Saturday, October 9, 2021

XFINITY: Gray Gaulding breaks a gear at brutal “Roval;” Preston Pardus finishes career-best 7th

PHOTO: @mhrracing

Gray Gaulding picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Drive For The Cure 250 Presented By Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” when his #74 GPS Tab Chevrolet suffered a rear gear failure after 10 of 68 laps.

The finish, which came in Gaulding’s 65th series start, was his second of the season and first since Darlington, five races ago. In the XFINITY Series standings, it’s the 15th for the #74, the 15th for rear gear issues, and the 581st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 45th for rear gear trouble, the 55th for the #74, and the 1,810th for Chevrolet.

Coming into Saturday’s race, Gaulding had made just one XFINITY Series race since the last-place showing at Darlington. This happened to be the night race at Bristol, where he turned in a sterling 18th-place showing, just one spot short of his season-best 17th in Mid-Ohio. The run also came at a perfect time for Jimmy Means Racing, which has had to scale back Gaulding’s schedule to bring on other drivers with sponsorship. 

For the “Roval,” Gaulding would run for Mike Harmon Racing in the #74, the same entry he rove in the rain-soaked 2020 running. That evening, Gaulding finished 9th in Stage 2 after a tight battle with Jade Buford, then worked his way into the Top 5. He ultimately finished 28th, dropping out with electrical issues not long after a penalty for missing the chicane. The 2021 race was also run with the possibility of rain, and Gaulding was invited back. He’d run what was reported to be an oval-track car, still bearing the black-and-white scheme that C.J. McLaughlin has run in recent weeks. GPS Tab was the sponsor in place of McLaughlin’s backer Sci Aps. The car would roll off 39th.

Rolling off 40th was Austin Hill, who just four days earlier announced he would not return to Hattori Racing Enterprises’ Truck Series team in 2022. With his final two Truck starts still to come up at the end of this month, Hill would also complete his part-time XFINITY effort with HRE in sharing the #61 Toyota with Motorsports Business Management, this his first start since the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit.

Ultimately, Hill would roll off in 37th place as three other drivers dropped to the rear. The only one to incur a pre-race penalty was Michael Annett, who this week announced he would retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of this season. In a late summer derailed by a stress fracture in his leg, the “Roval” marked Annett’s first XFINITY start since Richmond in September. Josh Berry, who took Annett’s car to victory lane in Las Vegas and had been entered for Saturday, would be on standby.

Annett took the green in 39th behind Matt Mills, who surrendered 26th in the #5 Thompson Electric Toyota, and Kyle Weatherman. Weatherman’s #47 Axe Crossbows Chevrolet had issues during the pace laps and took the green 17.966 seconds back of the leader, more than 12 seconds back of 39th-place Annett, who was 5.244 seconds back of the lead and two-tenths back of 38th-place Mills.

When the race started, Tommy Joe Martins was involved in an incident coming off Turn 8 (entering the first turn of the oval), causing significant damage to the nose of his #44 AAN Adjusters Chevrolet. Martins kept going as the trailing Weatherman passed him for 39th. But Martins was struck by a passing Will Rodgers during his spin, causing a flat tire on Rodgers’ #26 Good Rx / Race To End Hep C Toyota. Rodgers spun in the backstretch chicane and stopped as both Martins and Weatherman got by, dropping the #26 to last place. 

Rodgers changed tires and returned to the track just before the caution fell on Lap 2 for trouble in the infield off Turn 6. Sage Karam’s spin in the #31 Black Ops by Ric Prado Chevrolet. This led to a collision between Brett Moffitt in the #02 Home Town Lenders Chevrolet and Jade Buford in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet. Moffitt continued on with Karam while Buford remained stalled, eventually passed by both Martins and Weatherman with Rodgers still some distance behind.

On the Lap 5 restart, Martins’ damaged Chevrolet remained in last place, several seconds back of the next car in line. On Lap 7, he was 14 seconds back of new 39th-place runner Matt Mills. The next time by, Justin Allgaier was struggling with brake issues on his #7 Brandt Chevrolet when he smacked the Turn 2 wall while running among the leaders. Repairs dropped him to the tail end of the field, where he and Martins remained until the caution fell on Lap 10.

Gaulding was running near the back of the field around the 35th spot when he overdrove the backstretch chicane. He locked the brakes and soon came to a stop near the end of the chicane, leaving two long tire streaks behind him. Unable to get going again, the caution fell, and two service trucks came out to help. Someone on the team noticed rear end grease as the car was brought behind the wall on Lap 13. Brett Moffitt had also pitted his damaged #02 under this same caution, and went behind the wall a lap later for a part to be re-welded to his Chevrolet. This place Gaulding in last, one lap back of Moffitt.

On Lap 13, someone on Gaulding’s crew radioed “Broke a gear. We’re done.” NASCAR confirmed he was out on Lap 26. Moffitt returned to the track two laps later and ended up passing just two more cars before more smoke from his car ended his run. He finished 37th in the running, one spot behind Ryan Vargas with a snapped axle on his #6 MaintenX Chevrolet.

Finishing 39th was Kris Wright, who appeared to have broken a track bar in the rear of his Sam Hunt Racing-prepared #15 First National Bank Toyota, and was ultimately retired with suspension issues. Josh Bilicki, whose flight was cancelled, forcing an all-night drive from Chicago just to start, saw his race end after just 28 laps. Bilicki’s #07 Cover Seal Chevrolet lost the brakes into the backstretch chicane, and when the driver cut left to avoid hitting the cars in front, his splitter dug up an entire row of bolted-down rumble strips, ripping out the underside of his car. The resulting oil leak, combined with the damaged strips, forced a lengthy red flag. NASCAR declared Wright and Biliki were out on Lap 33.

Until the last lap of the race in overtime, it appeared several surprising names would share the spotlight. When the race restarted, Sam Mayer was hounding race leader A.J. Allmendinger in his #8 QPS Employment Chevrolet. Sage Karam had bounced back for his early spin to run 7th, having briefly flirted with a Top Five. Ty Dillon ran 6th in Our Motorsports’ #23 Koucar Management Chevrolet, continuing a strong summer into the fall for both driver and team. 

On the last lap, Mayer blew the backstretch chicane, forcing a stop-and-go penalty that opened the door for Dillon to reach 3rd while Karam dropped to 11th behind an advancing Josh Williams in the #92 Workpro Tools Chevrolet. Entering the frontstretch chicane, Williams was spun to an 11th-place finish by a closing Ty Gibbs in the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, triggering a logjam that caused other drivers to spin. Among them was Dillon, who dropped back into the clutches of Karam. Karam spun Dillon as the #31 cut short the final chicane, forcing Karam to attempt a stop-and-go just short of the finish line. NASCAR handed Karam a 30-second penalty, dropping him to 25th, one spot ahead of Dillon. Also collected was last week’s winner Brandon Brown, whose #68 American Petrolog Chevrolet ended up weaving backwards across the finish line in 22nd.

Escaping this chaos was Preston Pardus, who escaped with a career-best 7th in his #90 Chinchor Electric / Danus Chevrolet. In this, only his 13th career XFINITY start, Pardus now has three top-ten finishes, joining a 10th in last year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix inaugural and an 8th at Road America. As it happens, Pardus had just days earlier clinched a massive Spec Miata win on the same Indianapolis course during the SCCA Runoffs.

*This marked the fourth last-place run for Mike Harmon Racing in 2021 – all four have come with the team’s flagship #74: Bayley Currey at Talladega and Texas, then C.J. McLaughlin in Richmond. The MHR #47 hasn’t finished last in the series since the September 26, 2020 race in Las Vegas.

40) #74-Gray Gaulding / 10 laps / rear gear
39) #15-Kris Wright / 19 laps / suspension
38) #07-Josh Bilicki / 28 laps / crash
37) #02-Brett Moffitt / 30 laps / crash
36) #6-Ryan Vargas / 47 laps / axle

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, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (1)


No comments: