Friday, June 22, 2018

INTERVIEW: "Hollywood" Tomy Drissi looks to close the gap in Sonoma return

Drissi's StarCom Racing entry in inspection at Sonoma
PHOTO: Brock Beard
After speaking with StarCom Racing team owner Derrike Cope this morning, we caught up with the team's driver Tomy Drissi after the first two practice sessions. While he ranked last in both sessions, the driver said he was closing the gap in final practice, and is ready for the next step in his first Toyota / Save Mart 350 since 2014.

DRISSI: “You know, getting back in one of these cars after years like this, it’s a change, you know? We were in a Trans-Am car here a couple weeks ago here and Indy last weekend, and you know, we’re real fast, a 2nd and a 3rd, you know, now you come out here and it’s, you know, four, 500 pounds of weight, half the size of the tire, and you know, don’t have the brakes that those other cars have, so I thought I’d already be ready for that in my head and obviously, these guys are all amazing. Everyone – all [38] cars here won a championship in everything, in something, including me, but I did it in sports cars. These guys did it in these big cars. So, just trying to figure out what to do.”

“Also, I’m not the best communicator when it comes to these cars, so we may have come out of the trailer decent and I may have talked myself into a slower car, you know? But that’s the only way to learn is to make some changes. So, you know, Derrike (Cope), Alicia, and all the boys and girls on this team, they’re working their heart off, just working so hard, trying to get me a fast car. And I think I just told them, you know, I can find another second, but they need to find me a little bit more of a comfortable car. It seems a little loose on the high speed stuff and over here, man, those Esses and that last corner is pretty quick. That second-to-the-last corner is pretty quick. And it’s just a little unnerving when that back end steps out like that. So, I’m just honored to be here with the best drivers and best teams in the world.”

DRISSI: “I mean, when you talk about a Trans-Am car, it’s probably one of the best road course cars in the world without driver aid. So, what I mean by driver aid is like NASCAR – no traction control, no ABS brakes, not that much downforce. But those are silhouette-bodied pretty much prototypes, you know? And they’re some of the most amazing cars to drive. And so are these, you know, I mean these things you’ve gotta hang on to the wheel, you’ve gotta muscle it around, and you know, I think we maybe we might – we went on a couple, we went on a sticker run, and I think that, and me not knowing the cars very well, I may not be good for those first two, three laps. And that’s where you’re seeing these good times come. But they looked at the times after a lot of the drivers got to Lap 10 to 15 and I really closed-up the gap a lot there, so that might be my road course experience to be able to run with older tires better. And anybody who knows racing, you’re only on good tires for two laps, you’re on old tires for the rest of the stint, which is about another 28 laps.”

DRISSI: “Yeah, we almost had a big movie on here, but GoShare, they’ve been taking care of me in Trans-Am. The owner of the Trans-Am team I drive for, he’s a partner in GoShare, and it’s a great company – it’s Uber for trucks. You know, so trucks, moving, and all that stuff. When I heard about it – sometimes you take your little Mini Cooper to a Home Depot, or what’s Jimmie Johnson a plug here (looks over at 48 pit) Lowe’s, and you bring your little Camaro or Corvette to one of those places and you just buy too much – well, you can’t stuff everything in the car. So, you can call GoShare, they’ll come over right there like an Uber, pick up your stuff, and take you home.”

DRISSI: “I’m in negotiations with a couple of movies coming – coming soon. So, a couple big blockbusters coming, so I’ll have a few big movies on my cars this year. I can’t say which ones yet because I don’t want to jinx it, but thanks for remembering. You know, all the boys and girls in Hollywood, they’ve supported me in racing for a long time. I mean, we had Wolverine here, we’ve had the Ice Age car, that was great, we had Hercules. We’ve had a lot of great movies. We had Spongebob Squarepants. I think somebody called me and said they want me in the Guinness Book of Records because I think they said I marketed over 80 movies on race cars and they say that’s more than any other team, movies, combined since the history of racing (laughs). So, hey, you know what? Thanks to all the fans, you know, I got a lot of support here, a lot of guys saying hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You coming over here to say hello, I appreciate it.”

INTERVIEW: Parker Kligerman averts near-disaster at the end of final practice at Sonoma

Parker Kligerman had never before seen the Sonoma Raceway before he stopped at the track on his way to the hotel Thursday night. This Sunday, he'll make his first Toyota / Save Mart 350 driving the #96 Toyota fielded by Gaunt Brothers Racing. In the closing stages of Friday's second practice session, Kligerman's car unexpectedly stopped near pit entrance, and Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, and Cole Whitt narrowly avoided a collision. We caught up with Kligerman after that session.

KLIGERMAN: “Dude, I was coasting around and I didn’t hear anything about him really coming, I looked up in my mirror and saw him coming – I was coasting because we were on a mock run, it was 280 degrees so I was trying to keep the engine cool – and he’s just suddenly in my mirror so I darted to the inside to get out of his way and I guess I hurt his lap. He shoved me all the way to the right and I looked in the mirror and see it’s pretty clear so I just darted left, but the engine didn’t re-fire at the same time. Yeah, it was a bit of a calamity, and I’m just glad nobody got messed-up. Probably my fault entirely, like every facet of it, but it was just a comedy of errors that happens when you’re trying to get out of the way on a hot race track and, you know, I didn’t have any info he was coming, so I just kind of had to react, so I did.”

KLIGERMAN: “Solid. I felt we could’ve been – man, I just didn’t get everything on our mock run which was on new tires, and I only got one new tire run. So, I felt like I left easy like almost half a second on the track, and I confirmed it because I was on old tires at the end and on two-lap tires I was able to go the same speed. So, you’ve gotta think that’s at least half a second in just tires because they fall off so quickly. So, good speed and race runs we were decent, we’ll look at the averages now and see where we stack up. But, you know, for this team, young team, myself never being here – I’ve never even seen this place – we’re doing good things. We didn’t put up the big number on the board there, but they pay more tomorrow and obviously on Sunday. And I think obviously there’s a lot for me to learn – I’m just doing the best that I can as quickly as possible so I can learn it.

KLIGERMAN: “You know, I would love us to be Top 25. You know, if we could do that, we’re killing it, and we’d be beating some solid cars. And, you know, first practice we were like 28th, 29th, and we beat some good cars and I think some guys who’ve been here or at least are running the K&N race and I’m not getting any of that. So, I was pretty pumped about that. And then we got into this practice and I just didn’t get it all on that mock run and we fell back a little bit. But we get Top 25 and then run there in the race, I’d be really happy.

KLIGERMAN: “Yeah, you know, I thank everyone here at Gaunt Brothers Racing for giving me these opportunities these last two weeks. You know, it’s funny because, you know, doing the truck stuff part-time (for Henderson Motorsports) is going so well and obviously winning the race and running up front, and I think we can win a lot more races up there in that 75 truck, and probably should’ve won Dover this year. And I’ve come over here and it’s like starting back at square one (laughs). I feel like at times ‘damn, there’s so much to learn.’ So, it’s really tough. Cup is Cup. You’d think some of these back teams aren’t prepared, but they are, they do this for a living, so it means everything to them and so they race like it and prepare like it. So, you know, it might not look very impressive in the outside world, but it’s very hard. So, I think I have a massive appreciation for, you know, this part of the garage in Cup and Cup in general, but I’m getting better. So, hopefully, they’ll give me some more chances trying to get better.

INTERVIEW: Trevor Bayne preparing for Sonoma return

Bayne with Michael McDowell
before practice.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
We spoke with Trevor Bayne as he prepared to get in the #6 AdvoCare Rehydrate Ford. Sunday will mark his fourth-straight Sonoma start, but his first in Cup since May 6 at Dover. In the four races since, Matt Kenseth has driven the Roush-Fenway Racing entry with a best of 13th at Michigan.

BAYNE: “Complete all the laps again (laughs). Just take care of the car. We’ve done good at that. Last year, we overheated really bad – every time someone would run off the track, they’d throw grass up and get caked-up in our grille. So, hopefully that problem is resolved and we can have a good day. I feel like our road course program’s come a long way. Finished Top 10 at Watkins Glen a couple years ago and had some good runs here so we’re gonna keep working on it, go out and try and get a Top 15 this weekend.”

BAYNE: “No testing – just watched video and study data and do all the normal stuff, so that’s all you can do.”

INTERVIEW: Derrike Cope on StarCom Racing's progress, Tomy Drissi, and the second half of 2018

I spoke with Derrike Cope on Friday morning as the #00 GoShare Chevrolet went through inspection before opening practice at the Sonoma Raceway. The car will be driven this weekend by Trans-Am competitor Tomy Drissi, who last ran the NASCAR event here in 2014.

COPE: “You know, I’ve known Tomy for a long time. Done some testing with him and driver development and he’s just a friend. So, we called him and talked to him about putting together a deal to come here and run Sonoma and it’s just kind of a home week for me. I like having him around, he’s a proficient road racer, so we’re gonna have some fun this weekend.”

COPE: “No, it was actually – I got Tomy on board first and then he worked with some things to try and put the funding together to support it. But yeah, it’s really about Tomy and our program here. I’m excited about our owners’ first opportunity, it’s a brand-new team, and their first opportunity to be here at Sonoma, so Matt and Mike Kohler, Bill Woehlemann (owners of StarCom Fiber), and Ashley-Marie Monica (Team Adviser), they’re just four great people we have on this team and I think they’re gonna enjoy having Tomy around this weekend.”

COPE: “Yeah, I think we’re looking into having some discussions, you know, just taking one race at a time, you know, just trying to get through here and we’ll see how things go and see what he feels like how the equipment runs, and we’ll explore opportunities from there.”

COPE: “I think it was a bit slow at the beginning just trying to get our legs under us. But we’ve come a long way in a short period of time. Certainly, Landon Cassill’s been very, you know, condusive to our program and trying to get us to where we have a stable fixture in the seat and some good input. And I think we’ve made some in-roads in the suspension and the geometry side of the cars and finding some of the deficiencies we’ve had with some flexing and rear brake and chasses and so we’ve rectified those things and I think we’ve kind of found some footing, some solid footing, and we’re being relatively consistent right now. So, obviously the road courses are an anomaly and different scenarios, so we’ll get through this one here and see how we fare.”

“But looking forward to getting the second half of the year going – obviously Daytona is looming and we’ll have good opportunity to have good feedback down there with ECR engines. So we’re excited and we’ll see how the second half of the year starts to stack up. But right now, I’d have to say we’re doing relatively well. We’ve overachieved in a couple of races. But certainly with the group that we’re racing towards the back, we seem to be kind of holding our own.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

PREVIEW: Bayne's return, a second Ware car, and a new Truck team headline weekend in Sonoma and Gateway

PHOTO: @CodyShaneWare
Saturday, June 23, 2018
TRUCKS Race 10 of 23
Villa Lighting Delivers the Eaton 200 at Gateway
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jennifer Jo Cobb

There are 34 trucks entered for 32 spots in Saturday’s stand-alone event, meaning that two trucks will miss the show.

MISSING: #12-Young’s Motorsports
Overheating issues ended Reid Wilson’s return to Truck Series competition in Iowa, leaving him just 28th at the finish. This week, Young’s Motorsports scales back from three trucks to two, leaving the #12 in the shop and Wilson without a ride.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
One week after he missed the show with Mike Harmon's team, Bryant Barnhill looks to make his debut at Gateway, this time in Jay Robinson's #15. He takes the place of Bobby Reuse, who finished 25th in Iowa. Barnhill will likely make that debut as the  #15 is well ahead of the #74 in Owner Points.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Following Tanner Thorson’s 13th-place showing in Iowa, Tyler Young was the listed driver of the Young’s #20 Randco / Young’s Building Systems Chevrolet. Young was then replaced by 18-year-old late model driver Tate Fogelman. Son of XFINITY and X-1R Pro Cup veteran Jay Fogelman, Tate won his first late model race at Hickory last year in a Sam Ard throwback scheme.

NEW TEAM: #42-Chad Finley Racing, Inc.
The Truck Series welcomes its newest team as Chad Finley makes his return to the circuit in the #42 Auto Value Certified Service Centers Chevrolet. The truck's team is listed under Finley's name, though initial records incorrectly listed it under the shuttered Martins Motorsports. Finley has not made a Truck Series start since September 19, 2015, when he finished 21st for team owner Mark Rette. Finley’s most recent start in any circuit was earlier this month at Michigan, when he finished 23rd in the ARCA Racing Series.

TEAM UPDATE: #50-Beaver Motorsports
As of this writing, no driver is listed in place of Ross Chastain, who finished 30th after an early exit at Iowa. UPDATE: Chastain will once again drive the #50 with the VIP Racing Experience as sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Fresh off finishing 6th in his XFINITY debut at Iowa, Riley Herbst drives in place of Harrison Burton in KBM’s #51. Advance Auto Parts follows him as sponsor. It will be Herbst’s first start at the Gateway track.

Bo LeMastus, the original scheduled driver for Iowa before David Gilliland took the wheel, was again listed this week. By Wedbesday, Bob Pockrass revealed that  Zane Smith, currently 2nd in the ARCA standings with three wins, would be making his series debut.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
Kyle Donahue returns to Mike Mittler’s team, taking the place of last week’s last-placer J.J. Yeley. The younger of the two Donahue brothers finished 16th in this race last year, tying a career-best he earned at Martinsville. UPDATE: Kevin Donahue will drive in place of his brother, moving over from the #83.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
One week after Bryant Barnhill failed to qualify for his series debut, Mike Harmon climbs back behind the wheel of his #74 Chevrolet. In doing so, Harmon eyes his first Truck Series start at Gateway since 2010, when he finished 33rd (out of 36) driving for Chris Lafferty. Barnhill has moved to the #15 (see above). UPDATE: B.J. McLeod, originally listed for the #51 Cup Series ride, will drive in place of Harmon in the #74.

DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
Older brother Kevin Donahue rejoins D.J. Copp’s effort this week, taking the place of Bayley Currey, whose 24th-place showing at Iowa was his best of the year since a 20th-place showing in Las Vegas. Kevin Donahue also raced in this event last year, finishing 26th in a second Mike Mittler truck. UPDATE: Tyler Matthews will drive in place of Donahue in the #83, making his first Truck start since Martinsville. Kevin moves to the #63, taking the place of his brother (see above).

MISSING: #04-Roper Racing
Cory Roper and his Roper Racing team aren’t entered in this week’s race, one week after finishing 18th on the short track. According to the team’s Facebook, their partial schedule will pick up at Bristol in two months.

Sunday, June 24, 2018
CUP Race 16 of 36
Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Following the withdrawal of the #7 team, there are 38 drivers entered for 40 spots in Sunday’s field, the same number as last year. It remains the third consecutive short field in 2018 and the 13th of 16 races this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
After four rather lackluster outings with Matt Kenseth, the struggling #6 team brings back Trevor Bayne to make his first Cup start since Dover with AdvoCare Rehydrate as the sponsor. Bayne will drive the next two rounds in Chicagoland and Daytona while Kenseth will run 10 of the remaining 16 races after that, starting with Kentucky. Bayne returns at one of his most challenging tracks. In his three previous starts there, he’s finished 23rd, 25th, and 27th, but in those starts has completed all but one lap.

WITHDREW: #7-Premium Motorsports
For the third-straight race, the #7 team was to be fielded by Premium Motorsports, and not Johnathan Cohen’s NY Racing Team. As in the same previous three races, Premium’s #55 team is not entered. In place of D.J. Kennington, who finished 34th with the team in the rain-shortened Michigan race, Premium has entered Reed Sorenson to drive. Sorenson’s fourth and most recent Sonoma start came in 2014, when he finished 32nd for Tommy Baldwin Racing. By Tuesday, however, Sorenson and team had withdrawn.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
Though entered on the preliminary list, Ross Chastain will not drive the #15 Chevrolet for the first time since the Daytona 500. In those 14 races, Chastain has finished better than he qualified every time with the exception of his last-place finish at Bristol. In his place comes Mid-Ohio XFINITY Series winner Justin Marks, who made his Cup debut at Sonoma in 2013. Announced on May 17, Marks will run both Sonoma and the Charlotte “Roval” with sponsorship from Sufferfest Beer Company.

