Friday, August 28, 2020

XFINITY: “LAST AF” - Joe Graf, Jr. sweeps both last-place finishes at Daytona


Joe Graf, Jr. picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Wawa 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at the Daytona International Speedway when his #08 Bucked Up Chevrolet was eliminated in a multi-car accident after 7 of 100 laps.

The finish, which came in Graf’s 25th series start, was his second of the season and first since this February’s season opener at the same Daytona track, 21 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 6th for the #08, the 335th from a crash, and the 554th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 21st for the #08, the 1,222nd from a crash, and the 1,737th for Chevrolet.

Between the two races on the Daytona oval, Graf had failed to finish just three races, but has continued to climb the steep learning curve of his first full-time XFINITY Series career. His season-best finish stood at 13th, which he scored at Bristol, the second round of the Homestead double-header, and the first race of Kentucky’s double. 

For Daytona, in conjunction with sponsor Bucked Up, Graf would run a distinctive purple paint scheme featuring the company’s curiously branded “BAMF” and “WOKE AF” supplements. The latter logo occupied the hood in the same bright yellow as the door and roof numbers, representing a Bucked Up promotional code. Graf drew the 22nd starting spot.

Taking 37th and last was John Jackson, who returned to the XFINITY Series for the first time since Talladega, where he dropped out early with overheating issues. He would run the same car from the Talladega race, the teal-and-black Toyota Supra that last year was driven by Max Tullman as MBM’s #42. Inspection would shuffle the order, however, as the 10th-place #18 Monster Energy Toyota failed inspection multiple times, dropping Riley Herbst to the back for the start. By failing three times, Herbst would also have to serve a pass-through penalty after the green flag.

When the race started, however, Herbst was already around the 34th spot ahead of both Jackson and the Mike Harmon Racing teammates of Tim Viens in the #47 Mutt & Jeff Porkskins Chevrolet and Harmon himself in the #74 Back The Blue Chevrolet. Viens was slow to catch the field at the start, and was last across the stripe, 5.91 seconds back. By the end of the first lap, Viens had started to lose touch with the rest of the field, and was still behind Herbst as he slowed to come onto pit road at the end of Lap 1. Herbst took last on Lap 2, and was running by himself. Without any drafting help, Herbst would surely be lapped if the race stayed green. His only hope was Viens himself, who was 2.065 seconds back of 35th-place Jackson on Lap 3. Fortunately, the caution fell on Lap 6.

Unfortunately, this was where Graf entered the last-place battle. Heading into the tri-oval, Graf made contact with the #0 Drydene Chevrolet of Jeffrey Earnhardt, who was on Graf’s left-rear quarter-panel. The contact caused Graf to spin up the track into the passing Caesar Bacarella, putting Bacarella’s #90 Alpha Prime Chevrolet into the outside wall. Bacarella appeared to escape with minimal damage, but Graf’s front valence was destroyed and the right-rear panel peeled away. Limping down the backstretch, the #08 dropped chunks of blue energy-absorbing foam on the track. “Pretty tore up here, took the sides off it,” said a disappointed Graf. As the crew saw the damage for the first time, someone said “We’re done,” and efforts turned to changing the tires and piecing the car together so it could be loaded in the hauler. This was done by Lap 11, when the car was pushed behind the wall.

The rest of the Bottom Five filled up soon after. Bacarella’s damaged car spun and wrecked on the restart, leaving his machine destroyed on the apron of Turn 3. At nearly the same instant in the tri-oval, Jackson had spun the #66 to the apron of Turn 1. According to a member of the team, Jackson ran through debris that came off Graf’s car on the backstretch during the caution and cut a tire. The spin flattened the other three, leaving him crawling along the apron. Unfortunately, much like Jennifer Jo Cobb’s similar incident in last year’s Talladega Truck Series race, the team didn’t have any other tires in the pit stall. Jackson suggested the team park the car rather than get more tires. He hoped he could be loaded on a flatbed, but the team said there were only tow trucks, which would damage the car further. So, with an equipment truck following him close behind, Jackson pulled behind the wall, done for the night.

Earnhardt, who made contact with Graf, only lasted to the next restart, when he spun in Turn 2 and struck the wall. Among those involved in the ensuing pileup was Kody Vanderwal, whose #52 The Swag Spot Chevrolet made contact and rolled to the apron with the hood flapped up over the windshield. Earnhardt was briefly shown one spot below Vanderwal in the rankings, but the order soon refreshed showing the two positions swapped.

After a series of early crashes, a few underdog competitors survived to earn strong runs. Vinnie Miller tied his career-best 11th-place finish from this same race last year, driving B.J. McLeod’s plain white #78 Koolbox Toyota. One spot in front of him, JD Motorsports’ Jesse Little tied his own career-best from Pocono earlier this summer in the #4 Skuttle Tight Chevrolet while teammate Colby Howard took a career-best 12th in the #15 Project Hope Foundation Chevrolet. The final driver to pass wrecked race leader A.J. Allmendinger earned the third-best finish of his career, taking 14th in the #44 AAN Adjusters Chevrolet, just one spot short of his 13th two weeks ago on the road course. Josh Williams outlasted his two DGM Racing teammates and was running as high as 5th with 19 to go before he dropped to 9th. This tied Williams’ second-best finish of his career at Bristol, just one spot of his own career-best of 8th last year at Talladega.

Topping the list, however, was Gray Gaulding, who for the third time in just over a year nearly scored his first career XFINITY Series victory. Rejoining SS-Green Light Racing in the #07 Chevrolet, Gaulding teamed up with the Kaulig Racing trio at the end of Stage 2, moving him to the lead before Allmendinger shuffled him back to 4th. The two parties crossed paths again on the last lap, where Gaulding was running 9th when he followed Justin Haley through the wreck triggered by Ross Chastain. By hugging the inside line, Gaulding slipped through to finish a close 2nd to Haley, tying his career-best runner-up finish at Talladega just last year.

*Graf becomes the third driver to sweep both last-place finishes in XFINITY races on the Daytona oval since the summer event was added to the schedule in 2002. The previous occurrences were in 2012 by Jeff Green and in 2015 by Dexter Bean.

37) #08-Joe Graf, Jr. / 7 laps / crash
36) #90-Caesar Bacarella / 12 laps / crash
35) #66-John Jackson / 14 laps / handling
34) #52-Kody Vanderwal / 24 laps / crash
33) #0-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 24 laps / crash

1st) Motorsports Business Management (5)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing (3)
3rd) JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures, SS-Green Light Racing (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, JR Motorsports, Kaulig Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Toyota (8)


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