Thursday, November 23, 2017

OPINION: Thank goodness the “Junior Singularity” is over

A few thoughts on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s retirement, and what it means for NASCAR going forward.

It’s easy to forget just how high expectations were for Junior before February 18, 2001. He won twice in his rookie season in Cup – once more than his father in 1979 – and took his first All-Star Race in dramatic fashion. “Junior Nation” was already well past its founding. But once that final lap happened, everything became so much bigger. From that point on, Junior was now carrying the hopes, dreams, and expectations of two equally-massive fan bases – his own and his father’s. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for him, on top of everything else.

From then on, there was was what I call the “Junior Singularity.” The Cup Series became “Junior and Friends,” a weekly show where everyone else in the field – even its newest seven-time champion – played a supporting role. I was told by a friend in the NASCAR merchandise business that Junior outsold every other driver in the field 10-to-1. I believed it, especially when FOX broadcasts were constantly interrupted with a “Nationwide Dale Jr. Performance Report.” Junior was always a story - even if that story involved a terrible final season with DEI, a four-year winless streak, and a worrying series of concussions.

It wasn’t like Big E in the 1990s, when he was presented as one of a number of quirky stars – Wallace, Martin, Jarrett, Irvan, Gordon, and Bodine, to name a few. He stood out, of course, but not in the James Dean kind of way he does today. Some of the best proof of this are those old skits ESPN put together to open their Cup broadcasts. Earnhardt wasn’t the star of all of them, and some didn’t mention him at all. If another driver was the story – such as Rusty Wallace and his short-track dominance in early 1993 – then he carried the narrative instead. Earnhardt’s hardly mentioned at all in the 1992 Hooters 500, widely regarded as NASCAR’s greatest race. For Earnhardt, it was known ’92 was a season to forget, a year where accidents and mechanical issues left him 12th in points.

This isn’t to say that any of this is Junior’s fault – far from it. A big part of his popularity has been the result of things completely out of his control, and he’s consistently steered that celebrity toward charity. From the very beginning, he’s remained humble, compassionate, and about as down-to-earth as one can get. I’ve always found it ironic that the sport’s most popular driver remains a fan of Jimmy Means, a driver who raced without any wins in 455 starts. He’s also a studied student of the sport, not only from spending his youth in the garage, but also his clear dedication to the sport’s history, such as his “Back In The Day” program. I also can’t fault the fans for supporting who they want, nor the media for filling the need for Junior news that they desire. Much larger forces steered both that direction.

But I can say I’m glad that it’s over.

I am thankful that Junior retired on his own terms – not just for himself, but for his sport. I believe that the “Junior Singularity” has distracted too much of us from the state of NASCAR as a whole. We need to look at the lingering effects of the Charter system, how it has continued to prevent start-up teams from forming while doing nothing to prevent a proven winner like Matt Kenseth from being squeezed out of the sport. We need to re-examine how broadcasts are handled in the internet age and create leaner, more efficient, more informative experiences for fans old and new. And, most of all, we need to start talking again about the rest of the field, the big names and the small, who will each play a role in shaping NASCAR’s future. Let’s celebrate that Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson are now the old guard, fending off a rising tide of Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Erik Jones, and many others.

I don’t think anyone really knows Junior. Maybe his family. Maybe his wife. But that’s about it. I don’t know how he’s handled everything thrown at him with such grace. And I can only imagine the relief he now feels with that Axalta Chevrolet in his garage and a baby on the way. I’d like to imagine he’d complement his new career in broadcasting with another NASCAR history show. I can see him in the role of Neil Bonnett when he did “Winners” on TNN, though without that return to Daytona in 1994. But I can’t say what’s right for him, never mind tell him. Nobody can. For perhaps the first time in his life, Junior is free. It’s not a time for sadness. We should be happy for him.

To anyone out there in an 88 shirt, you need to realize that the sky isn’t falling just because one of its stars isn’t on the track. Like Ned Jarrett, Benny Parsons, and Buddy Baker before him, you’re gonna enjoy him even more in the booth. And the sport will be better for it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

CUP: Joey Gase scores third last-place finish in as many seasons one day after final start with Jimmy Means Racing

PHOTO: John Harrelson, LAT Images
Joey Gase picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #83 Eternal Fan / Premier Millwright Toyota was involved in a single-car accident after 4 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Gase’s 22nd series start, was his first of the season and first in Cup since September 18, 2016 at Chicagoland, 45 races ago.

Homestead was the site of a number of dramatic endings, not the least of which the retirement of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and what could also be the final races for Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick. It’s also seen the end of several longstanding driver-team partnerships, including the end of Kasey Kahne’s term at Hendrick Motorsports, where he joined in 2012, Michael McDowell’s last turn at Leavine Family Racing, where he first ran in 2014, and Landon Cassill, who’s still looking for a new ride after his second season at Front Row Motorsports.

One of the longest relationships to end on the XFINITY side was driver Joey Gase with Jimmy Means Racing. Gase first drove for Means at Iowa on May 20, 2012, when Gase was driving for Go Green Racing (fielded by Archie St. Hilaire, the current owner of the #32 Go FAS Racing team in Cup). When interviewed for my upcoming book on J.D. McDuffie, Means reflected on how he met with Gase.

“When [Gase] drove for Archie St. Hilaire the 79 car in XFINITY, he was renting that ride and I know he ran well and didn’t tear his stuff up.  And when the money ran out with Archie, basically was rent-a-ride if you wanted to drive the car you paid money, and I’m an old school racer so we don’t make a dime but we race, that’s our downfall.  But somebody introduced me to him and Joey was able to find some money so it kind of helped keep both of us going, so it’s been a good relationship, it’s kept him in it, kept me in it.”

Helping the team bring in a number of sponsors, most notably the Donate Life organ donor program, Gase helped Means to the #52 team’s first full XFINITY season in 2014, finishing 20th in points. The team’s best run that year came at Talladega, where they also led their first lap. When they returned to Means’ home track the following year, Gase kept his overheating Chevrolet in the lead pack, and carved out a 5th-place finish. It was Means’ first Top 5 in NASCAR, a proud moment for a driver whose best finish in 455 Cup starts over two decades was a 7th at Talladega in 1983.

Gase has continued to run strong on the restrictor plate tracks, finishing 7th and 10th in this year’s races at Daytona and 16th at Talladega. But on October 19, it was announced that Gase and Means Racing would part ways amicably at the end of the season.

The two parted ways as Gase has focused more on making it to the Cup Series, where he reunited with Archie St. Hilaire in 2014. This season saw Gase make more Cup starts than in any previous season – nine -  including his first Daytona 500 with BK Racing. He also drove for Premium Motorsports, finishing a season-best 21st at Talladega and a 26th at Indianapolis.

Gase wasn’t originally slated to run Sunday’s race. The preliminary entry list showed that BK Racing wasn’t going to enter the #83 Toyota, while Premium Motorsports’ #7 Chevrolet, Gase’s ride from the last two weeks, was going to be driven by fellow XFINITY regular Ross Chastain. But Premium ended up withdrawing the #7, resulting in Homestead’s first short field for the Cup finale, and BK entered the #83 for Gase on Wednesday. Although Gase’s car was first listed with Earthwater as the sponsor, as it had when Gray Gaulding finished last at Texas, Phoenix sponsor Eternal Fan, also based in Iowa, signed to sponsor the car. Premier Millwright also joined the effort, sponsoring Gase’s run in Cup as well as his final start for Means on Saturday.

Gase began the weekend running 37th in Friday’s opening practice, then qualified 35th in the field with a lap of 164.654mph. He ran 38th in Saturday’s first session and 37th in Happy Hour. In between, he started 32nd in the XFINITY finale and brought Jimmy Means’ car home under power, five laps down, in 29th.

Starting last on Sunday was Ray Black, Jr., another XFINITY regular looking to break into Cup. Homestead saw Black make his third Cup start of the season, closing out Rick Ware Racing’s return season to the Cup Series. By the time the cars were pushed out to the grid, however, his #51 ScubaLife Chevrolet was already ahead of two cars.

Behind Black on pit road were two of the day’s biggest stories: the #20 DeWalt Hurricane Relief Toyota of Matt Kenseth and the #88 Axalta Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt had been moved back there in anticipation of leading the field during a special fourth parade lap. Earnhardt then asked NASCAR if Kenseth could join him, at which point the #20 lined up in front of his car. Curiously, Earnhardt was the only driver to incur a pre-race penalty, having been forced to change engines on Friday.

By the time the field took the green, Earnhardt was already passing cars, and had made his way to 30th after the first lap. Black, on the other hand, lost touch with the rest of the field with a slow start, and was back to last by the first set of corners. He was 3.864 seconds behind the leader after Lap 1. With two laps complete, the spot fell to Corey LaJoie, Gase’s teammate in the #23 myfreedomsmoke.com Toyota. According to BK’s Twitter, LaJoie was forced to make an unscheduled stop for a flat right-rear tire, putting him a lap down. Three laps later, trouble would find the second BK car.

With four laps complete, Gase was running in 35th ahead of Reed Sorenson. As the pair headed into Turn 1, Gase’s car cut sharply to the right, reportedly due to a flat right-front tire, and smacked the wall hard. This drew the day’s first caution, and Gase managed to just barely get his car back to pit road. With the steering tweaked and the passenger side pancaked, the team’s day was done, and the car was promptly pushed behind the wall.

Black finished 38th, flagged off the track for running too slow. Much like John Graham the day before, NASCAR had called his #51 to pit road early, allowing the team to make adjustments to get the car back up to speed. Like Graham, Black was called in once more, flagged off the track for running too slow.

37th went to Danica Patrick, whose final start for Stewart-Haas Racing did not go to plan. A flat tire caused her to lose control in the outside of Turns 1 and 2, and her #10 Aspen Dental Ford smacked the outside wall before being rear-ended by Kasey Kahne. Patrick reported earlier in the week that she will “cap it off” with next year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, but there is no news as of yet who she will drive for.

In 36th was David Starr, back in one of Motorsports Business Management’s Chevrolets after BK Racing lent Carl Long’s team a car last week in Phoenix. Starr was running a handful of laps down in the final 100 laps when the left-front brake rotor failed. The debris didn’t cause a caution – or a fire, in the case of Chris Buescher last week – but did leave a small puncture in the right-front fender of Playoff contender Kevin Harvick’s Ford.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Reed Sorenson, citing engine trouble on Premium’s #15 Xchange of America Chevrolet.

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship went to Martin Truex, Jr., the first for both the New Jersey driver and his Denver-based team, Furniture Row Racing. Truex has six last-place finishes – none this season – including one in the fall Phoenix race in each of the last three election years. Furniture Row Racing has nine last-place finishes and took the 2008 LASTCAR Cup Series title with Joe Nemechek, who trailed three races that season and edged A.J. Allmendinger on a Bottom Five tiebreaker, 9-6. Congratulations to both Truex and Furniture Row on coming so far this past decade.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Gase has now finished last in exactly one Cup Series race in each of the last three seasons.
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #83 in a Cup race at Homestead.
*Gase’s four laps complete are the second-fewest for a last-place finisher in a Cup race at Homestead. The fewest was 0 laps in 2004, after Hermie Sadler’s #02 Drive For Diversity / Sam Bass Chevrolet was eliminated in a multi-car accident at the start of the Ford 400.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #83-Joey Gase / 4 laps / crash
38) #51-Ray Black, Jr. / 39 laps / too slow
37) #10-Danica Patrick / 139 laps / crash
36) #66-David Starr / 175 laps / brakes
35) #15-Reed Sorenson / 212 laps / engine

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) BK Racing, Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (5)
2nd) Rick Ware Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Toyota (10)
3rd) Ford (6)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL

XFINITY: Jeff Green closes out record-breaking season with 13th last-place finish of 2017

PHOTO: David PeQueen
Jeff Green picked up the 102nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his unsponsored #38 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with clutch problems after 10 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 480th series start, was his first since Kansas, three races ago, and his series-leading thirteenth of the season.

RSS Racing shuffled their driver lineup for the season finale with Ryan Sieg driving the #93 Chevrolet for the first time in 2017, welcoming sponsorship from Code Rum. The #39 that Sieg ran for the rest of this season would go to Stephen Leicht, who last drove for RSS when he trailed the field at Charlotte in May. Leicht’s #39 would be the same black-and-blue Chevrolet that Gray Gaulding debuted as the #93 in Charlotte last month, and was set to run half the race distance. Green, however, would remain in his #38 Chevrolet, the roof numbers now the same shade of red as the roof, and was set to exit the race before Leicht.

The preliminary list for Saturday’s race saw 45 cars, which was pruned once to 44 after Penske Racing withdrew the #12 Ford for Truck Series title contender Austin Cindric, then again to 43 cars after Motorsports Business Management withdrew their third “start-and-park” car, which John Jackson was set to drive for the first time since his last-place run at Loudon. There were also a pair of driver changes for two independent teams: John Graham in place of Mike Harmon in the #74 Magellan Aviation Dodge (though Harmon helped practice the car in Happy Hour) as well as Josh Williams replacing Mario Gosselin in the #90 Starbrite Startron Chevrolet.

Green earned the Past Champion’s Provisional in qualifying, having turned in the slowest lap of Round 1 with a speed of 149.052mph. He’d run faster in practice, ranking 27th in the first session before skipping Happy Hour. According to David PeQueen, who captured the pictures used in today’s article, Green’s slow timed lap was due to him being “super conservative, staying well off the wall on corner exit.”

Three other drivers were sent home after qualifying: Quin Houff in the Precision Performance Motorsports #46 BeatinCancerWithDuke.org Chevrolet, Matt Mills in the #55 www.kplay.club / J.D. Electric Toyota for start-up team NextGen Motorsports, and owner-driver Morgan Shepherd in the #89 VisOne RV Chevrolet. All three drivers ran around two seconds faster than Green.

Green took the green in last, and was one of two cars to trail the field in Turn 2 by the time the leaders hit Turn 3. Joining him was John Graham, who was struggling with speed in Harmon’s Dodge from the very start. Green passed Graham by the end of Lap 1 by which time the #74 was already 10.991 seconds behind. Graham was 15.042 seconds behind the next time by and 21.576 behind on Lap 4. That time by, Ryan Reed served a penalty when his #16 Lilly Diabetes Ford passed to the inside at the start, dropping Reed to last on Lap 5. Reed got back up to speed, catching and passing Graham at the completion of Lap 8.

Graham was the first to be lapped on Lap 10, and was being warned by NASCAR to pick up the pace. By the time that lap was done, Jeff Green pulled down pit road, then into the garage, promptly taking last from Graham. Green was listed out on NBCSN’s leaderboard by Lap 31. Graham made contact with the outside wall, and came down pit road at least twice early in Stage 1. The second stop forced him to pull behind the wall, his Dodge flagged off the track for not maintaining minimum speed.

Finishing 39th between Green and Graham was Harrison Rhodes, who according to David PeQueen was running white rims on the right side of the car and black ones on the left. Rhodes, who was swapped to JD Motorsports’ #15 Masters Properties / Industrial Piping Chevrolet as Joe Nemechek ran his #01, retired nine laps after Green.

In 37th came Timmy Hill, running the renumbered blue #13 OCR Gaz Bar Dodge that had been Motorsports Business Management’s Pete Hamilton throwback at Darlington. He pulled into the garage 24 laps before Christopher Bell, who one day after clinching the Truck Series title lost the engine on Joe Gibbs Racing’s #20 GameStop / Power A Toyota.

Taking the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship was third-place finisher William Byron, set to join Hendrick Motorsports’ #24 Cup team in 2018. Byron did not score a single last-place finish this season with just one Bottom Five – a 36th at Talladega – and two Bottom Tens.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was Green’s third last-place finish in the last four XFINITY Series races at Homestead.
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #38 in an XFINITY Series race at Homestead since November 10, 2001, when Christian Elder lost the rear end on his #38 Great Clips Ford after 19 laps of the GNC Live Well 300.
*This was just the seventh time in XFINITY Series history where the last-place finisher fell out with clutch issues. The last time it happened was May 5, 2012, when Kevin Lepage’s #52 TTTR Racing Engiens Chevrolet fell out after 1 lap of the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
(All Photos by David PeQueen)

40) #38-Jeff Green / 10 laps / clutch











39) #15-Harrison Rhodes / 19 laps / electrical











38) #74-John Graham / 31 laps / parked











37) #13-Timmy Hill / 54 laps / vibration











36) #20-Christopher Bell / 78 laps / engine












2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) RSS Racing (20)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (30)
2nd) Dodge (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL

TRUCKS: Ciccarelli takes last at Homestead, Senica takes the title

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Ray Ciccarelli picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #10 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet had engine problems that kept him from completing any of the race’s 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Ciccarelli’s sixth series start, was his second of the season and his first since New Hampshire, six races ago.

Ciccarelli was originally one of 33 entries on the preliminary list, but that list shrank back to 32 on Wednesday as Mike Harmon pulled his #74 Chevrolet. Ciccarelli was originally listed to run Cobb’s #0 Chevrolet, as he had in four of his previous five starts, but by Friday had been swapped over to the team’s primary #10 Chevrolet with Cobb herself running the #0. Ciccarelli’s best finish of the year had been in the Cobb team’s flagship #10, when he ran 22nd at Eldora despite a series of late-race spins. He’d run no better than 26th since, each time retiring in the first twenty-one laps.

Ciccarelli didn’t turn a lap in either practice session while Cobb turned just one lap in Happy Hour, anchoring the charts with a lap of 135.098mph, more than seven seconds off John Hunter Nemechek’s session-leading speed. Both Ciccarelli and Cobb didn’t turn a lap in qualifying, either, joined by Bayley Currey in D.J. Copp’s #83 Preferred Industrial Contractors Chevrolet. This put Currey, Ciccarelli, and Cobb in the final three positions.

The last-place headline for Friday was the three-way battle for the 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship, the only title among the top three series to be decided in the season finale. Todd Peck came into the race with the lead, but wasn’t entered in the race. This left both Mike Senica and Joe Nemechek in position to take the title. Senica, tied with Peck on Bottom Fifteens, needed only a Bottom Ten to take the title. Nemechek, who had more Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens than either Senica or Peck, needed to finish last. Senica, carrying returning sponsorship from Pennsylvania Power Products, qualified 29th, one spot behind Nemechek. A LASTCAR poll run Friday on Twitter had Senica as the title favorite, receiving 82% of the votes.

Last-place starter Cobb incurred a redundant tail end penalty before the start of the race for unapproved adjustments. She was running alongside Ciccarelli at the start, and both trucks were already losing touch with the pack as the leaders took the green. By the time the field came back around, both trucks were already behind the wall. Although Cobb started one spot behind Ciccarelli and was sent to the rear, she was still classified ahead of her teammate.

The dual retirements of the Cobb trucks promptly eliminated Joe Nemechek from LASTCAR title contention as he could no longer finish last. Senica’s bid for a Bottom Ten was settled soon after. On Lap 3, Senica’s #57 was already 30th, eighteen seconds behind the leaders. Two laps later, he pulled his truck into the garage. While Senica indicated on Twitter that he pulled out with brake issues, forcing him to park earlier than the Benning team had planned, NASCAR listed the #57 as “parked” in the official results. Regardless of reasoning, the run was enough to steal away the 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series title from Todd Peck. It was the only week all season that Senica led the season standings.

Senica’s championship was the first by a rookie Truck Series driver since 1999, when Phil Bonifield took the title in Tom Mazzuchi’s #23 Red Line Oil Chevrolet. Bonifield’s mark of six last-place finishes remains tied for the most by a single driver in Truck Series history, equaled first in 2011 by Mike Garvey, and then again by Caleb Roark just last year. Roark’s title was his third in a row and the fourth-straight for Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing – the same team Ciccarelli drove for on Friday.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was title contender Joe Nemechek, three laps behind Senica in his #87 D.A.B. Constructors / fire Alarm Services Chevrolet. Senica’s title-clinching Bottom Five prevented Nemechek from becoming the first driver in NASCAR history to claim at least one LASTCAR title in both the Cup Series and the Truck Series. Behind him in 28th, one lap beyond, was Bayley Currey in the Copp #83.

Taking the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship on Friday was runner-up finisher Christopher Bell, who didn’t score any last-place finishes in 2017 and just two Bottom Tens.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #10 in a Truck Series race at Homestead.
*Chevrolet became the first manufacturer in NASCAR history to sweep every last-place finish in a single season in any of the series’ top three divisions.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #10-Ray Ciccarelli / 0 laps / engine
31) #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 0 laps / electrical
30) #57-Mike Senica / 4 laps / parked
29) #87-Joe Nemechek / 7 laps / electrical
28) #83-Bayley Currey / 8 laps / engine

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Norm Benning Racing (7)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (3)
4th) MB Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports (2)
5th) Halmar Friesen Racing, Henderson Motorsports, Martins Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
1st) Chevrolet (23)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL

Friday, November 17, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Homestead

PHOTO: Joe Gibbs Racing
CUP SERIES
Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead
Championship 4: #78-Martin Truex, Jr., #2-Brad Keselowski, #4-Kevin Harvick, #18-Kyle Busch

Thanks to Wednesday's addition of BK Racing's #83 Earthwater Toyota with Joey Gase now set to make his third-consecutive Cup Series start, Homestead averted its first short field in the history of the Ford EcoBoost 400. The 2017 season will now end with nine consecutive full fields after seventeen of the first thirty-five rounds - nearly half the races run - fell short of 40 cars. The only team missing from the Phoenix entry list is StarCom Racing, which Derrike Cope wheeled to a 32nd-place finish.

The addition of BK's #83 comes with news Thursday that Motorsports Business Management will not be entering the #66 Toyota that BK helped field last week, but instead one of MBM's two Chevrolets. The Eureka sponsorship remains, as does David Starr, who ran 28th last Sunday. It will be Starr’s first Cup start at Homestead.

Ray Black, Jr. will round out the season for Rick Ware Racing, making his third start of the year in the #51 ScubaLife Chevrolet. This season, Ware’s return to Cup for the first time since 2012 will have seen his team make 28 of 36 races. Their season-best finish coming into Sunday came at Kansas this past May, where Timmy Hill ran 28th. Black fought hard for a 34th-place finish at Texas, still finishing under power despite a pair of late-race spins.

Joining Black is fellow XFINITY Series regular Ross Chastain, who will also make his third start of 2017. After finishing 20th and 38th in both Dover races for Premium Motorsports, Chastain will this time drive the #7 Chevrolet that Premium absorbed from Tommy Baldwin Racing (once again the apparent reason Premium’s #55 isn’t entered). Joey Gase drove the #7 the last two races, finishing 32nd at Texas and 30th at Phoenix. Reed Sorenson will join Chastain at Premium, driving the #15 Toyota with sponsorship from Exchange of America. Gase will run the aforementioned #83.

Then, of course, there are Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth, both set to make their final Cup starts 17 seasons after they battled each other for Rookie of the Year. It’s appropriate, then, that both drivers will be running identical paint schemes to those they ran in 2000. While Earnhardt’s red Axalta Chevrolet was revealed months ago, Kenseth’s DeWalt Toyota was revealed this past Tuesday. One week after his emotional win at Phoenix, Kenseth will also be raising awareness of DeWalt’s efforts in Florida to recover from Hurricane Irma. Kenseth’s lone Homestead win came a decade ago, the last ever run by the pre-CoT cars. Earnhardt’s best Homestead finish was a 3rd in 2013, his lone Top Five at the track.

XFINITY SERIES
Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead
Championship 4: #9-William Byron, #1-Elliott Sadler, #7-Justin Allgaier, #21-Daniel Hemric 

44 drivers are set to attempt the field for Saturday’s 40-car field. The preliminary entry list showed 45 cars, but by the time of its publication, Penske Racing withdrew the #12 Ford in what would have been Austin Cindric’s first XFINITY start since Road America. The withdrawal may have to do with Cindric competing for the Truck Series title on Friday.

The same 40 teams from Phoenix have returned, plus four more, which could make Round One of qualifying very interesting.

First to return is Quin Houff, back with Precision Performance Racing for the first time since Kansas. Houff looks to round out a solid partial schedule where he’s finished a season-best 12th at Iowa and never run worse than 27th.

Start-up team NextGen Motorsports returns to the XFINITY Series, looking to make their first start since Josh Berry gave the team a 34th-place debut last month at Kansas. Driving this week is Matt Mills, eyeing his fourth XFINITY start of the season and first since a last-place finish at Chicagoland.

Third to return is Ty Majeski, who looks to make his third start of the season and first since he ran both Iowa races over the summer, running 34th and 16th. This week, his #60 Ford from the Roush-Fenway Racing stables doesn’t have a primary sponsor, and will instead carry logos for Ford EcoBoost.

The last to return is John Jackson and the #72 “start-and-park” Chevrolet that trailed earlier this year at Loudon. If the team qualifies, a second last-place finish is possible. Joining him at the MBM stable is Timmy Hill in the #13 Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit / Total Comfort Heating & Air Dodge and Chad Finchum in the #40 Buddy Gregg RV Toyota.

JD Motorsports shuffles its driver lineup with Joe Nemechek moved into the #01 and Harrison Rhodes in the #15. Whether either or both cars will be on “start-and-park” duty, as the #15 has to this point, is still to be determined. Rumors indicate that the switch may have been made to get the #01 into the Top 30 in Owners Points. Currently, Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 holds the spot by three points over the #01. Nemechek has three XFINITY wins at Homestead in 1997, 1999, and 2001.

It’s a similar situation at RSS Racing, where Ryan Sieg has moved to the #93, supplanting “start-and-park” driver Gray Gaulding. Sieg will not be parking, as he has welcomed new sponsorship for the race from Code Rum. As a Cup driver, Gaulding isn’t entered in either of the two remaining RSS Racing cars, which will both likely have short races if they qualify. Jeff Green remains in the #38 Chevrolet, joined this time by Stephen Leicht in the #39. It will be Leicht’s first XFINITY start since Charlotte in May, where he finished last.

With Cup drivers prohibited from participating in the lower tiers this weekend, Saturday could also be a chance for a part-timer to make noise with a top ride. Among them are Ben Kennedy (#2 for RCR), Scott Lagasse, Jr. (#3 RCR), Ryan Preece (#18 JGR), Christopher Bell (#20 JGR), Sam Hornish, Jr. (#22 Penske), and Tyler Reddick (#42 CGR).

Among the Championship Four, Justin Allgaier will be one to watch as he will be without his crew chief Jason Burdett following a brake cooling hose violation at Phoenix. In Burdett’s place will be Billy Wilburn, the team’s car chief for the last four seasons.

