Saturday, July 6, 2019

XFINITY: Kaulig Racing goes from podium sweep to bookending Daytona field after Allmendinger is disqualified

PHOTO: @KauligRacing
A.J. Allmendinger picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Circle K Firecracker 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #10 Cornerstone Produce Group Chevrolet finished 3rd, but was disqualified after completing 100 of the 100 laps.

The finish came in Allmendinger’s 12th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th disqualification, the 71st for the #10, and the 528th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 30th disqualification, the 124th for the #10, and the 1,668th for Chevrolet.

Landon Cassill picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Circle K Firecracker 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #4 Flex Seal / Contec Chevrolet was eliminated following an accident after 12 of 100 laps.

The finish came in Cassill’s 128th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 19th for the #4, the 528th for Chevrolet, and the 584th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 67th for the #4, the 1,184th from a crash, and the 1,668th for Chevrolet.

Allmendinger was a rather surprising addition to Friday’s field. Last year, he ended a partnership with the JTG-Daugherty Racing team that saw him drive the #47 ever since he took over for Bobby Labonte in 2013. In that time, he’d given the team its only win at Watkins Glen in 2014, but in the next four years never won again and ranked no better than 19th in points. He was released in exchange for rookie Ryan Preece, and has since followed Labonte and Jamie McMurray into the broadcast booth. About the only mention of Allmendinger at the track has been from close friend Matt DiBenedetto, who at Sonoma credited the road course expert with his career-best 4th-place finish.

But last week came news that Allmendinger would be part of a brand-new third team fielded by Kaulig Racing. In an all-out bid to go “trophy hunting,” as team owner Matthew Kaulig put it, he would have three Chevrolets entered in Friday’s 250-miler. Full-time driver Justin Haley would remain in the flagship #11 Leaf Filter Chevrolet, looking for revenge after a yellow-line penalty cost him the win in the 2018 running of this race. Ross Chastain, one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, would debut a new third car, a #16 Chevrolet backed by Ellsworth Advisors. Allmendinger would then drive the part-time #10 effort that Chastain had split with Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler earlier this season. Cornerstone Produce Group came on to sponsor the effort. In addition, as part of the “NASCAR Salutes” program, the windshield banner would bear the name of the 33rd Fighter Wing of the U.S. Air Force based out of Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base.

Allmendinger began the weekend as strong as he could, pacing the opening practice session by 0.118 of a second over a surprising Chris Cockrum for team owner Jeff Spraker. He then qualified best of the three Kaulig cars, starting on the front row alongside series point leader Tyler Reddick.

Up until post-race technical inspection was completed, however, it appeared that Landon Cassill would be the one to score his first XFINITY Series last-place finish, his in his 128th series start.

It was at Daytona eight years ago that Cassill earned his career-best XFINITY Series finish in dramatic fashion. At the height of the “two-car tango” era of superspeedway racing, it was Cassill in an unsponsored Phoenix Racing entry which pushed Tony Stewart to the lead, edging Clint Bowyer in a photo finish by seven-thousandths of a second. Two years later, Cassill made his first XFINITY start for Johnny Davis’ JD Motorsports, finishing 36th at Texas. Five top-ten finishes followed through the 2015 season, after which he focused on two full-time Cup Series efforts with Front Row Motorsports. He’d then find his way to StarCom Racing, where he still runs full-time for Derrike Cope.

Back on the XFINITY side, Cassill and the Davis team rejoined last September at Darlington, yielding a 14th-place finish. He also made a one-off start with Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management, where he ran 38th in the first NASCAR race on the Charlotte Roval. He closed out the year helping owner-driver Morgan Shepherd, who was himself receiving assistance from the Davis team after a costly practice wreck in Texas. Cassill put Shepherd’s car into Round 2 of qualifying and started 24th before exiting early in a 38th-place finish.

This year, Cassill has continued to drive for both Davis and Shepherd. The Davis efforts came about following Ross Chastain’s declaration for Truck Series points, availing Chastain’s former ride in the #4 Chevrolet. His first start with the team came at Talladega, where his 9th-place finish was his best in the series since 2015. Driving for Shepherd has helped keep the #89 in the show when more than 38 cars were entered. Both times, Cassill succeeded, qualifying 13th at Charlotte and 16th at Michigan. A 19th-place finish for Davis came last week in Chicagoland, and he’d drive for Davis again in Daytona, where he’d run double-duty with his Cup ride at StarCom.

Cassill’s #4 would be one of four virtually identical red-and-gold Chevrolets fielded by JD Motorsports, all of them sponsored by the FlexSeal family of products. Joining Cassill would be the #0 Flex Tape Chevrolet of Garrett Smithley, the #15 Flex Shot Chevrolet of B.J. McLeod, and the #01 Flex Glue Chevrolet of February’s last-placer Stephen Leicht. Cassill ran 29th in the lone practice session and qualified 24th with a lap of 184.155mph (48.872 seconds). Both times, he was the fastest of the JD Motorsports foursome.

Cassill was among the 42 drivers on the preliminary entry list, a group cut to 41 earlier in the week after Jeffrey Earnhardt unexpectedly withdrew in the #81 Toyota fielded by XCI Racing. With Morgan Shepherd not entered for Cassill to drive, the other three DNQs were fellow owner-driver Mike Harmon in the #74 Chevrolet, Joey Gase in the #35 Connected Claim Services / Medic Air Systems Toyota (his first series DNQ since October 2013 at Charlotte), and Austin Hill. Hill, looking to get Shigeaki Hattori his first XFINITY start since 2015, was foiled by a drive line issue during qualifying.

Starting 38th and last was Joe Nemechek, who after running slower than the DNQs of Harmon and Gase secured the final starting spot with the Past Champions’ Provisional. During the last pace lap, Noah Gragson pulled his #9 Switch Chevrolet onto pit road due to a radio issue, but was allowed to resume his 16th-place starting spot. Nemechek then remained in last with a redundant penalty for unapproved adjustments, joined by 22nd-place starter Chris Cockrum in the #25 Advanced Communications Group Chevrolet and 32nd-place Shane Lee in the #28 Circuit City Toyota. Matt Mills also fell to the rear from the 28th spot in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet.

Once the race started, Nemechek remained in last place, and had fallen two seconds back of 37th-place Mills after just two laps. After eight laps, Nemechek was completely by himself, more than 10 seconds back of the lead, when trouble broke out mid-pack. Caesar Bacarella qualified a strong 13th, but his #90 Fisher House Foundation / Alpha Prime Chevrolet lost control in Turn 3, triggering a multi-car pileup. In the rush to escape to the outside lane, Cassill slid up the track into the left-rear of Ray Black, Jr.’s #07 Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys / Scuba Life Chevrolet. As Black slid to the inside, Cassill was rear-ended by another car, causing damage to the track bar. Cassill made it to pit road, only to be eliminated under the damaged vehicle policy.

Cassill remained the last-place finisher until well after the race, which saw the Kaulig Racing trio sweep the top three positions. Ross Chastain took the win followed by Justin Haley, the first NASCAR driver penalized for forcing other cars below the yellow line, with Allmendinger in 3rd after charging back from a tangle with Riley Herbst. But on early Saturday morning came news that Allmendinger’s car, the random selection for inspection, failed a vacuum test on the tapered spacer. Since the engine couldn’t hold a vacuum, NASCAR concluded the restrictor plate wasn’t able to function properly, potentially giving the team an advantage.

The disqualification lifted Cassill to 37th and bumped his teammate B.J. McLeod out of the Bottom Five. The new 36th-place finisher was Joe Nemechek, who pulled his #13 behind the wall with steering issues before the end of Stage 2. Chase Briscoe in 35th was eliminated in a hard crash on Lap 45 when his #98 Ford Performance Ford was knocked into a spin off Turn 4, sending him nose-first into the inside wall short of pit road. Sheldon Creed rounded out the Bottom Five, his #8 Chevrolet Accessories Chevrolet damaged early on, then finished off in one of the night’s biggest wrecks after 73 laps.

Allmendinger’s disqualification, combined with several accidents, filled the 5th through 12th finishing positions with several career runs for the series’ underdogs.

Cassill’s teammate Stephen Leicht finished best of his group in 5th, the driver’s first top-five finish since the 2007 finale at Homestead, when he was a development driver for Yates Racing.

Brandon Brown earned a career-best 6th, climbing from 33rd on the grid with significant damage to the nose of his marine green #86 Chevrolet. His previous best was three 13th-place runs earlier this year at Atlanta, Dover, and Pocono.

Jeff Green, just one week from his last race of the season, steered his #38 Larry’s Hard Lemonade Chevrolet from the last car on the lead lap on the final restart to 7th at the finish, matching his run in February’s Daytona race.

Gray Gaulding narrowly avoided serious damage in the final pileup to finish 8th in the #08 Worldwide Safety Consulting Services Chevrolet, backing up his runner-up finish at Talladega.

Jeremy Clements earned his first top-ten finish of the season after starting 37th in the #51 Chevrolet.

B.J. McLeod’s three cars finished 10th, 11th, and 12th with Matt Mills leading the way, earning his first career top-ten finish. Vinnie Miller finished 11th, a career-best of his own after no finishes better than 17th twice last year at Talladega and Indianapolis. Rounding out the group was Stefan Parsons, a last-minute replacement for an ill Cody Ware in the #99 Jacob Companies Toyota. Making his first XFINITY Series start, Parsons overcame significant damage to the nose to round out the trio.

While many of these drivers benefited from surviving late-race attrition, one of their group threatened to do even better. Timmy Hill gained a lot of attention during the broadcast in his #66 VSI Racing / Overkill Motorsports Toyota that was painted last week in Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management shop. The car turned out to be as fast as it looked, hanging in the Top 10 all night and running as high as third at one point. But a backstretch pileup sent him crashing into the rear of Noah Gragson, leaving him a disappointing 20th. All three of Hill’s top-ten finishes in the XFINITY Series have all come at Daytona, including a career-best 7th in 2012 and 2018.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for car #10 since November 19, 2016, when Matt DiBenedetto finished last at Homestead after a vibration 2 laps into the Ford EcoBoost 300. The number hadn’t finished last in an XFINITY race at Daytona since February 23, 2013 by Jeff Green.
*This marked the first time a driver was classified last in an XFINITY race at Daytona by disqualification.
*This was also the first disqualification for the #10 in any of NASCAR’s top three series.
*Combined with Christopher Bell’s disqualification last week in Chicagoland, this marks the first back-to-back last-place finishers by disqualification in any of NASCAR’s top three series since June 1958. During that Cup season in the 22nd and 23rd races, Bennie Rakestraw was docked from 8th at the Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway on June 5, followed by Emory Mahan as the lowest of three disqualifications in a 150-lapper at New Bradford (Pennsylvania) Speedway. The reason for both disqualifications has not yet been uncovered.

38) #10-A.J. Allmendinger / 100 laps / running / led 33 laps
37) #4-Landon Cassill / 12 laps / crash
36) #13-Joe Nemechek / 39 laps / steering
35) #98-Chase Briscoe / 44 laps / crash
34) #8-Sheldon Creed / 71 laps / crash

1st) Motorsports Business Management (5)
2nd) RSS Racing (4)
3rd) DGM Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing (2)
4th) JD Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Toyota (7)


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