Thursday, March 21, 2019

PREVIEW: Two new owner-driver teams among the entrants at Martinsville

PHOTOS: @TimmyHillRacer, Tony Mrakovich Racing
Saturday, March 23, 2019
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Mike Senica

The preliminary entry list for Saturday’s return of the Truck Series stood at 37, but soon after posting, two teams withdrew (#80, #87), dropping the count to 35. On Tuesday, three more teams were added (#9, #11, #43), two of which revealed on social media earlier in the week, bringing the list back up to 39 trucks. As it stands, seven trucks will be sent home after qualifying, equaling the season-high mark set at Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-Beaver Motorsports
Travis Kvapil is entered in Mark Beaver’s #1 truck for the first time since he was withdrawn at both Daytona and Atlanta. He takes the place of Stefan Parsons, who gave Beaver’s team its debut at Vegas, but was sidelined with carburetor issues in a 31st-place finish.

Recuperating from his illness at Fontana, Austin Dillon is back in the Truck Series for the first time since February 24, 2018 at Atlanta, where he ran 20th for Young’s Motorsports. This time, he takes over Joe Nemechek’s #8 Chevrolet, replacing Vegas 16th-place finisher Angela Ruch. It will be Dillon’s first Truck Series start at Martinsville since his championship season in 2011, when he finished 7th in the spring and 3rd in the fall.

RETURNING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Codie Rohrbaugh attempts his first Truck Series start since he failed to qualify in Daytona. Longtime backer Grant County Mulch remains his sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE(?): #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
As of this writing, Jennifer Jo Cobb is not listed as the driver of her own #10 Chevrolet she has driven through the season’s first three rounds, and the driver name entry has been left blank.

Mark Rette’s team switched truck numbers from the #82 to the #11 this week, but it’s still KBM driver Spencer Davis behind the wheel of the team’s Ford. Davis seeks his first Truck Series start on a short track following five starts at tracks 1.5 miles long and larger.

MISSING: #15-DGR-Crosley
Anthony Alfredo competed in Tuesday night’s eNASCAR online race, but is not entered in this Saturday’s event, nor is David Gilliland’s new third truck, the #15.

Tyler Ankrum returns to the site of his Truck Series debut last fall, when he finished 18th in DGR-Crosley’s #54 Toyota. This time around, he moves to the team’s #17, taking the place of Ryan Reed, who ran a solid 9th in Las Vegas. May’s Hawaii rejoins Ankrum as sponsor.

RETURNING: #19-Bill McAnally Racing
Welcome back Derek Kraus, who returns to Truck Series competition for the first time since his outstanding 8th-place series debut last fall at the ISM Raceway. He once again drives for Bill McAnally Racing, and as reported here, the team has at least three trucks in their shop. NAPA Auto Parts continues its partnership with the team’s efforts with primary backing from ENEOS.

For the first time this year, Austin Wayne Self is not the listed driver of the #22 Go Texan / AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet. After the driver's name was left blank earlier in the week, Bubba Wallace was added on Wednesday to run double-duty. The two-time Truck Series winner at Martinsville has not taken the green in the series since May 11, 2018, when he ran 14th in Kansas.

RETURNING: #27-ThorSport Racing
Myatt Snider and the #27 team are another returning duo from Daytona, where they finished 21st following one of the night’s many crashes. Snider made his first two Martinsville starts last year, finishing 6th in the spring and 3rd in the fall.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Daniel Sasnett looks to make his Truck Series debut despite making just one start in the ARCA Menards Series – a 34th-place finish in the 2018 opener in Daytona. The 41-year-old driver from Florida drives in place of Jesse Iwuji, who reported for duty immediately after he finished 26th in the last round in Las Vegas. Standard Sand and Silica, which backed Sasnett in Daytona, is the listed sponsor.

MISSING: #42-Chad Finley Racing
Chad Finley’s team is not entered this week following their withdrawal in Las Vegas which resulted from the team’s hauler accident leaving the Atlanta track.

NEW TEAM: #43-Tony Mrakovich Racing
When we last saw Tony Mrakovich in NASCAR, he had made his XFINITY Series debut in Richmond last spring, finishing 24th for the now-defunct JGL Racing. It was a solid finish given that he’d been swapped out of his ride the week before at Bristol. Still with just six ARCA Menards Series starts on his resume, Mrakovich has now become an owner-driver in the old school way, fielding a #43 with returning sponsorship from Street Stores Hardware.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
Reid Wilson seeks his 2019 series debut this Saturday, returning to the site of his career-best 16th-place finish in his series debut last spring. This time around, he drives for Al Niece, taking over the #44 Chevrolet from Las Vegas 12th-place finisher Timothy Peters.

RETURNING: #46-Kyle Busch Motorsports
17-year-old Raphael Lessard, the 2016 CARS Super Late Model Tour champion from Quebec, eyes his Truck Series debut this week. Slated to drive KBM’s #46, a team which made its most recent start last fall at the ISM Raceway with Christian Eckes, Lessard carries sponsorship from Spectra Premium and an 8th-place finish in the ARCA event at Five Flags Speedway earlier this month.

RETURNING: #49-CMI Motorsports
Ray Ciccarelli’s owner-driver operation is back in action this week after the team withdrew from Las Vegas. Ciccarelli aims to make his first Truck Series start at Martinsville in his #49 sponsored by CMI Installations and Cool Weld.

Team part-owner David Gilliland returns to the Truck Series for the first time since his 13th-place showing in Daytona, and takes over for Natalie Decker, 13th in Vegas. Gilliland aims to make his first Truck start at Martinsville since 2015, when he finished 23rd for Ricky Benton.

NEW TEAM: #56-Hill Motorsports
Still another owner-driver operation opened its doors earlier this month as NASCAR part-timer Timmy Hill and brother Tyler Hill now have their own Truck Series effort. Running the same #56 that their father Jerry Hill ran in Cup in the early 1990s (a separate team from the current effort), the Hill brothers acquired two trucks from MDM Motorsports, and look to run about 10 races in 2019. According to Hill’s interview with Catchfence, Jerry Hill, Carl Long, and Rick Ware are among those who have helped get the effort off the ground. Southern Freight Services is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-Copp Motorsports
On the same night Derek Kraus turned heads in BMR’s truck at the ISM Raceway, Dawson Cram quietly finished a career-best 16th, and has yet to finish worse than 24th in his Truck Series career. This week, Cram aims for his first start since that night, returning to the site of his 17th-place showing for Mark Beaver last spring. He takes over for Scott Stenzel, who was sidelined early in Las Vegas en route to a last-place finish.

WITHDREW: #80-Jacob Wallace Racing
First of the withdrawals during the week, Jacob Wallace’s team pulled out of what would have been their first attempt since a DNQ in Atlanta earlier this year. The team had by far the most unique primary sponsor from the Sinister Suite Haunted Hotel.

WITHDREW: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
NEMCO Motorsports elected to withdraw their second truck, which team owner Joe Nemechek was slated to drive.

RETURNING: #92-RBR Enterprises
Ricky Benton’s team and driver Austin Theriault are still another pair returning to action for the first time since a DNQ in Daytona. Theriault has just one Truck Series start at Martinsville – a 20th for Young’s Motorsports back in the fall of 2016.

MISSING: #97-JJL Racing
Jesse Little and the JJL Racing team aren’t entered this week following a 19th-place showing in Las Vegas.

CUP INVADERS: #8-Austin Dillon, #51-Kyle Busch

Sunday, March 24, 2019
CUP Race 6 of 36
STP 500 at Martinsville
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Landon Cassill

After two straight years of running just 38 cars, the spring race at Martinsville falls to just 36 starters with no “open” teams entered. It is the smallest Cup field at Martinsville since September 22, 1996, a race which had 42 entrants and six DNQs. It is also the fifth-straight short field in 2019.

MISSING: #27-Premium Motorsports
One week after the #27 team returned to action in Fontana with Reed Sorenson, who finished 34th, neither driver nor team are entered in Martinsville.

Jeb Burton will make his second-straight Cup start at Martinsville, and his second in a row for Rick Ware Racing at the track following a 33rd-place showing last fall. This time around, he drives Ware’s second car, the #52, and is listed in a Chevrolet in place of the Mustang run on the “West Coast Swing.” The Ford will instead go to teammate Cody Ware, who runs the #51.

MISSING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Although the XFINITY Series is off this weekend, Carl Long’s team has not entered their Cup car this weekend at Martinsville, one week after Joey Gase finished 35th in Fontana.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Last year, D.J. Kennington ran both Martinsville races as part of his part-time Cup campaign, finishing 28th in the spring and 27th in the fall for Gaunt Brothers Racing. The latter was a last-minute deal where he was swapped in for Jeffrey Earnhardt. This time around, the Gaunt Brothers aren’t entered, and Kennington takes over for Fontana 36th-place finisher Garrett Smithley in Spire Motorsports’ #77 Chevrolet.

Saturday, March 30, 2019
XFINITY Race 6 of 33
My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

It’s the XFINITY Series’ turn to take the week off. The series returns a week from Saturday for a triple-header weekend in Texas.

This day in LASTCAR History: (March 21, 1976): Bill Elliott picks up the first last-place finish of his Cup Series career at his home track, the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Making just his second career start that day, Elliott’s #9 Dahlongea Ford Sales Ford broke the driveshaft after 21 laps, leaving him last in the 21-car field. David Pearson won the race. While Elliott would have to wait until 1983 to claim his first Cup win, he wouldn’t finish last again for more than four years.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

CUP: Clint Bowyer the only retiree in Fontana after race-long engine woes

Clint Bowyer picked up the 8th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his #14 Rush Travel Centers / Haas Automation Ford fell out with overheating issues after 130 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 474th series start, was his first of the season and first in Cup since September 3, 2017 at Darlington, 52 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, this was the 40th for car #14, the 116th from overheating issues, and the 689th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 59th for the #14, the 172nd from overheating, and the 948th for Ford.

The last time Bowyer was featured on LASTCAR in 2017, his frustrating night in Darlington all but eliminated him from Playoff contention. It was a disappointing end to his first full season with Stewart-Haas Racing after taking over for the retired Tony Stewart. All that changed last year, when he ended a nearly six-year winless drought at Martinsville, claimed a rain-shortened win at Michigan, and remained in Playoff contention until a crash in the penultimate round at the ISM Raceway. Bowyer’s 12th-place rank in points was his best since 2013, and set him up for another strong year in 2019.

Coming into Fontana, Bowyer sat 11th in the standings with a season-best 5th at Atlanta. Through those first four rounds, his #14 Ford Mustang had ranked no worse than 20th, his lone DNF of 2019 after a crash in the Daytona 500. He looked to keep the momentum going in Fontana, a track where he’d finished inside the Top 10 in nearly half of his 18 starts, and finished inside the Top 20 in his last three in a row.

Bowyer’s Fontana weekend began with the 14th-fastest speed in opening practice. He then made the controversial third round of Friday’s qualifying session, improving from 13th in Round 1 to 9th in Round 2. When he and the rest of the Round 3 participants waited too long to time in, he was officially credited with the 9th spot from Round 2. Officially, he had no listed speed, though his Round 2 mark clocked in at 178.359mph (40.368 seconds).

Starting 38th and last on Sunday was Joey Gase, who was back in the Cup garage for the first time since his disastrous weekend in Las Vegas. Team owner Carl Long at Motorsports Business Management made good on his promise to run logos for Nevada’s chapter of the Donate Life organ donor program on Gase’s #66 Toyota, running the exact same paint scheme that completed just 10 circuits in Vegas. He was joined at the back by two teammates from Front Row Motorsports: rookie Matt Tifft, whose #36 Surface Sunscreen / Tunity Ford changed engines, and Michael McDowell, whose #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford twice failed pre-race inspection.

Rolling off pit road after the command, Tifft stopped at the exit of pit road along with the #00 Manscaped Chevrolet of Landon Cassill, the #77 Benevolent Foundation Chevrolet of Garrett Smithley (which, like his XFINITY ride for JD Motorsports, was backed by CalFire, where Smithley’s father works as a wildfire tanker pilot), and the #52 Mtel-One Ford of B.J. McLeod. The four of them then rejoined the pack into Turn 3. By the end of the first pace lap, McLeod and Smithley lagged behind last-place Gase’s #66, as did Reed Sorenson in the #27 Rim Ryderz Chevrolet. The field then ran a five-wide salute to the fans, after which point McDowell dropped to the rear, followed by Tifft. Neither Front Row car spent much time in the rear as Sorenson, McLeod, Smithley, and Gase all dropped in behind the pair and filled out the final two rows when the green flag dropped.

On the break, Gase was running alongside Smithley, who shook off the #66 as they exited Turn 2. Smithley also made quick work of McLeod, who dropped back into Gase’s sights. By Lap 8, Gase reported a tight condition while McLeod pulled away from him, and the pair were more than 20 seconds back of the leaders. Those leaders caught up to Gase on Lap 13, then the next time by passed on the high side of Turn 1, putting Gase the first car one lap down. Gase lost a second lap by the 26th circuit, just short of green-flag stops.

The first round of pit stops caused last place to change hands several times. Cody Ware, McLeod’s Rick Ware Racing teammate in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet, took the spot after his stop on Lap 33. Smithley took it seconds later on the same circuit. On Lap 34, McLeod took 38th for the first time, and returned to action three laps back of the lead. Gase finally made his first stop on Lap 37, and retook the position the next time by.

It was on this same 37th lap that Bowyer began to find trouble. Running 18th at the time, Bowyer radioed his crew that his engine felt like it was blowing up, that he had dropped a cylinder and there was smoke in the cockpit. Nevertheless, the #14 continued to run under power while a two-car battle ensued for last between Gase, 4 laps down by the 45th circuit, and McLeod, who picked up a large piece of debris on the backstretch. The pair then made several pit stops: McLeod took last again on Lap 58, followed by Gase on the 65th, McLeod on the 66th, Gase on the 67th, and McLeod on the Lap 68 restart.

On Lap 74, McLeod slowed down the backstretch and pulled to the apron of Turns 3 and 4. The Ford then crept down pit road and pulled into the garage, apparently done for the day. However, on Lap 86, the Rick Ware crew got the #52 rolling again, and McLeod returned to action 18 laps down on Lap 88. At that point, all 38 drivers were still on the track – including a concerned Bowyer – with none more laps down than McLeod.

Through all of this, Bowyer’s day went from bad to worse. A spotter miscommunication led to a tangle with Corey LaJoie’s #32 Hartford Gold Group Ford as the two raced off Turn 4, causing some cosmetic damage to both sides of the #14. Then, around Lap 135, Bowyer pulled into the garage area, citing the same engine issue from before. This time, the problem proved terminal. Five laps down in 33rd already, Bowyer’s car was pulled off RaceView on Lap 142 and shown “out” on FOX’s leaderboard soon after. On Lap 155, McLeod finally moved past Bowyer, dropping the #14 to last place. As it turned out, the Kansas native was the day’s only retiree, and the only one to score his first Bottom Five of 2019.

McLeod finished 37th, a full 42 laps ahead of Bowyer, but 28 laps down to race winner Kyle Busch. Smithley took 36th, 16 laps ahead of McLeod, and on the same circuit as Gase, who gave the Nevada Donor Network 188 laps of visibility. Rounding out the group was Reed Sorenson, four laps ahead of Gase and Smithley, and eight laps back of the leaders.

*This marked the first time that both Bowyer and car #14 finished last in a Cup Series race at the Auto Club Speedway.
*Bowyer is also the second-highest qualifier to finish last in a Cup race at the Auto Club Speedway. The record remains with Sam Hornish, Jr., who started 7th on February 25, 2008.

38) #14-Clint Bowyer / 130 laps / overheating
37) #52-B.J. McLeod / 172 laps / running
36) #77-Garrett Smithley / 188 laps / running
35) #66-Joey Gase / 188 laps / running
34) #27-Reed Sorenson / 192 laps / running

1st) Front Row Motorsports (2)
2nd) Germain Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

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


XFINITY: Caesar Bacarella’s difficult Fontana weekend ends with parking second Means car

PHOTO: Bryan Nolen, @TheBryanNolen
Caesar Bacarella picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his #90 Whataburger Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 1 of 150 laps.

The finish came in Bacarella’s 9th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 21st for car #90, the 138th from a vibration, and the 522nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 51st for the #90, the 211st from a vibration, and the 1,646th for Chevrolet.

Bacarella is a name many NASCAR fans may not know as his entrance to NASCAR has been both sudden and infrequent. A pilot, outdoorsman, and owner of a construction firm, the 43-year-old driver has been racing since 2000. According to the profile on his website, he’d originally planned on making the jump to NASCAR’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2012, six years after he’d claimed Rookie of the Year honors in Florida’s FASCAR Pro Truck Series. But that debut never came, and five years later he instead appeared in the ARCA Racing Series.

Driving for fellow Floridian Brian Finney, who hadn’t fielded a stock car since his son Phil was seriously injured in a scary crash in the final moments of the 1980 Firecracker 400. Bacarella made both ARCA restrictor-plate starts in 2017, finishing 33rd in his debut at Daytona, then 25th at Talladega. Workout apparel company Alpha Prime, still another connection to Florida, sponsored both races, and would again return on November 11, 2017, when Bacarella jumped the Truck Series completely and made his XFINITY debut driving for B.J. McLeod at the ISM Raceway. Though he qualified a strong 14th in his first race, Bacarella’s first start was marred by an early tangle with Brennan Poole and Daniel Hemric which sent Poole into the wall, eliminating Poole from Playoff contention in the penultimate race.

While Bacarella had failed to finish three of his eight previous XFINITY Series starts, he has already turned heads at Daytona. In 2018, just one year after his ARCA debut at the track, the driver earned a career-best 13th in the first race he ever finished on the lead lap. He looked to do even better this past February in his debut for Mario Gosselin’s XFINITY team, DGM Racing. After qualifying 12th, Bacarella ran as high as 5th and had just re-entered the Top 10 with three laps to go when contact from Tyler Reddick put him into the Turn 3 wall, leaving him 29th. Saturday’s race at Fontana would be Bacarella’s first since that day.

Bacarella’s Fontana weekend began on a promising note Friday when he jumped from 27th of 30 drivers in the opening practice to 16th of 34 in Happy Hour. Then, in qualifying, a major setback. Headed into Turn 3 on his single-car timed lap, Bacarella’s car broke loose and backed into the outside wall, causing the right-front to whip into the fence. The driver managed to roll his battered car into the garage area with the right-front wheel locked-up, and through he was uninjured, the DGM Racing team didn’t have a backup car.

As it turned out, this was the second-straight week the #90 had wrecked before the race. Last week, rookie Ronnie Basset, Jr. crashed in practice and had to run a redecorated version of the #36 Joe Froyo Chevrolet the DGM team had on hand for teammate Josh Williams. But Williams was now running that car at Fontana, and the team had no bullets left in the chamber.

The backup Means car with Bacarella's wrecked #90 in the
PHOTO: Cindy Yen, @cindymeliyen
In the final frantic minutes before the race, team owner Mario Gosselin worked out a deal with Jimmy Means Racing to have Bacarella drive Means’ backup car for David Starr. Unlike Bacarella’s black-and-white machine, this was one of the bright orange #52 Chevrolets sponsored by Whataburger. As in many similar arrangements – particularly at Means Racing – the team applied temporary numbers out of tape to each corner of the car. Large black squares of tape covered the #52 on each door with a crude rectangular “90” fashioned out of at least two rows of white tape strips. A smaller black patch covered the number on the nose with crooked “9” and “0” decals from the DGM Racing font. While none of the sponsor or driver name decals were changed in the brief time leading up to the race, the car was still listed in the race results under the “Alpha Prime” and “Maxim” sponsors of Bacarella’s original entry.

Failing to complete a qualifying lap meant that Bacarella would start in the rear, and the backup car meant he would incur a redundant tail-end penalty prior to the start of the race. Joining him would be the #13 Street Toys / Toyota of John Jackson, the first car out to qualify, who missed driver introductions. Bacarella retook the spot moments after the green, as scanner traffic intercepted by Max Neuwirth reported that Mario Gosselin instructed his driver to take the green at half-throttle, then pull down to the apron on the backstretch and pull his car in. Bacarella did this, lagging back from Jackson at the start before pitting, completing the first lap in the process, and was done for the afternoon.

With only two cautions for stage breaks in the first 84 laps, eight other drivers filtered into the garage area, filling out the Bottom Five.

Nine laps after Bacarella’s exit, Jeff Green pulled in RSS Racing’s #38 Chevrolet with brake issues, the closest Green has come to finishing last since Atlanta.

Finishing 35th was ISM Raceway last-place Bayley Currey, whose Rick Ware Racing crew repaired the damaged #17 Chevrolet and brought on Cup sponsorship from Jacob Companies, only to retire with overheating issues after 14 circuits.

Timmy Hill took 34th, completing 34 laps in Carl Long’s lowest-finishing Toyota Camry, the #66 Toyota, before transmission issues.

Rounding out the group was Bacarella’s teammate Josh Williams, citing engine trouble on the #36 Joe Froyo Chevrolet just 37 laps into the event. Williams, Hill, and Bacarella earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019.

Morgan Shepherd was also among the early exits on Saturday, retiring with handling issues after 43 laps. However, the short field and high attrition among smaller teams lifted him to 31st at the finish, his best XFINITY Series run since last summer at Indianapolis. (CORRECTION: Shepherd's best finish since Dover on September 28, 2013, when he finished 27th). It had been even longer since Shepherd last finished 31st in an XFINITY race – September 22, 2012 at Kentucky.

Further up the standings, Ryan Sieg came home 11th, charging from 16th in the final 20 laps following a pit road penalty. Sieg keeps alive the strongest start of any full-time competitor on the XFINITY Series tour - no driver but him has managed to finish 11th or better in all five rounds run so far, and he now sits 9th in the standings. To put this in even greater perspective, Sieg has already matched his season-best marks in Top Fives (1) and Top Tens (3), set in 2016, with 28 races still left to run this year.

Also keeping their streaks alive were both Brandon Brown and Gray Gaulding, who restarted 10th and 12th with 34 to go and finished the final two cars on the lead lap in 15th and 16th. This time around, Brown finished ahead of Gaulding, and once again did so without sponsorship on his #86 Chevrolet. Brown has yet to finish worse than 18th in the Daytona opener and now sits 14th in points. Gaulding, 16 points behind Brown, has finished 16th in three of the last four races, not counting a season-best 12th in Las Vegas. Brown and Gaulding have also matched each other in laps led, both pacing the field for two circuits.

*This marked the first XFINITY series last-place finish for car #90 since April 3, 2010, when Danny O’Quinn, Jr.’s #90 D’Hont Humphrey Motorsports Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 33 laps of the Nashville 300 at the Nashville Superspeedway. This team, fielded by Eddie D’Hont and Randy Humphrey, was ostensibly the latest incarnation of MSRP Motorsports, the Phil Parsons-led effort which fielded the #90 for 2009 LASTCAR XFINITY Series champion Johnny Chapman.
*Curiously, the #90 entered this race in a tie with the #52 for the ninth-most last-place finishes in XFINITY Series history, 20 apiece. The #90 is now tied with the #0 with 21 each.

37) #90-Caesar Bacarella / 1 lap / vibration
36) #38-Jeff Green / 10 laps / brakes
35) #17-Bayley Currey / 14 laps / overheating
34) #66-Timmy Hill / 34 laps / transmission
33) #36-Josh Williams / 37 laps / engine

1st) Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Toyota (2)


Thursday, March 14, 2019

PREVIEW: Kyle who? Two XFINITY teams off to an impressive start in 2019

Brandon Brown's unsponsored #86 sits 14th in XFINITY Series points headed to Fontana.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
XFINITY Race 5 of 33
Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club (Fontana)
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Mike Harmon

There are 37 drivers entered for 38 spots in Saturday’s race, marking the third short field in five races in 2019 and the second in a row.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Ryan Preece returns to the XFINITY Series for the first time since his 7th-place run in Atlanta, and brings with him sponsorship from Velveeta Shells and Cheese. Preece takes over for Ryan Truex, who earned his first runner-up finish in the series since 2012 as he followed Kyle Busch to the finish line, 3.025 seconds back. Preece pulls double-duty along with his Cup ride in the JTG-Daugherty #47 Kroger Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
John Jackson rejoins Carl Long’s operation for the first time since his last-place showing in Atlanta, three rounds ago. He takes the place of Stan Mullis, who finished next-to-last at the ISM Raceway. Street Toys and, Mullis’ backers at ISM, are again the listed sponsors this week.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill takes over for brother Tyler, who finished a strong 20th in just his second career series start last week in Phoenix. It will be Timmy Hill’s fourth XFINITY Series start in five races this year, and first since a 23rd-place showing in Las Vegas.

GIVE A CALL: #86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
Brandon Brown enters Saturday’s race 14th in points, having finished no worse than 18th in all four races run so far this season. His best finish of the year came in Atlanta, when he ran 13th. Driver and team have accomplished this despite running without primary sponsorship all season long. Saturday will mark Brown’s first XFINITY start at Fontana.

Caesar Bacarella returns to the XFINITY Series for the first time since his career-best run in the Daytona opener, where an almost certain Top 10 ended with a brush with the wall leaving him 29th. Bacarella takes over for Ronnie Basset, Jr., who recovered from a slow start at ISM Raceway to finish 32nd in a backup car.

GIVE A CALL: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Like the Brandonbilt team, Gray Gaulding has enjoyed a strong start to the 2019 season, holding 16th in the standings. He arrives in Fontana with three consecutive finishes of 16th or better with a best of 12th in Las Vegas. Through Gaulding ran just 34th in the Daytona opener, this was mostly due to a pit road incident in an otherwise event-free race, and came after he qualified a season-best 5th. and Flywheel will again sponsor the Bobby Dotter entry in what will be Gaulding’s first series start at Fontana.

CUP INVADERS: #18-Kyle Busch
Busch is entered in his third-consecutive XFINITY Series race, and on Saturday will have his first opportunity to reach 200 combined wins across NASCAR’s top three circuits.

Sunday, March 17, 2019
CUP Race 5 of 36
Auto Club 400 at Auto Club (Fontana)
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Trevor Bayne

There are 38 drivers entered for 40 spots this week, two more cars than last Sunday’s round in Phoenix, and tied with Las Vegas for second-most in 2019. Regardless, this remains the fourth-consecutive short field in 2019.

RETURNING: #27-Premium Motorsports
For the first time since Casey Mears’ last-place finish in the Daytona 500, car #27 is back in the lineup this week. This time around, the car isn’t entered under Germain Racing, but under Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports (which was reportedly the arrangement at Daytona). This time around, Reed Sorenson drives in place of Mears, rejoining the Cup tour for the first time since Las Vegas, where he ran Spire Motorsports’ #77 (also backed by Premium) to a 36th-place finish. Tommy Baldwin, Jr., who most recently tried to get the #71 Chevrolet into the Daytona 500 field, is the crew chief.

GIVE A CALL: #36-Front Row Motorsports
Matt Tifft was one of the biggest surprises in last Sunday’s Cup race at the ISM Raceway when he ran as high as 18th before settling for 20th. Tifft’s three previous Cup starts yielded finishes of just 36th, 28th, and 34th. Surface Sunscreen and Tunity once again sponsor the #36 Ford Mustang.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
B.J. McLeod returns to pull double-duty (along with JD Motorsports’ #15 on the XFINITY side) in the #52 Mtel-One Ford. McLeod takes the place of Bayley Currey, who earned a 31st-place finish in his first series start at the ISM Raceway. McLeod will make his first start at Fontana in a Cup car.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
As reported here during the Las Vegas race, Joey Gase and the #66 Cup team are back in action this week, two rounds after a frustrating engine issue left them last. The Nevada Donor Network has picked up team owner Carl Long’s offer to back the ride in Fontana in hopes of giving the sponsor more track time. Like McLeod, Gase has never made a Cup start at Fontana. However, he does have seven XFINITY starts here with a best of 16th just last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
One week after Quin Houff earned a 30th-place finish in his Cup Series debut, Garrett Smithley is back in the Spire entry for the first time since Atlanta, where he ran 36th.

Saturday, March 23, 2019
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Mike Senica

The Truck Series returns next week to lead-off the companion weekend with the Cup Series at Martinsville.

On this day in LASTCAR history (March 14, 1982): Dick May picks up the 13th last-place finish of his Cup Series career when his D.K. Ulrich-prepared #40 Stihl Chain Saw Buick lost an engine after 34 laps of the Valleydale 500 at Bristol. It was the final last-place finish of the Watertown, New York driver’s career, which extended back to 1970 and ended with a 25th-place run at North Wilkesboro on April 21, 1985. May’s best finish came in one of his first starts on May 21, 1971, when he ran 6th at the New Asheville (North Carolina) Speedway.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

ARCA: For the second year in a row, Mike Basham finishes last in the season’s second race

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Mike Basham finished last for the second time in his ARCA Menards Series career in Saturday’s ARCA Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions at Five Flags Speedway when his No. 69 Longhorn Fab / Kimmel Racing Ford fell out with clutch issues after 4 of 200 laps. It was his first since the 2018 Music City 200, 20 races ago.

Not much has changed at the Basham camp since we featured Mike almost a year ago. ARCA’s rule change to only allow steel-bodied cars at tracks under three-quarters of a mile has threatened some of the Basham family’s plans of their traditional schedule, but the family remains active in the series. According to The Pit Lane, the team’s focus has shifted away from fielding cars, although they may do that in the fall sometime at a short track. The collaboration between the Basham family and the Kimmel family is nothing new, as we chronicled after last year's Madison race. The Kimmel shop, however, is where things have changed. The team’s main sponsor, FASS Fuel Systems, did not return to the team, leaving team principal Will Kimmel scrambling for funding. Scott Melton stepped in to run half of the schedule, mostly superspeedways. Kimmel himself hopes to run a few events, such as his hometown Salem events. To fill in the gaps, it appears the team will continue to do what it did in 2018 – "start-and-park" to keep the car up in owner points and eligible for series bonuses.

ARCA did not release its preliminary entry list until February 26, and when it was released, it made waves for only having a dozen cars on the list. Series official Charles Krall said on Twitter he expected 24-26, and while it proved optimistic, it was close to where the entry list peaked, as 21 cars were entered by then. Connor Okrzesik made his debut with his family team, Corey Heim made his series debut for Chad Bryant Racing, Ty Gibbs made his first start with Joe Gibbs Racing and Tim Richmond (no, not that one) debuted in Wayne Peterson Racing’s No. 06 car, which has secured full-season sponsorship from Great Railing.

A host of drivers also made season debuts. Sam Mayer ushered in GMS Racing’s return to the series, Raphael Lessard made his first start since 2017, driving a second entry for KBR Development, and Matt Dooley and Dick Doheny made their season debuts, both with Fast Track Racing. Former Empire Racing development driver Kaden Honeycutt made his first appearance of the year and rolled out a family entry, which was assisted in setup and crew chiefed by racing veteran Jeff Spraker, who fielded a car for Dave Mader III at Daytona the past couple years. Tommy Vigh Jr and Chandler Smith also ran as part of scheduled limited-event efforts this year. Dale Shearer was also scheduled to bring his No. 73 down to Pensacola.

Doheny anchored final practice, his lap of 20.42 seconds (equivalent to about 88 mph) three-and-a-quarter seconds off of leader Chandler Smith’s lap. Smith led qualifying with a lap of just under 17 seconds, and while Doheny picked up the pace to a 20.2, it was his Fast Track teammate Matt Dooley who trailed the field, running a lap of 21.079 seconds.

Like many ARCA Menards Series races, the last-place battle for the ARCA Pensacola 200 was done within a few minutes. Basham pulled off the track after four laps. Doheny made seven laps before turning into the garage with rear end issues. Fourteen circuits later, Dooley took a trip behind the wall with handling problems. Carson Hocevar made an early exit with fuel pump mishaps, and Brad Smith made 47 laps before overheating to round out the Bottom Five.

20) #69-Mike Basham / 4 laps / clutch
19) #1-Richard Doheny / 7 laps / rear end
18) #11-Matt Dooley / 21 laps / handling
17) #35-Carson Hocevar / 34 laps / fuel pump
16) #48-Brad Smith / 47 laps / overheating

1st) Kimmel Racing, Mullins Racing (1)

1st) Ford (2)


Sunday, March 10, 2019

CUP: Michael McDowell’s pit road fight with Suarez followed by hard crash on Sunday

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,
Michael McDowell picked up the 32nd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500 at the ISM Raceway when his #34 Dockside Logistics Ford was involved in a single-car crash after 157 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in McDowell’s 289th series start, was his second of the season and first since Atlanta, two rounds ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 33rd for car #34, the 576th from a crash, and the 688th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 45th for the #34, the 947th for Ford, and the 1,173rd from a crash.

The finish not only extended McDowell's lead in the 2019 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, but tied him with the late J.D. McDuffie for the second-most last-place finishes in Cup history. Both drivers remain one finish behind current series leader Joe Nemechek with 33.

Following a 30th-place finish in Las Vegas, McDowell arrived at his home track and promptly made headlines in Friday’s Cup Series qualifying. In the closing moments of Round 1, Daniel Suarez was among the dozens of drivers trying to turn in a fast lap at the last second. Suarez argued that McDowell blocked his #41 Ruckus Ford during a hot lap, costing him valuable time. McDowell’s version was Suarez was trying to wreck him. The result was the same – both drivers missed Round 2.

Moments later, a fight broke out when an angry Suarez confronted McDowell on pit road. McDowell shoved Suarez, who responded with a leg sweep that knocked McDowell to the ground. McDowell got up again and grabbed at Suarez’ leg before the crews broke up the pair. A media circus ensued, after which both met with NASCAR officials to go over the situation. And since both qualified in Row 14, the two would have to share a ride in the same truck during driver introductions.

McDowell outpaced Suarez for the 27th spot, turning a lap of 136.514mph (26.371 seconds). He’d also run 24th and 23rd in the weekend’s two practice sessions. With just 36 drivers entered for the 40-car field, no drivers were sent home. The result was the smallest-ever Cup field at Phoenix, and the first without a single “open” team since Atlanta in 2018.

Starting 36th on Sunday was Bayley Currey, one of two drivers in the field making their first Cup Series debut. Driving Rick Ware Racing’s #52 Mtel-One Ford, Currey had a rough start to the weekend. He secured the last spot on the grid as the only Cup driver to not turn a lap in Round 1, and on Saturday crashed out while driving Ware’s #17 Port of Tucson Chevrolet.

