Sunday, October 24, 2021

CUP: Handling woes drop Chad Finchum below minimum speed at Kansas; Parker Kligerman impresses in 20th

PHOTO: @StartAndParkCar

Chad Finchum picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #66 Smithbilt Homes Toyota fell out with handling issues after 47 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Finchum’s sixth career start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup race since September 27, 2020 at Las Vegas, 40 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 55th for handling issues, the 65th for the #66, and the 172nd for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 83rd for the #66, the 126th from handling, and the 367th for Toyota.

Last year, the Tennessee-born Finchum was showing steady signs of improvement. While he failed to qualify for his first attempt at the Daytona 500, he scored six finishes inside the Top 20 during his third season running the majority of the XFINITY Series schedule for Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management. These runs were capped by a career-best 11th in the fall race at Talladega and a 16th in Kentucky. By September, he was making his first Cup starts since 2018, all three of which in a second MBM entry that had been Timmy Hill’s “throwback” car at Darlington. The #49 ran no better than 35th, and twice dropped out with mechanical issues.

In 2021, Finchum has been much less present in the XFINITY Series. He’d made just six starts in the series heading into the October Kansas weekend, but again turned in a strong run with a 15th in Charlotte. There was also only a one-off attempt on the Cup side, when the series returned to the Nashville Superspeedway. 

After failing to qualify for the XFINITY race, Finchum started Nashville’s Cup race in a Toyota the team bought from Joe Gibbs Racing last year. Finchum ended up dropping out of the race due to a vibration, one that seemed to be due to the steering box. After the box was replaced, J.J. Yeley ran the car at Las Vegas, where he had the same issue, citing handling problems that made the car difficult to drive. This drew the team’s focus to a custom-made adaptor made so their bearings could fit the car’s spindles. Finchum would again drive this car in Kansas, where it was decorated in the same scheme from Nashville. The team certainly hoped the issue from both Nashville and Vegas had been resolved.

At Kansas, as at Nashville, Finchum would be teamed up with the second MBM car, the #13 Brown & Brown Dealer Services Ford of David Starr. Starr’s car ran the same paint scheme he campaigned on the #66 last week in Texas, but with the numbers and sponsors changed. Finchum would roll off 37th, one spot ahead of Starr.

Rolling off 40th and last was Parker Kligerman, who was likewise making his first Cup start in some time. Following a successful ad campaign with at Watkins Glen, the company rejoined Kligerman at Gaunt Brothers Racing, placing QR codes for $1 hoodies on each corner of his #96 Toyota. The result would be Kligerman’s first Cup start since Texas n November 3, 2019, and the first for the Gaunt Brothers since this past August in Daytona.

Pre-race penalties sent three drivers to the rear, including 19th-place Chase Briscoe for unapproved adjustments on his #14 DeKalb Ford. Technical inspection also caught both 31st-place Ryan Newman in the #6 Violet Defense Ford and 35th-place Quin Houff in the #00 Creek / Chariton Chevrolet. Houff’s car failed inspection three times, meaning he’d have to serve a pass-through penalty after the green flag. Joey Gase also surrendered 39th on the grid to drop to the rear in the #53 Donor Network Chevrolet, but Houff crossed the line in last place, 3.862 seconds back of the leader to Gase’s 3.764.

On the first lap, Gase pulled away from Houff in the high lane as Houff made it down pit road, completing the circuit 18.364 second back of the leader and 11.732 behind Gase. He returned to the track on the apron to start Lap 3, letting the leaders go by to lap him. As Houff blended back into traffic, B.J. McLeod pitted his #78 NASCAR Ignition Ford, citing a tire rub. McLeod took last from Houff as he dropped two laps down, and there was a close call in Turns 3 and 4 when Denny Hamlin broke loose as McLeod ran the inside of a three-wide battle in traffic. Soon after, the caution fell for a pop-up rain shower, giving Houff the Lucky Dog as the field stopped on pit road under red.

Under the red flag, McLeod’s crew talked about making further repairs to the right-front fender, then the left-rear quarter panel. This was done when the race went back to caution, where one crewman brought out a baseball bat to make the repair. Too many crewmen were over the wall for this stop, and McLeod had to drop behind the only car that was trailing him, Ryan Preece, who was soon after shown with damage to the nose of his #37 Louisana Hot Sauce Chevrolet. With that, McLeod now took the green as the only driver off the lead lap, and Houff back on the same lap as the leaders.

During this run, Chad Finchum’s #66 was the last driver on the lead lap, and on Lap 19 was already 15.771 back of the leader, 6.225 back of 38th-place Gase. Finchum was about to lose a lap to the leaders when Kyle Busch slowed in Turns 1 and 2 after he bounced off the wall due to a flat tire on his #18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota. Busch dropped to 39th on Lap 24, then gained a few spots back during the ensuing pit stops before taking 39th again following a second stop under yellow. McLeod also earned one of his two laps back with the Lucky Dog.

Finchum (center) pulls behind the wall after
he was parked by NASCAR.
PHOTO: @DnfRacers

Back under green on Lap 38, Finchum was black flagged by NASCAR for not meeting minimum speed. The driver would later report that he could only stay at full throttle for two laps until the tires came up to temperature, and that each lap after the car was pushing too tight in the corners. He was 38th when he pitted for adjustments, just as Brad Keselowski made an unscheduled stop for a cut tire following contact with the wall in his #2 Discount Tire Ford. As Keselowski dropped into the Bottom Five, Finchum took last from McLeod on Lap 42 and returned to the track three laps down, soon to be four down. By then, the crew had bolted on four tires with white rims in place of the usual black.

On Lap 51, NASCAR radioed Finchum that he had failed to meet minimum speed a second time, and would have to pull into the garage, done for the day. The message was quickly relayed by the team, and he was shown pulling into the garage on Lap 53, just as still another Playoff driver in Martin Truex, Jr. made it to pit road with a flat right-rear tire on his #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota. In the garage, Finchum debriefed with his team, saying he didn’t feel a vibration and the steering worked well, even saying he had Top 25 speed before the car started skating around the track. On Lap 72, NASCAR officials mistakenly declared Houff out instead of Finchum, a message that was then corrected. Houff finished 35th, 12 laps down.

Finishing 39th was Justin Haley, who along with Spire Motorsports teammate Corey LaJoie ran a fictional paint scheme from the 1983 film “Stroker Ace.” Haley’s #77 Circle B Diecast Chevrolet, resembling the car of character Aubrey James, lost the engine after 165 laps. Corey LaJoie ran 25th in Stroker’s #7. Anthony Alfredo took 38th after his #38 Speedy Cash Ford hit the frontstretch wall. Ryan Blaney looked assured of a solid rank in the Playoffs until contact from a sliding Austin Dillon put his #12 Menards / Cardell Cabinetry Ford into the outside wall in Turn 2, ending his race. 

Rounding out the group was Ryan Ellis, back in the Cup Series for the first time since November 6, 2016. Following last-lap contact from Cody Ware in this year’s XFINITY race where Ellis spun out of a good finish, the Rick Ware Racing team put Ellis in their #15 Arrowhead Brass Chevrolet, which ended up the last car to finish under power. 

Parker Kligerman Finishes Fast 20th For Gaunt Brothers

The most surprising run in Sunday’s race belonged to Parker Kligerman, who after the aforementioned 40th-place starting spot surged toward the Top 20. With five laps to go in Stage 1, he was in 17th spot, the last car on the lead lap. After race leader Kyle Larson lapped both he and Chase Briscoe, Kligerman caught and raced him for the Lucky Dog, prevailing in a close finish at the stripe. Kligerman remained in 17th on Lap 108, and while he did lose a lap for a second time, he held on to finish in 20th. This was the best finish for the Gaunt Brothers since Harrison Burton ran 20th at Talladega this past spring, and the best for Kligerman in a non-superspeedway race since he ran 13th for Swan Racing on November 3, 2013 – his Cup debut.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #66 in a Cup race at Kansas since October 21, 2018, when Timmy Hill’s turn in the #66 Ternio Toyota ended with a blown backup engine after 3 laps.
*This marked the first time a Cup driver finished last at Kansas due to handling issues since October 22, 2017, when Derrike Cope fell out after 35 laps in the series debut for StarCom Racing.

40) #66-Chad Finchum / 47 laps / handling
39) #77-Justin Haley / 165 laps / engine
38) #38-Anthony Alfredo / 171 laps / crash
37) #12-Ryan Blaney / 224 laps / crash
36) #15-Ryan Ellis / 254 laps / running

1st) Rick Ware Racing (6)
2nd) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing (3)
4th) Front Row Motorsports (2)
5th) Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (5)


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