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 SparrowRanch.org 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 IncredibleBank.com 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 IncredibleBank.com 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 / Driven2Honor.org 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)


Thursday, May 11, 2017

3/1/92: John McFadden’s “grocery getting” a lesser-known tale of 1992 Winston Cup season

PHOTO: @MeansRacing52
On March 1, 1992, John McFadden picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the GM Goodwrench 500 at the North Carolina Motor Speedway when his #53 Means Racing Pontiac fell out with valve trouble after 8 of 492 laps.

The finish, which came in McFadden’s 7th series start, was his first since July 1, 1989 during the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, 74 races previous, when his #24 Alliance Training Centers Pontiac was eliminated in a first-lap crash.

McFadden had been active in NASCAR since 1982.  He raced in two of the first three current-day XFINITY Series races that year, running next-to-last at Daytona and Bristol, then made his Cup debut during the same Bristol weekend, coming home 24th in a field of 30 in the #86 Setzer Well Company Buick.  The Cup car was one of the last fielded by Will Cronrkrite, who also gave Dale Earnhardt one of his first Cup Series rides in 1978.  In late 1982, McFadden fielded his own Cup car, a #45 Buick, and made three starts in the ’83 season, plus both Charlotte races in the second-tier series.  He then branched out into ARCA in 1985, running exclusively on the speedways at Daytona, Talladega, and Atlanta, and in 1988 picked up his first Top 10 with a 9th in Alabama.  That same year, Alliance Training Centers signed as his biggest sponsor.  Following a pair of Cup races in 1989, including the previously-mentioned last-place run at Daytona, McFadden was absent from NASCAR and ARCA until 1992.

While the 1992 season is best remembered for its historic finale at Atlanta - where Alan Kulwicki edged race winner Bill Elliott for the championship, Richard Petty made his final start, and Jeff Gordon made his first – there were ironically several races where NASCAR struggled to fill the fields.  Of the 29 races run that year, six sent just one car home while another five had just enough cars to fill the field.  There was also a small rookie crop that season where newcomers Jimmy Hensley, Andy Belmont, Dave Mader III, and Bob Schacht all ran partial schedules.

Just as in 2004 and 2009, the opportunity was there for new teams and drivers to fill the fields.  Some of these drivers were series veterans.  D.K. Ulrich, Charlie Glotzbach, Clay Young, Mike Potter, and Jimmy Horton all returned to Cup to make their first starts in a year or more.  Ulrich’s race at Dover was the 273rd and final of his career.  Young’s return at Talladega was his first start since 1986.  The 54-year-old Glotzbach hadn’t won since 1971, but made seven starts for Junie Donlavey with a season-best 16th at Michigan.  Other drivers made their series debuts with lightly-regarded teams.  IndyCar driver Stan Fox made his debut at Michigan, as did Busch Series part-timer Jeff McClure.  Modified star Jeff Fuller made his first Cup start that year at Richmond, eight full years before he went for Winston Cup Rookie of the Year.

Owner-driver Jimmy Means saw an opportunity.  Means was one of 58 drivers who arrived in Florida to attempt the Daytona 500, and one of the 16 sent home. For just over three seasons, Means had sponsorship from Alka-Seltzer, but a change of management at the company ended the relationship following the ’91 season.  While missing a share of the 500 purse proved costly to his team, Means was still prepared to run his unsponsored #52 in what would be his final full season as a driver.  But when the entry list for the second round at Rockingham fell short of a full 40-car field, Means decided to enter his backup car in the race.  A number change to “53” was accomplished by taking the upper half of a second “2” sticker and applying it upside-down over the “2” (see photo).  Means tabbed McFadden, a native of his team’s headquarters in Forest City, North Carolina, to drive (Incidentally, Broadway Motors, which sponsored Means' Cup car in the early 1980s, also backed McFadden's Busch entry in 1982).

While Means’ #52 would run the full race, the #53 would be a “start-and-park” entry, or what Means called a “grocery getter.”  In the past, I had originally believed Means entered “start-and-park” cars to fund a switch from Pontiac to Ford, which he accomplished that November in the Atlanta finale.  But during an interview for my upcoming book on J.D. McDuffie, Means confirmed these short fields were the true reason:  “Nah, we didn't get any manufacturer support back then.  We switched from Pontiac to Ford because we couldn't keep up with Pontiac, and that was a good move because Ford was a superior race car to the Pontiac in '92.”  I also asked Means if he’d worked with McFadden in the past.  “No, just guys I called and said 'why don't you come over and start and park this car?'  We didn't have to - like I said - we didn't have to be impressive, we just had to make it around the race track.”  That day, McFadden made it around the track exactly eight times before retiring with valve issues.  Means came home 33rd.

Finishing 39th that day was fellow owner-driver Dave Marcis, who drew the first caution with a blown engine on his #71 Abilene Boots Chevrolet.  Marcis was also having sponsor issues as Big Apple Markets, which joined Marcis Auto Racing in 1990, would only sponsor him for three more races.  38th went to rookie contender Andy Belmont, who missed the field for the Daytona 500, then made his 3rd Cup start in the #59 Slick 50 Ford.  37th went to Dale Jarrett in the second-ever race for Joe Gibbs Racing, the camshaft to blame for a Lap 73 exit in the #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Dick Trickle, who broke the water pump on the Stavola Brothers’ #8 Snickers Ford.  Trickle, who drove to a surprising 5th in Daytona that year for RahMoc Enterprises, would go on to score two more Top Fives in the next four races.

Means’ #53 Pontiac ran another six times in 1992 (seven including a “did not start” in the Winston Open) with McFadden splitting time with ARCA driver Graham Taylor, whose twin last-place finishes at Dover were his first Cup starts.  McFadden finished 37th of 39 in the spring race at Darlington, last at Talladega, last in the rain-shortened Southern 500 at Darlington, then rounded out the year last in the October return to Rockingham.  By that race, Means had entered even more cars:  “And I can't remember what year it was, but it was at Rockingham last race of the year I had four cars in that race, and I think I was the first person to have 1 car then four cars in a race, but it was all - the other 3 were start and park and I raced, it was all totally - winner coming home I think it was $4,000 to start, $5,000 to start.”  The results credit Means with three entries in the race: Means himself in the #52 (finishing 26th), McFadden in the #53 (40th and last), and Mike Potter in the #77 (39th).

The October 25, 1992 race at Rockingham turned out to be McFadden’s 11th and final Cup start.  He entered one more race, the 1993 spring event at Darlington, but that time ended up the only driver sent home.  At season’s end, he locked-up the LASTCAR Cup Series title with four last-place finishes.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #53 in a Cup Series race since June 17, 1990, when Jerry O’Neil’s Aroneck Racing Oldsmobile suffered a crank failure after 22 laps of the Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Pocono.  It was also the number’s first last-place finish in a Cup race at Rockingham.  As of this writing, #53 has the 10th-longest streak without a Cup Series finish, dating back to June 13, 1993 at Pocono, when Means Racing last entered its second team with Graham Taylor, who “quit” after 3 laps of the Champion Spark Plug 500.

40) #53-John McFadden / 8 laps / valve
39) #71-Dave Marcis / 22 laps / engine
38) #59-Andy Belmont / 27 laps / engine
37) #18-Dale Jarrett / 73 laps / camshaft
36) #8-Dick Trickle / 113 laps / water pump


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Preliminary Entry List Storylines: Kansas

PHOTO: AutoRacing1.com
Go Bowling 400 at Kansas

For just the fourth time this year and the second race in a row, there will be a full Cup Series field this Saturday as 40 drivers are entered to attempt the 40-car field.  Three Talladega entries: Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #7, Gaunt Brothers Racing’s #96, and Beard Motorsports’ #75, are not entered this week and are unlikely to return before July in Daytona.

A short field was averted thanks to the announcement by XFINITY Series team Motorsports Business Management (MBM) attempting its first Cup attempt with a yet-unsponsored #66 Chevrolet.  MBM, started by Derek White in 2014 and now owned by Carl Long, is in its fourth XFINITY season fielding the #13 and #40.  The team’s best finish so far remains a 13th with Brandon Hightower at Daytona.  As of this writing, a driver for MBM’s #66 has yet to be announced.  This is the first brand-new Open team to enter a Cup race since the Daytona 500.

Timmy Hill, who drives for MBM in XFINITY, is once again entered in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet.  Last Friday at Talladega, Hill and Ware had their first withdrawal of the season, leaving Gaunt Brothers Racing’s #96 of D.J. Kennington as the lone DNQ.  Hill’s best Kansas finish was in his track debut in 2012, when he ran 22nd for Go FAS Racing.  He has not made a Cup start there since a 33rd in the fall of 2014.

Back on the entry list is Derrike Cope, who hasn’t made a Cup start at Kansas since October 5, 2003, when he drove the #37 GBROnline.com Chevrolet fielded by his own team, Quest Motor Racing.  Cope will be one of only six drivers in Saturday’s field who also entered the inaugural Cup race at Kansas in 2001, joining Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  As of this writing, there is no sponsor announced for Cope’s #55 Chevrolet, fielded by Premium Motorsports.

Reed Sorenson returns to Premium’s #15 this week, which last Sunday at Talladega survived to finish 21st with Joey Gase.  It was a career-best Cup run for Gase, besting his 23rd for BK Racing in this year’s Daytona 500, and a strong follow-up to Michael Waltrip’s 8th-place finish in his final start.  Sorenson himself finished last on Sunday as, for the second-straight Talladega race, Premium called their car during the opening laps to make post-qualifying adjustments.  This left Sorenson multiple laps down and with a vibration that soon led to a race-ending crash.  Sorenson has 14 previous Kansas starts, but just one finish better than 26th – a 7th back in 2007.

Cole Whitt and TriStar Motorsports came home 16th at Talladega, both driver and team’s best finish of the season.  Car owner Mark Smith hadn’t finished that well on the superspeedway since April 30, 1995, when Loy Allen, Jr. started outside-pole in the #19 Healthsource Ford, led 18 laps, and finished 10th.  Whitt will also likely improve TriStar’s numbers at Kansas this Saturday – the team’s only runs there were “start-and-park” efforts under the Humphrey-Smith Racing banner in 2012 and 2013, none of them better than 36th.

Matt DiBenedetto’s 18th-place finish at Talladega was his best run since his 9th in the Daytona 500 and one position better than his 19th-place performance last month at Bristol.  In four starts at Kansas, his best finish came last fall for BK Racing, when he ran 24th.  He has yet to score a single DNF at the track.  If past performance is any indication, this should help Go FAS Racing, which since 2012 has run no better than 34th.

Jeffrey Earnhardt, who drove for Go FAS last year, will be making his first Cup start at Kansas in the yet-unsponsored #33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group.

Next Race: Hisense 300 at Charlotte
Saturday, May 27, 2017

Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas

A streak of three consecutive full fields to start the 2017 Truck Series season may be in jeopardy at Kansas as just 31 drivers are thus far entered to attempt the 32-truck field.

The significant omissions from this week’s list are Charlie Henderson’s #75 Food Country USA machine, Joe Nemechek’s #87, and the #23 GMS Racing entry which won Martinsville with Chase Elliott, all of which entered all three of this season’s races.  Richie Wauters’ #5 Toyota, which ran the opening two rounds with Korbin Forrister before withdrawing at Martinsville, has not been entered for the first time this year.  Tim Self’s team isn’t entered either after making Daytona with two trucks, withdrawing Austin Wayne Self’s entry at Atlanta, then a DNQ at Martinsville.  Whether any or all of these trucks joins at the last minute is anyone’s guess.

The superspeedway set – FDNY Racing’s #28, Mark Rette’s #30, Chris Fontaine’s #47, Clay Greenfield’s #68, Mike Harmon’s #74, and Tim Self’s second truck, #32 – have not been entered since Daytona and are also missing from this week’s list.  Based on past performance, Harmon might be a late entry since he DNQ’d here last year.  Greenfield’s part-time schedule has steadily shrunk to just a couple starts per year, but has entered Talladega the last three seasons.  FDNY could return at Charlotte, Pocono, or the fall race at Martinsville, where they were entered in 2016 (Pocono being their only start).

Norm Benning continues to pursue his first Truck Series start of the year.  His DNQ in this race last year marked the first Kansas race he’d missed since 2008, which he didn’t enter.  Benning has not made a Truck Series start since he drove for Mike Mittler at Phoenix last fall, and hasn’t raced his own #6 Chevrolet since last July at Chicago (though Sean Corr and Ryan Ellis qualified his truck earlier that season).  Benning is one of eight drivers on this week’s list whose sponsor is still categorized as “to be determined.”

Bolen Motorsports rolls into Kansas on the heels of back-to-back Top 10 finishes, capped by Ross Chastain’s 7th-place run at Martinsville.  Chastain has just one Kansas start in the Truck Series, when he finished 34th of 36 in 2012 for SS Green Light Racing.  He’s performed much better on the XFINITY side, running 14th in 2015 and 13th last fall.

Todd Peck, the last-place finisher at Atlanta, is again entered in D.J. Copp’s #83 TDS Wraps Chevrolet.  If he qualifies, it will be Peck’s Kansas debut in NASCAR.  Peck’s 18th-place finish in the season opener remains the team’s only finish better than 30th since Copp acquired the assets from Contreras Motorsports.

Also welcome back Travis Miller, who hasn’t run a Truck Series race since November 16, 2012, when he drove for crew chief and former car owner Mike Hillman.  This week, Miller is entered in MDM Motorsports’ #99 Chevrolet, which finished 7th and 5th the last two races with Austin and Ty Dillon.

Jordan Anderson, who entered all three races this year, isn’t entered this week, swapped out for Spencer Boyd in Rick Ware’s #12 GruntStyle.com Chevrolet.  Anderson finished 31st in the rebuilt truck at Martinsville, but without a ride, he will be sitting out for the second-straight week following the withdrawal of his XFINITY Series car at Talladega.  Where could he end up?  Four teams, all campaigning Chevrolets, do not yet have a listed driver: TJL Motorsports’ #1, the Martins Racing / Brandonbilt Motorsports #44, the #50 fielded by Beaver Motorsports, and Mike Mittler’s #63 for MB Motorsports.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

CUP: Sorenson’s qualifying setup and flat tire lead to first last-place finish for #55 at Talladega since 1989

Reed Sorenson picked up the 15th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #55 Xchange of America Toyota was involved in a single-car crash after 72 of the 191 laps.

The finish, which came in Sorenson’s 271st start, was his first of the season and first in Cup competition since last August at Pocono, 25 races ago.  He now stands tied for the 10th-most last-place finishes in Cup Series history, joining Buddy Arrington, Ward Burton, Richard Petty, Roy Tyner, and J.J. Yeley.

Sorenson rounded out the 2016 season with 28 starts in 36 races.  While his best finish of the season was a 22nd-place run in the July race at Daytona, it was at Talladega that fall where he turned the most heads.  The Premium Motorsports team went all-out in qualifying, securing the top speed in Round 1 before settling on 12th on the grid.  Back with Premium for this season, Sorenson looked to repeat this success at Daytona, but in his Can-Am Duel was wrecked out of the final transfer spot by Corey LaJoie.  A subsequent streak of short fields kept Sorenson in the field for the next eight races, where this time he ran Premium’s primary car, #15, previously driven by a retiring Michael Waltrip to a 8th-place finish in the Daytona 500.

Coming into Talladega, Sorenson’s best run of 2017 was a 28th last month at Bristol.  The team’s second car, #55, had most often been driven by veteran Derrike Cope, who himself has finished no better than 31st in the same Bristol race.  Cope wouldn’t run at Talladega, however, as Premium had already announced that XFINITY Series regular Joey Gase would drive the #15 with sponsorship from Sparks Energy.  This would again move Sorenson from the #15 to the #55.  Sorenson would run a bright blue Toyota with sponsorship from Xchange of America, one of four companies to sponsor the Georgia driver’s car this season.  Xchange last sponsored Sorenson at Texas, where he ran 35th.

Sorenson was one of 42 drivers on the preliminary entry list – a list that contained all 42 teams which attempted the Daytona 500.  By Friday, the effort was made somewhat easier when Rick Ware Racing withdrew their #51 Chevrolet for the first time this season, putting one Open team out of the show.  The goal now for Sorenson was to run faster than one of the remaining four Open teams to make Sunday’s race.  Unfortunately, weather refused to cooperate on Friday, and Daytona rival Corey LaJoie was the only Open car able to turn any laps before rain stopped the session short.  In the end, Sorenson put up the 33rd-fastest lap of 186.119mph, second among the Open teams to Brendan Gaughan and the #75 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet.  This time, joining the Ware team on the early ride home was Canadian D.J. Kennington, who ran the fourth-slowest time in the Gaunt Brothers Racing #96 Triad CNC Toyota.

Starting last on Sunday was current 2017 LASTCAR leader Jeffrey Earnhardt in Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group’s #33 Chevrolet, to be joined before green by Gaughan, whose Beard team had to change a flat tire during qualifying.  By the time the green flag dropped, however, both Earnhardt and Gaughan were already in front of Sorenson, who had fallen to the rear of the field.  Just as the leaders poured off Turn 4 to complete the first lap, Sorenson suddenly slowed and turned onto pit road, then turned to the garage area.

Just like his first-round speed last fall, Sorenson’s fast qualifying lap on Saturday was due to a purpose-built qualifying setup used by the Premium Motorsports team.  In order to give their car the best shot at making the field, the #55 was given fluids designed for short runs, but not for 500 miles.  With the cars impounded after qualifying, this meant the fluids had to be changed in the garage after the race started.  LaJoie and his BK Racing team apparently employed the same strategy as he was a couple stalls over in the garage area by Lap 3, the crew anxious over the radio to make the changes as quickly as possible.  Curiously, the strategy did not run afoul of the new “Crash Clock” protocol for 2017, which still allows cars to return from the garage after repairs for mechanical issues.  Purposefully switching over from qualifying to race setup apparently fell under the definition of repairs for “mechanical issues,” and first Sorenson, then LaJoie returned to the race, each 8 laps down, with Sorenson still last.

By the time the two Toyotas returned to competition, two more small teams had also fallen laps behind the leaders.  Both Brendan Gaughan and Jeffrey Earnhardt had rear-ended another car at the start of the race (perhaps each other since Earnhardt qualified 40th and Gaughan was sent to the back for the tire change).  Gaughan lost five laps as the team tried to cool the engine, which was spraying water as #75 sat on pit road.  Earnhardt lost three laps for similar repairs, then lost a fourth from serving an apparent pass-through penalty.  By Lap 17, when Kyle Larson drew the first caution of the day, Earnhardt, Gaughan, LaJoie, and Sorenson were already multiple laps down.  Sorenson was in last, closing within one corner of LaJoie when the yellow fell.

On Lap 41, Sorenson lost a ninth lap when the leaders caught he and Jeffrey Earnhardt running by themselves in Turn 1.  Sometime later, Sorenson reported a vibration on #55.  Then, on Lap 82, Sorenson lost the right-front tire exiting the tri-oval and slammed the outside wall.  Running nearly by himself on the same tires with which he started the race, Sorenson didn’t collect any other drivers and took one final trip to the garage, done for the day.  He had been running in 40th from the very start of the race.

Sorenson’s accident was the only wreck until the final 28 laps, when Ryan Blaney was nudged into another single-car accident by eventual race winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.  Blaney, who ended up 39th, was eight laps behind the remaining three members of the Bottom Five, all eliminated in a grinding 16-car pileup triggered by A.J. Allmendinger and Chase Elliott.  38th-place Danica Patrick saw her day end much as it had last year, with her #10 Aspen Dental Ford slamming head-on into the SAFER barrier along the inside backstretch wall.  37th went to Trevor Bayne, who led 5 laps early and was still among the leaders when his #6 AdvoCare Ford piled into the wreck.  Rounding out the group in 36th was to Austin Dillon, his #3 Dow Intellifresh Chevrolet pinned into the outside wall by Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski.

This same wreck allowed the other teams with early issues to finish outside the Bottom Five in 26th (Gaughan), 27th (LaJoie), and 28th (Jeffrey Earnhardt).  

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #55 in a Cup Series race at Talladega since July 30, 1989, when Phil Parsons’ #55 Crown Petroleum Oldsmobile lost the engine after 6 laps of the Talladega DieHard 500.

40) #55-Reed Sorenson / 72 laps / crash
39) #21-Ryan Blaney / 160 laps / crash
38) #10-Danica Patrick / 168 laps / crash
37) #6-Trevor Bayne / 168 laps / crash / led 5 laps
36) #3-Austin Dillon / 168 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, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (4)


XFINITY: Ray Black, Jr. out early at Talladega; last-place record holder Jeff Green enjoys fine run

PHOTO: SS Green Light Racing Facebook
Ray Black, Jr. picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #07 Double D Meat Co. Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after he completed 7 of 113 laps.  The finish came in Black’s 43rd series start.

Ray Black, Jr. is another of the XFINITY Series’ lightly-regarded young guns who is looking to make a name for himself with an underdog team.  The bright red-white-and-blue Chevrolets he’s campaigned for Bobby Dotter in Truck and XFINITY competition in 2014 reflect the driver’s two passions: scuba diving and racing.  The former came about through his youth in Florida, where his father taught him how to dive.  The latter started with video games, then at age 14 a championship in the Florida Mini Cup Racing Association.  Late models came next, then the opportunity to drive for Dotter in the Truck Series in 2014.  Hitting the track at Martinsville, Black finished 24th in a field of 36, six laps down, but under power.  His first Top 5 came the following year in his Daytona debut, where he trailed only Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, Scott Lagasse, Jr., and Austin Theriault.  Dotter’s team SS Green Light Racing had been active in the Truck Series since 2004, and to date has made a combined 305 starts.  Black’s run at Daytona remains the team’s sixth and most recent Top 5 finish.

On top of an 11th-place finish in the 2015 Truck Series standings, Black made his XFINITY Series debut that year, driving for Rick Ware in the fall race at Texas.  There again Black managed to come home under power, eight laps down, in the 27th spot.  The effort led to Bobby Dotter fielding a full-time XFINITY ride for Black in 2016, marking the first time one of his drivers would run more than five races since 1995, when Dotter himself drove full-time, yielding a 14th-place spot in the standings.  Back in ’95, Dotter earned a pole at Charlotte, two Top Fives, and 6 Top Tens.  Last year, Black finished no better than 14th in the August race at Bristol.

This year, Black returns for a second XFINITY Series season, but has continued to struggle for strong finishes.  Following an 18th-place finish at Daytona, he’d run no better than 25th until just last Saturday at Richmond, where he again took the 18th spot.  Prolific sponsor ScubaLife, which backed nearly all of Black’s XFINITY and Truck efforts, has also appeared to be scaling back its support.  At Texas and Richmond, the red-white-and-blue car was replaced with a black Chevrolet carrying sponsorship from GlobalHBOT.org (whose site is currently under construction).  The black car would return at Talladega, this time with sponsorship from the Double D. Meat Co.

Black was one of 42 drivers to make the preliminary entry list, a list reduced by one when RSS Racing withdrew the #93 “start-and-park” entry which scored the previous five last-place finishes with Jordan Anderson and Jeff Green.  Of the 41 remaining cars, Black ran 35th in Friday’s opening practice, then sat out Happy Hour, where just 20 drivers took laps.  He secured the 34th spot in Saturday’s field, his lap of 176.878mph requiring him to take the first of six positions determined by owner points.

Starting last on Saturday was all-time last-place record holder Jeff Green, who was back aboard B.J. McLeod’s #8.  McLeod, the only driver who failed to qualify, had placed Green in his team’s road course car, an all-white Toyota which closely resembled Green’s prolific “start-and-park” cars from TriStar Motorsports.  Just as in his previous starts for McLeod, however, Green would not be parking.  Carrying McLeod’s sponsorship from Truckwork, Green would actually end up enjoying one of his best performances in years.

Green avoided the early wrecks and found himself leading a second pack of cars near the end of the race.  This put Green in position to inherit first place on Lap 72 when the leaders made green-flag stops.  On Lap 74, Green was still out front, and had led multiple laps in a single XFINITY race for the first time since November 16, 2002, when he won the pole and led five laps at Homestead.  On Lap 78, Green had been out front for six laps, the most laps he’d led in the XFINITY Series since Rockingham on November 2, 2002, when he led 133 laps and came home 6th.  From that race until Sunday, Green had scored 82 of his 90 career XFINITY last-place finishes.  In the end, Green came home 10th, having been out front for 18 green-flag laps – two more than 3rd-place Joey Logano and five more than race winner Aric Almirola.  It was also the best finish for car owner B.J. McLeod, whose previous best was a 17th by David Starr just last week.

Green began his march through the field early.  The first car he passed was Morgan Shepherd in his black-and-gold #89 Racing With Jesus / Visone RV Chevrolet.  By the time Shepherd entered Turn 1, the four cars in front of him were racing four-wide for position.  Shepherd began to lose touch with the pack, running 3.318sec behind the leader on Lap 1, then 4.180 behind on Lap 2.  The third time by, Mike Harmon took the spot in his #74 Dodge and began to fall back even further, trailing by 6.273sec on Lap 3, 10.075sec on Lap 4, and by Lap 5 was back 13.666, nearly four seconds behind 39th-place Shepherd.

Black entered the picture (albeit during the commercial break) on Lap 7.  Running 35th at the time, Black’s car began pouring smoke and took a trip to the garage area.  The caution flew for fluid coming out of his machine.  An engine issue was the listed cause, and Black was done for the afternoon.

The remaining spots in the Bottom Five were filled by a grinding Lap 21 crash.  Contact between cars in the middle of the lead pack triggered a nine-car backstretch melee.  39th-place Spencer Gallagher suffered heavy nose damage to his #23 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet.  Daniel Hemric ended up 38th with the right-rear heavily battered on his #21 Blue Gate Bank Chevrolet.  37th went to Brandon Jones, the nose of his #33 Nexteer Automotive Chevrolet stoved-in by the inside wall.  Rounding out the group was William Byron in the #9 Liberty University Chevrolet.  Byron managed to return to the track inside the five-minute “Crash Clock,” but with heavy front end damage couldn’t meet minimum speed and was parked after 12 more laps.

For more on Ray Black, Jr., check out his website: http://rayblackjr.com/

*This marked just the ninth XFINITY Series last-place finish for car #07, the first at Talladega, and the first in any XFINITY race since August 1, 2009, when the PMC Life Chevrolet of Mike Harmon fell out with brake trouble after 6 laps of the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa.
*This marked only the second XFINITY last-place finish for SS Green Light Racing.  The other took place at Richmond on April 25, 2014 with Jimmy Weller III.

40) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 7 laps / engine
39) #23-Spencer Gallagher / 20 laps / crash
38) #21-Daniel Hemric / 20 laps / crash
37) #33-Brandon Jones / 20 laps / crash
36) #9-William Byron / 32 laps / crash

1st) RSS Racing (6)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)


Thursday, May 4, 2017

9/28/03: Larry Foyt’s rough rookie season culminates in hard Talladega crash

PHOTO: motorsport.com
On September 28, 2003, Larry Foyt picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the EA Sports 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #14 Harrah’s Dodge was involved in a crash after 9 of 188 laps.  The finish, which came in Foyt’s 17th series start, was his second of the season and first since March 9 at Atlanta, 25 races previous.

The grandson (and adopted son) of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt (a three-time last-place finisher in Cup), Larry aspired to race from an early age, cutting his teeth in go-karts.  “I knew when I was just a little kid that racing was what I wanted to do,” he said in 2001.  But when his Larry middle brother Jerry saw his racing career stall out, A.J. said he would only help Larry if he got a college degree.  Larry held up his end of the bargain, earning a communications degree from Texas Christian University, and from there, A.J. lent a helping hand.

From the start, Larry eyed a career in open-wheel racing, competing part-time in the USAC Formula 2000 with dreams of running at Indianapolis.  But a terrible accident while battling for a top-five finish made A.J. steer him elsewhere.  “I was scared,” said A.J. of the crash.  “It looked bad, and he was very lucky.  After that, I started to think about getting Larry into something else.”

So in 2000, it was A.J. who steered Larry toward stock car racing.  That year, A.J. returned as an owner in the Cup Series for the first time since 1994, hiring newcomer Mike Bliss with sponsorship from financial group Conseco.  Bliss made the Daytona 500, finishing 33rd, but failed to qualify for the next three rounds, and the rest of the season didn’t go much better.  Dick Trickle and Rick Mast rounded out the year, missing the cut for four more races and earning just two Top 10s.

Larry was reluctant to compete in stock cars, but soon came around.  In that same 2000 season, A.J. fielded a car for him in the American Speed Association (ASA).  There, the results were noticeably better.  Driving his grandfather’s iconic #14, Larry finished 9th in his debut at the USA International Speedway, won his first pole at Winchester, and finished a season-best 5th in the season finale at Gateway.  Larry also made his ARCA debut at Charlotte, finishing 35th in a race won by Ryan Newman, and got his first taste of Winston Cup by trying to qualify for the 2000 finale at Atlanta, only to be one of 13 drivers who missed the cut.

