Sunday, October 29, 2017

CUP: Contact, “crash clock” knock-out A.J. Allmendinger at Martinsville

A.J. Allmendinger picked up the 7th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s First Data 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 94 of 505 laps.

The finish, which came in Allmendinger’s 332nd series start, was his first of the season and his first in a Cup Series race since the March 29, 2015 race at the same track, the STP 500, 98 races ago.

In this, JTG-Daugherty Racing’s first year fielding two cars, Allmendinger has struggled for much of the season. Coming into Sunday’s race, Allmendinger sat 27th in the point standings with just one Top Five, a 3rd-place finish in the Daytona 500, and no Top Tens since a 9th-place showing at Watkins Glen. The #47 team scored just two DNFs in the regular season, but that total doubled just this month with wrecks at Talladega and Kansas. Martinsville looked to be a chance for a turnaround, as Allmendinger scored a pair of runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2016. In fact, in eighteen previous starts, he had finished 15th or better twelve times.

In Saturday’s opening practice, Allmendinger again showed promise, ranking 9th in the session, just under two-tenths shy of session leader Denny Hamlin. He then held serve with a 12th-fastest lap in Happy Hour, but stumbled in qualifying for 27th on the grid with a lap of 95.675mph.

Starting last on Sunday was driver-turned-broadcaster Hermie Sadler, who was making his first Cup Series start since April 1, 2012, when he finished 31st at the same Martinsville track in Circle Sport’s #33. This time around, Sadler was driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, which itself has been absorbed into Premium Motorsports to be teamed with Premium’s #15 of Reed Sorenson. After the session, however, Sadler would be joined by three drivers, all sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Sent to the rear along with Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Paul Menard was Jimmie Johnson, who spun during his second timed lap in Round 2 and was forced to change his flat-spotted tires.

By the first lap, last-place had fallen to Carl Long, who was driving his own #66 O.C.R. Gaz Bar Chevrolet for the first time since Darlington. He was also shaking down a brand-new chassis the team had prepared, just the second car in Motorsports Business Management’s garage. Long lost 15 seconds to the leader in the first three laps, and was the first to be lapped by Joey Logano as the pair crossed the stripe to complete the 21st circuit.

Long held 40th until around Lap 40, by which time Michael McDowell had lost a lap following his Lap 36 tangle with Ty Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. off Turn 2. McDowell, his #95 Chevrolet debuting new sponsorship from Jolt eyedrops by Rohto, had also shown speed that weekend, running 14th in the opening practice and lining up 20th. As a result, he quickly moved to 39th on the restart and ultimately finished 19th. The first car McDowell passed was ARCA Racing Series driver Kyle Weatherman, who was making his NASCAR debut in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Lilly Trucking / Spoonful of Music Foundation Chevrolet.

Not long after the restart, Ty Dillon pulled his #13 GEICO Chevrolet onto pit road for a second pit stop, apparently due to damage received during his incident between McDowell and Stenhouse laps earlier. The stop dropped Dillon to three laps down, and he took last from Weatherman by the time he returned to the track on Lap 84. Three laps later, the third caution of the day came out, bringing Allmendinger into the last-place mix.

Running 22nd, Allmendinger was bumped into a 360-degree spin off Turn 2 by Danica Patrick, whose #10 Warriors In Pink Ford suffered damage to the right-front. Allmendinger limped around the track with a flat left-front tire, but at the time, no other significant damage. He beat the pace car off pit road to stay on the lead lap, and lined up on the Lap 93 restart, but came back down pit road on Lap 95. Reports indicate Allmendinger’s crew discovered a broken track bar. Through it all, the “Crash Clock” was still running, and it expired during the green-flag stop, ending his day. No other driver would fall out of the race until near the halfway point, when Matt DiBenedetto had electrical issues on Go FAS Racing’s #32 Keen Parts Ford, leaving him 39th.

Finishing 38th was Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group crew spent several laps in the garage with a rear gear issue, returned to the track, then fell out with the issue soon after. With three races to go, Earnhardt holds a two-finish lead over Cody Ware. Ware now stands as the only driver mathematically in contention to take the title from Earnhardt, though his only path is to finish last in all three remaining races. This title may have already been clinched for two reasons. First, Cody has made just five starts in 2017 and none since Loudon on September 24. Second, Rick Ware Racing has already announced that Kyle Weatherman will drive in place of Cody at Phoenix in two weeks, and there is no news as yet if Ware will drive for another team.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were 37th-place Kyle Larson, eliminated last week from Playoff contention, whose #42 First Data Chevrolet made contact with Kyle Weatherman off Turn 2 and slammed the inside wall, and 36th-place Carl Long, whose new chassis backed into the Turn 2 wall after brake trouble with 41 laps to go, leading to the race’s wild finish.

40) #47-A.J. Allmendinger / 94 laps / crash
39) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 187 laps / electrical
38) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 274 laps / rear gear
37) #42-Kyle Larson / 300 laps / crash
36) #66-Carl Long / 444 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (6)


TRUCKS: Chris Windom’s engine trouble at Martinsville makes it six no-lappers in a row

PHOTO: @Chris_Windom
Chris Windom picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #63 Baldwin Brothers Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble without completing any of the 200 laps. The finish came in Windom’s second career start.

This marked the sixth-straight race where the Truck Series last-place finisher failed to complete a single lap, doubling the previous NASCAR record of three coming into 2017.

Coming into 2017, Windom had ten years’ experience in all three of USAC’s national touring series – Silver Crown, Sprint Car, and Midget – as well as eight ARCA starts with half of them on dirt tracks, earning a series-best 3rd in his debut at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in 2011. This made the 26-year-old from Canton, Illinois a natural choice to make his Truck Series debut at Eldora this past July. Windom had twenty USAC starts on Tony Stewart’s oval, and picked up a good ride with longtime Truck Series owner Mike Mittler at MB Motorsports.

Windom brought with him sponsorship from Baldwin Brothers and Fox Paving, which each backed his open-wheel efforts. The logos would adorn Mittler’s #36 Chevrolet, teamed with Bobby Pierce, who came within a few laps of winning the two previous Truck Races on the dirt track, in a near-identical #63. The result saw both Windom and Pierce involved in the race’s first caution on Lap 6, then recover to finish 19th and 6th.

Windom’s next Truck Series attempt came at Bristol in August, his first paved track start in a national touring series since September 26, 2015, when he finished 8th in an ARCA race at Kentucky. He ran 24th and 23rd in practice, but ended up one of two trucks to DNQ, edged by Austin Wayne Self by just over two-tenths of a second. Martinsville would see Windom’s first Truck Series attempt since then, with him moving to Mittler’s primary #63, which has also split time with D.J. Copp’s start-up team. The #36, this time set to be a Copp entry, was withdrawn with LASTCAR leader Todd Peck the listed driver.

By Friday, two more trucks had withdrawn: Jennifer Jo Cobb had pulled her second truck, the #0 Chevrolet to be driven by Matt Mills, and young Dawson Cram turned twenty laps in his family’s #11 Bojangles’ Fluidyne High Performance Chevrolet, anchoring the first session and improving to 27th in Happy Hour. With the entry list pared down from 36 to 33, just one truck would be sent home. By driving the full-time #63, Windom would be locked-in. Sent home was ARCA racer Mike Senica in Norm Benning’s #57 Chevrolet.

Windom turned in thirty-two laps in Friday’s opening session, ranking 27th, and he held serve in 26th in Happy Hour. However, even though he was guaranteed a starting spot, qualifying was still an obstacle. This time, the car struggled with engine trouble, managing a lap of just 65.086mph, nearly ten full seconds off the pole speed set by Chase Briscoe. In comparison, Mike Senica, who has struggled with speed in each of his attempts, ran a lap of 76.125mph, more than four seconds faster than Windom. The MB Motorsports crew set to work on the engine, but apparently couldn’t get it fixed in the short time leading up to Saturday’s race.

When engines fired, Windom’s truck was apparently pushed to the garage area, his retirement counted as an engine failure instead of a “did not start.” Late model driver Bayley Currey, making his Truck Series debut in Beaver Motorsports’ #50 Preferred Industrial Contractors Chevrolet, made a pit stop during the pace laps, surrendering his 27th-place starting spot. He started at the rear along with Gray Gaulding, who missed the driver’s meeting in his double-duty weekend with Cup and Trucks. Gaulding ended up 31st, citing electrical trouble on Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet.

30th went to Playoff contender John Hunter Nemechek, who once again found himself the victim of an early crash, this time backing his #8 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet into the Turn 2 wall. 29th fell to Austin Wayne Self, back with Martins Motorsports (listed owner as Shane Lamb), who lost the engine on the #44 AM Technical Solutions Chevorlet. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Jennifer Jo Cobb, who broke an oil line on her #10 Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #63 in a Truck Series race at Martinsville.