Currey would fill out Row 18, starting to the outside of fellow XFINITY Series part-timer Quin Houff. Houff, driving Spire Motorsports’ #77 Rim Ryderz Chevrolet, was forced to change his left-rear tire when the crew discovered a hole after qualifying. The tail-end penalty proved redundant as he would remain in the last row on the grid, joining Currey as the field took the green flag.

On the break, Currey drew away from Houff. But on Lap 2, Houff caught both Currey and his Rick Ware teammate Cody Ware in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet. Ware and Currey waged a spirited battle for 34th before Ware drew away, leaving Houff to deal with Currey.

Moments later, outside-polesitter Chase Elliott was black-flagged for jumping the initial start, and on Lap 4 incurred a pass-through penalty. Elliott’s fleet #9 Hooters Chevrolet returned to the track just in front of the leaders – 22.945 seconds back of the lead – and by Lap 7 was a full straightaway behind the now 35th-place Houff. Elliott closed the gap quickly, catching Houff on Lap 10, then passing him off Turn 2 on the 11th circuit. Two laps later on the 13th, race leader and polesitter Ryan Blaney caught Houff in the same spot, making the #77 the first car one lap down.

Next to join the last-place battle was 10th-place starter Erik Jones. On Lap 38, Jones lost control in Turn 2 with a flat right-rear tire. Jones made mild contact with the outside wall, damaging the right-rear corner, and nearly collecting a sideways Ryan Preece in the #47 Kroger Chevrolet. Jones darted down the nearby entrance to a closed pit road, incurring two penalties for his unorthodox entrance. When the crew discovered damage to the suspension on Jones’ #20 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota, he was forced to pit a second time and lost three laps by Lap 42. That third lap dropped Jones behind Houff, taking the last spot.

Jones returned to the track on Lap 43, but would hold the 36th spot for much of the afternoon. The Lap 45 restart revealed how badly his car was damaged: “I don't know, man,” said the driver soon after the green, “I'm just trying to make minimum speed, but I don't know if I'll be able to. . .There’s something that’s really broke, or something in the front that’s really bent. . .It's hard to even go straight on the straightaway.” Further communications revealed the Joe Gibbs crew had put another wheel spacer on the right-rear. While intended to make sure the wheel held, it reduced the threads on the lug bolts, causing a vibration. This cost Jones a fourth lap on the 55th circuit.

Flat tires and mechanical issues continued to plague many of the front runners, including Brad Keselowski’s #2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford and the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet of Alex Bowman, who both wrecked in nearly the same spot as Jones. Keselowski slipped to 32nd, raced his way up to the Lucky Dog, then went laps down again following a two-minute pit stop to repair his car. Bowman suffered two flat right-front tires, the second breaking the suspension so badly that he fell out of the race. Daniel Suarez, McDowell’s foil on Friday, accidentally shut off his engine while trying to keep it cool under caution, costing him a lap he would never get back.

McDowell’s role in the last-place battle didn’t come until Lap 159. Locked in his own race for the Lucky Dog with Chris Buescher’s #37 Kroger Flavor Fill Up Chevrolet, McDowell was running a solid 22nd when he suddenly slowed entering Turn 3. As the driver revealed later, the throttle hung, and he locked the brakes in futility as he struck the outside wall. McDowell climbed out uninjured, but his car was destroyed, out of the race. Crews towed his #34 behind the wall using the infield entrance at the dog leg. McDowell officially took last from Jones on Lap 160, and the #20 would ultimately climb to 29th by the finish. Bowman’s second tire failure came on the ensuing green-flag run, leaving him 35th. Bowman was the only driver to earn his first bottom-five finish of 2019 on Sunday.

Finishing 34th on Sunday was Preece, who was collected in the day’s final two accidents, ultimately retiring with heavy damage to the front end. Finishing 33rd was Landon Cassill, who ended up 45 laps back of the leaders in StarCom Racing’s #00 Iron Mountain Data Centers Chevrolet. Cody Ware rounded out the Bottom Five, 12 laps back of the lead in the #51. Currey and Houff finished in the next two spots, both within a lap of each other.

Chad Chaffin's #34 at Phoenix in 2005
*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #34 at the ISM Raceway since November 13, 2005, when Chad Chaffin’s #34 Fiesta Inn Resort Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues. That race turned out to be the 35th and final Cup start for team owner William Edwards, whose two-year-old single-car program Mach 1 Motorsports was merged into Front Row Motorsports in 2006.
*The 157 laps completed by McDowell were the fifth-most of a last-place finisher in a Cup race at Phoenix. The record remains with Martin Truex, Jr., who turned 258 laps before a crash on November 13, 2016.

36) #34-Michael McDowell / 157 laps / crash
35) #88-Alex Bowman / 191 laps / crash
34) #47-Ryan Preece / 229 laps / crash
33) #00-Landon Cassill / 267 laps / running
32) #51-Cody Ware / 300 laps / running

1st) Front Row Motorsports (2)
2nd) Germain Racing, Motorsports Business Management (1)

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


XFINITY: Bayley Currey’s wreck hands car #17 its first last-place finish in more than three years

PHOTO: @BayleyCurrey
Bayley Currey picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s iK9 Service Dog 200 at the ISM Raceway when his #17 Port of Tucson Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident after 30 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Currey’s 14th series start. In XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 12th for car #17, the 322nd from a crash, and the 521st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 46th for the #17, the 1,172nd from a crash, and the 1,645th for Chevrolet.

The finish also put Currey in the lead for the 2019 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship as the first series last-place finisher to score more than one Bottom Five.

The ISM Raceway has held special significance in the young Texan’s career. It was there in 2017 that Currey finished 10th in just his second Truck Series start, the first Top Ten earned by team owner D.J. Copp. Now, just over a year later, the mechanical engineering student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte would make his Cup Series debut. He would drive for Rick Ware Racing, taking B.J. McLeod’s place in the #52 Mtel-One Ford Mustang. And he would also be running double-duty at the Arizona oval, driving Ware’s #17 Chevrolet in Saturday’s XFINITY race.

Following finishes of 22nd in Atlanta and 34th in Las Vegas, Currey’s XFINITY car had sponsorship for the first time in 2019, carrying logos for the Port of Tucson on the hood, quarter-panels, and TV panel with additional backing from Baja.

Currey didn’t participate in the weekend’s opening XFINITY Series practice, then ran 24th of 35 drivers in Happy Hour. He accomplished this speed despite running just four laps – second-fewest in the session ahead of the three turned by Vinnie Miller in B.J. McLeod’s #78 Chevrolet. This speed carried directly into qualifying, where Currey bested McLeod by six-tenths of a second for the 24th spot in Round 1, clocking in at 128.223mph (28.076 seconds). Currey settled on 24th in Round 2, joining 23rd-place Jeff Green’s #38 Chevrolet in not running a lap during that round.

Qualifying last in the 37-car field (for 38 spots) was Stan Mullis, who acquired sponsorship from Street Toys and on Carl Long’s #13 Toyota. Like Currey, Mullis wasn't on the preliminary entry list, and it wasn't until late in the week that Currey and Mullis were listed in the #13 and #17. Following teammate Joey Gase’s hard wreck last Saturday in Vegas, all three Motorsports Business Management entries of Gase, Mullis, and Tyler Hill would run “Zombie” Toyota Camry models in place of the new Toyota Supra. Gase’s blue-and-white paint scheme indicated it was likely one of Chad Finchum’s Smithbilt Homes cars.

Mullis was joined at the rear by Ronnie Basset, Jr., who was making his series debut in the #90 Basset Gutters & More Chevrolet fielded by DGM Racing – a backup car following an incident during Happy Hour.

At the end of Lap 1, both Bassett and Mullis were already ahead of Morgan Shepherd, whose #89 Visone RV Chevrolet was 7.248 seconds back of the lead and just under a tenth of a second back of Mullis. Shepherd then closed the gap, drawing within eight-tenths at the end of two laps, then passing Mullis and gapping him by 1.1 seconds at the end of three. By that point, Mullis was now 10.007 seconds back of the lead, and still dropping. At the start of the 10th circuit, Mullis was the first to be lapped, and Shepherd had climbed to 35th ahead of Bassett.

Under green (and under commercial) on Lap 12, Mullis came down pit road, where he incurred a penalty for his crew members coming over the wall too soon. The #13 became the first to make the left turn into the garage area, but the crew eventually managed to get him back onto the track. This proved critical when the first caution fell on Lap 32.

Heading through Turns 3 and 4, Currey blew an oil line and slammed the outside wall just short of the start / finish line. A similar issue in Cup practice caused Cody Ware’s accident in nearly the same spot the previous fall. The accident flattened the right side of the #17 and sent him behind the wall, out of the race under the Crash Clock. When Mullis returned to action, he ultimately passed Currey for the spot, then retired five circuits later to secure 36th.

Finishing 35th was the #99 Diamond Gusset Jeans Toyota of Tommy Joe Martins, whose engine went sour following a fuel pump issue at the end of Stage 1. Martins was the only driver to earn his first Bottom Five of the season on Saturday.

Morgan Shepherd finished 34th, completing 56 laps to finish 34th. Though still without a finish under power in 2019, the veteran has never turned fewer than 45 laps in all three of his starts. Rounding out the group was Jeff Green, who after starting next to Currey retired three laps after Shepherd due to a vibration. Green, the all-time last-place leader, has yet to finish last once in 2019.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for car #17 in an XFINITY Series race at Phoenix. The number hadn’t trailed in the series since September 5, 2015, when Ryan Ellis’ #17 Navy Seals vs. Zombies Ford fell out with suspension issues after 1 lap of the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington. The finish put an end to Jeff Green’s streak of eight last-place finishes in a row, still a NASCAR record.

37) #17-Bayley Currey / 30 laps / crash
36) #13-Stan Mullis / 35 laps / carburetor
35) #99-Tommy Joe Martins / 49 laps / fuel pump
34) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 56 laps / brakes
33) #38-Jeff Green / 59 laps / vibration

1st) Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) JD Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (2)


Thursday, March 7, 2019

PREVIEW: Two Cup Series debuts headline entry lists at the ISM Raceway

PHOTO: The Decal Source, @P1_Houff
Saturday, March 9, 2019
XFINITY Race 4 of 33
iK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

There are 37 drivers entered for 38 spots this week, down one car from last week in Las Vegas. This would mark the second short field of the 2019 season and first since Atlanta. Both the #13 and #17 did not have a driver named on the preliminary list, but Stan Mullis and Bayley Currey are back to run them, as in Las Vegas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Ryan Truex returns to the XFINITY Series for the first time since last fall at Homestead, where he closed out his first full season of series competition driving for Kaulig Racing. This time around, Truex takes Zane Smith’s place in Dale Jr.’s #8 Chevrolet, one week after Smith finished 24th in Las Vegas.

MISSING: #10-Kaulig Racing
Speaking of Kaulig Racing, the team once again leaves the #10 team at the shop, and Austin Dillon is not entered to run double-duty following his 4th-place finish for the team in Vegas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Tyler Hill returns to the site of his XFINITY Series debut last fall, taking the place of brother Timmy Hill in Carl Long’s #66 Toyota. Tyler recovered from a late spin in 2018 to finish 31st in the next-to-last race run by Long’s “Zombie Dodge.”

Ronnie Bassett, Jr., your winner of the 2017 K&N Pro Series East opener in New Smyrna, will make his NASCAR national touring series debut, taking the place of next-to-last-place finisher Donald Theetge in Mario Gosselin’s #90 Chevrolet. Sponsored by Bassett Gutters and More, Bassett has a single start at the ISM Raceway in 2015, when he finished 10th on the West tour.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins is back in action this week, taking the place of Jairo Avila, Jr. in the #99 Toyota. Diamond Gusset Jeans returns as sponsor. Martins’ best finish in three series starts at ISM came in this race last year, when he finished 27th.

CUP INVADERS: #18-Kyle Busch

Sunday, March 10, 2019
CUP Race 4 of 36
Ticket Guardian 500 at ISM Raceway
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Corey LaJoie

There are 36 drivers entered for 40 spots, marking not only the third-straight short field in 2019, but the first of the year without a single “open” entry.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
Not only will Bayley Currey make his third-straight start in the #17 on the XFINITY Series side, but he will also make his Cup debut in Ware’s #52 Mtel-One Ford, driven to a 37th-place finish last week by B.J. McLeod. Currey, who has volunteered as a pit crew member between driving duties, has a pair of lower series starts at the ISM Raceway: he gave D.J. Copp his first Truck Series top-ten with a 10th in 2017, and last fall ran 30th for JP Motorsports’ XFINITY program.

MISSING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Engine troubles sidelined Joey Gase after just 10 laps last Sunday in Vegas, and both driver and team aren’t entered on the Cup side this weekend. Radio communications indicated the two will return to action next week in Fontana. Gase will still be in Saturday’s race, running MBM’s #35.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Quin Houff makes his previously-announced Cup series debut with Spire Motorsports and returning backing from Rim Ryderz – already the third different car number the sponsor has backed in 2019. Houff has made 10 XFINITY Series starts with a best of 12th at Iowa in 2017, driving for the now-absent Precision Performance Motorsports. He ran 29th here last fall for JD Motorsports.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman is without a ride this weekend as he and the Gaunt Brothers, the only “open” team to have attempted and started every race in 2019, are not entered in Phoenix.

Saturday, March 23, 2019
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Mike Senica

After three tripleheader weekends, the Truck Series takes the next two weeks off and returns for the first short track weekend of 2019 in Martinsville.

Only once has the last-place finisher of the XFINITY Series race at the ISM Raceway completed more than 24 laps. Curiously, it was also the first series race run at the track. On November 6, 1999, Phil Parsons picked up the 5th last-place finish of his XFINITY career when his #10 Alltel Chevrolet completed 139 of 200 laps of the Outback Steakhouse 200 before engine trouble. He was one of only four retirees of a race slowed by just one caution – a wreck between 42nd-place finisher Bobby Hillin, Jr. and 39th-place Chad Chaffin. The race was won by Jeff Gordon – his first since he left Bill Davis Racing to go full-time Cup at the end of 1992.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

CUP / XFINITY: “The Lastover” - missing crew member adds intrigue to Joey Gase’s two-race last-place Las Vegas sweep

PHOTO: Chris Madrid,
On a weekend that saw Kyle Busch win two of the weekend’s three races at Las Vegas, Joey Gase finished last in two of those races. The sweep concluded on Sunday, where Gase picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series career in the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his #66 Donate Life Nevada Toyota fell out with engine trouble after 10 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Gase’s 31st series start, was his first since September 2, 2018 at Darlington, fourteen races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 56th for car #66, the 155th for Toyota, and the 685th from engine trouble. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 66th for the #66, the 311th for Toyota, and the 1,064th from engine woes.

But that’s only the beginning of the story.

The 2019 season marks Gase’s sixth in a row as a full-time XFINITY Series competitor and a part-timer in Cup. Last year, he reunited with team owner Archie St. Hilaire through a technical alliance with SS-Green Light Racing, and tied his career-best 20th in the XFINITY Series point standings. He also drove eight Cup starts for four different team owners, yielding a season-best 18th in the fall Talladega race for Derrike Cope’s StarCom Racing. Through it all, Gase has continued his efforts to spread awareness of the Donate Life program for organ donation, and also brought in new sponsors to the sport like Sparks Energy, Inc.

In January came news that Gase had signed with Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management, a team which also announced it would focus more on XFINITY than Cup this season. Nevertheless, Long entered Gase in both series openers at Daytona, fielding the #35 (Gase’s number in 2018) for Saturday’s race, and a #66 for the 500. Both cars carried identical paint schemes with sponsorship from Medic Air Systems, AGRI Supply, and Eternal Fan, the latter two among Gase’s many longtime backers. Gase’s debut in the XFINITY Series’ new Toyota Supra yielded a 16th-place finish, his best in the series since Kansas the previous fall. But he fell short of a starting spot in the 500 despite a spirited side-by-side battle with fellow “open” driver Brendan Gaughan in Duel Race 2.

Las Vegas marked Gase’s first Cup attempt since Daytona, and he would once again run on both Saturday and Sunday. This time around, he was guaranteed a starting spot in Sunday’s main event as just 38 drivers arrived to contest the 40 available spots. Gase ran slowest in both Cup practices, and only climbed to 36th in qualifying when two other drivers didn’t turn a lap. Those two drivers were Ross Chastain, driving Premium Motorsports’ #15 Rim Ryderz Chevrolet, and garage mate Reed Sorenson, making his season debut as driver of Spire Motorsports’ unsponsored #77 Chevrolet.

During the pace laps, two drivers were sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: 31st-place starter Landon Cassill in StarCom Racing’s #00 Manscaped: Below the Belt Grooming Chevrolet and Ty Dillon, slated to start 14th in Germain Racing’s #13 GEICO Chevrolet. Before the two could fall to the rear, two more cars were slow getting off pit road: Daniel Suarez in the #41 Haas Automation Ford and the #52 Mtel-One Ford of B.J. McLeod. While Suarez regained his 22nd starting spot, McLeod’s Ford, which looked nearly identical to Cody Ware’s #51 Chevrolet, remained behind Chastain and Sorenson, taking the last spot in the high line. As at Atlanta, both Cassill and Dillon didn’t start in the final two spots – Sorenson held the last spot as the field came to the green.

On the break, Sorenson retained the 38th spot, but already had his sights set on the #52 of McLeod. On Lap 3, Sorenson caught and passed McLeod in Turns 1 and 2, dropping the #52 to last. From there, McLeod progressively lost touch with the tail end of the field, falling to 12 seconds back of the leader on Lap 5.

Gase in the garage.
PHOTO: Motorsports Business Management Facebook
Soon after, trouble found Joey Gase. On Lap 9, his #66 had slipped behind Sorenson into the 37th spot, and last-place McLeod was starting to inch closer. The next time by, Gase shut off the motor and coasted onto the apron. He crept onto pit road, losing a lap in the process, and pulled into the first opening to the garage on Lap 13. After pulling into their garage stall, the crew looked over the #66, saying “I think it’s something internal.” Attention soon turned to the engine, specifically the fifth cylinder, and the team grew concerned that their car was running too lean.

It was on Lap 59 that the situation took a bizarre turn – a member of the crew was missing.

“I don’t know how he got away from us,” another crewman said. The first communication indicated the man, named Mark, was still at the hotel, and was between 30 and 40 minutes from getting to the track. Around Lap 67, Carl Long himself broke into the radio and said Mark was 15 minutes away. Still trying to diagnose the issue, Long expressed concern about getting the car back out on the track, saying he didn’t want to risk blowing an engine as the team prepared for Fontana in two weeks, but also wanted to give the car more visibility for the sponsors in attendance. “You’re the team owner,” said the crew.

The wait for Mark continued on for the first third of the race. “Yes,” said Long, exasperated, “he's still in the ten-minute range or so. He’s in the hotel, so by the time this thing happens. I don’t even know why he was in the damned hotel in the first place. I’ve gotta have someone in my pit stall who can look over this stuff until the checkered flag falls.” Long also expressed his concern over their next race in Fontana: “We need him to look at it, because we can't take it to California if something's wrong.”

By the start of Stage 2 on Lap 88, Long and crew considered switching to another radio frequency after I tweeted their communications: “I'd suggest going to Channel 2 because someone on Twitter is broadcasting on our frequency.” Moments later, on Lap 94, another voice broke in. “Mark is here. Mark is here.”

Now 87 laps down, Gase and crew looked to use the rest of the race as a test session. Attention continued to swirl around the engine, specifically the fifth piston. “It’s a burned piston, does that mean it’s too lean?” said a crewman. “Ask him how we’re supposed to go to California and put another motor in it if the computer’s wrong.” Gase joined in the conversation by recalling what he felt on Lap 10, saying, “I’ve had a rocker or a piston go before, and that’s what it felt like.” He also believed the car had been running too lean in qualifying.

On Lap 121, the team pulled the plug, and the car was listed “out” on FOX and “unavailable” on RaceView. Long then relayed a message to the team’s sponsors. “Let his sponsors know, we’ll try and run the same group in California for free. We will promote Nevada in the state of California if they want it.”

Gase turned out to be the only retiree from the race. The only other competitor to spend any time in the garage was McLeod, who lost 37 laps for a vibration, then rejoined the race by Lap 132. McLeod finished 37th, 47 laps down to the leaders.

The rest of the Bottom Five lost laps on the track: Sorenson finished 36th, 15 laps back, and one circuit behind 35th-place Cody Ware in Rick Ware Racing’s flagship #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet. Rounding out the group was Matt Tifft, who finished 34th, eight laps back, in Front Row Motorsports’ #36 Surface Sunscreen / Tunity Ford.

Gase, McLeod, and Sorenson were handed their first Bottom Fives of 2019. Michael McDowell took the 2019 LASTCAR Cup Series lead with his second bottom-ten finish – a 30th – on Sunday.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #66 since November 11, 2018, when Timmy Hill had an oil leak after 40 laps of the Can-Am 500 at the ISM Raceway. Neither the number – nor Gase - had ever finished last in a Cup race at Las Vegas.

38) #66-Joey Gase / 10 laps / engine
37) #52-B.J. McLeod / 220 laps / running
36) #77-Reed Sorenson / 252 laps / running
35) #51-Cody Ware / 253 laps / running
34) #36-Matt Tifft / 259 laps / running

1st) Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing, Motorsports Business Management (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota (1)


Gase (#35) wrecks with Donald Theetge (#90)

The day before, Gase picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in the Boyd Gaming 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #35 Nevada Donor Network Toyota was involved in a two-car accident after 1 of 213 laps.

The finish, which came in Gase’s 211th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since July 21, 2013 at Chicagoland, 183 races ago. In XFINITY Series last-place history, it was the 15th for car #35, the 123rd for Toyota, and the 321st from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 29th for the #35, the 310th for Toyota, and the 1,171st from a crash.

Gase now takes the early lead in the 2019 LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings in a tiebreaker with John Jackson, who was not entered in Vegas.

Following a 29th-place run in the XFINITY race at Atlanta, Las Vegas was next on the list. Gase didn’t participate in opening practice, then ranked 27th of 36 drivers in Happy Hour. A rained-out qualifying session left him 33rd on the grid. Curiously, teammate Chad Finchum in the #42 took outside-pole by virtue of the Owners Points inherited from Chip Ganassi’s closed XFINITY program.

Starting 38th and last on Saturday was Morgan Shepherd, assured his second-straight start of the season after exactly 38 drivers arrived to take time. Shepherd’s #89 Chevrolet was joined in short order by two other drivers penalized for unapproved adjustments: 30th-place starter Stephen Leicht, the Daytona last-placer, in JD Motorsports’ unsponsored #01 Chevrolet, and 3rd-place starter Christopher Bell, whose #20 Rheem / Smurfit Kappa Toyota was snagged for illegal body modifications.

As the penalized drivers fell to the rear, one car was still sitting on pit road. Bayley Currey turned heads in Atlanta when he finished 22nd in Rick Ware Racing’s #17 Chevrolet, an unsponsored car. Invited back for Vegas, Currey was to start 21st, but his car wouldn’t fire. During Regan Smith’s pre-race report from pit road, the FS1 cameras caught Currey’s car being pushed by a support vehicle. The issue caused Currey to miss the start of the race, which perhaps allowed him to miss a hard crash on Lap 2.

That time by, the penalized Christopher Bell was already racing 23rd-place starter Donald Theetge, making his season debut in DGM Racing’s #90 Mercedes-Benz St-Nicolas / Circuit Acura Chevrolet. As the pair raced into Turn 3, Theetge lost control in the upper lane and slid up the track, narrowly missing another car. Lost in the smoke, Joey Gase found himself barreling toward Theetge’s driver’s side door. The two collided, destroying the nose of Gase’s car and caving in Theetge’s driver’s door just in front of the rear wheels. Theetge made it back to the garage, eliminated under the Crash Clock in 36th place. Gase’s car, unable to be repaired, was also eliminated, placing him 37th.

However, it wasn’t until the end of Stage 1 that last place was finally settled. The Rick Ware team was still hard at work on Bayley Currey’s #17, and managed to get the car fired again during the caution at the end of Stage 1, which came out on Lap 47. By Lap 51, the #17 was back on pit road, and joining the back of the field. When the race went green the next time by, Currey jumped past both Gase and Theetge, dropping the drivers to the final two spots. Currey ended up completing a total of 24 laps before an electrical issue knocked him out of the race just before the end of Stage 2.

Between Currey, Gase and Theetge in the final running order were Josh Bilicki and Stan Mullis, both drivers who were swapped into LASTCAR-contending rides. Bilicki was swapped into teammate Jeff Green’s unsponsored #93 at RSS Racing, and turned just 13 laps. Stan Mullis, driving in place of Atlanta last-placer John Jackson in MBM’s #13 Fluidyne / Toyota, turned 14 laps before he cited a vibration.

For Gase, Theetge, Mullis, and Currey, Las Vegas marked their first bottom-five finish of 2019.

When the dust settled on Saturday, several drivers enjoyed fine runs. While Bilicki and Green finished outside the Top 30, the flagship RSS Racing car with Ryan Sieg earned its second top-ten of the young season with a 6th-place finish. Sieg now sits in a three-way tie for seventh in the series standings.

In 7th came Ross Chastain, the most recent XFINITY winner at Las Vegas, who came from a lap down to take 7th for JD Motorsports.

And SS-Green Light Racing took the 11th and 12th spots with this time Ray Black, Jr. ahead of Gray Gaulding. Gaulding, who started 35th, continued his strong start to the 2019 season by climbing to 18th at the end of Stage 1, keeping Kyle Busch from taking the Lucky Dog in the process.

