Saturday, July 10, 2021

XFINITY: David Starr crashes out early, then relieves teammate McLaughlin in Atlanta

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,

David Starr picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Credit Karma Money 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #61 Whataburger Toyota was eliminated in a crash after 50 of 164 laps.

The finish, which came in Starr’s 222nd series start, was his second of the year and first since Dover, 8 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 19th for the #61, the 149th for Toyota, and the 352nd from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st for the #61, the 358th for Toyota, and the 1,262nd from a crash.

The run also put Starr into the lead for the 2021 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship, moving ahead of Bayley Currey on a bottom-five tiebreaker.

After he was last featured here for Dover, Starr has continued his part-time effort with Motorsports Business Management, switching time between all three of the team’s entries. When Boris Said came out of retirement to attempt the following round on the Circuit of the Americas, Starr was left without a seat, and Said failed to qualify. This allowed both Jordan Anderson Racing and Dillon Racing to make their first starts of the season, putting MBM’s entries lower in points for the return to metric qualifying.

After COTA, Starr was the fastest to miss the cut in Charlotte, and when metric qualifying put his #13 out of the show in Mid-Ohio, he moved to the #61 and finished 36th. He ran the #66 for the next three rounds with a best of 20th at Texas, where he also brought back MBM’s second Cup car in a bid at the All-Star Open. After Matt Jaskol ran the #66 at Road America, only to end up the fastest to miss the show, Starr would return to the #61 for Atlanta, which also missed the cut with Boris Said. Starr rolled off 35th in his familiar bright orange Whataburger colors. Timmy Hill, slated to run the #13, was the only team sent home.

Rolling off 40th and last was the #52 Panini Chevrolet of Gray Gaulding, whose team owner Jimmy Means had been interviewed on the “Dale Jr. Download” earlier in the week. He’d be joined in the back by Austin Dillon, a last-minute driver substitution for Michael Annett in the #1 Pilot / Flying J Spicy Chicken Sandwich Chevrolet. This was the second substitution in as many days for Annett, who had cited a recurring leg injury for stepping out of the car. During the pace laps, Dillon came down pit road with one to go, having already incurred a tail-end penalty for the driver change. When he caught up to the outside line, Gaulding let him pull in front of him.

When the green flag dropped, the inside line trailed the pack, immediately handing last place to C.J. McLaughlin. McLaughlin was driving MBM’s #66 entry sponsored by SA Recycling and Sci Aps – a Ford this week – which had originally been set to start 34th. At the stripe, McLaughlin was more than 4 seconds back of the lead, and 9.09 back at the end of Lap 1. On Lap 5, McLaughlin caught and passed Carson Ware in the #17 Jacob Companies / Broke Girl Boutique Chevrolet. By Lap 7, when Ware dropped nearly 2 seconds back of McLaughlin, the team was encouraging Ware to pick up his speed. Ware found the speed and re-passed McLaughlin by Lap 9.

On Lap 11, McLaughlin’s engine sounded down a cylinder, and he came down pit road under green for a look under the hood. The crew pulled off some tape, but didn’t notice any issues and sent him back out on the 13th circuit. The next time by, the issue had returned, and the MBM crew told him to come in and go behind the wall. He did so on Lap 15, already four laps down, and the crew looked under the hood. The engine re-fired on the 20th lap, and he returned to action under caution.

This run didn’t last long, as by Lap 23, McLaughlin’s team called him to the garage a second time, this time having him pull up behind their hauler at the far end of the garage. The MBM team removed the air cleaner, discussing first the carburetor, then the valves. A plug wire was then found to be the issue, and he returned to the track on Lap 31, a full 17 laps back. Team owner Carl Long apologized that the wire issue wasn’t found at the shop, and said McLaughlin would be in “recovery mode” for the rest of the distance.

The near-collision with Carson Ware on pit road.
capture by David PeQueen @CarSDS2078

Starr, meanwhile, was running on the lead lap around 10 seconds back of the leader, and had passed Santino Ferrucci’s #26 Manatawny Still Works Toyota for position. Moments later, he was passing Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet off Turn 4 with a pack of traffic not far behind them. Starr moved up as Jeffrey Earnhardt looked to his inside in the #0 Superstratum Chevrolet, but Starr wasn’t clear of Mills. The two made contact, hooking Starr’s right-front into the wall entering the quad-oval and pinching Mills in the fence. Both cars made it to pit road, but only Mills returned to the track. Starr’s crew removed the right-front fender, but the damage had already ended their day. 

Another close call followed moments later. As Starr pulled into the garage area, Carson Ware attempted to pass him to the left. Starr hit the brakes, narrowly avoiding Ware’s Chevrolet, then pulled into the garage, done for the day under the Damaged Vehicle Policy. On Lap 56, Mills met minimum speed, and on Lap 70, McLaughlin dropped Starr to last place. This wouldn’t be the last time the two teammates crossed paths. By Lap 119, McLaughlin was suffering from heat exhaustion, and came down pit road for a driver change. Starr climbed into the #66 and climbed to 37th, finishing on the same lap as the now-wrecked Carson Ware when the checkered flag dropped.

Starr's car after dropping out of the race.
PHOTO: Max Neuwirth @racingfan83

Landon Cassill was about to finish 39th after a broken shock mount on his #4 Voyager Chevrolet sent him behind the wall with 112 laps complete. He returned to action in the final laps to complete 18 more circuits by the checkered flag – more than enough to pass Brandon Jones, whose #19 Toyota wrecked off the nose of Ryan Sieg entering Turn 3. Jones ended up 39th, ten laps behind Cassill.

Further up the lineup, Ty Dillon earned his second-straight top-ten finish in the XFINITY Series in the #23 Our Motorsports entry, this time sponsored by Childress Vineyards. He finished 5th for a new season-best, improving on his 7th from Charlotte, and one spot ahead of teammate Brett Moffitt in the #02.

Jeremy Clements took 8th in his #51 All South Electric Chevrolet, bouncing back from a 28th in Road America with his first top-ten finish since Charlotte and fifth top-15 finish in the last seven races. The run keeps the owner-driver in Playoff contention entering these final weeks of the regular season.

David Starr (foreground) awaiting the
driver change.
PHOTO: Max Neuwirth @racingfan83

Taking home a much-needed 14th was the #6 MaintenX Chevrolet of Ryan Vargas, which was not only his fourth top-20 finish in the last six races, but a new season-best, improving on his 16th-place showing in Charlotte. Vargas tweeted after the race that he scored the finish on 20-plus-lap older tires than those he was racing.

Tommy Joe Martins continued his own streak with a 16th-place finish, marking his fifth-straight finish no worse than 21st following his next-to-last-place finish in Mid-Ohio. Martins’ #44 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet took the checkers 4.786 seconds back of the leader, and a half-second ahead of Jade Buford in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #61 and David Starr in a XFINITY race at Atlanta.
*The 50 laps Starr completed are the third-most of any XFINITY last-place finisher at Atlanta, trailing only Steve Park (72 laps on March 8, 1997) and Jason Keller (82 laps on March 11, 2000). No other XFINITY driver has turned more than 39 laps here and finished last.

40) #61-David Starr / 50 laps / crash
39) #19-Brandon Jones / 118 laps / crash
38) #4-Landon Cassill / 128 laps / running
37) #66-C.J. McLaughlin / 139 laps / running
36) #17-Carson Ware / 139 laps / crash

1st) B.J. McLeod Motorsports (3)
2nd) DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Motorsports Business Management, RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
3rd) Our Motorsports, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (1)


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