32) #63-Chris Windom / 0 laps / engine
31) #15-Gray Gaulding / 26 laps / electrical
30) #8-John Hunter Nemechek / 37 laps / crash
29) #44-Austin Wayne Self / 61 laps / engine
28) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 108 laps / oil line

1st) Norm Benning Racing (5)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (3)
4th) MB Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports (2)
5th) Halmar Friesen Racing, Henderson Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (20)


Friday, October 27, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Martinsville

PHOTO: The Sign Shop
First Data 500 at Martinsville

In a season wracked by short fields, Martinsville will see the fifth-consecutive 40-car grid in 2017, the longest streak all year. Once again, however, it will be exactly 40 cars for 40 spots. That said, Derrike Cope and his new team StarCom Racing will not race their #00 Chevrolet after their difficult weekend left them last in Kansas. Premium Motorsports has also chosen not to enter the #55 for the first time since Watkins Glen, perhaps because of the team’s alignment with Tommy Baldwin Racing (see below). Reed Sorenson will still drive Premium’s primary #15 Low T Centers Toyota.

In place of the #00 and #55 is a returning Motorsports Business Management with Timmy Hill in the #66 O.C.R. Gaz Bar Chevrolet. Hill will be driving a brand-new chassis, just the second Cup car built by the team since their debut in May. Team owner Carl Long has never himself made a Cup start at Martinsville while Hill’s best of three starts was a 33rd for Rick Ware Racing this past spring.

Speaking of Ware, Martinsville will also see the Cup debut of 19-year-old ARCA Racing Series driver Kyle Weatherman. Weatherman, from Wentzville, Missouri, has 50 ARCA starts on his resume with a single victory on the New Jersey Motorsports Park road course in 2015. He made his only NASCAR start that year, a one-off for Carlos Lira in the Truck Series finale at Homestead, where he ran 23rd. Weatherman faces a stiff challenge this week, and will tackle it in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet last raced by XFINITY Series regular B.J. McLeod. Weatherman will drive the #51 again at Phoenix in two weeks, while Ware’s plans for Texas and Homestead are still to be determined.

Welcome back driver and broadcaster Hermie Sadler, who returns to his home track for his first Cup start since 2012. In his driving career, 13 of his 64 Cup starts have come at NASCAR’s smallest track, where his best finish was 26th on three occasions. He will drive in place of J.J. Yeley in the former Tommy Baldwin Racing #7 Chevrolet, now under the Premium Motorsports banner. The #7 will carry sponsorship from the Virginia Lottery, which backed Sadler since his Cup debut in 2001, including a career-best start of 8th at Martinsville in 2002.

The preliminary entry list didn’t have a driver listed for BK Racing’s #83 Toyota, which will carry sponsorship from Earthwater for the second-straight race. Whoever the team selects will be teamed with Corey LaJoie, 28th in his Martinsville debut this past spring, in the #23 Schuyler Systems Toyota. The same list also showed no listed sponsors for the Chartered entries of Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, and Kurt Busch (though a SHR team promo indicated State Water Heaters will be on Busch’s #41 Ford).

Following a fan poll over the summer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will run the second of three different "throwback" paint schemes this weekend. He will run the Buddy Baker "Gray Ghost" paint scheme, originally slated for Junior to drive last year at Talladega before he was sidelined with a concussion. While known for his superspeedway prowess, Baker scored a win at Martinsville on September 23, 1979, leading 209 of 500 laps.

Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville

35 trucks will arrive in Martinsville to contest a spot in the 32-truck field for Saturday’s race. With the switch from Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago to the Virginia short track, several teams have been swapped out.

Topping the list of the five teams missing from Talladega is Henderson Motorsports and the #75 Food Country USA Toyota which took the checkers with Parker Kligerman. Joining them are Chris Fontaine, following his savage crash in the #47 Glenden Enterprises Toyota; Bolen Motorsports, whose driver Vinnie Miller survived to earn a 7th-place finish in the #66 Chevrolet two weeks ago; and Clay Greenfield, who led a lap and brought his battered #68 Chevrolet home 8th. Mike Affarano has also not returned following his withdrawal at Talladega.

In their place are nine teams with different agendas.

For Cram Racing Enterprises, this weekend will mark their team’s series debut. The family-owned team behind the #11 Bojangles’ / Fluidyne High Performance Chevrolet will put NASCAR Whelen All American Series Limited Late Model driver Dawson “DK” Cram behind the wheel for his series debut. Having just turned 16, Cram will be the youngest driver in the field if CRE gets the truck into the show.

We haven’t seen Michigan winners MDM Motorsports since Mosport over a month ago, when Brian Wong earned a 12th-place finish in the #99. Behind the wheel this time is Cale Gale, a flashback in his own right. The 2012 Homestead winner hasn’t made a start in the series since November 15, 2013, and hasn’t run Martinsville since this race five years ago. His sponsor Rheem has joined the effort.

Brandonbilt Motorsports hasn’t started a Truck Series race in just over a year, and returns this week with 17-year-old short track star Mason Diaz making his NASCAR debut at his home track. Diaz will drive the #86 Prince William Marina / The Sign Shop Chevrolet.

Bryan Hill has a truck on the list for the first time since Sheldon Creed ran 27th at Eldora after overheating issues. Driving the #20 State Water Heaters / Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation Ford this time is Jeb Burton (in place of Tyler Young), who returns to the Truck Series for the first time since Texas in the fall of 2015. Following a limited XFINITY run for JGL Racing this year, Burton will now race against his cousin Harrison Burton, who returns to KBM's #51 Toyota for the first time since Bristol.

Martins Motorsports is also back for the first time since Las Vegas, along with Austin Wayne Self, whose strong run that night ended in a hard crash. Self drove for Al Niece last week in the #45 Toyota, finishing 18th, and now returns to a track where he missed the cut in the spring driving for his family’s #22 team. Driving in place of Self in Niece’s #45 is Jeffrey Abbey, who we last saw finish 14th in his series debut at Eldora.

Todd Gilliland is entered in his first Truck Series race since last month at Loudon, where he earned a season-best 3rd behind Christopher Bell and Ryan Truex. Here more than perhaps any other track, Gilliland may be able to rely on his K&N Pro Series career, where he’s dominated on the circuit’s many short tracks (although the Trucks use radial tires in place of K&N’s bias-ply rubber).

Also returning this week is the second truck from Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, the #0 last seen finishing 25th at Las Vegas. As at Vegas, Matt Mills will drive, eyeing his Martinsville debut.

ARCA driver Mike Senica returns to Norm Benning’s #57 Chevrolet for the first time since running 27th in that same Vegas race.

D.J. Copp withdrew the #36 Chevrolet on Thursday, leaving current LASTCAR leader Todd Peck without a ride. Copp’s primary #83 goes to Landon Huffman, his first start in the series since Bristol in August, where he ran 20th. Mike Mittler’s primary #63 goes to dirt tracker Chris Windom, who ran 19th at Eldora, but missed the cut at Bristol.

In other news, LASTCAR contender Joe Nemechek will not be driving his "start-and-park" #87, as it will run the full race with Cup rookie Ty Dillon driving and sponsorship from Gracie Foundation, Inc. Both TJL Racing's #1 with Jordan Anderson and Beaver Motorsports' #50 (likely with Josh Reaume, although as of this writing bo driver was listed) were not added to the entry list until Tuesday, upping the truck total from 33 to 35. Anderson is currently preparing a new wrap for TJL's humble race transporter.

Next Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas
Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thursday, October 26, 2017

9/28/69: As with much of his career, Richard Brickhouse’s Martinsville last-place finish tied to his Talladega upset

PHOTO: Pal Parker
On September 28, 1969, Richard Brickhouse picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Grand National Series career in the Old Dominion 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his unsponsored #14 1969 Dodge was eliminated in a crash after 2 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Brickhouse’s 27th series start, was his first since July 21, 1968, when his #03 1967 Plymouth lost an engine after five laps of the Volunteer 500 at Bristol.

Born in Rocky Point, North Carolina, Brickhouse grew up on his family’s soybean farm. His father cut timber for the Casey Lumber Company while his mother was a schoolteacher at Rocky Point Elementary. After high school, Brickhouse joined the Army Reserves, then returned to farming. He would later operate a dirt track on the property, having caught the racing bug after watching a race at Legion Stadium.

Brickhouse started racing in the early 1960s, working on his own car between features at Carolina Beach and Leland. He caught the eye of Dub Clewis, a local Chrysler dealer, and together they bought a 1967 Plymouth from Richard Petty to enter the June 16, 1968 race at Rockingham. The crew painted the car red, changed the number to #03, and brought it to the track for the Carolina 500. There, Brickhouse turned in one of the strongest debuts in Cup history, pulling off a 4th-place finish behind Donnie Allison, Bobby Allison, and James Hylton.

With $2,650 in prize money from Rockingham, Brickhouse and Clewis ran another six races that year. The aforementioned last-place finish at Bristol was but a footnote to an 11th-place run in his first Southern 500, then a 9th in his return to Rockingham. Driver and team returned for a bigger part of the schedule in 1969, including their first Daytona 500. Again, the 28-year-old driver impressed, racing his way in with a 10th-place finish in his qualifier, then running 12th in the 500.

As spring turned to summer, car #03 sped to an 8th-place finish at Atlanta, then finished inside the Top 10 in three of four races in July, including his first Top 5 with a 5th at the 0.625-mile Thompson Speedway on July 10. But, following a 20th-place showing at the Beltsville (Maryland) Speedway on July 15, Clewis’ team ran just three more races. By then, Brickhouse caught the attention of Bill Ellis.

Ellis, from North Wilkesboro, got Brickhouse involved with Chrysler’s “factory team,” and prepared a brand-new winged 1969 Plymouth for him to drive at Michigan. In that weekend’s Yankee 600, Brickhouse charged from 14th to the lead on Lap 37, battling with David Pearson and Cale Yarborough before he finished 7th. He returned to Darlington in September and finished 10th, his sixth top-ten finish in only eighteen races run that year.

All of this led to the moment for which Brickhouse is most popularly known – the controversial first race run at the Talladega Superspeedway. Brickhouse was one of the eighteen drivers in the Professional Driver’s Association (PDA) who were boycotting the race. Brickhouse may have had more reason than most not to race – he had worked helped Firestone test their tires, and the manufacturer had now withdrawn from the event over tire concerns. However, with his career on the rise near the season’s end, Brickhouse was conflicted. “I was a newcomer, coming up through the ranks,” he said. “France said there was going to be a race and Chrysler [through Ronney Householder] said their car was going to be in it. . .I felt like if I was going to drive a factory car the next year, I’d better do what they wanted me to do.”

That opportunity was the fleet Ray Nichels-prepared #99 Dodge, another Chrysler “factory team.” Since 1957, Nichels had built his program into one of the strongest on the circuit, having scored seven wins with the likes of future owner-driver Cotton Owens, 1970 champion Bobby Isaac, Indy 500 legend A.J. Foyt, Daytona winner Sam McQuagg, and Paul Goldsmith. Goldsmith, whose many accomplishments included the final victory on the Daytona Beach Road Course in 1958, had driven the Nichels #99 to much success in 1969, finishing a season-best 3rd three times in the Daytona 500, Atlanta 500, and Rebel 400. With Goldsmith joining the boycott, ultimately ending his NASCAR career, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Brickhouse left the PDA, crossed the picket line, and raced Goldsmith’s car to victory.

It’s here where our story really begins. The Martinsville race that is the subject of this article marked Brickhouse’s first Cup start since his Talladega triumph. With Nichels’ team focusing on superspeedway racing, Brickhouse was back with Bill Ellis, and put the #14 Dodge 9th on the grid for the 40-car race.

The event also featured a 50-lap qualifying race run the day before the main event, which was won by Dick Brooks. Missing the cut were Danny Turner, who finished last in the qualifier with a busted spring on his #80, and three other drivers who finished in the bottom four positions: Wayne Gillette, Turner’s teammate, who wrecked his #09 central Chevrolet 1969 Chevy, modified legend Ray Hendrick, who lost the engine on his #02 1967 Chevrolet, and Paul Dean Holt, who dropped a transmission on his #16 1968 Mercury. Ken Meisenhelder is also shown to have DNQ’d, although his #04 didn’t start the qualifier. J.D. McDuffie had failed to qualify his own #70, but then stood in for Frank Warren in Dr. Don Tarr’s #0 1967 Chevrolet, which came home 5th in the 50-lapper.

Starting last in the 40-car main event was rookie Johnny Halford, who was making just his second Cup start. The previous Thursday, Halford finished 17th in his debut on the Columbia dirt track. On this day in Martinsville, Halford would improve on that with a 14th-place finish, 51 laps behind race winner David Pearson. One of the first cars he passed was a wrecked Richard Brickhouse.

According to photographer Pal Parker, an unnamed driver from the PDA told him that if he wanted to get a good picture for the papers, to stand in the inside of Turn 2. Just two laps into the race, Brickhouse’s #14 was spun off the corner, where he slid into Bobby Isaac’s #71 Dodge. The picture used in this article, shown in Dave Despain’s 2009 documentary on the subject, was taken from one of Parker’s shots. Though the car does not appear heavily damaged, Brickhouse’s #14 was listed out due to a crash.

Finishing 39th was Ed Negre, whose drive for G.C. Spencer in the #8 1967 Plymouth ended with a drop in oil pressure. Owner-driver Roy Tyner, competing in his next-to-last season on the tour, dropped out next in the only Pontiac in the field. G.C. Spencer didn’t run much further than Negre, and crashed in a chain-reaction following Richard Petty’s spin on the backstretch. Rounding out the Bottom Five was J.D. McDuffie, who drew a caution of his own when Tarr’s engine let go on the 1967 Chevrolet.

After Martinsville, Brickhouse finished 7th his next time out at Ellis’ home track in North Wilkesboro, then made another one-off start with Ray Nichels at Texas World Speedway, where engine woes left him 33rd. Unfortunately, this would be the last time Brickhouse drove for a “factory team.” Chrysler pulled their support. Firestone never returned to re-hire Brickhouse for tire testing, replaced by the present-day Goodyear. And even after a 6th-place finish in the 1970 Daytona 500, the partnership with Bill Ellis ended with the checkered flag. Brickhouse would make just six more Cup starts over the next twelve years, never finishing better than 21st in his last start on October 31, 1982. Curiously, that race came at Rockingham, where his NASCAR career began fourteen years earlier.

Today, Brickhouse still lives on his family’s North Carolina farm, where he briefly operated a dirt track until 1985. While his career was curtailed by controversy and bad luck, he has never lost his passion for racing. In 1995, after finishing 3rd in a NASCAR Legends Race at Charlotte, trailing Ramo Stott and Lennie Pond, the 55-year-old Brickhouse finished 18th in an ARCA race at Atlanta. Just as he had decades earlier, his first start in the series came driving car #03.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #14 since March 5, 1967, when Jim Paschal’s 1965 Friedkin Enterprises Plymouth had wiring issues after 41 laps of the Fireball 300 at the Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. To date, Paschal’s last-place finish remains one of only two in Cup history where “wiring” was the listed reason out. The other occurred September 13, 1981, when Mike Alexander’s #37 Rogers Auto Leasing Buick fell out on the first lap of the Wrangler Sanfor-Set 400 at Richmond.
*This remains the only last-place finish for car #14 in a Cup Series race at Martinsville. Clint Bowyer will run the number this Sunday.

40) #14-Richard Brickhouse / 2 laps / crash
39) #8-Ed Negre / 4 laps / oil pressure
38) #9-Roy Tyner / 11 laps / engine
37) #49-G.C. Spencer / 16 laps / crash
36) #0-J.D. McDuffie / 25 laps / engine

*Cantwell, Si. “Brickhouse knows NASAR history; he was part of it,” Star News, September 20, 2008.
*“Dave Despain On Assignment: Talladega,” Speed Channel, 2009.
*Freedman, Lew. Encyclopedia of Stock Car Racing, ABL-CLIO, March 14, 2013.
*Garner, Joe. Speed, Guts, and Glory: 100 Unforgettable Moments in NASCAR history, Grand Central Publishing, December 14, 2008.
*“Who is Richard Brickhouse?” NASCAR Race Mom, October 13, 2017.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

CUP: Derrike Cope’s difficult debut for StarCom Racing denies Kyle Larson playoff last-place finish

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing
Derrike Cope picked up the 28th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet fell out with handling problems after 35 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Cope’s 423rd series start, was his second of the year, his first since the August race at Michigan, nine rounds ago. The finish tied Cope with Michael McDowell for third-most last-place runs in Cup Series history and closed him within two of Morgan Shepherd for third-most all-time.

The finish has also vaulted Cope to third in the 2017 LASTCAR standings. With four races to go, Cope trails current leader Jeffrey Earnhardt by more than four in both Bottom Fives (14-9) and Bottom Tens (21-14). The only tiebreaker left for Cope is to score the most last-place finishes outright, requiring him to trail all four remaining races in 2017. Thus, if someone other than Cope finishes last at Martinsville, Cope will be eliminated from title contention.

Cope’s most recent last-place run in August saw the veteran start his eleventh Cup race of the season with Jay Robinson’s small two-car team Premium Motorsports. It was also the second of those starts with primary sponsorship from New Jersey-based telecommunications company StarCom Fiber, which joined driver and team for the spring race at Pocono.

In September, Tommy Baldwin Racing was absorbed into Premium with Baldwin himself becoming Cope’s new crew chief. Their first race together was at Richmond, where both found themselves the center of controversy. With just two laps to go, Cope slipped out of the groove and made contact with the Turn 4 wall, drawing a caution that ultimately cost Martin Truex, Jr. his first win on a short track. A few days later, Cope announced that he and Premium had parted ways.

In late September, news broke that Cope and StarCom Fiber were already in the final stages of assembling their own team: StarCom Racing. A social media push included photos of Cope working on his black, yellow, and white #00 Chevrolet at a small shop. The team office displayed the driver’s trophies, including his 1990 Daytona 500 checkered flag were displayed in the office. StarCom and Cope planned to make their debut at Dover, but on the Tuesday before the race, the team withdrew in order to finish hiring staff. A couple weeks later, the team announced they would make their debut at Kansas on October 22.

At first, StarCom looked like they would have to qualify their way into Sunday’s field. The preliminary entry list held 41 cars, including Carl Long’s own single-car team, Motorsports Business Management (MBM), whose #66 Chevrolet made its own series debut at the track this past spring. But by Friday, MBM withdrew from the field, guaranteeing StarCom its series debut in its very first attempt.

Cope turned his first ten laps in Friday’s opening practice, only to anchor the charts with a best lap of 170.025mph, more than three seconds off session leader Kyle Larson’s time and nearly a second slower than 39th-place B.J. McLeod, the last-minute driver announcement for Rick Ware Racing’s unsponsored #51 Chevrolet. Cope was unable to complete a lap in qualifying, originally listing him last in the field until Ryan Blaney’s car failed inspection, dropping his #21 Omnicraft Auto Parts Ford from 3rd to last on the grid. Cope ran slower in Saturday’s opening practice, managing a best of just 165.416mph, then picked up slightly after eighteen laps in Happy Hour with a top average of 165.996mph.

Coming to the green on Sunday, B.J. McLeod pulled Rick Ware’s #51 to the rear to join Cope, who himself had moved behind last-place starter Ryan Blaney. As the field accelerated, Cope was already in last, and steadily lost ground to the rest of the field. By the end of the second circuit, the #00 was more than two full seconds behind 39th-place McLeod, and nearly 10 seconds behind race leader Martin Truex, Jr.

On Lap 8, as the leaders raced by on the outside lane, Cope ducked onto pit road, then by Lap 13 was in the garage, the crew attending to an engine issue. Cope returned to the track on Lap 35, 26 laps down, but soon after incurred the first of a series of pit road penalties, including speeding and driving through too many pit boxes. Still running off the pace, Cope pulled the car onto pit road on Lap 65, at which point he was now 33 circuits behind the leaders. He then made a second trip to the garage on Lap 72.

Moments later, Kyle Larson made an unscheduled pit stop of his own, the crew looking under the hood. Larson returned to the track, only to lose the engine on his #42 Credit One Chevrolet on Lap 76, ending his day. While it appeared the run would drop Larson to last, Cope did not return from his second trip to the garage, and thus locked-up the last-place finish by a margin of 38 laps.

The remainder of the Bottom Five was filled by the day’s most spectacular accident on Lap 199. A sideways Erik Jones in the #77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota triggered a fourteen-car pileup. Included in the carnage were 38th-place Danica Patrick in the #10 Code 3 Associates Ford, 37th-place Matt Kenseth, whose #20 DeWalt FlexVolt Toyota was parked for one too many crewmen servicing the car after the crash, and 37th-place Daniel Suarez, who struck Jones’ spinning car with the nose of his #19 Arris Toyota.

*This marked the first last-place run for car #00 in a Cup Series race since October 11, 2008, when A.J. Allmendinger’s only start for Michael Waltrip Racing in the #00 Champion Mortgage Toyota ended with a Lap 52 crash in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte. Prior to Sunday, neither the number – nor Cope – had ever finished last in a Cup race at Kansas.
*StarCom Racing is the first Cup Series team to finish last in their first points race start since April 18, 2009, when Barry Haefele made his first start as an owner of the #73 Quality Concrete Dodge, only for driver Tony Raines to fall out with brake trouble after 56 laps.
*StarCom Racing is also the first team to trail in their first-ever Cup entry since March 20, 2005, when Braun Motorsports’ first entry in the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta ended on the opening lap when their #08 Win Fuel Chevrolet, driven by Shane Hmiel, was collected in a multi-car accident.
*Cope is the first driver to finish last for two different Cup teams in the same season since 2014, when Mike Bliss finished last for BK Racing (Fall Loudon), then four times for Tommy Baldwin Racing (Atlanta, Chicagoland, Kansas, and Phoenix), securing him that year’s LASTCAR Cup Series title. This excludes 2015, when Timmy Hill finished last for Mike Curb at Michigan, then for Jay Robinson at Phoenix, as Curb sold his team to Robinson during that period.
*Finally, Cope is the first driver to finish last in a Cup Series race due to “handling” concerns – since himself on August 26, 2006, when his Raynard McGlynn-prepared #74 Royal Administration Services / Sundance Vacation Dodge made it just 7 laps into the Sharpie 500 at Bristol.

40) #00-Derrike Cope / 35 laps / handling
39) #42-Kyle Larson / 73 laps / engine
38) #10-Danica Patrick / 197 laps / crash
37) #20-Matt Kenseth / 197 laps / crash
36) #19-Daniel Suarez / 197 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (6)


XFINITY: Jeff Green continues record pace with four-race last-place streak

PHOTO: Michael Reno Johnson
Jeff Green picked up the 101st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at the Kansas Speedway when his unsponsored #38 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with handling problems after 2 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 477th series start, was his twelfth of the season and his fourth in a row. If Green finishes last in all three of the season’s remaining races, he will close out 2017 with seven lasts in a row, giving him a chance to match his record eight-race streak next February in Daytona.

Driving RSS Racing’s second “start-and-park” entry alongside Gray Gaudling for the second-straight race, Green was one of 41 drivers, but guaranteed a starting spot in the 40-car field based on his Past Champion’s Provisional. After skipping Friday’s opening practice session, then running 25th in the second, Green picked up 3mph when he turned in the 25th-fastest lap in qualifying with a speed of 174.413mph. This was more than enough to bump the #74 Dodge of Mike Harmon, the only driver who didn’t turn a lap in the session.

Starting last on Saturday was Bobby Dale Earnhardt, who locked himself into his second XFINITY Series start following a 34th-place finish at Richmond. Earnhardt was originally scheduled to run double-duty at Kansas, but Wayne Hixson withdrew his #3 Hixson Construction Chevrolet from Friday’s ARCA Racing Series race. Instead, Earnhardt would focus his attention on Motorsports Business Management’s #40 Copeland Insurance Company Chevrolet, alongside teammate Timmy Hill in the #13 OCR Gaz Bar Dodge.

While Earnhardt finished 31st and Hill rounded out the Bottom Five in 36th, the last-place battle was settled quickly with Green once again edging Gaulding by a single lap. Next to fall out was Reed Sorenson, once again running JD Motorsports’ white #15 Chevrolet. Finishing 37th was Morgan Shepherd, out after 24 laps with suspension issues on his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet.

Another small team storyline from Saturday’s race was the debut of NextGen Motorsports, a K&N Pro Series effort owned by Teddy and Jennifer Brown. NextGen made their XFINITY Series debut at Kansas with driver Josh Berry, who himself was returning to the series for the first time since a one-off for JR Motorsports at Kentucky last September. Berry performed admirably, qualifying the Browns’ #55 March Network Toyota 33rd on the grid, then running nearly the entire distance before late-race engine issues left them 34th.

Be sure to pick up your Jeff Green #LAST100 shirt right here! All profits go to RSS Racing.

*This marked Jeff Green’s fourth XFINITY Series last-place finish at Kansas, following runs in the fall of 2010, 2013, and 2015 in three different TriStar Motorsports cars.
*It was the first last-place run for car #38 in an XFINITY Series race at Kansas.

(Special Thanks to Colby Evans for the photos)
40) #38-Jeff Green / 2 laps / handling

39) #93-Gray Gaulding / 3 laps / brakes

38) #15-Reed Sorenson / 7 laps / handling

37) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 24 laps / suspension

36) #13-Timmy Hill / 36 laps / vibration

1st) RSS Racing (18)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (28)
2nd) Dodge, Toyota (1)


Friday, October 20, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Kansas

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing
Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

Cup Series Qualifying will not be a formality this weekend as 41 teams have arrived to attempt the 40-car field for the final race in the Round of 12. The 41st car belongs to StarCom Racing, whose postponed debut at Dover has finally arrived. Cope finished 39th here in the spring for Premium Motorsports, and this week will give car #00 its first Cup Series start since 2011 – if he qualifies on time.

Two Open Teams from Talladega aren’t entered this week: Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #7 and Beard Motorsports’ #75. After running exclusively on the plate tracks in 2017, the Beard team and driver Brendan Gaughan have much to be proud of in their first season, having finished no worse than 26th, scored a season-best of 7th at Daytona, and Gaughan leading his first Cup laps since 2004. In their place are the two teams which skipped Talladega, and have returned as two of the four drivers who will put StarCom Racing to the test in qualifying:

The first is Motorsports Business Management, returning to the track that saw their Cup effort’s debut back in May. Timmy Hill will be behind the wheel of the #66 O.C.R. Gaz Bar Chevrolet following a 33rd-place performance his last time out at Charlotte. He will also run the MBM’s #13 on the XFINITY Series side, where his teammate will be Bobby Dale Earnhardt, who himself will run double-duty between XFINITY and ARCA. (UPDATE: MBM withdrew Hill's Cup entry on Friday, locking StarCom Racing into its first race.)

The second is Rick Ware Racing, which did not start a single restrictor-plate race in 2017 after they came up short in the Can-Am Duels in February. The team made the show in Kansas in May, one of 24 starts in 31 races, and Timmy Hill finished 28th, eight laps down. With Hill driving for MBM, Ware's driver has yet to be announced. (UPDATE: B.J. McLeod returns to the driver's seat for the first time since Charlotte two weeks ago.)

Premium Motorsports’ Open team, the #55 Toyota driven to a 33rd-place finish last week with D.J. Kennington, will this week be driven by Gray Gaulding. Gaulding, who earned a career-best 9th-place finish last Sunday with BK Racing, will carry sponsorship from the local Harrah’s North Kansas City casino, which backed one of Premium’s cars in the last two races here. The Chartered #15 Chevrolet, which saw Mark Thompson’s unheralded Cup return last week, will return to Reed Sorenson with sponsorship from Low T Centers.

The final Open team is BK Racing’s #83 Toyota, the team which carried Gaulding to his strong run last Sunday. Rejoining the team this week is Brett Moffitt, who eyes his seventh Cup start of 2017 and his first series race at Kansas since a 32nd-place run for Front Row Motorsports in 2015. Sponsoring Moffitt’s ride is EarthWater, the brand we last saw with the team in June for Alon Day’s series debut at Sonoma. BK’s Chartered #23 Toyota returns to Corey LaJoie, who after a driver change, sat out last week at Talladega.

Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas

41 teams are also entered for Saturday’s XFINITY race, the second-straight round where at least one car will be sent home after qualifying. Missing from the Charlotte entry list are Penske Racing’s #12 Ford with Sam Hornish, Jr., and King Autosport’s second car, the #92 Chevrolet, with Dexter Bean. Both Obaika Racing’s #77 and GMS Racing’s #96, withdrawn before track activities at Charlotte, are this week not entered at all.

As on the Cup side, the XFINITY Series will also welcome a new team: the #55 March Network Toyota fielded by Jennifer Brown. The team's first driver is to be announced. (UPDATE: Josh Berry will drive, looking for his first XFINITY start in just over a year.)

Also returning for the first time since last month at Kentucky is Precision Performance Motorsports' #46 Chevrolet and driver Quin Houff. Houff’s season-best finish remains his 12th-place run at Iowa, second only to last week’s Truck Series winner Parker Kligerman’s 10th-place showing at Road America. It will be both driver and team’s first XFINITY start at Kansas.

Truck Series owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb makes her first XFINITY Series race of the year, this time driving B.J. McLeod’s #78 Mark One Electric Chevrolet. All five of Cobb’s most recent XFINITY Series starts came in this same fall race at Kansas, each one-off start with the same Mark One sponsorship. Her best finish at the track was a 22nd in 2012. It will be Cobb’s first start for McLeod after driving her own equipment and for Rick Ware since mid-2011. McLeod himself will drive his #8 Chevrolet with sponsorship from JW Transport, LLC.

After surviving with a 13th-place finish in last Saturday’s Truck race at Talladega, Spencer Boyd returns to SS-Green Light Racing’s #07 for his fifth XFINITY start of 2017 and his first since a 28th-place run at Chicagoland. Sponsorship will come from, just as it has in his other NASCAR starts, including his lone Kansas start in Trucks earlier this year, when he ran 20th for Rick Ware. On Thursday, it was reported that Boyd will drive for SS-Green Light full time in the 2018 XFINITY season, piloting car #76.

News also broke on Thursday that Joey Gase will paet ways with Jimmy Means Racing at the end of this season, closing a partnership that covered seven seasons and yielded Means' first top-five finish as an owner. This week, Gase returns to the scene of his 2nd Cup start at a track where his best XFINITY finish was 19th in 2012.

Following his 76th birthday on October 12, Morgan Shepherd is entered in his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet, looking to make his first start at the track since this same race in 2015, when he ran 35th. His best series finish at the track came in 2008, when he ran 24th.

Two weeks after scoring his 100th XFINITY Series last-place finish, Jeff Green will make his second-straight start in RSS Racing’s #38 Chevrolet. Gray Gaulding, who took over Green’s #93 at RSS at Charlotte, will again drive that car as part of a double-duty weekend. Ryan Sieg will make his fourth XFINITY Series start at Kansas on Saturday, a track which saw him finish 8th in this race two years ago.

Next Race: Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville
Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

4/20/80: Tommy Houston finishes last in rare Cup start at North Wilkesboro

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On April 20, 1980, Tommy Houston picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Northwestern Bank 400 at the North Wilkesboro Speedway when his #95 Carpenter Designs Chevrolet suffered an oil leak after 9 of 400 laps. The finish came in Houston’s third series start.

In 1945, Houston was born just a few miles up the road from the Hickory Motor Speedway, a track that would feature prominently in his racing career. It was there in the 1960s that he competed against his brothers Hal and Ken. In 1967, the same year Hickory was paved and Morgan Shepherd began his own racing career on that same pavement, Houston won his first-ever Hobby Stock Division race.

Four years later, Houston was in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series, modifieds, and the NASCAR Grand National East. His first victories in the former came on consecutive days in April 1974, including when he led flag-to-flag in a 100-lap feature at Hickory. Among those he beat that day were 3rd-place finisher Harry Gant, 5th-place Morgan Shepherd, and Dale Earnhardt, who wound up 8th in the field of ten. Houston continued to excel at NASCAR’s short tracks, but also branched out onto the superspeedways, finishing 29th in his first Daytona start in 1975, then 8th in his return in 1976. That same year, he scored the North Carolina State Championship, and would also claim track titles at both Hickory and New Asheville Speedway. By the close of the decade, Houston followed many of his fellow racers into Winston Cup.

The first Cup owner to hire Houston was Junior Miller, the Winston-Salem native who decades later would score back-to-back titles on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Campaigning his #95 Chevrolet in Cup, Miller had been driving a handful of races in the southeast since 1976. By the end of the 1979 season, Miller’s best finish was a 14th in his series debut at North Wilkesboro, where his car carried logos for his roofing company. Early in 1980, Miller began to drive for fellow owner-driver Frank Warren, who would later close out a decade in the sport by selling his #79 team to Miller. With Miller’s own #95 now open for the ‘80 season, the opportunity came to put in another driver. He chose Tommy Houston.

The 35-year-old Houston made his Cup debut at Richmond on February 24, 1980, where he once again turned heads on one of NASCAR’s smallest tracks. After qualifying 21st, he took the lead on an early restart and held it for ten laps before Harry Gant passed him. Despite a late spin with Richard Childress, Houston came home 17th, 46 laps down to race winner Darrell Waltrip. A month later at Bristol, Houston improved once more, matching Junior Miller’s career-best 15th in just his second series start. The next month would see his third-consecutive short track start, this time at North Wilkesboro.

Houston qualified 13th in the field of 31, which lined him up next to Slick Johnson on the inside of the seventh row. Unfortunately, his race ended during the opening green-flag run with an oil leak, handing him his first Cup Series last-place finish. Coming home 30th that day was 12th-place starter J.D. McDuffie, who broke a cam on his #70 Bailey Excavating Chevrolet. 29th fell to Tommy Gale, driving for Elmo Langley in the #64 Sunny King Ford & Honda Ford. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Ohio native John Anderson in owner-driver Henley Gray’s #19 Belden Asphalt Chevrolet and veteran Dick Brooks in the #7 Sanyo Chevrolet.

The race was won by Richard Petty, his fourteenth of fifteen checkered flags at North Wilkesboro. Finishing 6th was Dale Earnhardt, driving a blue-and-gold Rod Osterlund-owned #2 Mike Curb / Hodgdon Chevrolet similar to (or identical to) the one given to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last week at Talladega.

Following a 24th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, Houston and Miller parted ways. The driver returned to North Wilkesboro the following spring, this time driving for Roger Hamby, and by the time he returned to the track that fall, he had improved his career-best Cup finish with an 11th. But after that season, Houston would start just two more Cup Series races in his career. His final start – his first in more than three years – became a footnote to the famous 1985 Southern 500 at Darlington. While Bill Elliott took his historic win and the “Winston Million” bonus, Houston ran just 47 laps in his own #32 Chevrolet before he retired with engine trouble.

Instead, Houston would go on to become one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR’s new Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series, the second-tier series which would become today’s NASCAR XFINITY Series. During the inaugural 1982 season, Houston won the first short track race ever run, taking the checkers at Richmond, and ranked 4th in the series standings. Over the next decade, he would win another 23 races. Three times in 1986 alone, his #6 Southern Biscuit Flour Buick won from the pole, leading 478 of 500 combined laps. His career in what was now the Busch Grand National Series was capped in 1992 by a record eighth win at Hickory, a come-from-behind win that came the weekend his father passed away. Houston’s 417th and final series start ended with a crash at Rockingham on October 19, 1996, then a DNQ in the season finale at Homestead. This stood as the record for most starts in the series until 2007, when Jason Keller started his 418th.

Houston remains active in racing through his family. His sons Marty, Andy, and Scott would all go on to have NASCAR careers of their own. Scott served as his father’s crew chief in the XFINITY Series. Marty drove for Wayne Spears in the Truck Series, earning a career-best finish of 4th at Kentucky in 2000. Andy won three Truck Series races for Mike Addington, and after a difficult Cup Series effort in 2001, Andy became a spotter for Richard Childress Racing, where he now spots for Austin Dillon. Tommy Houston’s niece, Teresa, also has ties to the Childress team – she married Dale Earnhardt in 1982, and remains the CEO of Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

One of Tommy Houston's most recent races outside of XFINITY came in the Truck Series race at Las Vegas on September 24, 1999, where he ran as a teammate to son Andy in a race where Marty was racing for Spears. Marty finished best of the three, coming home 13th with Andy 22nd and Tommy 35th. Today, Tommy still lives in Hickory with his wife Martha of 52 years. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #95 in a Cup Series race since October 2, 1977, when Houston’s car owner Junior Miller in his #95 Miller Roofing Chevrolet quit after five laps of the Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro. The number would not finish last in Cup again for nearly twelve years – February 16, 1992 – the engine failure on Bob Schacht’s #95 Shoney’s Oldsmobile (fielded by Sadler Brothers Racing) in the Daytona 500.

31) #95-Tommy Houston / 9 laps / oil leak
30) #70-J.D. McDuffie / 88 laps / cam
29) #64-Tommy Gale / 115 laps / oil pressure
28) #19-John Anderson / 149 laps / engine
27) #7-Dick Brooks / 153 laps / rear end

*Southers, Tim. “Where are they now – Tommy Houston,”, January 2, 2017.
*Speed Sport Staff. “Tommy Houston Was Among Greats Out Of Hickory, N.C.,” Speed Sport, August 17, 2010.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

CUP: Justin Marks’ off-screen accident leads off Talladega wreckfest

PHOTO: John K Harrelson, NKP
Justin Marks picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #7 Golden Corral / Katerra Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 16 of 188 laps. The finish came in Marks’ third series start.

Marks, a sports car driver from California, was no stranger to Talladega. He transitioned into stock cars through the ARCA Racing Series in 2004, and made five starts on the superspeedway with a best finish of 8th in 2007. While more popularly known for his rain-soaked win at Mid-Ohio in the XFINITY Series last year, it’s interesting to note that his second-best finish of that limited schedule was an 11th at Talladega.

Marks’ ride on Sunday was the #7 Chevrolet fielded by Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR). Baldwin, a race-winning crew chief who has entered Cup cars since 2009, gave Marks his Cup Series debut in 2013, when he drove a GoPro-backed Chevrolet to a 30th-place finish at his home track in Sonoma. Other than a one-off for Front Row Motorsports in 2015 – again at Sonoma, and again a 30th-place finish – this had been Marks’ only Cup Series effort.

After several difficult seasons, Baldwin sold his Charter near the end of 2016 and scaled back to a part-time effort in 2017. Through August, Elliott Sadler and J.J. Yeley shared driving duties for TBR in seven races with a best finish of 17th by Sadler at Talladega in the spring. On September 1, it was announced that Baldwin would join Premium Motorsports as the team’s Competition Director and also return to crew chief duties for their #15 Cup Series program. By the end of the month, Baldwin had sold his remaining assets in his #7 Cup Series team to Premium’s owner Jay Robinson.

At the time of the TBR sale to Premium, Baldwin had two races remaining on its 2017 schedule: Talladega, which was originally going to see J.J. Yeley drive once more, and a one-off by Hermie Sadler at Martinsville. By Thursday, Yeley was replaced by Marks, whose XFINITY sponsor Katerra would join the Golden Corral-backed run at Talladega.

With exactly 40 drivers at Talladega for 40 spots, TBR’s lack of a Charter didn’t come into play, allowing driver and team to focus on race setup. The car ran 37th in Friday’s opening practice with his best of 12 laps clocking in at 185.722mph, just over 3 seconds off the pace of session leader Brad Keselowski. Marks joined the remaining Open Teams in skipping Happy Hour and grabbed 31st in qualifying with a lap of 187.384mph, fastest of all Open Teams by a full half-second over Beard Motorsports’ #75 Chevrolet with Brendan Gaughan.

Starting last on Sunday was Canadian star D.J. Kennington, back in NASCAR for the first time since a one-off Truck Series effort in Mosport. Kennington had rejoined Premium Motorsports for the first time since a disastrous engine failure at Daytona in July, and this time welcomed sponsorship from Dirt and Rock on his #55 Toyota. Like Norm Benning the day before, Kennington was handed a redundant unapproved adjustments penalty that kept him in the rear along with the penalized Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch along with Mark Thompson, Kennington’s teammate.

Unable to turn a lap in practice, Thompson’s first timed circuit came in qualifying, where he outpaced four other drivers to line up 36th. With that run, the 65-year-old driver made history. Sunday’s race was the first Cup Series event he had entered since the 1994 Daytona 500, where his car was withdrawn following a serious crash in the ARCA 200. His timed lap was his first qualifying effort since July 1993, when he missed the cut for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. And, with exactly 40 cars for 40 spots, Thompson was assured to make his first Cup start since June 14, 1992 at Pocono, when he drove for Henley Gray.

When the race started, Thompson lost touch with the draft, and by Lap 2, was already three seconds behind Kennington and the rest of the field. On Lap 15, as officials alerted him that the leaders were closing, a first round of pit stops by the Ford teams shuffled the order, dropping Aric Almirola to the rear in his #43 Smithfield Ford.

It was around this time that Marks, running at the back of a second smaller pack behind the leaders, smacked the outside wall. Marks made it to pit road on Lap 17 without drawing a yellow, and the crew made repairs to the right side of the machine. As Thompson slipped by to 39th on the track, it was Marks who instead became the first to lose a lap. Inside two minutes on the “Crash Clock,” Marks returned to the track, only to pit again on Lap 19, this time complaining of a battery issue. Marks again made it out before time expired on Lap 23, but a vibration forced him to complete just one more circuit. After limping around on the apron, he pulled behind the wall, where the car was soon retired.

Seconds later, Thompson’s day ended when the Chevrolet teams attempted their own green-flag stops as a group on Lap 26. A slowing Jamie McMurray was rear-ended by Erik Jones at pit entrance, steering McMurray’s #1 Cessna Chevrolet into the path of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s 333 Hulu Chevrolet. As Thompson neared the scene, he turned to the right, nearly clearing McMurray’s car. But instead, the two made contact, steering Thompson into the outside wall. All four cars involved, including Jones, who caved in the nose of his #77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota, were eliminated in the wreck, filling out the Bottom Five.

Among the headlines at the front of the field was rookie driver Gray Gaulding, who in the current LASTCAR standings leads all drivers without last-place finishes in both Bottom Fives (8) and Bottom Tens (17). On Sunday, Gaulding bested his career-best finish of 20th at Talladega in the spring with an 8th in the #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota. It was just the third top-ten finish for BK Racing, and came despite heavy damage suffered in one of the many late-race accidents.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #7 in a Cup Series race since July 26, 2015, when Alex Bowman lost the engine after 78 laps of the Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at Indianapolis. It’s also the first for the number at Talladega since May 10, 1997, when Geoffrey Bodine’s #7 QVC Ford lost the engine after 78 laps of the Winston 500.

40) #7-Justin Marks / 16 laps / crash
39) #15-Mark Thompson / 25 laps / crash
38) #33-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 25 laps / crash
37) #1-Jamie McMurray / 25 laps / crash
36) #77-Erik Jones / 26 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (17)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (6)


TRUCKS: Norm Benning extends record no-lap streak to five straight races

PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images North America
Norm Benning picked up the 11th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #6 H & H Transport Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble without completing any of the 95 laps.

The finish, which came in Benning’s 180th series start, was his second of the season, his first since Kentucky, nine races ago. The finish put Benning into a three-way tie for the third-most last-place runs in series history, tying 1999 LASTCAR Truck Champion Phil Bonifeld and two-time title winner Mike Garvey. There have now been five consecutive Truck Series races where the last-place finisher failed to complete a single lap, a new NASCAR record.

After missing the first three races of 2017, Benning has made every race since, and has also entered a second truck, the #57, in several races to fill out short fields. In that time, Benning’s best finish of the year came at Eldora, where he rebounded from a DNQ in 2016 to finish a strong 13th. For Talladega, Benning would not enter his team truck, the #57, and only field his primary #6. For the first time since Chicagoland, the #6 would also carry associate sponsorship as Woodstock, Georgia’s H & H Trucking would have its logos on the rear quarter-panels.

Benning ran slowest of the 29 drivers who completed at least one lap in Friday’s opening practice. His best lap of 167.968mph was more than seven full seconds off the pace of session leader Cody Coughlin. He found some speed in Happy Hour, ranking 21st of 26 with a lap of 175.298mph. But in qualifying, he was the only driver who failed to turn a lap, and would start 31st on the grid. He was still guaranteed a starting spot in the field, a grid which was reduced from a full 32 after Mike Affarano withdrew his #03 Calumet City Auto Parts / Stop Bullying Chevrolet on Friday.

On Saturday, Benning, along with Josh Reaume in Beaver Motorsports’ #50 Ever-Fi Chevrolet, was sent to the rear for the start for unapproved adjustments. Both were joined by Kaz Grala, who one lap before the green fell back from 12th on the grid due to an engine change. By that point, Benning was not on the track, citing engine trouble. Another truck, Joe Nemechek in his #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet, surrendered 21st on the grid to line up next to Reaume in the back, one row behind Grala.

When the field took the green, Nemechek lost touch with the pack as the field accelerated, then pulled in after two laps to take home 31st. Presiding over his son John Hunter Nemechek’s team, the NEMCO Motorsports crew recovered from a mid-race accident to come home 6th – just enough to make the next round of the Playoffs. Grala was next to fall out, eliminated in the day’s first multi-truck accident on Lap 19, and lost his own spot in the Playoffs as a result.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Ryan Truex, whose #16 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Toyota was gobbled-up in the Grala accident, and Regan Smith, whose #92 BTS Tire & Wheel / Advance Auto Parts Ford was eliminated in the Turn 3 wreck that damaged John Hunter Nemechek’s Chevrolet.

Saturday’s race went to Parker Kligerman, his second Truck Series victory and his first since this same Talladega round in 2012. This time around, Kligerman drove for longtime car owner Charlie Henderson, whose team was featured on this site earlier this year at Eldora. Though active in NASCAR’s top three series since 1982, this was only the team’s 41st Truck Series start, and marked Henderson’s first NASCAR victory since June 3, 1989.

*This marked Benning’s first Truck Series last-place finish at Talladega and his first on a plate track since the 2011 opener at Daytona. It was also the first Talladega last-place finish for the #6 in Truck Series history.
*Benning joins Mike Harmon, whose engine let go in 2014, as the only two drivers to fail to complete a lap of a Truck Series race at Talladega. Harmon himself finished 20th on Saturday in TJL Racing’s #1 Chevrolet.

31) #6-Norm Benning / 0 laps / engine
30) #87-Joe Nemechek / 2 laps / vibration
29) #33-Kaz Grala / 18 laps / crash
28) #16-Ryan Truex / 19 laps / crash
27) #92-Regan Smith / 53 laps / crash

1st) Norm Benning Racing (5)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (3)
4th) NEMCO Motorsports (2)
5th) Halmar Friesen Racing, Henderson Motorsports, MB Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (19)


Friday, October 13, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Talladega

Mark Thompson drove a Henley Gray-owned car
similar to this in his lone Cup start in 1992.
PHOTO: Trading Card Database
Alabama 500 at Talladega

For just the second time this year, and the first time since May, there will be three consecutive 40-car fields in NASCAR’s elite division. Missing from Charlotte are the #51 Chevrolet of Rick Ware Racing, which has been 0-for-3 on starting plate races in 2017, and Motorsports Business Management, which is reportedly finishing a second Cup car to enter alongside the #66 at Martinsville.

Replacing the #66 and #51 this week are two returning teams:

The first returning team is Beard Motorsports, which has run exclusively on the plate tracks. XFINITY Series regular Brendan Gaughan once again climbs behind the wheel of a #75 Beard Oil Chevrolet that has impressed this season. Gaughan began the year with an 11th-place run in the Daytona 500, recovered from front valence damage at the start at Talladega to finish 26th, and ran a season-best 7th in July’s return to Florida. Gaughan’s best Cup finish – and lone Top 5 in the series – came in this very race in 2004, when he ran 4th for Doug Bawel.

For the first time since Premium Motorsports acquired all the assets of Tommy Baldwin Racing in September, Baldwin's #7 Golden Corral / Katerra Chevrolet will enter a Cup Series race with Justin Marks behind the wheel. The 2016 Mid-Ohio winner in the XFINITY Series returns to the #7 for the first time since his Cup debut at Sonoma in 2013, when he finished 30th, and makes his first Cup start since the 2015 Sonoma race, where he ran 30th again for Front Row Motorsports. Marks has made five Talladega starts in ARCA with a best finish of 8th in 2007, and ran 11th there for Chip Ganassi Racing last year. Premium is expected to field the #7 again at Martinsville in two weeks with Hermie Sadler driving and sponsorship from the Virginia Lottery.

Premium Motorsports' original two cars have perhaps the most interesting lineup for Sunday’s race:

D.J. Kennington makes his first Cup start since the Coke Zero 400 in July. It’s been a rough season for the Canadian, who raced his way into the Daytona 500 only to be involved in a multi-car crash, was the only driver to DNQ at Talladega, and blew an engine in July. This week, he drives Premium’s #55 instead of the #15 in July, carrying sponsorship from Dirt and Rock. Kennington will also run double-duty this weekend, making his first Truck Series start since Mosport, this time in Premium's #15 Loser's Bar and Grill Chevrolet.

Driving the primary Premium car, the #15 Chevrolet, will be 65-year-old Mark Thompson. A veteran of the ARCA Racing Series, where he’s run chiefly on the superspeedways for more than two decades, Thompson eyes his first Cup start since June 14, 1992, when he finished next-to-last ahead of Andy Belmont at Pocono. That race, more than 25 years ago, marked Alan Kulwicki’s fifth and final Cup win. Just as in 1992, when he drove for Henley Gray, and this year, when he made two XFINITY starts for Motorsports Business Management, Thompson will carry sponsorship from Phoenix Air. According to writer nascarman, Thompson’s return is not the longest gap between Cup starts. The record remains with Jimmy Ingram, 28 years from the 1952 Southern 500 to his return at Dover in 1980.

Joey Gase also returns to the Cup Series for his sixth start of the season and his first since Bristol in August. As at Bristol, he will drive the #23 for BK Racing, this time with the Dr. Pepper colors and, in conjunction with his cause for the Donate Life, the name of organ donor Jerred Bowles on the TV panel. Gase ran for Premium Motorsports at Talladega this past spring, where he finished a career-best 21st. His drafting partner in the #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota was slated to be Corey LaJoie, but the driver indicated on Tuesday he would not be racing. Taking his place will be Gray Gaulding, who ran 20th in the spring.

Both BK Racing and Premium Motorsports will be ones to watch at the start of Sunday’s race. Back in May, both Premium’s #55 and BK’s #83 pulled into the garage area on the opening lap to switch over from qualifying to race setup, including a change of fluids, which cost each eight laps. This strategy may have been used since both cars were in a “go-or-go-home” situation in qualifying against D.J. Kennington’s Gaunt Brothers Racing #96. So long as another car isn’t entered, such a strategy may not be necessary.

A broken hub at Charlotte left Cole Whitt 34th at the finish, 42 laps down, marking TriStar Motorsports’ fifth-straight finish of 30th or worse. A restrictor-plate race, and the chance for a better finish, could not have come at a better time. Other than an early engine failure at Daytona in July, the #72 Chevrolet has been fast on the superspeedways. Whitt came close to his first Top 10 in the Daytona 500 before he ran out of fuel on the final lap, but still finished 18th, a run improved by a 16th at Talladega in May. TriStar’s best Cup finish at Talladega remains a 6th by Greg Sacks on July 25, 1993.

Go FAS Racing will also be a single-car team to watch as Matt DiBenedetto looks to follow-up his 9th-place run the Daytona 500, 18th at Talladega, and 13th in the Coke Zero 400. DiBenedetto also scored a 23rd-place finish last week in Charlotte, ending a streak of four consecutive 31st-place runs with his best finish since he ran 8th at Indianapolis.

Also, don’t overlook Leavine Family Racing, whose driver Michael McDowell has another golden opportunity for a strong run before Kasey Kahne takes over the #95 in 2018. McDowell’s plate finishes in 2017 were a 15th in the Daytona 500, 34th after a crash at Talladega, and a season-best 4th in the Coke Zero 400. A spin at Charlotte ruined a strong start to the weekend where he lined up 16th on the grid, handing him his fourth-straight finish of 23rd or worse. In this race last year, McDowell finished 16th, his second-best finish at the track behind a 13th for Phil Parsons Racing in 2013.

Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega

For the first time since Chicago, three rounds ago, there will be a full field of 32 trucks in Saturday’s Truck Series race. It will be the 13th full field in 19 races run in 2017. Missing from the Las Vegas entry list are three LASTCAR contenders: Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #0 Chevrolet (driven by Matt Mills; Cobb herself drives the #10 on Saturday), Al Niece’s #38 Chevrolet (whose driver T.J. Bell returns this week to Niece’s #45), and Norm Benning’s #57 Chevrolet (driven by Mike Senica), plus Tommy Joe Martins’ #44 Chevrolet with driver Austin Wayne Self.

Replacing these four teams are seven others who were missing from the Las Vegas field:

Welcome back Mike Affarano, who we haven’t seen in a Truck Series field since he ran 30th at Iowa on June 19, 2015. Then as now, Affarano fields his own truck, the #03 Calumet City Auto Parts / Stop Bullying Chevrolet, which was originally slated to return last month at Chicagoland. Affarano has one Truck start at Talladega to his credit, having run 24th in 2014, and also ran 29th in his ARCA debut here in 2012.

Chris Fontaine returns to attempt his first Truck Series start of 2017 following a DNQ at Daytona. As in February, the plate racing Fontaine drives his own #47 Chevrolet with returning sponsorship from Glenden Enterprises. Fontaine has a pair of Top 10s in his seven Talladega starts: a 7th in 2014 and an 8th in 2015. He ran 23rd here last year.

Bolen Motorsports is back in the show for the first time since Mosport in September. This week’s driver of the #66 Chevrolet is 19-year-old Michigan driver Vinnie Miller, who last month made his XFINITY Series debut for JD Motorsports at Chicagoland, finishing 29th. Saturday will mark Miller’s first superspeedway start.

Clay Greenfield is back for the first time since the night race at Bristol, prepared to make his fourth start of 2017 in the #68 Titan Paint Sprayers Chevrolet. Greenfield has four Truck starts at Talladega, the best of which a 13th in 2013 when his team entered the only RAM in the field.

Premium Motorsports enters its second truck, the #15 Chevrolet, for the third time this year and the first time since Loudon. In place of Gray Gaulding and the originally-listed Reed Sorenson will be the aforementioned D.J. Kennington. Wendell Chavous remains his teammate in the full-time #49 Vydox Plus Chevrolet.

Also back in the show are NASCAR journeymen Parker Kligerman and Regan Smith. Kligerman, the 2012 race winner, makes his seventh Truck start of the season, his first since an 8th at Mosport, and will again drive Charlie Henderson’s #75 Food Country USA / Lopez Wealth Management / Tide Pods Toyota.

Regan Smith, a 2013 XFINITY winner at Talladega (and technically the 2008 Cup winner), makes his tenth Truck start of 2017 in Ricky Benton’s #92 Ford with five listed sponsors: BTS Tire & Wheel, Commercial Tire & Service, Advance Auto Parts, CarQuest, and Valvoline. It will be Smith’s first Truck star at Talladega in a decade, dating back to his 9th-place run for Bobby Ginn in 2007. Smith’s best Truck finish of 2017 came at the Daytona opener, where he finished 6th.

Mike Harmon looks to make his fourth Truck Series start of 2017 and his first since Chicagoland, where he ran 27th in his own #74 Chevrolet. This time, he is slated to run in place of Jordan Anderson in TJL Motorsports’ #1 Chevrolet, a truck he hasn’t run since a 27th-place finish at Atlanta. Harmon’s best series finish in four Talladega starts was a 22nd in 2013.

Driving MB Motorsports’ #63 Chevrolet is ARCA superspeedway veteran Bobby Gerhart, who hasn’t run a Truck Series race since this year’s Daytona opener, where he finished 21st. Gerhart has finished no worse than 17th in his two Truck starts at Talladega with a 12th in 2015 and a 17th just last year.

At the back of the field, with neither Tommy Regan nor Mike Senica in the field,  LASTCAR Truck Series title looks one-sided. Current leader Todd Peck was originally listed in the #83 Chevrolet for Copp Motorsports, but will be replaced by Spencer Boyd and sponsorship from Grunt Style. Now one finish behind Peck, but still ahead on both Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens, Joe Nemechek could close the gap with a finish on Saturday as he enters his own #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet.

Nemechek’s most recent last-place run at Bristol marked the last time the last-place finisher completed any laps. That night has since been followed by a NASCAR record four-straight races where the LASTCAR headliner failed to complete a single lap.

UPDATE (Friday): Mike Affarano has withdrawn the #03, Austin Wayne Self drives the #45 in place of T.J. Bell.

Next Race: Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas
Saturday, October 21, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

8/6/72: Robert “Paddlefoot” Wales trails final Cup start at Talladega

PHOTO: Robert Wales Collection
On August 6, 1972, Robert "Paddlefoot" Wales picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Talladega 500 at the Alabama International Motor Speedway when his #63 1970 Dodge fell out with engine problems after 1 of 188 laps. The finish came in Wales’ second series start.

A lesser-known, but no less important member of “The Alabama Gang,” Wales was born in Pleasant Grove, barely four miles north-east of the Allison family’s hometown of Hueytown. He began racing on dirt in 1959, cutting his teeth on the clay oval in Birmingham.

One of Wales’ early racers was car #14, towed to the track behind a pickup painted the same shade of navy and gold. Another was a Chevelle owned by Roy Counce which he raced at the Nashville Fairgrounds, matched against such future NASCAR drivers as Jimmy Means, Neil Bonnett, and Darrell Waltrip. Our research found these to be two of many other cars Wales raced over two decades. Wales also carried a number of local sponsors on his cars, including Guaranty Pest Control, Patrick’s Auto Service, Dave Kornegay’s Western Auto, John & Betty’s Drive-In, Glenn’s Uniform Sales, and Benward Construction.

In 1969, a crash at Huntsville nearly ended his career, sending him to the hospital for brain surgery. But just a few months later on February 21, 1970, Wales made his first NASCAR start at Daytona in the Late Model Sportsman Series (now XFINITY Series). Driving a 1966 Chevelle, Wales started 31st in the 40-car field and finished 28th. Two months later came a win at the Montgomery International Speedway, a modified race where he beat Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett, and Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. He would return to Daytona in 1971 to finish 17th, and finished in the same spot the following year.

The 1972 Daytona finish came while driving a #63 Dodge, which may have belonged to fellow Alabama native Charlie Roberts. While the owner information is incomplete for that year’s running of the Permatex 300, it was Roberts who fielded a #63 Dodge for Wales to run at Talladega that May. Carrying hometown sponsorship from Pleasant Grove Union, Wales qualified 34th for the 50-car field, outpacing Roberts, who lined up 45th in a newer 1971 Ford. Among the nine drivers who failed to qualify for that race were NASCAR Hall of Fame members Wendell Scott and Richard Childress. While Roberts climbed to 43rd before engine trouble, an oil leak left Wales 48th at the finish, ahead of only Bill Ward and the disqualified Marty Robbins.

The race that’s the subject of this article was Wales’ return to Talladega that summer, where he again drove Roberts’ #63 Dodge. This time, Wales started 45th of 50 drivers, again beating Roberts, who this time around started last. At the end of the first lap, as Buddy Baker battled Bobby Allison for the lead, three drivers lost their engines: 24th-place starter Neil Castles (LINK) in his #06 1972 Plymouth, Roy Mayne in his #65 1972 Chevrolet, and Wales. Wales was ranked last of the three. Ahead of them in 47th was Michigan owner-driver Bill Shirey, running his final season in his #74 1970 Plymouth, and a 31-year-old Dave Marcis in his #2 1972 Dodge. The entire Bottom Five was filled in the first nine laps.

The race was won by James Hylton, the second and final of his long career. Car #48 wouldn’t win another Cup Series race until Jimmie Johnson’s first checkered flag at Fontana three decades later.

Wales never made another Cup Series start, though he would continue to run in NASCAR Late Model Sportsman and ARCA Racing Series competition for the next five years. His best recorded finish in professional stock car racing came in his last run at the Permatex 300 on February 19, 1977, when he rallied from 21st on the grid to finish 10th, besting among future XFINITY Series stars Jack Ingram, L.D. Ottinger, and Morgan Shepherd, as well as fellow “Alabama Gang” legend Red Farmer.

During this time, Wales returned home to work at a U.S. Steel plant, but remained active in other forms of racing. By 1986, he’d transitioned into racing hydroplanes, taking the state championship that year. The next season, he drove in the All Pro Modified ranks, winning seven of nine races and setting four track records, including a lap at Birmingham of 20.92 seconds. “That's when I quit for good,” said Wales, “while I had a chance to do it while I was on top.”

In 2007, Wales was inducted into the Alabama Auto Racing Pioneers Hall of Fame, where he then served as president in 2011. He’s also been active sharing his story online, where a collection of rare photos from his career can be found here as well as video on YouTube of him racing a yellow car #33 at Birmingham. He can be found on Facebook at this page.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #63 in a Cup Series race since September 7, 1962, when Glenn Killian’s 1961 Mercury broke the driveshaft after 3 laps of the Buddy Shuman 250 at Hickory. It remains the only last-place run for the number at Talladega.

50) #63-Robert Wales / 1 lap / engine
49) #65-Roy Mayne / 1 lap / engine
48) #06-Neil Castles / 1 lap / engine
47) #74-Bill Shirey / 5 laps / ignition
46) #2-Dave Marcis / 9 laps / engine

*Demmons, Doug. “Robert ‘Paddlefoot’ Wales and Bill Hamner inducted into Alabama Auto Racing Pioneers Hall of Fame,”, December 16, 2007.
*Robert “Paddlefoot” Wales Collection on Fotki
* May 7, 1972: Pearson Begins His Talladega Triad (by user @tmc-chase)