Danny O'Quinn, Jr.'s Rensi Motorsports #35 in late 2008
PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for car #35 since November 8, 2008, when Danny O’Quinn, Jr. earned his first last-place run following a vibration on his unsponsored Team Rensi Motorsports Ford after 5 laps of the Hefty Odor Block 200 at Phoenix.
*Before O’Quinn’s last-place run, the #35 had finished last in two other XFINITY races at Las Vegas: March 6, 1999 with Lyndon Amick, and March 12, 2005 with Jason Keller.
*This was also the first last-place finish for a Toyota Supra in NASCAR. John Jackson, last week’s last-placer in Atlanta, ran an older Camry model.

38) #35-Joey Gase / 1 lap / crash
37) #90-Donald Theetge / 1 lap / crash
36) #93-Josh Bilicki / 13 laps / electrical
35) #13-Stan Mullis / 14 laps / vibration
34) #17-Bayley Currey / 24 laps / electrical

1st) Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) JD Motorsports (1)

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


TRUCKS: Scott Stenzel and Mittler-Copp cooperative trail second-straight Vegas spring race

PHOTO: Scott Stenzel's Facebook
Scott Stenzel picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s Strat 200 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #63 Personal Comfort Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 34 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Stenzel’s 14th series start, was his first of the season, and his first since this same race last year on March 2, 2018, 23 races ago. In Truck Series last-place history, it was the 23rd for the #63, the 36th from electrical issues, and the 367th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 40th for the #63, the 122nd from electrical issues, and the 1,644th for Chevrolet.

The 2019 season marks D.J. Copp’s third season as a Truck Series team owner, and perhaps his most significant yet. His trucks now carry the #63 in place of Copp’s traditional #83, a change that signals the next step in his ongoing business partnership with longtime team owner Mike Mittler.

Since the Truck Series’ inception in 1995, Mittler’s MB Motorsports team has fielded race trucks from his Missouri shop. Justin Allgaier, Jamie McMurray, and Carl Edwards are just some of the drivers whose successful NASCAR careers began in his equipment. An elusive first victory for the team nearly came at Eldora, where Bobby Pierce dominated back-to-back races on the clay oval. But an ongoing battle with cancer has forced Mittler to scale back his involvement with the team. The “Stand Up To Cancer” initiative saluted Mittler’s fight last fall at Martinsville on the 63rd lap.

Who would drive for Copp this season turned into a strange story. Last November, Copp jokingly tweeted a picture of Jeremy Mayfield standing next to his truck, hinting at a comeback despite Mayfield’s ongoing suspension from NASCAR dating back to 2009. Around the same time, Mike Senica tweeted that he would be driving for Copp, returning to the series for the first time since last spring at Martinsville, where Senica was parked for failing to heed instructions from NASCAR officials. This, too, was debunked by Copp, who later revealed that ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart would again drive the #63 at Daytona, as he had under Mittler’s ownership.

During that wild season opener, Gerhart managed to avoid nearly all of the night’s multi-truck accidents – nearly, that is, until he crashed out of a Top 5 in overtime following a tangle with Austin Wayne Self and Stewart Friesen. At Atlanta, Timmy Hill ran double-duty with the XFINITY Series on the same afternoon. Hill, swapped in for Gerhart on the preliminary entry list, exited after 53 laps with brake issues. Stenzel was then brought on to make his season debut at Las Vegas, and soon after welcomed new sponsorship from mattress company Personal Comfort.

Stenzel began the weekend slowest of the 29 drivers who turned laps in the opening practice session, having run the fewest circuits of anyone (three). He improved somewhat in Happy Hour, climbing to 28th of 31 that participated. In qualifying, he ranked 30th, settling on Owner Points with a lap of 165.965mph (32.537 seconds). This time, he outpaced both Josh Reaume and last-place starter Norm Benning.

Benning trailed a field of 32 despite some additions and subtractions from the preliminary entry list. Chad Finley’s team was forced to withdraw their #42 Chevrolet following a bizarre incident at Atlanta where the hauler driver attempted to exit through a tunnel that was too small for his truck. Next to pull out was the #49 CMI Installations Chevrolet of Ray Ciccarelli, who like Finley's team had made both of the season’s first two races in his first full season as owner-driver. Taking the place of the two was Korbin Forrister, whose All Out Motorsports team hadn’t been entered in Friday’s race, then joined in to keep the field full. Forrister ultimately finished 14th on Friday, his best finish of the young season.

Another small team made headlines with his qualifying run. Two weeks after being wrecked in a late-race battle for the lead at Daytona, and one week after a solid 16th-place run in Atlanta, Cory Roper put his #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford 4th on the speed charts in Round 1, then held on to take 5th in Round 2. It was far and away Roper’s best qualifying run, supplanting a 17th-place start in his team’s debut at Martinsville last year. Unfortunately, Roper’s night wouldn’t end with him so close to the lead. When the race started, Roper found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle off Turn 2, and was then routed out of the inside groove after a door-banging battle with Stewart Friesen.

Meanwhile, at the back of the pack, Josh Reaume’s unsponsored #33 Chevrolet held down last after trailing the field to the green flag, then conceded the spot to Norm Benning on Lap 3. Reaume and Benning soon had two-second gaps between each other and the rest of the field, and Benning fell four seconds back of Reaume when the first caution came on Lap 7.

It was in this caution that Roper’s night took a turn for the worse. Sheldon Creed, who started 9th in his #2 AM Ortega / United Rentals Chevrolet, spun off the fourth corner, forcing the field to accordion behind him. In the smoke, Roper, running 12th at the time, tangled with the slowing Matt Crafton, shoving in the nose of the #04. Still under power, Roper made it down pit road. Crafton took last on Lap 8, followed by Ben Rhodes on Lap 9, then Roper on the 10th go-round. Extensive repairs on pit road made Roper the first driver to lose a lap to the leaders. He’d lose a second by Lap 26, and by then was on the same lap as Benning in 31st. Roper passed Benning for the spot on Lap 37.

As Benning took the last spot, Stenzel had pulled behind the wall, citing an electrical issue. This dropped the #63 to the final spot on Lap 38, during which time the crew looked under the hood for the problem. Radio communications indicated the team suspected the battery, then the alternator, but found no issues with either of them. On Lap 49, a crewman said “We’re not gonna have anything to gain, guys. Pack it up.” On the 55th lap, the crew determined the battery and alternator were okay, but the issue hadn’t been resolved. The response: “10-4 buddy, let’s load this shit up and get outta here.” A crewman thanked Stenzel and the spotter for their help with the “one-man band” as they called it a night.

Finishing 31st was Stefan Parsons, whose 2019 debut came with Beaver Motorsports’ #1 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet, a truck that had been withdrawn from both Daytona and Atlanta after making the preliminary entry list. After running on the lead lap in Stages 1 and 2, Parsons cited an issue with the transmission, saying it wouldn’t shift from third to fourth on a restart. The crew worked behind the wall, then were unable to push-start the truck to get it fired again, ultimately ending their night. Carburetor problems were the cited cause. “I think it’s toast,” said the crew. The team left disappointed, stating they thought they had a chance at a Top 20.

Daytona winner Austin Hill took 30th, joining all drivers but 28th-place Norm Benning in scoring their first bottom-five finishes of 2019. Hill started 6th in HRE’s #16 A&D Welding Toyota, but a mid-race overheating issue forced the team behind the wall with a blown engine. Spencer Boyd, who also started the year strong at Daytona, fell out soon after with engine issues of his own on the #20 1A Auto Chevrolet.

On his third consecutive weekend of running triple-duty, Ross Chastain ran in the Top 5 for most of the night, his #45 TruNorth Chevrolet running as high as 3rd in the first two stages, then leading on the final exchange of pit stops. Unfortunately, the good run went away on the final pit stop when his truck stalled after a fuel-only stop. The miscue cost Chastain a lap and left him 10th.

One spot ahead of Chastain came the #17 Dexcom Toyota of Ryan Reed, who finished 9th in his first Truck Series start since September 28, 2012, when he ran 17th for Richie Wauters. An XFINITY Series regular until his Roush-Fenway Racing ride closed its doors at the end of 2018, Reed hadn’t even attempted a Truck Series race since the 2016 opener at Daytona, where he failed to qualify.

For more on Copp Motorsports’ efforts with the Mittler team, check out this article by Amanda Vincent of Auto Racing Daily.

*Friday’s finish was significant for truck #63, which not only trailed the third of the last four series races at Las Vegas, but also broke a tie with the #93 for the second-most last-place runs in Truck Series history (the lead remains #0 with 46). The number’s most recent last-place run came August 11, 2018, when Timmy Hill’s #63 Chevrolet had suspension issues after 7 laps of the Corrigan Oil 200.

32) #63-Scott Stenzel / 34 laps / electrical
31) #1-Stefan Parsons / 67 laps / carburetor
30) #16-Austin Hill / 82 laps / engine
29) #20-Spencer Boyd / 108 laps / engine
28) #6-Norm Benning / 121 laps / running

1st) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, NEMCO Motorsports (1)

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