Saturday, June 6, 2020

XFINITY: Kody Vanderwal out early after smoking on the pace laps

PHOTO: @MeansRacing52
Kody Vanderwal picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Echo Park 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #52 Advanced Dairy Service Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after 3 of 163 laps.

The finish came in Vanderwal’s fifth series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 21st for the #52, the 262nd from engine trouble, and the 547th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 57th for the #52, the 1,088th from engine trouble, and the 1,714th for Chevrolet.

This season marks Vanderwal’s first in NASCAR national touring series competition, having previously competed in three seasons between the former K&N Pro Series West and East. His best season between the two came in 2018, when he swept a double-header at Tucson in John Wood’s #43 Biltrite Signs / LaSalle Oil Ford. He finished seventh in the standings that year despite four DNFs in fourteen races.

Over the offseason came news that Vanderwal would make his XFINITY Series debut in the fourth round at Phoenix, taking over after J.J. Yeley ran the car in the first three races. He finished 29th in the race, still under power, though 23 laps down. He rejoined the team for last month’s return at Darlington, taking 32nd, then lost an engine early at Charlotte, placing him 35th. The following round at Bristol saw the rookie’s best run to date, when he placed 21st under the lights.

Vanderwal drew the 36th spot for Saturday’s following round in Atlanta. Earlier that day, Means had bought all but one set of tires from FDNY Racing, whose driver Bryan Dauzat was originally classified last after a pair of incidents. The other set reportedly went to JD Motorsports. Dauzat averted his first last-place finish since 2014 when Johnny Sauter was later disqualified out of 17th.

Vanderwal started next-to-last ahead of 37th-place Stephen Leicht, the last-place finisher at Darlington. He was joined at the rear by Tommy Joe Martins, who surrendered the 33rd spot on the grid due to a penalty for unapproved adjustments on the #44 Gilreath Farms Red Angus Chevrolet. With one lap to green, however, Leicht was back in the last spot, where he reported smoke coming off Vanderwal’s car. The message was relayed from the team to NASCAR officials, but the green flag still dropped as scheduled.

When the race started, Vanderwal’s spotter said “A lot of smoke coming off there, keep digging.” At the time, his #52 was still running 36th as Leicht had dropped a full 1.609 seconds back of him in last spot. The team continued to watch if the smoke was going away. Leicht apparently made an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 3 as he dropped back nearly two laps. By then, another car was smoking – this time 7th-place started Ryan Sieg in the #39 Chevrolet. First Vanderwal, then Sieg came down pit road to address their issues. Both soon went to the garage with Vanderwal classified behind Sieg. On Lap 6, Leicht passed both cars after his team told him to do so, then joined them in the garage. Sieg, meanwhile, reported he’d “ran out of steam at garage stall 12,” and the crew put the #39 on jack stands. Vanderwal was soon done for the day. Before Lap 24, Means himself tweeted they were done, and ready to start over in Homestead. UPDATE: Means confirmed he Sunday he was unable to re-sell the purchased tires to a Cup Series team for Sunday.

Sieg returned to the track, completing enough laps to get past Leicht for 35th, but not enough to catch Leicht’s teammate Chad Finchum, who suffered suspension issues on the #13 Smithbilt Homes / Carter’s Royal Dispos-All Toyota in the early laps. Timmy Hill ended up putting all three MBM cars in the Bottom Five when the alternator failed on the #61 Toyota.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for the #52 since July 21, 2013, when Joey Gase’s Donate Life Toyota fell out with engine trouble after 1 lap of the STP 300 at Chicagoland. Gase also gave the number its only other last-place run at Atlanta in the series, which came on September 1, 2012.

37) #52-Kody Vanderwal / 3 laps / engine
36) #66-Stephen Leicht / 8 laps / clutch
35) #39-Ryan Sieg / 47 laps / engine
34) #13-Chad Finchum / 50 laps / suspension
33) #61-Timmy Hill / 87 laps / alternator

1st) Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
2nd) JD Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, Jimmy Means Racing, JR Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Toyota (1)


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