Sunday, May 31, 2020

CUP: Bristol bites Blaney’s dominant car again – and this time finishes last

SCREENSHOT: NASCAR, FS1
Ryan Blaney picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Food City Presents the Supermarkets Heroes 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #12 Menards / Richmond Ford was eliminated in a crash after 199 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Blaney’s 171st start, was his first since July 7, 2018 at Daytona, 63 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 29th for the #12, the 596th from a crash, and the 698th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 43rd for the #12, the 959th for Ford, and the 1,206th from a crash.

Since his most recent last-place finish, Blaney has developed a happy talent for winning at critical moments. He’s made the Playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and extended his title run well into the closing weeks with a single victory. In 2018, that win came in the inaugural Charlotte “Roval,” where he passed a spinning Martin Truex, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson in the final corners. Last year, it was the fall race at Talladega, where he edged Ryan Newman in a photo finish. That win kept Blaney in the fight until the penultimate round at Phoenix, one round further than he’d reached the year before.

This year, Blaney has been already been close to victory several times, only to face last-minute misfortune. He was again locked in a battle with Newman in this year’s Daytona 500, and seemed poised to claim his second straight superspeedway victory. But in an instant, the two made contact, and Newman suffered the most serious crash of his career. Denny Hamlin edged Blaney in another photo finish. Blaney nearly bounced back in Las Vegas, following Alex Bowman in a late charge to the front. But a late caution and a pit stop handed the victory to Joey Logano. At Fontana, Blaney was again on Bowman’s heels, but this time blew a tire in the final laps, leaving him 19th. He didn’t get nearly as close at Phoenix, where this time Hamlin stuffed him into the wall, leaving him next-to-last in a field of 37.

During the season’s two-month pause, Blaney participated in five rounds of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. But, as at Phoenix, luck wasn’t on his side. He ran no better than 17th in the first four races, then closed out strong with a 7th in the finale at North Wilkesboro.

Back in action this month, Blaney earned a pair of mid-pack performances at Darlington, then ran 3rd in both rounds at Charlotte, instantly tripling his season total of Top Fives. He looked to be strong at the next round in Bristol, where in three of the last four runnings he had led at least 100 laps. While his best run in the span was a 4th in the 2019 spring race, he was perhaps even closer the year before. Out front for his 100th lap, Blaney couldn’t avoid a pileup in Turn 3 and smashed headlong into the Rick Ware Racing entry driven by Harrison Rhodes. Blaney finished 35th.

For Sunday’s race, Blaney drew the fourth starting spot, closing out Ford’s sweep of the first two rows.

Drawing the 40th spot was J.J. Yeley, who rejoined Tommy Baldwin Racing for the first time since the Coca-Cola 600, this time carrying sponsorship from The Medicine Shoppe. He’d be joined at the rear by 30th-place Gray Gaulding in the #27 Panini Ford and 33rd-place Ryan Preece in the #37 Bush’s Baked Beans Chevrolet, each docked for twice failing pre-race inspection.

During the pace laps, Bayley Currey dropped back to 40th in his #53 Belmont Classic Cars Chevrolet, soon to be joined by Rick Ware Racing teammate Joey Gase in an unsponsored #51 Chevrolet. According to Twitter user @StartAndParkCar, Gase’s car had been thrown together in two days, the team trying to shoehorn a Bristol setup into their Atlanta car. This proved significant in the ensuing battle for last place.

When the green flag dropped, Currey held the 40th spot, but caught up to 39th-place Garrett Smithley in the unsponsored #77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet. By the end of Lap 2, each had moved around Gase, who dropped 7.2 seconds back of the lead. Next to challenge was Quin Houff, whose new-look #00 Mane ‘n Tail Chevrolet was booted out of the groove, dropping him to last on Lap 5, then a lap down soon after. He then got his lap back on the seventh circuit, when Ryan Newman’s spin drew the first caution. Newman’s #6 Castrol Ford and Brennan Poole’s #15 Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech Chevrolet traded the last spot under caution before Hoof took it over on Lap 12.

Gase continued to struggle with a tight condition on the #51, and took over last place on Lap 16. By the Lap 21 competition caution, he had backed up the corne   r so much he was a full 13.867 seconds back of the leader, narrowly averting a lost lap before the yellow. The spot was then traded under caution between Houff and B.J. McLeod in the #78 Circle Track Warehouse Ford. Poole took over on Lap 27, followed by Smithley on Lap 31, then Gase on Lap 34. Gase then lost his first lap on the 41st go-round.

For the rest of the afternoon, Gase continued to lose ground, and was so frequently bumped by faster traffic that he soon had damage to the left-rear corner of the rear bumper. One such hit came just before the second competition caution on Lap 60, where the driver complained his car wouldn’t turn on corner entry. The team also proposed putting a packer in the right-front as Gase’s splitter was bouncing off the track. Gase lost his second lap on Lap 47, and his third after the second competition caution around Lap 73. From there, he lost the fourth on Lap 91, the fifth on Lap 105, the sixth on Lap 115, and nearly a seventh just before the Lap 126 caution that ended Stage 1. By then, NASCAR was warning Gase to pick up his speed. Some of his laps clocked in at just 18 seconds.

On Lap 161, NASCAR black flagged Gase for the first time, giving them a chance to make repairs and meet minimum speed. By then, the driver said he couldn’t “run the bottom, the front is bouncing like no other.” The spotter helped him through traffic and onto pit road, then returned to action on Lap 168, a full 11 laps down.

Meanwhile, Currey’s own race in the Ware #53 became a struggle of its own. On Lap 171, he made an unscheduled green flag stop and dropped seven laps back. “I think something’s broken,” said Currey. “It’s vibrating and acting really weird.” Currey had apparently made contact with the wall, as NASCAR said he met minimum speed four circuits later. By Lap 193, Currey was 11 laps down – just two circuits ahead of last-place Gase. Currey had just struck the wall again on Lap 198 when the caution came out moments later.

Through the first 200 laps, Ryan Blaney had returned to form from the first four races of the season. Despite early damage to the left side of his rear bumper, he finished 2nd to Chase Elliott in Stage 1 and led 60 of the first 169 laps. He was still battling inside the Top 5 on Lap 199 when he broke loose in Turn 2, then spun sideways down the backstretch. He’d barely stopped with his driver’s side exposed to oncoming traffic when Ty Dillon bore down on him in the #13 GEICO Chevrolet. Dillon cut left, but couldn’t avoid a collision. The impact ripped off the front valence of Blaney’s car and destroyed Dillon’s right-front. First Blaney, then Dillon pulled into the garage, both of them out under the Damaged Vehicle Policy.

Under the ensuing caution, Currey fell onto the same lap as Gase and briefly took the last spot on Lap 204. The two swapped the spot again on Lap 206, then traded paint soon after. On Lap 211, Currey reported he had smoke coming off the right-rear tire and said “Joey just drove into the back of us.” FOX’s cameras then showed Gase spun to a stop with more damage to the front of his car. Had the damage been more severe than it was, Gase would have edged Blaney for last place by just a couple laps. Instead, Blaney took over last on Lap 213. “Just before that happened,” said Gase’s spotter, “you’d run within a tenth of your best lap.”

Bad luck then swung Currey’s way once more as he stalled on the backstretch, immediately slowing the action after a restart. Currey returned to his pit stall, then was pushed behind the wall for a possible battery issue. As the crew set to work, unable to get the car re-fired, Jimmie Johnson bumped Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. into a spin on Lap 229, triggering a multi-car pileup that drew the red flag. It was during this red flag that a NASCAR official informed Currey’s team they were out of the race under the Damaged Vehicle Policy. Confused, the crew contested the call, but were told they were indeed out of the race. According to NASCAR, Currey was on the six-minute clock from his Lap 198 hit into the outside wall, and didn’t meet minimum speed before the battery failed. Thus, the push behind the wall just before the red meant they were out by the DVP, not from the mechanical issue. The technicality left Currey in 38th.

Gase climbed past the four retirees from the red flag to take 33rd and eventually finished 33rd before he was flagged off the track for falling below minimum speed. This dropped two of the victims of the Lap 229 accident – the #88 ChevyGoods.comn / Adam’s Polishes Chevrolet of Alex Bowman and Tyler Reddick in the #8 Alsco Uniforms Chevrolet – into the final two spots in the Bottom Five.

As the concrete dust settled, there were a number of surprising runs in “Thunder Valley.”

Christopher Bell in the #95 JBL Toyota finished 9th with the same Leavine Family Racing team Matt DiBenedetto nearly won with the previous summer, equaling his career-best in last week’s Coca-Cola 600.

Bubba Wallace was in and around the Top 10 for much of the final stage before taking 10th, his first top-ten finish since Las Vegas in February. Wallace, who ran the Victory Junction colors on his #43 Chevrolet, led six laps under green as a rookie in this race two years ago. In five starts at the track, he’s only finished outside the Top 20 once.

Daniel Suarez came back from losing two laps after he failed to serve an early tail-end penalty to finish 18th in the #96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota. Suarez scored the Gaunt Brothers Racing team’s best finish of the year and only their second of the season on the lead lap. Only three times has the team ever finished better in a Cup Series race – all of them on superspeedways.

Then there was Timmy Hill, who made the most of his 101st series start. With added backing from RoofClaim.com following his sim racing exploits, and returning sponsorship from Pit Boss Grills, Hill finished on the lead lap in 19th, just 4.835 seconds back of race winner Brad Keselowski. It was Hill’s second-best Cup Series finish to his 14th-place showing at Indianapolis three years ago. Incidentally, Hill acquired some of the tires from Blaney’s team, which is why his car carried yellow rims at one point.

Further back, Garrett Smithley finished 26th in an unsponsored Spire Motorsports #77 Chevrolet. Just four days after a first-lap mechanical failure prevented him from even completing a lap at Charlotte, Smithley inched his way up the field, besting his 28th at Indianapolis last year. It also stands as the 6th-best finish by the Spire team, and their best on a track less than 1.5 miles in length.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Blaney’s 60 laps led set a new record for most laps led by a last-place finisher of a Cup Series race at Bristol, besting Kevin Harvick’s mark of 28 set just last summer.
*This marked only the second time car #12 has finished last in a Cup Series race at Bristol. The only other occurrence came on March 30, 1980, when Buck Simmons’ #12 Ramey’s Chevy City Chevrolet started 9th in the 32-car field, but burned the clutch after 168 laps. It was the fifth of Simmons’ eight career Cup starts from 1979 through 1980, and also marked his career-best start. He shared the ride that year with Donnie Allison and Lennie Pond.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #12-Ryan Blaney / 199 laps / crash / led 60 laps
39) #13-Ty Dillon / 201 laps / crash
38) #53-Bayley Currey / 203 laps / damaged vehicle policy
37) #88-Alex Bowman / 228 laps / crash
36) #8-Tyler Reddick / 228 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Leavine Family Racing, Penske Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, May 30, 2020

PREVIEW: Allmendinger's return, debuts of Ware and Emerling among Bristol storylines

PHOTO: @TaylorMorganRS
Sunday, May 31, 2020
CUP Race 9 of 36
Food City Presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Aric Almirola

ENTRY LIST
There are exactly 40 drivers entered for as many spots in this Sunday’s short track race at Bristol, the fifth full field in nine races this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #77-Spire Motorsports
J.J. Yeley comes from the #77 to the #7, taking the place of Josh Bilicki, who isn’t entered after he drove the car on Thursday. Driving the #77 this week is a returning Reed Sorenson, who was scheduled to run last Thursday before Yeley was put into the car, and will campaign a 2019 Chevrolet. Sorenson finished 29th his last time out in the Sunday race at Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Prior to Garrett Smithley's unfortunate first-lap crash at Charlotte, Rick Ware announced that Bayley Currey would make his first Cup start of the season at Bristol with returning sponsorship from Belmont Classic Cars and associate backing from Fort Worth Screen Printing. Currey made 10 Cup starts for Ware last year with a best of 25th at Pocono.

Monday, June 1, 2020
XFINITY Race 7 of 33
Cheddars 300 Presented by Alsco at Bristol
2019 Last-Place Finisher: John Jackson

ENTRY LIST
The postponement of last Wednesday’s Cup race in Charlotte moved the XFINITY Series to the day after the Cup race, where 37 drivers will line up on a grid allowing for 40 spots. The series has yet to hit the 40-car mark since NASCAR temporarily allowed field increases for races without qualifying.

RETURNING: #16-Kaulig Racing
The part-time third team from the Kaulig stables returns with A.J. Allmendinger behind the wheel. Allmendinger will certainly benefit from being locked-in after bizarre mechanical issues for the team at Daytona kept him out of the season opener.

NEW SPONSOR: #44-Martins Motorsports
Gilreath Farms Red Angus joins as sponsor for Tommy Joe Martins, who was running 11th last week in Charlotte when he was collected in a late-race wreck triggered by the leaders.

MISSING: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
After competing in all seven races at both Darlington and Charlotte, Kyle Busch will not run Monday’s XFINITY race. The postponement, however, means he will have run eight straight races through Sunday’s 500-lapper.

DRIVER SWAP: #61-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
With Austin Hill and the Hattori support out of the #61, Timmy Hill will take the wheel of a 2018 Toyota. Recall that Timmy ran well with limited Hattori support at Bristol just last summer, finishing 7th in an MBM car. Stephen Leicht returns to the #66 for the first time since his last-place run in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #90-DGM Racing
Ronnie Bassett, Jr. takes over for brother Dillon Bassett. This will be just the second start of the season for Ronnie, who last took the wheel of DGM’s #36 Chevrolet at Darlington. Nearly flagged off the track for not maintaining minimum speed in the early laps, he managed to finish four laps down in 31st.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #93-RSS Racing
After a short night for Jeff Green in Charlotte, he will have returning sponsorship from C2 Freight this weekend in Bristol. However, Green tweeted on Thursday he will still not be running the full race. This will be Green’s 39th series start at Bristol, a track where he won the 2002 spring race with Richard Childress Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Our Motorsports
Fresh off the team’s first top-ten finish at Charlotte, Brett Moffitt is out of the #02 this week, making way for Patrick Emerling. The team will be sponsored by Robert B. Our Co., Inc. This will be Emerling’s first XFINITY Series start, and his first in any of NASCAR’s national touring series since 2017, when he ran two Truck Series races for D.J. Copp. His best finish was his series debut at Loudon, where he ran 23rd.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
Carson Ware, the younger brother of Cody Ware, will make his XFINITY Series debut, taking over for Garrett Smithley. Carson made his Truck Series debut last November for the Reaume Brothers, finishing 30th after early electrical issues. Longtime Ware sponsor Jacob Companies will back the run after Smithley's sponsor Dream Giveaway was on the preliminary list. Reports indicate Ray Black, Jr. has stepped out of the ride to help his family's business recover from the pandemic.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 30, 1998): Loy Allen, Jr., the polesitter for the 1994 Daytona 500, picked up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career when his #78 Mark III Financial Chevrolet fell out with rear end trouble after 18 laps of the MBNA Platinum 200 at Dover. Allen had rebounded from a DNQ in the previous round, but this early exit at Dover would become his fourth and final series start. He made his final two Cup starts the following year, driving for Scott Barbour in the #58 Turbine Solutions Ford at Michigan and Daytona.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

CUP: Mechanical failure sends Garrett Smithley into teammate Gase on opening lap of Thursday night Charlotte race

PHOTO: @RickWareRacing
Garrett Smithley picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Thursday’s Alsco Uniforms 500k at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #53 Dream Giveaway Chevrolet fell out in a multi-car pileup without completing any of the 208 laps.

The wreck, which came in Smithley’s 24th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since June 10, 2018 at Michigan, 65 races ago. That race marked Smithley’s series debut, where he was eliminated by first-lap transmission woes in StarCom Racing’s #99 Victory Lane Quick Oil Change Chevrolet.

In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 20th for the #53, the 595th from a crash, and the 782nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 26th for the #53, the 1,205th from a crash, and the 1,712th for Chevrolet.

The 2020 season marks a significant transition in Smithley’s career as, for the first time since 2015, he is no longer a full-time XFINITY Series driver for JD Motorsports. The shift comes after a 14-race Cup schedule just last year, where he drove for the now-unified teams of Spire Motorsports, Premium Motorsports, and Rick Ware Racing. Among his sponsorship partners have been Victory Lane Quick Oil Change, which Smithley said is also trying to establish its own national presence. His best series finish remains a 28th last summer at Indianapolis, where former owner-driver Jeff Spraker served as his crew chief.

Prior to the pandemic’s pausing of the season, Smithley drove in three of the first four races of the year, finishing 35th at Las Vegas, 34th in Fontana, then 35th at Phoenix after mid-race engine trouble. He then became one of the biggest standouts of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, where his Rick Ware-themed #51 Chevrolet finished worse than 9th only once in the seven-race series. He also qualified no worse than 14th in each event, including a pole position in the series opener at Homestead.

When the series returned at Darlington, Smithley was moved from Rick Ware’s #51 to the #53. He’d been slated to run the #52, which was on a chassis dyno just days before the race, but new sponsors after the Premium Motorsports merger requested their third team use the former Premium #27. Smithley ran just 37th in the Sunday Darlington race after power steering issues, then just 34th in the return on Wednesday before a 33rd in the Coca-Cola 600. It was in NASCAR’s longest race that Smithley gave Victory Lane Quick Oil Change their first start of the season.

Following the 600, Smithley would run triple-duty for all three of NASCAR’s national series, making his first race of the year in both the XFINITY and Truck Series. He was first tabbed to replace Ray Black, Jr., who surrendered his ride with SS-Green Light Racing to help his family business recover from losses suffered during the pandemic. Smithley finished 31st, ten laps down. He then ran the #40 in Tuesday’s Truck Series race for Niece Motorsports, but was spun into the inside wall before breaking the rear end, leaving him 36th in a field of 40.

Smithley’s completion of the triple-header was scheduled for Wednesday night, where his XFINITY sponsor Dream Giveaway would back the #53 team for the first time. Since he finished outside the Top 20 for the field invert, Smithley would resume his 33rd starting spot in the main event.

Lining up 40th was Jimmie Johnson, whose runner-up finish in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was invalidated by a disqualification for failing OSS post-race inspection. Johnson’s #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet would be joined by 6th-place Aric Almirola for unapproved adjustments to his #10 Smithfield Ford and both 31st-place J.J. Yeley in the #77 Aquesta Bank Chevrolet and Josh Bilicki in the #7 Strutmasters.com Chevrolet for driver changes following Sunday’s 600. Bilicki slotted into the 40th spot first, followed by Almirola, who dropped back in the high line, then Yeley, who dropped below Bowyer and Johnson to fall to the rear.

When the green flag dropped, Bilicki was briefly running at or near the last spot, putting him in the middle of a sudden disaster in Turn 3. In front of him were Smithley and teammate Joey Gase, running the #51 Carolina Cooker Ford. Both were suddenly in a four-wide battle with another car as Clint Bowyer dove under them in his #14 Peak Ford. Just past corner entry, Smithley’s car didn’t turn and ran straight up the track, clipping Gase in the left-rear and sending both cars hard into the outside wall. Bilicki’s spotter shouted for his driver to go low, and the #7 cleared the wreck by mere inches.

Smithley’s car briefly caught fire behind the flat right-front tire as he slid down to the apron of Turn 4, then stopped short of the entrance of pit road. The right side of the car was flattened, and the driver soon climbed out, ending his day. A tow truck was dispatched to tow him to the garage.

Gase, who briefly took over last place despite pulling ahead of Smithley to reach his pit stall, was beside himself. “Who was in the 53 tonight?” he asked as the crew taped up the decklid. “I mean, come on, what is the 53 doing?” The spotter said Smithley’s car appeared to hit the splitter on the track before he drove into Gase’s left-rear. Initial speculation was that an oil line came loose, but this was later changed to a loose valve cover, which triggered the fire. Gase pulled back onto the track on Lap 6, dropping Smithley to last. Gase also asked if Smithley was driving the same car from Sunday, and if the team changed engines. The crew confirmed it was Smithley’s car from Sunday, but did not know if there as an engine change.

On Lap 12, Gase tried to keep up with the rest of the field on the restart, but with his quarter-panel catching air like a parachute, his car was loose center-off. Seconds later, NASCAR said Gase had failed to meet minimum speed, and was out of the race under the Damaged Vehicle Policy. Gase pulled into the garage on Lap 14, his day done after just eight completed laps. NASCAR Officials in the garage radioed the tower to confirm Smithley and Gase were out on Lap 20, but the message wasn’t relayed until Lap 23. The official listed both drivers out due to “accident,” even though Gase’s retirement was due to the DVP.

Brennan Poole took 38th after his #15 Spartan Go Chevrolet was damaged in a Lap 74 wreck where he slid into Quin Houff’s #00 Good Greek Movers Chevrolet, putting both cars into the Turn 2 wall. Both drivers continued on in the race, but Poole later pulled into the garage around Lap 95. On Lap 99, someone on the #15 team said “We’re done, boys, load it up.” They then gave one set of tires to Spire Motorsports’ #77, whose driver J.J. Yeley finished 34th.

The night’s biggest heartbreak belonged to Bubba Wallace, who was in and out of the Top 10 for much of the race’s second and final stages. Wallace was running 11th with 43 laps to go when he broke loose in Turn 2 and slapped the outside wall. The driver said the brake pedal was to the floor, and believed it was another of the hub issues that have plagued the team. He returned for another pit stop before he pulled out of the race after 165 laps. Bilicki rounded out the Bottom Five in 36th, coming home under power, eight laps down.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*The last time the #53 finished last in a Cup Series points race at Charlotte was October 7, 1984, when Donny Paul’s #53 Paul Brothers Chevrolet lost the engine after 1 lap of the Miller High Life 500. This was Paul’s first of just three series starts from 1984 through 1987.
*Smithley’s incident marks just the fifth time the last-place finisher of a Cup race at Charlotte failed to complete the opening lap. The first was the inaugural World 600 on June 19, 1960, when Lennie Page was the lowest-classified of six drivers disqualified for cutting the entrance to pit road. The remaining three also happened in the 600-miler: May 27, 1979, when Ron Hutcherson had rear end trouble on his #57 McClure Motors Ford; May 26, 1996, when Chad Little’s oil pump failed on the #97 Sterling Cowboy Pontiac; and May 28, 2006, when Dale Jarrett’s #88 UPS Ford was wrecked on the backstretch.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #53-Garrett Smithley / 0 laps / crash
39) #51-Joey Gase / 8 laps / damaged vehicle policy
38) #15-Brennan Poole / 86 laps / crash
37) #43-Bubba Wallace / 165 laps / crash
36) #7-Josh Bilicki / 200 laps / running

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Leavine Family Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Toyota (3)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

TRUCKS: Spencer Davis gives #11 its first Truck Series last-place finish since 1996

PHOTO: Chris Graythen, Getty Images
Spencer Davis picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoor & RV Truck Series career in Tuesday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #11 Tower Sealants / Southern Premier Construction Toyota fell out with transmission issues after 54 of 134 laps.

The finish came in Davis’ 11th series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #11, the 34th from transmission issues, and the 36th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 57th for the #11, the 160th from transmission problems, and the 331st for Toyota.

Davis has much in common with Chase Elliott, who won Tuesday’s race. A second-generation racer from Dawsonville, Georgia, Davis has been racing since he was six. Nicknamed “The Show” according to the Rette-Jones Racing website, Davis started racing NASCAR modifieds in 2014 when he was just 15 years old and took Rookie of the Year. The next year, he ran closed-fendered cars in the K&N Pro Series East and took his first checkered flag in the 2016 round in Virginia’s Dominion Raceway, besting current XFINITY full-timer Justin Haley. Next came seven starts in the ARCA Menards Series, where his best run was a 3rd in his debut at Talladega.

Kyle Busch Motorsports took notice of the young upstart, earning him a part-time effort in 2018. He finished 7th in his Truck Series debut at Daytona and led seven laps at Texas. Just last year, he worked with Mark Rette of Rette-Jones Racing, pairing up a full-season effort in the K&N Pro Series East with a few more Truck Series starts. He nearly matched his best Truck Series finish at Kentucky last summer, finishing 8th in the team’s #11 Toyota. Davis himself became the listed owner of the #11 entry for 2020, which he debuted in February’s race in Las Vegas with a strong 12th-place finish.

Charlotte hosted the first Truck Series race in over three months, and thanks to NASCAR’s rule temporarily allowing fields of 40 in XFINITY and Trucks, tied a series record. Only six times before had the Truck Series seen more than 38 starters in a points race, and never more than 40. The last 40-truck field was seen on November 8, 1998 at Las Vegas. This was of little comfort to seven drivers and teams who failed to qualify based on their rank in Owner Points (and inability to trade ranks with a locked-in team). Left out of the field were Norm Benning, Parker Kligerman, Trey Hutchens, Tim Viens, Erik Jones, Bryant Barnhill, and Dawson Cram.

Davis lined up 28th. Although his team had made just one previous start all season, he was locked-in thanks to his previous employer at Kyle Busch Motorsports, who allowed him to use the points of their non-entered part-time #46 team.

Taking 40th and last was Ray Ciccarelli, who not only made his first start of the season and first at Charlotte, but for the first time in 2020 got both his Springrate-sponsored Chevrolets into the show. Ciccarelli drove the team’s primary #49 while T.J. Bell was at the controls of the #83, which rolled off three spots ahead in 37th. Before the race, Bayley Currey swapped into Ciccarelli's #49.

Sent to the rear before the start was 36th-place Bryan Dauzat, whose Jim Rosenblum-owned FDNY Racing has often attempted the Charlotte race. The FDNY crew rebuilt their damaged Daytona truck for the race, but incurred a tail-end penalty before the start as they had to change alternators on the day of the race.

When the race started, Dauzat raced Clay Greenfield, who was running the “Tennessee Strong” paint scheme his #68 team had planned to run for the postponed race in Atlanta. Both made quick work of Jesse Iwuji, who by the end of Lap 1 was 1.4 seconds back of Dauzat in his #33 RBR Graphics Chevrolet. On Lap 2, Iwuji’s spotter alerted him to a truck slowing in front of him – Jordan Anderson, whose #3 Bommarito.com Chevrolet was forced to make an unscheduled green-flag stop. Anderson returned to the track two laps down, taking last from Iwuji, who lost his first lap on the 8th circuit.

Dauzat re-took last place on Lap 13, after he’d made an unscheduled pit stop of his own, then was nabbed for speeding, forcing a pass-through penalty. When the competition caution fell on Lap 15, Dauzat was back on the track five laps down. He’d pit again under the yellow for a can of fuel. Dauzat continued to struggle on the restart, saying he had to lift off the gas in Turns 3 and 4. The team also had concerns that their tires were too worn out. On top of this, NASCAR Officials alerted the team to something dragging under Dauzat’s truck on Lap 41. He was then advised again to pick up his speed on Lap 51, just three laps after Iwuji was advised to do the same. Iwuji’s crew told him to keep his truck on the bottom lane, which would play a role in how his night ended.

On Lap 54, Dauzat was posted for not meeting the minimum speed and came back down pit road, dropping him eight laps down. Iwuji made a stop of his own the next time by. Only then did Spencer Davis enter the last-place battle. The driver reported he’d climbed to 17th when his truck suddenly wouldn’t pull, forcing him to the garage area. “It just let loose,” said Davis. “Wasn’t putting no drive to the tires.” As he pulled behind the team’s hauler, the team worked to replace an axle, then the rear gear. Both proved difficult – the axle wouldn’t budge, and the rear gear was well away from where they had parked, sitting on jack stands next to a fence. They also had difficulty finding the tool to unhook the u-joint.

On Lap 70, Davis’ crew radioed that they may be done for the night, and for the first time said “it’s the transmission.” But it wasn’t until Lap 110 – with just 24 laps to go – that NASCAR Officials confirmed Davis was out with transmission issues. Also confirmed in that message was the retirement of 39th-place Iwuji, who was involved in one of the night’s biggest wrecks. On Lap 81, Iwuji couldn’t hold the bottom when he was being passed by Brennan Poole and Stewart Friesen. The three trucks collided, collecting the #26 of Tyler Ankrum. Iwuji, who was at least six laps down at the time, was done for the night. Poole was collected in a second accident on the restart with Natalie Decker, and when the six-minute "Crash Clock" ran out, his #30 Remember Everyone Deployed Toyota took 38th.

For a time, it appeared Matt Crafton would finish his night in the Bottom Five. His #88 Oklahoma Joe’s Smokers / Menards Ford came down pit road late in the race with the rear end traveling around, the result of a snapped bolt on the track bar. Crafton tumbled to 37th spot, but returned to the track on Lap 126. In those final eight laps, Crafton climbed past two other wrecked trucks to take 35th – Todd Gilliland, whose #38 Black’s Tire Service Ford was turned into the wall by John Hunter Nemechek, and Garrett Smithley, who walled the #40 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet when he spun down the backstretch, then fell out with rear end trouble.

Dauzat, whose FDNY crew continued to try and raise their truck to keep it from dragging, managed to finish under power in 34th, 14 laps down to race winner Chase Elliott.

Mike Hurlbert and his Bud Light Ford, 1995.
PHOTO: @ForRaceFansOnly
LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Prior to Tuesday’s race, just one driver had ever finished last in a Truck Series race driving the #11 –Mike Hurlbert. The Lynden, Washington-born driver made 22 series starts from 1995 through 1997 with a career-best 16th three times during the inaugural season at the bullrings of Tucson, I-70, and Colorado. He also finished last six times, most recently at Loudon on September 8, 1996, when his #11 RPM Racing Ford lost an engine on the first lap of the Pennzoil VIP Tripleheader. Hurlbert’s five last-place finishes in 1996 were enough to claim the LASTCAR Truck Series Championship, and set a single-season record that stood until 1999, when Phil Bonifield took six.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #11-Spencer Davis / 54 laps / transmission
39) #33-Jesse Iwuji / 74 laps / crash
38) #30-Brennan Poole / 83 laps / dvp
37) #38-Todd Gilliland / 102 laps / crash
36) #40-Garrett Smithley / 105 laps / rear end

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Niece Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing, Spencer Davis Motorsports (1)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Toyota (1)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Monday, May 25, 2020

XFINITY: Overheating car hands Colby Howard first last-place finish

PHOTO: @JDMotorsports01
Colby Howard picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Monday’s Alsco 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #15 SANY America Chevrolet fell out with overheating issues after 11 of 203 laps.

The finish came in Howard’s third series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #15, the 34th from overheating issues, and the 545th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 40th for the #15, the 174th from overheating issues, and the 1,711th for Chevrolet.

Just 18 years old from Simpsonville, South Carolina, Howard is among the many series newcomers trying to gain experience in national competition. According to his website, Colby began racing Bandloeros at Greenville Pickens Speedway and Anderson Motor Speedway, then worked his way to mini-stocks, limited late models, and full-blown late models. Through much of his career, Howard has been sponsored by the Project HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit benefiting the autistic.

On April 22, 2018, Howard made his ARCA debut at Salem Speedway, finishing 8th for Mason Mitchell. His Truck Series debut came the following November at Phoenix, where he ran 21st for Youngs Motorsports. Over the ensuing offseason, Howard signed with JD Motorsports, joining several drivers who would alternate between the team’s four different cars. Howard made his series debut in the last XFINITY race before the season’s suspension, running 34th after a mid-race crash at Phoenix. He then ran 27th in the series return at Darlington. Project HOPE sponsored both efforts.

Howard drew the 29th spot in Monday’s field, placing him behind JD Motorsports teammates B.J. McLeod in 14th and Jeffrey Earnhardt in 23rd, but ahead of Jesse Little in 34th. Bayley Currey was swapped into the 36th-place starting #74 Save22.vet Chevrolet, taking the place of Robby Lyons.

Starting 37th and last was Alex Labbe, who was swapped from DGM Racing’s #90 to the #36 Larue Snowblowers Chevrolet. Among those joining him at the rear were 33rd-place Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet and Jeff Green, who drew 20th in an unsponsored #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet and confirmed he wouldn’t be running the whole race.

When the race started, Mills was so far back of the field that his car didn’t register an interval back of the leader as he crossed the stripe. Moments later, he was shown 6.81 seconds behind. He took over last at the end of Lap 1 with Green holding 36th, two seconds in front of Mills. Mills had dropped a full 11 seconds back of the lead when the first caution fell on Lap 5 for Kody Vanderwal, who struck the wall in Jimmy Means’ #52 Chevrolet.

Under the caution, Mills radioed he had smoke in the cockpit while Green said his car’s splitter was hitting the track. Green’s pit stop for adjustments and tightening the lug nuts dropped him to last on Lap 6, when he lost a lap to the leaders. Back on the track, Vanderwal was the last car on the lead lap, but this time he quickly lost touch with the rest of the field. On Lap 9, Vanderwal met minimum speed to clear the “Crash Clock,” but Howard now dropped to 35th place.

On Lap 11, Green’s spotter radioed that a car “sounds like they might be blowing up” and was smoking. It first appeared to be Vanderwal, who was now 5.5 seconds back of Howard. But Howard himself then pulled into the garage, and took last on Lap 14. Moments later, NASCAR Officials confirmed Howard had gone to the garage, and the team said overheating issues ended their day.

Green pulled into the garage on Lap 16. After his earlier splitter issues, he now believed he had a flat tire, then issues with the steering that kept the car from turning to the right. Perhaps due to smoke from the Green car, NASCAR Officials kept an eye on the #93 as he pulled in, four laps ahead of Howard. Vanderwal’s engine then let go down the backstretch on Lap 29, taking him out of the event and placing him 35th.

On Lap 39, NASCAR Officials in the garage confirmed Howard was out with overheating, Green with power steering, and Vanderwal with engine trouble.

Timmy Hill finished 34th when his #66 RoofClaim.com Toyota lost an engine in Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 156, dropping fluid that caused both Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe to slap the wall. Austin Hill, whose #61 AISIN Group Toyota was fully-backed by Hattori Racing Enterprises, crashed out on Lap 177, collecting Jeremy Clements in the #51 All South Electric Chevrolet.

The heartbreaker of the night had to be Tommy Joe Martins, who clawed his way to 11th in his #44 Market Rebellion Chevrolet with just two laps to go. He was running in the low lane when three of the leaders tangled coming off Turn 2, triggering a pileup he couldn’t avoid. Martins spun and was struck by a passing Justin Haley, sending both cars hard into the inside wall. Martins finished 24th.

Finishing inside the Top 10 were both Brett Moffitt and Brandon Brown, each earning strong runs for their underfunded efforts. Moffitt’s #02 FR8 Auctions Chevrolet climbed to 6th in the final running order, scoring the first top-ten finish for Our Motorsports after a previous season-best of 11th last week in Darlington. Brown finished 8th in the #68 Coastal Carolina University Class of 2020 Chevrolet, just one spot shy of his season-best of 7th in the Daytona opener.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #15 in an XFINITY Series race at Charlotte. The number hadn’t finished last in the series since September 16, 2017, when Matt Mills had a vibration after 3 laps of the TheHouse.com at Chicagoland.
*Howard is the seventh driver to score his first XFINITY Series last-place finish in the #15, joining Dale Earnhardt (1982), Jeff Purvis (1990), Clay Brown (1993), Michael Annett (2010), Todd Peck (2016), and Matt Mills (2017).

THE BOTTOM FIVE
37) #15-Colby Howard / 11 laps / overheating
36) #93-Jeff Green / 15 laps / power steering
35) #52-Kody Vanderwal / 26 laps / engine
34) #66-Timmy Hill / 151 laps / engine
33) #61-Austin Hill / 173 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
2nd) JD Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, Motorsports Business Management, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Toyota (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

CUP: Jimmie Johnson’s disqualification nixes strong runner-up finish in Coca-Cola 600

PHOTO: @NASCAR
Jimmie Johnson picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #48 Ally Patriotic Chevrolet finished 2nd, but was disqualified for failing post-race inspection, classifying him last with all 405 laps complete.

The finish, which came in Johnson’s 658th series start, was his first of the season, and his first in a Cup race since Martinsville on October 27, 2019, ten races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place history, this was the 23rd for the #48, the 24th from disqualification, and the 781st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, this was the 30th for the #48, the 35th from disqualification, and the 1,710th for Chevrolet.

Clint Bowyer picked up the 9th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #14 Rush Truck Centers / Mobil Delvac 1 Ford was involved in a hard single-car crash after 96 of 405 laps.

The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 512th series start, was his first of the season and first since March 17, 2019 at Fontana, 38 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 41st for the #41, the 595th from a crash, and the 698th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 60th for the #14, the 959th for Ford, and the 1,205th from a crash.

Despite the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the current schedule, Johnson reaffirmed his decision to retire from full-time Cup Series competition at the end of the 2020 season. Prior to the national emergency declaration in March, Johnson had secured 5th in the series standings, bouncing back from a late wreck at Daytona to finish 5th in Las Vegas, 7th, and Fontana, and 12th at Phoenix. The Fontana run was perhaps the most emotional, as he nearly took the pole from Clint Bowyer and led a five-wide salute at his home track with his wife and children waving the green flag from the flag stand.