TEAM UPDATE: #23-BK Racing
For the first time in five races, BK Racing has a primary sponsor, and for the first time since that Dover race, it’s Earthwater. The brand first sponsored the team in this race last year, when Alon Day made his series debut. The brand returns with a new black scheme in place of the white-and-green scheme from early this season. The driver is once again Gray Gaulding, who will make his first Cup start on a road course.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
The Ware team was founded on road racing, and it's perhaps appropriate they have one of the only "road ringers" in the field. While B.J. McLeod was entered to make his Sonoma debut, by Tuesday he was replaced by Trans-Am racer Chris Cook. Cook helped Bill McAnally's K&N West Series trio get some laps on June 7 and will now pilot the #51. It will be Cook's first Cup start since 2012, when he drove for Humphrey-Smith Racing at Watkins Glen. His best finish was 27th at Sonoma in 2011 for Front Row Motorsports, when he drove in place of Tomy Drissi. Shockwave is the listed sponsor.

NEW TEAM: #52-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware Racing’s second team, originally scheduled to debut in last month’s Coca-Cola 600, will make its season debut this Sunday with Cody Ware driving. It will be Ware’s second Cup start of the season, his first since last month at Dover, and his first at Sonoma after he failed to qualify for the 2016 running with Premium Motorsports. The #52 carries full primary sponsorship from Sacramento-based SBC Contractors, which backed Kevin O’Connell at Sonoma last year and Josh Wise the year before. Bubba Burger, a longtime backer of the Ware effort, has returned as an associate.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Following Corey LaJoie’s 27th-place finish last week in Michigan, Cole Whitt returns for his first Cup start since Pocono in the TriStar #72. While LaJoie has no Sonoma starts, Whitt has four, and at times has exceeded the limits of his equipment. His track-best finish of 21st came with TriStar last year. His worst finish of 34th began with a solid mid-pack run. And the year before that, he finished 22nd for Front Row Motorsports. Whitt has also completed every lap of those four starts.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman never got the chance to run a Cup race at Sonoma. Five years ago, his ride at Swan Racing closed down two months before the race. This week, he’ll get his chance in his first start for the Gaunt Brothers since his series return in the Coca-Cola 600. The driver and broadcaster’s most notable road course result came in his most recent XFINITY Series start last summer at Road America, where he drove Precision Performance Motorsports to their only top-ten. It will also mark the Gaunt Brothers’ first start at Sonoma.

MISSING: #99-StarCom Racing
StarCom Racing will bring just one of their two cars to Sonoma, one week after a disappointing last-place finish by Garrett Smithley. According to the team, both car and driver will return to the circuit at a date to be determined.

DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
Welcome back road racer Tomy Drissi, whose fourth and most recent Cup start came in this race in 2014, driving for Identity Ventures Racing (before it was merged into Premium Motorsports). While Drissi’s business in movie promotions has seen him pilot cars sponsored by “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” “The Wolverine,” and “Hercules” in his previous three Cup starts, his car this week is listed with Go Share as the backer. Go Share has previously backed Young's Motorsports in the Truck Series.

Saturday, June 30, 2018
XFINITY Race 15 of 33
Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Matt Mills

The XFINITY Series takes a week off and returns at the start of next month for the triple-header at Chicagoland.

Friday marks the 10th anniversary of Brian Simo’s last-place finish in the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma. Though his transmission let go 20 laps into the race, Simo qualified for the event against tremendous odds. The road course ringer was one of 47 drivers entered to attempt the 43-car field. He had to do so in an outdated first-generation “Car of Tomorrow” fielded by a fledgling Front Row Motorsports team that had never before started a race in Sonoma.

In qualifying, Simo ended up turning a lap of 90.135mph (1:19.481), good enough for 41st on the time sheets. Among the six drivers he outpaced were four “go-or-go-homers” who ended up failing to qualify. This included not only West Coast part-timer Brandon Ash, but the fully-funded rides of J.J. Yeley (Hall of Fame Racing, aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing), Scott Riggs (HAAS-CNC Racing, merged into Stewart-Haas the following year), and Chip Ganassi’s #40 with three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie had a long road course career before his final race

McDuffie at Riverside in the mid-1970s
PHOTO: source unknown
Though he was active during the first three Cup Series races run there, J.D. McDuffie never competed at the Sonoma Raceway, scene of this weekend’s 30th Annual Toyota / Save Mart 350. He did, however, race in a combined 40 road course events.

The first of these took place on July 10, 1966, in the fourth and final Cup Series race at the Bridgehampton Raceway. Located near the very tip of Long Island in New York state, this 13-turn, 2.85-mile course weaved through soft sandy run-offs and heavy woods. Constructed in 1957, it first hosted NASCAR the following year, when Jack Smith won a 35-lap race by more than 12 seconds. Richard Petty won the next race in 1963 followed by Billy Wade in 1964.

In the 1966 race at Bridgehampton, McDuffie lined up 13th in a 28-car field driving his #70 1964 Ford. After 52 laps, McDuffie finished 17th, seven circuits behind polesitter David Pearson. The track continued to host road racing events for SCCA Trans-Am and Can-Am until 1970, and fell into disrepair. The track was turned into a golf course in 1997. As of 2016, a few elements remain, including its iconic Chevron Bridge across a stretch of pavement.

One of McDuffie's final starts at Riverside, circa 1986
PHOTO: source unknown
The bulk of McDuffie’s road course experience occurred at another track no longer in existence, the Riverside International Raceway in southern California. Like Bridgehampton, Riverside opened in 1957 and first hosted NASCAR in 1958, this time with Eddie Gray taking the checkered flag. Of the 48 races hosted there on configurations between 2.62 and 2.7 miles, McDuffie competed in 33 of them.

McDuffie’s first Riverside race was the February 1, 1969 running of the Motor Trend 500. He made the long trip west, qualified 35th in the 44-car field in his Buick, and finished 29th after engine trouble. It was the first of his 16 DNFs at the track, nearly one for every two starts at the demanding road course. Only once – the final race for NASCAR’s 115-inch wheelbase cars on January 11, 1981 – did he crash out of a race there, finishing 23rd.

McDuffie in a Junior Johnson car at Riverside, 1982
PHOTO: Richard Mackson, USA Today Sports
McDuffie’s first of three top-ten finishes at Riverside was a track-best 6th on June 8, 1975. The #70 lined up 28th on the grid and was the second-highest-finishing Chevrolet behind 3rd-place Benny Parsons. McDuffie found most of his success in the summer’s 400-mile races, finishing 7th on June 10, 1979 and 9th the following year on June 8, 1980. The lone exception was his only Riverside last-place finish on June 2, 1985, when he dropped a valve after 3 laps.

His best finish in a 500-mile race at Riverside (once the season opener and later the season finale) came on November 22, 1981 when he came home 11th. He led one of his two laps at the track that day. The other came the following year, when Junior Johnson tabbed him to drive a second Buick alongside series champion Darrell Waltrip. The full story of this car will be in my book.

McDuffie (left) racing Dale Earnhardt (right) at Watkins Glen, 1986
PHOTO: source unknown
Unfortunately, McDuffie did not start the final Cup race at Riverside in 1988. His final green flag there was the previous year’s running of the Budweiser 400 on June 21, 1987, when his Rumple Furniture Pontiac lined up 35th of 41 starters and retired early with an oil leak, leaving him 37th. Unlike Bridgehampton, no trace of the Riverside track currently exists other than a museum located off the former grounds.

This, of course, leads to McDuffie’s career at Watkins Glen International. The current site of The Glen first hosted Cup races in 1957, one year before Bridgehampton and Riverside, and six years before McDuffie’s first Cup race. Although McDuffie started racing in 1963, he was briefly off the Cup tour in 1964 and 1965, when The Glen hosted its last two starts there until 1986. Once the track returned to the circuit in 1986, McDuffie made the race every year, achieving a track-best finish of 22nd in 1990.

Then came 1991.

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.

*Rudow, Martin. “Lost Road Courses,” CarTech, 2016.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

ARCA: Darrell Basham helps bring Kimmel Racing to tie owners’ championship lead

Darrell Basham and his son Mike
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Darrell Basham scored his 9th last-place finish in ARCA Racing Series competition in Friday night’s Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at the Madison International Speedway after his #69 Kimmel Racing Ford fell out with clutch issues after completing 1 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Basham’s 379th series start, and was his first since last fall at Salem, twelve races ago.

Basham has been around the racing scene for decades, so long that doesn’t have all of his ARCA stats (the tally of nine last-place finishes only goes back to 1985). He has made his family’s #34 entry iconic in ARCA circles, and the yellow car still runs this season with his son Mike behind the wheel. Darrell also made a quick foray into NASCAR, driving for Jim Patrick at Nashville in 1979. He fell out after completing 101 laps, and never ran another NASCAR national series race.

Basham did, however, run the full ARCA circuit from 2002 to 2012, becoming good friends with the late James Harvey Hylton along the way. After 2012, Darrell scaled back on the driving, making only sporadic races while his sons took over driving duties. He has returned occasionally, most recently last fall at Salem, driving for Hixson Motorsports. He hinted at a possible return at Nashville earlier this year, but handed the car off to Mike.

How did Basham wind up in the 69 car last week? The partnership actually started earlier this year at Pocono. Jesse Iwuji was campaigning the 34 as part of his slate of races this year, so Mike transferred over to the 69 as a start-and-park. Now, with Will Kimmel focusing on his street stock efforts, Darrell stepped into the 69 for the Madison race.

The Madison race, on paper, looked to be both exciting and disappointing. Only 19 cars were entered, the lowest in recent memory. Several factors indicate that this is rock bottom for the ARCA Racing Series. Mainstay teams Ken Schrader Racing, Hixson Motorsports and DK-LOK Racing didn’t file any entries. Other mainstays that normally enter multiple cars, like Wayne Peterson Racing, Chad Bryant Racing and Mason Mitchell Motorsports only entered one car. And not a single entry for Friday’s race has plans to run less than half the schedule. That’s right - no family teams or part-time efforts decided to show up. On the other hand, a solid dozen of those nineteen cars had a legitimate shot at a win or podium, led by usual heavyweights MDM Motorsports and Venturini Motorsports, entering four cars apiece. Toni Briedinger and Tommy Vigh Jr. made debuts, the former for Venturini and the latter for Fast Track Racing.

Only fifteen cars took a time in first practice. Local driver Dick Karth from nearby Grafton, Wisconsin was last of the fifteen, nearly three seconds off of Chandler Smith, who would remain a fixture at the top of the leaderboard for the remainder of the day. Later in the day, only sixteen cars took time in qualifying, and of the three that did not take time, the #11 machine of Karth lined up last on the grid.

The race at Madison was the start of a new era for ARCA: new PR man Charles Krall debuted, replacing another mainstay, Don Radebaugh. Krall, unintentionally, was much more tail-end oriented than Radebaugh (though we at LASTCAR do wish Mr. Radebaugh the best in his future endeavors). Krall made two updates on the last-place battle: The first, before the race started, when Mike Basham needed a push to get started. The second was when, after Brian Eberly tweeted out that Darrell Basham and Karth had both turned in after a lap, the reasons for failing to finish were listed: Basham had clutch issues and Karth retired with overheating problems.

The Bottom Five did not fill out until the end of the event, a rarity for ARCA races. Wayne Peterson Racing driver Con Nicolopoulos bowed out with handling issues after 31 laps, and Mike Basham retired because of oil problems past the midway point. Vigh Jr. was the last car running, eighteen laps down after multiple spins in what proved to be a rough debut.

19) #69-Darrell Basham / 1 lap / clutch
18) #11-Dick Karth / 1 lap / crash
17) #06-Con Nicolopoulos / 31 laps / handling
16) #34-Mike Basham / 137 laps / oil pressure
15) #10-Tommy Vigh Jr. / 182 laps / running

1st) Wayne Peterson Racing, Kimmel Racing (2)
2nd) Max Force Racing, Darrell Basham Racing, James Hylton Motorsports, Brad Smith Motorsports, Wayne Peterson Racing/Fast Track Racing (1)

1st) Ford (6)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)


Monday, June 18, 2018

XFINITY / TRUCKS: J.J. Yeley pulls NASCAR’s first last-place sweep since 2016

J.J. Yeley pulled a rare last-place sweep in the Truck Series and XFINITY Series rounds at the Iowa Speedway. He’s the first driver to finish last in two of NASCAR’s top three divisions on the same weekend at the same track since Josh Wise swept the Cup and XFINITY races at Texas in 2016.

Yeley also holds the unique record of being the first NASCAR driver to score at least one last-place finish in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions in the same season, which he accomplished in 2011. After his weekend in Iowa, Yeley is now one Cup Series last-place run away from matching that feat this season. In addition to running a partial Truck Series effort for MB Motorsports and a full XFINITY Series season for RSS Racing, Yeley has already made three Cup starts for Premium Motorsports and the NY Racing Team.

PHOTO: Max Neuwirth, @racingfan83
On Friday, Yeley picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s M&M’s 200 at the Iowa Speedway when his #63 Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 19 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Yeley’s 32nd series start, was his second of the year and first since Charlotte, two races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it’s the 20th for the #63, the 24th by reason of brake trouble, and the 352nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 37th for the #63, the 152nd for brake issues, and the 1,604th for Chevrolet.

Yeley didn’t participate in opening practice, then ranked 26th of the 33 in Happy Hour. He qualified a solid 25th, just missing out on advancing to the second round with a lap of 129.125mph (24.395 seconds). Yeley was edged for the final spot in Round 2 by Jordan Anderson’s owner-driver effort by a difference of just 0.038 second. It was the best qualifying run of the season for MB Motorsports’ #63, and the team’s best starting spot in any race since Chris Windom rolled out 25th last year at Homestead.

With 35 drivers entered, three teams missed the race. First was Josh Reaume, who failed to qualify for the first time since this year’s Daytona opener in the #33 Colonial Countertops Chevrolet. Bryant Barnhill was set to make his series debut in Mike Harmon’s #74 Barnhill Realty Chevrolet, but also missed the cut. Coming the closest was Monster Jam competitor Camden Murphy, whose #0 Chevrolet for Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing had trailed three of the last six Truck Series races in Iowa with Chris Lafferty and Caleb Roark.

Starting last in Saturday’s race was Bobby Reuse, the second different driver in as many races to race in place of Robby Lyons in Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet. Reuse brought with him sponsorship from, which also backed him when he drove for Mike Harmon’s XFINITY Series team. Reuse had turned in the slowest lap in qualifying with a lap of 120.362mph (26.171 seconds), but secured his spot thanks to the #15 team’s Owner Points.

Joining Reuse at the rear was Cory Roper, back in the series for the first time since his debut at Martinsville. Roper’s family-owned #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford was sent back due to unapproved adjustments.

By Lap 4, Yeley had gone down a lap to the leaders, taking last place. Also coming into the pits in 31st was Ross Chastain, who was making his first Truck Series start since last year at Kentucky. On top of his full-time XFINITY effort for JD Motorsports and running most of the Cup schedule in Premium Motorports’ #15 Chevrolet, Chastain looked to make his first Truck Series start since last year in Kentucky. This time around, he took the place of Todd Peck in the Beaver Motorsports #50 tied for the LASTCAR Truck Series lead. The truck carried sponsorship from VIP Racing Experience, which has also backed Chastain’s Cup teammate Reed Sorenson in the #55.

On Lap 5, Yeley was on the track two laps down, dropping Chastain, still on pit road, to last. By Stage 2, Chastain would return to action 38 laps down while Yeley went to the garage area, this time done for the day. This allowed Chastain to climb past Yeley and then 30th-place Joe Nemechek, who had parked his #87 Romco Equipment / D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet. Chastain ended up turning six more laps than Nemechek before settling for 30th.

Finishing 29th was Todd Gilliland, whose #4 JBL / Sirius XM Toyota was involved in two separate wrecks, ultimately retiring after he completed 102 laps. Rounding out the group was Reid Wilson, making his first start since Martinsville. Wilson drove a new third entry from Young’s Motorsports, but the #12 TruNorth Chevrolet only made 109 laps before overheating issues.

*This marked the first last-place finish in a Truck Series race at Iowa for Yeley and the #63, and was also the first time the last-place finisher in this event trailed because of brake issues.
*This was Yeley's second-consecutive last-place finish in this event. He trailed the 2017 event driving a second truck for Norm Benning.

32) #63-J.J. Yeley / 19 laps / brakes
31) #87-Joe Nemechek / 50 laps / brakes
30) #50-Ross Chastain / 56 laps / suspension
29) #4-Todd Gilliland / 102 laps / crash
28) #12-Reid Wilson / 109 laps / overheating

PHOTO: Michael Harvey
The next day, Yeley picked up the 4th last-place finish of his XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Iowa 250 presented by Enogen at the Iowa Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 21 of the race’s 250 laps.

The finish, which came in Yeley’s 297th series start, was his first since September 6, 2013, when he fell out after 4 laps of the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond driving for The Motorsports Group. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it’s the 35th for car #93, the 136th by reason of a vibration, and the 506th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 85th for the #93, the 208th because of a vibration, and the 1,605th for Chevrolet.

The game of musical chairs at Rod Sieg’s team RSS Racing continued into the Iowa weekend with Yeley taking the wheel of Jeff Green’s #93 Chevrolet for the first time since Las Vegas. Green would return to Yeley’s #38, which the Phoenix native earned his season-best 11th-place finish at Talladega, while Ryan Sieg remained in the flagship #39. While all three RSS cars lacked primary sponsorship, Sieg looked to improve on his career-best runner-up finish to William Byron in this event last year.

On Saturday morning, Yeley began his weekend strong with the 18th-best lap in opening practice, besting Sieg (23rd), and Green, who did not turn a lap. Yeley was the only driver to not participate in Happy Hour, where Sieg led the group in 21st with Green in 27th. The session was topped by the #61 NETTTS Ford of Kaz Grala, whose fourth and final scheduled start for start-up Fury Race Cars LLC continued to yield impressive results.

Yeley managed just 31st in qualifying with a lap of 126.618mph (24.878 seconds) while both Sieg and Green advanced to Round 2 to start 21st and 24th.

With exactly 40 cars entered for 40 spots, no teams were sent home. This proved fortunate as two Cup Series operations both required provisionals to start in the final row. The 39th starting spot went to Christopher Bell in Joe Gibbs’ #20 Rheem Toyota while 40th and last went to Ryan Reed in Roush-Fenway Racing’s #16 Drive Down A1C / Lilly Diabetes Ford. Bell was unable to turn a qualifying lap due to lengthy adjustments made during the session while Reed’s car didn’t clear technical inspection in time. Reed took the last spot as the #16 trails the #20 in Owner Points.

Prior to the start, Bell and Reed advanced ahead of four other drivers sent to the rear for pre-race penalties. Ryan Sieg’s #39 had to surrender the 21st spot due to unapproved adjustments, as did Matt Tifft’s #2 Wastebits Chevrolet. Tire changes sent back B.J. McLeod on JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet and Talladega last-placer Spencer Boyd in the #76 Grunt Style Chevrolet.

The Bottom Five filled during the race’s early moments. Yeley turned two more laps than he did the previous day, his day over after 21 circuits. Seven laps later, Morgan Shepherd pulled behind the wall in his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet, citing brake trouble. Three circuits later came fellow owner-driver Mike Harmon, back behind the wheel of his #74 Chill by Koolbox Chevrolet. 37th went to Timmy Hill, who brought back Motorsports Business Management’s third team, the #13 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota, for the first time since Dover. Rounding out the group with his first Bottom Five of 2018 was Josh Bilicki, who had a busted fuel pump on JP Motorsports’ #45 Prevagen Toyota.

*This marks the third-consecutive last-place finish for the #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Iowa. Jeff Green swept both races last year with the same team, including his 100th XFINITY Series last-place run in July.

40) #93-J.J. Yeley / 21 laps / vibration
39) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 28 laps / brakes
38) #74-Mike Harmon / 31 laps / rear gear
37) #13-Timmy Hill / 75 laps / brakes
36) #45-Josh Bilicki / 95 laps / fuel pump

1st) MB Motorsports (4)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (3)
3rd) Copp Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)


1st) RSS Racing (8)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Ford (2)


Saturday, June 16, 2018

#JD70: Watkins Glen Book Signing Cancelled

On Wednesday, I announced that I would be selling and signing copies of my upcoming book “J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend” during the NASCAR weekend at Watkins Glen, August 3-5.

The deal, which came together earlier this year, was worked out with the track’s International Motor Racing Research Center, which puts on a yearly display in the infield. I had an agreement with the IMRRC, had been told where I would be signing my books, and had agreed to donate a share of my profits to the museum. All travel arrangements and preparations had been made prior to my announcement on Wednesday.

On Friday, I was informed by the IMRRC that I would no longer be allowed to sell books at the track that weekend. Someone at Watkins Glen International told the IMRRC that my signing “will be a major problem for everyone involved” due to the track’s existing merchandising agreements. These problems were not told to me, nor raised by anyone, at any point prior to then.

To avoid any conflict between the track and the IMRRC, I decided not to object. So I will not be signing or selling books at Watkins Glen. Wednesday’s post has been removed in place of this one, and I have updated both of my social media accounts about the cancellation.

While I strongly disagree with what happened, I nevertheless thank the IMRRC for their offer and their contributions to the book itself. I still hold out hope that we can work together in some other faculty at a later date.

So, what happens now? Well, I’m still going to be in Watkins Glen this August – the money’s already been spent and the books purchased (plus a weekend ticket for my brother to come to the track). So here are two things I’m working on.

First, I am looking into getting credentialed for the Watkins Glen weekend for Again, I would not be selling or signing copies at the track – I would only be there to cover the weekend’s events. If this goes through, I will provide similar last-place coverage to my upcoming work at Sonoma next week.

Second, myself and my contact in New York are looking into other book signings in upstate New York away from Watkins Glen International. If and when we are able to get new signings set up, you readers will be the first to know.

To you readers, I share your disappointment and frustration, and I’m sorry that this has happened. I had hoped that this signing would be an opportunity to share an important chapter of NASCAR’s past at the place where it happened. I am saddened that the track did not see it that way.

Much like McDuffie’s racing career, the work to bring his story to life has been a grassroots effort, and myself and the staff at Waldorf Publishing have been working hard to exceed expectations. We will continue to do so.

This is not the finish line, folks. This is only the beginning.

Friday, June 15, 2018

PREVIEW: Iowa sees returning drivers and teams in both fields

PHOTO: Roper Racing Facebook

Saturday, June 16, 2018

TRUCKS Race 9 of 23
M&M’s 200 at Iowa
2017 Last-Place Finisher: J.J. Yeley

There are 35 drivers entered for Friday’s 32-truck field, meaning that three entries will miss the starting field.

MISSING: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister was the final driver to finish under power in Texas, coming home 12 laps behind in the 22nd spot. Both he and the All Out Motorsports team will not be making the trip to Iowa.

RETURNING: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
NEMCO Motorsports returns to being a two-truck operation for the first time since Kansas. John Hunter Nemechek will climb aboard the #8 as he runs double-duty in Iowa along with his XFINITY Series effort for Chip Ganassi Racing. His father Joe will slide back to the #87 which, but for its 3rd-place run in this year’s Daytona opener, has traditionally been a “start-and-park” entry.

NEW TEAM: #12-Young’s Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Young’s Motorsports will expand from two to three trucks in Iowa. The new third entry, the #12 TruNorth Chevrolet, will see the return of Reid Wilson. Wilson made his series debut this past spring at Martinsville driving the Young’s team’s #20 Chevrolet, finishing 16th. This weekend, the #20 will be driven by Tanner Thorson, his first start since he also ran 16th in his own debut at Dover. Austin Hill remains in the third truck, the #02.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
Following his illness that sidelined him at Texas, where spotter / driver Reed Sorenson finished 27th, Robby Lyons was entered in the #15 Chevrolet alongside teammate Wendell Chavous in the #49. However, by Wednesday he was replaced by Alabama native Bobby Reuse. It will be Reuse's first Truck Series start since Mosport last year, when he finished 17th for Beaver Motorsports.

MISSING: #17-DGR-Crosley
DGR-Crosley scales back from two trucks to one in Iowa, leaving the #17 Toyota home after a 26th-place showing in Texas. Bo LeMastus, who drove that truck last week, will replace Chris Eggleston in the #54. Eggleston is not entered in this weekend’s race. UPDATE: David Gilliland took LeMastus' place at Iowa.

RETURNING: #46-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Expanding to four trucks is KBM, which brings the #46 Mobil 1 Toyota back to the track for just the second time this season following Brandon Jones’ 3rd-place showing in Charlotte. Behind the wheel this time is New York native Christian Eckes, who this past April claimed his first ARCA Racing Series win at Salem driving for Venturini Motorsports. Eckes has two Iowa starts in ARCA with an 11th in 2016 and an 8th last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #50-Beaver Motorsports
In place of Todd Peck, who finished last at Texas, the Beaver truck will be raced by Ross Chastain. Chastain, who has run double-duty for most of this season in Cup and XFINITY, last started a Truck race last summer in Kentucky, when he finished 13th for Bolen Motorsports. Justin Marks will drive Chastain's #15 entry in next Sunday's Cup race at Sonoma.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Driving the flagship KBM truck is Harrison Burton, ready for his third Truck Series start of the year and first since his 5th-place showing at Dover. He takes the place of Spencer Davis, 9th at Texas, who isn’t entered this week. The #51 continues to boast a strong driver lineup. Though Kyle Busch has driven the truck in two of the eight rounds run so far, it has finished 9th or better in all but one race – a 13th by Davis at Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
Although Kyle Donahue was listed for a second-straight start for Mike Mittler, he was replaced by Wednesday with J.J. Yeley, who last drove this truck in a tail-end performance at Charlotte.

MISSING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Clay Greenfield and his #68 team are not entered this week following their 20th-place showing in Texas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
In place of team owner Mike Harmon, who failed to qualify at Texas, Iowa will see the first Truck Series attempt by 19-year-old Bryant Barnhill of South Carolina. Barnhill Realty Co., the driver's family business, will be an associate sponsor for the #74.

RETURNING: #97-JJL Motorsports
Welcome back Jesse Little, who we last saw finish 16th at Charlotte in May. Little, who finished 9th in this race last year, is again listed without a primary sponsor.

RETURNING: #04-Roper Racing
Also rejoining the action is Roper Racing with short tracker Cory Roper behind the wheel of the #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors, Inc. Ford. Looking to build on driver and team’s impressive 13th-place showing in Martinsville, Roper posted on Facebook that the team plans to follow Iowa with Bristol, Las Vegas, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead.

CUP INVADERS: #50-Ross Chastain (though points ineligible)

Sunday, June 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 14 of 33
Iowa 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

There are 40 drivers entered for as many spots, meaning all entered drivers will start Sunday’s race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
One week after Austin Dillon claimed his rain-shortened win, Shane Lee returns to the #3 Chevrolet in Iowa for his fourth start in the last eight races. Lee is the defending polesitter of the ARCA Racing Series event at Iowa, where he finished 11th for Kerry Scherer.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Blake Jones eyes his first XFINITY Series start since September 24, 2016, when he drove JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet to a 35th-place finish. This time around, he takes the place of Caesar Bacarella in B.J. McLeod’s #8 Chevrolet. He’ll be teamed with the #78 once again driven by Tommy Joe Martins, who impressed with an 11th-place showing in this race last year. Riessen Construction will sponsor Martins' effort.

RETURNING: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s MBM effort returns to a three-car operation this week with the return of the #13 for the first time since Dover. Now, as then, the driver is Timmy Hill, who moves over from the #66 Dodge he’s driven the last two rounds. In Hill’s place in the #66 will be Stan Mullis, who hasn’t started an XFINITY Series race since his series debut in this track last July, when he finished 32nd for MBM.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
Joe Nemechek was scheduled to pull double-duty in Iowa, following-up his run in the #87 Truck Series effort by running JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet. However, by Wednesday he was replaced by B.J. McLeod, who last week made a one-off for Mike Harmon. McLeod takes the place of Matt Mills, who crashed hard in Turn 2 last week in Michigan.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Iowa will see the XFINITY Series debut of 19-year-old Riley Herbst. The Las Vegas native finished 7th in the K&N Pro Series West standings in 2016, and the following year won his first ARCA Racing Series event at Pocono en route to a 5th-place rank in the standings. He enters Iowa 3rd in the ARCA standings for Joe Gibbs Racing’s effort, having finished 2nd to Sheldon Creed last week in Michigan. Herbst finished 12th in the ARCA race at Iowa last year. Advance Auto Parts sponsors his XFINITY effort.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Austin Cindric returns to Penske Racing, taking the place of Cup regular Paul Menard. Cindric again makes the lateral move from Roush-Fenway Racing’s #60 Ford, which this week will again be driven by Ty Majeski. Majeski made his XFINITY debut in this race last year, finishing 34th after a crash. Cindric finished 8th in last year’s Truck Series race here for Brad Keselowski Racing.

Also making his XFINITY debut this week is Justin Haley, currently 8th in the Truck Series standings in GMS Racing’s #24 Chevrolet. Haley takes the place of Cup regular Alex Bowman, who ended up 21st when the rain fell at Michigan.

After their withdrawal from the Michigan race following the parting of ways with driver Dylan Lupton, the #28 was this time not entered on the preliminary list for Sunday’s race.

Coming off his second-consecutive last-place finish, current LASTCAR XFINITY Series leader Jeff Green moves over to the #38 with J.J. Yeley swapping rides into the #93. Ryan Sieg remains in the #39, and looks to improve on his stunning 2nd-place run to William Byron in this race last year.

TEAM UPDATE: #61-Fury Race Cars LLC
Iowa is the fourth and final scheduled start for Fury Race Cars LLC, whose driver Kaz Grala has been competitive in each of those starts, including a near-win at Michigan. The story has caught the attention of FOX, which sent Alan Cavanna to interview Grala for Race Hub on Monday. As of this writing, plans for the rest of the season are still coming together.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon returns to his own Chevrolet in place of B.J. McLeod, who ran 28th at Michigan.

MISSING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Along with the Cup Invaders, the Biagi DenBeste #98 entry is not entered this week following Kevin Harvick’s 8th-place showing in Michigan.


Sunday, June 24, 2018
CUP Race 16 of 36
Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

This time, it’s the Cup Series that takes a week off. Next up is the annual visit to the Sonoma Raceway, where LASTCAR will be covering the event in the media center for the fifth time.

The listed reason “too slow” has only been to blame one time each in both the XFINITY and Truck Series. On the XFINITY side, it occurred March 27, 2004 during the Sharpie Professional 250 at Bristol. Last-place starter Donnie Neuenberger made it 26 laps into the event before his run ended in the #77 Moy Racing Ford. On the Truck side, it happened just over four months later on July 31, 2004, during the Line-X Spray-On Truck Bedliners 200 at Michigan. Flagged off the track after 8 laps was Loni Richardson, that year’s LASTCAR Truck Series Champion, whose #0 Value Tool & Engineering Chevrolet started 32nd in the 34-truck field.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

K&N WEST: Cassie Gannis records Patriot Motorsports Group’s fourth last place in five races

Gannis with a young fan
PHOTO: Cassie Gannis Instagram
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Cassie Gannis picked up the 1st last-place finish of her NASCAR K&N Pro Series West career in Saturday night’s NAPA Auto Parts 175 at Colorado National Speedway after her #36 Tough Tested / Patriot Motorsports Group Chevrolet fell out with rear end problems after 154 of 175 laps. The finish came in her 11th series start.

Gannis, a 27-year-old Phoenix native, has overcome many obstacles throughout her racing career. In her teens, she dealt with dyslexia and asthma, and at 17 had surgery to correct her scoliosis. At 20, she made a venture into the K&N Pro Series West in the 2011 season, making three starts. The next season, she made five starts, winning the series’ Most Popular Driver award.

