Friday, December 17, 2021

OPINION: ESPN's Bubba Wallace documentary manages to both intrigue and disappoint

PHOTO: Brock Beard

What was the purpose of making “Fistful of Steel: The Rise of Bubba Wallace?” Fresh off his first career Cup Series win, and on the eve of 23XI Racing’s expansion into a two-car team, Wallace's is very much a story that’s still being written.

If the film’s purpose was to simply to present a biography of Wallace, it largely succeeds. We learn so much about who he is, and both the people and events that have shaped his life. Most revealing are the interviews with his parents, who during their marriage attempted to reconcile two very different outlooks on life. We see the direct effect on Wallace himself, especially when his parents offered contradictory advice about how to handle a traffic stop. Their divorce, and the subsequent estranged relationship between Wallace and his father, remains a subject so sensitive that all three won’t talk about it, shedding new light on Wallace’s battle with depression.  

Racing, then, must have been an escape for Wallace and the film does a good job chronicling most of his rise through the ranks of stock car racing. His success in the Truck Series dovetails perfectly with the included biography of Wendell Scott, and we see how much Wallace’s success means to the Scott family – especially his 2014 win in a Scott “throwback” scheme.

This is the strongest part of the film because it clears up two misconceptions some outside the sport have about Wallace. First, Wallace is a skilled driver who has won on some of NASCAR’s toughest tracks. And second, well before 2020, Wallace was popular with both fans and drivers. Yes, Wallace does share stories about his negative experiences with law enforcement. But, in the first hour or so, there are no stories of competitors intimidating him, nor of fans booing him. In fact, we see him take pictures with everyone.

Unfortunately, this part of the film also leaves out other significant moments of his career that highlighted both his personality and his unique place in the sport. The film incorrectly states the 2018 Daytona 500 was his Cup debut, leaving out any mention of 2017. This prevents us from reliving his entire XFINITY career, which put him in position to relieve an injured Aric Almirola at Richard Petty Motorsports. There is no mention of his Cup debut at Pocono, where his closest friend Ryan Blaney scored his first win with the Wood Brothers, nor images of the two celebrating in victory lane as young stars driving two of NASCAR’s most iconic rides. In fact, Blaney is never mentioned, nor interviewed. There’s not even an account of Wallace’s hard-fought victory in the 2019 Monster Energy Open, nor other examples of him outperforming for a small team.  


Was this film intended to settle once and for all what happened at Talladega in June 2020, and to make clear to Wallace’s detractors how those events differed from the recently decided case involving Jussie Smollett? If this was the film’s intent, it failed. 

The events of 2020 – and especially Talladega – are so integral to Wallace’s story that they could be the subject of an entirely separate documentary. It is no mystery that those few days in June – not Wallace’s race – are why he has become a controversial figure in the eyes of so many. That single event changed him, or perhaps revealed a side of himself we never saw. We don’t know which because the entire chapter is compressed into the film’s last fifteen minutes.

Approaching this properly would have required asking some difficult questions. Did Wallace tie the knot in his garage door pull? No – and the footage of the stall from 2019 proves this. Did Wallace make the initial report to NASCAR? No – he wasn’t even aware it had been reported until Steve Phelps contacted him. But it is undeniable that Wallace dismissed the FBI’s findings and continued to state the garage door pull was, in his words, “a straight-up noose.” At the very least, that is a controversial stance to take, and worth a few follow-up questions. Equally controversial was the interview where the Wallace family alleged that the FBI’s findings were nothing more than a “conspiracy theory.” Again, this is not discussed further.

The film also fails to hold NASCAR accountable for their baffling decision to release a public statement about the “noose” during an ongoing investigation. Even with Steve Phelps in the room, we don't get the story. It’s never asked why NASCAR didn’t consult their own video footage showing the same knot next to Paul Menard’s car the previous October (which also meant Wallace’s car was parked in a different stall). The fear that accompanied the racial strife of that spring does not excuse this. The sanctioning body should have handled this incident with more care, not less – particularly with the then-ongoing Smollett case fresh in everyone’s mind. Instead, NASCAR created a scenario where if they were wrong – and they were – Wallace would be blamed for it – which he was – and comparisons to Smollett – no matter how unjustified – were certain to happen. 

The media also escapes unscathed despite their role in furthering the misinformation that day - perhaps not all that surprising since ESPN joined in the chorus. Yes, COVID-19 regulations at the time prevented media members from accessing the garage to actually see the garage pull in question. But, like NASCAR, that meant they had to be more careful in their reporting, not less. 

When NASCAR first broke word about the “noose,” ESPN’s Ryan McGee was among the many media members who let his outrage overcome his objectivity. He published an open letter to the person responsible for the alleged crime, and in his overzealousness invoked the rhetoric of a lynch mob: “And if you were hiding in plain sight among those in that image,” he closed, “then your time among them is numbered because the hunt is on. You know it too.” It must also be said that, when the FBI subsequently reported no hate crime had occurred, McGee was one of the only media members to apologize, and in his video posted that week made a call that journalists should “pump the brakes.” 

Sadly, most others in the press did not follow McGee's example. They expressed no contrition for their rush to judgment and assumed no responsibility, even though they had implicated crew members, emergency personnel, and NASCAR officials who were the only people even allowed in the garage that weekend. This, too, didn’t make it into the documentary, despite McGee’s significant involvement in the project.

With so much left unresolved, we – Wallace included – are all now living with the consequences. Tainted are images of one of the most poignant moments in sports as an entire garage rallied around their driver, saying in no uncertain terms, “if you’ve got a problem with him, you’ve got a problem with all of us.” The tragedy of that moment is that, if NASCAR had spontaneously decided to celebrate Wallace the exact same way just one week, one month, or one year earlier, no one would have minded, and it would still be celebrated as it should have been. Shrugging one’s shoulders and saying, “well, thank goodness there wasn’t a hate crime,” does not transport us all into this alternate reality.

When deciding to make this documentary, ESPN had an opportunity - and arguably the duty - to set the record straight about Bubba Wallace and persuade at least some of his doubters to see him in a new light. While Wallace’s biography dispelled some of the more flagrant lies made about him, nothing was done to address his unpleasant truths. By not only failing to do this, but actively making the truth even harder to find, ESPN has not championed justice, but inhibited it.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

PREVIEW: Gary Bradberry on his eventful 1994 ARCA campaign

PHOTOS: Bryan Hallman, BRH Racing Archives

On December 9, I had the opportunity to interview Gary Bradberry to follow-up on my video biography of him from earlier this month. The following is just an excerpt from the one-hour interview, the audio of which will be posted soon to my YouTube channel. This segment focuses on Bradberry's early ARCA career in 1994, including a particularly memorable weekend in Flat Rock.

Was there any significance to running the number 78 or those red paint schemes?

I always loved red and my little brother Charlie loved red, so the only (color) we ever raced was red. And I'll tell you the story on the 78 - I went to work at a motorcycle shop. . .my first Yamaha racing go kart and I got we started selling them at the motorcycle shop and I got interested in the go kart racing. That's how I got into the go-kart racing. So they let me start driving. They had a they had a complimentary shop motorcycle racing team this shop did, and so they decided to promote sales they would start running a few go-kart races to promote the go-kart sales, and they let me drive the go-kart. I'd become their go-kart driver. And that shop - that motorcycle shop - their shop number on the motorcycle and on the go-kart was 78 and that is how I got the 78. I just stuck with it from the from the go-kart racing back when I worked at that little motorcycle shop and that's how the 78 come about. And it was a strange thing though - the Triad Motorsports team that had 78, everybody a lot of people leave until this day thanks that was mine, the Pilot car and the Hanes car was my race team because of the number. But it was just strictly a coincidence that I got hired to drive that car because the number had absolutely nothing to do with that I was hired to drive it.

So, what's this about an ARCA race at Flat Rock in 1994, where your equipment was stolen?

We went to Detroit, to Michigan for the Flat Rock race and we stayed in the Detroit suburbs and normally we carried our our hauler rig which had living quarters in it. But normally, somebody went along with the vehicle, but this particular trip we all went in the hauler rig and the trailer. And we got up there, got our motel, spent the night. We had to be at the track the next morning for practice. It was a one day show, just a one day show. So we got up the next morning and a guy come to my room and asked me why we moved our hauler truck. And I said, 'I didn't move the hauler truck.' And he said, 'Well, it's not there.' I kinda laughed - I thought it was a joke, and I walked outside and the hauler rig was gone, and the awning at the office of the motel was half tore down. And about this time, the motel people are jumping all over us telling us we're gonna pay for that awning, and we don't even know what they're talking about.

