Sunday, March 31, 2019

CUP: Kyle Larson crashes out after rear end issue nearly hands Brad Keselowski his first last-place finish

PHOTO: @CGRnascar
Kyle Larson picked up the 5th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident after 147 of 334 laps.

The finish, which came in Larson’s 190th series start, was his first since April 29, 2018 at Talladega, 33 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 23rd for car #42, the 577th from a crash, and the 759th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three rankings, it was the 34th for the #42, the 1,174th from a crash, and the 1,651st for Chevrolet.

The image of Larson’s #42 Chevrolet careening off the walls on the final two corners of last year’s inaugural Roval race came to symbolize the season for both Larson and team. After a four-win season in 2017, Larson couldn’t quite find his way to victory lane last year, finishing 2nd six times – including both races at Bristol. A late wreck on the Roval threatened to end his Playoff bid, that is, until he passed the stalled #96 Toyota of Jeffrey Earnhardt in the final corner, bumping Jimmie Johnson from contention. But a 12th at Dover, an 11th at Talladega, and a 3rd at Kansas weren’t quite enough to advance, and he settled for a 9th-place finish in points.

This year, Larson has a new teammate in Kurt Busch and a new determination to return to victory lane. He began the year 7th in the Daytona 500, then dominated the following round in Atlanta, leading 142 laps only to be undone by a late pit road speeding penalty. Heading into Texas, Larson had just earned his season-worst finish at Martinsville, but had yet to finish lower than 18th at the checkered flag, ranking him 11th in the standings.

The Fort Worth oval has not been kind to Larson. Coming into the race, he’d finished 23rd or worse in five of his eleven starts, including a pair of hard crashes in Turns 1 and 2 in both the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018, each yielding a 37th-place run. But he’d also finished 5th or better three times, including a runner-up finish to Jimmie Johnson in the spring of 2017.

Larson began the weekend 28th in the opening practice and ran 24th in Round 1 of qualifying. He advanced to Round 2, only to time in just 22nd on the charts with a lap of 184.414mph (29.282 seconds). The team found speed in final practice, when the #42 jumped to 7th on the charts.

Following the withdrawal earlier in the week of Obaika Racing’s #97 Chevrolet, the remaining 39 entrants all earned starting spots in the race. Starting shotgun on the field was Timmy Hill, set to make his first Cup start of the season. Driving Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota previously run by Joey Gase (contrary to a graphics error by FOX Sports during the race broadcast), the car appeared to be the #66 run in Las Vegas and Fontana, though this time with the quarter-panels blank and the American Valor Foundation logo on the hood.

On the first pace lap, Hill stopped near the first pit stall, then caught back up to the tail end of the pack. As he drove down the backstretch, both Ross Chastain in the #15 Rim Ryderz Chevrolet and the #77 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet of Garrett Smithley stopped on the inside, then also rejoined the grid ahead of Hill. It was on the second pace lap that two drivers fell to the rear for pre-race penalties: 24th-place Alex Bowman, sent to a backup #88 Llumar Chevrolet following an accident in qualifying, and 18th-place Ryan Newman, whose #6 Wyndham Rewards Ford twice failed pre-race inspection.

Both Newman and Bowman fell back to the last cars on the outside lane before seven drivers fell behind them. Coming to the stripe, Newman was up to 32nd. In the row behind him were Parker Kligerman in the #96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota inside Chastain’s #15, then Rick Ware Racing teammates Bayley Currey (#52 Trick Shot Penetrating Lubricant Chevrolet) and B.J. McLeod (#51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet), then Reed Sorenson (#27 Solomon Plumbing Chevrolet) and Smithley’s #77, and finally Hill.

On the break, the tail end of the field uncoiled into single-file racing with Hill trying to track down Smithley for 38th. But Hill reported his car was tight, perhaps dragging something beneath the car, and he was losing touch with Smithley by the third circuit. Now reporting he was “getting beat bad off the corners,” Hill was told the leaders were gaining on him fast running the low lane. On Lap 16, race leader Jimmie Johnson caught Hill exiting Turn 4, but moments before he could lap him, the caution fell for Erik Jones’ spin in Turn 1.

Under the yellow, Hill tried to get onto pit road, but ended up returning to the track. The one-lap delay lifted Hill to the 16th spot while David Ragan, Erik jones, Ryan Preece, and Parker Kligerman traded last place after their first caution-flag stops. When he came in, Hill beat out McLeod’s #51, dropping the Chevrolet to last. This didn’t last long as Hill pulled behind McLeod for the restart, the #51 lining up to the inside of 37th-place Sorenson in the #27. When the race restarted, Hill was again trailing by open track, and this time was caught and passed by Johnson on Lap 34. Hill moved to the high lane just short of the starting line, and from there struggled to find a spot in line among the faster traffic.

Next to join the last-place battle was Corey LaJoie, whose #32 lost two laps with an unscheduled stop around Lap 43. LaJoie had smacked the wall under green, and had to pit to change tires and clear the fenders. The driver returned to the track, the spotter reporting no smoke from his machine, and the Ford was back underway. On Lap 50, LaJoie caught and passed both Chastain and Smithley in Turn 4, then cleared Hill off the corner, dropping the #66 back to last. Hill lost a third lap to Johnson on Lap 58.