Fast-forward to 2015, which looked to be promising from the outset. She attempted the ARCA race at Daytona with Carter 2 Motorsports, but wound up 42nd on the speed charts in a race that took 40 cars. At the other end of the season, Gannis attempted her Truck debut with Mike Harmon Racing, but wound up last of the 36 trucks in qualifying, leaving her on the outside looking in. She disappeared from large-scale racing until earlier this year, when she teamed up with John Wood, Jesse Iuwji and Patriot Motorsports Group to drive the team’s #08 entry in the Tucson Twin 100s.

After finishing sixteenth and fifteenth in a crash-shortened Second 100, Gannis returned in the #36, vacated by Iwuji for the first time since he started running full-time in 2016. That same weekend, Iwuji was in Michigan for the ARCA race, where his run ended early after transmission failure. Gannis, meanwhile, would try to keep the #36 from last, where it had finished twice in the opening four races of the season.

Colorado’s entry list showed only sixteen cars, on pace to tie Orange Show for the least cars this year. Soon after, the #77 Performance Motorsports entry withdrew without ever naming a driver, leaving only fifteen cars to race. Takuma Koga, once again in the #11 machine for John Krebs, anchored first practice with a lap of 18.084, a relatively competitive seven tenths off the leader. Koga, however, picked up four-tenths in qualifying, outpacing Wood and Gannis, the latter of whom picked up less than a tenth from practice to qualifying. She later incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments before the green. Joining her at the back was Wood, sent to the back for missing the mandatory pre-race autograph session.

After a lap under green, Gannis was 3.8 seconds back of the leaders, still the last car on the track. She retired after 154 laps due to rear end problems, though none of the driver’s social media channels had any specific comment on the end of the race. None of NASCAR’s coverage regarding the race did, either.

Gannis wound up being the only attrition in the 175-lap race. Koga finished fourteenth, eight laps off the pace. Wood was seven laps in arrears in thirteenth, Todd Souza two down in twelfth and Rudy Vanderwal was the last car one lap down in eleventh to round out the Bottom Five.

15) #36-Cassie Gannis / 154 laps / rear end
14) #11-Takuma Koga / 167 laps / running
13) #08-John Wood / 168 laps / running
12) #13-Todd Souza / 173 laps / running
11) #34-Rudy Vanderwal / 174 laps / running

1st) Patriot Motorsports Group (4)
2nd) Bill McAnally Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (1)


Sunday, June 10, 2018

CUP: Garrett Smithley’s Cup debut and reunion with Cope ends early at Michigan

PHOTO: @XfinityRacing
Garrett Smithley picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #99 Victory Lane Quick Oil Change Chevrolet fell out with transmission issues after 1 of 133 laps.

The finish occurred in Smithley’s series debut. It is the first for StarCom Racing since Landon Cassill’s rear gear issues at Martinsville in March. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 16th for car #99, the 77th by reason of transmission issues, and the 747th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 30th for the #99, the 157th by reason of transmission trouble, and the 1,603rd for Chevrolet.

Last Tuesday, June 5, StarCom Racing announced that Smithley would be making his Cup Series debut in Sunday’s Michigan race, driving the #99 Chevrolet previously fielded by StarCom team owner Derrike Cope. It would be a reunion of sorts for Smithley and Cope. The two crossed paths when Smithley was testing an ARCA car for the Keselowski family at Daytona.

According to his website, Smithley, born in Reed Sorenson’s hometown of Peachtree City, Georgia, is something of a stock car racing prodigy. In 2007, he was the Rookie of the Year in Bandoleros, and soon after was winning races and championships in the U.S. Legends Car Series. He was then invited to compete in Richard Petty’s national driver development program, and had so impressed the staff that, by the time he met Cope, he was the lead instructor for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Following his test with the Keselowskis, Smithley was invited by Cope to run a handful of ARCA Racing Series events. His series debut came at Pocono on June 8, 2013, when he moved from 33rd in the 34-car field to finish 17th. He improved with a 14th in his return to Pocono in August, then the next year ran a one-off for Wes Gonder at Talladega, finishing 18th. Cope then fielded Smithley’s first XFINITY ride in the 2015 finale at Homestead, where he ran 28th. The run closed out a season where Smithley gained SegPay as a sponsor for four Truck Series efforts with Mike Mittler’s MB Motorsports. His best run in that series was a 14th at Michigan.

Smithley is perhaps best known for his current XFNITY Series effort in the “Number Nuthin,” the #0 Chevrolet fielded by Johnny Davis at JD Motorsports. Smithley’s first start with the team came February 27, 2016 at Atlanta, when he took over the ride from Eric McClure and finished 24th. A 12th at Talladega and a 13th at Daytona were the highlights of a season that saw Smithley finish 18th in the standings. He stood 21st in points last year with a new career-best of 8th in the Daytona opener, then a 10th at Iowa, his first top-ten performances in the series.

The 2018 season has seen Smithley earn his first Top Five – again at Daytona, where he finished 5th – and he’s paced the field for five laps, most recently his solid 14th-place showing last month at Charlotte. His #0 Chevrolet carried new sponsorship for Saturday’s XFINITY event at Michigan. Through the same weekend as his planned Cup debut, Smithley ran 25th and 22nd in the two practices, lined up 22nd on points after a qualifying rain-out, and finished 26th due to engine trouble.

On the Cup side, Smithley’s #99 carried a new look for what would be the third start of 2018 for StarCom Racing’s second team. New sponsorship arrived from Michigan franchise Victory Lane Quick Oil Change with associate backing from Showcase Auto Sales. In Friday’s opening Cup practice, the car ran 38th of the 39 entered teams, outpacing Timmy Hill in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 MBM Motorsports / Toyota by four-thousandths of a second. Smithley qualified slowest overall with a 186.552mph (38.618 seconds), then again edged Hill for 38th in the second practice, this time by 0.150 second. Happy Hour was washed out.

Prior to the race, we tweeted that Smithley was one of only seven drivers in the field who had never finished last in a Cup Series race. The statistic arose because of a lesser-known streak coming into Michigan where the last three rounds saw a driver trail their first Cup race (Ty Dillon at Kansas, Kevin Harvick at Charlotte, and Darrell Wallace, Jr. at Pocono). There hadn’t been a streak of four first-timers since 1983, which saw a run of eight from April through June. Smithley responded with the “See-No Evil Monkey” emoji.

Joining Smithley in the back of the field were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Erik Jones, who were all sent to the rear for failing inspection due to a splitter infraction. When the green flag fell, Smithley retook the spot from the trio, and pulled down pit road after the opening lap. The crew discovered a transmission issue, and pushed the car behind the wall. By the end of Stage 1, Smithley was listed out of the race. This made Smithley the first Cup driver to finish last in his Cup debut since Ray Black, Jr. last September at Chicagoland.

Knowing their driver didn’t get a chance to show what he could do, StarCom Racing tweeted during the race that “We will have him (Smithley) back!”

Finishing 38th was David Ragan, whose #38 MDS Transport Ford backed into the wall in Turn 2 after Pocono last-placer Darrell Wallace, Jr. slid into him on the inside. It was Ragan's first bottom-five finish of 2018. 37th fell to B.J. McLeod, who struggled with handling issues and finished the last car under power, two laps behind race winner Clint Bowyer. Also two laps down was 36th-place Matt DiBenedetto in the #32 Can-Am / Wholey Ford. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Timmy Hill, the last driver one lap down.

*Smithley is the first Cup driver to finish last while making his Cup debut at Michigan since August 20, 2000, when Kerry Earnhardt wrecked the #71 RealTree Camouflage Chevrolet after 5 laps of the Pepsi 400 presented by Meijer.
*This is the first time the last-place finisher of a Cup race at Michigan only completed 1 lap since June 15, 2003, when Ricky Rudd’s #21 Motorcraft Ford was involved in an accident with Ken Schrader’s #49 Dodge in the Sirius 400. Rudd was classified last behind Schrader, who started four spots ahead.
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #99 in a Cup Series race since February 19, 2006, when Carl Edwards’ #99 Office Depot Ford crashed 78 laps into the Daytona 500. It was Edwards’ only last-place finish in the series.
*This marked the first time the #99 finished last in a Cup race at Michigan, and the first time a Cup driver finished last here with transmission issues.

