Sunday, November 8, 2020

CUP: Quin Houff prevails in thrilling last-place battle against LaJoie and Hill

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing

Quin Houff picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Season Finale 500 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #00 Creek Enterprises Chevrolet fell out with handling issues after 149 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in Houff’s 53rd series start, was his second of the year and first since Pocono, 22 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 28th for the #00, the 53rd from handling issues, and the 799th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 43rd for the #00, the 124th from handling, and the 1,759th for Chevrolet.

On July 19th at Texas, Houff became the center of controversy when he made a late entrance to pit road, triggering a multi-car accident that collected Matt DiBenedetto and Christopher Bell. While the accident raised criticisms over a full-time Cup Series driver with no Truck Series starts and only ten in XFINITY, it also marked a turning point in the rookie’s career. Heading into the season finale at Phoenix, Texas was Houff’s only DNF in the 21 races since his last-place run at Pocono. In that time, he also set a new career-best 23rd at Indianapolis, where he slowed to avoid the day’s big wreck on pit road. He matched this under the lights at Daytona, then exceeded it with a 13th in Talladega.

For Phoenix, Houff would drive a brand-new car with a new body on it. He’d be sponsored by Creek Enterprises, which earlier this year sponsored his StarCom Racing entry at Kentucky, the Michigan double-header, and at Kansas. Also joining the effort was the Sungate Kids Foundation for victims of child abuse. The names of 19 donors to the organization were added to the lower rear quarter-panels on both sides. This panel was pushed in during the early laps, moments before Joey Logano pulled up on Houff down the backstretch to clear a piece of debris off his grille. Houff would start the race in 34th.

Rolling off 39th and last was Garrett Smithley, who brought his sponsorship from Victory Lane Quick Oil Change to Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #7 Chevrolet. He’d be joined by two drivers sent to the rear for pre-race penalties, both for inspection failures – 35th-place Brennan Poole in the #15 Goettl Chevrolet and, most significantly, polesitter Chase Elliott in the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Poole slotted in behind Elliott, and by the end of Lap 1, the #9 had climbed to 35th spot. Last place then fell back to Smithley, who dropped to 9.277 seconds back of the lead on Lap 4.

On Lap 8, as Smithley was sizing up new 38th-place runner Joey Gase in the #51 Donate Life Arizona Ford, NASCAR alerted Ryan Preece that he had a right-front tire rub on his #37 Honey Nut Cheerios Chevrolet. Preece made an unscheduled green-flag stop for right-side tires and minor repairs, which dropped him to last on Lap 11 and off the lead lap. Preece then lost a second lap on the 14th circuit as the leaders caught him in Turn 3.

Next to join the battle was Timmy Hill, already crowned the 2020 LASTCAR Cup Series Champion last week in Martinsville. On Lap 26, Hill’s #66 Toyota dropped to 38th, three laps down, then took over last on Lap 27. Hill’s car had been trailing smoke, and the crew attended to a power steering issue. He returned to the race by the Lap 30 competition caution, but was already six laps down. Hill remained in last place into the middle stages, and by Lap 115 said he was unsure he could meet the minimum sped of 30.60 seconds. On Lap 124, Hill was cleared to come down pit road for more repairs.

Houff entered the last-place battle around this time, and on the same 124th lap was already eight laps down in 38th. “Doesn’t feel right,” said Houff on Lap 126. The crew then responded, “Then bring it in!” The team looked over the track bar while, on Lap 128, Hill returned to the track. Three circuits later, Hill was again vocal on the radio. “We've got a big problem, coming to you. . .something's loose in the housing,” said Hill that time by. “Rear end housing is shifting.” The spotter couldn’t see the issue, but Hill continued to struggle, dropping 13 laps down by Lap 139.

By then, Houff was still in 38th, and was now 11 down, just two laps ahead of Hill. Houff had gone to the garage as the driver said it was laying over on the left-front and the steering was tightening up. On top of this, Houff would also say the car jumped out on him as if an axle was broken, and also felt a vibration. The team wondered if it was a power steering issue similar to Hill, but Houff said the steering wasn’t getting progressively worse. These repairs dropped Houff to last on Lap 143 as Hill continued to try and meet minimum speed.

Yet another challenger then arrived as Corey LaJoie pulled into the garage around Lap 145. LaJoie’s Go FAS Racing team was making its final start as a full-time team, and LaJoie himself was turning his last laps as driver of their #32 Pala Casino Ford. Radio transmissions indicated a possible axle issue, which soon dropped him behind Hill into 38th spot. With Houff’s car still behing worked on a few stalls away, the two cars were 17 laps apart.

Houff’s crew removed the front wheels to check for leaks in the shocks, then on Lap 164 had him return to the track under caution. Houff said “nothing’s changed,” but continued to close in on LaJoie to drop the #32 into last place. He finally did so on Lap 184, but returned to the garage a second time just moments later. By then, Houff was just four laps ahead of LaJoie, meaning if the #32 could just run a few laps, they could avoid the last-place finish. On Lap 200, NASCAR’s official in the garage made a report, which the tower told him to wait on until after the restart. On Lap 202, the message was completed – “00 out, handling.” An instant later, LaJoie passed Houff for last place, and LaJoie continued on 53 laps down.

LaJoie never climbed higher than 38th, however, and ultimately dropped out inside the final 100 laps with suspension issues. Hill, meanwhile, climbed to 36th, the last car under power, a full 24 laps back of the lead. The last car Hill passed was last-place starter Smithley, who cited rear end trouble on the #7. Rounding out the group was Josh Bilicki, whose turn in the #77 DECK Leadership Chevrolet left him 35th, eight laps ahead of Hill, after early radio issues.

Among the many lasts in Sunday’s race were the final starts for both Germain Racing and Leavine Family Racing, two single-car teams with a combined 681 Cup starts dating back to 2009. Unfortunately, both teams would end their careers without a victory in a points-paying Cup race. Christopher Bell finished best of the two in 17th, driving the #95 Rheem / Smurfit Kappa Toyota. Ty Dillon, running Germain’s #13 GEICO Chevrolet, took 21st. Both took the checkered flag one lap down.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #00 in a Cup Series race at Phoenix since April 23, 2005, when Carl Long’s #00 Buyer’s Choice Auto Warranties Chevrolet lost the engine after 52 laps of the Subway Fresh 500.
*Houff is the first driver to finish last in a Cup race at Phoenix due to handling issues since October 25, 1998, when Brett Bodine’s #11 Paychex Ford dropped out after 46 laps of the Dura Lube / Kmart 500.

39) #00-Quin Houff / 149 laps / handling
38) #32-Corey LaJoie / 215 laps / suspension
37) #7-Garrett Smithley / 261 laps / rear end
36) #66-Timmy Hill / 288 laps / running
35) #77-Josh Bilicki / 296 laps / running

1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing (7)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing (6)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing (3)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing, Penske Racing, StarCom Racing (2)
5th) Beard Motorsports, B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Spire Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (23)
2nd) Toyota (9)
3rd) Ford (4)


Saturday, November 7, 2020

XFINITY: C.J. McLaughlin collected in early pileup in Phoenix

PHOTO: Joel Bray

C.J. McLaughlin picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #93 Sci Aps Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 27 of 206 laps.

The finish came in McLaughlin’s 11th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 45th for the #93, the 339th from a crash, and the 561st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 95th for the #93, the 1,234th from a crash, and the 1,758th for Chevrolet.

McLaughlin made his way into NASCAR’s national competition just last year, when he finished 23rd in his Truck Series debut at Iowa, driving for Reaume Brothers Racing. He then began to run part-time for RSS Racing’s XFINITY program at New Hampshire, swapping car numbers with Ryan Sieg in the flagship #39. He ran 28th that day, eight laps down, then improved to a season-best 23rd at Bristol in a one-off for B.J. McLeod Motorsports. McLaughlin ran a reduced schedule in 2020, continuing to split time with Sieg and McLeod. In his most recent race at Texas, he improved to a new career-best with a 20th-place run in the McLeod #78.

For Phoenix, McLaughlin rolled off 35th in the RSS #93, the same team which finished last just last Saturday in Martinsville with Josh Reaume.

Starting 37th and last was Stan Mullis, who was making his first XFINITY Series start since September 20, 2019 at Richmond. “Let’s have a good clean day here,” Mullis was told on the radio. He was also informed to turn on the brake fans to his #66 Sharelife Vacations Toyota before the start so he wouldn’t have to worry about them under green. With no drivers sent to the rear for pre-race penalties, Mullis remained in the last spot until Lap 2, when the first caution came out.

Coming off Turn 2, Jeffrey Earnhardt was running around the 24th spot when his #0 Contec Chevrolet unexpectedly shut down off the corner, causing B.J. McLeod to rear-end him in the #78 Koolbox Chevrolet. The contact sent Earnhardt spinning into the inside wall, destroying the right-rear of his car and pushing in the right-front. The incident promptly dropped Earnhardt to last, and he was the first to lose a lap as the crew set to work piecing the rear clip back together with bear bond. The team then ran out of tape and sent him back out on Lap 4, when the driver said the car was “still cutting in and out.” Combined with a dragging track bar mount, this forced Earnhardt to pit road a second time. McLeod cleared the “Crash Clock” on Lap 8, then Earnhardt did the same on Lap 10. By Lap 23, when the team received confirmation they reached minimum speed, Earnhardt went to the garage for a battery replacement.

During all this, Earnhardt’s teammate Jesse Little also had issues on the #4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet and dropped at least five laps back. Timmy Hill had a right-rear tire rub on his #13 Toyota. And Daniel Hemric pulled into the garage area with a stuck throttle on his #8 Poppy Bank Chevrolet. Hemric returned to action on Lap 24, followed by Earnhardt on Lap 28, when trouble broke out once more.

Heading into Turn 2, McLaughlin was in heavy traffic when he was collected in a multi-car pileup with J.J. Yeley in the #61 Workpro Tools Toyota, Donald Theetge in the #90 Theetge Chevrolet Chevrolet, and Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. Yeley and Mills were against the outside wall before each started rolling, and Theetge’s heavily-damaged car began to roll on the apron, but McLaughlin was stuck facing the wrong way in the middle of the track. McLaughlin tried to get the car refired, and didn’t climb out as crews arrived, knowing he’d be out of the race if he did. The driver then said he thought the rear end was broken, and confirmed with the crew he had the clutch in. By Lap 31, McLaughlin was back on pit road, where the crew put new tires on it, then went to the garage. At that moment, they were out under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” Theetge joined him around the same time, and was classified 36th, with Mills’ car making it nine more laps before damage took him out on Lap 41. It was around this time McLaughlin took last from Earnhardt.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Tommy Joe Martins, whose #44 Red Angus Chevrolet briefly led by staying out under caution, but lost an engine after 73 laps, and Ryan Vargas, whose #6 Tik Tok Chevrolet lost 82 laps with mechanical issues, then returned to finish under power.

*McLaughlin becomes the fourth different driver to finish last in RSS Racing’s #93 at Phoenix, joining Jeff Green, Jordan Anderson, and Gray Gaulding.

37) #93-C.J. McLaughlin / 27 laps / crash
36) #90-Donald Theetge / 27 laps / crash
35) #5-Matt Mills / 36 laps / crash
34) #44-Tommy Joe Martins / 73 laps / engine
33) #6-Ryan Vargas / 124 laps / running

1st) Motorsports Business Management (9)
2nd) JR Motorsports (4)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, RSS Racing (3)
4th) JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures, SS-Green Light Racing (2)
5th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, Kaulig Racing, Our Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Toyota (12)


TRUCKS: Josh Reaume finishes last in his third-straight entered race

PHOTO: Reaume Brothers Racing Facebook

Josh Reaume picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #00 Levrack Chevrolet fell out after 44 of 156 laps because of brake issues.

The finish, which came in Reaume’s 52nd series start, was his second of the season and second in a row. In the Truck Series’ last-place history, it was the 8th for the #00, the 27th from brake issues, and the 399th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 42nd for the #00, the 163rd for brake issues, and the 1,757th for Chevrolet.

With the finish, Norm Benning locked-up the 2020 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship despite not entering the season’s final race. Johnny Sauter and Tanner Gray, the only other drivers with two last-place finishes coming into Friday’s race, finished 11th and 15th, respectively. Reaume’s finish brought him into a five-way tie for the most last-place runs in the series in 2020, joining Bryant Barnhill, who likewise wasn’t entered.

Following a difficult weekend in Martinsville where he finished last in both the Truck and XFINITY Series races, Reaume would again run his #00 in the season finale at Phoenix. The preliminary entry list indicated Reaume would run a Toyota, but NASCAR’s leaderboard showed him in a Chevrolet. This time, his teammate would be Akinori Ogata, who brought sponsorship from Shinano Pneumatic Tools to the #33 Toyota. Reaume drew the 31st starting spot, two places behind Ogata in 29th.

Rolling off 33rd and last in the shortest series field since Gateway in August was Robby Lyons, back in Diversified Motorsports Enterprises’ #97 Sunwest Construction Chevrolet. While no drivers were sent to the rear for pre-race penalties, Reaume dropped from 31st to last as the field crossed the stripe, 4.467 seconds back of the leader and more than six-tenths of a second back of Lyon. By Lap 3, Reaume reported he had a possible brake issue, and he came down pit road under green on Lap 7. The driver first wanted to check tire wear and also the track bar raised three or four rounds, then made a late call for five rounds. The team reported the only made one turn, and the #00 returned to the track at least four laps down.

On Lap 14, Reaume called for the remaining turns on the track bar, and also to check the front tires. He also asked for updates on if any other driver fell out of the race. At the time, the next truck in line was Jennifer Jo Cobb, whose #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet was two laps down. Reaume pitted on Lap 15, then returned by Lap 18. By then, NASCAR was warning him to pick up his speed as he was over the minimum speed of 31 seconds flat. On Lap 21, Reaume pulled behind the wall, making the quick decision to do so in order to avoid receiving the black flag.

With no one else in the garage area, Reaume re-fired the engine on Lap 40 and rejoined the action at least 30 laps down, just moments before the end of Stage 1. His speed on Lap 57 was 30.50 seconds, a half-second under the minimum speed. He pitted once again on Lap 62 for the team to check tire wear, then pulled into the garage a second time. The team then looked for the wedge wrench and looked under the hood to make further adjustments. He re-fired the engine on Lap 87 and was once more on the track just before the end of Stage 2, with still no one else in the garage. By Lap 90, he was 58 laps down with just 59 laps to go, and both driver and team knew there was little chance they could climb out of last place.

On Lap 98, Cobb was still on the track, just a handful of laps down. Reaume was told if she made two more laps, they wouldn’t be able to catch her even if she dropped out. So on Lap 99, Reaume said “Coming in – we’re not gonna make it,” and was reported behind the wall on Lap 101. Just two laps later came the first accident of the night when Carson Hocevar’s #42 Scott’s / GM Parts Now Chevrolet backed into the wall in Turn 2. On Lap 113, Hocevar was declared out by NASCAR for the crash along with Reaume for brake issues.

Cobb and the rest of the field finished under power, her #10 taking the 31st spot, nine laps down. Akinori Ogata, Reaume’s teammate, took 30th, three laps ahead of Cobb, and two laps behind last-place starter Robby Lyons.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #00 in a Truck Series race at Phoenix.

33) #00-Josh Reaume / 44 laps / brakes
32) #42-Carson Hocevar / 103 laps / crash
31) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 147 laps / running
30) #33-Akinori Ogata / 150 laps / running
29) #97-Robby Lyons / 152 laps / running

1st) Reaume Brothers Racing (6)
2nd) Niece Motorsports (3)
3rd) CMI Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Norm Benning Racing, ThorSport Racing (2)
4th) FDNY Racing, Halmar Friesen Racing, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Spencer Davis Motorsports, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (3)


Thursday, November 5, 2020

PREVIEW: Final starts for Germain, Leavine, Bowyer, and Johnson headline Phoenix season finales

The last Cup Series entry from Germain Racing being prepared at the shop.
PHOTO: @GermainRacing

Friday, November 6, 2020
TRUCKS Race 23 of 23
Championship Race
Lucas 150 at Phoenix
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Joe Nemechek

#2-Sheldon Creed
#21-Zane Smith
#23-Brett Moffitt
#98-Grant Enfinger

Championship Weekend in Phoenix will see just 33 drivers entered for 40 spots, the shortest field the series has seen since Gateway on August 30.