Johnson also participated in several iRacing events during the suspension, including six of the seven rounds of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. After a disastrous opener in Homestead, where he was involved in several accidents, he continued to struggle for the rest of the series, finishing no better than 19th. He ran better in two IndyCar rounds at digital Indianapolis and Barber Motorsports Park, which seemed better suited to his open-wheel designed sim rig: Johnson finished 16th in the former and 12th in the latter.

Back in action at Darlington, Johnson looked to pick up where he left off in March. Incidentally, he’d won at Darlington the last time the track hosted two Cup dates, taking the spring race in 2004. He drew the 8th starting spot and chased down teammate Alex Bowman in the early laps, taking the lead on Lap 81. He was still leading on the final lap of Stage 1 when he caught Chris Buescher off Turn 2 and bumped the #17 Fastenal Ford into the wall. Buescher’s car bounced back into Johnson’s, sending the #48 careening head-on into the inside wall. Johnson was uninjured, and as his crew chief Cliff Daniels rallied the troops on pit road, the #48 team left the track 38th in a field of 40. This placed him 37th on the grid for Wednesday’s return to the track, where he bounced back with an 8th-place finish.

Charlotte was next, another of Johnson’s best tracks. He’d won there eight times, including four Coca-Cola 600s – three in a row from 2003 through 2005. Though he hadn’t won at the track since 2016, he’d also finished worse than 8th just once since then – a 17th in the spring of 2017. He’d even come within one swerve of taking the inaugural Charlotte “Roval” race in 2018 before his last-turn spin collected race leader Martin Truex, Jr.

As part of NASCAR’s Memorial Day tribute, Johnson’s windshield would carry the name of Army Corporal Patrick Deans, who served in the 101st Airborne Division. On December 12, 2010, Corporal Deans and five other soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Adding to the tribute, Johnson’s car and helmet would be painted an olive drab color with stenciled white graphics and an exposed rivet pattern. “To have Corporal Deans on my car and run a special paint scheme is a big honor for me to recognize the individual, and all those who have lost a loved one,” said Johnson.

Johnson qualified a strong 2nd with a lap of 181.214mph, but held the provisional pole for most of the session before Kurt Busch edged him by nine-thousandths of a second.

Starting 40th and last in Sunday’s race was Aric Almirola, whose #10 Smithfield Ford spun out during his qualifying lap and backed lightly into the Turn 4 wall. By rolling past the stripe during his spin, Almirola was the only driver to not record a completed qualifying lap. Repairing the minor damage also incurred Almirola a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, joined by 9th-place qualifier Brad Keselowski in the #2 Miller Lite Ford, 32nd-place Timmy Hill in the #66 RoofClaim.com Toyota, and 34th-place J.J. Yeley in the #7 VCP Chevrolet. Also sent to the rear was Matt DiBenedetto, who during qualifying slapped the Turn 4 wall with the passenger side of his #21 Menards / FVP Ford. Unlike Almirola, DiBenedetto’s wreck sent him to a backup car. However, none of these drivers spent much time in last place.

Clint Bowyer's wreck that left him last at the end of the race.
PHOTO: @NASCARonNBC
As the field rolled off pit road into Turn 1, wisps of smoke were seen from 13th-place Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx #SupportSmall Toyota. As he climbed the banking, two chunks of Tungsten ballast tumbled from the driver’s side rail. According to 39th-place Joey Gase in the #51 ACS Chevrolet, at least three drivers ran over the debris. Among these drivers was the penalized Aric Almirola, who avoided one piece with a swerve to the left that caused him to clip the other with his left-front fender. Gase had also winged one of the pieces, starting a slow leak in one of his tires. But Hamlin was the first to pit road, making an unscheduled stop during the final pace laps.

Hamlin was still on pit road when the race went green, the crew scrambling to find new ballast. Someone on the FedEx crew suggested they just go home, but someone else on the team said “we can’t do that.” Hamlin remained in last place while Gase came down pit road in the first six laps. Contact with Hamlin’s ballast cut the inside sidewall of one of the tires on the #51, forcing a pit stop, and on Lap 6 he lost more time serving a penalty for too many crew members over the wall. Hamlin then returned to the track on Lap 8, completing his first lap on the ninth circuit. Hamlin then tried to focus on his car’s handling, saying it was running tight while in traffic.

Hamlin and Gase remained in the final two positions for much of the first stage. On Lap 69, Gase was three laps ahead of Hamlin. Then on Lap 97, with just three laps to go in Stage 1, the caution fell for a wreck in Turn 4. Involved was Clint Bowyer, whose #14 Rush Truck Centers / Mobil Delvac 1 Ford suffered a lower control arm failure that sent him hard into the outside wall. Bowyer, who was running 11th at the time of the accident, was slow to get out of the now-burning car, catching his breath as crews put out the flames. On Lap 100, as Stage 1 ended under yellow, Bowyer’s car was towed to the garage. He took last from Hamlin on Lap 106, the first car out of the race.

Bowyer’s car carried the name of Private First Class Andy Krippner of Garland, Texas. Just six weeks into his tour in Afghanistan, and just days after his 20th birthday, Private Krippner and three other soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when their vehicle was struck by an IED. “I am incredibly honored to carry Andy’s name on our car and can’t thank him and his family and friends enough for the sacrifices made for our country,” said Bowyer in an interview with NBC Sports.

From then through the end of the race, Bowyer seemed assured of his second last-place finish at Charlotte, following an engine failure on October 11, 2014. Car #14 hadn’t finished last in a Cup Series race at Charlotte since October 7, 1979, when Jimmy Means made a one-off start in H.B. Cunningham’s #14 Cunningham-Kelley Chevrolet for the NAPA National 500. Means qualified 19th and falling out after 1 lap with handling woes. The car was most commonly driven by the late Coo Coo Marlin, who finished last in both Charlotte races in 1975, including the only previous last-place finish for the number in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 1975.

Meanwhile, Johnson enjoyed one of his best runs of the season. After saving his car when it broke loose early in Turn 2, he led six laps and earned stage points in all three stages, finishing 8th, 10th, and 4th, respectively. Twice in the final laps, he was in contention for the win, including the final restart, when he took the green on the front row alongside eventual race winner Brad Keselowski. Johnson closed to Keselowski’s bumper on the final lap, and came just short of making a move in the high lane. The runner-up finish was Johnson’s best of the season and jumped him three positions in points, from 12th to 9th, tied with Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola as 82 points back of the lead.

But after 2 A.M. local time, following post-race inspection, news broke that Johnson’s car failed the Optical Scanning Station (OSS), specifically the rear alignment tolerance. The result was an immediate disqualification, dropping Johnson from 2nd to last place, and forfeiting his 11 stage points earned during the night. The disqualification lifted Bowyer from last place, bumped Quin Houff out of the Bottom Five, and Brennan Poole out of the Bottom Ten. UPDATE: Johnson now loses three spots in points, tying him with Tyler Reddick for 15th.

Finishing 38th was Bubba Wallace, whose #43 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet suffered a hub failure that sent him behind the wall just before the halfway point. Wallace fell 70 laps down before he returned to the track briefly on Lap 209. But someone then said “Something broke in the rear. Let’s go to the garage – we’re done.” Wallace ultimately fell out with 164 completed laps, citing a vibration for the hub issue.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were J.J. Yeley, whose #7 VCP Chevrolet was eliminated under the damaged vehicle policy following an undisclosed accident that didn’t draw the caution flag, and Joey Gase, whose #51 ACS Ford spun on Lap 349, drawing the caution flag just short of scheduled green-flag pit stops. Gase finished as the final car under power, 20 laps down to the leaders.

Tyler Reddick’s incredible first season continued with a 9th-place finish, his third top-ten finish in just nine career Cup starts. He finshed just one spot ahead of Christopher Bell, who like at Las Vegas, saved his car from a wreck in a four-wheel drift after contact from Ryan Blaney entering Turn 3. Bell’s 10th-place finish was his first career Top Ten in his seventh series start.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #48 in a Cup Series points race at Charlotte.
*Johnson is also the fourth driver to be classified last at Charlotte by reason of disqualification. The first came in the June 19, 1960 inaugural, when Lennie Page was the lowest-ranked of six penalized for cutting off the entrance to pit road. Buddy Baker was disqualified on October 7, 1973 after a disagreement between his team owner and NASCAR officials over inspecting the engine. And Bobby Hillin, Jr.’s disqualification on October 11, 1992 was the last for a Cup driver in a points race until Erik Jones’ penalty at Richmond just last year.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 405 laps / disqualified / led 6 laps
39) #14-Clint Bowyer / 96 laps / crash
38) #43-Bubba Wallace / 164 laps / vibration
37) #7-J.J. Yeley / 251 laps / dvp
36) #51-Joey Gase / 385 laps / running

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Leavine Family Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (3)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, May 23, 2020

PREVIEW: Massive Truck Series entry list among the stories heading into Charlotte

SOURCE: @chaseelliott
Sunday, May 24, 2020
CUP Race 7 of 36
Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Erik Jones

ENTRY LIST
There are 40 drivers entered for as many spots, marking the second full field in the last three races. This will also be the first race since the suspension of the season where cars will qualify. The lineup will be set Sunday afternoon before the race.

RETURNING: #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
After skipping both Cup races at Darlington, Ross Chastain returns to run his previously scheduled start in the Spire #77, carrying Daytona 500 sponsor Advent Health. Chastain’s return bumps J.J. Yeley to the #7, which returns to the track after skipping Wednesday’s night race at Darlington. Josh Bilicki, who ran the car that day, is not entered.

