Saturday, August 14, 2021

XFINITY: Rogue turtle eliminates multiple frontrunners on Lap 1, leaving Brandon Jones last


Brandon Jones picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Pennzoil 150 at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit when his #19 Menards / Atlas Toyota fell out with crash damage without completing any of the 62 laps.

The finish, which came in Jones’ 191st series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since July 9, 2020 at Kentucky, 40 races ago. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st for the #19, the 150th for Toyota, and the 354th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 80th for the #19, the 361st for Toyota, and the 1,265th from a crash.

After a 2020 season of highs and lows where he scored three series wins, but missed the Championship Four, Jones is now competing in his fourth season with Joe Gibbs Racing. Coming into Indianapolis, he remained winless through the first 20 races, but still in Playoff contention thanks to seven top-five finishes with a season-best runner-up to Myatt Snider at Homestead. In practice, Jones ran 11th-best of the 44 entrants and qualified 12th with a speed of 95.831mph (1 minute, 31.624 seconds). 

With the return of qualifying came a large list of DNQs – eight in total. This included Bayley Currey in the #74 Date Mining Chevrolet, Loris Hezemans in the Reaume Brothers’ #33 Hezeberg System Chevrolet, and Gray Gaulding in the #52 Chevrolet. Two multi-car teams also saw multiple entries miss the cut. The slower half of Johnny Davis’ team were Ryan Eversley in the #6 JD Motorsports Chevrolet and Mike Skeen in the #15 JD Motorsports Chevrolet, plus three of the four Motorsports Business Management entries: Stephen Leicht in the #13 Jani-King Toyota, Giorgio Maggi in the #42 MBM Motorsports Toyota, and Matt Jaskol in the #66 Lift Kits 4 Less Toyota.

Rolling off 36th and last was J.J. Yeley, who was twice swapped back into the #17 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. The most recent change came after word that Max Papis, originally slated to make his first NASCAR start since 2013, was sidelined after a positive COVID-19 test. Four drivers joined him in the rear for unapproved adjustments: 24th-place #8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet of Sam Mayer, 27th-place Kyle Weatherman in the #47 PORAC Chevrolet, 19th-place Austin Dillon in the #23 K&L Ready Mix Chevrolet, and 33rd-place Landon Cassill in the #4 Voyager Chevrolet. Not sent to the rear were two other entries with driver changes during the weekend – 25th-place Chase Elliott in for a returning Michael Annett in the #1 Allstate Peterbilt Group Chevrolet and 34th-place James Davison in for Kyle Tilley in the #5 ERA Motorsport Chevrolet. Annett had not fully recovered from his leg injury suffered last month while Tilley was nursing a shoulder injury following Watkins Glen.

When the green flag dopped, Cassill was the last across the stripe, 6.552 seconds back of the lead and nearly a full second back of the now 39th-place J.J. Yeley, 5.586 seconds back of first place. Ryan Sieg was also struggling on the first lap, and his #39 CMR Construction & Roofing / A Game Ford was ultimately shown 19.24 seconds back of the lead by the completion of Lap 1. Both Sieg and Yeley had missed driver intros, dropping each to the back once again. By then, however, neither Sieg nor Yeley was anywhere near last place.

On Saturday, Bob Pockrass tweeted that NASCAR and the track had originally planned to place four bright yellow “turtles” – or speed bumps – in the run-off of Turn 6. Three “turtles” were directly off the track surface with one a carlength further to the left, each perpendicular to the track. The reason was to keep drivers out of the grass, which has already damaged cars at multiple tracks, and off the run-off area itself, which had been deteriorating. Ultimately, the decision was made to remove the three “turtles” closest to the track, leaving one remaining yellow bump near the far edge of the run-off area. Despite the peculiar arrangement, drivers were made aware of the one remaining “turtle,” and everyone managed to avoid hitting it during practice and qualifying.

On the opening lap, the presence of the lone “turtle” in Turn 6 did nothing to prevent the leaders from using the run-off area. A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier used it to contest Ty Gibbs for 3rd. Behind them, Noah Gragson pulled out even further toward the grass with Riley Herbst behind him, forming another line to the left of Allmendinger and Allgaier. Following Gragson and Herbst was the #20 Dex Imaging Toyota of Harrison Burton, who had himself been forced to the outside by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Hemric in the #18 Poppy Bank Toyota – just in time for Burton to run over the “turtle” at full speed. The next four cars behind all ran over the same bump – Preston Pardus in the #90 Chinchor Electric / Danus Chevrolet, Brandon Jones in the #19, Brandon Brown in the #68 BMS Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick in the #99 Unibet Official Sportsbook Ford. Further back, Alex Labbe spun in the #36 Globocam / Prolon Controls Chevrolet as Josh Bilicki pounded the “turtle” in the #07 CNC Swiss Chevrolet sent both into a spin, and Bilicki was stalled on the track.

In all, seven drivers found trouble in Turn 6, many with significant damage to the nose of their cars and to the equipment beneath. By the time Lap 1 was completed for the ensuing caution, Bilicki, Pardus, Jones, and Brown had not completed a lap with most of them coming down pit road. Bilicki was now classified last for a reported drive shaft issue that turned out to be a broken shock and sway bar. Brown came to pit road with a significant vibration on Lap 2, and reported his car wouldn’t re-fire. Jones was then seen being pushed to the garage area, done for the race under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” 

Jones took last on Lap 3, and after Pardus completed his first lap on Lap 4, pulled behind the wall along with Brown. Harvick was also pushed behind the wall on Lap 4, but NASCAR deemed his issue was mechanical even though he ran over the same curb. The #99 crew attempted repairs until Lap 27, when NASCAR declared Harvick out with power steering issues. Ryan Sieg rounded out the Bottom Five after a difficult start where he soon cut down a left-rear tire and had to pull off at Turn 7 when the tire had come apart completely. First Labbe, then Burton and Bilicki all managed to clear the “Crash Clock” and finish 13th, 9th, and 25th, respectively.

Finishing a strong 10th was road race ace Andy Lally, who took the wheel of B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ #78 Lemons of Love Chevrolet. Lally’s late-race charge came hours after it was revealed he would replace Kyle Tilley in Sunday’s Cup race for McLeod and Matt Tifft’s team Live Fast Motorsports, putting Lally into his first Cup field since 2011. 

Prior to Lally’s charge with 16 laps to go, Spencer Pumpelly was running in that same 10th spot in JD Motorsports’ #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet. This, as NBCSN reported, was the same car Pumpelly backed into the tire barriers at Road America, resulting in a last-place finish. Unfortunately for Pumpelly, he slipped to 24th by the finish, the first car off the lead lap.

*This marks the third straight XFINITY last-place finish where Jones has failed to complete the opening lap, joining June 28, 2020 at Pocono and July 9, 2020 at Kentucky. Combined with still another last-place run at Kentucky on July 8, 2017, when he also did not complete a lap, Jones has now broken a tie with Joe Bessey for the most last-place finishes with 0 laps complete in XFINITY Series history. Bessey’s three finishes occurred May 7, 1988 (Nazareth), May 13, 2000 (New Hampshire), and April 21, 2001 (Talladega).

36) #19-Brandon Jones / 0 laps / crash
35) #90-Preston Pardus / 1 lap / crash
34) #68-Brandon Brown / 1 lap / crash
33) #99-Kevin Harvick / 1 laps / power steering
32) #39-Ryan Sieg / 14 laps / suspension

1st) B.J. McLeod Motorsports (5)
2nd) DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Motorsports Business Management, RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Our Motorsports, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Toyota (6)
3rd) Ford (1)


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