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)


No comments: