Sunday, August 15, 2021

CUP: Cody Ware’s historic double-duty weekend ends with late-race incident

PHOTO: @bobpockrass

Cody Ware picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Course when his #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet fell out with a “crash” as the listed cause after 46 of 95 laps.

The finish, which came in Ware’s 45th series start, was his first of the season and first in Cup since May 11, 2019 at Kansas, 84 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 30th for the #51, the 617th from a crash, and the 812th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 43rd for the #51, the 1,266th from a crash, and the 1,798th for Chevrolet.

Last weekend was perhaps the busiest yet for the ever-growing Rick Ware Racing organization. North of the border, RWR fielded two cars in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series at Trois-Rivières – one each for Andrew Ranger and Alex Guenette. The rest of the organization was in Indianapolis, where they had a combined seven entries across the three combined NASCAR and IndyCar events. Cody Ware, would be the only driver from either series to start both the Cup and IndyCar events on the same weekend.

Cody has himself expanded his racing resume. He stepped away from NASCAR for much of 2020, instead competing in sports car racing overseas. He parlayed that into his first 24 Hours of Daytona start earlier this year, taking fourth in class in a Ligier LMP2 shared with Salih Yoluc, Austin Dillon, and Sven Muller. IndyCar – through a partnership with Dale Coyne Racing – came next at Road America, where he finished 19th of 25 entries in his first open-wheel start. He then took 20th in last week’s crash-marred Nashville inaugural, and Saturday at Indy finished 25th in a large field of 28, two laps down to Will Power.

With these extra laps, Cody looked to improve on Sunday. It was on a similar infield road course at Charlotte last year that he scored his first career top-ten finish in the XFINITY Series, taking home 7th despite heavy rain. In practice, he ranked 37th of the 40 entrants, and remained 37th in qualifying with a lap of 95.797mph (1 minute, 31.656 seconds).

Rolling off 40th and last was Timmy Hill, who was back in a Cup Series ride with Motorsports Business Management for the first time since the Pocono double-header in June. Hill’s #66 AAW Luxury Cars / Toyota was not joined by any other penalized driver, and started alongside Garrett Smithley in RWR’s #53 Jacob Companies Ford. At the start, Hill was 5.12 seconds back of the lead, and Smithley pulled open a two carlength advantage through the first couple corners. 

By the time the leaders crossed the yard of bricks under green for the first time, Hill had moved past Anthony Alfredo, who was originally 3.909 seconds back of the lead at the start. Alfredo’s #38 Elliott’s Custom Motorcoaches Ford had reportedly been in an incident with Ryan Newman in the #6 Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs Ford, causing damage to the right-front corner of Alfredo’s car. The crew estimated he may have broken the right-side sway bar, which caused his car to go straight at Turn 7, then roll to the right afterwards. “The story of my freaking season!” shouted Alfredo, who apologized to his crew. By Lap 5, Alfredo complained that his car was “undriveable,” and his team asked if he could ride it out until the end of Stage 1 at Lap 15. Alfredo chose to stay out, saying “I don’t like to give up – it’s not in my vocabulary.” The team remarked Alfredo was “driving his ass off,” and he reached the end of Stage 1, earning the Lucky Dog to briefly rejoin the lead lap.

Alfredo on pit road with noticeable damage to the nose.

By the time Alfredo reached pit road, it was apparent he’d suffered significant damage in the tangle with Newman. On top of the sway bar, the splitter had been ripped away, and the driver’s side corner of the hood had buckled. He lost three laps for repairs, but managed to return to the track in last place. His only other challenger during the stage was Brad Keselowski, who for the second-straight week struggled tremendously on a road course. Keselowski’s #2 Discount Tire Ford spun and backed into the wall off Turn 13, then started smoking from the left-rear as the green stayed out. This forced a second stop, dropping Keselowski to 39th on the same lap as Alfredo. Keselowski met minimum speed on Lap 31, and Alfredo pulled out of the way of faster traffic as he reached the end of Stage 2. Keselowski still ranked 39th, and thus earned the Lucky Dog.

Cody Ware didn’t enter the last-place battle until Lap 46, when he slipped to 38th. The team reported contact from Aric Almirola’s #10 Mobil 1 Ford had sent them into a spin, and also cut an oil line. Ware pulled onto pit road with a vibration, but wasn’t informed that he was now on the “Crash Clock” under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy” During a second stop on Lap 49, he pulled behind the wall, and NASCAR reported “51 to the garage, DVP.” “We’re on DVP – we’re on DVP,” said someone on the crew. Then, “Go ahead and hop out. We’re done.” On Lap 51, Ware took last place from Alfredo, and despite the cut oil line was then declared out by NASCAR for an “accident.”

Finishing 39th was Andy Lally, whose first Cup start since November 6, 2011 saw him earn stage points for an 8th-place run in Stage 2. However, his #78 Blacktop Mojo Ford suffered mechanical issues in the final stage, dropping him to 39th with rear gear trouble. He did all this while driving in relief of Kyle Tilley, who was forced to hand over the wheel due to a shoulder injury. Alfredo climbed to 38th before suspension issues ended his day. Moments later, the first of two frightening accidents in Turn 6 filled the Bottom Five – Daniel Suarez in the #99 CommScope Chevrolet and Christopher Bell in the #20 Stanley Tools Toyota.

A.J. Allmendinger took a surprising victory following a late-race tangle between leaders Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe, the first Cup win for Kaulig Racing – and the first for an “open” team in the era of the Charter System (Kaulig has acquired two Charters for 2022). This is Allmendinger’s first Cup victory since August 10, 2014, when he gave JTG-Daugherty Racing their own first checkered flag at Watkins Glen.

Erik Jones finished a season-best 7th in the #43 Petty’s Garage Chevrolet, improving on their only other two top-ten finishes of 2021 – a 9th on the dirt at Bristol and a 10th in Las Vegas.

Driving his familiar #77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet, Justin Haley finished 8th for his first Cup Series top-ten finish since his own upset victory at Daytona back in 2019 for the same Spire Motorsports team.

Austin Cindric, who scored a convincing win in Saturday’s XFINITY race, finished 9th – his career-best finish in his 7th and final Cup start of the season before he goes full-time for Penske Racing in 2022.

Further back, there was also some good news for Rick Ware Racing - Josh Bilicki took 18th in his #52 Saved By The King Ford, setting a new career-best Cup finish to best his pair of 23rd-place runs this season at Martinsville and Road America.

*This marks the second-straight last-place finish for the #51 team, which has scored at least one last-place finish in five straight seasons. The number had never before finished last in any of the 27 runnings of the Brickyard 400 (on the 2.5-mile oval).

40) #51-Cody Ware / 46 laps / crash
39) #78-Andy Lally / 55 laps / rear gear
38) #38-Anthony Alfredo / 68 laps / suspension
37) #99-Daniel Saurez / 77 laps / crash
36) #20-Christopher Bell / 77 laps / crash

1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
2nd) Spire Motorsports (3)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Ford (7)
3rd) Toyota (3)


No comments: