Monday, August 13, 2018

CUP: Engine woes drop Corey LaJoie to last place for a fourth time in 2018

PHOTO: @CoreyLaJoie
Corey LaJoie picked up the 6th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Consumer Energy 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #72 Schluter Systems Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after 37 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 47th series start, was his series-leading fourth of the 2018 season and his first since Dover, 12 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 16th for car #62, the 683rd for engine trouble, and the 752nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st for the #72, the 1,062nd from engine trouble, and the 1,618th for Chevrolet.

LaJoie and teammate Cole Whitt have continued to share time behind the wheel of TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet. Since Dover, LaJoie has driven in 9 of 12 races, starting with Kansas, where sponsor Schluter Systems debuted a new inverted version of the black-and-orange paint scheme. The 24th-place finish LaJoie earned that night stands as his season-best, offsetting an uneasy start to 2018 that saw him blow engines in three of his first four starts, finishing last each time, and a hard crash in Pocono’s third turn.

The orange Schluter scheme returned for Michigan, where LaJoie would be one of 40 starters to fill the 40-car field. He began the weekend 33rd in the opening practice session and improved to 27th of 38 in the second. He qualified 32nd with a lap of 193.553mph (37.203 seconds) and ran 24 laps in Happy Hour, ranking 34th of 36.

Starting last was Daniel Suarez, a surprise given his career-best runner-up finish at Pocono and his top-five showing in Watkins Glen. Suarez showed speed in the opening practice, ranking 3rd behind Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch, but in Round 1 of qualifying slapped the wall in Turn 2. Knowing their car was fast, the Joe Gibbs Racing crew decided to fix the #19 rather than roll out the backup. The repairs and lack of a completed timed lap meant that the #19 would have to roll out 40th and last on the grid.

On Sunday, Michigan saw last place change hands before the race even began. After the first pace lap, Watkins Glen last-placer Joey Logano pulled his #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford down pit road. The Penske Racing crew had discovered in inspection that they had installed the wrong left-front shock in the Ford, forcing the crew to make the switch on pit road. This cost Logano his starting spot, and he closed in on the tail end of the field.

Logano didn’t hold last for long, however, as several drivers were sent to the back. While Ross Chastain competed in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, where he got in a scuffle with Joey Gase after the checkered flag, Reed Sorenson practiced and qualified his #15 Solomon Plumbing Chevrolet. Chastain returned to compete on Sunday, and the driver change sent him to the back. Also sent back there were Blake Jones (#23 Tennessee XXX Moonshine Toyota) and David Ragan (#38 Louis Kemp Crab Delights Ford), both sent to the rear for transmission changes.

Two other drivers fell back voluntarily: 37th-place starter Timmy Hill, whose Motorsports Business Management team not only switched from Toyota to Chevrolet, but acquired new sponsorship from, and Jeffrey Earnhardt, returning to the Gaunt Brothers’ #96 Xtreme Concepts, Inc. / Project K9 Hero Toyota.

Thus, when the race started, Logano was already ahead of five drivers and lined up 35th on the inside of Gray Gaulding (#99 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet), back in Cup for the first time since his release from BK Racing.

When the race began, Gaulding made contact with the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet of B.J. McLeod, causing a tire rub on Gaulding’s car. Behind them in 40th, Blake Jones had taken last on the break, but was quickly reeling in Timmy Hill’s #66. On Lap 3, Jones drove past Hill near the start / finish line, dropping the #66 to the last spot. Hill only held this spot briefly as Gaulding dropped behind both cars, preparing to make an unscheduled stop due to the tire rub. Gaulding returned to action on Lap 6, when he was two laps down. McLeod made an unscheduled stop of his own the next time by and lost one lap. He was saved from falling two down by a spinning Erik Jones off Turn 4, the incident drawing the first yellow of the day.

On the restart, Gaulding was still in last when trouble once again broke out among the leaders. This time, it was Martin Truex, Jr., whose #78 5-hour Energy / Bass Pro Shops Toyota was knocked into a Turn 1 spin after William Byron’s #24 Liberty University Chevrolet broke loose under him. While Truex managed to avoid any contact, Byron did not, backing the #24 into the outside wall. Both cars came down pit road, where they again faced different outcomes. While Truex managed to stay on the lead lap after minor repairs, Byron lost two laps and took last from Gaulding on Lap 18.

Byron managed to return to competition for the restart, and on Lap 22 passed Gaulding for 39th coming off Turn 4. Though still two circuits behind, Gaulding began to show competitive speed as on Lap 24, he caught and passed Jeffrey Earnhardt’s 33rd-place car that was still on the lead lap. Byron earned the Lucky Dog when a competition caution came soon after, then retook last from Gaulding when he stopped at pit entrance just prior to the restart. Despite the lost ground, Byron caught and passed Timmy Hill by the end of the next lap, and looked to gain the one-circuit deficit he had on 39th-place Gaulding.

LaJoie didn’t enter the last-place battle until Lap 38, when he slowed suddenly down the backstretch, then turned into the garage area. With all other cars still running, LaJoie took last from Byron on Lap 40, and would hold it the rest of the afternoon. While the TriStar team looked to get the #72 back on track, puzzled by a dropped cylinder, what the driver later tweeted as a “broken valve spring retainer” proved to be enough to end their race. The car was pulled off RaceView at the end of Stage 1 on Lap 60, then listed as “OUT” on NBCSN’s leaderboard by Lap 73.

Jeffrey Earnhardt finished 39th, citing engine trouble of his own on the Gaunt Brothers entry. Earnhardt’s twitter feed showed him give his driving gloves to two young fans in the infield as he left the garage. 38th-place Ty Dillon encountered the day’s scariest incident, when his #13 GEICO Chevrolet struck what appeared to be either a piece of tungsten ballast or a battery, exploding beneath the car and sending him hard into the Turn 3 wall. Timmy Hill’s first race with ended with electrical woes while William Byron lost a total of 13 laps before he crossed the line 36th, the final car under power.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for the #72 since June 20, 2004, when owner-driver Kirk Shelmerdine’s #72 Fairfield Inn by Marriott Ford had handling woes after 13 laps of the DHL 400.

40) #72-Corey LaJoie / 37 laps / engine
39) #96-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 102 laps / engine
38) #13-Ty Dillon / 131 laps / crash
37) #66-Timmy Hill / 138 laps / electrical
36) #24-William Byron / 187 laps / running

1st) TriStar Motorsports (4)
2nd) StarCom Racing (3)
2nd) Penske Racing, Premium Motorsports (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (3)


XFINITY: Dylan Murcott’s NASCAR debut ends in China Beach after only four corners

Dylan Murcott picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Rock ‘n Roll Tequila 170 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after his #55 Prevagen / Pets For Warriors Toyota was involved in a single-car accident on the opening circuit of the 75-lap race.

The finish occurred in Murcott’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 13th for car #55, the 121st for Toyota, and the 318th because of a crash. Across NASCAR’s  top three series, it was the 61st for the #55, the 300th for Toyota, and the 1,157th because of a crash.

The 26-year-old from Ancram, New York came to Mid-Ohio having already earned two IMSA championships, including last year’s IMSA Continental Tire Series GS Championship. That same season, he claimed a victory in Dillon Machavern’s RS1 Porsche at Virginia International Raceway. On August 7, it was announced that Murcott would make his NASCAR debut at the Mid-Ohio course, where this past May he competed in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Championship. That same circuit saw Kevin Conway, the NASCAR’s 2010 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, take the World Championship in 2014.

Murcott’s first NASCAR ride would be the second JP Motorsports Toyota, teammate to Josh Bilicki’s #45. The #55 had been driven for much of the year by Stephen Leicht and Brandon Hightower, but since Hightower parted ways with JP last month, has seen even more drivers run one-off starts. Bayley Currey made his series debut in the car at Loudon. Peter Shepherd III returned to the series after a 12-year absence to run Iowa. David Levine was scheduled to run Watkins Glen, but the team withdrew and left the car on the hauler. Murcott was tabbed for Mid-Ohio, where he likely drove the same car JP withdrew at The Glen.

Murcott’s weekend began with a seven-lap run in opening practice, where he ranked 34th of the 39 drivers to take time. He was not among the six drivers to take time in Happy Hour, then settled on 34th on the grid in qualifying with a lap of 90.827mph (1:29.498), the first driver locked-in on Owner Points.

Starting last was Morgan Shepherd, whose #89 Visone RV Chevrolet was back in action after withdrawing at Watkins Glen. Shepherd’s qualifying lap of 80.818 mph  (1:40.582) was more than six seconds off the next-slowest car and 16 seconds off the pole speed.

Prior to the start, Shepherd was joined at the rear by four drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: JD Motorsports teammates Garrett Smithley (#0 Wheeling Nailers Chevrolet) and Vinnie Miller (#01 JAS Trucking Chevrolet), plus Alex Labbe (#36 Larue Chevrolet) and Murcott’s teammate Josh Bilicki in the #45. Bilicki would rebound impressively, finishing 20th in the race - his new season-best.

In addition to the four penalized drivers, Stephen Leicht had fallen to 40th by the green flag. Leicht, the lone DNQ at The Glen, was making his second-straight attempt in Mike Harmon’s #74 Horizon Transport Dodge. With no teams sent home after time trials, Leicht was locked-in, but faced a 34.139 second gap back of the lead at the start, 29.360 seconds back of Shepherd.

