Thursday, August 31, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Darlington and Mosport

PHOTO: Joey Gase Racing Facebook
Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington

It’s time for NASCAR’s third annual “Throwback Weekend,” which for the first time will include all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.  Leading the ticket is the historic Southern 500 at Darlington, where exactly 40 Cup drivers will arrive to qualify for the 40-car field.  Missing this week from Bristol’s entry list is Tommy Baldwin Racing, which did not enter the #7 Chevrolet driven to a 30th-place finish by J.J. Yeley.

Sponsorship issues, combined with their DNQ at Bristol, forced Motorsports Business Management to scrap their planned throwback scheme.  The plan had been to run the “Victory Tour” paint scheme Darrell Waltrip ran during his final season as a driver in 2000.  One of the races the car failed to qualify was in the Coca-Cola 600, where Carl Long was set to make his Cup debut.  Now, more than 17 years after Long let Waltrip drive his car that night in Charlotte, Long will return to his #66 Chevrolet (itself a throwback scheme from 2009) for his first Cup start as a driver since Kansas earlier this year.  It will be Long’s first Cup start at Darlington since 2005, when he ran 42nd for Raynard McGlynn.  It will also be MBM’s first Cup start since Timmy Hill’s strong 14th at Indianapolis.

Rick Ware Racing was originally slated to run the Clemson Tigers paint scheme from Pocono once more at Darlington, but the preliminary entry list showed as the primary sponsor of the team’s #51 Chevrolet.  While Cody Ware will return for the first time since the Clemson race at Pocono, the car will not only run Cole Trickle's Mello Yello colors from "Days of Thunder," but do so to promote relief efforts in flood-ravaged Houston.

As in years past, most of the throwbacks in Sunday’s race pay tribute to past Cup Series drivers and teams.

Still hanging onto his spot in the Chase, Jamie McMurray’s #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet will carry the iconic door and roof numbers of the late Hoss Ellington, who fielded Cup cars from 1968 and 1988.  The car will bear the maroon shade of one of Ellington’s most iconic cars, the Hawaiian Tropic Chevrolet.  While perhaps most widely known for Donnie Allison’s last-lap wreck with Cale Yarborough in the 1979 Daytona 500, this will be a tribute to “The Silver Fox,” David Pearson, who steered the same car to his 105th and final victory at Darlington on April 13, 1980 – Pearson’s 10th win at the track and second in a row.  McMurray is still looking for his first Darlington win, though in 2010 he won the pole and finished runner-up to Denny Hamlin.  He finished 15th last year, his fourth-straight finish of 16th or better at the track.

“Midnight” returns at Penske Racing as Brad Keselowski will run Rusty Wallace’s classic #2 Miller Genuine Draft colors, run from 1991-1995.  Wallace never won a Cup race at Darlington in 43 starts, though he scored 11 Top Fives and 20 Top Tens with two runner-up finishes in the 1987 and 1988 Southern 500s (trailing Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt, respectively).  Keselowski is also looking for his first win at “The Track Too Tough To Tame,” looking to close out what he started in 2015, when his Bobby Allison 1983 throwback won the pole and led 196 laps, only to finish second to Carl Edwards.  Keselowski started outside-pole last year and finished 9th.

Richard Childress Racing will have two cars in Wrangler blue and gold, similar to Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt's bizarre sharing of Wrangler as sponsor for different teams in 1984.  Earnhardt drove to his second and third Winston Cups in 1986 and 1987, and his first with Childress.  Following his first win in the Coca-Cola 600, another of NASCAR’s “crown jewel” races, Austin Dillon will make his fourth Darlington start in the American Ethanol #3.  Dillon has earned respectable finishes at the track, running 11th, 22nd, and 12th the last three years.  Teammate Ryan Newman in the identical #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet will make his 19th Darlington start, a track where he’s finished Top 10 in 12 of those 18.  Newman won the pole for the 2003 Southern 500, site of Terry Labonte’s final Cup victory, and was runner-up to Jeff Gordon in the 2002 edition of the Labor Day Classic.

For the second year in a row, Kevin Harvick will run the Busch Beer paint scheme that five-time Darlington winner Cale Yarborough campaigned in 1979 and 1980 for Junior Johnson.  In doing so, the 2014 winner of the Southern 500 hopes to avoid the late-race misfortune that ended his strong run in 2016, a sluggish pit stop handing the win to Martin Truex, Jr.  Harvick comes into Darlington with four consecutive Top Fives at the track and an astonishing 496 laps led in those races alone.

Kasey Kahne’s Great Clips Chevrolet stirs memories of Hendrick Motorsports’ early years, bringing back the yellow-and-white Levi Garett Tobacco colors driven by Geoffrey Bodine and Ricky Rudd from 1985 through 1990 (and briefly by Stacy Compton in 2001 for Melling Racing).  Bodine won the pole at Darlington with this paint scheme in the spring of 1986, but a busted camshaft on Lap 2 left him last in the field.  Kahne, the Brickyard 400 winner, hopes for better at a track where he’s won four poles, finished a best of 3rd in 2005, and ran 7th just last year.

After running both the 1997 and 1998 Valvoline paint schemes, Trevor Bayne will run another of Mark Martin’s #6 Fords, this time harkening back to the Stroh’s Light Ford that Martin ran in 1988 and 1989, including his first Cup win at Rockingham.  The scheme last hit the track in 2005, during Martin’s original “Salute To You Tour.”  Sponsor AdvoCare has elected a different shade of dark blue than that used back then, but has retained the same door and roof numbers.  With this scheme, Martin won the pole for the spring Darlington race in 1989 and finished 4th, then ran 2nd to Dale Earnhardt in the Southern 500.  Martin ultimately won two Southern 500s in 1993 and 2009.  Bayne comes into Darlington as the defending last-place finisher due to an engine problem, though he finished 9th in the 2014 XFINITY race there.

Danica Patrick honors both Dale Jarrett and Robert Yates by driving the famous red-white-and-blue Quality Care / Ford Credit scheme that Jarrett and Yates raced to much success from 1996 through 2000, including Yates’ only series title in 1999.  Two of Jarrett’s three Darlington wins came in this paint scheme, both in back-to-back spring races in 1997 and 1998.  Patrick is still looking for her first finish better than 22nd at the track, a place where she ran 24th last year.

For the second-straight year, Germain Racing has elected to run the black-and-gold Smokey Yunick paint scheme for its #13 GEICO Chevrolet, though this time with rookie Ty Dillon behind the wheel.  Curiously, Yunick’s “Best Damn Garage In Town” never took the checkered flag at Darlington in eight attempts, but Fireball Roberts came the closest, piloting a #22 Pontiac to the pole in 1961 only to come up 2.64 seconds short to first-time winner Nelson Stacy.  Ty Dillon will make his first Cup start at Darlington, but in four XFINITY starts finished between 10th and 15th.

25 years ago this week, Darrell Waltrip scored his 84th and final Cup Series win in the 1992 Southern 500 when rain stopped the race after 298 of 367 laps, halting Davey Allison’s bid for the Winston Million.  This year, two-time 2017 winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. runs a scheme similar to Waltrip’s #17 Western Auto Chevrolet campaigned that day (though the color scheme is closer to Waltrip’s 1997 paint job).  Darlington was also the site of DarWal Enterprises' 218th and final start in 1998, when DW ran a throwback of his own to Tim Flock.  In three of his four Cup starts at Darlington, Stenhouse has finished between 18th and 20th, the lone exception a 38th-place finish in 2015, when a crash damaged his David Pearson 1968 throwback.

Ryan Blaney’s throwback was one of the first announced this year, the blue-and-white Citgo Ford that Kyle Petty steered to his second Cup victory 30 years ago in the Coca-Cola 600.  The Pocono winner makes his third Cup start at the track, where he ran 30th in 2015 and 13th just last year.  In all, the Wood Brothers team has eight Darlington victories, 22 Top Fives, and 31 Top Tens in 90 combined starts dating back to 1961.  The team’s last win at the track came on September 7, 1981, when the late Neil Bonnett edged Darrell Waltrip and Dave Marcis.

Chase Elliott commemorates another part of his father Bill’s early career with an aqua #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.  The simple scheme resembles Bill Elliott’s Ford sponsored by Dahlongea Ford that he raced in his Cup debut at Rockingham on February 29, 1976 (where he ran 33rd of 36 in a race won by Richard Petty).  Still searching for his first Cup victory, Chase ran 10th in last year’s Southern 500 and won the XFINITY race in 2014.

Matt DiBenedetto comes into Darlington with finishes of 25th and 26th in his first two Southern 500s.  This year, the Go FAS Racing team has selected for its throwback the gold #12 Miller High Life Buick piloted by Bobby Allison during his final Cup season in 1988.  Allison won five Darlington races in his Hall of Fame career, scoring 13 Top Fives, 26 Top Tens, and 4 poles in 45 starts.  He ran 9th in his final Darlington race on March 27, 1988.  In place of Miller, which remains with Penske Racing, the #32 Ford will carry sponsorship from longtime partners Keen Parts and

After running team owner Chip Ganassi’s IndyCar paint scheme in 2016, Kyle Larson returns to saluting Felix Sabates’ history in the sport with another classic scheme from the #42.  This year’s selection is the SABCO-prepared Coors Light Pontiac which Kyle Petty drove to his eighth and final win at Dover on June 4, 1995.  At Darlington’s two races that year, Petty drove the pink-and-purple car to 35th and 24th-place finishes.  In place of Coors Light, now the presenting sponsor for the Pole Award, the car will carry returning sponsorship from white flag sponsor Credit One Bank.  The car will be purple and red with the classic “Team SABCO” logo on the C-pillar.

Aric Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports present arguably “The King’s” most famous paint scheme, the red-white-and-“Petty Blue” STP colors from his 200th win at Daytona on July 4, 1984.  This particular paint scheme has been run a number of times since, including 1996, when the late Bobby Hamilton celebrated 25 years of STP’s partnership with Petty Enterprises and in late 2009 with A.J. Allmendinger.  Despite all his success, Petty only won three 65 Cup starts at Darlington, and none after 1967, five full years before STP even joined the team.  Almirola earned his best Darlington finish in 2015, when he ran 11th, but has run no better than 19th in his other four starts.

A.J. Allmendinger’s own JTG-Daugherty Racing throwback honors the Billy Hagan team which fielded cars from 1969 through 1994, most notably the Carolina Blue-colored #44 Piedmont Airlines Chevrolet which carried Terry Labonte to his first of two Winston Cups.  Labonte scored two Southern 500 wins in his career - his first career victory in 1980 and his 22nd and last in 2003.  Allmendinger carries the 1984 paint scheme with sponsorship from Kroger ClickList and the team’s many partners.  It will be the Californian’s 10th Darlington start, a track where his best finish was a 15th in 2014.

One year after running his classic Purolator Filters scheme in the XFINITY Series, Derrike Cope makes his 26th Darlington start, his first in Cup at the track since 2006, and his first in the Southern 500 since 2003.  To mark the occasion, Cope and the Premium Motorsports team will campaign another of Cope’s florescent 1990s paint schemes.  This time, the subject is the #12 Straight Arrow / Mane ‘n Tail Ford fielded by Bobby Allison in 1995.  Cope enjoyed one of his most consistent years that season, finishing 5th in the spring race at Darlington, and runner-up to Ricky Rudd at Phoenix, yielding a 15th-place rank in points.  The Premium entry for Sunday will be a Toyota with car #55, but both Straight Arrow and Mane ‘n Tail shampoo companies have signed to back him once more.

Cope's Premium Motorsports teammate Reed Sorenson will run the #15 Toyota with returning sponsor Xchange of America, though this time with the distinctive red and white of the Bud Moore prepared Motorcraft Ford that Morgan Shepherd raced in 1990.  Shepherd enjoyed one of his strongest seasons that year, leading the points until Sonoma before winning the finale at Atlanta.  With it, Sorenson will make his 9th Darlington start in Cup, a track where his best run was 11th in 2006.

Apparently, according to Landon Cassill, Michael McDowell and the Leavine Family Racing team snatched away their throwback scheme from Front Row Motorsports.  The subject for the #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet is 1992 Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki, who was honored by two different teams in 2016.  This time around, the paint scheme is the #35 Quincy’s Steakhouse Ford which Kulwicki drove to a close victory over Michael Waltrip for Rookie of the Year in 1986.  Kulwicki’s best finish in 15 Darlington starts was a 2nd to Lake Speed in the spring of 1988.  The track also saw his 207th and final Cup start in 1993, where he ran 6th.  Among new rumors about where McDowell will race in 2018, he comes to a track where he finished a track-best 27th last year, his first Southern 500 since 2013.

Many of this weekend’s Cup teams are also running classic XFINITY Series schemes:

Clint Bowyer’s #14 Ford pays homage to Bill Davis’ #1 Carolina Ford Dealers Ford driven by Mark Martin in 1989 and 1990.  Bowyer, who won a pole at Darlington a decade ago, has neither led a lap nor finished inside the Top 10 at the track since.  His best finish since then were a pair of 11th-place runs in 2012 and 2013.  Still outside the cut for this year’s Chase, Bowyer is down to his final two chances to make the playoffs.  He ran 22nd last year in a Benny Parsons throwback.

Corey LaJoie’s #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota harkens back to Davey Allison’s #23 Miller High Life machine from 1983-1985, a car autographed by Bobby Allison after its unveiling at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  This will be LaJoie’s first-ever start at Darlington, a track where he’s never run in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions.  He will be rejoined at BK Racing by Gray Gaulding, who hasn’t driven for the team since Pocono in June.  Gaulding will run the #83 for the first time this year with backing from Premium Motorsports’ associate sponsor Champion Machinery, but will not run a throwback of his own.

Chris Buescher’s #37 Cheerios Chevrolet pays homage to Patty Moise, running the same number decals as the Crisco Buick she campaigned as owner and driver in 1988.  Moise, wife of Elton Sawyer, made 133 XFINITY starts and 5 in Cup from 1986 through 1998.  She made 12 Darlington starts in XFINITY with a best finish of 13th in 1995.  Buescher finished 17th in his Darlington debut last year, but in his fourth and most recent XFINITY start there ran 5th for Roush-Fenway Racing.

Jeffrey Earnhardt’s #33 Hulu Chevrolet resembles the #3 Lowe’s Foods Pontiac, a Greg Sacks backup car that Dale Earnhardt ran for to a 4th-place finish at Daytona in 1989.  While the preliminary layout shows Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group has elected a darker shade of green than that used in 1989, the team will the team even running the same gold rims.  Jeffrey Earnhardt looks for a turnaround after his crash with Austin Dillon at Bristol left him last for a series-leading fifth time in 2017.  He ran 38th in this race last year, running another “Intimidator” scheme for Go FAS Racing.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s #88 Nationwide Chevrolet goes back to the simple blue-and-white of his dominant AC-Delco Chevrolet, which he drove to back-to-back Busch titles in 1998 and 1999.  Earnhardt’s concussion forced him to miss out on “Throwback Weekend” last year, and Jeff Gordon steered his Buddy Baker “Gray Ghost” scheme to a 14th-place finish.  Junior makes his 22nd and final Cup start at Darlington on Sunday, where his best finish was a runner-up to Kevin Harvick in 2014.  This particular AC-Delco scheme also finished runner-up here in 1998, this time to the late Dick Trickle.

Standing out in this year’s throwbacks is Denny Hamlin, who will honor “Mr. Modified” Ray Hendrick with his cherry red “Flying 11,” the #11 Sport Clips Toyota.  In addition to his dominance in NASCAR’s modified ranks, Hendrick made 17 Cup starts and 7 in XFINITY.  His Cup debut came in the Southern 500, his only start at the track, on September 3, 1956.  That day, he put a #44 Chevrolet 44th on the grid of a 70-car race, then lost an engine, leaving him 52nd.  Hamlin, the 2010 Southern 500 winner, comes into this year’s race with just one finish worse than 6th in his last seven starts, including a pair of runner-up finishes to Jimmie Johnson in 2012 and Matt Kenseth in 2013.

Also taking the short track route is Cole Whitt, who honors his grandfather "Gentleman" Jim Whitt, the 1969 late model champipn at Cajon Speedway.  This particular paint scheme is the "Lime Green Machine," the #60 Ted Whitt Plumbing Chevelle that his grandfather raced in 1972 and 1973, both in late models and the NASCAR Winston West Series.  Jim Whitt never raced at Darlington, but did make five Cup starts at Ontario, Riverside, and Texas World Speedway.  His best finish was an 18th in the 1973 opener at Riverside.  Cole Whitt looks for his first Darlington finish better than his track-best 37th last year.  TriStar Motorsports' best Cup finish at Darlington came with the late Bobby Hamilton, who ran 10th in the 1991 Southern 500.

Representing open-wheel racing this year is Joey Logano, whose #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford resembles Jimmy Vasser's Shell-sponsored Lola from 2002.  Logano has yet to win Darlington in eight attempts, but finishes of 4th and 5th the last two years may help his bid to win his way into the Chase.

Furniture Row Racing has also taken the “throwback” concept in a different direction with defending winner Martin Truex, Jr. honoring Bass Pro Shops’ 40th anniversary while Erik Jones, who ran a strong 2nd at Bristol, commemorates the Rookie of the Year winners of the late 1980s on his #77.

Drivers running “fauxback” schemes, the term some have given to paint schemes with retro logos instead of paint schemes actually raced in the past, are Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Landon Cassill, David Ragan, and Jimmie Johnson.  The drivers who will not be running special throwback schemes at all are Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch, Carl Long, and Gray Gaulding.

VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington

On the XFINITY side, there are 41 drivers listed to attempt Saturday’s 40-car field, and with the 2017 road course season complete, many familiar faces are back in their familiar rides, including Tommy Joe Martins in the #78.  Missing from the Road America entry list are Mike Harmon’s second car, the #17 Dodge, Precision Performance Motorsports’ #46, which earned their first Top 10 last Sunday with Parker Kligerman, as well as both the Obaika Racing #77 and Motorsports Business Management’s #72, each withdrawn before last Sunday’s race.  Returning in their place are Kevin Harvick, who will pilot one of sponsor Hunt Brothers Pizza’s first paint schemes on his #41 Ford, GMS Racing’s second car, the #96 Chevrolet, with Ben Kennedy aboard (driving a throwback to Dale Earnhardt's Will Conkrite prepared from 1978), Morgan Shepherd, with new sponsorship from Council Truck Repair on his #89 Chevrolet, and JD Motorsports’ “start-and-park” #15 Chevrolet – withdrawn at Road America - with Reed Sorenson the listed driver.  Several teams will also be running throwback paint schemes, including these revealed by press time.

First off, all eyes will be on Jeremy Clements, who broke through with a dramatic first career victory at Road America.  He now arrives at his home track driving a throwback to A.J. Foyt’s own race winner of the 1964 Firecracker 400.  Curiously, Foyt made just one Cup start at Darlington in 1985, when he finished 25th after brake trouble in the same Southern 500 where Bill Elliott won the Winston Million.  In addition to continuing sponsorship from, fans have signed on to have their names printed on Clements’ rear decklid.

One of the first throwback schemes announced on the XFINITY side was Cole Custer’s entry in the #00 Haas Automation Ford.  Custer will honor the late Sam Ard, the two-time XFINITY Series champion, who passed away this past April.  In the first three years of the XFINITY Series, Ard scored 22 victories in his white Thomas Brothers Country Ham Oldsmobile.  While he never took the checkered flag at Darlington, he also never finished worse than 6th, including a pair of runner-up finishes to Neil Bonnett in 1983 and Ron Bouchard in 1984.  Custer will make his first XFINITY start at Darlington.

Two different drivers – Elliott Sadler and Dakoda Armstrong – will honor Cale Yarborough and his distinctive #28 Hardee’s machine.  Of the two, Armstrong will run the actual red-and-white scheme, though the team does not have a sponsor at this time.  Armstrong has three XFINITY starts at Darlington, and he’s finished 18th in all three.  Sadler, still looking for his first XFINITY win of the year, took the checkered flag in this race last year.  His Armour Vienna Sausage 150th Anniversary scheme carries the same template as Armstrong’s, but with dark blue and white.

Running double-duty, Austin Dillon will climb aboard his grandfather's #2 Rheem Chevrolet. Unsurprisingly, the car also honors Dale Earnhardt, though curiously the driver's earlier career with Rod Osterlund.  Orange and white are used in place of blue and gold (like Jimmie Johnson's car last year), but now Osterlund's bold number font is on the car.

Similar to Denny Hamlin’s Cup car, Road America runner-up Michael Annett’s #5 TMC Transportation Chevrolet will honor a short track legend in the form of sprint car legend Brad Doty.  Doty enjoyed years of success in USAC and the World of Outlaws up until a vicious crash at Eldora ended his career with a fractured vertebra.  Annett will make his fifth Darlington start in the series and his first since 2012, when he ran 14th.  His best Darlington XFINITY finish was an 11th for Germain Racing in 2010.

This past Tuesday, Justin Allgaier revealed that his #7 Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet would harken back to the white-and-orange Mom ‘n Pops / Western Steer short track cars driven by Kelley Earnhardt, Kerry Earnhardt, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  Allgaier has six Darlington starts in the series, including an 11th las year, and finished a track-best 4th in 2011 for Turner Motorsports.

William Byron, one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, honors the life of the late Ricky Hendrick with a paint scheme resembling the GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet that Hendrick raced in XFINITY and Truck Series competition.  Hendrick made two Darlington starts in the XFINITY Series, finishing 29th in 2000 and 33rd in 2002, and started outside-pole in the 2001 Truck Series race there before rear end trouble left him 34th.  Saturday will mark Byron’s Darlington debut, and will come just after Hendrick Motorsports announced he will run the #24 in Cup for 2018 with Chase Elliott returning to the #9.

For the second-straight year, Blake Koch will race a vintage Darrell Waltrip paint scheme, this time the Budweiser Chevrolet that Waltrip drove to his third and final Winston Cup in 1985.  Koch ran 19th last year in a throwback scheme to Waltrip’s Mountain Dew Buick, one spot short of his track-best 18th back in 2011 with MacDonald Motorsports.

Wednesday saw J.J. Yeley and TriStar Motorsports unveil the sharp black and orange #14 Toyota in its own tribute to A.J. Foyt. Specifically, the scheme resembles Foyt's Copenhagen Oldsmobile from the late 1980s.  Yeley will make his 8th XFINITY start at Darlington, a track where his best series finish was 9th in 2006.  His best finish in 8 Cup starts there was an 18th in 2007.

Ryan Reed joins in Michael McDowell’s effort to honor Alan Kulwicki with a throwback to the #7 Zerex Ford the owner-driver raced in the Cup Series in 1989 and 1990, including his second career victory at Rockingham.  Reed has three Darlington starts in XFINITY with a track-best 13th in 2014 and last year, his other start a 23rd in 2015.

Matt Tifft came oh-so-close to his first XFINITY Series victory at Road America, and this week has another stab at it with a unique throwback.  The #19 Ron John Surf Shop Toyota, fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, recalls a car driven by Dale Earnhardt at Charlotte in 1977, finishing 38th of 41 starters.  The car itself was owned by veteran owner-driver Henley Gray, who with longtime sponsor Belden Asphalt raced in 374 Cup starts from 1964 through 1977.  Gray never won a NASCAR race, but in 19 Darlington starts, his best finish was an 11th in 1971, a race won by Buddy Baker.

Erik Jones joins Corey LaJoie’s Cup effort in honoring Davey Allison with his #20 Reser’s Main Street Bistro designed to resemble Allison’s 1987 Rookie of the Year entry for Harry Rainier.  Jones, who is currently battling for rookie honors in Cup, will be making just his 2nd XFINITY start at Darlington, where he ran 6th last year.

Daniel Hemric's #21 Blue Gate Bank Chevrolet takes on the crimson and white Rockwell Automation scheme the Richard Childress entry campaigned from 2000 to 2002 with Mike Dillon, Robby Gordon, Mike Skinner, Jeff Purvis, and Jeff Green, among others.  Purvis and Green scored the only Childress wins in the car with Green earning the car's best Darlington finishes - 3rd in both 2002 races.  Green himself will drive RSS Racing's #93 Chevrolet.  It will be Hemric's first Darlington start.

Spencer Gallagher throws it back to 1986 as his Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet dons the red, yellow, and blue colors of Michael Waltrip’s #23 Hawaiian Punch Pontiac, the same car Alan Kulwicki beat that year for rookie honors.  Waltrip’s car that year was fielded by Chuck Rider, whose team Bahari’ Racing would go on to field cars for the Kentucky driver through 1995.  This 1986 scheme ran 13th and 16th that year at Darlington, a track where in 43 Cup starts Waltrip came closest to winning in 1991 before a bad late-race pit stop.  Gallagher is set to make his Darlington debut.

Dylan Lupton and JGL Racing bring back Jeff Gordon’s “Rainbow Warrior” scheme to the track for the first time since Gordon’s final night race at Bristol in 2015.  This time around, the scheme resembles Gordon’s rookie car in 1993 with “NUT UP” replacing “DU PONT” on the hood and quarter panels.  Lupton will be making his first NASCAR start at Darlington.

On Tuesday, Ryan Sieg and RSS Racing announced that they will be driving in honor of Ryan’s late brother Shane with the scheme his older brother raced in late models back in 2003.  Shane Sieg’s final XFINITY start came at Darlington in 2004, when he ran 37th for Rick Ware Racing after an early crash.  He also ran 12th in Darlington’s Truck Series race in 2011, this time in an RSS truck.  After a difficult afternoon in Road America, Ryan Sieg returns to a track where he finished a track-best 15th last year, his second-straight Top 20 at the track.

Motorsports Business Management returns to double-duty this weekend, and have also joined in the throwback festivities.  The #40 Dodge, driven by Chad Finchum, is painted Petty Blue without any sponsor decals, calling back to the late Pete Hamilton’s upset in the 1970 Daytona 500.  Teammate Timmy Hill, who tweeted himself wearing a hat from his father Jerry Hill’s Cup effort in the 1990s, will run “a blue Dodge” as well in the #13.

Last week, Jimmy Means Racing unveiled their newest throwback to an event 30 years ago.  The car carries the colors of Folger’s Coffee with the same #52 on the doors and roof.  The scheme calls back to Jimmy Means’ one-off for Hendrick Motorsports at Charlotte in 1987, an opportunity which opened up when an ailing Tim Richmond was ultimately forced into early retirement.  Means put the Hendrick car a strong 5th on the starting grid, but an accident not of his own making eliminated him after just 20 laps, leaving him 40th in a field of 42.  Joey Gase, who ran a track-best 24th last year in a throwback to Means’ Alka-Seltzer Pontiac, finished 32nd last week in Road America.

Brendan Gaughan rejoins NAPA Auto Parts with a paint scheme he last raced in the Truck Series back in 2002.  Gaughan won his first two of eight Truck victories that year, finishing 11th in points, vaulting him to a six-win 2003 that fell just short of the season title.  Still running the same #62, Gaughan returns to the site of a 16th-place finish last year and a track-best 13th in 2015.  He also has three Truck Series starts at Darlington to his credit, including a best finish of 3rd in 2003.

Mike Harmon has continued to find ways to make sure his single-car operation can participate in throwback weekend, particularly as he honors “The Alabama Gang,” including Davey Allison and Neil Bonnett.  His chosen subject this year is the ageless Red Farmer, specifically the gold-and-white #97 Long-Lewis Ford Torino from 1972.  Farmer never made a Cup start at Darlington, preferring instead the superspeedways in Atlanta, Daytona, and Talladega, though one of his career-best 4th-place finishes came at the tiny Middle Georgia Raceway in 1967.  Harmon has 13 Darlington starts to his credit, the best of which a 27th in 2003.

On Tuesday afternoon, Brandon Brown revealed the paint scheme for King Autosport’s #90 Coastal Carolina Univeristy Chevrolet.  The school’s colors of teal and black perfectly complement a throwback to Donlavey Racing, complete with the proper font of the door and roof numbers.  The result is a paint scheme similar to the Heilig-Meyers paint scheme run by the late Dick Trickle in 1996 and 1997.  Trickle’s best Darlington finish in the paint scheme came in the 1997 Southern 500, where he came home 13th, though his track-best in Cup was a 7th in 1992.  He also won the aforementioned 1998 XFINITY Series race at the track, beating Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in what was his second and final series win.  Brown will make his first series start at Darlington, a track where team owner Mario Gosselin ran 26th last year.

Ray Black rejoins SS Green Light Racing in the #07 MSW Spyders Chevrolet.  The team has elected a simple throwback to Butch Miller, specifically the #08 car he took to his first XFINITY win at IRP in 1986.  Black finished 21st in his XFINITY debut last year.

Johnny Davis of JD Motorsports continues his own remembrance of classic short trackers from the past.  Ross Chastain’s #4 South Carolina Education Lottery Chevrolet will carry the name and 1980 paint scheme of Mike Duvall, the modified racer known for fielding “The Flintstone F1yer” in the 1970s and 1980s.  Both Duvall and Johnny Davis call Gaffney, South Carolina home.  Chastain's best finish in XFINITY at Darlington was a 10th two years ago.

Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (Mosport)

Exactly 32 drivers are entered to attempt the 32-truck field in Sunday’s annual trip to the road course in Canada.

Missing from the last round at Bristol are Mike Mittler’s second truck, the #36 Chevrolet which missed the cut with Chris Windom, the Martins Motorsports #44 Chevrolet (withdrawn after the return of Tim Self’s #22 team), Kyle Busch and his own #46 Toyota, Stewart Friesen (whose #52 Halmar Friesen Racing team is in the process of aligning with GMS Racing instead of Tommy Baldwin Racing), Clay Greenfield in his #68, RAB Racing’s #92 Ford with Regan Smith, and Jesse Little in the #97 Toyota.

Returning in their place are Jennifer Jo Cobb’s second truck, the #0 Chevrolet, with Tommy Regan back behind the wheel, Austin Wayne Self’s #22 Don’t Mess With Texas / B&D Industries Toyota, a team but not a driver last seen at Kentucky in July, Gaunt Brothers Racing’s #96 (see below), Mike Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet, a team which hasn’t made a Truck Series start since last fall at Phoenix, and Bolen Motorsports’ #66, a team which took its last green flag in Pocono.

Both teams will have drivers making their series debut. Harmon will be in Darlington for Saturday's XFINITY race, putting short tracker Joe Hudson in the #74. Driving for Bolen in the #66 is Jason Hathaway.  A nine-time Pinty’s Series winner who won a round at Mosport in 2015, the Ontario native will drive for Bolen Motorsports in the #66 Chevrolet with sponsorship from his Pinty’s backers Choko Authentics and Fast Eddie Speed Wear.  Hathaway’s last Pinty’s Series start came June 3 of this year at the half-mile Delaware (Ontario) Speedway, where he ran 10th after brake trouble.

Also rejoining the circuit this week is Gaunt Brothers Racing and D.J. Kennington – a team last seen in Cup with a DNQ at Talladega, and a driver whose engine let go in July at Daytona.  Kennington returns to his native Canada in a sharp-looking #96 Castrol Edge Toyota, and will certainly be one to watch.  The fifth of his six Truck starts came in this race last year, where he drove Premium Motorsports’ #49 Chevrolet to a strong 14th, tying Daytona for their best run of the year.  Kennington has also won a combined four times at Mosport between CASCAR Super Series and NASCAR Pinty’s Series competition, most recently in 2012.

Gary Klutt also returns to NASCAR for the first time since his 31st-place finish in his Cup debut last month at Watkins Glen.  Now as then, Klutt drives for Premium Motorsports, this time with sponsorship from Pioneer Family Pools and Color Compass Corporation, the former his sponsor in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series.  Like Kennington, Klutt is a proven winner at Mosport as his lone Pinty’s Series victory came there in 2015.  This past May, Klutt carried those same sponsors to a 3rd-place finish in the Pinty’s Series opener at Mosport, trailing race winner Kevin Lacroix and runner-up Andrew Ranger.  Klutt finished 11th in this race last year driving for Kyle Busch.

Another Canadian returning to NASCAR competition is 2011 Indianapolis 500 polesitter Alex Tagliani, who this year replaces Tyler Young in Randy Young's #02 Chevrolet.  Tagliani has made two starts in this rae, both times winning the pole for Brad Keselowski in 2014 and 2015, but didn't run this race last year.  On the heels of his 6th Pinty's Series win just this year at Trois-Rivieres, Tags makes his first start in NASCAR's top three series since he ran 7th in last year's XFINITY race at Road America.

Also welcome back to Newport Beach, California driver Brian Wong, who eyes his first Truck Series start since he ran 12th in this race two years ago for Bill Venturini.  This time around, Wong drives for the #99 MDM Motorsports team, the group with which Darrell Wallace, Jr. brought home an encumbered win at Michigan.  Most recently, Wong raced in last Sunday ARCA race at Road America in another MDM car, finishing 14th after starting 10th.

Joining the trip down the comeback trail is Victor Gonzalez, Jr., who we last saw crash out of his second Cup start at Watkins Glen in 2013.  This time around, he steps in for T.J. Bell in Al Niece's #45.  It will be Gonzalez' Truck Series debut.

Defending Mosport winner John Hunter Nemechek and NEMCO Motorsports join the “Throwback Weekend” effort with a #8 Fire Alarm Services, Inc. Chevrolet decaled the same as Ron Fellows’ Watkins Glen winner in 1999, complete with the BellSouth rainbow scheme both Nemechek and his team made famous in the late 1990s.  Joe Nemechek himself is again entered in the #87, which will likely continue on “start-and-park” duty along with Mike Senica in Norm Benning’s #57 and Tommy Regan in the Cobb #0.

Also joining the throwback effort is Brad Keselowski Racing, which has retro paint schemes for both the #19 and #29 Fords, each a tribute to the Keselowski family.  Austin Cindric, who ran well in his XFINITY debut at Road America before a spin and a flat tire, drives a #19 Reese Products, Inc. Ford reminiscent of Ron Keselowski’s #19 Dodge.  Teammate Chase Briscoe will drive the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, a scheme resembling the Dodge that Brad’s father Bob Keselowski drove to his lone Truck Series win at Richmond in 1997.  While Briscoe makes his Mosport debut, Cindric finished 23rd here last year after starting outside-pole.

Todd Peck returns to Truck Series competition for the first time since Michigan, and for the first time since Charlotte, he will drive Mike Mittler’s #63 Chevrolet.  Sunday will be Peck’s Mosport debut, while the Mittler team’s best finish at the track came just last year with Norm Benning in a strong 20th.  Benning himself will again run his #6 Chevrolet.  Returning to Copp Motorsports’ #83 Chevrolet is Monster Jam racer Camden Murphy, who last raced at Michigan and ran 31st at Mosport last year for the shuttered Carlos Contreras team.

9/6/87: Alan Kulwicki’s only NASCAR last-place finish came in the Southern 500

PHOTO: Source unknown
Alan Kulwicki picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway when his #7 Zerex Ford lost the engine after 77 of 202 laps.  The finish came in Kulwicki’s 49th series start.

One of the many measures of Kulwicki’s legacy in NASCAR can be seen during Darlington’s “Throwback Weekend.”  Last year, both Roush-Fenway Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing ran near-identical tributes to the “Underbird,” the Hooters Restaurants Ford that Kulwicki piloted to his improbable 1992 Winston Cup Championship, with Greg Biffle running the sponsor and Regan Smith carrying #7.  This year, Michael McDowell and the Leavine Family Racing team will enter a #95 Chevrolet reminiscent of the black-and-gold #35 Quincy’s Steak House Ford the Wisconsin driver wheeled to a Rookie of the Year victory over Michael Waltrip.  On the XFINITY side, Ryan Reed’s #16 Lilly Diabetes Ford will resemble the Zerex Ford that Kulwicki took to victory lane at Rockingham in 1990.

It's also interesting to note that only once did Kulwicki finish last in 213 combined Cup and XFINITY Series starts – a finish that also came at Darlington in the Labor Day Classic.

1987 marked Kulwicki’s third season in Cup, and the first year where he ran all the races.  It was also the first full year Kulwicki was listed as the owner of his own team, having acquired the assets from Bill Terry’s team prior to Darlington the previous year.  For the new season, Kulwicki changed his car number from #35 to #7, all the while welcoming new sponsorship from Zerex Antifreeze.  The white-and-red scheme and bold door numbers would remain largely unchanged for the rest of his Cup career.

Through the first 20 rounds of the 1987 season, Kulwicki was steadily becoming a contender for victories.  He earned his first pole at Richmond in March, tied his career-best finish at North Wilkesboro with a 4th-place finish, then went toe-to-toe with Dale Earnhardt at Pocono in July before he settled for the runner-up spot, just one second behind the eventual season champion.  Coming into Darlington, where he’d finished 14th in the spring, Kulwicki had finished no worse than 11th in three of his previous four races.  Yet he sat just 15th in the point standings, saddled by eight DNFs, including a streak of five in a row.

One of the storylines coming into the 1987 Southern 500 involved the race’s defending winner.  Sidelined with an illness that was only called “double pneumonia,” Tim Richmond returned to the Cup circuit in June, earning back-to-back victories in his first two starts of the season at Pocono and Riverside.  Richmond had made another six starts since then in Rick Hendrick’s fleet #25 Folger’s Coffee Chevrolet, most recently at Michigan that August, where a blown engine left him 29th.  The Southern 500 was to be Richmond’s next start, but his ailment had exacted its toll.  The Thursday before the race, Richmond was withdrawn from the event, never to run again.  He would succumb to AIDS less than two years later.

Another continuing story of 1987 came in qualifying, where Davey Allison earned his fourth pole of the season.  Already, the second-generation racer had scored two victories at Talladega and Dover, setting a rookie record for wins that would stand until Tony Stewart’s three-win debut in 1999.  Allison had struggled at the track where his father Bobby had won five times, crashing out in both his previous starts.  That March, following a repave at the track, Davey had wrecked again, setting his car aflame.  Bobby leaped from his car and helped his son escape.  Davey would lead 86 laps of the 1987 Southern 500, only to crash for a third-straight race, leaving him 29th.  He would go on to score two runner-up finishes at “The Lady In Black,” and arrive there in 1992 with a chance at “The Winston Million,” but the victory eluded him up to his own tragic passing in 1993.

No driver was in position to win the “Winston Million” in 1987 as the other three “crown jewel” races were won by three different drivers.  Joining Davey Allison’s win in Talladega’s Winston 500 were Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott and Coca-Cola 600 winner Kyle Petty, all three drivers eligible to take home $100,000 for a win at Darlington.  Petty, who started 26th, had the farthest to go as both Allison and Elliott rolled off on the front row.  Kulwicki, meanwhile, qualified 6th in the 40-car field.

Starting last that Sunday was the #6 Slender You Figure Salons Oldsmobile of Tennessee native Connie Saylor.  Saylor, a part-timer in the series in his tenth season, was nearing the end of his career when he rejoined D.K. Ulrich’s team midway through the ’87 campaign.  It was also his tenth Cup start at Darlington, a track where his best finish was a 14th in 1980 driving for G.C. Spencer.

Persistent rain delayed the start of the race, and the 40-car field spent several pace laps under caution, then another 24 circuits under a green / yellow start due to drainage from the grandstands coming down the front stretch.  During those laps, Brett Bodine, Jimmy Means, Dave Marcis, and Mike Potter stopped to top off their fuel tanks, dropping all four to the tail end of the field for the green-flag start on Lap 25.

On Lap 34, the leaders caught the new last-place runner, South Carolina owner-driver Jonathan Lee Edwards, whose #32 Edwards Racing Chevrolet was the first car to go a lap down.  The 29-year-old Edwards, making his eighth and final Cup start, had competed in both the Twin 125s and the Winston Open for the first time that year, and would leave the sport without a single last-place finish.  Joining Edwards at the back of the field was Geoffrey Bodine, whose #5 Levi Garrett Chevrolet lost two laps after an unscheduled pit stop.  It was the latest in a series of frustrations for Bodine, whose Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Busch Grand National car was withdrawn from the previous day’s race due to an illegal carburetor.

Kulwicki went behind the wall with engine trouble after 77 laps, just as the first round of green-flag stops had completed, handing him the last-place finish.  The remainder of the Bottom Five included a mix of Cup Series winners and underdogs.  39th that Sunday went to Harry Gant, who burned the clutch on his #33 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet, then fielded by film director Hal Needham.  38th fell to Greg Sacks, who lost the engine on the Dingman Brothers’ #50 Valvoline Pontiac.  Finishing 37th was Jonathan Lee Edwards, followed by 36th-place Trevor Boys, the Canadian in his sixth season of competition, after his #12 Gorman’s Esso Oldsmobile wrecked out of the race.

The race was cut short by rain after 202 of 367 scheduled laps, just moments after Dale Earnhardt made the winning pass on Richard Petty.

Much of the rest of Kulwicki’s career is well-known.  He’d have to wait just over a year to take his first “Polish Victory Lap” after taking the win in the inaugural Checker 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, then another two years for his second win at Rockingham.  Zerex left the team in 1991, and only a strong start to the season, combined with a DNQ by Mark Stahl, later secured him sponsorship from Hooters.  The next year, he’d rally from a crash at Dover and make up a 278-point deficit to edge Bill Elliott for the Winston Cup.  But, just five months later, after rolling to 9th in the 1993 standings heading to Bristol, Kulwicki lost his life in a private plane crash.

When interviewed for my book on J.D. McDuffie, ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch shared a story about Kulwicki, a driver who embodied the same independent determination.  Just days before Kulwicki’s accident, when a snowstorm postponed the Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 at Atlanta, Dr. Punch noticed something in the garage area:

“I can’t remember the last time I saw a driver working on a race car,” said Dr. Punch.  “Probably the last guy I saw actually working on his race car in earnest was Alan Kulwicki.  I remember in the snowstorm in Atlanta, everybody else in the garage area, there he was with three or four guys with the hood up – wind blowing, snow blowing up the back – he put his helmet on to stay warm.  He put his helmet on to keep his head warm.  But you know what, it paid off for him.  It showed how much he wanted it.”

“We had an ABC camera down in the garage area, shooting down the hoods of all these cars, showing everyone there wasn’t gonna be any racing, the snow was all over the track, and all these cars were covered up except for one, and you look all the way down that list there was a hood up and there was the guy with the helmet on, two three guys with gloves on, and jackets, and working on the car, and it was Alan Kulwicki and his bunch.”

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #7 in a Cup Series race since August 23, 1986, when the engine let go on Kyle Petty’s 7-Eleven Ford during the Busch 500 at Bristol.  It was the first last-place finish for the car number at Darlington since September 2, 1968, when Bobby Johns’ 1967 Chevrolet burned the clutch after 1 lap of the Southern 500.  As of this writing, these are the only two Cup races at Darlington races where #7 has finished last.

40) #7-Alan Kulwicki / 77 laps / engine
39) #33-Harry Gant / 85 laps / clutch
38) #50-Greg Sacks / 96 laps / engine
37) #32-Joanthan Lee Edwards / 122 laps / engine
36) #12-Trevor Boys / 126 laps / crash


Sunday, August 27, 2017

XFINITY: Jeff Green’s 96th last-place finish comes as Jeremy Clements leads a day for the underdogs at Road America

Jeff Green picked up the 96th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Sunday’s Johnsonville 180 at Road America when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 2 of the race’s 45 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 470th series start, was his seventh of the 2017 season and his first since the July race at Iowa, four rounds ago.  With ten races to go, Green is just four finishes away from becoming the first driver to score 100 last-place finishes in a single season.  He also leads the 2017 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship by two finishes, putting him in position to break J.D. McDuffie’s record of five career LASTCAR titles.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for Green and the entire RSS Racing team following the unexpected death of Shane Sieg, older brother of teammate Ryan Sieg.  While Ryan gave RSS Racing its first Truck Series start at Milwaukee in 2009, Shane had been active in the series since 2003, racing for underdogs like Gene Christensen and Bobby Dotter to the strong Billy Ballew Motorsports entry in 2008.  His best finish in Trucks actually came for Dotter, again at Milwaukee, in 2004 when he finished 8th.  Shane also shared much in common with Jeff Green, performing the “start-and-park” role for the team, scoring three last-place runs of his own.  On August 19, 2017, just under six years after he was suspended under NASCAR’s substance abuse policy, Shane lost his life at age 34.

Green was one of 43 drivers on the preliminary entry list.  Statistically, Green was a favorite to finish last in Sunday’s race.  It was in this race in 2012 that he took the all-time LASTCAR lead from Derrike Cope, and in 2015, his record-setting eighth consecutive last-place finish.  The effort would be aided following the withdrawals of three last-place challengers.

First, the entry list was immediately cut to 42 as JD Motorsports withdrew their “start-and-park” #15 before a driver could be announced.  By the end of the week, Motorsports Business Management withdrew their own “start-and-park” #72, back on the circuit for the first time since Loudon.  John Jackson was originally listed to drive the car once more, but Timmy Hill was switched into it before the car was withdrawn.  Third to leave the track early was first-timer Gregory Vandersluis, who on Sunday morning tweeted that Obaika Racing’s #77 Chevrolet “was not ready” and had not completed a lap in either practice session.

With that, the 40 remaining drivers were guaranteed a starting spot in Sunday’s race.  Though NASCAR had brought Goodyear’s rain tires to the track, Sunday morning’s qualifying session was cancelled by rain.  This put Jeff Green 31st on the grid based on his Past Champion’s Provisional for his 2000 XFINITY title.  A day earlier, Green had run both practices, taking 29th in the first session and 31st in Happy Hour.

Starting last in the race was Nissan road racer Nicolas Hammann, who was making his first XFINITY Series start since this same race last year.  Now as then, Hammann was originally slated to run Mike Harmon’s #74 Dodge for Veterans Motorsports, Inc., but this time, on Friday, he had a new ride.  John Graham was listed in the #74 with sponsorship from the New York Islanders hockey team, giving the Irish-Canadian sports car driver a shot to make his first XFINITY start since 2007.  Hammann, meanwhile, would drive a second black Harmon-prepared Dodge.  Carrying car #17, with Rick Ware as the listed team owner and sponsorship from Trudell Performance, Hammann was the only driver in the field whose team had yet to make a start in 2017, securing him the final starting spot.

While Sheldon Creed joined him in the rear after missing driver introductions, Hammann held down the last spot early, trailing the leader by 7.096 seconds on the opening lap, then dropped to 23.009 at the end of Lap 1, less than a tenth of a second behind Graham’s #74.  Jeff Green, meanwhile, ran 37th at the end of Lap 1, but ducked down pit road at the end of Lap 2, dropping him a full 46.268 seconds behind the leader and 11.648 seconds behind the now-39th-place Graham.  The #93 pulled behind the wall that time by, securing the last-place finish.

