Saturday, July 3, 2021

XFINITY: Spencer Pumpelly and JD Motorsports fight back from an early trip through the gravel, only for the brakes to fail at the worst moment


Spencer Pumpelly picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Henry 180 at Road America when his #6 Rice Tire Chevrolet crashed out after 11 of 45 laps.

The finish came in Pumpelly’s second series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 17th for the #6, the 351st from a crash, and the 573rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 66th for the #6, the 1,260th from a crash, and the 1,792nd for Chevrolet.

The 46-year-old racer from Arlington, Virginia has an impressive road course resume. He scored seven American Le Mans Series wins with The Racers Group and Flying Lizard Motorsports, plus another ten in Rolex Grand-Am, including four at Watkins Glen. In both 2006 and 2011, Pumpelly took class victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona, both times running a Porsche GT3. He scored another two Weathertech Sports Car Series wins in 2015 at Laguna Seca and the season finale at Road Atlanta.

Pumpelly made his NASCAR debut just last month at the Circuit of the Americas, where he finished 19th in the same #6 entry fielded by JD Motorsports. It was his first race in a stock car since September 13, 2009, when he drove RAB Motorsports’ #09 to a third-place finish in the ARCA Menards Series race at New Jersey Motorsports Park, trailing only Patrick Long and Parker Kligerman. He was even Elliott Sadler’s college roommate, which Sadler revealed in a tweet on race morning, when Rice Tire bought space on Pumpelly’s unsponsored #6.

Pumpelly ran a solid 17th in practice and qualified 18th with a speed of 106.353mph (2 minutes, 17.023 seconds). Both times his was the fastest of the four JD Motorsports entries. Only one of the remaining three actually qualified for the race, and Landon Cassill needed to rely on Owner Points to secure the 32nd spot in the #4 Voyager Chevrolet.

The remaining two JDM cars ended up among the race’s seven DNQs: Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet and Colby Howard in the #15 Project Hope Foundation Chevrolet. Motorsports Business Management also saw two of their four entries sent home: Matt Jaskol in the #66 Auto Parts 4 Less Toyota and Boris Said in the #61 Kunes RV Toyota, plus Mike Harmon Racing teammates Kyle Weatherman in the #47 Axe Crossbows Chevrolet and Bayley Currey in the #74 Belmont Classic Cars Chevrolet, and a returning Gray Gaulding in Jimmy Means’ #52 Chevrolet.

Set to roll off 36th and last was Noah Gragson, who after an engine failure in COTA and a first-lap splitter-related wreck in Mid-Ohio blew an engine in practice. He didn’t turn a lap in Round 1 of qualifying and would incur a redundant tail-end penalty. Also joining him would be 34th-place Riley Herbst, sent to a backup car after a practice incident in his #98 Monster Energy Ford. Kris Wright would ultimately drop to the rear for an incident on Friday when his #26 Wright Automotive Toyota was stuck in the Turn 1 gravel in the final five minutes of practice.

On race day, two more drivers had difficulty rolling off pit road. Ryan Ellis, set to roll off 28th in the #78 Rich Mar Florist Toyota, was in his pit stall, and would incur an unapproved adjustments penalty as the team awaited a push from a service vehicle. Polesitter Ty Gibbs had an ignition problem that kept his #81 Monster Energy Toyota from rolling, and he’d ultimately get started without incurring a penalty of his own. Ellis looked to inherit last from Gragson, but Wright dropped behind him into last place.

By the time the leaders pulled up to the start, the intervals indicated another four drivers had dropped behind the cars around them: 24th-place Brett Moffitt in the #02 Our Motorsports Chevrolet, 29th-place Timmy Hill in the #42 Motorsports Business Management Toyota, 31st-place Stephen Leicht in the #13 Jani-King Toyota, and 33rd-place Tommy Joe Martins in the #44 Gilreath Farms Red Angus Chevrolet. All of these drivers were ahead of Wright, who crossed the stripe 5.687 seconds back of the leader. 

By the time the field completed the first lap, Wright had dropped to the 36th spot Natalie Decker, who was back behind the wheel of Our Motorsports’ #23 Nerd Focus Chevrolet. By then, both were 6.423 seconds back of Tommy Joe Martins in 34th. By the start of Lap 3, Decker was 9.479 seconds back of Wright, and was running nine seconds slower than Wright’s #26. 

Pumpelly entered the last-place battle on Lap 6, when contact from Brandon Brown’s #68 Sim Seats Chevrolet sent him spinning into the gravel trap outside of Turn 14. Pumpelly’s splitter dug up a huge amount of gravel, and the car was stuck fast, drawing the caution. Crews managed to get his car back out of the trap, but while the engine fired, the transmission wouldn’t engage. “It goes in gear,” said the driver, “but it won’t move.” Pumpelly lost a lap as he was pushed back to pit road. After looking the car over, the team pushed him to the garage on Lap 8. The JD Motorsports team tried to re-fire Pumpelly’s engine, but when it didn’t start, they took the car off jack stands and pushed it to Jeffrey Earnhardt’s hauler for a transmission change. Pumpelly would later tweet that gravel had “packed the bell housing. . .locking up the transmission.”

Sam Mayer's car towed after his hard crash.
PHOTO: William Soquet

Back on the track on Lap 13, Sam Mayer – just 0.672 second behind the leader at the stripe - crossed the nose of another car entering Turn 12 and slammed the outside wall, destroying the nose of his #8 QPS Employment Group Chevrolet. Mayer climbed out without serious injury, and the car was towed to the garage, first officially out of the race. By then, there was a seven-lap gap between Pumpelly and Mayer. 

On Lap 20, Pumpelly’s crew reported “we’re getting close,” and by the next lap had taken the car off the jack stands after the car had fired. After some difficulty securing the window net, the #6 re-fired again on Lap 21 and returned to the track 16 laps down. If he turned just eight laps, he’d drop Mayer to last place. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. On Lap 27, when he was just one lap behind Mayer, Pumpelly’s front brakes failed going into Turn 1. The car switched ends, clipping the outside wall before backing hard into a tire barrier. The driver climbed out uninjured, but his race was over.

Finishing 34th ahead of Pumpelly and Mayer was Jade Buford, who qualified a strong 11th in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet, only to break an axle on Lap 18. Ty Gibbs also ended up in the Bottom Five after his transmission failed with just 11 laps to go. Natalie Decker’s race ended in 32nd place when she collided with the spinning Kris Wright during a multi-car pileup.

Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and Josh Bilicki both ran inside the Top 10 late in the final stage, only to drop back in the order. Ware finished 12th in Stage 2 and ran as high as 9th. He then spun out twice in the #17 Nurtec ODT Ford, at one point sliding through multiple signs in the infield, and ultimately took 24th. Bilicki was 5th on the same restart, making the most of a last-minute ride for SS-Green Light Racing, but his #07 Insurance King Chevrolet broke a track bar in a late-race incident with Brett Moffitt and Ryan Sieg, dropping him to 29th.

Further up the lineup, Tommy Joe Martins recovered to finish 15th in his #44, his best run since Darlington and third-straight finish of 20th or better. Kaz Grala took 18th in his first XFINITY start of the year, this time in Jordan Anderson’s #31. And Timmy Hill followed up getting MBM’s #42 into its first race of the season with a 20th-place run, holding off Alex Labbe by just under a second. This was Hill’s best series finish since Talladega, when he ran 13th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #6 in a XFINITY Series race since April 9th of this year, when Ryan Vargas was involved in a mid-race crash. The number had never before finished last in a XFINITY race at Road America.
*The 11 laps completed by Pumpelly are the most by a XFINITY Series last-place finisher at Road America. Prior to Saturday, no last-place driver had turned more than 2 laps, including two occurrences (2014, 2020) where they didn’t complete the opening lap.

36) #6-Spencer Pumpelly / 11 laps / crash
35) #8-Sam Mayer / 12 laps / crash
34) #48-Jade Buford / 16 laps / suspension
33) #81-Ty Gibbs / 34 laps / transmission / led 2 laps
32) #23-Natalie Decker / 38 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (1)


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