Tuesday, June 15, 2021

SRX: Fuel pump issues relegate Awesome Bill to last in first series race

PHOTO: @jeff_gluck on Twitter

by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer

Bill Elliott scored the first last-place finish of his Superstar Racing Experience career at the Stafford Motor Speedway when his #9 unsponsored purple car fell out with mechanical issues after completing ten of the feature race’s 100 laps.

Across series history, it was the first for the #9, the first for the purple-liveried car, and the first for crew chief Mike Christopher, as it was the series’ first-ever race.

Fitting right in with the eclectic mix of drivers that comprise the SRX field, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" (yes, he was actually nicknamed that) has kept an active racing career since his last NASCAR Cup Series start in 2012. He's continued to race various minor series for the following half-decade and made a surprise XFINITY Series start in 2018 at Road America. When I asked him at a press conference that weekend if he ever planned on retiring for good, Elliott said that he plans on racing until he lacks either the physical or mental capacity to do it anymore. Viewed from that lens, the six-weekend SRX is a natural fit – big personalities, a new car, and a handful of America’s most iconic short track venues.

The Superstar Racing Experience employs ten full-time drivers and has two roles that rotate. One of those is the “cameo” role, reserved for superstars who will drive only the occasional race or two. The other is the “track champion” car, reserved for a driver who is synonymous with the venue where the series is racing. Greg Biffle, the 19-time Cup race winner, filled the cameo role for the series’ first event, and Milford, Connecticut’s Doug Coby took the wheel of the track champion car. Coby’s racing career went through Stafford for a long time, logging an estimated 10,000 laps before moving on to claim six NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships.

The SRX format utilizes two heats and a feature, not unlike NASCAR’s short-lived Dash 4 Cash format from 2016. Unlike the Dash, in which starting lineups were based on time trials, the SRX drivers were entered in a random draw to determine the starting order for the first heat. Elliott drew 11th, on the inside of the final row. Marco Andretti started last on the field and was going to be the pace laps interview until the broadcast couldn’t connect to his radio. Elliott’s car stood out in the fact that while almost every other paint scheme in the field had a sponsor to go along with it, Elliott’s purple car bore no major sponsor other than the series logo on the door. SRX randomly pairs a driver with a paint scheme on a week-by-week basis.

By the end of the first lap, Andretti had passed Elliott for 11th and the two trailed the field by a handful of car lengths by the end of the second lap. However, at the two-minute mark, it was Willy T. Ribbs who had moved into last, and Ribbs quickly lost ground to the field while fighting a tight car, going 12.5 seconds down to the lead at the halfway mark (seven and a half minutes) of heat one. Less than a minute after that, however, Paul Tracy spun off the bumper of Michael Waltrip in turns one and two. 

With a significant part of the nose dislodged, Tracy spent the rest of the heat in the pit lane as crew chief Todd Parrott worked on the car. Elliott worked his way up to ninth by the end of the fifteen minutes.

The starting lineup for the second heat was a total invert of the Heat 1 finishing order. Biffle, by virtue of taking the checkered flag in the first heat, started 12th in Heat 2. He didn’t stay there for long, passing Bobby Labonte in the first set of turns after the green flag. By the halfway mark, Helio Castroneves had been shuffled back to last. Not long after that, Ribbs spun in turn three from the midpoint of the field. Biffle and Castroneves were running 11th and 12th at the time and Biffle checked up earlier than Castroneves entering the corner, resulting in the Brazilian punting Biffle. All three cars involved spent the remainder of the heat on pit road repairing their machines - Biffle was classified as last by timing and scoring. Elliott continued his climb through the field, making his way up to fourth by the end of the second fifteen-minute period.

The starting lineup for the feature event was the finishing order of the second heat, and Biffle rolled off last on the grid after switching to a plain white backup car for the feature. However, Elliott’s purple machine stalled on the backstretch during pace laps after the driver reported a loss of fuel pressure. The car was pushed to pit road, where pit reporter Brad Daugherty said that the series gave crew chief Mike Christopher about five minutes to fix the problem before the feature started. After some electrical work around the fuel pump area, Elliott rejoined the tail of the field, where he started the race.

There he stayed until lap five, when Michael Waltrip spun off the bumper of Ernie Francis, Jr. in turn three. Waltrip drove his Progressive Insurance car to pit lane, where did not lose any laps under caution. By the time the field restarted on lap eight, Elliott’s car was nowhere to be found, even as timing and scoring had him in the tenth spot ahead of Waltrip and Ribbs. The broadcast made a quick mention of Elliott going to the pit lane on lap ten, and that was the last the broadcast saw or heard from Elliott.

While mechanical issues sidelined Elliott, the other two cars that failed to finish did so due to damage. Michael Waltrip was shown the black flag right around the midway point of the event for a massive tire rub and did not return to the track, finishing 48 laps in arrears. Marco Andretti finished tenth after his right-front suspension locked up with six laps to go.

Since all cars are prepared and owned by the series itself, LASTCAR will instead track last-place finishes for liveries and crew chiefs, which are randomly assigned to drivers on a week-by-week basis.

12th) #9-Bill Elliott / 10 laps / fuel pump
11th) #15-Michael Waltip / 52 laps / damage
10th) #98-Marco Andretti / 96 laps / damage

1st) Mike Christopher (1)

1st) Purple Unsponsored (1)


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