On Lap 67, Landon Cassill then took last when his #00 USFRA Chevrolet incurred an uncontrolled tire penalty on pit road, forcing him to make a pass-through penalty under green. The stop dropped him to three laps back, then a fourth by Lap 72. Like LaJoie, Cassill then chased down and passed Hill for 38th, clearing him down the backstretch on Lap 77.

Fuel mileage then became an issue for Timmy Hill and the MBM team as the race neared the end of Stage 1. Someone on the crew reported Hill had eight-tenths of a gallon left in the tank, and the driver was told to save fuel the moment the stage-ending caution came out. Still, the #66 ran out of fuel, then coasted by himself down pit road on Lap 87. The car soon re-fired, and he returned on Lap 92 to get topped-off with fuel, still four laps down in last.

When the race was about to restart, the LASTCAR battle took another intriguing turn. Brad Keselowski, one week after a dominant victory in Martinsville, was running 5th when his car stalled on pit road. The crew looked over the car, and the driver reported something broken in the rear end. With the rest of the field still running within four laps of the leader, Keselowski dropped to last on Lap 96, putting the driver in real danger of his first Cup Series last-place finish in his 348th series start. Following the end of Kevin Harvick’s streak last May, Keselowski held the record for most Cup starts without a last-place run in a points race. On Lap 105, the #2 Miller Lite Ford was pushed behind the wall.

History would have to wait, though, as on Lap 146, the Penske Racing crew pieced together the Mustang and Keselowski took the long route back out of the garage area. He was back on track on Lap 148, 56 laps down and moments from losing his 57th. “10-4,” said the driver, “we can work to not get last.”

Seconds later, on Lap 149, came Larson’s trouble. Headed through the same Turns 1 and 2 that had bit him twice before, his #42 Chevrolet didn’t turn at corner exit, and instead smashed into the outside wall with the right-front. Larson made it back to pit road, only for the crew to find a fire raging behind the destroyed right-front wheel. Larson climbed out, done for the day with crash damage. The crew pushed Larson’s car behind the wall on Lap 154, and the entry disappeared from RaceView on Lap 160. With a 51-lap gap between himself and Keselowski, the #2 would drop Larson to last if he reached Lap 204. Keselowski did this, and Larson dropped to last as a result.

Keselowski ultimately finished 36th, passing both Hill, who burned out the clutch past the halfway point, and Penske Racing teammate Ryan Blaney, whose 45 laps up front were followed by an overheating issue on his #12 Menards / Cardell Cabinetry Ford in the final stages. Rounding out the Bottom Five, 41 laps ahead of Keselowski, Bayley Currey finished 14 laps down to the leaders.

Among the series’ underdogs, Michael McDowell turned in a fine performance, finishing 15th in Front Row Motorsports’ #34 Love’s Travel Stops / Winstar World Ford. It was McDowell’s best Cup finish since this year’s Daytona 500, and ended the streak of five straight finishes of 24th or worse that followed it. McDowell’s best Texas finish – and his only other one inside the Top 20 – remains his 14th-place run in this same race last year.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #42 in a Cup Series race at Texas since November 2, 2008, when Juan Pablo Montoya’s #42 Texaco / Havoline Dodge was involved in a late-race wreck with David Gilliland after 262 laps of the Dickies 500. Gilliland was then parked as a result.

Brad Keselowski - 348
Chase Elliott - 120
Daniel Suarez - 79
William Byron - 43
Parker Kligerman - 18
Ryan Preece - 12
Daniel Hemric - 9
Matt Tifft - 7
Bayley Currey - 2

39) #42-Kyle Larson / 147 laps / crash
38) #66-Timmy Hill / 168 laps / clutch
37) #12-Ryan Blaney / 225 laps / overheating / led 45 laps
36) #2-Brad Keselowski / 279 laps / running
35) #52-Bayley Currey / 320 laps / running

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

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


XFINITY: Jeff Green ends last-place drought with seventh trailing run in Texas

PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Jeff Green picked up the 115th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #38 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 16 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 519th series start, was his first of the year and first since November 10, 2018 at the ISM Raceway, seven races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 15th for car #38, the 57th for brake trouble, and the 523rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th for the #38, the 161st from brake issues, and the 1,650th for Chevrolet.

RSS Racing and its flagship #39 driven by Ryan Sieg have made a statement at the start of 2019, threatening to transcend from underdogs into weekly contenders for victory. Sieg finished 10th in Saturday’s race, continuing a streak where he has finished no worse than 11th in any XFINITY race all season, and won Stage 2. This already eclipses Sieg’s season-best performance in terms of top-ten finishes, and his 9th-place rank in points matches his best overall championship rank of 9th at the end of 2016.

While new backers, most recently CMR Construction & Roofing, have joined the #39 effort, and sponsors like The Boss and Woodshed joined teammate Josh Bilicki’s run in the #93, work still remains to fund the team’s third car with its most experienced driver - Jeff Green in the #38. As in years past, Green began the year with a fully-funded effort at Daytona, and rewarded the RSS Racing team with a strong 7th-place finish. But in the five races since, while he has not finished last, Green has run no better than 32nd, forced to “start-and-park” a blank black-painted Chevrolet. Saturday would see him do the same.

Green began the weekend running just two laps in opening practice, the second jumping him to 23rd of 39 drivers. After not participating in Happy Hour, the car showed similar speed in Happy Hour, ranking 27th with a lap of 182.248mph (29.630 seconds).

With 40 drivers for 38 spots, qualifying saw two underdog drivers miss the cut. Morgan Shepherd returned to the site of his hard practice crash last fall, but his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet could only manage the slowest completed lap in the session at 166.312mph (32.469 seconds), more than 1.2 seconds off the next-slowest car. Also sent home was Bayley Currey, withdrawn from Friday’s Truck Series race and unable to complete a qualifying lap in Rick Ware’s #17 on Saturday. Both Currey and the #0 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet of Garrett Smithley did not post a time, and Smithley’s out-ranking of Currey in Owner Points left the #17 on the wrong side of the cut line.

Smithley retained the 38th and final starting spot thanks to an unapproved adjustments penalty that kept him in the final spot. The same issue dropped from 24th Tommy Joe Martins in the #99 Diamond Gusset Jeans Toyota. Five other drivers, including Green, were also sent to the rear for missing the driver’s meeting: 20th-place Gray Gaulding (#08 / Flywheel Chevrolet), Timmy Hill (#13 Chris Kyle Memorial Benefity Toyota), Josh Williams (#36 Simcraft Chevrolet), and Ronnie Bassett, Jr. (#90 Bassett Gutters & More Chevrolet).

An early spin by Jeremy Clements’ #51 Chevrolet on Lap 2 caused last place to change hands briefly, but just a few laps after the restart, Green had pulled the #38 ehind the wall, followed four laps later by Hill. Finishing 36th was Brad Keselowski, who finished inside the Bottom Five for the second-straight XFINITY Series start after a crash on Lap 66. Ray Black, Jr.’s day ended after the ensuing restart, when the #07 Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys / Scuba life Chevrolet backed into the Turn 2 barrier. Rounding out the group was Cole Custer, winner at Texas last fall, whose #00 Jacob Companies Ford tangled with Brandon Jones on Lap 133. Custer and Black earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019.

Many of the drivers who suffered pre-race penalties went on to score solid finishes. DGM Racing teammates Josh Williams and Ronnie Bassett, Jr. finished 14th and 15th, a career-best for each driver, with Bassett’s coming in just his second series start. Gaulding recovered to finish 21st, which while it was his second-worst finish of the season, has kept him 15th in points. Martins finished 19th, his second-straight top-twenty finish and season-best for 2019.

In addition, Brandon Brown – his rear decklid covered with the Twitter handles of 62 fans – went on to finish 17th, his sixth-straight finish of 18th or better in 2019. The still-unsponsored #86 Chevrolet holds 14th in the series standings, 141 points back of the lead held by Tyler Reddick.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #38 in an XFINITY Series race at Texas since November 4, 2006, when the late Jason Leffler lost the engine on his #38 Great Clips Chevrolet after 55 laps of the O’Reilly Challenge.
*This was Green’s seventh last-place finish in an XFINITY Series race in Texas.

38) #38-Jeff Green / 16 laps / brakes
37) #13-Timmy Hill / 20 laps / brakes
36) #12-Brad Keselowski / 68 laps / crash
35) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 79 laps / crash
34) #00-Cole Custer / 132 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (2)


TRUCKS: Sick engine in qualifying keeps Josh Reaume from completing a lap in Texas

PHOTO: Beth Lunkenheimer, @NASCARBeth
Josh Reaume picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s Vankor 350 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #33 Colonial Countertops Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble without completing any of the night’s 147 laps.

The finish came in Reaume’s 31st series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 4th for truck #33, the 126th from engine trouble, and the 369th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th for the #33, the 1,065th due to engine issues, and the 1,649th for Chevrolet.

Nicknamed “The African Squirrel” for his upbringing overseas, Reaume enters his second season driving for his father’s team, Reaume Brothers Racing. According to the team’s website, the effort began in 1997 to field go-karts for Josh and his brother Jonathan, and in 2018 made the jump to the Truck Series. At the time, Josh had made fifteen Truck starts, most of them with Mark Beaver’s #50. The Reaume team missed the cut at Daytona, then went on to finish a season-best 18th at Gateway. A second truck, #34, made the show at Eldora and finished 31st with Jeffrey Abbey.

This year, Reaume got another run at Daytona and made the most of it. He squeezed his way into the 32nd and final starting spot, then somehow avoided the night’s many multi-truck pileups to finish a strong 6th – his first top-ten in NASCAR national series competition. In the three races that followed, however, Reaume had finished no better than a 23rd in Las Vegas, and nearly finished last with engine trouble in Atlanta. The team’s #34 was supposed to run last week in Martinsville, but was withdrawn, moving rookie Daniel Sasnett to Reaume’s #33 for a 30th-place finish.

Texas saw Reaume teamed with United States Navy Reserve officer Jesse Iwuji. Iwuji, whose mother would be in attendance for the first time, made his Truck Series debut with the Reaume team at Mosport last summer, and finished 26th his last time out in Las Vegas before he was called in for training later that night. He would run the #34 Chevrolet sponsored by FuelTrax, and ultimately finished a season-best 17th, the second truck one lap down.

Reaume’s weekend didn’t go as well as his teammate’s. He ran just two laps in opening practice, and was the slowest truck to complete a single circuit. He improved somewhat in Happy Hour, outpacing Iwjui and Norm Benning to take 31st, but struggled in qualifying. During Round 1, Reaume timed in at just 132.652mph (40.708 seconds), nearly eight full seconds slower than the next-slowest truck and a nearly twelve seconds off the pole. Beth Lunkenheimer tweeted that the “engine sounded terrible going around the track.”

Regardless, Reaume’s Owner Points secured the #33 the 32nd and final starting spot, bumping out owner-driver Norm Benning in his #6 Zomongo / H&H Transport Chevrolet. Also missing the cut was Bayley Currey, who was originally set to attempt all three races in Texas in a Beaver Motorsports truck, only to withdraw in a Toyota entry listed under Vizion Motorsports.

The engine problem Reaume suffered in qualifying was not resolved by race day, as he was not credited with completing a single lap. There was no radio communication on the #33 team soon after the start.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by a series of accidents on the treacherous oval. Harrison Burton backed into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 12, destroying his #18 Hunt Brothers Pizza Toyota. Angela Ruch’s first start for Niece Motorsports ended with a tangle with Martinsville last-placer Gus Dean in Turn 2, stopping the #44 The Ruch Life Chevrolet. Dean himself was out ten laps later with a wreck in Turn 4 that left him 29th. Closing out the Bottom Five was a fiery accident for newcomer Anthony Alfredo, out after 48 laps in the #54 Ceco Building Systems / Friends of Jaclyn Toyota. Alfredo, Burton, and Ruch earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019.

On top of Iwuji’s 17th-place run, several other drivers earned career-best finishes:

Running 8th was Tyler Dippel, one of team owner Randy Young’s trio of young guns, who broke through with his first series top-ten finish in 8th, driving the #02 Randco Industries / Jersey Chevrolet.

In 9th came Brennan Poole, turning in the best finish for both himself in eight series starts, but also for Steven Lane’s All Out Motorsports team. It was Poole’s first top-ten in a NASCAR national touring series race since his final XFINITY start for Chip Ganassi Racing on November 18, 2017.

Finishing 12th was Cory Roper, who followed-up on his 5th-place qualifying run in Las Vegas by finishing 12th on the next 1.5-mile track. His #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford finished on the lead lap and two spots ahead of Todd Gilliland’s fully-funded #4 JBL / SiriusXM Toyota from the Kyle Busch Motorsports stables.

In addition, Ross Chastain extended an impressive streak of not only starting every race this season for NASCAR’s top three series, but finishing inside the Top 10 in all five of his Truck Series starts. Chastain finished 7th on Friday, one week after taking a stage victory in Martinsville.

Finally, Garrett Smithley, running triple-duty after an arrangement with friend Robby Lyons, secured a ride in Jeff Finley’s #42 Sunwest Construction / Crown Exteriors Chevrolet. The XFINITY Series regular went on to finish 15th, the second-best finish of his career behind a 14th at Michigan, and his first Truck Series start in nearly three full seasons.

*While this was Reaume’s first Truck Series last-place finish, both driver and team have each finished last once before in NASCAR competition. Reaume trailed the XFINITY race at Iowa on June 18, 2016, while driving for RSS Racing. His Truck Series effort scored the #33’s most recent last-place run on October 27, 2018, when Chad Finley’s Chevrolet was involved in an early crash at Martinsville.
*This marked the first Truck Series last-place run for the #33 at Texas.

32) #33-Josh Reaume / 0 laps / engine
31) #18-Harrison Burton / 12 laps / crash
30) #44-Angela Ruch / 18 laps / crash
29) #12-Gus Dean / 28 laps / crash
28) #54-Anthony Alfredo / 48 laps / crash

1st) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, NEMCO Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (1)


Thursday, March 28, 2019

PREVIEW: Two new teams set to shake things up on Texas entry lists

PHOTO: @XfinityRacing
Saturday, March 29, 2019
TRUCKS Race 5 of 23
Vankor 350 at Texas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Bo LeMastus (November 2018)

There are 33 trucks entered for 32 spots, meaning one team will miss the show. Eight teams entered at Martinsville are not among them. UPDATE: Make that 34 entries woth the addition of the #1.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-Beaver Motorsports
Travis Kvapil finally made his 2019 debut with a 28th-place finish after early issues at Martinsville. Neither driver nor the Mark Beaver team are entered this week. UPDATE: The team is now entered and Bayley Currey will become the fifth driver to run all three races this weekend.

MISSING: #56-Hill Motorsports
RETURNING: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
Joe Nemechek’s team has two trucks entered this week, bringing back the #87 that was withdrawn at Martinsville. Nemechek himself will drive the flagship #8, taking the place of Austin Dillon, who ran 13th at Martinsville. The #87, which Nemechek was to drive last week, will instead go to Timmy Hill, who joins Kyle Busch, Garrett Smithley, Bayley Currey, and Ross Chastain in attempting all three Texas races this weekend. Hill qualified his new #56 team on time last week en route to a 21st-place finish. The Hill Motorsports effort, not entered this week, will next attempt Dover.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Jennifer Jo Cobb returns to her #10 Chevrolet in Texas, one week after Juan Manuel Gonzalez failed to qualify for his series debut.

MISSING: #11-Rette Jones Racing
At Martinsville, Spencer Davis picked up a 20th-place finish in his first start of 2019, but neither driver nor team are entered this week.

MISSING: #19-Bill McAnally Racing
Derek Kraus ran 18th in his own return at Martinsville, but the McAnally effort is also not among those entered.

MISSING: #27-ThorSport Racing
Also missing are Myatt Snider and ThorSport’s #27, 6th-place finishers last Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
RETURNING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Like NEMCO, Josh Reaume fields two trucks this week, including a second entry he withdrew at Martinsville. Reaume himself retakes the #33 from Daniel Sasnett, who is not entered after a 30th-place showing in his series debut. Jesse Iwuji returns for the first time since he reported for service immediately following the race in Las Vegas. He will again pilot the #34 Fueltrax Chevrolet he steered to a 26th-place finish that night.

RETURNING: #42-Chad Finley Racing
The Finley team returns to action for the first time since their hauler accident in Atlanta and subsequent withdrawal from Las Vegas. Behind the wheel is Garrett Smithley, a late driver swap with his friend Robby Lyons. If he qualifies, it will be Smithley’s first Truck Series start since July 7, 2016, when he finished 21st for SS-Green Light Racing.

MISSING: #43-Tony Mrakovich Racing
Tony Mrakovich’s scrappy underdogs are not among this week’s entrants following their DNQ in Martinsville.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Neice Motorsports
Angela Ruch rejoins the Truck Series circuit for a third time in 2019 following finishes of 8th and 16th for NEMCO Motorsports. This time around, she drives for Al Niece, taking the place of 24th-place Martinsville finisher Reid Wilson, who is not entered.

MISSING: #46-Kyle Busch Motorsports
KBM has not entered the #46 this week. Raphael Lessard, also not entered, ran 14th in the truck last Saturday.

TEAM UPDATE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
While Kyle Busch remains the listed driver for Friday’s race, Greg Biffle tweeted on Wednesday night that he will also be practicing the #51 Toyota in the lead-up to the race. Biffle won the 2000 race at Texas from the pole during his start with Jack Roush. UPDATE: On Thursday came news that Biffle will drive the KBM #51 when the Truck Series returns to Texas this June.

Anthony Alfredo returns to action this week, taking the place of team part-owner David Gilliland, 12th in Martinsville. Alfredo carries sponsorship from Ceco Building Systems and the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, and will have driven each of DGR-Crosley’s three trucks in 2019.

MISSING: #63-Copp Motorsports
D.J. Copp’s season-long tribute to the ailing Mike Mittler will not make a stop this weekend in Texas, one week after Dawson Cram failed to qualify his own #63 machine.

MISSING: #80-Jacob Wallace Racing
The Jacob Wallace effort is also not among the entered after they withdrew at Martinsville.

MISSING: #92-RBR Enterprises
Austin Theriault earned a 22nd-place finish at Martinsville, but neither driver nor team are among those in Texas.

Rejoining the circuit is Jesse Little and the JJL Racing team, back in action for the first time since a season-best 19th in Las Vegas. Parker FiberNet is the listed sponsor of the #97 Ford.

CUP INVADERS: #51-Kyle Busch

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

There are 40 drivers entered for 38 spots in Saturday’s return of the XFINITY Series, meaning that two teams will miss the show. Depending on weather, the battle for the final two spots could come down to two small teams and two new fully-funded rides.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Jeb Burton moves from last week’s Cup effort for Rick Ware Racing into the XFINITY team from JR Motorsports. Burton, sponsored by longtime family backer State Water Heaters, eyes his first XFINITY start since last summer at Chicagoland, and takes over for Ryan Preece, 8th the last time out in Fontana.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
Fresh off a dominant win in Martinsville, Brad Keselowski and the #12 team are back for their first XFINITY race since a frustrating roof hatch issue in the Daytona opener. Keselowski’s two wins and only pole in the series at Texas have come in the fall race. He finished last in the spring race in 2007.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
For the first time, brothers Timmy and Tyler Hill will have the chance to race against each other in a NASCAR national touring series race. Tyler takes Timmy’s seat in the #66 while Timmy takes John Jackson’s ride in the #13.

RETURNING: #21-Richard Childress Racing
As announced in February, Kaz Grala has landed a part-time XFINITY schedule with Richard Childress Racing, which brings back RCR’s #21 for the first time since Daniel Hemric closed out 2018 at Homestead. Grala reunites with dessert maker Hot Scream, which backed some of the driver’s most recent starts with Fury Race Cars LLC. The upstart Fury team has yet to make a race attempt in 2019.

NEW TEAM: #81-XCI Racing
Also returning to action is Jeffrey Earnhardt and his omnipresent sponsors iK9 and Xtreme Concepts, Inc. The sponsors will back the new #81 Toyota Supra under the XCI Racing banner, a car fielded in partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing, and will also attempt some Cup races this year. Earnhardt, who ran the season’s first two rounds in Gibbs’ #18 with a season-best 6th in Atlanta, looks to give car #81 its first XFINITY start since November 12, 2012, when Jason Bowles finished 29th at Homestead.

Ronnie Basset, Jr. returns for the first time since his debut at the ISM Raceway as driver of Mario Gosselin’s #90 Chevrolet, sponsored by Bassett Gutters and More. Bassett hopes for a smoother weekend after crashing out in Phoenix and driving a backup car, and the #90 team looks to bounce back after having to park a Jimmy Means Racing backup in Fontana.

CUP INVADERS: #12-Brad Keselowski, #18-Kyle Busch

Sunday, March 31, 2019
CUP Race 7 of 36
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Martin Truex, Jr.

There are 40 drivers entered for 40 spots this week, setting up what could be the first full Cup Series field since the Daytona 500 after five straight fields of 38 or fewer starters. UPDATE: Make that six straight as the #97 has withdrawn.

RETURNING: #27-Premium Motorsports
Reed Sorenson returns for his third Cup Series start of the season and second in three rounds as driver of Jay Robinson’s #27 Chevrolet. The team, which last appeared at Fontana, has new sponsorship from Soloman Plumbing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
On Friday, B.J. McLeod was swapped into the #51 for the first time since Daytona, taking the place of Cody Ware.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
Bayley Currey returns to the Cup Series for the first time since his series debut at the ISM Raceway earlier this month. He takes the place of Jeb Burton, who exited early with brake issues and finished 35th in Martinsville. Currey will also run in Saturday’s XFINITY race in Ware’s #17 Chevrolet.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long has brought his Cup car along with his XFINITY effort, looking to start the race that NASCAR’s sealed engine rule prevented him from running last fall. Then, as now, Timmy Hill is the driver, taking the place of Joey Gase, 35th his last time out at Fontana.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Like Timmy Hill, Garrett Smithley rounds out his triple-header weekend with sponsorship from Trophy Tractor on the Spire #77 Chevrolet. Smithley takes the place of D.J. Kennington, who ran 32nd at Martinsville.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman and the Gaunt Brothers rejoin the Cup circuit for the first time since their 31st-place showing in Las Vegas. Kligerman’s third and most recent Cup start at the track came last fall, when he ran 31st.

WITHDREW: #97-Obaika Racing
In a Chevrolet, not the Toyota from their Daytona press conference, Victor Obaika’s team seeks to make their season debut at the same track they ran last November. No driver was yet listed at the time of this writing, though David Starr, their pilot here last fall, will be competing for Jimmy Means in Saturday’s XFINITY race. UPDATE: The team has withdrawn as of Thursday.

This day in LASTCAR History (March 28, 1987): Mark Martin picks up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in the Country Squire 200. Making just his fifth series start, Martin started 29th in the #31 Fat Boys Bar-B-Q Ford fielded by Bruce Lawmaster, but fell out after just six laps with a broken oil pump. Martin would score just five last-place finishes in his XFINITY career, the last of which on October 3, 1998 at Charlotte.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

CUP: Valiant effort by Cody Ware and crew ends with short day in Martinsville

PHOTO: @BulletinSport
Cody Ware picked up the 4th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s STP 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 55 laps.

The finish, which came in Ware’s 15th series start, was his first since September 24, 2017 at Loudon, 50 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 23rd for the #51, the 79th from brake issues, and the 758th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th for the #51, the 160th from brake trouble, and the 1,648th for Chevrolet.

Ware enters his fourth season a Cup Series driver, and has so far run exclusively in the series. Over the offseason, his father Rick Ware acquired a second Charter for the 2019 season from TriStar Motorsports, which has apparently suspended operations. This allowed Rick Ware Racing to field two full-time Cup cars for the first time. Joining the flagship #51 would be the #52, which Cody debuted last summer at Sonoma. Ware drove the #52 in this year’s Daytona 500, joining teammate B.J. McLeod in making their first starts in NASCAR’s biggest race. Unfortunately, both their days ended with a tangle on Lap 159 after several cars in front of them dove onto pit road at the last moment.

Ever since the 500, Cody Ware has driven the #51. Sponsoring the effort is a returning Jacob Companies, Inc., which joined the Ware effort last August. This year has also seen the company sponsor both Cole Custer’s XFINITY Series ride with Stewart-Haas Racing and has become the official construction company of NASCAR itself. Across those four races, Ware had finished no better than 32nd, but had done so in back-to-back rounds at Phoenix and Fontana headed to the first short track race in Martinsville. It would be Ware’s first Cup start at a track under one mile in length.

Ware began the weekend 34th of the 36 entrants in opening practice, then remained 34th of 35 drivers in Happy Hour. Ware turned 34 laps in that final session, but trouble broke out on the 35th. In the final moments, the #51 broke loose entering Turn 1 and backed into the outside wall. The result was a situation very similar to the team’s struggles last fall at the ISM Raceway, where Ware wrecked after fluid got on his tires in opening practice. According to FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass, the Ware team returned to the shop and quickly prepared their car from Fontana to run on the short track. Work wasn’t completed until 5:30 A.M. on the morning of Sunday’s race. As one of five drivers to not turn a lap in qualifying, Ware secured the 33rd spot in the field of 36.

Starting last in the smallest Cup field at Martinsville since 1996 was Jeb Burton, last fall’s Cup driver in Ware’s #51, and this week in Ware’s #52 Muzzy Bowfishing Chevrolet. The team was eager for a surprising run. “We know we’ve got a wheelman in there today,” said the crew. In the early laps, Burton ran door-to-door with the Spire Motorsports #77 Go Parts Chevrolet of D.J. Kennington, also back in Cup for the first time in 2019. Burton made the move past Kennington in the high lane, then both worked their way past Ware, who fell to last by Lap 3. Now running last, Ware caught up to Matt Tifft in the #36 Surface Sunscreen / Tunity Ford on Lap 6. By then, both Tifft and Ware had started to lose touch with the leaders and were each more than nine seconds back of the lead. It wasn’t until the 20th circuit that the dominant Brad Keselowski caught the pair, and on Lap 21, the #2 made the move under Ware off Turn 4 to make the #51 the first car one lap down.

Unfortunately, Ware’s Fontana car wasn’t quite up to the demands of Martinsville. On Lap 55, the driver came over the radio saying “Pedal going to the floor bad,” and the crew quickly called him in the next time by. With smoke coming from beneath his car, Ware’s brakes had worn out so much that he could barely stop in his stall, and the crew told him to take it to the garage. Ware drove carefully down pit road, trying not to use the brakes, and after seeing one entrance was blocked, used the entrance on pit road closest to Turn 1. With great difficulty, the #51 stopped just past the final stall in the Cup garage near the entrance of Turn 3. The crew extinguished a smoldering fire behind the wheels, then saw the o-rings were burned out of the brake caliper. The crew momentarily looked for a replacement part, but on Lap 68, someone on the crew called it a day. “Put the tire on it,” the crewman said, “we'll load this one up. I ain't gonna burn up more brakes and have any more trouble.” Two circuits later, the car was unavailable on RaceView.

Teammate Jeb Burton’s day lasted just over 100 more laps before brake issues sidelined him as well, leaving him 35th in the running order. The exit lifted to the 34th spot Ross Chastain, who lost more than 70 laps in the garage area after an axle came loose on his #15 Rim Ryderz Chevrolet on Lap 146. Engine woes would then stop the #15 for good, drawing the final caution of the day on Lap 447. Kennington finished 32nd, on the same lap as Corey LaJoie, also sent to a backup car after a hard practice crash due to brake failure on Saturday in his #32 Ford. After debuting a new wrap on the #32 in practice, LaJoie’s backup – which the driver helped prepare – carried only a few decals on the flat black undercoat.

Burton, Chastain, LaJoie, and Kennington all earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019.

*This marked the first time car #51 finished last in a Cup race at Martinsville since April 28, 1974, when Bobby Fleming’s run in the Strong Racing Chevrolet ended after 53 laps due to an oil leak. Fleming, born in Wendell Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia, made his Cup Series debut in the inaugural Talladega race, where he finished 14th. He didn’t make another race for nearly five years, finishing 15th at Bristol in 1974. The Martinsville race, which came four rounds later, was Fleming’s final Cup start.

36) #51-Cody Ware / 55 laps / brakes
35) #52-Jeb Burton / 163 laps / brakes
34) #15-Ross Chastain / 365 laps / engine
33) #32-Corey LaJoie / 489 laps / running
32) #77-D.J. Kennington / 489 laps / running

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

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


TRUCKS: Gus Dean just the second Truck Series driver to finish last with a busted oil line

PHOTO: @TheKenChilds
Gus Dean picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Saturday’s TruNorth Global 250 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #12 Overkill RV Chevrolet fell out with a busted oil line after 61 of 250 laps.

The finish came in Dean’s fourth series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 2nd from a busted oil line, the 4th for the #12, and the 368th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 41st for the #12, the 16th from an oil line, and the 1,647th for Chevrolet.

The 24-year-old Dean from Bluffton, South Carolina is another of the many young hopefuls making the transition from local short tracks into national NASCAR competition. A go-kart racer since he was six, Dean cut his teeth in the scaled-down stock cars of the Allison Legacy Series, and in it earned Most Improved honors despite six races missed for a broken knee. This led to an opportunity in 2010 to run at historic North Wilkesboro Speedway, taking the first checkered flag since Jeff Gordon won the final Cup race there in 1996.

The path to NASCAR came quickly. Late models came next, then the X-1R Pro Cup Series, where in 2014 he defeated a dominant Caleb Holman to win at Memphis. In 2016, Dean made the jump to the ARCA Menards Series, where driving for Mason Mitchell he won in just his second career start and first at Talladega. Two full seasons in the series followed, yielding a 4th and 6th in points, including a second win at the tiny Elko Speedway.

Now a winner on tracks big and small, a new opportunity came this past offseason. On January 9, it was announced that Dean would be joining Young’s Motorsports, fielded by longtime underdog Randy Young. He would drive the #12, a part-time effort Young had been developing last year. With full-timer Austin Hill making the move to Shigeaki Hattori’s team in 2019, Dean would be joined by two new teammates: Spencer Boyd, released by SS-Green Light Racing’s XFINITY program last year, and 19-year-old Tyler Dippel, who had finished no worse than 17th in his first five Truck starts just last year. With new sponsorships and personalities on hand – LG Air Conditioning Technologies and Overkill Motorsports joining the Dean effort - Young’s Motorsports looked to take their team to the next level.

Unlike Boyd, who finished a team-best 4th in Daytona, Dean could not escape the night’s many crashes, but managed to earn a 15th-place finish. He backed this up with another 15th-place showing in Atlanta, then ran 22nd in the most recent round at Las Vegas. He arrived in Martinsville tied with Boyd for 13th in the standings.

Dean’s first short track weekend of 2019 began strong. Despite running the second-fewest laps in Friday’s rookie practice session, Dean timed in fastest overall, besting the fleet Kyle Busch Motorsports entry of Raphael Lessard by just over two-hundredths of a second. In the official practices, Dean ran 21st overall, then jumped to 12th in Happy Hour. He then ran 13th in Round 1 of qualifying, then ranked 17th in Round 2, securing the spot with a lap of 95.458mph (19.837 seconds).

Starting 32nd and last in Saturday’s race was 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil, who after back-to-back withdrawals at Daytona and Atlanta was back in action driving Beaver Motorsports’ #1 Chevrolet. The Past Champions’ Provisional that secured Kvapil his spot proved critical -  41 drivers and teams had been entered, and even after the withdrawals of three teams and a late driver swap between Josh Reaume and his new rookie teammate Daniel Sasnett, six other teams would be sent home.

Missing the cut were the #9 Grant County Mulch Chevrolet of Codie Rohrbaugh, making his first attempt since Daytona; the D.J. Copp entry of Dawson Cram in the #63 Chevrolet; Juan Manuel Gonzalez, a late driver swap into Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10; and owner-drivers Ray Ciccarelli, Norm Benning, and Tony Mrakovich. Mrakovich’s #43 Street Stores Hardware Chevrolet was one of two new teams attempting their debut at Martinsville. Although the #43 was the slowest of all, Timmy and Tyler Hill’s new #56 Chevrolet made the cut, starting 23rd and finishing 21st.

At the start, Kvapil made quick work of Daniel Sasnett’s #33 Surface Prep Supply / Motorsports Safety Group Chevrolet. Looking to shake down Reaume’s Chevrolet, Sasnett lost ground quickly, falling 11.674 seconds back after just seven laps, and nearly two seconds back of the 31st-place Korbin Forrister in the #7 Sparrow Ranch Toyota. Sasnett lost a lap on the 17th circuit, then was advised by his spotter to hug the curb in the corners as faster traffic moved by in the high lane. Kvapil, who slid back from 30th to 31st, appeared in danger of falling out early as he reported brake fade on the #1 – the same team that trailed the last two spring Truck Series races at Martinsville.

Next to fall into the danger zone was Spencer Boyd, Dean’s teammate in the #20 EZ Red Chevrolet. On Lap 42, Boyd reported the engine was “real flat,” and had no power coming off the corner. “It won’t go,” the driver said on Lap 61. Three laps down and in the 31st spot, Boyd pulled down pit road, speculating it was an electrical issue on his machine. As the team made preparations to return to the race and “run out” the distance, trouble broke out in Turn 2.

Fire from beneath Dean's truck at Martinsville
On Lap 63, with just eight laps to go in Stage 1, Dean was being chased by the #92 BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors Ford of Austin Theriault when the #12 started smoking badly. Dean brought the truck under control without striking the outside wall, but soon stopped and dropped the window net. Out of his car and out of the race, the ensuing caution saw the #12 pulled behind the wall and was brought to the Cup garage. Dean took last from Sasnett on Lap 66, and the radio fell silent as the crew loaded up.

Sasnett ultimately finished 30th, the last truck running under power, 12 laps back of the lead. Lifting him from 31st was Cory Roper, the day’s only other retiree, who broke the rear end on his #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford inside the final 30 laps. Finishing 29th was Brennan Poole, who had early engine issues of his own on the #30 Bad Boy Mowers Toyota and lost six laps on pit road, but came home one lap ahead of Sasnett. Kvapil clawed his way to 28th despite brake trouble, just four laps back of Boyd, who escaped the Bottom Five into 27th. Kvapil, Poole, Sasnett, and Dean all earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019.

Turning heads once again was Ross Chastain, who as of this writing has competed in every Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series race so far run in 2019. Driving Niece Motorsports’ #45 TruNorth / Paul Jr. Designs Chevrolet, Chastain started 10th and won Stage 2, ending Kyle Busch’s stranglehold on stage victories. While Busch ended up winning the race, Chastain earned an excellent 4th-place finish, leading the second-most laps of the day with 53.

Joey Miller's #12 crashes out at Atlanta in 2006.

*This marked the first Truck Series last-place finish for the #12 since March 17, 2006, when Joey Miller’s #12 Curb Records Toyota was collected in a three-truck wreck after 58 laps of the John Deere 200 at Atlanta. Coming into Saturday’s race, the number had just three last-place finishes in the series and none at Martinsville.
Johnny Chapman's busted oil line leaves him last at Texas in 2005.
*Dean is just the second driver to finish last in a Truck Series race due to an oil line. The only other occasion came on June 10, 2005, when Johnny Chapman’s #08 Green Light Racing Chevrolet fell out after 28 laps of the Chex 400k at Texas.

32) #12-Gus Dean / 61 laps / oil line
31) #04-Cory Roper / 225 laps / rear end
30) #33-Daniel Sasnett / 238 laps / running
29) #30-Brennan Poole / 239 laps / running
28) #1-Travis Kvapil / 240 laps / running

1st) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, NEMCO Motorsports, Young’s Motorsports (1)

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


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
TruNorth Global 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. UPDATE: Make that 38 after the #34 withdrew.

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. UPDATE: Juan Manuel Gonzalez, a two-time winner in Mexico's NASCAR FedEx Challenge Series, was tabbed to make his first Truck Series attempt.

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: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
WITHDREW: #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. UPDATE: The #34, which now has the Owner Points of NEMCO's #87, has withdrawn Thursday. Sasnett will drive in place of Josh Reaume in the team's primary #33.

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 36-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.