|McLeod with his throwback ride before the start of the race.|
ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard
The finish, which came in McLeod’s 36th series start, was his third of the season and first since Kentucky, six races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 27th for the #51, the 588th from a crash, and the 770th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 39th for the #51, the 1,193rd from a crash, and the 1,683rd for Chevrolet.
Darlington marked McLeod’s third Cup start since Kentucky and his thirteenth of the season, a year where his best finish remains a 19th in the opening Daytona 500. He would run Rick Ware Racing’s flagship #51 entry, and do so with a twist. For “Throwback Weekend,” McLeod would run a scheme inspired by Clyde Torkle’s Chicken Pit Special, the 1980s Ford Thunderbird raced by Burt Reynolds’ film character Stroker Ace. McLeod’s teammates, J.J. Yeley and Garrett Smithley, would run schemes honoring veteran drivers Bill Blair and Lennie Pond, respectively.
McLeod was also running double-duty as both owner and driver in the XFINITY Series. While Matt Mills (#5), Vinnie Miller (#78), and Stefan Parsons (#99) would run his three Toyotas, McLeod would continue his driving efforts for JD Motorsports, driving a #4 South Carolina Eductation Lottery throwback scheme honoring Bobby Labonte. McLeod qualified 23rd for the Saturday race and finished 19th, the last driver on the lead lap, besting all three of the cars he owned.
On the Cup side, the “Stroker Ace” car began the weekend just 35th of 38 drivers in opening practice, then didn’t turn a lap in Happy Hour. He qualified 36th on Saturday, turning in a lap of 163.538mph (30.070 seconds). The team then incurred an unapproved adjustments penalty, which meant they would drop to the rear prior to the start of the race.
Starting 39th and last on Sunday afternoon was Joey Gase, who in addition to running double-duty was literally bringing back Motorsports Business Management’s Cup Series team for the first time since Charlotte in May. The plain black Toyota, which last ran at the Coca-Cola 600, carried associate backing from Page Construction. It also struggled to get through technical inspection, making theirs the only car to not turn a lap in the opening session. He then turned the slowest lap in Happy Hour, and was again slowest in qualifying by three-tenths of a second.
Joining Gase and the penalized McLeod at the rear was Kyle Busch, whose surprising 33rd-place qualifying run was caused by issues under the hood of his #18 Snickers Throwback Toyota. According to Bob Pockrass, the Joe Gibbs Racing team changed the engine, transmission, drive shaft, rear gear, and ECU, but were still not entirely sure what caused the issue. Aric Almirola joined him in a backup car after damaging the right-front of his #10 Smithfield Ford, while Joe Nemechek’s return to the Cup Series for the first time since 2015 included a tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments on his #27 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet.
As the field formed up for the start following a four-hour rain delay, Nemechek and the #54 AQRE Chevrolet of Garrett Smithley dropped to the rear, and Busch and McLeod followed suit the next time by. The group then reorganized itself with Busch up to 35th ahead of Gase, the #77 MRN 50th Anniversary Chevrolet of Reed Sorenson, McLeod, and Nemechek. The McLeod and Nemechek duo remained at the rear until the green flag dropped, where Gase slipped to 38th with Nemechek now in last place.
|LaJoie behind the wall with brake issues.|
Gase remained in last for the restart, and the team reported his car was too tight center-off. On Lap 50, he now had a new 38th-place driver in front of him as Garrett Smithley fell behind Nemechek. Gase began to close on Smithley’s powder blue #54, but the advance slowed as lead lap cars swarmed past them once more. Finally, on Lap 64, Gase passed Smithley, who started to lose ground to the #66. Three laps later, contact from David Ragan spun Smithley down the backstretch, and he made light contact with the inside wall. While the damage did not appear serious, a brace apparently failed behind the lower left-rear quarter-panel, causing it to flap loose under green.
The damage appeared to compromise Smithley’s speed, as by Lap 156, he was about to lose his tenth lap to the leaders. He was still in last place when the caution fell for Corey LaJoie, who hit the outside wall with the right-rear of his #32 Corvette Parts Ford, decorated to resemble Dale Jarrett’s Nestle Crunch-backed XFINITY Series car. LaJoie pitted for minor repairs and a set of tires with chrome rims, but on the Lap 162 restart, pulled into the garage area with brake failure. LaJoie managed to slow down in his stall, where the crew jacked up the right side of the car and looked over the right-rear hub. This dropped LaJoie behind Smithley on Lap 169, though on Lap 180, the car was lowered, the hood closed, and the driver returned to the track. As he got back up to speed, the #32 was in last, 23 laps down, but all 39 drivers were still running.
|Heavy damage to the McLeod car after his Lap 196 crash.|
After McLeod returned to the team’s trailer and changed into his street clothes, he talked about what put him out. “We got caught up with another car off (turn) two and got pushed up in the fence, then cut a right-front going into (turn) one trying to make it to the break, ended up knocking the wall down good. It put us out – broke an upper a-frame bracket.” He also talked about his weekend. “We were having a good run. We were really doing good as far as our class and just kind of managing the rest of the race. We weren’t quick enough to catch Ross (Chastain) or Landon (Cassill), but we were able to stay ahead of the people we’ve been ahead of all day.”
|Loading up McLeod's car in the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing hauler.|
By McLeod edging McDowell for last place, McLeod was able to take the lead in the 2019 LASTCAR Cup Series Driver’s Championship by a single bottom-five finish, 6-5.
*This marked the first-ever last-place finish for car #51 in a Cup Series race at Darlington.
*McLeod also completed the second-most laps of any Darlington last-place finisher in Cup. The record still belongs to Greg Biffle, who on May 10, 2008, completed 234 laps of the Dodge Challenger 500 before engine trouble ended his night. Biffle also started on pole and led 95 laps, at the time the record for most laps led by a last-place finisher in Cup.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #51-B.J. McLeod / 194 laps / crash
38) #34-Michael McDowell / 274 laps / crash
37) #8-Daniel Hemric / 274 laps / crash
36) #32-Corey LaJoie / 330 laps / running
35) #54-Garrett Smithley / 344 laps / running
2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Rick Ware Racing (8)
2nd) Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Front Row Motorsports (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Spire Motorsports (2)
5th) Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management (1)
2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Toyota (2)
2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP