Monday, November 18, 2019

XFINITY EXTRA: Tires from a longtime backer help Landon Cassill race Morgan Shepherd’s car to a stunning 15th-place finish at Homestead

Cassill's ride in Shepherd's car on the grid Saturday
Hidden behind the four-car championship battle in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 were a number of strong runs by the sport’s underdogs. B.J. McLeod put up the 12th-fastest lap in qualifying for his best starting spot in 2019, driving a new-look #4 KSDT & Company CPA Chevrolet for JD Motorsports. Brandon Brown gave the second Brandonbilt Motorsports team its best finish of the year by steering the #68 Vero Chevrolet to a 13th-place finish. Sam Hunt Racing had a sterling debut with K&N Pro Series East driver Colin Garrett. Though both team and driver had never made an XFINITY Series start, crew chief Brian Keselowski presided over a 15th-place qualifying run and 21st-place finish for the #26 Kraken Skulls Beard Oil Toyota.

But the biggest underdog story belonged to Shepherd Racing Ventures.

The ageless Morgan Shepherd and his single-car operation are no stranger to this website. Since Shepherd moved his underfunded Cup operation back to XFINITY in 2007, driver and team have made fewer and fewer races, and completed a dwindling number of laps. Such are the harsh realities of motorsports, where increasing costs and several field reductions are threatening to put grassroots teams like his out of business. The team has gone from running their backup as a “start-and-park” to parking the flagship #89, resulting in the team not even finishing a race since 2013. After they failed to qualify for 39 races from 2008 through 2013, the team started withdrawing from races, or not entering altogether.

But through it all, Shepherd has not lost his competitive fire, nor his faith - not only the faith that has kept “Racing For Jesus” on the hood of each #89, but faith he can keep his team going. He’s also celebrated his own racing career, running “throwback schemes” similar to cars he’d run in both Cup and XFINITY Series competition – purple-and-black, black-and-silver, black-and-gold. In 2017, when he celebrated his 50th anniversary season in NASCAR, I was at Darlington when he stayed out during pit stops to lead a lap. I asked why Shepherd stayed out on track, even though NASCAR no longer awarded points for leading. The driver smiled, and said “I’m almost 76, and we led the race here at Darlington.”  Nothing more needed to be said.

Near the end of last season, things were looking even more desperate. A practice crash at Texas destroyed his Chevrolet, and only the efforts of JD Motorsports allowed him to “start-and-park” the race in one of Johnny Davis’ backup cars. The Davis team then helped Shepherd prepare the only car he had left in the shop, a black car standing out from the fleet of red Camaros. When Shepherd drove his dually and small hauler to the next race at Phoenix, the truck broke down within sight of the track, and he had to scramble just to be able to sign in, never mind practice and qualify. Next came the Homestead finale, where 45 drivers were entered to attempt the 40-car field. With the team struggling to make races with shorter entry lists than that, and just 39th in opening practice, the team had to change their strategy.

It’s common today for people to dismiss “start-and-park” teams as organizations with inferior equipment, some going as far to say they shouldn’t even be there. The term has become such as scarlet letter in motorsports that it’s even attributed to teams that don’t exit a race by choice. But when Shepherd called up Landon Cassill, who was driving for start-up Cup team StarCom Racing, the results were immediate. Cassill put up the 24th-fastest lap in Round 1 of qualifying and settled on the spot in Round 2. Only the lingering lack of funding was to blame for a 38th-place finish, pulling the car behind the wall after 16 laps.

Fresh tires in the Shepherd pit.
Cassill is no stranger to getting “go-or-go-home” cars into races. His Cup career began getting teams like Gunselman Motorsports and Phoenix Racing into races, knowing the team had little more funding than needed to cut a quick lap in time trials. He once qualified a Gunselman car whose rear view mirror came loose during his timed lap. His qualifying prowess inspired his “Qualifying Challenge” on iRacing, where he put other sim racers under the pressures unique to single-car qualifying.

This season, Cassill has taken on a bigger role at Shepherd Racing Ventures, most often driving when the entry list is larger than 38 entrants. Coming into Saturday’s season finale at Homestead, nine of Cassill’s 16 XFINITY starts in 2019 came driving for Shepherd’s team, which he had not once failed to qualify all season. Shepherd’s own DNQs have also been down, in part due to the team’s limited schedule and the size of each entry list. Just three times this year Shepherd has missed the cut with a single withdrawal at Richmond. The driver also endured a case of bronchitis that stifled his run at Darlington, where he ran a new “throwback” scheme honoring his first Cup win at Martinsville in 1981. Even though he finished last that day, the driver still outlasted his car. All of this has been done with just one car and one engine, towed in one of the smallest haulers in the garage.

The road to Saturday’s Homestead race passed through Phoenix, where last Saturday the realities of the “start-and-park life” reared their ugly head once more. Cassill qualified 18th for the race, continuing a streak of impressive performances capped by a 9th at Las Vegas, but the team had no tires ready in their pit stall. Shepherd was far from the only one in this category – the additional entries fielded by Carl Long and Mario Gosselin also had no tires on hand that day. The consequences could be disastrous. Last month at Talladega, only the charity of two fans kept Jennifer Jo Cobb’s truck in the race after her only set was flat-spotted in a spin. At Watkins Glen’s XFINITY race last year, several underfunded teams had to sit on pit road, waiting for the track to dry as they couldn’t afford rain tires. Sure enough, as Cassill picked his way through the field, the right-rear tire started to go down. The #89 pulled behind the wall, resulting in the first last-place finish of Cassill’s career.

Cassill on pit road
But that same weekend, Shepherd hinted that he had a sponsorship deal in the works for Homestead. This was confirmed by mid-week as Dale and Sandra Dietrich provided the funding for multiple sets of tires at Homestead. The Dietrichs have backed Shepherd for several years – their names were on the lower quarter-panel of the #89 even at Phoenix. But with this backing, the Dietrichs now had their names in bold red print over the rear wheels, taking the place of sponsor Visone RV Parts. Cassill qualified fast again, putting the car 13th on the grid. But, unlike many runs in the past, the #89 didn’t pull out of line and voluntarily fall to the rear. This time, Shepherd said, they were going for a Top 15. They looked for the kind of turnaround that Timmy Hill gave Motorsports Business Management this August at Bristol, where one of Carl Long’s cars and engines finished 7th thanks to funding from Hattori Racing Enterprises that allowed the team to have enough tires.

In the early laps of Saturday’s race, Cassill slipped to 18th, then ran as high as 8th when he stayed out during caution-flag pit stops under the third caution. On Lap 91 of the 200-lap race, he was still on the lead lap and in the 13th spot. But then on Lap 119, the driver came over the radio saying his right-rear wheel might be loose. At the time, he was still on the lead lap and in the 16th spot. He was just about to come onto pit road on Lap 123 when the caution flag flew for Chase Briscoe’s accident. Just like that, he pitted under caution and returned to action, still on the lead lap. It was the last caution of the night. Cassill made his last stop under green on Lap 160, and cycled back onto the lead lap seven circuits later. He didn’t lose a lap on the track until two circuits later, when the leaders finally passed him with 31 to go.

Cassill finished 15th, the last car one lap down. Only twice since Shepherd rejoined the XFINITY circuit in 2007 had the #89 finished better – a pair of 13th-place showings at Talladega on April 26, 2008 and Las Vegas on February 28, 2009.

Next year comes another set of challenges as the NASCAR XFINITY Series scales back their fields from 38 cars to 36. But Shepherd Racing Ventures is already looking to tackle this challenge head-on. Cassill is reported to rejoin Shepherd at least part-time in 2020, but remains committed to his Cup effort with StarCom Racing.

Whatever the future holds for Shepherd and his underdog team, a statement was made on Saturday – this team is ready to race, and any amount of funding can put them right back in contention.

For more information on the team, and sponsorship opportunities, check out their page at:

CUP: Late-race last-place intrigue leaves Kyle Larson in 40th; B.J. McLeod secures first LASTCAR title

PHOTO: @justinmelillo
Kyle Larson picked up the 7th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after 209 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Larson’s 219th series start, was his third of the season and first since Richmond, 27 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 25th for the #42, the 691st from engine trouble, and the 777th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 37th for the #42, the 1,083rd from engine trouble, and the 1,700th for Chevrolet.

The finish leap-frogged Larson into a five-way tie for the 2019 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, but in so doing secured the title for B.J. McLeod by a single bottom-five finish. Thus concluded one of the tightest LASTCAR battles in series history. McLeod finished 32nd.

Since we last featured Larson following a rough night in Richmond, the California native had turned things around in 2019. Two races later at Dover, he finished 3rd, then an 8th at Kansas and a 10th at Sonoma, where he won the pole for a third consecutive year. Back in Playoff contention, he waged a thrilling side-by-side battle with Alex Bowman at Chicagoland and finished 2nd, ran 4th at Kentucky, then finished 8th or better in seven of the next nine races. A runner-up finish to Erik Jones at Darlington vaulted him into the Playoffs, where he advanced to the second round with no finishes worse than 13th.

In his return to Dover, Larson would not be denied. He led 154 of the 400 laps, including the final 73 to the checkered flag for his sixth Cup victory, his first in 76 races, dating back to Richmond on September 9, 2017. The win vaulted Larson into the third and penultimate round of the Playoffs – further than he’d ever advanced before. And though he finished 9th at Martinsville, 12th in Texas, and 4th at the ISM Raceway, it was not quite enough to make his first-ever Championship 4.

Still, Larson was one to watch at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where his penchant for running the highest possible groove has always made him a favorite to pull off the victory. With qualifying cancelled, Larson secured the 6th spot on the grid. NASCAR elected to allow for practice in place of time trials, where the blue #42 ran 8th fastest.

Starting 40th and last on the grid was Timmy Hill, who rejoined Motorsports Business Management’s Cup team. His spotter was Joey Gase, who shared the #66 Toyota ride with Hill all season, most recently last week at the ISM Raceway, where he finished 38th with a blown motor. Hill carried a new paint scheme with sponsorship from Generex Generators, the same company that backed his XFINITY ride for MBM on Saturday. That race saw Hill finish in 34th as the team elected to save their tire budget for Sunday’s Cup race.

When the race started, the outside lane drew away first, dropping 39th-place qualifier B.J. McLeod in the #53 Chevrolet to the 40th spot. Hill then started racing side-by-side with the #96 TRD 40th Anniversary Toyota driven by Drew Herring, the JGR test driver who was making his Cup Series debut. On the backstretch, McLeod slotted in behind Herring, then drew alongside Hill, who was held up in the outside groove by McLeod’s Rick Ware Racing teammate Josh Bilicki in the #52 Travis Mills Foundation Ford. This briefly put the bottom four drivers in two-by-two formation until Bilicki slowed in front of Hill, allowing McLeod by and dropping the #66 back to last place.

On Lap 5, Hill caught Bilicki and worked under him for position, and finally got by off Turn 2. At the time, Bilicki was complaining of “losing the front end” in Turn 3, though his #52 was still staying in touch with 39th-place Hill. On Lap 14, the leaders caught last-place Bilicki, and leader Kevin Harvick pulled low in Turn 4 to put his car the first one lap down. As the leaders funneled past, the interval between Bilicki and Hill more or less stabilized, and the Ware crew told their driver his #52 had good long-run speed. This was shown on Lap 23, when Bilicki caught and re-passed Hill for position.

Hill, meanwhile, was struggling with radio issues, much to the frustration of team owner Carl Long. “You’ve gotta get somebody down there to get off the button,” he said, wondering who was keeping their mic open. The team tried to figure out if it was an issue with Hill’s own mic button as they prepared for their first pit stop. That stop came on Lap 38, and by then was two laps down. Bilicki re-took the spot on Lap 44 after his own stop put him three down. By the 50th circuit, Bilicki was four down.

On Lap 63, Bilicki had made up five seconds on Hill and caught the #66 coming off Turn 2. The two ran door-to-door down the backstretch before Bilicki completed the pass off Turn 4. As Bilicki pulled away, the team congratulated him on the radio for making up the deficit. By the 77th circuit, the two were more than a straightaway apart.

The battle resumed at the start of Stage 2, when Hill got the drop on Bilicki and put the #52 back to last. Hill then slid in Turn 4 and dropped down to pit road, complaining of a loose wheel. He followed Ryan Newman, who was making an unscheduled stop of his own. Unfortunately, Hill’s crew was then docked for an uncontrolled tire penalty, forcing Hill to make a pass-through penalty. By then, he was seven laps down and well back of Bilicki for the spot. By Lap 111, Hill was nine laps down, three circuits behind the #52 of Bilicki.

Next to join the battle was Ross Chastain, who was in the garage area by Lap 126, when he was 11 laps down. He took over last from Hill as the crew addressed an oil leak, checking over the oil lines. The car re-fired on Lap 138, 23 circuits back, with no other cars in the garage area. Scoring then reset to show Chastain 22 laps down, 11 circuits back of Hill. Following the caution for John Hunter Nemechek’s spin, Chastain was running by himself on Lap 143. Nine circuits later, he caught both Hill and his own teammate Joe Nemechek in the #15 Chevrolet. Chastain split the middle between the pair and continued to log laps.

Bubba Wallace then saw his run go sideways when he made an unscheduled stop for a flat tire on the #43 Victory Junction Gang Camp Chevrolet. He was then on pit road for an extended stop on Lap 203, when he’d fallen to 11 laps down in 38th. The crew was now addressing brake issues, and telling their driver to pump the brakes to get the pedal back. He wasn’t rolling again until Lap 206, when he was in 39th, seven circuits ahead of last-place Chastain.

During all this, Kyle Larson was in position to be the highest-finishing non-Playoff driver in the race. He’d finished second to Martin Truex, Jr. in Stage 1, then third to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in Stage 2, scoring him 17 total stage points. He was still running among the leaders when he came down pit road around Lap 210. The crew lifted the hood, addressing an issue with the engine. By Lap 219, he was still on pit road, nine laps down in 34th. That time by, William Byron also dropped off the pace in his #24 Axalta Flames of Independence Chevrolet, coasting onto pit road through the access road. “We had a good car,” said Larson’s crew. “We had something we could challenge them with.” Larson was done for the day, his crew pushing the car backwards to the garage entrance, where Byron was pulling in. There was a six-lap gap between the two Chevrolets, which meant Larson would remain behind Byron in the running order.

On Lap 225, Bubba Wallace was penalized for too many crewmen over the wall, forcing a pass-through penalty. By serving it on Lap 227, this dropped him behind Chastain and into last place. Two circuits later, both Byron and Larson were “unavailable” on RaceView (incidentally, the last race NASCAR will use the program before it shuts down in 2020). On Lap 230, NASCAR officials in the garage reported “24 and 42 both out, engine.” Four laps after that on Lap 234, Larson took last from Wallace with Byron following to 39th soon after.

Wallace ultimately climbed out of the Bottom Five to finish 34th, one spot ahead of Chastain. Chastain’s own finish was improved by the exit of his two teammates, both Nemechek in the Premium #15 and the technical partner Reed Sorenson in the #77 Rousseau / Quartz Cevrolet. Much like at Phoenix, Sorenson was out with a sudden brake issue, Nemechek with steering issues. The pair settled into 37th and 38th, respectively. Nemechek and Byron ended up with their first Bottom Fives of 2019. Rounding out the group was Bilicki, who likewise cited brake issues in the final laps and took 36th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #42 in a Cup Series race at Homestead.
*The 209 laps complete by Larson were the fourth-most of a last-place finisher in a Cup race at Homestead. He trails only Aric Almirola (213 laps in 2016), Stacy Compton (222 in 2001), and Regan Smith (240 in 2018).

40) #42-Kyle Larson / 209 laps / engine
39) #24-William Byron / 215 laps / engine
38) #15-Joe Nemechek / 227 laps / steering
37) #77-Reed Sorenson / 236 laps / brakes
36) #52-Josh Bilicki / 240 laps / brakes

1st) Rick Ware Racing (9)
2nd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing (3)
4th) Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Spire Motorsports (2)
5th) Germain Racing, Motorsports Business Management, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (4)


XFINITY: Ray Black, Jr.’s spectacular engine failure leaves him last at Homestead

PHOTO: NBC Sports, Screencap by @HurricaneBarca
Ray Black, Jr. picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #07 Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys / Scuba Life Chevrolet fell out with engine failure after 4 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Black’s 98th series start, was his first since May 6, 2017 at Talladega, 90 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #07, the 260th from engine failure, and the 540th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 21st for the #07, the 1,082nd from engine trouble, and the 1,699th for Chevrolet.

Black’s most recent last-place finish came driving for Bobby Dotter’s team SS-Green Light Racing, with whom he been racing since 2016. Sponsorship issues scaled back his full-time effort to a part-time affair that year, and his best finish in 21 starts was his 12th-place showing under the lights at Daytona. When a deal to race multiple Cup races for Rick Ware Racing fell through, and with Spencer Boyd taking over for him at Dotter’s team, Black scaled back further in 2018. This time, he made just ten starts – nine for B.J. McLeod Motorsports, driving each of the team’s three cars, and a one-off for Mike Harmon in the inaugural Charlotte Roval race. His best finish came in Las Vegas, where he ran 17th for McLeod. He even ran a one-off for Ware and finished 16th, again in the July race at Daytona.

This year, with Spencer Boyd moving to the Truck Series, Black rejoined the SS-Green Light team to go full-time racing, again campaigning the #07 Chevrolet he ran two years prior. This time, he would have a teammate in Gray Gaulding, who had also moved down a tier from the Cup Series after the collapse of BK Racing. While both Black and Gaulding have racked-up a series of top-twenty finishes, Gaulding has generally finished better. Driving the number 08 that Dotter raced in his own driving career, Gaulding nearly won his first race at Talladega, finishing runner-up to Tyler Reddick, ran 8th in the Daytona night race, 6th at Bristol, and 7th at Las Vegas. The runs even gave Gaulding an outside chance of making the cut for the XFINITY Series Playoffs, which went down to the final regular season race.

Coming into Homestead, Black was still looking for his first top-ten finish of the year. His season-best had been 11th, both in the spring race in Las Vegas, and the second race at Iowa. But with steady sponsorship from Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys, which backed some of his efforts at B.J. McLeod’s team, and returning funding from Scuba Life, Black enjoyed several Top 20 streaks. He finished no worse than 20th for seven races from Mid-Ohio to Richmond, then arrived in south Florida on another streak of four runs no worse than 17th. A Frontstretch report on November 9 indicated Black had re-signed with Dotter’s team for 2020, which was confirmed by Jayski just hours before Saturday’s green flag. The report also indicated Black had a new sponsor to join the team next season.

Saturday’s season finale marked the final time 38 drivers would take the green before the series’ second field reduction in six seasons will reduce the grid further to 36 cars in 2020. There were 39 drivers on the preliminary entry list, meaning one team would be sent home. Teams toward the back of the grid kept their Cup veterans behind the wheel with Mike Harmon putting Joe Nemechek in the #74 Chevrolet and Morgan Shepherd keeping on Landon Cassill. Both qualified for the race, sending home Bobby Dale Earnhardt, whose struggles at Phoenix were followed by his #66 Hyatt Life Sciences Toyota missing the cut by two-tenths of a second.

Nemechek took the 38th and final starting spot by virtue of his Past Champions Provisional as the 1992 series champion. It was a momentous weekend for the 55-year-old veteran, who one day earlier in the Truck Series race received an award for breaking Richard Petty’s career mark of 1,185 combined NASCAR starts. Joe’s son John Hunter presented him with a special helmet commemorating key moments in Joe’s career before competing against him in both Saturday and Sunday’s races. Nemechek’s hood also carried hand-written names of small sponsors who jumped on at Phoenix – including this site – after the names were on the rear decklid for the team’s primary and backup cars last week. Nemechek would also incur a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. On top of all this, Nemechek’s radio traffic had somehow interfered with that of Playoff contender Cole Custer, causing some confusion during the race’s early laps.

The smoke trail left by Black after his engine failure.
When Saturday’s race started, at least two teams dropped to the rear voluntarily. Timmy Hill qualified 24th as part of a double-duty effort with Motorsports Business Management, but was told on Saturday that the tires for his #13 / Generx Generators Toyota would be saved for Sunday’s Cup race, meaning it would be a “start-and-park” on Saturday. Also dropping back was J.J. Yeley, two weeks after securing the 2019 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship. As the field crossed the stripe, Hill was behind Yeley, 3.803 seconds back of the lead to Yeley’s 3.642.

At the start, the outside line appeared to take off quicker than the inside as’s leaderboard also showed 34th-place Tyler Matthews, 36th-place Jairo Avila, Jr., and 38th-place Joe Nemechek a split-second ahead of the three drivers next to them on the inside line. Regardless, it was a driver on the inside – 29th-place Chad Finchum in the #61 Amana Heating & Air / Smithbilt Homes Toyota – who was penalized for passing before the starting line. At the end of the first lap, last place fell to 33rd-place qualifier Robby Lyons, who was making his XFINITY Series debut as Nemechek’s teammate in the #17 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. Finchum then took last on Lap 3 after he served his pass-through penalty.

Coming down to complete Lap 4, just seconds after Finchum returned to the track, Ray Black, Jr.’s car erupted in smoke. Black cut out of the racing groove and pulled low heading into Turn 1, but lost control and spun into the grass, causing his car to hop to a stop as the splitter dug into the turf. Black was okay, but his car was done for the day with a spectacular engine failure. “He blew the shit outta his motor,” said Yeley’s crew. “I don't know what the heck that was. That was a major malfunction.” Black took last from the lapped Finchum on Lap 5, the yellow granting Finchum the Lucky Dog to put him back in contention.

Yeley goes to the garage, but comes out after Matthews wreck.
On Lap 12, with the race back underway, Yeley pulled down pit road, looking to be done for the day. That changed on Lap 16, when Tyler Matthews slammed the Turn 2 wall with his #15 LineTec Services Chevrolet, destroying the right-front corner of his car for the second caution of the day. The impact was so hard a piece of the car remained stuck under the SAFER barrier after the restart, and a third caution had to be thrown to make crews pry it out from under the wall. The moment the accident happened, Yeley’s crew sent the #38 RSS Racing Chevrolet back onto the track to make sure he passed Matthews’ #15. With this done, the #38 returned to the garage a second time after 20 laps. It was not until Lap 41 that NASCAR officials reported Black was out with engine failure and Yeley out with suspension issues. Matthews took 37th, his first Bottom Five of 2019.

Finchum worked his way back into contention after his penalty, but the engine let go at the start of Stage 2, sending him coasting down the backstretch then into the garage, securing 35th. Finchum tweeted the car broke a valve spring and retainer, accounting for a loud noise that came from his car when the motor let go in Turn 4. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Timmy Hill, whose set of tires took him 57 laps, four more than Finchum, before he was out with brake issues as the listed cause.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #07 in an XFINITY Series race at Homestead.

38) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 4 laps / engine
37) #15-Tyler Matthews / 14 laps / crash
36) #38-J.J. Yeley / 20 laps / suspension
35) #61-Chad Finchum / 53 laps / engine
34) #13-Timmy Hill / 57 laps / brakes

1st) RSS Racing (9)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (7)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing (4)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, DGM Racing, Kaulig Racing (2)
5th) Brandonbilt Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, JR Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Toyota (12)


TRUCKS: Anthony Alfredo’s night ends before it has a chance to start

PHOTO: @DGR_Crosley
Anthony Alfredo picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #15 Friends of Jaclyn Foundation Toyota fell out with engine trouble after he failed to complete any of the 134 laps.

The finish came in Alfredo’s 13th series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 4th for the #15, the 35th for Toyota, and the 132nd from engine trouble. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 39th for the #15, the 326th for Toyota, and the 1,081st for a blown engine.

The 20-year-old driver from Connecticut arrived in Homestead looking to close out his first partial season in Truck Series competition. He arrived following a pair of CARS Late Model Stock Tour victories at Hickory Speedway in 2017, a year he finished runner-up to Josh Berry for the title. Last year, he ran 7th in his first ARCA Menards Series start at Gateway and took a K&N Pro Series East victory at South Boston, ranking fifth in series points.

This short track success led to Alfredo’s current part-time campaign for David Gilliland’s DGR-Crosley team, where he’d drive three of the team’s trucks at least once in 2019. His debut came driving the #17 at Atlanta, where he ran 17th. His season-best finish of 8th came in just his fourth start at Charlotte, followed by a 9th in Chicagoland. But an opening-lap tangle with Stewart Friesen at Pocono and a late-race pileup at Michigan left him with his second and third DNFs of the season, all due to crashes.

Alfredo debuted a new look to his #15 at Homestead with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation as sponsor, benefiting children battling pediatric cancer. The foundation had increased its presence in the series this year with a season total of seven races - four backing Timothy Peters at Niece Motorsports and NEMCO Motorsports, then as an associate backer for two of Alfredo’s starts at Texas and Charlotte.

Alfredo was one of 37 trucks entered for 32 spots, meaning five drivers would miss the show. That list dropped by one after Friday’s two practice sessions, which both saw Josh Reaume slowest overall. Reaume’s white #34 Toyota, which carried a “thank you” message to Reddit’s NASCAR group on the tailgate, withdrew prior to qualifying.

Time trials were rained out, and four teams joined Reaume on the early ride home, all of them part-time teams which showed enough speed to easily qualify for the race. Fastest of the group was Dylan Lupton, whose #5 Shreddy Toyota was 10th in opening practice and 4th in Happy Hour, followed by Camden Murphy, Spencer Davis, and Derek Kraus. Murphy climbed aboard NEMCO Motorsports’ #87 Chevrolet and ran 20th and 33rd in the sessions. Davis ran 23rd and 13th in Rette Jones Racing’s #11 Hearn Group Toyota. Newly crowned K&N Pro Series West champion Kraus, whose transporter headed east right after last Friday’s Phoenix race, ran 21st and 6th in Bill McAnally’s #19 ENEOS Toyota.

When everything had dried out, the 32nd and final starting spot went to Jesse Little, who bounced back from a narrow DNQ last week in Phoenix to run 12th in opening practice and second to title contender Stewart Friesen in Happy Hour. The effort came in a time of transition for Little, whose JJL Motorsports #97 team was acquired by Logan Puckett, re-branding the effort as Diversified Motorsports Enterprises. Little will drive part-time for the team next season in addition to his full-time XFINITY effort for Johnny Davis.

During the pace laps, Little and 31st-place Ray Ciccarelli in the #49 CMI Motorsports Chevrolet were instructed to swap lanes. Both then moved up a spot when Alfredo pulled down pit road, complaining of a bad vibration. The driver tweeted later that the motor wouldn’t crank on pit road, “and when I got ta push to start it was already fried.” The team then pushed the #15 to the garage area, leaving behind a puddle of oil. This negated a “pitting before the green” penalty that would have forced him to surrender his 24th-place starting spot and take the green from last place.

Alfredo was listed “off” the track until the end of Stage 2. The NASCAR official in the garage was about to report the exit with four to go in Stage 2, but was instructed to wait until the stage ended on Lap 60. “15 out, engine,” was the report – again not classified as a “did not start” despite him missing the green flag.

Finishing 31st was Ciccarelli, whose #49 started trailing smoke in Turn 4 on Lap 50, just as the leaders were putting him a second lap down. The driver pulled down pit road on the resulting caution, then was done for the night. Josh Bilicki finished 30th, the only other driver out of the race, citing electrical issues on the #33 Exotic Car Trader Chevrolet.

Taking 29th was Angela Ruch, whose #44 Give A Child A Voice Chevrolet struggled with speed from the start of the race. The truck carried special significance for Ruch, as the paint scheme was designed by her 19-year-old nephew Eric Erdman, who was diagnosed with advanced brain cancer three years ago. Ruch wound up seven laps down, one circuit behind Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 Waldo’s Painting Chevrolet in 28th. Cobb and Bilicki earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019.

For more on today’s featured driver Anthony Alfredo, check out his website here:

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #15 in the Truck Series since March 31, 2007, when Bill Lester’s #15 Red Top Auto Auction Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after 37 laps of the Kroger 250 at Martinsville. The number had never before finished last in a Truck race at Homestead.
*Alfredo is the third driver to fail to complete a lap of a Truck Series race at Homestead. The other two were Terry Cook (April 8, 1998) and Ray Ciccarelli (November 17, 2017).

32) #15-Anthony Alfredo / 0 laps / engine
31) #49-Ray Ciccarelli / 48 laps / oil line
30) #33-Josh Bilicki / 113 laps / electrical
29) #44-Angela Ruch / 127 laps / running
28) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 128 laps / running

1st) NEMCO Motorsports (5)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) DGR-Crosley, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
4th) Copp Motorsports, Halmar Friesen Racing, Hattori Racing Enterprises, JJL Motorsports, Niece Motorsports, ThorSport Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (2)


Thursday, November 14, 2019

PREVIEW: At Homestead, new teams and returning drivers look to end 2019 season on a high note

Brandon Brown runs the #68 in Saturday's XFINITY finale.
PHOTO: Collin Fern, @Collin_Fern
Friday, November 15, 2019
TRUCKS Race 23 of 23
Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead
Championship Race
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Camden Murphy

Matt Crafton (#88)
Ross Chastain (#45)
Stewart Friesen (#52)
Brett Moffitt (#24)

There are 37 trucks entered for the 32 spots in Friday’s season finale, meaning five will miss the show.

DRIVER SWAP: #8-NEMCO Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
After securing his second-consecutive LASTCAR Truck Series title last week in Phoenix, Joe Nemechek moves from the #87 back to the #8, taking the place of his son John Hunter Nemechek, who isn’t entered. Sliding into the #87 this week is Camden Murphy, the defending last-place finisher of this race. If Murphy qualifies, it will be his first start since Michigan.

RETURNING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Codie Rohrbaugh will close out 2019 with the season finale, looking to make his first series start since a season-best 10th in Martinsville just last month.

RETURNING: #11-Rette Jones Racing
Spencer Davis rejoins the circuit for the first time since the fall race in Las Vegas, where he finished 18th, and will again drive the Rette Jones #11 Toyota, this time sponsored by the Hearn Group.

MISSING: #21-GMS Racing
Sam Mayer is not entered after two wild afternoons in both Martinsville and Phoenix, where a pair of strong runs were slowed by accidents. Mayer finished 19th at ISM after he tangled with John Hunter Nemechek in the final laps.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
The preliminary entry list had no driver listed in for Carson Ware, who struggled with electrical issues during his Truck Series debut last week in Phoeni. By Wednesday, it was confirmed Josh Bilicki will drive the truck, his fourth series start and first since Kentucky this past summer. Exotic Car Trader is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
The first entry list also didn’t have a driver listed for the #34 in for Kyle Plott, who finished 25th in his series debut at Phoenix. That also changed Wednesday as team owner Josh Reaume will pilot his #34, which will carry a “thank you” message to the r/NASCAR page on Reddit.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
Angela Ruch makes her 10th series start of the season and first since Talladega, where he ran 28th. She takes the place of Ty Majeski, who recovered from an engine change penalty to finish a strong 11th in his first-ever Truck Series start.

MISSING: #46-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Chandler Smith is not entered along with the part-time KBM entry he steered to a 3rd-place finish at the ISM Raceway.

RETURNING: #49-CMI Motorsports
Ray Ciccarelli will attempt the season finale, seeking his ninth series start of the year and first since a 21st-place run at Martinsville last month.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Christian Eckes takes over for Brandon Jones, who nearly pulled off the win at Phoenix following an early spin, only to finish second to Stewart Friesen. Eckes also makes his first start since Martinsville last month, where he scored his fourth pole in his eight races this year and finished 17th. His best finish of the year remains a 3rd-place showing in the fall race at Vegas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
Tyler Hill and the Hill Motorsports team return to action this Friday, one week after their Owner Points were used to field a second Jordan Anderson truck for Carson Hocevar, 23rd at Phoenix. This marks the first time the Hills’ own truck will run since their breakthrough performance at Martinsville, where Timmy Hill finished 5th. New sponsor Hair Club will sponsor Tyler this week.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman and Charlie Henderson will return for the season finale, where Kligerman seeks his third series start of the year and first since his season-best 13th under the lights at Bristol. Kligerman has two Truck Series starts at Homestead, but none since 2012, when he won the pole and finished 7th for Red Horse Racing.

TEAM UPDATE: #97-JJL Motorsports / Diversified Motorsports Enterprises
Jayski reported on Tuesday that Logan Puckett had purchased the assets of JJL Motorsports, which was originally set to close at the end of this season. The team will instead return to action for another limited schedule in 2020 as “Diversified Motorsports Enterprises,” keeping on Jesse Little as the primary driver in addition to Little’s XFINITY effort for JD Motorsports. To mark this occasion, Little’s #97, which failed to qualify at Phoenix, will carry primary sponsorship from Diversified Utility Group, Inc.

RETURNING: #04-Roper Racing
It’s been a challenging year for Cory Roper, who had to scale back his full-time operation, having started eight Truck Series races and not started one since Michigan in August, where he ran 28th after a crash. But driver and team will be back in action on Friday, looking to improve on their 17th-place finish in this race last year.


