particularly on the speedways that were becoming a larger part of the NASCAR schedule, but lacked speed to become competitive.  By 1974, Ryan was in the market for a new ride and a chance at NASCAR’s elite Cup division.

The opportunity came from, of all places, a local restaurant owner named Bill Monaghan.  A gearhead in his own right, Monaghan wanted to get his start in racing and wanted to hire the best Iowa driver he could find.  That path led him to Ryan, and the two looked to buy a car to enter in NASCAR.  During their search, Ryan and Monaghan caught wind that A.J. Foyt wasn’t happy with a 1974 Chevelle that Banjo Matthews prepared for him at Daytona.  The Purolator-sponsored #50 ran a strong 5th in the Daytona 500, but Foyt was so frustrated with the car at Atlanta that, after a few sluggish practice laps, he left the track in a huff.  Monaghan bought Foyt’s car, then acquired a brand-new 1975 Chevrolet Laguna the following year, laying the foundation for a brand-new racing team: WAM Racing.

One of WAM Racing’s first entries was ARCA’s 1975 season opener at Daytona.  There, Ryan stunned onlookers by winning the pole in his very first attempt, putting up a lap of 185.837mph, then coming home 2nd to Ron Hutcherson.  Curiously, A.J. Foyt withdrew from that same running of the ARCA 200, having not received permission from USAC to enter a race not on the FIA International calendar.  While Foyt picked up his partial Cup schedule driving for Hoss Ellington, Ryan and WAM fine-tuned their two cars in USAC with eyes on a Cup Series debut in SpeedWeeks ’76.

Once again, Ryan found himself a storyline in qualifying and, once again, inextricably tied to A.J. Foyt.  In time trials for the Daytona 500, Foyt earned the provisional pole, followed by Dave Marcis and Darrell Waltrip.  At the end of the session, however, all three had their times disallowed: Marcis for a modified radiator and Foyt and Waltrip for extra fuel lines allegedly used to inject nitrous oxide.  With the three drivers forced to improve their starting spots in Thursday’s 125-mile qualifiers, it was an all-Iowa front row.  The pole fell to unheralded superspeedway driver Ramo Stott, active on the Cup tour since 1967.  On the outside-pole was Terry Ryan.  While Stott’s engine blew, leaving him 26th, Ryan finished a strong 6th, four laps behind David Pearson and Richard Petty when they wrecked off the final corner.

“It took me three days to get used to that track,” Ryan said of Daytona.  “But once you get used to it you can keep the throttle down all the way around.  And when you’re comfortable you can put the car anywhere you want.”

While driver and team took home a $13,800 share of the purse at Daytona, Monaghan wasn’t having any success finding sponsorship.  Still, the two red Chevrolets, numbered #81 with WAM Racing’s logo over the rear tires, continued to find success.  Their next time out at Talladega on May 2, Ryan improved on his Daytona finish with a 5th, four laps behind race winner Buddy Baker.  All of a sudden, the short-tracker from Iowa was becoming a legitimate threat to win on NASCAR’s superspeedways.  Driver and team’s next effort would come at the end of the month, where Ryan would attempt his first-ever Coca-Cola 600.

This time around, Ryan struggled in qualifying, earning just the 31st spot on the grid.  Starting last in the 40-car field was Rossville, Georgia driver Bob Burcham, active in Cup since 1968 and making his fourth and final start for car owner Harold Miller.  At the end of the race, Burcham finished 35th, just outside the Bottom Five, when the sway bar came loose on his #91 Chevrolet.  By then, Ryan was long since out with hub failure, done after just 11 laps.

Finishing 39th that afternoon was rookie driver Jimmy “Smut” Means, who had himself just transitioned from the short tracks of Alabama and Tennessee to race his #52 WIXC Chevrolet.  Seven laps after Means, 1970 Cup champion Bobby Isaac fell out with engine trouble on Neil Castles’ #6 Howard Furniture Chevrolet.  It was, as it turned out, Isaac’s 308th and final Cup start, ending a career with 37 career wins, 11 of which in his championship season alone.  37th went to owner-driver Bruce Hill, then in his third year of competition driving the #47 Howson Algraphy Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Wilmington, North Carolina native Jackie Rogers, who had a steering issue on Lou Viglione’s #60 Red Dog’s Chevrolet.

Ryan ran just two more races in 1976, finishing 32nd at Michigan, then 9th in the season finale at Ontario.  An elusive sponsorship deal finally came the next year from Valvoline, and the team began another seven-race stretch on the circuit’s superspeedways.  Three consecutive engine failure in the opening rounds taxed the team’s resources, and after a 9th-place run in the August race at Michigan, Ryan and WAM Racing abruptly disappeared from NASCAR.  Records indicate the duo made just one more attempt, looking to break into the 1980 Daytona 500 in an Oldsmobile, but an 18th-place finish in his 34-car qualifying race wasn’t quite enough to make the cut.

As late as August 17, 1980, Ryan was still winning on the USAC Stock Car circuit, taking the checkered flag at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.  Still under the banner of WAM Racing, Ltd., Ryan drove another quick car, a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro built by Hutcherson-Pagan with a 550-horsepower engine.  He made his final USAC start on October 12, 1980 at Springfield, where he came home 7th, then returned home to work on his farm.  Unable to sell his Camaro due to a series of rule changes for 1981, Ryan parked the car in a corner of his machine shed, covered it up, and called it a career.

Then in 1996, Ryan reunited with Bob Runge, his crew chief back in his NASCAR days, and along with crewman Buddy Jones formed R&R Vintage Racing, a team geared to compete in vintage racing events on dirt tracks across the midwest.  Ryan dusted off his old Camaro, fixed it up, and brought it to the track.  Interviews with Ryan showed him racing well into his 70s, and his accomplishments are still being recognized.  In 2008, Ryan was admitted to the Quad City Raceway Hall of Fame.

“We’ll go as long as the Lord lets us,” said Bob Runge in 2009, “As long as our bodies are capable.  I just don’t know how long we’ll go.  Maybe one of these days Terry will just decide he’s had enough.”

By Ryan’s account, that day may not be anytime soon.  “It’s just to have fun, and to spend money,” he said.  “Maybe if you’re lucky you make a little and get a little ahead.  But they say speed costs money.  How fast do you want to go?”

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #81 since February 16, 1975, when Warren Tope crashed after 3 laps of the Daytona 500, and is to date the only last-place finish for the number in a Cup race at Charlotte.
*This was the 14th and, to date, most recent time that a last-place finisher of a Cup Series race exited because of hub failure.  Prior to Ryan, it hadn’t happened since August 24, 1965, when Tom Pistone’s #59 1964 Ford started last and exited after 1 lap of the Moyock 300 at the Dog Track (North Carolina) Speedway after the left-front hub failed.  It’s also the only time a Cup Series last-place finisher at Charlotte retired for this reason.

40) #81-Terry Ryan / 11 laps / hub
39) #52-Jimmy Means / 32 laps / engine
38) #6-Bobby Isaac / 39 laps / engine
37) #47-Bruce Hill / 51 laps / transmission
36) #60-Jackie Rogers / 88 laps / steering

*ARCA Racing Results Archive
*Associated Press. “Surprising Ryan wins pole position,” The Montreal Gazette, February 8, 1975.
*Bloomquist, Nate. “Ryan keeps pedal to the metal,” Quad-City Times, April 2, 2009.
*Randy Ayers NASCAR Modeling Forum
*Roberts, Phil. “Terry Ryan: Still turning laps at age 71,” Late Model Illustrated (reposted at Front Porch Expressions), September 2009.
*Smith, Steven Cole. “Top NASCAR Engineering Cheats,” Popular Mechanics, August 27, 2010.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Charlotte

PHOTO: Essex Homes Facebook Page
Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

For just the third time in 2017, there are actually more cars than starting spots in Sunday’s field.  Back this week is Tommy Baldwin Racing, which we last saw at Talladega with Elliott Sadler.  Sadler will attempt to make his third start of the year in the black-and-red Accell Construction, Inc. colors we last saw with J.J. Yeley at Texas.  Sadler’s best Cup finish at Charlotte came in the 2004 Coca-Cola 600, where he ran 5th for Yates Racing.

While Cody Ware finished 18th of 24 starters in last Saturday’s Monster Energy Open, he is not listed to make his first start in a Cup points race since Atlanta.  Back in the #51 Chevrolet is Timmy Hill, who finished a season-best 28th two weeks ago in Kansas.  Hill’s best of four Charlotte starts was one position better, a 27th in the 2013 running of the Memorial Day classic.

Carl Long, 17th and penalty-free in the Open, is also back at Charlotte, set to make his second-straight Cup start after a respectable 31st in Kansas.  If he makes the cut, it will be his first Cup start at Charlotte since October 7, 2001, when his Thee Dixon-prepared #85 Noopco Dodge finished a career-best 29th in the fall race at the track.  Long has yet to start the 600, though he qualified for the 2000 race before handing his ride to the DNQ’d Darrell Waltrip.  Both Long and Hill are scheduled to pull double-duty as both are entered in Motorsport Business Management’s XFINITY cars for Saturday.

Also returning from a long Charlotte absence is Derrike Cope, who has 28 starts at the track but none since the 2004 Coca-Cola 600, where he ran 34th for Don Arnold in the #50 Bennett Lane Winery Dodge.  The fall 1998 race saw Cope score his only career pole for Bahari’ Racing, a race where he finished 14th.  His best finish in a points race at the track was a 6th way back in the fall of 1989.  This week, he and teammate Reed Sorenson will again field their identical black machines for Premium Motorsports.

BK Racing teammates Corey LaJoie and Gray Gaulding exited the Open early last week with LaJoie coming in last and Gaulding returning to run a handful more laps before pulling out.  While Gaulding has yet to make a Cup start in a points race at Charlotte, LaJoie did in the fall of 2014, when he finished 35th for Randy Humphrey’s brief solo venture in Cup driving the #77 Essex Homes Ford.

Last year, Jeffrey Earnhardt improved from a 39th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 to a 26th in the fall, both driving for Go FAS Racing.  Car owner Joe Falk at Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group has a best finish at the track of 15th in the fall of 1998, where Todd Bodine enjoyed a late-season push driving the #91 Chevrolet.  Matt DiBenedetto, slighted for last Saturday’s fan vote, also improved between both Charlotte races in 2016, running 32nd in the spring and a track-best 25th in the fall.

Cole Whitt once again finds himself in position to improve on TriStar Motorsports owner Mark Smith’s most recent performance at Charlotte.  The team last entered a Cup race at the track in the fall of 2012, where “start-and-park” teammates Mike Bliss and Reed Sorenson finished 39th and 41st, respectively, in the 43-car field.  Other than that race, Smith’s team has been absent from either Charlotte race since 1997, when Gary Bradberry ran 31st in the 600.

Hisense 300 at Charlotte

42 cars made the entry list for this week’s Charlotte race as the XFINITY Series has yet to have a short field in 2017.  New this week is second entry from GMS Racing for Truck Series driver Ben Kennedy.  Kennedy, who finished a strong 4th for Richard Childress last time out at Talladega, will drive the #96 Jacob Chevrolet alongside teammate Spencer Gallagher in the #23 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet.

Missing this week is Morgan Shepherd, who finished 35th three weeks ago at Talladega.  Shepherd has made 35 XFINITY starts at Charlotte with his track-best a pair of 3rd-place runs in 1982 and 1992.

Set to make his first XFINITY start since 2015 is Cale Conley, who we last saw driving the #14 Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America Toyota for TriStar Motorsports.  This week, Conley drives JGL Racing’s “Young Guns” entry, the #24 Toyota sponsored this week by Merchant Services, Ltd.  Conley already has three Charlotte starts to his credit with a best finish of 26th in the fall of 2015.

There’s been a driver switch at B.J. McLeod Motorsports as Jeff Green, who led 18 laps and finished 10th at Talladega, will move to the team’s flagship #78 Chevrolet with McLeod in the #8.  Green is a past winner of the Charlotte race, scoring back-to-back victories in the spring of 2001 for Greg Pollex and 2002 for Richard Childress.  He finished 37th here last fall.  McLeod’s best finish in four Charlotte starts was a 25th in this race last year.

Alex Labbe returns to XFINITY competition for the first time since Texas as again the driver of Mario Gosselin’s #90 Can-Am / Kappa Chevrolet.  It will be Labbe’s first start at Charlotte and a chance to improve on his career-best 23rd at Phoenix in his series debut last year.

Mike Harmon and the Veterans Motorsports, Inc. team are again entered this week in the #74 Dodge, having earned a respectable 25th back at Talladega.  Harmon’s best Charlotte finish in seven prior starts was a 29th in the fall of 2015.

Next Race: Dover 200 at Dover
June 2, 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

CUP: Matt Kenseth’s All-Star last-place finish by oil cooler a NASCAR rarity

Matt Kenseth finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #20 DeWalt Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project Toyota fell out with a busted oil cooler after 20 of 70 laps.

Last in February’s Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth came into the All-Star Race with both he and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team winless in 2017.  Kenseth himself scored a season-best 3rd in Atlanta, but two consecutive hard crashes at Phoenix and Fontana followed by a heartbreaking 23rd at Richmond after dominating from the pole left him just 18th in points after Kansas.  The All-Star Race must have seemed like a welcome change of pace: Kenseth earned his first Cup victory at the Charlotte track in 2000 and was the 2004 All-Star.  But a crash in last year’s All-Star Race left Kenseth 18th in the race, ending a streak of nine consecutive finishes of 9th or better in the event.

Kenseth’s black-and-gold DeWalt Toyota also carried logos for the Wounded Warrior Project, a program to help injured members of armed forces, their families, and caregivers.  The car ran 10th of the 16 locked-in drivers during Friday’s final practice, then lined up 8th in qualifying, missing the second round by just under a second.

Starting last in the All-Star Main was Chase Elliott, who made his second-consecutive start in the race by once again scoring the Fan Vote.  When the green flag dropped, Elliott immediately set to work on the field, dropping rookie Daniel Suarez to last as the field headed into Turn 1.  Suarez passed Clint Bowyer by the backstretch, and Bowyer moved Talladega winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to last as the field entered the backstretch on Lap 2.  On Lap 4, Stenhouse worked his way past Chris Buescher, last August’s breakthrough Pocono winner, and by Lap 7, Buescher’s #37 Bush’s Beans / Nature Valley / Kingsford Chevrolet was 10.1 seconds behind race leader Kyle Larson.

Kenseth didn’t enter the picture until after Larson took the checkered flag in Segment 1, when Kenseth reported he’d run over something on the track.  By the time the crew finished their pit stop, the #20 was pouring white smoke and leaving puddles of oil in the pit stall.  Fast work by the crew got Kenseth back on track in the 7th spot, but he was forced to surrender the position with a second stop.  The crew looked under the hood, and one of them, perhaps crew chief Jason Ratcliff, said “We’re done.  Shoot.  Hole in the oil cooler.”  The crew pushed Kenseth’s car behind the wall, done for the night.

Finishing 19th on Saturday was Phoenix winner Ryan Newman, whose #31 Caterpillar / Grainger Chevrolet made contact with the outside wall just before the end of Segment 3.  The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by drivers eliminated by having the worst average finish across the three segments: 18th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr in the #88 Axalta / Maaco Chevrolet, 17th-place Buescher, and 16th-place Kasey Kahne in the Mountain Dew Chevrolet.

*Kenseth is the first driver ever to finish last in both the Daytona 500 and the All-Star Race in the same year.  He crashed out after 103 laps of the season opener.
*This was Kenseth’s first last-place finish in the All-Star Race, the fifth-consecutive first-time last-placer in the event.
*Although NASCAR exhibition races are categorized separately from points races here at LASTCAR, Kenseth’s listed reason out by “oil cooler” is rare in the sport’s history.  Across all of NASCAR’s top three divisions – including both points races and exhibitions – only three times has an oil cooler been the listed cause of a last-place finisher’s exit.  All three were in Cup points races: Tighe Scott, out after 17 laps at Rockingham on October 21, 1979; Kyle Petty, out after 19 laps at North Wilkesboro on April 17, 1983; and Billy Standridge after 51 laps at Talladega on October 12, 1997.

20) #20-Matt Kenseth / 20 laps / oil cooler
19) #31-Ryan Newman / 57 laps / crash
18) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. / 60 laps / eliminated segment 3
17) #37-Chris Buescher / 60 laps / eliminated segment 3
16) #5-Kasey Kahne / 60 laps / eliminated segment 3

CUP: Corey LaJoie leads brief appearance by BK Racing in Monster Energy Open

PHOTO: Sarah Crabill, Getty Images
Corey LaJoie finished last in Saturday’s The Monster Energy Open at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #83 Hope for the Warriors Toyota fell out with a vibration after 12 of the race’s 50 laps.

Since his last-place finish at Las Vegas in March, LaJoie has still been looking for his first lead-lap finish and an equally elusive Top 20.  While his 24th-place finish at Bristol only tied his season best in the Daytona 500, FOX Sports’ Mike Joy pointed out that he was running 23rd with just 24 laps to go at Kansas when a crash in Turn 2 dropped him to 27th.

Ironically, LaJoie and BK Racing teammate Gray Gaulding weren’t on the preliminary entry list for Saturday’s open race.  Nor was Cole Whitt in TriStar Motorsports’ #72 RTIC Coolers Chevrolet.  But by Friday, all three were at the track, ready to fill the 24-car field.  LaJoie’s #83 carried a new look as it carried logos for Hope For The Warriors, a four-pronged program designed to help military veterans and their families.  LaJoie ran 17th in Friday’s lone practice session, then secured 15th on the grid with a lap of 182.420mph.

Starting last in the Open was Michael McDowell in Leavine Family Racing’s #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet.  Neither McDowell nor 23rd-place starter Reed Sorenson turned a lap in qualifying, placing Sorenson’s #15 Internetwork Engineering Chevrolet next to McDowell.  When the field received the signal for one lap to green, however, three more cars fell to the rear behind McDowell: Jeffrey Earnhardt in Circle Sport with The Motorsport Group’s #33 Towne Bank Chevrolet, Derrike Cope in Premium Motorsports’ #55 Ckezipis Law Toyota, and Carl Long in the #66 Waltrip Brothers’ Charity Championship Chevrolet.  After his sponsorship struggles last week at Kansas, Long’s sponsorship from the Waltrip family proved particularly timely: at the same Charlotte track in 2000, where Darrell Waltrip failed to make the field for his final Coca-Cola 600, Long let Waltrip race his Thee Dixon-owned #85 Ford.

On the first lap of the race, Long held 24th and last, nearly six seconds behind the leaders, but by Lap 4 had caught and passed the #51 Lily Trucking Chevrolet driven by Cody Ware, Ware’s first Cup race of any kind since Atlanta.  As on the previous quad-oval, Ware struggled to keep pace with the pack: he was 14.3 seconds back of the leader on Lap 5, 21.3 behind on Lap 8, and the first to lose a lap on the 13th circuit.  At almost the same moment Clint Bowyer put Ware a lap down, Corey LaJoie suddenly pulled behind the wall, and would not return for the rest of the night.

23rd in the Open went to Bowyer, who won the first stage in his #14 Haas Automation Ford and was the first to transfer into the All-Star Race.  22nd went to LaJoie’s teammate Gray Gaulding, whose #23 Bubba Burger Toyota went behind the wall at the end of the first segment on Lap 20, then returned on Lap 33 to run three more laps before parking for the night.  21st went to A.J. Allmendinger, whose fast #47 Kroger ClickList / Tide / Hellmann’s Chevrolet suffered left-rear damage when Austin Dillon broke loose beneath him.  The Crash Clock wasn’t necessarily a factor as much as the green-flag stop itself, which took Allmendinger out of contention.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Segment 2 winner Ryan Blaney, who also led his segment from start to finish.

*This marked the first last-place finish in the Open for the #83.
*LaJoie is the 21st different driver to finish last in the Open, a streak extending back to Delma Cowart’s final race in 1997.

24) #83-Corey LaJoie / 12 laps / vibration
23) #14-Clint Bowyer / 20 laps / won stage 1 / led 20 laps
22) #23-Gray Gaulding / 23 laps / electrical
21) #47-A.J. Allmendinger / 34 laps / crash
20) #21-Ryan Blaney / 40 laps / won stage 2 / led 20 laps

TRUCKS: Todd Peck drives Copp truck for Mittler to Charlotte last-place finish

Todd Peck picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s N.C. Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #63 Arthritis Foundation / Pulse Transport Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 4 of the race’s 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Peck’s 24th series start, was his second of the season and first since Atlanta, three rounds ago.  He is the first repeat last-placer of the 2017 Truck Series season.

Charlotte saw Peck in a new, but familiar ride.  After driving the first three races of the season for D.J. Copp in the #83 Chevrolet, Peck became the fifth different driver to drive Mike Mittler’s #63 in 2017 (joining Bobby Gerhart, J.J. Yeley, and Kyle and Kevin Donahue).  The truck, however, appeared to be the exact same #83 that Peck finished 18th with in February’s season opener at Daytona, the #83 replaced with Mittler’s #63.

Peck didn’t participate in Thursday’s opening practice, then anchored the chart in Happy Hour, running a single lap of just 144.733mph.  Noah Gragson, fastest in the session at 181.941mph, ran a lap nearly eight full seconds faster.  He then secured the 32nd and final starting spot in the field with a lap of 152.754mph, still the slowest of the session.  Two trucks, each nearly three seconds faster, were sent home: Brandon Brown, back in his family’s #86 Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet for the first time in 2017, and Cody Ware, unable to pull double-duty in his father’s #12 Motorsports Safety Group Chevrolet.  Ironically, Brown ran faster than Peck despite spinning in Turn 3 during his timed lap.

On race night, Peck was joined at the back by Jennifer Jo Cobb and Kansas last-placer Stewart Friesen, both sent to the rear with unapproved adjustments.  Friesen’s adjustments were made following a crash in qualifying.  Next to challenge for the spot was unlucky polesitter Christopher Bell, who led the first two laps before a flat left-rear tire sent him to the rear.  The next time by, Peck pulled behind the wall, done for the night.

31st and 30th went to Brandon Jones and Daytona winner Kaz Grala, respectively, who collected each other in a Lap 60 crash.  Jones’ #99 Roland Chevrolet owned by Daytona last-place owner Matthew Miller lost control and slid into Grala’s #33 Outlaw Fasteners Chevrolet, sending both trucks into the wall and leaving Grala with a loose rear trunk lid.  29th went to Regan Smith, who crashed hard entering the quad-oval when he backed his #92 BTS Tire & Wheel / Advance Auto Parts Ford into the outside wall.  On the Cup side, Smith recovered to finish a strong 4th in relief of Aric Almirola during Saturday’s Monster Energy Open.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Wendell Chavous, citing oil pump issues on Premium Motorsports’ #49 Down South Restoration & Remodeling Chevrolet.

*This was the first Truck Series last-place finish for the #63 since last fall at Texas, seven races ago, when Norm Benning’s unsponsored Chevrolet had engine troubles after 22 laps of the Striping Technology 350.  It’s also the first time the number has finished last in a Truck race at Charlotte.
*Peck is the first Truck Series last-place finisher at Charlotte to fall out with electrical issues since May 15, 2009, when Chris Fontaine’s #22 Red Rocks Cafe Dodge also exited after 4 laps.

32) #63-Todd Peck / 4 laps / electrical
31) #99-Brandon Jones / 62 laps / crash
30) #33-Kaz Grala / 70 laps / crash
29) #92-Regan Smith / 101 laps / crash
28) #49-Wendell Chavous / 106 laps / oil pump

1st) Copp Motorsports, Halmar Friesen Racing, MB Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

5/17/97: Twenty years ago, Delma Cowart forced off the track in the Winston Open

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On May 17, 1997, Delma Cowart finished last in the Winston Open at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #0 Masters Economy Inns Ford was disallowed without completing any of the 50 laps.

A “Clown Prince of Racing” in the tradition of Joe Weatherly, a man known to say “I never won a race, but I never lost a party,” the soft-spoken driver from Savannah, Georgia remains one of stock car racing’s most beloved veterans.  Like Harry Gant, Cowart was – and remains – a practiced handyman, his expertise in building swimming pools and septic systems.  By his own admission, Cowart got into racing in the 1970s just so he could make the best parties in Daytona Beach.  “All my friends was going to Daytona,” he said in a recent interview, “and in order to get into the party, you had to own a race car, so I got one.”  Sure enough, Cowart made those parties, and on at least one occasion played piano with the band.

Cowart’s first race car ran in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series, which at the time was transitioning into what is today the NASCAR XFINITY Series.  In 1981, when Anheuser-Busch signed on as title sponsor of the new NASCAR Busch Grand National Series, Cowart considered his options going forward.  Even with the sanctioning body’s new regulations that reduced the wheelbase for its Winston Cup cars, the price difference between a Busch and Cup car was relatively modest, just $3,000 to $5,000.  So as the ’81 season ended, Cowart sold his Busch car and bought a Buick Regal.  The listed owner was Heyward Grooms, who would later sponsor Cowart’s car through his company Heyward Grooms Construction.

Cowart chose car #0 from the start, and acquired sponsorship from hometown auto shop Coastal Transmissions to run at his home track in Atlanta.  He then surprised the field by grabbing the 40th and final spot in the starting grid, outpacing seven other drivers who had raced earlier that season: Ronnie Sanders, Mike Alexander, Billie Harvey, Dick May, Bruce Hill, Bobby Wawak, and Bob Schacht (for Hill, who passed away this past week, the Atlanta race was his final Cup attempt).  Even more impressive, Cowart finished a strong 18th, 13 laps down to race winner Neil Bonnett.

Over the next six seasons, Cowart ran no more than five races a year, each time competing on the fastest tracks in Daytona, Talladega, Atlanta, and Charlotte.  Daytona saw him improve his career-best finish with a 17th in the Firecracker 400, won by Bobby Allison.  It was some vindication for the owner-driver, who from 1982 through 1997 entered the Twin 125-mile qualifiers every year, but only four times – 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1992 – did he qualify for the “Great American Race.”  1992’s 25th-place finish which secured him a spot in Richard Petty’s final 500 may have been one of his greatest accomplishments.  Running near the tail end of the field, Cowart avoided a 13-car pileup on the backstretch, placing him 27th on Sunday’s grid.  It was his first Cup start since 1987, and one of his last in a points race.

