Sunday, March 29, 2020

iRACING: Transfer driver Anthony Alfredo eliminated in another hard crash; Timmy Hill breaks through with Pro Invitational victory

Anthony Alfredo finished last in Sunday’s second round of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational, the O’Reilly 150 at the Texas Motor Speedway, when his #33 Death Wish Coffee Chevrolet was eliminated in an accident after 39 of 130 laps.

Alfredo’s lone start across NASCAR’s top three series came last month at Fontana, where he climbed aboard Richard Childress Racing’s #21 Chevrolet, qualified 13th, and finished a strong 6th. After the subsequent postponements, he next arrived in last week’s Pro Invitational opener at Homestead, where his most recent Truck Series start ended with a blown engine shortly after the command, leaving him last. Alfredo qualified for the landmark sim race, overcoming an accident in practice, but finished just 32nd after another pair of incidents in the race itself.

This time around, Alfredo would once again have to race his way into the main event through the Last Chance Qualifier. The Texas round would prove especially challenging as the 30-lap affair would not be slowed by any cautions, and 31 other drivers would join him to contest the final four transfer spots into the Pro Invitational. Alfredo qualified a strong 5th and contended for the lead nearly the entire race. He was still leading at the white flag before Alex Labbe completed the pass just past the stripe. Alfredo hounded Labbe to the finish line, both of them transferring to the main along with third-place Ty Majeski and fourth-place Ruben Garcia, Jr.

Incidentally, the Last Chance Qualifier also saw a competitive battle for last place. The 32nd-place starter was Scott Stenzel, who carried the same #63 and Personal Comfort sponsorship from his most recent Truck Series start for D.J. Copp last year in Las Vegas. Stenzel was the only driver to not turn in a qualifying lap. After four laps, Stenzel had climbed past J.J. Yeley, who took over the spot in his #85. Yeley returned the favor by Lap 7, and Stenzel held the spot until the day’s first incident. Coming down the backstretch, Kyle Weatherman’s #54 Jacob Companies Ford threw a block on the #7 Brandt Agriculture Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier. The two collided and swept up the track, collecting several other cars. Weatherman took over last by Lap 10 and would remain there the rest of the race.

Meanwhile, Alfredo qualified 23rd for the 35-car main event. Taking the last spot was a returning Greg Biffle, who was back in his familiar #16 Ford for the first time since 2016, and back at the digitally-rendered version of the track where he won last year’s Truck Series race for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Biffle didn’t take a qualifying time along with transfer driver Ty Majeski, whose #45 CMR Chevrolet suffered minor damage in the qualifier. Turning in the slowest lap of the qualifying session was Ross Chastain, whose #6 Ford clocked in at 29.867 seconds.

Following an extra lap at pace car speed, the race went green on Lap 2. Three circuits later, the last spot had fallen to last week’s winner Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx Toyota. According to Clint Bowyer, who joined Hamlin in the back of the field, both had dropped back deliberately to wait out the race’s accidents. But the opening laps were run surprisingly clean, and Hamlin dropped Bowyer to last on Lap 8. It wasn’t until around Lap 22 that the first pileup was triggered by Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch heading into Turn 3. The wreck, which didn’t immediately draw a caution, dropped Blaney to last place by Lap 25 in his #12 Menards Ford. At that point, Blaney was already three laps down. The caution fell two circuits later on Lap 27.

On Lap 39, Alfredo had already used one of his "Fast Repairs," but worked his way up to 9th, holding the spot in a single-file line, following Timmy Hill in 8th. Coming down the backstretch, Matt DiBenedetto’s #21 Motorcraft Ford pulled low and Alfredo threw the block. DiBenedetto then lined up behind the #33 and pushed Alfredo into the corner. Moments after the camera cut away, Alfredo was shown spinning in the outside lane of Turn 3, collecting the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet of Austin Dillon. The in-car cam revealed Alfredo was still running the low line entering Turn 3 when his car hooked abruptly to the right and smashed the wall head-on. Alfredo took the last spot from Blaney by Lap 45, when the #33 was shown six laps down.

Finishing 34th was Christopher Bell, whose #95 Rheem Toyota was involved in at least one of the race’s early accidents, and was shown running off the pace under the Lap 27 caution. The 33rd spot went to Daniel Suarez, who suffered damage in his #96 Toyota, then was parked after he attempted to deliberately wreck Ty Dillon under caution entering Turn 3. The attempt failed, and after Suarez crashed, he became the first Pro Invitational driver parked by iRacing. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Biffle and Garcia, who both finished under power, laps down to the leaders.

Taking the victory was Timmy Hill, who followed-up his strong performance in last week’s Homestead opener with a thrilling victory. Hill nudged race leader William Byron out of the inside lane in Turn 1 and survived a green-white-checkered restart to take the win, holding off a fast-charging Ryan Preece in 2nd spot. Hill, a prolific iRacer with hundreds of victories, won with his preferred setup – a simple Logitech steering wheel and pedal assembly plugged into a single computer screen.

Garrett Smithley and Landon Cassill, two other underdog stars from last week’s Homestead race, also backed-up their strong runs by finishing 3rd and 4th, respectively. Smithley overcame significant damage to the rear bumper of his car and remained in contention for much of the day. Cassill qualified 5th and dropped as far as 20th at one point before marching back up to the leaders.

John Hunter Nemechek also enjoyed a fine run, leading 10 laps in the #38 ROMCO Equipment Ford. The aggressive Nemechek ran 2nd for much of the opening laps, throwing several aggressive blocks into the corners to defend his position. It wasn’t until a late-race incident entering the quad-oval that he slipped out of the Top Five.

*The #33 had scored its most recent Cup Series last-place finish at Texas on April 9, 2017, when Jeffrey Earnhardt’s turn for The Motorsports Group ended with a crash after just 9 laps. Earnhardt was himself one of the contenders in Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifier, but missed the cut in his #50.

35) #33-Anthony Alfredo / 39 laps / disconnected
34) #95-Christopher Bell / 88 laps / disconnected
33) #96-Daniel Suarez / 110 laps / disqualified
32) #16-Greg Biffle / 121 laps / running
31) #27-Ruben Garcia / 122 laps / running

Saturday, March 28, 2020

TRUCKS: Jennifer Jo Cobb still pushes forward

Another tight battle further back in the pack in last year’s running of the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Mosport involved both Jennifer Jo Cobb and Norm Benning, both owner-drivers in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors & RV Truck Series. In the end, Cobb held off Benning for 23rd, both of them four laps down to race winner Brett Moffitt.

“For me, it went by really fast,” said Cobb after the race. “I didn’t get as much practice as I would’ve liked, or much preparation to get the truck ready. The front was really tight, so it just turned like a dump truck, but the rear end didn’t have any grip. So you just try and adjust for those two kind of opposite feelings. And we did the best we could with it. Came home with a fairly clean truck in 23rd. We have a lot of issues when we come to Canada with the road course transmission, clutch, and everything. Everything worked, and I’m really proud of my team for putting it together.”

Cobb also talked about the challenges faced by an underfunded team, and how one accident by either of her trucks makes a big difference. The race was held just two weeks after Michigan, where Daniel Sasnett crashed her #0 truck in qualifying. “It was tough for us because of the (qualifying) wreck in Michigan with the 0, and so we were down a truck, and we had to prepare a whole new truck to be the 0, which was nowhere near being ready. And then to race our one standing truck we have left, that 10 truck. That truck is awesome – it’s done Michigan, Pocono, Bristol, now a road course. This same truck. The team has really stepped up and doing a great job.”

As of the Mosport race, Cobb had just four race-ready trucks available. In addition to the two she brought to the track for herself and Ray Ciccarelli, all that remained were one truck reserved for the series’ two superspeedway races and one still-battered truck for Eldora. “The Eldora truck is okay, but it’s so beat-up from Eldora that it needs body work, which is really expensive. So we’ll save it for Eldora next year and try to pound out the body. So, yeah, it’s a grind. All the different types of tracks really put on a grind for us. Especially when you put them all in the same month. We had every different kind of race course in one month.”

Cobb also talked about several small businesses joining her team as sponsors, also increasing the exposure of her own veterans’ initiative “Yeah – Osage Contractors, they’re a good one. You know, it is. We’ve got individuals who help us out that are amazing and we’ve got small businesses that help us out. And that’s just how we make it. The small dollars at a time, and they add up, and I really enjoy working with those types of business owners, because they’re like me. They’ve got a small business. They’re trying to do a good job. They’re trying to grow, they’re helping us grow. So I really enjoy working with those small to medium sized businesses. Our per-race sponsorship starts at $1,000 and so it makes it affordable. So, if anybody’s interested, shoot me an e-mail. My e-mail’s on the contact page of our website.”

As of this writing, Jennifer Jo Cobb is still seeking her first Truck Series start of the 2020 season following back-to-back DNQs for her #10 at Daytona and Las Vegas.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

iRACING: Pace lap internet issues leave Majeski last in Kansas sim race

Majeski in Sunday's Pro Invitational at Homestead
SCREENCAP: FOX Sports, iRacing
Ty Majeski finished last in Tuesday’s running of the Replacements 100 at the Kansas Speedway when his #45 CMR Construction Chevrolet finished 101 laps down in the 100-lap race due to internet connection issues.

Majeski, the four-time ARCA Midwest Tour Series Champion, would campaign the #45, the same number he’s campaigned for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series this season. His year got off to a rough start with a spectacular last-place finish in Daytona that saw his truck slide to the apron on its roof. He then recovered nicely in Las Vegas, qualifying 5th and finishing 13th.

In Vegas, Majeski was sponsored by iRacing that night, where his prior success in super late models has been matched by arguably the most successful sim racing career. The latter proved particularly significant when NASCAR’s postponement came down just before he was to run the Truck Series race at Atlanta. For Sunday’s inaugural Pro Invitational Series race at Homestead, Majeski won the 20-lap Last Chance Qualifier and timed in 3rd on the grid for the 100-lap main. He finished in 9th.

Majeski was slated to return in Tuesday’s running of The Replacements, a follow-up to the successful Atlanta event held nine days earlier. He timed in 32nd in practice with a lap of 30.540 seconds, but was one of eight drivers to not take qualifying time. This placed Majeski in the 29th spot alongside Ryan Truex in the #40.

The 36th spot fell to crew chief Rodney Childers, whose #54 was decorated in the same Busch Beer paint scheme as his driver Kevin Harvick’s Cup car. Curiously, the starting lineup showed him on the outside of a placeholder entry for iRacing’s admin. The #02 “Race Control” entry would also figure into the final running order of the race itself.

On the first lap, Justin Haley and Christian Eckes triggered the first wreck coming off Turn 4, sending Haley’s #11 Leaf Filter Chevrolet into the outside wall. Haley remained on the lead lap while Eckes lost a lap, but would not fall further than 35th. According to Seth Eggert at Kick’n The Tires, Majeski had internet connection issues during the pace laps which dropped him from the race. Majeski was already classified last without a lap complete when the first full-race rundown was shown on Twitch at Lap 4. The final race results erroneously showed Majeski in the 37th spot with the “Race Control” #02 shown in 36th. This has been corrected for purposes of this article.

Eckes remained in the 35th spot, though not simply from the first-lap incident with Haley. After an apparent “Fast Repair,” his #18 Safelite Toyota bounced off the #15 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet of Regan Smith down the backstretch, sending Eckes into the inside wall. Pro Invitational runner-up Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took 34th after his #8 Filter Time Chevrolet was caught up in a pair of accidents while two sim racers rounded out the Bottom Five: the #39 of Tim Clauson and the #85 of Jordan Erickson.

Bryan Boris Cook in the #63 turned in the slowest completed lap in qualifying, trailing the pole by 0.428 of a second. He recovered nicely in the race, charging through the pack for a 5th-place finish, following Josh Berry, Josh Williams, William Byron, and Parker Kligerman to the checkered flag.

*Car #45 has not finished last in a Cup Series race since August 12, 2007, when Kyle Petty’s #45 Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil Dodge fell out with a busted radiator after 56 laps of the Centurion Boats at the Glen. The number has not started a Cup Series points race since Petty Enterprises last campaigned it in the 2008 finale at Homestead, where Chad McCumbee finished 39th in a field of 43. The number has never finished last in a Cup race at Kansas.

36) #45-Ty Majeski / +101 laps / internet
35) #18-Christian Eckes / +82 laps / crash
34) #8-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. / +59 laps / crash
33) #39-Tim Clauson / +54 laps / unknown
32) #85-Jordan Erickson / +53 laps / unknown

Sunday, March 22, 2020

iRACING: Kurt Busch first to fall out of Invitational while Smithley, Hill, and Cassill enjoy fine runs

SCREENSHOT: FOX Sports, iRacing
Kurt Busch finished last in Sunday’s inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational, the Dixie Vodka 150 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, when his #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 47 of 100 laps.

Prior to last week’s events, Busch had just climbed into the Top 16 in driver points with a 6th-place finish in Phoenix following a 3rd-place run in Fontana. He’d also come into the 2020 season after winning at least one race for the last six consecutive seasons, capped by a dramatic last-lap battle with brother Kyle at Kentucky.

For the Invitational, Busch would borrow a sim rig belonging to World of Outlaws driver David Gravel, who happens to be slated to make his Truck Series debut this July in Eldora. Despite the help, Busch started just 31st in the competitive field, three spots in front of brother Kyle in the next-to-last spot.

Busch was one of 40 drivers entered for the event, and among the several Cup Series regulars who would comprise most of the 35-car starting grid. Following a 20-lap qualifying race among 11 XFINITY and Truck Series entrants, five missed the show. Truck Series competitors Stewart Friesen (#52) and Jesse Iwuji (#36) missed out – Iwuji after a late-race tangle with Austin Cindric, who claimed the final transfer spot into the main event. XFINITY drivers Justin Haley and Myatt Snider, who both ran last week’s Replacements 100 at Atlanta, also missed out. The final DNQ was Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose #50 VRX Simulators Chevrolet came as The Money Team Racing continued to tease their entry into the Cup Series later this season.

The 35th and final starting spot went to Jimmie Johnson, one of the last drivers to join the event on Saturday. Driving a replica of his #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet and running an open-wheel sim rig, Johnson struggled throughout most of the event. His lap of 31.906 seconds was slowest of those who qualified, and he wrecked off Turn 2 in practice. To make matters worse, both he and fellow Cup driver Austin Dillon had problems logging into the race and lost laps as a result. By the first full-field rundown, Johnson remained last, four laps down, with Dillon one lap behind.

Trouble broke out early, however. On Lap 2, just as Kyle Busch lost a lap down the backstretch, a wreck unfolded in Turn 1. Involved was Anthony Alfredo, just weeks after his XFINITY Series debut, driving the #33 Chevrolet. Alfredo had perhaps the hardest hit in practice, and this time was collected by Kurt Busch. Busch’s car was seen trailing smoke with the nose of the car missing. Both Alfredo and Busch likely used their first of two “Fast Repairs” under the caution and returned to the race.

First Dillon, then Johnson returned to action under the caution, and problems soon continued for the #48. The lack of audible spotters resulted in several cars bearing down on the wrecked #38 Citgard Ford of John Hunter Nemechek, now stopped just past the start-finish line on Lap 15. Johnson glanced off the rear of Nemechek’s Ford and spun backwards into the inside wall. Nemechek fell to last by Lap 29, taking the spot from Johnson, but repairs kept both drivers in the race. By Lap 36, Nemechek was still nine laps down, and had gained one of the four laps he now trailed to 34th-place Johnson.

Despite their struggles, it was neither Johnson nor Nemechek, but Kurt Busch who was the first to run out of “Fast Repairs.” Kurt sustained damage in the Johnson-Nemechek tangle when a hole closed on the inside line. His last tangle on Lap 38 began when he crossed the nose of Chase Briscoe’s #98 Ford on the backstretch, and collected brother Kyle Busch down the backstretch. Kurt dropped to 34th on Lap 44, and on the Lap 50 restart took the last spot from Nemechek.

Nemechek managed to climb out of the Bottom Five to finish 30th. Behind him came Johnson, eight laps down to the leaders, and six laps ahead of Alfredo in 32nd. Kyle Larson, who finished last in the most recent Cup points race at Homestead, saw his struggles continue in 33rd, one lap behind Alfredo. The heavily favored William Byron overcame a practice incident and contact during the race to battle for the lead in his #24 Axalta Chevrolet, but ran out of “Fast Repairs” and dropped to 34th.