After 22 races, the 2020 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship will come down to three drivers with two last-place finishes apiece. Norm Benning, who isn’t entered, has locked-up the most Bottom Five finishes for 2020 and can only lose the title if either Johnny Sauter or Tanner Gray are classified last at Phoenix. Bryant Barnhill, who also has two last-place finishes, is not entered and is thus eliminated.

MISSING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
As mentioned above, Norm Benning is not entered for the first time since the fall race at Las Vegas. This comes after he finished under power in three of his four most recent starts, finishing between 22nd and 26th each time.

MISSING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Codie Rohrbaugh is not entered for the third time in the last four races, and will close his season with three top-ten finishes with a career-best 3rd in the Daytona opener.

RETURNING: #17-DGR-Crosley
Dylan Lupton will make his third Truck Series start of the year and first since two rounds ago in Texas, where he ran 8th. That race was also the #17 team’s most recent start.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Akinori Ogata has made multiple NASCAR runs in recent Phoenix weekends, and will this weekend return to the Truck Series, taking the place of last week’s 22nd-place finisher B.J. McLeod in Josh Reaume’s #33. Shinano Pneumatic Tools is the listed sponsor.

MISSING: #49-CMI Motorsports
MISSING: #83-CMI Motorsports
Both of Ray Ciccarelli’s trucks are not entered in this weekend’s finale, including Tim Viens’ #49, which withdrew at Martinsville, and Ciccarelli’s #83, which recovered from a spin to finish 25th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
Tyler Hill will close out Hill Motorsports’ successful 2020 campaign, taking the place of brother Timmy, who ran 14th in Martinsville. Tyler’s 11th and most recent Truck start of 2020 came in Texas, where ran a season-best 11th.

MISSING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Clay Greenfield is not entered following a solid 21st-place finish in Martinsville.

MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman is likewise not entered after he climbed from last on the grid in Martinsville to finish 24th.

RETURNING: #97-Diversified Motorsports Enterprises
Rejoining the action this week is the former JJL Racing team with Robby Lyons driving and Sunwest Construction as sponsor. We last saw Lyons at Talladega, where he ran 26th.


Saturday, November 7, 2020
XFINITY Race 33 of 33
Championship Race
Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Landon Cassill

#7-Justin Allgaier
#11-Justin Haley
#22-Austin Cindric
#98-Chase Briscoe

With Timmy Hill’s 17th-place finish last week in Martinsville, Stephen Leicht locked-up the 2020 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship despite not running last Saturday’s race. Hill ended up securing a title of his own on Sunday (see below).

There are 37 drivers entered for 40 spots, down two entries from last week in Martinsville.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Daniel Hemric takes one more shot at trying to score his first-ever NASCAR victory in 2020 as he takes the place of Jeb Burton, who ran 4th in Martinsville. Poppy Bank returns as Hemric’s sponsor.

MISSING: #16-Kaulig Racing
A.J. Allmendinger is not entered after an unscheduled pit stop dropped him to 26th in Martinsville.

MISSING: #17-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Rick Ware’s team is not entered after strong runs on the Roval and Martinsville, but this week announced that they will be running two XFINITY cars in 2021 in addition to their four-car Cup lineup. J.J. Yeley, who finished 14th for Ware at Martinsville, moves to MBM’s #61 in place of Chad Finchum, who’s not entered. Curiously, Finchum’s sponsor Smithbilt Homes will back Yeley’s run.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Also returning to the MBM team is Stan Mullis, who on Saturday will make his first start of the season and first in XFINITY since September 2019 at Richmond. Sharelife Vacations, which backed Chad Finchum’s Cup ride in the MBM #49, will back Mullis on race day.