TRUCK SERIES
Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead
Championship 4: #21-Johnny Sauter, #19-Austin Cindric, #88-Matt Crafton, #4-Christopher Bell

The preliminary entry list for Friday’s Truck Series finale showed exactly 32 trucks for 32 spots. By Tuesday, it grew to 33 entries with the addition of Mike Harmon in his own #74 Chevrolet, one week after he finished 28th at Phoenix, but Harmon withdrew on Wednesday. The only truck missing from Phoenix’s entry list is JJL Racing’s #97 Toyota for Jesse Little, a team whose truck was destroyed in a heavy late-race crash with Ryan Truex and Dalton Sargeant. Both Truex and Sargeant are entered in Friday’s race. After Harmon's withdrawal, all the remaining entries will start Friday's race.

Two more teams have returned to attempt the season finale. The first entry is Ricky Benton’s #92 Ford with Cup veteran Regan Smith once again behind the wheel. Smith, who won the XFINITY race at Homestead in 2012, will make his 13th start of 2017 and eyes his third top-ten finish of the year.

Also, welcome back MB Motorsports’ second truck, the #36 Chevrolet, which hasn’t started a race since Chicagoland in September. Driving this weekend is Monster Jam competitor Camden Murphy, aiming for his 11th Truck Series start of the season and first since Las Vegas. Murphy will be teamed with Chris Windom, who on Sunday locked-up the USAC National Sprint Car Championship. Windom will drive MB’s #63 Chevrolet, and hopes for a better outing after failing to complete a lap last month at Martinsville.

Robby Lyons turned in an impressive 12th-place finish in his debut last Friday for Premium Motorsports, and he’s back again to put the #49 Chevrolet through its paces. Wendell Chavous, who has driven Premium’s #49 for much of this season, has for the first time been moved to the team’s second truck, the #15 Low T Centers Chevrolet, replacing Cup regular Gray Gaulding.

The LASTCAR Truck Series Championship will also be settled on Friday. Todd Peck, who currently leads on a Bottom Fifteen tiebreaker with Mike Senica, isn’t entered in Friday’s race, but could lock-up the 2017 title if Senica’s #57 Chevrolet fails to finish in the Bottom Ten and if Joe Nemechek’s #87 Chevrolet doesn’t finish last. Both Senica and Nemechek can claim the title if they finish last, but since Senica is already tied with Peck for the most last-place finishes, only Nemechek needs to.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

11/16/03: Matt Kenseth’s first last-place finish came on championship Sunday

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
On November 16, 2003, Matt Kenseth picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford lost an engine after 28 of 267 laps. The finish came in Kenseth’s 148th series start.

Kenseth’s emotional victory in Sunday’s race at Phoenix harkened back fond memories of two Daytona 500 victories, the 2004 All-Star Race, an IROC championship, and countless quirky interviews. With it came the realization that it may be the final defining moment of a Hall of Fame career. Kenseth’s most impressive accomplishment was his 2003 Winston Cup Championship, a story made even more impressive when you realize how quickly and completely he accomplished that goal.

Kenseth cut his teeth on Wisconsin short tracks, where he raced against veterans like Robbie Reiser. In 1993, Reiser started his own NASCAR Busch Grand National Series team, but in twenty-nine starts managed just one top-ten finish. He the. became the crew chief of his own team, and hired Tim Bender to drive. But when Bender suffered a career-ending back injury in early 1997, he tabbed Kenseth to drive. Kenseth took the opportunity to race for Reiser in a handful of races, turning down a top-tier ride in the American Speed Association to do so. The pair finished 11th their first time out, and at Rockingham on February 21, 1998, Kenseth pulled a gutsy last-lap pass on Tony Stewart to win his first race. Once rivals, Kenseth and Reiser became one of the most successful pairings in NASCAR’s recent history.

With that first win in the books, the pieces continued to fall into place. In 1998, three Busch wins and a runner-up finish in points. In 1999, new sponsorship from DeWalt Power Tools and four more wins. Through it all came another fortuitous friendship – this time with Mark Martin. Kenseth caught Martin’s eye, and the youngster was groomed for a future with Roush Racing’s Cup effort. When Kenseth’s attempt to get a spare Roush car into Talladega fell short in qualifying, he broke through as a substitute driver. His debut came that September at Dover while driving in place of Bill Elliott, who was mourning the loss of his father George. Kenseth finished 6th. The next spring, he was chosen to relieve Bobby Labonte, who broke his shoulder in a savage practice crash at Darlington. He finished 10th.

The driver’s role as “super-sub” accelerated Roush’s plans to move Kenseth, Reiser, and DeWalt up to Cup as a new fifth team. A five-race exploratory run in the second half of the 1999 Winston Cup season yielded a 4th-place finish in his return to Dover. In 2000, he went full-time Cup racing. Among the rookies Kenseth raced against was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who defeated him for the Busch title in 1998. Kenseth outpaced his rival for Rookie of the Year despite scoring just one victory to Earnhardt’s two. Both drivers celebrated. Once again, rivalry had spawned a new friendship.

In hindsight, it’s surprising that Kenseth’s dominant run in 2003 was criticized to the point that it led to the creation of today’s Playoff format. The season matched the style that had earned him a spot in Cup, as well as countless comparisons to “The Silver Fox,” David Pearson. Much like his rookie battle with Earnhardt, Kenseth relied on just one victory – the season’s third round at Las Vegas – and used raw consistency to hold the point lead the rest of the year. Through the first thirty-five of thirty-six rounds, Kenseth racked-up twenty-five top-ten finishes (having finished worse than 20th just three times) and came home on the lead lap thirty-one times. This allowed him to lock-up the title in the penultimate round at Rockingham, scene of his breakthrough Busch win less than seven years earlier.

The championship surprised more than a few experts. Marty Smith, then writing for NASCAR Online, wrote before the season that he would dye his hair blue if a Ford managed to win the championship. As Smith followed through with his end of the bet, Kenseth prepared for the season finale at Homestead.

The 2003 Ford 400 was more than the end of a season. On top of Unocal 76 leaving as the sport’s exclusive fuel provider, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which had originally signed through 2007, decided to end its thirty-one-year relationship with NASCAR. In August, NASCAR created a “Victory Lap” tribute, where past Winston Cup champions – one active and one inactive – would be honored at each race. Richard Petty’s ceremonial laps in a blue-and-red #43 Dodge would be saved for Homestead, where he would make his first laps in a race car during a Cup Series points race since the checkered flag fell in the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta. He would be joined on the pace laps by Tony Stewart, who was running a similar paint scheme as the defending Winston Cup Champion.

The race was also about new beginnings. Homestead-Miami debuted its third configuration since the track first opened. The previous two flat track configurations were replaced with today’s gradient banking, ranging from eighteen to twenty degrees in the corners. The result was much faster speeds and wilder racing. The Cup pole, the first earned by newly-minted Rookie of the Year Jamie McMurray, came in at 181.111mph – nearly 26mph faster than the pole speed a year before. Kenseth didn’t find as much speed, lining up just 37th on the grid. Despite the strength of his season, this was not unusual. In fact, he started 37th six other times that year.

Five drivers missed the cut in qualifying. The first was series veteran Ken Schrader, whose BAM Racing #49 Dodge had struggled with sponsorship issues all season. Kyle Petty joined him in Petty Enterprises’ #45 Georgia-Pacific Dodge. A third Dodge sent home was driven by Mike Wallace for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, the #09 sponsored by the Miccosukee Resort & convention Center. Derrike Cope missed the cut in his first attempt for Arnold Motorsports in the #79 Dodge. Last was single-car Conely Racing, which hired Rich Bickle to drive their #78 SBC / Molykote Chevrolet. In addition, Hendrick Motorsports withdrew their fifth car, a #60 ditech.com Chevrolet to be driven by a Busch Series newcomer named Kyle Busch. Busch's car was confiscated by NASCAR after it was discovered the rear window didn't meet specifications. This delayed Busch's Cup debut to Las Vegas the following spring.

Several other part-timers made the cut. Rookie driver Larry Foyt endured a difficult first season, and arrived at Homestead out of provisionals and not guaranteed a spot in the field. In time trials, he stunned with the 12th-fastest lap, and on Sunday finished 16th in A.J. Foyt's #14 Harrah's Dodge. It was Foyt's only Cup finish better than 28th. Another standout was Truck Series veteran Ron Hornaday, Jr., who earned a spot in Richard Childress Racing's part-time fourth team, a #90 Chevrolet. The white car was sponsored by Childress' new winery, Childress Vineyards, which would start selling wine the following season. Like Foyt, Hornaday made the field on speed, snatching 28th on the grid, and improved to finish 20th. A third surprise was fellow Truck Series veteran Mike Skinner, released earlier that year by Morgan-McClure Motorsports. Skinner’s car was fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing – just the fourth Cup start made by the team – and had a DEI engine under the hood. The engine in his #00 Bacardi Silver / Raz Chevrolet put Skinner 17th on the grid, but he would end up in LASTCAR contention at race's end.

Starting 43rd and last on the grid was Kenny Wallace, who was rounding out his final season driving for Bill Davis Racing in the #23 Stacker 2 Dodge. Wallace only failed to finish three races that season, but averaged just a 26th-place finish with a single Top 10 coming in the spring race at Bristol. On Lap 4, as Wallace held on to the back of the field, trouble broke out up front. Heading into the first turn, 6th-place starter Kevin Harvick was reeling in Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, who were racing side-by-side. Harvick found an opening down low, but broke loose, sliding up the track into Newman and Busch. While Harvick steered into the grass to avoid serious damage, Newman and Busch’s cars were heavily damaged, barely able to limp onto pit road. Without the “Crash Clock,” however, both cars were repaired in the garage area. Newman was classified last with Busch 42nd.

Kenseth, meanwhile, was minding his own business until disaster struck. On Lap 29, as he came into Turns 3 and 4, trailed a long stream of white smoke, then coasted around the apron. He pulled into the garage in 41st, then dropped to 43rd when both Busch and Newman returned to the race, finishing 36th and 37th respectively. With points runner-up Jimmie Johnson finishing 3rd, Kenseth’s point lead dropped from 226 at Rockingham to just 90 after Homestead.

Finishing 42nd that day was John Andretti, who was driving Dale Earnhardt, Inc.’s #1 Chevrolet in the team’s final race with Pennzoil as the primary sponsor. Andretti’s engine let go twenty-nine laps after Kenseth’s, the nose caved-in after the Harvick / Busch / Newman incident. Behind him in 41st was Michael Waltrip, whose #15 NAPA Chevrolet crashed in Turn 2, drawing the day’s third caution. 40th fell to Jeff Green, who was closing out his first full season driving for Petty Enterprises in the #43 Chex by Petty Dodge. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Mike Skinner, whose Michael Waltrip car suffered crash damage.

The race ended in dramatic fashion with Bill Elliott blowing a tire on the last lap, handing Bobby Labonte his final Winston Cup victory. Once the dust settled, Kenseth returned to the track in the team’s backup car to do a burnout, then drove up to the championship stage for the season-ending ceremony. He would not finish last in another Cup Series race until March 1, 2009, and not for a third time until Daytona this past February. This different kind of consistency, which dates back to that day at Homestead in 2003, remains another of Kenseth’s enduring legacies.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #17 since August 23, 1997, when Darrell Waltrip crashed after 115 laps of the Goody’s Headache Powder 500 at Bristol. It remains the number’s only last-place run at Homestead. That race marked the fifth and final Cup last-place finish for Waltrip's team DarWal Enterprises.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #17-Matt Kenseth / 28 laps / engine
42) #1-John Andretti / 57 laps / engine
41) #15-Michael Waltrip / 72 laps / crash
40) #43-Jeff Green / 81 laps / engine
39) #00-Mike Skinner / 89 laps / crash

SOURCES
*Jayski’s Silly Season Site
*Racing-reference.info
*Staff Writer, “R.J. Reynolds’ decision to leave Winston Cup not surprising,” Savannah Morning News, February 7, 2003.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

CUP: Kyle Larson’s fourth-straight DNF results in last-place finish at Phoenix

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Kyle Larson picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Can-Am 500(k) at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #42 Refresh Your Car! Chevrolet lost an engine after 104 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in Larson’s 146th series start, was his first of the season, his first in a Cup Series race since March 20, 2016, when he crashed hard on the backstretch after 46 laps of the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.

For all intents and purposes, Larson should have arrived at Phoenix ready to lock-up his spot in the Championship Four at Homestead. When the series last arrived in Arizona this past March, Larson finished a close second to Ryan Newman, his third-straight runner-up finish, giving him the point lead. He’d hold that lead for ten of the next thirteen races. Fontana marked the first of four wins in 2017, followed by a season sweep at the sister track in Michigan, then roared into the Playoffs by winning the final regular season race at Richmond.

Once the Playoffs began, Larson cruised through the first round with three consecutive top-five finishes. His performance dropped somewhat in the Round of 12 with a 10th at Charlotte and a 13th at Talladega, but arrived in the Kansas elimination race relatively safe, 29 points ahead of the cutoff. With a 13th-place run in qualifying, it seemed certain that Larson would join the Round of 8. Unfortunately, it didn’t end that way. Engine issues forced an unscheduled stop, then the power plant let go after only 73 laps. Were it not for the handling woes suffered by Derrike Cope’s new start-up team, StarCom Racing, Larson would have been handed his first last-place run of 2017. Still, the damage was enough – the blown engine knocked him out of the Playoffs.

Things didn’t get much better after that. He spun into the inside wall at Martinsville, then blew a tire and plowed the outside wall at Texas, handing him back-to-back 37th-place finishes to double his DNF count for the entire season. At Phoenix, Larson indicated he wanted to simply finish the race, if only to close out the year on a high note. It was perhaps appropriate, then, that he debuted a new primary sponsor from “Refresh Your Car!,” a clip-on air freshener for passenger cars.

Larson began the weekend 10th in Friday’s opening practice, then qualified 3rd at a speed of 137.926mph, making him the fastest non-Playoff driver in the field. He continued to show speed on Saturday, running 10th in the morning session, then 12th in Happy Hour.

Starting last on Sunday was Derrike Cope, whose StarCom Racing team was making its first start since Larson’s untimely engine failure at Kansas. Cope was also struggling with engine troubles at Phoenix, cutting their first practice short and preventing them from participating in qualifying. In the race, he was joined at the rear by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., whose #17 Ford tribute to Robert Yates and Davey Allison changed tires after qualifying, and Corey LaJoie, whose BK Racing team changed engines and tires on the #23 Fresh Beards / Earthwater Toyota.

By the end of the first lap, Cope, Stenhouse, and LaJoie all passed Kyle Weatherman. Weatherman, who made his Cup debut two weeks ago at Martinsville, was again in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, this time with the name and logo of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. According to Rick Ware’s Twitter, Weatherman struggled with suspension problems, causing him to rapidly lose ground to the leaders. He was already 6.391 seconds back on the first lap, 8.335 on Lap 2, then 18.832 on Lap 8. The 15th time by, leader Chase Elliott caught and passed him in Turns 3 and 4, dropping him a lap down. He lost a second on Lap 34, a third on Lap 50, a fourth by Lap 63, and a fifth on Lap 96.

While Weatherman lost laps, Kyle Larson looked to play spoiler. He took the lead for the first time on Lap 68, allowing him to snatch away a Stage 1 victory from a dominant Denny Hamlin. Larson led until Lap 79, but was still among the leaders when he made an unscheduled stop on Lap 105. Reminiscent of Kansas, the crew looked under the hood, costing him a lap to the leaders. He was then sent back out, but drove slowly on the apron, well out of traffic, with smoke reportedly coming from the back of the car. The lap, he made his way to the garage entrance in Turn 1. Larson climbed out, the engine problem proved terminal. On Lap 110, Larson took last from Weatherman, who endured through a pit penalty for carrying the fuel canister out of his box to finish 34th, eighteen laps down.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by accidents, each one caused by excessive brake heat. 39th went to Jimmie Johnson, who fell from Championship contention when his #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet cut a tire on the backstretch on the final lap of Stage 2. In 38th was Trevor Bayne, the nose of his #6 Ford EcoBoost Ford damaged in an early incident, who blew a tire at the exit of Turn 4, sending him hard into the outside wall. Bayne walked away, but did say he jammed his wrist. 37th fell to Chris Buescher, whose right-front brake rotor exploded out of the #37 Clorox Chevrolet, then backed into the wall. The heated brake pieces fell behind the SAFER barrier, igniting at least two pieces of protective foam. 36th went to Cole Whitt, whose #72 TriStar Motorsports Chevrolet bashed the fence in the final laps.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #42 in a Cup Series race at Phoenix.
*Larson’s 3rd-place start makes him the highest-qualified last-place finisher of the 2017 Cup Series season. The previous record was 6th, by Jamie McMurray at Martinsville and Erik Jones at New Hampshire.
*Larson is the first Cup Series driver to finish last after winning a stage.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #42-Kyle Larson / 104 laps / engine / led 11 laps / won stage 1
39) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 148 laps / crash
38) #6-Trevor Bayne / 226 laps / crash
37) #37-Chris Buescher / 247 laps / crash
36) #72-Cole Whitt / 258 laps / crash

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group (5)
2nd) BK Racing, Rick Ware Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Toyota (9)
3rd) Ford (6)

2017 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: One week after his first Cup last-place finish, Gray Gaulding gets his first in XFINITY

PHOTO: Colby Evans
Gray Gaulding picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after he completed 6 of 200 laps. The finish came in Gaulding’s seventh series start.

Gaulding was originally scheduled to run double-duty at Phoenix. The preliminary entry list was updated earlier in the week to show he would return to BK Racing’s #83 Earthwater Toyota, the same car that he finished 40th with last Sunday at Texas. But on Thursday, the car was withdrawn, and the Earthwater branding ran as an associate on teammate Corey LaJoie’s #23 Fresh Beards Toyota.

In place of the Cup effort, Gaulding continued his role as a “start-and-park” driver in the lower series. He was first tabbed by Premium Motorsports in September after owner Jay Robinson acquired the assets of Tommy Baldwin Racing, including the trucks originally prepared for Stewart Friesen. He’s since made four starts in the renumbered #15 Chevrolet with a best of 25th and a next-to-last-place finish at Martinsville.

