Tuesday, July 17, 2018

K&N EAST: Colin Garrett can’t quite replicate the success of Russ Wheeler

PHOTO: @Team_HSR18
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Colin Garrett finished last for the second time in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East career in Saturday night’s King Cadillac GMC Throwback 100 at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park when his #18 Propel GPS / Russ Wheeler Throwback / Hunt-Sellers Racing Toyota crashed out after 26 of 100 laps.

The finish came in Garrett’s sixth series start and was his first since the second South Boston event, three races ago.

Garrett and his #18 Hunt-Sellers Racing team have come into their own lately, shifting from a part-time operation to running every race since Langley. Unfortunately, while the #18 upped its commitment to the series, it is still struggling for cars.

The rest of the field faced a similar issue. A mere 14 cars showed up on the entry list, making it the leanest field of the season. The list did, however, bring changes - lots of them. On the driver's side, Rette Jones Racing switched drivers for the second time this year, parting ways with Grant Quinlan (who replaced Tyler Dippel) to Tristan van Wieringen, whose sister Dominique also races. Marsh Racing tapped Modified ace Chase Dowling for a return to the K&N Pro Series after one race in 2016.

Other changes focused on the “Throwback” theme for the weekend, as paint scheme and number changes galore could be seen. Spencer Davis, himself a modified racer, honored the late Ted Christopher by running "T.C.'s" iconic #13. Chase Cabre switched to number 15 for a Geoffrey Bodine throwback, and his Rev Racing teammate Ruben Garcia Jr. switched to number 12 for Ruben Pardo. Ryan Vargas completed the trio with a “terrible” Tommy Ellis scheme. Other throwback schemes included Anthony Alfredo honoring Sterling Marlin’s iconic Silver Bullet car and Brandon McReynolds running a paint scheme driven decades ago by Cookie Visconti, patriarch of the Visconti Motorsports family.

Garrett's was one of the most distinctive of these "throwbacks," referencing the 1990 film "Days of Thunder." The Propel GPS sponsorship was altered to make the car resemble the gold-and-blue Hardee's Chevrolet driven in the film by Cary Elwes' antagonist Russ Wheeler.

Bill Hoff was on the initial entry list, but his #71 never turned a lap all day and wound up being listed as a withdrawal, unlike the DNS he was listed as at NJMP. According to Hoff's Twitter, the car started smoking and misfiring after something broke under the hood. If you want to support his team, a link to his Kickstarter campaign can be found here.

Dowling and van Wieringen trailed the two practice sessions, but both were within four-tenths of the leader, making the sessions some of the most competitive of the year. Tyler Ankrum, the championship point leader coming in to the event, started last after his time in qualifying was disallowed. Ankrum went in the style of Martin Truex Jr., going from last to first with a disallowed car to eventually win.

Unfortunately, one of the fan-favorite throwback cars wound up finishing last. Colin Garrett reported fighting a loose condition early in the race, falling from his third starting position to ninth within the first 20 laps before finding the wall in turns three and four on lap 27. His Hunt-Sellers Racing team determined the damage was terminal, and "Russ Wheeler’s" night ended early.

Ronnie Bassett, Jr. fell out with brake troubles after 69 laps, the only other car not to finish the race. Van Wieringen, Vargas and Garcia rounded out the Bottom Five, all on the lead lap.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
13) #18-Colin Garrett / 26 laps / accident
12) #04-Ronnie Bassett Jr. / 69 laps / brakes
11) #30-Tristan van Wieringen / 100 laps / running
10) #2-Ryan Vargas / 100 laps / running
9) #12-Ruben Garcia Jr. / 100 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR K&N EAST MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota, Chevrolet (4)

2018 LASTCAR K&N EAST OWNERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hunt-Sellers Racing (2)
2nd) Bill McAnally Racing, Ronald Bassett Jr., Chuck Buchanan Jr., Carroll Motorsports, Danny Watts Racing, Hoff Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR K&N EAST DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, July 14, 2018

CUP: Blown tire in Alex Bowman’s 100th Cup start ends with first last-place finish in three years

PHOTO: NBCSN
Alex Bowman picked up the 5th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway when his #88 Axalta Chevrolet fell out in a single-car crash after 108 of 267 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Bowman’s 100th series start, was his first of the season and first in the Cup Series since July 26, 2015 at Indianapolis, 107 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 29th for car #88, the 568th because of a crash, and the 749th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 55th for the #88, the 1,151st from a crash, and the 1,611th for Chevrolet.

Coming into Kentucky, Bowman had earned three-straight top-ten finishes: a 9th at the Sonoma Raceway (where he also qualified 7th for the K&N Pro Series West race in a car that broke the internet), a 10th at Chicagoland, and another 10th at Daytona. The crash-marred Daytona finish was particularly impressive. On a night where literally half the field was eliminated in wrecks, Bowman skillfully saved his car from a late-race spin and came out as the only full-time Cup driver to finish every points race under power (his last-place run in the All-Star Race didn’t count for points).

Thanks to this consistency, “The Showman” held fast to the 16th and final spot in the Playoff standings, 19 points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Kentucky was another track where Bowman hadn’t raced Cup in several years. His only two previous starts were a 36th for BK Racing in 2014 and a 31st for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Both times, however, he’d finished under power and even led two laps in the race with Baldwin. He’d also finished 5th in his most recent XFINITY start there in 2013.

At the track, Bowman started the weekend 22nd in the first practice and 28th in Happy Hour. After running 13th in Round 1 of qualifying, he qualified 15th overall with a lap of 186.625mph (28.935 seconds), missing the cut for Round 3 by just over a tenth of a second.

Starting last in Saturday’s race was Timmy Hill, lowest-ranked of the four cars who weren’t able to pass inspection in time to turn a lap in Round 1. Hill’s black-and-blue #66 Crypto Crow Toyota was one of three cars in the field backed by a cryptocurrency firm, joining Kasey Kahne’s #95 Chevrolet with Dark Matter Presented by Ionomy and Corey LaJoie’s #72 Monarch Chevrolet. The other drivers who failed to turn a lap in Round 1 were Denny Hamlin, who failed inspection twice, plus Matt DiBenedetto and Jesse Little. Little, a part-time Truck Series competitor and son of Cup veteran Chad Little, was making his Cup debut for Premium Motorsports in an unsponsored #7 Chevrolet. With 39 drivers for 40 spots, no cars were sent home after qualifying.

Prior to the race, just one driver was sent to the back of the field. 18th-place starter Kyle Larson missed driver introductions because, as NBC Sports reported, he thought he had more time to hang out with his friends before the race. Larson didn’t spend much time at the back, ultimately charging to 9th at the finish despite a persistent problem with the electronic track bar adjuster.

When the race started, Hill’s #66 followed the field into Turn 1 and got a good run to the inside of Little, dropping the #7 to the back of the field. Hill then caught B.J. McLeod on the backstretch, and by Turn 3 dropped McLeod’s #51 Prefund Capital Chevrolet to the 39th spot. McLeod then caught Hill for position on Lap 6, and made it by him by the 11th circuit. Hill was still in the last spot when Landon Cassill pitted his #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet for a vibration caused by a loose left-rear wheel. The green-flag stop made Cassill the first to lose a lap to the leaders, ultimately losing two by the time he rejoined the race.

Cassill’s loose wheel was followed by more wheel and tire issues for some of the frontrunners. Austin Dillon came in for a similar vibration, followed by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. with a cut left-rear after contact with Jamie McMurray entering Turn 3. Both Dillon and Stenhouse lost two laps, but were still ahead of Cassill in the running order. That is, until Stenhouse slowed on Lap 27 and pitted a second time, dropping him three laps down. Stenhouse returned to the action and on Lap 37 passed Cassill, now also three down, as the pair raced off Turn 2. Cassill then passed Hill by Lap 47 before Little took the spot for the first time by Lap 59, his #7 now five circuits behind. Cassill retook last place on Lap 75, and at the end of Stage 1 reported his car was “really, really tight center off.”

When Stage 2 began on Lap 88, Timmy Hill was again in the 39th spot, followed on Lap 101 by Cassill’s teammate Garrett Smithley, back in action in the StarCom Racing #99 Victory Lane Quick Oil Change Chevrolet that trailed the Michigan race in June. Smithley, who slipped into the Bottom Five when Little held last, worked his way past Hill by Lap 106. From there, Hill was still running in the last spot until the night’s second caution came out on Lap 110.

At that moment, Alex Bowman was following Denny Hamlin into Turn 3. He was running mid-pack, having led Lap 63 during an exchange of green-flag stops. Suddenly, his Chevrolet erupted in sparks from an apparent flat right-front tire. The car then steered into the Turn 3 wall, flattening the passenger side. Bowman managed to get his car back to pit road, but the crew quickly decided to take him back to the garage, done for the night. As driver and crew talked over what happened, Bowman said the car was getting tight, but he didn’t run over anything, and wasn’t sure if it was a tire or a brake rotor that failed. He also had to pump the brakes during the race, and had lost them entirely as he rolled into the garage on Lap 112. He secured last place from Timmy Hill on Lap 115.

With both Bowman and Stenhouse struggling on Saturday, Bowman remaons 16th in the Playoff standings, now just 9 points ahead of Stenhouse.

Finishing 38th was J.J. Yeley, whose second-straight run in the #23 Steakhouse Elite Toyota ended with an engine failure in Turns 3 and 4. Yeley managed to slow his car enough to avoid contact with the outside wall. As of this writing, the BK Racing team is awaiting a hearing on August 21 where the team and its Charter will be sold to a new owner, pending NASCAR’s approval of the sale.

The 37th spot fell to Matt DiBenedetto, one of many drivers who struggled with mechanical issues in the race. DiBenedetto took at least one trip to the garage to replace brake rotors before ultimately pulling out of the race in the final laps. Smithley finished 36th, the final car to run under power, followed by Little in 35th to round out the Bottom Five.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for both Bowman and the #88 in a Cup Series race at Kentucky.
*This was the first last-place finish for Hendrick Motorsports since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. lost the engine at Watkins Glen last year, and the second in a row in this race following Jimmie Johnson’s run last year.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #88-Alex Bowman / 108 laps / crash / led 1 lap
38) #23-J.J. Yeley / 199 laps / engine
37) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 200 laps / vibration / led 1 lap
36) #99-Garrett Smithley / 251 laps / running
35) #7-Jesse Little / 253 laps / running

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (3)
2nd) Premium Motorsports, StarCom Racing (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Penske Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Ford (4)
3rd) Toyota (3)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: Jeff Green edges the returning second Means car for his eight last-place run of 2018

PHOTO: @hrmn8ter
Jeff Green picked up the 110th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Alsco 300 at the Kentucky Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out after 6 of 200 laps because of electrical issues.

The finish, which came in Green’s 497th series start, was his series-leading eighth of the 2018 season and his first since Michigan, four races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it’s the 36th for car #93, the 507th for Chevrolet, and the 48th because of electrical problems. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 86th for the #93, the 1,610th for Chevrolet, and the 118th because of electrical problems.

Last Saturday, Green was again set for a strong run on the plate tracks, outlasting much of the competition in Daytona. But a wreck late in the race left him with the front clip virtually destroyed, joining the equally-battered Chevrolets of teammates Ryan Sieg and J.J. Yeley. For the Kentucky race, Green would run an all-black Chevrolet without any sponsorship, and would once again be on “start-and-park” duty.

Green didn’t complete a lap in time before the end of the opening session, leaving him last of the 35 drivers without a time or speed registered. He returned in Happy Hour to rank 30th, then qualified 28th for the race with a lap of 172.238mph (31.352 seconds).

Josh Reaume's #79 in the garage at Kentucky
PHOTO: Seth Eggert, @MotorsportRev
Starting last was Josh Reaume, who found himself suddenly pulling double-duty at Kentucky. Without Kaz Grala and Fury Race Cars LLC on the entry list due to a lack of sponsorship, one spot was left open, threatening the first short XFINITY Series field in nearly four full years. Reaume, who was already at the track running his own Truck Series effort, was tabbed by Jimmy Means Racing to drive the team’s second car. Means entered what had been a #52 Striping Technologies Chevrolet that was renumbered #79, large white squares with the black number added on the doors and roof, similar to Carl Long’s drive with the team at Fontana in 2014. Long’s drive was the first of 10 times Means has fielded this “start-and-park” car to help fill fields, and Reaume would follow the same strategy.

Prior to the start of the race, Reaume was joined at the rear by Christopher Bell, Alex Labbe, and Mike Harmon, who were all penalized for unapproved adjustments prior to the race. Jeff Green joined them by voluntarily following to the back, looking to stay out of trouble. This allowed Green to pull into the garage area early, beating Reaume by three laps for the last spot. According to Seth Eggert, on assignment that night for Motorsports Tribune, Reaume first pulled into the Cup garage, sat there for two minutes, then backed up through the infield fan zone to the XFINITY garage. Eggert had to dodge the car as it went by, steam coming from behind the wheels and from under the hood.

Finishing 38th was Morgan Shepherd, who returned to action after his first withdrawal of the season at Daytona. Thirty laps after Shepherd’s exit for a vibration, Timmy Hill pulled Motorsports Business Management’s #66 CrashClaimsR.us Dodge behind the wall with a fuel pump issue. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Brandon Jones, whose #19 Menards NRG Toyota was eliminated in a crash on the backstretch after contact from a sideways John Hunter Nemechek.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the second-straight last-place finish at Kentucky for Green and the #93. Green earned the 98th XFINITY last-place run of his career here last September.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #93-Jeff Green / 6 laps / electrical
39) #79-Josh Reaume / 9 laps / overheating
38) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 25 laps / vibration
37) #66-Timmy Hill / 55 laps / fuel pump
36) #19-Brandon Jones / 104 laps / crash

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (9)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Fury Race Cars LLC, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, JP Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Ford (3)
3rd) Toyota (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

TRUCKS: Ragged start leaves Tyler Matthews last at Kentucky

PHOTO: FS1
Tyler Matthews picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Thursday’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at the Kentucky Speedway when his #83 Accent Imaging Chevrolet crashed out after 1 of 150 laps.

The finish occurred in Matthews’ third series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 5th for truck #83, the 143rd because of a crash, and the 355th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 30th for the #83, the 1,151st for a crash, and the 1,609th for Chevrolet.

Tyler Matthews is one of many drivers working their way into NASCAR from short tracks all across the country. The 21-year-old from Richlands, North Carolina is the 2016 track champion at the Carteret County Speedway in Swansboro, competing in late models and limited late models. On April 21 of this year, he made his first start in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour at the Orange County Speedway, once a regular stop of the NASCAR XFINITY Series. In a field of 21 cars, Matthews finished 14th for his family’s team.

The previous month, an opportunity came to go Truck Series racing at Martinsville. He was tabbed by Matthew Miller’s team MDM Motorsports to drive the #99 Popeye’s BB&T Scott Stringfellow Chevrolet. He qualified 14th for the race and finished 21st, two laps down to race winner John Hunter Nemechek. On June 23, he was also the last-minute replacement at D.J. Copp Racing, climbing aboard the #83 First Reponder Racing Chevrolet. Even with a team with fewer resources, Matthews managed to almost match his run with MDM, finishing 17th.

Kentucky was Matthews’ next Truck Series start, where he would again drive Copp’s #83. This time around, his Chevrolet was black instead of white, more closely resembling a truck from Premium Motorsports instead of his Gateway ride, which looked like the #63 from MB Motorsports. Accent Imaging, which backed Matthews at Gateway, would return as sponsor, this time as the primary.

Matthews ran 24th of 29 drivers in opening practice, then ran 27th when all 34 entrants took to the track in Happy Hour. He returned to 24th in qualifying with a lap of 175.993mph (30.683 seconds).

Missing the race were Joe Nemechek in his #87 Petron Plus Chevrolet and Timmy Hill, whose bid to start all three races last week ended with a slow lap in Beaver Motorsports’ unsponsored #50 Chevrolet. Curiously, Nemechek was faster than all five of the drivers who started in the Bottom Five on Owner Points, but was just under two-tenths slower than Bayley Currey for the 27th spot. Hill was two-tenths off Nemechek’s pace, but was still faster than the four starters.

Everyone was faster than last-place starter Myatt Snider, who broke loose during his qualifying lap in Round 1 and tagged the outside wall with the right-rear. The ThorSport team readied the backup, and Snider rolled off 32nd in his #13 FarmPaint.com Ford. He incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for the backup truck, joined by John Hunter Nemechek for unapproved adjustments on the #8 D.A.B. Constructors / Fleetwing Chevrolet and Stewart Friesen, whose #52 Halmar International / We Build America Chevrolet had a new engine under the hood.

It didn’t take long for trouble to break out. When the green flag dropped, the field pulled away slowly, jamming up the middle of the pack. Lined up between the #54 of Bo LeMastus and the #88 of Matt Crafton on the outside line, Matthews found himself at the point where the accordion compressed the tightest. As LeMastus pulled away, Crafton looked to the outside of Matthews, who was also working his way around Nemechek. Now three-wide entering Turn 1, Nemechek and Matthews made contact, sending the #83 sliding up the track. Matthews narrowly missed the other penalized trucks of Friesen and Snider as he fought for control. He ran out of race track soon after, and smacked the right-rear against the green retaining wall before spinning to the apron.

While the damage didn’t appear too extensive, Matthews pulled behind the wall, done for the night.

Finishing 31st was Camden Murphy, back in Jennifer Jo Cobb’s “start-and-park” #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet. Cobb herself finished 29th, citing overheating issues on her #10. In between them came Bayley Currey, another of Copp’s drivers of the #83, who this time ran MB Motorsports’ #63 Chevrolet. Rounding out the group was Tate Fogleman, the only one in the Bottom Five to run more than 28 laps, who suffered suspension issues on Young’s Motorsports’ #20 RandCo Chevrolet.

For more on Tyler Matthews, check out his Facebook page here.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Matthews is the first first-time last-placer in the Truck Series since last fall at Martinsville, when Chris Windom fell out with engine trouble.
*This marked the second last-place finish of the year for D.J. Copp’s team, and the first since Atlanta, ten races ago, with Scott Stenzel driving.
*This marked the first time the #83 has finished last in a Truck Series race at Kentucky.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #83-Tyler Matthews / 1 lap / crash
31) #0-Camden Murphy / 11 laps / electrical
30) #63-Bayley Currey / 22 laps / vibration
29) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 28 laps / overheating
28) #20-Tate Fogleman / 103 laps / suspension

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) MB Motorsports (4)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (3)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (2)
4th) Mike Harmon Racing, NEMCO Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (12)

2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, July 12, 2018

PREVIEW: Smithley, Gallagher, and Lyons among the many returning names at Kentucky

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing

Thursday, July 12, 2018

TRUCKS Race 12 of 23
Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Norm Benning

ENTRY LIST
There are 34 trucks entered for 32 spots, meaning that two trucks will fail to qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
Kentucky sees the return of Robby Lyons, who has been off the circuit since May with kidney issues. He takes the place of Premium’s Cup driver Ross Chastain, who finished 26th after an early crash at Chicagoland. It will by Lyons’ first Truck start at Kentucky.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Tate Fogleman returns to make his 2nd Truck Series start, following up his 27th-place finish at Gateway, where his series debut ended in a hard crash. He takes the place of Max Tullman, whose own series debut at Chicagoland yielded a 23rd-place finish, four laps down to Brett Moffitt.

DRIVER CHANGE: #50-Beaver Motorsports
Timmy Hill is slated to run all three of this weekend’s races in Kentucky, his Cup and XFINITY efforts for Motorsports Business Management supplemented by a run in the #50 Chevrolet on Thursday. He takes the place of Brian Kaltreider, whose series debut at Chicagoland saw him run 25th after suspension issues. Hill has two previous starts in this race, finishing 15th in 2015 and 23rd in 2016, both for Premium Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
Mike Mittler and D.J. Copp’s teams switch up drivers this week. Bayley Currey moves from Copp’s #83 to Mittler’s #63, taking the place of J.J. Yeley. Driving in Currey’s place in the #83 is Tyler Matthews, his first start since Gateway and third of the season, with NextGen as sponsor.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Kentucky is the next race on the schedule for Clay Greenfield and his team, last seen in action at Texas in June, where he finished 20th. Greenfield’s #68 Chevrolet will again be sponsored by AMVETS and the Please Stand initiative. Greenfield has four previous Truck Series starts in Kentucky, but none since 2013, when he parked a second truck for Norm Benning. His track debut came in 2010 driving a Dodge for Danny Gill, who now serves as his crew chief.

MISSING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon will focus exclusively on his XFINITY Series effort this weekend as, for the first time this season, he has not entered his #74 Chevrolet on the Truck side. Harmon finished last in the most recent round at Chicagoland after an oil cooler kept him from completing a lap.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Welcome back Parker Kligerman and Charlie Henderson’s team, both back on the circuit for the first time since Charlotte in May, both looking for their fifth start of 2018. Kligerman’s Charlotte run was his best of the season so far, a 7th – the same spot he finished in this race last year. In six previous starts in this race, his best finishes are a pair of 2nds – 2011 to Kyle Busch and 2012 to James Buescher.

MISSING: #03-Mike Affarano Motorsports
Mike Affarano has not entered his #03 Chevrolet in this weekend’s race following his withdrawal two weeks ago in Chicagoland. Reports still indicate he will return next Wednesday in Eldora.

CUP INVADERS: None.

Friday, July 13, 2018
XFINITY Race 17 of 33
Alsco 300 at Kentucky
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Brandon Jones

ENTRY LIST
Up until Wednesday, there were 39 drivers entered in this Friday’s race for 40 spots, marking the first short field in the XFINITY Series since 39 took the green at Mid-Ohio on August 16, 2014. But a 40th car has now been added (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Fresh off his first Cup Series Top 10, Ty Dillon will make his fifth XFINITY start of the season, his first since a 4th-place run at Charlotte. He takes the place of Shane Lee, who had a fine run at Daytona and finished 6th, his own career-best.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
DRIVER & MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
MISSING: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
The McLeod team scales back from three cars to two following a rough night in Daytona. With his #99 not entered, Ray Black, Jr. moves over to the #8 this week, taking the place of Caesar Bacarella. In the #78, Tommy Joe Martins was listed to take the place of Blake Jones, but Martins tweeted on Tuesday that he will not return until next week in New Hampshire. Instead, another driver to be announced will drive the #78, which is a Chevrolet this week in place of a Toyota. UPDATE: Blake Jones is again in the #78.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
After his spectacular tumble at Daytona, Austin Cindric moves back to the returning Penske #12 this week with sponsorship from the Lasik Vision Institute. Ty Majeski takes Cindric’s place in the #60 Ford for his first start since a 7th at Iowa. Both drivers will be making their first XFINITY Series starts at Kentucky.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Bad luck ended Ryan Preece’s run at Daytona, where he won the pole but retired with a punctured radiator. He’s not running this weekend as Kyle Busch drives the #18 with NOS Energy Drink as sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Penske Racing is swapping one Cup driver for another, putting Paul Menard in place of Ryan Blaney. Four of Menard’s seven Kentucky starts in this series have yielded top-ten finishes, including a track-best 4th in 2014.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-GMS Racing
Welcome back Spencer Gallagher, who has successfully completed NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” following his first career victory at Talladega in May. Gallagher takes the place of Chase Elliott, who lost an engine in his most recent relief driver role at Daytona, leaving him 29th.

MISSING: #24-GMS Racing
While Gallagher returns to the track, GMS Racing’s second entry does not. Following his heartbreaking loss at Daytona, Haley will focus on this weekend’s Truck Series race, again in GMS’ #24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
John Hunter Nemechek returns to the XFINITY side this week in place of Kyle Larson. Anderson Columbia Co., Inc. has signed as sponsor. While this is Nemechek’s first XFINITY start at the track, his best of three Truck Series starts here was a runner-up to William Byron two years ago. Nemecchek will run Thursday’s Truck race as well, and looks to improve on that finish.

MISSING: #61-Fury Race Cars, LLC
Noticeably absent from this week’s list is upstart Fury Race Cars and driver Kaz Grala, whose six-race debut was capped by a career-best 5th in a car that was once an Evernham Motorsports car, then a show car for Stewart-Haas Racing. Grala tweeted on Tuesday that sponsorship issues prevented the team from running Kentucky, effectively ending the driver’s bid for the Playoffs. Grala also reported, however, that a sponsor signed for next Saturday’s round in New Hampshire.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
The second part of Timmy Hill’s tripleheader sees him run a Chevrolet in place of last week’s restrictor-plate Toyota.

RETURNING: #79-Jimmy Means Racing
In part, the current four-year streak of 40-car fields has been due to one of two teams entering an extra car: MBM or Jimmy Means Racing. Means takes his turn this week, bringing back the #79 for the 10th time, and the first since June 11, 2016 at Michigan. Behind the wheel is Truck Series owner-driver Josh Reaume, who will now run double-duty.

RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd has entered his #89 this week, following his withdrawal at Daytona. It will be Shepherd’s 17th start at this track, dating back to 2003. His best finish here is the only one where he’s finished under power, a 25th on June 13, 2009.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Ty Dillon, #18-Kyle Busch, #22-Paul Menard

Saturday, July 14, 2018
CUP Race 19 of 36
Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Kentucky
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jimmie Johnson

ENTRY LIST
One week after the first over-40 entry list of the season, it’s back to 39 Cup cars this week in Kentucky. It’s the 15th short field in 19 races this season and the fifth in the last six races.

DRIVER CHANGE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
Matt Kenseth returns to the driver’s seat this week for his fifth Cup run of the year and his first since a 33rd at Michigan. For the first time this year, he runs the Performance Plus Motor Oil scheme that only Trevor Bayne has run in races past. Bayne showed some improvement over the last three races, qualifying 13th at Sonoma and contending for the win at Daytona before he was eliminated in a crash.

DRIVER CHANGE: #7-Premium Motorsports
Making his Cup debut this week is Jesse Little, son of retired Cup driver and now NASCAR official Chad Little. It marks the first time the Little name has run a Cup race since Chad’s 217th and final start at Dover on June 2, 2002. The younger Little secured the ride following his sterling runs in the Truck Series, where his family’s JJL Motorsports team has finished inside the Top 10 in four of their previous five starts. He takes the place of Jeffrey Earnhardt, who earned a career-best 11th last week in Daytona.

TEAM UPDATE: #23-BK Racing / NY Racing Team
The partnership between BK Racing, driver J.J. Yeley, and sponsor Steakhouse Elite continues into this Saturday’s race in Kentucky. In their first race together, the team worked their way from last on the grid to 18th at the finish, two laps down to the leaders.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
B.J. McLeod is set for his fifth Cup start of the season, and his first since Chicagoland. He takes the place of Ray Black, Jr., who ran 16th at Daytona despite persistent issues with the car shutting off. McLeod’s best finish this season remains a 33rd at Charlotte, though he has finished under power in all his Cup starts this season.

MISSING: #62-Beard Motorsports
The Beard Oil crew is apparently sticking to its restrictor-plate only schedule for 2018 as they and driver Brendan Gaughan are not entered this Saturday. Gaughan finished 12th at Daytona, the fourth time in seven starts that driver and team finished inside the Top 20.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
After skipping Daytona, MBM still has their Cup car in one piece, and Timmy Hill will drive it this Saturday with CrashClaimsR.us as sponsor. Hill’s first Kentucky race in the Cup Series came last year, where he finished 31st.

MISSING: #92-RBR Enterprises
Ricky Benton’s team is also not entered this week after driver Timothy Peters became the first driver to fail to qualify this season.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #95-Leavine Family Racing
After by far their best race of the season, threatening to snag the victory until the final moments, the Leavine team welcomes a new sponsor for Kasey Kahne: blockchain firm Dark Matter presented by Ionomy. This is the second-straight week a blockchain company will back a Cup car, following Dragonchain’s sponsoring of Corey LaJoie’s #72 in Daytona.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
The Gaunt Brothers enjoyed a fine 13th-place run at Daytona, their first race with D.J. Kennington behind the wheel since Talladega. Driver and team aren’t entered this week, and their plans for the season’s second half are still coming together.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-StarCom Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
Garrett Smithley returns for the first time since his early exit at Michigan, looking for a proper start to his Cup career. Victory Lane Quick Oil Change is again the sponsor, though this time the door numbers are red in place of the white ones at Michigan. Landon Cassill moves from the #99 back to his Chartered #00, taking the place of Joey Gase, 25th at Daytona. StarCom Fiber once again backs the Cassill car.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
Only three times in Cup Series history has the last-place finisher been “parked” by NASCAR. This is distinguished from “flagged,” which has been used 21 times in Cup, but not since 1992, and “too slow,” the more modern incarnation of “flagged” used for cars that fail to maintain minimum speed.

Twice in Cup, a car’s been parked and finished last because the team didn’t have a pit crew present at the track. The most notable example was the first, at Rockingham in 2004, when Joe Ruttman was called in after the opening lap. It happened again in 2009, when Mike Wallace was driving for Larry Gunselman’s team at Pocono. The most recent time occurred at Michigan three years ago, when Timmy Hill’s entry from Premium Motorsports had a persistent oil leak.

It’s also happened three times in the Truck Series, all of them at Martinsville. The first example was April 9, 2005, when Casey Kingsland’s #24 Speed Zone Energy Drink Dodge was parked for spinning too much. In the opening 93 laps, Kingsland drew three of the race’s first six cautions. The other two occurred to Tracy Lowe’s team TJL Racing: Bryce Napier, who had smoke in the cockpit, and Mike Senica, who ignored the black flag.

In the XFINITY Series, only Kevin Lepage has been parked and finished last as a result. That occurred at Memphis on October 25, 2008, when he was driving Derrike Cope’s #73 Germane Red Dodge.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

#JD70: A track-by-track look at J.D. McDuffie's early NASCAR career

Several of J.D.' McDuffie's first Cup cars were painted blue.
PHOTO: Wilbur and Jimmy Thomas Collection
Today, we close out our J.D. McDuffie track-by-track series with speedways where the driver made eight or fewer starts in his Cup career (with the exclusion of Bridgehampton, New York and Houston, Texas, mentioned in earlier articles). Many of these tracks were taken off the Cup Series circuit when Winston became title sponsor in 1972. Some are still in operation today. One hosted exactly one Cup race.

Among these 30 tracks – many of them paved and unpaved bullrings – McDuffie made his first Cup start, ran the last Cup event on a dirt track, and competed where he first watched a race as a child. Though these tracks made up just 99 of McDuffie’s 653 career Cup starts, they also account for 2 of his 12 Top Fives (including his career-best finish), 37 of his 106 Top Tens, and only 4 of his 32 last-place finishes – including his first of each.

ALBANY-SARATOGA SPEEDWAY
Malta, New York
McDuffie’s second and final start on this 0.362-mile paved track came on July 14, 1971, when he finished a career-best 3rd, six laps behind winner Richard Petty and four behind 2nd-place Dave Marcis. The Sanford driver also led 5 laps that day, his Mercury pacing the field from Laps 59 to 63 of 250.

ASHEVILLE-WEAVERVILLE SPEEDWAY
Weaverville, North Carolina
This longtime track proved one of McDuffie’s most challenging. In six starts, he only finished under power twice. His track-best was a 9th on May 4, 1969, when he finished 23 laps behind Bobby Isaac in the Fireball 300.

AUGUSTA SPEEDWAY
Augusta, Georgia
Similar to Asheville-Weaverville, McDuffie finished under power in only one of his five starts here, coming home 9th in his Buick on October 5, 1968. His final start here came on October 19, 1969, when an engine failure caused the 11th last-place finish of his career.

BELTSVILLE SPEEDWAY
Beltsville, Maryland
In seven of his eight starts, McDuffie finished no worse than 15th (in starting fields that ranged from 22 to 31 cars). His track-best finish came in the Maryland 300 on September 13, 1968, a race Bobby Isaac won by more than two laps. McDuffie ran 8th that day, 17 laps behind.

BOWMAN GRAY STADIUM
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The “madhouse” of today held special significance to McDuffie, who once attended races there as a fan. In the Cup Series, he made seven starts at Bowman Gray, finishing inside the Top 10 four times and failing to finish just once. His track-best was a 7th on August 28, 1970, the Myers Brothers 250 which Richard Petty won from the pole.

DOG TRACK SPEEDWAY
Moyock, North Carolina
This quarter-mile dirt track saw McDuffie make his second career Cup start on July 11, 1963, where he finished 12th – third-from-last – in a race won by Jimmy Pardue. He finished 12th again that September, then improved to 8th in the final Cup race held there on May 29, 1966. Official results indicate that 1966 race was extended by a lap due to a scoring error. David Pearson took the victory from outside-pole, leading 217 of those laps.

FONDA SPEEDWAY
Fonda, New York
One of the stops on NASCAR’s “Northern Tour,” McDuffie made two starts on the half-mile clay oval. His best was in his track debut July 14, 1966, when he ran 7th. He finished 15th in his second race there two years later, eliminated in a crash.

GREENVILLE-PICKENS SPEEDWAY
Greenville, South Carolina
Another historic track in NASCAR saw McDuffie make eight starts there. It also witnessed his first Cup Series last-place finish. The day was July 30, 1963, and McDuffie started last in the 21-car field in his 1961 Ford. A crash on Lap 2 ended his afternoon. Richard Petty took the win from a dominant Ned Jarrett. McDuffie rebounded nicely, finishing a track-best 6th three times in 1966, 1968, and 1969.

GRESHAM MOTORSPORTS PARK
Jefferson, Georgia
The same track that hosted the K&N Pro Series East into 2012 saw McDuffie make a pair of Cup Series starts. Both times he finished 13th, under power at the checkered flag.

HICKORY SPEEDWAY
Hickory, North Carolina
Well before its former place in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, historic Hickory Speedway saw McDuffie make seven Cup starts from 1963 through 1970. Again, he failed to finish just one time and earned a trio of top-ten runs with a best of 7th on April 3, 1966. David Pearson prevailed that day in a two-car battle with Curtis Turner.

ISLIP SPEEDWAY
Islip, New York
The tiny Islip Speedway was just two-tenths of a mile around on July 16, 1966, and McDuffie worked his way to a 21st-place finish in a crowded 29-car field before the transmission let go. He improved in his other two starts there, running 19th in 1968 and 16th in 1971, but failed to finish all three.

KINGSPORT SPEEDWAY
Kingsport, Tennessee
Three starts for the #70 on the four-tenths oval with dramatically different results. He finished 7th on June 26, 1970, during the Kingsport 100 won by Richard Petty. His other two finishes were a 15th and a 24th, the latter next-to-last in the 25-car field. Trailing that afternoon was Bill Hollar, who burned the clutch after the opening lap.

LANGLEY SPEEDWAY
Hampton, Virginia
Stronger performances for McDuffie on this paved short track. A track-best 8th came on November 22, 1970, a race dominated by Bobby Allison and his Dodge. He also finished 11th in consecutive years out of 24 starters. His fourth start ended in a crash, but in the late stages, leaving him ahead of nine drivers in 16th.

MIDDLE GEORGIA RACEWAY
Macon, Georgia
McDuffie’s 7th career last-place finish occurred here on November 17, 1968 when his Buick lost the engine after 20 of 500 laps around the half-mile paved oval. His other three starts, however, were all top-ten performances - 7th, 9th, and 10th – for an average finish of 14th.

MONTGOMERY SPEEDWAY
Montgomery, Alabama
McDuffie’s only Cup start here was the sixth and final the series held at the track. Held on December 8, 1968, the Alabama 200 counted as the second event on the 1969 schedule. McDuffie qualified 10th in a field of 22 and worked his way to 13th, 30 laps behind Bobby Allison.

MYRTLE BEACH SPEEDWAY
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Long before it hosted races in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Myrtle Beach saw McDuffie make his first-ever Cup start. Held on July 7, 1973, McDuffie lined up 14th in a field of 18 and came home 12th, 87 laps behind Ned Jarrett. It was McDuffie’s only start there.

NEW ASHEVILLE SPEEDWAY 
Asheville, North Carolina
New Asheville holds the record of McDuffie’s best average finishes across all tracks where he has more than one start. In all four of his races there, McDuffie finished inside the Top 10. The first, on July 14, 1963, was the first top-ten finish of his career. Overall, three 8th-place runs and a 7th worked out to an average of 7.8.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE FAIRGROUNDS
Raleigh, North Carolina
On September 30, 1970, this track saw McDuffie take part in the final dirt track race sanctioned by one of NASCAR’s top three series until Eldora joined the Truck Series schedule in 2013. In the 1970 running, McDuffie started 12th in the 23-car field, but broke the driveshaft and ended up 19th. He also failed to finish his other start there the year before, losing an engine but managing 11th.

OCCONEECHEE SPEEDWAY
Hillsboro, North Carolina
Known as the Orange Speedway at the time he raced there, this nine-tenths-of-a-mile dirt track proved particularly difficult. McDuffie failed to finish all three of his starts there, only once making it past the halfway point. He finished last on September 18, 1966, when his 1964 Ford lost oil pressure after the opening lap. Dick Hutcherson won the race from the pole.

OLD DOMINION SPEEDWAY
Manassas, Virginia
McDuffie’s lone start at this track was the seventh and final Cup race ever held at the speedway on July 7, 1966. McDuffie started 23rd in the 24-car field and worked his way up to 13th before the brakes failed on #70. As it turned out, it was still a good day for NASCAR’s independents – Elmo Langley scored his second and final Cup Series win that day, leading 231 of 400 laps.

OXFORD PLAINS SPEEDWAY
Oxford, Maine
Another venue in the northeast saw McDuffie make a pair of starts in the late 1960s. His first start on the one-third-mile paved oval came on July 12, 1966, when he started 20th and finished 18th with transmission trouble near the halfway point. Bobby Allison won the race from pole, leading 238 of 300 laps. His second start in 1968 went much better, yielding an 8th-place finish, one spot ahead of Wendell Scott.

PIEDMONT INTERSTATE FAIRGROUNDS
Spartanburg, South Carolina
McDuffie’s lone start at Piedmont was the 22nd and final ever held at the track. It also saw him score his first career top-five finish, a 5th, giving him his best average finish at any Cup Series track. In what was Elmo Langley’s first Cup Series victory, other lesser-known names filled the Top Five: 2nd went to Neil “Soapy” Castles (driving Buck Baker’s Dodge), followed by Doug Cooper and Joel Davis.

SAVANNAH SPEEDWAY
Savannah, Georgia
McDuffie came around in time for the final two Cup races at the Savannah Speedway, unfortunate since it also proved to be one of his best. He finished under power in both of his starts, finishing 10th in 1969 and 11th in 1970, both times 16 laps down to the race winner (Bobby Isaac and Richard Petty, respectively). It was one of McDuffie’s best overall performances on a paved track.

SMOKY MOUNTAIN RACEWAY
Maryville, Tennessee
The first two of McDuffie’s eight starts at the half-mile (and later 0.520-mile) oval were on dirt, yielding a 21st and 19th in 1966. When the track was paved in 1968, he improved noticeably, finishing 11th or better in his next four starts, including a track-best 8th on June 5, 1969. Even with three DNFs, his average finish there was a respectable 15.1.

SOUTH BOSTON SPEEDWAY
South Boston, Virginia
McDuffie earned an average finish of 9.5 in his four starts at South Boston, a track still in operation today. From 1968 through 1971, McDuffie earned a pair of 12th-place runs, then 7th twice, completing 91.6% of the laps in the process. His best overall weekend at the track came on August 29, 1970, during the Halifax County 100. That day, the #70 started 8th in the 24-car field and came home 7th, eight laps behind a dominant Richard Petty.

STARLITE SPEEDWAY
Monroe, North Carolina
Several tracks only hosted one Cup Series race, including this half-mile dirt oval. But the Starlite Speedway was one of the only ones to host an “independent-only” race. Hosted on May 13, 1966, McDuffie joined 24 other underdogs including Neil Castles, Elmo Langley, Tiny Lund, John Sears, and “Tiger” Tom Pistone. Curiously, series champion Buck Baker was also entered in his own car. McDuffie started 6th on the grid and finished 11th, eliminated in a mid-race crash. Darel Dieringer took the win over Clyde Lynn and Wendell Scott.

TAR HEEL SPEEDWAY
Randleman, North Carolina
Another venue where McDuffie competed in the final event was the Tar Heel Speedway, located in the Petty family’s stomping grounds of Randleman. In the third and final race hosted on the track, McDuffie started 17th and finished 10th, his third career top-ten finish.

THOMPSON SPEEDWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK
Thompson, Connecticut
McDuffie finished 11th in his only two starts at Thompson, a track that has become synonymous with modified racing and the K&N Pro Series East. The second of those starts, on July 8, 1970, was run on a 0.542-mile configuration, shorter than the track’s current measured length of 0.625.

TRENTON SPEEDWAY
Trenton, New Jersey
McDuffie finished under power in three of his five starts at Trenton, but the New Jersey oval proved exceptionally difficult for the driver. His average finish was just 20.2 with a best of 16th his last time out in 1972. The track would continue to host open-wheel competition for another seven years.

WEST VIRGINIA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
Huntington, West Virginia
Known as International Raceway Park (and originally incorporated into Ona, West Virginia), the lone West Virginia 500 that saw McDuffie race was held on August 8, 1971. In a large 35-car field, car #70 finished 12th, 48 laps behind Richard Petty.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on the track-by-track career of J.D. McDuffie. With now just four days until the release of “J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend,” be sure to pre-order your copy today!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

ARCA: Wayne Peterson Racing cars hold bottom two spots at Iowa

PHOTO: @Arcafan06
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Wayne Peterson finished last for the 39th time in his ARCA Racing Series career during Saturday night’s Fans With Benefits 150 at Iowa Speedway when his #23 Holmes II Excavation / Wayne Peterson Racing Chevrolet was parked without completing a lap of the race.

The finish came in Peterson’s 104th series start and was his series-leading fourth on the year.

Peterson once again climbed behind the helm of the #23 machine, keeping Bret Holmes’ car up in points until he is ready to return, reportedly this weekend at Elko. Holmes, meanwhile, became the fourth different driver to drive Ken Schrader’s #52 car. David Sear took the helm of the 69, and Mason Mitchell made his first start of the year in his team’s second car. Darrell Basham made his second start of the year but first in his family’s #34 car. Andy Hillenburg filled his two cars with Rick Clifton and Richard Doheny, and the only driver to make his series debut at Iowa was Sam Mayer, a 15-year-old late model driver for JR Motorsports and native of suburban Milwaukee, just a couple hours' drive from this author. Mayer will return with MDM at Lucas Oil later this year and also has some K&N East races on tap.

Con Nicolopoulos, in his usual capacity as driver of the #06 for Wayne Peterson, anchored practice with a lap of nearly 33 seconds, about eight and a half seconds off of Zane Smith’s leading lap. He picked it up three seconds in qualifying to move up. Coincidentally, any lap would’ve been enough to lift out of last, as Mason Mitchell did not record a lap while completing an engine change.

Mitchell then incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for the engine change. In what is now a recurring storyline, Peterson completed the pace laps and then turned off as the green waved. According to the live ARCARacing.com chat, the 23 car was parked by the sanctioning body. Teammate Nicolopoulos pulled off a lap later, and Doheny retired only four laps in the race. The remainder of the Bottom Five came from accidents; Gus Dean pounded the inside wall 58 laps in and David Sear retired after a crash in turn four around the 90-lap mark.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
23) #23-Wayne Peterson / 0 laps / parked
22) #06-Con Nicolopoulos / 1 lap / unknown
21) #11-Richard Doheny / 4 laps / unknown
20) #32-Gus Dean / 58 laps / crash
19) #69-David Sear / 91 laps / crash

2018 LASTCAR ARCA OWNERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Wayne Peterson Racing (4)
2nd) Kimmel Racing, Wayne Peterson Racing-Fast Track Racing (2)
3rd) Max Force Racing, Darrell Basham Racing, James Hylton Motorsports, Brad Smith Motorsports (1)

2018 LASTCAR ARCA MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Ford (6)

2018 LASTCAR ARCA DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, July 7, 2018

CUP: Field-clearing pileup continues Ryan Blaney’s rollercoaster season

PHOTO: NASCAR Media
Ryan Blaney picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #12 BodyArmor Ford was involved in a multi-car accident after 53 of 168 laps.

The finish, which came in Blaney’s 108th series start, was his first since November 8, 2015 at Texas, 92 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 28th for car #12, the 682nd for Ford, and the 567th caused by a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 40th for the #12, the 940th for Ford, and the 1,140th from a crash.

When Blaney last arrived at Daytona, he enjoyed one of the most dominant performances the track has seen in nearly two decades. After winning his Duel, his bright yellow Ford paced the field for 118 of 207 laps, the most of any one driver in the event since Dale Jarrett’s dominant 2000 victory. But a late accident caused the win to slip away, leaving him 7th.

Such misfortunes have kept Blaney from scoring his second career Cup victory. He led 145 laps at Martinsville in March, and while he finished a season-best 3rd, saw the win slip away. At Bristol in April, he led 100 of the 117 laps and was running 2nd when he was collected in a wreck between Harrison Rhodes and Jamie McMurray. The next month at Kansas, he started outside-pole and led 54 laps, only to collide with Kyle Larson in a battle for 3rd with just 20 laps remaining. In all, three Top Fives and eight Top Tens and the third-most laps led in 2018 have been offset by four previous Bottom Fives, most recently a 34th-place showing at Sonoma after his power steering failed.

Blaney arrived in Daytona to run double-duty with the XFINITY Series, his first start on that circuit since he took the checkered flag at Texas in April. Driving Penske Racing’s #22 Pirtek Ford, Blaney made several daring moves for the lead before settling on a 4th-place finish.

On the Cup side, Blaney debuted new sponsorship from BodyArmor Superdrink, a marketing tie-in he shared with 18 other athletes including football’s Andrew Luck and Richard Sherman, baseball’s Anthony Rizzo and Mike Trout, and basketball’s Klay Thompson and James Harden. Whether intentional or not, the red-and-white scheme on the #12 bore an uncanny resemblance to the Piper Aircraft Buick driven that Bobby Allison piloted when he ran the #12 in the late 1980s. The car ran 5th in the opening practice and made Round 2 of qualifying, only to trail the group in 12th with a lap of 190.981mph (47.125 seconds).

Daytona saw 41 drivers entered for 40 spots, the first time in all of 2018 that one car would be sent home after qualifying. With rain in the area, the hot seat belonged to Landon Cassill, switched into StarCom Racing’s second car, the #99 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet, to allow for Joey Gase in his Chartered #00 Sparks Energy, Inc. Chevrolet. If rain came before the end of Round 1, Cassill would miss the show. However, as Round 1 progressed, Timothy Peters was slowest of the “open” teams in Ricky Benton’s #92 Ford. When the rest of Round 1 was complete, Peters was knocked-out, and Cassill stayed in, securing 37th on the grid.

Starting last was J.J. Yeley, who made his first start of the year for BK Racing in place of Gray Gaulding. Yeley brought with him sponsorship from Steakhouse Elite from his partnership with NY Racing Team owner Johnathan Cohen. With Cohen’s former #7 now entered under Premium Motorsports, Cohen formed an alliance with the unsponsored #23 to get Yeley in the race. Joining him at the rear were four drivers sent to the back for unapproved adjustments: Daniel Suarez, Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, and Landon Cassill.

Cassill’s car struggled to fire at the command, and soon parked in the pit stall #2, second of the three empty stalls nearest to pit exit. This was particularly unfortunate as the rest of the field returned to pit road after their first pace lap and sat single-file as part of the “NASCAR Salutes” program recognizing the military. With the other 39 teams holding up American flags in their pit stalls, StarCom Racing’s #99 crew was hard at work hustling up a battery in the garage area. The #99 was then pushed around the track by the tow truck, then steered into the garage area through the first gate before pit entrance.

An apparent faulty alternator was to blame for the issue, causing Cassill’s car to miss the start as the battery was recharged in the garage. The crew’s work paid off as they avoided a “did not start,” exiting the pits and rejoining the field as they lapped him a second time. Now completely by himself, Cassill did his best to try and tag on to any one of the trailing packs of cars behind the leaders. When this failed, Cassill was caught by the leaders on Lap 11, and the next time by pulled low on the backstretch entering Turn 3 to let them by, losing a third lap. He caught the end of a five-car pack on Lap 18, but despite following in their tire tracks, started to lose touch with them as well.

As the end of Stage 1 approached, Cassill and team talked over whether or not to short pit. Knowing they’d likely lose a fourth lap, they considered employing some pit strategy to stretch their fuel load in Stage 2. Unfortunately, the discussions moved them outside their window, and the leaders caught and lapped him a fourth time on Lap 30. He remained 40th at the end of the stage, still four laps in arrears. By then, 39th belonged to Ray Black, Jr., his first start of 2018 in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Jacob Companies / Prefund Capital Chevrolet. Black slowed suddenly on Lap 39 and pulled to the apron of Turn 4, forcing him to pit when the pits were closed. He ended up two circuits back at the end of the stage, two laps ahead of Cassill in 39th.

Stage 2 took the green on Lap 47, and two laps later came the first of many accidents that would slow the race’s pace. Running 15th at the time, Paul Menard’s #21 Menards / Moen Ford was hooked on the backstretch by a closing Jimmie Johnson, sending him into the path of David Ragan. Menard’s hood exploded free of its braces, and the car suffered fender damage as he slid into the grass. The crew managed to re-tape the hood to the fenders inside of the “Crash Clock” and returned to action three laps down, ranking him 3 laps down – between Black and Cassill.

Blaney didn’t enter the last-place picture until shortly after the ensuing restart. On Lap 54, his teammate Brad Keselowski was running a strong 2nd, looking for a way around race leader William Byron. According to Keselowski, when Byron came down in front of him entering Turn 3, it caused him to slow in front of a closing Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. The two made contact, steering Keslelowski to the right – directly into the path of Kurt Busch. The ensuing wreck ultimately involved 26 of the 40 starters, eliminating Keselowski and six others. Five of those seven filled the Bottom Five under yellow: Keselowski, Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney. There was little footage of Blaney’s involvement in the accident as he was running outside the Top 20 at the time. He appeared to be collected in a chain-reaction back of the main wreck, the same part of it that damaged Kevin Harvick’s Ford. Blaney officially took last on Lap 58.

The Lap 54 pileup was the overture to a long crash-filled night in Daytona. Exactly half the race’s starters – 20 of 40 – were eliminated in accidents, and only a handful left the track without significant damage to their machines. However, with most of these accidents taking place close to the lead, the night presented a golden opportunity for several underdogs.

One of the best runs of the night belonged to Michael McDowell, who enjoyed a strong weekend until the final moments of the race. Driving Front Row Motorsports’ #34 K-LOVE Ford, he qualified 8th and was already bidding for the lead before any of the accidents occurred. He took the lead under green and paced the field for 20 laps, heading the line as late as 47 laps to go. Then, with three laps remaining, Joey Gase clipped the apron in his #00 and slid up the track into McDowell and Aric Almirola, destroying all three cars. Only the sheer number of accidents kept him 26th at the finish.

Kasey Kahne led as late as Lap 154 and made one more bid for the top spot in the final green-white-checkered finish, nearly capturing Leavine Family Racing their first victory. It was in this race that the team earned their best finish (with McDowell) just last year. Kahne led 17 laps in total, backing up his 11 laps led at Michigan last month, and earned his first finish better than 17th all season.

Both JTG-Daugherty cars survived the night with Sonoma last-placer A.J. Allmendinger finishing a season-best 3rd, continuing an impressive streak of four-straight top-ten finishes at Daytona. Teammate Chris Buescher drove his #37 to a 5th-place finish, matching his run in this year’s Daytona 500 for his own season-best.

Like Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto was cheated of a strong finish when a late accident destroyed his #32 Go FAS Racing Ford. This time around, his Zynga Poker Ford suffered damage on multiple occasions, but was never down for the count. In the end, DiBenedetto improved from 31st on the grid to finish 7th, DiBenedetto’s second-best Cup finish behind his 6th for BK Racing at Bristol. On top of this, DiBenedetto was the highest-finishing Ford – quite the achievement given the dominance of Stewart-Haas Racing this season.

Jeffrey Earnhardt earned his own career-best finish on Saturday, improving on his career-best 21st in February’s Daytona 500 for StarCom Racing with an 11th for Premium Motorsports in the #7 Nine Line Foundation Chevrolet. It was only Earnhardt’s second Cup start since he was released from StarCom after Fontana in March.

One spot behind Earnhardt came Brendan Gaughan, whose Beard Motorsports car finished inside the Top 15 for the third time since debuting their plate-only schedule last year. Gaughan had heavy damage to the right-front corner of his #62 Beard Oil / South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet, but was still on the lead lap when the checkered flag fell.

Following Gaughan in the 13th spot was D.J. Kennington, a new career-best finish for the popular Canadian, after recovering from a late-race spin down the backstretch. It was the best Cup Series finish by a Canadian since 2009, when Patrick Carpentier finished 11th at Sonoma. It was also the best Cup finish by Gaunt Brothers Racing, whose previous mark was a 20th by Kennington at Talladega earlier this year.

And running 16th at the finish came Rick Ware Racing, the team’s second-best finish to Justin Marks’ 12th-place showing in this year’s Daytona 500. It was also far and away the best Cup finish for Ray Black, Jr., whose best of three previous starts was a 34th last fall at Texas.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marks the fifth time car #12 has finished last in this race. The other drivers were Bob Welborn (1962), Tim Steele (1994), Derrike Cope (1996), and Jeremy Mayfield (2000).

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #12-Ryan Blaney / 53 laps / crash
39) #22-Joey Logano / 53 laps / crash
38) #11-Denny Hamlin / 53 laps / crash
37) #41-Kurt Busch / 53 laps / crash
36) #2-Brad Keselowski / 53 laps / crash / led 9 laps

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
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, Motorsports Business Management, Penske Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Ford (4)
3rd) Toyota (3)

2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

XFINITY: While some underdogs impress, Josh Bilicki hands car #45 its first last-place run since 1999

PHOTO: JP Motorsports Facebook
Josh Bilicki picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #45 Prevagen Toyota fell out with engine problems after 33 of 105 laps.

The finish occurred in Bilicki’s 23rd series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it’s the 11th for car #45, the 118th for Toyota, and the 253rd by reason of engine failure. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 35th for the #45, the 297th for Toyota, and the 1,058th caused by the engine.

Five months ago, the Daytona track saw the debut of a new team in the XFINITY Series. JP Motorsports came together over the last offseason, an effort spearheaded by Phyllis and Jerry Hattaway, who had previously partnered with both Carl Long’s and Derrike Cope’s XFINITY Series teams. By January, the Hattaways had struck out on their own. Their Mooresville garage was stocked with white Toyotas acquired from TriStar Motorsports, and soon after picked up one more from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hired to drive were a pair of competitors who had been fighting to make a name in the sport for years. Stephen Leicht was hired on January 22, the same day JP Motorsports announced its formation. Leicht began his NASCAR career in 2005 as a development driver for Yates Racing, with whom he scored a win at Kentucky two years later. He ran several part-time efforts from 2008 onward, including a 15-race stint in the Cup Series for Circle Sport. Though he ran less than half the schedule, Leicht secured Rookie of the Year during a lean season for newcomers. Leicht would drive JP’s #55 Toyota, carrying sponsorship from Jani-King.

Leicht’s most recent XFINITY Series ride had been with Obaika Racing, a deal which lasted only for the opening rounds of the 2017 season. Curiously, he’d been hired that year to replace Josh Bilicki. A go-kart racing prodigy from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, Bilicki made his way into NASCAR through the sports car ranks, wheeling Spec Miatas when he was only 15. His first NASCAR start would come at his home track in Road America, where he wheeled Obaika’s #77 to a 38th-place finish. He made his Cup debut the following year, driving Rick Ware’s #51 Chevrolet to 36th. Bilicki’s #45 Toyota at JP would be sponsored by Prevagen, which had backed many of his past rides.

Coming into last week’s race, Bilicki had made all but two races, failing to qualify for the opening rounds at Daytona and Atlanta, and ran a season-best 24th at Texas. Meanwhile, the #55 finished a season-best 15th in the Daytona opener, but Leicht parted ways with the team after Dover, leaving the door open for former Motorsports Business Management driver Brandon Hightower. Hightower and Bilicki remained paired up for JP Motorsports as they returned to Daytona in July.

Saturday’s entry list saw 41 drivers entered for 40 spots, but by mid-week Morgan Shepherd withdrew his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet. It was Shepherd’s first withdrawal since last August at Watkins Glen. This proved timely as heavy rain washed-out qualifying on Friday afternoon, setting the field by Owner Points.

Starting last on the grid was the only new team entered in the race, a new second car from the GMS Racing stables. Behind the wheel was Justin Haley in the #24 Chevrolet, fresh off his first Truck Series win in Gateway. Fraternal Order of Eagles followed him over as sponsor. Without any Owner Points, the official reason for his starting spot was listed as “Random Draw.” As it turned out, something similar would determine his fate 105 laps later.

Prior to the start, several drivers fell to the back of the field, lifting Haley from the last spot. Among them was Bilicki, whose team changed engines, and teammate Hightower, his for unapproved adjustments. Such adjustments also sent to the back two-time Daytona winner Ryan Reed and Jeremy Clements. When J.J. Yeley was penalized for missing the driver’s meeting, his RSS Racing teammates Ryan Sieg and Jeff Green joined him at the back of the pack. By the time the green flag flew, the last three spots were now occupied by Hightower, Clements, and Reed.

Bilicki fell to last by the end of the first lap, and would remain there for most of the race. He reported early on that his engine wasn’t pulling enough power, turning only 7800rpms. His gap back from the leader showed the magnitude of his issue. Bilicki was 4.004 seconds behind after one lap, 7.259 after two, 9.805 after four, 12.900 after five, and 18.939 after seven. The crew got on the radio and told him “Let’s not hurt the car. Let’s just ride and see what happens.” Completely by himself, Bilicki could do nothing but move to the low side of the track on Lap 17 as the leaders sped past up high.

At the end of Stage 1, Bilicki was still in last place, and now reporting a vibration. The crew brought him in for a scheduled stop, and had a crew member take off the passenger-side window and remove a piece of the dash, allowing him to examine the pedals. The crew hot him back on the track soon after, but the driver now reported the “motor might be blowing up,” saying it was “sputtering” despite the oil and fuel pressure reading normally. The crew brought him in a second time, then soon after went to the garage area. Bilicki climbed out, and despite the efforts of the crew to fix the issue, their night was done. Spencer Boyd briefly held last place during this exchange, but scoring was corrected soon after to show the #45 in 40th. Boyd finished 17th, a new career-best and the first top-twenty finish of his XFINITY Series career.

Finishing 39th was polesitter Ryan Preece, who had also reported his car was down on power. The culprit was reported to be a piece of debris which pierced his radiator, causing his #18 Rheem Toyota to overheat.

In 37th and 38th were two of the three entered B.J. McLeod Motorsports cars, the #78 Tennessee XXX Moonshine Toyota of Blake Jones and the #8 Maxim / Alpha Prime Chevrolet of Caesar Bacarella. The pair tangled in the tri-oval in the aftermath of Ryan Reed’s spin coming off Turn 4 with Bacarella suffering heavy damage to the right side of his Camaro. For Bacarella, Jones, and Preece, Daytona marked their first bottom-five finish of the season.

McLeod himself finished 36th in JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet. Both McLeod and 35th-place David Starr in the #52 Starr Mechanical, Inc. Chevrolet were reportedly disqualified for not obeying the red flag following their involvement in a pileup on Lap 82. Starr tweeted that he was parked for pulling down pit road under the red. While disqualifications typically rank a driver last, Starr and McLeod were still listed 35th and 36th, out with crash damage as the officially-listed reason.

Over all the evening’s misfortunes, several underdogs enjoyed fine runs under the lights.

Fury Race Cars LLC didn’t have a restrictor-plate car on hand, but entered Kaz Grala in the #61 Ford for the race. They acquired a retired show car from Stewart-Haas Racing, a car built on an old Evernham Motorsports chassis a full decade old. Carrying sponsorship from Kiklos, which backed his first Truck Series victory at the track, Grala started 38th due to the team’s newness, escaped the day’s biggest wreck with a drive through the grass, and finished 5th, the team’s best run in its less than two-month existence.

Timmy Hill started two spots in front of Grala in 36th, driving Motorsports Business Management’s patriotic-schemed #66 VSI Racing / CrashClaims.R.us Toyota. He finished the race in 7th, tying his career-best in the series during the 2012 season opener. Hill’s teammate Chad Finchum also broke through for the first time this year, steering clear of trouble in a white Toyota that finished 14th. It was not only Finchum’s career-best finish in the series, but his first XFINITY run of better than 25th.

Ross Chastain has continued to so outperform his equipment in all three of NASCAR’s series this season that he can almost not be considered an underdog anymore. Nevertheless, he challenged for the lead late in the race and steered Johnny Davis’ #4 Georgia Watermelon Association Chevrolet to a 10th-place finish. It’s Chastain’s fourth top-ten finish of the season, his fifth-straight of 19th or better, and his second-best all season behind a pair of 9th-place runs at Bristol and Daytona in February.

Alex Labbe’s 15th-place run was his second-best of the season behind his 11th-place showing at Bristol. He has failed to finish only three races all season, and despite right-front damage to his #36 Can-Am / Wholey / Cyclops Gear Chevrolet managed to get the car across the finish line ahead of several others.

Mike Harmon welcomed new sponsorship from Charlie Daniels’ The Journey Home Project, and had several members of the armed forces on hand to watch the action. They bore witness to Harmon finishing 21st, his season-best and first finish better than 31st all season. In 255 career starts, only three times – most recently the 2013 opener at Daytona, where he finished a series-best 17th – has Harmon finished better in an XFINITY race.