Following Josh Reaume’s last-place finish with the team in Martinsville, C.J. McLaughlin will run the #93 this weekend. McLaughlin makes just his fourth start of the year and first since Texas two rounds ago, where he ran a season-best 20th for B.J. McLeod.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Also returning from Texas is Jesse Iwuji, who brings with him sponsorship from TrueCar Military to McLeod’s #99 Chevrolet. Iwuji takes the place of Stefan Parsons, who ran 24th at Martinsville.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
David Starr will close out the season for SS-Green Light Racing’s #07, taking the place of Gray Gaulding, whose Martinsville run was frustrated by electrical issues in the race’s early laps. Starr will thus run on the same weekend as his former Cup ride at Leavine Family Racing, which will make its final start on Sunday (see below).


Sunday, November 8, 2020
CUP Race 36 of 36
Championship Race
Season Finale 500 at Phoenix
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Chase Elliott

#2-Brad Keselowski
#9-Chase Elliott
#11-Denny Hamlin
#22-Joey Logano

Timmy Hill secured the 2020 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship last week in Martinsville after Garrett Smithley fell out first. Ryan Preece can still tie Hill for the most last-place finishes if he runs 39th on Sunday, but Hill has locked-up the Bottom Five tiebreaker of 16-6.

There are 39 drivers entered for 40 spots, bringing the season total to 17 short fields out of 36 races in 2020.

DRIVER SWAP: #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #77-Spire Motorsports
Garrett Smithley and Josh Bilicki swap rides this weekend with Smithley moving to the #7 with a returning Victory Lane Quick Oil Change as sponsor, and Bilicki running the Chevrolet for Spire. Smithley and the #77 finished last at Martinsville.

FINAL START: #13-Germain Racing
FINAL START: #95-Leavine Family Racing
Phoenix marks the final start for two of the Cup Series’ few remaining single-car teams, both in business for at least a decade, and each without a win in a Cup points-paying race. For Bob Germain, this will be the #13 GEICO Chevrolet team’s 425th start in Cup, while Bob Leavine’s #95 Rheem / Smurfit Kappa Toyota will make their 256th. Both teams’ Charters have already been sold for 2021.

RETIREMENT: #14-Stewart-Haas Racing
RETIREMENT: #48-Hendrick Motorsports
Sunday will also see the final Cup start for two of the series’ most unique personalities. For Clint Bowyer, this will be his 541st and final series start, closing a career with 10 series wins before he joins the FOX broadcast booth next season. As for Jimmie Johnson, this is his 686th Cup start and his last at least a full-time driver. The seven-time series champion whose 83 wins tie him with his hero Cale Yarborough, will move to the IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi next season. While Bowyer will run his familiar Rush Travel Centers scheme this week, Johnson will run a special silver-painted #48 reminiscent of Jeff Gordon’s final ride in the #24 five years ago.

TEAM UPDATE: #27-Rick Ware Racing
The preliminary entry list showed Cody Ware in the #27, but this has since been updated to show J.J. Yeley once again behind the wheel.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (November 5, 1978): John Kennedy picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career when his #0 Spohn’s Body Shop Ford did not start the Dixie 500 at Atlanta. Kennedy was set to start 39th in the 40-car field, one spot ahead of Ronnie Thomas.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

CUP: Garrett Smithley’s electrical issues in return to Spire hand Timmy Hill the LASTCAR Cup Series title for 2020

SCREENSHOT: @TAutomovilismo

Garrett Smithley picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s XFINITY 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #77 DECK Leadership Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 100 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Smithley’s 42nd series start, was his second of the year and first since May 27th at Charlotte, 27 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 34th for the #77, the 39th from electrical trouble, and the 798th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th for the #77, the 129th from electrical problems, and the 1,756th for Chevrolet.

Since Ryan Preece did not finish last in Sunday’s race, Timmy Hill locked-up the 2020 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship. One of Hill’s five last-place finishes came in the most recent Martinsville race this past June.

After his most recent feature on this site, Smithley has driven for four of the sister teams under the Rick Ware Racing / Premium Motorsports alliance, including the cars leased to both B.J. McLeod Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing. His best run of the year remains a 24th in the Brickyard 400, driving Ware’s #53 Axele Chevrolet. He’d also made five XFINITY starts for SS-Green Light Racing, most recently at Talladega, where he surprised with a strong 8th-place finish. His one-off Truck Series start remains his only start in the series this year, a 36th for Niece Motorsports.

Smithley would this week run for Spire Motorsports, another team under the Ware / Premium banner. After their surprise win at Daytona last year, the team’s best finishes of 2020 have come with the duo from Kaulig Racing’s XFINITY team. Ross Chastain finished 16th under the lights at Daytona while Justin Haley, who got the team into the All-Star Race with his win, gave the team its best finish of the year in 11th. Of the remaining starts between Reed Sorenson, J.J. Yeley, Josh Bilicki, James Davison, B.J. McLeod, Stanton Barrett, and Smithley, the team had finished no better than 24th.

For Martinsville, Yeley was listed as driver of both the Spire #77 and the Ware #27, but this was then corrected at midweek with Smithley taking over the #77. It would be Smithley’s first start in this car since Loudon on August 2, where he ran 31st. This time around, he had picked up sponsorship from DECK Leadership, a workplace diversity initiative. Smithley started 36th, but would incur a tail-end penalty due to the driver swap with Yeley.

Rolling off 39th and last was Joey Gase, who had been dealing with sponsorship issues all week. On October 27, Gase tweeted a picture of his unmarked black Ford and provided his e-mail address for sponsorship inquiries. On Halloween came backing from Whitetail Smokeless on the C-post, a rear decklid logo from the Gas ‘N Go Podcast, and a B-post sticker from Jwow & Clashin Racing. Gase’s hood was then decorated with logos from the more than 30 different companies that backed him during the season, similar to Clint Bowyer’s own sponsorship “thank you” message on his rear decklid.

In the early laps, both Gase and Smithley dropped Quin Houff to last in the #00 Units Chevrolet. Houff was still running there when Michael McDowell’s left-rear tire started smoking on his #34 Car Parts Ford. Around Lap 11, Jimmie Johnson made contact with McDowell’s left-rear, pushing in the fender and causing the smoke. Stuck on the outside lane, the tire finally came apart after Gase bumped his way by on the inside, forcing the #34 to pit road on Lap 15. McDowell promptly took last place from Houff and lost multiple laps before he returned to the track. When Gase’s car stalled after the team dropped him off the jack on pit road, the #51 wound up on the same lap as McDowell, and the two started trading last place. Gase took the spot on Lap 69, McDowell on Lap 78, then Gase again on Lap 84.

Smithley, meanwhile, had also lost several laps, and was shown five down on Lap 104, when the caution fell. Smithley’s car had slowed entering Turns 3 and 4, then come to a stop against the outside wall near the exit of the fourth corner. The car went behind the wall, and took last from Gase on Lap 107. NASCAR declared Smithley out of the race on Lap 140. Smithley tweeted later that he’d moved up eight spots in the early laps before his issues, and was pleased with the speed of his car.

Finishing 38th was Chris Buescher, who dropped a full lap’s worth of fluid around the track after he rear-ended Daniel Suarez with his #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford. Brennan Poole took 37th after he hit the wall with his #15 Thriv5 Chevrolet, damaging the right-front suspension. James Davison took 36th, ending a solid start to his race in the #53 VIR Ford before the alternator failed, stranding him in Turn 2. William Byron rounded out the group after his #24 Liberty University Chevrolet backed into the outside wall and had to be towed to the garage.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #77 in a Cup Series race at Martinsville since October 15, 2001, when Robert Pressley’s #77 Jasper Engines Ford crashed out after 53 laps of the Old Dominion 500.
*Smithley is only the second Cup driver to finish last at Martinsville due to electrical issues. The only other occurrence came on October 21, 2007, when Aric Almirola scored his first last-place finish in the #01 U.S. Army Chevrolet after 111 laps of the Subway 500.

39) #77-Garrett Smithley / 100 laps / electrical
38) #17-Chris Buescher / 146 laps / crash
37) #15-Brennan Poole / 184 laps / crash
36) #53-James Davison / 422 laps / electrical
35) #24-William Byron / 439 laps / crash

1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing (7)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing (6)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing (3)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing, Penske Racing (2)
5th) Beard Motorsports, B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Spire Motorsports, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (22)
2nd) Toyota (9)
3rd) Ford (4)