As Leicht looked to close the gap, trouble broke out in front of him. At the time, Murcott’s #55 was running 34th when he drove off the course into the gravel trap known as “China Beach.” From what the driver later reported to be a brake failure, the car overshot Turn 4 and drove along the left side of the pit. Whether the car was out of control or simply traveling too fast, the result was the same – the #55 slammed head-on into the tire barriers. Fortunately, Murcott climbed out unhurt, but his day was done. The car also had noticeable damage around the left-rear wheel, but it was unclear what brought that about.

The garage filled gradually through the rest of Stage 1. Finishing 39th was Jeff Green in the #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet, citing brake issues after six laps. Shepherd wound up 38th with overheating. Leicht took 37th, two circuits after Shepherd. Three laps after Leicht, Vinne Miller rounded out the Bottom Five after only 14 laps.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for car #55 since April 25, 2014, when Jimmy Weller III lost the engine on SS-Green Light Racing’s Chevrolet at Richmond. The number had never before trailed the XFINITY race at Mid-Ohio.

40) #55-Dylan Murcott / 0 laps / crash
39) #93-Jeff Green / 6 laps / brakes
38) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 9 laps / overheating
37) #74-Stephen Leicht / 11 laps / clutch
36) #01-Vinnie Miller / 14 laps / brakes

1st) RSS Racing (10)
2nd) JP Motorsports (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports (2)
3rd) Fury Race Cars LLC, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Toyota (4)
2nd) Ford (3)


TRUCKS: Timmy Hill continues MB Motorsports’ LASTCAR Owner’s Title bid in 2018

Bayley Currey in the #63 at Pocono
PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Timmy Hill picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #63 Chevrolet exited with suspension issues after 7 of 100 laps.

The finish came in Hill’s 23rd series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 22nd for truck #22, the 13th for suspension issues, and the 358th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 39th for the #63, the 35th for suspension trouble, and the 1,617th for Chevrolet.

The journeyman Hill continues to accrue valuable seat time as he splits his efforts across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions. Last weekend saw him enter both Saturday’s Truck Series race for Mike Mittler, then Sunday’s Cup race with Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management, where his #66 Chevrolet would debut new sponsorship from

Saturday’s race was Hill’s 30th combined start of the season and his third in Trucks. He’d previously finished 28th at Charlotte for Beaver Motorsports, failed to qualify at Kentucky with the same team, then run 28th again at Pocono in NEMCO’s #87 Chevrolet.

In practice, Hill ranked 24th of 28 drivers in the first session, 27th of 32 in Happy Hour, and split the middle in qualifying, taking the 25th spot with a best lap of 177.109mph (40.653 seconds). The lone DNQ of the weekend was Camden Murphy in the #0 Chevrolet for Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing. Murphy, who joined the withdrawn Mike Harmon Racing entry on the early ride home, was faster than three qualified trucks: Josh Reuame, Norm Benning, and last-place starter Bayley Currey in Copp Motorsports’ #83 Nutriblade Chevrolet.

Sent to the rear prior to the start were Tate Fogelman (#20 Randco Chevrolet) and Justin Haley (#24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet), both for engine changes, as well as tire changes on the fleet Toyotas of Spencer Davis (Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #51 JBL / SiriusXM Toyota) and Matt Crafton (ThorSport’s #88 Hormel / Menards Toyota).

In the race itself, Hill pulled behind the wall during the opening 21-lap green-flag run, done for the afternoon with suspension issues.

31st went to Matt Mills, who had earned a strong 4th-place starting spot in DGR-Crosley’s #54 J.F. Electric / Crosley Brands Toyota. Mills’ day ended on the restart following Stage 1 when he broke loose in the first corner and backed hard into the outside wall.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled in short order. 30th went to Joe Nemechek, whose #87 Petron Plus Chevrolet pulled out as the race restarted from the Mills caution. B.J. McLeod parked the Reaume Brothers’ second truck, #34, eight laps later. Closing out the group was Reed Sorenson, who had a busy day splitting time in Ross Chastain’s Cup car, out after 47 laps in Beaver Motorsports’ #50 SobrietyNation Chevrolet.

Hill closed out his Michigan weekend with a 37th-place finish in Sunday’s Cup race, citing electrical issues in the closing stages.

*This marked MB Motorsports’ sixth last-place finish of 2018 and their second in a row, following Bayley Currey’s run in the #63 two weeks ago in Pocono.
*This was the first time that the #63 has finished last in a Truck Series race at Michigan.

32) #63-Timmy Hill / 7 laps / suspension
31) #54-Matt Mills / 27 laps / crash
30) #87-Joe Nemechek / 33 laps / ignition
29) #34-B.J. McLeod / 41 laps / fuel pump
28) #50-Reed Sorenson / 47 laps / electrical

1st) MB Motorsports (6)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (3)
3rd) Copp Motorsports (2)
4th) Mike Harmon Racing, NEMCO Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, TJL Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (15)


Saturday, August 11, 2018

#JD70: Photos unearthed from 1991 may hold clues to determining the cause of J.D. McDuffie's accident

J.D. McDuffie takes the checkered flag at Watkins Glen, 1990
PHOTO: Charlie Berch
Twenty-seven years ago today, J.D. McDuffie lost his life on the fifth lap of the Budweiser at the Glen. During the research for my book on the subject, I found no evidence of an investigation into the accident by NASCAR. Freedom of Information filings with both the New York State Police and Schuyler County Police also turned up nothing.

The only investigation into the accident I could find was commissioned through investigator Terry Shaw at Automotive Legal Service, Inc. (ALS). ALS examined the car in September 1991, well after it was taken from the Watkins Glen track and driven to the Medford Speed shop in New Jersey. ALS also supplemented their report with an examination of McDuffie’s helmet.

ALS focused their investigation on the cause of the fatal injury, details of which can be found in the book. They did not draw conclusions about the cause of the accident, nor what triggered the sequence of events. ALS cited they were not present at the scene after the accident and obtained no reports about the position of the car, the position of the driver inside the car, the autopsy report, nor anything else derived from the scene itself other than the car.

ALS did, however, take several pictures of the car at Medford, focusing on several points of interest. After obtaining permission to use these pictures, I decided against putting them in the book. Instead, I used them to describe the state of the car in the chapter entitled "Holding Pattern."  Today, in this article, I’ll be sharing some of those photos as a supplement to the book itself.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear what is NOT in this article.

There are no autopsy pictures. There are no photos of McDuffie’s helmet. There are no photos of the driver at all. To my knowledge, none of these 28 pictures contain visible blood.

Instead, these pictures focus on McDuffie's car as it appeared during and after the accident on August 11, 1991, including photos inside the car.

All pictures are hidden behind links (EXHIBIT X) with a description of what they are so they viewer can choose which ones to see at their own discretion.

Reader discretion is strongly advised.

My purpose in sharing these pictures is to further demystify what took place that day at Watkins Glen, and to encourage a discussion that can come even closer to finding out what really happened that day. As I described in the book, it is still unknown what actually started the chain of events that triggered the accident. It’s unclear when or how the left-front wheel came free, and the wheel’s whereabouts are unknown to this day. Perhaps the clues are on this page.


To provide context, I have included a couple pictures of the accident itself with extra attention given to the left-front wheel that came off entering Turn 5.

EXHIBIT 1 and EXHIBIT 2 were found in a coffee table book called “Legends of the Track” by Duane Falk. The pictures, taken by Tom Bernhardt show the moment McDuffie left the track, and the moment of impact. In EXHIBIT 1, the loose left-front wheel is above and in front of the car, and appears to have some of the assembly still attached. EXHIBIT 2 reveals how much damage there was to the driver’s side of the car before impact.

EXHIBIT 3, EXHIBIT 4, and EXHIBIT 5 are the first three photos taken on slide film by Charlie Berch, also from the same corner. The left-front wheel is also visible just to the right of McDuffie’s car in EXHIBIT 3. The full sequence of these photos can be found in the book.

EXHIBIT 6 by The Leader, and EXHIBIT 7 by David Stephenson were taken during the red flag as McDuffie’s car was being loaded up onto a flatbed. Again, the damage to the driver’s side of the car is clearly visible.


This next collection of pictures are those taken by ALS.

EXHIBIT 8 is McDuffie’s car on the back of Old Blue in September 1991. The photo is taken from the left-front corner looking back. As you can see, the front valence from EXHIBIT 6 is now missing. Like the left-front wheel, its whereabouts are unknown.

EXHIBIT 9 and EXHIBIT 10 are closer shots of the same left-front corner, looking at where the wheel came off entering Turn 5.

EXHIBIT 11 is a close-up of the end of the lower ball joint mounting for the missing left-front wheel, which is visible at bottom-center in the previous two pictures.

EXHIBIT 12, EXHIBIT 13, and EXHIBIT 14 are closer looks at the suspension inside the exposed left-front corner.

EXHIBIT 15 and EXHIBIT 16 are of the open passenger-side window. The marks on this opening were what ALS believed to be evidence of an object entering the car. EXHIBIT 15 is looking down from the roof toward the bottom edge of the passenger side window, the door numbers visible at bottom-center. EXHIBIT 16 is a close-up of the bottom-right corner of the passenger-side B-post.

EXHIBIT 17 and EXHIBIT 18 are the wrap-around headrest in McDuffie’s car. Marty Burke indicated this part was new at the time of the race, and called attention to slight damage on the leading edge of it.

EXHIBIT 19 and EXHIBIT 20 are both photos of the top of the car, looking from the front and back. Rumors after the accident persisted that something pierced the roof. These photos show the roof bent, but not pierced.

EXHIBIT 21 shows an investigator sitting in McDuffie’s seat. The investigator, who was taller than McDuffie, still has enough headroom, indicating the roll cage held up. The steering wheel, however, has been pulled to the right by the impact.

