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)



JW said...

I believe this was actually his 15th series start not 14th.

Brock Beard said...

You are correct - thank you.