Saturday, October 16, 2021

XFINITY: Competitive Texas garage battle settled by J.J. Yeley's fractured engine

PHOTO: @RickWareRacing

J.J. Yeley picked up the 12th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 335 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #17 DFW Security Chevrolet dropped out with engine trouble after 37 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Yeley’s 349th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since November 2, 2019 at Texas – this same race two years and 65 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #17, the 269th from engine trouble, and the 582nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 49th for the #17, the 1,110th from engine issues, and the 1,811th for Chevrolet.

While trying to make ends meet in the Cup Series, Yeley has remained competitive in the XFINITY Series. He’s both limited DNFs and at times even challenged for Top Tens. Last year, he helped Jimmy Means Racing in the first three races of the season, finishing no worse than 25th each time. He also ran 26th for the Hattori Racing Enterprises / Motorsports Business Management effort at his home track in Phoenix. His best run of the year came in Homestead, where he took 11th for Bobby Dotter’s SS-Green Light Racing. He even led 5 laps at Martinsville en route to a 14th-place finish – his first laps led in the series since 2018.

This year, Yeley’s XFINITY Series schedule has expanded thanks to a technical alliance between SS-Green Light Racing and Rick Ware Racing, the latter his most frequent ride in the Cup Series. Texas would mark the 11th time in 14 starts Yeley would run one of the team’s two cars. He ran 12th with them in Homestead, 13th in Phoenix, and 13th again in the August race at Daytona. He also ran 14th at Dover for Our Motorsports and earned back-to-back Top 20s for B.J. McLeod at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval. Only twice all year had Yeley finished worse than 24th – a 29th in Richmond, an a 37th in Las Vegas. The Vegas race saw Yeley run a powerful ECR engine that vaulted him into the Top 20 in the early laps, only to be eliminated in a multi-car pileup not of his making.

At Texas, Yeley would roll off 33rd with new sponsorship from local business DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) Security. It would be his first XFINITY race at the track since 2019, when he ran a “start-and-park” entry for RSS Racing.

Starting 40th and last was C.J. McLaughlin, back behind the wheel of Mike Harmon Racing’s #74 Sci Aps Chevrolet. During the pace laps, McLaughlin thanked his crew, saying in part, “We'll have a good race out here and finish strong.” With one lap to green, he was advised that another car was coming off pit road just before the start. This was 23rd-place starter Jeffrey Earnhardt, who made an unscheduled stop in his #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet. With no drivers sent to the back for pre-race penalties, this put Earnhardt to McLaughlin’s inside in the final row. 

McLaughlin (left) and Earnhardt (right) in the
final row taking the green at Texas.
SCREENSHOT: Texas Motor Speedway

The only other driver who dropped back prior to the start was 35th-place Mason Massey. According to intervals, Massey’s #5 Gerber Collision & Glass Toyota crossed the line behind 36th-place starter David Starr in the #66 Whataburger Toyota and 37th-place Joey Gase in he #52 Donate Life Texas Chevrolet.

From the start, McLaughlin reported a serious tight condition that already dropped him behind the rest of the field by open track. “Feels like the track bar’s broke,” he radioed on Lap 3. By the sixth lap, McLaughlin’s crew reported he was hitting the splitter, so the crew would make adjustments under the planned competition caution for Lap 20. McLaughlin continued to lose ground so quickly that he was lapped by the 10th circuit, at which point he was 6.170 seconds of now 39th-place Gase. The #74 made it to the competition caution, when the driver reported his car was “plowing like a dump truck,” stating further “it’s like the track bar is gone, the rear end is moving around so much.”

On Lap 23, McLaughlin made his stop under caution with the other lapped drivers. The crew looked under the hood for the splitter issue, then could only glance under the rear of the car before he returned to the track. He then incurred a speeding penalty and came back in for packers to be placed in the left side. This second set of repairs caused him to return to the track just before the race restarted, forcing him to run on the apron of the track. At the same time, the caution fell out again for multiple cars in trouble. Sam Mayer’s #8 Tire Pros Chevrolet had a tire rub from left-rear contact caused by Jeb Burton. Landon Cassill’s #4 Voyager Chevrolet shut off and stopped on the apron. And Jade Buford’s #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet went behind the wall with axle and drive plate issues. After a push from a tow truck, Cassill joined Buford in the garage two laps later. The lap after - the 28th of the day - Buford took last from McLaughlin. By then, the #48 team was looking for a broom handle to push out the damaged axle. Cassill returned from the garage on Lap 31, showing four laps down in 39th as McLaughlin had also passed him on track. Over the radio, Cassill’s crew was paying close attention to the #99 B.J. McLeod Motorsports entry of Matt Mills, with whom the team was battling for rank in Owner Points. The #99 ended up picking up points on the #4 with a 32nd-place finish.

On Lap 37, another car stalled on the apron of Turn 4, drawing still another caution. This was for Yeley, who soon fell off the lead lap and plummeted to 38th. The push truck got the #17 back to the garage, where Cassill also returned for a second time, reporting a possible battery issue. On Lap 42, Buford returned to the track with a new axle, showing 17 laps down in last place. If Cassill remained behind the wall, Buford would catch and pass the #4 in just 11 more circuits. But Cassill returned on Lap 45, and just two laps later the #4 passed Yeley, whose crew was still silent on the radio. With Yeley now 39th and last-place Buford now running, the battle for 40th fell to these two drivers. Buford ultimately caught and passed Yeley on Lap 56, one lap before Cassill went to the garage for a third time.

It wasn’t until Lap 75 that NASCAR’s garage official confirmed Yeley was the first driver out of the race, citing engine problems. By then, the driver had confirmed the crank shaft broke, and video was posted of the loose part in the bottom of the engine. Buford made it into Stage 3 before he was collected in a multi-car pileup off Turn 2, dropping him back in the order once more. Cassill returned from his longest stay in the garage, but wouldn’t pass Buford for 38th until Lap 148. Running out of laps to catch 35th-place McLaughlin, who wrecked in the final laps, Cassill exited the race in 36th. Completing the Bottom Five were 38th-place Dylan Lupton in the #26 Toyota Racing Toyota and Tanner Berryhill in the #23 Eclipse Claims Consulting Chevrolet, both collected in the same wreck that eliminated Buford.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #17 in a XFINITY race since March 9, 2019, when Bayley Currey crashed hi #17 Port of Tucson Chevrolet – entered under a different Rick Ware Racing alliance with Mike Harmon Racing – after 30 laps of the IK9 Service Dog 200 at Phoenix.

40) #17-J.J. Yeley / 37 laps / engine
39) #48-Jade Buford / 81 laps / crash
38) #26-Dylan Lupton / 100 laps / crash
37) #23-Tanner Berryhill / 100 laps / crash
36) #4-Landon Cassill / 108 laps / electrical

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

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (1)


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