Sunday, April 11, 2021

XFINITY: Brutal race for JD Motorsports leaves Ryan Vargas last, three teammates not far behind

PHOTO: @JDMotorsports01

Ryan Vargas picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday and Sunday’s Cook Out 250 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #6 SEM Products Chevrolet was involved in an accident after 97 of 250 laps.

The finish came in Vargas’ 19th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 16th for the #6, the 345th from a crash, and the 566th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 65th for the #6, the 1,248th from a crash, and the 1,771st for Chevrolet.

The popular 20-year-old from California enters his third season with JD Motorsports, and his first as a full-time driver. In 2018, he made the jump from Bandoleros and late models to the K&N Pro Series East, finishing a season-best 6th at Milville and taking sixth in the series standings.

The next year saw Vargas’ XFINITY Series debut at Iowa, his first race for Johnny Davis at JD Motorsports. Born with craniosynostosis, which left a distinct scar on his right temple, Vargas’ #15 entry increased awareness of the condition by carrying logos on his cars for FACES - the National Craniofacial Association - and the Cranio Care Bears initiative. He finished a solid 17th, just one lap down, then ran 18th on the tricky road course in Road America.

Vargas gained increased notoriety last season, when the social media app Tik Tok joined Vargas and JD as team sponsor starting with the fall race at Talladega. Despite suspension issues that left him 30th, the exposure – and Vargas’ frequent use of the app – led to the company staying on for the remaining five races of the season. This included Texas, where he climbed to 9th with six laps to go, then edged Josh Williams for the 8th spot by just 0.065 of a second at the stripe. 

This year, Vargas enters his first full-time season, but has struggled in these first few races. While he finished each race under power, his season-best stood at an 18th in the Daytona opener with no other runs better than 23rd. His effort has continued to gain interesting sponsors, including “The Big Squeezy” at the Daytona Infield Road Course, a company owned by Alvin Kamara, running back for the New Orleans Saints. 

In most of Vargas’ starts this year, his car has been painted a traditional JD Motorsports red – paint that was originally provided to them after Evernham Motorsports’ Dodge effort closed its doors. The paint is now provided by SEM Products, the company which would carry its logo on the hood of Vargas’ #6. The car would roll off 35th.

Mills missing the start due to distributor issues
PHOTO: @TurnerEdwin

Starting 40th and last on Friday night was racing instructor and multi-sport athlete Matt Jaskol, who took the wheel of Motorsports Business Management’s #13 Auto Parts 4 Less Toyota. Before the start, Jaskol had accidentally flicked the radio switch with his arm and was asking the team about how to properly operate the brake fans.

Further up pit road, another driver had even bigger problems. Matt Mills, set to start 36th in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet, was in his pit stall with the hood up. The team tried to push-start his car, but it didn’t fire, so they pushed the car to the garage. “Well get the jump box to try and turn it over, try to crank it,” said someone on the B.J. McLeod-owned team. The race started without Mills, immediately dropping him to last. By Lap 4, the crew diagnosed a distributor issue and prepared to re-enter the race. He was up to speed by the 6th lap, and finally completed his first lap the 8th time by. At the time, Mills was the only driver off the lead lap, but he was ineligible for the Lucky Dog because he’d yet to complete a lap at when the yellow fell.

As Mills got back up to speed, frontrunner A.J. Allmendinger had issues in his #16 Ellsworth Advisors / Hyperice Chevrolet. A flat tire around Lap 11 forced him up the track, and he plummeted to the tail end of the line by the time he reached pit entrance. He cut across the track, nearly colliding with Jaskol’s #13, and ultimately lost two laps. The crew ended up looking under the hood after he cut down another right-front tire, and ultimately discovered an unhooked bolt on the track bar. This repair wouldn’t be made until Sunday, however, as rain stopped the race after 91 laps. At the time, Mills was still in last place.

Just one lap after the race restarted, Vargas was running in a pack of traffic when his brake pedal went to the floor, causing him to rear-end another driver. The FS1 cameras didn’t catch the incident, and only showed Vargas slowing down the backstretch with the nose of his car stoved in. It was a frustrating turn of events for Vargas, who later tweeted he’d tested his brakes during the pace laps. “I don’t even know what to tell you on that wreck,” said someone on his channel. He then pulled behind the wall, NASCAR declaring “6 to the garage, DVP.” “We are out of the race,” the team then said. Mills dropped Vargas to last on Lap 106 and ultimately climbed to 33rd by the checkered flag.

This began an unusually awful race for the entire JD Motorsports team as all four of the team’s Chevrolets ended up in the Bottom Five, out due to various issues. Next was Colby Howard, whose #15 Project Hope Foundation Chevrolet was hit by Kyle Weatherman entering Turn 3, spinning him into the outside wall. Howard dropped his window net, then at the team’s urging quickly held it back up so he could come in for repairs. He cleared the “Crash Clock,” lost the rear bumper panel, then ultimately pulled out of the race around Lap 161 with suspension issues, taking 39th. Landon Cassill’s #4 511 Auction Chevrolet lost the engine on Lap 201, followed just 14 laps later by Jeffrey Earnhardt after the suspension failed on his #0 KSDT CPA Chevrolet. Earnhardt had finished 9th in Stage 1 and was declared out on Lap 226, nine laps after Cassill.

Vargas behind the wall
PHOTO: @conrail_1

The only non-JD Motorsports car in the Bottom Five was Joe Graf, Jr., who backed his #07 Responsible Gold Chevrolet into the wall after a tangle with Blaine Perkins’ #23 Raceline Chevrolet. Graf was originally declared out under the DVP after he pulled into the rear garage entrance entering Turn 3. Perkins, who was running 16th before he pulled behind the wall for a fluid leak after losing an axle on Lap 111, recovered from the wreck to finish the last car under power in 35th.

Bad luck also caught up other underdogs who were enjoying strong runs in part due to tire strategy on Sunday.

Bayley Currey finished 10th in Stage 1 in the #74 JM Steel Chevrolet, following up his great finish a couple weeks ago in Phoenix. He stayed out to lead Lap 180 and held the spot for three green flag laps before eventual race winner Josh Berry moved him off the inside line off Turn 4. He slipped to 26th at the finish, one spot behind his teammate Kyle Weatherman.

Tommy Joe Martins gained several spots before the rain came on Friday night, then continued his march up the leaderboard on Sunday, running several laps in the Top 10 and taking 6th in Stage 2. His #44 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet was running 11th with just 78 laps to go when something shorted out in the car’s electrics, causing the engine to shut down. He was pushed behind the wall on Lap 177, then returned to the track on Lap 186. He finished 34th, 19 laps down.

J.J. Yeley and the Rick Ware Racing effort followed-up their strong run in last fall’s Martinsville XFINITY Series race by finishing 8th in both Stages 1 and 2. But his #17 Alcova / Chevrolet lost ground in the final sage and slipped to 24th at the finish, one lap down.

Among those who were able to salvage solid runs were Jeremy Clements, whose rebound in 2021 continued with a 14th-place finish. Clements’ #51 First Pacific Funding Chevrolet came home two spots ahead of Josh Williams, whose #92 DGM Racing Chevrolet took 16th after he cut a tire and was penalized for deliberately drawing the caution flag. Brandon Gdovic overcame an early spin to finish 17th in the #26 SnapMobile.Shop Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing while George Gorham, Jr. – 9th in Stage 2 - took 18th in his NASCAR debut in the #90 Blackburn’s BBQ / Francisco’s Chevrolet. Rounding out the Top 20 were Jade Buford and Stefan Parsons, who both had incidents before Friday’s rainout. Buford’s #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet was the last car on the lead lap, just ahead of Parsons’ #99 Sokal Digital Toyota.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for the #6 since February 17, 2007, when David Ragan’s Discount Tire Ford crashed after 4 laps of the Orbitz 300 at Daytona. The number hadn’t finished last in an XFINITY race at Martinsville since September 22, 1990, when Tommy Houston’s Rose’s Stores Buick crashed after 33 laps of the Zerex 150.

40) #6-Ryan Vargas / 97 laps / crash
39) #15-Colby Howard / 153 laps / suspension
38) #07-Joe Graf, Jr. / 179 laps / crash
37) #4-Landon Cassill / 197 laps / engine
36) #0-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 213 laps / suspension

1st) RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, Our Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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