The next offer came from RSS Racing, which had so completely dominated this year’s LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship with last-place record holder Jeff Green. Teamed with Ryan Sieg, Green scored his 100th NASCAR last-place finish in the “start-and-park” #93 Chevrolet at Iowa. Gaulding was brought in at Dover in September to debut a second “start-and-park” car for RSS – a #38 Chevrolet – and ran 34th. At Charlotte in October, Green was moved to the #38 and Gaulding to the #93, just in time for Green to snag his 100th XFINITY Series last-place finish that night. Gaulding, whose #93 changed paint schemes from black-and-red to black-and-blue, ran 39th.

The RSS Racing driver lineup remained the same at Phoenix, where both Gaulding and Green were locked-in as among the forty drivers who arrived for the forty-car field. Gaulding was one of three drivers who didn’t participate in Friday’s opening session (where Green outpaced Ryan Sieg with the 25th-best lap), then put up the 32nd-best lap in Happy Hour. He then qualified 35th in the field with a lap of 125.672mph, one spot behind Green.

Starting last on Saturday was Carl Long, who this week took the controls of his own #13 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota. Long was the only driver in time trials to not complete a lap, and remained at the back when the leaders took the green flag. On the first lap, Brendan Gaughan spun in Turn 4, and Corey LaJoie – running double-duty in JGL Racing’s #24 Youtheory Toyota – spun himself in the chain reaction. While both cars avoided serious damage, LaJoie took last under the resulting caution, then followed 38th-place Gaughan and 39th-place Morgan Shepherd down pit road. Gaughan’s stop apparently took longer as he took last from LaJoie under the yellow on Lap 3. The next time by, Jeff Green then fell back to take last from Gaughan.

When the race restarted on Lap 5, Green passed Carl Long, putting the #13 to last for the second time in the race. On Lap 6, Gaulding made his move, falling back from 31st, then losing a lap as he headed to the garage. Before the second caution on Lap 24, Carl Long made an extended stop of his own, and appeared headed for a 39th-place finish before he returned to the track, dropping Mike Harmon to 39th in his #74 Ramjet’s Speed Shop Dodge. Long ended up 36th before citing electrical trouble. Jeff Green finished 37th, seven laps behind Long.

In between came 38th-place Brennan Poole, whose #48 DC Solar Chevrolet drew the second caution when he tangled with the lapped #8 AphaPrimeUSA.com Chevrolet of Caesar Bacarella, who was making his NASCAR debut. Poole struck the outside wall with the right-front, then returned to the track only to slam it again under yellow, ending his day along with his bid at the Championship Four.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Gaulding is the first driver other than Jeff Green to finish last in RSS Racing’s #93 since May 27, 2017, when Stephen Leicht had electrical problems early at Charlotte.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #93-Gray Gaulding / 6 laps / electrical
39) #74-Mike Harmon / 19 laps / engine
38) #48-Brennan Poole / 24 laps / crash
37) #38-Jeff Green / 30 laps / brakes
36) #13-Carl Long / 37 laps / electrical

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (19)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, JD Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, King Autosport, Richard Childress Racing, SS Green Light Racing (1)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (29)
2nd) Dodge (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

2017 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Mike Senica puts himself in Homestead showdown with Todd Peck and Joe Nemechek for 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series title

PHOTO: @msenicaracing
Mike Senica picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #57 Pennsylvania Power Products, Inc. Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after he completed 3 of 150 laps.

The finish, which came in Senica’s ninth series start, was his third of the season and first since Chicagoland, six races ago. With one race to go, Senica is now tied with Todd Peck for the most last-place finishes in 2017. With the two drivers also tied in Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens, Peck leads the resulting Bottom Fifteen tiebreaker 10-9. If Peck starts the race, Senica will need to finish last to claim the 2017 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship. If Peck doesn’t start the race, Senica only needs to finish inside the Bottom Ten. That is, unless Joe Nemechek finishes last. Nemechek stands one finish behind Senica and Peck, but outmatches both drivers in Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens. Thus, Nemechek can take the championship if he finishes last at Homestead. Norm Benning has been eliminated from title contention.

Senica reprised his role in Norm Benning’s second truck, the black #57 Chevrolet, and arrived in Phoenix to sign autographs. According to Senica’s Twitter, one fan presented him with a custom model of his race truck. This weekend, Senica welcomed new sponsorship from Pennsylvania Power Products, Inc., whose P3 logo appeared on each quarter-panel.

Senica still struggled to find speed, however, as he ran slowest in practice with a lap of 110.933mph, nearly six seconds off session leader Todd Gilliland. LASTCAR reader Sam Laughlin reported that Senica also stalled at pit exit during the session, drawing a caution. He ran slower in qualifying at 108.180mph, just over seven seconds off Christopher Bell’s pole lap, and took last place on the starting grid.

Joining Senica at the back of the field were Austin Wayne Self, Mike Harmon, and Jesse Little, who were all sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Not among those penalized the #0 #0 Driven2Honor.org / Star Sales / Posi-Grip Chevrolet of Ray Ciccarelli, who had a scary moment in Friday’s opening practice. Heading down the backstretch, a possible fuel line failure in the right-front of the truck caused fire to blast from behind the wheel, filling the cockpit with smoke. Ciccarelli managed to pull his truck to a stop in Turn 4 and climbed out, but was clearly having difficulty breathing from the smoke. He managed to still qualify the truck 30th on the grid and finished 26th in the race, out with more engine problems.

Meanwhile, Senica regained last place in the early laps, then pulled out under the green flag with electrical woes. Finishing 31st was Ted Minor, who after racing for Faith Motorsprots at Texas this week moved to MB Motorsports’ #63 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Shawn Magee Designs. Minor ended his day three laps after Senica. Four laps after that came T.J. Bell, 30th in Al Niece’s #45 Niece Equipment Chevrolet. 29th went to Joe Nemechek in the #87 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet. His son John Hunter Nemechek started second on the final restart, but wasn’t quite able to best Johnny Sauter for a chance at the Championship Four. Rounding out the group was Mike Harmon in his own #74 Beaver Strips & Custom Graphics Chevrolet, likely a backup after Tommy Joe Martins’ rough outing with the team at Texas.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first Truck Series last-place finish for the #57 in a race at Phoenix.
*If a Chevrolet finishes last at Homestead, the manufacturer will become the first in NASCAR history to score every last-place finish in a Cup, XFINITY, or Truck Series season. The previous Truck record was 20 finishes by Chevrolet, set in 2008 and matched in 2015.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #57-Mike Senica / 3 laps / electrical
31) #63-Ted Minor / 6 laps / electrical
30) #45-T.J. Bell / 10 laps / electrical
29) #87-Joe Nemechek / 12 laps / electrical
28) #74-Mike Harmon / 19 laps / brakes

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Norm Benning Racing (6)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (3)
4th) MB Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports (2)
5th) Halmar Friesen Racing, Henderson Motorsports, Martins Motorsports, MDM Motorsports, TJL Motorsports (1)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (22)

2017 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Friday, November 10, 2017

Entry List Storylines: Phoenix

PHOTO: Carl Long Facebook
CUP SERIES
Can-Am 500(k) at Phoenix

For the seventh-straight race, there will be exactly 40 cars in Sunday’s main event. Motorsports Business Management wasn't originally entered in the #66 following a second-straight crash. On Wednesday, news broke that Carl Long had not only obtained a third car, a Toyota from BK Racing, but also sponsorship from Eureka Vacuum Cleaners, a brand we haven't seen in Cup since they last sponsored Jimmy Means in 1988. David Starr, who drove last week at Texas, will run the car this Sunday. If the team manages to avoid their third-straight crash, they will also run the car at Homestead next week.

Returning this Sunday is StarCom Racing, their #00 Chevrolet’s first Cup attempt since their last-place debut at Kansas. Driver Derrike Cope finished 33rd here in the spring, when he drove for Premium Motorsports.

As of Thursday, Both Cope and Starr are now guaranteed starting spots in Sunday's race as BK Racing has withdrawn their "open" car, the #83 of Gray Gaulding, which finished last at Texas. It will mark just the third time this year that the team will not start, having not been entered at Sonoma and withdrawn at Indianapolis. Corey LaJoie will drive BK's #23 Toyota.

Also rejoining the Cup field is Canadian driver D.J. Kennington, who last year made his series debut in this race, also for Premium Motorsports. In this, his first non-restrictor plate start on the Cup side in 2017, he will drive Premium’s #15 Chevrolet, dressed in the familiar red-and-white of longtime sponsor Northern Provincial Pipelines. Premium’s owner Jay Robinson has once again left the #55 at home, and will field Tommy Baldwin Racing’s old #7 Chevrolet. Behind the wheel for the second-straight race is Joey Gase, who finished 32nd last Sunday.

Welcome back Kyle Weatherman, who we last saw making his Cup debut two weeks ago at Martinsville. Once again, Weatherman will drive Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, which as of this writing does not have a primary sponsor. Sunday will mark Weatherman’s first stock car start at Phoenix.

Sure to turn heads on Sunday will be Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who will drive a paint scheme honoring the lives of both Robert Yates and Davey Allison. The car will be decorated in the familiar black, red, and yellow of the Yates Racing #28 Texaco / Havoline Ford, which won its second of two back-to-back races at Phoenix 25 years ago. 

XFINITY SERIES
Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix

40 drivers are also listed in Saturday’s penultimate round for the XFINITY Series. Missing from last week’s roster is King Autosport’s #92 Chevrolet, which Josh Williams wheeled to a 34th-place finish before electrical problems. In his place returns Biagi-DenBeste Racing’s #98 GEICO Military Ford with Cup veteran Casey Mears. It will be the first XFINITY start for driver and team since the fall race at Dover, four races ago.

John Graham returns for his third start of the year, his second on an oval track, and his first in any NASCAR race since September at Richmond. Graham will once again be driver of B.J. McLeod’s #78 Chevrolet. McLeod is not himself driving this Saturday as he has handed over the #8 Chevrolet to Florida native Caesar Bacarella, who will be making his NASCAR debut. Bacarella has just two ARCA starts to his credit, both of them this year at Daytona (finishing 33rd) and Talladega (25th).

Welcome back Alex Bowman, who will return to Chip Ganassi’s #42 Chevrolet for the first time since his inaugural series victory at Charlotte. Bowman and his Energizer Ultimate Lithium Battery machine will be ones to watch on Saturday, as this track saw him win the pole – and almost the race – in last year’s Cup event while in relief of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

JD Motorsports has once again fielded their “start-and-park” #15 teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet, but this time Reed Sorenson has been replaced by Joe Nemechek. It will be Nemechek’s first XFINITY Series start since Daytona in July 2016, when he finished 36th in a Toyota from his NEMCO Motorsports stables.

TRUCK SERIES
Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix

The Truck Series enjoys its third-consecutive full field this Friday, and the fifteenth in twenty-two races this season. Unlike Cup and XFINITY, three teams are missing from Texas: Tyler Young #20 CNR Electric / Young’s Building Systems Chevrolet (17th at Texas), Regan Smith in the #92 BTS Tire & Wheel / Advance Auto Parts Ford (13th), and Tommy Joe Martins’ #42 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet, which wrecked twice last weekend (32nd).

One of the three returning entries is Mike Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet, the entry which Martins drove in his ill-fated night in Texas. It will be the first time Harmon has raced in the Truck Series since Talladega, and the first time his #74 has since Chicagoland. Also returning are Jessie Little, who has finished no worse than 14th in his three previous starts this year in the #97 JJL Motorsports Toyota. Friday will be Little’s first Truck Series start since the night race at Bristol. The third returning team is MDM Motorsports’ #99 Performance Plus Motor Oil Chevrolet, this time with Dalton Sargeant, who makes his first series start since this same race in 2015.

Making his series debut this Friday will be late model racer Robby Lyons, who will drive Premium Motorsports’ #49 Sunwest Construction Chevrolet. Lyons will be teamed with Jason Hathaway, who we last saw drive for Bolen Motorsports at Mosport. With sponsorship from Kubota and Choco Authentics, it’s likely that Hathaway’s drive will not be a “start-and-park” effort, as Gray Gaulding’s has been since Premium expanded their Truck effort this summer.

One week after Faith Motorsports fielded the #44 for Ted Minor, yielding a 25th-place finish, Austin Wayne Self is listed to drive the #44 AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet at Phoenix following a 15th-place debut with his 2018 team, Niece Motorsports. Niece has retained T.J. Bell to drive his #45 Niece Equipment Chevrolet this Friday. Minor will drive MB Motorsports' #63 Chevrolet, replacing J.J. Yeley on the preliminary entry list.

Fresh off his second-consecutive K&N Pro Series West Championship, Todd Gilliland is set to make his sixth Truck Series start of 2017, this time in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ flagship #51 Pedigree Toyota. Phoenix saw Gilliland score the first of his 13 West Series wins on November 12, 2015, when he edged current XFINITY Series driver William Byron for the victory.

With Todd Peck once again missing from the entry list (Bayley Currey drives in his place in the D.J. Copp #83 after Peck was on the preliminary list), the LASTCAR Truck Series Championship will not be settled this Friday at Phoenix. However, three drivers are in position to force a showdown with Peck at Homestead:

The first is second-seeded Joe Nemechek, who with a last-place showing in his #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet can take a Bottom Five tiebreaker against Peck, 12-8. If this happens, Peck will be the only driver in position to take the title away from him, and must finish last at Homestead to do so.

Next is third-seeded Mike Senica, who if he finishes last Friday in Norm Benning’s #57 Chevrolet will tie Peck in last-place finishes (3), Bottom Fives (8), and Bottom Tens (8). Under LASTCAR rules, this would force a tiebreaker on Bottom Fifteens, which Peck would still win 10-8. This means Senica must finish last at both Phoenix and Homestead to take the title.

Finally, if Norm Benning finishes last in his #6 Chevrolet, he would win a Bottom Ten tiebreaker with Peck, 12-8. In this scenario, two drivers would have a chance to take the title from him at Homestead. Peck could get the title with a last-place finish in the finale, 4 last-place finishes to Benning’s 3. The other is Joe Nemechek, who even if he doesn’t finish in the Bottom Ten at Phoenix, could defeat Benning and Peck with a last-place run at Homestead, setting up a three-way Bottom Five tiebreaker 11-8-3.

Tommy Regan and Tommy Joe Martins, who also are mathematically in striking distance of Peck, will be eliminated from LASTCAR championship contention if they do not start on Friday. Trailing Peck in both Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens, either driver’s path to the title is the same as Senica’s – finish last at both Phoenix and Homestead.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

11/1/92: The story of Rick Carelli, NASCAR’s original Colorado connection, and a last-place finish at Phoenix

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
For this Sunday’s running of the Can-Am 500(k), Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will run a throwback paint scheme honoring the life of Robert Yates. The #17 Ford will resemble the #28 Texaco / Havoline Ford that Davey Allison drove to eleven of his nineteen career victories. Two of those wins came in back-to-back races at Phoenix in 1991 and 1992. Last year, we featured Kenny Wallace, who scored his first last-place finish in the ’91 race for Team III Racing. Today comes the story of 1992’s last-placer: Rick Carelli.

On November 1, 1992, Carelli picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Pyroil 500K at the Phoenix International Raceway when his #37 Chesrown Chevrolet fell out with handling problems after he completed 1 of the race’s 312 laps. The finish came in Carelli’s second series start.

While Furniture Row Racing is often credited as a trailblazer in NASCAR for keeping its headquarters out of North Carolina, Carelli, who now works for FRR as Erik Jones’ spotter, had an all-Colorado team of his own decades earlier. Carelli was born in Arvada, a suburb of Denver. FRR president Joe Garone was one of his first crew chiefs. His car owner and sponsor was Marshall Chesrown, a family friend who owned the Chesrown Auto Group, a successful chain of Colorado car dealerships. Like FRR, Chesrown Racing set up shop outside of Denver, specifically the suburb of Lakewood.

Carelli was nicknamed “The High Plains Drifter” by the late Larry Nuber of ESPN for traveling great distances to tracks all over the U.S. and Canada. No matter how far he drove, he always found time to race at his home track, the Lakeside Speedway, where he followed his older brother Donnie into racing in 1973. Years later, he would set his sights on NASCAR.

On March 28, 1987, at the tiny third-mile oval in Saugus, California, Carelli made his first start in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour, a late model division that would produce such talents as Kurt Busch and Ron Hornaday, Jr. Carelli started outside-pole that day, and much to everyone’s surprise, led the race from start to finish. Two more wins would quickly follow, leading to a fourth-place showing in the standings. Four years later, he was the series champion.

By the time of that title in 1991, Carelli had branched out into other forms of stock car racing. He competed in the Snowball Derby that December, leading fourteen laps and finishing 6th. He made a pair of starts in the Winston West Series (now the K&N Pro Series West), finishing runner-up in his second start at Mesa Marin Raceway outside Bakersfield.

At the time, the Winston West Series also ran “companion races” where West competitors could earn championship points by qualifying for Winston Cup events at Sonoma and Phoenix. Carelli missed out on his first attempt at Phoenix that November, one of thirteen West drivers sent home. The following June, during the Save Mart Supermarkets 300 at Sears Point, he qualified his #37 Chesrown Chevrolet 38th in the 43-car field, bumping from the field fellow West competitors Wayne Jacks and Bobby Woods. He finished 37th in the race – just 8th among the West competitors – when the rear end gave out in the final laps.

1992 was one of Carelli’s best seasons. Coming into his Cup debut at Sonoma, he had swept the first two rounds of the Winston West schedule, leading 187 of 300 laps at Mesa Marin, then 149 of 200 at Saugus. He picked up a third win at the South Sound Speedway in Washington state, then a runner-up in the return to Mesa Marin. Still, he entered the final race of the season 3rd in points, 35 markers behind runner-up Bill Sedgwick and 39 behind point leader Bill Schmitt.

