Sunday, June 14, 2020

CUP: J.J. Yeley’s fuel pump leaves him the lone retiree at Homestead

PHOTO: @RickWareRacing
J.J. Yeley picked up the 17th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #27 Rick Ware Racing Ford fell out with fuel pump issues after 211 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Yeley’s 302nd series start, was his first of the season and first since June 23, 2019 at Sonoma, 32 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 18th for fuel pump issues, the 27th for the #27, and the 699th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 29th from fuel pump failure, the 53rd for the #27, and the 961st for Ford. The finish also gave Yeley sole possession of sixth on the all-time last-place rankings, breaking a tie with the late J.D. McDuffie.

Since his most recent last-place finish, Yeley has continued to serve many teams as a journeyman driver. Last July, he took over for Jeff Green in the “start-and-park” #38 Chevrolet at RSS Racing and a two-race stint with B.J. McLeod Motorsports. The year culminated with five last-place finishes, bringing him the LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship. He made a one-off Truck Series start at Bristol, finishing 31st for the Reaume Brothers.

But on the Cup Series side, he’s stayed with Rick Ware Racing. Just two rounds after the last-place finish in Sonoma, he finished a season-best 12th under the lights at Daytona. He then made at least one start in each of Ware’s four cars, including the debut of the #54 at Bristol, where he ran 28th. In those 15 starts, he completed all but 184 of the 4,270 attempted laps, a 95.7% completion rate.

Yeley’s solid finishes kept him on the Ware team this season, when the organization merged with Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports. After wrecking out of the field for the Daytona 500, Yeley was the first to run the former Premium #27 under the Ware banner at Darlington, ran the Premium-affiliated Spire Motorsports #77 in the next round, and then Tommy Baldwin Racing’s returning #7 team in the Coca-Cola 600, where the Damaged Vehicle Policy handed him his first DNF of the year. Running the Baldwin car at Bristol gave Yeley his best finish of the 2020 season when he ran 25th, eight laps down. Coming into Homestead, he had run all but 196 of 3,222 laps, a near-identical completion rate of 93.9%.

At Homestead, Yeley would run the #27 once more, which had swapped from Chevrolet to Ford after the Ware-Premium merger. Last Wednesday at Martinsville, Yeley ran the same car Josh Bilicki ran at Atlanta, but without Bilicki’s sponsorship from Insurance King. Yeley’s Homestead car would be completely black, lacking even the decorative decals left on the Martinsville car from Atlanta. He’d also run double-duty, sharing the XFINITY Series ride at SS-Green Light Racing driven by Ware’s son Carson. Yeley finished 11th in the Saturday race, his best since a brief stint with Jimmy Means Racing earlier this year.

Both B.J. McLeod’s #78 and the Baldwin #7 withdrew earlier in the week. Yeley drew 25th for the resulting starting grid of 38.

Starting 38th and last on Sunday was Timmy Hill, who looked to bounce back after his Top 20 run at Martinsville was ruined by a faulty fuel pump midway through the race. Hill again returned to the sponsor on his #66 Toyota, making it resemble the car that nearly won the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series opener back in March. Joining him at the rear were both 31st-place starter Quin Houff in the #00 Good Greek Movers Chevrolet and 34th-place B.J. McLeod in the #77 Formula One Imports Chevrolet, both for unapproved adjustments. McLeod had an extra set of sticker tires in the Spire Motorsports pit after his run in Sunday’s XFINITY race was cut short by clutch issues.

Starts and stops due to lightning in the area dragged Sunday’s race well past its original window, interrupting the battle for last place. When the race started, Hill rolled off 3.509 seconds back of the leader, but was ahead of McLeod at the end of Lap 1, his #77 now 5.631 seconds back. Soon, McLeod raced past Joey Gase in the #51 EFX Corp Ford. Gase was fighting a bad push through the corners as he trailed a pack of four cars that had broken off from the back of the field. Another lightning strike stopped the race after 5 laps with Gase still running 38th, and the team planning their adjustments.

Drivers returned to their cars after the delay, only to climb back out just moments after engines were fired. When racing did resume, pit stops traded the last spot between William Byron in the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, then Michael McDowell in the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford. McDowell had struck a bird during the first five-lap stint, requiring repairs that involved lifting the hood. He would recover nicely to finish 15th. On Lap 9, Gase took last from McDowell, and said his car was “free in, and it’s still super tight coming off.” He also had an issue with a mirror that had come loose in the cockpit and asked for a screwdriver.

On Lap 21, a caution for Ryan Newman’s spin in the #6 Oscar Meyer Ford dropped Newman to last as the team repaired damage from a blown right-rear tire. Newman stayed on the lead lap, and two circuits later dropped Daniel Suarez to last in the #96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota, then Corey LaJoie in the #32 Storm Tight Windows Ford. McDowell re-took the spot on Lap 24, then dropped McLeod back to last after the restart. McLeod, too, was struggling with a tight condition, and was still in last place when yet another lightning strike stopped the race after 33 laps. By then, McLeod was still on the lead lap, 26.742 seconds back of the lead.

Racing resumed once again, and on Lap 35, Gase took the spot from McLeod. He didn’t hold it long as an incident on pit road left several of the leaders with damage, including Matt DiBenedetto in the #21 Motorcraft Ford. Repairs to the left-front fender left DiBenedetto in last on Lap 36, and he came out several seconds back of the field for the restart on Lap 37. He caught and passed the tail end of the field by Lap 49, when McLeod took over last and became the first driver lapped on the track. McLeod passed Gase on Lap 58, and Gase fell four laps down when he made a green-flag pit stop on Lap 72. Even then, Gase was still struggling with a tight race car.

The long green-flag runs still kept the last-place battle close. Gase dropped McLeod to last on Lap 135, and McLeod got back by on Lap 137. It was only that time by that another Rick Ware car – the #53 Sky King Fireworks Chevrolet of Josh Bilicki – went behind the wall. The team thought they had a brake issue and prepared to bleed the system, but the driver said he had a vibration on the right side of the car instead. The miscommunication seemed to stem from radio issue. Bilicki returned to the track on Lap 150 and prepared to pit for stickers, but someone shouted on the radio, demanding he take on a set of scuffs. Bilicki continued to wonder what caused the vibration, saying he thought he had a loose right-rear tire.

Yeley didn’t enter the last-place picture until Lap 220, when he made his own trip to the garage area. At the time, he was running laps down, but on the verge of climbing out of the Bottom Five. Ware himself tweeted Yeley had lost fuel pressure, and the team set to work on the car. But on Lap 227, the team reported “Are we done there, Steve?” “Yeah, as far as I know,” then said Yeley had climbed out of the car. Yeley took last from Bilicki on Lap 232, and was declared out by NASCAR ten laps later. “27 out, fuel pump,” was the report – the same issue that ended Timmy Hill’s night on Wednesday.

Yeley was the only driver who failed to finish the race. Bilicki, Gase, McLeod, and Hill rounded out the Bottom Five within 22 laps of race winner Denny Hamlin.

Rookie drivers took center stage in the race, tops among them Tyler Reddick. From the start, Reddick and his largely unsponsored #8 Chevrolet Cares Chevrolet made a bid for the lead, running as high as 2nd between the lightning strikes. Returning to the site where he’d locked-up back-to-back XFINITY Series titles for two different teams, Reddick made a charge late in the race, battling Ryan Blaney for 3rd, before settling back in 4th. It was his first top-five finish and fourth top-ten finish in just 14 series starts. Four spots behind Reddick, Christopher Bell and his #95 Rheem / Smurfit Kappa Toyota surged from 36th on the grid to finish a career-best 8th, his third top-ten finish in 12 career starts.

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Yeley and the #27 at Homestead.
*This also was the first time in Cup Series history that two consecutive last-place finishers fell out due to fuel pump issues.

38) #27-J.J. Yeley / 211 laps / fuel pump
37) #53-Josh Bilicki / 245 laps / running
36) #51-Joey Gase / 255 laps / running
35) #77-B.J. McLeod / 256 laps / running
34) #66-Timmy Hill / 257 laps / running

1st) Motorsports Business Management (3)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Rick Ware Racing (2)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing, Penske Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (2)


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