Saturday, October 10, 2020

XFINITY: Brett Moffitt scores first NASCAR last-place finish as several underdogs surprise in the Roval’s rainstorm

PHOTO: @OurMotorsports

Brett Moffitt picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Drive for The Cure 250 Presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” when his unsponsored #02 Robert B. Our Co. Chevrolet fell out because of a crash after 2 of 68 laps.

The finish occurred in Moffitt’s 28th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th for the #02, the 558th for Chevrolet, and the 338th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 29th for the #02, the 1,229th for a crash, and the 1,749th for Chevrolet.

Coming into 2020, Moffitt had 59 Truck Series starts with 11 wins and the 2018 title, plus 45 Cup starts, highlighted by a career-best 8th-place finish in the 500-mile Atlanta race in 2015, when he was driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. In comparison, he’d been a much more infrequent competitor in the XFINITY Series, making just three starts with a best of 9th for RAB Racing in Iowa back in 2012. In each of those starts, he had never once finished last.

That changed when GMS Racing, his current Truck Series team owners, scaled back their XFINITY program at the end of 2019. The team was purchased by Chris Our and Andy Seuss, who rebranded the team Our Motorsports. Through his connection with GMS, Moffitt was originally slated to run four races to get the team off the ground with Seuss sharing the ride with other drivers after. That changed again when Seuss parted ways in July without making a start, and Moffitt had made all but four of the first 28 starts. 

Both driver and team have struggled this season. While Moffitt has gone without a Truck Series win this year, both his entry and the #02 XFINITY team have struggled with sponsorship. At Homestead, Moffitt was collected in early wrecks in both series, and the #02 team had to rent a backup car from B.J. McLeod Motorsports, which was then parked by Jairo Avila, Jr. But there have also been bright spots – Moffitt remained 5th in the Truck Series points in October, and he’d earned six top-ten finishes on the XFINITY side with a series-best 5th at Talladega in June. 

Both driver and team hoped for another strong performance at the “Roval,” where the No. 02 had once again had no primary or associate sponsorship. Even the Robert B. Our, Co. logos weren’t added, leaving a plain white car with pink door and roof numbers in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Three pink ribbons were also added to the car next to the door number in honor of Bernadette Simpson, Deanne Miller, and Florence Stephens, each a breast cancer survivor. Moffitt drew the 19th starting spot.

Taking the 38th and last spot on the grid was Cody Ware, who one week after a career-best 19th-place Cup finish at Talladega would bring Rick Ware Racing back to the XFINITY Series for the first time since last year. Ware would carry sponsorship from Thriv5, which has run several times on RWR’s Cup cars this summer, and field the same #17 from their 2019 effort with Mike Harmon Racing, this time on a Ford Mustang. No drivers would join him in the back for pre-race penalties, but 29th-place B.J. McLeod in the #4 Swenson Chevrolet dropped to 36th as the field crossed the stripe for the first time. Ware remained last at that moment with C.J. McLaughlin, who needed a push from NASCAR after the command to start engines, running 37th in McLeod’s own #99 Hyundai Material Handling Chevrolet. 

Ware remained in last place for only a moment as Matt Mills made an unscheduled stop in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. As someone on the team called for a flat-head screw driver, NASCAR reported someone had spun out, drawing the caution. This was Moffitt, whose car was smoking on the backstretch on Lap 2. After the chicane, he entered Turns 3 and 4 when the right-rear tire went down, sending him spinning to the apron. Moffitt continued to roll and made it to his pit stall under yellow, and received fresh tires. He managed to return and complete a second lap, but said something was “broke out of it, it’s still moving.” With that, Moffitt pulled into the garage area, then to the transporter, and on Lap 3 was retired from the race under the Damaged Vehicle Policy.

By falling out so early, Moffitt never needed to use either of his two sets of rain tires, and avoided the chaos when a rain storm descended on the track around Lap 13. At that point, all 37 of the remaining starters were still running and on the lead lap. That changed when Kyle Weatherman plowed his #47 Thin Gold Line Solutions / #BackTheBlue Chevrolet into the wall, the first of three incidents he’d be involved in during the next few minutes. Weatherman ended up in 37th, just ahead of Austin Hill, whose #61 AISIN AW Toyota was one of at least four different drivers who piled into the same spot in the infield portion of the course, including Matt Mills, who briefly held last place after his unscheduled stop. Mills returned to action along with Tommy Joe Martins and Ryan Vargas to climb out of the Bottom Five.