Now with sponsorship from Masters Economy Inns, which would back the H.L. Waters-owned white-and-green #0 for the rest of Cowart’s Cup career, the driver fought against the same long odds as other underfunded drivers.  One particular challenge was getting engines, which required some bartering: “Back then, I got some engines from Junior Johnson,” said Cowart, “and the way I got them was I traded his engine builder a swimming pool for an engine.  Junior wouldn’t sell to anybody who was running against him engines at that particular time.  Of course, it’s changed drastically now.  You got like only two – Chevrolet people build engines, Ford people build engines altogether – but back then, each team had their own independent engine builder and you couldn’t buy an engine unless you knew somebody.”

Competing on NASCAR’s fastest tracks also proved dangerous.  During his Sportsman days in 1979, it was Cowart whose #09 Chevrolet Nova slammed full speed into the rear of Joe Frasson’s stopped #50 Mercury, triggering an explosive fireball that left Frasson with severe burns to his face.  Frasson managed to climb from his car, but Don Williams, also involved in the wreck, lost his life.  In 1988, Cowart again found himself surrounded by fire when he rear-ended J.D. McDuffie’s brand-new #70 Rumple Pontiac.  Pinned against the outside wall by the crashing Ralph Jones, Cowart’s contact intensified an existing oil fire under the hood, leaving McDuffie with severe burns to his unprotected hands.  Through it all, Cowart managed to keep his health – and his sense of humor – and was always back in Florida for another try at NASCAR’s biggest race.

By 1997, Cowart, now 55, had begun to turn his attention to ARCA, where he again ran his #0 on the superspeedways.  His best finish in the series was a pair of 10th-place runs in 1991, which came at Talladega and the Texas World Speedway.  In February, he’d run his 16th and final Twin 125, which he left with a damaged race car.  On Lap 17, as the leaders lapped him in Turn 4, Cowart lost control and slid into 3rd-place Geoffrey Bodine, sending both cars spinning into the grass.  Cowart hit the inside wall flush with the driver’s side, leaving him last in the race and out of the 500 field.  It was the latest in a series of frustrations.  In ’97, Cowart hadn’t made a start in a Cup points race since July 26, 1992, when he ran 37th of 40 in the DieHard 500 at Talladega.  In a combined 80 career Cup entries (including the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994), he’d failed to qualify 59 times (including two withdrawals), and in the 21 he’d made, he failed to finish 13 of them.

May’s running of the Winston Open was an opportunity for a much-needed pay day.  He’d run the event just once before, finishing 25th in the 36-car field in 1996 (Brad Teague drove his car there in ’95), and was back to running the white-and-green Ford for his return in ’97.  He would line up 30th in the 31-car field, one spot ahead of Ed Berrier in the #95 Feed The Children Chevrolet for longtime single-car team Sadler Brothers Racing.  A 32nd entry, a #55 Ford fielded by Michael Waltrip and driven by Joe Ruttman, was withdrawn.  As to what happened to Cowart that weekend, it’s best let the driver tell it, as he did years later on the Growing Bolder Radio Show:

“We went up there for the Winston Open, and they invited all the Winston Cup teams – it was just a money race, it wasn’t a points race, it wasn’t none of that.  So we got there you know on time and everything, which is unusual for me, but we got there on time, got out on the race track about 10:30 that morning, wiped an engine out.  Well, I had another engine in the truck, but the problem was I’d bought the engine from Rusty Wallace and he had Tilton(?) stuff for the clutch and the starter and all that stuff and I’d been running Quartermaster. . .

“. . .Make a long story short, them boys they worked all day to get it cranked, finally they got it cranked ‘bout time they said ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’ out on the race track.  I cranked mine up in the garage area, pulled it out behind everybody, and made about five laps before they black-flagged me.  But my theory is this: I went there to race, I worked, they worked all day to race, there wasn’t no way in the world I wasn’t gonna get in that car crank it up and try to race.”

Cowart wasn’t credited with completing any laps, and was classified last in the 31-car field with no share of the purse.  TNN’s original broadcast indicates Cowart was on the track coming to the green flag, but fell to the rear on the backstretch and pulled onto pit road just as the race started.

30th went to Gary Bradberry, whose #19 Child Support Recovery International Ford suffered a vibration after 16 laps (the car owned by TriStar Motorsports, who currently fields Cole Whitt’s #72 Chevrolet in Cup).  18th went to owner-driver Brett Bodine, handling woes to blame on his #11 Close Call Calling Card Ford.  Out the same lap in 17th was Robby Gordon, then attempting his first full season for car owner Felix Sabates.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Dave Marcis, who prior to the green made an unscheduled stop in his #71 RealTree Chevrolet along with Morgan Shepherd.

Cowart never entered or attempted another Cup race, though he did try to enter one more ARCA superspeedway event, coming up short of a spot in October 11, 1997 race at Talladega.  His non-entry to the 1998 Daytona 500 marked the first time he didn’t start the Twin 125s since 1981.  As of his interview for Growing Bolder, Cowart had returned to Savannah, Georgia, and is still working on swimming pools and septic systems.  For more on Cowart, be sure to click the links in my “Sources” list below for Growing Bolder’s excellent interviews.

*This remains the first and only last-place finish for the #0 in the Open event prior to the All-Star Race.  The number has also finished last in 19 Cup Series points races, but none since Cowart’s oil leak after 38 laps of the 1985 Daytona 500.  For all his challenges, that was Cowart’s only last-place finish in a Cup points race.  His other three came in exhibitions (1986, 1997 Twin 125s, 1997 Winston Open).
*As of this writing, the only other last-place finisher in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions (points or exhibition) to be listed as “disallowed” was John Andretti during the 2000 Budweiser Shootout.  Unlike Cowart, Andretti was “disallowed” by the Petty team’s longstanding non-participation in the Pole Award program.

31) #0-Delma Cowart / 0 laps / disallowed
30) #19-Gary Bradberry / 16 laps / vibration
29) #11-Brett Bodine / 27 laps / handling
28) #40-Robby Gordon / 27 laps / clutch
27) #71-Dave Marcis / 32 laps / engine

*1997 Gatorade Twin 125s, CBS
*1997 Winston Open, TNN
*Growing Bolder Radio Show: Delma Cowart
*Growing Bolder Radio Show: One of a Kind
*Ultimate Racing History

Monday, May 15, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: All-Star Week

Carl Long's "illegal" engine in 2009 was actually
his backup motor, which also blew after 3 laps.
PHOTO: spokeo
Monster Energy Open at Charlotte

In lieu of covering the 16 drivers already qualified for Saturday’s All-Star Race, let’s look at the entry list for the Monster Energy Open, from which four drivers will transfer into the main event.

Currently, just 21 drivers are listed, which would mark the shortest entry list for this race since the inaugural event at Atlanta in 1986, where just 14 drivers were allowed to compete because of a fan vote.  Even with the likely additions of the omitted BK Racing cars of Gray Gaulding (#23) and Corey LaJoie (#83) as well as TriStar’s #72 of Cole Whitt, the resulting 24-car field would be tied with 2002 for the fourth-smallest in the race’s 31 previous runnings.  Incidentally, Whitt’s entry would mark TriStar’s first start in the Open since 2013, when Mike Bliss finished 17th of 23 in Humphrey-Smith Motortsports’ #19 Gentry Plastics Inc. Toyota.

One to watch?  You better believe it’s Carl Long, who returned last week at Kansas to score a 31st-place finish, already the second-best of his Cup career.  Saturday, Long and the green-and-gold #66 Chevrolet return to the site of the driver’s darkest moment, the record-setting penalty handed down following a last-place finish in this same event, eight years ago.  This will be Long’s seventh start in the Open as a driver.  His best finish came in 2004, when he ran 14th in the #46 Dodge.

Also returning to the Open field after a long absence is Derrike Cope in Premium Motorsports’ #55 Chevrolet.  Cope last entered the race in 2011, when his Larry Gunselman-prepared #64 Morningstar Marina Ford was involved in a hard two-car accident with Landon Cassill after 2 laps, leaving him last.  Cope’s seventh start of the season last Saturday at Kansas very nearly resulted in another 40th-place performance when his engine failure happened moments after Ryan Newman’s.

Back for the first time since early this season is second-generation driver Cody Ware, who we last saw trail the field at Atlanta.  By all accounts, this will also be Rick Ware Racing’s first start in the Open race, and an opportunity to gain some important notes for the upcoming 600.  While Kyle Busch is the only driver running double-duty between the All-Star Race and Friday’s Truck race, Ware is the only driver scheduled to pull the double between Trucks and the Open.

Jeffrey Earnhardt reunites with Richmond sponsor Towne Bank on Circle Sport with The Motorosports Group’s #33 Chevrolet.  Earnhardt finished 24th of 25 cars in last year’s Open, when he drove for Go FAS Racing.  This year, Go FAS’ #32 Ford will be driven by Matt DiBenedetto, one of the favorites to score this year’s Fan Vote.  Helping the push is the Reddit online community, which returns to sponsor a Cup car for the first time since the Dogecoin effort voted Josh Wise into the 2014 race (then sponsored Wise three more times into 2015).

The “x-factor” in the Open field remains Richard Petty’s #43 Smithfield Ford, whose plans for this weekend are yet to be known.  A brutal crash left driver Aric Almirola with a compression fracture of his L5 vertebrae.

Next Race: Hisense 300 at Charlotte
May 27, 2017

North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte

33 drivers are entered to attempt the 32-truck field for Friday’s fifth round of the Camping World Truck Series, which if unchanged will continue the series’ streak of full fields.  Despite my earlier predictions, Jim Rosenblum’s #28 team FDNY Racing is as of yet not entered in Friday’s race, marking just the second time the team hasn’t raced at Charlotte since 2013.  Richie Wauters’ #5 Toyota, withdrawn at Martinsville and not entered at Kansas, is again not entered this week.  However, Tim Self’s team is back, putting Austin Wayne Self behind the wheel of the #22 Accu-Tech / Snap Track / Don’t Mess With Texas Toyota.

As of this writing, TJL Motorsports does not have a listed driver for the #1 Chevrolet, the only driver “TBA” on this list.  The team would do well to bring back Jordan Anderson, who last week at Kansas averted disaster after contact from a crashing Stewart Friesen to finish 19th.  Anderson has finished under power in each of his two Charlotte starts, running 23rd in 2015 for Mike Harmon (now the #1 team’s crew chief) and 24th last year for Bolen Motorsports.

Back on the entry list this week is Brandon Brown in the #86 Costal Carolina University Chevrolet.  His family-owned team, Brandonbilt Motorsports, has apparently parted ways with Martins Motorsports’ #44, a partnership which carried Brown through the first three rounds of the season, including Brown’s only start this year, a 27th at Martinsville.  Prior to Kansas, the Martins #44 was acquired by Faith Motorsports and team owner Shane Lamb, now the sole owner.  Matt Mills, who ran a respectable 17th for Lamb at Kansas, is again entered in Lamb's #44 Chevrolet.

Camden Murphy, who at Kansas filled the field in a second D.J. Copp entry, gets to start this week in Mike Mittler’s venerable #63 Chevrolet.  If unchanged, Friday will mark the first time in Murphy’s four-year career that he will start more than one Truck Series race in a season.

T.J. Bell returns to Al Niece’s #45 Black Riffle Coffee Co. Chevrolet for the first time since Martinsville, where he ran 24th.  Bell has five Truck Series starts at Charlotte to his name with the far and away best coming in 2007, a 9th for Roush-Fenway Racing in the #50 Heathcliff’s Cat Litter Ford.

Who’s going to miss the field this Friday?  It could once again come down to owner-drivers Norm Benning and Jennifer Jo Cobb, who both made their first starts of the season last week at Kansas.  Benning, who ran 24th in what was his 165th Truck Series start, has a best finish in Charlotte of 17th in 2014, his last year driving #57.  Cobb, 27th at Kansas in her 133rd series start, finished one spot ahead of Benning that night in 2014, coming home a track-best 16th.

Finally, give a call to Ross Chastain, who after being collected in the opening-lap wreck at Daytona has finished no worse than his 18th-place finish last week at Kansas.  In the other two races, he’s come home 10th at Atlanta and a season-best 7th at Martinsville.  Chastain’s best Truck Series finish at Charlotte was a 9th in 2013, when he drove for Brad Keselowski Racing, though he’s run no better than 17th there in six XFINITY starts.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

CUP: Ryan Newman last in wild Kansas race; Carl Long’s return yields 2nd-best finish of Cup career

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Ryan Newman picked up the 9th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Go Bowling 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet fell out with a broken oil pump after 154 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Newman’s 559th series start, was his first of the season and first since a crash during last year’s spring race at Phoenix, 44 races ago.

The last-place finish in the 2016 Phoenix race came at the beginning of what became a third-consecutive winless season for Newman, a streak which extended back to Indianapolis during his final season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013.  It was at Phoenix again in the fall of 2014 that he bumped Kyle Larson out of the way on the final lap, securing a spot in the first “Round of Four” at Homestead.  And it was at Phoenix this past March where the streak finally ended, a sudden reversal of fortune after a daring pit call allowed him to snatch away an almost certain victory from Kyle Busch.  Yet, Newman has continued to struggle to find consistency this season, scoring just two other Top 10s beside the Phoenix win, and he entered Kansas just 14th in points.

40 drivers arrived to attempt the field for the Go Bowling 400, meaning that all the entrants would be guaranteed a starting spot.  Newman secured the 19th spot in qualifying with a lap of 187.663mph, having run 20th in Friday’s opening practice and 24th in Happy Hour.

Starting 40th on Saturday night was perennial underdog Carl Long, who was making his first start in a Cup Series points race since 2006.  In 2009, Long was handed one of NASCAR’s heaviest penalties when his backup engine, which blew after just three laps of the qualifier for the All-Star Race at Charlotte, was found to be a fraction too large.  Unable to successfully appeal or pay the $200,000 fine, Long was banned from the Cup Series garage, condemned to “start-and-park” in the sport’s lower divisions.  It wasn’t until 2014, when Long partnered with Derek White to form the XFINITY team Motorsports Business Management (MBM), that Long was able to find some form of stability in NASCAR.  Last summer, when White was himself suspended from NASCAR for alleged tobacco trafficking, Long took control of MBM, and eyed a return to Cup.  This year, with short fields once again a persistent problem, Long was cleared to return to Cup, filling the field just as he had in 2004 and 2009.

At the MBM shop, Long prepared a Chevrolet previously owned by HScott Motorsports, which up until the 2016-2017 offseason fielded two full-time Cup entries for Justin Allgaier (#51) and Michael Annett (#46).  With HScott closed, Long purchased one of the HScott cars and repainted it green and yellow, the same colors as the Cup car fined back in 2009.  The car carried #66 in place of Long’s traditional #46 as a tribute to Mark Thompson, the ARCA veteran who had continued to drive for MBM on the superspeedways, most recently last week at Talladega.

Sponsorship for Long’s #66 arrived in the form of Poker Palace as well as Colorado-area marijuana and vape shop Veedverks.  By Friday’s opening practice, however, Veedverks’ logo had been taken off the hood of Long’s car.  Veedverks protested the removal, citing an e-mail from NASCAR approving the sponsorship.  Long explained that NASCAR changed its mind because of a spelling error in the application.  Other theories advanced by fans regard Kansas state law on marijuana and NASCAR’s own drug policy which lists marijuana on its list of prohibited substances.  Whatever the reason or reasons, Veedverks wasn’t on Long’s car for the rest of the weekend, and despite an attempt by the company to promote a different brand, NASCAR has refused them to sponsor Long at Charlotte.

On Saturday afternoon, Long was joined at the back of the field by Michael McDowell, his #95 Tommy Willimas Drywall Chevrolet sent to the rear for an engine change, and Matt DiBenedetto, sent to the back in his #32 Ford for changing tires.  As the field steered into Turn 1 for the first time, however, Long had retaken the 40th spot, and was starting to lose touch with the field.  Handling issues which burdened his left-front tire, then the right-front, made him fall back quickly.  At the end of the first lap, Long was already 6 seconds behind the leader, then 11.1 back on Lap 3, losing a tenth nearly every second.  On Lap 12, Long was the first to go down a lap to the leaders, and he was two behind on Lap 25.  He didn’t pass another car on the track until Lap 37, when he caught and passed the Rick Ware Racing entry of Timmy Hill, who was one circuit ahead of him.

Landon Cassill also struggled early on.  After starting 36th in Front Row Motorsports’ #34 A&W Ford, he hit the wall twice in the first 51 laps, drawing the first two cautions.  The second hit put him on the same lap as Long in 39th, though he still managed to claw his way back onto the lead lap for a 21st-place finish.  Cassill’s second wreck brought in another last-place contender.  During pit stops, Chase Elliott collided with Michael McDowell as he left his pit stall, causing severe damage to the right-front of Elliott’s #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.  Though Elliott cleared the Crash Clock and maintained minimum speed, he returned to pit road on Lap 65, where he fell multiple laps down as the crew made more permanent repairs.  On Lap 69, he was four laps down, taking 40th from Carl Long.  From there, Long would slowly climb through the field, eventually finishing 31st – the second-best finish of his Cup career (behind a 29th at Charlotte in 2001).

Chase Elliott returned to the track on Lap 72, now seven laps down to the field in last place.  His bad night was made worse by two penalties for too many men over the wall during his stops.  Elliott continued to hold the spot as the race neared its halfway point, and appeared headed toward his first last-place finish in his 52nd series start.

During this time, Matt DiBenedetto started having trouble.  On Lap 103, the Californian driver reported a possible broken shock on his #32 Ford.  With the caution out for debris off Jimmie Johnson’s car, DiBenedetto pulled behind the wall on the 105th circuit and started to slip down the standings, taking last from Elliott on Lap 112.  The crew discovered that both the shock and the shock mount had broken, and the team pulled off all the wheels to trace any other damage to the suspension.  On Lap 127, the Go FAS Racing team pushed DiBenedetto out of the garage and onto the track, where the #32 rejoined the race in last, 23 laps down to the leaders.  Even then, all 40 cars were still on the track, and the last-place battle was far from settled.

That all changed on Lap 154.  At that point, Ryan Newman had kept his nose clean and had worked his way into the Top 10 for the restart following Gray Gaulding’s blown tire.  Newman was holding down 9th when his car slowed suddenly off Turn 4, then dropped to the apron.  The on-board camera soon revealed the trouble – the engine had shut off completely.  Newman coasted to the garage area, where the crew diagnosed an oil pump failure.  Done for the night, Newman took last on Lap 178, just as DiBenedetto reported that he’d dropped a cylinder.  Still, DiBenedetto managed a 32nd-place finish.

39th went to Derrike Cope, who pulled behind the wall in the final segment with engine trouble on his #55 Toyota.  It was Cope’s first Cup start at Kansas since 2003.  The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by a scary and brutal three-car accident that took place on Lap 200.  What appeared to be a shattered right-front brake rotor sent Joey Logano’s #22 AAA Insurance Ford into Danica Patrick’s #10 Wonder Woman / One Cure Ford, turning the race for 10th spot into a fiery crash.  Aric Almirola, running the outside lane in his #43 Smithfield Ford, got caught in the debris path and slid out of control into Logano’s car, stopping him suddenly at corner entrance.  While Logano and Patrick walked away, Almirola – though conscious - had to be cut from his car and transported to a local hospital for observation.  Almirola was credited with a 38th-place finish with Logano 37th and Patrick 36th.

*This marked Newman’s first last-place finish in a Cup Series race at Kansas since September 30, 2007, when Newman’s #12 Alltel Dodge fielded by Penske Racing fell out with engine trouble after 108 laps of the Lifelock 400.
*This was the first last-place finish for car #31 in a Cup race at Kansas.
*It was also just the tenth time in Cup Series history that the last-place finisher of a points race was listed out because of a busted oil pump.  It last occurred on May 5, 2002, during the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond, where Randy Renfrow’s unsponsored #59 Price Motorsports Dodge fell out after 58 laps.
*Newman completed the second-most laps of a Cup Series last-place finisher at Kansas, trailing the all-time record of 229 laps on September 28, 2008.  Curiously, the driver who finished last that day was Martin Truex, Jr., who took the checkered flag on Saturday.

40) #31-Ryan Newman / 154 laps / oil pump
39) #55-Derrike Cope / 179 laps / engine
38) #43-Aric Almirola / 199 laps / crash
37) #22-Joey Logano / 199 laps / crash
36) #10-Danica Patrick / 199 laps / crash

1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (3)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Toyota (4)


TRUCKS: Stewart Friesen scores first Truck Series last-place finish for #52 since 2005

PHOTO: FS1, @CautionClock20
Stewart Friesen picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Toyota Tundra 250 at the Kansas Speedway when his #52 Halmar International Chevrolet was involved in a two-truck accident after 16 of 167 laps.  The finish came in Friesen’s 10th series start.

Friesen is a Truck Series rookie, but by no means a newcomer to oval racing.  The native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (and now residing in Sprakers, New York) has been a fixture on dirt tracks across the northeast.  He’s best known for his aggressive driving in the Big-Block Modified circuit, scoring 23 Super DIRTcar Series victories, and has also competed in the World of Outlaws.

Along the way, Friesen has partnered with Chris Larsen, owner of civil construction firm Halmar International, and the two eyed a jump to NASCAR.  Last year, Larsen fielded a #16 Chevrolet for Friesen at the Eldora dirt track race.  Friesen finished 3rd in the second heat race, started 12th in the main, and finished 28th after a late-race crash.  He then ran five of the final 11 rounds of the season, earning a season-best 13th at Loudon.

On January 9, 2017, Friesen and Larsen announced the formation of Halmar Friesen Racing, which would attempt the full Truck Series schedule.  The team would be managed by Tommy Baldwin, Jr., whose Cup team Tommy Baldwin Racing sold its charter to Leavine Family Racing and scaled back to a part-time Open effort.  The team, now fielding #52, had a rough start to the 2017 season when they were involved in the grinding Lap 2 accident, leaving them next-to-last in the 32-truck field.  But a lead-lap 19th-place run at Atlanta and a 25th-place finish at Martinsville, 3 laps down, lifted the team to 19th in points headed to Kansas.

Just 31 trucks made the preliminary entry list for Friday’s race, threatening the first short field of the season.  That changed by Friday, when D.J. Copp, who entered Atlanta last-placer Todd Peck in the #83, fielded a second truck, #36, for Camden Murphy.  The 20-year-old Murphy has now made one Truck Series start a year for the last four seasons, all for different teams.

Without further added entries, both owner-drivers Norm Benning in the #6 Houston Roll Pipe Chevrolet and Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #10 Mark One Electric / Chevrolet were able to make their first starts of the season.  Friday would also see the debut of Faith Motorsports, whose #62 either withdrew or failed to qualify for each of its entries with driver Donnie Levister.  After Tommy Joe Martins returned to XFINITY Series competition, Faith Motorsports acquired Martins’ #44, which Matt Mills would drive on Friday.

Starting 32nd and last on Friday was Cody Ware, making his first start of the season in Beaver Motorsports’ #50 Motorsport Safety Group Chevrolet.  Ware decorated his truck with emojis, changing his driver name above the door to “Body Ware.”  Ware’s weekend began with some difficulty when he blew a tire and hit the wall, damaging the #50 team’s only truck.  The team managed to make repairs, as did D.J. Copp’s team after Todd Peck hit the wall in qualifying.  Peck and Spencer Boyd, also sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments, joined Ware in the back for the start of the race.

The race began with struggles for Wendell Chavous, driver of Premium Motorsports’ unsponsored #49 Chevrolet.  Chavous brought out the first yellow on Lap 7 when his truck slapped the outside wall off Turn 4.  Another wreck came on the restart when the #29 Cooper Standard Ford of Chase Briscoe clipped and spun Grant Enfinger’s #98 Ride TV Toyota off Turn 2, nearly collecting Enfinger’s ThorSport teammate Cody Coughlin in the #13 JEGS Toyota.

Two laps after the ensuing restart, Stewart Friesen was running near the tail end of the field when his #52 lost control in Turn 3, sending him backing into the outside wall.  As he slid down the inside of the track, Jordan Anderson cut to the inside line, looking to clear the wreck.  Anderson announced that Wednesday he would be driving for Martinsville last-placers TJL Motorsports, carrying the names of fans on the rear decklid to thank them for the post-Atlanta rebuild of his Rick Ware-prepared #12 Chevrolet (now driven by Spencer Boyd).  Anderson nearly had Friesen cleared when the nose of the #52 slammed into the right-rear of Anderson’s truck, tearing up the sheet metal behind the rear wheels as well as the nose of the #52.  Unable to clear the Crash Clock, Friesen was done for the day.  Anderson managed to clear the clock and finish 19th.

Chavous, running three laps down after his earlier crash, saw his night end with an even harder hit with the Turn 4 wall on Lap 24, leaving him next-to-last.  30th and 29th went to D.J. Copp teammtes Camden Murphy and Todd Peck, respectively, out with electrical and brake issues.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Noah Gragson in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #18 Switch Toyota.  He’s now finished 14th or worse in three of his four starts this season.

*Friesen is the first Canadian-born driver to finish last in a Truck Series race since March 30, 2014, when Terrebonne, Quebec’s Alex Guenette lost the fuel pump on fellow countryman Mario Gosselin’s #74 Motos Illimitees Chevrolet after 32 laps of the Kroger 250 at Martinsville.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #52 in a Truck Series race since May 20, 2005, when the ignition failed on Ken Schrader’s #52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet after 9 laps of the Quaker Steak and Lube 200 presented by Click It or Ticket.  The number had never before finished last in a Truck Series race at Kansas.

32) #52-Stewart Friesen / 16 laps / crash
31) #49-Wendell Chavous / 21 laps / crash
30) #36-Camden Murphy / 27 laps / electrical
29) #83-Todd Peck / 29 laps / brakes
28) #18-Noah Gragson / 68 laps / clutch

1st) Copp Motorsports, Halmar Friesen Racing, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)