|PHOTOS: Matthew Miller, @MGMiller17|
Quin Houff picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at the Daytona Infield Road Course when his #00 Mane ‘n Tail Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after 3 of 70 laps.
The finish, which came in Houff’s 55th series start, was his first since November 8, 2020, last year’s finale at Phoenix, three races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 29th for the #00, the 699th from engine trouble, and the 800th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44th for the #00, the 1,096th from engine failure, and the 1,764th for Chevrolet.
Houff enters his second season with StarCom Racing looking to improve on his first-ever full-time campaign in Cup. While he earned a career-best 13th last fall at Talladega, he had never finished better than 23rd in any other race. Things didn’t go much better in last week’s Daytona 500. While he made it through the grinding Lap 14 pileup to restart the race after the lengthy rain delay, NASCAR’s decision to not throw a caution for debris off William Byron’s damaged car proved disastrous. Houff was running behind Byron when the rear panel came loose, and the debris punctured a tire. Under green, the tire let go, and he crashed out with Chase Briscoe leaving him 29th. With metric qualifying, this gave Houff 29th on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Rolling off 40th and last was Timmy Hill in the #66 CrashClaimsR.us Toyota. After failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 last week, Hill started all three races on the road course, finishing 9th in Trucks on Friday, then 34th in the XFINITY race after his crew changed the right-rear axle on pit road. He’d be joined at the rear by Justin Haley, this week’s driver of Spire Motorsports’ #77 AirMed Care Network Chevrolet, after Haley’s car twice failed inspection.
During the pace laps, Daytona 500 winner and outside-polesitter Michael McDowell felt something strange in his steering, like the air pressure was low in one of his tires. He didn’t report this, and took the green flag with the rest of the field. As he did, his right-front went down further, and he slid out of the groove in Turn 1, dropping out of the Top 20. Now off-line for the entrance to Turn 2, he clipped the grass with the right-front.
|Houff's No. 00 hauler leaves the track|
with 30 laps to go.
An instant later, Kyle Busch, running just in front of him in the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, also ran wide into the grass, suffering even more damage to his right-front. McDowell slowed to the apron and made it to pit road, taking over last place at the end of the first lap. However, he entered pit road when it was closed as he dropped the tire carcass on the track, drawing the first caution. McDowell also drove through too many pit boxes, which drew a redundant tail-end penalty. During the stop, McDowell’s crew saw the right-front splitter was worn off after dragging the track. This required a packer to be pulled from the right-front. Because his stall was short of the stripe, McDowell had yet to complete the first lap, yet he returned to the track without losing a lap to the leaders.
Kyle Busch took over last on Lap 3, when he pulled down pit road so the crew could cut off part of the right-front fender and tape the hood. At the time, McDowell was again on pit road behind him.
By the Lap 4 restart, McDowell had moved up to 36th, while Busch was 10.763 seconds back of 39th-place Hill. It was only then that Houff entered the last-place battle. He lost power down the backstretch, and reported “66 on the oil pressure, 73 on the fuel.” He came down pit road, and pulled behind the wall for mechanical repairs, taking over last on Lap 5. “I think that’s it, buddy,” said someone on the radio. “That sucks.” The team kept Houff in the car through Lap 8 as they tried to diagnose the issue, but on Lap 9 said “We are finished for the day, sir.” NASCAR confirmed Houff was out with engine issues on Lap 22, and the hauler left the track with 30 to go. Michael McDowell, meanwhile, rebounded to finish 8th, and remained in the Top Ten in points following his 500 win.
Finishing 39th on Sunday was Ross Chastain, whose #42 McDonald’s Chevrolet collided with the wall in Turn 6 after possible contact from Ryan Blaney, destroying the right-front of his car. Tyler Reddick took 38th after both teammate Austin Dillon and William Byron forced him into the grass, destroying the front splitter, sending him into an infield sign, and causing an oil cooler fire on the #8 CAT Rental Store Chevrolet. Matt DiBenedetto apparently blew a right-rear tire with enough force to destroy the back-quarter of his car, and his #21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford made a brief stay in the garage late in the going before he returned to action. Josh Bilicki rounded out the Bottom Five after his #52 Jacob Companies Ford suffered brake failure in the final laps.
A.J. Allmendinger, making his first Cup start since he parted ways with JTG-Daugherty Racing at the end of 2018, rebounded from a disappointing XFINITY race to finish 7th in the #16 Hyperice Chevrolet – his first top-ten finish in the series since the fall Talladega race in 2018. Ryan Preece, who replaced Allmendinger at JTG in 2019, followed-up his 6th-place run in the 500 with a 9th on Sunday, keeping his “open” team high up the standings. Daniel Suarez got sick in his car in the final 15 laps, but still managed to finish 16th in just the second start for Trackhouse Racing, even leading two laps under caution. And both Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill rebounded from their DNQs in the Daytona 500 to finish inside the Top 30, taking 19th and 29th, respectively.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #00 for a Cup race on a road course.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #00-Quin Houff / 3 laps / engine
39) #42-Ross Chastain / 26 laps / crash
38) #8-Tyler Reddick / 58 laps / crash
37) #21-Matt DiBenedetto / 65 laps / running
36) #52-Josh Bilicki / 68 laps / brakes
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Rick Ware Racing, StarCom Racing (1)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (2)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP