Saturday, October 17, 2020

XFINITY: Noah Gragson's out under DVP historically significant among last-place finishes


Noah Gragson picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at the Kansas Speedway when his #9 Bass Pro Shops / True Timber Camo Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident and eliminated under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy” (dvp) after 16 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Gragson’s 66th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 1st for the dvp, the 11th for the #9, and the 559th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 1st for the dvp, the 53rd for the #9, and the 1,750th for Chevrolet.

Just last week on the Charlotte “Roval,” Gragson overcame multiple incidents – including a skirmish with Riley Herbst, with whom he tangled at both Texas and Pocono – to finish a close 2nd to road course ringer A.J. Allmendinger. It was a performance befitting of the aggressive driver from Las Vegas as he completes his second full season in the XFINITY Series. This year saw him score his first series win in the Daytona opener, already securing him a spot in the Playoffs, then followed that up with a win at Bristol, where he tangled with his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier, who led 156 of the 303 laps.

The “Roval” performance followed a runner-up at Las Vegas and a 3rd at Talladega, easily moving him to the “Round of 8” for a chance to make the Championship Four. Last year, he came just short of making the cut, eliminated in the penultimate round. The slide began at Kansas, where he finished 13th, then crashed out to take 30th at Texas. The 10th-place run at Phoenix wasn’t enough to advance. Saturday would see him return to Kansas for another shot, and this time he’d start on the pole under NASCAR’s metric qualifying. In addition, NASCAR would stream on-board footage from his car.

Drawing the 36th and final starting spot was Josh Reaume, who took the wheel of Mike Harmon’s #47 Chevrolet for the first time. Carrying sponsorship from GPS Tab in addition to Reaume’s own Colonial Countertops sponsorship, Reaume pulled double-duty with the Truck Series along with Josh Bilicki, who served as his spotter. No teams were slated to join him at the back of the pack.

In the early laps, Stephen Leicht took over last place in the #66 Jani-King Toyota, running the same orange-and-blue Supra that made its downforce track debut at Homestead earlier this summer. Leicht lost a lap in the opening stages, then got it back when the caution fell for Matt Mills’ spin on Lap 10. The #66 made at least one more stop on Lap 14, and was still shown the only car one lap down for the restart.

On Lap 15, the battle up front rapidly intensified, and Gragson was part of a four-wide battle for the lead with the #10 Dyna-Gro Seed Chevrolet of Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric’s #22 Menards / Richmond Ford to his outside with Brandon Jones’ #19 Toyota Service Centers Toyota to his inside. As Jones backed off, Gragson appeared to try and slot in behind Cindric’s car when the two made contact, bumping Cindric into Chastain. While Chastain maintained control, Cindric’s car cut hard left into Gragson, damaging Gragson’s right-front and destroying Cindric’s left-front. Most of the field managed to keep going, though Anthony Alfredo banged doors with another car in his #21 Andy’s Frozen Custard Chevrolet and Tommy Joe Martins spun further back in the #44 AAN Adjusters Chevrolet.

With Leicht now back on the lead lap, both Cindric and Gragson pulled down pit road for repairs, each trying to clear the “Crash Clock.” Cindric took over last from Leicht on Lap 17, and by Lap 18 had already used up 3 minutes and 50 seconds on the six-minute clock. Cindric managed to pull back on track for the Lap 19 restart, three laps down, and despite heavy left-side damage would ultimately clear the clock on the first green-flag lap. The Penske crew made further repairs and returned to action on Lap 40, at least 20 laps down. Gragson, however, was still on pit road when the race restarted, and the clock soon expired. NASCAR reported they were out of time, and the crew eventually pushed the #9 behind the wall. Gragson bucked up his crew, looking ahead to trying to win Texas or Martinsville to make the Championship Four. Gragson took last from Cindric on Lap 20.

Leicht, meanwhile, remained on the lead lap until Lap 60, when he pulled behind the wall with fuel pump issues. With now three races to go and still a two-finish lead over the field, Leicht will secure the 2020 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship if any of the drivers behind him fail to finish last at Texas – Kyle Weatherman, Timmy Hill, Kody Vanderwal, Landon Cassill, Joe Graf, Jr., Brandon Jones, or Michael Annett. If one of those drivers finish last in Texas, that same driver must also finish last at Martinsville and Phoenix to take the title from Leicht.

 Ryan Vargas ended up 34th after two stays in the garage for a power steering issue, ultimately falling out in Johnny Davis’ #6 TikTok Chevrolet. Taking 33rd was Josh Reaume, whose right-front wheel locked-up in the final laps, citing brake issues in the final results. Joe Graf, Jr. rounded out the Bottom Five in 32nd after his #08 Bucked Up Energy Chevrolet erupted in smoke just before one of the last restarts, listed as a rear gear failure.

Making just his 9th series start, Austin Hill earned his first series top-five finish, finishing 5th in Motorsports Business Management and Hattori Racing Enterprises’ #61 Toyota Tsusho Toyota. Josh Williams and Brett Moffitt both rebounded from frustrating incidents at the “Roval” to finish 6th and 7th, respectively – Williams with a new career-best in the #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet and Moffitt with his best run in the series since Richmond driving Chris Our’s #02 Destiny Homes / Concrete Supply Chevrolet just hours after ending his losing streak in the Truck Series. Further back, Tommy Joe Martins recovered from rear bumper damage to take 14th while Dexter Bean earned the second-best finish of his XFINITY career, taking 16th in the #90 Sleep Well / Alpha Prime Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #9 in an XFINITY Series race since October 13, 2006, when Kasey Kahne’s #9 Wisk Dodge crashed after 7 laps of the Dollar General 300 at Charlotte.
*Gragson is only the eighth driver to start on pole and finish last in an XFINITY Series race, and the first since May 9, 2008, when Carl Edwards’ #60 Scotts Water Smart Ford crashed after 3 laps of the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington.

The official reason out for Gragson was “DVP,” indicating the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” It is not the first time a driver has been listed out for this reason, but it is the first time it’s resulted in a last-place finish. It’s much more common for a driver involved in an early wreck to fall out due to a “crash.” What distinguishes a “DVP” from a DNF by reason of a “crash” seems to be whether, in the space of six minutes, the team has attempted repairs, sent the driver back on the track to complete laps, and the driver fails to reach minimum speed when time expired. If any one of these elements isn’t met, it is listed as a “crash” instead. For example, when both Joey Logano at Watkins Glen in 2018 and Aric Almirola at Bristol in 2019 suffered minor damage, but were pushed behind the wall without an attempt to return, each were listed out as a “crash.”

This distinction came into focus a couple months ago at Indianapolis, where three drivers involved in the pit road accident – Justin Allgaier, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Brennan Poole – all attempted to meet minimum speed after the restart, but failed to do so. The four other drivers involved in the wreck were listed out as a “crash.” This, too, had a wrinkle, as the collected Martin Truex, Jr. was listed out as a “crash” despite returning to the track after repairs, then coming down pit road under caution before climbing out of the car. The “attempt” seems like it has to be made under green – a couple laps to feel it out under caution and then returning to pit road isn’t enough. This also explains Quin Houff’s incident at Pocono listed as a “crash,” where he made two trips to pit road for repairs, but had such a bad vibration each time that they called off the attempt and brought him to the garage.

The most deceptive aspect of a failure to finish under the “DVP” is the clock doesn’t stop if the driver suffers an issue unrelated to the crash, and goes to the garage to address that problem. At Bristol last month, Bayley Currey bumped the wall on Lap 198, completed repairs, and returned to the track to attempt to meet minimum speed. During this attempt, the battery died, and his car stalled on the track. The crew pushed him behind the wall for what they believed was the battery issue, unwittingly ending their race simply because they failed to meet minimum speed before the stall. NASCAR informed them they were out, and had been before they even set to work in the garage area.

36) #9-Noah Gragson / 16 laps / dvp / led 13 laps
35) #66-Stephen Leicht / 59 laps / fuel pump
34) #6-Ryan Vargas / 81 laps / power steering
33) #47-Josh Reaume / 101 laps / brakes
32) #08-Joe Graf, Jr. / 158 laps / rear gear

1st) Motorsports Business Management (8)
2nd) JR Motorsports (4)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing, 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 (19)
2nd) Toyota (11)


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