Prior to the 2001 season, A.J. made a pair of announcements.  On the Winston Cup side, Truck Series veteran Ron Hornaday, Jr. would compete for Rookie of the Year in the Conseco Pontiac.  “We had problems last year right from the start,” said A.J., “We got a late start and we weren’t making races early in the season.  Then we made a lot of personnel changes through the year.  Now we’ve got good people, we’ve got a good driver and we’ve got good cars.”  The team would also debut a Busch Series effort for Larry.  Harrah’s Casino, which backed Larry’s ASA ride, would fund his #14 Chevrolet for the full Busch season.  “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he doesn’t do anything stupid,” said A.J. of Larry, “If you watch him this year, I think you’ll see how smooth he is on the racetrack.”

Larry began the 2001 Busch season well enough, finishing 19th at Daytona, leading under caution, and coming home on the lead lap.  His season-best finish came in the next plate race at Talladega, where he ran 12th.  But nine DNFs – eight due to crashes – mired him back in the standings.  The most infamous crash came on September 1, 2001, during the South Carolina 200 at Darlington.  On Lap 20, during a caution for rain, Larry was speeding through Turns 1 and 2, looking to join the lapped cars on the inside line for the restart.  As he came off the second corner, the steering wheel on Steve Park’s #31 Chevrolet suddenly came loose, causing his car to cut left, directly in Larry’s path.  The two cars collided, leaving Park unconscious with injuries that would ultimately cut short his career.  Foyt also sat out the next round at Richmond, handing the wheel to Mark Green, and finished the season 22nd in points.

Larry returned to the Busch Series in 2002 and began to show progress.  He cut his DNFs from nine to three, scored two Top Tens, an 8th at Talladega and a 10th at Rockingham, and ran the full season, earning 20th in points.  At the same time, A.J.’s Winston Cup team was continuing to struggle.  Stacy Compton took over for the first half of the schedule and finished no better than 18th.  Mike Wallace ran the second half and earned just one Top 10 at Bristol.  Ironically, after the team failed to qualify at Sonoma, the year’s best performance came at Watkins Glen, where P.J. Jones steered the Pontiac to a 4th-place finish.

When Conseco didn’t return to sponsor A.J. Foyt Racing’s Cup effort in 2003, the decision was made to move Larry up to Cup full-time, bringing the sponsorship from Harrah’s with him.  Larry would be part of a stacked rookie class that year, matched against Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Tony Raines, and Jack Sprague, all with extensive experience in NASCAR.  “The rookie class looks really strong with a lot of top young guys that I raced against in (the Grand National series).  I know there’s no lack of talent there,” said Larry.  “For me, I need to get seat time and I want to run up front.  Top 20s for me would almost be like a win.”

Top 20s were in short supply.  Larry was the fastest car to not qualify for the rain-shortened Daytona 500.  He finished 36th in his Cup debut at Rockingham, came home no better than 32nd in the next three races, and finished last at Atlanta with engine trouble.  Qualifying for races continued to be a struggle throughout the year, so much so that by the 19th round at Loudon, the team changed its car number to #50.  Though the team announced the change was simply the team’s choice, speculation was that the number was changed to allow the #14 its one remaining provisional to start at Indianapolis.

Regardless, by the time the series came to Talladega in September, the car number was #14 once more.  Larry had made just 16 of the previous 28 races and failed to qualify 11 times, including the previous four races in a row.  He had yet to finish on the lead lap, and his season-best finish at that point was a 28th at Dover.  Even P.J. Jones wasn’t able to replicate his success at Watkins Glen – the purple and yellow Harrah’s car was too slow for him to qualify at Sonoma, and Larry missed the show at The Glen.

Larry Foyt was one of 50 drivers on the preliminary entry list to attempt the 43-car field for the EA Sports 500 (a list brought down to 49 after Morgan Shepherd withdrew his Ford).  While Larry had missed the show in the spring, he this time had the speed to make it without a provisional, turning a lap of 186.893mph for 35th on the grid.  Joining Shepherd on the early ride home were Kyle Petty’s #45 Georgia-Pacific Dodge for Petty Enterprises; the Morgan-McClure Motorsports #4 Kodak Pontiac for Kevin Lepage; Jason Leffler in the HAAS team’s #0 NetZero Hi Speed Pontiac; Joe Gibbs Racing’s #80 Advair Chevrolet with Mike Bliss; Steve Park in the #30 America Online Chevrolet; and Todd Bodine in Sam Belnavis and Travis Carter’s #54 National Guard Ford.

