Friday, March 30, 2018

PREVIEW: Happy Easter; Texas Articles Coming Next Week

Saturday, April 7, 2018
XFINITY Race 6 of 33
My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jordan Anderson

Sunday, April 8, 2018
CUP Race 7 of 36
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeffrey Earnhardt

Friday, May 4, 2018
TRUCKS Race 5 of 23
Dover 200 at Dover
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Camden Murphy

Following the action in Martinsville, all three NASCAR series will take their yearly off-week for Easter. Cup and XFINITY return in Texas the following week while the Trucks won’t run again until Dover in early May. Entry lists for Texas, as well as LASTCAR’s full weekend preview and #JD70 features, will be available next week.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
When looking over the LASTCAR Reason Out Rankings and seeing “spark plug” come up, you may thing it was from NASCAR’s early seasons, where teams didn’t have enough equipment at the track to make such a simple fix. It’s perhaps surprising, then, that the only time this reason left a NASCAR driver last came on February 15, 1987, during the Daytona 500, and ended the day for none other than A.J. Foyt.

Foyt had a disastrous SpeedWeeks in ’87, having destroyed his #14 Copenhagen Oldsmobile in a brutal Lap 18 crash in Twin 125 Race 1 that saw Tommy Ellis barrel-roll on the apron of Turn 3. While both Ellis and Jim Sauter, also involved in the accident, missed the 500 field, Foyt squeezed into the 41st spot in the 42-car field. He did so in a backup Oldsmobile from Morgan-McClure Motorsports. The yellow Kodak Film Oldsmobile had the sponsors removed in place of Foyt’s Copenhagen and Gilmore brands. A non-conforming “1” was added to the big red “4” on each door while the roof number was replaced completely by Foyt's white "14". Curiously, the original black-and-orange scheme would make an appearance in the race – the scheme was used on Oldsmobile’s “cut-away car” Chris Economaki featured early in the broadcast.

Right after Economaki's segment, Foyt missed pit road twice, then came in with a dropped cylinder, the car trailing smoke. After going back onto the track, Foyt soon called it a day. He took last from Rusty Wallace, who after his own 10 laps burned a piston on his Kodiak Pontiac. In a garage interview with CBS’ Mike Joy, Foyt blamed his crew, saying someone on the team may have left a spark plug wire on the headers, causing the failure. Perhaps for this reason, the results cited it simply as “spark plug.”

Five years later, Foyt would have even more difficulty during SpeedWeeks. In 1992, he wrecked two cars - both his primary Copenhagen Oldsmobile and then, in the Twin 125s, a backup car provided by Richard Jackson's Skoal Classic team. Foyt ended up starting the race in yet another driver's car - Eddie Bierschwale's #23 Oldsmobile - sponsored by, of all things, SplitFire Spark Plugs.

A.J. Foyt's car at Daytona 1987, victim of a "spark plug" issue
PHOTO: CBS

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at North Wilkesboro

"Old Blue" brings #70 to North Wilkesboro for the final time,
April 1991.
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
Second to Rockingham, the North Wilkesboro Speedway was one of McDuffie’s shortest drives, just over two hours north-west of Sanford. 36 times, that drive was followed by another 400 laps on Sunday in the twice-yearly events on the 0.625-mile oval.

McDuffie’s first North Wilkesboro start on April 17, 1966 was also his first of eight top-ten finishes at the track. Driving a 1964 Ford, McDuffie started 29th in the 37-car field and drove all the way to 7th at the finish. The race, which saw Jim Paschal win from the pole, leading 308 of the 400 laps, saw several other owner-drivers also turn in strong runs. Henley Gray picked up his second top-five finish with a 5th. Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott finished 4th, one of the last of his 20 career Top Fives. And, finishing 2nd for the first of seven times in his winless career, came G.C. Spencer.

McDuffie actually drove for Spencer three years later, driving a second 1967 Plymouth #8 alongside Spencer’s #49. In that running of the Wilkes 400, held October 5, 1969, McDuffie finished 12th, 20 laps but just three positions behind Spencer. Spencer’s small operation actually fielded three cars in that race, giving him one-tenth of the 30-car grid. Driving the third Plymouth was fellow North Carolina native E.J. Trivette, who lost an engine and finished 22nd.

McDuffie saw his own share of bad luck at the track, failing to finish just over half of his North Wilkesboro starts (19 of 36). Of those, he finished last four times, tied with Richmond for his most at a Cup Series track. His first last-place run was in his second start on September 29, 1968, when his 1967 Buick lost an engine after just one lap. The second didn’t come until October 3, 1982, a race where Darrell Waltrip led 329 of 400 laps for Junior Johnson. That day, his Mack's Stores Pontiac lost an engine after 9 laps. Number three came October 14, 1984, during another drumming by Waltrip, where McDuffie broke an axle after 21 laps. The fourth on April 5, 1987 turned out to be his final start at the track. As Dale Earnhardt this time did the dominating, leading 319 of 400 laps, another engine let go on the Rumple Furniture Pontiac, this time just 29 laps in.

But there were several good times as well. In the 11 races run from the fall of 1975 through the spring of 1979, McDuffie scored six Top Tens. The trend began with a streak of three in a row, including a track-best 5th in the Gwyn Staley 400 on April 4, 1976. That day, where Cale Yarborough led 364 of 400 laps, McDuffie finished four laps behind Benny Parsons and Bobby Allison, and six behind Richard Petty. Among those in his rear view mirror were Richard Childress, Darrell Waltrip, and Buddy Baker. McDuffie’s final Top Ten, a 6th on March 25, 1979, saw him lead his only laps at the track – the 67th and 68th – lifting him from 13th to 11th in the standings.

The following year, McDuffie gave his son Jeff his first taste of Winston Cup racing at North Wilkesboro. Driving a Buick renumbered #07, the younger McDuffie started 20th in the field and finished 18th. His father broke a cam and nearly finished last, edged for the position by Tommy Houston. Jeff McDuffie made two more starts at the track in the fall of both 1980 and 1982, and each time improved, running 17th in the former and 16th in the latter.

Following his final North Wilkesboro start in 1987, McDuffie attempted six more races at the track through the first part of 1991. His final attempt for the First Union 400 scheduled for April 21, 1991 saw him use the same burgundy Pontiac that he would race in his final start four months later.

Reserve your copy of "J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend" at Waldorf Publishing, coming July 15, 2018. Click here for more details.

Monday, March 26, 2018

CUP: Landon Cassill’s return to Cup ends as the lone DNF at Martinsville

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing
Landon Cassill picked up the 11th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s STP 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #00 USFRA.org / StarCom Fiber Chevrolet fell out with rear gear issues after 211 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Cassill’s 260th series start, was his first of the season and his first in a Cup race since September 9, 2017 at Richmond, sixteen races ago. In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 24th for car #00, the 740th for Chevrolet, and the 17th by reason of rear gear trouble. Across the top three NASCAR series, it’s the 37th for the #00, the 1,584th for Chevrolet, and the 40th by reason of rear gear failure.

Martinsville was the confluence of two underdog stories. The first was StarCom Racing, a partnership between Cope and the StarCom Fiber company which backed much of Cope’s return to racing last year with Premium Motorsports. StarCom was originally scheduled to debut last September at Dover, but it was pushed to Kansas the following month, where handling issues left them last. The team improved somewhat in their next attempt at Phoenix, this time climbing from last on the 40-car grid to finish 32nd.

This year, StarCom announced that they had acquired a Charter from Richard Childress Racing’s shuttered #27 team, driven since 2011 by Paul Menard. The team then signed Jeffrey Earnhardt, who was released from Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group after team co-owners Joe Falk and Curtis Key parted ways. Earnhardt brought with him primary sponsorship from VRX Simulators, which would eventually sponsor the team’s first five races in 2018. The best run for driver and team came in the Daytona 500, where they recovered from damage to finish 21st. However, the team finished no better than 31st in the four races after. Immediately following a next-to-last-place finish last week in Fontana, it was announced that Earnhardt had parted ways with the team.

Early Monday morning, StarCom announced Earnhardt’s replacement would be Landon Cassill. The popular Cassill, the 2015 LASTCAR Cup Series Champion, was the only full-time driver from the 2017 season without a ride this year, having been replaced by Michael McDowell at Front Row Motorsports. The news of his signing for a two-race deal was quickly followed with Ryan Daley’s new paint scheme for the #00, featuring the crest of the U.S. First Responders’ Organization (USFRA.org).

With just 38 drivers arriving for the second-straight spring race in Martinsville, Cassill and his fellow competitors would be locked-into the field. Under a persistent threat of rain and snow, Cassill turned his first 16 laps in the #00 on Saturday morning, ranking 36th ahead of D.J. Kennington’s #95 Gordon Brothers Toyota and Harrison Rhodes in Rick Ware’s #51 Custom Aircraft Cabinets Chevrolet. He then turned another 39 laps in Happy Hour, moving to 35th, besting Kennington and Rhodes again, as well as Sunday’s other returning driver, J.J. Yeley. When the rain then came, ultimately leading to a blizzard, qualifying was cancelled. This ranked him 36th on the 38-car grid as the lowest-ranked Chartered car, ahead of the two Open drivers Kennington and Yeley.

When the snow was cleared on Monday, Yeley lined up last. Making his first Cup start since last August at Bristol, he drove a new green-and-gold car for Premium Motorsports’ #55 Chevrolet, welcoming sponsor Adirondack Tree Surgeons. The car also carried a message on the hood honoring the life of Angela Mary Dean and the cause of overdose awareness.

During the pace laps, Yeley stopped on the backstretch, then rejoined the field as others fell to the rear. The first of these slid back with two laps to green. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., a one-time last-placer in Martinsville, had wrecked his primary car in Turn 3 during opening practice. His backup #17 Fastenal Ford dropped to the rear. Pulling up high in the next corner was 24th-place Michael McDowell, whose team made unapproved adjustments to the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford. Last was Gray Gaulding, whose #23 Earthwater Toyota incurred an inspection infraction.

When it all shook out, Stenhouse was lined up in the final row alongside D.J. Kennington, who was already set to start 37th. McDowell was a row up on the outside with Gaulding in front of him and Yeley to the inside. Working off Turn 4 just before the green, Gaulding jumped to the outside and plummeted back once again. He found a spot in the outside line behind McDowell as Stenhouse and Kennington battled for last. Stenhouse held down 38th at the end of the first lap, but had tremendous difficulty climbing through the field. It wasn’t until Lap 4 that he passed Kennington to take 37th, but Kennington came back two circuits later to bump the #17 back to last.

On Lap 8, Harrison Rhodes had slipped back to 37th, and Stenhouse worked underneath him to once again take 37th. As Rhodes began to lose touch with the tail end of the field, Stenhouse also passed fellow XFINITY Series regular Ross Chastain in Premium Motorsports’ #15 Champion Machinery Chevrolet. As the gap between Rhodes and Chastain stabilized, race leader Kyle Busch caught Rhodes on Lap 24. The next time by, Busch moved under Rhodes off Turn 3, but not without Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr. closing on Busch’s tail. Hamlin took the lead from Busch soon after.

Rhodes was still last on Lap 68 when Darrell Wallace, Jr. made an unscheduled stop in Richard Petty Motorsports’ iconic #43 STP Chevrolet. Wallace was already struggling, sent to the tail end of the field for speeding in two sections on a Lap 52 stop during the competition caution. Reports indicate Wallace then made contact with another car, then had an issue in the right-rear of his car, causing him to nearly collide with J.J. Yeley coming off Turn 4. The crew discovered an issue with the track bar, and sent Wallace back out two laps down, now in last behind Rhodes. Wallace pitted again on Lap 72 and lost another two laps for a total of four. At that point, the crew decided they would bring the #43 behind the wall under the next yellow to make more thorough repairs.

Unfortunately for Wallace, Sunday turned into a green-flag affair, and the next yellow didn’t come until the end of Stage 1 on Lap 131. That time by, Wallace turned hard left at the pit entrance entering Turn 3, stopped, then pulled behind the wall. Now six laps down, it seemed that Wallace would lose many more in the garage. As it turned out, he only lost three more before he re-appeared on pit road on Lap 134, waiting to rejoin the race. On top of it all, Wallace made another stop on Lap 138, only to incur a second tail-end penalty for too many crewmen over the wall. This left Wallace ten laps down, but still running, though for much of the afternoon he pulled to the outside to let faster traffic pass.

With all 38 drivers still running, the last-place battle was far from over, and soon saw two new contenders. The first was Gray Gaulding, whose BK Racing team couldn’t communicate with their driver over the radio. Near the halfway point, the team had NASCAR throw a black flag just to get the #23 onto pit road. Through it all, Gaulding’s lapped machine slipped to last, 14 circuits down to the leader, and one lap behind Wallace on Lap 223. By this point, another car had steered into the garage. This time, it was Landon Cassill.

Cassill was himself laps down to the leaders when he reported an issue somewhere in the drivetrain. The crew tweeted that they were hard at work on repairs, and hoped to return to action. On Lap 225, just two circuits after Gaulding took last from Wallace, Cassill took the 38th spot from them both. The team tweeted that the issue was either with an axle or the driveshaft. In the end, the team cited a rear gear issue which ultimately ended their day. By Lap 316, when the #00 was 105 laps down, FS1’s leaderboard indicated that Cassill was out.

As it turned out, Cassill was the day’s only DNF. The rest of the Bottom Five was filled out by those who also struggled in the race’s early laps. 37th went to Stenhouse, whose backup car never really got up to speed, finishing 19 laps down. In 36th came Gaulding, on the same circuit as Stenhouse. Rhodes finished 35th, one lap ahead of Gaulding and Stenhouse, after he suffered damage and pulled down pit road in the final laps. Wallace could only climb to 34th at the finish, 14 laps down to the leaders and on the same circuit as the battered #6 AdvoCare Ford of Fontana last-placer Trevor Bayne.

Taking the win on Sunday was Clint Bowyer, his first victory in 190 starts dating back to October 13, 2012 at Charlotte. In that time, Bowyer has scored all seven of his career Cup Series last-place runs, the most recent of which last September at Darlington.

As for Cassill, he is slated to run the #00 once more in Texas in two weeks. Reports also indicate that StarCom Racing may debut their second “open” car, a #99 whose number was registered by the team over the offseason.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for both Cassill and the #00 in a Cup Series race at Martinsville.
*This was StarCom Racing’s first last-place finish at Martinsville.
*This was also just the second time in Cup Series history that the Martinsville last-place finisher fell out with rear gear issue as the listed cause. The other time occurred October 22, 2006, when Kevin Lepage’s #34 Oak Glove Co. Chevrolet fell out after 209 laps of the Subway 500. That race marked just the 24th series start for current two-car team Front Row Motorsports.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
38) #00-Landon Cassill / 211 laps / rear gear
37) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 481 laps / running
36) #23-Gray Gaulding / 481 laps / running
35) #51-Harrison Rhodes / 482 laps / running
34) #43-Darrell Wallace, Jr. / 486 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: In just eight laps, Mike Senica starts slow, ignores black flag, stalls, and is parked by NASCAR

PHOTO: @TurnerEdwin
Mike Senica picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday and Monday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #1 Pennsylvania Power Products Chevrolet was parked after 8 of 250 laps.

The finish, which came in Senica’s 12th series start, was his first of the season, and his first since November 10, 2017 at Phoenix, five races ago. In the LASTCAR Truck Series rankings, it’s the 14th for truck #1, the 497th for Chevrolet, and the 3rd where the driver was parked. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 63rd for the #1, the 1,583rd for Chevrolet, and the 7th where the driver was parked.

Senica, the defending LASTCAR Truck Series Champion, has become a center of controversy. The 51-year-old driver from Pennsylvania made the move from the ARCA Racing Series to the Truck Series last year, but was flagged off the track for running too slow in his series debut at Iowa. He made equally-short runs in his following nine starts in Norm Benning’s second truck, the black #57 Chevrolet, yielding his first three last-place finishes. This year, his speed has remained an issue, most notably at Las Vegas, where the leaders had to move up a lane to pass his single truck on the inside.

Vegas marked Senica’s season debut, when he this time drove Jennifer Jo Cobb’s second truck, the #0 Chevrolet. The fact that he drove for Cobb was a bit of a surprise given the many tweets he made over the offseason indicating he would still be driving Benning’s #57 with sponsors including Betty Lou’s and Pennsylvania Power Products (P3), among others. He’d photographed himself in a new uniform with the Betty Lou’s logo and printed out hero cards with the sponsors on the #57. However, reports indicated that Benning was unaware of any of this, and the owner-driver didn’t even enter the #57 until Martinsville. When Benning did, it was with Super Cup Stock Car Series driver Jeff Zillweger and sponsorship from Zomongo. Senica has since re-posted his hero cards with a personal logo covering the “57” on the door.

For Martinsville, Senica would be driving for Tracy Lowe’s single-truck team TJL Motorsports, in part because Jennifer Jo Cobb didn’t field her #0 Chevrolet. At Las Vegas, the #1 shared sponsorship with Beaver Motorsports’ #50 (both with Motorsports Safety Group on their trucks), fueling rumors that the two teams are operating as one, as they did when Lowe and Mark Beaver worked together at MAKE Motorsports. At Martinsville, however, Lowe’s white #1 Chevrolet carried Senica’s sponsorship from P3 Products as primary with Betty Lou’s as an associate. Cowboy Coffee Chews, another brand that Senica indicated would run as a primary over the offseason, has yet to make its 2018 debut.

Senica was one of 36 drivers on the preliminary entry list, but perhaps due to the threat of rain and snow, the list soon shrank. First to withdraw were NextGen Motorsports, which planned to make their series debut with 2003 champion Travis Kvapil in the #35, and NEMCO Motorsports’ second truck, the #87, to be driven by team owner Joe Nemechek. Next was Jeff Zillweger in the Benning #57, who turned 29 laps in Happy Hour but could only manage a top speed of 80.947mph (23.393 seconds), 3.472 seconds off the best lap by Grant Enfinger. This was the only session where Senica wasn’t slowest overall. After not turning a lap in the opening practice, Senica ran a 22.953 in session two (2.930 seconds off pace), then improved slightly to a 22.540 in Happy Hour (2.619 seconds off pace, just over eight-tenths better than Zillweger).

Finally, Senica qualified for the 32nd and final starting spot with a lap of 87.582mph (21.621 seconds). Though an improvement from both practice sessions, he was 1.4 seconds slower than owner-driver Mike Harmon in his #74 Chevrolet. Due to his team’s inferior rank in Owner Points, Harmon was sent home while Senica would start the race.

Under threatening skies, the race began Saturday with Senica last on the grid. He was joined during the pace laps by four other drivers. Both Todd Gilliland’s #4 Mobil 1 Toyota and Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet had made engine changes, Cobb tweeting that she acquired a backup engine from Jay Robinson’s Cup team Premium Motorsports. Josh Reaume had made unapproved adjustments to his #33 R-Coin / Green Heart Partners Chevrolet. And Norm Benning missed the driver’s meeting, dropping his #6 Zomongo / H&H Transport Chevrolet from 30th to the back.

When the race started, Benning took last, and at the end of two laps was already 10.876 seconds behind the leaders. On Lap 3, MRN Radio reported that 29th-place Cobb lost power on the #10, forcing her to pit road and making her the first to lose a lap. At the time, Senica was last, 13.601 seconds back. On Lap 5, the leaderboard showed Senica 16.484 seconds back in 31st with Cobb still not under power. The next time by, Senica was also off the lead lap with a best lap of just 82.867mph (Benning, who was later flagged off the track for going too slow, ran a best of 88.943mph). In the space of two minutes, Senica went down seven laps and took last from Cobb as she returned to action six laps down. This culminated in the day’s most controversial moment on Lap 16 where Senica stalled on the backstretch.

According to Chris Knight, who was listening to radio traffic, Senica had ignored a black flag from NASCAR. Race director David Hoots then shouted “Tell him to turn in, he’s done!” At that point, Senica had completed just eight of the race’s 16 laps. He pulled behind the wall not long before heavy rain ended the day’s action. Senica, Tracy Lowe, and crew chief William Guinade were called to NASCAR’s hauler after the race.

On Sunday, Senica took issue with Knight’s concern with the danger of the driver not running up to speed. Senica’s five-tweet reply, put together in one paragraph, was the following:

“I am very respectful of our constitutional rights, one of them being “freedom of speech”. There are some who abuse this right to boost their ratings to elicit response by racing fans for their own personal benefit! Here are several tweets by Chris Knight and yes it is true Chris and I do not see eye to eye with one another but, I also would like to know when Chris has ever strapped into a race truck or car and actually competed in a NASCAR sanctioned event? I am also like other drivers who do not have millions of dollars at my discretion and cannot pay for rides that are higher priced so we compete with what we have to work with and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that are afforded to me. I am truly grateful to my corporate partners for their support and will continue to provide them with best resources I can. There are many people who will throw shade towards me and I say to them that if you want to "show me up" then go out and obtain a NASCAR license and show me what you got!! Until you sit in the seat, stop playing armchair QB and deal with the fact that I am not going anywhere! Thank you to those who have supported me along the way and my corporate partners for their continued commitment to work with me and trust and believe that I will continue to work just as hard as I have in the past.”

Senica’s was the only truck to not restart the race on Monday morning. The driver has not responded to our requests for an interview.

Finishing 31st on Monday was Norm Benning, for the aforementioned flagging off the track due to his own speed. Cobb’s lapped machine managed to make it up to 29th at the finish before electrical issues and a fire behind her right-front wheel ended her day at 55 laps. Between the two came 30th-place Kevin Donahue, citing brake issues on Mike Mittler’s #63 First Responder Racing Chevrolet. Rounding out the Bottom Five in 28th was Justin Fontaine, his #45 ProMatic Automation / Superior Essex Chevrolet collected in a wreck with Tyler Matthews on Lap 160.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the second year in a row that TJL’s #1 finished last in the spring race at Martinsville. Last year, the finish went to newcomer Bryce Napier. Napier was himself parked after three laps due to smoke in the cockpit. Only one other time has a Truck Series last-place finisher been parked – Casey Kingsland during still another Martinsville race in 2005.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #1-Mike Senica / 8 laps / parked
31) #6-Norm Benning / 35 laps / too slow
30) #63-Kevin Donahue / 49 laps / brakes
29) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 55 laps / electrical
28) #45-Justin Fontaine / 158 laps / crash

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Beaver Motorsports, Copp Motorsports, MB Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (4)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Friday, March 23, 2018

PREVIEW: Several new faces – and some familiar ones – look to make their season debuts at Martinsville

PHOTO: @ryandaleydesign
Saturday, March 24, 2018
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Bryce Napier

ENTRY LIST
There are 36 drivers listed to attempt Saturday’s 32-truck field, meaning that four will miss the show. UPDATE: Down to 34 on Friday after the withdrawals of the #35, #87.

MISSING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Both Mike Senica and Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing’s second truck, the #0, are missing from this week’s list following a brief appearance in Las Vegas. UPDATE: The #0 is still not entered, but Senica will drive the #1 (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-TJL Motorsports
XFINITY Series team owner-driver B.J. McLeod ran 23rd for Beaver Motorsports at Las Vegas, and this week moves to the #1 entry owned by Mark Beaver’s former partner Tracy Lowe. McLeod replaces Tommy Regan, who is not entered this week. UPDATE: As of Friday, Mike Senica is driving this truck with returning sponsors  P3 Products, Inc. and Betty Lou's.

DRIVER CHANGE: #4-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Todd Gilliland prepares to make his seventh Truck Series start this weekend and his first since last fall in Phoenix, when he ran 7th. Gilliland ran last fall’s Truck race at Martinsville, finishing 5th in Busch’s #46. This time he drives the #4 truck in place of Spencer Davis, who ran 13th in Las Vegas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Youngs Motorsports
Martinsville has traditionally been the place where drivers aim to make their debut in NASCAR’s top three series, and Saturday is no exception. First of this group is Charlotte native Reid Wilson. Third in the 2014 X-1R Pro Cup Series standings (the top-ranked driver to not run the entire 12-race schedule), Wilson has most recently made eight starts in the K&N Pro Series East with a pair of 6th-place runs at Greenville-Pickens and New Smyrna his career best. Driving in place of Las Vegas driver Michel Disdier, Wilson’s truck will be sponsored by OEM2 Powered by TruNorth.

WITHDREW: #35-NextGen Motorsports
NextGen Motorsports, which made its XFINITY Series debut last year at Kansas with Josh Berry, will now turn its attention to the Truck Series, bringing with it 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil. The team has entered a year-old Chevrolet and does not as yet have a primary sponsor. UPDATE: This team withdrew on Friday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #50-Beaver Motorsports
With B.J. McLeod driving TJL’s #1 truck, the vacancy at Beaver Motorsports falls to Dawson Cram. Last fall, Cram was preparing to make his series debut at Martinsville, looking to qualify in his family’s #11 Bojangles’ / Fluidyne High Performance Chevrolet. Unfortunately, the engine blew in practice, forcing him to withdraw. Team owner Mark Beaver’s experience in the sport should come in handy, and could give the 16-year-old Cram his series debut.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Kyle Busch’s other hot shoe will be Harrison Burton, who drives in place of Busch himself. Burton makes his Truck Series debut this weekend, his first since this same track last October, when he ran a career-best 4th with this same team. More recently, Burton won the pole for the K&N Pro Series East opener in New Smyrna before finishing 3rd, and on Sunday took the checkers in the Rattler 250 late model race, getting the better of Jeff Choquette.

DRIVER CHANGE: #54-DGR-Crosley
In place of Justin Marks, who earned an 11th-place finish for the team in Las Vegas, 20-year-old Kyle Benjamin will look to make his Truck Series debut. Benjamin has six XFINITY Series starts to his credit driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, including a pair of poles at Pocono and Kentucky and an 8th this past February in Atlanta. The preliminary entry list incorrectly showed team co-owner David Gilliland as Saturday’s driver.

RETURNING: #57-Norm Benning Racing
Norm Benning enters his second truck, the black #57 Chevrolet, for the first time in 2018. However, the truck won’t be driven by Mike Senica, but instead Jeff Zillweger. Zillweger will make a unique jump to one of NASCAR’s top three series, this time from the Super Cup Stock Car Series, a short track circuit with races near his hometown of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. A picture from Benning’s shop shows that Zomongo, which backed B.J. McLeod’s XFINITY Series teams at Daytona, will sponsor the effort.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
There will not be a third-consecutive last-place finish for Scott Stenzel, who is not entered this week, but did drive the Mike Mittler #63 in Las Vegas. In his place at Martinsville is 23-year-old Kevin Donahue, who we last saw in the series finish 29th at Chicagoland last year. If he qualifies, Saturday will be Donahue’s eighth series start.

WITHDREW: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
Joe Nemechek was to drive alongside his son Saturday, but withdrew his #87 on Friday.

RETURNING: #92-Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises
Following a 14th-place finish with David Gilliland in the Daytona 500, Ricky Benton’s Truck Series team aims to make its 2018 season debut. Behind the wheel of the #92 Ford is series veteran Timothy Peters, who we last saw finish 10th for Young’s Motorsports at Homestead last fall. As in the past, the Benton truck will carry several sponsors: BTS Tire & Wheel, Commercial Tire & Service, Advance Auto Parts, Carquest, and Valvoline.

RETURNING: #99-MDM Motorsports
Also looking to make their 2018 season debut is MDM Motorsports, the team which picked up an encumbered win at Michigan last year with Darrell Wallace, Jr. Driving this week is short tracker Tyler Matthews, who seeks to make his Truck Series debut. The Chevrolet will be sponsored by BB&T Scott Stringfellow.

NEW TEAM: #04-Roper Racing
Another new face – and team – this week is Baytown, Texas native Cory Roper, who will run a cherry-red #04 Ford under the banner of his own new team, Roper Racing. The truck will carry sponsorship from Preferred Industrial Contractors, Inc., the same company which has backed Roper’s efforts in Pro Late Models.

CUP INVADERS: None.

Sunday, March 25, 2018
CUP Race 6 of 36
STP 500 at Martinsville
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jamie McMurray

ENTRY LIST
There are 38 drivers listed to attempt Sunday’s 40-car field, marking the fifth-consecutive short field in the 2018 Cup Series season. It will be the second-straight year this number of cars has started this event.

DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
Shortly after his 36th-place finish in Fontana, Jeffrey Earnhardt was released by StarCom Racing. In his place will come Landon Cassill, who was announced early Monday to make his Cup debut. The popular Cassill looks for a fresh start after he was released by Front Row Motorsports at the end of last season. Cassill is slated to run this weekend, and in two weeks in Texas. The team has also tweeted a new paint scheme by Ryan Daley with sponsorship from the U.S. First Responders' Organization (USFRA.org).

DRIVER & MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
The revolving door of manufacturers and drivers at Rick Ware Racing continues with a switch back to Chevrolet and XFINITY Series regular Harrison Rhodes, who we last saw in Atlanta in February. It will be Rhodes’ first-ever start at Martinsville. He takes the place of Timmy Hill, who in Fontana finished 33rd, seven laps down. Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc. returns for a second race as primary sponsor after backing the car at Phoenix.

DRIVER & MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #55-Premium Motorsports
Welcome back J.J. Yeley, who will make his 2018 Cup debut just as Reed Sorenson did in the car last Sunday in Fontana. It will be Yeley's first Cup start since last August at Bristol. Sponsoring the effort is Adirondack Tree Surgeons. The car also will be a Toyota in place of last week's Chevrolet.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Two Open teams will compete in a Cup race for the first time since Daytona. Joining Premium's #55 is the #96 of D.J. Kennington, back from a one-week hiatus following Phoenix. Sunday will mark Kennington’s first NASCAR start at Martinsville. Gordon Brothers Investments, another new sponsor to NASCAR, will back the effort.

Saturday, April 7, 2018
XFINITY Race 6 of 33
My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jordan Anderson

The NASCAR XFINITY Series returns in two weeks for the action in Fort Worth.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Because of their rarity, many strange car numbers only scored a single last-place finish. This is particularly true of combinations of letters and numbers, unheard-of in today’s NASCAR. Car number #J12 earned its lone finish on December 30, 1956 at the Titusville-Cocoa Speedway, a 1.6-mile road course set up on a Florida airport. Just fifteen cars took the green flag, fully one-third of them 1956 Fords belonging to 1925 Indianapolis 500 winner Pete DePaolo. The all-star lineup for DePaolo Engineering consisted of Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Marvin Panch, Ralph Moody, and Joe Weatherly. For some reason, four of these drivers ran identical car numbers (only Panch got a number of his own, the #98), so letters were added. Curtis Turner’s #22 was distinguished from Fireball Roberts’ by listing it as “C22,” the “C” likely for “Curtis.” Joe Weatherly’s “J12” or “Joe 12” was separate and apart from Ralph Moody’s #12. Weatherly ran 17 of the 56 laps before the clutch burned out, leaving him last. It was the first of Weatherly’s five Cup last-place finishes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at Martinsville

PHOTO: John Walczak, Crittenden Automotive Library
J.D. McDuffie’s first start at the Martinsville Speedway came on September 22, 1963. At the time, the Sanford driver was a 24-year-old rookie making just his ninth series start. He was driving his own car, a two-year-old Ford acquired from another team, and carried car #76 in place of his familiar #70. Despite the car’s age, McDuffie parlayed his short track experience into a 26th-place qualifying run in the 36-car field, then fell out after 82 laps with hub failure.

Martinsville proved to be one of McDuffie’s most challenging tracks. In 40 starts there, McDuffie failed to finish 22 times and scored three last-place finishes. The first of those three occurred on September 26, 1971, when his 1969 Mercury broke the rear end after 58 laps of the Old Dominion 500. The race was won by defending series champion Bobby Isaac.

The second occurred on September 28, 1975, when his #70 Butler’s Chevrolet blew an engine after 18 laps. That race saw a first-time winner take the checkered flag – Dave Marcis – who had taken the place of Bobby Isaac in the #71 K&K Insurance Dodge. In time, Marcis would field the #71 himself, becoming another of NASCAR’s ageless owner-drivers.

The third last-place finish didn’t take place until April 26, 1987, a footnote to Dale Earnhardt’s victory in the Sovran Bank 500. McDuffie started 27th in the 31-car field, but his unsponsored Pontiac lost an engine after 21 laps.

McDuffie also participated in at least one qualifying race held at Martinsville. In the late 1960s, heat races were by no means limited to the Daytona 500, but also included the July race at Daytona, Darlington, Charlotte, and Rockingham, among others. Martinsville hosted a 50-lap qualifier on September 27, 1969. The race included the 24 entrants who failed to qualify inside the Top 20 for the 40-car starting grid, meaning that the lowest four finishers would miss the show. Unable to qualify his own #70, McDuffie picked up a ride with Dr. Don Tarr, a Florida physician turned race car driver. McDuffie qualified Tarr’s #0 Chevrolet 7th for the qualifier and finished 5th, more than enough to start Sunday’s race in 25th. Unfortunately, he finished 36th in the main event with a blown engine.

1969 was one of just two occasions where McDuffie drove for another team owner at Martinsville. On October 17, 1982, he after again failing to qualify his #70, Cecil Gordon had him take his place in the #24 Buick. McDuffie ended up turning in one of his best runs at the track that day, climbing from 30th on the grid to finish 15th, 78 laps behind race winner Darrell Waltrip.

Though McDuffie never led any of the 11,839 laps he completed at Martinsville, he did score five Top Tens. His track-best were a pair of 9th-place runs. The former, held on April 28, 1974, was dominated by Cale Yarborough, who led 360 circuits and lapped every driver except runner-up Richard Petty. The other, on April 24, 1977, was another trouncing by Yarborough and the Junior Johnson-led team, pacing 243 of 384 laps in a rain-shortened event. McDuffie’s best overall performance at the track came two years later, when he started 10th and finished there, seven laps down. That same day, Richard Petty scored his 15th and final Martinsville win.

McDuffie’s final green flag at Martinsville came on September 27, 1987. That day, his Rumple Furniture Pontiac lined up 27th in the 31-car field and managed to climb up to 17th by the checkered flag, 42 laps down. Among the drivers who finished behind him were polesitter Geoffrey Bodine, Ricky Rudd, Benny Parsons, Rusty Wallace, and last-place finisher Buddy Baker, out with brake trouble. Darrell Waltrip took the win that day, his first in Rick Hendrick’s Tide-sponsored Chevrolet.

McDuffie attempted to make four more Martinsville races, one each year through his final season in 1991, but failed to qualify each time. Regardless, his career total of 40 Martinsville starts ranks high in series history, ahead of such drivers as Buddy Baker (39), Matt Kenseth (36), Tony Stewart (34), and David Pearson (28), and just four fewer than Bobby Allison and Dale Earnhardt (44).

Reserve your copy of "J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend" at Waldorf Publishing, coming July 15, 2018. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

K&N WEST: Iwuji takes first damage DNF of career

PHOTO: @Jesse_Iwuji
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Jesse Iwuji picked up the fifth last-place finish of his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West career in Thursday’s Bakersfield 175 presented by NAPA Auto Parts after his #36 Perfect Hydration / Patriot Motorsports Group Chevrolet crashed out after completing 78 laps.

The finish was the first for Iwuji since the 2016 NAPA / Toyota 150, when he finished three laps down under power, 24 races ago.

Iwuji is making a mark larger than his profile in the NASCAR community. The son of African immigrants, Iwuji grew up in Texas. He starred in football and track in high school, and attended the United States Naval Academy because it was simply the best option to further his football career. While in Maryland, he discovered drag racing and founded the Red Line Group after he returned from deployment, Iwuji founded The Red List Group, a drag racing group centered in Southern California, where he is currently stationed as a Naval Reservist.