Finishing 39th on Sunday was Trans-Am point leader Ernie Francis, Jr., whose series debut in Motorsports Business Management’s #13 Frameless Shower Doors Toyota ended with a blown engine.  38th went to Sheldon Creed, who for the second-straight road course race was sidelined by mechanical issues in th e#01 United Rentals Chevrolet.  Despite his pre-race penalty, Creed had worked his way up to 10th at the end of Stage 1, only to exit with a vibration soon after the restart.  37th went to outside-polesitter James “J.D.” Davison, whose “Days of Thunder” inspired #20 Hollinger Motor Sports Toyota incurred a speeding penalty after winning Stage 1, trapping him in the middle of a wreck triggered by Justin Marks and Ross Chastain.  Rounding out the Bottom five was Tim Cowen, who very nearly drew the final caution when he stuffed his #40 Cowen Logistics Dodge into the tires in the final laps.  Cowen managed to limp his car back to the garage, at which point he was listed out.

But the story of the day belonged to another underdog, race winner Jeremy Clements.  In 255 previous starts, Clements had never finished last, but only once scored a Top 5 – a 4th last year at Talladega.  Clements’ XFINITY debut came at Pikes Peak International Raceway on July 26, 2003, when he ran 31st for part-time team owner Jerry Young.  In 2011, Clements and his family started Jeremy Clements Racing, fielding the #51 Chevrolet.  South Dakota-based signed as a sponsor that year at Iowa, and for most of the races since, it’s been one of the only brands on his car.  Ever since 2011, Clements has ranked no worse than 16th in points, but no better than 14th.  He arrived at Road America 18th in the standings with just one Top 10, a 7th at Iowa.  His car was old – very old – the chassis built in 2008.  In six previous Road America starts, just once did he finish better than 23rd - but that day in 2014, he finished 6th.

Then, following a daring series of pit calls and a charge through the field, Clements reeled in race leader Matt Tifft for the high-powered Joe Gibbs Racing team – reeled Tifft in so fast that he lost control coming to the white flag, sending both cars into a spin off the final corner.  But with the lead both drivers built up, Clements managed to get his car pointed the right direction and keep the lead, hanging on to beat Michael Annett to the checkered flag – Clements’ first XFINITY Series victory.  The win so surprised the NBC crew that the camera crew had difficulty discerning Clements’ black #51 Chevrolet from several other black Camaros in lapped traffic - at one point, they mistakenly tracked David Starr’s #99.  Next Saturday, Clements returns to his home track, the Darlington Raceway, where he’ll run a throwback paint scheme honoring A.J. Foyt.

Filling out the Top 10 were Casey Mears in 9th, the best finish by Biagi-DenBeste Racing since Aric Almirola’s Daytona win last year, and 10th-place Parker Kligerman, who while serving as NBC’s in-race reporter went from starting next to Nicolas Hammann in the final row to earn Rick Gdovic’s Precision Performance Motorsports’ first top-ten finish, besting Quin Houff’s mark of 12th last month at Iowa.  12th on Sunday went B.J. McLeod’s #8 Chevrolet with road racer Josh Bilicki, who had never before finished better than 27th in eight previous NASCAR starts.  And, running without a sponsor, J.J. Yeley kept TriStar Motorsports’ #14 Toyota in the lead pack for several laps before he settled for 17th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Road America since June 21, 2014, when Kevin Lepage’s JGL Racing Dodge had rear gear trouble on the opening lap of the Gardner Denver 200 Fired Up by Johnsonville.

40) #93-Jeff Green / 2 laps / vibration
39) #13-Ernie Francis, Jr. / 16 laps / engine
38) #01-Sheldon Creed / 18 laps / vibration
37) #20-James Davison / 20 laps / crash
36) #40-Tim Cowen / 35 laps / crash

1st) RSS Racing (13)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (22)
2nd) Dodge (1)


Friday, August 25, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Road America

PHOTO: Josh Bilicki Racing
Johnsonville 180 at Road America

A rare XFINITY-only weekend on the NASCAR calendar sees 42 drivers set to contest the 40-car grid, including many of the “road course ringers” from Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, including Justin Marks in Chip Ganassi’s #42 Katerra Chevrolet and Sheldon Creed in JD Motorsports' #01.  Missing from the list are JD Motorsports' "start-and-park" #15, withdrawn on Wednesday, and Mid-Ohio last-placer Morgan Shepherd in his #89 Racing With Jesus Chevrolet.  Shepherd raced in five of the previous seven races at Road America, earning a track-best 19th in the 2010 inaugural.

After the disappointing withdrawal of Obaika Racing from driver Gregory Vandersluis’ home track in Mid-Ohio, the #77 Vroom Brands Chevrolet is again entered with the road racer Vandersluis again behind the wheel.  In anticipation of their first start in nearly half a year, the Obaika team has also returned to posting on Twitter @ObaikaRacing.

Among those challenging Vandersluis for a spot in the field will be Timmy Hill.  Hill drives in place of John Jackson in Motorsports Business Management’s “start-and-park” #72 Dodge, a team we last saw in July, when Jackson finished last at Loudon.  If Hill qualifies, he will be one to watch in the LASTCAR battle along with Jeff Green, who is again entered in RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet.  MBM’s lead duo this week will be current Trans-Am point leader Ernie Francis, Jr., set to make his series debut in the #13 The Original Frameless Shower Doors Chevrolet and Tim Cowen returning to the #40 Cowen Ford.

Nissan sports car driver Nicolas Hammann, who spotted for Cody Ware at Mid-Ohio, will drive Mike Harmon's #74 Veternas Motorsports, Inc. Dodge.  Hammann, a hometown hero in Elkhart Lake, drove for Harmon twice last year including a 36th-place finish here.  Cody Ware will slide over to his father Rick's #17 Chevrolet, the first XFINITY attempt for the team since Jeff Green sped to a strong 7th at Daytona in July of last year.

Following a 16th-place finish by Anthony Kumpen at Mid-Ohio, Precision Performance Motorsports is back as well, this time with driver-turned-analyst Parker Kligerman behind the wheel.  Kligerman hasn’t made an XFINITY Series start since 2015 at Darlington, where he gave Obaika Racing one of its best runs with a 21st-place finish in the #97 Chevrolet.  Kligerman also performed admirably in his most recent NASCAR start last Wednesday in Bristol, where he ran 8th in Charlie Henderson’s #75 Food Country USA / Lopez Wealth Management Toyota.  Kligerman brings sponsorship from ComServe Wireless to the #46 team.

B.J. McLeod Motorsports has pieced together the team’s two wrecked cars from Mid-Ohio, and will again have Josh Bilicki in the #8 – this time sponsored by Xtreme Xperience – and defending V8 Masters Series champion Stephen Young in the blue #78 Wealth Recovery International Chevrolet.  David Starr remains in the McLeod / SS Green Light Racing #99 Chevrolet, and after a short night in Bristol comes to a track where he’s finished 20th and 24th the last two years.

Welcome back Ryan Ellis, who will drive SS Green Light's primary #07 Chevrolet with sponsorship from SuperLite Cars and Bachtel Excavating.  Ellis, who after a handful of Cup starts for Circle Sport and BK Racing the last two years became the Marketing and PR agent for Go FAS Racing, will make his first XFINITY Series start since November 5, 2016, when he finished 33rd for Obaika Racing.

Defending Road America winner Michael McDowell will not be racing this Sunday, and his #2 Rheem Chevrolet will again go to Ben Kennedy.  Kennedy, who has split the 2017 season between Richard Childress Racing and GMS Racing, will be making his Road America debut, and looks to improve on a 26th-place finish at Mid-Ohio.  Joining him on the Childress team are Scott Lagasse, Jr. in the #3, backed by Bellin Health and the American Cancer Society, as well as series regulars Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, and 2014 winner Brendan Gaughan.

James “J.D.” Davison turned in a strong 4th-place finish in his Joe Gibbs Racing debut at Mid-Ohio, and now comes to the scene of his 19th-place run for Mario Gosselin in 2016 in a #20 Toyota sponsored by Hollinger Motorsports, LaSalle Solutions, and Lake Forest Hearing.  Joining Davison's "Days of Thunder" inspired paint scheme on the Gibbs contingent is Truck Series regular Christopher Bell, making his third series start in the #18 ToyotaCare Toyota, and Matt Tifft in the #19 Dragon Alliance Toyota.  Both Bell and Tifft will be making their Road America debuts.

No Cup Series regulars are entered in Sunday’s race, which includes Penske Racing’s stout #22 Discount Tire Ford.  Behind the wheel this week is Truck Series regular Austin Cindric.  In the wake of last week’s news that Brad Keselowski Racing will close its doors at the end of this year’s Truck Series schedule, Sunday will be an audition for Cindric, whose background has been in various forms of road racing, including two 12-Hour races in Bathurst.  His most recent road course start came at Watkins Glen this past July, where he shared a Lexus with Jack Hawksworth and Robert Alon in the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen.

Next Race: Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington
Sunday, September 3, 2017

Next Race: Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Mosport
Sunday, September 3, 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

1/22/67: Remembering Billy Foster, 50 years after he lost his life at Riverside

PHOTO: Getty Images, The Enthusiast Network
On January 22, 1967, William A. “Billy” Foster was classified last in the Motor Trend 500 at the Riverside International Raceway after he lost his life in a practice crash two days earlier in his #22 Dodge.  Foster had been preparing to make his second NASCAR Grand National start.

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Foster grew up drag racing his cousin Jim Steen, then dropped out of school to begin his racing career in 1954.  His home track was the Western Speedway, which is still in operation today.  At Western, Foster, just 17 at the time, drove a 1934 Ford to 10th in the point standings that year and took his first checkered flag.  Over the next decade, he earned several awards, including Most Popular Driver, the July Cup, and the Roy White Memorial Trophy.

Foster moved to Super Modifieds in 1962, winning the championship that year along with the Gold Cup and Daffodil Cup.  The next year, he joined the Canadian American Modified Racing Association (CAMRA) in 1963 – the same series where Cliff Hucul cut his teeth – and won the championship there as well.

In 1964, when Foster finished 2nd in the CAMRA standings, the 26-year-old made the move to United States competition in open-wheel USAC competition.  His series debut came at the Milwaukee Mile on August 23, 1964, where he was the lone Canadian in a 26-car field.  Foster started 18th that day and finished 16th, besting such drivers as Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock, Bobby Marshman, and A.J. Foyt.  He also became good friends with 3rd-place finisher Mario Andretti, and the two raced each other up the ranks.  The next time out at Trenton in Walt Flynn’s #27 Offy, Foster finished 7th, besting among others both Andretti and Jimmy Clark.

Foster attempted a large part of the USAC schedule in 1965.  In May, driving the #66 Autotron Offy for Jim Robbins, Foster became the first Canadian to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.  He started a surprising 6th, lining him up in Row 2 alongside Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones, but a water manifold issue left him 17th.  He scored his first Top 5 the next time out at the treacherous Langhorne Speedway, then started outside-pole at Atlanta and finished 3rd behind Johnny Rutherford and Mario Andretti.  Foster made another 12 USAC starts in 1966, including a return to the Indianapolis 500, but his was one of 11 cars gobbled-up in a grinding first-lap accident.  As a rookie, Foster was widely blamed for the accident.

Along the way, Foster had also dabbled in stock car racing.  In 1964, he competed in the USAC Stock Car Division, which invited USAC drivers to compete in races across the Midwest and Northeast.  While USAC stars like Rodger Ward and Parnelli Jones claimed the title, NASCAR’s best also took turns at the top, including inaugural Southern 500 winner Johnny Mantz, Paul Goldsmith, who claimed the final checkered flag on the Daytona Beach-Road Course, and 1965 Daytona 500 champion Fred Lorenzen.  Ultimately, USAC Stock Car venues such as Michigan and Pocono would become part of the current NASCAR schedule.

On November 14, 1964, Foster finished 5th in one of his first USAC Stock Car races at Ascot Park in Gardena, California.  Piloting a 1963 Mercury, Foster finished ahead of A.J. Foyt, who ran 7th after winning the pole in a Ray Nichels-prepared Dodge.  In 1965, Foster was crowned the series’ Rookie of the Year, an honor that would later go to Cup drivers Dick Trickle, Joe Ruttman, Rusty Wallace, and Ken Schrader.  Among his finishes that year were a 7th in Milwuakee, a 4th at Langhorne, and a 3rd at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Foster’s 3rd-place finish came driving a #22 1965 Dodge prepared by Rudy Hoerr.  Rudy’s son Irv, who served as the chief mechanic for the team, would go on to have a successful career in Trans-Am, and with his own exposure to stock car racing, would become a NASCAR “road ringer” for Oldsmobile in the early 1990s.  In January 1966, Hoerr fielded 1964 Dodge for Foster in the NASCAR Grand National Series event at the Riverside International Raceway, one of the few road courses which had hosted USAC Stock Car events.  Driving a white #22 sponsored by Illinois Dodge Dealers, Foster started 12th and finished a strong 7th during one of Dan Gurney’s dominant victories for the Wood Brothers.

Foster and Hoerr returned to Riverside in 1967 with a new Dodge Charger, and promptly put it 9th on the grid for the Motor Trend 500.  The fast road course proved particularly treacherous that weekend, especially at Turn 9, where a long downhill backstretch ended with a kink to the left, then a slow right-hand carousel leading back to the starting line.  That weekend, Ed Brown had destroyed his Chevrolet in a crash, forcing him to withdraw.  The corner also caught Cale Yarborough, who was unable to start after he wrecked the Wood Brothers’ #21 Ron’s Ford machine in the same spot.  Both drivers were able to walk away.  During practice on Friday, January 20, Foster wasn’t so lucky.

According to a report after the event, a brake drum failed on Foster’s car, sending him out of control toward the Turn 9 between 134 and 140mph.  Foster was observed trying to sideswipe the wall to lessen the impact.  With window nets yet to be made mandatory, this proved disastrous.  When the car hit the wall flush with the driver’s side, Foster’s head and upper body struck the outside wall, killing him instantly.  The heavily-damaged car rolled to a stop 100 feet from the impact site, near the exit of Turn 9.  A picture of the car after the wreck can be found here.  The wreck came barely three years after two-time series champion Joe Weatherly lost his life in a similar accident on the opposite end of the track in 1964.

The accident affected Mario Andretti deeply.  The two had roomed together that week and were set to race each other on Sunday.   “He had no chance,” said Andretti in 2009. “He was one of those guys that was never able to demonstrate his potential.  His career ended too early. He was a true champion, and a great guy.  He was hell-bent, happy-go-lucky, but very smart, very intelligent.”  Ever since, Andretti has refused to get close to another driver, much as A.J. Foyt did after Pat O’Connor crashed at Indianapolis in 1958.

To this day, Foster remains the only Canadian driver to lose his life in a NASCAR event, and was the last Cup Series driver to lose his life on a road course until J.D. McDuffie’s accident at Watkins Glen in 1991.

Foster and Yarborough were classified in the final two positions.  Last among the remaining 44 starters was local driver Carl Cardey, making his second and final Cup start, whose #45 1965 Ford lost an engine on the opening lap.  Next was two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Gordon Johncock, whose #85 1967 Plymouth broke the transmission.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was West Series competitor Tom Roa, whose lone Cup start ended with a burned clutch on his #03 Mac Motors Compton / Pontiac-sponsored 1965 Pontiac.  On Lap 40, rain slowed the event for 10 laps, ultimately forcing a postponement until January 28.

Foster’s legacy lives on, particularly in his native Canada.  He was inducted into the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1984, then the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 1993.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #22 in a Cup Series race since April 19, 1964, when Fireball Roberts did not start the Gwyn Staley 400 at North Wilkesboro due to a practice crash involving his 1964 Holman-Moody Ford.  It was the number’s only last-place finish on a road course until August 15, 1999, when the engine on Ward Burton’s Caterpillar Pontiac let go after 48 laps of the Frontier @ the Glen at Watkins Glen International.

46) #22-Billy Foster / 0 laps / did not start
45) #21-Cale Yarborough / 0 laps / did not start
44) #45-Carl Cardey / 0 laps / engine
43) #85-Gordon Johncock / 1 lap / transmission
42) #03-Tom Roa / 9 laps / clutch

*“Billy Foster 1984 Inductee,” Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame and Museum
*Garner, Art. Black Noon: The Year They Stopped the Indy 500, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016.
*Feshuk, Dave. “Looking back at Canada’s Indy pioneer,” The Star, May 23, 2009.
*UPI. “Billy Foster Dies at 140,” Desert Sun, January 21, 1967.
*UPI. “Billy Foster – Victim At Riverside Raceway,” The Argus, January 21, 1967.
*Ultimate Racing History: The USAC Stock Car Series
*Wheeler, Dave. “Billy Foster Dies In Crash At Riverside, California – January 20, 1967,” This Day In Motorsport History, January 20, 2017.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

CUP: Jeffrey Earnhardt extends LASTCAR lead after hard crash with Austin Dillon

Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 5th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #33 Hulu Chevrolet was involved in a two-car accident after 225 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Earnhardt’s 46th series start, was his fifth of the season and first since the Coca-Cola 600, 12 races ago.  With 12 races to go, Earnhardt now leads the 2017 LASTCAR Cup Series championship by 3 finishes.

Since his most recent last-place finish, Earnhardt and his Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group team have acquired new sponsorship from the Hulu online streaming service.  The current green-and-white paint scheme – which replaced the “Intimidator” styled black-and-silver –  debuted the next week at Dover, where Earnhardt came one spot short of tying his season-best 26th in the Daytona 500.  Though he has since tied that mark at Indianapolis, driver and team have continued to struggle.  Even with “road ringer” Boris Said and engines from Hendrick Motorsports for Sonoma and Watkins Glen, the car finished just 29th and 30th those two rounds.

Bristol, however, was a track where Earnhardt had been showing improvement.  After a 32nd-place run in his Cup debut at the track in 2016, he ran 29th in the fall, then 27th for Circle Sport this past spring.

Earnhardt was one of 41 entrants who arrived to attempt Saturday’s 40-car field, the first time since Talladega in May that qualifying would send at least one team home.  With the Charter earned from Circle Sport’s efforts, Earnhardt had no risk of missing the cut, which was a good thing after practice.  Car #33 ran 40th in the first session, 38th in Happy Hour, and earned the 38th starting spot with a lap of 123.364mph.  The only driver to miss the cut was Timmy Hill, who in his first Cup attempt since a career-best 14th at Indianapolis, could not get a handle on his #66 Chevrolet and spun in practice.

Starting last on Saturday was Joey Gase, who was driving BK Racing’s #23 Best Home Furnishings Toyota for the first time since Kentucky.  Prior to the start, he was joined at the back by 3rd-place starter Kasey Kahne, whose team had to change a flat tire on the #5 Rated Red Chevrolet.  When the race started, Gase and Kahne were part of a three-wide battle for position in Turn 3, which was settled at the stripe with Gase back in last, 5.394 seconds behind.  Gase lost another second to the leader the next time by.

On Lap 5, Brad Keselowski plummeted to 31st in his #2 AutoTrader Ford with the left-front tire flat.  A chain-reaction incident sent him bouncing off the #38 Juice Battery Ford of David Ragan, then into the outside wall, forcing a green-flag stop.  Keselowski lost three laps, and quickly took the spot from Gase, who lost his first of 24 circuits on Lap 12.  By the 43rd lap, Gase was on the same lap as Keselowski, both three laps down, when NASCAR indicated that Gase’s window net may be loose.  On Lap 60, Gase made an unscheduled stop for the net, taking last from Keselowski.  Unfortunately for Gase, he pitted just before the first caution fell on the 63rd circuit for Aric Almirola’s flat tire, trapping Gase five laps behind.

At the end of Stage 1, with all 40 cars still running, Cole Whitt entered the last-place battle.  Whitt was called to pit road for leaking fluid which the team indicated was due to a power steering issue.  On Lap 133, with the race still under yellow, Whitt took last from Gase, then returned to competition 13 laps behind on the 137th circuit.  By Lap 177, Gase was losing more laps as he fought to keep pace, and that time by was within four laps of re-taking last from Whitt.

By Lap 232, Whitt was still last, 15 circuits behind, three laps ahead of 39th-place Gase, when an accident settled the last-place battle.  At the time Jeffrey Earnhardt was running in 37th, already seven laps behind the leaders.  As he worked through the high lane in Turns 3 and 4, Austin Dillon’s #3 Dow Energy & Water Chevrolet suddenly switched ends in the lower groove.  A flat left-rear tire cut down on a restart sent Dillon’s car spinning up the track – directly into Earnhardt’s path.  Unable to avoid him, the two cars collided, causing enough damage to put both cars behind the wall and out of the race.  By virtue of his seven laps down to Dillon’s two, Earnhardt was ranked lower, and he took last for good on Lap 241.

Finishing 38th behind Earnhardt and Dillon was Reed Sorenson, who for the first time this year ran a white paint scheme on Premium Motorsports’ #15 Low T Centers Toyota, only to retire with transmission issues.  Aric Almirola’s frustrating night in the #43 Smithfield Ford ended after 390 laps following a multi-car accident which involved front runner Chase Elliott.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was rookie Ty Dillon, who himself was involved in two accidents before he pulled into the garage with severe damage to the right-front of the #13 GEICO Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #33 in a Cup race at Bristol since March 16, 2014, when Timmy Hill’s #33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevrolet – also belonging to Joe Falk of Circle Sport – crashed after 160 laps of the Food City 500.

40) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 225 laps / crash
39) #3-Austin Dillon / 230 laps / crash
38) #15-Reed Sorenson / 352 laps / transmission
37) #43-Aric Almirola / 390 laps / crash
36) #13-Ty Dillon / 394 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (4)


Saturday, August 19, 2017

XFINITY: David Starr’s night ends early with blown tire at Bristol

David Starr picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Food City 300 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #99 Whataburger Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 11 of 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Starr’s 119th start, was his second of the season and first since the 2017 opener at Daytona, 21 races ago.

The second B.J. McLeod Motorsports team, this year a combined effort with SS Green Light Racing, has had Starr behind the wheel full-time.  After a difficult first seven rounds, Starr scored the team’s first Top-20 finish of the year at Richmond, the second race for the bright orange Whataburger paint scheme, where he finished 17th.  Following another season-best at Iowa in June where he ran 14th, Starr turned heads at Daytona in July.  That weekend, Starr was originally going to sit out the race with Korbin Forrister driving, but Forrister’s case of the flu put Starr back behind the wheel.  Despite a range of issues, including flight delays, a busted cool box, and a struggle to stay in the draft, Starr avoided a series of accidents and drove the #99 home in 5th – his first Top 5 in his 112th series start.

The 49-year-old Starr came to Bristol 21st in the XFINITY standings.  The track saw one of only two DNFs for the driver to that point (along with the last-place run at Daytona in February), a late-race crash that left him 36th.  Of the 42 drivers who arrived to attempt the 40-car field, Starr ran 34th in Thursday’s opening practice, 36th in Happy Hour, and fell back on Owner Points to secure the 36th spot on the grid after a lap of 119.940mph.  Two drivers missed the show.  The first was Reed Sorenson, who attempted to run double-duty in JD Motorsports’ “start-and-park” #15 Flex Seal Chevrolet.  The other was last week’s last-place finisher Morgan Shepherd, who was thus unable to re-tie Joe Nemechek for 2nd in the LASTCAR all-time rankings in his #89 Racing With Jesus / Visone RV Chevrolet.

Startign last on Friday was Mike Harmon, who returned to driving duties in his #74 Veterans Motorsports, Inc. Dodge.  He was joined at the start by two drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: Chad Finchum, making his own return in Motorsports Business Management’s #40 Smithbilt Homes / Buddy Gregg RV Chevrolet, and Joey Gase in Jimmy Means’ #52 Donate Life Tennessee Chevrolet.  On Lap 12, David Starr was running near the tail end of the field when the right-front tire went down in Turn 2, sending him hard into the outside wall.  The car pulled down pit road in a shower of sparks, then behind the wall, done for the night.  Jeff Green pulled his #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet behind the wall on the ensuing restart, leaving Green next-to-last for the second-straight race.

Next to fall out of the race were Aric Almirola in the #98 Fresh From Florida Ford and Ryan Reed in the #16 Lilly Diabetes Ford.  Heading into Turn 3 on Lap 25, Almirola and Reed found themselves on opposite sides of Spencer Gallagher’s #23 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet when the three made contact, steering the three cars into each other.  While Reed and Gallagher managed to keep going, Almirola was done for the night.  Reed’s car was finished soon after the restart following a second wreck in Turn 4.  Rounding out the group was Timmy Hill, who debuted a new paint scheme on his #13 OCR Gaz Bar Dodge from The Motorsports Group.

*This was the first XFINITY last-place finish at Bristol for both car #99 and Starr.

40) #99-David Starr / 11 laps / crash
39) #93-Jeff Green / 18 laps / overheating
38) #98-Aric Almirola / 25 laps / crash
37) #16-Ryan Reed / 38 laps / crash
36) #13-Timmy Hill / 56 laps / vibration

1st) RSS Racing (12)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Dodge (1)


TRUCKS: Joe Nemechek once again breaks tie with Morgan Shepherd for 2nd-most last-place finishes in NASCAR history

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Joe Nemechek picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Wednesday’s UNOH 200 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 3 of 203 laps.

The finish, which came in Nemechek’s 31st series start, was his second of the season and his second in a row.  For the second time in less than a week, he breaks the tie with Morgan Shepherd for the second-most last-place finishes in NASCAR history.  Shepherd was unable to defend as his XFINITY Series #89 failed to qualify on Friday.  Nemechek also sits 2nd in the 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series standings, trailing leader Todd Peck by a single Bottom Five.

Following his last-place run last week in Michigan, Joe Nemechek was once again on the entry list for Bristol, running a near-identical Chevrolet to his son John Hunter.  Unlike Michigan, however, Joe would have to qualify his truck on time as there were 34 total drivers seeking to make the 32-truck field.  Joe didn’t participate in Wednesday’s opening practice, ran a solid 25th of 32 in Happy Hour, and improved to 24th in qualifying.  Joe had put up the 20th-best time in Round 1, locking him into the main event, and sat on his speed in Round 2, leaving him four spots back.

Missing the race were dirt tracker Chris Windom, whose attempt at his first Truck Series race since Eldora fell short when he needed two tenths to get Mike Mittler’s #36 Baldwin Brothers Chevrolet into the race.  The other DNQ, Mike Senica in Norm Benning’s black #57 Chevrolet, managed a lap of just 85.910mph, just under eight full seconds slower than Kyle Busch’s pole lap.

Starting last was Jordan Anderson, whose #1 Capital City Towing / Lucas Oil Chevrolet had to rely on Owner Points to make the race.  After running 30th in Happy Hour, engine issues before qualifying prevented Anderson from making a timed lap.  The engine change kept Anderson at the tail end of the field, along with Stewart Friesen, who gave up 20th on the grid after he missed the driver’s meeting.  After just three laps, Joe Nemechek had slipped into the garage area, done for the night.

NASCAR strictly enforced their minimum speed rule on Wednesday, and two owner-drivers were flagged off the track for not keeping up the pace.  31st-place Norm Benning was slowest in Happy Hour, more than two seconds off Kyle Busch’s pace, and was parked nine laps after Nemechek.  30th went to Jennifer Jo Cobb, a half-second faster than Benning, who was flagged another 64 circuits later.  NASCAR also threatened to park Clay Greenfield, back in the series for the first time since Gateway, but he managed to come home 26th – under power – in the #68 Titan Paint Sprayers Chevrolet.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Stewart Friesen, whose #52 Halmar International Chevrolet overheated at the halfway mark, and Daytona winner Kaz Grala, who lost the engine on GMS Racing’s #33 Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #87 in a Truck Series race at Bristol since June 23, 1995, when Joe’s brother John blew the engine on his Burger King Chevrolet after 3 laps of the Pizza Plus 150.  It was the first of two Truck Series last-place finishes for John, who tragically lost his life in a crash at Homestead in March 1997.  Joe’s son John Hunter is named in John’s honor.

32) #87-Joe Nemechek / 3 laps / vibration
31) #6-Norm Benning / 12 laps / too slow
30) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 76 laps / too slow
29) #52-Stewart Friesen / 103 laps / overheating
28) #33-Kaz Grala / 113 laps / engine

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

1st) Chevrolet (14)