Saturday, July 18, 2020

XFINITY: “Car 54, How Could You?” - Texas-sized disqualification hands Kyle Busch first XFINITY last-place finish since 2003

PHOTO: @NASCARonUNB
Kyle Busch picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #54 Twix Cookies & Creme Toyota took the checkered flag in first, but was disqualified after completing all 201 laps.

The finish, which came in Busch’s 356th series start, was his first of the season and first in an XFINITY Series race since October 25, 2003 at Atlanta, 251 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, this was the 11th disqualification, the 5th for the #54, and the 138th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 21st for the #54, the 37th disqualification, and the 337th for Toyota.

Riley Herbst picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #18 Monster Energy Toyota was parked under the Damaged Vehicle Policy after 9 of 201 laps.

The finish came in Herbst’s 26th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place history, it was the first time a driver fell out under the DVP, the 12th for the #18, and the 138th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the first incident for the DVP, the 47th for the #18, and the 337th for Toyota.

The two-time and defending Cup Series champion was slated to make another five XFINITY Series starts this year. When reported on February 20, these races were slated to be Phoenix (March 7), Charlotte (May 23), Chicagoland (June 20), Loudon (July 18), and Watkins Glen (August 15). That first race at Phoenix saw a tight battle between Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brandon Jones. Jones worked his way past Busch with 20 laps to go, yielding his first series victory. Just six days later, however, the National Emergency declaration for COVID-19 suspended the season.

With the cancellation of both races at Chicagoland and Watkins Glen, as well as the XFINITY race at Loudon, Busch has since changed his schedule. He ran the first XFINITY race back when the series ran at Darlington, and was again involved in tight battle with an up-and-comer. This time, it was with Chase Briscoe, who prevailed in a tight side-by-side battle just days after Briscoe and his wife suffered a personal tragedy. Busch then returned for his originally-scheduled race at Charlotte, where his #54 Toyota carried its third different paint scheme. This time, it was to salute the graduating class of Appalachian State University. And this time, Busch prevailed, leading 94 of 203 laps.

Texas marked his fourth XFINITY start of the season and his fifth in Trucks, but he also arrived without a single Cup Series win. Due to his team’s rank in Owner Points, Busch only secured the 28th starting spot for Saturday’s race. He ran the same Twix Cookies & Creme paint scheme that he ran during his loss to Jones at Phoenix.

Taking 37th and last was current 2020 LASTCAR XFINITY Series leader Stephen Leicht, who again drove the bright orange-and-blue #66 Jani-King Toyota Supra from Motorsports Business Management. Leicht would be joined at the rear by Bayley Currey, whose #74 Produxa Chevrolet drew 31st, but was docked for multiple inspection failures. Brett Moffitt, the 15th-place starter, didn’t roll off pit road at first, but resumed his spot in the new-look #02 Knockaround Sunglasses Chevrolet.

Coming to the green flag, Leicht had dropped to the 37th spot once more, and had some open track between himself and the rest of the field. He was seven seconds back of the lead across the stripe, then by Lap 3 had worked his way past Dexter Bean in the #36 Genteel Coatings Chevrolet. Bean was slated to start 13th in his first start since his breakthrough 11th-place run at Pocono, but had apparently dropped near the tail end of the field before the start. Leicht then had trouble, however, as his #66 popped out of fourth gear, causing him to slow suddenly and retake last from Bean. Leicht reported he didn’t over-rev the engine, but did check-up after Kody Vanderwal broke loose in the #52 Advanced Dairy Services Chevrolet. This caused Leicht to lose a lap.

On Lap 5, at nearly the same moment, the caution fell for an incident off Turn 4. Riley Herbst in the #18 Monster Energy Toyota started 5th and was still among the leaders when Noah Gragson’s #9 Bass Pro Shops / BRCC Chevrolet came up behind him on the bottom groove. Gragson then leaned on Herbst’s bumper and gave him a shove just past corner apex, sending Herbst sliding up the track. This caused Herbst to lose control and slide rear-first into the outside wall. The impact destroyed his rear clip and dislodged the rear decklid, sending him down pit road. Leicht was told to stay out despite his transmission issue to try and get that spot. Leicht earned the Lucky Dog for Herbst’s wreck, putting Herbst back in last place.

Herbst pitted for repairs, including tape on the rear decklid and a replacement rear bumper panel which was screwed onto the body using the NASCAR-mandated four mounting flanges, two on each side of the piece. He returned to the track for the restart, but was still on the “Crash Clock,” meaning he’d have to reach minimum speed in order to keep driving. When the green flag dropped, Leicht’s car jumped out of gear for a second time, and this time he pulled behind the wall. As the MBM team removed Leicht’s right-front wheel and spring, Herbst was told by NASCAR he’d failed to clear the “Crash Clock” and was done for the race. Herbst pulled down pit road, where the crew made adjustments and examined the rear of the car, but was then told the news.

“I thought we had six minutes?” asked Herbst. “We ran out of laps to meet it,” the crew answered. “That’s crap,” said the driver, who then said, “We’re gonna fix that further down the road, I promise you.” Herbst was clearly upset at Gragson in his television interview.

Despite the efforts of the MBM team, Leicht never returned to the track. NASCAR confirmed he was out with the transmission issue on Lap 59. At that point, both Herbst and Leicht had completed the same number of laps, but Herbst had held down last ever since Leicht got the Lucky Dog following the wreck.

Taking 35th was Myatt Snider, whose #93 Louisiana Hot Sauce Chevrolet was nudged loose off Turn 2 by Matt Mills, destroying the rear clip to the same degree as Herbst. This began a prolonged issue for the team as they tried to make repairs, ultimately dropping debris in the grass off the frontstretch. After multiple penalties for too many crew members over the wall and repairs, Snider exited the race after 50 completed laps. Dexter Bean took 34th, passed by his teammate Alex Labbe, who brought the #90 Larue Snowblowers / Prolon Chevrolet back on track following a right-rear hub issue. Labbe’s climb dropped Kody Vanderwal to the final spot in the Bottom Five after contact from Bayley Currey sent Vanderwal’s #52 Chevrolet backing into the Turn 2 wall. According to team owner Jimmy Means, Vanderwal missed minimum speed by just two-hundredths of a second – a 33.04-second lap to a 33.02. This would soon change by an equally small margin.

Kyle Busch, meanwhile, overcame his poor starting spot and a pit road speeding penalty to snatch the win away from Chase Briscoe with ten laps to go. He took the checkered flag less than a second ahead of Briscoe’s #98 Ford. But with just minutes until his scheduled start in that evening’s Truck Series race, it was reported Busch’s car for failing the rear heights in post-race – specifically, his left-rear corner was found to be too low. With that, Busch was disqualified, bumping Herbst out of last and Vanderwal out of the Bottom Five. The venue for Busch’s one remaining XFINITY start is still to be announced.

Several underdogs enjoyed fine runs. Brandon Brown took 10th in the #68 Jabs Construction Chevrolet, his first Top Ten since Bristol. David Starr returned to his home track as a last-minute driver of SS-Green Light Racing’s #07 Chevrolet and put it 13th across the stripe, his best XFINITY finish since he ran 14th at Talladega last year. Tommy Joe Martins finally enjoyed a drama-free race and took 15th in his #44 AAN Adjusters Chevrolet, a rally from next-to-last on the starting grid to tie his season-best run at Talladega. Taking 19th was Bayley Currey, who in Mike Harmon’s #74 earned his first top-twenty finish since his streak of three straight Top 20s ended at Atlanta in June.

David Gilliland in the most recent #54 to finish last in XFINITY, April 2005
SCREENSHOT: SPEED Channel, Qualifying video on YouTube from user Dave W
LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the second time a driver was classified last in a Texas XFINITY race due to disqualification. The other time was on April 16, 2005, when Johnny Sauter’s #1 Fleet Pride / Yellow Dodge finished 14th, but was disqualified for an oversized carburetor in the O’Reilly 300.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #54 in an XFINITY Series race since April 22, 2005, when David Gilliland drove it in his first XFINITY Series start. Gilliland’s run in the #54 racecarceilingfans.com / Luke’s Chevrolet ended with a multi-car crash after 24 laps of the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix. He slowed for the Turn 2 pileup and tried to squeeze by in the high lane when the hole closed, damaging his car. While reportedly built by Hendrick Motorsports, the paint scheme appeared to be from Richard Childress Racing as it resembled Kevin Harvick's car from that year. This happened to be the first and only XFINITY Series start for team owner Mark Golembeski, who also fielded Gilliland’s full-time West Series ride that year. Gilliland took 4th in that year’s point standings with a single win in the January opener at the same Phoenix track. Gilliland ran the #88 in the West, but the team selected the #54 in the Busch race as a reference to the show “Car 54, Where Are You?”

THE BOTTOM FIVE
37) #54-Kyle Busch / 201 laps / disqualified / led 15 laps
36) #18-Riley Herbst / 9 laps / dvp
35) #66-Stephen Leicht / 9 laps / transmission
34) #93-Myatt Snider / 50 laps / crash
33) #36-Dexter Bean / 64 laps / power steering

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management (3)
2nd) JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
3rd) Jeremy Clements Racing, JR Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Toyota (6)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

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