Tuesday, September 18, 2018

OPINION: ARCA needs to suspend Zane Smith for the season

PHOTO: Peyton Turnage
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Short track racing. We love it because of its close-quarter, fender-banging racing. Sometimes, that leads to wrecks. Oftentimes, those responsible for the wrecks have to go to the back of the field, or, if it is their second or third incident of the night, are sent home. That rule even applies to most prestigious super late model races, as a testament to how much promoters value clean but hard racing. That buck stops once you get into NASCAR-sanctioned competition. Why? Cars are fragile enough that chances are if you spin someone out, you’re also going to have damage. Also, most drivers are mature enough to either not intentionally wreck someone or make it look unintentional.

Bring the ARCA Racing Series in to the equation. Most fans love it because it's the closest you will get to finding a local track-like atmosphere in big league racing. Similarly, local drivers often show up for one-offs at tracks that they race on weekly. It’s also grown notorious for the sanctioning body’s rough-and-tumble way of play, becoming a haven for some of the ugliest on-track confrontations in recent memory. Recall Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.'s tangle in 2008, after which ARCA parked Speed for the remainder of that race, showing that to a certain actions are deemed detrimental and worthy of penalty.

Two races ago at Berlin, Joe Graf, Jr. nudged not one but two cars out of the way for the win. While some viewed the move as too aggressive, others called it plain old short-track racing. While Graf was penalized heavily in the court of public opinion, no ruling came down from the sanctioning body. It was the right move because while the driver was maybe a bit too aggressive, no cars were totaled and the resulting position losses from being moved out of the groove were not enough to call for a penalty.

This brings us to last Saturday's incident in Salem between Michael Self and Zane Smith. Self was, by all accounts, not having the greatest of nights. It was his first ARCA start since Iowa, two months ago, and it was his first appearance at Salem, which is by no means an easy track to master. Needless to say, the driver of the #55 car was using the bumper religiously throughout the race. Early in the race, Smith spun Self out. Later on, Self spun Smith's #41 into the wall.

To be fair, Smith, at this point in the year, was frustrated. A rough couple of dirt races had seen him fall farther and farther behind teammate Sheldon Creed for the points lead. Although point standings from before last night’s race are unavailable, it is safe to say that Smith’s championship hopes purely relied on Creed having mechanical failures. He had also just been wrecked by a driver from his ex-team, one he left thirteen months ago.

But this was where things became unacceptable.

Back in Zane Smith's pit, the MDM Motorsports crew worked feverishly to get its only non-throwback car out on the track for the express purpose of ending Self’s night. When they got the car rolling again with approximately twenty laps to go, Smith slowly motored around the racetrack until the 55 machine passed him, something this author is liable to do in video games. He then set up an approach so that he could create maximum damage in the corner. And sure enough, just like Matt Kenseth at Martinsville, Zane Smith ended Michael Self’s race by hooking him into the wall. Self eventually slid back into the racing groove, liable to be t-boned by the field.

The 41 car then stopped in the 55’s pit to discuss things – you know, just a casual Harvick-Chastain or Harvick-Dillon deal. When later interviewed by MAVTV, Smith bragged about the incident, saying “I went back out and ended his night.” Brendan Gaughan after his run-in with Ross Chastain last year, anyone?

Potentially the worst part about this is the hypocrisy shown on the driver’s end of things. Just weeks after complaining about Joe Graf wrecking people, Smith goes out and demolishes a car. He also posted a “hate me or love me, I had to do it” post, which is about typical for someone his age and background. He was also handing out blocks aplenty on Twitter last night, unable to deal with negative attention. Smith has always been in the best equipment, the epitome of a well-groomed prospect. His cocky attitude has ruffled more than a few feathers within the racing community, and when he tries to show change, he reverses course afterwards with this.

A similar incident in Moto GP a couple weeks ago, where one competitor grabbed another’s brake lever, earned a two-race suspension. So did Kenseth’s actions on Joey Logano at Martinsville 2015. Smith’s actions should garner the same discipline. ARCA can take a stand and show that it will not tolerate unsafe behavior, nor will it be beholden to teams that drive interest. It is utterly inexcusable to do what Zane Smith did and he should be reprimanded accordingly – because real life should not be a video game.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

CUP: Playoff polesitter Erik Jones’ strong Las Vegas weekend ends in the garage

PHOTO: NBC Sports, screenshot by @NASCARONFOX
Big thanks to LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor William Soquet, who covered the last-place battle as I commuted to the Sonoma Raceway for Sunday’s IndyCar season finale.

Erik Jones picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #20 DeWalt Toyota was involved in a two-car accident after he completed 147 of the race’s 272 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Jones’ 66th series start, was his first of the year and first since last summer at Loudon, 44 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 29th for car #20, the 151st for Toyota, and the 573rd because of a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th for the #20, the 303rd for Toyota, and the 1,164th from a crash.

The promise Jones showed in his rookie Cup season driving a second car from Furniture Row Racing was realized this past July when the 22-year-old took the checkered flag in a wild Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. The win locked Jones into the Playoffs for the first time, and was followed by six top-ten finishes in the next eight races. Just last Sunday at Indianapolis, Jones was running among the leaders on the final run to the checkers, where he slipped past teammate Denny Hamlin en route to a runner-up finish to Brad Keselowski.

Jones kept the momentum going last week, storming into Las Vegas with the 4th-fastest lap in opening practice, and after turning the 8th-best lap in Round 1 of qualifying, paced both Rounds 2 and 3 to earn his second career pole, his first since last summer at Bristol. His official lap clocked in at 188.121mph (28.705 seconds). Only outside-polesitter Joey Logano joined him above the 188mph mark. Jones ran 6th in Saturday’s second practice, then led Happy Hour with his first of 42 laps clocked. For all intents and purposes, Jones looked like he was going to have a strong run in the first round of the Playoffs.

On the other end of the field, the 40th spot belonged to Reed Sorenson, the only driver who didn’t turn a lap in Round 1. Sorenson was back in the unsponsored #7 Chevrolet which he piloted to a 28th-place run on Monday in Indianapolis. Joining him at the rear prior to the start were 38th-place starter B.J. McLeod for a new rear gear on the #51 Jacob Companies Ford, and 18th-place starter Austin Dillon’s for an unapproved body modification on his #3 DOWFROST Chevrolet.

As William Soquet tweeted, when the race started, the 40th spot fell to Timmy Hill, whose #66 Rewards.com Toyota was one of two “throwback” schemes from Darlington (the other being Landon Cassill’s #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet). Hill lost touch with Sorenson, who opened up a two-second gap between the pair, and Hill was the first to lose a lap in the first 12 circuits. Hill went to the garage by Lap 48 with gear issues. By the 100-lap mark, Hill returned to action, 36 laps down. With the rest of the field still running and more than half the race left to run, the last-place battle remained up for grabs.

It then appeared that Ty Dillon was headed to his second last-place run of the year and first since Kansas. Dillon brought out the race’s third caution on Lap 111 when the right-front tire blew in the tri-oval, sending his car hard into the outside wall. He managed to clear the “Crash Clock” and pulled into the garage for more repairs, having turned 119 laps. The crew then worked over the car, clearing metal from the right-front fender, tape-measuring the right-front, and putting on sticker tires. The team then inspected the ball joint, and Dillon got back in the seat when trouble broke out on the track.

On Lap 148, heading into Turn 1, Kevin Harvick blew a right-front tire of his own, his #4 Mobil 1 Ford smashing the outside wall in Turn 1. Erik Jones, running some distance behind Harvick, was committed to the outside lane of the gradient-banked corner. Unable to avoid the wreck, Jones plowed into the back of Harvick, destroying the front of his machine. Both drivers climbed out unhurt, but Jones expressed his frustration by throwing a bag of ice his team had handed him during a pit stop. Jones, running behind Harvick at the time, was classified behind the #4.

Back in the garage, Ty Dillon and crew pieced the #13 together, though they had taken last from Hill on Lap 159. Five circuits later on Lap 164, Dillon returned to the track, 45 laps down. For much of the rest of the race, the crew debated about if, and for how long, the car would run. A bottom-five finish would earn them no more points than they already had. But on Lap 193, Dillon passed both Jones and Harvick, dropping the #20 to last. The #13 spotter and crew remained mindful of other teams running at the back of the field, trying to determine how many more spots could be gained. They ended up 34th, earning three points instead of one.

Accidents plagued the final stage of Sunday’s race, many of them from further tire failures. The 38th spot, however, went to Bubba Wallace, whose #43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet suffered a right-front hub failure that caused a fire behind the wheel, forcing him behind the wall. William Byron ended up 37th after his #24 Axalta Chevrolet failed to clear the “Crash Clock” after banging the Turn 3 fence. Rounding out the group was Playoff contender Chase Elliott, whose #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet was collected by a spinning Jamie McMurray on Lap 212.

When the dust settled, the Top 20 featured a number of drivers and teams in much need of a strong finish.

Regan Smith’s second drive in place of a recovering Kasey Kahne put the Leavine Family Racing team’s #95 Procore Chevrolet in the 12th spot, the team’s best run since the Daytona night race.

Trevor Bayne, though confirmed not to be in the #6 next year, earned a 13th-place finish, his third top-twenty finish in his last four starts, and his second lead-lap run in a row.

Corey LaJoie ran 16th after thinking he’d only be able to race for 32nd on Twitter, not only LaJoie’s best run of the year but the best for TriStar since Texas.

J.J. Yeley ran 17th in only the third race since Bob Jenkins bought BK Racing, giving the #23 Toyota its best run of the year, and Yeley his best run since 2015 at Talladega.

Landon Cassill’s Darlington “throwback” placed 18th at the finish, last on the lead lap for StarCom Racing’s season-best finish, improving on a 20th-place showing at Bristol. It’s also the best-ever finish for Derrike Cope’s start-up team, which was first hit the track less than a year ago.

Rounding out the Top 20 was Ross Chastain, who completed a tremendous triple-header at Las Vegas. One day after earning his first XFINITY Series win by dominating Saturday’s DC Solar 300 and two days after piloting Premium Motorsports’ unsponsored #15 Chevrolet to a 7th-place run in the Truck Series race, Chastain finished 20th in the #15 Xchange of America Chevrolet. It is the second-best finish for the #15 team in 2018 behind Chastain’s 18th-place run in Texas.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #20 in a Cup race since February 26, 2017, when Matt Kenseth’s own turn in the #20 DeWalt Toyota ended when he crashed after 103 laps of the Daytona 500. It’s also the second last-place run for the #20 in a Cup race at Las Vegas, following Tony Stewart’s wreck on March 2, 2008.
*Jones completed the second-most laps of any Cup Series last-placer at Las Vegas, just three fewer than Hut Stricklin’s 150 laps turned on March 1, 1998. Curiously, that day was the inaugural Cup race held at Las Vegas, and Sunday was the inaugural fall race at the track.
*Jones is the first polesitter to ever finish last in a Cup Series race at Las Vegas. He’s the first polesitter to finish last in a Cup race since October 23, 2016, when Martin Truex, Jr. lost an engine at Talladega.

40) #20-Erik Jones / 147 laps / crash
39) #4-Kevin Harvick / 147 laps / crash / led 14 laps
38) #43-Bubba Wallace / 164 laps / front hub
37) #24-William Byron / 210 laps / crash
36) #9-Chase Elliott / 211 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Toyota (6)
3rd) Ford (5)


K&N WEST: Thackeray a victim of track conditions at Las Vegas

Thackeray (foreground) withe Vanderwal (#43) and Shepherd (#27)
PHOTO: picluck.net
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

Hollis Thackeray finished last for the first time in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West career in Thursday night’s Star Nursery 100 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track when his #38 NAPA / Butte Auto Parts / Justeson Farms Toyota fell out with crash damage after 8 of 102 laps. The finish came in his fourth series start.

Hollis Shane Thackeray is not quite your typical NASCAR prospect. The 17-year-old hails from Gridley, California, north of San Francisco, and the one common thread throughout his racing career has been the number 38. From midgets to sprint cars to late models, Thackeray has used the number 38. He was also previously associated with GoShare, which has backed Tomy Drissi’s efforts in sports cars as well as Tanner Thorson’s in the truck series. When that association ended this year, he has since run two races in the #38 for his own family.

Twenty-six cars showed up on the entry list for this event. Per the norm, with this many entries, some withdrew. NextGen Motorsports withdrew one of their cars and Obaika Racing withdrew after a different team failed to follow through on their commitment of prepping a race-ready car. Bill McAnally Racing entered five cars, three for its series regulars and entries for NASCAR XFINITY drivers Christopher Bell and Brendan Gaughan. Sheldon Creed entered a car with Norman Levin Racing, and Vanessa Robinson and Cole Keatts returned with Jefferson Pitts Racing. A slew of drivers made debuts, including Buddy Shepherd, Tim Ward, David Hibbard and Michael Kofoid.

The weekend was quite the sight to behold. The spectacle of cars on dirt did not disappoint for most fans. Hailie Deegan was pegged as one of the favorites going into it and held up to the standard, claiming fast time in practice over Derek Kraus. She claimed the tops spot in time trials as well and won her heat race, claiming the official pole position. At the opposite end of the field was Hibbard, shotgun on the field for his NASCAR debut.

On the start was when everything broke loose. A cloud of dust settled over the back half the field, limiting visibility severely. As Kyle Larson said, it seemed as if those working at the track forgot that water trucks existed. Another attempt was foolishly made on lap six, which resulted in Thackeray, Kody Vanderwal and Shepherd getting tangled in turn one. Thackeray and Shepherd retired on the spot, while Vanderwal was able to repair his car and continued on to complete 59 laps. Both were awarded $1,100 for their efforts and called it a weekend.

24) #38-Hollis Thackeray / 8 laps / crash
23) #27-Buddy Shepherd / 8 laps / crash
22) #84-Rich DeLong III / 17 laps / crash
21) #83-Michael Kofoid / 51 laps / mechanical
20) #43-Kody Vnaderwal / 59 laps / running

1st) Patriot Motorsports Group (6)
2nd) B&B Motorsports, Bill McAnally Racing, Flyin Dutchman Racing, Hollis Thackeray, Norman Levin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


XFINITY: Michael Annett eliminated from Playoffs with first last-place run since 2010

Michael Annett picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s DC Solar 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #5 Allstate Parts & Service Group Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident after he completed 5 of 200 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Annett’s 222nd series start, was his first since April 25, 2010 at Talladega, 285 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 9th for car #5, the 320th from a crash, and the 512th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 32nd for the #5, the 1,163rd from a crash, and the 1,626th for Chevrolet.

In his second full XFINITY Series season since he returned to the division with JR Motorsports, Annett arrived in Las Vegas in a do-or-die situation. Following a vibration that eliminated him at Indianapolis, Annett had to win Vegas’ regular season finale to advance into the Playoffs. Throughout the 2018 season, Annett had failed to finish four times and led just nine laps. He’d also earned just two top-ten finishes, but each had come in the previous four races with a season-best 7th at Bristol and a 10th at Darlington. He arrived in Las Vegas, where he ran 13th in the spring, running a black-and-white Chevrolet with returning sponsor Allstate Parts & Service Group, which not only backed his XFINITY efforts but also his brief Cup Series ride with the now-shuttered HScott Motorsports.

Annett was one of 39 drivers on the preliminary entry list, a field which grew to a full complement of 40 after Motorsports Business Management entered a fourth car, the #72 CrashClaimsR.Us / James Carter Attorney Toyota with Scottish driver John Jackson behind the wheel. Of those 40 cars, Annett ran 19th in the opening practice and 13th in the second. He then improved steadily through qualifying, timing in 18th in Round 1, 11th in Round 2, and made it to 9th in Round 3 with a lap of 175.103mph (30.839 seconds). It was Annett’s best qualifying performance since Talladega, where he rolled off 5th.

Starting last was another MBM entry, the #13 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota. Driving the #13 was Stan Mullis, who was back on the XFINITY tour since running both Iowa races earlier this summer. Mullis was one of seven drivers who didn’t turn a lap in Round 1, all of them relying on Owner Points to fill out the field. Inspection problems plagued Ryan Preece (#18 Rheem Toyota), Daniel Hemric (#21 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet), Brandon Jones (#19 Menards Mastercraft Doors Toyota), Matt Tifft (#2 KCMG Chevrolet) and Ryan Truex (#11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet). Those five started 34th through 38th with 39th going to Garrett Smithley, sent to a backup car in the #0 FAME-USA.com Chevrolet. Smithley slammed the wall entering Turn 3 in practice, and needed a moment to catch his breath after climbing out.

Of the drivers starting in the rear for inspection issues, Matt Tifft incurred the heaviest penalty. Just like Brandon Jones at Darlington, Tifft’s #2 failed inspection four times, meaning the car would have to make a pass-through penalty at the start of the race. Tifft did not fall to the tail end of the grid for the start, but this proved moot when he was posted at the green flag and pulled down pit road on the first lap. One lap down, Tifft came out among the leaders and was tracking down race leader Cole Custer when, just like Jones at Darlington, the caution he needed came out.

On Lap 5, Michael Annett was in a tight battle for position on the inside of a three-wide battle with Ryan Preece to his right and the #39 Big Valley Towing Chevrolet of Ryan Sieg. Coming through the fourth corner, Annett broke loose and slid into Preece. The two locked doors, and Preece turned to the left, sending Annett sideway into the grass. Once the car turned toward the infield, the splitter dug in, destroying the nose of Annett’s car. The driver tried to keep going, but was soon trailing fluid and had to stop at the entrance to Turn 1. Annett climbed out, done for the day – and the Playoffs.

Finishing 39th was Jeff Green, now a seven-time LASTCAR XFINITY Series champion, who exited with a vibration on the ensuing green-flag run. 38th fell to John Jackson’s MBM entry, out 12 laps after Green. Mullis finished 37th, the third car in a row to retire citing a vibration. Timmy Hill held 36th for a time after turning 55 laps, threatening to put three of the four MBM cars in the Bottom Five, but returned late in Stage 3 to climb out of the spot. Dropping to 36th in Hill’s place was Matt Tifft, whose #2 was collected in a grinding Turn 4 wreck with Ryan Reed.

Taking the checkers was Ross Chastain, who after he was denied victory at Darlington, recovered in his very next start for Chip Ganassi. Chastain led 180 of 200 laps, winning both stages, and gapping Justin Allgaier by 1.629 seconds. It was Chastain’s 132nd series start and came in his fifth season on the tour.
Adrian Fernandez at Texas, 2005
PHOTO: motorsport.com


*This marked the first last-place finish for the #5 in an XFINITY Series race since November 5, 2005, when open-wheel star Adrian Fernandez took a turn with Hendrick Motorsports and scored his first last-place run in the O’Reilly Challenge at Texas, where he crashed out after 15 laps. That race was also the last time a Hendrick car finished last in an XFINITY Series race.

40) #5-Michael Annett / 5 laps / crash
39) #93-Jeff Green / 18 laps / vibration
38) #72-John Jackson / 30 laps / vibration
37) #13-Stan Mullis / 51 laps / vibration
36) #2-Matt Tifft / 63 laps / crash

1st) RSS Racing (13)
2nd) JP Motorsports (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (2)
4th) Fury Race Cars LLC, Hendrick Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (4)


TRUCKS: Tanner Thorson’s strong qualifying run at his home track ends with early crash

PHOTO: FS1, screenshot by @mjackson918
Tanner Thorson picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s World of Westgate 200 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #20 Go Share Chevrolet was involved in a single-truck accident after he completed 2 of the race’s 144 laps. The finish occurred in Thorson’s 6th series start.

In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th for truck #20, the 146th from a crash, and the 361st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 46th for the #20, the 1,162nd from a crash, and the 1,625th for Chevrolet.

The 22-year-old driver from Minden, Nevada (which is closer to Reno than to Las Vegas), has already been racing for 18 years. He moved from outlaw karts to national midget racing, earning Rookie of the Year honors in the latter in 2013. 2016 was his biggest year yet. That season, he claimed the USAC National Midget Championship, the Top Gun award, and his second of three consecutive National Midget Driver of the Year awards. He also made his ARCA Racing Series debut at the Illinois State Fairgrounds track, finishing 12th for Venturini Motorsports, and finished 3rd and 5th in a pair of CARS Super Late Model Tour races with David Gilliland.

This year, Thorson has made the jump to NASCAR, sharing a ride in Randy Young’s #20 Chevrolet with Scott Lagasse, Jr., Austin Dillon, Michel Disdier, Ried Wilson, Bubba Wallace, Daniel Hemric, Tyler Young, Tate Fogleman, and Max Tullman. Las Vegas would mark Thorson’s fifth start in 18 races this year, a schedule that began with a 16th-place run at Dover. He improved with a 13th-place run at Iowa, and through his most recent start at Bristol had yet to finish worse than a 19th at Eldora. Go Share, which backed Thorson at Dover and Iowa, would return as sponsor.

Thorson was one of 38 drivers entered for the 32-truck field, an impressive list that dwindled gradually through the week. By Wednesday, Beaver Motorsports had withdrawn the #50 VIPRacingExperience.com Chevrolet for 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil, and Mike Harmon had pulled his own #74 Chevrolet. Then, by Friday, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing pulled their second truck, the #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet to be raced by Camden Murphy. Cobb herself impressed in qualifying with a 27th-place run in the #10 Waldo’s Painting Company Chevrolet, her best since she started 27th in this same race last year.

Three drivers missed the show after qualifying. Norm Benning turned the slowest lap overall in the #6 H&H Transport Chevrolet. The second was J.J. Yeley, who was swapped in for team owner Josh Reaume in the #33, which itself was switched from a Chevrolet to a Toyota. The fastest truck to miss was the third Young’s Motorsports truck with Tate Fogleman and the #12 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet.

Thorson ran 22nd in the opening practice, jumped to 13th in Happy Hour, then did even better in qualifying, turning the 11th-fastest lap in Round 1 and matching it in Round 2 with a speed of 174.933mph (30.869 seconds), equaling his season-best start at Pocono. Austin Hill, driving the only other Randy Young truck in the field, qualified 16th.

Starting 32nd and last was popular driver Jordan Anderson, whose #3 Commercial Property Services Chevrolet turned the second-slowest lap in time trials, but made it in on Owner Points. He was joined at the back by two drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: Playoff contenders Ben Rhodes in the #41 The Carolina Nut Co. Ford and ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton in the #88 Ideal Door / Menards Ford. While Rhodes had qualified a solid 18th, Crafton, who leased a Roush-Yates Racing motor, had to fall back on Owner Points in 29th.

With one lap to green, Jennifer Jo Cobb surrendered her 27th starting spot and fell to the rear along with Joe Nemechek, lined up 22nd in the #87 Harrah’s Chevrolet. Nemechek held last at the start with Cobb in 31st. Both were still running in those spots, Nemechek 6.8 seconds back of the lead, when the last-place battle ended abruptly.

Coming to the end of Lap 2, Thorson was in a tight battle running the high lane in Turns 3 and 4. While running on the outside of Myatt Snider’s #13 Century Container Ford. In the exchange, Thorson’s #20 slid up the track and bashed the outside wall in Turn 4. Thorson kept rolling, but more and more smoke poured from the right side of his machine, forcing him to pull to a stop on the apron of Turns 3 and 4. Fire rolled out from behind the right-front wheel as he climbed from the truck, done for the night. A long caution period was needed to clean up fluid that trailed to where the truck stopped.

Thorson then turned his attention back to dirt, where he was running the Calistoga Speedway’s season finale in California. On Saturday, Thorson had driven his way to the transfer spot in his Last Chance Qualifier when, on the final lap, his car started blowing smoke in Turn 1. He was passed entering the backstretch, eliminating his white #3C from the main.

For more on Tanner Thorson, check out his website here.

Finishing 31st was Joe Nemechek in the #87 Harrah’s Chevrolet. Nemechek qualified 22nd in his second NEMCO Motorsports entry and pulled off the track to reprise his role helping his son John Hunter on pit lane. The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by the multiple accidents that slowed the night’s frantic action. 30th went to Bo LeMastus in the second DGR-Crosley truck, his #17 Crosley Brands Toyota out when he wrecked in Turn 3 on Lap 46, followed by 29th-place Riley Herbst in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #46 Advance Auto Parts Toyota and Wendell Chavous, swapped at the last minute from Premium Motorsports’ #15 back to his familiar #49 Sobriety Nation Chevrolet. Ross Chastain, swapped into the unsponsored #15 in Chavous’ place, finished a strong 7th, his best finish since he ran 7th at Martinsville last year for Bolen Motorsports.

There were other surprising runs by underdog drivers and teams.

Austin Theriault drove at Las Vegas for the first time since injuring his back in a serious crash here in 2015. Driving for On Point Motorsports, which finished next-to-last in its series debut at Bristol, Theriault made his first Truck Series start in nearly two years count, finishing 8th.

Austin Wayne Self finished a season-best 9th, his first top-ten run of the year and first since joining Al Niece’s operation. It’s his best finish since last year at Mosport, where he ran 9th for his family’s AM Racing team.

After her strong qualifying run, and despite falling to the rear for the start, Jennifer Jo Cobb finished 12th. It’s not only her best finish of the season, but the second-best of her career, trailing only a 6th-place run in the 2011 opener at Daytona. According to David PeQueen, this finish came at a perfect time, as it vaulted her #10 team ahead of two teams in Owner Points – the #33 of Reaume Brothers Racing and Norm Benning’s #6 – which both failed to qualify.

Korbin Forrister tied the second-best finish of his career earned with the All Out Motorsports team earlier this year at Kentucky with a 13th-place showing. His career-best in the series remains a 12th in the 2015 Daytona opener, when he was driving for Christopher Long.

Finally, just weeks after missing their first race of the year by not entering the race in Mosport, D.J. Copp’s team returned to action with Bayley Currey running double-duty with the XFINITY Series. Currey brought the unsponsored #83 home in the 16th spot. It’s Currey’s best finish in the series this year, and the team’s third-best behind Nick Hoffman’s 10th-place run in Eldora and Scott Stenzel’s 15th-place showing in Daytona.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #20 in a Truck Series race since July 7, 2011, when Johanna Long’s #20 Panhandle Grading & Paving Toyota crashed after 5 laps of the UNOH 225 at Kentucky. Long also had the only previous last-place run for the number at Las Vegas, when the transmission let go on the opening lap on September 25, 2010.
*This was the first last-place run for Young’s Motorsports since August 2, 2014, when team owner Randy Young fielded a truck for Mike Mittler’s #63 MB Motorsports team with Justin Jennings behind the wheel. Jennings pulled in after 2 laps of the Pocono Mountains 150.
*Thorson’s 11th-place starting spot makes him the highest-qualified last-placer in the series since July 19, 2017, when Caleb Holman started 9th at Eldora before transmission issues.

32) #20-Tanner Thorson / 2 laps / crash
31) #87-Joe Nemechek / 27 laps / vibration
30) #17-Bo LeMastus / 45 laps / crash
29) #46-Riley Herbst / 56 laps / crash
28) #49-Wendell Chavous / 86 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (18)


INDYCAR: Takuma Sato experiences highest of highs and lowest of lows in back-to-back races

Sato's #30 pushed behind the wall after early mechanical issues.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Takuma Sato picked up the 10th last-place finish of his Verizon IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Sonoma at the Sonoma Raceway when his #30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda fell out with mechanical issues after he completed 15 of 85 laps.

The finish, which came in Sato’s 152nd series start, was his first of the season and first since August 22, 2016 at Pocono, 37 races ago.

Winner of the 2017 Indianapolis 500, Sato rejoined Bobby Rahal’s team this year, the team he very nearly took to the 500 win in 2012. The result has been a rollercoaster year with three crashes, but strong runs on both ovals and road courses. He finished 8th in Alabama, 5th in the first round of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, then enjoyed a stretch where he finished 7th at Texas, 4th at Road America, and finally his first podium of the year, a 3rd at Iowa. A late-summer slide dropped him to 13th in the point standings, a streak he snapped with a 9th at Gateway, then a thrilling victory in the series return to Portland. For 21 laps, Sato held off a charging Ryan Hunter-Reay to earn his third career victory, his first since Indy.

The season finale awaited, to be held at the Sonoma Raceway. In eight previous starts, Sato’s best finish was a 4th in 2014, the same year he led his only lap at the track driving for A.J. Foyt.

Foyt’s team currently consists of popular veteran Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist. Leist came to Sonoma as the leader in the 2018 LASTindyCAR Series Championship with three finishes. Leist was assured the title if his closest contender, Max Chilton, didn’t trail the 25-car field on Sunday.

Chilton arrived in Sonoma with the opposite challenge of Leist: not a new driver, but a new team. The 2018 season marked the realization of Englishman Trevor Carlin’s longtime dream to bring his junior division operation into IndyCar. Teamed with fellow former Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball, Chilton commented on his new team after Friday’s second practice session:

Chilton: “It’s good to be back. I love this part of the world. It’s a challenging circuit, especially with reduced downforce here, and the tires which are sort of not holding on very well. It’s making an exciting package. And there’s 25 drivers here this weekend, so yeah – it’s good, but we’re not where we want to be. I think we’re a little better than what we showed we were. But we haven’t got the package we want at the moment. So we’ll keep working hard.”

Chilton: “Just more grip. It’s just a grip thing. The balance is there, it’s just the grip.”

Chilton: “We’re working on lots of things. It’s hard for a new team to come in, but as I said, we’re not where we want to be. Carlin’s a world-leading Junior Formula and can be an IndyCar-level team, but it’s hard to learn that straight away. So, we’re gonna keep working until we’re happy with where we are at.”

After a pair of testing sessions, Sato ran 14th in Friday’s opening practice, 13th in the second, and climbed to 8th in Saturday’s third practice. He went out in Group 1 in qualifying and worked his way into the second round before settling into the 12th spot with a lap of 110.088mph (1:17.9919). Sato would elect the primary Firestone black tires for Sunday’s race, a decision shared only by the two Ed Carpenter Racing cars of 17th-place Spencer Pigot and last-place starter Jordan King.

While King secured the 25th and final starting spot in qualifying, team owner Ed Carpenter welcomed NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne into his pit box. As reported here on Saturday, Carpenter and Kahne are longtime friends, and Kahne was in town while his World of Outlaws team was racing Friday and Saturday night at the nearby Calistoga Speedway. The British-born King was closing out his rookie season with six consecutive top-twenty finishes, including a season-best 11th at Toronto.

On Sunday, King held the lead at the start, but problems broke out up front. Alexander Rossi, 2nd in the points after Scott Dixon’s miraculous recovery in Portland, had started 6th, but rear-ended 4th-place runner Marco Andretti as the field accelerated into Turn 1. The contact caused damage to the right-front wing on his #27 NAPA Honda, forcing a pit stop on the very first lap. As King worked Charlie Kimball over for the 24th spot, the battle changed to 23rd as Rossi took last. Rossi returned to action some 18 seconds ahead of the leader, managing to stay on the lead lap despite the misfortune.

Rossi remained in the last spot, running virtually by himself, until Chilton became the first driver to pit on Lap 10. Chilton returned to action near Rossi, who dropped Chilton’s #59 Gallagher Chevrolet to 25th by Lap 13. Soon after, officials announced that Chilton would be incurred a post-race monetary penalty for hitting pit equipment.

On Lap 16, Sato was still running near the Top 10 when smoke erupted from the back of his #30 exiting Turn 10. The car turned left onto the entrance of pit road, at which point a giant plume of white followed his car around. Sato pitted, where the crew brought fire extinguishers to the scene, and despite speculations of oil, officials did not through the caution flag. By the time I arrived at Sato’s stall, just beyond the break between the two garage buildings, Sato was out of his car, and the crew was loading the Firestone reds on the back of a waiting cart. The #30 was pushed back to the garage seconds later. I caught up to Sato as he walked to the garage after he finished his interview with NBC.

Sato: “No. It was just such a sudden thing after the hairpin, so. I don’t know – we haven’t looked at it yet, but obviously power down.”

Sato: “I think it was a fantastic year. I mean, normal up and downs. We wish we had a more competitive package, but I think we had some good results. Very positive. We’re always improving. Today, personally a good day as I renewed my contract, of course. Now, I think Graham’s looking very strong. We were on the same strategy. He can have a good result this afternoon.”

The finish handed Matheus Leist the 2018 LASTindyCAR Championship. Leist finished 19th while his challenger Chilton ran 21st, the last car in the Bottom Five. The 24th spot went to Spencer Pigot, who was originally listed with a mechanical issue on the #21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet but returned when it was revealed to be a battery issue. Pigot then fell out again with only 17 laps turned. Graham Rahal, Sato’s teammate, finished 23rd after running off-course in the Carousel, finishing 19 laps down and moving out of the way of faster traffic. Filling out the group in 22nd was Charlie Kimball, nine laps down in the Carlin #23.

*This marked Sato’s first last-place run in an IndyCar race at Sonma since August 26, 2012, which also ended with engine trouble on his #15 Bigge Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan.

25) #30-Takuma Sato / 15 laps / mechanical
24) #21-Spencer Pigot / 17 laps / mechanical
23) #15-Graham Rahal / 66 laps / running
22) #23-Charlie Kimball / 76 laps / running
21) #59-Max Chilton / 84 laps / running

1st) A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Carlin Racing (3)
2nd) Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, Penske Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2)
3rd) AHA with Curb-Agajanian, Dale Coyne w/Vasser-Sullivan, Foyt-Byrd-Hollinger-Belardi (1)

1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Honda (4)


Saturday, September 15, 2018

INTERVIEW: Kasey Kahne makes surprise visit to IndyCar finale at Sonoma

Kahne in the Ed Carpenter pits at Sonoma
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Kasey Kahne surprised many when he arrived at the Sonoma Raceway on Saturday and stood in Ed Carpenter’s pit, fueling speculation that he may be looking into open-wheel competition following his retirement from full-time Cup Series competition at the end of 2018.

However, when I asked Ed Carpenter about this on pit road just before IndyCar series qualifying, he gave a simple “No.” Kahne, Carpenter said, is a longtime friend, and was already in the area supporting his sprint car team, which was competing at nearby Calistoga Speedway, an hour's drive north of the Sonoma Raceway.

Kahne spent some time in Carpenter’s hauler before qualifying, then was showed the safety features of Jordan King’s #20 by members of the crew. As he did, I came up and joked with Kahne, saying “A last-minute driver change?” to which the driver smiled and shook his head. After the end of qualifying, I was able to ask him a couple questions:

Kahne: “Just a couple more weeks off, and be ready to go hopefully for Dover.”

Kahne: “Yeah. Daryn Pittman won last night and tonight’s the final night at Calistoga, so we go back over there tonight and it’s great hanging out here with Ed and his team today. It was a lot of fun.”

Through it all, Kahne appeared awake and alert, and the cool, windy weather at the track was surely helping. He was also staying hydrated, grabbing a bottled water before we spoke.

Regan Smith remains in the #95 for this Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas, where he will roll off 25th.

Friday, September 14, 2018

INTERVIEWS: IndyCar's Patricio O'Ward and Petro Fittipaldi

Pietro Fittipaldi after second practice.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Friday after the second practice session, I caught up with Patricio O'Ward and Petro Fittipaldi, who are both making their first-ever starts at the Sonoma Raceway in this Sunday's Grand Prix of Sonoma. 

For O'Ward, this year's Indy Lights Champion, it's his first start in the series. After teammate Colton Herta drove his #8 Harding Group Chevrolet off the track in Thursday testing, damaging the suspension, O'Ward was the slowest driver in Friday's first practice. He then surprised mid-way through the second session with the fastest lap overall, holding the spot for at least ten minutes of the one-hour session. O'Ward ended up 3rd, trailing only defending champion Josef Newgarden and current point leader Scott Dixon.

O’Ward: “We’ve been working on the car to have a strong one on reds and I think we have it. I think there’s still some in me. It was my first time in reds, so so far I’m pretty happy and we’re just gonna continue with the setup for the race. I think we’re getting to the point for qualifying where it’s pretty sweet. But there’s still some long way for the race. . .”

O’Ward: “There’s just a lot more rubber down. Today, in the morning, the track was really fast. But I was getting back into rhythm, and I was getting blocked – I didn’t get any clean laps. But I’m happy I got some clean laps in this session and I’ve got a good idea where I’m at.”

O’Ward: “I just want to learn as much as I can. I don’t want to put so much pressure on me -  obviously, as a driver, you want to do well. Obviously, a Fast Six would be nice and a top-ten finish, top-five finish, but I don’t really want to put that on my mind. I think if I do my job, the results are gonna come by themselves.”

O’Ward: “Right now, I’m just focused on this weekend. But hopefully something materializes for the coming years. I hope I’m in IndyCar.”

Just down pit road, Pietro Fittipaldi debriefed with the Dale Coyne Racing team after a strong 9th-place rank in the second practice, second among the rookies behind O'Ward. Fittipaldi arrives in Sonoma for his sixth start of the year, and comes off a career-best 9th-place run two weeks ago in Portland.

Fittipaldi: “It was good. The track’s really slippery, especially now in this afternoon session. Not in the morning, but now in the afternoon, the hotter conditions just sliding a lot, rears locking under braking – it’s like that for everyone. So, it’s difficult to get a lap together, but our #19 Dale Coyne Paysafe car was good today, and just try to put it together for qualifying, that’s the important one for tomorrow.”

Fittipaldi: “Yeah, first time racing here.”

Fittipaldi: “I don’t think my granddad (Emerson Fittipaldi) has raced here, but Max (Papis), my uncle raced here also with the Cup cars in NASCAR, Christian (Fittipaldi) raced here. It’s a tough track, very technical, a lot of elevation change. They said the same thing I’m experiencing: you’re sliding around a lot here, and it’s tough to get to used to that. And then the race is gonna be very difficult because you have to make the tires last for 25 laps. So, I’m looking forward to the challenge and trying to get another top-ten finish.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

PREVIEW: A triple-header on tap in Vegas, and a LASTCAR title bout in Sonoma

PHOTO: Hendrick Motorsports
Friday, September 14, 2018
TRUCKS Race 18 of 23
Round of 8, Race 2 of 3
World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Todd Peck

The Truck Series returns to action for the first time since Mosport, three weeks ago, and originally showed 38 drivers for 32 spots. Even after two withdrawals, it is still a significant change from the Truck's stand-alone weekend in Vegas. Four of the last six series races here failed to even fill a 32-truck field. Four teams will miss the show. UPDATE: Make that 37 cars for 32 spots after the withdrawal of the #0.

WITHDREW: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Camden Murphy rejoins the Cobb team’s second truck for the first time since he was withdrawn at Bristol, taking the place of German road racer Justin Kunz, who ran 26th at Mosport. Murphy eyes what would be his sixth Truck Series start of the year if he makes the field. UPDATE: Murphy's entry withdrew by Friday.

RETURNING: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister and the part-time All Out Motorsports are back for the first time since Bristol, where they ran 27th, with designs on their ninth series start of the year. Forrister has failed to finish just once all year, and has led four laps.

DRIVER CHANGE: #12-Young’s Motorsports
Tate Fogleman looks for his fourth Truck start of the year, his first since a season-best 15th at Michigan, as he takes the place of open-wheel veteran Alex Tagliani, 10th at Mosport, in the third part-time Randy Young truck. Fogleman is the fourth different driver to race this truck in as many starts.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Teamed with Fogleman in the #20 is Tanner Thorson, who takes the place of Max Tullman. Tullman will instead focus on the XFINITY Series at Las Vegas, where his family’s team will make its return to the circuit (see below). Thorson’s fifth and most recent Truck start was at Bristol, where he finished 14th. In all five of his starts this year, he has yet to finish out of the Top 20 and has completed all but six of 823 combined laps.

RETURNING: #30-On Point Motorsports
Welcome back Austin Theriault, who we haven’t seen in the series since October 29, 2016, when he finished 20th for Randy Young at Martinsville. This time around, he drives for a returning On Point Motorsports, the single-truck effort that made a brief debut last month Bristol with Scott Lagasse, Jr. before he was eliminated in an early crash. Theriault himself is making his first start at Las Vegas since 2015, when he fractured his lower back in a serious accident coming off Turn 4. Cross Insurance will back the effort.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Team owner Josh Reaume returns to his familiar #33 this week, taking the place of Canadian driver Jason White, who ran 23rd at Mosport.

MISSING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
The Reaume team has decided to leave their second truck back at the shop after its most recent appearance at Mosport, where Jesse Iwuji finished 25th in his national touring series debut.

RETURNING: #38-Niece Motorsports
Returning to a two-truck operation this week is Al Niece’s team, which has put T.J. Bell in the #38 Niece Equipment Chevrolet. We last saw the #38 team in this series at Bristol, where Cup and XFINITY driver Ross Chastain climbed behind the wheel. Both that night, and in the team’s season debut at Eldora with Max McLaughlin, this truck finished a strong 12th.

RETURNING: #46-Kyle Busch Motorsports
KBM also brings back their part-time team with Riley Herbst and sponsor Advance Auto Parts in the #46 Toyota. Herbst aims for his third Truck start of the season following an 8th at Gateway and a 15th at Bristol.

DRIVER CHANGE: #49-Premium Motorsports
In addition to his return to Chip Ganassi’s XFINITY Series team and his Cup effort with Premium Motorsports (see below), Ross Chastain will run triple-duty at Las Vegas. His Truck Series ride will be in Jay Robinson’s primary truck, the #49, where he takes the place of D.J. Kennington. Wendell Chavous, who was swapped out for Kennington at Mosport, will remain in the #15 this week. UPDATE: Chavous moves back to the #49 with Chastain in the #15.

WITHDREW: #50-Beaver Motorsports
The 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil was set to be back behind the wheel this week, taking the place of Ray Ciccarelli in Mark Beaver’s #50 Chevrolet. However, the team withdrew by Wednesday. VIPRacingExperience.com, a partner at Premium Motorsports, was the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Brandon Jones rejoins KBM this week, taking Harrison Burton’s place in the #51 Toyota. Jones looks for his fifth Truck start of the year and his first since Kentucky, where he ran 4th. He looks to continue a streak of four consecutive top-ten finishes following a 9th in Kansas, a 3rd in Charlotte, 5th in Chicagoland, and the 4th at Kentucky. Sponsorship will come from Delta Faucet and Menards.

Chris Eggleston looks to continue a strong part-time season of his own in the second DGR-Crosley truck with H2O Fire Protection returning as sponsor. In his three previous starts, he’s run 13th at Charlotte, 14th at Texas, and 11th at Kentucky. Eggleston takes the place of Bo LeMastus, 22nd at Mosport. Once again, DGR-Crosley’s #17, last seen at Michigan, is not entered. CORRECTION: The #17 has been entered with LeMastus, rejoning the circuit for the first time since that Michigan race.

WITHDREW: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon pulled his #74 Chevrolet from the field by Wednesday, and will instead focus on his XFINITY Series effort on Saturday.

RETURNING: #83-Copp Motorsports
Bayley Currey rejoins D.J. Copp’s single-truck team this week, two races after an early crash left him last at Bristol. This time around, Currey pulls double-duty with the XFINITY Series, where he will run his third-consecutive start in JP Motorsports’ #55 Prevagen Toyota. It is significant to note that Mike Mittler’s own Truck Series team, MB Motorsports, which has coordinated with Copp’s effort, is not entered for the second-consecutive race following their withdrawal at Bristol.

DRIVER CHANGE: #97-JJL Motorsports
Jesse Little rejoins JJL Motorsports following a one-off at Mosport where Roger Reuse drove the team’s number on a second Jordan Anderson Racing truck, finishing 27th. Little looks to make his seventh Truck start of the year, a season where he’s only twice failed to finish 9th or better.

RETURNING: #04-Roper Racing
Cory Roper had a difficult night under the lights at Bristol, finishing a season-low 25th following some early spins, but looks to rebound this Friday in his return to the circuit. Preferred Industrial Contractors Inc. remains the sponsor on his Ford.


Saturday, September 15, 2018
XFINITY Race 26 of 33
Final Race of Regular Season
DC Solar 300 at Las Vegas
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Race

The final race of the XFINITY Series’ regular season originally showed 39 drivers for 40 spots, threatening the first short XFINITY Series field of 2018. However, by Wednesday, a 40th entry was found, and all entrants will start the race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Shane Lee and Richard Childress’ Childress Vineyards sponsorship return to the XFINITY circuit for a seventh time this weekend, taking the place of Cup regular Ty Dillon. Lee’s most recent start was at Iowa in July, when he finished 13th. He continues a solid streak of finishes between 12th and 16th, plus a season-best 6th at Daytona.

DRIVER SWAP: #4-JD Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Ross Chastain is back in Ganassi’s #42 DC Solar Chevrolet for the first time since victory was snatched from him at Darlington. He takes the place of John Hunter Nemechek, who won a thrilling four-wide finish in Stage 1 at Indy but was eliminated in a late crash. Landon Cassill returns to the #4 from Johnny Davis’ team, as he had at Darlington, and will run double-duty.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Ray Black, Jr. rejoins the McLeod team for the first time since an early engine failure left him 37th at Bristol. He takes the place of Caesar Bacarella, who ran 23rd at Indy. Black’s season-best run remains a 19th at Charlotte, his only start this year in McLeod’s #78.

MISSING: #10-Kaulig Racing
Kaulig Racing has not entered their second car following Austin Dillon’s strong 8th-place showing in the team’s debut at Indianapolis. Dillon is himself not running Saturday’s race.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Austin Cindric moves from the #12, not entered this week, to the #22, taking the place of Cup regular Ryan Blaney. Cindric looks to turn around a frustrating summer slide that’s seen him fail to finish the last three races, running 37th at Road America, 40th and last at Darlington, then 34th at Indianapolis. Thanks to 13th-place Michael Annett’s engine failure at Indianapolis, Cindric still holds a 57-point advantage on the final spot in the Playoff grid. He can only be bumped from the standings if an eligible driver ranked below him takes the checkers on Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Team owner Carl Long was slated to replace Timmy Hill in the #13 Toyota until mid-week, when it was revealed Stan Mullis will drive the #13 for his third start of 2018 and first since both Iowa races. Hill will move to the #66 to take place of Brandon Hightower, who was eliminated by splitter damage after a spin at Indy. Hill runs double-duty this week, as MBM will also field the #66 Cup car for a fifth-straight race.

Spencer Gallagher rejoins the GMS Racing team at his home track for his first XFINITY start since Mid-Ohio, where he ran 8th. He takes the place of Chase Elliott, who ran three of the four races after Mid-Ohio with a best of 4th last Saturday in Indy. Gallagher, who will run a throwack scheme of sorts with the iconic tilted numbers of T.J. Clark's racing effort, ran 10th at Vegas earlier this year.

RETURNING: #26-Tullman Walker Racing
Max Tullman moves from Trucks to XFINITY this week as the #26 Ford rejoins the circuit for the first time since its debut at Iowa in July, where Tullman tangled with Matt Tifft in the final laps and finished 30th. This time around, YURPAL.com is the listed sponsor.

RETURNING: #72-Motorsports Business Management
By Wednesday, the 39-car field became a full 40 after Carl Long's team elected to bring their part-time fourth car, the #72 last entered at Darlington. Behind the wheel will be John Jackson in the CrashClaimsR.us / James Carter Attorney Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
While this car was originally entered for Tommy Joe Martins, who ran 27th at Indianapolis after at least one trip to the garage for an early mechanical issue, Cole Rouse was listed by Wednesday. Rouse, currently 4th in the K&N Pro Series West standings with Bill McAnally Racing, will be making his national touring series debut.

MISSING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd isn’t on the preliminary entry list for just the second time in 2018, and the first time since Road America. Shephed just earned his season-best finish at Indianapolis last week, where he ran Stage 1 to completion, moving as high as 17th before fuel pump issues left him 32nd.


Sunday, September 16, 2018 (3:00 P.M. Eastern)
CUP Race 27 of 36
Round of 16, Race 1 of 3
South Point 400 at Las Vegas
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Race

The 2018 Cup Series playoffs begin with exactly 40 drivers for 40 spots, marking the fifth-consecutive full field of the season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
Trevor Bayne rejoins the #6 team for the first time since Bristol, where he ran 11th, in place of Matt Kenseth, who led 5 laps of the Brickyard 400 but was eliminated from contention when his car fell off the jack on the final pit stop. AdvoCare Rehydrated returns as Bayne’s sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
MISSING: #52-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware brings just one of his two cars west this week after both were involved in the accident that eliminated Bubba Wallace at Indianapolis. B.J. McLeod takes David Starr’s place in the #51 as the #52 is not entered.

TEAM UPDATE: #95-Leavine Family Racing
Regan Smith finished 20th last Sunday in Indy, his first race in relief of Kasey Kahne. Kahne was originally slated to return this week following his recovery from extreme heat exhaustion during the Southern 500 at Darlington. However, it was announced Tuesday that Kahne will be out for at least the next three rounds at Las Vegas, Richmond, and the Charlotte “Roval” as he recovers. Smith will continue to drive in his place.

RETURNING: #99-StarCom Racing
The second StarCom car, withdrawn with Gray Gaulding as the listed driver at Indianapolis, is entered this week with Kyle Weatherman as driver. It will be Weatherman’s fourth Cup start of the season and his first since Pocono in July, when he equaled his season-best 31st-place finish.

Sunday, September 16, 2018 (6:30 P.M. Eastern)
INDYCAR Race 17 of 17
Championship Race
Grand Prix of Sonoma
2017 Last-Place Finisher: James Hinchcliffe

There are 25 drivers entered for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, where I will be reporting trackside this weekend.

NEW TEAM: #8-Harding Racing
Harding Racing enters a second car for the first time. Teamed with the primary #88 is the new #8 Chevrolet with 19-year-old Patricio O’Ward driving. O’Ward has just locked-up this year’s Indy Lights Championship with Andretti Autosport on the heels of nine victories in 17 starts, including both 35-lap rounds at Portland. He also has a pair of starts this year in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, finishing 8th at Daytona and 13th at Sebring in the Prototype class, one year after taking seven victories in the Prototype Challenge class. O’Ward tested Harding’s #88 at Sonoma on September 6, but that car number will go to another series newcomer (see below).

MISSING: #32-Juncos Racing
Juncos Racing has not fielded their #32 Chevrolet, which this season was driven this year by Rene Binder, Kyle Kaiser, and most recently at Portland, Alfonso Celis. It is the fifth race of the 2018 that the single-car operation has not entered. Their season-best finish will stand at 16th, earned both by Kaiser at Long Beach and Binder in Alabama. Team owner Ricardo Juncos now sets his sights on 2019, where he plans to expand into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Cadillac.

DRIVER CHANGE: #88-Harding Racing
Following his new teammate O’Ward from the Indy Lights Series is second-generation racer Colton Herta, the 18-year-old son of IndyCar and CART driver and team owner Bryan Herta. Colton joins the circuit with more laps in Indy Lights than O’Ward, but one less title, having finished 3rd in the 2017 season and runner-up to the Mexico native this year. He still holds six series wins, nine poles, and a combined 20 podiums. It will be interesting to see the two Indy Lights rivals fight for position in their elite series debuts.

In addition to the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, the 2018 LAST(indy)CAR title will also be settled this Sunday. As the standings below show, it is down to a two-driver battle. Holding the lead is rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist, who has piloted A.J. Foyt’s #4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet to three last-place finishes at St. Petersburg, Texas, and Iowa.

The only driver mathematically in contention to beat Leist is Max Chilton, last in back-to-back races at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, and the series leader in bottom-ten finishes with 13. Driving Carlin Racing’s #59 Gallagher Chevrolet, Chilton led his first 10 laps of the season two weeks ago in Portland.

The championship scenario is simple: Chilton must finish last to win the title.

If Chilton finishes last, he will win the title no matter where Leist finishes. If Chilton finishes last and Leist finishes inside the Bottom Five, Chilton wins on a bottom-ten tiebreaker of 14-12. If Chilton finishes last and Leist finishes in the Bottom Ten, but not in the Bottom Five, Chilton wins on a bottom-five tiebreaker of 6-5. If Chilton finishes last and Leist finishes out of the Bottom Ten, Chilton wins on a bottom-ten tiebreaker of 14-11. But if Chilton does not finish last, Leist will win the title no matter where Chilton finishes based on last-place finishes, 3-2.

Monday, September 10, 2018

CUP: Last-place finish at Indy caps a terrible week for Truex and Furniture Row Racing

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon, TheRacingExperts.com
Martin Truex, Jr. picked up the 8th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Monday’s 25th Annual Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when his #78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota fell out with brake problems after 41 of 160 laps.

The finish, which came in Truex’s 467th series start, was his second of the year, his first since Texas, 19 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 23rd for car #78, the 76th due to brake failure, and the 150th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 32nd for the #78, the 156th for brake trouble, and the 302nd for Toyota.

Up until Tuesday morning, Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team were firmly on the way toward defending their Cup Series Championship. Since the last-place run at Texas, the 78 team took the checkers three more times at Pocono, Sonoma, and Kentucky for a season total of four. While Truex hasn’t been as dominant when it comes to Stage victories, he’s remained so consistent that each and every one of their 15 top-ten finishes were runs of 5th or better. They left Darlington with a firm grasp on 3rd in the Playoff rankings.

But it was Tuesday when news broke that Furniture Row Racing would shut down at the end of the 2018 season, citing a puzzling lack of sponsorship. The team now faced an uncertain future at perhaps the worst possible time – heading to Indianapolis for the final race of NASCAR’s “regular season.” And things didn’t go much better once they arrived. The crumbling remnants of a tropical storm dumped more than five inches of rain, cancelling all track activities from Friday through Sunday. While Truex’s rank in points secured him 3rd on the grid, neither he nor the other 39 starters knew what their cars would do. He did know that his car had failed inspection three times, forcing him to surrender that 3rd spot, along with Daniel Suarez, whose #19 Stanley Toyota failed four times, handing the Gibbs effort a 10-point penalty. Once in the back running pace laps Monday morning, Truex also expressed concern over his brakes, which he described as “spongy.”

Lined up 40th on the grid was B.J. McLeod, one of eight drivers who lined-up at Indy after running the postponed XFINITY Series race that morning. McLeod, who finished the last car on the lead lap in 16th for JD Motorsports, was entered in Rick Ware Racing’s second car, the #52 Jacob Companies Ford. McLeod scored the spot as the lowest-ranked of the four entered “Open” teams, an effort helped after StarCom Racing withdrew the 41st entry – their second car, the #99, which was to be driven by Bristol last-placer Gray Gaulding. Landon Cassill, in StarCom’s Chartered #00 Chevrolet, was sent to the back along with Truex and Suarez for unapproved adjustments.

The tail-end of the field changed several more times during the pace laps. At the end of the parade lap, Reed Sorenson pulled behind McLeod in Premium Motorsports’ #7 Chevrolet along with Jeffrey Earnhardt in the Gaunt Brothers’ #96 iK9 / Xtreme Concepts Inc. Toyota and XFINITY regular David Starr, making his first Cup start of 2018 in the primary Rick Ware entry, the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet. Starr was to start 36th, last of the Chartered teams.

Also making his first Cup start of the year was Regan Smith, a last-minute substitute for Kasey Kahne, who suffered extreme heat exhaustion at Darlington. Smith joined the tail-end crew when he pulled the #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet down pit road to get a feel for it. Smith pulled up as McLeod once again drew back on the final pace lap, joining his teammate Starr.

Moments before the start, yet another last-place contender entered the battle. Ross Chastain, who was also pulling double-duty, slowed up from the 32nd spot in his #15 Low T Centers Chevrolet. Chastain slowed up so much that McLeod had to just about stop behind him off Turn 2, then drive back around him. The #15 picked up speed again back down the straightaway, where he followed a ragged group that was no longer in two-by-two formation. This put Chastain in the 40th spot at the green.

By the end of Lap 1, Chastain caught and passed Timmy Hill, whose #66 Toyota from Motorsports Business Management carried a new blue paint scheme with sponsorship from Ternio. Chastain cleared Hill at the stripe, and the #66 slowly lost touch with the pack. By the seventh circuit, Hill was within sight of the leaders, who passed him on the way to Turn 3 on Lap 9. Hill earned the Lucky Dog when the first competition caution fell the next time by, at which point the crew asked Hill if the car was losing power.

Under the yellow, Chris Buescher took 40th for a moment when he made an extended stay on pit road after his #37 Bush’s Beans Chevrolet suffered right-front fender damage. Sorenson, Starr, and Hill fell behind Buescher by the Lap 14 restart, putting Hill back in the 40th spot. By Lap 25, Hill had again been caught by the leaders, and he moved up high in Turn 1 to let them go by on the short chute. When the next competition yellow fell on Lap 30, Hill again struggled with power. This time, it occurred on Lap 32, when the car shut down on the apron between Turns 3 and 4. He managed to restart, cutting off the access road, and made one more pit stop prior to the restart without losing another lap. He was still running in last, the only car one lap down, when the last-place battle suddenly ended on Lap 41.

Truex had been working his way through the pack when, entering Turn 1, his left-front brakes failed, dropping the brake shoes on the track and ripping up the left-front corner of the hood. Despite occurring at the “2” brake marker heading into the first corner, Truex managed to keep the car under control and steered to the apron, at which point billows of white smoke were pouring from the right-front wheel. Truex limped his car back to pit road, then made the hard left turn into the garage. After the crew looked over the car in the garage, it was steered back to the hauler, done for the afternoon.

As Jeff Gluck pointed out, Truex couldn’t leave the track until after the end of the race, as he had post-race media obligations as one of the 16 Playoff drivers.

The next three spots in the Bottom Five were filled by accidents. For the second time in less than two months, 38th-place Bubba Wallace experienced a catastrophic brake failure that forced him to yank the wheel to the left at the end of a long straightaway. Unlike at Pocono, Wallace managed to avoid hitting the wall and appeared to have spun to safety – that is, until David Starr’s #51 arrived on the scene and slammed into Wallace’s left-rear corner. Both Wallace and Starr were done for the day with Starr taking 39th.

The 37th spot fell to A.J. Allmendinger, who lost control in the second corner and caught Playoff contender Alex Bowman in the outside wall. While Bowman managed to barely clear the Crash Clock, ultimately securing the final Playoff spot, Allmendinger slid head-on into the inside wall, ending his day in the #47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet. Rounding out the group was Matt DiBenedetto, whose first of several extended stays on pit road and in the garage came during the Wallace-Starr accident. He returned from the garage on Lap 114 and again on Lap 127, but what ultimately was a rear end failure caused the team to pull out of the race in the final laps.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish at Indianapolis for both Truex and the #78.
*Truex’s 3rd-place starting spot – though earned by the rule book – makes him the highest-qualified Cup driver to finish last in 2018. A driver hadn’t started that close to the front and finished last in Cup since last fall at Phoenix, where Kyle Larson also started 3rd before engine trouble.
*This marked the first time a Cup Series driver finished last with brake trouble as the listed cause since November 9, 2014, when Mike Bliss' #37 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet exited after 16 laps at Phoenix. It's the first time it was the listed cause of a last-place run at Indianapolis since July 26, 2009, when Joe Nemechek's #87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota exited after 21 laps.

40) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 41 laps / brakes
39) #51-David Starr / 57 laps / crash
38) #43-Bubba Wallace / 57 laps / crash
37) #47-A.J. Allmendinger / 66 laps / crash
36) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 89 laps / rear end

1st) StarCom Racing, TriStar Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Penske Racing, Premium Motorsports (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, 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 (16)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (5)


XFINITY: Jeff Green secures seventh LASTCAR title; Shepherd enjoys strong run early at Indianapolis

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon, TheRacingExperts.com
Jeff Green picked up the 113th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Monday’s Lilly Diabetes 250 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 8 of 100 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Green’s 505th series start, was his 11th of the season and first since Road America, two races ago. With eight races to go, Green holds an eight-finish lead over two-time finishers J.J. Yeley, Josh Bilicki, and Austin Cindric. Since Yeley, Bilicki, and Cindric cannot beat Green’s 19 bottom-five finishes, Green has secured his record seventh LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship, his second in a row, and third in four years.

In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, Monday was the 40th for car #93, the 136th because of a vibration, and the 511th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 90th for the #93, the 209th for a vibration, and the 1,624th for Chevrolet.

Green rejoined his RSS Racing teammates J.J. Yeley and Ryan Sieg at Indianapolis, where persistent rain kept the entire field off the track for two entire days. Without any practice or qualifying, Green secured the 33rd starting spot by virtue of his Past Champions Provisional. That provisional ranked Green behind 30 teams on 2018 Owner Points, the #12 Penske Racing entry with Darlington last-placer Austin Cindric, and Kaulig Racing’s new second team driven by Michigan winner Austin Dillon.

Trailing the final seven spots ranked by 2018 Owner Attempts was 40th-place Morgan Shepherd. Shepherd earned the spot by attempting 23 of the first 24 races this year, sending home Timmy Hill, whose #13 Motorsports Business Management had only attempted 8. Joining Shepherd at the back of the pack were Chad Finchum, whose #40 Smithbilt Homes Toyota dropped from 36th to the back for unapproved adjustments, and 25th-place Josh Williams, who came in for a pit stop before the start, dropping his #90 Sleep Well Chevrolet to the back.

During the pace laps, over the radio, 23rd-place starter Garrett Smithley in the #0 FAME-USA.com Chevrolet was told by his crew to fall to the rear out of concern of an early crash. Smithley’s JD Motorsports teammates Vinnie Miller in the #01 and B.J. McLeod in the #15 did the same, Miller dropping from 30th to 37th and McLeod from 28th to 35th by the start. Green followed suit, dropping one spot from 33rd to 34th.

Despite all these changes, when the race began, the bottom three positions stayed the same with Shepherd holding down last, 6.029 seconds back of the lead. He followed 39th-place Bayley Currey, once again swapped into JP Motorsports’ #55 Prevagen Toyota and Mike Harmon in the #74 Shadow Warriors Project Chevrolet. Shepherd remained last at the end of the first lap, losing another five seconds to the leaders. Currey took it briefly after the second lap, moments before 26th-place starter Caesar Bacarella made an unscheduled stop in the #8 MAXIM / Alpha Prime Chevrolet.

Bacarella returned to action two laps down, and lost a third when the competition caution fell on Lap 10. By that point, Green had pulled into the garage, and was three laps down in the 39th spot. On Lap 11, Green took the last spot from Bacarella, securing the spot and the championship. Yeley, Green’s closest title contender, stayed out to lead Lap 12 under caution before he pitted.

JP Motorsports took the next two spots in the Bottom Five. Currey took 39th, six laps after Green, with Josh Bilicki exiting in the #45 Prevagen Toyota five laps after his teammates. 37th went to Brandon Hightower, whose #66 OCR Gaz Bar Dodge suffered heavy right-front damage after he spun off the second corner. Hightower returned to the track, but when the splitter continued to drag on his car, the team called him to the garage, done for the day. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Spencer Boyd, whose #76 Grunt Style Chevrolet lost a lap before the competition caution, then destroyed the nose of his car in the wet grass while trying to avoid a Turn 3 tangle between Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

After starting last, Morgan Shepherd enjoyed a fine run through the first 34 laps, staying on the lead lap and working his way up as high as 17th. Shepherd, who as LASTCAR reader Walt Reed pointed out never finished off the lead lap in four Brickyard 400s including a race-best 5th in 1996, ended up exiting after Stage 1. Despite this, Shepherd finished 32nd, his best finish in the XFINITY event at Indianapolis.

*This marked Green’s fourth last-place finish in this event and his second in a row in the RSS Racing #93. His previous three last-place runs occurred in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

40) #93-Jeff Green / 8 laps / vibration
39) #55-Bayley Currey / 14 laps / vibration
38) #45-Josh Bilicki / 19 laps / vibration
37) #66-Brandon Hightower / 20 laps / crash
36) #76-Spencer Boyd / 22 laps / crash

1st) RSS Racing (13)
2nd) JP Motorsports (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (2)
4th) Fury Race Cars LLC, Jeremy Clements Racing, JGL Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (17)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (4)


Thursday, September 6, 2018

PREVIEW: A handful of team updates at the Brickyard under shadow of Denver bombshell

PHOTO: The Decal Source (TDS)
Saturday, September 8, 2018
XFINITY Race 25 of 33
Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

There are 41 drivers entered for 40 spots, meaning that one team will be sent home. Time will tell as to if this will be the third-consecutive XFINITY Series race where that 41st team withdrew prior to qualifying.

DRIVER SWAP: #0-JD Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #01-JD Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #4-JD Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
One week after a near-perfect run in his very first start with Chip Ganassi Racing, winning the pole and the first two stages at Darlington, Ross Chastain returns to JD Motorsports at Indianapolis, making way for John Hunter Nemechek and sponsorship from Fire Alarm Services, Inc. Chastain reclaims his #4 ride from Garrett Smithley, who returns to the #0, moving Vinnie Miller back to the #01 in place of Cup driver Landon Cassill, who isn’t entered in Saturday’s race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins moves from McLeod’s #8 to the #78 this week, taking the place of Cody Ware, who isn’t entered in Saturday’s race. Taking Martins’ place in the #8 is Caesar Bacarella, back on the circuit for the first time since Daytona in July, looking to make his fourth start of 2018. Bacarella has crashed out of his last two starts, but before that ran 13th in this year’s Daytona opener.

NEW TEAM: #10-Kaulig Racing
Matt Kaulig’s single-car team expands to a two-car operation for the first time, fielding a second Chevrolet alongside full-timer Ryan Truex in the #11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet. Driving this new #10 car is Cup regular Austin Dillon, who brings with him sponsorship from Phone Skope and Berry’s Bullets.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
After he wrecked out in the opening laps of Saturday’s race in Darlington, Austin Cindric has finished driving the #60 for the year. This week, Cindric moves to the #12, which last ran three rounds ago at Bristol, and has yet to finish worse than 16th all season. Climbing aboard the #60 this week is Chase Briscoe with returning sponsorship from Nuti-Chomps. It will be Briscoe’s 12th XFINITY start of the season and first since the same Bristol night race.

RETURNING: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MISSING: #72-Motorsports Business Management
The third car from the MBM stables changes back to the #13 after Timmy Hill ran the #72 Benny Parsons tribute at Darlington. Hill will drive the #13 Dodge after Carl Long was originally listed. The #66 Dodge goes to Brandon Hightower, his first start since Iowa. It will be the third different team Hightower has driven for in 2018, following JP Motorsports and JD Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Ryan Preece rejoins the JGR bunch at Indianapolis with returning sponsorship from Rheem. Preece, set to make his seventh XFINITY start of the season and first since Watkins Glen, will be making his first Indy start since 2016, when he finished 25th for JD Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #22-Penske Racing
Ryan Blaney steps in for Brad Keselowski, who swept the weekend at Darlington. The #22 will carry sponsorship from Menards and their Richmond brand, which most recently appeared on the car during their bizarre engine failure at Road America. It will be Blaney’s first start in this race since 2015, when he was passed on the final lap by Kyle Busch. Busch is not entered in this race.

TEAM UPDATE: #55-JP Motorsports
Stephen Leicht was the listed driver for JP Motorsports’ second car, but has often been the listed placeholder since he parted ways with the team earlier this year. This week’s driver is Bayley Currey, who ran last week as well as assisting with the Rick Ware team on Sunday.

Josh Williams, whose #92 entry was withdrawn last week in Darlington, returns to Mario Gosselin’s #90 this week, taking the place of Brandon Brown. It will be Williams’ first XFINITY start at Indianapolis.

MISSING: #92-DGM Racing
The aforementioned #92 withdrawn last week at Darlington is not entered this week.

If J.J. Yeley does not finish last in Saturday’s race, Jeff Green will secure his seventh LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship with eight races to go. Green enters Saturday with 112 career last-place runs in the series, including ten this year. Green is entered in the “start-and-park” #93 this week with Yeley still in the #38.

MISSING: #98-Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste
Also missing this week is the Biagi #98, which Kevin Harvick drove in his controversial incident battling Ross Chastain for the lead at Darlington. Harvick is also not entered, and on Wednesday said he may be done with the series altogether, except for a race "here and there."

CUP INVADERS: #3-Ty Dillon, #10-Austin Dillon, #22-Ryan Blaney, #23-Chase Elliott

Sunday, September 9, 2018
CUP Race 26 of 36
Big Machine Vodka Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Corey LaJoie

There are 41 drivers entered for 40 spots, meaning that one car will be sent home after qualifying. The result will be the fourth-consecutive full field in 2018, and just the ninth in 26 races in 2018. UPDATE: Now just 40 cars after StarCom withdrew the #99 on Thursday.

RETURNING: #7-Premium Motorsports
Reed Sorenson and the #7 team are entered this week after both withdrew prior to Darlington.

DRIVER SWAP: #23-Front Row Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #52-Rick Ware Racing
The former BK Racing entry returns this week with J.J. Yeley, who moves from Rick Ware Racing’s #52 to take the place of Joey Gase, who finished last at Darlington and isn’t entered this Sunday. Expect Steakhouse Elite, Yeley’s backer for most of his Cup races this year, to return as sponsor. Taking Yeley’s place in Rick Ware’s #52 is B.J. McLeod, who last week drove Ware’s Russ Wheeler throwback car in the #51. Taking McLeod’s place in the Ware #51 will be David Starr, who will pull double-duty along with his XFINITY Series ride with Jimmy Means Racing. It will be Starr’s first Cup start since last fall’s Homestead finale, where he ran 36th for Motorsports Business Management. Jacob Companies, which backed the #51 last week, is listed as the primary sponsor for both Ware cars this week, and both cars will be Chevrolets (despite the preliminary list showing the #51 as a Ford).

TEAM UPDATE: #32-Go FAS Racing
News broke at Indianapolis on Friday that Matt DiBenedetto will part ways with Archie St. Hilaire's #32 team at the end of this year, closing out his second season in the Go FAS Racing Fords. As of this writing, DiBenedetto's future plans are unknown, adding more fuel to an intensifying Silly Season.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #34-Front Row Motorsports
One week after Darlington, Front Row Motorsports will run another “throwback” scheme of their own, decorating Michael McDowell’s #34 in the Window World scheme driven by John Andretti in 2009. Andretti, who continues to battle cancer, was instrumental in turning FRM from a part-time to a full-time operation that year, running 34 of the season’s 36 races. The paint scheme is also in celebration of the 22nd year of the Kroger Race for Riley, a charity Andretti has supported since it started in 1997.

TEAM UPDATE: #78-Furniture Row Racing
One of the most sport’s most shocking rumors was confirmed early Tuesday when it was announced that Furniture Row Racing, the defending Cup Series Champions, would close their doors at the end of 2018. Martin Truex, Jr. currently sits third seed in the Playoff standings with four wins this year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #95-Leavine Family Racing
On Thursday afternoon came news that Kasey Kahne will not have a chance to defend his 2017 win at the Brickyard due to lingering effects of heat exhaustion from last Sunday in Darlington. Regan Smith has been tabbed as his replacement. It will be Smith's first Cup start since last summer at Dover, when he relieved an injured Aric Almirola, and his first start in the Brickyard 400 since 2016, when he finished 26th for Tommy Baldwin Racing.

WITHDREW: #99-StarCom Racing
Last year, Gray Gaulding survived the chaos at Indianapolis to finish 24th for Premium Motorsports. This week, he was set to return to StarCom Racing for the first time since his last-place run at Bristol to take team owner Derrike Cope’s place in the #99 Chevrolet. However, the team wihdrew on Thursday.

NEW TEAM (SOON): #??-Obaika Racing
Overshadowed by the news of Furniture Row Racing’s impending closure was the announcement Tuesday that Victor Obaika will open a Cup team later this year. Word is they will also return to XFINITY competition, where they debuted in 2015, sometime late in 2018 with eyes on a full 2019 campaign. News of the team’s return came once it was reported that Obaika had acquired some of BK Racing’s assets along with Front Row Motorsports.

Friday, September 14, 2018
TRUCKS Race 18 of 23
World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Todd Peck

One more week until the Truck Series returns in Sin City.

Looking over the last-place statistics since 1949 reveals some interesting variables among listed reasons out. For example, an “oil leak” was the listed cause 46 times across all three of NASCAR’s top series. However, there was also exactly one instance of simply a “leak.” That incident occurred on September 23, 1956 on the Portland (Oregon) Speedway, in a combination race with the Pacific Coast Late Model Division (now the K&N Pro Series West). It happened to Portland native Wally Gervais, who was driving his #22N 1956 Oldsmobile. The leak, whatever it was, stopped him after just 6 of the 250 laps, putting him last in the 19-car field. It was Gervais’ third and final Cup Series start. The Portland oval (separate from the road course where IndyCar returned last Sunday) would continue to host K&N Pro Series, NASAR Northwest Series, and Truck Series events into 2000.