Starting 43rd in the field was Busch Series veteran Jason Keller.  Earlier that year at Richmond, it was Keller who was tabbed to drive in place of Jerry Nadeau, who suffered his career-ending injury during practice.  This time around, Keller would drive the #1 Pennzoil Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., a car whose driver lineup changed frequently once Steve Park was released after that same Richmond race in May.  Joining him at the rear were two drivers sent to the back for engine changes: Ryan Newman in Roger Penske’s #12 Alltel Dodge, and Dale Jarrett’s son Jason, making his Cup debut in a third Yates Racing car, the #98 C.H.I. Overhead Doors Ford.

On the first lap, Jason Jarrett trailed the field, hanging back in the rear along with 42nd-place Keller.  Keller caught the pack on Lap 2 while Jarrett looked to find the right line, swapping lanes between the middle and outside as he started to lose touch with the field, 2.3 seconds back of the leader by Lap 4.  On Lap 6, Larry Foyt was hugging the inside line around 30th as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. moved past him in the middle, looking to make up lost ground after his qualifying time was disallowed.  On Lap 10, Larry was up to 26th and in the outside lane when trouble broke out all around him in Turn 4.

To Larry’s inside, Jeremy Mayfield lost a left-rear tire on his #19 Dodge Dealers / UAW Dodge.  Out of control, Mayfield bounced off Joe Nemechek’s #25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet on the inside, knocking him to the right – directly in Foyt’s path.  The two collided, pinning Foyt’s car against the outside wall.  Foyt ground his car to a stop against the barrier as Mayfield spun to the inside, collecting four other cars.  Of all the cars involved, only Foyt’s was unable to make it back to pit road.  Crews attended to him at the exit of Turn 4.

Larry was transported to a local hospital with a cracked wrist, though an examination the following Tuesday cleared him to race in Kansas with the aid of a brace on his wrist.  “It was a really hard hit,” he said.  “One of the hardest I’ve ever taken.  But my guys did a great job setting up the safety equipment in the car.  All the equipment, including the LaJoie seat, did its job.”

Two cars involved in Foyt’s accident finished 42nd and 41st – the #7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge of Jimmy Spencer and the #10 Valvoline Pontiac of Johnny Benson, Jr.  Benson was actually 43rd for most of the race’s first half until he returned to complete 20 more laps, climbing two spots in the process.  40th went to the #00 Crown Fiber Communications Chevrolet of Roy “Buckshot” Jones, who that day enjoyed perhaps the best run of his Cup career.  Driving an old DEI car owned by Michael Waltrip, Jones was making just his second start of the season and his first at Talladega in two years.  Jones not only qualified 16th, but led 19 green-flag laps before a blown right-front tire tore up the fender short of halfway.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was 39th-place Sterling Marlin, whose #40 Coors Light Dodge was overheating.

This race is more widely known as Michael Waltrip’s fourth and final Cup win, as well as the site of Elliott Sadler’s terrifying flip down the backstretch with seven laps to go.

Larry Foyt finished the 2003 season as best he could, scoring his first lead-lap finish at Phoenix, then a career-best 16th in the finale at Homestead.  When it was done, Larry had made 20 of the 36 races, failing to finish 8 of them, and either did not qualify or withdrew 13 times.  Harrah’s left as a sponsor at season’s end, and Larry made another three starts in a car with piecemeal sponsorship, including an elusive Daytona 500 where he ran 28th.  But following another DNQ at Talladega that spring, A.J. Foyt’s team was done in the Cup Series.

However, 2004 also saw Larry Foyt accomplish his lifelong dream when he started 22nd in his first-ever Indianapolis 500, his first of three consecutive appearances in the event.  Unfortunately, he suffered another injury there in 2005, and though he’d race on occasion over the next five years, he began to transition into a different career.  In 2006, Larry became more involved in the management of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, where today he is the team’s president.  He and his wife Kelly Curran were married November 7, 2015, and they still reside in Texas.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #14 in a Cup Series race at Talladega since May 14, 1978, when Coo Coo Marlin (father of Sterling Marlin) lost the engine on his Cunningham-Kelley Chevrolet after 4 laps of the Winston 500.  The number would not finish last there again until 2014, when Tony Stewart’s Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet crashed out of the Aaron’s 499.

43) #14-Larry Foyt / 9 laps / crash
42) #7-Jimmy Spencer / 11 laps / crash
41) #10-Johnny Benson, Jr. / 29 laps / crash
40) #00-Buckshot Jones / 88 laps / crash / led 19 laps
39) #40-Sterling Marlin / 103 laps / overheating

*Associated Press. “Another Foyt set to ride,” ESPN.com, January 23, 2001.
*Smith, Marty. “Six-pack: One-on-one with Steve Park,” ESPN.com, October 21, 2010.
*Jayski’s Silly Season Site
*“Larry Foyt medical update 2003-09-30” motorsport.com, October 1, 2003.
*Utter, Jim. “The Sensational Six: Biffle, McMurray, Sprague lead talented rookie class.” Daily News, February 2, 2003.
*Van Meter, David. “Life in the fast lane,” TCU Magazine, Winter 2003.