Taking 35th was Justin Haley, who crunched the nose of his #11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet when he piled into a barrier soon after the red flag, his car pinned beneath the wrecked #90 Chinchor Electric / Danus Chevrolet of Preston Pardus. Pardus, fresh off a thrilling victory in the SCCA Runoffs in Road America for Spec Miatas, was himself battling for a Top Ten when he was collected, ultimately taking 32nd. Rounding out the Bottom Five was the #92 General Formulations / Star Tron Chevrolet of Josh Williams, Pardus’ teammate, who took 34th when he slammed the Turn 1 SAFER barrier after contending for a Top 5 for much of the first 36 laps.

Alex Labbe, third of the DGM trio in the #36 Can-Am Chevrolet, turned in one of the biggest underdog performances of the day, continuing to build on his impressive road racing resume. After battling inside the Top 5 well into the late stages, Labbe slid off course and struck the barrier with his right-front fender. In the final laps, he clawed his way back into the Top 10, then jumped to 4th in overtime – his first top-five finish in his 75th series start.

Cody Ware, who started last in the aforementioned #17, ran around the 19th spot for most of the day, then after spinning in Turn 1 began to work his way toward the front during the final stage. He was up to 13th with 15 to go, then 8th for the final restart in overtime, where he made it past the spinning Chase Briscoe to take the 7th spot. Following his career-best Cup performance, this was Ware’s best-ever in XFINITY, outdoing his 15th-place run in the Mid-Ohio race in 2014. It’s also tied for the second-best finish in the RWR team’s entire XFINITY career, which covers 444 combined starts dating back to 1995. Only Kevin O’Connell, 3rd at Road America in 2014, finished better.

Finally, Jade Buford broke through with his own first career top-ten finish, taking 8th in SS-Green Light Racing’s #07 Big Machine Distillery Chevrolet. Making only his fourth series start after taking 14th, 19th, and 16th in his previous three road course starts, Buford made his way into the Top 10 at the end of Stage 2, securing his first stage point, and remained in the conversation until the final laps. This also follows-up Garrett Smithley’s 8th-place run for the same team just last week in Talladega.

The rain also presented opportunities for several other drivers to run strong, at least for a portion of the event. Gray Gaulding looked to give Mike Harmon Racing their second top-ten of the year, and beat Buford for 9th at the end of Stage 2, then climbed into the Top 5 during the final stage. But a chicane penalty combined with radio issues dropped his #74 Chevrolet to the 28th spot, ultimately out with electrical issues.

Stephen Leicht ran strong at the start of the race in Motorsports Business Management’s #13 Jani-King Toyota, and like Buford, looked to continue his series of strong runs on the road courses in 2020. But when he ran out of fuel at the end of Stage 1, then was pushed down pit road, he could only take 24th at the finish. With four races to go, Leicht remains the leader in the 2020 LASTCAR XFINITY Series championship by just two finishes over seven drivers. However, with 15 Bottom Fives to Kyle Weatherman's next-closest total of 10, Leicht can only lose the title if one of those seven drivers finish last in three of the remaining four races. Leicht can clinch the title either if this doesn't happen, or if he finishes last one more time.

Myatt Snider battled his way to 2nd in the final laps, but spun at the exit of Turn 1 and ended up 13th in RSS Racing’s #93 The Original Louisiana Hot Sauce Chevrolet. Kody Vanderwal put Jimmy Means’ #52 Space Shuttle Inn Chevrolet up to 13th in the closing stages, but was shuffled back to 20th. And Brandon Brown’s Playoff bid ended in spectacular fashion when, while running 9th in the final laps, his #68 Ray’s Siding Chevrolet ran off-course and splashed wheels-deep into a massive puddle, putting him 26th. 

Hermie Sadler's #02 wrecked at IRP in 2004
SCREENSHOT: video posted by Michael McIntyre

*This was Moffitt's first last-place finish in 151 combined NASCAR Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series points race starts dating back to 2012.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #02 in an XFINITY Series race since August 7, 2004. On that day, Hermie Sadler’s #02 East Tennessee Trailers Chevrolet was collected in a two-car accident with Brian Tyler after Shane Hall’s car lost an engine in Turns 3 and 4 six laps into the Kroger 200 Presented by Tom Raper RVs at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

38) #02-Brett Moffitt / 2 laps / crash
37) #47-Kyle Weatherman / 13 laps / crash
36) #61-Austin Hill / 13 laps / crash
35) #11-Justin Haley / 34 laps / crash
34) #92-Josh Williams / 36 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Toyota (11)


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