Saturday, September 26, 2020

XFINITY: Steering issue leaves Kyle Weatherman last, but Vinnie Miller has an even more frustrating night

PHOTO: @KyleWeatherman

Kyle Weatherman picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Alsco 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #47 The Journey Home Project Chevrolet fell out with crash after 7 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Weatherman’s 27th series start, was his second of the season and first since Kentucky, 12 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 14th for the #47, the 337th from a crash, and the 556th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 51st for the #47, the 1,226th from a crash, and the 1,746th for Chevrolet.

Weatherman and his teammate Bayley Currey have continued to get the most out of Mike Harmon Racing’s equipment in 2020, even against several more obstacles. On the Daytona infield road course, the duo restarted on the front row late in the event, and despite a tangle in Turn 1 managed to take 14th and 17th at the finish. But days later, it was reported Weatherman’s car and hauler had been stolen in Kingsland, Georgia. This proved a serious setback for the MHR team as, though the road course car was only run a few times each year, it had the team’s best equipment on it. Despite multiple increases in the reward fund, as of this writing, the whereabouts of the hauler and equipment are still unknown.

Following the theft, Weatherman has only once finished inside the Top 20 since – a 20th two weeks ago in Richmond. Included in the difficult stretch was Darlington, where he was collected in an early wreck, halting his run in a special “throwback” scheme to resemble David Ragan’s Ford Fairline police car. Both Harmon teams struggled last week in Bristol, where suspension issues left Weatherman a disappointing 32nd while Currey’s 15th-place run was undone by a fractured truck arm, dropping him to 30th.

For Las Vegas, Weatherman tweeted his team did not have primary sponsorship and was actively helping the team seek new backers. Still, his #47 kept the logo for the late Charlie Daniels’ organization The Journey Home Project. The team also kept the quote by Daniels on the quarter-panels, which read, “Only two things protect America, the grace of Almighty God and the United States Military.” The car rolled off 33rd on Saturday.

Taking the 36th and final starting spot was Chad Finchum, who swapped back into Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota for the first time since Road America. Expected to be a “start-and-park” effort, a last-place finish by Finchum would be the fourth in a row for the MBM team. No other teams dropped to the tail end for pre-race penalties, and Finchum followed Vinnie Miller in the #99 Koolbox Toyota.

When the race started, however, Miller immediately fell off the pace, complaining of brake issues. “Get fluid, get fluid,” said the #99 team, who immediately set to work on bleeding the brake system. The driver reported that the brakes stopped working whenever he opened the throttle. Around Lap 5, Miller returned to the track, where his teammate Matt Mills was struggling in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. NASCAR watched Mills for smoke in the early laps, and he made contact with the wall at least one time in the opening seven laps. As Mills lost a lap to the leaders, saying his car “took off” when he hit the wall, Miller came back up to speed, but said the brake issue had returned. “Pit box or hauler?” asked the driver. “Pit box,” said the team. With just two laps complete, Miller was still in last place and headed back to the garage area when the caution fell for the first time.

On Lap 7, Weatherman was running somewhere between 21st and 30th when he lost control in the tri-oval and spun to the apron. The car spun as it stopped against the inside wall, right in front of the exit for the pace car. With slight visible damage to the right-front corner and some scrapes to the passenger-side door, Weatherman climbed out, and the team reported a steering issue caused the spin. NASCAR had to run their backup pace car while Weatherman’s car was brought behind the wall, the first car out of the race.

Across the garage area, work continued on Miller’s #99, and the crew continued to have their driver pump and hold the pedal. On Lap 15, the driver fired the engine, and he pulled back onto the track on Lap 18, just as the caution fell for Austin Hill’s backstretch spin in the #61 Weins Canada Toyota. Miller had originally owed NASCAR a pass-through penalty once he got back up to speed, but Hill’s caution changed that to tail-end of the longest line. Thus, on Lap 20, Miller finally completed his third lap. But, again, the brakes began to fail, and moments after dropping Weatherman to last on Lap 25, he prepared to return to the garage. He did so on Lap 26, just one lap after Finchum pulled into the garage. Finchum then returned to the track on Lap 38 while Miller, trying to return himself, was blocked-in by a parked buggy. 

Miller pulled back onto the track on Lap 48, only for the cycle to begin anew. The pedal went to the floor on Lap 54, and he went to the garage on Lap 56, just moments after Finchum made his own second trip to the garage. On Lap 63, Finchum was confirmed out by NASCAR due to suspension issues, but since Miller didn’t return until Lap 93, it wasn’t until Lap 113 that the #99 finally climbed to 34th ahead of Finchum. This, too, was followed by more adversity as on Lap 121, he was flagged by NASCAR for not meeting minimum speed. The team said they needed to pick up four-tenths a lap, but the driver said the car was too loose. By then, he was a full 80 laps down with 75 to go. The team made adjustments, but on Lap 130, he was black-flagged again and instructed that his night was done. He pulled behind the wall on Lap 132, leaving him 34th.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Jeffrey Earnhardt, who finished 44 laps down in Johnny Davis’ #0 Chevrolet, which debuted new sponsorship from Forever Lawn. Alex Labbe took 32nd when his #36 Can-Am Chevrolet lost power down the backstretch, ultimately drawing the final caution with 12 laps to go.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #47 in an XFINITY Series race at Las Vegas.

36) #47-Kyle Weatherman / 7 laps / crash
35) #66-Chad Finchum / 36 laps / suspension
34) #99-Vinnie Miller / 51 laps / too slow
33) #0-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 166 laps / running
32) #36-Alex Labbe / 179 laps / electrical

1st) Motorsports Business Management (8)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Mike Harmon Racing (3)
3rd) JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, JR Motorsports, Shepherd Racing Ventures, SS-Green Light Racing (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, Kaulig Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Toyota (11)


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