39) #99-Garrett Smithley / 1 lap / transmission
38) #38-David Ragan / 35 laps / crash
37) #51-B.J. McLeod / 131 laps / running
36) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 131 laps / running
35) #66-Timmy Hill / 132 laps / running

1st) TriStar Motorsports (3)
2nd) Premium Motorsports, StarCom Racing (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford (3)
3rd) Toyota (2)


XFINITY: After Saturday, Darlington stands as only XFINITY track where Jeff Green has not finished last

PHOTO: Michael Harvey, @MrLester88
Jeff Green picked up the 109th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s LTi Printing 250 at the Michigan International Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 5 of 91 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 493rd series start, was his series-leading seventh of the 2018 season and his second in a row. In the XFINITY Series last-place standings, it’s the 34th for car #93, the 135th by reason of a vibration, and the 505th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 84th for the #93, the 207th for a vibration, and the 1,602nd for Chevrolet.

Green was set to be one of 41 drivers entered in Saturday’s race. That list shrank by one on Thursday, when JGL Racing withdrew the #28 Fatal Clothing Ford after driver Dylan Lupton parted ways with the team. Just 37 of the remaining 40 drivers turned laps in Friday’s opening practice with Green 35th overall, ahead of Talladega last-placer Spencer Boyd and Josh Bilicki. Green did not participate in Happy Hour, and a washed-out qualifying session secured him 31st on the grid with the Past Champion’s Provisional.

With the remainder of the field set by owner attempts, the 40th starting spot fell to Kaz Grala, whose new ride at Fury Race Cars LLC was making its third of four planned starts in the #61 NETTTS Ford. However, according to a video posted by the speedway, five other drivers had fallen to the rear, lifting him to 35th as he took the green.

Morgan Shepherd (No. 89) trails the field at the start
PHOTO: @MISpeedway
Last at the stripe went to Morgan Shepherd, scheduled to start 39th in the #89 VisOne RV Chevrolet that failed to make last week’s race at Pocono. Shepherd received one of the day’s three tail end penalties, his for unapproved adjustments. The other two went to Chad Finchum, his #40 Smithbilt Homes Toyota slated to start 36th before an engine change, and 9th-place starter Justin Allgiaer, for unapproved adjustments on the #7 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet.

Ahead of 40th-place Shepherd was Jeff Green, followed by 38th-place Josh Williams, whose #90 Sleep Well / Bethel Glass & Shower Door Chevrolet had lined-up 26th. Timmy Hill’s #66 Dodge retained his original 37th spot while B.J. McLeod moved Mike Harmon’s #74 Horizon Transport Chevrolet up from 38th to 36th.

On Lap 6, Shepherd was still in last, 14.278 seconds back, when Green surrendered the 37th spot under green to pull behind the wall, done for the afternoon. Shepherd turned 34 laps before he exited the race with brake problems for a 38th-place finish. Between the two came Joey Gase, whose #35 Sparks Energy, Inc. Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues. It’s Gase’s worst finish of the season since a 33rd at Daytona.

Crashes filled the rest of the Bottom Five before rain shortened the event. 37th-place Alex Labbe, Gase’s teammate at Go FAS Racing, spun to the inside of Turn 1, ripping the splitter and much of the front clip from his #36 Can-Am / Wholey / Cyclops Chevrolet. Labbe made it to pit road, only to fall out. This gave both Go FAS Racing teammates their first Bottom Five runs of 2018.

Rounding out the group was Matt Mills, who lost a tire in Turn 1 and pounded the outside wall in JD Motorsports’ #15 Flex Glue Chevrolet. After a few anxious moments, Mills climbed from the car under his own power.

*This was Green’s first-ever XFINITY Series last-place finish at Michigan in 17 career starts at the track. Among tracks on the current 2018 XFINITY Series schedule, Green has finished last at every track at least one time with the sole exception of Darlington (24 starts). Curiously, it was at the Darlington track in 2015 that Ryan Ellis put to an end Green’s NASCAR record streak of eight consecutive last-place finishes. Green finished 38th. This statistic does not count the upcoming Charlotte “Roval” set to debut in September.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #93 in an XFINITY Series race at Michigan.

40) #93-Jeff Green / 5 laps / vibration
39) #35-Joey Gase / 33 laps / overheating
38) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 34 laps / brakes
37) #36-Alex Labbe / 52 laps / crash
36) #15-Matt Mills / 54 laps / crash

1st) RSS Racing (7)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Ford (2)


TRUCKS: Todd Peck finishes last as Beaver, Mittler teams draw even for LASTCAR lead

Peck in the #50 at Dover
PHOTO: Sam Laughlin
Todd Peck picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s PPG 400 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #50 Image Tech Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 1 of 167 laps.

The finish, which came in Peck’s 32nd series start, was his second of the year and first since Dover, three rounds ago. It ends a streak of two consecutive lasts by Mike Mittler’s MB Motorsports. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it’s the 10th for the #50, the 33rd by reason of electrical issues, and the 351st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 49th for the #50, the 115th by reason of electrical issues, and the 1,601st for Chevrolet.

As of this writing, Peck and Scott Stenzel are tied for the lead in the LASTCAR Truck Series Championship. If the championship ended today, Stenzel would take the title by a single bottom-twenty finish, thanks to him running one more race than Peck.

Peck’s return to Beaver Motorsports’ #50 team came after the team’s back-to-back 28th-place runs, first with Jamie Mosley at Kansas, then with Timmy Hill at Charlotte. It would be Peck’s third Truck Series start at the Texas oval, following a 28th for his family’s team in 2015, then a 24th last year for D.J. Copp.

Peck was one of the 33 drivers entered to attempt Friday’s 32-truck field. He was also one of the seven drivers who didn’t run the weekend’s only practice session on Thursday. This ultimately meant Peck would not turn a lap until the race itself. The second practice was washed-out by rain, and the #50 was the only truck to not turn a lap in qualifying. He still made the field on Owner Points, securing the 32nd starting spot.

Missing the race was Mike Harmon, who committed to the Truck Series race in Texas while B.J. McLeod drove his Chevrolet in the XFINITY race in Michigan. Harmon turned a lap of 163.349mph (33.058 seconds), which placed him ahead of not only Peck, but also Norm Benning’s 162.656mph (33.199 seconds) and Jennifer Jo Cobb’s 162.352mph (33.261 seconds). Like Peck, both Benning and Cobb managed to make the race on Owner Points. Benning and Cobb qualified for all eight races in 2018, Peck’s #50 only missed Atlanta, but Harmon’s #74 failed to qualify four times, which proved decisive.

On Friday night, Peck incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. The same penalty went to Dalton Sargeant, who surrendered the 28th starting spot in GMS Racing’s #25 Performance Plus Motor Oil Chevrolet. Just seconds into the seven-lap green-flag run, Peck pulled behind the wall, followed three circuits later by Cobb’s second truck, the #0 Chevrolet, driven by Camden Murphy.

Finishing 30th on Friday was Justin Fontaine, who drew the first yellow when his #45 ProMatic Automation / Superior Essex Chevrolet, running 23rd, pounded the outside wall in Turn 4.

The 29th spot went to the victim of the next yellow, Bayley Currey, whose #83 Chevrolet snapped loose in the high lane off Turn 4 and hit the outside wall with the right-rear. The tail end of the field barely missed Currey’s truck as he fought for control on the apron, the rear decklid flapping from its tether.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Kyle Donahue, back at the track for the first time since driving the #83 at Kansas. This time around, he drove MB Motorsports’ #63 Chevrolet, once again with backing from First Responder Racing. Donahue turned 13 laps before overheating issues during the Currey caution.

*This marked the first Truck Series last-place finish for the #50 at Texas.
*Chevrolet, which swept the final six positions in Friday’s race, has now finished last in 31 consecutive Truck Series races.

32) #50-Todd Peck / 1 lap / electrical
31) #0-Camden Murphy / 4 laps / electrical
30) #45-Justin Fontaine / 6 laps / crash
29) #83-Bayley Currey / 11 laps / crash
28) #63-Kyle Donahue / 13 laps / overheating

1st) Beaver Motorsports, MB Motorsports (3)
2nd) Copp Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)