The finish, which came in Boyd’s third series start, was his second of the year and first since Michigan, eight races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 29th for the #52, the 690th from engine trouble, and the 774th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 56th for the #52, the 1,077th from engine failure, and the 1,691st for Chevrolet.
Boyd’s weekend in Talladega couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. In the Truck Series race on Saturday, Boyd worked the high lane on the final lap to cross the stripe a close second to Johnny Sauter. Then, while debriefing with his crew on pit road, Boyd was alerted that Sauter had been penalized for blocking Riley Herbst below the yellow line in the tri-oval, handing Boyd the victory. The driver celebrated in victory lane, a first-time winner in NASCAR’s top three series in just his 23rd Truck Series start, and the first for team owner Randy Young. Boyd then politely declined to drink the Sugarlands Shine-brand moonshine that sponsored the race, as he still had work to do.
Boyd was slated to run double-duty at Talladega, rejoining Rick Ware Racing for the third time in 2019 and his first since Richmond just last month. He would drive the #52 Chevrolet, originally listed with Medicine Shoppe as sponsor but later listed with Manscaped and Factor One Source on board. Boyd hurried to pit road on Saturday as his car was lined up first to qualify. While the car was originally pulled out of line, Boyd jumped on board and put up his lap of 167.016mph (54.404 seconds). It was the slowest lap turned in the session, but there was still celebrating to do as Boyd finished his media obligations.
It had been a challenging weekend on the Cup side. In opening practice, Boyd started the weekend slowest in practice and didn’t participate in Happy Hour. To make matters worse, after the end of track activities on Saturday, things almost turned disastrous for the #52 team as the fire department had to be called to extinguish a small fire in the team hauler.
Boyd still secured 39th on the starting grid for Sunday’s race, thanks to the misfortune of Playoff contender Denny Hamlin. This year’s Daytona 500 winner blew the engine on his timed lap, and he aborted his run, leaving with no time. The team then changed engines, incurring a redundant tail-end penalty prior to the start of the race.
Coming off pit road, Boyd stopped at the exit of pit road before joining the pack. The next time by, 38th-place Reed Sorenson fell to the rear in the unsponsored #27 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet and fell behind Boyd. Hamlin, who had been running a ceremonial lap with the other Playoff contenders, then dropped back. When he did, Sorenson and Boyd throttled back along with 37th-place qualifier Austin Theriault, Boyd’s teammate in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet. Also falling back was 14th-place Paul Menard in the #21 Menards / Tarkett Ford. Menard was struggling with neck pain, and was already making preparations for Truck Series veteran Matt Crafton to drive in his relief. This moved Hamlin up another row to 36th, and he now started to the outside of Blake Jones, making his return to Cup competition in Spire Motorsports’ #77 Tennessee Shine Co. / XXX Distillery Chevrolet.
When the green flag dropped, Sorenson and Boyd were side by side all the way until Turn 3, when the #27 got a run on the inside lane. From there, Sorenson and the rest of the field pulled away, leaving Boyd suddenly by himself. After four laps, he was already 12.5 seconds back, and the next time by Theriault and Sorenson were also running alone in the far distance. “You gotta do all you can to get me more speed outta that thing,” the crew told Boyd, who insisted his foot was all the way to the floor.
On Lap 11, the leaders caught Boyd in Turns 3 and 4, and he moved high to let them by. He tried to go to the low lane in Turn 2, but the pack left him behind once more. Seven laps later, Boyd was still alone, and running just 178mph into the third corner. The field continued to reel him in at the same rate, and on Lap 22, Boyd again stuck to the high lane as he lost a second lap. This time, he caught the draft of Joey Gase, who smelled something burning in his #66 Fan Memories at Richmond Raceway Toyota. Right on schedule, after another 11 laps, the leaders passed Gase and Boyd, putting the #52 a third lap down. This time, Gase slotted into line, but Boyd could not, and he was still by himself.
On Lap 35, Boyd lost fuel pressure and pulled to the apron down the backstretch. Two circuits later, his car was just about stopped at the exit of Turn 4, but NASCAR didn’t throw the yellow until Lap 38. A push truck brought Boyd back to pit road, and while there was word he was going to the garage, they moved him past the opening. The next time by, Boyd drove into the garage himself, now six laps back of the leaders. The crew looked over the car and found nothing was dragging, then sent him back out on Lap 46. Now 14 laps back, Boyd was still told to pick up the pace, and that he might be parked for not meeting minimum speed. He managed to reach the end of Stage 1, now 15 laps down, then joined the field on pit road when the race was stopped for rain.
Storms pushed the race to Monday morning, and Boyd lined up with five cars behind him. He fired the engine on Lap 58, and was in the middle of traffic for the Lap 63 restart. Just three laps later, he was running by himself yet again, still well off the pace. Finally, on the 71st time by, Boyd pulled down pit road complaining of a fluctuating fuel pressure, then straight into the garage. Radio communications captured by Max Neuwirth reported the team had the same issues in the shop because of the ECU. “Hate it, man,” said the crew. “I know you were doing all you could out there.” The crew downloaded the data from their car and were officially listed out on Lap 79, then pulled from RaceView on Lap 80.
The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by accidents. Playoff contender Alex Bowman took the biggest hit on Lap 107. While leading into Turn 3, Bowman got in front of a fast-closing Joey Logano. The two made contact, and Bowman spun to the apron, then back into traffic, collecting ten other cars. Among them were Kyle Larson, who ended up 39th in the #42 McDonald’s Spicy Chicken Chevrolet, and 38th-placce Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet. Gase ended up 36th when he plowed into Theriault’s Chevrolet during another wreck heading into the same spot on Lap 163.
These same wrecks cut short several promising runs from drivers and teams in desperate need for them. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had arguably the best car in the field in his final plate race for Roush-Fenway, leading 32 laps in the #17 Sunny D Ford before he was shaken out in the run to the checkers. Matt DiBenedetto, in his second race with sponsorship from Barstool Sports, once again nearly got Leavine Family Racing its first checkered flag until he was collected on Lap 181. His damaged car was spun into the path of David Ragan, who ran as high as 2nd in the final plate race before his impending retirement at the end of this season.
But the biggest letdown had to be Brendan Gaughan, whose #62 Beard Oil / South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet was leading by a fender going into Turn 3 with just six laps to go. Fifteen years after his career-best Cup finish in this same race in 2004, Gaughan and his Beard Motorsports entry were set to shock the field before he was turned in a wreck started by the Busch brothers, sending his #62 somersaulting in the air before landing in Chris Buescher’s path. Gaughan, 27th after the wreck, walked away uninjured and shook off the disappointment, looking ahead to next year’s Daytona 500.
Meanwhile, the battle for the 2019 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship remains extremely tight. B.J. McLeod leads a bottom-five tiebreaker over Erik Jones and Michael McDowell with Jones and McDowell tied in both Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens. Cody Ware and Reed Sorenson could also make a push with comparable amounts of Bottom Fives and Tens. With just five races to go, a single last-place finish by anyone could change the standings completely.
*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for the #52 in a Cup race at Talladega since May 7, 1989, when Jimmy Means’ Alka-Seltzer Pontiac lost the engine after 5 laps of the Winston 500. Means qualified 24th for the race, which saw 13 other drivers fail to qualify.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #52-Spencer Boyd / 53 laps / engine
39) #42-Kyle Larson / 106 laps / crash
38) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 106 laps / crash
37) #88-Alex Bowman / 106 laps / crash
36) #66-Joey Gase / 161 laps / crash
2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Rick Ware Racing (9)
2nd) Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing (3)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Spire Motorsports (2)
5th) Germain Racing, Motorsports Business Management, StarCom Racing (1)
2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Toyota (4)
2019 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP