Sunday, February 20, 2022

CUP: NY Racing Team gets Greg Biffle back on the road, dropping Ross Chastain to last in Daytona 500

PHOTO: @TeamTrackhouse

Ross Chastain picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s 64th Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #1 Advent Health Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 62 of 201 laps.

The finish, which came in Chastain’s 116th series start, was his first since April 16, 2018 at Bristol, 137 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place standings, it was the 40th for the #1, the 625th from a crash, and the 818th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 71st for the #1, the 1,281st from a crash, and the 1,821st for Chevrolet.

When upstart Trackhouse Racing lost their lease on Daniel Suarez’ Charter during their inaugural season last year, it began a “Silly Season” chain reaction that would see the end of one of NASCAR’s long-running two-car teams. This was Chip Ganassi Racing, the last vestiges of both Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Team SABCO following a series of mergers dating back to 2000. Ironically, it was Chastain who had just that year been hired to drive CGR’s #42 in the Cup Series, a journey delayed after a previous XFINITY Series deal with the team fell apart after team sponsor DC Solar collapsed in disgrace. Chastain enjoyed a few strong runs – most notably in the Southern 500, where he nearly beat Bubba Wallace in ending the “McDonald’s Curse” that had seen the sponsor absent from Victory Lane since 1994. He finished 3rd that night, one spot short of his season-best 2nd at Nashville.

When Trackhouse acquired CGR late last year, they claimed both the team’s Charters and their shop. It wasn’t until later they also acquired one of their drivers in Chastain, tabbing him to run Trackhouse’s new second team to join Suarez’ #99. Trackhouse would keep the #1, which had run alongside the #42 in years past, as they wanted to hold the series’ highest and lowest car numbers. Advent Health, which had backed Chastain in recent ventures, including a Daytona 500 run with Spire Motorsports, would back his #1 for this year’s 500. A subtle watermelon pattern was added in front of the rear wheels, a reference to Chastain’s family melon farm as NASCAR’s “Melon Man.”

Chastain’s was one of 42 entrants set to contest 40 spots on the starting grid. He ran 30th in opening practice and 25th in the second. He then found speed in qualifying, jumping to 7th overall with a lap in the second round of 179.845mph (50.043 seconds). This put Chastain 4th on the grid for Duel Race 1, where he took the last points position in 10th. He ran 20th in the third practice, then was among the half of the field to sit out Happy Hour. He’d roll off 19th in “The Great American Race.”

Greg Biffle's #44 for the NY Racing Team
PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,

Starting 40th was Jacques Villeneuve, making his first Daytona 500 start in Team Hezeberg’s #27 Woodie’s Wash Shack Ford. Following a throttle cable issue in Thursday’s Duel that left him in last place, the team changed engines and re-wrapped the car for the Woodie’s sponsorship, incurring a redundant tail-end penalty. Also sent to the back was 20th-place Joey Logano, sent to a backup #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford after a last-lap wreck in his Duel. Chase Briscoe’s 9th-place #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford went to the back for twice failing pre-race inspection while Daniel Hemric also dropped to the rear after his 33rd-place #16 Heritage Pool Supply Group Chevrolet failed inspection three times. This would also force Hemric to make a pass-through penalty after the green flag.

When the race started, Hemric was last across the stripe, 3.977 seconds back of the lead to Villeneuve’s 3.847. But a minor stack-up ensued among the last half-dozen drivers who didn’t get going, forcing Villeneuve’s spotter to have him check up as cars pulled three-wide at the stripe. As Hemric prepared to serve his pass-through on Lap 1, Villeneuve had already lost touch with the rest of the pack, saying something was wrong with his #27. By Lap 4, Villeneuve was already 8.074 seconds back of 38th place with Hemric 32.709 seconds back of the lead. The race stayed green, and Hemric was first to be lapped on the 10th circuit, pulling high near the entrance of Turn 3 as the leaders rushed by. On Lap 15, as Hemric drafted his Kaulig Racing teammate Justin Haley in the #31 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, Villeneuve was also lapped entering Turn 3, now citing a tight condition. Villeneuve, too, found drafting help from David Ragan in the #15 Select Blinds Ford.

Still under green on Lap 26, Greg Biffle – making his first Cup start since 2016 in the NY Racing Team’s first start since 2018 – began to drop back in the #44 Grambling State University Chevrolet. That time by, he was 38th, 18.831 seconds back of the lead and out of the draft, a full 12.419 seconds back of the next car. He was making a pit stop, but was then posted by NASCAR for his crew coming over the wall too soon. “Taking it to the garage, Jerry?” the driver asked. Instead, the team told him to pull up to the Rolex sign past the garage entrance to diagnose an electrical problem. This was done on Lap 28, when he took last from Hemric.

