Saturday, September 11, 2021

XFINITY: Minimum speed penalty leads to C.J. McLaughlin’s accident; Tommy Joe Martins nearly victorious in Stage 1


C.J. McLaughlin picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Go Bowling 250 at the Richmond Raceway when his #74 Sci Aps Chevrolet was involved in a two-car accident after 111 of 250 laps.

The finish, which came in McLaughlin’s 14th series start, was his first of the year and first since November 7, 2020 at Phoenix, 25 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 14th for the #74, the 356th from a crash, and the 578th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 54th for the #74, the 1,270th from a crash, and the 1,803rd for Chevrolet.

Saturday marked just the third start of the season for McLaughlin, who after running for B.J. McLeod Motorsports and RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing in 2020 made a pair of runs for Motorsports Business Management this summer. Bringing his sponsorship from Sci Aps, McLaughlin made his season debut at Atlanta in the MBM #66, but was relieved during the event by teammate David Starr, who crossed the line in 37th. McLaughlin himself completed the next round in Loudon, finishing 37th once more, but this time in the garage area with electrical issues.

McLaughlin trailing smoke at the start.
PHOTO: @adamncheek

For Richmond, McLaughlin would drive for still another team in Mike Harmon Racing, whose #74 entry has struggled for sponsorship in recent weeks. Bayley Currey started the season in the car, looking to build on a solid 2020 where he and teammate Kyle Weatherman showed improvement. At first, he seemed to pick up where he left off, finishing 7th at Phoenix and leading laps at Martinsville. But Currey failed to qualify for four of the next 17 races, and was swapped out of three more starts for Jesse Iwuji, Dawson Cram, and Carson Ware. By Richmond, Currey had moved to JD Motorsports in the #15, making way for McLaughlin. McLaughlin drew the 39th spot for Saturday under metric qualifying.

Taking 40th and last on the grid was Akinori Ogata, who for the first time would drive for Jimmy Means Racing. Ogata also missed driver introductions, incurring a redundant tail-end penalty prior to the start. Ogata’s #52 Kyowa Precision Chevrolet would be joined by two other entries due to mid-week driver changes: the #02 Fr8Auctions Chevrolet of 19th-place Ty Dillon, who was again called in for Brett Moffitt following his medical issue at Darlington, and 28th-place Bayley Currey, who after running Harmon’s #74 was swapped in for Colby Howard in JD Motorsports’ unsponsored #15 Chevrolet.

When the field rolled off pit road, McLaughlin radioed that he had clutch issues, and was smoking during the pace laps. He reported his clutch pedal wasn’t working, and was soon stopped on the track. He made it to pit road by the start, and had to be pushed behind the wall around Lap 2. The crew discovered McLaughlin had run over something on the track which had knocked some lines and fittings off his transmission, causing the car to lose transmission fluid. Looking for more fluid and a replacement plug, the crew went to work, but on Lap 25 they believed the issue would take too long to fix. Mike Harmon pointed out the car could start and run without the clutch, and walked his driver through the steps. After checking to make sure no fluid was on the tires, the engine re-fired on Lap 30, and he returned to the track.

Meanwhile, Stephen Leicht had issues on his #61 Jani-King Toyota, and had come down pit road with the hood up. Five laps down on the 32nd go-round, the team looked over the tie rod, and addressed a concern where the driver felt his wheel was five inches left of where it had been at the green flag. On Lap 38, Leicht incurred a tail-end penalty for too many crewmen over the wall, though at the time many teams had difficulty hearing radio traffic from NASCAR officials. Coming to the restart, Leicht was in front of Currey, and Leicht wanted a message sent to the #74 team warning them that his car was running off the pace.

Stephen Leicht with the hood up early.
PHOTO: @RPPM353660

From there, both Leicht and McLaughlin logged laps in the final two positions. Leicht reported his car wasn’t turning any better, and on Lap 66 was black flagged by NASCAR to make further repairs as he’d dropped below minimum speed. These repairs required a trip to the garage area, and the crew changed tires before returning to the track on Lap 87, by then 28 laps back of the leader. At the time, McLaughlin was still rolling, and had drawn within 5 laps of dropping Leicht to last place. Leicht then incurred a second tail-end penalty for too many crew members over the wall.

Things stayed the same until Lap 144 – just six laps before the end of Stage 2 – when NASCAR posted McLaughlin for not maintaining minimum speed. This required a stop like the one Leicht had served, and the crew made preparations. However, the spotter had issues finding a hole for the #74 to make it to pit road. On Lap 147, McLaughlin suddenly slowed, perhaps from a mechanical issue, and cut two lanes across the track to make it to pit road. Unfortunately, Jade Buford was already committed to the inside line, and McLaughlin collided with the right-front of Buford’s #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet. “We’ve got something going down,” said McLaughlin’s spotter, relaying the message quickly. “We’ve got something broke. We’re done.”

McLaughlin made it to pit road, and was soon pushed behind the wall. The driver apologized for the incident with Buford, but both the spotter and Harmon were upset with NASCAR for black flagging their car so close to the end of a stage, when they couldn’t make it safely to pit road. Regardless, the #74 didn’t return to the track and was done for the day. Buford continued on with the damage suffered in the incident, finishing four laps down in 36th to round out the Bottom Five. Leicht climbed to 38th place to finish under power, moving past Landon Cassill, whose #4 Voyager Chevrolet suffered an ignition failure and stalled at the entrance to pit road. 

Tommy Joe Martins turned in the most surprising run of the day, debuting the same #44 Alpha Prime Chevrolet paint scheme that he’ll campaign full-time in 2022. Using a fresh set of tires, Martins clawed his way from 24th on the grid to pass A.J. Allmendinger for the lead near the end of Stage 1. Martins led five laps, only to be edged by Allmendinger for the stage win after Martins was blocked by David Starr, whose #66 Sharelife Vacations / Helluva Ranch Toyota was fighting to stay on the lead lap. Martins restated back in the pack, and after recovering from a spin, was eliminated with a tire failure that put him in the wall. He finished a disappointing 37th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #74 in a XFINITY Series race at Richmond since September 5, 2014, when Kevin Lepage’s #74 Kengor Metals Dodge crashed after 2 laps of the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.

40) #74-C.J. McLaughlin / 111 laps / crash
39) #4-Landon Cassill / 179 laps / ignition
38) #61-Stephen Leicht / 220 laps / running
37) #44-Tommy Joe Martins / 227 laps / crash / led 5 laps
36) #48-Jade Buford / 246 laps / running

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

1st) Chevrolet (17)
2nd) Toyota (7)
3rd) Ford (1)



NASCAR said...

One of the paragraphs says Chad Finchum in the #61 instead of Stephen Leicht. This is causing some confusion for me.

Brock Beard said...

Corrected - thank you for the heads-up. It was indeed Leicht.