Saturday, October 2, 2021

XFINITY: Early engine trouble leaves David Starr last; Brandon Brown breaks through with first career win

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon

David Starr picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Sparks 300 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #61 Whataburger Toyota fell out with engine trouble after 20 of 107 laps.

The finish, which came in Starr’s 230th series start, was his third of the season and first since Atlanta, ten races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 20th for the #61, the 152nd for Toyota, and the 268th from engine woes. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 32nd for the #61, the 366th for Toyota, and the 1,109th from engine issues.

Starr was originally scheduled to attempt both the XFINITY and Cup Series races at Talladega, but that changed late in the week when Rick Ware Racing driver James Davison took over his Cup #66 with sponsorship from Rich Mar Florist. The swap prevented Starr from making his first Cup start on the superspeedway, but Saturday held the potential for a good finish, as he’d earned in 2014 with TriStar Motorsports, finishing 9th. His best run since his most recent last-place finish also came on a superspeedway at Daytona, where he ran a season-best 14th. He’d start 28th on Saturday.

Taking 40th and last was Joe Graf, Jr., the last-place finisher last week in Las Vegas, in the #07 G Coin Chevrolet. He’d be joined in the back by 8th-place Justin Haley, whose Kaulig Racing team incurred a strange pre-race technical infraction relating to how the decals were applied to his #11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet. The infraction resulted in both a tail-end penalty and a pass-through after the green flag. Both Graf and Haley rolled off ahead of 39th-place starter Joey Gase, his first race back since his hard crash in last Sunday’s Cup race. Gase’s #52 Sparks Energy / Cross Eyed Owl Ford, entered under Jimmy Means Racing, rolled off 4.262 seconds back of the lead. The lineup for the tail end, their intervals, and original starting positions were as follows:

31-37) #90-Caesar Bacarella 3.042
32-35) #17-Garrett Smithley 3.199
33-27) #78-Mason Massey 3.286
34-38) #99-J.J. Yeley 3.564
35-30) #5-Matt Mills 3.676
36-36) #74-C.J. McLaughlin 3.803
37-34) #66-Jason White 3.953
38-40) #07-Joe Graf, Jr. 3.996
39-8) #11-Justin Haley 4.135
40-39) #52-Joey Gase 4.262

Coming down to complete Lap 1, Jason White in the #66 CMR Construction & Roofing / A-Game Ford had dropped to 40th place coming off Turn 4 with Haley just in front of him. Haley pulled down pit road, opening a half-second gap between White and the rest of the cars in front of him. Haley returned to the track 29.129 seconds back of White and 33.215 seconds back of the lead, hoping for an early caution. He wouldn’t get one, and by Lap 7 his team wasn’t sure he’d be able to stay on the lead lap by the end of Stage 1 on Lap 25.

Further ahead, White passed Graf for 38th on Lap 5, and four laps later both passed C.J. McLaughlin in the #74 Integrated Recycling Tech Chevrolet. This group then caught and passed Starr, whose car was starting to lose power. On Lap 10, when Starr took over 39th, he was already 2.082 second back of McLaughlin and reported just 7200 rpms. “It just started slowing down on me,” Starr said over the radio. All the while, Haley was gradually reeling in Starr until he passed him entering the tri-oval on Lap 16, dropping the #61 to last. This was the same moment the leaders caught the pair to put them a lap down. While Starr dropped back, Haley blocked then-leader Brandon Jones to stay up front.

As Starr dropped back, the team called him to pit road, where the crew looked under the hood. They found a loose plug wire, reattached it, and sent him back out two laps down. Back up to speed, the car ran between 7700 and 7800 rpms, and the spotter reported the engine sounded better. But on Lap 21, Starr’s car slowed a second time, and two circuits later the driver reported “I think the motor’s lowing up.” With just two laps to go in Stage 1, Starr pulled to the apron, then pit road, and turned into the garage area. By then, it was the last lap of the stage, when contact from Brandon Brown caused a hard Turn 3 crash between Sam Mayer in the #8 QPS Employment Group Chevrolet and A.J. Allmendinger in the #16 Gold Fish Casino Slots Chevrolet. While there was an indication Starr might come back out to pass the two drivers, the MBM crew reported “We’re done” on Lap 28, and NASCAR confirmed they were out on Lap 29.

Landon Cassill finished 37th with engine trouble on his #4 Voyager Chevrolet early in the final stage. Bayley Currey rounded out the Bottom Five after his #15 JD Motorsports Chevrolet stopped on pit road with a broken drive shaft.

Brandon Brown Scores First XFINITY Series Win

Brandon Brown, who scored his first career last-place finish this past August in his 108th start, scored his first XFINITY Series win in his 114th series start. In the closing stages, Brown’s #68 Larry’s Lemonade Chevrolet worked its way to the lead past the high-powered Joe Gibbs Racing entry of Brandon Jones and JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier. The trio were three-wide when a wreck brought out the caution amid approaching darkness. Laps later, the race was called early, and Brown was victorious.

Finishing 5th was Jordan Anderson, who competed in both the XFINITY and Truck Series races on the same day and was pushing Brown to the front in the final laps. His best run in 17 previous XFINITY starts was 15th at Michigan earlier this year, and Saturday was only his fifth start as an owner-driver in the series.

Joe Graf, Jr. was also working his way through the field on the inside line and finished 10th, rebounding from his last-place run in Las Vegas with his first career Top Ten finish in his 60th career XFINITY start. Graf’s previous best finish was 11th in this year’s opener at Daytona.

Blaine Perkins turned heads when he won Stage 2 in Our Motorsports’ #23 Circle B Diecast Chevrolet, bringing teammate Brett Moffitt to a runner-up finish in the process. Perkins survived the late-race hijinks to finish in the 13th spot, one place behind Jade Buford in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet.

Taking 15th was Joey Gase, who completed his return from Vegas with his best finish since the 2019 opener at Daytona, earning another much-needed Top 20 for team owner Jimmy Means as they continue to search for sponsorship.

40) #61-David Starr / 20 laps / engine
39) #16-A.J. Allmendinger / 24 laps / crash
38) #8-Sam Mayer / 24 laps / crash
37) #4-Landon Cassill / 50 laps / engine
36) #15-Bayley Currey / 73 laps / drive shaft

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

1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (1)


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