Sunday, July 5, 2020

CUP: Scary pit road accident at Indy leaves Ryan Preece last, several drivers out, and a crewman injured

PHOTO: @RyanPreece_
Ryan Preece picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when his #37 Kleenex Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car pit road accident after 14 of 161 laps.

The finish, which came in Preece’s 57th series start, was his second of the year and first since May 20 at Darlington, 10 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place history, it was the 40th for the #37, 599th from a crash, and the 786th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 46th for the #37, the 1,212th from a crash, and the 1,721st for Chevrolet.

Since Darlington, Preece has continued to struggle for solid finishes with JTG-Daugherty Racing’s second team. His season-best finish came at Bristol, where he finished on the lead lap in 12th, and he also ran a solid 15th the next month in Talladega. A 20th-place performance in the first round of Pocono’s double-header gave him the pole position for the Sunday race after the invert, but he only managed a 25th-place showing that day, keeping him just 29th in the point standings. At Indianapolis, where he would run a flat blue Chevrolet sponsored by Kleenex, Preece had finished 16th a year earlier, and looked for another strong run on Sunday.

Drawing the 40th and final starting spot was B.J. McLeod in the bright red #78 Koolbox Chevrolet. He would soon be joined by Justin Allgaier, who unexpectedly made his first Cup start since a relief driver role for Michael Annett at Bristol on August 21, 2016. This time, Allgaier would drive in relief of Jimmie Johnson, who missed his first Cup race since November 23, 2001 after he tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

Allgaier dropped to the rear for the driver change in the #48 Ally Chevrolet, but McLeod would still drop back into last. In fact, Allgaier would start around 34th ahead of Quin Houff (drew 33rd in the #00 Mane ‘n Tail Chevrolet), Timmy Hill (38th in the #66 Toyota), Josh Bilicki (39th in the #7 Insurance King Chevrolet), Garrett Smithley (28th in the #53 Chevrolet), Joey Gase (25th in the #51 Red Rock Secured Ford), and McLeod. Hill had joined Allgaier in the rear due to issues in pre-race inspection.

Houff took over last by the end of Lap 1, and was told to “be smart” and “let your [tire] pressures come up. Houff set his sights on Gase, and began to reel him in on Lap 8, closing to within six-tenths of a second. The interval then started to grow by Lap 10, and the rookie tried to keep pace with a tight condition. On Lap 11, he gave a read-off on his gauges, saying “199 water, 218 oil, fuel pressure 72, oil pressure 67.” The competition caution slated for Lap 12 finally came on Lap 13, at which point he was 1.340 seconds back of Gase. He then slowed and prepared to follow the rest of the field come down pit road on Lap 15, trailing the single-file line of 40 cars. Fortunately, Houff had “watched some film” from the 2019 running of the race, which saw an early accident on pit road. He wisely slowed, then stopped when trouble broke out in front of him.

Several cars in front of Houff was Preece, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Replays seemed to indicate the check-up started two cars in front of Preece with rookie Tyler Reddick in the #8 Cheddar’s Chevrolet, who was bumped by fellow rookie Christopher Bell in the #95 Rheem Toyota. Bell was then rear-ended by Chris Buescher in the #17 Sunny D Ford, and Preece hit the brakes. In an instant, Preece was turned hard to the right by his JTG-Daughtery teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the #47 Kroger Chevrolet, who was piled-into by Corey LaJoie in the #32 Trump 2020 Ford and Martin Truex, Jr. in the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota (the latter down on power due to a possible loose plug wire during the opening run). Behind them, Allgaier cut to the left and Brennan Poole attempted to follow in the #15 Spartan Mosquito Chevrolet. But Allgaier struck Stenhouse, blocking the path for Poole, who sideswiped the pitting Ryan Blaney in the #12 Menards / Atlas Ford. Poole’s contact sent Blaney’s jackman jumping onto the roof of Blaney’s car, but rear tire changer Zach Price was pinched between both cars, his tire sent airborne before landing on the pitting Michael McDowell. Thinking quickly, Price managed to crab-walk back to the pit wall, and was shown smiling and giving a thumbs-up as medical staff attended to him. He was then sent to a local hospital for further examination.

As the red flag came out to clean up the mess, Brennan Poole first took last spot from Houff, who was back on the track and already nearly out of the Bottom Ten. “I couldn’t stop fast enough,” said Poole as he told his team how he’d tried to follow Allgaier through the wreck. Allgaier’s crew, meanwhile, still thought their driver had struck Blaney’s crew, and prepared to make repairs to the crumpled nose of their Chevrolet. When the red flag was lifted, Poole remained last with Allgaier 39th, Stenhouse 38th, Preece 37th, Buescher 36th, Bell 35th, and Blaney’s pitted car in 34th.

On Lap 16, Stenhouse took over last with Preece in 39th and Bell back to 38th. Both Bell and Stenhouse received repairs to the noses of their cars – Bell’s was relatively minor while Stenhouse required several several strips of tape to his wounded right-front. Both were back on track by Lap 17, when Stenhouse dropped Preece to last. During this time, NASCAR reported at least one car out under the Damaged Vehicle Policy, or DVP, but it was unclear to whom this referred. It’s likely this indicated either Preece or LaJoie, the two drivers who completed the fewest laps. LaJoie appeared to suffer the most serious damage of the two, crumpling both ends of his car, but somehow completed one more lap than Preece, which decided who finished last. LaJoie was briefly shown in 36th before scoring reset to put him 39th.

Meanwhile, Allgaier and Truex both received extensive repairs on pit road, each racing the six-minute “Crash Clock.” Allgaier’s team brought out the saws-all to try and fix the car’s wounded nose. Truex’s crew found themselves not only attending to the plug wire issue from before the wreck, but a punched-in nose just below the hood. The dual issues led to Truex having too many crewmen over the wall, which when incurred in a DVP scenario resulted in a two-lap penalty. Truex returned to the track, but when serving his penalty on Lap 20 climbed out on pit road and was done for the day. Allgaier returned soon after, but was dragging the front splitter so badly it was trailing sparks. Unable to meet minimum speed, Allgaier was told to go to the truck on Lap 21. “Just a tough day – you didn’t do anything wrong,” said his crew chief. “We’ll get ‘em again next week.”

On Lap 23, with the race back under green, NASCAR reported all damaged vehicles still running had met minimum speed except Stenhouse. On Lap 24, NASCAR reported Preece and LaJoie were both out due to “accident.” Lap 25 saw NASCAR declare both Poole and Stenhouse had failed to meet minimum speed, ending both their runs. While Stenhouse was laps down, Poole’s crew had managed to keep their driver on the lead lap in 34th spot. Poole went to the garage on Lap 26, and Stenhouse slowed on the apron on Lap 27. The 29th lap saw NASCAR report both Truex and Allgaier were out due to “accident” while Poole and Stenhouse were out under the DVP.

Buescher, meanwhile, was still ranked 35th with his crew apparently able to repair his car quick enough to keep going. On Lap 33, he as 13 laps down when the crew said he was “good to go.” Like Truex, he would then have to incur a pit road penalty – his for an improper tire change as the crew had incorrectly changed the left side tires before the rights. By Lap 39, he was again on the track and up to 34th, passing the retired Poole. At that point, six drivers were already out of the race as a result of the pit road accident – Preece, LaJoie, Truex, Allgaier, Stenhouse, and Poole. Buscher made one more trip to the garage on Lap 44 and ultimately climbed to 31st before he fell out after the halfway point with crash damage.

A series of tire failures and accidents allowed several underfunded teams to earn solid finishes. Last-place started B.J. McLeod managed to finish 22nd, his best run as an owner-driver since his 28th-place showing at Bristol. Quin Houff, who was last when the wreck unfolded, finished right behind McLeod in 23rd, ending back-to-back Indianapolis DNFs from crashes for the StarCom team. The Rick Ware Racing team saw their cars finish 21st (J.J. Yeley, #27 Greenlight Debit Cards for Kids Ford), 24th (Garrett Smithley in the #53), and 26th (Joey Gase in the #51).

Finishing between the Ware bunch was Josh Bilicki, who took 26th in Tommy Baldwin’s #7 Insurance King Chevrolet. Bilicki was running right in front of Houff when the wreck unfolded. In front of Bilicki was Daniel Suarez, who also managed to stop short of the wreck and overcame transponder issues and a stall on the backstretch to take 20th in the Gaunt Brothers Racing team’s #96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota. This was the best run for Suarez since Bristol, where he ran a season-best 18th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #37 in a Cup race at Indianapolis.

40) #37-Ryan Preece / 14 laps / crash
39) #32-Corey LaJoie / 15 laps / crash
38) #19-Martin Truex, Jr. / 16 laps / crash
37) #48-Justin Allgaier / 17 laps / crash
36) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 20 laps / dvp

1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management (3)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, 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 (10)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (2)



UnderdogFan89 said...

Thank you for the article. Quick question: How does NASCAR decide what minimum speed is with no practice or qualifying?

Brock Beard said...

A very good question - I'm not sure of the answer myself. I haven't heard if they've changed the 115% percent rule from a few years ago.