Monday, July 5, 2021

SRX: Incident-free race at Lucas Oil still leaves Bill Elliott in last


by William Soquet Staff Writer

Bill Elliott finished last for the 3rd time in his Superstar Racing Experience career when his #9 LakeSide Media car completed all 76 laps in the event at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Saturday night.

Across series history, it was the third for car number 9 and the first for crew chief Jeff Hammond. The finish was Elliott’s second in a row.

Attentive viewers of last week’s SRX event noticed that when Elliott climbed from the car after being involved in the large late-race melee, he was favoring his right wrist and grimaced as he took his helmet off. The series did not offer any update on the situation until midway through the broadcast on Saturday, when it was revealed that Elliott cracked a bone in the incident. Because of that, Awesome Bill wore a brace while driving on Saturday and will likely be doing so for the foreseeable future.

Scott Speed returned for the last of his two appearances as the ringer driver after a strong run at Eldora. The local champ driver was a name known to many who knew Doug Coby’s name – Bobby Santos III. Santos, a longtime competitor on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and other pavement open-wheel series. Tim Clauson, co-owner of sprint car team Clauson-Marshall Racing and father of longtime racer Bryan Clauson, was brought on as the local all-star crew chief. Tony Eury Jr. was a super-sub crew chief on Saturday night in the place of Mike Beam, who was not able to make it to the track.

For the second time this season, Marco Andretti drew the final starting position for the first heat. He didn’t stay there for long, however, as he passed Helio Castroneves in Turns 1 and 2 of the opening lap. Andretti also made quick work of Willy T. Ribbs and moved up to tenth by the conclusion of the first circuit. Castroneves began setting up Ribbs for a pass at the end of Lap 1 and made the pass during the 2nd lap. From there, Ribbs steadily lost ground on the field, falling eight seconds in arrears to the lead at the caution that flew around the halfway mark. Despite that equalizer, Ribbs was unable to make up any ground on a track notorious for being a single-groove racetrack in the high lane and finished the first heat in 12th. Elliott ran a fairly anonymous tenth place, not meriting much attention on the broadcast.

With a complete invert from Heat 1 to Heat 2, Speed took over the last spot for the beginning of the second heat as the winner of the first. He bided his time for a little bit, and then got past Michael Waltrip with two laps complete in the heat. Elliott, who started third, soon came into the last-place picture and fell into Waltrip’s clutches in only a handful of laps. The Progressive Insurance-branded machine piloted by Waltrip worked around Elliott’s dark blue car at about the two-minute mark. From that point on, much as in Heat 1, the last-place car could not make any headway against the rest of the field, and Elliott finished the heat nondescriptly in last place.

With the Independence Day weekend coinciding with a race at a paved track, series officials decided to make the feature event 76 laps long instead of the 50 laps at the two dirt tracks. Starting last in the feature was Ribbs, whose finishes of 12th and 11th in the heat races left him with an average finish of 11.5, the lowest average of anyone on the grid. Elliott wound up alongside Ribbs in the final row with an average finish of 11th.

At the start of the feature, Ribbs gave Elliott a good run but was never able to complete the pass. After the opening handful of laps, Ribbs lost touch with Elliott and ran by himself a decent distance back. Despite a caution to bunch up the field, Ribbs still seemed to be a touch off the pace. However, Elliott’s car began fading, and he was only a tenth ahead of Ribbs at Lap 46. Ribbs made the pass on the following lap, and a caution fell the lap after that. At that time, Elliott pitted for what the broadcast called a “vibration” and was the only car to pit, not losing any laps on pit road as per SRX rules. He remained in last until there were eight laps to go, when Tony Kanaan spun off of turn two on a restart, briefly dropping the 48 car to last.

However, on the ensuing restart, Kanaan charged past Elliott and even with an eventful final few laps, no cars retired, handing Elliott his third last-place finish in four races.

Ribbs finished the race in 11th, and Kanaan was only able to make it up to tenth after his spin, rounding out the Bottom Three.

With his finish, Elliott claimed the 2021 LASTCAR SRX Drivers Championship, as he has claimed three last-place finishes and four Bottom Three finishes. Paul Tracy is the only other driver to record a last-place finish this season, and with two races to go, he has only recorded one Bottom Three finish, nullifying any chance of surpassing Elliott on a tiebreaker.

12) #9-Bill Elliott / 76 laps / running
11) #17-Willy T. Ribbs / 76 laps / running
10) #48-Tony Kanaan / 76 laps / running

1st) Mike Christopher, Jeff Hammond, Keith Kunz, Todd Parrott (1)


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