Friday, September 17, 2021

XFINITY: Brett Moffitt’s return from illness ends swiftly in Bristol

PHOTO: @OurMotorsports

Brett Moffitt picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Food City 300 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #02 Fr8 Auctions Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident after 9 of 306 laps.

The finish, which came in Moffitt’s 57th series start, was his second of the season and first since the March 20 race in Atlanta, 20 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #02, the 357th from a crash, and the 579th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st for the #02, the 1,273rd from a crash, and the, 1,805th for Chevrolet.

With Bristol as the site of the XFINITY Series’ regular season finale, Moffitt tweeted before the race, “One more shot. One more opportunity. We’re gonna fight to the finish! Let’s go!” Indeed, Moffitt’s team had been one of the series’ best to not yet reach victory lane, building on an equally impressive 2020. Two races after the last-place run in Atlanta, Moffitt was 8th in Darlington – the team’s fourth of eight Top Tens so far in 2021. But wen he was feeling ill headed into this month’s return to Darlington, Ty Dillon was called in as a last-minute replacement, and would fill in again the next week in Richmond. Bristol would be Moffitt’s first race back since, and he’d roll off in 20th.

Starting 40th and last on Friday was Bayley Currey, who returned to Mike Harmon Racing’s #74 Date Mining / JM Steel Chevrolet. He’d be joined at the back by two others for driver changes – Michael Annett had re-aggravated his leg injury, putting him out of the Playoffs and Josh Berry back into his #1 Pilot / Flying J “Thank A Trucker” Chevrolet. Carson Ware was also swapped into J.J. Yeley’s listed ride in Rick Ware Racing’s #17 Pounds Property Management Chevrolet. But during the pace laps, Currey’s team expressed concern with 39th-place starter Gray Gaulding, who they said was trailing smoke from his #52 Panini American / UFC Prizm Chevrolet. 

When the race started, Currey and Berry had moved up to the 38th and 37th spots, respectively, as two more drivers had dropped to the tail end of the field. B.J. McLeod was set to start 37th in JD Motorsports’ unsponsored #15 Chevrolet, but took the green in 39th, 4.359 seconds back of the lead. Jesse Little, running McLeod’s own #78 David’s Electric Chevrolet, surrendered 25th on the grid to take over last spot, 4.607 seconds back of the lead. 

It was Little who held last place on Lap 5 with McLeod up to 37th, Currey to 34th, and Gaulding’s no longer smoking #52 up to 33rd. By Lap 7, Little had dispensed with Carson Ware, whose #17 now sat 11.789 seconds back of the lead and a half-second back of Little. Moments later, Jeffrey Earnhardt cut a tire and came down pit road for an unscheduled stop, putting his #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet off the lead lap. As he got back up to speed, the caution flag came out, earning him the Lucky Dog.

This caution was for Moffitt, who while running 19th would later report either the right-front tire had gone down or something happened to the lower control arm behind the wheel. Regardless of cause, the result was clear – the #02 cut straight across the track and pounded the outside wall in Turn 2. The car rolled to the garage trailing sparks, the first car out of the race. Moffitt was checked and released from the infield care center. Ty Dillon, Moffitt’s relief driver and now teammate at Our Motorsports, continued his strong summer run n the #23 Home Town Lenders Chevrolet. Dillon took 15th at the finish, the first car one lap down. Ironically, this was his worst finish in the five past starts with the team.

Taking 39th was Landon Cassill, whose #4 Voyager Chevrolet suffered electrical issues after 40 laps. Bayley Currey’s own run had vaulted him toward the Top 25 in the early laps, but brake issues put him out after 53 laps, leaving him a disappointing 38th. The same issue ended the night for Ryan Vargas, whose #6 JD Motorsports Chevrolet dropped off the pace and took 37th. Matt Mills rounded out the group after his #99 J.F. Electric Chevrolet was turned after contact from Spencer Boyd’s #90 Alloy / Beerpongtoss Chevrolet. This resulted in one of the night’s many memorable moments as Mills threw a water bottle at Boyd that instead ricocheted off an emergency vehicle.

After starting 39th with the reported smoking issue, Gray Gaulding stayed on the lead lap and in the Top 20 for most of the race. He took the green in overtime running 15th before contact from Ty Dillon ultimately dropped him to 18th at the finish, the fourth driver one lap down. While just one spot short of both driver and team’s season-best run of 17th at Mid-Ohio, this was arguably the best overall performance for each, and at a critical time. As of this writing, Jimmy Means Racing is still looking for sponsorship for the final five races of 2021.

Also of note was the surprising performance of open-wheel star Sage Karam, who chose to make his second-ever XFINITY Series start – and first not on a road course – at Bristol. Driving once again for Jordan Anderson in the #31 Montage Mountain Chevrolet, Karam had issues on pit road before the field rolled off to start their pace laps, then struggled outside the Top 30. Late in the event, when leaders Noah Gragson and Justin Allgaier both incurred tail-end penalties for speeding on pit road, Karam bounced between the two faster cars as they tried to claw their way through the field. By the end, Karam crossed the line in 16th – the Anderson team’s best run since Michigan.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #02 in a XFINITY Series race at Bristol.

40) #02-Brett Moffitt / 9 laps / crash
39) #4-Landon Cassill / 40 laps / electrical
38) #74-Bayley Currey / 53 laps / brakes
37) #6-Ryan Vargas / 94 laps / brakes
36) #99-Matt Mills / 108 laps / crash

1st) B.J. McLeod Motorsports (5)
2nd) Mike Harmon Racing (3)
3rd) DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Our Motorsports, RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
4th) Brandonbilt Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Toyota (7)
3rd) Ford (1)


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