Well come to find out, we finally come to reality to figure out the hauler rig has been stolen. The lady in the office said, 'Well, yeah, 'cause y'all left out of here about - somebody's getting in it about four o'clock in the morning, and they didn't make that turn, and they caught the awning on the motel and tore it down. So we realized then what happened. We called the police and there we sat on the sidewalk - the motel was booked that night, we didn't have any room. There we sit on the sidewalk with our luggage and no hauler rig, no nothing. And I was running for points that year and I had a good chance of finishing, you know, second, third, fourth - I was running for the Rookie of the Year was the main thing. And everything we owned - spare motors -  everything we owned, was in that in that tractor trailer. I mean, we were out of business - we was out of the racing business at that time.

And about two hours later, the police pulled up in the parking lot, and told us 'Look, we found your hauler rig, but it's been wrecked, and it's been towed to an impound area,' or whatever you want to call it. So we're thinking if some of the stuff is just still in it, which we didn't have much expectations of that. But they carried us to this impound yard. As far as the hauler rig being wrecked, it was the damage on the trailer from running into the awning overhang at the motel. It had a flat tire on the trailer. The living quarters of the hauler rig had been tore up and the TV and VCR all that stuff was gone. And we went back to the back and opened the door on our trailer, and we had left late and set a new spare motor right in the door, and would you believe the people that robbed us, they never even opened the door on that trailer. Two boxes, motor, everything was sitting right inside that door, so there it had not been touched. So we get on the phone right quick and call and get in touch with somebody at ARCA at the track. It's about lunchtime now there. They're fixin' to practice and we go to the we put a tire on it, we go to the track. ARCA practice is almost over, and they let me have about five laps practice. I go out qualify. I qualify dead last. I start in the rear and we come from dead last and won the race. We took the lead with I don't know 10 or 12 laps I guess to go. What a wild weekend. We never made a change on the car from the time it left the racetrack here. We started the race with it just like it left. So that was a pretty wild weekend. It really was.

Was that the only car you had in ARCA that season?

That was the only short track car I had. That year, we had one short track car, and then we had an intermediate car for you know Atlanta, places like that. Then we had our superspeedway car and that was that was all of our cars. But our spare motor and stuff was in the trailer and our pit stuff---I mean if we hadn't have got the trailer back, we would have been shut down for the rest of the year because I mean everything we owned stayed in that trailer. So that was a miracle that we got that trailer back and that the trailer hadn't been broken into. . .And it was kind of funny, the race started and I had an old dirty wore-out practice suit - driving suit - and I always practiced in it and I put on my new suit for the race. And the guy that crew chiefed and all got aggravated at me, told me I had to change. I said I'm not changing nothing - I said I'm wearing this suit. All I wanna do is get this race behind us and go home. (Laughs) And I won the race and I got that dirty old wore out nasty driving suit in pictures. So I guarantee that was the last thing on my mind was having a shot at winning that race cuz that little track is tough to pass on anyway and then we were starting in the rear. But man, of all times in the car was just great. And it was pretty neat weekend.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

FEATURE: Norm Benning thanks Al Niece for the opportunity after he falls short qualifying for Phoenix finale

With just minutes before the start of Truck Series qualifying for the 2021 season finale, the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix, most of the field had been pushed onto pit road. Most, that is, except a white Chevrolet parked in the shade of AM Racing’s large hauler. The truck with a bold #6 on the doors was still on jack stands with a crew of no more than six working underneath, particularly on the splitter. Among them was Charlie Langenstein, who that same weekend would work his final weekend with the closing StarCom Racing. There was a mallet on the ground, someone’s phone on the deck lid, and a NASCAR official watching everything closely.

It wasn’t great timing on my part to have had that be the moment I’d walk up to the Norm Benning Racing crew with a sticker in hand, but I was determined. The Cup race at Martinsville hadn’t even ended when the team contacted me about getting a sticker on the passenger side b-post. A quick print job by the Jukebox sticker company got the 6-inch-square sticker in my mailbox before my brother and I drove out on Thursday, and 11 hours of driving later, I was there to deliver it to the crew. One of them pointed to Norm’s hauler at the other end of the garage, but I met my contact Jack on his way back. He checked with the official before carefully applying the sticker, and even took the time to photograph me standing by the truck before returning to work.

Of all the seasons through which the 69-year-old veteran from Pennsylvania has raced, 2021 may have been Benning’s most difficult yet. At Kansas, the pickup truck with which he towed his small hauler to the track was stolen, stranding his crew in the garage until a friend could pick them up. While the truck was recovered, it was seriously damaged, and there still more races to run. The truck made it to Gateway, where NASCAR no longer allowed him to run an older nose on his #6, and prevented him from qualifying. Through it all, he still made 13 starts, but five times was parked for not maintaining minimum speed, often with vigorous objections from the driver.

But Phoenix promised to be a different story. Benning wasn’t running his own black #6, but a white Chevrolet prepared in the Niece Motorsports shop. The chassis, built in April 2015, was entered alongside Al Niece’s four trucks for Ryan Truex, Carson Hocevar, Dean Thompson, and Lawless Alan. Three of those four teams had struggled for most of this year while Hocevar made a bid at the Championship Four that fell just short the previous week in Martinsville. Benning brought his crew, transporter, and tools to the track – parked next to Niece’s hauler inside Turn 2. The result was perhaps the best truck Benning had ever driven since he first competed in the series in 2002, and the first time he’d received so much support from a multi-truck team. Niece’s logo was on the tailgate.

There were a couple noticeable details to Benning’s truck. The driver’s name on the rear glass was not pre-printed, but cobbled together from strips of white tape. Just like at Daytona, the rear decklid was covered in underdog “bones” with handwritten names of supporters (a promotion I’d joined before being offered the sponsorship). Among these well-wishers was Kathy Beshears, whose decal was placed beneath a photo of her late father U.S. Navy veteran Stephen Beshears, who died in 2012. In addition to returning sponsors Poppy Packs and Race City Sports Memorabilia, primary backer MDF A Sign Co. had also placed his logo in reflective decals on the truck, anticipating a race under the lights. While the company’s logos have only appeared more recently on the #6, the Florida-based business had been backing Benning since his early years in the series, running the same ketchup-red #57 as his famous Eldora Last Chance Qualifier in 2013.

Benning needed every ounce of speed from his new ride if he hoped to start the race. Phoenix was one of the series’ few races with an actual qualifying session, and 41 teams had answered the call to attempt a reduced 36-truck field. The effort was helped before Friday practice even started as both Spencer Davis Motorsports and Peck Motorsports had withdrawn, meaning just three entries would fail to qualify. Still not a guarantee, but the odds had somewhat improved. They needed to. In practice, Benning ranked just 37th of the 39 drivers who clocked at least one lap. After 29 laps on the oval, he was still 2.238 seconds off the pole. Thus, the crew worked feverishly until there was no time left. After issues in technical inspection, there was even less time to be had.

Benning drew 17th in the qualifying order, between fellow owner-drivers Dawson Cram in the #41 Be Water Chevrolet and Jordan Anderson in the #3 Lucas Oil / Chevrolet. But when it came to Benning’s turn, the truck wouldn’t fire. Other trucks had stalled momentarily as the driver accelerated off pit road, but it was clear something else had happened. Two crew members came up to the driver’s window to help while NASCAR officials waved Anderson out of line to make his run. Benning tried to start the truck again, the starter chirping to no avail. NASCAR waved Hailie Deegan by. Then the engine fired, and the crew walked away. But then it stalled again, and Deegan left for her lap. Finally, the engine fired again, and before Ben Rhodes could be moved around him, Benning was off. 

On his first lap, Benning broke loose, and crossed the line with the engine sounding flat. He tried to make it up on the second, but it was no good. His time of 29.277 second (122.963mph) was slowest of the session, out of the field with Cram and Jennifer Jo Cobb.

The crew walked dejectedly through the infield and back to the entrance of Turn 3, where the qualified trucks parked perpendicular to the pit wall. When I got there, the small group stood together next to a pit box, each on the verge of tears. I decided against doing an interview right away, and told the team how much I appreciated getting the site’s logo on their truck. Benning began to describe that the kill switch was accidentally triggered. At that point, I began to perform the interview.

“Yeah, Ilmor figured it out - there was a problem,” said Benning of the kill switch trip. “They said there was also a problem with the main - it was hanging up, so it wouldn't start. They figured it out. We just - this is a brand new truck and it just wasn't set up for this racetrack. We tried to do what we could in 50 minutes (of practice). I overdrove it going into (Turn) 1 there and it just slid right up the track and you're hanging on at that point, but I ruined both laps by doing it. I boiled the right rear tire off driving it sideways. It's a shame. We came out here to race. We have (ABC, A) Sign Company on here and different people. I want to thank Al Niece for what he did. He was a huge help. But we just - the truck wasn't set up for here.

“It went from wrecking loose to too tight to wrecking loose. We just couldn't fix it in 15 minutes. We tried and we gained on it, but not enough. Then I said the driver overdrove it - I was doing everything but wrecking. I'm gonna get everything I can out of it. But it was a little too far and it ruined the second lap.”

"Al Niece approached me. He's a great guy. And he really, really wanted to help me. I don't know what happened. They had - they decided to bring four trucks here and they were having their issues, so it just snowballed. We had a truck that needed some engineers or something and just didn't happen. They had their hands full. But I can't thank Al Niece enough. . .Like I said, Al's great, just had some issues in inspection and got us behind on everything else we needed to do. Long way to drive. . .I'm just really disappointed right now. I thought I had a great truck.”

Racing is a cruel business, particularly for those drivers and teams on the back half of the grid. It takes a special breed of competitor to persist against such adversity. While Benning may not have been able to start the season finale, it was an honor to be aboard, if only for qualifying. Norm would also like to personally thank Al Niece for the opportunity to drive his truck. The team’s plans for 2022 are still coming together, and we will see the result when Daytona arrives next February.

Monday, November 15, 2021

INTERVIEW: Chris Hacker among new drivers with unique stories in the Truck Series

Following the Truck Series finale in Phoenix, I caught up to Chris Hacker, the last-place finisher of the Truck race at Las Vegas. The Phoenix race saw him secure a last-minute ride with Reaume Brothers Racing in the #33, a team that had no driver listed on the preliminary entry list. Hacker brought sponsorship from Dropout Kings and qualified the truck 31st on the grid – the last driver in on speed. He finished 27th with the truck in one piece.

Yeah, it was it was pretty interesting. We were fighting the truck in practice. We were tight on exit. And then we made a major adjustment which made us super loose on exit. So we kind of went into qualifying blind, but luckily we just made the line, we were able to make it in the race. Still kind of struggling with the same problem - was tight on entry and loose on exits. So, you know, it was pretty good overall. Josh (Reaume), he called me out here to get him into the race and finish the race in one piece. And so I did that job correctly. And so I can't be mad. It's a it was a good way to end the season. We're gonna hang out a little bit in the offseason and then hopefully come back harder next year.

So I drove back to Charlotte. I believe it was Saturday night after Martinsville. And on the way back, I was "Hey, Nate (PR for Hacker and Joe Graf, Jr.), I'm trying to figure out if I should fly home or not" because I live in Indiana currently. And he was like, "Nah - fly home. Don't worry about it. We're gonna focus on next year, yada, yada, yada." And it was like, I think 10 A.M. on Monday, I was at work. And I got a call from Nate. And he was like, "Yo, can you make it out to Phoenix?" And I was like, "Well, why?" Because at first I thought he was wanting me to watch and stuff, and this was a pretty long haul just to watch. So I asked why. And he was like, "Josh needs a driver." And I was like, "Yeah, if you need me out there, I'll be out there." So we made a little joke on Twitter of the 330 likes, because I was running the 33. So that was just a little fun between me and the Reaume Brothers team. But yeah, Josh, he's just a great guy. He, he believes a lot in me, and I can't be more thankful for that. He's helped me learn a lot so far. And hopefully we can definitely put some together next year with all these great teams.

There's organization called UBPN, and they stand for United Brachial Plexus Network. If you're not aware, brachial plexus is nerve damage, pretty much. Mine happened to be from birth. It can (also) happen in motorcycle accidents, stuff like that. But long story short about me - at first, I could only move my fingertips, and then they took nerves out of my calves and ankles and put it in my wrist and my shoulder. So now I have about 50% range of movement in my left arm. UBPN is an organization that spreads awareness about it. And I've done a couple fundraisers for them, trying to raise money for kids. They have a camp every year that all these kids with the nerve damage injury can get together and learn about each other. Weird thing about me is I will put my deodorant on with my right hand on both arms. So when I do it on my right arm, it kind of looks like a chicken wing. And I learned that other kids did that too when I was out there at one point. So we just we just try to raise money just to help some the kids that can't afford it out there. So they can just be able to experience some time with with kids that are just like them pretty much.

It's hard to explain with driving because I have had this my whole life. So, it's the normal for me, I guess you could say. There were some problems growing up. I started running late models when I was 13, and I was really small at the time and so we had to have a different servo in the power steering so I could turn easier pretty much than the average person. So that was kind of a struggle growing up. But now obviously, I don't look like an adult, but I'm pretty much an adult now. So I've kind of been hitting the gym a lot building my muscles, and it hasn't been a problem since then. But my arm will lay on the rib part of the seat, and sometimes they'll like get my pinky going numb because they'll kind of like stop the blood flow a little bit, but we always worked through it, play everything by ear and just keep on keeping on.

Right now, we're definitely looking to do a lot more races next year. I'm obviously still learning. This is the only track I've actually been to twice in my NASCAR career. So obviously still learning. We're pretty sure we can definitely get a half season (in Trucks) for next year, wrapped up before the beginning of next year. If we can get a full season, that'd be great. We've just got to figure out how to get the races sold. We've got to find some great partners who are willing to put their faith in me and stuff like that. But in five years, hopefully I'm winning XFINITY championships by then (laughs). . .It definitely makes me a more well-rounded driver being able to work with a bunch of different teams right now. Next year, I definitely do want to focus on just working with one team, trying to build a connection and trust between each other. So I'm not sure if I'm going to be hopping around in the seat next year. But yeah, I'm just gonna play everything by ear.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

ARCA WEST: Pedroncelli goes three-in-a-row as Love claims championship in dramatic finale

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

by Ben Schneider Guest Contributor

Paul Pedroncelli finished last for the 5th time in his ARCA Menards Series West career in Saturday’s Arizona Lottery 100 at Phoenix Raceway when his #31 Pedroncelli Mobile Bottling Chevrolet suffered brake issues after two laps.

The finish was Pedroncelli’s third in a row and fifth in the last six races.

While his son P.J. emerged as a surprise contender for the ARCA West championship this season, Paul ran a second entry for the Pedroncelli family’s operation at every race this season except the season-opener at Phoenix. Paul primarily appeared in a “start-and-park” role, only running the full distance at Irwindale and the road courses at Sonoma and Portland. He clinched the LASTCAR ARCA Menards Series West Driver's Championship a race earlier at Roseville and ended the season as the only driver with more than one last-place finish.

Prior to the start of Saturday's race, 32nd-place starter Ryan Roulette stalled his #77 Jan's / Bellator Recruiting / Proper Patriot Toyota and was pushed by a tow truck down pit road. Roulette's car fired, stalled again, then fired once more, and along with last-place starter Travis Milburn in the #08 Kart Idaho Toyota caught up to the tail end of the field just before the green.

On Lap 1, Pedroncelli's #31 dropped back to 33rd behind Roulette with Milburn catching him. On Lap 2, he was joined by P.J., who had lost spots after a spin. Pedroncelli, who wore a plain gray driver's uniform on race day, pulled behind the wall on Lap 3 using the first garage entrance off Turn 2 shared with the Truck Series. He parked his car behind a passenger car at the ARCA garage entrance, then quickly headed toward pit road through the XFINITY Series garage. When asked what put him behind the wall, he indicated a vibration, and made a gesture of his hands on a shaking steering wheel.

Following Pedroncelli up the order were Travis Milburn, whose Toyota dropped out with transmission issues after 43 laps. Eric Nascimento retired with crash damage after completing 65 laps, and 2021 LASTCAR ARCA West Championship runner-up Josh Fanopolous pulled out for the same reason after 77 laps. The final car running at the finish was Portland last-place finisher Caleb Costner, who completed 86 laps to round out the Bottom Five.

Going into Phoenix, seven drivers were mathematically eligible for the championship. Jesse Love led the standings ahead of P.J. Pedroncelli, Jake Drew, Joey Iest, and Cole Moore, with those five drivers separated by a mere six points. Trevor Huddleston and Todd Souza were each more of a longshot for the title, with fifteen and twenty-six point deficits to Love respectively.

Pedoncelli pulls behind the wall in the early laps.
Several strong part-time and one-off entries stole the top positions from the championship contenders. Ty Gibbs returned to the West Series after winning the season-opener, bookending the season with Phoenix victories as he led every lap. The highest-finishing championship contender was Moore in tenth, followed by Drew in eleventh.

As Drew crossed the start-finish line, it appeared that he would win the championship by one point, as Love had begun the final lap of the race in fifteenth place. Drew entered the race three points behind Love, and, with a four-point swing, appeared set to take the title away from Love. However, on the final lap, Drew’s teammate Huddleston appeared to lift off the throttle, allowing Love a path around him for fourteenth. With the points tied, Love’s two race wins gave him the tiebreaker over Drew’s zero, allowing the Bill McAnally Racing driver to defend his 2020 championship.

The last-minute swing in deciding the title reminded some fans of the 2008 Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix, in which Lewis Hamilton won the championship by a single point after passing Timo Glock for fifth place on the last lap, stealing the title from race winner Felipe Massa.

For BMR, the championship was the team’s eleventh in West Series history, as well as their third in a row and sixth in the last seven seasons. While his 2022 plans are not yet set in stone, Love intends on running as many ARCA races as possible with Toyota.

34) #31-Paul Pedroncelli / 2 laps / brakes
33) #78-Travis Milburn / 43 laps / transmission
32) #4-Eric Nascimento / 65 laps / crash
31) #21-Josh Fanopolous / 77 laps / crash
30) #08-Caleb Costner / 86 laps / running

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Toyota (1)
3rd) Ford (0)

1st) Pedroncelli Racing (5)
2nd) Young’s Motorsports, Rodd Racing, Kart Idaho Racing, Performance P-1 Motorsports (1)


Sunday, November 7, 2021

CUP: Early crash means early offseason for Bubba Wallace; Joey Gase secures LASTCAR championship

PHOTO: Brock Beard

Bubba Wallace picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Cup Series Championship Race at the Phoenix Raceway when his #23 Door Dash Toyota was involved in a two-car accident after 5 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in Wallace’s 148th series start, was his first of the season and first since June 3, 2018 at Pocono, 130 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 37th for the #23, the 173rd for Toyota, and the 624th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #23, the 368th for Toyota, and the 1,280th from a crash.

Coming into this season, there was no Cup Series team more anticipated than 23XI Racing, co-founded by Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan. Combined with the Toyota Racing Development backing from the shuttered Leavine Family Racing and the Charter from the closed Germain Racing was Bubba Wallace, who parted ways with Richard Petty Motorsports after three full seasons. The team’s sponsorship spots were quickly filled with McDonald’s, Columbia Sportswear, Dr. Pepper, Root Insurance, and Door Dash.

Expectations soared during SpeedWeeks, where Wallace made a bid for the lead in his qualifying race and was among the leaders on the final lap of the Daytona 500 before he was collected in the final-lap pileup entering Turn 3. Driver and team continued to excel on the superspeedways, leading 16 laps in the spring race at Talladega and finishing runner-up for the Playoff cutoff race in Daytona after the disqualification of 2nd-place Chris Buescher. Then came the season’s biggest moment in October’s return to Talladega, where Wallace fought his way to the lead with rain approaching. When the race was called, Wallace’s maiden victory was one of several firsts: the first for sponsor McDonald’s since 1994, the first for longtime crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker, and the first for an African-American Cup driver since Hall of Fame owner-driver Wendell Scott in 1963.

Other than Talladega, arguably the second-best overall race for 23XI took place at Phoenix in March. With then-crew chief Mike Wheeler, Wallace led four laps and raced up to 7th and passed Kevin Harvick during the final stage. It was Wheeler’s gamble to stay out on old tires that dropped the #23 back in the order, though they still managed to salvage a 16th-place finish. While out of the championship hunt for his return to Phoenix, there was the possibility of another strong run to close out the year.

Wallace began the Phoenix weekend with the 13th-fastest time among the 39 entrants in Friday’s lone practice session, clocking in at 133.615mph (26.943 seconds). He improved to a 135.008mph lap (26.665), but the rest of the field also picked up speed, leaving him 25th in the starting lineup.

Wallace after colliding with the wall.
PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,

Taking 39th and last was Timmy Hill, the only driver to not take time in qualifying. In this final race for NASCAR’s “Gen-6” chassis, Motorsports Business Management entered two Cup cars, putting newly crowned 2021 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Champion David Starr in the #13 Bob Menery / Ripper Magoo Toyota and defending LASTCAR Cup Series Champion Hill in the #66 Coble Enterprise / Darn Transport Toyota.

Hill’s chassis was the same one which struggled with various mechanical issues at Nashville, Las Vegas, and Kansas. While Starr qualified 36th ahead of the Rick Ware Racing entries of Josh Bilicki and Garrett Smithley, Hill had incurred a pre-race tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments and elected not to turn a lap. While the session was ongoing, the #66 was on jack stands in its garage stall, the right-front wheel removed. When Hill’s XFINITY entry for MBM failed to make Saturday’s race (where Starr again qualified), Sunday would be Hill’s only start of the weekend. 

The only other driver sent to the rear before the race - also for unapproved adjustments - was Josh Bilicki, a loss of just two spots from his scheduled 37th-place spot in the #52 Boom Mobile Ford. But during the pace laps, it was both Hill and 34th-place Joey Gase in the #53 Donate Life Arizona Chevrolet that dropped to the back, likely after indexing their wheels. The two sped to catch up to the tail of the field, and Hill was again last as they came down pit road to check their speeds. 

When the race started, Hill remained in last place, about one car length behind the field, and Starr fell to 38th soon after. Through Lap 5, Hill was losing even more ground, around two seconds back of the next car in line when his spotter told him to go low in Turns 3 and 4. Entering the corner, Wallace was racing on the outside of a three-wide battle with Corey LaJoie’s #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet on his left-rear wheel, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s #47 Honey Nut Cheerios Chevrolet closing behind LaJoie. Heading into the corner, Stenhouse appeared to get in the back of LaJoie, sending him skating up the track into Wallace, who spun and backed hard into the outside wall. Wallace’s car stopped on the apron, and the driver climbed out, done for the day. “She was rolling,” said someone on Wallace’s channel.

Wallace’s car was towed to the garage through the entrance by the dogleg, and reached the hauler on Lap 15. The rear clip was pushed down, and the left-rear tire was flat. On Lap 24, team PR confirmed with me that Wallace had left the track after he was checked and released from the infield care center. Marty Snider at NBC had been first to the hauler, but left after he was apparently told the same. NASCAR confirmed Wallace was out on Lap 25, though the first radio message was cut off. Around this time, Wallace tweeted "Off season" with a twin beer glass emoji.

Wallace towed to the garage.

On Lap 39, as the 23XI crew cut away the rear of Wallace’s car and prepared to load up, Timmy Hill’s car passed by and pulled into his garage stall. Hill had continued to struggle for speed, falling off the lead lap, citing a serious tight condition. The crew brought out the jack stands and looked under the passenger side, then prepared to return to the race for another run on Lap 61. Hill’s starter failed, and he needed a push-start to get rolling again, which he did on Lap 67. Now 33 laps down, Hill reported his car was even tighter than before, believing they’d have to park if the race stayed green. The team planned to turn three rounds in the track bar, but on Lap 91, Hill reported he was coming back to the garage. He pulled behind the wall, and on Lap 98 was declared out by NASCAR.

Finishing 37th was Quin Houff, in what was the 164th and final Cup start for StarCom Racing. Houff, the defending last-place finisher of the race, drove the #00 Creek Enterprises Chevrolet, a car repaired from Texas. The Martinsville car – sponsored by Sim Seats – was also repaired following Houff’s tangle with Josh Bilicki, and would remain on the hauler as the backup. In the race, Houff lost at least four laps early, then on Lap 129 blew a right-front tire, sending him into the Turn 4 wall. The car was behind the wall soon after, and Derrike and Elyshia Cope left the track while the team finished loading.

Two more single-car accidents eliminated Stenhouse and the #14 Ford of Chase Briscoe, completing the Bottom Five.

Joey Gase – 2021 LASTCAR Cup Series Champion

With Wallace’s last-place finish, Joey Gase secured the 2021 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, prevailing in a four-way tie for the lead with fellow three-time last-place finishers Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Aric Almirola, and Kurt Busch. Gase completed the season with eight Bottom Fives, coming ahead of Stenhouse, Almirola, and Busch’s four. Gase never led the standings until just last week, when he finished last at Martinsville. At Phoenix, he finished the race under power, nine laps down in 29th, second of the four Rick Ware Racing entries. This was Gase’s best finish since last month in Talladega, when he ran 25th.

Gase also happens to be the most recent driver to finish last in the #23 during a Cup race before Wallace on Sunday, which occurred at Darlington on September 2, 2018.

*This was the first last-place finish for 23XI Racing, and the first for the #23 in a Cup race at Phoenix.
*Wallace’s five completed laps set a new record for fewest by a last-place finisher of a Cup race at Phoenix. The previous record was set on November 15, 2009, when Tony Raines ran 6 laps before electrical issues on his #37 Long John Silver’s Dodge for Front Row Motorsports. 

39) #23-Bubba Wallace / 5 laps / crash
38) #66-Timmy Hill / 57 laps / handling
37) #00-Quin Houff / 122 laps / crash
36) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 140 laps / crash
35) #14-Chase Briscoe / 153 laps / crash

1st) Rick Ware Racing (7)
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) 23XI Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (6)


Saturday, November 6, 2021

XFINITY: Last-place battle turns into a confrontation after Jeffrey Earnhardt and Joe Graf, Jr. crash out early in Phoenix finale

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s XFINITY Series Championship Race at the Phoenix Raceway when his #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet crashed after 57 of 204 laps.

The finish, which came in Earnhardt’s 131st series start, was his first of the season and first since July 4, 2020 at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, 53 races ago. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 22nd for the #0, the 359th from a crash, and the 585th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 90th for the #0, the 1,279th from a crash, and the 1,818th for Chevrolet.

Late last year, artificial turf company Forever Lawn signed with Jeffrey Earnhardt and Johnny Davis’ #0 team. The “Black-And-Green Grass Machine” debuted with a 33rd-place finish in Las Vegas, the first round of a three-race deal that expanded to most of the 2021 campaign. Despite a more stable amount of sponsorship, it’s remained a struggle for both Earnhardt and team. His best finish of the year was an 18th at Dover, where he came home two laps down, and three DNQs with five DNFs – four due to accidents – left him a distant 25th in the standings heading into the finale. 

With 42 drivers entered to attempt a 36-car field, the return of qualifying presented another challenge for smaller teams to even take the green flag. Earnhardt ran a solid 24th in the lone practice session with a lap of 127.231mph (28.295 seconds), and while he picked up in qualifying with a best of 128.374mph (28.043), he was in danger of missing the show. The last qualifier of the day was Harrison Burton, whose Joe Gibbs Racing-backed #20 Dex Imaging Toyota was sure to knock Earnhardt out of the field. But Burton had been penalized for a tire-related infraction in pre-race inspection, handing him a tail-end penalty for the start. Following this, Burton put up the slowest lap by far at 114.851mph (31.345 seconds), around three seconds off the pace, which locked Earnhardt into the race.

The six teams who missed the show were Landon Cassill in the #4 Voyager Chevrolet, Stephen Leicht in the #13 Jani-King / Sharelife Vacations Toyota, the #90 Mini Doge Chevrolet of Spencer Boyd, the #61 Coble Enterprises Toyota of Timmy Hill, Joey Gase in Jimmy Means’ nearly undecorated #52 Donate Life Texas Chevrolet, and Ryan Ellis in the #74 Beard Vet Coffee Chevrolet. Ellis had been swapped in for Gray Gaulding on Tuesday or Wednesday, thus eliminating Gaulding from contention in the 2021 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship. While Ellis and team struggled to find speed, three veteran representatives of Beard Vet Coffee still filmed multiple promotional videos with the car and took turns sitting in the driver’s seat.

When the field rolled off during the pace laps, two other drivers incurred pre-race penalties along with Harrison Burton. J.J. Yeley had wrecked in opening practice after an apparent brake failure, destroying the right side of his #07 Firman Power Equipment Chevrolet. With several representatives of the sponsor at the track, Yeley and the SS-Green Light Racing crew prepared the backup, which was the car Yeley ran 16th with last week in Martinsville. New number and sponsor decals were applied, changing it from the #17 to the #07, and Yeley put the car in the field, taking 29th.

Also sent to the back was LASTCAR Championship leader David Starr in the #66 Whataburger Toyota. Starr nearly joined his two Motorsports Business Management teammates after a litany of problems, starting with ignition trouble in the qualifying line that put them on the 5-minute clock. Then the tachometer broke off the dash, and when team owner Carl Long reached in to reattach it, NASCAR deemed that repair an unapproved adjustment, incurring the penalty. Despite the distraction, Starr pulled onto the track and on his first timed lap locked himself in, taking 27th on the grid. 

The early laps of Saturday’s race featured a competitive battle for the 36th spot. Burton started in the final row on Yeley’s inside, but by the backstretch on Lap 1, the two were locked in a three-wide battle with Joe Graf, Jr. in the #17 Model Electronics Chevrolet. Graf and Yeley pulled past Starr by Lap 2, when Burton tried to get under the #66 entering Turn 3. Burton completed the pass the next time by, but Starr was now bearing down on Graf for 35th. 

Starr pulled to the outside of Graf on Lap 5 and passed both he and Ryan Vargas in the #6 Swann Communications Chevrolet. Once Starr passed Vargas, the #6 fell into the clutches of Graf, who passed Vargas on Lap 8. Graf then pulled away from Vargas as Starr began to climb through the field, catching and passing Tommy Joe Martins in the #44 AAN Adjusters Chevrolet. Saturday would be the final race the #44 ran under the Martins Motorsports banner before its 2022 reorganization into Alpha Prime Racing. Despite an unscheduled stop with eight laps to go while running 20th, Martins managed to finish 24th.

Back on Lap 13, Martins was running back in the pack, trying to pass Matt Mills into Turn 3 in a race for 34th with Graf and Vargas trailing them both. Vargas reeled in Graf on the 15th circuit and tried to make a move into Turn 3, but Graf held him off. It wasn’t until Lap 16 that Jeffrey Earnhardt entered the battle as Graf caught him in a new race for 34th. First Graf, then Vargas passed Earnhardt, who took over the spot on Lap 17. Vargas opened the gap over Earnhardt by the 19th lap, and race leader Austin Cindric lapped Earnhardt the next time by, followed soon by Vargas. Now buried in lead-lap traffic, Vargas again opened up the advantage on Earnhardt, growing to a second by Lap 27. Vargas, meanwhile, caught new 34th-place runner Matt Mills on Lap 42. With Stage 1 running caution-free, Earnhardt was about to be lapped a second time just before the Lap 45 yellow, but managed to stay in front of the leaders. 

Under the Stage 1 caution, LASTCAR contender Bayley Currey took over last on Lap 49 following his pit stop in the #15 KSDT CPA Chevrolet. During the same caution, Graf was running a few spots up, but started to slow down the backstretch, dropping to the tail end of the line and taking over last by the Lap 52 restart. 

Earnhardt (far right) waiting for Graf after
Graf's car (far left) was towed to the garage.

Back under green, Mills nearly wrecked during another three-wide battle into Turn 3. While catching his car, Mills dropped to the last car in line, but was still ranked ahead of Graf. Graf then dropped Vargas to last again on Lap 56. He was still classified last on Lap 60, when Earnhardt spun halfway down the backstretch and nosed into the inside wall, drawing the second caution of the night and first for an incident. Earnhardt climbed from his car, done for the night, and took over last place soon after. Earnhardt’s car was towed rather quickly to the garage by Lap 70, where it was parked perpendicular to the JD Motorsports hauler near the second garage entrance. Both front fenders were pushed in and the left-rear tire was flat. The driver returned from the infield care center, followed by several supporters wearing Forever Lawn t-shirts, and I asked the driver what happened.

“Just racing around Joe Graf. Been going on all year,” he said. “You can buy equipment, but you can't buy talent. He can't race like an idiot. I mean, we shouldn't have been back there racing around him - we should have been a little better than that anyway. But it's just unfortunate for the Forever Lawn guys. We wanted to end the season strong and all the guys at JD Motorsports worked real hard. Just a kid who has no respect for anyone else, but himself.”

I asked if other drivers were racing too aggressively. “I mean, everyone's racing hard - it's the last race of the season. We all want to run good - I get it. But we're racing for, like, 30th, I don't know. Joe Graf's always a problem on the track just about any time we're racing with him. But everyone's just hungry, wants to have a good finish. And unfortunately, we got caught up in Joe Graf's mess.”

As fate would have it, Graf would be involved in a second accident, tangling with Sage Karam’s #31 Montage Mountain Chevrolet in Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 99. Graf’s car suffered serious damage to both ends, also done for the day, and arrived in the garage area on Lap 104. Graf’s hauler was just three away from Earnhardt’s, but the tow truck actually dropped the #17 well within sight of the #0 hauler. Thus, when Graf returned from the infield care center to examine his car, it only took Earnhardt a few steps to confront him. 

After the two exchanged words, I asked Graf what was discussed. “I don't know - he's (Earnhardt’s) just upset racing three-wide off Turn 2 there. I thought him and the 47 (Kyle Weatherman) got into it, he came down and wasn't clear, but I don't know, just hard racing three wide off of two at Phoenix.”

I also asked Graf about Earnhardt’s claim it was an ongoing problem. “I don't know why that would be an ongoing thing. I know we had words last year at some point. I thought we moved on from that and everything was good. I certainly didn't mean to wreck him. I have no problem with Jeffrey. I think we usually race pretty good - he might have other ideas, but it is what it is. Move on to next season.”

I then asked Earnhardt what he thought of Graf’s response. “The kid didn't even know he wrecked me. That's how bad he is. He's so bad, he don't even know he's screwed up. Like I said, daddy can keep buying him all the equipment he wants, but can't buy talent. He'll always suck and never realize how bad he is.”

Earnhardt and Graf finished 36th and 35th, respectively. Taking 34th was Stefan Parsons, whose #99 Rich Mar Florist / Springrates Chevrolet was towed to the garage after the engine let go. Jade Buford took 33rd when his early spin in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet was followed by a late-race tangle with Josh Williams in the #92 Josh Williams Hospital Tour Chevrolet. Williams had significant damage to the passenger side of his car and was also eliminated, leaving him 32nd. 

Daniel Hemric shatters “oh-fer” streak in most dramatic way possible

The race – and championship – was won by Daniel Hemric, who after 208 combined Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series starts without a single win broke through in dramatic fashion, prevailing in a bumper-banging photo finish with defending series champion Austin Cindric. Hemric’s two last-place finishes – one each in Cup and XFINITY – pale in comparison to his 10 runner-up finishes in XFINITY alone. Congratulations to Hemric on his victory.

David Starr clinches 2021 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship

Earnhardt’s last-place finish locked up the 2021 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship for David Starr, the only driver with three last-place runs this season. After briefly holding last place in the early laps, Starr began a determined march up to 21st at the finish, crossing the line on the lead lap. I caught up with Starr after the race.

“The most important part for us would have been to make the race - that was important,” he said. “And so that's really what we worked on yesterday in practice. We made about four or five runs and had the wrong air pressures in the tires. Then Carl put more camber in the right front for two laps to make it cut better in the center of the corner. So qualifying, the car would cut, and you'd get back to the gas quicker. Unfortunately, for the race, when the race started, when you lean that tire in and put more camber in, it wears out the inside of the tire. So as you run, the car gets worse. And usually when you run, you want the car to get better. So we were dealing with cording the right-front really bad. And they went to working on the race car from a handling standpoint. And they just kept working and working him and we just kept digging. You know, 21st is not what we want, but. . .the guys did a great job trying to put what we needed in the car to make it a long run car.”

Starr also commented on the challenges he and his team have faced this year, particularly with mechanical issues.

“That's one of the things I really tell my team to work hard on because mechanical failures - you've got to pay attention to the details. Losing engines and stuff like that. You're not a powerhouse team, you don't have all the money in the world, but you still gotta focus on details and watch everything. I'm okay finishing 16th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 20th - I'm okay with that as long as we've maxed out everything we had. When we finish in last, that hurts my feelings. That's what I don't like. It's just the circumstances. It's not what we work every day for but I'll take it.”

*This marked Earnhardt’s second last-place finish in a XFINITY race at Phoenix, following a November 8, 2014 race where, while also driving for Johnny Davis, his #4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet lost the engine on the opening lap of the DAV 200 Honoring America’s Veterans.
*This marked the first last-place run for the #0 in a XFINITY Series race since August 27, 2016, when Garrett Smithley crashed after 2 laps of the Road America 180 at Road America. The number had never before finished last in a XFINITY race at Phoenix.

36) #0-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 57 laps / crash
35) #17-Joe Graf, Jr. / 97 laps / crash
34) #99-Stefan Parsons / 123 laps / engine
33) #48-Jade Buford / 193 laps / crash
32) #92-Josh Williams / 194 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (24)
2nd) Toyota (8)
3rd) Ford (1)


Friday, November 5, 2021

TRUCKS: Strange single-truck accident leaves Lawless Alan last, securing LASTCAR title for Jack Wood

PHOTO: Brock Beard

Lawless Alan picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #45 Chevrolet was involved in a single-truck accident after he completed 11 of 150 laps.

The finish came in Alan’s ninth series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #45, the 171st from a crash, and the 416th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 41st for the #45, the 1,277th from a crash, and the 1,816th for Chevrolet.

As has been asked many times, the 21-year-old Truck Series rookie from Van Nuys, California was born with the name Lawless, chosen after his grandmother’s maiden name. His family’s business Dasher Lawless Automation has pioneered a new brand of parking structure where cars are parked automatically using electronically guided panels. The introductory video on the company’s website features Alan in his #25 late model, running the same blue paint scheme he does today.

Alan got his start in late models just four years ago after scoring the “Young Lions Division” title in Legends cars. A championship in Irwindale came the next year, followed by a 2019 venture into Trans-Am, where he won “Rookie of the Year” and finished fifth in points. The road course experience brought him to stock car racing – first in the present-day ARCA West at Sonoma, where he finished 24th for Bill McAnally Racing. He made four ARCA starts last year, and finished no worse than 12th in any of them.

The logo
on Norm Benning's truck.
PHOTO: Brock Beard

The 2021 season saw Alan’s debut in the Truck Series, picking eight tracks to gain experience. His debut came on the Daytona Infield Road Course, were he raced up to 12th before mechanical issues left him 36th on a rain-soaked track. He drove for Josh Reaume that night, and would again at COTA. From there, he branched out into ovals, starting at Nashville, and moved to Al Niece’s #45 team at Darlington, where he took 27th. His season-best 18th came the following week under the lights at Bristol. Phoenix would be Alan’s first start since Talladega, where one of the day’s crashes left him 38th.

Alan was one of 41 drivers entered to attempt to make the 36-truck starting grid, a list that just before opening practice shrank by two after the withdrawals of both Spencer Davis in the #11 Inox Supreme Lubricants Toyota and Todd Peck in the #96 Holla Vodka Chevrolet. Of the 39 remaining entrants, Alan ran 29th with a speed of 130.676mph (27.549 seconds). He lost speed in qualifying, turning a lap of just 128.949mph (27.918 seconds), meaning he’d have to take a provisional in the 33rd spot.

The three teams who missed the field were Dawson Cram in the #41 Be Water Chevrolet, the #10 Fastener Supply Co. Ford of Jennifer Jo Cobb, and the #6 Poppy Packs / MDS A Sign Co. Chevrolet of Norm Benning. Benning’s truck, prepared in the same Niece Motorsports shop as Alan’s, carried this site’s logo on the passenger side b-post. Benning will be the subject of a separate article.

Qualifying 36th and last was Spencer Boyd in the #20 Hair Club Chevrolet. He’d be joined in the back by 14th-place Tyler Ankrum for an unapproved adjustment on the #26 Liuna Chevrolet and three others who missed driver introductions: 17th-place Johnny Sauter in the #13 Tenda Toyota, 29th-place Jordan Anderson in the #3 Lucas Oil / Chevrolet, and 35th-place Cory Roper in the #04 Carquest Auto Parts Ford. NASCAR had some difficulty getting Sauter to drop to he back before he finally did while coming to the green with Roper now in last place.

Alan's truck shortly after his early wreck.

On the opening lap, Kris Wright in the #02 First National Bank Chevrolet came up the track off Turn 2 and hit the outside wall on the backstretch. Not far behind, Playoff contender John Hunter Nemechek was off the pace in his #4 Pye-Barker Fire & Safety Toyota, and was noticeably off the pace with damage on his driver’s side door. As Roper climbed past two other trucks of Tyler Hill in the unsponsored black #56 Chevrolet and Chris Hacker in the #33 Dropout Kings Toyota, dropping Hacker to last, Wright came down pit road on Lap 3. By then, Hill and Hacker were trailing the field by open ground, and both passed Wright on pit road, putting the #02 in last. Nemechek came down pit road on Lap 7 with the left-front tire flat, costing him two laps. Wright, who now ran by himself, remained in last place.

That changed on Lap 12, when Alan suddenly spun and backed into the outside wall just past the starting line. Under the caution which gave Nemechek his first of two Lucky Dogs, Alan climbed from his truck, which was towed to the garage area through the entrance near the dogleg. I caught up with Alan after he was checked and released from the infield care center.

“Something broke - something in the rear end broke,” said Alan. “My brakes were starting to fail a couple laps prior, but I could still slow down, so we're just gonna do what we could. And then just down the straightaway it snapped and pirouetted me into the wall.” When Alan’s truck was brought to the garage area, all four tires – while flat-spotted – were still intact.

As it happened, Alan had just been announced as one of two drivers who signed full-time rides with Niece Motorsports for 2022, joining Dean Thompson, who finished 21st in his series debut on Friday. “Yeah, so I'm really excited for that,” he said. “That's some good news to come out of this week. Full time next year with AutoParkit and Niece. So ideally, we'd have a little bit more luck than we've had in my in my starts this year, but I'm just trying to run for Rookie of the Year and run for a championship.”

For more on Lawless Alan, check out his website here:

Rear gear troubles knocked out Tanner Gray, leaving his #15 Ford Performance Ford in 35th place. Gray had completed 80 laps, and his truck was loaded on the hauler by Lap 131. Three laps later, Tate Fogleman’s #12 Randco Industries Chevrolet was behind the wall. Fogleman’s battery issues caused his truck to stop on the track, drawing the night’s fourth and final caution. Both Timmy and Tyler Hill were among those pushing the #56 behind the wall on Lap 137, the result of an alternator failure that had dropped them off the pace. Tyler pulled the truck off the track to avoid being involved in an accident. Kris Wright’s damaged #02 rounded out the Bottom Five, seven laps down but still under power.


With Alan’s last-place finish, Jack Wood claimed the 2021 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship as the only driver to score two last-place finishes all season (Pocono and Talladega). I caught up with Wood after he finished the night in 20th.

“It was tough,” said Wood of his night. “It was just tough to figure out the setup with with practice being in the morning and then qualifying and racing at night. Just really tight across the center, chattering the front (tires) all night long. I don't know - it's kind of frustrating because I felt like in qualifying, we had something pretty decent. But just once we got to race time, there really wasn't much to work with. But I got to thank all my guys - even when we show up to the track, and we're not fast, it doesn't mean they didn't work as hard. These guys put their put their blood, sweat, and tears into this team and I'm just excited about next year.

Like Alan, Wood has secured a full-time ride in the Truck Series next year, his with GMS Racing.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #45 in a Truck Series race at Phoenix.
*Alan is the first driver to score their first last-place finish in the Truck race at Phoenix since November 11, 2016, when Spencer Gallagher also crashed out after 11 laps.
*Al Niece's team closes the year with seven last-place finishes - one by the #40, and three each with their #44 and #45. The team's #42, driven by Carson Hocevar, didn't once finish last and nearly qualified for the Championship Four.

36) #45-Lawless Alan / 11 laps / crash
35) #15-Tanner Gray / 80 laps / rear gear
34) #12-Tate Fogleman / 98 laps / electrical
33) #56-Tyler Hill / 106 laps / alternator
32) #02-Kris Wright / 143 laps / running

1st) Niece Motorsports (7)
2nd) GMS Racing (5)
3rd) Rackley-W.A.R., Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
4th) CMI Motorsports, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Roper Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

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


Thursday, November 4, 2021

PREVIEW: Qualifying adds extra intrigue to Phoenix championship weekend will be a B-post sponsor to Norm Benning's #6 on Friday.
PHOTO: @NormBenning6

For the first time, I will be covering the action trackside in the championship race. Among the storylines will be this year’s LASTCAR Championship winners, as all three have come down to the final race of the season. The clinch scenarios for those battles can be found here. So, be sure to stay tuned to my Twitter feed @LASTCARonBROCK all weekend long!

Friday, November 5, 2021 (8:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
TRUCKS Race 22 of 22
Championship Race
Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Josh Reaume

#4-John Hunter Nemechek
#21-Zane Smith
#88-Matt Crafton
#99-Ben Rhodes

There are 41 drivers entered for 36 spots as qualifying returns for the finale, meaning five teams will miss the show.

DRIVER CHANGE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
Jordan Anderson and Sage Karam swap driving duties this weekend with Anderson returning to the Truck Series for just the ninth time in 2021 and first since his 11th-place performance in Talladega. Lucas Oil, the race’s sponsor, jumps on board while 32nd-place Martinsville finisher Karam will instead run Saturday’s XFINITY race (see below).

TEAM UPDATE: #6-Norm Benning Racing
As reported here yesterday, has joined Norm Benning Racing as an associate sponsor this Friday, taking a spot on the b-post of a white #6 Chevrolet. This truck has been prepared in the Niece Motorsports shop, surely an asset as Benning has to make the field on speed. If he does, it will be Benning’s first Phoenix start since 2017.

DRIVER CHANGE: #9-CR7 Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #98-ThorSport Racing
Las Vegas winner Christian Eckes is back in the #98 Curb Records Ford for the finale, his tenth start of the year and first since that night. This again moves Grant Enfinger, 21st in Martinsville, to the #9 CR7 entry, replacing 38th-place Martinsville finisher Colby Howard.

DRIVER CHANGE: #25-Rackley-W.A.R.
Willie Allen’s return to NASCAR at Talladega was not a one-off as he is back in the Rackley-W.A.R. Chevrolet this week, taking the place of 28th-place finisher Josh Berry. Allen has two Truck starts at Phoenix, but none since 2007, when he ran 17th for ThorSport, meaning he has yet to run on the current post-2011 reconfiguration.

DRIVER CHANGE: #32-Bret Holmes Racing
In a year that has seen him early solid XFINITY Series runs with Our Motorsports after a frustrating start for Joe Gibbs Racing while also making a few Cup runs with the Gaunt Brothers, Ty Dillon will on Friday aim for his first Truck start since the 2018 Eldora race. This time, the three-time Truck Series race winner will drive in place of Bret Holmes in his #32 with Southern States Bank as sponsor. Holmes finished 20th last week.

DRIVER SWAP: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Niece Motorsports
The preliminary entry list had no driver listed to take the place of Jesse Iwuji, who ran 30th last week in Martinsville. That changed after the Reaume team contacted Chris Hacker’s agent, and put together a deal with sponsor Dropout Kings to extend Hacker’s part-time season. If he qualifies, this will be Hacker’s fourth series start. Hacker had previously believed his season had ended last week in Martinsville, where he ran a strong 16th in the Al Niece’s #45. That entry will go this week to Lawless Alan, marking his ninth start of the year and first since a 38th in Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Josh Reaume himself will not run this weekend’s finale following a 34th-place finish in Martinsville. In his place will come west coast standout Will Rodgers, whose only previous Truck start was this summer at Watkins Glen, where a drive for Dawson Cram was derailed by early transmission issues after he was forced off-track in the opening laps. 

RETURNING: #44-Niece Motorsports
It was announced this week that Dean Thompson, 11th in this year’s ARCA Menards West Series rankings, would run full-time for Al Niece’s team in 2022. To kick off the effort, Niece has brought back his #44 entry for the first time since Morgan Alexander’s last-place run in Knoxville, and Thompson will run with Thompson Pipe Group as sponsor. Thompson finished 15th in the West race here in March.

MISSING: #49-CMI Motorsports
Not among the entrants this week are either of Ray Ciccarelli’s two trucks. Last week, only the #49 was entered with Roger Reuse, who ran 35th in the #49 Ford. The CMI team’s #83 has not been entered since COTA, and missed all three races where it attempted to qualify, not counting a withdrawal on the Daytona Road Course.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Drew Dollar and sponsor Sunbelt Rentals will close out the year for KBM’s #51 team. Dollar’s best series run of the year remains his 10th-place effort in the Daytona opener. Since then, he’s run no better than 20th with a pair of DNFs in his seven total starts. Dollar takes the place of Corey Heim, who ran 11th in Martinsville.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
After Timmy Hill put up a 10th-place finish in an unsponsored truck at Martinsville, brother Tyler takes the wheel for the eighth time this year and first since his thrilling runner-up to Tate Fogleman in Talladega. The Chevrolet is again listed without a primary sponsor.

MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman is not entered after his 6th-place performance in Martinsville.

RETURNING: #96-Peck Motorsports
Returning to the circuit is Todd Peck, whose lone series start this year came at Pocono, where he brought sponsor Holla Vodka to Cram Racing Enterprises’ #41, yielding a 29th-place finish. This time, Peck is entered in his family’s #96 Chevrolet, whose only two previous attempts this year were a pair of DNQs at Daytona and the spring race in Darlington. Peck has just one Truck start at Phoenix, which came in 2012, but that night he finished a solid 18th for current XFINITY Series team owner Bobby Dotter.


Saturday, November 6, 2021 (8:30 P.M. ET, NBCSN)
XFINITY Race 33 of 33
Championship Race
XFINITY Series Championship at Phoenix
2020 Last-Place Finisher: C.J. McLaughlin

#9-Noah Gragson
#16-A.J. Allmendinger
#18-Daniel Hemric
#22-Austin Cindric

There are 42 drivers entered for 36 spots, meaning six teams will be sent home.

DRIVER SWAP: #13-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER SWAP: #61-Motorsports Business Management
Stephen Leicht and Timmy Hill will swap rides at MBM this week. Leicht, who ran 21st at Martinsville, will drive the #13 with both Jani-King and Sharelife Vacations as sponsor. Hill, whose #13 was eliminated under metric qualifying, will steer the #61 in what he anticipates will be his 16th series start of the year and first since Labor Day weekend in Darlington.

DRIVER SWAP: #17-Rick Ware Racing / SS-Green Light Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
Also swapping cars are Joe Graf, Jr. and J.J. Yeley. Graf carries new sponsorship from Model Electronics as he takes his turn in the #17, following a 15th-place run in Martinsville. Yeley, who finished just one spot behind Graf last Saturday, takes over the #07 with Firman Power Equipment as the listed backer.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-Our Motorsports
Blaine Perkins returns to the site of his XFINITY Series debut with returning sponsorship from Raceline on his #23 Chevrolet. The one-time stage winner at Talladega takes the place of Natalie Decker, who ran a solid 25th on the lead lap in Martinsville.

DRIVER CHANGE: #26-Sam Hunt Racing
Dylan Lupton seeks his fourth XFINITY Series start in these closing months of the season, taking the place of Colin Garrett, who ran 14th at Martinsville. Marques General Contracting is the listed sponsor of the #26 Toyota, which has shown steady improvement all year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #31-Jordan Anderson Racing
Sage Karam’s aforementioned ride swap with Jordan Anderson puts him into the #31 which finished 28th last week with Josh Berry. Karam and the Montage Mountain look to keep the momentum going after finishing no worse than 26th in his first three series starts, led by his 16th at Bristol. Both Karam and Santino Ferrucci, not entered this week, have shown that open-wheel drivers can still surprise in NASCAR. Anderson, meanwhile, has also announced that Myatt Snider will be driving for the #31 team in 2022.

In anticipation of expanding into a two-car team for 2022, RSS has brought back their #38 entry for the first time this year. RSS had previously entered a second car in this year’s superspeedway events with Jason White driving – first under their own collaboration with Reaume Brothers Racing (#23), and then under the Motorsports Business Management banner (#66). This weekend, RSS will bring back their #38 team for the first time since Jeff Green’s 29th-place run at Talladega in June of 2020, and Ryan Sieg will attempt to qualify it. The primary #39 will go to younger brother Kyle Sieg, who returns for the first time since an accident left him 34th in his debut at Dover. Kyle was driving for DGM Racing at the time.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
Preston Pardus survived his first NASCAR oval track start at Martinsville last week, finishing on the lead lap in 18th place. This week, Spencer Boyd will run in his place, having moved over from Jimmy Means Racing’s 30th-place finishing #52 to make way for Joey Gase. Gase will run double-duty with Sunday’s Cup race (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #54-Joe Gibbs Racing
The fleet #54 goes to Truck Series playoff contender John Hunter Nemechek this week with Mobil 1 as sponsor. This will be Nemechek’s fifth start of the season, but his last time out in Texas, he went to victory lane. He takes the place of Ty Gibbs, who finished just 27th in Martinsville after a tremendous four-win season in just 18 starts.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
A litany of mechanical issues at the before the Martinsville race even started soured Mike Harmon’s season debut, where he ultimately finished in 39th. Gray Gaulding this week returns to the #74 for the first time since Kansas, where he himself finished 39th with engine woes.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Eliminated from the Truck Series playoffs in the final laps of last week’s Martinsville race, Sheldon Creed will make just the fourth XFINITY start of his career and first since the 2019 summer race at Daytona, where he ran 34th for JD Motorsports after a late-race crash. Creed and sponsor Global Industrial take the place of Akniori Ogata, who had a career night in Martinsville with a series-best 26th-place finish in only his third series start – one spot ahead of Ty Gibbs.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Stefan Parsons climbs aboard McLeod’s #99 for his first XFINITY race since the Charlotte “Roval,” where he ran the McLeod #78 to a 24th-place finish. Parsons takes the place of Ryan Ellis, who finished 23rd at Martinsville – his second-best of the year behind a 16th at Darlington with the same team.


Sunday, November 7, 2021 (3:00 P.M. ET, NBC)
CUP Race 36 of 36
Championship Race
Cup Series Championship at Phoenix
2020 Last-Place Finisher: Quin Houff

#5-Kyle Larson
#9-Chase Elliott
#11-Denny Hamlin
#19-Martin Truex, Jr.

There are 39 drivers entered for 40 spots, leaving a season total of 27 short fields in 36 races. This is up significantly from last year, when only 17 of the 36 races had fewer than 40 starters. For comparison, there were 25 in 2019, 20 in 2018, 17 in 2017, and only 4 when the 40-car fields were standardized in 2016 - each also during 36-race seasons.

TEAM UPDATE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
The 2022 season will mark a new chapter in the history of Jack Roush’s two-car team as Brad Keselowski makes the move from Penske Racing to become part-owner and driver. Left out in the game of musical chairs is Ryan Newman, whose plans for that season are yet unknown. If Sunday does turn out to be the 725th and final Cup start for the one they call “The Rocket Man,” it will have happened at the very same track where it began on November 5, 2000 – exactly 21 years ago tomorrow.

RETURNING: #13-Motorsports Business Management
MBM will close out the year with another two-car effort for the Cup Series race, putting David Starr back behind the wheel of the #13 Ford he most recently ran at Kansas, taking 34th. Both he and Timmy Hill are entered in both the XFINITY and Cup races for the weekend with Hill again in MBM’s #66 for Sunday.

TEAM UPDATE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Among the many “lasts” to mark this weekend’s finale is the final start for the last remnant of SABCO Racing, whose team owner Felix Sabates began fielding the #42 in 1989. Starting with Chip Ganassi’s purchase of the team in 2000, when the number was retired following the tragic death of Kenny Irwin, Jr., the number was absent from the series until 2003. After that, the #42 became the only one of the three-car Chip Ganassi lineup’s numbers to survive the 2009 DEI merger and its aftermath. With Trackhouse Racing now possessing both Charters, but only running the ex-DEI #1 alongside the #99 in 2022, Sunday will mark the end of a chapter for one of the series’ long-branded numbers.

In 46 previous Cup starts at Phoenix with eight different drivers, the #42 has never won. Its best finish came with Kyle Larson on March 29, 2017. The winner that day was Ryan Newman - his 18th and most recent series win.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (November 4, 1990): Michael Waltrip picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Checker 500 at Phoenix when his #30 Maxwell House Coffee Pontiac was collected in a six-car pileup on Lap 49. Waltrip would score exactly one last-place finish in five of his first six full-time Cup seasons, excluding only 1987.