Sunday, June 28, 2020

CUP: Michael McDowell sets new record for the most Cup Series last-place finishes

Michael McDowell picked up the 34th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Pocono 350 at the Pocono Raceway when his #34 Dockside Logistics Ford was involved in a single-car accident after 15 of 140 laps.

The finish, which came in McDowell’s 336th series start, was his first of the season and first in Cup since April 28, 2019 at Talladega, 41 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 35th for the #34, the 598th from a crash, and the 700th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 49th for the #34, the 963rd for Ford, and the 1,211th from a crash.

The finish also gave McDowell sole possession of the all-time Cup Series last-place record, breaking a tie he’d held for more than a year with Joe Nemechek. Appropriately, this 34th last-place finish came while McDowell was driving car #34. It should be noted, however, that it was just his 6th last-place finish with Front Row Motorsports. He’d scored a combined 24 last-place runs driving as a “start-and-park” for Phil Parsons under PRISM Motorsports (4), HP Racing, LLC (7), and Phil Parsons Racing (13). This period in his career secured him three consecutive LASTCAR Cup Series titles from 2011 through 2013. He also scored one finish each with Leavine Family Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, and Whitney Motorsports.

As reported here yesterday, McDowell had quietly enjoyed a consistent start to the season, his second with Front Row. He finished 8th in Saturday’s first round of the Pocono double-header, marking his fourth-straight finish of 18th or better, and his first finish better than 16th at the track. In addition, he’d finished on the lead lap in 10 of the first 14 races in 2020, and only once ever finished more than one lap down – a difficult 36th-place finish in Las Vegas. Following the inversion of the Top 20 finishers in the Saturday race, McDowell would roll off 13th in the same Dockside Logistics Ford. He hoped to avoid the difficulties faced by teammate John Hunter Nemechek at Darlington, where he ran 9th in the Sunday race, then crashed twice to take 35th in the midweek event.

Rolling off last was Saturday’s last-place finisher Quin Houff, who rolled out StarCom Racing’s backup car, the #00 Mane ‘n Tail Chevrolet. He’d incur a redundant tail-end penalty for using the backup, along with four other drivers involved in accidents on Saturday: 27th-place Alex Bowman in the #88 / Adam’s Polishes Chevrolet, 30th-place Tyler Reddick in the #8 Caterpillar Chevrolet, 36th-place Joey Logano in the #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford, and 38th-place Erik Jones in the #20 Craftsman Toyota. Transmission changes docked both 25th-place Chase Elliott in the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet and 39th-place B.J. McLeod, whose transmission jumped out of gear on his #78 Koolbox Chevrolet. And there were also engine change penalties for 7th-place William Byron in the #24 Axalta Chevrolet and polesitter Ryan Preece in the #37 P&G “On Equality, We Have A Choice” Chevrolet.

When the green flag dropped after a half-hour lightning delay, the last row consisted of McLeod in the high lane next to Joey Gase, who was slated to start 37th in his #51 Adkins Automotive Ford. Gase inched away from McLeod as the field accelerated, McLeod shown 4.137 seconds back of the race leader. Unfortunately, McLeod’s red car had yet another problem – it was trailing smoke, which caught the attention of his spotter and NASCAR officials. On Lap 3, McLeod pulled down pit road, where the crew looked under the right side to see if it was leaking any fluid. They saw no fluid, but McLeod could plainly smell gear oil. They believed the gear had simply been overfilled.

On Lap 4, the caution fell for yet another passing rain storm. Under the yellow on Lap 5, the team sent McLeod back onto the track, shown three laps down and still in last place. He finally completed his second lap of the race on Lap 6. The team looked for smoke, and McLeod said he would pull the car into the garage if the smoke came back. In doing so, McLeod vowed to do anything he could to finish the race. “Even if we’re 70 laps down, we’ll run to the finish,” said McLeod. “Not gonna quit.” When the rain intensified, prolonging the caution, the team found they had more time to prepare.

Not so fortunate was Tyler Reddick, who during the yellow pulled his backup car into his pit stall complaining of power steering issues. The car was still sitting in its stall, two laps down, when the rain picked up, drawing the red flag. The crew stopped work and covered Reddick’s car. After another lengthy delay, and with the sun sinking low in the sky, the yellow came back out, and Reddick’s crew continued to work. McLeod made another trip to pit road, and by then the two were on the same lap. McLeod then dropped Reddick to last on Lap 9. The next time around, the Richard Childress Racing crew sent Reddick back onto the track. The rookie was two laps behind McLeod. When the race restarted, McLeod’s crew saw no smoke coming from the #78, so decided against bringing him to the garage area.

Then the caution fell again.

When the race restarted after the rain delay, Michael McDowell was in heavy traffic. On Lap 15, he was working his way through Turn 2 when the left-rear tire went down, sending him spinning up the track and hitting the wall flush with the driver’s side. McDowell was uninjured, but his car was heavily damaged, having lost nearly all steering as the left-front wheel was nearly wrenched from the car. He made it to pit road, but knew the damage was serious. “No need to stop, you know where I can turn in?” he asked. “Take it to the garage stall,” said the team. Once he entered the garage, he was done for the day under the Damaged Vehicle Policy. He took last from Reddick on Lap 22 and was declared officially out on Lap 53.

Also announced out with McDowell was Christopher Bell, who also enjoyed a strong run on Saturday only to finish with a wrecked race car. Bell’s wreck was also in Turn 2, his on Lap 39, and he dropped behind Reddick on Lap 46 as he pulled his battered #95 Rheem Toyota behind the wall. Taking 38th was Kyle Busch, who led two laps in his #18 M&M’s Mini’s Toyota before he was accidentally spun off the second corner by a closing Ryan Blaney as both closed on the lapped Garrett Smithley. McLeod managed 37th, and only lost seven laps by race’s end. Two circuits in front of him was Chris Buescher, whose #17 Fastenal / Honeywell Ford was damaged in the rear end on Lap 46 after he broke loose racing Aric Almirola off Turn 3. Buescher finished on the same lap as Reddick, who narrowly escaped the Bottom Five in 35th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Cup Series race at Pocono.

40) #34-Michael McDowell / 15 laps / crash
39) #95-Christopher Bell / 39 laps / crash
38) #18-Kyle Busch / 74 laps / crash
37) #78-B.J. McLeod / 133 laps / running
36) #17-Chris Buescher / 135 laps / running

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

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (3)


1 comment:

Chad said...

But remember many of McDowell's last place finishes came with start and park teams.