Sunday, March 17, 2019

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)


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