It was a similar story on the Southwest Tour side. Carelli had racked up wins in half of the first sixteen races, including a streak of three in a row. But, again, he was down on points, 77 behind leader Ron Hornaday, Jr. and also trailing Doug George. Hornaday was also running double-duty with the Winston West Series, where he came into the final round fifth in the standings, 70 points behind Carelli.

Both titles would be settled at Phoenix.

Carelli began the weekend strong, qualifying 28th in the Winston Cup / Winston West “companion race” to lead the group of West drivers in the field. West Series point leader Bill Schmitt qualified 33rd in his #33 Bowman Fasteners Ford. Runner-up Bill Sedgwick timed in 37th in Wayne Spears’ #75 Spears Motorsports Chevrolet. Ron Hornaday, Jr. squeezed into the field as well, lining up 41st in the 42-car field in his #92 Palmdale Chiropractic Chevrolet. Starting last that Sunday would be the #61 All Pro Auto Parts Chevrolet of another West Series driver, Rick Scribner, in what would become his second and final Cup start.

The day before the Pyroil 500K, on October 31, 1992, Carelli, Hornaday, and George waged war for the Southwest Tour title in the season finale, the 185-lap GM Goodwrench / Delco Battery 300. This time, Hornaday out-qualified Carelli, the pair starting 6th and 8th, respectively, but Doug George took the pole. The race turned into a crashfest, slowed by twelve cautions and marred by wrecks involving all three title contenders.

First, Hornaday was blindsided by an exhaust pipe that fell on the track, then was run over by the car in front of him. The pipe caught air and smashed into the right-front corner of his windshield, tearing it open. Then, Doug George moved into title contention, only to crash out of the lead with fifteen laps to go. Finally, Carelli held on to a Top 5, but his own title bid was snuffed when he lost control coming off Turn 4 on the final lap. His #6 struck the wall with the driver’s side, then slid into traffic, where he was struck by two more cars. The resulting red flag ended the race. When the points were tallied, Hornaday had taken the title by 33 points over Carelli and 38 over George. He celebrated the title by pushing his battered car across the finish line.

While Hornaday’s encounter with the exhaust pipe left him with only a minor injury to his right forearm, Carelli had two broken ribs, putting his start in Sunday’s race in jeopardy. According to Mike Joy’s account in the TNN broadcast, it was decided Carelli would tape himself up and drive “for as long as he is able, then take the car to the garage,” making sure he had enough points to lock up Rookie of the Year. As it turned out, one lap was all Carelli could take, though this was still enough to claim Rookie honors. Although the original race results indicated Carelli’s reason out as “quit,” the Racing-Reference.info listing has since been changed to “handling.”

While Bill Elliott, Davey Allison, and Alan Kulwicki waged their legendary battle for the 1992 Winston Cup title, Bill Schmitt lost an engine and finished 33rd while Bill Sedgwick came home 27th, allowing Sedgwick to take the Winston West title by just six points.

Finishing 41st that day was last-place starter Rick Scribner, who lost an engine six laps after Carelli. 40th went to Dick Trickle, whose #8 Snickers Ford lost an engine into Turn 1 and backed into the outside wall. The next time by under caution, Geoffrey Bodine lost an engine on Bud Moore’s #15 Motorcraft Ford and pulled behind the wall, leaving him 39th. Rounding out the Bottom Five was still another engine failure, this time Morgan Shepherd’s #21 Citgo Ford, which let go down the backstretch.

Carelli scaled-back on his Southwest Tour effort in 1993 and stormed to the Winston West championship, claiming five wins and holding the point lead from the fourth race onward. The Chesrown effort also looked into expanding their Cup Series schedule to non-companion races, attempting both races at Atlanta and the spring race at Richmond. Sponsorship from Total Petroleum and a car number change from #37 to #61 coincided with an attempt at Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 1994. Unfortunately for Carelli, the ’94 season turned out to be one of the most competitive Winston Cup fields in recent history with even established teams like Petty Enterprises missing races to start-up teams. Carelli’s rookie bid ended after five-straight DNQs to start the year, and the four starts he made after turned out to be his last in Cup competition (other than both NASCAR exhibition races in Japan).

Fortunately, that winter saw a new opportunity for both Carelli and Chesrown: the new NASCAR SuperTruck Series (now the Camping World Truck Series). Total Petroleum stayed with the team as they prepared their first Chevrolet Silverado for the “Winter Heat” exhibition races. That September, Carelli had already finished 4th in the first 25-lap exhibition at Tucson, and when the series returned there on November 20, took the checkered flag in the first round of “Winter Heat,” leading 107 of 200 laps. Carelli, Chesrown, and crew chief Joe Garone became part of the Truck Series’ inaugural season in 1995, where they ranked 6th in the series standings. Their first win came the following year at Bristol, this time with new sponsor RE/MAX.

Three years later, a second crash nearly took his life.

On May 8, 1999, Carelli was racing at Memphis Motorsports Park. He’d just scored the third win of his Truck Series career the previous month at Mesa Marin, and entered the event sixth in points. On the fifth lap of the Memphis 200, Carelli swerved to avoid a spinning Bobby Hamilton. Carelli cut right at the last minute, but couldn’t avoid contact that damaged his left-front fender. He stayed out on track, but soon after the restart, the fender came down on the tire, causing a serious rub. On Lap 12, as he headed into Turn 3, the tire let go, steering him into the outside wall nearly head-on. The truck rolled to a stop on the apron, incidentally resulting in his third and final Truck Series last-place finish.

Ron Hornaday, Jr. recalled that day in a 2000 interview with the Las Vegas Sun. “I saw Ricky when he hit, and came around the next lap and he wasn't moving. . .When he wasn't moving the third or fourth time, I was real concerned.”

Carelli was rushed to the hospital. Blood was flowing from his ears, which tests showed came from a burst blood vessel in his sinus cavity. He’d suffered a basilar skull fracture, the same injury that in the next two years would claim the lives of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Jr., and Dale Earnhardt. But, miraculously, like Stanley Smith after his wreck in 1993, Carelli never lost consciousness, and lived to tell the tale:

“I remember my wife and pastor Jim Lanning praying over me, and the blood just stopped.”

The accident, however, was too much for Marshall Chesrown. He told Carelli’s wife Cathy that he didn’t want her husband to race again. While Chesrown hired Randy Renfrow as a relief driver for two races, he closed the team in July. That same year, Chesrown sold his dealerships to AutoNation to pursue other businesses, including real estate development. According to The Spokesman-Review, as of 2015, he is dealing with the fallout from a 2013 bankruptcy.

Though he fought double vision, Carelli did return to racing, and did so much sooner than expected. That day came at the Phoenix Raceway, scene of his other serious wreck on Halloween 1992. He was hired by Ed Belec, a high school classmate of Carelli’s, to drive in the Southwest Tour’s Copper World Classic on February 6, 2000. Starting outside-pole, Carelli took the lead on the first lap and never looked back, taking the checkered flag. The return was complete later that month, when he arrived in Daytona to drive Dave Phelon’s #66 Carlin Burners & Controls Chevrolet. That year, Carelli claimed his fourth and final Truck Series win at Richmond and finished 15th in points.

Ultimately, Carelli stepped away from racing in 2004. Ironically, one of his first jobs after his retirement was with Kevin Harvick, Incorporated’s Truck Series team, making him part of another of Ron Hornaday, Jr.’s championship wins. He also mentored Matt Crafton, another of the Truck Series’ most successful drivers. He’s also an inductee of both the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame (2009) and the Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame (2011).

Monday marked Carelli’s 63rd birthday. This Sunday, he’ll climb atop the spotter’s stand for Furniture Row Racing, where he’ll serve as Erik Jones’ spotter for one of Jones’ last starts with the team. As he calls the shots, his thoughts may briefly return to that fourth corner at Phoenix, to the crash in 1992 and his dramatic return eight years later.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #37 since September 28, 1986, when Joe Millikan’s Short Pump Ford lost an engine after 9 laps of the Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro. It was also the number’s first last-place run at Phoenix, to be followed by Jeremy Mayfield (1996), Tony Raines (2009), and Mike Bliss (2014).

THE BOTTOM FIVE
42) #37-Rick Carelli / 1 lap / handling
41) #61-Rick Scribner / 7 laps / engine
40) #8-Dick Trickle / 68 laps / crash
39) #15-Geoffrey Bodine / 69 laps / engine
38) #21-Morgan Shepherd / 85 laps / engine

SOURCES
*Archives. “Carelli got his wish – survival,” Las Vegas Sun, February 24, 2000.
*Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame, “Rick Carelli: 2011 Inductee.”
*1992 Pyroil 500K at Phoenix, TNN
*Racing-reference.info
*Rodman, Dave. “Carelli on the mend in Colorado,” NASCAR Online, reposted at motorsport.com, May 23, 1999.
*Stucke, John. “Marshall Chesrown, bankrupt developer, faces new financial fights.” The Spokesman-Review, May 17, 2015.