|PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums|
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.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
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
2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
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)
2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Toyota (4)
2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP