Saturday, May 19, 2018

CUP: Reed Sorenson becomes first repeat Open last-placer since 1998

PHOTO: John Harrelson, LAT Images
Reed Sorenson finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #55 Internetwork Engineering Chevrolet finished under power and on the lead lap at the conclusion of the 50-lap event.

The finish marked Sorenson’s second last-place finish in the Open. The other occurred in 2016, where he also finished under power in Premium Motorsports’ #55, then sponsored by World Record Striper Company and Hauling Bass. With the finish, Sorenson becomes just the third driver in the history of the Open to finish in the event more than once, joining Trevor Boys (1985, 1986) and Andy Hillenburg (1996, 1998).

Sorenson reprised his role in Premium’s #55, which he’d driven in seven races this season, including each of the last six. His best finish of the year came just last Saturday in Kansas, where he ran 27th. As with previous preliminary entry lists, the #55 was listed as a Toyota, but arrived as an identical black Chevrolet to teammate Ross Chastain’s #15. The cars further resembled themselves by race day as each shared sponsorship from Internetwork Engineering. Sorenson’s car ran without sponsors in practice.

Sorenson didn’t turn a lap in Friday’s opening practice, and a washed-out qualifying session meant he’d start 20th in the 21-car starting field, ranked by Owner Points. Starting last would be the only other “open team” in the starting field – Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota for Timmy Hill, which debuted a brand-new black-and-purple wrap from debuting sponsor SentinelOne.

At the start of Saturday’s Open, Hill hugged the inside lane in a door-to-door battle with Sorenson. The #55 lost ground off Turn 4, dropping Sorenson to last. Though a gap opened between the two drivers, Sorenson began to catch Hill on Lap 6, caught him on Lap 8, then fell back again on Lap 10, when he was now 17 seconds back of the leaders. The rubber band effect continued for the rest of Stage 1: Sorenson caught Hill again on Lap 15 as the pair closed on Landon Cassill’s #00 Dairi-O Chevrolet. Sorenson worked over Hill on Lap 17, but the #66 held him off at the Lap 20 end of Stage 1.

Alex Bowman took the Stage 1 win in the #88 Axalta Chevrolet and transferred to the All-Star main. His 20 laps complete technically classified him last in the 21-car field.

Among the 20 remaining starters, Cassill briefly took last under the ensuing yellow when his car was the last off pit road. Hill retook it seconds later, followed by Kansas last-placer Ty Dillon, who had a long pit stop in the #13 GEICO Chevrolet. The tail end of the field shuffled once more coming to one lap to go with Cassill and Chastain running in the final row.

When Stage 2 began, Chastain lost touch with the pack as it pulled away in front of him. By Lap 23, Chastain had caught up to Sorenson, beginning a friendly battle between teammates. Chastain worked high in the corners while Sorenson ran low until the #15 made it by both Sorenson and Hill. By Lap 26, Sorenson was last and once again was catching up to Hill. This time, he made it by, passing him low off Turn 4 on Lap 31. Sorenson held off Hill to the end of Stage 2 on Lap 40, but Sorenson lagged back down the backstretch.

Daniel Suarez took the Stage 2 victory in the #19 ARRIS Toyota, classifying him 20th in the final running order as he transferred to the All-Star Main with Bowman.

Once again, Ty Dillon had a long pit stop on the #13. The field lapped him under yellow, but since the laps didn’t count, he left pit road with one to go on the same circuit as the leaders. This time, Dillon incurred a penalty for too many men over the wall, sending him to the back of the field.

Sorenson pulled behind Dillon for the restart on Lap 50, and this time held the last spot from wire to wire in Stage 3. Sorenson remained in the tire tracks of Timmy Hill, and this time was two carlengths behind the #66 as the pair crossed the stripe.

A.J. Allmendinger took the win – his third in the Open - and was soon joined by Fan Vote winner Chase Elliott – his third in a row.

Omitting Stage 1 and 2 winners Bowman and Suarez, the Bottom Five from 19th on up consisted of drivers who all completed the entire 50-lap distance. Behind 19th-place Sorenson and 18th-place Hill was Ross Chastain, who held down 17th. B.J. McLeod took 16th for Rick Ware Racing in the #51 Prefund Capital Chevrolet, the driver returning to the team after his Cup season debut at Kansas. Rouning out the group was defending Open last-placer Corey LaJoie in TriStar Motorsports’ unsponsored #72 Chevrolet.

*Sorenson is the only driver to finish last under power in the Open and the only driver to finish last in the #55.

19) #55-Reed Sorenson / 50 laps / runnning
18) #66-Timmy Hill / 50 laps / running
17) #15-Ross Chastain / 50 laps / running
16) #51-B.J. McLeod / 50 laps / running
15) #72-Corey LaJoie / 50 laps / running

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