Saturday, June 30, 2018

ARCA: Wayne Peterson takes LASTCAR championship lead

PHOTO: @Arcafan06
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Wayne Peterson recorded the 38th last-place finish in his ARCA Racing Series career in Thursday night’s Scott 150 at Chicagoland Speedway when his #23 Great Railing / Wayne Peterson Racing Chevrolet fell out with brake issues without completing a lap.

The finish came in Peterson’s 103rd series start and was his second consecutive, third this year and fourth in a row in races Peterson has driven in.

Wayne Peterson is one of ARCA’s longest-lasting and most polarizing underdogs. His cars are routinely found near the tail-end of the field, yet those cars kept showing up week after week, year after year. Peterson has fielded cars for a multitude of drivers, some of the most notable being James Harvey Hylton, Mike Harmon and frequent LASTCAR focus Mike Senica. Even Brad Keselowski made a start for the team in 2004.

The gap in that race from Keselowski to the winner back then was two laps, but with the introduction of composite-bodied cars, the gap has grown larger. This has led to some entities calling for slower cars to not show up to race. Although those movements have never gained traction, they still pop up occasionally, like on Twitter during Thursday’s race. Nevertheless, the team soldiers on, entering two, sometimes three cars a race, one normally being the team’s only composite-bodied car, acquired just before Daytona this year.

Originally, Peterson was slated to drive the #1 car, a collaboration between his team and Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing. That changed by race day, when the team’s Twitter account had this to say:

Bret Holmes’ #23 had withdrawn for re-organizational purposes, similar to Stewart Friesen’s break in summer of last year in the Camping World Truck Series. That left 27 cars, with Peterson’s composite body taking on stylized #23 decals. Eric Caudell and Hixson Motorsports returned, as well as Cody Rohrbaugh and his #7 team in their last announced start of the season. Jesse Iwuji and Thomas Praytor teamed up to field the 9 car, and Zach Ralston returned in his steel-body in the #11 machine. Towards the front of the field, Austin Hill came seemingly out of nowhere to join MDM Motorsports and Venturini Motorsports debuted their much-anticipated three-female lineup with Natalie Decker, Leilani Munter and Toni Briedinger.

Soon, the 23 became a fixture at the bottom of the leaderboard. Peterson anchored practice with just about a 40-second lap, two and a half seconds slower than Jesse Iwuji’s next-slowest lap. The 23 was one of two cars, along with Will Rodgers’ #52, to not make a lap in qualifying. It then lined up tail-end for the race and pulled off the track coming to the green, citing brake issues.

Peterson's teammate Mark Meunier pulled off after five laps with an oil leak, followed closely by Iwuji, whose bad-luck streak in ARCA competition continues, as he has only finished under power once in six starts this year. His lone remaining race is the season finale at Kansas. Mike Basham cited a vibration on his machine, and Con Nicolopoulos had engine problems to round out the Bottom Five.

27) #23-Wayne Peterson / 0 laps / brakes
26) #0-Mark Meunier / 5 laps / oil leak
25) #9-Jesse Iwuji / 8 laps / engine
24) #34-Mike Basham / 26 laps / vibration
23) #06-Con Nicolopoulos / 32 laps / engine

1st) Wayne Peterson Racing (3)
2nd) Kimmel Racing, Wayne Peterson Racing-Fast Track Racing (2)
3rd) Max Force Racing, Darrell Basham Racing, James Hylton Motorsports, Brad Smith Motorsports (1)

1st) Ford (6)
2nd) Chevrolet (5)


Thursday, June 28, 2018

PREVIEW: Hattori and Fury teams return while other changes abound on Chicagoland entry lists

PHOTO:, @Hattori_Racing
Friday, June 29, 2018
TRUCKS Race 11 of 23
Overton’s 225 at Chicagoland
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Mike Senica

Friday’s race sees 33 drivers entered for 32 spots, meaning that one team will miss the race. There are several driver and team changes this week as the series runs alongside the XFINITY and Cup Series. UPDATE: Make that 32 teams for 32 spots following the withdrawal of Mike Affarano (see below).

RETURNING: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister’s partial schedule continues this Friday as he returns to the circuit for the first time since a 22nd-place showing in Texas. If he qualifies, it will be Forrister’s first Truck Series start at Chicagoland since 2015, when he finished 27th for team owner Christopher Long.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
Ross Chastain is set for a triple-header weekend in Chicago, taking the place of Bryant Barnhill in the #15 Chevrolet. On the Truck side, Chastain moves over from the #50 he’s piloted in recent weeks for Beaver Motorsports. Sunwest Construction is the sponsor. Robby Lyons had again been on the preliminary entry list for the #15, but the change was made by Wednesday. UPDATE: Lyons tweeted on Thursday that he has been recuperating from a concussion-related illness for the last month, but expects to return at a date to be determined.

TEAM UPDATE: #16-Hattori Racing Enterprises
Troubling news of sponsor issues threatened Brett Moffitt’s championship run, leaving his run in Chicagoland in doubt. However, the team was still entered on the preliminary list, and by Wednesday reported the team has a new sponsor for the event., which has backed both Front Row Motorsports in Cup and MB Motorsports and Copp Motorsports in the Trucks, has signed with the team. Moffitt comes into the race 3rd in points.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Tate Fogelman had a rough outing in Gateway, crashing out of his series debut. Tyler Young had once again been listed as the team’s driver in Chicagoland, but by Wednesday, the ride has gone to Max Tullman. The 19-year-old Pennsylvania driver has split time in the ARCA Racing Series and K&N Pro Series East this season with a best run of 6th in the ARCA rounds at Daytona and Talladega. Most recently, he finished 19th in last week’s ARCA event at Gateway, driving for Mason Mitchell.

MISSING: #42-Chad Finley Racing, Inc.
Chad Finley turned heads in his return to Truck Series competition as both owner and driver, steering his #42 Chevrolet to a career-best 6th. Both driver and team are not entered in this week’s race, and future plans are still to be determined.

MISSING: #46-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Also missing from this week’s race is KBM’s #46 Toyota along with Christian Eckes, who won Stage 2 in Gateway before a crash left him a disappointing 28th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #50-Beaver Motorsports
With Ross Chastain making the jump to Premium Motorsports’ #15 on Friday, the #50 will this week see a longtime ARCA Racing Series competitor try for his first-ever NASCAR start. Brian Kaltreider is 44 years old, and has been running the ARCA circuit on a part-time basis since 2001, most often his home track in Pocono. His best finish in the series is a pair of 14th-place runs there in 2008 and 2016. He has run at Chicagoland only once, on September 9, 2006, when a first-lap accident left him last in the 41-car field.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Making his third Truck Series start of the year is Brandon Jones, who takes the place of Riley Herbst, a strong 8th back at Gateway. Jones has also run strong in his partial campaign, finishing 9th at Kansas and a season-best 3rd in Charlotte. He’ll continue to run the XFINITY Series with Joe Gibbs Racing in the #19 Toyota. In his previous two XFINITY starts at Chicago for Richard Childress, he finished 10th and 12th.

Zane Smith finished a strong 5th in his Truck Series debut at Gateway. This week, he’s swapped out for Bo LeMastus, who returns to the driver’s seat for the first time since Texas. LeMastus was most recently swapped out at Iowa for team co-owner David Gilliland.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
Another underdog story at Gateway involved Mike Mittler’s MB Motorsports, whose driver Kevin Donahue earned a solid 12th-place run under the lights. The team has exited early from most of its starts this year, especially when they have put J.J. Yeley behind the wheel. Yeley is driving the #63 again this week, but it is yet unknown how long the truck will run on Friday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
B.J. McLeod failed to qualify at Gateway, and Mike Harmon is back driving his #74 Chevrolet this week. Harmon has five Chicagoland starts in the series, most recently last September, when he finished 27th after early transmission issues. UPDATE: Team backer Troptions assumes a larger sponsorship role this week with logos on the hood and quarter panels.

DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
Bayley Currey aims for his seventh Truck Series start of 2018, taking the place of Tyler Matthews in D.J. Copp’s #83 Chevrolet. Currey last took the green in Iowa, finishing 24th, his second-best finish of the year behind a 20th in Las Vegas.

MISSING: #97-JJL Motorsports
Taking the week off is Jesse Little, whose JJL Motorsports team acquired sponsorship from Rustic Rub Company at Gateway and sped to a 7th-place finish, the team’s fourth top-ten run in five starts this year.

WITHDREW: #03-Mike Affarano Motorsports
Welcome back Mike Affarano, who we haven’t seen start a Truck Series race since a 30th-place showing at Iowa on June 19, 2015. Calumet City Auto Parts and Stop Bullying are listed as the sponsors on his Chevrolet. According to Mark Kristl, who saw Affarano earlier this year, the driver had planned on going full-time starting at Iowa two weeks ago, but now has a race-ready truck for this Friday. Kristl also reported Affarano will at least be attempting Eldora next month with Jon Provenzano behind the wheel. UPDATE: Affarano withdrew his entry on Friday after his transporter broke down on the way to the track.


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

The XFINITY Series returns from a one-week hiatus to participate in the upcoming triple-header weekend in Chicagoland. Currently, 42 drivers are entered to attempt the 40-car field, meaning that two will miss the show.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Jeb Burton returns for his third XFINITY start of the season, and father Ward Burton tweeted that he will be in attendance to cheer on the #3 Chevrolet. The younger Burton takes the place of Shane Lee, who ran 16th in the most recent XFINITY round in Iowa.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
The game of musical chairs at Penske Racing continues this weekend. Austin Cindric moves from Penske’s #22 to a #12 car that was last seen on the track at Pocono, where Cindric finished 4th. Taking Cindric’s place in the #22 is Cup regular Paul Menard, who last took the green in the series at Michigan, finishing 5th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s team remains at three cars this week. Alongside Chad Finchum in the #40, Carl Long takes Timmy Hill’s place in the #13. It will be only Long’s second XFINITY start as a driver this season, following a 39th-place showing in Dover. Hill, who finished 37th at Iowa, takes the place of 33rd-place Iowa finisher Stan Mullis in the #66.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Cup Series regular Daniel Suarez in place of Riley Herbst, who in addition to his good finish in the Truck Series at Gateway ran 6th in his XFINITY debut at Iowa. It will be Suarez’ first XFINITY start since this year’s Daytona opener, where he finished 8th.

The preliminary entry list showed Trans-Am racer Chris Cook and his sponsor Shockwave as entered in GMS Racing’s #23 Chevrolet this weekend. This was changed soon after with Chase Elliott once again driving, taking the place of Gateway winner Justin Haley, who ran 12th at Iowa.

RSS Racing returns to its original lineup with J.J. Yeley back in the #38 and Jeff Green in the #93. At Iowa, Yeley finished last in the #93 while Green ran more than half the distance in the #38 before a broken driveshaft left him 35th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
One week after his pole at Sonoma, Cup regular Kyle Larson is back, taking the place of John Hunter Nemechek in the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet. It will be Larson’s third XFINITY start of the year and first since Las Vegas, where he won from the outside-pole.

DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Chase Briscoe, who didn’t race in Iowa, takes Ty Majeski’s place in the #60. Majeski finished 7th at Iowa, not only a career-best, but his first top-ten run since last fall at Homestead.

TEAM UPDATE: #61-Fury Race Cars LLC
The scheduled four-race stint for Kaz Grala and upstart Fury Race Cars LLC continues into a fifth round this Saturday as they look to keep the momentum going. Kiklos, which backed Grala’s Truck Series win at Daytona, will back the effort along with the IT Coalition.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Welcome back Scott Heckert, who hasn’t run an XFINITY Series race since Road America, two years ago. Then as now, Heckert drives for B.J. McLeod, this time in the team’s flagship #78 Chevrolet, taking the place of Tommy Joe Martins. While Martins is not entered, McLeod remains in JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet for a second-straight race.

RETURNING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Cup regular Kevin Harvick will certainly be a favorite for the win on Saturday as he rejoins the #98 team for his fourth XFINITY start of the year, he first since an 8th-place showing at Michigan.

CUP INVADERS: #18-Daniel Suarez, #22-Paul Menard, #23-Chase Elliott, #42-Kyle Larson, #98-Kevin Harvick

Sunday, July 1, 2018
CUP Race 17 of 36
Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Ray Black, Jr.

There are 39 drivers entered for 40 spots, the fourth consecutive short field this season and the 14th of 17 races run this season. There are relatively few driver and team changes this week, many of them due to the return to oval racing after a road course event in Sonoma.

RETURNING: #7-Premium Motorsports
Premium Motorsports tweeted a short video of the team preparing a black #7 Chevrolet at the shop, likely the same car that is entered for Reed Sorenson this Sunday. Driver and team had withdrawn from Sonoma a week earlier. Once again, the team is not officially entered under the NY Racing Team.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
Ross Chastain regains his Cup Series ride this Sunday, taking the place of road racer Justin Marks, who ran 28th at Sonoma. It will be Chastain’s first Cup start at Chicagoland, a track where his best of five previous XFINITY starts was a 16th in 2015 for JD Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Road racer Chris Cook turned in a 31st-place finish for the Rick Ware team in Sonoma, and the #51 remains a Ford this week. While Cole Custer was on the preliminary entry list, he has since been swapped out for B.J. McLeod, who will also be running the XFINITY Series race. It will be McLeod’s fourth Cup start of the year and his first since a 37th at Michigan.

MISSING: #52-Rick Ware Racing
Cody Ware struggled with a faulty fuel pump at Sonoma, leaving him just 36th at the finish. Both he and the second Ware car aren’t entered this week, but are planning to run future races on dates to be announced.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Rejoining the Cup circuit is Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management, whose driver Timmy Hill will also run double-duty between Cup and XFINITY. His Cup ride will again be the #66 Toyota with as sponsor. Hill eyes his seventh Cup start of the year and first since Michigan, where he ran 35th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Cole Whitt walked away uninjured after the #72 banged a concrete wall in Sonoma, leaving him 35th. Corey LaJoie takes his place this week, set to attempt his eighth start of the year and first since a 27th-place showing at Michigan. LaJoie’s best finish of the year remains his 24th-place at Chicago’s sister track in Kansas.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
The Gaunt Brothers aren’t entered in this weekend’s race, and neither are the team’s drivers Parker Kligerman and D.J. Kennington. Kligerman came home under power with a respectable 23rd-place finish last Sunday in his first start on the Sonoma road course.

RETURNING: #99-StarCom Racing
Kyle Weatherman returns to the Cup circuit for the first time since his two-race stint last fall for Rick Ware Racing, when he finished 35th at Martinsville and 34th at Phoenix. This time around, he drives for Derrike Cope’s StarCom Racing in the #99 last driven by Garrett Smithley at Michigan.

DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
One week after Tomy Drissi’s road race effort yielded a 32nd-place finish, Landon Cassill returns to the #00 Chevrolet. Cassill finished 32nd his last time out in Michigan. Both he and teammate Weatherman will run with StarCom Fiber as sponsor in inverted gold-and-black paint schemes. As team owner Derrike Cope reported at Sonoma, the team is already preparing for Daytona the week after, where they will have ECR engines at their disposal.

Sunday’s Cup Series race at Chicagoland is a LASTCAR curiosity. For the last three consecutive runnings, not a single driver has fallen out, including last-place finishers Austin Dillon, Joey Gase, and Ray Black, Jr. The same thing very nearly happened earlier this year at Kansas, where Timmy Hill and B.J. McLeod ran laps down at the back of the field. That all changed with a series of accidents and restarts in the final laps, handing Ty Dillon the position. Will we see the same thing this Sunday? Or will the streak continue?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

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

J.D.'s Buick headed home with damage, late 1960s
PHOTO: Wilbur Thomas Collection
J.D. McDuffie began his racing career on local dirt tracks, winning races and championships on clay ovals across the south-east. When he made his first NASCAR start in 1963, similar tracks still made up a large part of the schedule. Four of his first six starts came on unpaved tracks, including the half-mile Columbia Speedway in South Carolina.

McDuffie would make ten starts on this track, starting on August 8, 1963. He started 6th and finished 14th of 22 starters in the Sandlapper 200, a race Richard Petty won from the pole. Curiously, Petty made his first stock car start on the track on July 12, 1958, finishing 6th in a Convertible Series race on the speedway. Petty’s first of his 1,184 Cup Series starts wouldn’t come until six days later in Toronto.

During our research for “J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend,” we had the opportunity to talk with Wilbur Thomas (nicknamed “Bad Eye”) and Jimmy Byrd (aka “Byrdie”), two of McDuffie’s longtime friends and crew members. Byrd remembered the Columbia track and the unique challenges it presented.

“I went with him some to the dirt tracks that he raced other cars, but not in NASCAR – well now I take that back, in NASCAR we run Columbia, South Carolina, Raleigh Fairgrounds. We run the Buick at Raleigh, that thing was running up there, and that big old hole come in that race track, every car that went through there, they’d go down in that hole and come off the ground. And finally run the driveshaft out of it, the track just come all to pieces.”

“Went to Columbia, South Carolina, me and Bad Eye went down there one night, dirt track. Where’d we finish – 5th, 6th, 7th? It was up toward the front. We’ve been to so many races, it’s hard to remember them all. A lot of it you want to forget, the hard times.”

McDuffie failed to finish seven of his ten Columbia starts, but never once finished last there. He also finished 15th or better seven times (out of 22 to 30 starters, depending on the year) and earned a track-best 7th on September 18, 1969, a race won by Bobby Isaac. The following spring on April 30, 1970, McDuffie charged from 22nd to finish 8th, 8 laps down to “The King.” An engine failure left him just 23rd at the finish in August, the final dirt track event at the speedway.

Columbia was paved for the 1971 season, when the track hosted its final two Cup Series races. McDuffie finished 15th in the first due to engine trouble, then crashed out in August for a 19th-place showing. With the arrival of Winston as title sponsor, the track was removed from the Cup schedule, and like other ousted facilities, briefly hosted the Grand National East Series for the next two seasons. Bobby Allison took the final two checkered flags there and, while McDuffie raced in three other GN East events, he didn’t race in the Columbia events.

The Columbia track no longer hosts races, but the bumpy paved oval still sits among the trees outside the town of Cayce. The track still hosts several events a year, including racer’s reunions. More details can be found at the track’s website.

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

Monday, June 25, 2018

K&N WEST: Bill Kann becomes third straight DNS at Sonoma

Bill Kann's car after his engine fire in qualifying at Sonoma
PHOTO: Brock Beard
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Bill Kann recorded the fifth last-place finish of his K&N Pro Series West career in Saturday’s Carneros 200 at Sonoma Raceway when his #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet did not make it to the grid.

The finish came in the 27th time Kann qualified for a KNPSW race. It was his first since last year at Colorado National Speedway, twelve races ago.

Kann, an Arizona native, has worked his way up to the K&N Pro Series from go-karts and ASA super trucks. He races for his family B&B Motorsports team, running a part-time schedule over the past six years. The team’s number, 18, and sponsor, Interstate Batteries, have not changed in that time, though a manufacturer switch from Toyota to Chevrolet happened in the middle of last season. He has made all but one race this year, skipping Colorado.

He was part of the biggest entry list of the season so far, which included an astronomical five Cup Invaders. Stewart-Haas Racing fielded an entry for Aric Almirola, and DGR-Crosley featured a stable of Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones. William Byron teamed up with Jefferson Pitts Racing and Alex Bowman drove the first Bill McAnally Racing Chevrolet in recent memory. Cole Keatts made his debut and nearly every part-time effort in the series made its way out to the track. Needless to say, the 31-car entry list was trimmed down to 27 by practice, which comparatively was about 13 percent, an almost-unheard of rate for withdrawals.

In practice, Sonoma native Rodd Kneeland was last of the 27 remaining entries. His lap of 1:28.551 was over a half-second off of Hollis Thackeray’s 26th-place lap and nine seconds off of Will Rodgers’ pace-setting lap.

Qualifying was where the trouble started and ended for Kann. After laying down the 17th-fastest lap of the session, an engine fire started in the Esses, eliminating the car from future competition. The resulting layer of sta-dri put down on the track also had an effect on the early stages of Cup Series qualifying, held just minutes later. Kann would be listed as the sanctioning body as a DNS, the third straight at Sonoma and the fourth straight year where the last-place finisher didn’t complete a lap. Coincidentally, Kann was also the last last-placer to complete a lap at Sonoma, as his #18 fell out with transmission troubles after 18 laps in 2014.

