Saturday, April 21, 2018

CUP: Sorenson’s last-place finish marks fifth time in four seasons that Premium Motorsports overcomes early mechanical gremlins

PHOTO: John Harrelson, LAT Images,
Reed Sorenson picked up the 16th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond Raceway when his #55 Chevrolet fell out with electrical problems after 188 of 402 laps.

The finish, which came in Sorenson’s 294th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup Series race since May 7, 2017, just under one year ago, at Talladega. In the NASCAR Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 47th for car #55 (breaking a tie with the #19 for the second-most in series history), the 742nd for Chevrolet, and the 36th by reason of electrical trouble. Across the top three series, it’s the 60th for the #55, the 1,589th for Chevrolet, and the 114th for electrical trouble.

2018 marks Sorenson’s 14th season on the Cup Series tour. A member of the stacked 2006 Rookie of the Year class, the Georgia native has driven for the likes of Chip Ganassi and Richard Petty, served as a relief driver for Brian Vickers at Team Red Bull, and has driven for no less than eleven underfunded and single-car Cup operations. In the last eight seasons, Sorenson has finished no better than 14th and run just one full season, when he closed out Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #36 team in 2014.

Midway through 2015, Sorenson landed at Premium Motorsports, which longtime XFINITY Series car owner Jay Robinson had formed out of several shuttered teams, including LASTCAR contenders Identity Ventures Racing (former NEMCO Motorsports) and Phil Parsons Racing. When the Race Team Alliance’s new Charter system was instituted in 2016, Sorenson’s Premium-prepared #55 was entered as an “Open” team, filling the one remaining available spot after a series of short 39-car entry lists. This year, as the fields grew shorter still, Premium brought the team back at Las Vegas. Sorenson currently shares the ride with Joey Gase and J.J. Yeley.

Richmond would mark Sorenson’s fourth start of the season in the #55, following back-to-back DNFs including a late-race accident at Bristol that destroyed the rear clip. The Richmond car was either the repaired Bristol machine or a near-identical copy of it. The door and roof numbers of the black Chevrolet were changed from the Michael Waltrip Racing-style digits at Bristol to the same font used on teammate Ross Chastain’s #15 Chevrolet, which finished last that afternoon. For the second-straight race, Sorenson carried primary sponsorship from, a site geared toward arranging fan experiences and sponsorship packages.

With the Cup field still sitting at just 38 entrants for 40 spots, Sorenson and the rest of the drivers would start Saturday’s race. Sorenson himself began the weekend searching for speed, running next-to-slowest ahead of Harrison Rhodes in the opening practice, then improving just one spot in Happy Hour, besting Rhodes and Chastain. Chastain gapped Sorenson in qualifying, ranking 30th while Sorenson sat 37th with a lap of 119.745mph (22.548 seconds).

Rhodes started last in the #51 prepared by Rick Ware Racing. The XFINITY Series regular managed to keep pace in last Saturday’s Bristol race, but like Sorenson and Chastain, was eliminated in a crash. With the team’s Toyota now in need of repairs, Rhodes instead drove the team’s Chevrolet, though with the same backing from Industrial Construction Experts, Inc. The car struggled for speed early, falling 16 seconds behind the leader by Lap 12 and was lapped soon after.

Sorenson, meanwhile, had issues with the #55 from the start. According to his radio transmissions, the car almost didn’t fire on the grid. The issue re-appeared by Lap 23, when the now-lapped #55 pulled behind the wall with reports of a fuel pressure issue. By the time Sorenson entered the garage and parked near the Turn 4 side of the paddock, he’d promptly taken last from Rhodes, and was losing laps by the second.

Since Premium’s acquisition of Phil Parsons Racing in 2015, the team had faced this scenario no less than four times. Three of those times – twice with Timmy Hill and once last year with Gray Gaulding – the #55 failed to complete the opening lap, and had to spend several laps behind the wall for repairs. But in each case (the other being Derrike Cope’s run at Fontana in 2017), the team managed to get the car pieced back together. Only one time in those five – Hill’s snake-bitten run at Michigan in 2015 due to an oil leak – did the team fail to climb out of last place.

And so, for much of the race’s first half, the Todd Parrott-led crew set to work trying to get the #55 back on the track. Radio transmissions indicated the crew was looking to cannibalize parts from the team’s backup car. The team looked at the fuel system, but on Lap 86 reported that the engine wasn’t turning over. The crew then looked to replace the battery, and spent several laps looking for a new one. By Lap 96, attention turned to the starter, which was also replaced while the fuel cell was inspected. The work was completed by Lap 111, during which time the right side tires had been removed and re-secured. On Lap 120, the crew pushed the car out of the garage toward the exit at Turn 2. There, on Lap 122, Sorenson returned to the action, exactly 100 laps down.

Unfortunately for Sorenson, Saturday’s race took on a long green-flag look for most of its distance, its first 354 laps slowed only by the yellows at the end of Stages 1 and 2. The next-to-last-place runner of Harrison Rhodes was still on track along with the rest of the field, and was just 11 laps behind when Sorenson returned to action. Thus, if no one else retired by the 300-lap mark, it would be impossible for the #55 to gain any more spots. This ended up being the case. On Lap 297, Sorenson pulled behind the wall once more, and the crew packed up for the night. The #55 disappeared from RaceView on Lap 303.

Finishing 37th was Ryan Newman, the night’s only other retiree. Newman was involved in the second of four cautions that fell in the race’s final moments, his damaged #31 Childress Vineyards Chevrolet spraying oil around the track. The finish cost Newman a spot in the Top 16 in points, joining 16th-ranked Paul Menard, who finished a disappointing 24th. Rhodes took home 36th, coming home 16 laps behind race winner Kyle Busch. In 35th was Gray Gaulding, who on the preliminary entry list was reported to welcome back as sponsor. Instead, his #23 Toyota welcomed not one, but two new food-related backers – Hibachi Box and Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Landon Cassill, who despite finishing just three laps down could climb no higher than 34th in Derrike Cope’s #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Sorenson and the #55 in a Cup Series race at Richmond since April 24, 2016, this same race two years ago, when Sorenson finished under power, 10 laps down in the Toyota Owners 400.
*This is only the third time a Cup Series last-placer retired due to electrical issues. The other two occurrences were J.J. Yeley on April 30, 2011 and Scott Speed on April 28, 2012.

38) #55-Reed Sorenson / 188 laps / electrical
37) #31-Ryan Newman / 368 laps / rash
36) #51-Harrison Rhodes / 386 laps / running
35) #23-Gray Gaulding / 393 laps / running
34) #00-Landon Cassill / 397 laps / running

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

1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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