Monday, August 10, 2020

CUP: Brad Keselowski ends NASCAR’s longest active streak without a Cup Series last-place finish


Brad Keselowski picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #2 Discount Tire Ford triggered a two-car accident after 95 of 156 laps.

The finish came in Keselowski’s 399th series start, ending the Cup Series’ longest active streak without a last-place finish in a points race. Among drivers entered in at least one Cup points race in 2020, not one has a streak longer than 25 starts (rookies Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek). The updated rankings are listed below.

In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 27th for the #2, the 601st from a crash, and the 701st for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 32nd for the #2, the 965th for Ford, and the 1,218th from a crash.

On the one hand, what happened on Sunday was not the first time Keselowski has ever finished last in NASCAR. In 2007, he finished last in two XFINITY Series races for car owner Keith Coleman, dropping out after 1 lap at Mexico City on March 4th, then out after six laps at Texas on April 14. He’s also finished last exactly once in all three NASCAR exhibition races, and did so in three consecutive seasons after his first Cup Series championship: The All-Star Race in 2013, Duel Race 2 at Daytona in 2014, and the Busch Clash in 2015.

During this time, several drivers were scoring their first last-place finish after more than 100 Cup Series starts:

April 26, 2014 – Clint Bowyer finishes last at Richmond, his 290th series start
August 2, 2015 – Kasey Kahne finishes last at Pocono, his 417th series start
July 9, 2016 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finishes last at Kentucky, his 130th series start
August 7, 2016 – Jimmie Johnson finishes last at Watkins Glen, his 529th series start
May 27, 2018 – Kevin Harvick finishes last at Charlotte, his 623rd series start+
November 18, 2018 – Regan Smith finishes last at Homestead, his 224th series start
July 28, 2019 – Chase Elliott finishes last at Pocono, his 134th series start
+indicates current record

Since I last posted about the overall rankings in March 2019, several shorter streaks have also ended, including Daniel Suarez (90 starts), Ryan Preece (47), Daniel Hemric (22), and William Byron (73). Entering the second round of the double-header at Michigan, the rankings among drivers with at least one start in a Cup Series points race now had one clear outlier:

(398) Brad Keselowski
(24) Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek
(23) Josh Bilicki, Tyler Reddick 
(21) Brennan Poole 
(11) Bayley Currey
(10) David Starr 
(4) James Davison, Justin Haley

In Cup Series points races, Keselowski has seemingly gone out of his way to avoid finishing last even once. The first time Keselowski finished next-to-last was back on November 14, 2010. His #12 Dodge crashed after 58 laps at Phoenix. Only Brendan Gaughan’s first-lap accident kept that streak from ending at an unremarkable 52 starts. But in recent years, the margin has been much closer:

May 18, 2017 – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. On Lap 19, Jeffrey Earnhardt starts dropping rear end fluid from his #33 Towne Bank Chevrolet. As the leaders lap him, Chase Elliott blows an engine on his #24 NAPA Chevrolet. Keselowski can’t avoid a collision and rear-ends Elliott, ending both their nights. Keselowski will finish behind Elliott on the same lap. But Earnhardt’s rear end issue is terminal, and the lapped driver edges Keselowski for last place by a single circuit.

July 8, 2017 – the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky. Gray Gaulding misses the start in the #55 #CheckItForAndretti Toyota, potentially marking the first time all three races at the same track have last-place finishers with zero laps complete. The Premium Motorsports team gets Gaulding back on track on Lap 57 with no cars out of the race. Keselowski, meanwhile, is racing for sixth when he slides into Clint Bowyer and spins. Keselowski clips a passing Jimmie Johnson, putting Johnson into the outside wall. Johnson goes straight to the garage, but Keselowski’s crew has him feel the car out for two laps before he, too, pulls behind the wall. Johnson finishes last by those two laps after Gaulding passes them both.

July 7, 2019 – the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. Through the first half, Quin Houff is running last, 18 laps down after a lengthy stay in the garage. Entering the tri-oval on Lap 84, Kevin Harvick bumps Keselowski, steering the #2 to the right and destroying the right-front corner of Keselowski’s car. A handful of cars spin out in the ensuing chain-reaction, including Daniel Suarez, who bumps Joey Logano then seemingly spins harmlessly to the inside along with Daniel Hemric. Keselowski is first reported out along with David Ragan, but both return to the track to complete a couple extra laps with the body work dragging on the track – Keselowski turns two while Ragan turns three. Suarez doesn’t turn any, and takes last after the lapped Houff passes all three of them.

November 3, 2019 – the AAA Texas 500 at Texas. Chase Elliott damages his car when he slaps the wall on Lap 10, but manages to reach minimum speed. Repairs drop Elliott a full 11 laps down by Lap 50 while others, including Ross Chastain and Corey LaJoie, also suffer damage in single-car incidents. During this, Keselowski is in still another tight battle, this time with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. In Turn 2, Keselowski broke loose and narrowly avoided wrecking them both. He’s not so fortunate on Lap 55. Keselowski slides in Turn 3 and backs into the outside wall. At the exact same instant, Stenhouse also loses control and slams the wall even harder, colliding with Keselowski in the process. Keselowski is initially classified behind Stenhouse, but the order changes on Lap 58. Elliott passes both cars, and Stenhouse finishes last. Both Stenhouse and Keselowski are credited with 52 laps complete.

This year, Keselowski has overcome a sluggish start to the season after Penske Racing swapped crew chiefs between their three teams and has now scored three wins for a fourth consecutive season. The slide effectively ended in the Coca-Cola 600, where the dominant Chase Elliott’s ill-timed decision to pit allowed Keselowski to inherit the lead, taking perhaps the final win for the Miller Brewing Company with the Penske team. He again benefited from Elliott’s misfortune at Bristol, this time after a tangle between Elliott and Joey Logano while racing for the lead. Win number three came just last week in Loudon, where this time he dominated for 184 of 301 laps after some tight side-by-side battles with Denny Hamlin.