26th went to Matt Levin, who fell out after one lap due to crash damage. According to Levin, Todd Klauer was struggling and Levin was giving him room when Takuma Koga tried to pass, which resulted in Levin’s car spinning off track and into the wall.  “[The 11 of Koga was] just driving over his head like he always does. Wouldn’t be the first time and probably won’t be the last,” Levin told LASTCAR after the crash. As for the first part of Levin’s statement, we can verify that. In the season-opening race at Kern County, Jesse Iwuji blamed Koga for an attempted pass gone wrong for his crash that resulted in a last-place finish.

Koga wound up being the next car out, retiring after completing nine laps, citing crash damage. Alex Bowman’s engine troubles dropped him to 24th and Hollis Thackeray rounded out the Bottom Five after transmission troubles sidelined the 38 machine after completing 17 laps.

27) #18-Bill Kann / 0 laps / did not start
26) #10-Matt Levin / 1 lap / crash
25) #11-Takuma Koga / 9 laps / crash
24) #24-Alex Bowman / 10 laps / engine
23) #38-Hollis Thackeray / 17 laps / transmission

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

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


INTERVIEW: Gray Gaulding keeps a positive attitude in Sonoma debut

Gaulding (in white) and the Earthwater squad on the grid.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Like fellow Toyota driver Parker Kligerman, 20-year-old Gray Gaulding had never before raced at the Sonoma Raceway prior to Sunday. In Happy Hour on Friday, his first timed lap put him 17th on the charts before he settled for 29th. He qualified in the same spot, ahead of seven other Chartered teams. We caught up with Gaulding on the grid before the race between photographs with VIPs from returning sponsor Earthwater.

GAULDING: “You know, I don’t know. I just have a knack for road racing. It’s actually my first time in Cup doing road racing, but I did a little bit in Trucks and K&N, but I knew as soon as I took my first lap around here, I was like ‘I’m gonna like this place a lot.’ So, my guys gave me a pretty neutral car, I could turn left and right pretty easy, and I just went out there and hustled the heck out of it, man. We had a good qualifying yesterday, we got some speed in the car, so as long as we keep the fenders on it and have some good stops today, I think we’ll have a good result.”

GAULDING: “Yeah, I think it’s still coming together, but you know, it’s like you said, it’s good to see them back on the car. I can’t thank Earthwater enough, and thank them for supporting our team and believing in us, every race they sponsor us in, and hopefully today we give them a good showing. It’s been a great weekend so far, you know, giving them the best R.O.Y. we can as far as giving them a little T.V. time, getting our name up on the charts, and doing the best we can because a lot of people don’t know we are a small team and every dollar that comes in this team counts, and Earthwater’s just been our main, main backer this year and they’ve done a great job, and I can’t thank them enough for believing in me and our team.”

GAULDING: “Absolutely. You know, we’re – it’s fun coming to the race track, you know, knowing we’re a small team, but I know with the key people we have and with my driving ability, we can beat these guys. I mean, look who we’ve out-qualified today. I mean, we’re in front of Ty Dillon, that’s a full ECR deal, and here we are, you know, we don’t get much practice because of tires and, you know, we don’t have all the horsepower in the world, but we have the right people and the right attitudes and the right drive every single week to go out and get the job done. So, me as a driver it gives me a lot of drive to say, ‘hey, man, I’m a young driver, I’m only 20 years old, racing at the highest level,’ and to be able to do it with a team that, you know, is still trying to get over that hump, it’s a lot of fun for me because I feel like I bring a lot of, you know, hungriness to the race team and all my guys believe in me and they know I can get it done. So, it’s been a fun few weeks. We’re getting better every single week.”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

CUP: Missed shift ends promising Sonoma weekend for A.J. Allmendinger

PHOTO: Brock Beard
A.J. Allmendinger picked up the 8th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway when his #47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after 33 of 110 laps.

The finish came in Allmendinger’s 351st series start and was his first in a Cup race since October 29, 2017 at Martinsville, 19 races ago.  In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 30th for car #47, the 681st by reason of engine failure, and the 748th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 46th for the #47, the 1,057th for engine trouble, and the 1,607th for Chevrolet.

Allmendinger and the JTG-Daugherty Racing team have continued to try and make ends meet in NASCAR’s elite series. Along with an increased presence by sponsor Kroger ClickList, Chris Buescher joined the team last year to make the effort a two-car Chartered effort. Buescher ended up 25th in last year’s point standings, two spots ahead of Allmendinger. Through that season, “The Dinger” continued to excel at the restrictor plate tracks, Martinsville, and the road courses. His best finish of the year was a 3rd at the Daytona 500. A 9th-place run at Watkins Glen was solace after a disappointing Sonoma run, where he started 5th but managed just 35th after mechanical woes.

Coming into Sonoma, Allmendinger’s best tracks remained so with a 10th-place run at Daytona, a season-best 8th at Martinsville, then a thrilling win in the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte, an event he’d won a decade earlier. He stood 23rd in points, two spots ahead of Buescher, and looked for a comeback from his 2017 Sonoma struggles.

Allmendinger’s road course weekend began with a 9th-place showing in opening practice followed by a 12th in Happy Hour. On Saturday, he topped the charts in Round 1 with a 94.477mph (75.828 seconds), nearly two-tenths faster than second-place Martin Truex, Jr. Though he slipped to 5th in Round 2, his lap of 93.925mph (76.274 seconds) still outpaced, among others, defending race winner Kevin Harvick. With 38 entries for 40 spots, no teams were sent home.

Starting 38th and last in the field was Cody Ware, making his second start of the year and first since a 36th-place showing in Dover. This time around, Ware debuted the team’s new second car, which was originally scheduled to hit the track in Charlotte. Backing the new #52 Chevrolet was returning Sacramento sponsor SBC Contractors, which has backed Sonoma underdogs the last couple years, and longtime Ware backer Bubba Burger. SBC employees were out in force, as they have previously for such teams as Premium Motorsports and The Motorsports Group. According to Cody when we spoke with him on the grid prior to the race, the Rick Ware team will continue to enter two cars in future races to be announced.

Cody Ware’s patriotic-schemed #52, along with “road ringer” teammate Chris Cook in the #51 Shockwave Ford, had struggled in practice, and lined up 38th and 36th after particularly treacherous qualifying laps. Following the cleanup for K&N Pro Series driver Bill Kann, who lost an engine in the Esses, NASCAR was unable to clean up the sta-dri on the track. Anxious to go out, Cook and Ware went out first, and struggled to stay on the track as the sta-dri scattered out of the groove. For Ware, this was on top of an issue in practice where a brake hose came loose on the #52 and fell out in Turn 2.

At the start of the race, Cook joined Ware at the back of the field due to unapproved adjustments on the #51. On the break, Ware fell behind Cook as the field pulled away from him. By the fourth corner, Cook had worked his way past StarCom Racing’s #00 GoShare Chevrolet. Behind the wheel was Tomy Drissi, who was making his first Cup start since this same race in 2014. For much of the race’s first stage, Ware and Drissi would race each other for the 37th position, gradually losing touch with Cook and the rest of the leaders. On Lap 5, Ware started to reel in Drissi, narrowing the gap from two seconds to less than one. Drissi, meanwhile, was watching his temperatures, reporting 193 degrees as he negotiated Turn 11 on Lap 10. By that point, Ware was struggling with a tight condition and started to lose ground to Drissi once more.

Cody Ware stopped in Turn 7 near the end of Stage 1
PHOTO: Miles Beard
Ware’s race took a turn on the 21st circuit, when mechanical gremlins reared their ugly head. That time by, as Martin Truex, Jr. put him his first lap down in Turn 2, Ware reported that the car is “blowing up,” then “it’s missing really bad,” and that the car reported no fuel pressure. On Lap 22, he came in with the first group of leaders, but returned to the track still off the pace. Over the radio, the crew chief mentioned that this could be a recurring wiring problem the team’s #51 faced in Charlotte. On entry to Turn 7, Ware pulled off on the shortcut some teams used the day before during qualifying. Three laps away from the end of Stage 1, NASCAR didn’t throw the yellow, leaving the #52 by itself on the track.

For the next three laps, Ware and the team debated about what to do next. The driver wanted to park the car, saying the car couldn’t run more than 5mph and he didn’t want to risk a crash. The crew chief responded they wanted to finish the race under power, and wanted the car to come back to the garage for repairs. When Stage 1 ended on Lap 25, Ware limped his machine down the Esses, but didn’t turn into the garage. The crew looked the car over in their pit stall, located near pit exit, and directed him to go to the garage area. In races past, there was an entrance to the garage at the exit of Turn 1, just before the first crossover bridge. This was apparently not an option, and Ware was told to drive the car around another lap.

On Lap 26, in another frustrating turn, Ware reported the car seemed to be running fine. During the previous stint, the car shut off at quarter-throttle. But now, it was keeping pace with the field under caution. The decision was made to stay on the track, now four laps down, and not go to the garage. Unfortunately, the team didn’t have communication with race control, and Ware wasn’t alerted if he could take the wave-around for the ensuing restart. When the race went green again on Lap 29, Ware managed to keep pace with the tail end of the field, which was again his teammate Chris Cook.

The issues came to a head during the race’s most critical circuit, Lap 33. By that point, Ware was dropping back again, and this time said he was coming into the garage. He went behind the wall and stopped his car in the very last stall nearest to Turn 11, where three crew members brought out their large orange toolbox and set to work looking over the fuel system.

At that exact same moment, two frontrunners suddenly broke down.

The first was Allmendinger, who after successfully defending his Top 5 starting spot in the early laps had then taken the lead on Lap 23, one lap after Ware stopped in Turn 7. This allowed Allmendinger to stay out front on Lap 25, where he claimed his first stage win of the season. Still running among the leaders on Lap 33, however, Allmendinger missed a shift, and started trailing smoke from his wounded engine in Turn 2. The car slowed to a stop just past the corner, drawing what would be the day’s only caution for an on-track incident.