Saturday, November 16, 2019
XFINITY Race 33 of 33
Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead
Championship Race
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Vinnie Miller

Justin Allgaier (#7)
Christopher Bell (#20)
Cole Custer (#00)
Tyler Reddick (#2)

There are 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning one team will fail to qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #4-JD Motorsports
B.J. McLeod steps in for Ryan Vargas, who isn’t entered following a 26th-place showing at Phoenix. McLeod will carry sponsorship from KSDT & Company CPA on Johnny Davis’ #4 Chevrolet. The Davis team tweeted Wednesday they are bringing two backups in addition to their four entered cars.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Jeb Burton was announced on Wednesday as one of three drivers who will again share time in the #8 Chevrolet in 2020, joining Daniel Hemric and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This week, Burton, who last ran at Texas and finished 9th, will take the place of Zane Smith, who finished a strong 5th at Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER SWAP: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill returns to drive the #13, moving Chad Finchum from the #13 to the #61. According to his tweets, Finchum is anticipated to run the full race following up his strong run in Fort Worth. Tommy Joe Martins is not entered after strong 17th-place run driving the #61 in Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
The preliminary entry list had no driver listed to drive the #17 in place of Joe Nemechek, who has moved over to drive the #74 in place of Mike Harmon this Saturday. That changed by Wednesday, as Robby Lyons will attempt his XFINITY Series debut in the #17. We last saw Lyons run on a national stage in this year’s Daytona opener for the Truck Series, where he was collected in a crash and finished 30th driving for Jeff Finley.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
One week after Riley Herbst finished 30th due to crash damage in the team he will run full-time for in 2020, Harrison Burton will close out the 2019 season with the same iK9 sponsorship. This will be Burton’s 9th series start of the year and first since Texas, where he ran 7th.

NEW TEAM: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Announced a few weeks ago, Homestead will mark the first attempt by start-up Sam Hunt Racing, which has Brian Keselowski atop the pit box and Colin Garrett, 8th in this year’s K&N Pro Series West, behind the wheel. Garrett made his XFINITY debut earlier this year at Richmond, where he ran 26th for Carl Long back in the spring. Kraken Skulls Beard Oil is the listed sponsor of the dark gray Toyota Supra.

RETURNING: #68-Brandonbilt Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
The Brandonbilt team fields their second car for the first time since the Roval, moving Brandon Brown from his traditional #86 entry to the returning #68, sponsored by Vero. Taking Brown’s place in the #86 is Will Rodgers, whose third and most recent series start came in the #86 at the Roval, where he finished 28th after a late spin.

UPDATE: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd's Facebook page broke news Thursday that they have landed a sponsor for the season finale this Saturday, one year after Landon Cassill first drove for the team. If they qualify, Cassill will run the full race, looking to give the #89 its first finish under power since September 28, 2013 at Dover, where Shepherd finished 27th.

Alex Labbe seeks his 10th series start of the year and first since his 15th-place showing in Kansas, again driving Mario Gosselin’s flagship #90 Chevrolet. He takes the place of Ronnie Bassett, Jr., who had problems under the hood at Phoenix and finished 33rd. Labbe carries sponsorship from Globocam, Rousseau, and Silver Wax.

MISSING: #92-DGM Racing
Dexter Bean is not entered along with the second Gosselin car following his early exit from the race in Phoenix, out after 39 laps with brake trouble and finishing 35th.

C.J. McLaughlin was originally listed to be the driver of the #93 last week in Phoenix, but an apparent mistake on the entry list led to Bayley Currey driving the car, then exiting after 34 laps to finish 36th. This week, McLaughlin is again entered in place of Currey as he seeks his seventh XFINITY start of the year and first since his 27th-place showing in Texas. Currey will also not run Sunday’s Cup race as he’s been swapped out of that ride for Josh Bilicki (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Jairo Avila, Jr. will close out the season for McLeod’s third team, making his first start since Las Vegas in the fall, where he ran 27th. Art General Contractor will return as sponsor as he seeks to improve on his season-best 25th in the spring Vegas race. He takes the place of Josh Bilicki, who will run Cup and Trucks, but not XFINITY.


Sunday, November 17, 2019
CUP Race 36 of 36
Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead
Championship Race
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Regan Smith

Kyle Busch (#18)
Denny Hamlin (#11)
Kevin Harvick (#4)
Martin Truex, Jr. (#19)

The only LASTCAR title that remains to be settled is in the Cup Series, where five drivers were still in contention following last week’s race at the ISM Raceway. The contenders have since been cut to four as Cody Ware, who hasn’t started a Cup race since Michigan in August, isn’t entered. If full-timers Erik Jones, Michael McDowell, or Chase Elliott do not finish last, B.J. McLeod, entered in the #53, will take his first LASTCAR Cup Series title.

There are 40 drivers entered for as many spots, setting up only the 11th full field in 36 races this season, and the first since Fort Worth earlier this month.

DRIVER SWAP: #15-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #27-Premium Motorsports
Joe Nemechek to the #15 as Ross Chastain drives the #27. Both will carry longtime Jay Robinson sponsors as Nemechek carries branding and Chastain with Xchange of America. Chastain finished ahead of Nemechek at Phoenix, running 28th to Nemechek’s 34th.

DRIVER UPDATE: #21-Wood Brothers Racing
DRIVER UPDATE: #38-Front Row Motorsports
Sunday’s race will be the last as a full-time Cup driver for both Paul Menard and David Ragan. Both have been fixtures in the Cup Series for more than a decade. Menard hasn’t missed a race since June 24, 2007, his last DNQ at Sonoma. Ragan hasn’t missed a race since he failed to qualify for this same Homestead race on November 19, 2006.

DRIVER UPDATE: #36-Front Row Motorsports
On Wednesday came news that Matt Tifft has parted ways with Front Row Motorsports as he continues his recovery from the seizure suffered prior to track activity at Martinsville. John Hunter Nemechek remains the team's driver this weekend as SpeedyCash returns as sponsor.

TEAM UPDATE: #41-Stewart-Haas Racing
The reported departure of Daniel Suarez from SHR at the end of this season was confirmed Thursday after the driver was told late Wednesday. Cole Custer is reported to be his replacement, joining fellow XFINITY championship contenders Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in advancing to Cup.

MISSING: #50-The Money Team Racing
After rumors swirled that boxing champion Floyd Mayweather would debut his new team this weekend in Homestead, his #50 Chevrolet was not to be found among the entrants on the preliminary list. Future plans for the team are yet unknown.

DRIVER SWAP: #51-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
J.J. Yeley moves from the #53 to the #51, taking the place of Garrett Smithley, who isn’t entered. Taking Yeley’s place in the #53 is B.J. McLeod, who like Yeley will run both on Saturday and Sunday. UPDATE: As of Thursday, Yeley has secured a full-time ride for Ware in 2020.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
The second Ware car goes to Josh Bilicki, who takes the place of Bayley Currey, who isn’t entered. Bilicki takes the place of the originally scheduled Austin Theriault with sponsorship from Bangor Savings Bank and the Travis Mills Foundation. Theriault is not entered as he has still not been cleared to race after injuries suffered in a hard crash during the recent Cup race at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill looks to make his eighth Cup start of the year and first since the fall race at Texas, where he ran 37th. As on that day, he will run the MBM #66, taking the place of Joey Gase, who dropped a cylinder in Phoenix and finished 38th. Generex Generators will sponsor Hill, who will also drive MBM’s #13 XFINITY car on Saturday and field his own Truck Series entry on Friday.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Sunday will mark the Cup Series debut of one Drew Herring, a longtime test driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. Herring has made 22 XFINITY Series starts since 2010, 12 of them for Gibbs for stand-alone races at tracks like Iowa and Kentucky, and one-offs for companion weekends. He won his first of two poles in his first start for Gibbs at Iowa on May 22, 2011 and finished 12th. His best finish remains a 4th at Kentucky in 2012. Herring hasn’t started a race in national NASCAR's top three series since March 18, 2017, when he ran 20th for the now-shuttered JGL Racing. He returns this weekend to drive for the Gaunt Brothers, driven for the team’s previous 14 starts this year by Parker Kligerman.

Today in LASTCAR history (November 14, 1971): Gordon Birkett of Tappahannock, Virginia picked up the first last-place finish of his Cup Series career in the Capital City 500 at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway when his #50 1969 Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after 43 laps. Birkett started last in the 30-car field for his second and, as it turned out, final Cup Series start. His only other green flag came at the International Raceway Park in Ona, West Virginia where on August 8, 1971, his Chevrolet finished 21st of 35 starters, out after a crash.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

CUP: Tire failure takes Chase Elliott out of one championship and throws him into another

Elliott's car towed to the XFINITY garage. Note the left-rear tire.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Chase Elliott picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at the ISM Raceway when his #9 NAPA AutoCare Center Chevrolet was involved in a single-car crash after 165 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in Elliott’s 148th series start, was his third of the year and first since Dover, five races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 33rd for the #9, the 592nd from a crash, and the 776th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #9, the 1,200th from a crash, and the 1,698th for Chevrolet.

Elliott’s last-place finish has set up one of the closest LASTCAR championships in history as he is now one of five drivers who can clinch the title in next week’s season finale. Elliott, Michael McDowell, Erik Jones, and Cody Ware can take the title just by finishing last. Ware is eligible despite trailing by one finish since he has more Bottom Fives and Bottom Tens than the other four contenders. If none of those four drivers finish last, current leader B.J. McLeod will take the title no matter where they finish.

The same late-season struggles that cost his father Bill Elliott the title in 1985 seemed to rear their ugly head in recent weeks as the younger Elliott has become a frequent LASTCAR contender, placing him in a series of “must-win” scenarios. Elliott’s last-place run at Dover necessitated his 8th-place finish at Talladega and a 2nd in Kansas, where his rally to the front stalled out in a series of late-race restarts. He advanced to the Round of 8 and started outside-pole for the opener in Martinsville, but a snapped axle on Lap 184 left him a disappointing 36th of 38 starters. This increased the pressure in Texas, where Elliott slipped in Turn 2 and slapped the outside wall just 10 laps into the race. Once again, he climbed out of last place and managed to finish 32nd out of 40. Now last in the Playoff rankings, 100 points short of the lead, only a win would be enough.

Elliott began the weekend 18th in opening practice, then jumped to the top of the board in Happy Hour, nearly three-tenths ahead of the next-fastest car of Ryan Blaney. He qualified 6th with a speed of 139.179mph (25.866 seconds), which also placed him sixth of the eight championship contenders. He did all this in a slightly different version of his blue-and-white NAPA Auto Parts paint scheme which promoted the NAPA AutoCare Center.

The 39th and final starting spot was originally slated for the #66 Toyota of Joey Gase, who was driving his second “Fan Memories” paint scheme since Talladega. This time, the track theme was Watkins Glen with names of fans printed on bricks that adorned both sides of the car. Gase then lost the spot to J.J. Yeley, who originally took 34th in the #53 Factor One Source Pharmacy Ford. The time was disallowed since his window net fell down during his timed laps, as he explained on race day:

“The detents, there was a failure in the spring. So when they put the window net up, even though it was in its locked position, it wouldn’t stay locked. So, halfway through my first lap it started to come down. It came down fully on the second lap. And based off a rule in the NASCAR rulebook, if you don’t run a window net, it’s a failure. So our lap was disallowed and we were relegated to the tail instead of the 33rd position.”

Yeley then looked ahead to the race itself: “It’s been good. We were pretty happy with the car in practice. Just struggled making the thing rotate the way I really wanted to. I think we were 32nd and 33rd in practice, which our goal is to be in the Top 30 with these finishes like we’ve had the last couple of weeks. So we’ll work hard all day long and see if we can’t do the same thing.”

When the field rolled off pit road, 24th-place qualifier Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. stayed in his spot as the crew addressed an issue with the radio. He didn’t roll off until the end of the first pace lap, then reassumed his position on track. Yeley remained in the 39th spot, but now had to his inside the #77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet of Reed Sorenson, who was also having radio issues and was slated to start 37th. Sorenson continued to lag back until the green flag dropped, at which point Yeley was a row ahead with teammate Garrett Smithley, swapped in for B.J. McLeod in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet, on his inside.

At the end of the first lap, Sorenson now had Gase in front of him while Yeley and Smithley battled for position some distance ahead. Sorenson reeled in Gase on Lap 5, then got under him off Turn 2 on the seventh circuit, dropping Gase to last. As Sorenson pulled away, the leaders reeled in Gase, who they lapped on Lap 12. Kyle Busch, the leader at the time, pulled low at the stripe and dropped the #66 one lap down. Gase lost a second lap by Lap 28, and a third by the 39th circuit.

Sorenson reassumed last place with an unscheduled stop on Lap 45, which dropped him five laps down. This time, Busch caught Sorenson first and on Lap 64 put the #77 Chevrolet a sixth lap back. Moments later on Lap 67, Stenhouse drew the first caution when a right-front tire let go, dropping debris on the track. Stenhouse pitted and returned to action, clearing the Crash Clock without falling lower than 31st.

Elliott's car towed back out of the XFINITY garage.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
On the restart, Sorenson pulled behind Gase, who was now a lap ahead of his #77. Sorenson pulled to the high lane on Lap 75, but no position changed hands due to the interval. During this run on Lap 80, Sorenson told his crew to take a stripe of tape off the front grille. Responding was likely John McDowell, the crew chief, who asked who had added the tape that morning. He then instructed his crew to never touch the grille. This happened during the caution at the end of Stage 1, which kept Sorenson a lap behind Gase. On Lap 85, Sorenson passed Gase a second time, and again the positions did not change. The one-lap gap remained as Sorenson lost a sixth lap around the 96th circuit, a seventh on Lap 110, and an eighth on Lap 126.

All the while, Sorenson was fighting a bad tight condition, and was also losing his brakes. Entering the second corner on Lap 132, he was nearly run over by his technical teammate Ross Chastain in the Premium Motorsports #15 Chevrolet after Chastain was trapped behind him in the high groove as faster traffic passed in the lower lane. Despite this, Sorenson was still gradually reeling in 38th-place Gase, drawing from a full lap down to a half-lap by the 139th go-round. Stage 2 ended on Lap 152, and all 39 cars were still running with Sorenson nine laps down.

In the run-up to the end of Stage 2, Chase Elliott was in the fight of his championship life. Behind a dominant Kyle Busch and later Joey Logano, the two waged a tight battle for stage points. Denny Hamlin, first below the cutoff line, edged Elliott for the win in Stage 1, and after nearly colliding with a lapped car on the dogleg near the end of Stage 2, Hamlin prevailed in a side-by-side battle to take second spot with Elliott in 3rd. The car they nearly hit was Joe Nemechek, who closed out his triple-header weekend in Premium’s #27 Chevrolet.

The third and final stage took the green on Lap 160, when Sorenson was still nine laps down. The driver also complained that his “heels are chattering,” a statement that confused his crew chief. The issue didn’t keep Sorenson from passing Gase for a third time, and on Lap 166 he was edging away from the #66 when trouble broke out in Turn 2.

Chase Elliott was still in the thick of the lead battle when his left-rear tire blew, sending him spinning and backing into the outside wall, completely destroying the rear of his car. Elliott climbed out under his own power, but was visibly dejected as he walked down the banking. He was later checked and released from the infield care center, first to be eliminated from the final round of the Playoffs. Elliott took over last from Sorenson around Lap 176.

The car finally arrives at Elliott's garage stall.
PHOTO: Donald White,
Elliott’s car was towed to an opening just short of the entrance of pit road in Turn 2, then pulled into the vacant XFINITY Series garage. The tow truck driver then turned around and pulled the car up the main avenue to the rear entrance of the Cup garage behind the media center. It was several minutes before the car made it to its proper garage stall on the opposite end of the paddock. Once there, two armed guards stood separating onlookers from the car. A crew member took the mangled rear bumper panel and rear spoiler and placed them next to the team’s hauler.

Next to pull into the garage area on Lap 204 was Gase, who dropped a cylinder then retired with engine woes. Sorenson took 37th, pulling out with what the team cited as brake issues. Taking 36th was David Ragan, whose #38 Mannington Commercial Ford made at least two stays in the garage area for what was cited as a suspension issue. The team radio indicated they were having problems setting the toe, and though they ran 40 laps down on Lap 242, they wouldn’t reach the finish. Rounding out the group was Corey LaJoie, who made several pit stops for a faulty fuel pump, including a lengthy stop on Lap 275 where the crew was examining the fuel cell. LaJoie’s #32 Bluegreen Vacations Ford was the last to finish under power, 18 laps down.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #9 in a Cup Series race at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
*Elliott completed the fifth-most laps of any Cup Series last-place finisher at Phoenix. The top four ahead of him are Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (179 on March 15, 2015); Derrike Cope (202 on November 7, 1999); David Stremme (248 on April 21, 2007), and current record holder Martin Truex, Jr. (258 on November 13, 2016).

39) #9-Chase Elliott / 165 laps / crash
38) #66-Joey Gase / 170 laps / engine
37) #77-Reed Sorenson / 226 laps / brakes
36) #38-David Ragan / 261 laps / suspension
35) #32-Corey LaJoie / 294 laps / running

1st) Rick Ware Racing (9)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing (3)
4th) Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Spire Motorsports (2)
5th) Germain Racing, Motorsports Business Management, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (4)


Saturday, November 9, 2019

XFINITY: Landon Cassill’s first career XFINITY Series last-place finish comes as the result of a cut tire with none on hand to replace it

ALL PHOTO: Brock Beard
Landon Cassill picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at the ISM Raceway when his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet fell out with suspension issues after he completed 27 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Cassill’s 139th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #89, the 18th from suspension issues, and the 539th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th for the #89, the 42nd from suspension woes, and the 1,697th for Chevrolet.

As posted in our interview on Friday, it was nearly a year ago that Cassill, the full-time Cup driver for StarCom Racing, was tabbed to drive in place of Morgan Shepherd. The swap was made to ensure the #89 started the race, something Cassill has done for so-called “go-or-go-home” teams since the start of his Cup career in 2010. He made 16 starts that year, driving for the underfunded Phoenix Racing, TRG Motorsports, and Gunselman Motorsports. Cassill hadn’t lost his touch in the Shepherd car, qualifying the machine a strong 24th – more than enough to make the show.

The relationship has continued into the current season, where Cassill has consistently turned in sterling qualifying runs for Shepherd – 13th at Charlotte, 16th at Michigan, 24th at Loudon, then 9th at Las Vegas. He followed this up with a 17th at Richmond, 12th at Dover, 26th at Kansas, and 23rd just last week in Texas. Only a lack of sufficient funding - nearly two to three times as much as the current purse distribution – has been the reason he’s finished so poorly, forced to exit each race in the early laps. While this has bred speculation that Cassill may become Shepherd’s permanent replacement, the team’s priority remains raising the funds necessary to operate at a competitive level with the choice of driver a distant second on the list.

Shepherd Racing Ventures has been far from the only victim of what another crew member called the “start-and-park life.” Just last month at Talladega, when Jennifer Jo Cobb was spun out at Talladega, she didn’t have another set of tires ready to return to the race. Were it not for the donations of two fans who happened to pass by, she would have been done for the afternoon. This very scenario would prove decisive in how the #89 performed on Saturday.

Cassill was just as fast as ever in the Visone RV Chevrolet, which has still carried the same “throwback” scheme since Darlington because it is the Shepherd team’s only car. He began the weekend 16th of 35 drivers in opening practice and 19th of 33 in Happy Hour, then qualified 18th with a lap of 128.769mph (27.957 seconds). On race day, Morgan would sit atop the team’s pit box on the backstretch with wife Cindy on the radio. In the stall, there were no more than three other crew members, their day-glo orange pit sign in the shape of a cross, and no sets of tires.

Starting 38th and last was Bobby Dale Earnhardt, who after a hard crash in Texas was driving “Big Bird,” Motorsports Business Management’s bright yellow #13 Toyota Camry. The Camry, which ran as recently as the Charlotte Roval, was re-skinned with the teal graphics of Earnhardt’s sponsors CIA and Hyatt Life Sciences and renumbered #66. The #13 this week was driven by Chad Finchum, who like Shepherd’s team had just a small pit box and no tires at the ready. This was also the case for Dexter Bean, who qualified 28th in DGM Racing’s #92 Chevrolet. By the time engines fired, spotter communications among these and other teams indicated at least five teams would be dropping to the rear to stay out of trouble. Bean was told to “do as Mr. Gosselin tells you,” a further indication of a “start-and-park” run.

Cassill in with a flat right-rear.
The logjam for last place began early. First to take the spot was Mike Harmon, who was sent to a backup car after teammate Joe Nemechek crashed in Turn 2 after he lost an oil line while driving the #74 Valley Fire & Water Restorations Chevrolet. Harmon then moved to drive Nemechek’s #17 RWR Chevrolet, which was renumbered #74 and even had the team’s fan sponsors re-written in silver sharpie on the rear decklid. Nemechek would drive the team’s speedway car, the #17 that Kyle Weatherman ran to a 34th-place finish just last week in Fort Worth.

By the second pace lap, Cassill had fallen to 38th, then was joined by Bean in the #92, Nemechek in the #17, and Finchum in the #13. Coming to the green, Earnhardt’s #66 had once again taken the spot, and he already began to lose touch with the pack in the early laps. First to take over the spot was Riley Herbst, who just days earlier had been confirmed to run full-time XFINITY for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020. Driving the #18 iK9 Toyota, Herbst was racing Michael Annett when he spun and backed into the Turn 4 wall, damaging the left-rear corner. Herbst lost laps as the team made repairs, dropping him to last, but cleared the Crash Clock and continued onward.

As Herbst looked to salvage his run, Cassill made two pit stops in the first 31 laps. On the second stop, a crewman looked under the left-rear of his car before sending him back out. Bean came down pit road on Lap 32, made a pit stop, and likewise returned to the track. Then on Lap 33, two members of Cassill’s crew ran to the garage area, and the #89 was first to pull behind the wall. The driver said he had a right-rear tire going down, and without any tires ready to go, they couldn’t change it out. On Lap 35, Bean pulled his #92 behind the wall. On Lap 38, Cassill was told he could climb out of the car, and the entry was listed “out” soon after. By then, the tire was completely flat, and when it was removed a small hole was found in the tread. At least one crew member said the flat happened when Cassill ran over something on the track.

The flat tire (top) with a circle
indicating the cut.
Cassill and Bean’s arrival in the garage opened the floodgates as several other cars pulled in. While crews continued to look under the hood of Bean’s car at the edge of the garage, both 2019 LASTCAR XFINITY Series champion J.J. Yeley in the #38 Chevrolet and his teammate Bayley Currey in the #93 Sci Aps Chevrolet had pulled up nose-to-tail behind the RSS Racing hauler. Currey, who was not originally listed to drive the #93 slated for C.J. McLaughlin, said the car “had a bad vibration.” The reason ended up listed as “brakes,” placing him 36th behind Yeley in 37th.

The two RSS cars fell to those positions when Bean returned to the track briefly, then came back in five laps ahead of Currey. Brake problems were also the listed cause of his 35th-place finish. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Joe Nemechek, whose intermediate track car did not have strong enough brakes for Phoenix, but did have enough speed to stay on the lead lap and match the 19th-place driver. Regardless, Nemechek had to pull in after 55 laps and was done early for the second-straight day.

By the early laps of Stage 2, three other drivers had joined them in the garage – Ronnie Bassett, Jr. in the #90 Down Syndrome Awareness Chevrolet, Chad Finchum in the MBM #13, and Vinnie Miller in the #5 Pit Viper Sunglasses Chevrolet. Both Bassett and Miller’s crews attempted repairs with Miller’s looking to replace the radiator, but neither completed more than 58 laps.

The #61 of Tommy Joe Martins, who finished 17th
While a number of underfunded teams ended up pulling out early, others turned in fine runs. One of the best belonged to Tommy Joe Martins, who qualified 28th and was sent to the rear for an unapproved tire change. Martins drove the blue #61 Diamond Gusset Jean Co. Toyota Camry, a car which the team confirmed was previously the same #66 Mike Marlar wrecked in his series debut at Richmond and finished last. The car didn't even have Martins' name on the windshield - just a white rectangle covering the previous name. With the car rebuilt, Martins finished one spot behind polesitter Christopher Bell in the 17th position. The finish was Martins’ best of the season and his best in the series since his 11th-place showing at Iowa on June 24, 2017. I caught up with a smiling Martins as he talked with others on pit road, including B.J. McLeod:

“That was a good way to kind of finish up our season I think, for me anyway,” said Martins. “I’m not sure if Carl’s gonna have me at Homestead or not, there is going to be a few more extra cars here it sounds like. So, if I’m down there I think I’m going to be a contender for your LASTCAR award I think (laughs). But it’s cool. This is such an awesome place. We had a good car today. I just wish we had a little bit more, I was racing with Josh Williams a little bit there. I knew in that last run, if I could just stay with him they’d been running about 15th this year, he was just about a tenth a lap better than us and I just couldn’t quite get there. He was messing with me and said ‘well, probably if you were out here a bit more, you’d be better than me,’ so hopefully that’s gonna be the case net year. I’m gonna lobby Carl (Long). This is a good way to end it.”

I also asked Martins about the MBM team itself, where Martins’ performance has been the latest in a series of strong runs following Timmy Hill’s 7th-place showing in Bristol and Chad Finchum’s 15th just last week in Texas:

“This is something I saw when I made the move over here in the middle of the year. I knew there was speed in this team, and I believed it. Pit stops were incredible today. We beat Cup teams off pit road today. We improved on every pit stop that we made, just lights out. That’s all we had today. I think if we had another set of tires out there we probably could’ve hung with the 36 (of Josh Williams) – just a little off, just a really good day. I’m really happy with it. . .We got sent to the back there. We flat-spotted a left-front tire in qualifying and had to start in the back of the field, all the way back up to P17 in an MBM car. I’ll take that at a place like this. It’s so hard to pass. We had a super day. Thanks to Diamond Gusset, thanks to the team, thanks to MBM for believing in me and bringing me back for this. I knew about this Tuesday, so this was really cool to put this together and make this happen.”

*This marked the first last-place finish for the team in just over a year, when Morgan Shepherd scored his 19th last-place finish in a Johnny Davis backup car following a practice wreck in Texas. It is the number’s first series last-place finish at Phoenix.

38) #89-Landon Cassill / 27 laps / suspension
37) #38-J.J. Yeley / 32 laps / brakes
36) #93-Bayley Currey / 34 laps / brakes
35) #92-Dexter Bean / 39 laps / brakes
34) #17-Joe Nemechek / 55 laps / brakes

1st) RSS Racing (9)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (7)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing (4)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, DGM Racing, Kaulig Racing (2)
5th) Brandonbilt Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, JR Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures (1)

1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Toyota (12)


TRUCKS: Joe Nemechek locks up second-straight LASTCAR title at the same track

PHOTO: Brock Beard
Joe Nemechek picked up the 9th last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the ISM Raceway when his unsponsored #87 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues after 11 of 150 laps.

The finish, which came in Nemechek’s 68th series start, was his fourth of the season and first since Kentucky, nine races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, this was the 11th for the #87, the 24th from overheating issues, and the 383rd from Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 54th for the #87, the 173rd from overheating trouble, and the 1,696th for Chevrolet.

The last-place finish also secured his second-consecutive LASTCAR Truck Series Championship with one race to go, besting his two remaining contenders Norm Benning, who wasn’t entered, and Gus Dean, who finished 20th in the #12 LG Air Conditioning Technologies Chevrolet.

Just last week in Texas, “Front Row Joe” reached another career milestone. For the first time, he would race his son John Hunter Nemechek in the same Cup race, the first father-son duo to do so since Bobby Hamilton, Jr. raced the late Bobby Hamilton in 2005. The younger Nemechek, driving in relief of a recovering Matt Tifft, finished 21st with Joe’s Jay Robinson entry in 31st. The ISM Raceway would one-up the effort in Fort Worth, as both would be racing against each other in all three of NASCAR’s top series.

The first of the weekend was Friday’s Truck Series race, where both ran for Joe’s NEMCO Motorsports team. John Hunter would drive the flagship #8 Hostetler Ranches Chevrolet with Joe in the part-time #87, which again did not have primary sponsorship. It would be Joe’s 12th series start of the season, but his first Truck Series start since Michigan in August, and his first in the #87 since Pocono in July. On top of this, he would have to qualify on speed as his entry was one of 34 trucks arriving to snatch up one of the 32 spots.

In practice, Joe showed promising speed early, running 24th in the opening practice before he slipped to 30th in Happy Hour. He then made it in on time, qualifying 26th with a lap of 130.237mph (27.642 seconds). The two who missed the show were Jesse Little, two-tenths off in one of the last attempts by JJL Motorsports before the #97 Skuttle Tight Ford team closes at season’s end, and Jennifer Jo Cobb, whose #10 Chevrolet had the grille sealed with pink strips of tape, but still ended up with her third DNQ of the year and first since Charlotte.

Starting last was Harrison Burton, whose #18 Safelite Toyota was 5th-fastest in opening practice and led Happy Hour, only to incur a tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. Burton didn’t turn a timed lap and inherited the 32nd spot. Also penalized prior to the start was Ty Majeski, whose first-ever Truck Series start began with a sterling 5th-place qualifying run in Al Niece’s #44 Chevrolet, only to be followed by an engine change.

On the first two pace laps, Burton remained in the last spot, and was joined by Majeski after the second pace truck pulled off the speedway. With one lap to green, Joe Nemechek surrendered his 26th starting spot, pulling to the outside and filing into the 30th spot, outside the #33 Jacob Companies Chevrolet of Carson Ware, making his series debut for Reaume Brothers Racing. When still another pace lap was then added, both Nemechek and Ware pulled another row back behind Burton and Majeski.

When the race started, Ware dropped behind Nemechek into last place, and the #87 began to close on the #54 N29 Technologies Toyota of Natalie Decker. Nemechek backed off on an outside pass of Decker in Turn 2, moments before the first caution fell for Brandon Jones’ Turn 2 spin in the #51 DuPont Air Filtration Toyota. This dropped Jones to last on Lap 3, the same time leader Stewart Friesen was penalized for a start violation, costing the #52 Halmar Enterprises Chevrolet the lead. Jones pitted, but somehow didn’t hold last for long, as Ware was classified in 32nd by Lap 5, and Friesen now fell to 31st the next time by.

On Lap 6, an unidentified truck pitted which may have been Nemechek as the #87 was not seen the next time by and took over last on Lap 8. Nemechek did return to the track, however, and managed to pass and clear Ware as he tagged onto the tail end of the trailing pack. On Lap 15, as Ware was caught by the leaders, NASCAR officials reported Nemechek had gone to the garage area with mechanical issues. Curiously, it was not until Lap 78 that NASCAR officials declared Nemechek out of the race with overheating issues, the same lap they announced Derek Kraus was out for crash damage suffered in a tangle with John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 23.

Nemechek was then presented with the first-ever LASTCAR certificate as the 2019 LASTCAR Truck Series Champion.

John Hunter’s night ended up short of the finish as well when he backed into the wall on Lap 100 during a tangle with Sam Mayer in the #21 Manpower Chevrolet. The younger Nemechek returned to the track after quick repairs, but pulled behind the wall after 108 laps completed, done for the night. This still allowed him to finish ahead of Ware, who spent at least two trips to the garage area. The first dropped him 18 laps down before he returned at the end of Stage 1. In the end, he’d turn just 37 circuits before citing electrical issues.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Jordan Anderson, whose new-look #3 Goettl Air / Lucas Oil Chevrolet trailed smoke early, then trailed the field, and ultimately finished thirty laps down.

*This marks the first time since Eldora that the Truck Series last-place finisher completed more than eight laps.

32) #87-Joe Nemechek / 11 laps / overheating
31) #19-Derek Kraus / 28 laps / crash
30) #33-Carson Ware / 37 laps / electrical
29) #8-John Hunter Nemechek / 108 laps / crash
28) #3-Jordan Anderson / 120 laps / running

1st) NEMCO Motorsports (5)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (4)
3rd) Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
4th) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Halmar Friesen Racing, Hattori Racing Enterprises, JJL Motorsports, Niece Motorsports, ThorSport Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


Friday, November 8, 2019

INTERVIEW: Qualifying specialist Landon Cassill looking to help grow Shepherd Racing Ventures

PHOTO: Brock Beard
“He called me up – this started last year at Homestead – he was kind of at a risk of missing the race at Homestead. It was pretty important for him to make that race to get through the winter. So I kind of came in at the last minute and drove the car, got him in the show. Similar scenario at Charlotte this year, but at Charlotte it was kind of a great success – we qualified 13th. And so since then, he kind of likened that to a transition of having a hired driver, and trying to run that way.”

“I mean, I would love to run the car more, and I know that he would love for me to run the car more - we’ve talked about it. He needs some sponsorship to scale his program up so that we have a pit crew, we have more cars – we only have one car. We need to be able to run his engines for an entire race – we have one engine and we’re using that, mileaging that over the course of several races with no rebuilds. So, there’s a lot of scaling involved to get his program to where we can run full races and run a full season, or a partial season, or something like that. I don’t know. I think that’s his number one goal is to find a way to do it that way right now before he thinks about whether or not he’s driving.”

“Yeah, I mean, call it what you want – tires, engines, pit crew, car inventory – it’s kind of the whole thing, ultimately. The prize money is significant in NASCAR in the top three series and it’s good enough for him to stay in business and to make a living. But you need to take the prize money and probably double or triple it to have a meaningful racing program that’s running the full races and competing for Top 10 or Top 15 finishes.”

“My first experience in the Cup Series was in a “go-or-go-home” position, and single-car qualifying is something I tend to be really good at. So, the Qualifying Challenge was a way for me to kind of let other people experience the same kind of pressure and using iRacing as a platform to do it. I’ve thought a lot about it lately, and I think it’s probably time for a reboot of the Qualifying Challenge. So, if there’s enough demand for it, I’d love to redo it.”

“I plan to be a part of the team. I’m committed to StarCom Racing. I don’t plan on going anywhere. These guys have been good to me. I believe in their vision and what they’ve been trying to build as a team and their commitment to building a team with me as the driver. So that’s something that I've had a pretty narrow focus on.”