According to Biffle, his #44 had not been reading the right fuel pressure since the pace laps, and believed there was a restriction in the fuel line. On Lap 33, Biffle’s crew pushed the car to the garage, preparing to change the fuel pump. By the 43rd circuit, Biffle still had just nine pounds of fuel pressure, and the team checked the filters. Work continued past the race’s one-quarter mark, the team updating their driver on which other cars were having trouble. 

Chastain (center) wrecks on Lap 63.
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Meanwhile, on Lap 63, Chastain was still on the lead lap when trouble broke out ahead of him. Harrison Burton, whose #21 Motorcraft / Dex Imaging Ford had already been repaired after his tangle with Logano in Thursday’s Duel, broke loose off the nose of Brad Keselowski’s #6 Kohler Generators Ford, steering him directly into the inside line led by William Byron’s #24 Axalta Chevrolet. An accordion effect ensued, causing the next three cars to rear-end each other. Last of these was Christopher Bell, whose #20 DeWalt Toyota cut to the right as Chastain tried to thread the needle. Instead, Chastain struck Bell’s car with his left-front, then was rear-ended by a spinning Alex Bowman in the #48 Ally Chevrolet. As Burton’s car flipped down the backstretch, Chastain skidded to a stop in the infield grass, done for the day along with Burton, Byron, and one lap later, Hamlin.

Under the ensuing caution, Biffle was told five cars were eliminated in the wreck, and still had more than half the race left to make up the 39-lap deficit he needed to pass them all. On Lap 71, the NY Racing Team crew retrieved a new fuel pump, and nine laps later were reinstalling the passenger-side window. On Lap 84, Biffle re-fired his engine, and was back up to speed o Lap 87. He still had to serve his pass-through penalty from earlier, and completed his 27th lap of the race on Lap 89. “Nice work, guys,” said Biffle. “I know it was a lot of scrambling there.” Biffle would ultimately finish the race under power in 36th place, having dropped Chastain to last on Lap 126. The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by drivers eliminated in the Lap 63 wreck.

Strong finishes by Rick Ware Racing and both new teams

Sunday’s race was won by Austin Cindric, who claimed his first Cup victory in just his eighth career start, and first in Penske Racing’s flagship #2 Discount Tire Ford. Among the members of Cindrics crew is mechanic Kyle Belmont, son of longtime Cup and ARCA owner-driver Andy Belmont. The race took place 30 years after Andy attempted to qualify for the 500 in 1992.

Also finishing strong was David Ragan, who made his 16th consecutive Daytona 500 start on Sunday, this time as driver of Rick Ware Racing’s #15 Select Blinds Ford. Ragan avoided no fewer than three multi-car pileups by narrow margins, and was in the three-wide battle to the stripe, only to be wrecked as he crossed the stripe in 8th place. This was Ragan’s best finish since the 2020 Daytona 500, when he ran 4th. Cody Ware, Ragan’s teammate, finished 17th in the #51 Nurtec ODT Ford – a new career-best, two positions better than his 19th at Talladega two years ago. Combined with Ware’s strong run in the Busch Light Clash earlier this month, it appears the Rick Ware Racing team has turned the corner through their Stewart-Haas Racing alliance.

Jacques Villeneuve, who started the race in 40th, went on to finish 22nd, two laps down to the leaders. This was just one spot short of his own career-best Cup finish, which was 21st in his Talladega debut on October 7, 2007. The Team Hezeberg effort finished highest of programs with no previous Cup starts, though Kaz Grala overcame a left-rear wheel that came off his car to still take 26th in The Money Team’s #50 Pit Viper Sunglasses Chevrolet.

*Chastain’s finish was the first last-place run for the #1 in the Daytona 500. The number’s most recent last-place finish in a Cup race was September 11, 2021, when Kurt Busch #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet crashed after 40 laps at Richmond.
*This marked the first last-place finish for Trackhouse Racing.

40) #1-Ross Chastain / 62 laps / crash
39) #21-Harrison Burton / 62 laps / crash
38) #24-William Byron / 62 laps / crash
37) #11-Denny Hamlin / 63 laps / crash
36) #44-Greg Biffle / 136 laps / running

1st) Trackhouse Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


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