As the crew awaited the #47 car in the garage, the report came that 4th-place starter Jamie McMurray had pulled his #1 Cessna Chevrolet behind the wall. Over the radio, McMurray reported he’d slipped a belt while following Allmendinger through Turn 11, and had also suffered catastrophic damage to the engine. It wasn’t until around Lap 40, when McMurray’s crew had all but finished preparing their car for loading, that the tow truck arrived in Turn 11 with the #47 on the hook. Curiously, the ambulance followed the truck into the garage carrying Allmendinger, who hopped out without a trip to the infield care center.

In the end, both the #1 and #47 were credited with completing the same number of laps. Similar to Pocono last year, since McMurray’s car drove to the garage area while Allmendinger’s had to be towed, Allmendinger was credited with the last-place finish.

Around the time Allmendinger’s car came to the garage area, Cody Ware returned to the track one more time, 16 laps down. He made up his four-lap deficit on McMurray and Allmendinger, but only ran another nine circuits before he pulled into the garage a second and final time, again citing a fuel pump issue. He finished 36th.

Finishing 35th was Cole Whitt in TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet. Whitt’s family plumbing company came on so late to sponsor the #72 Chevrolet that the team had to scramble to print large “PPP” logos at a sign shop for the hood and quarter-panels. Several employees of TriStar sponsor Schluter Systems were on hand for the race, and stayed on hand to support their driver as he pulled behind the wall on Lap 59. A broken shock had sent Whitt into the outside wall, causing heavy damage to the driver’s side of the car. The accident didn’t draw the caution flag, and Whitt reported he was unhurt. For Whitt, as well Allmendinger, Sonoma was their first bottom-five finish of 2018.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Ryan Blaney, whose power steering failed on the #12 PPG Ford midway through the event. Struggling to keep up the pace, Blaney managed to finish under power, though six laps down, to the race leaders.

*This marked the first time that the #47 and the JTG-Daugherty Racing team finished last at Sonoma since 2013, when Bobby Labonte’s turn in the #47 Kingsford Toyota when the engine let go on the first lap of the Toyota / Save Mart 350. Curiously, this was exactly one week after Allmendinger’s first start with the team at Michigan.
*This ends a streak of four consecutive first-time last-place finishers in the Cup Series.

38) #47-A.J. Allmendinger / 33 laps / engine / led 5 laps / won stage 1
37) #1-Jamie McMurray / 33 laps / oil pump
36) #52-Cody Ware / 42 laps / fuel pump
35) #72-Cole Whitt / 57 laps / crash
34) #12-Ryan Blaney / 104 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, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Ford (3)
3rd) Toyota (2)


TRUCKS: Joe Nemechek is third-straight driver to not complete a lap at Gateway

Joe Nemechek picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Villa Lighting Delivers the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park when his #87 Fleetwing / D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues without completing any of the 160 laps.

The finish came in Nemechek’s 47th series start and was his first since August 16, 2017 at Bristol, 19 races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it’s the 6th for truck #87, the 34th for an electrical issue, and the 353rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 49th for the #87, the 116th with electrical problems, and the 1,606th for Chevrolet.

Joe Nemechek began the 2018 season with a sterling 3rd-place finish in the Daytona opener, his best finish in the series since h ran runner-up to Ron Hornaday, Jr. at Watkins Glen way back on August 25, 1996. He did so driving his #87 alongside his son John Hunter Nemechek in the #8, who was collected in an accident that night and finished 25th. For much of the 2017 season, Joe’s runs in the #87 were “start-and-park” performances to help fund John Hunter’s effort. Only three times in 16 starts did Joe finish under power.

This year, those brief runs have been the exception, not the rule. For the first time since 2015, Joe and John Hunter have shared the #8 ride while his son focused on his developing XFINITY Series career in another shared ride for Chip Ganassi Racing. One week after his Daytona performance, Joe drove the #8 to a 12th-place run in Atlanta, then a 7th at Dover and a 15th at Texas. Coming into Gateway, he’d parked the #87 just four times and withdrawn the entry twice more.

With the XFINITY Series off last week, John Hunter remained in the #8 at Gateway, welcoming new sponsorship from Toenjes Brick Contracting. Joe would return to the #87 with Fleetwing rejoining longtime NEMCO supporters D.A.B. Constructors. In opening practice, Joe ran 20th, held fast to 21st in Happy Hour, and slipped to 27th in qualifying with a lap of 132.423mph (33.982 seconds). John Hunter ran 8th and 13th in those sessions, then qualified 7th.

Gateway saw 34 trucks entered for 32 spots, leaving two entries with an early ride home. First to miss the race was B.J. McLeod, originally listed to drive Rick Ware Racing’s #51 in Sonoma, who ended up driving Mike Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet. Also sent home was Camden Murphy, his second-straight DNQ in Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #0 Chevrolet. Both were faster than the five drivers who started 28th on back based on Owner Points. Slowest of them was Josh Reaume, the only driver to not turn a lap in Round 1.

Joining Reaume, who incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, were Ben Rhodes, sent to a backup truck, and Joe Nemechek, who pitted before the green. The issue was apparently tied to Nemechek’s race-ending electrical issue as he failed to complete a lap of the race.

Finishing 31st was Bryant Barnhill, whose Truck Series debut ended with an early engine problem on Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet. 30th went to Dalton Sargeant, who slammed the Turn 4 wall on Lap 33, drawing the second caution of the evening.

Ross Chastain, replaced by road ringer Justin Marks in his Cup ride, had a good showing in the lead-up to the race. Driving Beaver Motorsports’ #50 VIP Racing Experience Chevrolet, Chastain put up the 12th-fastest lap in Round 1, and only wound up 23rd because he didn’t turn a lap in Round 2. A vibration left him 29th in the running order.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was outside-polesitter Christian Eckes. Making only his second Truck Series start in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #46 Mobil 1 Toyota, Eckes took the lead on Lap 37 and led the next 34 laps, taking the win under caution in Stage 2. The promising night came to an end on the ensuing restart, when contact from Stewart Friesen sent him backwards into the outside wall of Turn 2.

On top of Justin Haley’s first career win in his 37th series start, other underdogs had fine outings. Finishing 6th was Chad Finley, who was not only driving for his own brand-new team, but did so in his first series start since 2015. Finley’s #42 Auto Value Service Centers / Chevrolet rallied from an equally-strong 20th on the starting grid.

One spot ahead of Finley came Zane Smith, the ARCA regular enjoying a strong run in his series debut for DGR-Crosley.

Austin Hill finished 11th, continuing a quiet streak of five consecutive top-twenty finishes for Young’s Motorsports. The season-best performance by the #02 Chevrolet remains a 9th at Martinsville, followed closely by a 10th in Las Vegas.

And after several weeks of “start-and-park” efforts, the #63 Mittler Brothers Machine & Tool / Extreme Oil Chevrolet finished 12th, a career-best for driver Kevin Donahue. It was the best run by Mike Mittler’s MB Motorsports since last fall at Talladega, when Bobby Gerhart finished 11th.

*This marks the third-consecutive year that the last-place finisher of this event has failed to complete the opening lap, joining Brandon Brown in 2016 and Jennifer Jo Cobb last year.
*This is the first last-place finish for both Joe Nemechek and the #87 in a Truck Series race at Gateway.

32) #87-Joe Nemechek / 0 laps / electrical
31) #15-Bryant Barnhill / 5 laps / engine
30) #25-Dalton Sargeant / 31 laps / crash
29) #50-Ross Chastain / 43 laps / vibration
28) #46-Christian Eckes / 76 laps / crash / led 34 laps

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

1st) Chevrolet (10)


Saturday, June 23, 2018

INTERVIEWS: Cole Whitt and Chris Cook sum up qualifying day for small teams at Sonoma

Cole Whitt before qualifying
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Cole Whitt has completed every lap of his four previous starts at the Sonoma Raceway with a best finish of 21st last year. He drives the #72 Chevrolet for TriStar Motorsports, a flat black machine without a primary sponsor. One day after his 27th birthday, we caught up with Whitt just before he climbed aboard the car for qualifying.

WHITT: “It’s alright. We’ll see. Just kind of working on the race car more than a qualifying car, so see what we can get today and then we’ll just go to work on Sunday.”

WHITT: “Yeah, I mean obviously we want to be as far up as possible, but a Top 25 would be really good for us, we’d be happy with that, and come out of this race in general with a Top 20 would be our goal for sure.”

Whitt qualified 32nd.

After the session, we caught up with Trans-Am competitor Chris Cook, who drives Rick Ware Racing's #51 Shockwave Ford. Making his first Toyota / Save Mart 350 since 2012, Cook has also been training the K&N Pro Series West teammates at Bill McAnally Racing, hosting a test at the track on June 7. In qualifying, Cook was the first car on the track along with teammate Cody Ware, both of them finding the track treacherous due to sta-dri left on the track from Bill Kann's fiery engine failure in K&N Pro Series qualifying. 

COOK: “(Laughs) No, I mean you’re so set up for qualifying that you know we could never do that. It was kind of a Hail Mary – you roll out, you take your chances, you don’t know how slick the track’s gonna be after it’s been oiled down by the K&N cars, and my deal was ‘let’s just go for it.’ And I about crashed in Turn 9 and certainly Turn 10 was sideways and smoked the tires. That was my deal. And I’d already taken the good off the tires and so we had to go back out and we try to do a little bit better, and we did. But it’s just the struggle, everybody had the same situation.”

COOK: “Yeah, first of all, I hope all the drivers at McAnally Racing do really well. I mean, super super young kids – I say kids, they could be my kids, you know, so I’m dating myself. My overall goal here is certainly to finish the race, finish on the lead lap, and you know a Top 25 would be just tremendous for the Rick Ware team and Shockwave, my sponsor.”

COOK: “No, it’s a Rick Ware car. It’s an older chassis, a road course chassis, and you know just a real honest good old road course car. We’ve got a Yates motor in it, I think last year’s generation. So, I think all the guys at Rick Ware Racing work their butts off and, you know, you come here with what you have and you make the most of it. And much – I’m always thrilled to be here, incredible to be here, seeing a lot of the guys I’ve coached. But it’s very humbling because it’s economics, it’s scale. You know, lots of money comes here, and usually a lot of money helps you run faster. So, it’s humbling.”

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)