EXHIBIT 22 and EXHIBIT 23 are the right-front and right-rear wheels, respectively. Despite impacting the tire barrier, both wheels and tires are still intact.

EXHIBIT 24 is the left-rear wheel. Unlike the other side, the rim is bent and the tire is flat.

EXHIBIT 25 and EXHIBIT 26 show the passenger side of McDuffie’s car, looking back from the right-front corner.

EXHIBIT 27 is the right-rear corner of the car. This part of the car was last to strike the tire barrier.

EXHIBIT 28 is the left-rear corner of the car, also looking forward.

Thank you for your support of my book, and of the memory of J.D. McDuffie. Please be respectful to the McDuffie family in any use or discussion of this material.

Friday, August 10, 2018

PREVIEW: New and returning faces pepper entry lists for Michigan and Mid-Ohio

PHOTO: @MISpeedway
Saturday, August 11, 2018 (1:00 P.M. ET)
TRUCKS Race 15 of 23
Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Joe Nemechek

There are 33 trucks for 32 spots, following the withdrawal of the #74 from Mike Harmon Racing earlier in the week. One truck will miss the show.

RETURNING: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister and the #7 team are back in action for the first time since Kentucky, aiming for their seventh start of the season. Forrister last ran this race in 2015, when he finished 22nd for owner Christopher Long.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #50-Beaver Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
These six teams have engaged in a game of musical chairs at Michigan that left one driver standing. John Hunter Nemechek returns to his own #8 Chevrolet this week while his father Joe moves to the second NEMCO entry, #87. Joe Nemechek displaces Timmy Hill, who moves to the #63 in place of Bayley Currey. Currey goes to the #83 in place of Todd Peck at Copp Motorsports. Peck goes to the #15 of Premium Motorsports, replacing Reed Sorenson. And Sorenson will slide to the #50 Chevrolet for Beaver Motorsports, taking the place of Ray Ciccarelli. After all these moves, Ciccarelli is not racing this weekend.

RETURNING: #17-DGR-Crosley
David Gilliland’s team returns to a two-truck operation for the first time since Eldora. Bo LeMastus moves from the #54 to the returning #17. In LeMastus’ place in the #54 is Matt Mills, who will run his first Truck Series race since last September in Las Vegas. Mills, who previously drove JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet in the XFINITY Series, has never before run the Truck Series race at Michigan. Mills carries sponsorship from J.F. Electric.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Tate Fogelman returns for his third Truck Series start, taking the place of Tanner Thorson in the #20 Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
B.J. McLeod, who ran Mike Harmon’s truck at Pocono, aims for double-duty in Michigan as he replaces J.J. Yeley in the second Reaume Brothers truck. McLeod will also rejoin the #51 Chevrolet team for Rick Ware Racing in the Cup event (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Spencer Davis will run his fifth Truck Series race of the season and his first since Texas, taking the place of team owner Kyle Busch.

WITHDREW: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon’s Truck Series team withdrew earlier this week without a listed driver. As mentioned above, B.J. McLeod drove the #74 Chevrolet at Pocono. Harmon will instead focus on the XFINITY race in Mid-Ohio, where Stephen Leicht will look to rebound from being the lone DNQ at Watkins Glen.


Saturday, August 11, 2018 (3:00 P.M. ET)
XFINITY Race 21 of 33
Rock ‘n Roll Tequila 170 at Mid-Ohio
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Morgan Shepherd

There are exactly 40 entrants for 40 spots.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Brendan Gaughan, who has an XFINITY Series win at Road America, rejoins the RCR effort, taking the place of Austin Dillon with sponsorship from South Point Hotel & Casino and Beard Oil, Gaughan’s backers for his part-time effort in Cup driving the #62. It will be Gaughan’s first XFINITY Series start since last fall’s Homestead finale, when he finished 13th. Gaughan ran 7th in this race last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Cody Ware is set to make his first XFINITY Series start since Bristol this past spring, when he drove for Mike Harmon’s team, and his first attempt since Dover, when he was swapped out following an incident in practice. Ware takes the place of Scott Heckert, who ran the #8 Chevrolet at The Glen. Tommy Joe Martins remains in the #78, but as reported here, his Toyota the team planned to run on Saturday was totaled in Turn 6. Martins will instead run a Chevrolet.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
Neither Brad Keselowski nor Penske’s #12 team are entered this week following a 10th-place finish at Watkins Glen.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long withdrew prior to last week’s race in Watkins Glen, but the #13 is entered once more for Saturday, this time with John Jackson driving. The car will be a Dodge in place of the scheduled Toyota from last week. Jackson eyes only his second XFINITY start of the year, following a 36th-place run at Chicagoland.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
Welcome to NASCAR open-wheel and sports car driver Katherine Legge, who takes Mike Skeen’s place in JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet. This past May at the Mid-Ohio course, Legge and co-driver Alvaro Parente finished 2nd in GTD competition driving an Acura for Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian.

MISSING: #17-Niece Motorsports
Neither Niece Motorsports, nor driver Victor Gonzalez, Jr., are entered this week after the Chevrolet finished 31st at Watkins Glen.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Kyle Benjamin once again swaps in for Ryan Preece in the Gibbs #18, this time sponsored by Toyota Service Centers and Mobil 1. It will be Benjamin’s first series start at Mid-Ohio.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Austin Cindric moves from the #60 to take place of Joey Logano in the flagship #22 Ford for Penske Racing sponsored by PPG. Chase Briscoe takes Cindric’s place in the #60. Both drivers will be running this event for the very first time.

It was a big weekend for GMS Racing at Watkins Glen as A.J. Allmendinger finished runner-up in the XFINITY race and Spencer Gallagher made his Cup Series debut the next day. This week, Gallagher takes Allmendinger’s place in his #23 Allegiant Chevrolet.

MISSING: #24-GMS Racing
At the same time, GMS Racing has scaled back to one car this week, following Justin Haley’s crash in the Esses at Watkins Glen.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Justin Marks is set to make his first XFINITY start since last summer at Road America, where he finished 4th. The 2016 winner of this race ran 9th in this event last year, and is no doubt excited at the potential for another rainy race day. Marks takes the place of Kyle Larson, who ran at Watkins Glen.

DRIVER CHANGE: #55-JP Motorsports
After David Levine’s XFINITY effort at The Glen was withdrawn, the car returns with two-time IMSA champion Dylan Murcott driving in his first-ever NASCAR race. According to JP Motorsports’ press release, Murcott, like Legge, ran Mid-Ohio most recently in May, his during the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Championship. Josh Bilicki remains as his teammate in the #45.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
With Timmy Hill attempting double-duty in Michigan between Cup and Trucks, Tim Cowen drives in Hill’s place in the #66, bringing with him sponsorship from Cowen Logistics. Like Justin Marks, Cowen only ran Mid-Ohio and Road America in last year’s XFINITY Series, finishing 20th in the former and 36th in the latter.

RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd withdrew from Watkins Glen for the third-straight year, but returns to action at Mid-Ohio, where he trailed last year.

Three of Andy Lally’s four most recent XFINITY starts have come on the Mid-Ohio course, most recently yielding a series-best 5th-place finish in this race last year for SS-Green Light Racing. This year, Lally rejoins Mario Gosselin’s team, with which he ran a strong 7th in the rainy 2016 running. Taking the place of Brian Henderson, Lally carries sponsorship from Amethyst Beverage and Aase Sales. Lally tweeted on July 24 that he will also run Road America, where Henry Repeating Arms will back his orange Chevrolet.

MISSING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Neither Aric Almirola nor the #98 team are entered in this Saturday’s road course race.


Sunday, August 12, 2018
CUP Race 23 of 36
Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Derrike Cope

There are exactly 40 drivers entered for 40 spots, the first time since Pocono two rounds ago, and only the sixth time in 23 races in 2018.

DRIVER CHANGE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
Matt Kenseth had a rough day on the road course in Watkins Glen, and Trevor Bayne now steps back into the #6 this week with returning sponsorship from Advocare Rehydrate. In 14 previous Michigan starts, Bayne’s best finish was this race last year, when he finished 5th.

RETURNING: #7-Premium Motorsports
Garrett Smithley brings his sponsorship from Victory Lane Quick Oil Change from StarCom’s #99 to the #7 team, which rejoins the circuit for the first time since Jesse Little’s Cup debut at Kentucky. The car carries a black scheme instead of the white car he ran at StarCom.

Blake Jones returns in place of Spencer Gallagher, who made his Cup debut at The Glen. We last saw Jones in the series at Loudon, where he ran 33rd in his own series debut. Tennessee Shine Company returns as the team’s sponsor on the black #23 Toyota.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
B.J. McLeod rejoins Rick Ware Racing for the first time since Pocono, taking the place of Josh Bilicki, who had electrical issues at Watkins Glen. Bilicki will not run at Michigan, and instead focus on the XFINITY race in Mid-Ohio (see above).

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill tweeted that, as at Pocono two rounds ago, he will have a brand-new vibrant paint scheme from sponsor Hill will make his 10th Cup start of the season and his fourth in the series at Michigan, where his best run was a 29th for Go FAS Racing in 2013.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Corey LaJoie swaps back in for Cole Whitt, who was on road racing duty in Watkins Glen. LaJoie’s best of three Michigan starts in Cup came this past June, when he ran 27th for the TriStar team. Schluter Systems returns as primary sponsor for the effort.

DRIVER CHANGE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Jeffrey Earnhardt takes the place of Parker Kligerman with returning sponsors from Xtreme Concepts, Inc. and Project K9 Hero. News broke during the week that Earnhardt will drive this car for the rest of 2018. Earnhardt’s four prior Cup starts at Michigan are a pair of 37th-place runs, followed by a pair of 35ths.

RETURNING: #99-StarCom Racing
StarCom brings back their second car with Gray Gaulding driving it for the first time. StarCom Fiber will back the car. It will be Gaulding’s 18th start of the season and his first since Chicagoland, when he last drove for BK Racing. Gaulding’s run this past June, where he finished 31st, is his only previous Cup start at Michigan.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #00-StarCom Racing
Longtime Derrike Cope sponsor Mane ‘n Tail has signed with Landon Cassill for this weekend’s race, continuing a partnership that began when Cope joined Bobby Allison’s Cup team at Watkins Glen on August 14, 1994. Cope finished last that day with engine woes, sweeping the road courses that year.

The Mustang was revealed earlier this week as the new model for Ford’s Cup Series effort in 2019. While the Camaro has had a single last-place finish in 1971, as distinguished from other Chevrolets in the same race, the Mustang has not in races where it’s competed against other Fords. However, the Ford T-Bird trailed seven races between 1959 and 1961 when the model ran against other Ford models. The last of these occurred in Sacramento, California on September 10, 1961. Scott Cain’s #12N 1960 T-Bird busted the crankshaft after just two laps around the one-mile California State Fairgrounds. Eddie Gray took the win in a 1961 Ford.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

TRAVELOGUE: An emotional and uplifting weekend at Watkins Glen for McDuffie, Berch, and myself

(from left to right) Charlie Berch, myself,
Sally Berch Daggett (Charlie's sister),
and Linda McDuffie at Smalley's Garage last Saturday
PHOTO: Wendy McDuffie
When putting together my book “J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend,” and thinking about places for book signings, Watkins Glen was on top of the list. My brother Miles and I have been going to races at the Sonoma Raceway since 1992, but had never been to the road course in upstate New York. I’d never even gone there during the production of the book, and relied heavily on other sources to try and understand the track and its long history.

So, when Charlie Berch, who was standing in Turn 5 on August 11, 1991, invited the two of us to stay with him this year, we jumped at the opportunity. And when Linda and her wife Wendy offered to meet us there, we all had a feeling we were in for something truly special. But what actually took place surprised all of us.

On our first night, last Wednesday, we crossed the border into Canada to meet with Robert Taylor, a motorsports artist who I met online back in 2013. We did a feature on him for, sharing his incredible hand-drawn works. Ever since, we’d been meaning to meet up, particularly for the Truck race at Mosport, where he serves on Norm Benning’s crew. Flying into Buffalo presented the perfect opportunity. Many of the drawings he’d completed and had signed were framed and ringed his entire living room, leading down the hallway to his bedroom. This included every Truck Series winner at Mosport. Some of his latest works included three different drawings of Kaz Grala’s #61 for Fury Race Cars.

When my credential request for Watkins Glen was declined, I was floored when Rob got me in touch with Jessica at Fury, who got me a pass into the XFINITY garage. Rob knew Jessica from her time working at Brad Keselowski’s truck team, and was eager to help. All he asked in return was I bring his drawings of the #61, give the team the originals, and have Kaz Grala sign the copies for his wall. Done. Kaz and Jessica couldn’t wait to see the drawings after qualifying on Saturday. Thankfully, the drawings made it back safely to Canada, even after the cardboard tube they were in got caught in the rainstorm during the XFINITY race.

Our original plan was to stay with Rob through Thursday and see the sights, but a scheduling conflict arose earlier in the week, so we had to leave early on Thursday. Still, we had time Wednesday night to see Niagara Falls, which was just down the street from his home. Even on a weekday, there were large crowds milling about, and we got there just in time to watch the fireworks. Rob was an excellent tour guide, and we’ll have to come back to do it proper some time.

The reason we had to leave early on Friday was our first promotion with the J.D. McDuffie book. We had been invited to do a television interview with Andy Malnoske, the sports editor at NBC affiliate WETM-18 in Elmira, New York. Andy is good friends with Charlie. Originally, we were going to do an interview on Friday at the track in victory lane, but someone at the track intervened just days before we left. Undeterred, Andy said if we could come down Thursday night, we could do the interviews in studio and still make it onto his Friday night pre-race show.

As my brother and I worked our way back across the border, Linda and Wendy had already made it to Charlie’s house. Linda had driven the car all the way from Denver to upstate New York in less than a day. It was exciting to know that both of them were making the trip. My brother and I had worked out things with Charlie’s months ago, and when we told Linda and Wendy, I was surprised when they said they’d like to come up as well. They’d originally been looking to stay at a bed-and-breakfast in the area, but so close to race day, the decision was made that we all stay together with Charlie in humble Monterey, New York, just seven miles from Watkins Glen International. Incidentally, between the track and his home are the former headquarters of Hakes-Welliver Racing, the team that fielded Jim Derhaag’s first Cup ride in the 1991 Bud at the Glen.

We made it to Charlie’s early in the afternoon on Thursday, right as Charlie had to step out to photograph a local sporting event away from the track. Charlie and his girlfriend Tammy couldn’t have been any nicer hosts. They set my brother and myself up in their upstairs bedroom with Linda and Wendy in the next bedroom over.

Charlie’s home had a fascinating history. They bought the grey two-story building two decades ago. It was the oldest house in the county, built in 1830, and once served as a brothel with seven bedrooms and two different entrances. Among the many improvements Charlie and Tammy made was to the garage adjoining the kitchen on the ground floor. What was once a dirt-floored room was now a richly-appointed sports bar reminiscent of the Seneca Lodge, decorated with racing memorabilia and souvenirs from Charlie’s beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. As a private bar, friends and locals would come by to purchase five-dollar red Solo cups - the alcohol was free. This bar would be our center of operations for much of the weekend.

While Charlie was out at his shoot, my brother and I relaxed with Linda and Wendy. I had to admit, I was nervous about meeting Linda for the first time as I didn’t know what she thought about the book. I was relieved when she said “He did his homework.” For much of the afternoon, we talked about her father. Wendy had a great idea to film our conversations in one-minute clips to post on their J.D. McDuffie fan page on Facebook. There were so many more things I learned in our conversations:

Linda described her father climbing in a race car as him like “an astronaut” in the race car. “He was so cool,” she told me. When she noticed the shrine Charlie made to J.D. in the bar, including a cover image from a 1974 Dover program, she remembered being in the third grade and hopping in her father’s car, saying “Let’s go!” And the two of them went out and drove around the Rockingham.

One other time in the 1970s, J.D. and Linda took a personal car, perhaps a Chevrolet Laguna, and actually took it out on the banking at Talladega. They made it out onto the banking in the corners, so high the car felt like it was going to tumble down to the apron. The police made them pull off the track.

Linda’s first car was a 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, the first year they were built, and it was blue, the only color it came in at the time. Despite being known for the blue Rumple Furniture car on the track, J.D. always preferred black cars.

Linda also drove Old Blue, but J.D. wouldn’t let her shift because the transmission was temperamental. “Let me do this,” he’d say, as he grabbed the shifter while she pushed in the clutch. Often times, Linda’s mother Ima Jean would be following in their passenger car.

More than anything, there were the stories about J.D. as a family man. Linda was brought to tears when she remembered the silly drawings he’d make of his wife and children’s faces, and put them on the fridge. He’d say proudly, “J.D. loves Jean, Linda, and Jeff.”

Her best “dad moment,” as she described, was again when she was in the third grade. She’d come home crying from school because her classmates were talking mean about her father. The next day, J.D. came to the school to talk to the kids about racing. One of the things he said was “When a tire blows, you ain’t got a choice.” Linda never had any problems with her classmates after that.

When Charlie got back, we all loaded up in the car and went to the track. We had planned to pick up our credentials that day, but the office was closed. Fortunately, Miles and I had bought tickets to the race when my credentials fell through, so we had access for three of us to get in. So Charlie, Linda, and myself drove into the track for the first time. It was then that Charlie and I captured the moment Linda first approached Turn 5. The wall was taller and stronger, the grassy run-off smaller, and then there was the Inner Loop. It was an undeniably emotional moment. “I’m just pissed off,” Linda said, and expressed her anger that these changes only happened after 1991. We stood there for several minutes, Charlie pointing to the small rise in the grass where he was standing. “He was a good man,” I told Linda. “Even people who don’t know anything about racing, that’s the first thing they tell me when they read about him.” She told us later it was cathartic to come and see that spot. And, from how the rest of the weekend went, it seemed that way.

As it started to get dark, we picked up Miles and Wendy and went on a guided tour of Watkins Glen. Charlie steered us to South Franklin Street, showing us Smalley’s Garage, where the book signing would be, and we went around the original 1948 road course. We made pretty good time, squealing the tires on Charlie’s SUV and startling a couple deer on our way to the cobblestone bridge. By then, it was getting close to time for the TV interview, so we grabbed some drive-thru and headed to Elmira.

Of the group of us, I had by far the least television experience. Linda had been interviewed before, and as I mentioned, Charlie was good friends with Andy at the network. My dad was interviewed on CNN for one of his cases when he was a couple years older than me, but that was about it. But Andy was so down-to-earth, it really helped calm my nerves. He even showed us the bobblehead that was made of him, just like the one in Charlie’s bar. Andy was about my age when the accident happened, so we had that in common as well.

It was after 8:00 P.M. when we went into the studio with a few other members of the WETN staff. Linda and myself went up first to speak with Andy. We’d set up a nice table arrangement in front of us with a couple copies of the book and an authentic Rumple Furniture hat that Linda saved from her father’s office in 1991. Don Rumple at Rumple Furniture had also sent us new hats that we wore throughout the weekend. Wendy helped a lot getting pictures of us during the segment, and Miles and Charlie kept things light from off-camera. I felt rusty at first, but Linda and Andy were easy to play off – although in our first take, I forgot to mention the book signing and Linda forgot to mention her effort to get J.D. into the North Carolina Motor Sports Hall of Fame. It was a pre-recorded segment, however, so we got it all in.