Monday, May 25, 2020
XFINITY Race 6 of 33
Alsco 300 at Charlotte
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Chad Finchum

ENTRY LIST
There are just 37 drivers entered for 40 spots in the upcoming Memorial Day race for the XFINITY Series, two fewer cars than in the circuit’s return last Thursday in Darlington. The series has yet to have a 40-car field in the series since the temporary field increase by NASCAR.

DRIVER SWAP: #21-Richard Childress Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #93-RSS Racing
Myatt Snider struggled mightily in the #93 last Thursday and finished 35th. He now moves back to the RCR #21, taking the place of Anthony Alfredo, who isn’t entered. Returning to the seat of the #93 is Jeff Green, his first start since Phoenix in March. No sponsor is yet listed for Green, so it is yet uncertain whether the car will run the full race.

MISSING: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Colin Garrett is not entered after brake trouble left him just 37th at Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #36-DGM Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #90-DGM Racing
Alex Labbe moves from the #90 back to the #36 this week, taking the place of Ronnie Bassett, Jr., who isn’t entered after a 31st-place run in Darlington. Ronnie’s brother Dillon Bassett will drive the #90 in Labbe’s place. We last saw Dillon Bassett run at Phoenix just before the suspension of the season, where he finished 18th after an on-track tangle with Brandon Brown.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #44-Martins Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins welcomes another new sponsor to his single-car operation this week as Market Rebellion will back his black #44 Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management / Hattori Racing Enterprises
DRIVER SWAP: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill slides from the #61 to the #66, taking the place of Darlington last-place finisher Stephen Leicht, who isn’t entered. Into Hill’s place comes Austin Hill, who will run a fully-funded effort in the #61 with sponsor AISIN Group and support of Hattori Racing Enterprises. This will be Austin’s third series start of the season, following a 35th at Daytona and 16th at Fontana, and he will pull double-duty with the Truck Series for Hattori.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Robby Lyons takes the place of Bayley Currey, who isn’t entered. This will be Lyons’ fourth series start of the season and first since Fontana. It will also be his first of the year for Mike Harmon Racing, having run the previous three for JD Motorsports. Harmon was part of Lyons’ XFINITY debut last November at Homestead, when he ran the #17 co-owned by Rick Ware Racing. UPDATE: And now the driver change is reversed - Bayley Currey will run the #74 in Lyons' place.

MISSING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd’s team will take a brief hiatus. Landon Cassill is not entered, but reported he would make himself available at the Charlotte track as “a reserve driver on the Cup and Truck side, and ready with my stuff to drive anything else.” For more on how you can help Shepherd Racing Ventures, check out this article from Toby Christie's site.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
After his ride with JD Motorsports fell through, Garrett Smithley will return to the XFINITY Series for the first time this season, taking the place of Ray Black, Jr. in the #07 Chevrolet. While CDA Tech was still shown as the listed sponsor, he will actually be backed by Dream Giveaways. This race will follow Smithley’s run in Sunday’s Cup race for Rick Ware Racing and precede Tuesday’s run in the Truck Series (see below). UPDATE: The sponsor and driver change are no coincidence as Rick Ware Racing has entered into a partnership with the #07 team. Smithley will also contend for XFINITY Series points, surrendering his place in the Cup Series Rookie of the Year battle.

CUP INVADERS: #54-Kyle Busch

Tuesday, May 26, 2020
TRUCKS Race 3 of 23
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Joe Nemechek

ENTRY LIST
The return of the Truck Series for the first time since Las Vegas on February 21 saw an incredible 47 trucks on the entry list for the first NASCAR-extended 40-truck field. To put that number in perspective, the prestigious Daytona opener hasn’t had that many entries since 2002. However, since there will be no qualifying, the seven teams to be sent home has already been determined. Part of this was by NASCAR changing the rules for the 40-truck field, where 27 spots are set by 2019 spots and 13 by points after the two races held so far in 2020. Others worked out deals to acquire Owner Point rankings from other teams, as will be described below. To further add to the confusion, the driver and team changes noted in this article are from the entry list to the postponed Atlanta race, which was to be held on March 14.

SEASON STORY: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
SEASON STORY: #98-ThorSport Racing
The Daytona opener on February 14 was settled between two very different competitors – owner-driver Jordan Anderson nearly pulled the upset in his first race with K-Seal as sponsor, earning the attention of both fans and the Lionel company, which planned to produce diecast of his #3 Chevrolet. Grant Enfinger took the narrow victory by just one-hundredth of a second, leading 41 laps in the process. He stands as the only series regular to win in the two races yet run.

RETURNING (DNQ): #5-Wauters Motorsports
Tuesday’s race was slated to mark the return of Richie Wauters to the Truck Series for the first time since 2017, as he had planned to field a #5 Toyota for Cup Series regular Erik Jones in the planned “Bounty Race.” However, unable to obtain another team’s rank in points leaves the team out of the race.

RETURNING (DNQ): #6-Norm Benning Racing
Norm Benning will likewise not race. He has yet to make a start in 2020, having failed to qualify at Daytona, then skipped both the completed race at Las Vegas and the postponed round at Atlanta.

TEAM UPDATE: #7-All Out Motorsports
Korbin Forrister will race in Tuesday’s race, and according to the entry list will be driving the oldest truck in the show – a 2015 Toyota.

SEASON STORY: #8-NEMCO Motorsports
SEASON STORY: #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
The 40-truck limit has been a big help to both Joe Nemechek and Jennifer Jo Cobb’s teams, which have both been shut out of the season thus far. Both John Hunter Nemechek and his father failed to qualify for their only attempt at Daytona, and John Hunter was denied the ability to bounce back at Atlanta due to the postponement. Cobb failed to qualify for both the first two races at Daytona and Las Vegas.

RETURNING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Codie Rohrbaugh will race after he had originally planned to skip Atlanta. Rohrbaugh scored a career-best 3rd in this season’s Daytona opener and finished a respectable 18th the next round in Las Vegas.

MISSING: #12-Young’s Motorsports
RETURNING / DRIVER CHANGE: #83-CMI Motorsports
T.J. Bell was originally not entered after the #12 he was slated to run in the postponed Atlanta race with RANDCO Industries as sponsor was not on the Charlotte entry list. He then popped up at CMI Motorsports, driving the team’s second truck, the #83, which will start the race. Bell takes the place of Stefan Parsons, who ran the truck in Las Vegas and was entered in Atlanta.

RETURNING (DNQ): #14-Trey Hutchins Racing
Trey Hutchins planned to return for the first time since a three-race schedule last year at Texas, Iowa, and Michigan (the Iowa race was a one-off for NEMCO Motorsports). Unfortunately, Hutchins’ low rank in points leaves him out of the field at Charlotte for a second consecutive year.

POINT SWAP: #24-GMS Racing
POINT SWAP (DNQ): #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Prior to the postponement, Chase Elliott was slated to run the first “Bounty Race” in Atlanta with Hooters as sponsor. He is again entered for the Charlotte race, this time with iRacing as sponsor. While Elliott would not have qualified as he drives for a new team at the GMS stable, GMS acquired the Top 25 rank in Owner Points from the #34 owned by Josh Reaume. Consequently, this bumps Bryant Barnhill – who was slated to take the place of Josh Bilicki – from the field.

RETURNING: #28-FDNY Racing
Bryan Dauzat is entered and will make the race on points. This marks Dauzat’s first start since the Daytona opener, where his red Chevrolet caught fire in an accident that left him 29th.

MISSING: #29-On Point Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #30-On Point Motorsports
The On Point team had planned to field a second entry for the first time in Atlanta, putting Brennan Poole in the truck so Danny Bohn could run the #30. However, the second truck is not entered, and Poole remains in the #30 to pull double-duty with his continued rookie campaign in Cup.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Jesse Iwuji will drive the #33 in place of J.J. Yeley, who isn’t entered. This will be Iwuji’s first start of the season, though he’d also participated in this year’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series by competing in the qualifying races at Homestead and Texas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #40-Niece Motorsports
Garrett Smithley is in for Ryan Truex, who isn’t entered. Truex had been slated to make his series debut at Atlanta before the postponement. Smithley will carry his Rick Ware Racing sponsor Trophy Tractor on the #40 in what will be his first series start since a one-off for Jeff Finley last year at Texas, where he ran 15th.

NEW TEAM: #42-Niece Motorsports
Al Niece will field still a new fourth team in the race for Ross Chastain, who will run his familiar watermelon colors for the Florida Watermelon Association on the #42 Chevrolet. Chastain started the year driving Niece’s #40 truck, finishing 8th at Daytona and 14th in Las Vegas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
Natalie Decker returns, taking the place of Atlanta entrant Jeb Burton, who isn’t entered. Decker scored her first career Top Five in the season opener at Daytona, finishing 5th.

RETURNING: #49-CMI Motorsports
Ray Ciccarelli returns, fielding both the aforementioned #83 and his primary #49. Both will make the show for the first time this season after Ciccarelli failed to qualify at Daytona and Bayley Currey missed the show in Las Vegas. This will be Ciccarelli’s first series start at Charlotte.

SEASON STORY: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
It was yet another dominant victory by Kyle Busch in the February 21st round at Las Vegas that started Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis’ “Bounty Race” concept, which was set to debut at Atlanta before the event was postponed. Busch is again entered in the series’ return, which will include Chase Elliott, who had been entered at Atlanta.

RETURNING / NUMBER CHANGE (DNQ): #55-Long Motorsports
Long Motorsports was set to make their return to the series at Charlotte, where they switched truck numbers from the #14 to the #55. Team owner Boyd Long had previously fielded entries for Ted Minor, running the #14 at Iowa and Chicago in 2017 with a best finish of 26th in the latter. However, the team will not make the cut under the rule change.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #56-Hill Motorsports
RoofClaim.com’s increased support of Timmy Hill following his strong runs in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series has extended from his Cup and XFINITY efforts to his own Truck Series team, as the company will adorn his #56 Chevrolet. Hill’s team has made both races this year, putting Gus Dean behind the wheel at Daytona, then Timmy in Vegas.

TEAM UPDATE: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Clay Greenfield, who failed to qualify at Daytona and was set to make his season debut at Atlanta before the postponement, is locked into the Charlotte race, along with his veteran crew chief Jeff Hammond. Last time out at Atlanta, the team had decorated the #68 with the Tennessee state flag in memory of lives lost in the Nashville tornado outbreak.

RETURNING (DNQ): #75-Henderson Motorsports
One surprising DNQ on the list is Parker Kligerman, whose Henderson Motorsports team has remained a part-time competitor in the series. Instead, the #75 team is on the wrong side of the cut line and will not run on Tuesday.

RETURNING: #97-Diversified Motorsports Enterprises
Jesse Little returns to the series for the first time since the Daytona opener, where his neon green Chevrolet was involved in a late accident. He is also locked-into the race in his 2018 Chevrolet.

RETURNING (DNQ): #03-Mike Affarano Motorsports
Tim Viens will not run, though the Affarano #03 was entered for the first time since the season opener at Daytona, where the truck carried logos in support of President Trump. During that week, Viens was photographed next to a similarly decorated XFINITY car fielded by Mike Harmon, even though Joe Nemechek was the car’s driver.

CUP INVADERS: #24-Chase Elliott, #51-Kyle Busch

Wednesday, May 27, 2020
CUP Race 8 of 36
Alsco Uniforms 500k at Charlotte
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Event

ENTRY LIST
UPDATE (May 25): There are 40 drivers entered for the second Cup race of the week in Charlotte, matching the number from Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.

DRIVER CHANGE: #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #27-Rick Ware Racing
Josh Bilicki returns to the #7 team for the first time since last Sunday's race in Darlington. J-Cal Designs has put together another patriotic scheme for the car, which carries sponsorship from Strutmasters.com. Bilicki takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who ran 37th on Sunday. Yeley will move to the #27 in place of Gray Gaulding, who isn't entered after a 31st-place run Sunday. UPDATE: Gaulding is back in the #27 once more.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Reed Sorenson returns to the Spire team this week in place of Ross Chastain, who finished 21st on Sunday. Aquesta Bank is the listed sponsor. UPDATE: Yeley takes the place of Sorenson in the #77. Sorenson is not entered in the race.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
After he finished 32nd on Sunday in a Ford, B.J. McLeod will again campaign a Chevrolet this Wednesday. UPDATE: McLeod will run the Ford again in the race.

LASTCAR STAT OF THE WEEK (May 23, 1998): “The High Plains Drifter,” Rick Carelli, picked up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in the Yellow Freight 200 at the I-70 Speedway. Carelli’s #6 RE/MAX International Chevrolet started on the outside-pole and led 18 of the first 23 laps. He was still running 2nd on Lap 89 when Dennis Setzer lost an engine in front of him. Carelli backed into the Turn 3 wall, ending his race.

Friday, May 22, 2020

XFINITY: Evil-handling Camry puts Stephen Leicht out after one lap at Darlington

PHOTO: MBM, @StartAndParkCar
Stephen Leicht picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Thursday’s Toyota 200 at the Darlington Raceway when his #66 CrashClaimsR.us Toyota fell out with suspension issues after 1 of 147 laps.

The finish, which came in Leicht’s 136th series start, was his first since February 15, 2019 at Daytona, 37 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #66, the 19th from suspension issues, and the 133rd for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 43rd for suspension trouble, the 70th for the #66, and the 330th for Toyota.

Since he was previously featured here last year, Leicht completed a full season for JD Motorsports, finishing 18th in points. His best finish came in his return to Daytona for the July race, where he ran 5th – his first top-five finish in the series since the Homestead finale on November 17, 2007 – his final start as a development driver for Yates Racing.

This year, Leicht joins Motorsports Business Management, campaigning the #66. While the team fielded a Toyota Supra in the Daytona opener, where Timmy Hill overcame a technical inspection penalty to finish 3rd, Leicht drives the team’s gold-and-white “Zombie” Toyota Camry. While Leicht failed to finish his three starts at Las Vegas, Fontana, and Phoenix, in each case he completed just over half the race distance.

Leicht rejoined the team in Darlington, where the qualifying draw placed him 37th in the 39-car field – the first race since NASCAR’s temporary allowance of 40-car fields in XFINITY and Trucks when there is no qualifying. Drawing the last starting spot was the #26 Rosie Network Toyota of Colin Garrett, whose Sam Hunt Racing team was returning to the circuit for the first time since Daytona.

Three more teams would drop to the before the start, each for unapproved adjustments: 21st-place Kody Vanderwal in the #52 Circle Track Warehouse / Franklin Signs Chevrolet, 36th-place Joe Graf, Jr. in the #08 Core Development Group Chevrolet, and 38th-place Landon Cassill, the current 2020 LASTCAR XFINITY leader, in Morgan Shepherd’s #89 Visone RV Chevrolet. With one lap until green, the trio had dropped to the back, but Cassill soon had another three cars behind him – Garrett in the #26, 31st-place Colby Howard in the #15 Project Hope Foundation Chevrolet, and 33rd-place Mason Massey in the #99 Gerber Collision & Glass Toyota. Moments before the start, Cassill waved Garrett to move past him, but Garrett declined.

The moment the race went green, Leicht plummeted to the rear of the field. The lack of practice and qualifying seemed to affect him most seriously as he was already 7.6 seconds back of the lead as he crossed the stripe, and turned the first lap at just 38.681 seconds – well off the 32-33 second range of other trailing cars. Also struggling was Ronnie Bassett, Jr., whose #36 Bassett Gutters & More Chevrolet was advised to pick up the pace after he was lapped on Lap 7. Bassett ultimately finished 31st.

Leicht pulled into the garage after just that first lap, saying the car is “wandering really hard off the left-front.” Team owner Carl Long met with him to look over the chassis, but the team never returned to the track. On Lap 8, Long radioed “Come on out, bud.” It wasn’t until Lap 60 that NASCAR Officials announced, “66 out, suspension.”

Also on Lap 60 was “89 out, handling,” signaling the end of the day for Landon Cassill. Cassill stayed out to complete 35 laps, well past the Lap 15 competition caution, and was still just one lap down when he pulled into the garage. Cassill only dropped to 37th at the time as Colin Garrett had gone to the garage on Lap 26, citing a left-front issue that was revealed to be brake issues. Bayley Current later tweeted that he ran the entire race without brakes on the #74 Save 22 Chevrolet, still managing to finish 33rd. Garrett, however, didn’t return to the track until Lap 52, and completed his 19th lap on Lap 54. Combined with his stay in the garage, the completed lap clocked in at 1494.984 seconds. Garrett dropped Cassill to 38th on Lap 71 but climbed no further and finished 37th.

Myatt Snider turned just 129 laps in Thursday’s race after an early incident where the TV panel on his #93 Superior Essex Chevrolet came loose after he struck the wall. NASCAR Officials made multiple calls to their spotters to watch for smoke coming off his car, requiring additional stops. He still managed to climb one more spot in the final laps, passing Jesse Little, whose #4 SEM Products Chevrolet fell out with a vibration.

Brett Moffitt fell just short of a top-ten finish when he slipped back to 11th in the final laps in the #02 Fr8 Auctions Chevrolet. This still turned out to be the team’s best finish in this, their first season. They have also not finished out of the Top 20 since the opener in Daytona, completing all but two laps in those five races.

Leicht’s MBM teammates Timmy Hill (#61 RoofClaim.com Toyota) and Chad Finchum (#13 Great Southern Homes Toyota) both finished on the lead lap in 22nd and 24th, respectively. David PeQueen tweeted that this marked the first time two MBM cars finished on the lead lap since Indianapolis last summer. For Hill, it was his best Darlington finish since 2012. For Finchum, it was his fifth-straight Top 25 finish – the longest streak of his XFINITY career.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #66 in a XFINITY Series race at Darlington.
*The only other time the last-place finisher of a XFINITY race at Darlington fell out with suspension issues occurred on September 5, 2015, when Ryan Ellis’ run in the #17 Navy Seals vs. Zombies Ford also ended after 1 lap of the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200. It was this same finish that ended Jeff Green’s record streak of eight consecutive last-place finishes.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #66-Stephen Leicht / 1 lap / suspension
38) #89-Landon Cassill / 35 laps / handling
37) #26-Colin Garrett / 111 laps / running
36) #4-Jese Little / 122 laps / vibration
35) #93-Myatt Snider / 129 laps / running

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
2nd) Jeremy Clements Racing, Motorsports Business Management, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Toyota (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

CUP: Ryan Preece starts first, finishes last in rough week at Darlington for JTG-Daugherty Racing

SCREENSHOT: @FS1
Ryan Preece scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Wednesday’s Toyota 500K at the Darlington Raceway when his #37 Tide Chevrolet blew the engine after 69 of 208 laps.

The finish came in Preece’s 47th series start. In Cup Series last-place history, it was the 39th for the #37, the 694th from engine trouble, and the 780th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three divisions, it was the 45th for the #37, the 1,087th from engine woes, and the 1,709th for Chevrolet.

In a few short years, peaks and valleys have defined the career trajectory of Preece, the 29-year-old NASCAR Modified Series star who designed his helmet after Cole Trickle's from "Days of Thunder." Hard racing and the persistent search for sponsorship earned him a one-off ride in the XFINITY Series in 2013, where he finished 24th at Loudon. He got his first taste of the Cup Series two years later, making five races for Phil Parsons Racing as the team was absorbed into Premium Motorsports. He finished under power in each race, including at Martinsville, where he was sitting at the exit of pit road the moment a lapped Matt Kenseth wrecked Joey Logano out of the lead heading into Turn 1.

Next came a full-time XFINITY Series ride for JD Motorsports, where he earned his first top-ten finish at Darlington and ranked 17th in points at season’s end. This caught the attention of Joe Gibbs, who brought him on board to run part-time for his own XFINITY Series program. In his 19 starts for the team, Preece finished outside the Top 10 only five times, and scored a pair of victories at Iowa and Bristol.

Preece was then welcomed to JTG-Daugherty to compete for Rookie of the Year, taking the place of A.J. Allmendinger in the #47 Chevrolet. He caught the attention of many in the season-opening Daytona 500, where he skillfully avoided a multi-car pileup with a narrow escape on the apron. He finished 8th that night, and two months later took 3rd in Talladega for his current career-best. He also continued his strong runs in the XFINITY Series, where his four starts with JR Motorsports were all lead-lap finishes in the Top 10. He also was leading much of the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma before he was black-flagged on the final restart, handing the win to Noah Gragson. Cup, however, proved more challenging, and in the final stretch he lost Rookie of the Year to Daniel Hemric.

This year sees Preece swapping rides with new teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., moving him to the #37 vacated by Chris Buescher. Prior to the suspension of the season, his best finish came just before the cutoff at Phoenix, where he ran 18th. He then participated in all seven rounds of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational, where he again caught the attention of viewers with many strong runs. He ran 8th in the opener at Homestead and nearly took the next race at Texas, where he was edged by Timmy Hill for the victory. A 6th at Bristol was followed by a pole at Richmond, where he finished 19th after an online scuffle with Matt DiBenedetto. But after a 3rd at Talladega, he failed to finish the final two rounds at Dover and North Wilkesboro.

Sunday’s return to racing at Darlington proved significant as Preece edged Bubba Wallace for 20th in the final laps. The scheduled inversion of the Top 20 for Wednesday’s race meant Preece would line up on the pole under the lights. His paint scheme was bright orange and white, an updated version of the classic “Tide Ride” to represent the sponsor’s “Power Pods” laundry detergent.

Scheduled to roll off last was Stenhouse, Preece’s teammate, who finished last Sunday after a first-lap accident. He would soon be joined by five drivers who dropped to the rear for penalties. First were 28th-place Gray Gaulding in the #27 Panini America Ford and 29th-place J.J. Yeley in the #77 Bon Secours #TheRealHeroes Chevrolet, as both teams changed drivers since Sunday (Yeley was swapped in for Reed Sorenson at the last minute, Sorenson taking over as the #77’s spotter). Both 31st-place Corey LaJoie in the #32 Keen Parts “Thank a Hero” Ford and 38th-place B.J. McLeod in the #78 Christensen Arms Chevrolet were docked for multiple inspection failures. McLeod’s particular penalty warranted a pass-through after the green flag. Last to join them was 13th-place Erik Jones, whose team had made unapproved adjustments to the #20 DeWalt Toyota after inspection.

Persistent rain forced the field to run under caution for several laps, and even run single-file to dry one of the grooves. Only after the field doubled-up for the one to go signal did the five penalized drivers drop to the rear. Jones dropped back on the inside line as the field headed down the frontstretch, putting him in front of McLeod on the inside line. Jones then swapped spots with the car in front of him, the #00 Good Greek Movers Chevrolet, so the two cars in front of the trailing McLeod were Houff and Gaulding. McLeod looked to have a better run than Sunday, where he pulled off track after 13 laps due to engine woes. In addition to engine repairs, the driver radioed thanks to his crew for replacing the steering box.

When the race started, McLeod’s crew told him to pull the #78 to the apron in Turn 3 and make his trip down pit road. The driver finished his pass-through and slotted in just behind the 38th-place car, putting him exactly one lap down. As he came up to speed, the caution fell for the night’s first incident on Lap 4. Involved was John Hunter Nemechek, who brought the same #38 SCAG Ford with which he earned a career-best 8th on Sunday. This time, the car snapped loose in Turn 3 and hit the wall with the left-rear. As McLeod earned the Lucky Dog, Nemechek immediately took over last place, and lost a lap of his own.

Nemechek was advised by his crew that his car would “be a handful” as the rear spoiler was damaged in the impact. The crew also struggled to seal up the damaged rear decklid, which also made things more difficult for the gas man to refuel the car. Still, Nemechek cleared the “Crash Clock” on Lap 9, and prepared for further repairs on the Lap 25 competition caution. Unfortunately, Nemechek again spun on Lap 12, and damaged the rear clip further by backing into the backstretch wall. In those four laps since the restart, he’d already passed three cars, including Gaulding and Houff. Under caution, Nemechek’s team put spring rubbers behind both rear wheels, made quick repairs, and brought him back onto the track, two laps down. He again cleared the “Crash Clock,” and was still last under the competition caution, when he got one lap back.

Under the caution, Nemechek got another set of fresh tires in an attempt to keep from losing more laps to the leaders. He was warned he would likely have to run scuffs near the end of the race. The new tires allowed Nemechek to pass McLeod on the track on Lap 38 as the driver continued to contend with radio issues. Nemechek once again fell two laps down on Lap 48, two circuits after McLeod lost his first. Clint Bowyer caught Nemechek down the backstretch with three to go in Stage 1, putting the #38 a third lap back. At the time, the supports holding the left-rear had failed, causing the quarter-panel to flap behind him. A piece of this panel was removed under the ensuing stage caution.

Preece didn’t enter the last-place battle until just after the Lap 69 restart, when his #37 erupted in smoke heading into Turn 3 and pulled out of line. At the time, he was still among the leaders. Preece pulled down pit road under green – the caution wouldn’t fall until Michael McDowell and Chris Buescher tangled on Lap 73. On that same lap, Preece took over last place from the damaged Nemechek. On pit road, the JTG-Daugherty team had looked under Preece’s hood, then pushed him behind the wall. A crew member was heard to say “I’ll definitely see you on Sunday” before the radio went silent. It was not until Lap 75 that NASCAR Officials reported Preece was in the garage with “mechanical” issues, and not until Lap 89 that officials declared him out with engine woes.

While McLeod and Nemechek remained the final two cars running for much of the race, the positions changed in the final moments before rain stopped the event 20 laps short of the advertised distance. Taking 38th was a furious Chase Elliott, whose #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet led 28 laps and was racing Kyle Busch for 2nd in the final laps when Busch inexplicably came up into him on the frontstretch, hooking the #9 head-on into the inside wall. Elliott was apparently unhurt as he climbed from his car and gave the middle finger to Busch's passing Toyota. After the race, Busch apologized for the wreck, saying it was a mistake and not intentional.

The ensuing seven-lap caution lengthened by rain was just one lap enough to drop Elliott behind Brennan Poole, who himself fell out short of the finish due to transmission issues. Poole received his first real television time of the season when the Premium Motorsports / Rick Ware Racing crew used pit strategy to keep his #15 Spartan Go Chevrolet among the leaders. Poole led Lap 182 during caution flag pit stops and held 4th for the Lap 188 restart. He then dropped back after the green, making contact with Kyle Busch as he pulled into the high lane exiting Turn 2. He dropped out of the Top 10 three laps later, and was outside the Top 20 after a round of caution flag pit stops on Lap 196. The mechanical issue arose around this time, dropping Poole to 37th.

McLeod and Nemechek completed the Bottom Five, both of them on the same lap, each six circuits down.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked only the third time car #37 finished last in a Cup Series race at Darlington. The last time it happened was on April 12, 1981, when Mike Alexander’s #37 Rogers Auto Leasing Buick lost an engine after 9 laps of the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500. The other time was September 7, 1970, when Dr. Don Tarr’s #37 Coca-Cola / Biscayne Dodge 1969 Dodge crashed after 11 laps of the Southern 500.
*Preece is also the fifth driver to finish last at Darlington after starting in the first spot (he did not win the pole due to the field inversion from Sunday’s race). The last time it happened was on May 10, 2008, when Greg Biffle’s #16 3M Ford lost an engine after 234 laps of the Dodge Challenger 500. The 95 laps Biffle led that night were the most by a NASCAR last-place finisher before the current rule change allowing for post-race disqualifications.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #37-Ryan Preece / 69 laps / engine
38) #9-Chase Elliott / 200 laps / crash / led 28 laps
37) #15-Brennan Poole / 201 laps / transmission / led 1 lap
36) #78-B.J. McLeod / 202 laps / running
35) #38-John Hunter Nemechek / 202 laps / running

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (3)

2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP