Sunday, May 30, 2021

CUP: Kurt Busch returns from snapped belt, only to lose the engine at Charlotte

Busch returning from the garage on Lap 171, moments before the engine let go
PHOTO: @BoziTatarevic

Kurt Busch picked up the 9th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #1 Gear Wrench Chevrolet lost the engine after 139 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Busch’s 735th series start, was his second of the year, his first since Atlanta, nine races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 38th for the #1, the 703rd from engine trouble, and the 806th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #1, the 1,101st from engine trouble, and the 1,782nd for Chevrolet.

Since his crash in Atlanta, it has continued to be a difficult season for the older of the two Busch brothers. Coming into Charlotte, he’d finished no better than 13th since, including a pair of 35th-place runs at Talladega and Darlington, the latter from an engine fire. Just last week in the rain-soaked inaugural event on the Circuit of the Americas, he avoided involvement in both of the day’s biggest accidents, only to nearly collide with brother Kyle Busch in the closing laps. Kurt’s hydroplaning Chevrolet ultimately led to the caution that ended the race short of the scheduled distance. Kurt even had to publicly deny a false report that he would retire from full-time Cup racing at the end of 2021.

Like the rest of the field, Busch’s car would carry the name of a fallen serviceperson on the windshield. His would be U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, who in 2004 saved his squad during an ambush in Karabilah, Iraq by throwing himself on a live grenade. Cpl. Dunham’s story, which will be the subject of an upcoming documentary called “The Gift,” was also featured prominently during FOX’s pre-race show leading up to the green flag. Among the clips shown was the revealing of Busch’s Gear Wrench Chevrolet to Cpl. Dunham’s family.

Busch ran 20th in practice and would start 12th with a lap of 179.462mph (30.090 seconds). His lap matched that of Ryan Blaney, but the tiebreaker by Owners Points put the winless Kurt behind Atlanta winner Blaney. On race day, Busch would incur a tail-end penalty when crew chief Matt McCall found a “small piece” had broken on the car in qualifying and had to be replaced. Also sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments was B.J. McLeod, who had qualified 33rd in his #78 Solomon Plumbing / DA-Quick Clip Ford.

With just 38 drivers entered, Sunday marked the smallest field in the history of the Coca-Cola 600, which had never before seen fewer than 40 on the starting grid. Rolling off last was Motorsports Business Management’s #66 was back in Cup for the first time since Talladega, five races ago. David Starr, who failed to qualify for the previous day’s XFINITY race, would make his first Cup start of the year and first since Martinsville last June. The blue-and-gold Toyota carried sponsorship from FOX’s Special Report with Brett Baier, which also backed Starr at Dover, where he finished last with overheating issues in the XFINITY race.

When the race started, Starr was immediately fighting a serious tight condition. His was the last car to cross the stripe at the start, and by Lap 4, he was told by his team to “take a bigger arc into Turn 1.” Drivers from 31st to 38th soon lost touch with each other, separated by between two and five seconds by Lap 16. By then, Starr had lost his first lap on the 13th circuit. He’d lose a second on Lap 25, and was three down by Lap 39. By the 43rd lap, when he was on the verge of four laps down, Starr’s crew told him to “pick up your pace if you can.” At the time, there had not yet been a communication from NASCAR warning him to pick up his pace.

PHOTO: @mlharvey00

Next to join the last-place battle was Ross Chastain, who was running in the Top Ten in the #42 Advent Health Chevrolet during the early laps. Around Lap 44, he came down pit road for a green-flag stop, but struggled twice to re-fire the engine. A crewman looked under the hood, and soon pulled out a broken oil pump belt. With the belt snapped, the team reported an issue with the oil pump bearing and water pump bearing. The team pushed Chastain to the garage on Lap 51, having taken last from Starr on Lap 48. The crew talked over adjustments, including replacing the right-rear shock with a different one they were meaning to try. The crew ultimately decided to try the shock on a later stop, and on Lap 80 the #42 returned to the track 37 laps down.

Meanwhile, Starr was warned by NASCAR to pick up his speed on Lap 94. At the time, he was now eight laps down, now 30 ahead of Chastain, who was now 38 behind. Starr said his car was hitting the splitter, and the driver reported “trying to run it wide-open just kills me.” On Lap 110, Starr was seen exiting pit road in Turn 1. He reported the water temperature was 200 degrees and said, “It’s better. I’m wide open, but it’s not going anywhere.” Then on Lap 138, NASCAR posted Starr for not meeting minimum speed. He had just come down pit road the next time by when trouble found Kurt Busch.

Exiting Turn 1 on Lap 139, Busch’s engine suddenly shut off, the car losing oil pressure and the power steering failing. He just made it to pit road, then the garage, and it was reported he may have suffered the same belt failure as Chastain. Busch, too, talked over adjustments as the crew made repairs. Busch re-fired the engine on Lap 171, rejoining the race 32 laps down, 7 laps ahead of Chastain in the 37th spot. But he’d barely accelerated off the apron of Turn 1 when the engine let go in a huge plume of smoke. He returned to the garage area a second time, and took over last from Chastain on Lap 180. Two laps after that, NASCAR reported “1 out, engine.”

Busch ended up the only driver who failed to finish. Chastain remained 37th, 41 laps down, with Starr in 36th, 31 behind. Rounding out the group were Rick Ware Racing teammates Josh Bilicki in the #52 U.S. Army Military Salutes Ford and Garrett Smithley in the #51 Air Force Military Salutes Chevrolet, who were five laps apart.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #1 in a Cup Series points race on the Charlotte oval.
*The 139 laps completed by Busch are the fifth-most of any Coca-Cola 600 last-place finisher. All five of these finishers occurred since 2008.

38) #1-Kurt Busch / 139 laps / engine
37) #42-Ross Chastain / 359 laps / running
36) #66-David Starr / 369 laps / running
35) #52-Josh Bilicki / 382 laps / running
34) #51-Garrett Smithley / 387 laps / running

1st) Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
2nd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing (2)
3rd) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (2)


Saturday, May 29, 2021

XFINITY: Grant Enfinger’s last-minute XFINITY debut ends with early crash

PHOTO: Michael Lester Harvey, @mlharvey00

Grant Enfinger picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #26 Toyota was eliminated in a crash after 26 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Enfinger’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 14th for the #26, the 147th for Toyota, and the 347th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 45th for the #26, the 356th for Toyota, and the 1,254th from a crash.

One of the surprising stories of this past off-season surrounded Enfinger, who had just come off the best season of his Truck Series career. He won four races last year – more than doubling his career win total to that point – and made the Championship Four for the first time, punching his ticket with a win at Martinsville. But after four successful seasons with ThorSport Racing, he was relegated to second-chair, splitting his ride in the #98 with former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Christian Eckes. The arrangement kept Enfinger out of the field for this year’s Daytona Road Course event, and only a later deal with Codie Rohrbaugh’s team CR7 Motorsports has allowed him to run every race since.

Enfinger wasn’t originally entered in Saturday’s race – in fact, he’d never even been entered in an XFINITY Series race. The night before, he’d steered Rohrbaugh’s #9 Camping World Chevrolet to a 14th-place finish. The opportunity came about early Saturday morning, when Sam Hunt Racing revealed that their current driver, Brandon Gdovic, wasn’t confident in his ability to run his first 1.5-mile track race in six years. While Gdovic is still scheduled to drive the car on the following 1.5-mile event at Texas, that race will be set by metric qualifying. Charlotte would have actual qualifying, and there was a chance the part-time SHR team would end up one of the seven teams to miss the 36-car field. And in practice, Gdovid was by far the slowest at 160.199mph – nearly two full seconds off the next-slowest car of B.J. McLeod.

Thus, Enfinger, who qualified Rohrbaugh’s truck 8th the day before, was tabbed as Gdovic’s replacement. Ironically, Enfinger also struggled in qualifying, turning a lap of 173.038mph (31.207 seconds), the second-slowest lap of the session. The team fell back on Owner Points, securing them 35th on the grid.

Taking the 40th and final starting spot on Saturday was Timmy Hill, whose #66 Toyota slid during his qualifying lap, resulting in the only speed slower than Enfinger’s. The team would also have to change tires, handing them a redundant tail-end penalty for the start of the race. 

When the race started, Hill was 3.702 seconds back of the lead with Enfinger in his sights. By Lap 2, Hill had caught Josh Williams in the #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet, who edged Hill by 0.007 second at the stripe. Hill cleared Williams that time by, and Williams put Hill back to last on the lap after. By then, Hill reported his car was “on the splitter more than anything,” and started to lose ground to Williams. 

Further up the field, Cody Ware ran a Toyota Supra for the first time, decorated in the purple Nurtec ODT graphics of his Rick Ware Racing / SS-Green Light Racing #17. Around Lap 5, Ware was in 32nd when he bounced off the outside wall, and was nursing his car to the next caution. By Lap 8, Ware had slipped to 35th, and on Lap 13, Hill put Ware to last by 0.068 of a second at the stripe. “I get it,” said Ware the next time by, “I just literally can’t turn the car.” Hill gradually opened up a 2.147 gap over Ware when the competition caution fell on Lap 20.

The caution came out just a few seconds too late for Ware, who that same time by blew a right-front tire and pounded the wall in Turn 2. Ware made it to pit road for repairs, and felt his car out under the caution. He made another stop just before the restart, knowing he’d already incurred a tail-end penalty for pitting too soon. The team had four minutes left on their “Crash Clock,” and managed to reach minimum speed under green on Lap 26. “May be broke,” said Ware moments after he cleared the clock. “Car’s quick, but we’re skating on the straightaways.”

Matt Mills (center) on pit road after his crash.
PHOTO: Adam Lemerise, @allsportsfan24

Ware’s report came just after a wreck unfolded in the quad-oval. At the time, Enfinger was running in a tight pack of traffic when he crossed the nose of Chad Finchum, who himself had been switched from MBM’s #66 to the #13. The contact to Enfinger’s right-rear steered him head-on into the outside wall, causing heavy right-front damage. Enfinger reportedly stopped his car and climbed out under his own power, done for the day. The car was then towed to the garage, having taken last from Ware on Lap 29. Ware would survive the rest of the race to finish on the lead lap in 20th, his best XFINITY run of the season.

Finishing 35th was Matt Mills, whose #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet spun off Turn 2 and into the inside wall on Lap 99, but couldn’t clear the “Crash Clock” due to serious front end damage. Timmy Hill only climbed to 34th when the engine let go on his Toyota. A.J. Allmendinger led two laps and was running 2nd when his #16 Hyperice Chevrolet suddenly slowed with brake trouble, sending him to the garage. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Josh Berry, whose #8 Tire Pros Chevrolet collide with a spinning Ryan Sieg.

The late-race wildness led to surprising runs by several competitors, most notably Brandon Brown, who found himself the only driver in the field with a set of tires left in his pits during a late caution. After a field-clearing wreck, Brown restarted in 10th, and made quick work of many high-powered entries to wrestle 4th from Tyler Reddick in the final laps. Brown had started 32nd in the field.

In addition, Ty Dillon continued the streak of great runs for Our Motorsports’ #23 Chevrolet by taking 7th in the #23 / Ammo, Inc. Chevrolet. Jeremy Clements continued his resurgent season by taking home 10th in the #51 Fire Wall Signs / Absolute Wall Chevrolet. Among the many other surprises in the Top 20 were Chad Finchum, who ran 15th in MBM’s #13 Coble Enterprises Toyota – his best run since Talladega last fall. Ryan Vargas took a season-best 16th in JD Motorsports’ #4 Swann Security / Best Buy Chevrolet. Jade Buford finished 17th in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet – already his 6th finish of 20th or better in 11 starts this year. And Jesse Little’s 18th-place run in the #78 Tufco Flooring Toyota was his third-best finish of the year and his best since a 14th on the Daytona Road Course, and a rebound from his DNQ at COTA.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #26 in an XFINITY Series race since June 13, 2015, when C.J. Faison fell out with electrical issues (originally listed as “did not start”) without completing a lap of the Great Clips 250 at Michigan. Faison had locked himself into the field, but wrecked soon after which was originally reported as the reason for the DNS.

36) #26-Grant Enfinger / 26 laps / crash
35) #5-Matt Mills / 103 laps / crash
34) #66-Timmy Hill / 114 laps / engine
33) #16-A.J. Allmendinger / 128 laps / brakes / led 2 laps
32) #8-Josh Berry / 150 laps / crash

1st) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
2nd) DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Our Motorsports, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (1)


Friday, May 28, 2021

TRUCKS: Steering issues on Timothy Peters’ backup truck hand him first last-place finish since 2007

PHOTO: @bobpockrass

Timothy Peters picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet fell out with steering issues after 13 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Peters’ 258th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since August 22, 2007 at Bristol, 323 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th from steering issues, the 13th for the #25, and the 407th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 30th from steering, the 49th for the #25, and the 1,781st for Chevrolet.

Ever since he first turned laps for Bobby Hamilton Racing in 2005, Peters has been one of the most successful drivers in the recent history of the Truck Series. His first ten career victories came as the flagship driver for Tom DeLoach’s Red Horse Racing. Over those eight full-time seasons from 2009 through 2016 he finished inside the Top 10 in points each year, including a narrow loss to James Buescher by just six points in 2012. But it was after this same Charlotte race in 2017 that Red Horse shut down, citing a lack of funding. Scrambling for rides, Peters still scored the 11th and most recent victory a year later in Talladega, driving GMS Racing’s #25 to the checkered flag under caution.

After a piecemeal 2019 season where he ran part-time for Niece Motorsports and NEMCO Motorsports, Peters next turned heads last summer in Kansas, where he was tabbed as a last-minute replacement for Stewart Friesen. Despite the lack of practice and qualifying that has characterized NASCAR weekends since the pandemic, Peters steered the #52 to a 7th-place finish – his best run in over a year.

It was perhaps this reason that Peters was tabbed to drive for a new full-time team in the Rackley W.A.R. effort. Curtis Sutton of Rackley Roofing, which came into the sport as Clay Greenfield’s sponsor, has taken inspiration from Matthew Kaulig at Leaf Filter Gutter Protection to start their own organization. Partnered with former Truck Series driver Willie Allen, who now operates W.A.R. Shocks, the team would run Chevrolets. Coming into Charlotte, the team had only one DNF – a late-race crash in the Daytona opener – but had finished no better than 16th at Las Vegas.

Peters and the Rackley W.A.R. team were among the 40 drivers entered for Charlotte, a list that dropped to 38 after two withdrawals. First was Ray Ciccarelli, who would have made his first start of 2021 as driver of his own #49 Frontline Wraps Ford. The other was Spencer Davis - last in this race in 2020 - whose #11 Inox Supreme Lubricants Toyota didn’t participate in practice.

Preparing Peters' backup truck.
PHOTO: @Rackley_WAR

In that practice, Peters ran 24th of the remaining 38 entrants, but ended up the first of several drivers to spin or crash in the session. Peters slammed the Turn 4 wall broadside, resulting n heavy right-side damage as he rolled past the starting line. Back in the garage area, his team unloaded the backup truck - which incidentally had fewer associate sponsor decals from the primary - but wouldn’t have an opportunity to turn any more laps. Qualifying was rained-out, securing him the 29th starting spot before he’d fall to the rear for the backup truck penalty. Also sent back with him would be 17th-place Drew Dollar in the #51 Sunbelt Rentals Toyota. Dollar lost control off Turn 2 and backed into the outside wall, sending him to a backup of his own.

Both Peters and Dollar would roll off behind original 38th-place starter Trey Hutchens in the deep blue #14 Heintz Brothers Performance Chevrolet. Thanks to the rained-out qualifying season, Hutchens was able to make his first start of the season after metric qualifying kept him out of his previous four attempts at Atlanta, Richmond, Kansas, and Darlington. With one lap to green, someone on his team said “Let’s get all the laps in and [get] the most experience we can.” After Hutchens thanked his crew, another voice – likely his father – said “10-4 buddy. I love you. Be safe.”

Coming to the green flag, Peters let the field draw away from him while Dollar worked under Hutchens to take over 37th. By Lap 2, Peters was 8.36 seconds back of the leader and 1.204 seconds back of the next truck in line. The next time by, Peters had dropped to 13.178 back of the leader when he came down pit road. A steering issue on the backup forced the team to add power steering fluid, and the crew also topped off the fuel tank. Back under power, Peters was three laps down and on the verge of four. There were also radio issues on his main channel as team communications from Jack Wood’s #24 GMS Racing entry bled into the frequency. 

Around Lap 7, C.J. McLaughlin had made contact with the Turn 3 wall in his #34 Sci Aps Chevrolet, and would ultimately drop two laps down by the 12th circuit. He was on pit road by this point, and returned to action on Lap 13, four laps down and on the same lap as Peters. On Lap 19, Peters had just dropped McLaughlin to last place when Peters pulled the #25 into the garage area. Ultimately, Peters wouldn’t return to the race, though he wouldn’t be declared out by NASCAR until Lap 75.

Finishing 37th was Tate Fogleman, whose #12 Da-Quick Clip / Operation Kare Chevrolet pulled into the garage on Lap 45. The team jacked up the truck in the garage, but could only surmise that the issue wasn’t the driveshaft. Like Peters, Fogleman wouldn’t return to the track and was listed out due to rear gear issues. Bret Holmes took 36th after his #32 Southern State Bank Chevrolet suffered heavy damage in a tangle with Tanner Gray. Sheldon Creed wound up 35th after a poor restart while leading led to a tangle with Todd Gilliland, wrecking his #2 Chevrolet. Rounding out the group was Chase Purdy, whose #23 Chevrolet was clipped by Creed’s spinning truck in Turn 3, leading to repairs that expired his “Crash Clock.” 

Trey Hutchens, the last-place starter, was ultimately involved in the night’s most frightening accident. Entering Turn 3 with less than 10 laps to go, the right-front tire blew, putting him into the outside wall. As he slowed to make it to pit road, NASCAR had not yet thrown the caution flag, causing passing traffic to race by at full speed. It wasn’t long before Johnny Sauter and Drew Dollar came on the scene. Both cut left, but Sauter sideswiped Hutchens’ truck, destroying both machines. While both drivers were eventually checked and released from the care center, Hutchens was left with his only race-ready truck in shambles. As of this writing, the #14 team has just one other truck in the shop which still needs to be finished.

Carson Hocevar continued his breakout season with a new career-best finish, his #42 Scott’s / GM Parts Now Chevrolet charging to within a fraction of a second of race winner John Hunter Nemechek. Also impressive was Ty Majeski, making his first Truck start since he parted ways with Niece Motorsports last summer. Majeski’s run in ThorSport’s #66 SimCraft Toyota saw him finish 7th – improving on his own career-best 8th in this same race last year.

*This marked the first Truck Series last-place finish for the #25 since October 6, 2012, when Brandon Knupp’s run in the #25 Hillman Racing Chevrolet ended after 2 laps of the Freds 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega.

38) #25-Timothy Peters / 13 laps / steering
37) #12-Tate Fogleman / 38 laps / rear gear
36) #32-Bret Holmes / 49 laps / crash 
35) #2-Sheldon Creed / 55 laps / crash
34) #23-Chase Purdy / 59 laps / dvp

1st) Niece Motorsports (3)
2nd) GMS Racing (2)
3rd) CMI Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Rackley-W.A.R., Reaume Brothers Racing, Roper Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


Thursday, May 27, 2021

PREVIEW: Differing strategies for new teams among storylines for Charlotte

Chase Briscoe takes a turn for B.J. McLeod Motorsports this week.
IMAGE: B.J. McLeod Motorsports

Friday, May 28, 2021
TRUCKS Race 10 of 22
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Spencer Davis

There are 40 drivers entered for 36 spots, meaning four will miss the race. If rain cancels qualifying, all 40 entrants will start. UPDATE (May 27): Make that 39 total entrants.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
Keth McGee, who became the first Alaskan to race in NASCAR’s top three series when he ran Josh Reaume’s truck to a 30th-place finish in Richmond, returns this Friday in Jordan Anderson’s #3, this week sponsored by Barstool Sports. McGee takes the place of Roger Reuse, who overcame radio issues in the rain at COTA to finish 34th.

MISSING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
CORRECTION: Norm Benning isn't entered after he withdrew at COTA.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Spencer Davis Racing
Spencer Davis is back behind the wheel of his #11 Toyota, taking the place of Camden Murphy, who drove the truck to a 19th-place finish in COTA.

RETURNING: #14-Trey Hutchens Racing
Trey Hutchens returns and will once again seek his first Truck Series start of 2021 after metric qualifying handed him four DNQs.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Danny Bohn rejoins the On Point effort in place of Michele Abbate, who ran 29th in her NASCAR debut last week in COTA.

DRIVER CHANGE: #32-Bret Holmes Racing
Bret Holmes will drive his own truck this week, seeking his fourth series start of the year and first since Kansas, where he ran a season-best 27th. On the COTA course, Sam Mayer steered this entry to an impressive 6th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Akinori Ogata seeks his first Truck Series start at Charlotte as he climbs aboard the Reaume team’s flagship #33. He takes the place of Cameron Lawrence, who at COTA secured the team its best-ever qualifying run in 7th. As Lawrence tweeted this week, mechanical issues left him on pit road when the checkered flag fell, resulting in a last-place finish.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
C.J. McLaughlin will drive the second Reaume entry for his second Truck Series start of the year and first since Kansas, where he ran 34th. He takes the place of Lawless Alan, who was 23rd on the road course.

MISSING: #44-Niece Motorsports
After Logan Bearden became the fastest driver to not qualify at COTA, Al Niece has not entered the #44 in the field for the first time in 2021.

MISSING: #72-CMI Motorsports
MISSING: #83-CMI Motorsports
Ray Ciccarelli returns to his #49, and seeks to make his first Truck Series start as a driver since October 30, 2020 at Martinsville. He takes the place of John Atwell, who led a three-truck lineup at CMI that all missed the cut for the big race. Atwell was in the #49 alongside Brad Gross in the #83 and Samuel Lecomte in the new #72 team. Neither the #83 nor the #72 are entered this week. UPDATE: On Thursday, Ciccarelli withdrew his #49 entry due to sponsorship issues.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Drew Dollar returns for his first Truck Series start since this year’s Daytona opener, where he drove KBM’s flagship #51 to a 10th-place finish. Sunbelt Rentals is the sponsor as Dollar takes the place of Parker Chase, 18th at COTA.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-ThorSport Racing
Curiously, ThorSport’s new #66 team was not a one-off entry for last week’s return of Paul Menard, who finished 11th in COTA. The number returns again this week, this time with Ty Majeski behind the wheel. Majeski seeks his first Truck Series start since last September at Darlington, when he was released from Niece Motorsports.

MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman tweeted this week that the truck Charlie Henderson planned to field for him at Charlotte was destroyed in the wreck at Darlington, so the team isn’t entered this week. Kligerman did race for the team in another truck at COTA, finishing 13th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Young’s Motorsports
One week after Kaz Grala led much of the first Truck Series race at COTA, ultimately finishing runner-up to Todd Gilliland, Kris Wright is back in the #02.


Saturday, May 29, 2021
XFINITY Race 12 of 33
Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Colby Howard

There are 43 drivers entered for 36 spots, meaning seven teams will fail to qualify. If qualifying is rained out, only three will fail to qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #4-JD Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #6-JD Motorsports
Ryan Vargas returns and will drive the #4 in place of Landon Cassill, who runs the #6 in place of road course ace Spencer Pumpelly, who isn’t entered following his 19th-place debut at COTA. This is the same overall driver swap that Johnny Davis’ team debuted two races ago in Dover.

DRIVER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Thanks to both an in-team point swap and Kevin Harvick’s 4th-place finish under the team’s banner at COTA, Matt Mills finds himself in a better points position heading to Charlotte, where he again runs the J.F. Electric Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Josh Berry steps in for Miguel Paludo, who dropped a drive shaft on pit road during a difficult afternoon in COTA. The Martinsville winner has continued to find his services in demand as just yesterday he was announced as Jordan Anderson’s XFINITY driver for next week’s race in Mid-Ohio.

DRIVER SWAP: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
After a frustrating afternoon for Boris Said at COTA, MBM’s oval-track lineup returns again in Charlotte. Timmy Hill will take the place of Said in the #13, leaving open the #66 for a returning Chad Finchum. This will be only the fifth start of the year for Finchum, who we last saw finish 39th in Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing / SS-Green Light Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Cody Ware returns to his family’s effort in the #17, taking the place of Cup regular Cole Custer, who finished 7th in the XFINITY race at COTA. The black-and-white Production Alliance Group Ford that Custer ran last week looks very much like the #99 Ford this week, which Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe will run in place of Ryan Ellis.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-Our Motorsports
Ty Dillon’s journeyman season continues as he lands at Our Motorsports, whose #23 team has continued to impress with the likes of Tyler Reddick, J.J. Yeley, and last week’s 18th-place finisher Andy Lally. and Ammo, Inc. are the listed sponsors of Dillon’s Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Brandon Gdovic and his sponsor rejoin the Sam Hunt effort for the first time since their Kyle Petty / Hot Wheels “throwback” scheme from Darlington. Gdovic takes the place of Kris Wright, who was 32nd after engine trouble in COTA.

DRIVER CHANGE: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
Driving for the team that scored a convincing victory at COTA with Kyle Busch is a returning Ty Gibbs, who as of this writing is once again without sponsorship on his #54 Toyota.

DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Dover last-place finisher David Starr returns to MBM’s #61 team for the first time since that race, taking the place of Stephen Leicht, who was a surprising DNQ at COTA.

NEW TEAM: #76-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
CORRECTION: This is a McLeod entry, not Dotter's as originally reported Thursday. This time, Stefan Parsons will drive the entry with his returning Sokal Digital sponsorship on board.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Bassett Racing
While Tyler Reddick will again drive Jordan Anderson’s #31, Dillon Bassett will run in place of Cup regular Austin Dillon. Jerry Hunt Supercenter and East Coast Wings are the listed sponsors for a team that looks to gain a foothold in the Owner Standings before the return of metric qualifying in Mid-Ohio.

Following Caesar Bacarella’s DNQ in COTA, B.J. McLeod will again run Mario Gosselin’s #90 Chevrolet, as he had most recently at Darlington. This will be McLeod’s third XFINITY start of the year, and comes after finishes of 26th and 21st in the other two.

MISSING: #91-DGM Racing
Preston Pardus’ part-time fourth Gosselin entry is not entered after he steered the car to a 14th-place finish in COTA.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
Joe Graf, Jr. is expected to return to his ride in the #07 following the leg injury that sidelined him at COTA, putting Ross Chastain aboard. Chastain started outside-pole, but immediately plummeted to the back of the field with a snapped axle. The Dotter team got Chastain back on track to finish 30th, and Chastain impressed in the Cup race the following day, taking a career-best 4th.

CUP INVADERS: #31-Tyler Reddick, #99-Chase Briscoe

Sunday, May 30, 2021
CUP Race 15 of 36
Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Jimmie Johnson

There are 38 drivers entered for 40 spots, the 11th short field in 15 races this season and first since Dover. This also happens to be the smallest-ever field in the history of the Coca-Cola 600, an event which has never seen fewer than 40 cars on the starting grid.

MISSING: #16-Kaulig Racing
MISSING: #33-Penske Racing
Two of the high-powered “open” teams from COTA are not among the entries this week as each focus on Saturday’s XFINITY Series race for the same teams. A.J. Allmendinger finished 5th in the Kaulig #16 while Austin Cindric led the opening four laps in the rain on slick tires, took 5th in both stages, and ended up 25th.

DRIVER SWAP: #51-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Garrett Smithley moves from the #53 to the #51, moving Cody Ware to the #51 in his place. Josh Bilicki remains in the #52. All four of the Ware cars will represent branches of the military: Smithley with the Air Force, Bilicki the Army, Ware the Marines, and James Davison’s #15 with the Navy. As of this writing, no other teams have picked up a scheme specific to the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Space Force.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
David Starr will pull double-duty for MBM this week as Carl Long’s Cup team rejoins the circuit for the first time since Talladega. This will be Starr’s first Cup start since June 10, 2020 at Martinsville, when he finished 32nd for Rick Ware Racing in the #53.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
B.J. McLeod will likewise pull double-duty as he climbs back aboard his #78 Ford. He taks the place of Kyle Tilley, who ran a quiet 31st place in his debut at COTA. Tilley had just lost a lap for the first time when the final caution fell for rain, and had just capitalized on the “Lucky Dog” when the race was called.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Like Allmendinger and Cindric, Ty Dillon is also not entered on the Cup side and will focus on his XFINITY entry. Dillon ran 21st during the rainy COTA afternoon with the Gaunt Brothers.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 27, 2000): Lance Hooper picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in the Carquest Auto Parts 300 at Charlotte when his #0 Ohio State University Chevrolet crashed after 3 laps. The finish came in Hooper’s 15th series start and his first of the season, following a pair of DNQs at Fontana and Richmond.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

ARCA: Same race, different year for Owen Smith at Toledo

PHOTO: Screenshot from TrackPass

by William Soquet Guest Contributor

Owen Smith picked up the 4th last-place finish of his ARCA Menards Series career in Saturday’s Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at Toledo Speedway when his #01 Ford retired with overheating problems after completing 10 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish came in Smith’s 12th series start and was his first since Gateway in 2020, 12 races ago.

After running nine races in the ARCA Menards Series last season, Owen Smith continued his education at the University of Northwestern Ohio into 2021. He also remained active in racing, testing at Daytona in January and running the season-opening race for Brad Smith Motorsports. Smith also spent some time with his longtime late model team, CTD Racing, which acquired an old Ken Schrader Racing ARCA chassis over the winter. 

Toledo marked his second start of the year for Fast Track after also running Kansas for the team. Fast Track brought four cars with Smith in the 01, Dick Doheny in the 10, Tony Cosentino in the 11 and DL Wilson in the 12. Cosentino, a crewman for Rick Ware Racing, ran three K&N West races in 2019 for Patriot Motorsports Group before making his ARCA debut on Saturday. 

Only 14 cars made it to the track for the race, six cars less than the previous series race at Kansas and on par with I-44 and Winchester last year for being one of the smallest fields in recent memory. Drew Dollar surrendered the #15 Venturini Motorsports entry to Jesse Love, and Gracie Trotter filled in the #25 Venturini machine from Derek Griffith, who piloted the car last race. Former JR Motorsports late model driver Adam Lemke was scheduled to make his ARCA debut with Rette Jones Racing in the Toledo event, but missed the race due to what RJR called “travel complications”. Taking his place was southern Indiana insurance agent and racecar driver Cole Williams, who made two ARCA starts for Venturini in 2016. Wayne Peterson Racing returned for the first time since Talladega. Instead of their trademark 06 entry, however, the car on Saturday was branded as the #40. Driving the car was A.J. Moyer, the son of 1981 ARCA champion Larry Moyer. He picked up funding from JRC Transportation, a flatbed trucking company on the East Coast. Two more cars were supposed to race but withdrew: Toni Briedinger’s #02 Young’s Motorsports entry and Kyle Sieg’s #28 RSS Racing entry.

Corey Heim led the lone practice session with a lap of just over 16 seconds. Moyer brought up the tail end of the field with a lap of 19.4 seconds, three-tenths slower than the next-fastest car on the track, Alex Clubb. Speeds picked up in qualifying, as Ty Gibbs broke the sixteen-second mark to take the pole. Moyer retained the last spot in the field but broke the 19-second mark to lay down a lap of 18.8 seconds.

Coming to the green, the Smiths - Owen and Brad - filled out Row 7. Moyer was on the outside of Row 6 alongside Consentino. Owen Smith, on the outside of the last row, was outpaced by Brad in turns one and two of the opening lap as the red 48 car drew even with Moyer. Owen Smith and Moyer ran about even pace in the opening stages and were only three-tenths apart when they were ten seconds back of the leaders on Lap 5. Moyer put some distance on Smith by lap nine, when television cameras caught the 01 car being lapped by leader Ty Gibbs in turn one. Brad Smith and Moyer were both lapped on the 10th circuit. Cosentino followed on Lap 12, and D.L. Wilson was lapped on the thirteenth. 

Owen Smith was marked as “off” on the leaderboard on Lap 15 and was marked as “out” the following lap, having completed ten circuits. Cosentino retired one lap after Smith, and D.L. Wilson was running in the top ten when he called it a race after 24 laps. Brad Smith battled a number of issues during the race including potential brake issues before retiring due to handling issues. That left a mere ten cars running at the end of the race.

After giving race sponsor Herr’s some extra publicity when he picked up a banner during the race, Doheny finished as the last car running, sixteen laps down at the finish. A.J. Moyer was only one lap ahead of Doheny, and Alex Clubb was only one lap ahead of Moyer, a tight battle for the Bottom Five until the end of the race. Moyer’s ninth-place finish was one spot better than Con Nicolopoulos’ tenth-place finish at Winchester last year and provided another top-ten finish for Wayne Peterson Racing.

14) #01-Owen Smith / 10 laps / overheating
13) #11-Tony Cosentino / 11 laps / handling
12) #12-DL Wilson / 24 laps / overheating
11) #48-Brad Smith / 135 laps / handling
10) #10-Dick Doheny / 184 laps / running

1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Ford (2)

1st) Brad Smith Motorsports, Fast Track Racing, Kimmel Racing, Rette Jones Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)


Sunday, May 23, 2021

CUP: A returning Justin Haley charges to 13th at rainy COTA before steering issues

PHOTO: @SpireMotorsport

Justin Haley picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas when his #77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet fell out with steering issues after 12 of 54 laps.

The finish, which came in Haley’s 16th series start, was his second of the season and first since April 18 at Richmond, five races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 23rd for steering issues, the 36th for the #77, and the 805th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 29th from steering woes, the 49th for the #77, and the 1,780th for Chevrolet.

The Circuit of the Americas saw Haley return to NASCAR after he missed both Cup and XFINITY races at Dover due to COVID-19 protocol. The last-minute change ultimately led to both replacements struggling: in the XFINITY race for Kaulig Racing, Zane Smith finished 36th after tangling with Brandon Jones, while Josh Berry’s Cup debut in the Spire #77 saw him bounce off the wall and finish 30th.

With a medical waiver from NASCAR allowing him to still compete for the XFINITY championship, Haley would again run for Kaulig and Spire at COTA. He began the week 9th in Saturday’s 46-lap event after he qualified in 6th. In Cup practice, Haley ran 29th with just six laps around the track. He timed in 30th with a lap of 89.572mph (2:17.051).

Starting 40th and last was Quin Houff in StarCom Racing’s #00 Mane ‘n Tail / Spirit Untamed Chevrolet. He’d be joined at the rear by no less than nine drivers who were all docked for unapproved adjustments: 26th-place Aric Almirola in the #10 Smithfield Ford, 19th-place Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, 27th-place Chase Briscoe in the #14 Ford, 32nd-place James Davison in the #15 Skip Barber Racing School Chevrolet, 28th-place Chris Buescher in the #17 Auto Tempest Ford, 37th-place Anthony Alfredo in the #38 MDS Ford, 29th-place Erik Jones in the #43 Black Entrepreneur Chevrolet, 35th-place Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet, and 15th-place Daniel Suarez in the #99 ONX Homes / iFly Chevrolet. Hamlin had a power steering issue in the first round of qualifying while Suarez had to change transmissions.

When the penalized drivers had all fallen to the back, two more cars from Penske Racing joined them. Brad Keselowski qualified 24th in the #2 Thomas Built Buses Ford, but the team had to remove grille tape when they decided to switch from wet tires to dry along with most of the field. Ryan Blaney also surrendered the 9th spot in his #12 Body Armor Ford, and was lined up next to Houff in the last row as the field prepared to start. Soon after, Blaney and Houff were joined by 34th-place Ryan Newman, whose #6 Guaranteed Rate Ford was last across the stripe, 6.16 seconds back of the lead with Houff 5.844 back of first place.

With rain continuing to fall, forcing most of the field to make green-flag stops for wet tires, Newman pulled ahead of Houff in the first few corners. Both then passed Cody Ware, who was shown in last place on Lap 2. By the next time by, Ware had re-passed Houff and opened up a 1.890-second advantage. On Lap 4, the spot fell to Garrett Smithley in the #53 Jacob Companies Ford. On Lap 5, Josh Bilicki took over last place in still another Rick Ware Racing entry, his #52 Junction Fuels Ford 4.940 seconds back of Houff, who was again 39th as Smithley passed him. Bilicki turned in a good lap, and cut the deficit to Houff down to 2.071 seconds the next time by. At that point, 39th-place Houff was a full 6.114 seconds back of Smithley. The rest of the deficit disappeared on Lap 7, and Houff now trailed Biicki by 1.260 seconds.

Haley's car in the garage
PHOTO: @SpireMotorsport

By Lap 7, Daniel Suarez had at least once wheel-hopped his #99 and run off-course. That time by, he dropped off the pace in Turn 13 and needed a push. Suarez reported the engine was still running, but was having trouble with his backup transmission. Suarez took over last place on Lap 8, when he was pushed to the garage area. Behind the wheel, the frustrated driver removed the shifter boot and called for a knife to make further repairs. The team felt the linkage was fine, and thus decided to change the transmission for the second time that day.

Haley entered the last-place battle while entering the Esses on Lap 12. At the time, he’d worked his way up to 13th when his car slowed, then limped its way around the track. He turned into the garage on Lap 14, and two laps later the crew reported he’d broken a tie rod that was now stuck under the car. Across the garage, Suarez’ car re-fired on Lap 17, and after some difficulty finding their way onto pit road, returned to the track 10 laps down. Suarez finally completed his seventh lap of the day on the 18th circuit.

Back in the Spire garage area, the first call of “We’re done” came on Lap 20. For the next several laps, there was confusion from the team as to if that meant they were done for the day, and Haley had reportedly climbed from the car. This was compounded the next time by, when the first of two grinding multi-car accidents unfolded on the fastest portion of the track. Meanwhile, Suarez dropped Haley to last on Lap 22.

On Lap 23, Haley’s crew again said, “Alright, we’re done,” but someone else on the channel waited for NASCAR to make it official. On Lap 24 came the message “We’re done, buddy. Thank you for your help.” NASCAR announced Haley was out on Lap 30.

The same lap Haley was declared out, NASCAR also confirmed the exits of five other drivers collected in the two aforementioned wrecks, four of which completed the Bottom Five. On Lap 19, when Ryan Blaney slowed at the entrance to Turn 12, Kevin Harvick checked-up in his #4 Ford and was rear-ended by the closing Bubba Wallace in the #23 Door Dash Toyota. Also collected was Christopher Bell, who stoved in the nose of his #20 Craftsman Toyota. Wallace, Bell, and Harvick fell out – Harvick attempted to keep going, but was told to stop after he leaked oil. Rounding out the group was Cole Custer, who in the same spot six laps later slammed his #41 Ford into the back of the disabled #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota of Martin Truex, Jr. Both drivers walked away startled, but uninjured.

Suarez managed to climb to 33rd when the race was cut short by even heavier rain.

Haley’s teammate Corey LaJoie clawed his way to 5th at the end of Stage 2, and looked for a solid finish in his #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet. But he ran off-track in the closing stages, and had to settle for a 20th-place finish. His was one of many surprising runs through the race, including Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain, who both made spirited bids at the lead, and defending XFINITY Series champion Austin Cindric, whose “open” #33 Pirtek Ford led the wet opening four laps on slick tires.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #77 in a Cup Series race since November 1, 2020, when Garrett Smithley’s turn in the #77 Chevrolet ended with electrical issues after 100 laps of the XFINITY 500 at Martinsville.
*Haley is the first driver to finish last in a Cup race due to steering issues since August 4, 2019, when Reed Sorenson – also driving the Spire entry – fell out after 65 laps of the Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen. That was also the last time the #77 finished last in a Cup road course race.

40) #77-Justin Haley / 12 laps / steering
39) #23-Bubba Wallace / 18 laps / crash
38) #20-Christopher Bell / 18 laps / crash
37) #4-Kevin Harvick / 19 laps / crash
36) #41-Cole Custer / 24 laps / crash

1st) Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing (2)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (2)


Saturday, May 22, 2021

XFINITY: Spectacular engine failure leaves Noah Gragson last at COTA

PHOTO: @Leuel48Fan

Noah Gragson picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Pit Boss 250 at the Circuit of the Americas when his #9 Bass Pro Shops / Black Rifle Coffee Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after 13 of 46 laps.

The finish, which came in Gragson’s 80th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since October 17, 2020 at Kansas, 14 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 12th for the #9, the 266th from engine issues, and the 569th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 1,100th from engine trouble, the 54th for the #9, and the 1,779th for Chevrolet.

After last year’s disappointing end to his second full-time XFINITY season with JR Motorsports, Gragson has continue to be one of the sport’s most exciting – and controversial – competitors. At Homestead, he surprised many when he openly adopted a “checkers or wreckers” approach to the season, despite no wins in the first two races and no finishes better than 28th. He was well on his way to victory that night in Florida, but with two laps to go, while running the high lane with plenty of open track over second place, he collided the David Starr, who was enjoying a career night in 12th before a blown tire put him in Gragson’s path. The wreck left Gragson 33rd, and he’d two races later blown an engine in Phoenix.

Other than those two races, Gragson has finished strong, finishing no worse than 15th in the five races leading up to COTA. This included Darlington, where NASCAR reversed his disqualification for illegal shock mounts and wrote a new rule. Gragson finished 4th that day, securing a $100,000 bonus from XFINITY’s “Dash 4 Cash” program.

At COTA, Gragson ran 6th in the opening practice, but only qualified 20th for the main event with a speed of 74.192mph (2:45.462). In the rain, he ran off-course in Turn 1 and became stuck in the gravel trap. He was among the 43 drivers entered for the 36-car starting grid, which included Jordan Anderson’s #31 and Bassett Racing’s #77, shut out of the season’s first ten races due to the lack of qualifying since Daytona. Richard Childress Racing’s duo of Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick got both cars into the show, starting 17th and 5th, respectively. They would finish strong, too, taking 13th and 8th.

Bumped from the field were both Mike Harmon Racing entries of Kyle Weatherman (#47 Beau’s Beautiful Blessings Chevrolet) and Bayley Currey (#74 JM Steel / Cutek Chevrolet), two of the four DGM entries of Caesar Bacarella (#90 Maxim / AP Sports Regimen Chevrolet) and Josh Williams (#92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet), plus Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet, Stephen Leicht in the #61 Jani-King Toyota, and Jesse Little in the #78 Shriners Hospitals for Children Toyota.

Rolling off 36th and last on the grid was Kris Wright, whose #26 Boot the Ban Toyota at Sam Hunt Racing promoted a ballot measure to allow seven-day sales of distilled spirits in Texas. The measure also sponsored an in-car cam for Wright’s entry. Wright incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for an engine change in practice, the same reason that dropped 34th-place Ryan Sieg in the #39 A-Game Ford. Daniel Hemric’s team changed the transmission on his #18 Poppy Bank Toyota, but would ultimately struggle with the gearshift for much of the race, requiring frequent pit stops from Lap 9 onward.

When the rain that plagued the morning’s practices and Truck Series race had waned, the track was deemed “damp,” allowing the field to pit for racing slicks before the green flag. During their stop, Sieg’s team made an illegal body modification, resulting in a second tail-end penalty to go with their engine change. Coming to the green flag, Sieg was still in last when Brandon Brown’s #68 Good Sam Chevrolet stalled in Turn 12. Brown reported a possible ignition problem as his car wouldn’t re-fire, and the start was waved off for another lap so he could be pushed to pit road. Brown’s crew discovered the alternator wire was the issue, and completed repairs just after the field took the green flag.

By the time Brown left pit road, 35.982 seconds back of the lead, the field was entering the Esses. Up front was Ross Chastain, a last-minute replacement for Joe Graf, Jr., who had suffered a knee injury. Chastain qualified 2nd in Graf’s #07 G Coin Chevrolet, but swung wide in the Esses, handing him NASCAR’s first penalty for violating track limits. But his car soon slowed, and Chastain reported he’d broken an axle. He made it back to the pits and turned hard left into the garage area. Since the entrance to the garage was short of the recognized starting line near pit exit, Chastain was not yet credited with completing a lap.

On Lap 11, Chastain’s crew was just about ready to return to the race, making adjustments along the way, when a car stalled out on the track. This was famous “road course ringer” Boris Said, making his return to NASCAR for the first time in four years, this time in Motorsports Business Management’s #13 Whataburger Toyota. Heading down the track’s longest straight, Said’s car suddenly shut down, then coasted to a stop against the left side of the track. NASCAR tried to tell Said to pull his car behind the wall, but the car stopped just past one of the entrances. The caution wouldn’t be thrown until moments later, when Ryan Ellis’ #99 / Keen Parts Toyota stalled on another part of the track. Both drivers were pushed to pit road under the ensuing caution with Ellis pushed so hard that he was concerned the truck would wreck him. Ellis’ car re-fired on pit road, and moments later, Chastain returned from the garage 10 laps down, but Said’s issue took more time. The team attempted to change the battery on pit road, but then pushed him to the garage on Lap 13. The next time by, the #13 was behind the team’s hauler.

Gragson didn’t enter the last-place picture until Lap 14, at the end of Stage 1. Coming down the same straight as Said, Gragson’s engine suddenly exploded into flame, causing his car to spin to a stop and nearly collecting the #66 Toyota of Timmy Hill. FS1’s cameras made it seem like it was an ordinary spin, but soon he was towed to the garage area, done for the race with engine failure. On Lap 20, NASCAR’s garage official reported Gragson was out of the race. The next time by, as Said took last from Chastain, the #13 re-fired in the garage and returned to action 11 laps down, one lap back of Chastain. By then, both were within five laps of dropping Gragson to last place. Chastain dropped Gragson to 35th on Lap 25, and on Lap 26, the #13 Whataburger Toyota – the same car involved in the Homestead wreck – dropped Gragson to last.

Ultimaely, Said finished 31st with Chastain in 30th as multiple incidents filled out the Bottom Five. Taking 35th was Tommy Joe Martins, whose #44 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet likewise suffered a sudden engine failure in a plume of smoke, ending Martins’ 100th XFINITY Series start. Miguel Paludo took 34th in the #8 Brandt Agriculture Chevrolet, which dropped the drive shaft on pit road as he pulled into the garage. Timmy Hill’s #66 fell out after 29 laps when his car stalled, and Kris Wright climbed from his #26 after the same number of laps, both victims of blown engines.

A few road course specialists turned in fine runs during the 46-lap race. Taking 19th was 46-year-old sports car veteran Spencer Pumpelly, whose NASCAR debut in JD Motorsports’ #6 Fast Life / Grid Rival Chevrolet yielded a strong 19th-place finish. Jade Buford, who returned to the track where his Big Machine Racing team began to come together, finished 3rd in Stage 2 and brought his #48 Big Machine Spiked coolers Chevrolet home in the 15th spot. Andy Lally continued his strong series of runs in the #23 The A Team / MFI Fantasy Racing Chevrolet for Our Motorsports, taking 4th in Stage 1 and finishing in 18th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #9 in an XFINITY Series road course race.

36) #9-Noah Gragson / 13 laps / engine
35) #44-Tommy Joe Martins / 19 laps / engine
34) #8-Miguel Paludo / 25 laps / rear gear
33) #66-Timmy Hill / 29 laps / engine
32) #26-Kris Wright / 29 laps / engine

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

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Toyota (2)
3rd) Ford (1)


TRUCKS: Reaume team’s determination in final four laps allow Cameron Lawrence to finish his NASCAR debut on the track

PHOTO: @CLawrenceRacing

Cameron Lawrence picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Toyota Tundra 225 at the Circuit of the Americas when his #33 Impact Health Chevrolet finished under power, seven laps down, in the 41-lap race.

The finish came in Lawrence’s series debut. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th while running, the 8th for the #33, and the 406th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th while running, the 51st for the #33, and the 1,778th for Chevrolet.

Lawrence, who moved to Austin a couple years ago, is a two-time SCCA Trans Am Series champion of the TA2 class, which earned him a ride with Dodge. Six years ago in the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Floridian finished 1st in class, 11th overall, sharing an IMSA Dodge Viper SRT with Al Carter, Dominik Farnbacher, Ben Keating, and Kuno Wittmer. Lawrence, Carter, and Marc Goosens shared the Viper that year at Watkins Glen, where they were again first in class.

For the inaugural NASCAR weekend at COTA, Lawrence would follow Goosen’s earlier path into stock car racing. In 2006 and 2007, “The Goose” made two Cup starts and one in XFINITY, the latter a 9th-place showing on the Autodromo Hermonos Rodriguez course in Mexico City. Goosens drove a Yates Racing entry that day, while Lawrence would run the flagship #33 for Reaume Brothers Racing. Among the backers on his orange-and-black Chevrolet were Front Line Mobile Health, Impact Heath, and a rear deck logo for FAST, a program which has pursued a cure for the neurogenetic disorder Angelman Syndrome. Morgan Lawrence, APR tweeted pictures of special cookies made with the team’s #33 decorated in frosting.

The kick-off to the inaugural NASCAR weekend at COTA saw the return of practice and qualifying to all three of the sport’s elite series. This change – which remains for only a few races this season – reduced the size of the field from 40 to 36 entries, just in time for a large 44-truck list to enter. Norm Benning withdrew his #6 MDS A Sign Company Chevrolet earlier in the week, meaning seven drivers would be sent home after qualifying.

PHOTO: @Morgan_Roush

When qualifying concluded, three of the seven DNQs consisted of the entire CMI Motorsports team, all of them driving for John Atwell in Trans Am. Leading the group was Atwell himself in the #49 Lecomite Homes / Multi Building Incorporated Chevrolet, joined by Brad Gross in the #83 Manufacturing News Chevrolet and Samuel Lecomte in CMI’s new #72 entry, also sponsored by Multi Building Inc. Jennifer Jo Cobb turned in the slowest lap of the session in the #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet. Logan Bearden missed out on his series debut in the #44 Bearden Automotive / Parker Electric Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports, joined by series regulars Dawson Cram (#41 Good Sam Chevrolet) and Spencer Boyd (#20 Freedom Warranty Chevrolet).

Meanwhile, Lawrence enjoyed a strong start to the weekend. After timing in 30th in the lone practice session, he jumped to 7th in qualifying with a speed of 74.168mph (2:45.517). This was the best-ever Truck Series start for the Reaume Brothers team, improving on the 12th-place start by Angela Ruch at Charlotte on May 26, 2020.

Rolling off 36th and last was Tanner Gray, who failed to complete a qualifying lap on Saturday after he lost the engine on his #15 Ford Performance Ford. Gray would incur a redundant tail-end penalty for changing engines, one of five drivers docked before the start. Ryan Truex had also changed engines on his #40 Freightliner Chevrolet, costing him 12th on the grid, while a transmission change penalized Lawless Alan, the 32nd-place starter in the #34 Auto ParkIt Chevrolet. Unapproved adjustments were the listed reason for penalizing both 29th-place Austin Wayne Self in the #22 AM Technical Solutions / Go Texan Chevrolet and 31st-place Chase Purdy in the #23 Chevrolet.

When the field addressed the starting line for the green flag, Gray remained in 36th place, but another driver dropped to 35th alongside the penalized Chase Purdy – the #3 I Love Mac ‘n Cheese Chevrolet of Roger Reuse. Gray remained in last at the start, 7.899 seconds back of the lead, but passed Reuse for the spot by the time they returned to the starting line. An instant later, Reuse climbed back to 35th when Parker Kligerman pitted his #75 Good Sam Chevrolet for new right-side tires, having cut one down on the opening lap. Lawrence had likewise been bumped around in traffic that first time by, at one point knocked out of the groove, but managed to remain among the leaders.

Kligerman held last place until Lap 6, when the spot fell to Tate Fogleman in the #12 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet. Moments earlier coming out of Turn 20, Fogleman had spun with Hailie Deegan’s #1 Monster Energy Ford and continued on with damage to his right-front corner. He then spun a second time, which forced him to pit road. The crew pulled the fender off the tire and applied some bear-bond before he returned to the track 10.777 seconds back of 35th-place Reuse. Reuse then incurred a pass-through penalty for cutting through the Esses, but stayed ahead of Fogleman until the final lap of Stage 1. As the leaders took the green-checkers on Lap 12, Reuse was just in front of the leaders, about to go a lap down.

During this same caution, Reuse indicated he had radio issues, forcing another lengthy stay on pit road that nearly put him a lap down. He returned to the track just in front of the leaders just before the restart, which meant he had to pick up his speed to catch the tail end. But the radio issue prevented the team from communicating this message, and he drove slowly around the track as the leaders took the green. A possible collision was averted as Reuse pitted the next time by for more work on the radio. The team concluded the issue was in the truck, not the headset, and told him “He just has to drive – don’t worry about the radio.” For the rest of the race, the team switched to Channel 2, occasionally going back to Channel 1 to see if the issue had been resolved. On Lap 17, they told him not to key the radio if they heard him, and at least twice told him to stick his hand out the window if they could hear him. There was no indication that Reuse heard either message. On Lap 27, when the caution fell to end Stage 2, Reuse was eligible for the Lucky Dog. The team then told a NASCAR official not to worry about it. Because of the radio issue, they couldn’t tell him how to properly pass the leader. He’d ultimately lose a third lap in the final stage.

Lawrence's truck after the race.

Lawrence began to have issues on Lap 23, when he slipped to 35th, the last truck on the lineup. The team asked him about the car’s voltage, but still managed to keep going. He also suffered some damage to the right-front corner of his truck, requiring a silver patch of tape. On Lap 37, with just four laps to go, NASCAR reported Lawrence had pulled into the garage with a mechanical issue. Though so little of the race remained, the Reaume team replaced the steering wheel and performed some electrical repairs, dropping the window net to cut some wires and splice them together. This occurred on Lap 38, when Lawrence finally took last from Reuse. The team ultimately changed the battery and got back onto the track just as the leaders took the white flag. NASCAR indicated Lawrence still owed a pass-through penalty, though it’s unclear whether this was served in time before the checkered flag. Regardless, the team managed to get their driver back on track to finish his first race. 

CORRECTION (May 23, 2021): According to Lawrence, the team was unable to get Lawrence out to complete another lap, and their race ended on pit road.

Reuse ultimately climbed to 34th at the finish, passing the #98 FarmPaint / Curb Records Toyota of Christian Eckes. With five laps to go, Eckes suffered a suspension failure behind the left-front wheel, causing the truck to grind the track down the long backstretch. He made it to pit road without a caution, only to pull behind the wall and out of the race – the day’s only DNF. Ahead of Reuse in 33rd was Chandler Smith, whose #18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota spun off into a gravel trap on the last lap. While NASCAR allowed the race to finish with Smith in the gravel, Smith was still credited with finishing under power, one lap down. Timothy Peters rounded out the Bottom Five in the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet, which had been docked a lap for pitting outside the box midway through the race.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #33 in a Truck Series race since September 6, 2020 when Bryant Barnhill’s #33 Bell & Bell Buick DMC Trucks Chevrolet crashed after 4 laps of the South Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Darlington.
*Lawrence is the first Truck Series driver to finish last while under power since June 17, 2006, when Aric Almirola’s #75 Spears Manufacturing Chevrolet finished 69 of 102 laps of the Con-way Freight 200 at Michigan. Wayne Spears also fielded Dan Press’ #75 during the NAPA 200 at Tucson on March 1, 1997, when like on Saturday, the next-to-last-place finisher was the only driver who failed to finish. That day, it was Bryan Reffner, who crashed out in the #66 Carlin Combustion Ford.

36) #33-Cameron Lawrence / 34 laps / running
35) #98-Christian Eckes / 36 laps / suspension
34) #3-Roger Reuse / 38 laps / running
33) #18-Chandler Smith / 39 laps / running
32) #25-Timothy Peters / 40 laps / running

1st) Niece Motorsports (3)
2nd) GMS Racing (2)
3rd) CMI Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Roper Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


Thursday, May 20, 2021

PREVIEW: Qualifying at COTA a huge opportunity for multiple road ringers, new teams, and returning veterans

PHOTO: @eugenesince83

Saturday, May 22, 2021 (1:00 P.M. Eastern)
TRUCKS Race 9 of 22
Toyota Tundra 225 at the Circuit of the Americas
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Event

The return of practice and qualifying for these next two rounds kicks off with the Truck Series in Austin, where this time only 36 spots are open for the 44 entrants, meaning eight teams will be sent home. UPDATE: As of Thursday, make that 43 entrants and seven DNQs.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
The Reuse brothers continue their longstanding business relationship with Jordan Anderson for another run on a road course. In February, it was Bobby Reuse driving Anderson’s #3 with sponsorship from I Heart Mac & Cheese, finishing 27th. This time, it’s brother Roger Reuse behind the wheel of the same entry, back in the show after his #49 CMI Motorsports entry was withdrawn at Daytona. Anderson himself finished a strong 10th in Darlington, and also looks to get his XFINITY team into its first race of the season (see below).

WITHDREW: #6-Norm Benning Racing
On Thursday came reports that Norm Benning had withdrawn hos #6 from the field.

DRIVER SWAP: #9-CR7 Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #98-ThorSport Racing
Once again, Christian Eckes will run ThorSport’s #98 with sponsorship from Farm Paint, moving Grant Enfinger back to the #9 Chevrolet in place of Codie Rohrbaugh, 38th in Darlington. Thanks again to Marcus Lemonis, Enfinger will be among a number of teams sponsored by Good Sam Club, carrying a similar red-and-gold paint scheme to fellow underfunded drivers Dawson Cram (#41) and Timmy Hill (#56), among others.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Spencer Davis Racing
Camden Murphy makes his series return for the first time since the Daytona Road Course, where he ran a strong 13th for NEMCO Motorsports. This time, he takes the place of Spencer Davis in the #11 Inox Supreme Lubricants Toyota. Davis ran 29th most recently at Darlington.

MISSING: #14-Trey Hutchens Racing
Ironically, Trey Hutchens is not entered this week in what would’ve been his first attempt to qualify for a Truck Series race in 2021. All four of his previous attempts this season came in entry lists with more than 40 entrants and no qualifying.

MISSING: #17-David Gilliland Racing
David Gilliland is likewise not entered after his 28th-place showing in Darlington.

Looking for his first Truck Series start is ARCA Menards Series competitor Jack Wood, who has already finished 9th at Daytona and 4th at Kansas in GMS Racing’s ARCA effort, placing him 6th in the standings after four events. Wood will run GMS’ #24 this week, taking the place of Ryan Reed, who’s not entered following his 12th-place showing in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Taking the place of Danny Bohn, who had a potential career night going at Darlington before a spin left him 18th, is Las Vegas native Michele Abbate. Abbate has experience running at COTA in particular, having finished second in her class during the 2020 Trans-Am West Coast Championship Series, and went on to be the vice-champion. Backing her multi-colored Toyota will be tech firm Scosche and supplement company Ghost Lifestyle, each longtime backers of her sports car efforts.

RETURNING: #32-Sam Mayer Racing
Sam Mayer is back for his third series start of the season and first since Richmond, where he ran a strong 9th. His season debut came on the previous road course race in Daytona, where his run for Charlie Henderson ended 10 laps short of the finish, putting him 37th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Six years ago in the 24 Hours of Daytona, Cameron Lawrence was part of the five-driver lineup whose Riley Technologies Dodge Viper SRT finished first in class, 11th overall. Now, the two-time SCCA Trans Am Series TA2 champion seeks his NASCAR debut with Josh Reaume’s team, taking the place of B.J. McLeod in the #33 Impact Health Chevrolet. McLeod finished 32nd in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Lawless Alan is still another competitor returning to the Truck Series for the first time since the Daytona Road Course – his a 36th-place finish in Reaume’s #34 Toyota. Alan will run with the same team and sponsor again, this time replacing 34th-place Darlington finisher Akinori Ogata.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #45-Niece Motorsports
Saturday will also see the debut of Logan Bearden, a Super Late Model competitor from Texas, whose Bearden Automotive company will sponsor his NASCAR debut in Al Niece’s #44 Chevrolet. Bearden’s arrival moves Bayley Currey to the team’s #45 in place of Erik Darnell, who isn’t entered after finishing 17th in his series return at Darlington. Currey took 21st that night.

DRIVER CHANGE: #49-CMI Motorsports
Another local driver from Texas is John Atwell, who like Cameron Lawrence hails from the TA2 division of Trans Am, most recently as an owner-driver at Atwell Racing. While still seeking his first podium in Trans Am, Atwell will lead a three-truck group of “road ringers” at CMI Motorsports, taking the place of Ray Ciccarelli in the flagship #49. To date, the #49 has made just three series starts in 2021 with a best of 29th at Richmond with Ryan Reed. Multibuilding Incorporated and Texas Tool Traders are among the team’s sponsors.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Parker Chase is still another returning to Trucks for the first time since he Daytona Road Course, where he drove to a 23rd-place finish in his series debut. Again driving for KBM with Vertical Bridge as sponsor, Chase takes the place of Corey Heim, who ran well in his series debut at Darlington until his wreck from the lead triggered the night’s biggest wreck, leaving him 23rd.

NEW TEAM: #66-ThorSport Racing
Welcome back “The Bright Yella Fella,” Paul Menard, who on Saturday looks to make a surprise return to NASCAR after his characteristically quiet exit from Cup at the end of 2019. This time around, Menard drives a new fourth ThorSport entry with Mattei Air Compressors as sponsor. If he qualifies, this will be Menard’s first Truck Series start since March 31, 2007 at Martinsville, and his first in a Truck race on a road course.

NEW TEAM: #72-CMI Motorsports
Second of the CMI group of “road ringers” is Sam LeComte CORRECTION: of Flower Mound, Texas, who has driven for John Atwell’s team in Trans Am. Appropriately, he and Atwell will share sponsorship from Multibuilding Incorporated and Texas Tool Traders in nearly identical red-white-and-blue Chevrolets. This team is a new third truck for the CMI effort, and looks to bring back a truck number that hasn’t started a race since November 19, 2010 with John Jackson at Homestead.

RETURNING: #83-CMI Motorsports
Rounding out the CMI trio is another Texan looking to make his series debut - 2015 SCCA GT2 Champion Brad Gross. Gross runs a white Chevrolet this week with Manufacturing News as sponsor, and runs for a team that has twice failed to qualify in 2021 and once withdrew for the Daytona Road Course.

MISSING: #96-Peck Racing
Todd Peck is not entered after his Holla Vodka entry was on the wrong side of the DNQ line again in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02-Young’s Motorsport
Always one to watch on the road courses – whether for GMS Racing, Fury Race Cars LLC, or more recently Kaulig Racing and his one-off for Richard Childress’ Cup team, Kaz Grala will seek his return to the Truck Series, taking the place of 39th-place Darlington finisher Kris Wright. Grala drove this same team to a solid 8th-place finish on the Daytona Road Course this past February.


Saturday, May 22, 2021 (4:00 P.M. Eastern)
XFINITY Race 11 of 33
Pit Boss 250 at the Circuit of the Americas
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Event

There are 43 drivers entered, but this time all will have a chance to qualify for the 36-car field, including Jordan Anderson Racing and Bassett Racing, which have both been denied since Daytona. Curiously, Our Motorsports’ #03 team, also 0-for-10 in 2021, is not entered. Andy Lally, the original entrant, will instead run Chris Our’s since-acquired #23.

DRIVER SWAP: #4-JD Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #6-JD Motorsports
The one-race swap between Landon Cassill and Ryan Vargas has switched back again with Cassill back in his #4, but Vargas out of the #6. In Vargas’ place is longtime sports car racer Spencer Pumpelly. Pumpelly has seven ALMS wins with The Racers Group and Flying Lizard Motorsports and another ten in Rolex Grand-Am, including four at Watkins Glen and one at this Austin track in 2013 driving a Porsche. On the stock car side, his resume is much shorter – just one ARCA Menards Series start at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 13, 2009. That day, Pumpelly finished 3rd behind Patrick Long and Parker Kligerman. Fast Life and Grid Rival will sponsor the #6.

DRIVER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
The XFINITY race will be punctuated by several “Cup Ringers,” most of whom driving for teams running near the bottom of this year’s Owner Points and in need of a good run. First of these is Kevin Harvick, who returns to the XFINITY Series for the first time since he wrecked Ross Chastain out of his first career win at Darlington in 2018. This time, Harvick drives for B.J. McLeod in place of Matt Mills, who finished last at Darlington after Noah Gragson’s disqualification was overturned. Rush Truck Centers will sponsor Harvick’s effort, which will be in a Ford in place of McLeod’s typical Chevrolets and Toyotas. At the same time, the three McLeod cars have swapped points - the #5 now takes the #78’s rank, the #78 takes the #99, and the #99 takes the #5.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Austin will also see Miguel Paludo return to the XFINITY Series in for the first time since his 7th-place run in February on the Daytona Road Course. Much has changed at the JR Motorsports team since then – most notably Josh Berry’s breakout part-time season in the same #8 with three finishes of second or better in his last four starts. Paludo will look to keep the momentum going on the road course.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Kaulig Racing
As of this writing, Justin Haley is listed to return from COVID-19 protocol after missing out on the Dover weekend, taking the place of Zane Smith, who wrecked with Brandon Jones and finished 36th that Saturday. 

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
Welcome back Boris Said, who makes a surprising return to NASCAR after announcing his retirement back in 2017. Said, whose only XFINITY win came on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2010, will this week replace Matt Jaskol in the #13 Toyota with Whataburger as sponsor. Jaskol finished next-to-last in Dover after his frightening tangle on the backstretch that left his car perched atop Jesse Little’s #78. This will be Said’s first XFINITY start since August 29, 2015, when he ran 6th for Joe Gibbs Racing at Road America.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing / SS-Green Light Racing
Another Cup regular in the field is Cole Custer, who takes the place of Cody Ware in the #17, and like his Cup teammate Harvick switches a typical Chevrolet team to Ford. Production Alliance Group is the sponsor for Custer’s first XFINITY start since the 2019 finale at Homestead, where he closed out a seven-win season for Stewart-Haas Racing with a runner-up finish in the title race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-Our Motorsports
MISSING: #03-Our Motorsports
When metric qualifying prevented Our Motorsports from getting their second car, the #03, into the Daytona Road Course race, the team had been entered in every race since with Andy Lally as the listed driver. For the first time in 2021, the #03 is not entered at all, and Lally himself has been moved to the #23 that Chris Our has since acquired. Lally takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who finished 14th at Dover despite a lack of sponsorship. Lally carries sponsorship from “The A Team” and MFI Fantasy Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
With Kaz Grala in his Truck Series entry for Young’s Motorsports, Kris Wright will rejoin Sam Hunt Racing, with whom he finished 18th in his series debut on the Daytona Road Course earlier this year. This time, Wright’s #26 is listed with “Discus” as the sponsor, but the car is actually adorned with logos for the “Boot The Ban” campaign, which seeks new Texan legislation to allow for seven-day sales of distilled spirits. Wright takes the place of John Hunter Nemechek, who ran 32nd in his XFINITY return at Dover.

DRIVER CHANGE: #31-Jordan Anderson Racing
Jordan Anderson’s XFINITY team will finally get their chance to qualify on speed for the first time since the Daytona opener. Taking no chances, Anderson will not be driving, and has put Richard Childress Racing competitor and two-time XFINITY champion Tyler Reddick behind the wheel of his #31 Bommarito Automotive Group Chevrolet.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #44-Martins Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins welcomes new sponsorship from YouTube gamers "SuperMega" on his #44 Chevrolet. CORRECTION: This sponsor will run next week in Charlotte.

DRIVER CHANGE: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
Ty Gibbs will not be running this Saturday and thus will not have a chance to follow-up his surprising victory in the previous road course event in Daytona this past February. Instead, Kyle Busch will drive in his place with Skittles Gummies as sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long will once again put his road course ace Stephen Leicht behind the wheel of the #61 on Saturday with a returning Jani-King as sponsor. Leicht takes the place of the team’s full-time driver David Starr, who finished last at Dover after early overheating issues. Liecht ran 29th in this year’s Daytona Road Course race.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Bassett Racing
Like Jordan Anderson’s team, the effort fielded by Ronnie Bassett, Jr. and Dillon Bassett has also hired a Cup driver from Richard Childress Racing in Austin Dillon. Dillon will carry Maestro’s Classic as sponsor on the team’s #77 Chevrolet and eyes a two-race schedule in Austin.

After Kyle Sieg crashed out his second RSS Ford in Dover, leaving him 33rd, Mario Gosselin’s flagship #90 will again be a Chevrolet for a returning Caesar Bacarella along with sponsors Maxim and AP Sports Regimen. This is a curious choice as, up until now, Bacarella has only run for DGM on the ovals with an emphasis on the superspeedways. Saturday would be his first series start on a road course.

Bacarella’s run in the #90 also moves DGM’s own road race ace, Preston Pardus, to their newest #91, which has yet to start a race this season after back-to-back DNQs in Daytona. But regardless of car number, the Spec Miata standout has continued to turn heads on the road courses, and will again run his familiar Chinchor Electric and Danus Utlities sponsorship in the race Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Ryan Ellis gets his next chance to run part-time for McLeod in the XFINITY Series, returning after an off-week for his first series start since Darlington. Ellis takes the place of McLeod himself in the #99 Toyota with and Keen Parts as sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
A late-week driver change has Ross Chastain running in place of Joe Graf, Jr.

CUP INVADERS: #5-Kevin Harvick, #17-Cole Custer, #31-Tyler Reddick, #54-Kyle Busch, #77-Austin Dillon, #07-Ross Chastain

Sunday, May 23, 2021
CUP Race 14 of 36
Echopark Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Inaugural Event

For just the fourth time in 14 races and the first time since Talladega, four races ago, 40 drivers will start on Sunday. Unlike Trucks and XFINITY, there are exactly 40 drivers entered for as many spots.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #15-Rick Ware Racing
James Davison, who won Wednesday's iRacing Pro Invitational Series event at digital Austin, will carry sponsorship from the Skip Barber Racing School and Clubhouse Media Group. This marks the first time Skip Barber has ever sponsored a Cup team.

RETURNING: #16-Kaulig Racing
When we last saw A.J. Allmendinger in a Cup car this past February, he was once again as much a threat for the win as he’s been with Kaulig Racing in XFINITY. Allmendinger finished 7th that day, and will look for more in the Hyperice Chevrolet’s return. The team last ran in Cup at Talladega, where Kaz Grala also turned heads with a 6th-place finish.

RETURNING: #33-Penske Racing
Defending XFINTIY Series Champion Austin Cindric is back in his wheelhouse on Sunday, running both Cup and XFINITY on the road courses he’d dominated before his breakout season last year. Cindric and his “open” #33 team rejoin the Cup garage for a fifth time in 2021 and the first time since Kansas, where he ran 22nd.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Again, so long as he’s officially cleared COVID-19 protocol, Justin Haley is set to take the wheel back from Josh Berry, who finished 30th in his unexpected Cup debut at Dover.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
Live Fast has again decided to give a driver their first Cup start at one of the series’ new venues as England’s Kyle Tilley, part of the four-driver lineup that claimed the LMP2 crown in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, seeks his NASCAR debut. Bremont and Battle Associates are the listed sponsor for Tilley’s #78 as he takes the place of B.J. McLeod, out late at Dover with engine trouble to finish 36th.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Ty Dillon makes just his third Cup start of the year and first since the Bristol Dirt Race, where he ran 26th for the Gaunt Brothers. Bass Pro Shops and Black Rifle Coffee are the listed sponsors as he returns to the road course, looking to follow up his 19th-place run on the Daytona infield after his heartbreaking DNQ in the previous week’s 500.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 20, 2001): Stockbridge, Georgia native Ricky Sanders picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Truck Series career in the Jelly Belly 200 presented by Dodge at Pikes Peak International Raceway when his #19 Ford, fielded by James Murphy, lost the engine on the opening lap. This was the 10th of Sanders’ 27 series starts, scoring a best finish of 16th at Texas the night Tony Roper was fatally injured. He made his lone XFINITY start in 2001, finishing 41st for Jimmy Means at Darlington.