After that, Andy did a second interview with Charlie, who brought with him prints of the last two pictures taken of J.D. in 1991. Between recordings, Linda pointed to a girder above the stage which had several numbers on it. She noticed the “70” was directly in our line of sight. When the interviews were done, we all thanked Andy and all signed a copy of the book.

It was a busy Thursday, so we all slept in on Friday except for Charlie, who went out to the track to shoot. Linda drove us to the track and to Watkins Glen itself, getting acclimated to where everything was. A friend of Charlie’s had originally secured XFINITY passes like mine for Linda and Wendy through Morgan Shepherd’s team, but when I learned the #89 team withdrew during an update to my preview article, I got on the phone with Charlie. His friend stepped up big time and scored the pair of them hot passes.

From there, we went to historic Smalley’s Garage, located right on the original 1948 course on South Franklin Street. The shop had been there since the beginning, the spot where we stood where technical inspection had been carried out. Right from the moment we walked through the doors, the owners Karl and Karla treated us like family. They stepped up big time after the Watkins Glen International signing fell through. They showed us all through the shop and shared stories of J.D. A customer came in who happened to have worked with the Dingman Brothers team for Greg Sacks, and wept as she met Linda. I signed copies for Karl, Karla, and their son, and Linda and Wendy presented them with J.D. shirts and hats they had printed back in Denver. They were so excited to host the book signing on Saturday night, and I crossed paths with Karl again at the track, where he was wearing his Dale Earnhardt shirt.

We then headed back to the track to watch XFINITY Series practice. It was then that the experience felt even more surreal. It was Linda’s first race weekend in decades, and I believe Wendy’s first ever. Miles and I have been used to bringing people into the sport, but this was something very different. Right off the bat, the rain tires were intriguing. We stood at the bottom of Turn 1 and talked about how different the cars are now, the Mustangs, Camaros and Camrys with their electronic dashes and roof flaps and everything else. It drove home just how much the cars, the track, everything had changed in that time. And when we showed Linda footage from the Charlotte Roval test, she said, “I can tell you what that’s gonna be – a hot mess.”

We stayed until the end of XFINITY practice, then grabbed some food on the way back to Charlie’s place so we could watch the airing of Andy’s NBC segment. We convened at Charlie’s bar, and were joined by Charlie’s fellow photographer friend Tom, who had as a Yankee fan has enjoyed a friendly rivalry. About halfway through the one-hour show, when they went to commercial, we saw a glimpse of J.D. from his 1985 segment on CBS. We all shouted, and I gave Linda a high-five. “I think I know what’s coming up!” I said.

Sure enough, Andy led right into it after the break. I thought he was just going to air our interviews. As it turned out, he and the WETM staff stayed up until the early hours combining archival footage into a full four-minute segment. We watched it in near silence, Wendy capturing the moment on film. When they showed the accident, I put my arm around Linda. It was stunning, tasteful, perfect. I couldn’t believe I was a part of it. There were tears and applause, and Andy even made sure to mention the book signing at Smalley’s. I couldn’t wait to send the link to the video to my parents back in California, then to my publisher.

On Saturday, Linda, Wendy, Miles, and myself headed to the track with Charlie for the day of the XFINITY race. Our plan was to watch the action, then meet up at 5:30 P.M. to beat the traffic back to Smalley’s. I helped Linda and Wendy find their way through the garage, then went out to find the Fury Race Cars team to get Rob’s drawings signed. Rob also included a drawing of Joey Logano’s Cup car from 2015 which I showed to his friend Tommy at the Penske hauler. Along the way, I ran into sim racer J.P. Windschitl, a hardcore Josh Bilicki fan and LASTCAR reader. He was there to present Bilicki with a custom diecast he made of the #45 Prevagen Toyota. He was the first of three LASTCAR readers I took selfies with around the track. I see from Bilicki’s twitter page that he got the car, too.

I also crossed paths with Claire B. Lang, who I’ve met working the media side of things at Sonoma and Darlington. I told her about the book near the end of XFINITY qualifying, and she readily offered to interview me in the media center. I was out of breath, but excited for the opportunity. Charlie told me she also got in touch with Linda, so I thank her for that as well. Charlie flagged me down when he caught the ear of Lee Spencer, and the pair of us were interviewed once again. Thank you to the both of them for letting us share our story.

I was standing at the garage entrance for the start of the XFINITY race while Miles was in Turn 10 and Linda and Wendy found a shady spot. I have to admit that I winced when Tommy Joe Martins ran off the track in Turn 6, particularly since it was a brake failure and the #78 font almost looked like it was a car #70. It was a relief that he was okay. When we watched the Sunday broadcast at Charlie’s bar the next day, Linda couldn’t watch during NBC’s opening crash montage.

After I interviewed Martins, I made my way to Turn 10 to meet with Miles when the wind picked up and it started spitting rain. I turned the corner to buy a couple ponchos, but by the time I reached the stands realized that was not the proper protocol. Miles was among the die-hards in the stands, just watching the action as the field tip-toed by, and not one of them were wearing parkas. Some took off their shirts. The rain prevented us from staying to the finish of the race, so we met up with Charlie and headed to Smalley’s to set up.

When we got to Smalley’s, they had two classic modifieds parked there from Schenck Racing. One was a bright orange #5, a tribute to Mal Lane. The other was a blue #46, and from the frame rails dangled a tiny urn containing the ashes of a fallen racer. The owner had Linda sign them both in black Sharpie. Linda and I signed Karl's 1:24 scale diecast of J.D.'s burgundy car - her on the rear deck and me on the rear glass. It's now on display in the garage.

One interesting thing about Smalley’s is the Walk of Fame on the sidewalk in front. There are several stones laid there honoring the names of past drivers. To be eligible, all you have to do is have raced at Watkins Glen. Charlie told me about this days before, and I was absolutely on board to get one of these done for J.D. A day or so later, I was just about to offer my donation when Charlie took me aside and told me “It’s already done.” “What?” I asked. “It’s done.” Apparently, the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen had already had it made, and they were going to present it to Linda at the signing. Unbelievable. I told Miles, and had to bite my tongue not to tell Linda.

I thought the stone was going to be presented to Linda, but when we arrived for the signing, it was already there, lying on the checkered-flag painted curb where Smalley’s gas pumps once were.

J.D. McDuffie
Car #70
653 Cup Starts 1963-1991
NASCAR – Grand National – ARCA

There were tears and smiles again. Linda got her picture taken next to the stone. Bill Green from the IMRRC was there for the presentation. We were all so happy for her, and for J.D. The stone is going to be put on the Walk of Fame during the track’s vintage weekend later this summer.

And that was just the start of the evening.

We had tables and awnings set up, and the staff at Smalley’s brought us all kinds of snacks – donut holes, cookies, iced tea, and New York-style pizza. Once all that was set up, people came by from the nearby souvenir alley almost immediately. Just about everyone who stopped by bought a book, as well as the J.D. shirts, hats, and lanyards that Linda and Wendy brought with them. Miles helped wave down the post-race traffic, wearing one of the hats and carrying a book.

Our second visitors were an older couple, including a man wearing an authentic J.D. McDuffie shirt and cap produced after the accident. The couple told us they were camping at the track when the accident happened, and for each year after brought with them a sign they hung on the catchfence. The black plastic sign bore a wooden cross, a laminated J.D. McDuffie card, and the words “70 J.D.: Not Forgot’n.” For years, the couple hung the sign by their camper every year at Watkins Glen. When camping prices became too high, they kept the sign in storage in a blue bag. On that night, they gave the sign to Linda.

It seemed everyone had a story about J.D., no matter their age. We met fathers who told their sons about him, people my age who said the 1991 Bud at the Glen was the first race they’d been to. When we were packing up at 9:00 P.M., a truck pulled in, and a man named Mike jumped out to meet us. He was relieved to have caught us, as were we. Mike told us he brought food to J.D. at the track for years.

After that, it was back to Charlie’s bar for a proper celebration. With a replay of the XFINITY race playing in the background, we raised a toast and stayed up well into the morning.

Linda and Wendy couldn’t make it to the track on Sunday, and I have to admit, with everything that happened that weekend, Miles and I were slowing down as well. We took it easy during the Cup race, which turned out to be an instant classic with Chase Elliott taking a popular victory (and Joey Logano claiming a rare and unusual last-place finish). To cap it off, I was present when Spencer Gallagher, who I'd corresponded with on an internet forum since 2011, made his first Cup Series start.

We all got some much-needed rest at Charlie’s, then said our goodbyes on Monday morning. Miles and I capped off the trip by stopping by the Research Center, where a copy of my book will soon join the biography section. Then it was back west to Ontario and Rob, where we presented him with his drawings and some Fury Race Cars swag.

Back home again in Antioch, I look on my shelf at the #70 hat Linda and Wendy gave me after we met. Next to it is a 1:64 diecast of the burgundy #70 that Linda gave me from her personal collection. I told her the first time I saw a diecast like that was my first exposure to her father. An antique shop in Martinez, California in 2000. I didn’t know who he was, so I looked online for more info. It was then that I learned about the crash. The 653 starts. The long nights working in Sanford. Linda, Jeff, and Ima Jean. I was eighteen then, finishing up high school. I had no thought of making a book at the time, but looking back, that was the first step that led me to writing it.

I also set aside a copy of my book which Linda, Charlie, and Rob signed. Placed carefully in the book is a thick plastic card with a dried red rose petal inside. On his J.D. McDuffie display in the bar, Charlie kept a rosebud from the arrangement he left on J.D.’s grave in 1991. He placed the bud inside a 1994 diecast of the blue Rumple Pontiac. One night during our trip, he took off two petals and placed them inside the cards. The first went to Linda, the other to me.

For all that took place over that week, I did my best to stop and really take in the moment. It’s so hard to do that in racing, or in life, really. But even now, sitting here, it’s all still sinking in. I am so thankful for what we all accomplished that week, and honored to have been a part of it.

To Linda, Wendy, Charlie, Tammy, Andy, Jessica, Rob, Karl, Karla, Bill, Kip, and the many others involved, thank you for all your help making this journey a reality.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

CUP: Joey Logano finishes last in a Cup race for the first time in more than nine years

Logano's hauler driving through Monterey, NY after the race.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Joey Logano picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International when his #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford was eliminated in a crash after he completed just 1 of 90 laps.

The finish, which came in Logano’s 349th series start, was his first since February 15, 2009, when he crashed out of the Daytona 500, 346 races ago. As it happens, Logano, who was making just his fourth career start that day, was the subject of our first two LASTCAR articles after he trailed both the Budweiser Shootout and the 500.

In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 26th for car #22, the 569th because of a crash, and the 683rd for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 40th for the #22, the 941st for Ford, and the 1,156th resulting from a crash.

Spanning nearly his entire career and all 19 of his career Cup victories, the gap between Logano’s two last-place finishes in Cup has seen the Connecticut driver experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows. He took Rookie of the Year in 2009, but after years as a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, was released by the team in 2013 in place of Matt Kenseth. His move to Penske Racing paid immediate dividends, yielding his first top-ten finish in points, a five-win season in 2014, and a six-win 2015 highlighted by his first Daytona 500 victory.

Only the championship remains elusive for Logano and the #22 team. At Homestead in 2014, his car slipped off the jack during his final pit stop, eliminating him from the first Championship Four. The next year, a battle with Matt Kenseth, his replacement at Joe Gibbs Racing, saw Kenseth respond to a spin at Kansas by wrecking Logano from the lead at Martinsville. And after finishing runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in 2016, he was out of the Playoffs entirely last year when his lone victory at Richmond was encumbered for a technical infraction.

This year, Logano has again pushed for a championship run, but despite a victory at Talladega appears to be in a supporting role to the “Big Three” of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex, Jr. Still, entering Watkins Glen, where he prevailed in a close battle with Harvick in 2015, Logano had finished inside the Top 10 in all but 6 of the first 21 rounds with just one DNF – a next-to-last-place finish at Kentucky.

This year, Logano’s Watkins Glen weekend began on a high note. He not only claimed the pole for Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, but won ahead of A.J. Allmendinger, overcoming a rain storm that forced the field to run rain tires for a few laps. On the Cup side, he qualified 5th in Round 1, then settled into 6th with a lap of 124.715mph (1 minute, 10.721 seconds). The #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford also showed speed in practice, ranking 3rd in the opening session behind Erik Jones and Kyle Busch before settling into 20th in Happy Hour.

Qualifying last was Landon Cassill, who was back in proper StarCom Fiber gold and black for the first time since his rough outing at Loudon. By the time the cars lined up on pit road, however, he had already passed two cars. Both Kurt Busch’s #41 Haas Automation / Monster Energy Ford and Paul Menard’s #21 Menards / Sylvania Ford had failed inspection. By the end of the first pace lap, Cassill fell behind the pair due to a penalty for unapproved adjustments, slowing in Turn 1 until both Fords moved past. Ty Dillon was also sent to the back for the same reason. By the one lap to go signal, Ross Chastain had voluntarily dropped back from the 32nd spot in his #15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet to join Cassill at the rear.

While a tight battle for the lead quickly unfolded, Cassill slotted into last and followed the field around for the first circuit. Far in front, Joey Logano was in a tight race with Kyle Larson for 5th, and he bumped Larson’s #42 Credit One Bank / DC Solar Chevrolet as the pair raced off Turn 5. Moments later, Logano started spraying fluid from under his Ford down The Chute. The video below by Miles Beard (aka #LASTBRO) showed no visible fluid as the #22 entered Turn 6, the car missing corner entry and driving straight off the track. Unlike Tommy Joe Martins’ incident the day before, Logano ran straight through the gravel, and only regained control once he drove back out of it. Without hitting the wall, Logano accelerated along the grassy edge to the gravel trap and returned to the track to make it to pit road.

When the crew discovered the leak, Logano’s car went behind the wall for repairs. While the fluid leak, captured on A.J. Allmendinger’s front bumper camera, indicated a mechanical issue was to blame for the incident, and the #22 never actually hit any barriers, the off-course excursion was classified as a crash. Whether this was due to the contact with Larson or the venture into the gravel pit is unclear, particularly since the incident didn’t draw a caution. Under the current “Crash Clock” protocol, a car going to the garage after a crash is done for the day. Thus, a bewildered Logano climbed out of his ride, his afternoon suddenly over.

Despite a very short day, Logano’s car hauler left the track very late, following even the #9 team hauler for Chase Elliott, who scored a popular first career Cup victory.

Finishing 36th on Sunday was Josh Bilicki, whose double-duty effort at The Glen ended with a persistent electrical issue on the #51 Jacob Companies Ford that made the engine sound flat in the race’s middle stages. B.J. McLeod was originally listed to drive, and McLeod’s name was still listed in Bilicki’s place on the track’s entry list t-shirts. As a rare start for the team with Ford, the car was also likely the same old road course chassis that Chris Cook piloted at Sonoma in June, though now with a blue paint scheme in place of Sonoma’s red-and-black.

35th went to Spencer Gallagher, whose Cup Series debut provided challenges of its own. The #23 Allegiant Toyota, a BK Racing car no doubt supported by his family’s Chevrolet team GMS Racing, struggled with an electrical problem of its own that caused the car to overheat. Gallagher came down pit road for water, but was then told to go to the garage area, where the cool-down machine was stored. With no garage access at his end of pit road, Gallagher reportedly backed up (or was pushed back) up the pits and into the garage. Soon after, driver and crew chief were told to meet in the NASCAR hauler after the race. Gallagher ultimately returned to the event, where he finished 17 laps down.

34th went to Cole Whitt, who took at least one trip to the garage as well in TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet. He ended up on the same lap as Gallagher when the checkered flag fell, dodging the leaders in the race’s final moments.

Rounding out the group was Matt DiBenedetto in Go FAS Racing’s #32 Zynga Poker Ford. DiBenedetto pitted off-sequence early in the race, and was running by himself for much of the race afterward. On Lap 54, the car erupted in smoke entering the Inner Loop, and stopped on the access road, drawing the fourth and final caution of the day. The crew somehow fixed the issue and got him back on the track under green on Lap 67. After creeping off the end of pit road to merge into traffic, DiBenedetto finished under power, 15 laps down.

*This marked the first-ever Cup Series last-place finish for Penske Racing’s #22 team. The number hadn’t even finished last in a Cup race since March 30, 2008, when Dave Blaney, driving for the now-shuttered Bill Davis Racing, had engine trouble after 374 laps of the Goody’s Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville – more than a full decade ago. At the time, Logano was more than two months from his XFINITY Series debut at Dover and my race review was put to "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock".

37) #22-Joey Logano / 1 lap / crash
36) #51-Josh Bilicki / 69 laps / electrical
35) #23-Spencer Gallagher / 73 laps / running
34) #72-Cole Whitt / 73 laps / running
33) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 75 laps / running

1st) StarCom Racing, TriStar Motorsports (3)
2nd) Penske Racing, Premium Motorsports (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (3)


XFINITY: Brake failure causes scary accident for Tommy Joe Martins at Watkins Glen

PHOTO: Brock Beard
Tommy Joe Martins picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International when his #78 JW Transport Toyota fell out in a single-car accident after he completed 3 of 82 laps.

The finish came in Martins’ 34th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it’s the 4th for car #78, the 120th for Toyota, and the 317th because of a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 31st for the #78, the 299th for Toyota, and the 1,155th because of a crash.

As described in our earlier feature on B.J. McLeod, Martins is one of the many drivers who competes for McLeod’s XFINITY Series team. The former Truck Series owner-driver first joined McLeod’s team at Pocono last year, and two rounds later earned the driver’s career-best finish of 11th at Iowa. Sunday marked his 14th start in 20 XFINITY races in 2018, dating back to Atlanta in February. His season-best finish stands as an 18th at Talladega. Ever since June’s race at Michigan, Martins has moved from the #8 to the McLeod program’s primary #78.

At The Glen, Martins would run a Toyota, which the team had prepared to run both at Watkins Glen and this Saturday at Mid-Ohio. The Glen car carried a small round logo behind the rear tires with a decal for JW Transport, which was listed as the team’s primary sponsor.

Having never driven an XFINITY Series car at The Glen before, Martins was required to turn at least one lap on Friday. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that heavy rains soaked the track that day, forcing him to run on rain tires. With the chance of rain reduced for the race on Saturday, most teams chose not to run. Martins stayed out of opening practice, then turned his only lap in Happy Hour at 78.531mph, slowest of nine drivers to brave the elements by more than 20 seconds.

With the rain gone on the first part of Saturday, Martins’ speed improved to 116.256mph (1 minute, 15.867 seconds), ranking him 30th for the race.

The lone driver to miss the field was Stephen Leicht, who ran faster than all but one of the seven drivers locked in by Owner Points, and tied the second-ranked of that group. Still, Leicht’s lap was a full 1.3 seconds shy of Jeff Green, who would make his 500th series start from the 33rd spot. Leicht became the 41st entry following three withdrawals in the week, starting with owner-driver Morgan Shepherd on Wednesday. Both JP Motorsports and Motorsports Business Management also withdrew a team car for David Levine and Carl Long, respectively. Levine’s blue #55 Toyota was still on the JP trailer by race day.

Starting last in the 40-car field was Vinnie Miller, JD Motorsports’ driver in the bright red #01 Chevrolet. Due to an apparent issue with the team’s equipment, Miller’s crew was using the war wagon from TriStar Motorsports’ Cup team and had a pit board whose numbers were crafted out of what appeared to be a square of cardboard and strips of bright yellow and orange tape. Miller also happened to be one of no less than 11 starters who incurred tail-end penalties prior to the start. Both Miller and Tyler Reddick were docked for tire changes. Austin Cindric went to a backup car after a tangle in qualifying. The other eight were due to unapproved adjustments: Scott Heckert, Brandon Jones, Alex Labbe, Ryan Sieg, Josh Bilicki, Kaz Grala, Spencer Boyd, and Brian Henderson. Among this group, Henderson lost a wheel in qualifying, Grala had a brake issue, and Heckert, Martins’ teammate in the McLeod #8, slammed the barriers with the left-rear, forcing last-minute repairs.

On the first pace lap, Chad Finchum pulled down pit road in MBM’s #40 Smithbilt Toyota. He pitted his car near the exit of pit road, between the stalls occupied by the much larger war wagons belonging to Penske Racing teammates (and front-row starters) Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. On the second pace lap, Heckert, Cindric, and Green pulled out of line to the right and fell to the rear. This put Green and Finchum in the final two spots when the race began, and both were slow getting up to speed as the field drew away.

At the end of the first green-flag lap, Fichum held last place by open ground behind Green and the rest of the field. That changed seconds later when Josh Bilicki, a tire mark behind the right-front wheel, pulled his #45 Prevagen Toyota down pit road. Bilicki’s JP Motorsports entry returned to the track, as did Green, who made his way into a nearly-empty stall on Lap 3. The crew looked over Green’s car, and sent him back out. Bilicki made a second stop that time by, and was now contesting Green for last place.

Only then did Martins enter the picture. On Lap 4, when he was running in the middle of the pack, Martins’ #78 started smoking as he entered Turn 6 (Turn 10 on the full course). The brakes on his car stopped responding. Just days after Bubba Wallace’s hard crash at Pocono, Martins turned his car to the right and started riding the outside wall. This steered his car onto a narrow strip of grass that ringed the large gravel trap, which the car followed all the way into the retaining barrier, destroying the right-front of the car and shoving the splitter so far back that it dragged beneath the rear bumper. Fortunately, Martins walked away unhurt and was checked and released from the care center.

It wasn’t until Lap 7 that Martins’ car was towed back to the garage area, moments after the ambulance brought the driver to the medical center. We followed the car back to the waiting transporter at the far end of the XFINITY garage, where a frustrated Martins explained what happened.

“Brakes failed,” said Martins. When asked if he downshifted to try and slow it down, Martins shook his head. “No, I was trying to get the brakes to work. I thought maybe there was just air (in the line) or something, I pumped it, and nothing, so no I didn’t downshift or anything. At that point, I was basically through the corner, and so I basically just turned right to try and keep myself from going directly into the wall.”

I then asked if there was any warning the brakes were going away. “They worked literally three seconds before they failed. Did the same – give them a little tap coming out of the Carousel (Turn 5) I did the first three laps of the race and everything felt fine and go to brake for Turn 6 and there’s nothing there. I broke early – I didn’t try to overdrive, I didn’t try and drive it in hard, and just nothing. Tried to pump it up and maybe there was air in the lines or something, but at that point you’re kind of already in the corner pretty far, but I figured whatever I’ll just lock it up and run wide and still it just never came back, so much run-off room over there, you think maybe you can get to it, so then I’m like I’m in the sand trap, tried to slow down and it just didn’t. So, you’re just top of third gear there so your almost wide-open third gear when you hit the brakes. Whatever, the car’s totaled, so I’m pretty upset about it.”

Shortly after we arrived on scene, Green’s #93 pulled up and parked at the RSS Racing trailer across from Martins’, citing brake issues. The next two spots were filled by Justin Haley, whose return to the #24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet with GMS Racing ended after he tangled with the Richard Childress-prepared #2 Tunity Chevrolet at the exit of the Esses, demolishing both cars. Curiously, Haley’s yellow-line pass in his most recent XFINITY start at Daytona was played as part of NASCAR’s hype video prior to Saturday’s start.

Rounding out the group was Timmy Hill, the lone Dodge in the field, who cited rear gear trouble on the #66 / MBM Motorsports machine.

*This marked only the second last-place finish for B.J. McLeod’s #78 car and the first for the number at Watkins Glen. The number’s most recent last-place run was B.J. McLeod’s engine problem on July 1, 2016, when the #78 Safecraft Safety Equipment / Momo Ford exited after the opening lap.

40) #78-Tommy Joe Martins / 3 laps / crash
39) #93-Jeff Green / 8 laps / brakes
38) #24-Justin Haley / 26 laps / crash
37) #2-Matt Tifft / 26 laps / crash
36) #66-Timmy Hill / 27 laps / rear gear

1st) RSS Racing (10)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, JP Motorsports (2)
3rd) Fury Race Cars LLC, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (3)


K&N EAST: Rette Jones Racing records first last-place finish of tumultuous 2018 season

PHOTO: Zimbio
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Tristan van Wieringen scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East career in Friday’s Great Outdoors RV Superstore 100 at Watkins Glen International when his #30 Durobyte / Rette Jones Racing Ford retired with engine issues after 26 of 41 laps. The finish came in his 4th series start.

The combo of van Wieringen and RJR is a completely Canadian one. Tristan van Wieringen is the brother of Canadian hot shoe Dominique van Wieringen, who piloted the 30 RJR entry in 2016. Tyler Dippel piloted the entry for most of the 2017 season and looked set to come back to the organization in 2018, even announcing a Truck slate with the organization. That all burned down relatively quickly, as Dippel made the choice to break away from the organization after the season-opening race due to poor performance. He would, in Spencer Davis 2016-esque style, grab a race with MDM Motorsports before finding a home at DGR-Crosley for the remaining 12 races of the season.

The principals of RJR are Mark Rette and Terry Jones, Rette a former crew chief for Eddie Sharp Racing (winning the ARCA championship in 2009 with that team) and Red Horse Racing and Jones, a Canadian pilot who up until 2017 ran mainly restrictor plate tracks in ARCA with the occasional foray into Trucks. The two formed Rette Jones Racing in 2015.

This year, the team ran the ARCA race at Daytona with Grant Quinlan. He would later step in to the K&N car once Dippel left, scoring the pole for the first South Boston race. He left after a fourth-place finish at New Jersey Motorsports Park, a season-best. Neither the team nor Quinlan had any comment about the split, and van Wieringen joined the team after a test at Motor Mile Speedway in time for the race at Thompson Speedway. It has been a difficult transition, with the driver recording finishes of eleventh, ninth and fourteenth before the Glen. RJR also has a technical alliance with Danny Watts Racing and their #82 team, that machine being driven by Spencer Davis.

The entry list was a typical one for a road course companion event with Cup. 25 cars showed up, or the same amount of cars that showed up for the East-West combo race at Iowa. The race had three main groups of drivers competing: drivers coming down from higher ranks, road ringers, and lastly, K&N regulars. The first group included Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton, Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Brett Moffitt and surprisingly Austin Hill, who took Brandon McReynolds’ normal drive in the Visconti Motorsports #74. The road ringers included Juan Manuel Gonzalez, Ernie Francis Jr., Dale Quarterley, Scott Heckert and perhaps the fastest road ringer in a long time, Will Rodgers. Of course, a decent-sized contingent of K&N regulars rounded out the field, including Sam Mayer driving for MDM Motorsports, his ride with Jefferson Pitts Racing taken by Wallace this week.

Bill Hoff withdrew without taking a time in practice, leaving 24 cars to run the session. Robert Pawlowski, known as “Farmer Bob” on the name rail, trailed first practice, his lap of 1:41 trailing last weekend’s last-placer Chase Cabre by two and a half seconds. Quarterley, who fielded Pawlowski’s first-ever K&N ride at this same track last year, started last due to his #32 team having the least amount of owner points of the 24 cars racing after qualifying was washed out.

Rette Jones Racing brought a hot rod to the track, one that the driver felt like had a spot on the podium. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be on this particular day, as the 30 car spun in the last turn on Lap 15 and later stopped in the inner loop on Lap 29 to become the race’s first retiree. Juan Manuel Gonzalez was the last car running in 23rd. In 22nd was Colin Garrett, early issues with the team hauler compounded by electrical woes. Dillon Bassett was two laps down in 21st and Noah Gragson rounded out the Bottom Five in 20th after a one-lap penalty for taking fuel under green.