PHOTO: Spokeo
LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first time the #45 finished last in an XFINITY Series race since June 12, 1999. That day, the late Adam Petty wrecked after 5 laps of the Texilease Medique 300 presented by Advance Auto Parts at the South Boston Speedway. Petty wrecked on the same lap as Dale Shaw, but Shaw was able to keep rolling under the caution while Petty was not. It was Petty’s second and final last-place finish in the series, following an accident two weeks earlier in Charlotte. The number had never before finished last in an XFINITY Series race at Daytona.
*This was the first XFINITY last-place finish for Toyota since Matt Tifft crashed at Darlington last September, 25 races ago.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #45-Josh Bilicki / 33 laps / engine
39) #18-Ryan Preece / 51 laps / overheating
38) #8-Caesar Bacarella / 70 laps / crash
37) #78-Blake Jones / 75 laps / crash
36) #15-B.J. McLeod / 81 laps / crash

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) RSS Racing (8)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Fury Race Cars LLC, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, JP Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Ford (3)
3rd) Toyota (1)

2018 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Thursday, July 5, 2018

PREVIEW: Plate-only teams return in time for the fireworks at Daytona

PHOTO: @beardoil75
Friday, July 6, 2018
XFINITY Race 16 of 33
Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Josh Williams

ENTRY LIST
There are 40 drivers entered for 40 spots, meaning that all entered teams will start. One team, the #89, withdrew by Wednesday (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Shane Lee returns to the flagship #3 for Daytona, his first start since Iowa. He takes the place of Jeb Burton, who finished 34th after a crash at Chicagoland. Childress Vineyards will back the effort. It will be Lee’s fifth XFINITY start of the season, a year where he’s started between 7th and 18th and finished between 12th and 16th in the previous four. He ran 15th at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Caesar Bacarella returns for his third XFINITY start of the season, his first since a 34th-place showing at Michigan. He takes the place of Blake Jones, who ran 24th in Chicagoland. Bacarella drove this same entry at Daytona in February, where he finished on the lead lap in 13th. Jones slides over to the team's #78, taking the place of Scott Heckert.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
With Penske Racing not entering the #12 this week, Austin Cindric moves to Roush-Fenway’s #60, taking the place of Chase Briscoe, who isn’t entered. Cindric, who finished 14th at Chicagoland, five spots behind Briscoe, will look to rebound from a frustrating February at the track, where an early crash left him last. Odyssey Battery will back Cindric’s run.

MISSING: #13-Motorsports Business Maangement
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MBM scales back from three cars to two this weekend as the #13 isn’t entered this week. Timmy Hill, who finished 37th in the #13 last week, takes John Jackson’s place in the #66. Jackson, who ran 36th at Chicagoland, isn’t entered. Chad Finchum remains in the #40.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Welcome back Ryan Preece, who we haven’t seen in the series since he won at Bristol in April. He takes the place of Cup regular Daniel Suarez in the #18 with returning sponsorship from Rheem. Preece made a pair of Daytona starts in XFINITY for JD Motorsports in 2016, finishing last in the spring and 34th in July.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
It’s a Cup invader swap in the #22 Ford this week as Ryan Blaney takes the place of Paul Menard. Pirtek, which sponsored Cindric’s run in the #60 in February, will sponsor Blaney.

NEW TEAM: #24-GMS Racing
GMS expands to two XFINITY cars for the first time. Alongside Cup regular Chase Elliott in the #23 (Spencer Gallagher was cleared Wednesday and will return next week in Kentucky) will be Justin Haley, your winner in the Truck Series at Gateway. Haley’s backing from the Fraternal Order of Eagles will follow him to the #24. Haley finished 12th in his lone XFINITY start in the #23 back at Iowa. This is a completely separate effort from the #24 fielded by JGL Racing.

WITHDREW: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
For the first time this season, Morgan Shepherd has withdrawn his team from the race. It's his first withdrawal since Watkins Glen last season.

MISSING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Not entered are both the #98 team and Kevin Harvick, who finished a distant 2nd to Kyle Larson in Chicagoland. The #98 team won this race two years ago with Aric Almirola.

RETURNING: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
B.J. McLeod’s team returns to a three-car operation this week with Ray Black, Jr. aiming for his third start of the season. McLeod previously drove McLeod’s other two cars this season, finishing 27th at Dover in the #8 and 19th at Charlotte in the #78. He failed to qualify the #99 in this year’s Daytona opener. Zomongo and America’s Donuts sponsor the effort.

CUP INVADERS: #22-Ryan Blaney, #23-Chase Elliott, #42-Kyle Larson

Saturday, July 7, 2018
CUP Race 18 of 36
Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Ryan Sieg

ENTRY LIST
For the first time since the Coca-Cola 600, five races ago, there will be a 40-car field in Saturday’s return to Daytona. In fact, there are 41 entrants, marking the first time in 2018 where a team will be sent home after qualifying (the #52 was entered at Charlotte, but withdrew before time trials). The five “open” teams competing for the final four spots are the #7, #62, #92, #96, and #99, each of them featured below.

DRIVER CHANGE: #7-Premium Motorsports
Jeffrey Earnhardt aims to make his seventh Cup start of the season and his first since a 30th-place showing in the Coca-Cola 600. As in the 600, Earnhardt will drive for Premium Motorsports, but this time in the #7 instead of the #55. He takes the place of Reed Sorenson, who ran 32nd at Chicagoland. The Nine Line Foundation joins Earnhardt’s effort along with Xtreme Concepts, Inc. and Black Rifle in a salute to service members similar to his ride in the 600. Earnhardt finished 21st in this year’s Daytona 500 for StarCom Racing.

PAINT SCHEME: #15-Premium Motorsports
Ross chastain makes his first Cup start at Daytona in one of the most colorful cars on the track. Among the many patriotic schemes is Chastain's pastel-colored surf and sand scheme with sponsor Caddy's Beach Bar Restaurants.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-BK Racing
For the first time in 2018, Gray Gaulding is not the listed driver for BK Racing’s #23 Toyota. In his place comes J.J. Yeley, who we last saw in Cup debuting the #7 team at Charlotte and Pocono. It was revealed Tuesday that this is no coincidence - Johnathan Cohen's NY Racing team has entered into an alignment with BK Racing, bringing Yeley and sponsor Steakhouse Elite to the sponsorless #23. Yeley plans to run double-duty along with his full-time effort in the #38 Chevrolet for RSS Racing. He has 12 previous Cup starts at Daytona with a best of 10th in the 2013 Daytona 500.

DRIVER & MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware’s team switches back from Chevrolet to Ford this week and originally had Cole Custer in place of B.J. McLeod, who ran 35th at Chicagoland. Custer will not run, however, as by Tuesday he was swapped out for Ray Black, Jr., who will attempt both races this weekend. Black made his first three Cup starts for the Ware team late last year with a best finish of 34th at Texas in November. His best of four XFINITY starts at Daytona was a 12th-place run for SS-Green Light Racing last year.

RETURNING: #62-Beard Motorsports
The Beard team continues its exclusive restrictor-plate schedule, returning to the site of their near top-five finish in this year’s Daytona 500. As always, Brendan Gaughan will be behind the wheel with sponsorship from Beard Oil Distributing and South Point Hotel & Casino on the Chevrolet. The team tweeted they have at least two cars in their stable ready for this weekend.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Corey LaJoie runs his second-consecutive race for TriStar Motorsports, and also welcomes new sponsor Dragonchain, a Washington-based blockchain firm, on the #72 Chevrolet. LaJoie’s first of his series-leading three last-place finishes in 2018 came in this year’s Daytona 500. However, last Sunday in Chicagoland marked the first time he’d finished 31st or worse in any other race.

RETURNING: #92-RBR Enterprises
Like the #62, Ricky Benton’s team also continues to run a plate-only schedule, and brings back Talladega driver Timothy Peters, 23rd in his Cup debut that day. As with many of Benton’s entries, the car will be cluttered with sponsors. On the preliminary list are Black’s Tire & Auto Service, BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors, Advance Auto Parts, Highland Construction, and BB&T Bank.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
The Gaunt Brothers return from a week off, and reunite with Canadian driver D.J. Kennington for the first time since their last outing together, a 20th in Talladega. Kennington has made just one Cup start since then, finishing 34th with Premium Motorsports at Michigan. GBR has made two starts in the same span, both with Parker Kligerman, yielding a 27th at Charlotte and a 23rd at Sonoma. The preliminary list showed returning sponsorship from Lordco, Castrol Oil, and Spectra Premium, but no sponsor was listed by Wednesday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-StarCom Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
Derrike Cope reported to us at Sonoma that both his StarCom Racing entries will be running ECR power under the hood this week. With one team going home after qualifying, they sure look to get both cars into the show. The primary #00 this week goes to Joey Gase, who brings sponsorship from Sparks Energy, Inc. as he did in his 27th-place showing at Talladega. Landon Cassill slides over to the “open” #99, taking the place of Kyle Weatherman, 33rd in Chicagoland. Cassill has 12 previous Daytona starts with a best of 12th in the 2014 Daytona 500. He also ran 13th in this race three years ago. Both cars will run brand-new paint schemes with Gase in yellow over black on the #00 and Cassill in a patriotic-themed #99.

Thursday, July 12, 2018
TRUCKS Race 12 of 23
Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Norm Benning

The Truck Series takes the week off and returns as part of another triple-header in Kentucky.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK
A piece of bell housing off the transmission of Michael Waltrip’s Pontiac has been blamed for causing the last-lap flat tire that prevented Dale Earnhardt from winning the 1990 Daytona 500. Only once in NASCAR history has that specific part been blamed for a last-place finish. That occurred on August 13, 1965 at the Smoky Mountain Raceway in Maryville, Tennessee. On his second lap around the half-mile dirt track, owner-driver Buddy Arrington suffered the failure on his 1964 Dodge, dropping him 22nd on the grid to last in the 24-car field. Dick Hutcherson (of future race car manufacturer Hutcherson-Pagan) took the win over a 24-year-old Buddy Baker.