At Michigan, Keselowski aimed to take his first Cup Series win at his home track, and would have two chances to do it in a new double-header of 156-lap races. On Saturday, he came within striking distance of Kevin Harvick, but had to settle for 2nd. Due to a field inversion of the Top 20, this would put Harvick in 20th for the Sunday race with Keselowski in 19th.

The 39th and final spot fell to Tommy Baldwin Racing following Joey Gase’s mid-race transmission trouble. Gase was this time relieved by Josh Bilicki, who was slated to run the car after finishing 17th in the XFINITY race at Road America the previous day. Both the driver change and required transmission change meant Bilicki would remain in the 39th spot, one of 13 drivers and teams penalized after the Saturday race: backup cars for Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Preece, and Cole Custer; an engine change for Brennan Poole; and multiple inspection failures for both Reed Sorenson and Daniel Suarez.

Prior to the start, it was reported that Austin Dillon, driving one of the backup cars, would have to serve a pass-through penalty at the start in his #3 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. Thus, while Bilicki climbed out of last place on the first lap, dropping James Davison to last in the #51 Signing Day Sports Ford, Dillon took over last by the conclusion of Lap 2. Dillon returned to the track 22.525 seconds back of Davison, and 28.574 back of the lead. 

As Dillon rapidly began to close the gap, Davison caught and passed Timmy Hill in the #66 SBC Contractors Toyota, putting Hill back to 38th. By Lap 5, Dillon was within 16.071 seconds of Hill. He cut it down to 7.234 seconds back on Lap 10, 2.635 on Lap 12, and just 0.250 of a second on Lap 13. By the time they crossed the stripe again, Dillon had dropped Hill to last place. During all this, Hill thought his car was down on power. In fact, the time sheets showed him between nine-tenths to a full second off the pace of the Ware cars, including Davison’s, who were running in the next few spots ahead of him. By Lap 38, Hill was two laps down and on the verge of three.

On Lap 44, when the lapped cars pitted under the second lap of a caution, Garrett Smithley took last in the #53 Kendall Motor Oil Ford. This then changed two laps later, the first recorded last-place change to be caused by the new “Choose Cone” rule. As the field sorted itself out, Smithley chose a shorter lane than Hill, putting the #66 back to last place. Hill then passed Davison for position on the Lap 48 restart, putting the #51 back to 39th. The spot traded hands again on Lap 50 as Davison re-passed Hill. Hill was now on the verge of four laps down by Lap 67.

The final few positions remained on or near the same lap as each other until Lap 70, when Davison was black-flagged by NASCAR for a missing left-rear quarter window. Davison made the stop, and tumbled to five laps down by Lap 74, when he took over last place from Hill. By the time he was back up to speed, he was seven laps down, and a full two circuits back of Hill. Davison made at least one more stop under the Stage 2 ending caution on Lap 88, the driver expressing concern about the air hose on top of his helmet. The team managed to not lose another lap, but were still holding fast to last place with no drivers out of the race.

As for Keselowski, he began Stage 3 with a tight battle for the lead. In his sights was teammate Ryan Blaney in the #12 Menards / Knauf Ford. In his rear view mirror was Saturday’s winner, Kevin Harvick. On Lap 96, according to Keselowski, he was getting a big push from Harvick, and attempted a move on the inside of Blaney to take over the race lead. The #2 then clipped the apron and suddenly skated up the track, directly into the side of Blaney. Keselowski slammed the wall flush with the right side of his car with Blaney following suit, letting Harvick and the rest of the field pass low. Keselowski stopped his car in the grass of Turn 3 and climbed out, his afternoon done. By then, he was already classified behind Blaney and dropping through the rankings.

On Lap 102, the final last-place change occurred when Davison climbed past Keselowski. The word became official when all cars cleared post-race inspection.

Blaney took 38th with the lapped Davison climbing no higher than 37th. Alex Bowman tumbled to 36th in the final stages when he lost the cap on one of his tires after apparently suffering damage to his #88 / Adam’s Polishes Chevrolet during the Keselowski/Blaney wreck. Hill rounded out the Bottom Five, finishing six laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick.

*Car #2 hadn’t finished last in a Cup Series points race since November 16, 2008, when Kurt Busch’s Miller Lite Dodge wrecked after 207 laps of the Ford 400 at Homestead, 418 races ago. This was also happened to be the last Cup Series race where I didn’t write a LASTCAR article – this site was founded in time for the Budweiser Shootout in 2009.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #2 in a Cup Series race at Michigan since August 21, 1983, when Morgan Shepherd’s #2 ACM Equipment Sales Buick fell out with a busted valve after 63 laps of the Champion Spark Plug 400.

(25) Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek
(24) Josh Bilicki, Tyler Reddick 
(22) Brennan Poole 
(11) Bayley Currey 
(10) David Starr 
(5) James Davison
(4) Justin Haley 
+List includes only drivers with at least one start in a Cup points race so far in 2020

39) #2-Brad Keselowski / 95 laps / crash
38) #12-Ryan Blaney / 95 laps / crash
37) #51-James Davison / 147 laps / running
36) #88-Alex Bowman / 149 laps / tire
35) #66-Timmy Hill / 150 laps / running

1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing (6)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (3)
3rd) Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Rick Ware Racing (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Racing, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (3)


1 comment:

Kuku h said...

And this this report, I will take a 1 week vacation from NASCAR. Too much bad stuff.