The exhibition race was settled between heavyweights Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but it was three perennial underdogs who dominated much of the race:

The pole went to Garrett Smithley, whose lap of 31.418 seconds came in a rendered version of his #51 Rich Mar Florists Chevrolet run last year at Martinsville for Rick Ware Racing. Smithley led 24 laps – second only to William Byron for most of the day - and ran inside the Top Five for much of the day, taking the 5th spot at the finish.

Timmy Hill returned to his form from last month at SpeedWeeks, and this time looked to be on the way to victory in the #66 Toyota. Hill hounded Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the lead in the middle stages and led 13 laps. Running on old tires, Hill still led with 2 laps to go before Earnhardt, then Hamlin dropped him to 3rd at the checkered flag.

Landon Cassill picked up sponsorship from Radius and carried the #89 on his Chevrolet – the same number he’d campaigned for Shepherd Racing Ventures in his breakout 15th-place performance in last November’s XFINITY Series finale. Cassill also contended for the victory and was solidly inside the Top 10 for much of the distance. He finished 12th.

*Crashes caused both of Kurt Busch’s two last-place finishes in previous NASCAR Cup Series races at Homestead. The first was after 9 laps on November 19, 2006 while the other was after 207 on November 16, 2008, both while driving Penske Racing’s #2 Miller Lite Dodge. Busch’s current car number with Chip Ganassi Racing - #1 - has yet to finish last in a Cup Series race at Homestead.

35) #1-Kurt Busch / 46 laps / crash
34) #24-William Byron / 79 laps / crash
33) #42-Kyle Larson / 86 laps / unknown
32) #33-Anthony Alfredo / 86 laps / unknown
31) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 93 laps / unknown

Saturday, March 21, 2020

TRUCKS: A rough NASCAR debut for Dan Corcoran

PHOTO: Brock Beard
Among the seven Canadian drivers entered in last summer’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Dan Corcoran was perhaps the most unique. At age 61, the native of Elginburg, Ontario had picked that day to make his Truck Series debut, driving the #33 Chevrolet fielded by Josh Reaume.

“Been on my bucket list for a year,” said Corcoran between practices. “They’ve [NASCAR] struggled with car counts a little bit – with truck counts – and it seems like an opportunity to help that part of the program. . .I’ve raced here a lot, so I’m pretty comfortable with Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. And the chance to be a part of a NASCAR show is just kind of a fantasy for a motorhead.”

Corcoran had been road racing in Bowmanville since the late 1980s, starting with the Player’s Challenge Series in 1987. He’d also claimed a few victories racing his Corvette in Trans-Am in addition to some experience in endurance racing. His racing career has close ties with his family’s business, Corcoran Excavating, which backed his effort at Mosport:

“My dad started the company in 1962, and the money to buy his first bulldozer he made racing cars. So he would race cars four nights a week and make $35 a night and he would work on the bulldozer all week and make $35 a week. So the money to buy our first bulldozer came from racing cars. And he got me started racing cars when I was 15. My brother Tony who’s helping me this weekend, he started racing when he was the same – he was 15 or 16. Tony went on to have tremendous success as the first “Mr. Dirt” in the Northeastern United States – my brother Tony Corcoran. And he raced in NASCAR North with Robbie Crouch and (Kevin) Lepage and those guys. So the Corcoran Excavating name needed to be on the car because that’s kind of what got us in the excavating business. We’ve been very fortunate – the excavating business has been very good for us.”

Corcoran steered his attention to NASCAR with some advice from his friend and hero Ron Fellows, who gave him some pointers about racing heavy stock cars around the road courses. This led to Corcoran’s XFINITY Series debut at Watkins Glen earlier that month, driving for Mike Harmon. After qualifying 34th in the field of 37, his race got off to a rough start: “Once again, a rookie driver and crew chief didn’t communicate very well, so we got done qualifying and I left the damn power switch turned on. So when it came time to start the race, the battery was dead. So give it a little push start, limped it around because it would hardly run at all, so we needed to change the battery which got us down five or six laps down at the git-go.”

Ultimately, Corcoran made it onto the track on Lap 7, and climbed to a respectable 25th at the finish. “I found the car was harder to drive fast than I expected. I was thinking I’d catch it on faster, or a little bit better. I’ve run almost as many laps at Watkins Glen as I do here, so I’m pretty comfortable there, but I really struggled to get up to speed. The cars are hard to attack – meaning it’s the first time I’ve driven one at Watkins Glen, so it was hard to attack the corners and get those couple of seconds a lap that I needed to get. But still, a bit of a surreal experience. It was really wonderful. I’m very happy to finish the race. Very happy to not wad Mike Harmon’s car up on him.”

Prior to the Mosport race, I asked Corcoran if he was interested in taking one more step to the Cup Series, perhaps for the upcoming race on the Roval. “No,” he said. “No interest at all. These guys play for keeps. I really found that out with the XFINITY guys, and I expect the Truck guys are even more, or worse, depending on how you look at young guys aspiring to move up. They need to show what they’ve got. So, no, I’m here because I’m a motorsports junkie and I love the opportunity to race race cars and trucks on great race tracks. But, no, this will be wonderful. There may be another opportunity in another truck or an XFINITY car with Harmon, but that’ll be as far as I’ll go.”

Unfortunately, things didn’t go well for Corcoran on Sunday. Running by himself off Turn 4, the #33 broke loose and nosed head-on into the inside wall, then struck it again with the rear. The driver climbed out unhurt, and we spoke briefly afterward. “Yeah, I’m good. These trucks are great – safety is wonderful. A pretty good lick on the front of the wall and the truck did a spin-around, which you’d think would give you some gyrations in the truck, but the seat’s amazing and I’m good. Just my pride – I asked the medical staff if they had anything to help me with my broken pride, but they said no.” He wasn’t sure what caused the accident. “No, it was – something happened at the exit of (Turn) 3. I don’t know if I missed a shift or whether – I just don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, the truck was around and I don’t know what happened. I don’t know.”

“I decided that if we had some success today, through the day, that I’d probably try it again. But now it’s a definite “no” from me. It’s been incredible, I’m so thankful for the opportunity, but maybe it’s a 20-year-old’s sport.”

Thursday, March 19, 2020

iRACING: Donovan Strauss overcomes damage to lead early, but is eliminated in hard Atlanta crash

Donovan Strauss finished last in Thursday’s running of eTruck Series Night in America Powered by FilterTime at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #51 JDR Graphics Toyota fell out in a crash after 18 of 110 laps.

Strauss, who also campaigns the #51 in Bandoleros, piloted the blue-and-red JDR Graphics machine in Thursday’s race, a scheme reminiscent of a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck. JDR themselves designed the scheme. Last week on March 11, Strauss steered his machine to a 6th-place finish at Daytona, recovering from an accident on Lap 60. Strauss was among the open entrants who qualified for Thursday’s race, and in qualifying took 24th on the grid of 43 with a lap time of 30.913 seconds.

Meanwhile, at the back of the pack, the #91 of Daylon Barr was briefly in last place until he locked in his 25th-fastest time with just 23 seconds to go in qualifying. Turning in the slowest completed lap was Matt Wishart, whose #32 timed in at 31.675 seconds. Three other drivers filled out the field without a completed lap: 41st-place Rajah Caruth in the #6, Ryan Truex in 42nd driving the #35, and last-place starter Brandon Brown (listed as Jerry Brown2) in the #21. Brown, who was originally going to run the same #68 as his actual XFINITY Series ride, was shown during the final moments of qualifying session trying to complete his lap, but his truck disappeared just before it reached the start/finish line.

When the race started, the front half of the field pulled away into the first corner while trouble broke out further back. Joey Stone, whose #8 carried the names of several NASCAR YouTubers, inexplicably turned right as he entered the quad-oval, steering his Chevrolet into the outside wall. He bounced off the barrier and directly into the path of Strauss, crushing the right-front corner of the #51. At least a half-dozen other trucks then piled in as both slid into the grass, drawing the first caution of the night. Strauss drove the rest of the way around the track with smoke trailing from his machine.

By the time the full field rundown was shown for the first time on Lap 5, the 43rd spot belonged to Rajah Caruth, who on Lap 13 was shown six circuits behind the leader in his #6. Caruth’s last completed lap was shown at 38 seconds, a full seven seconds slower than the leaders. Strauss, meanwhile, parlayed pit strategy to take the lead from polesitter Mike Conti on Lap 14. Whether or not Strauss used his “Fast Repair” by this point, the #51 showed noticeable damage to the front grille under caution, a damage pattern different from the first-lap incident.

When the race restarted on Lap 15, Strauss jumped out to a one-trucklength lead, but was caught by Christian Eckes entering the third corner, whose #18 Safelite Toyota of made the pass for the lead on the inside. Strauss then fought to hold the outside line, then worked back low on Lap 18 to defend a spot in the Top 5. But, coming off Turn 2, Strauss broke loose off the nose of the #5 of Jarrett Liebert, sending the #51 hurtling toward the inside wall. Liebert was then hooked in the right-rear by the #26 of Tyler Garey, triggering another pileup down the backstretch. Strauss hit the inside wall with the left-front, and this time was done for the day. Strauss’ final pit stop was just 2.3 seconds, perhaps due to exiting the simulator. He took last from Caruth by Lap 24.

Finishing 42nd was Max McLaughlin, whose #1 Mobil 1 Toyota crossed the nose of the #33 GM Chevrolet of Oliver Cordell, putting him into the Turn 3 wall. McLaughlin was seen pulling down pit road with visible damage to the right-rear, and ultimately completed just one more lap than last-place Strauss. Ty Gibbs took 41st in his #42, out nineteen laps after McLaughlin, while Eckes’ strong run ended one lap later for a 40th-place finish. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Brandon Brown, eliminated four laps after Eckes.

Caruth, who ran 43rd for most of the early stages, climbed to 37th by Lap 82, when he was unable to avoid the wrecking Kenny Brady, whose #54 slid into his path on the apron of Turn 1. Caruth remained 37th at the finish with Brady in 35th. Joey Stone, whose #8 triggered the race’s first incident, climbed to 33rd, seven laps down at the checkered. Tyler Garey, whose #26 was one of two trucks to flip down the backstretch in the Lap 18 incident that eliminated Strauss, recovered nicely to finish 9th.

For more on Strauss, follow his Twitter account here:

*The #51 has just five last-place finishes in the history of the NASCAR Gander Outdoor & RV Truck Series and none since September 13, 2003. That day, in the New Hampshire 200 at Loudon, Carl Long had rear end trouble after 4 laps, driving an unsponsored truck owned by current Cup Series team owner Rick Ware.

43) #51-Donovan Strauss / +92 laps
42) #1-Max McLaughlin / +91 laps
41) #42-Ty Gibbs / +72 laps
40) #18-Christian Eckes / +71 laps
39) #21-Brandon Brown / +67 laps

Sunday, March 15, 2020

iRACING: Noah Gragson ends up 101 laps down in the Replacements 100

Gragson (left) with Hailie Deegan
at Sonoma last year.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Noah Gragson finished last in Sunday’s inaugural running of the Replacements 100 presented by Podium and iRacing at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #28 Chevrolet apparently did not start the race.

Last month, Gragson began his second full season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series by winning the season opener at Daytona, his first series victory. He then finished 4th in Las Vegas, where he became the center of controversy after he made contact with Myatt Snider in the final laps, triggering the last caution of the race. Following a crash down the backstretch at Fontana, Gragson was called to the NASCAR hauler before opening practice in Phoenix. The conversation cost him practice time, but not another strong run – he recovered to finish 7th, lifting him to 6th in the point standings.

On Friday in Atlanta, Gragson was set to practice with the rest of the XFINITY Series, though without the crowd in attendance amid the spread of COVID-19. His #9 Axalta / Echo Park Chevrolet was barely off the hauler when NASCAR pulled the plug completely, cancelling the weekend’s track activities in addition to next week’s in Homestead.

As teams headed home, a plan was hatched to hold a sim race on Sunday. Dubbed the Replacements 100, the iRacing event had Gragson among the 37 entrants. The 100-lap race would match a selection of drivers from all three of NASCAR’s top national divisions against a number of top sim racers. This included William Byron and Parker Kligerman, who both operate eNASCAR teams in addition to their own careers in NASCAR itself. Also among the entrants were a number of NASCAR spotters and crew chiefs. Kevin Hamlin found trouble in qualifying when his #33 broke loose off Turn 4 and slammed the outside wall.

The trailing pack of seven cars on Lap 1.
Snider and Allgaier are the white and orange cars in front.
SOURCE: iRacing, Podium
Ultimately, both Gragson and Kyle Long didn’t complete qualifying laps, placing them 35th and 36th, respectively. There appeared to be issues setting the lineup, however, as the broadcast showed no driver listed in the 34th spot. The reporters seemed to say that “L.A. Osmand” was the qualifier for that position. The issue continued into the posting of the final running order as no driver was listed for the 35th position, keeping the field at 36 starters.

For reasons yet unknown, Gragson did not start Sunday’s race. He was also credited with a 36th-place finish, 101 laps down in the 100-lap race, and one spot behind the space left blank in 35th. When the race started, seven black cars had already broken off from the pack into a group of their own. Some distance ahead of them were Justin Allgaier and Gragson’s Las Vegas rival Myatt Snider, who promptly caused the first incident of the afternoon.

Coming off Turn 2 on the first lap, 29th-place qualifier Snider was racing 26th-place qualifier Justin Allgaier for the bottom lane. The contact sent Snider head-on into the inside wall, but did not draw a caution. Snider was on pit road on Lap 3 when the yellow finally came for an incident involving car #158, which veered unexpectedly into the outside wall in Turn 2, then bounced back into traffic. Snider ultimately reset and recovered to finish 25th.

The Bottom Five was ultimately filled by accidents, though the lineup changed several times as drivers used their reset. Among those who recovered were Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who briefly ran in the 34th spot after his #88 Filter Time Chevrolet was collected, only to earn 8th at the finish. Truck Series sophomore Tyler Ankrum’s #30 Chevrolet took 34th in the final running order ahead of Kevin Hamlin, who after his qualifying miscue took 33rd in his #33 Chevrolet, seven laps in front. Jonathan Davis rounded out the group in his #6 Chevrolet.

As of this writing, further sim races are being planned throughout the week.

*Gragson has yet to finish last in any of NASCAR's top three series.
*Car #28 has just one last-place finish in a Cup race at Atlanta - March 18, 1991, when Davey Allison's #28 Havoline Ford crashed after 56 laps of the Motorcraft 500. Curiously, due to a rain delay and limitations for broadcasting postponements, this Cup race remains the last one where broadcasted footage of the finish is not available. It was also the next-to-last victory of Ken Schrader's career.

36) #28-Noah Gragson / +101 laps
35) (space left blank)
34) #30-Tyler Ankrum / +86 laps
33) #33-Kevin Hamlin / +79 laps
32) #6-Jonathan Davis / +75 laps

Thursday, March 12, 2020

PREVIEW: Bounty hunters headline triple-header weekend in Atlanta

UPDATE (March 13) - Due to the national response to COVID-19, this weekend's activities for Atlanta have been postponed, along with next week's action in Homestead. This article covers what would have been the stories for this weekend's races prior to the postponements.

Saturday, March 14, 2020 (1:30 P.M. Eastern)
TRUCKS Race 3 of 23
Vet Tix Camping World 200 at Atlanta
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Joe Nemechek

There are 38 drivers entered for 32 spots, meaning six teams will fail to qualify. This is also the first $100,000 “Bounty Race,” and three drivers are eligible to claim it: Chase Elliott, Brennan Poole, and John Hunter Nemechek. Fellow Cup drivers J.J. Yeley and Timmy Hill are also entered, but are ineligible for the bonus as neither receive Cup Series points this season.

RETURNING: #8-NEMCO Motorsports
John Hunter Nemechek looks to give his family’s team its first start of the 2020 season after both he and father Joe Nemechek failed to qualify at Daytona, then didn’t attempt the race in Las Vegas. The Atlanta track has also been challenging to the team, as the #8 finished last in the 2019 running. But with no finishes worse than 25th in the Cup Series this season, completing all but one lap, he could be one to watch if he qualifies.

MISSING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Codie Rohrbaugh seemed to indicate at Daytona that he’d attempt the full schedule in 2020, however his CR7 team is not entered this week, the first race they’ll miss this season. Rohrbaugh had been sitting 10th in the point standings with finishes of 3rd and 18th to start the year, and had completed all the laps in both races.

RETURNING: #12-Young’s Motorsports
Randy Young brings back his third team, formerly driven by Gus Dean last year, and hires T.J. Bell to drive. No sponsor is yet listed for Bell, whose most recent Truck Series start was last summer at Michigan, where he ran 29th in an unsponsored Al Niece truck.

NEW TEAM: #29-On Point Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Joining John Hunter Nemechek in his bid for the bounty is fellow Cup rookie Brennan Poole, who finished runner-up to Kyle Busch at Charlotte last May. Then as now, Poole drives for On Point Motorsports, but this time drives a new second truck for the team, the #29. His previous two starts this year came in the primary #30, which this week goes to a returning Danny Bohn. Bohn ran the final three races in 2019 following a sterling 8th-place run in Martinsville. Both trucks are sponsored by

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
J.J. Yeley reunites with Josh Reaume’s team for the first time since last summer at Bristol, where he finished 31st. This time, he takes Reaume’s own place in the team’s flagship #33.

DRIVER CHANGE: #40-Niece Motorsports
Atlanta sees Ryan Truex return to the Truck Series for the first time since 2017, kicking off his partial schedule with Al Niece. Plan B Sales sponsors Truex this week as he climbs aboard the #40 driven previously by Ross Chastain. Truex has two Truck Series starts at Atlanta, finishing 20th in 2016 and 13th in 2017, both for Hattori Racing Enterprises.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
Joining Truex in his own return to the series is Jeb Burton, who takes Natalie Decker’s place in the #44 Chevrolet. Burton brings sponsorship from State Water Heaters and Alsco, who backed both of his 9th-place runs with this team last year at Kentucky and Martinsville. It is also Burton’s first start of the season since the XFINITY race at Daytona, where he was wrecked while battling for the lead.

MISSING: #49-CMI Motorsports
Ray Ciccarelli tweeted he is moving his team into a new shop, and showed both his #49 Chevrolets staged in the building. This may explain why the #49 is not entered this week, which Bayley Currey ran in Las Vegas. The team will still race this week, keeping Stefan Parsons in the #83 that ran so well in its debut in Las Vegas before mechanical issues knocked him out of the running.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Back in action this week is owner-driver Clay Greenfield, whose Rackley Roofing #68 is decorated with the Tennessee state flag in honor of the victims of the recent tornadoes that tore through the Nashville region. Crew chief Jeff Hammond still eyes his first start of the season after the #68 missed the cut in their previous attempt at Daytona.

CUP INVADERS: #8-John Hunter Nemechek, #24-Chase Elliott, #29-Brennan Poole, #33-J.J. Yeley, #51-Kyle Busch

Saturday, March 14, 2020 (4:00 P.M. Eastern)
XFINITY Race 5 of 33
Echo Park 250 at Atlanta
2019 Last-Place Finisher: John Jackson

There are exactly 36 drivers entered for as many spots, meaning all entrants will qualify.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
MISSING: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
Both Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch – as well as their part-time teams - are not entered in this Saturday’s race after the duo finished 4th and 3rd, respectively, in Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
Jeffrey Earnhardt seeks his first XFINITY Seires start since last summer at Chicagoland, where he ran 16th in his latest start for XCI Racing. This time, Earnhardt reunites with Johnny Davis, who he last drove for in the 2014 finale at Homestead. He drives the team’s #15, taking the place of Colby Howard, who ran 34th in his series debut at Phoenix after a crash.

MISSING: #36-DGM Racing
Mario Gosselin’s team scales back from three cars to two this week, eliminating the #36 driven last week by Alex Labbe, who ran 22nd in Phoenix. Labbe himself moves to the #90, taking the place of Dillon Bassett, 18th after his scuffle with Brandon Brown. Larue Snowblowers sponsors the Labbe effort.

Jeff Green turned in his strongest non-superspeedway finish in years last Saturday, taking home 15th in the #93 Chevrolet. This week, the ride goes back to newcomer C.J. McLaughlin, who finished 27th in his only other start this year at Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Last week at Phoenix saw Mason Massey swapped out of the #99 at the last minute for J.J. Yeley, who then failed to qualify. This week, Massey is entered in the car once more with sponsorship from Generac and Anderson Power Services.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #02-Our Motorsports
Brett Moffitt carried sponsorship from at Fontana, and this week will be sponsored by them again. This time, the car has been re-wrapped to look similar to Michael McDowell's matching #34 car in the Cup Series.


Sunday, March 15, 2020
CUP Race 5 of 36
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Michael McDowell

There are 38 drivers entered for 40 spots, meaning all entrants will qualify. It is the fourth consecutive short field after 40 cars took the green in Daytona. There are also no driver or team changes from last week’s race – the same 38 drivers are entered in the same cars.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #12-Penske Racing
SPONSOR UPDATE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Among the new paint schemes debuting this Sunday are two sponsors with their first start of 2020. Advance Auto Parts’ part-time schedule with Ryan Blaney starts this week as the driver looks to bounce back from his 37th-place showing in Phoenix. Daniel Suarez will carry sponsorship from Coca-Cola to promote the company's new Cherry Vanilla flavor.

Today in LASTCAR History (March 12, 2000): Jeff Burton picked up the 4th last-place finish of his Cup Series career when his #99 Exide Batteries Ford was involved in a crash after 68 laps of the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500. This was the same running of Atlanta’s 500-miler that saw Dale Earnhardt edge Bobby Labonte for the victory.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

ARCA: Rookie Ryan Huff fails to finish second consecutive race in 2020

by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Ryan Huff finished last for the first time in his ARCA Menards Series career in Friday night’s General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway when his #10 Land and Coates Outdoor Power Equipment / Fast Track Racing Toyota crashed after 5 of the race’s 150 laps. The finish came in his second series start.

Huff races at Langley Speedway, running in the Pro Truck division. The 18-year-old tested at Daytona in January of this year with Fast Track Racing and later ran the Lucas Oil 200 with the team, showing speed before mechanical issues knocked him out of the race.  The Virginia native then announced this week that he would return to Andy Hillenburg’s flagship #10 car, again with the backing of Land and Coates Power Equipment.

Huff was joined on the entry list by 23 other cars, a number boosted by the race being a part of the ARCA Menards Series Showdown, a continuation of last season’s Short Track Challenge. The program, which has a separate points tally from the main series, is meant to showcase ARCA’s younger demographic of racers by running on tracks where drivers under 18 are allowed to race. Also, with ARCA National, East and West cars all compatible with each other for 2020, the Showdown gained even more hype from the general community as a de facto “all-star” short track scene.

Joining Huff on the entry list were 23 other entries, mostly ARCA national cars, although there were a few East and West cars. Along with Huff, Fast Track Racing entered rising Truck Series driver Dawson Cram in the #11, veteran short track ARCA racer Tom Berte in the 12, and former NASCAR K&N Pro Series East driver Armani Williams in the #01 car. Chad Bryant Racing fielded West Coast late model racer Christian McGhee; Howie DiSavino III returned with Win-Tron Racing; and Thad Moffitt returned to DGR-Crosley, rounding out unannounced national series entries.

The only East team to make the trip out was Rev Racing, which brought Nick Sanchez in the #6 and Chase Cabre in the #4E. Adapted from short track racing, double numbers made their debut on Friday. They made their presence known very early on, when West entry Zane Smith (#17E) was battling with Tanner Gray in the #17. Other than Smith, the West Series had a sizable contingent at Phoenix – Takuma Koga and P-1 Performance Motorsports ran, as well as four Bill McAnally Racing cars, for Gio Sclezi, Lawless Alan, Jesse Love Jr. and Gracie Trotter. ARCA regular Brad Smith was originally on the entry list but was forced to withdraw after a post-Daytona engine swap from Ilmor to Legacy ran long. Expect Smith's #48 to return at Salem.

In the only practice, Berte anchored the charts with a best lap of 29.6 seconds, 2.5 seconds off Ty Gibbs’ fast lap of the session. In qualifying, both the top and the bottom drivers remained the same, and with relatively the same gap in between them, although both ran about a half a second slower in qualifying than in practice.

In the early goings, Huff was in 21st place, ahead of Armani Williams, Tim Richmond and Tom Berte. On lap five, the broadcast cut to a shot of Huff trailing around the track with a stripe on the right side of his car. With sparks flying out of the right side, Huff entered the pits, and with no caution drawn, FS1 moved on from the situation.

After some early contact with the wall, Richmond parked eleven laps into the race due to handling issues. Trotter exited with engine issues, and just past halfway, DiSavino finished after contact with Drew Dollar sent him into the outside wall. Former race leader Sam Mayer rounded out the Bottom Five after radiator issues sidelined his GMS Racing Spencer Clark tribute car.

24) #10-Ryan Huff / 5 laps / accident
23) #06-Tim Richmond / 11 laps / handling
22) #99-Gracie Trotter / 63 laps / engine
21) #32-Howie DiSavino III / 78 laps / accident
20) #21-Sam Mayer / 87 laps / radiator

1st) Fast Track Racing, Reeves Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (1)


Sunday, March 8, 2020

CUP: Timmy Hill unable to claw past wrecked Ryan Blaney at Phoenix

Hill (center) the first driver in the garage during Sunday's race.
ALL PHOTOS: Dominic Aragon,
Timmy Hill picked up the 11th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Fan Shield 500 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #66 Pit Boss Grills Toyota fell out with engine troubles after 51 of 316 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 96th series start, was his second of the season and first since Las Vegas, two rounds ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 58th for the #66, the 161st for Toyota, and the 693rd from engine trouble. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #66, the 329th for Toyota, and the 1,086th from engine problems.

Following his most recent last-place run in Vegas, Hill rebounded to finish 26th in that night’s rain-delayed XFINITY Series race. He then returned to the Cup side in Fontana, but fell off the pace early and finished sixteen laps down in 37th, besting only Christopher Bell with a blown engine. Phoenix would see Hill run double-duty for Motorsports Business Management, both efforts sponsored by returning backer Pit Boss Grills. With a 23rd-place finish in the Saturday race, Hill looked to improve on the Cup side.

Unfortunately, Hill’s Toyota again struggled for speed. His was the only car on the entry list of 38 to not turn a lap in opening practice, then ran 35th in Happy Hour. He also turned in the slowest lap in qualifying, putting up a speed of 130.510mph (27.584 seconds), nearly 1.5 seconds off Chase Elliott’s pole lap. This secured Hill the 38th and final spot on Sunday’s grid.

Joining Hill in the back were two other drivers: John Hunter Nemechek for a new radiator on his #38 MDS Transportation Ford, and Martin Truex, Jr. once again found himself at the tail end after an engine change on his #19 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats & ATVs Toyota.

When the race started, however, the last spot fell to Joey Gase, who this week drove an unsponsored black #53 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. Gase, the 37th-place qualifier, worked his way past Hill by the end of the first lap, dropping the #66 to last. From there, both Hill and Gase lost touch with the pack, and were soon each running by themselves. On Lap 8, Hill was 1.3 seconds back of Gase, who was another 1.641 seconds behind his teammate Garrett Smithley in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet. Hill was the first driver to be lapped on the 17th circuit, followed soon after by Gase. Both were two laps down by the 34th circuit. Around Lap 45, Smithley had fallen to last place, three laps down. He wouldn’t hold the spot for long.

Around Lap 52, Hill came down pit road, then was told three times over the radio to steer his car to the garage. This gave Hill the last spot again around Lap 54. On Lap 59, Hill’s crew told him to fire the engine again, then shut it off soon after. The MBM crew was still examining their car when trouble broke out in Turn 4. On Lap 64, Denny Hamlin made a move into Turn 3 when his #11 FedEx Toyota broke loose and collected Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. The impact sent Keselowski’s #2 Alliance Parts Ford into a spin, but pinned Blaney’s #12 Menards / Tarkett Ford into the fence. Blaney, who suffered a broken upper control arm in the crash, pulled behind the wall under caution on Lap 68, out of the race under the Damaged Vehicle Policy.

Ryan Blaney (top-center) saw his day end in this Lap 64 wreck.
Blaney’s exit lit a fire under the MBM crew, whose spotter originally thought Hamlin would be done for the day. The crew made sure Hill had fuel pressure, and collected a set of 17-lap scuffed tires for their next run. The engine re-fired on Lap 90, and Hill returned to the track. Unfortunately, “It still sounds really bad,” said the driver. “There’s no way they’re gonna let you run that pace out there,” said the crew. Hill turned just two more laps before he came back into the garage. The crew hooked up their computer to the car and prepared for their next run. It wouldn’t come. When Hill re-fired the engine once more on Lap 140, the crew wasn’t satisfied. And on Lap 141, NASCAR officials reported Hill was out – “66 out, engine.” The gap between Hill and Blaney remained at 14 laps.

Crashes and mechanical failures made the garage area a very busy place. Finishing 36th was Austin Dillon, who after an unscheduled stop early in the race blew a right-front tire and totaled his #3 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. Taking 35th was Garrett Smithley, whose #51 trailed a large plume of white smoke entering Turns 3 and 4, requiring a lengthy clean-up. Rounding out the group was Quin Houff, whose own engine failure sent his #00 Mount-N-Lock / Ashurst Honey Chevrolet spinning into the outside wall.

For the second-straight race, Tyler Reddick worked his way into the Top 5, and this time earned a great deal of TV time from FOX Sports. His #8 I Am Second Chevrolet was running 14th on Lap 266 when the right-front tire failed, sending him hard into the Turn 2 wall. Reddick climbed out without serious injury and finished 33rd.

*This marked Hill’s second last-place finish in a Cup Series race at Phoenix. The other occurred on November 11, 2018, when his #66 Toyota had an oil leak which ended his day after 40 laps.

38) #66-Timmy Hill / 51 laps / engine
37) #12-Ryan Blaney / 65 laps / crash
36) #3-Austin Dillon / 129 laps / crash
35) #51-Garrett Smithley / 181 laps / engine
34) #00-Quin Houff / 208 laps / crash

1st) Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (3)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)


XFINITY: Engine failure continues frustrating start of the season for Jeremy Clements

ALL PHOTOS: Dominic Aragon,
Jeremy Clements picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s LS Tractor 200 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #51 Chevrolet fell out with engine failure after 58 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Clements’ 336th series start, was his first since April 14, 2018 at Bristol, 63 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 8th for the #51, the 261st from engine trouble, and the 544th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 40th for the #51, the 1,085th from engine woes, and the 1,707th for Chevrolet.

The perennial underdog and 2017 winner at Road America has endured a difficult start to the 2020 season. At Daytona, he was among the leaders when the hood on his #51 came loose down the backstretch, smashing itself against the windshield so hard that it shattered into pieces. Unable to replace his hood under NASCAR’s new rules – but not eliminated under the Crash Clock – Clements finished the race in 28th with bear-bond keeping his exposed radiator in place. Things didn’t go much better at Las Vegas, where the rear gear failed and left him 31st. But a 9th-place finish in last Saturday’s Fontana race seemed to signal a turnaround. But next on the schedule was Phoenix, where Clements had yet to finish better than 11th in 19 previous starts.

At Phoenix, Clements was one of 39 drivers entered for 36 spots, meaning three teams would miss the show. The JCR team did more than enough to keep their spot in the field, ranking 19th in opening practice, 16th in Happy Hour, and securing 18th on the grid with a lap of 131.334mph (27.411 seconds). General Tire rubber left behind from the previous day’s ARCA Menards Series race meant those with an early draw faced a particularly slick track. Two of the first nine qualifiers missed the cut – Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet and teammate J.J. Yeley, swapped in for Mason Massey in the #99 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet. Also sent home was Bayley Currey in Mike Harmon’s #74 Findlay Cadillac Chevrolet.

Starting 36th and last on the grid was West Series competitor Kody Vanderwal, who was making his NASCAR national touring series debut. He would take Yeley’s place in Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Chevrolet but ended up struggling for speed all weekend. He would be joined at the back by both Ray Black, Jr., sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments on his #07 CDA Tech Chevrolet, and Landon Cassill. Cassill, in position to take his third consecutive last-place finish on the season, had again given Morgan Shepherd’s #89 a strong qualifying run, taking 16th on the grid. But he fell out of line prior to the start and would follow the rest of the pack to the green flag.

Cassill on pit road during the early laps.
Note the lack of replacement tires.
At the start, Cassill was 3.858 seconds back of the lead, and dropped to 5.742 seconds back at the end of Lap 1. In the next two circuits, Cassill earned two spots back, dropping Stephen Leicht to last in the #66 Toyota. Leicht then dropped Vanderwal back to 36th by the end of Lap 6 and was the first to lose a lap on the 17th circuit.

Vanderwal dropped a second lap down by Lap 27 and would not surrender the spot until Lap 33. That time by, Ray Black, Jr. had spun in Turn 2, and the crew needed to cut off a splitter bar to get him back on track. Black cleared the Crash Clock on the ensuing restart but remained in last. Meanwhile, Cassill climbed to 29th before he lost his first lap.

When Stage 1 ended on Lap 47, Cassill had dropped to two laps down, and was instructed by the team to drop to the tail end for the restart. He remained well ahead of both Black and Vanderwal, who again traded last place on Lap 51, when Black dropped the #52 back to 36th.

Clements did not enter the last-place picture until Lap 57, when NASCAR officials reported smoke coming off the #51. Two laps later, his was the first car behind the wall, citing mechanical issues. On Lap 62, Clements took last from Vanderwal, followed three circuits later by word from the JCR crew: “We’re done,” someone said. Moments later, Cassill pulled his #89 behind the wall, leaving him 35th. Both were officially noted as out by NASCAR officials on Lap 74 – Clements with engine trouble, Cassill due to a vibration. Vanderwal was also flagged for not maintaining minimum speed, though he would ultimately finish in 29th, 23 laps down.

Leicht took the 33rd spot ahead of Colby Howard, whose first turn in the #15 Project Hope Foundation Chevrolet ended with a crash, then a near-collision with the leaders as they split around him down the backstretch. Rounding out the group was Joe Nemechek, who for the second-straight Phoenix race was involved in a wreck driving one of Mike Harmon’s cars. This time, it happened 127 laps into his race after he lost the brakes in Turn 4.

There were fireworks between Dillon Bassett, whose yellow #90 Bassett Gutters & More Chevrolet wound up 18th after a tangle with 12th-place finisher Brandon Brown in his #68 Mid Atlantic Wrecker Service Chevrolet. Brown managed to improve one spot on his 13th-place qualifying run with a late pass on Justin Allgaier, earning Brown a tie for his fifth-best XFINITY Series finish. Bassett, who confronted Brown on pit road after the race, still walked away with his fifth Top 20 finish in just seven series starts. His best remains a 13th last fall at Richmond.

Finishing a strong 15th on Saturday was all-time last-place record holder Jeff Green. It was Green’s first start since his scheduled season debut at Daytona, where RSS Racing sold his qualified ride in the #38 C2 Freight Resources Chevrolet to allow the DNQ’d Ross Chastain to make the race. The Phoenix deal was set up afterward, and this time Green would climb aboard the #93. At a track where he’d finished last eight times since 2012 driving “start-and-park” entries for RSS and TriStar Motorsports, Green ran inside the Top 10 before settling back in 15th - his best finish on a non-superspeedway since another 15th-place showing at Dover on September 29, 2012.

Clements, meanwhile, heads into next week’s Atlanta race 25th in points.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #51 in an XFINITY Series race at Phoenix.

36) #51-Jeremy Clements / 58 laps / engine
35) #89-Landon Cassill / 63 laps / vibration
34) #15-Colby Howard / 81 laps / crash
33) #66-Stephen Leicht / 101 laps / clutch
32) #47-Joe Nemechek / 127 laps / crash

1st) Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
2nd) Jeremy Clements Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)


Thursday, March 5, 2020

PREVIEW: Two XFINITY Series debuts offset two Cup invaders at Phoenix

Corey LaJoie's new Motortrend paint scheme this week.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
Saturday, March 7, 2020
XFINITY Race 4 of 33
LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Bayley Currey

There are 39 drivers entered for 36 spots, meaning three teams will miss the show.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
Penske Racing brings back their part-time #12 team for the first time since last September at Darlington, where Ryan Blaney won the pole and finished 3rd. This time, it’s teammate Brad Keselowski behind the wheel with XPEL as sponsor. Keselowski has two XFINITY wins at Phoenix, most recently this race in 2018.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
As previously announced, Colby Howard will make his XFINITY Series debut this Saturday, driving for Johnny Davis with Project Hope Foundation as sponsor. Phoenix was also the site of Howard’s Truck Series debut last fall, where he ran 21st for Young’s Motorsports. Howard takes the place of Robby Lyons, who was running last in the early laps at Fontana before he climbed to 23rd at the finish.

DRIVER SWAP: #21-Richard Childress Racing
Due to an arrangement after his qualified car at Daytona was sold to Ross Chastain, Jeff Green will make a full-race run this Saturday at Phoenix, carrying the same C2 Freight Resources sponsorship. He drives the #93 that Myatt Snider finished 11th with last week in Phoenix. This week, Snider returns to RCR’s #21 Tax Slayer Chevrolet, taking the place of Anthony Alfredo, who enjoyed a sterling 6th-place finish in his series debut.

Also rejoining the circuit this week is the third Mario Gosselin car, the #36, which this week will be driven by Alex Labbe with sponsorship from Larue Industrial Snow Blowers. Last week in Fontana, Labbe overcame an engine failure in opening practice to finish 13th, three spots behind teammate Josh Williams in the #92. This week, Labbe’s #90 will be driven by Dillon Bassett, who along with brother Ronnie begin their second part-time schedule with the team. Bassett Gutters & More will again be the sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #47-Mike Harmon Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
After both teams changed drivers late in the week for Fontana, Joe Nemechek is again listed in the #47, taking the place of Bayley Currey, who moves to the #74 in place of Kyle Weatherman, who ran 34th. Mike Harmon was originally listed in the #74 again this week, but Currey was revealed to be the driver on Wednesday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
Phoenix also sees the series debut of Kody Vanderwal, a two-time race winner at Tuscon in the ARCA Menards Series West (formerly K&N Pro Series West). The Colorado native takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who ran 25th in Fontana to close out his three-race drive in place of a departing David Starr. No sponsor is listed for the team, which has seen Circle Track Warehouse and Franklin Signs put their logos on the #52 Chevrolet.

RETURNING: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
There’s no bounty on the XFINITY Series side as Kyle Busch makes his first series attempt of the season in an expansion team from the JGR stables. Twix sponsors the Toyota to promote its new Cookies & Cream flavor. This marks the first time Gibbs has fielded the #54 since November 21, 2015, when Busch won the pole for the Homestead finale, but finished 30th after a crash.

DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill will run double-duty this week, competing in both races for MBM. He takes the place of Austin Hill, who was running as high as 8th at Fontana before a pit road penalty left him a disappointing 16th. No sponsor is listed for Hill this week, though the car is still listed with Shigeaki Hattori of Hattori Racing Enterprises as owner.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
After a 29th-place finish in Fontana by Josh Bilicki, Mason Massey returns from a week off to take another spin in B.J. McLeod’s #99. Massey does not yet have a sponsor listed. UPDATE: Make that J.J. Yeley in the #99, coming over from Jimmy Means Racing.

CUP INVADERS: #12-Brad Keselowski, #54-Kyle Busch

Sunday, March 8, 2020
CUP Race 3 of 36
Fan Shield 500 at Phoenix
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Michael McDowell

There are 38 drivers entered for 40 spots in Sunday’s race, marking the second-straight short field in the 2020 season.

Corey LaJoie carries a new paint scheme this week with Motortrend as the sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Although Garrett Smithley indicated he would run for Ware this Sunday, it is B.J. McLeod as the listed driver in his place. If so, it would be McLeod’s first start since Daytona, where he ran 38th after splitter damage in a backstretch spin midway through the event. No sponsor is yet listed on McLeod’s Chevrolet.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Pit Boss Grills has joined Timmy Hill as sponsor of the #66 this week, complete with a new black-and-white paint scheme.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Phoenix will mark the first race for Daniel Suarez’ newest sponsor CommScope.

Saturday, March 14, 2020
TRUCKS Race 3 of 23
Georgia 200 at Atlanta
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Joe Nemechek

The Truck Series returns a week from Saturday as NASCAR heads to Atlanta.

Today in LASTCAR History (March 5, 2006): Stacy Compton picked up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in the Telcel-Motorola 200 Presented by Banamex at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez when his #59 Kingsford Sure Fire / Bush’s Beans Ford had engine trouble after 3 laps. The finish came in Compton’s 141st series start during his fifth and final full-time season. This was also the second of four XFINITY races held on the Mexico City road course, and was won by then-Cup Series rookie Denny Hamlin.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

CUP: Lone engine failure makes Christopher Bell the 36th driver to complete the LASTCAR Triple Crown

PHOTO: Brock Beard
Christopher Bell picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California when his #95 Rheem Toyota fell out with a blown engine after 80 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Bell’s 3rd series start. In Cup Series last-place history, this was the 17th for the #95, the 160th for Toyota, and the 692nd from engine woes. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 26th for the #95, the 328th for Toyota, and the 1,084th from engine trouble.

After sixteen wins in just three XFINITY Series seasons, capped by a 3rd-place showing in last year’s standings, Bell followed Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer - the rest of the series’ “Big Three” – as Cup Series rookies. Bell would take the controls of Leavine Family Racing’s #95 Toyota, taking the place of Matt DiBenedetto. Bell started the year with a 9th-place finish in his first-ever Duel, then was collected in a late-race crash in the Daytona 500. Bell ran several laps with his car trailing smoke before he finally pulled off four laps short of the finish in 21st. Las Vegas was just a 33rd-place showing, but Bell authored an impressive save after contact from Bubba Wallace sent the dirt track star into a four-wheel drift through Turn 4.

Bell arrived in Fontana with the 29th-best car in opening practice, then made the jump to 5th in Happy Hour, just 0.216 of a second off Alex Bowman’s session-leading time. Despite an early draw in qualifying on a cloudy morning, however, he managed just 22nd on the speed charts with an average speed of 176.913mph (40.698 seconds). “It was fine,” said Bell of making the adjustment to running the Cup car at Fontana for the first time. “We qualified pretty close to our teammates, so that was good. Practice was a learning experience for me.”

Starting 38th and last in Sunday’s race was Martin Truex, Jr., whose #19 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Toyota failed pre-qualifying inspection three times before passing on the fourth. The result was not only the ejection of his car chief, but his car wouldn’t be allowed to take a qualifying lap. Further penalties changed the lineup before the race even started. After Ryan Preece required an engine change on his #37 Cottonelle Chevrolet, both he and teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were docked for unapproved body modifications discovered after qualifying. The specific modification was kept vague, but was reported to be something used to deflect air. Both Preece and the #47 Kroger Chevrolet of Stenhouse would be sent to the rear to join Truex, and neither would have their crew chief for Sunday’s race.

When the cars were lined up on pit road, another driver took a ceremonial last-place spot. Jimmie Johnson was the final car to qualify when he scored the outside-pole, but his #48 Ally Chevrolet was taken out of line and separated from the rest of the field to alleviate crowd congestion. Johnson’s final Cup start at his home track attracted attention all weekend, but before he led the five-wide salute during the pace laps, he spent the first lap at the back of the field.

Next to take the last spot was Denny Hamlin, whose #11 FedEx Toyota came down pit road during the five-wide salute. Hamlin returned to the track some distance behind the pack and had to catch up for the initial start – the stop cost him 28th on the grid. Hamlin slotted into the final spot to join teammate Truex, then watched as Preece and Stenhouse’s penalized Chevrolets dropped to the rear by slowing in the outside lane in Turn 1. When one more pace lap was added, the last spot changed hands once more. Among those dropping to the final three spots were Quin Houff in the #00 Victory Weekend Chevrolet, Garrett Smithley in the unsponsored white #51 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet, and Timmy Hill in the #66 Manscaped / Toyota.

When the green flag dropped, Houff and Smithley pulled away from Hill, who remained in last place at the end of Lap 1. Hill’s car showed some smoke off the right-rear when he left pit road, and seemed to be struggling for speed all afternoon. By Lap 3, every car from 32nd-place Brennan Poole in the #15 Choc Kids Chevrolet back to last-place Hill was now trailing by open track, forming a pack of their own. Houff and Hill, holding the final two spots, dropped the furthest back of the group, each running with open track in front and behind. By Lap 9, Hill was 37 seconds back of the lead, and 14 seconds back of 37th-place Houff. Race leader Alex Bowman caught Hill on Lap 10, sniffed the draft of the #66, then completed the pass into Turn 1, putting Hill the first car one lap down.

Further ahead of Houff and Hill, Smithley was holding 35th in the middle of a three-car draft. In front of him was the unsponsored #77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet of Reed Sorenson while running behind was one of Smithley’s teammates, Joey Gase, in the #53 One Legacy Ford. The three cars remained locked in a single-file draft for much of Stage 1.

“Once we kind of hit terminal velocity, we just kind of ran together and did our own deal,” said Smithley after the race. “We knew we were going to be faster together than apart, so that’s kind of what we did. Me and teammate 53, Joey, we kind of worked together to get by a couple of those cars, too. So, that’s all we can do. Definitely draft is big here, motor’s big here, so we do all we can to keep up and keep up with what we’re doing.”

The first round of green-flag stops came on Lap 26, and two circuits later, Houff took last place from Hill after pitting the #00. Hill re-took the last spot after his stop on Lap 34, where a fallen lug nut caused a delay on the left-rear. Hill was already down two laps by then, and soon proceeded to lose another lap for every ten circuits: he dropped four down on Lap 38, five down by Lap 48, and six down on Lap 58. Two laps later, Stage 1 ended with all 38 starters still running and Hill still defending last place. The MBM crew readied fresh sticker left-side tires and four-lap scuffed rights under the ensuing caution. Under the same yellow, Sorenson reported a “stiffness” in the handling of his car, and the crew suggested pulling into the garage to fix it. Sorenson remained on the track, however, and would ultimately complete all but nine laps.

On the Lap 65 restart, Sorenson and Hill trailed the field, and Hill lost his seventh lap by the 76th circuit. Four laps later came reports of a car “blowing up” into Turn 1. It was Christopher Bell.

Prior to the incident, Bell had lost a lap due to a loose wheel and was trying to get it back. But when the engine let go, he pulled behind the wall, still trailing a plume of white smoke all the way to the garage. Bell climbed out of his car as the team already began gathering their equipment – they were done for the day. Bell took last from Hill on Lap 89 and would not relinquish it for the rest of the afternoon. FanView showed Bell officially out of the event by Lap 98.

“The second stage, took off with a good restart and then started falling back and noticed the engine kind of quit sounding right,” Bell recalled after his exit. “[The engine] changed pitch and then that was it. . . So, I wish I could’ve run the race – I need experience at this race track. I haven’t been here a lot and still don’t get experience here.”

After the chaos of Saturday’s XFINITY race, Bell would be the only driver to fall out of the race – or even spend any length of time in the garage area. Hill remained 37th at the finish, 16 laps down and seven ahead of Sorenson. Houff climbed past Sorenson to 35th with Smithley a lap ahead of Houff in 34th.

“It really wasn’t that bad,” said Smithley of the day’s long green-flag runs. “I mean, we beat almost everybody we needed to beat. Had a good battle with our teammate and came up pretty clean. So, I’m pretty happy about it. I’m happy that the car’s driving so good – I think that’s the biggest takeaway is they’re really working on this front end [for Chevrolet] and really happy with how it’s driving.”

Smithley is slated to run for Ware again in next Sunday in Phoenix.

Among the day’s most surprising performances was rookie Tyler Reddick, whose #8 I Am Second Chevrolet ran as high as 5th before he settled back to 11th at the finish. Reddick now has three finishes of 18th or better in only five series starts.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #95 since November 18, 2018, when Regan Smith scored his own first career Cup Series last-place finish after issues at the start of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead. This is the first last-place finish for the #95 in a Cup race at Fontana.

38) #95-Christopher Bell / 80 laps / engine
37) #66-Timmy Hill / 184 laps / running
36) #77-Reed Sorenson / 191 laps / running
35) #00-Quin Houff / 192 laps / running
34) #51-Garrett Smithley / 193 laps / running

1st) Hendrick Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing, Motorsports Business Management (1)

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


*Bell has become the 36th driver to complete the LASTCAR Triple Crown, being classified last in at least one Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series race. The prior two for Bell occurred in Trucks at Texas on June 10, 2016, and in XFINITY at Chicagoland on June 29, 2019.