Sunday, April 29, 2018

CUP: After Sorenson returns to action, Kyle Larson gives #42 first Talladega last-place run since 1972

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,
Kyle Larson picked up the 4th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 71 of 188 laps.

The finish, which occurred in his 157th series start, was his first on the circuit since November 12, 2017 at Phoenix, 11 races ago. In the NASCAR Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 22nd for car #42, the 564th by reason of a crash, and the 743rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 33rd for the #42, the 1,137th by reason of a crash, and the 1,591st for Chevrolet.

Following his most recent last-place run at Phoenix, Larson finished a strong 3rd at Homestead, serving notice that he would again contend for the title in 2018. This year, following a 19th-place showing in the Daytona 500, Larson has missed out on victory lane, but has shown similar consistency. He finished 3rd at Las Vegas, wrestled 2nd from Kyle Busch late in the race at Fontana, and appeared headed to a dominant victory at Bristol before Busch repaid the favor with just six laps to go. With another strong short track run last week, a 7th at Richmond, Larson entered Talladega 10th in the standings.

Larson began the weekend 17th in Friday’s opening practice, then joined Darrell Wallace, Jr. in not participating in Happy Hour. The session’s fastest speed belonged to Larson’s teammate Jamie McMurray, who tangled with him at the end of the Richmond race. Moments later, McMurray’s #1 DC Solar Chevrolet blew a rear tire and flipped six times, collecting both the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet of Ryan Newman and Ty Dillon’s #13 GEICO Chevrolet. McMurray, Dillon, and Newman would be sent to the back on Sunday, all of them for backup cars. Larson, meanwhile, ran 22nd in Round 1 of qualifying with a speed of 190.943mph (50.151 seconds).

Starting last on Sunday was Aric Almirola, whose #10 Smithfield Ford had one of the rear brakes drag during qualifying, sending him into a spin in Turn 1. Repairs led to Almirola being incurred a redundant tail end penalty along with the backup machines of McMurray, Dillon, and Newman, as well as Chase Elliott, who changed tires on the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Daniel Suarez in a backup #19 ARRIS Toyota.

Before these cars could shuffle positions on the pace laps, all of them had to drive around the #41 Monster Energy / Haas Automation Ford of Kurt Busch. Busch had radio trouble, forcing the crew to swap out both his helmet and the steering wheel. The swap took nearly two full pace laps. Busch returned to the track and resumed his spot alongside polesitter and teammate Kevin Harvick.

As the field took the one to go signal at the start/finish line, Ty Dillon was the first to fall to the rear, followed by McMurray, Newman, and Suarez. Down the backstretch, Ross Chastain voluntarily surrendered his 35th starting spot in the #15 Chevrolet. When the race started, Chastain was lined up with the #51 Keen’s Buildings / Race to Erase Opioids Chevrolet of Timmy Hill. The field stacked up near the back, forcing Hill to pull out of line on the inside. This caused Hill to lose touch with the pack in Turn 1, even when he linked up with Chastain’s teammate Reed Sorenson in the #55 TCL Television Chevrolet. By the end of Lap 2, Hill and Sorenson were both losing touch with the pack, and Chastain fell behind in 38th by Lap 6. Three circuits later, every driver in the Bottom Ten, leading up to 31st-place Ryan Newman, had broken up into groups of one or two cars apiece, all of them losing ground to the leader’s single-file pack.

Hill remained in last during the opening green-flag run, and was already in danger of losing a lap on the 12th circuit. That time by, many of the leaders came down for their first round of stops, allowing Alex Bowman to inherit the lead. Bowman caught and passed Hill and Sorenson entering the tri-oval on Lap 13, pulling to the inside to lap them. Two laps later, the pair moved ahead of Clint Bowyer, who took 40th on Lap 15. Bowyer’s #14 Haas Automation Demo Day Ford was forced to make a second stop when, according to FOX, Bowyer flat-spotted the right-rear tire coming down pit road. Bowyer returned to action two laps down and, by Lap 19, found a spot in line between Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher, both near the back of the main pack.

Sorenson's #55 goes behind the wall.
PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,
As Bowyer got back up to speed, Sorenson lost touch with Hill and pulled his car onto the apron. On Lap 21, Sorenson’s #55 was now three laps down, and the driver reported a problem with something behind the right-front wheel. He pulled into the garage that time by, and the crew set to work, first looking over the tie rods. On Lap 23, Sorenson’s car disappeared off RaceView, but repairs continued. On Lap 29, the crew reported the car’s toe end was off, and that a spring on the suspension may have come off when the car was dropped off the jack on pit road. Another spring was added by Lap 32, but by Lap 45, they were still in the garage, looking over the steering box. On Lap 53, the team was just about ready to return to the track. Sorenson sounded concerned, saying over the radio “As long as you’re okay with going back out. We’ll ride by the wall in case something breaks.”

On Lap 54, Sorenson re-appeared on RaceView as he returned to the track 36 laps down. But by the end of Stage 1 on Lap 56, he was back on the apron, saying the car wouldn’t turn. On that lap, Sorenson returned to the garage a second time, his car once again disappearing off RaceView. There, Sorenson continued to lose laps as the race continued without an accident for 71 laps.

Larson towed behind the wall after time expired.
PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,
Larson didn’t enter the last-place picture until Lap 72, when his teammate once again found trouble. This time, Jamie McMurray was running on the outside of Erik Jones’ #20 XYO Network Toyota when Jones lost control, sliding into McMurray, who clipped the #6 AdvoCare Ford of Trevor Bayne to his outside. The contact sent Bayne into the wall and McMurray to the inside, where he sideswiped a passing Larson. Larson spun down the track and slammed the inside wall with the right-rear of his car. Under the caution, Larson managed to drive his battered machine back to pit road, where he was put on the six-minute “Crash Clock.” Larson took 39th, but was briefly passed for the spot on Lap 75 was Bayne’s #6 was loaded on a flatbed and brought to the garage. When Larson’s six minutes ran out and the #42 went behind the wall, however, Larson re-assumed 39th place from Bayne, now 37th, with Jones ranked 38th.

On Lap 74, during this same caution, Sorenson brought the #55 back on the track a second time, now 54 laps down to the leaders. He trailed the field when the race restarted on Lap 79 and continued to run by himself for the rest of the race. If all things stayed the same, and Sorenson ran the race to completion, he would pass Larson, Jones, and Bayne for position in 48 laps.

As the race wore on, Sorenson tried his best to stay out of trouble. On Lap 92, he pulled low on the backstretch as the leaders sped by, putting him another lap down. On Lap 103, he tried to latch on to a three-car pack trailed by Timothy Peters, making his Cup debut in the #92 Advance Auto Parts / NTS Tire & Wheel Ford. Unfortunately, Sorenson couldn’t keep up, and the pack disappeared around the next corner. Sorenson was still rolling on Lap 110, the end of Stage 2. At the time, he was 56 laps down to the leader, but now just 18 circuits from climbing past the three wrecked machines. Finally, on Lap 128, Sorenson passed Larson, Jones, and Bayne, securing Larson the last-place finish.

Sorenson continued on for another seven laps before he pulled behind the wall for a third and final time, securing 37th. At the time, no other driver was more than 13 laps behind the leader (the damaged #1 of Jamie McMurray). It was a redemption of sorts for Premium Motorsports, one week after a similar effort by Sorenson’s team got the #55 back out at Richmond after early trouble, but still remained in last place. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Hill, whose #51 blew an engine on Lap 156.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #42 in a Cup Series race at Talladega since May 7, 1972, when singer-songwriter turned racer Marty Robbins’ run in the #42 1972 Dodge was disqualified for allowing his restrictor plate to come loose during the race.

40) #42-Kyle Larson / 71 laps / crash
39) #20-Erik Jones / 71 laps / crash
38) #6-Trevor Bayne / 71 laps / crash
37) #55-Reed Sorenson / 79 laps / suspension
36) #51-Timmy Hill / 151 laps / engine

1st) Premium Motorsports, TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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