24) #30-Tristan van Wieringen / 26 laps / engine
23) #25-Juan Manuel Gonzalez / 33 laps / running
22) #18-Colin Garrett / 35 laps / running
21) #44-Dillon Bassett / 39 laps / running
20) #98-Noah Gragson / 40 laps / running

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

1st) Hunt-Sellers Racing, Ronnie Basset Sr. (2)
2nd) Bill McAnally Racing, Chuck Buchanan Jr., Carroll Motorsports, Danny Watts Racing, Ace Motorsports, Rev Racing, Rette Jones Racing (1)


Thursday, August 2, 2018

PREVIEW: Large Cup contingent to run The Glen Saturday, followed by a debut on Sunday

J.D. McDuffie and the #70 crew at Watkins Glen, 1989
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
Saturday, August 4, 2018
XFINITY Race 20 of 33
Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Kyle Larson

There are 43 drivers entered in the XFINITY Series’ first road course race of 2018, meaning that three drivers will miss the show.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
First of the six Cup regulars running Saturday’s race will be Austin Dillon, who takes the place of Shane Lee, 13th at Iowa. Dillon has two XFINITY starts at The Glen, but none since 2013, when he finished a track-best 12th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Welcome back four-time K&N Pro Series East driver Scott Heckert, who takes the place of Ray Black, Jr., 28th at Iowa. Heckert returned to XFINITY competition at Chicago last month, and again reunites with B.J. McLeod’s team. This time, he drives the #8 in place of the #78, which will again have Tommy Joe Martins behind the wheel. Heckert has three East Series starts at The Glen, highlighted by back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Penske’s second XFINITY car returns, but this time, not for Austin Cindric. Cindric switches back to the #60 this week, taking the place of Chase Briscoe, who isn’t entered. As in years past at The Glen, Penske will stack their deck with Cup regulars Brad Keselowski (#12 Wabash National Ford) and Joey Logano (#22 Snap-On Ford), who finished 2nd and 3rd in this race last year. With Kyle Busch not running the #18 on Saturday, expect that duo to be a factor once again.

RETURNING: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MBM’s third car returns to competition this week with Carl Long behind the wheel of the #13 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota. Timmy Hill joins him in the #66, taking the place of Stan Mullis, 33rd at Iowa.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
With Brandon Hightower tabbed to run the #15’s remaining oval track races in 2018, B.J. McLeod was originally set to make his first XFINITY start at The Glen since 2016. By Tuesday, that changed to Mike Skeen, who we last saw in NASCAR involved in a controversial last-lap tangle during the inaugural Truck Series race at Mosport. Since then, Skeen has remained active in sports cars, making four starts last year driving Mercedes in the Weathertech SportsCar Championship.

NEW TEAM: #17-Niece Motorsports
Truck Series team owner Al Niece (with 54 series starts) enters the XFINITY Series for the first time, bringing a #17 PMC Group Chevrolet to Watkins Glen. Behind the wheel is road racer Victor Gonzalez, Jr., who last drove in NASCAR's top three series when he raced Niece's truck last fall at Mosport, finishing 16th. Gonzalez aims to qualify for his first XFINITY Series race since this race in 2012, where he also ran 16th for RAB Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
It’s a young gun swap at the #18 team as Ryan Preece takes the place of Kyle Benjamin, who ran 3rd at Iowa. Like McLeod, Preece hasn’t run this race since 2016, when he finished 27th for JD Motorsports after suspension issues. This time around, he’s in the #18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing with sponsorship from new team backer Craftsman.

Casey Roderick earned a solid 15th-place finish in his return to XFINITY Series competition at Iowa. This Saturday, the #23 Chevrolet will be driven by 2014 Cup Series winner A.J. Allmendinger. It will be Allmendinger’s first XFINITY Series start since 2013, when he took the checkered flag at Mid-Ohio for Roger Penske, and his first-ever in the series at Watkins Glen. As for Spencer Gallagher, he’ll be making a first of his own (see below).

Justin Haley and the second GMS Racing car are back for the first time since each were denied victory at Daytona. It marks Haley’s first NASCAR start at The Glen since 2016, when he finished runner-up to Austin Cindric in the K&N Pro Series East race, driving for HScott Motorsports.

RSS Racing has swapped its second and third drivers once more, putting J.J. Yeley back in the #38 and Jeff Green in the #93. For Yeley, it will be his 600th NASCAR start across the top three series, dating back to the XFINITY race at Las Vegas on March 6, 2004. For Green, Saturday will mark his 500th XFINITY Series start, which dates back to September 8, 1990 at Richmond.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Kyle Larson trailed this race last year after engine trouble, and in 2018 returns for another go. He takes the place of John Hunter Nemechek, who in the last three XFINITY races has finished 5th at Iowa, 4th at Loudon, and 7th at Kentucky.

DRIVER CHANGE: #55-JP Motorsports
Peter Shepherd III finished 31st at Iowa, finishing under power in his long-awaited series debut. This week, Stephen Leicht, who started the year in JP’s #55, was again entered in the car. Leicht has not raced at The Glen since 2012, when he finished 42nd for The Motorsports Group in the XFINITY race, then 26th in the Cup race for Circle Sport. By Tuesday, Leicht was out, and replaced by David Levine. Levine aims to make his first XFINITY Series start after just one Truck Series start before, a 17th-place finish in the 2015 Homestead finale.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
When Levine ousted him at JP Motorsports, Stephen Leicht landed at Mike Harmon's team, where he takes over for the team owner in the #74 Chevrolet.

WITHDREW: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
For the second time in a month, Morgan Shepherd has withdrawn his #89 Chevrolet. This news was reflected on the page on Tuesday, not long after the #17 Al Niece entry was added. This marks the third-straight year Shepherd has withdrawn his team from Watkins Glen.

Brian Henderson returns to the scene of his XFINITY Series debut last year, where ignition trouble left him 33rd. He again drives for DGM Racing in the #90, taking the place of Josh Williams, 24th at Iowa. This Saturday’s car will be sponsored by the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and Mini’s Mission, both initiatives to benefit children with cancer.

RETURNING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Aric Almirola is back in the XFINITY Series for the first time since the Daytona opener, and is again in the #98 Ford. This time, he will be backed by GoBowling, the organization sponsoring Sunday’s Cup race. Almirola has raced the Zippo 200 only once – in 2011 – when he finished 8th for JR Motorsports.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Austin Dillon, #12-Brad Keselowski, #22-Joey Logano, #23-A.J. Allmendinger, #42-Kyle Larson, #98-Aric Almirola

Sunday, August 5, 2018
CUP Race 22 of 36
GoBowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

There are just 37 drivers entered in this weekend’s annual trip to Watkins Glen, tied with last year for the fourth-fewest starters in this race. It will also be the 17th short field in 22 races this year and the third in the last four rounds.

MISSING: #7-Premium Motorsports
Jay Robinson’s team scales back from two cars to one at The Glen, and has sat both Reed Sorenson and the #7 Chevrolet. Making the trip north will be Ross Chastain, who will once again run the #15 Chevrolet. Chastain, a strong 4th at Iowa, has never run the Cup race at Watkins Glen, but has three starts in the XFINITY race with a best finish of 14th in 2016.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-BK Racing / GMS Racing
The biggest change on the Cup entry list is the arrival of Spencer Gallagher, who returned from his suspension in the XFINITY Series race at Kentucky, but did not run at Loudon or Iowa. Instead, Gallagher will make his Cup debut in a car that, coincidentally, runs the same number as his XFINITY Series effort. The car, officially listed under BK Racing but undoubtedly with support from GMS Racing, will also carry sponsorship from Allegiant Airlines. As mentioned above, A.J. Allmendinger will drive the team’s XFINITY car on Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Josh Bilicki will run double-duty this weekend, returning to the Cup Series for his third series start, following 36th-place runs last summer at Sonoma and Loudon. Bilicki takes the place of B.J. McLeod, who finished last at Pocono. McLeod was the listed driver until Wednesday, and was also swapped out of his XFINITY ride with JD Motorsports.

MISSING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long confirmed on Facebook that MBM will focus exclusively on the XFINITY Series race at Watkins Glen, where Timmy Hill will drive the #66 on Saturday. Hill, who finished 36th in the team’s newest Cup chassis due to handling issues, will return to Cup at a date to be determined.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
After running the five Cup races since Sonoma with a best finish of 27th at Loudon, Corey LaJoie is back out of the #72 Chevrolet, and Cole Whitt is back in. Whitt ran 35th at Sonoma, out after a mid-race crash, but has more often earned respectable finishes on the road courses. In four previous Cup starts at the Glen, his last-place crash in 2014 is his only DNF. His best came the next year, a 21st for Front Row Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Pocono saw the return of the Gaunt Brothers with Jeffrey Earnhardt driving for them for the first time. Earnhardt will again run 13 of these remaining 15 races. Sunday was just added to the schedule, meaning that GBM will run all but one of these final races in 2018. In Earnhardt's place comes Parker Kligerman, who ran the car to a 23rd-place finish at Sonoma.

MISSING: #99-StarCom Racing
Derrike Cope’s team scales back from two cars to one this week, benching the #99 and driver Kyle Weatherman, who ran the last two rounds. Cope has kept Landon Cassill in the #00 after Tomy Drissi drove the car to a 32nd-place run in Sonoma. Cassill has started the last six Cup races at Watkins Glen with a best finish of 23rd both in 2012 and 2016.

Saturday, August 11, 2018
TRUCKS Race 15 of 23
Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Joe Nemechek

The Truck Series takes a week off and returns next Saturday for the 2-mile oval in Michigan.

The road courses test the limits of a car’s many mechanical parts, but also the fluids. The only time that “oil temperature” was the listed cause for a last-place finish occurred on the old Riverside International Raceway on November 16, 1986. During the running of the Winston Western 500, the season finale, West coast regular John Krebs started last in the 42-car field driving his #38 Skoal Bandit Oldsmobile. In doing so, he best 13 drivers in qualifying. Among that long list of DNQs was John Soares, Jr., the current owner of the Antioch (California) Speedway. Krebs turned just 17 laps at Riverside before he fell out for the listed cause.