Iwuji’s stock car career started at Irwindale Speedway in 2014. He ran the Whelen All-American Series weekly tour the following year and also made his K&N West debut, an ill-fated effort at Evergreen Speedway resulting in a DNS. The following year, Iwuji and his Patriot Motorsports Group team (PMG) made a full-season effort, yielding a best finish of tenth at Orange County Speedway and a tenth place finish in points.

Before the start of the 2017 season, Iwuji met former All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman at a California fashion show. Merriman came on as owner of Iwuji’s #36 entry and also supplied financial backing with his apparel company Lights Out. Midway through the year, Perfect Hydration came on as Iwuji’s first longstanding sponsor, a partnership that has continued into this year. PMG has expanded, too, sometimes bringing three or four cars to the track for drivers like Will Rodgers, John Wood, Stafford Smith, and Dan Phillippi.

In 2018, Iwuji and the PMG corps took three cars to Daytona in February for the ARCA Racing Series test. Iwuji and Belgian driver Jerry de Weerdt wound up running the race, with the former falling out with a punctured oil cooler. Iwuji has another six ARCA races planned in 2018, focusing on tracks a mile and a half in length and larger. Another full K&N West slate is also on tap.

Twenty-three cars comprised the initial entry list, including five from PMG. Absent were mainstays on last year’s tour Todd Gilliland, Nicole Behar and Julia Landauer. While Gilliland is now competing for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, while no plans have been announced for Landauer or Behar.

Qualifying last on Thursday was Salvatore Iovino, one of PMG’s five drivers. Originally scheduled to run the full 2018 Truck schedule with D.J. Copp and his Copp Motorsports team, Iovino revealed on his driver comments section on Racing-Reference.info that family problems halted his West effort midway through 2017. A consequence of that, according to the driver, was that he was not able to gain Truck approval for the coming year. Expect a full-time effort in the K&N Pro Series East as well as a few West and ARCA races mixed in for 2018.

Iovino’s lap was a 20.886, three-tenths behind the next-slowest driver, PMG development driver Andrew Tuttle, and more than two and a half seconds off of polesitter Kevin Harvick’s lap. Unfortunately, a lack of live communication hindered tracking the last-place battle as to make it impossible. Luckily, due to Twitter, we can draw a clearer picture. According to Iwuji’s Twitter account, @Jesse_Iwuji, an attempted pass gone wrong was to blame for the crash. A question to Iwuji tweeted by the author revealed that Iwuji was trying to make it around Takuma Koga’s #11 machine on the inside when contact with Koga resulted in further damage to the left front of the Iwuji machine, leaving it done for the night.

Longtime competitor Todd Souza, who gave Ryan Reed a K&N West test all the way back in 2013, fell victim of a single-car spin after 89 laps to finish 22nd. Kody Vanderwal, a returning PMG driver, retired after losing a motor fitting during the second race break. He had showed promise, running in the top ten all night. Koga returned to the track to finish forty-three laps down, and Tuttle rounded out the Bottom Five, finishing twenty laps down.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
23) #36-Jesse Iwuji / 78 laps / crash
22) #13-Todd Souza / 89 laps / crash
21) #43-Kody Vanderwal / 128 laps / overheating
20) #11-Takuma Koga / 132 laps / running
19) #39-Andrew Tuttle / 155 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR K&N PRO SERIES WEST OWNER’S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Patriot Motorsports Group (1)

2018 LASTCAR K&N PRO SERIES WEST MANUFACTURER’S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)

Monday, March 19, 2018

CUP: Against long odds, Kevin Harvick once again avoids first Cup Series last-place finish; Trevor Bayne endures “hardest crash I’ve ever had in my life”

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard
Trevor Bayne picked up the 6th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his #6 Performance Plus Motor Oil Ford was involved in a hard single-car accident after 108 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Bayne’s 171st series start, was his first of the season and his first since September 4, 2016, following an engine failure during the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington.

In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 32nd for car #6, the 680th for Ford, and the 561st by reason of a crash. Across the top three series, it’s the 57th for the #6, the 937th for Ford, and the 1,131st by reason of a crash.

Bayne, the 2011 winner of the Daytona 500, has continued to struggle in Roush-Fenway’s flagship team. While there have been flashes of brilliance – a pair of Top Fives in each of his last two seasons, he’s fallen well short of a spot in the Playoffs, finishing 22nd in the points both years. With his lone teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. enjoying a breakout 2017 with a pair of restrictor-plate wins, Bayne is not only still looking for that elusive second Cup victory, but also the consistency to earn a spot in NASCAR’s postseason.

Coming into Fontana, Bayne had shown some marked improvement. Other than Atlanta, where a late-race engine failure left him 35th, Bayne had finished a season-best 13th in the Daytona 500, followed by a pair of back-to-back 20th-place showings in Las Vegas and Phoenix, yielding a 21st-place rank in points. For the following race in Fontana, longtime sponsor AdvoCare (celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018) would be replaced by Performance Plus Motor Oil, a company which joined the Roush effort at Sonoma in 2016.

Bayne ran 28th among the 37 entrants in Friday’s opening practice and was fortunate to be one of the 24 drivers who managed to get through inspection quick enough to take time in qualifying. Bayne ran 15th of the 24 who ran in Round 1. In Round 2, he placed 13th, coming just eight-hundredths of a second short of bumping Brad Keselowski for a place in Round 3. With a qualifying lap of 184.743mph (38.973 seconds), Bayne would have his best starting spot since he rolled off 12th last fall at Homestead. The car continued to show speed against the full field in Saturday’s practices: he ran 20th in the morning session, then 22nd in Happy Hour.

Starting last in Sunday’s field was Cole Whitt, who returned to driving TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet for the first time since Las Vegas, two races ago. This time around, he carried backing from local car dealership SoCal Chevy. Owner Points ranked Whitt’s team lowest of the 13 drivers who were unable to get through inspection and, curiously, he was also last in line in the inspection cue during Round 1. Another four drivers didn’t turn a lap in Round 2: Front Row Motorsports teammates David Ragan and Michael McDowell, BK Racing’s Gray Gaulding, and Reed Sorenson, making his season debut in the return of Premium Motorsports’ Open car. Sorenson’s #55 Chevrolet didn’t have a primary sponsor, but carried associate backing from the LowT Centers and Champion Machinery, sponsors of Ross Chastain’s #15 with Premium’s Charter.

As the cars rolled off pit road, outside polesitter Kyle Busch pulled his car to the apron of Turn 1, then rejoined the field. Kasey Kahne followed suit, stopping his own #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet from the 34th spot just past the exit of pit road. Kahne stayed there for several seconds and only caught the tail end of the field at the conclusion of the first pace lap. Pre-race penalties were handed out to Gray Gaulding and Alex Bowman, who changed engines, to Michael McDowell for a rear gear change, and to Daniel Suarez, who wrecked his primary car when he snapped loose on the exit of Turn 2 in opening practice.

Bowman, McDowell, and Suarez didn’t spend much time in the back as other cars also voluntarily fell to the rear. On the next pace lap, Whitt was still in the back, this time alongside Sorenson, who surrendered his 24th-place starting spot. With one lap to green, Gray Gaulding pulled high in Turn 1 to let traffic pass, at which point both Ross Chastain’s #15 and Rick Ware’s #51 Bubba Burger Toyota for Timmy Hill had done the same as well as Jeffrey Earnhardt in StarCom Racing’s #00 VRX Simulators Chevrolet. When it all shook out, Earnhardt was lined up last with Sorenson, Hill, Gaulding, Whitt, and Chastain occupying the next five spots.

Jeffrey Earnhardt (center) about
to be lapped by race leader
Kyle Busch (center right)
on Lap 14
On the break, Earnhardt and Sorenson raced each other side-by-side into Turn 1, but Sorenson got the drive off Turn 2, dropping the #00 to last by Turn 3. Earnhardt gradually lost ground to the back of the field, and by the sixth lap he trailed the trio of Sorenson, Hill, and Gaulding by open track. On the 14th circuit, race leader Kyle Busch caught Earnhardt in Turn 1, then moved high to pass him, the first driver to lose a lap. By the 24th lap, Earnhardt had moved from the middle to the high lane, but was still losing positions. That time by, 27th-place A.J. Allmendinger worked his way past. Three circuits later, after pitting with the rest of the field, Earnhardt was a second lap down.

Earnhardt was still in 37th when the day’s most dramatic moment occurred on Lap 37. It involved Kevin Harvick, who came into Sunday’s race looking for his fourth win in a row. Coming down the backstretch, Harvick locked fenders with Kyle Larson, steering Harvick’s #4 Busch Beer Ford hard into the outside wall with the right-front of his machine. Harvick veered to the inside, the rear TV panel peeled away from the rear clip, and somehow managed to avoid running into the inside barrier. Even with NASCAR’s “Crash Clock” extended to six minutes, it looked unlikely that Harvick would be able to run any further. If he did, with Earnhardt and the rest of the field still running, the result would have been Harvick’s first-ever last-place run in a Cup points race, dating back 615 starts to his series debut at Rockingham one week after Dale Earnhardt’s passing in 2001.

Harvick did, however, manage to drive to pit road, where the crew began patching up the car. Several large silver patches of tape were added to the right-rear, holding the TV panel in place, while crews addressed the heavy damage to the right-front. Radio transmissions indicated that the toe-end was knocked out more than an inch and a half. Combined with the aerodynamic damage to the front valence, this would prove devastating at any track, particularly a downforce track like Fontana. Harvick returned to the track under yellow, then made a second stop for additional repairs. He lost two laps in the bargain, taking last from Earnhardt on Lap 43, and was rolling down pit road when the race restarted.
Harvick returns to the track after his first pit stop following
Lap 37 accident

Surprisingly, Harvick’s car still showed enough speed to contend with the tail end of the field. On Lap 45, just two laps after rejoining the field, he passed Earnhardt for position, dropping the #00 back to last. By Lap 54, when Earnhardt lost a third lap, Harvick was passing more cars, running interference to keep himself from losing another lap. Harvick re-took last from Earnhardt on Lap 65 when the crew made more repairs under the caution at the end of Stage 1, adding black tape to the silver already used. The crew instructed Harvick to repeat his previous restart, waiting for the restart to rejoin the field at the back of the pack. At this point, Harvick was now five laps down to the leaders, and another half-lap behind the tail end of the field. But, once again, he caught up. On Lap 75, he caught and passed Earnhardt, though this time it wasn’t for position as the #00 was two circuits ahead. As Earnhardt continued to struggle for speed, however, he slowly fell into Harvick’s clutches once more. On Lap 92, following another round of green-flag stops, Earnhardt was now six laps down to Harvick’s seven.

Bayne (center) pulls behind the wall on Lap 111
It wasn’t until Lap 109 that Trevor Bayne entered the last-place picture. During the green-flag stretch that preceded it, Bayne was locked in a tight battle with teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., his #6 holding the high lane. On that 109th circuit, just as Paul Menard came down pit road, Bayne’s car apparently cut down a tire and slammed the outside wall between Turns 3 and 4. The car ground to a stop, then rolled down the banking and drove down pit road. Bayne spoke with his crew, saying “That’s the hardest hit I’ve ever had in my life.” He also hinted at a possible concussion, saying he didn’t know how he drove the car down pit road, but was conscious enough to warn his crew that he didn’t have any brakes. The car stopped in his stall and the crew briefly worked on repairs. The crew chief told Bayne to shut the car off, and on Lap 110 had Bayne drive to the garage. The next time by, on Lap 111, Bayne re-fired the engine and drove down a couple stalls to the next garage entrance, the first car to pull behind the wall. He was 32nd at that moment, two laps down. He took last on Lap 115.

36th fell to Earnhardt, who was once again passed by Harvick not long after Bayne’s caution. Earnhardt finished 11 laps down to race winner Martin Truex, Jr., and news soon broke that he had been released from StarCom Racing, to be replaced by Landon Cassill. Harvick not only passed Earnhardt to take 35th, but came home two laps in front of Earnhardt and managed to finish under power. Seven other times, Harvick has finished next-to-last in a Cup Series race, including on July 2, 2016 when he was collected in a multi-car pileup at Daytona, only to be classified one spot ahead of last-placer Chris Buescher on the same lap. Sunday’s finish, though two spots away from last, may have been his closest escape yet.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Sorenson and Hill, both seven laps down with their cars intact. Sorenson stood out a little more on Lap 94, when he came off pit road with chrome rims identical to those once used by Michael Waltrip Racing.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #6 in a Cup Series race at Fontana. Both the car number and team won at the track once before when Mark Martin took the checkers on May 3, 1998.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
37) #6-Trevor Bayne / 108 laps / crash
36) #00-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 189 laps / running
35) #4-Kevin Harvick / 191 laps / running
34) #55-Reed Sorenson / 193 laps / running
33) #51-Timmy Hill / 193 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Ford (2)
2nd) Toyota (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Engine trouble leaves Mike Harmon with his first series last-place finish in three years

PHOTO: @hrmn8ter
Mike Harmon picked up the 15th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Roseanne 300 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his #74 Chill by Koolbox / Shadow Warriors Project Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after 6 of 150 laps.

The finish, which came in Harmon’s 250th series start, was his first in an XFINITY Series race since April 10, 2015, when he lost an engine after 2 laps of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas. As with Saturday, that finish was his first in nearly three years, dating back to June 16, 2012 at Michigan.

In the LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings, Saturday was the 10th for car #74, the 497th for Chevrolet, and the 251st by reason of engine failure. Among the top three series, it’s the 49th for the #74, the 1,582nd for Chevrolet, and the 1,053rd by reason of engine failure.

Saturday was a historic moment for Harmon, the 60-year-old driver from Alabama. Not only was it his 250th XFINITY Series start, but also the 200th XFINITY start for his owner-driver operation, Mike Harmon Racing. It was at the same Fontana track on February 25, 2008 that Harmon made his first XFINITY start as an owner-driver, then campaigning a #84 Chevrolet sponsored by M-150 Energy Drink. Harmon started 40th that day and finished there, exiting nine laps in with handling woes.

The two cars finishing behind Harmon that day belonged to MSRP Motorsports, whose drivers Scott Lynch and Larry Gunselman pulled off the track after five and three laps, respectively. MSRP, owned by Phil Parsons and Randy Humphrey, was widely regarded as one of NASCAR’s most notorious “start-and-park” operations. In 121 combined starts, the team’s cars never finished a single race, never finished better than 35th, and cruised to the 2009 LASTCAR XFINITY Series title with driver Johnny Chapman. With Harmon’s team also running near the back of the field, it’s been tempting to consider his program a “start-and-park.” But this overlooks the marked progress the team has made over those 200 starts.

On April 26, 2008, in only his team’s seventh series start, Harmon finished 17th at Talladega, the first time his own car finished under power. He matched that finish at Daytona in 2013, the same year Kevin O’Connell wheeled one of his black #74 Chevrolets to a 22nd-place finish at Road America. The team also started to decrease their DNF count, from 18 in 2014 to 12 in 2015, and 10 in 2016, all the while qualifying for a larger number of races. Harmon has also helped fill fields in the Truck Series, helping out fan favorites Tommy Joe Martins and Jordan Anderson, among others.

Harmon’s team has gathered a number of associate sponsors, and has also joined another racer and business partner, Jennifer Jo Cobb, in supporting several military foundations. On any given weekend, members of the armed forces can be found following the #74 team in the garage area, bringing further attention to backers like SupportMilitary.org, Hearts For Heroes, and last year a partnership with Veterans Motorsports, Inc. The Shadow Warriors Project, a foundation to improve the lives of wounded vets, joined Harmon’s team at Daytona.

Through it all, Harmon’s team has outlived MSRP Motorsports, which was absorbed by Premium Motorsports in 2015.

Since the closing months of the 2013 seasons, Harmon has fielded Dodges for most of his starts, even long after the manufacturer pulled out of NASCAR. But after his Dodge failed to qualify for this year’s Daytona opener, Harmon has only fielded Chevrolets. Following another DNQ at Atlanta, Harmon started 38th at Las Vegas, then finished 31st, followed by a 35th-place run at Phoenix. He looked to close out the “West Coast Swing” with a better finish.

At Fontana, Harmon began the weekend second-slowest in the opening practice session on Friday, just under three seconds faster than fellow owner-driver Morgan Shepherd. He improved to 37th in Happy Hour, besting both JP Motorsports teammates Josh Bilicki and Stephen Leicht despite running only three laps. He turned in the slowest lap in qualifying with a lap of 163.741mph (43.972 seconds), but ended up 39th in the field of 40 when Las Vegas last-placer Dylan Lupton’s first qualifying lap in the #28 thinQ Technology Partners Ford ended when he spun and backed into the outside wall.

On Saturday, Lupton incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for the backup car, but quickly picked his way through the field, making his way into the mid-20s after Stage 1. Ultimately, Lupton would be felled by engine trouble on Lap 111, leaving him 33rd. By that point, Harmon had already become the day’s first retiree, citing engine trouble of his own. Harmon was adamant in tweets after the race that he did not “start-and-park,” but had actually encountered problems under the hood. Incidentally, it was also Harmon’s first bottom-five finish of the season.

39th went to LASTCAR record holder Jeff Green, whose #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet exited four laps later with brake trouble. 12 circuits after that came Morgan Shepherd’s #89 Visone RV Chevrolet, citing suspension issues. Finishing 37th was Matt Mills, who drew the first caution of the afternoon when his #15 Flex Glue Chevrolet for JD Motorsports made contact with the outside wall on Lap 33, ending his afternoon. Motorsports Business Management’s Chad Finchum rounded out the Bottom Five with engine trouble on Carl Long’s #40 Smithbilt Homes Toyota.

If you’re a fan who would like to support Mike Harmon, he has some merchandise available for pre-order at this link.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #74 in an XFINITY Series at Fontana since March 26, 2011, when Harmon’s #74 Riverwalk CafĂ© Chevrolet had a vibration after 3 laps of the Royal Purple 300.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #74-Mike Harmon / 6 laps / engine
39) #93-Jeff Green / 10 laps / brakes
38) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 22 laps / suspension
37) #15-Matt Mills / 29 laps / crash
36) #40-Chad Finchum / 45 laps / engine

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (2)
2nd) JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Ford (2)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Friday, March 16, 2018

PREVIEW: Premium’s #55 returns, Gaunt Brothers’ #96 missing on Fontana entry list

PHOTO: Prudential Overall Supply
Saturday, March 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 5 of 33
Roseanne 300 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jordan Anderson

ENTRY LIST
There are exactly 40 drivers entered to attempt this Saturday’s 40-car field, meaning that all entrants will start the race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Austin Dillon steps in for brother Ty Dillon this Saturday in a #3 Chevrolet sponsored by Red Kap and Prudential Overall Supply. Ty finished 13th last week in Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Fontana will see the season debut of Ryan Preece, last year’s Iowa winner, as he takes the controls of Joe Gibbs’ flagship #18 driven last week by Kyle Busch. It will be Preece’s first XFINITY start at the track since 2016, when he finished 25th for JD Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Following Brad Keselowski’s win last Saturday in Phoenix, Cup teammate Joey Logano drives the #22 this weekend. Logano and Dillon are the only Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s race, improving the odds for the series regulars.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-John Hunter Nemechek
John Hunter Nemechek makes his second career XFINITY start on Saturday, following a sterling 4th-place run last month in Atlanta. It will be Nemechek’s first race on the Fontana track, where his father Joe won the first Cup Series pole in 1997.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Austin Dillon, #22-Joey Logano

Sunday, March 18, 2018
CUP Race 5 of 36
Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeffrey Earnhardt

ENTRY LIST
There are 37 drivers entered to make the 40-car field, the fourth-consecutive short field in 2018 and the third with just one Open team entered. It is the shortest Cup field in the history of the Fontana track, two cars fewer than the previous record of 39 in the last two runnings.

UPDATE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Bubba Burger, which backed the Ware team in 7 races last year, returns to sponsor Timmy Hill this weekend. The team has also stuck with the new number font that debuted last month at Atlanta with Harrison Rhodes.

RETURNING: #55-Premium Motorsports
Fontana sees the return of Premium Motorsports’ Open team, two weeks after Joey Gase gave the car a 32nd-place finish in its season debut. Sponsorship for the #55 Chevrolet is still to be announced, though the entry list has Reed Sorenson listed as driver. It will be Sorenson’s first start of 2018 after running 28 races for Premium last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Corey LaJoie’s second engine failure in as many starts this season will be followed with Cole Whitt back in the #72. Whitt, who finished 28th in both his starts in 2018, has a track-best finish of 18th in the 2014 running, when he drove for Swan Racing. SoCal Chevrolet is listed as the car’s sponsor.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
D.J. Kennington earned a quiet 31st-place finish last Sunday in Phoenix, finishing three laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick. The team is not entered this weekend. Given their 2017 schedule, expect GBR to return next month at Talladega the latest.

Saturday, March 24, 2018
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Bryce Napier

The Truck Series returns next week at Martinsville for the first short track race of the 2018 NASCAR season.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
The first XFINITY Series race at Fontana was held on October 19, 1997, four months after the first Cup race, and during a weekend shared with the Camping World Truck Series. Finishing last that day was Johnny Chapman, the very first of his career. That day, Chapman was driving a second car belonging to Phil Parsons, who at the time was running the full season in his #10 Channelock Chevrolet. Chapman drove the #0 with sponsorship from Bowl Fresh and Honeywell, but turned just three laps before the engine let go. In his career, Chapman would go on to score 13 more XFINITY last-place finishes, including the 2009 LASTCAR XFINITY title. In that 2009 season, Chapman again drove for Phil Parsons and co-owner Randy Humphrey under the banner MSRP Motorsports.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at the Ontario Motor Speedway

PHOTO: Getty Images
Less than seven miles west from the Auto Club Speedway, where NASCAR runs this weekend, is the site of the Ontario Motor Speedway. Nothing remains of the track today other than the roads that once formed a rectangle around the property. The Citizens Business Bank Arena dominates what would have been the infield of the 2.5-mile Indianapolis-style oval. Even a small park named for the track sits about one block west of where Turns 3 and 4 actually were.

“The Big O” hosted nine Cup Series races from 1971 through 1980. And, though the track was 2,481 miles west of tiny Sanford, North Carolina, J.D. McDuffie made the long drive each year. He qualified for all nine races, and never once finished last there.

In the inaugural race, held February 28, 1971, McDuffie entered a two-year-old Mercury, the marque he would run for most of that season. After radiator trouble in his 125-mile qualifier knocked him out of the Daytona 500 field, McDuffie arrived in California with new sponsorship from the T.D. Welker Construction Company. He qualified 42nd in a tremendous 51-car field – no small accomplishment, since another 30 drivers failed to qualify. He finished 35th when the engine let go short of halfway.

McDuffie’s best Ontario finish came on November 24, 1974, when his 1972 Chevrolet climbed from 25th to finish 10th in a race won by Bobby Allison. McDuffie finished nine laps down to Allison, on the same circuit as Richard Childress, who lost an engine in the final laps. McDuffie came just short of a second Top Ten two years later, this time coming one lap short of taking 10th from the late Bruce Hill. Again, McDuffie was nine laps down, this time to race winner David Pearson. Among the drivers McDuffie beat that day were Bobby and Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, and last-place finisher Darrell Waltrip, out with engine failure.

McDuffie’s own engine let go in three of his nine Ontario starts, though in all but the inaugural race, he completed more than half distance of the 200-lap, 500-mile marathon. In 1979, he made it 104 laps into the Los Angeles Times 500, ending a day where he’d qualified a respectable 20th.

The final running of the Los Angeles Times 500, won by Benny Parsons on November 15, 1980, saw McDuffie qualify 31st in his Bailey Excavating Chevrolet. This time, he closed within six laps of the winner to finish 14th. He was also second among owner-drivers that day, four positions behind Buddy Arrington in an old Petty Enterprises Dodge. It was on that same day that Dale Earnhardt scored his first of seven Winston Cups, having edged Cale Yarborough by 19 points thanks to a 5th-place finish. It was also the first title for his crew chief, Doug Richert, who was just 19 at the time.

Reserve your copy of "J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend" at Waldorf Publishing. Click here for more details.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

CUP: Two starts, two engine failures, two last-place finishes for Corey LaJoie in 2018

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon, The Racing Experts
Corey LaJoie picked up the 4th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500 at the ISM Raceway when his #72 Schluter Systems Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after 23 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 36th series start, was his second of the season, his first since the Daytona 500, three races ago. In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 14th for #72, the 739th for Chevrolet, and the 678th by reason of engine failure. Across the top three series, it’s the 29th for #72, the 1,581st for Chevrolet, and the 1,052nd by reason of engine failure.

This year, LaJoie is sharing TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet with Cole Whitt, who drove the car full-time in 2017. Following LaJoie’s brief Daytona run, Whitt ran 28th at both Atlanta and Las Vegas, each time five laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick. The ISM Raceway would see the return of both LaJoie and sponsor Schluter Systems, which followed the driver from his tenure at BK Racing.

LaJoie began his Phoenix weekend 33rd in Friday’s opening practice session and kept that same spot in qualifying with a lap of 130.378mph (27.612 seconds). The car still struggled for speed in Saturday’s practice sessions, running 35th in the morning and 33rd in Happy Hour.

Starting last on Sunday was Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose sponsor VRX Simulators agreed earlier in the week to sponsor StarCom Racing’s #00 Chevrolet through the conclusion of the “West Coast Swing” next Sunday in Fontana. Earnhardt was the only driver to turn a lap in qualifying as he slapped the outside wall on his first circuit, forcing him to a backup. Joining him at the rear were Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., also sent to a backup after his own first-lap misadventure in Friday’s opening practice, and D.J. Kennington, back with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the first time since the Daytona 500, with a tire change on his #96 Northern Provincial Pipelines Toyota.

Jeffrey Earnhardt got a slow start at the green, and was already gapped by more than a second on the very first lap, 5.8 seconds back of the leader. By the fifth circuit, he was 13.2 seconds back, and on Lap 12, was running completely by himself. At the start of the 15th lap, Earnhardt moved high as race leader Kyle Larson moved past, putting him the first car one lap down. Larson caught LaJoie on Lap 24 – just in time for the #72 to erupt in smoke in front of him. LaJoie pulled to the inside, then made it into the garage, and several caution laps were needed to clean up the oil. He took last from Earnhardt on Lap 26, and the team rolled the car to another part of the garage a few minutes later. When LaJoie was six laps down, the car was pulled off RaceView, and listed officially out soon after.

Finishing 36th was Paul Menard, whose #21 Menards / Dutch Boy Ford broke coming off Turn 2 and backed hard into the outside wall. Jeffrey Earnhardt made it to 35th, finishing under power despite an extended stay in the garage area on Lap 234. 34th went to Atlanta last-placer Gray Gaulding, his #23 Earthwater Toyota eight laps down. Two laps in front of Gaulding in 33rd was Timmy Hill, making his season debut in Rick Ware Racing’s #51. The Ware team brought a red Chevrolet to the track, and on Saturday debuted new sponsorship from Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #72 in a Cup Series race at Phoenix since November 12, 2006, when Brandon Whitt’s only Cup start ended with rear end trouble 123 laps into the Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
37) #72-Corey LaJoie / 23 laps / engine
36) #21-Paul Menard / 189 laps / crash
35) #00-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 292 laps / running
34) #23-Gray Gaulding / 304 laps / running
33) #51-Timmy Hill / 306 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Jeff Green swaps rides at RSS Racing, exits early at ISM Raceway

PHOTO: Joshua A. Hill, The Racing Experts
Jeff Green picked up the 104th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s DC Solar 200 at the ISM Raceway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 18 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 484th series start, was his second of the season and his first since Atlanta, two races ago. In the LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings, it’s the 29th for car #93, the 496th for Chevrolet, and the 52nd by reason of brake issues. Across the top three series, it’s the 79th for car #93, the 1,580th for Chevrolet, and the 150th by reason of brake trouble.

Early last week, Ryan Sieg at RSS Racing announced that Jeff Green would be swapping rides at Phoenix, moving teammate J.J. Yeley to his #38 with sponsorship from Superior Essex. Green, in turn, would drive the #93 with which he scored ten last-place finishes in 2017. Green’s car carried a gray carbon fiber paint scheme to his teammates’ black cars, reminiscent of Sieg’s Code Rum sponsored car at Daytona.

Green didn’t participate in Friday’s opening practice, but jumped to a strong 19th in Happy Hour, beating Yeley by three-thousandths of a second and Ryan Sieg by more than two tenths. Green also came just short of making Round 2 in qualifying, falling just seven-hundredths short of 24th-place Alex Labbe. Green’s lap of 128.742mph (27.963 seconds) would put him 25th on the grid.

Starting 40th on the grid was Daytona winner Tyler Reddick, who like Jeffrey Earnhardt in Cup qualifying, hit the wall on his timed lap and was unable to post a time in his #9 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Chevrolet. Reddick’s backup car was joined at the rear by Cole Custer, his #00 Haas Automation Ford sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments, and the #1 Cessna / Beechcraft Chevrolet of Reddick’s teammate Elliott Sadler, whose team changed engines after one let go in a small fire during practice.

Jeff Green was the first driver behind the wall, retiring during the opening 26-lap green-flag run. When the red flag fell for rain on Lap 47, NASCAR.com’s leaderboard listed Matt Mills 39th in the #15 Flex Shot Chevrolet. However, by that point, David Starr had lost the motor on Jimmy Means’ #52 Whataburger Chevrolet. Mills returned to the track at least 30 laps down, only to be eliminated in a crash on Lap 84. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Morgan Shepherd, out with brake trouble on his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet, and Chad Finchum, who lost the engine on Carl Long’s only composite-body car, the green-and-gold #40 Angry Crab / Mohawk Market Toyota.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the second-consecutive last-place run for car #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Phoenix, following Gray Gaulding’s early electrical problem with the same team last November.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #93-Jeff Green / 18 laps / brakes
39) #52-David Starr / 24 laps / engine
38) #15-Matt Mills / 54 laps / crash
37) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 56 laps / brakes
36) #40-Chad Finchum / 104 laps / engine

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (2)
2nd) JGL Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, RSS Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Ford (2)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Friday, March 9, 2018

PREVIEW: A driver-sponsored car and a returning team stand out on ISM Raceway entry list

PHOTO: @GauntBrosRacing
Saturday, March 10, 2018
XFINITY Race 4 of 33
DC Solar 200 at ISM Raceway (Phoenix)
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jordan Anderson

ENTRY LIST
There are exactly 40 drivers entered to attempt this Saturday’s 40-car field, meaning that all entrants will start the race.

DRIVER SWAP: #0, #15-JD Motorsports
Johnny Davis has once again changed his driver lineup for this weekend with Garrett Smithley moving from the #15 to the #0 and Matt Mills from the #0 to the #15.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
In the first of several Cup drivers swaps in the XFINITY Series, Ty Dillon returns to the seat of the #3 in place of brother Austin, 12th in Las Vegas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Brad Keselowski goes from the broadcast booth to the driver’s seat, replacing teammate Ryan Blaney, who ran 4th last week.

DRIVER SWAP: #38, #93-RSS Racing
Per the RSS team's Twitter on Tuesday, Jeff Green and J.J. Yeley have swapped rides. Yeley will drive the #38 with returning sponsorship from Superior Essex. Green will move to the #93. Ryan Sieg remains in the team's primary car, the #39.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Jamie McMurray will make his first XFINITY Series start since 2013 as he takes the place of teammate Kyle Larson in the #42 DC Solar Chevrolet.

UPDATE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
In addition to landing sponsor Koolbox for this weekend, Harmon's team tweeted Thursday that he has signed a multi-race deal with Horizon Trabsport to back both his XFINITY and Truck Series efforts.

MISSING: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
After back-to-back withdrawals without drivers listed, B.J. McLeod has not entered his third car, the #99 Toyota, this weekend.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Ty Dillon, #18-Kyle Busch, #22-Brad Keselowski, #42-Jamie McMurray

Sunday, March 11, 2018
CUP Race 4 of 36
Ticket Guardian 500 at ISM Raceway (Phoenix)
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeffrey Earnhardt

ENTRY LIST
There are 37 drivers entered to make the 40-car field, marking the third-consecutive short Cup field this season. It’s the shortest Cup field at Phoenix, breaking the previous record of 39 set in the last two spring races. This track once hosted as many as 44 starters in the 1995 and 1996 runnings.

UPDATE: #32-Go FAS Racing
After driver Matt DiBenedetto tweeted on Tuesday morning that his #32 didn’t have a sponsor for Sunday’s race, several drivers including Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Darrell Waltrip pledged funds to the team. According to Chris Knight, all three, along with SS Green Light Racing sponsor Grunt Style, will be associate sponsors on the #32. The team's press release indicated Zynga Poker then signed as primary sponsor, Enlisted Nine Fight Company as secondary, and Pit Stops For Hope as another associate backer. All will have a place on a white Ford with black numbers the team prepared for Sunday. DiBenedetto looks for a good run on Sunday to follow-up his solid 22nd-place performance in Las Vegas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
After fielding cars for the Cup debuts of XFINITY regulars Harrison Rhodes (Atlanta) and Cole Custer (Las Vegas), Ware originally listed Justin Marks, the 12th-place finisher in this year’s Daytona 500. On Wednesday, that changed to Timmy Hill, who made nine starts for Ware in the first 12 races of 2017 before moving to Motorsports Business Management. As of this writing, the #51 does not have a sponsor. UPDATE: By Saturday, the car carried primary sponsorship from Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc.

MISSING: #55-Premium Motorsports
Both the second Premium Motorsports car and driver Joey Gase, who last week climbed from last on the grid to 32nd, are not entered this week. Gase will continue his XFINITY effort on Saturday, driving Go FAS Racing’s #35 Donate Life Arizona / Sparks Chevrolet. Premium’s primary #15 LowT Center Chevrolet will again be driven by Ross Chastain following finishes of 30th and 29th in the last two races.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Following back-to-back 28th-place runs by Cole Whitt, Corey LaJoie returns to TriStar for the first time since his last-place finish in the Daytona 500. LaJoie finished 38th and 31st in last year’s Phoenix races driving for BK Racing.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Gaunt Brothers Racing returns for the first time since their 24th-place performance in the Daytona 500 for their Cup effort’s first non-superspeedway start. The team’s driver, D.J. Kennington, will return to the scene of his Cup debut in November 2016, when he ran 35th for Premium Motorsports. Then as now, the sponsor on his Toyota will be Northern Provincial Pipelines.

UPDATE: #00-StarCom Racing
Jayski reported on Wednesday that VRX Simulators, which joined the #00 team in the Daytona 500, has extended its partnership with driver Jeffrey Earnhardt through this weekend's race at ISM Raceway, as well as next week in Fontana.

Saturday, March 24, 2018
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Bryce Napier

The Truck Series is off for two weeks and will rejoin the circuit in Martinsville at the end of the month.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
The only time a NASCAR driver finished last because of a “fuel leak” occurred August 11, 1963, when owner-driver Lewis V. “Possum” Jones suffered that issue during the Wester North Caorlina 500 at the Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. The 29-year-old Jones, then competing in his eighth partial season on the tour, lined up 13th in the 27-car field, but fell out after just eight laps. It was the second and final last-place run of Jones’ career, which ended two years later. As of this writing, car #05 hasn’t finished last in a Cup race since October 19, 1980, when Bill Elswick’s #05 Performer Boats Oldsmobile crashed nine laps into the American 500 at Rockingham.