Saturday, February 19, 2022

XFINITY: Caesar Bacarella’s engine lets go in Daytona’s early laps

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Caesar Bacarella picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #45 Lilly Finance Chevrolet lost the engine after 11 of 120 laps.

The finish, which came in Bacarella’s 22nd series start, was his first since March 16, 2019 at the Auto Club Speedway, 95 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #45, the 270th from engine trouble, and the 586th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 42nd for the #45, thee 1,111th from engine issues, and the 1,820th for Chevrolet.

A native of Parkland, Florida, the 46-year-old Bacarella has become a regular sight on the track’s two superspeedways, plus the oval in Homestead. Coming into Saturday, Daytona, Talladega, and Homestead had made up 16 of his 21 previous XFINITY Series starts. His best finish came in the 2021 opener, when he ran 12th for DGM Racing, though he ran even better in two years earlier. With 3 laps to go in the 2019 renewal, he was running 10th within eight-tenths of the lead when he broke loose and slapped the outside wall.

This year, Bacarella embarks on a new journey into team co-ownership. Late last season, it was announced he’d invest in Tommy Joe Martins’ single-car team, Martins Motorsports, which would now expand to two teams and hire multiple drivers. The new team would be called Alpha Prime Racing, named for the Alpha Prime fitness company, of which Bacarella is founder and CEO. Ironically, just after the season concluded, Bacarella would run afoul of NASCAR’s substance abuse policy when he unwittingly used a workout supplement with a banned substance. Bacarella complied with NASCAR’s testing, and was cleared in time to run the Daytona opener in the team’s new #45 alongside Martins in the flagship #44. Lilly Finance, a “medically focused cryptocurrency” according to the press release, signed with Bacarella for select XFINITY races starting with Daytona, plus his road course ride in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series.

Bacarella and Martins were among the 47 entrants set to contest the 38 spots on the starting grid. Bacarella’s #45 ran 27th in practice and took the 22nd spot in qualifying with a lap of 180.054mph (49.985 seconds), just over two-tenths ahead of Martins, who ranked 32nd. 

Getting both Alpha Prime cars into the field was a significant accomplishment for the team as many of their contemporaries could not. Two of DGM Racing’s four cars missed out – the #90 Larue Industrial Snowblowers Chevrolet of Alex Labbe and the #91 Brunt Workwear Chevrolet of Mason Massey. David Starr was the fastest to miss in SS-Green Light Racing’s second car, the #08 Ticket Smarter / Special Report with Bret Baier Ford. Stefan Parsons was sent home in B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ third car, the #99 SOKAL Chevrolet, as were both Mike Harmon Racing entries of Gray Gaulding in the #47 Safe Hedge Chevrolet and Tim Viens in the unsponsored #74 Chevrolet. Rounding out the group were three single-car teams: Natalie Decker in the Reaume Brothers’ #33 Nerd Focus Toyota, Ronnie Bassett, Jr. in his family’s #77 Jerry Hunt Supercenter Chevrolet, and Harrison Rhodes in Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Chevrolet. The only logo on Rhodes’ car was for Best Western’s Space Shuttle Inn on the TV panel.

Sam Hunt Racing barely got both of their cars in the field. Ryan Truex took the 38th and final spot via Owner Points, his #26 Circle B Diecast Toyota slower than five of the DNQs and 18 spots behind teammate Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #24 ForeverLawn Toyota. Truex incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, the same penalty by 34th-place Sam Mayer in the #1 Accelerate Pro Talent Chevrolet and Shane Lee, 37th in the #35 Kitty Kat Coin Toyota. Also dropping to the rear voluntarily were Matt Mills in B.J. McLeod’s #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet and J.J. Yeley in the #66 Remote Health Solutions Chevrolet for Motorsports Business Management.

When the green flag dropped, Ryan Truex trailed the outside line with Mills bringing up the rear of the inside line. The outside line advanced first, pulling Truex 3.945 seconds behind the leader in 36th ahead of Yeley, 3.963 seconds back in 37th and Mills now last, 4.323 behind. On Lap 3, Mills reeled in Shane Lee’s #35, pulling side-by-side 0.075 second apart at the stripe. The next time around, Mills climbed to 36th, putting Lee back to last behind new 37th-place Jesse Iwuji in the #34 Equity Prime Mortgage Chevrolet. During this same run, Anthony Alfredo lost the passenger-side window on his #23 Dude Wipes Chevrolet between Turns 3 and 4. NASCAR black-flagged Alfredo on Lap 4, and he served the penalty the next time by. This put Alfredo to last on Lap 6, already on the verge of 3 laps down.

As Alfredo got back up to speed, the Alpha Prime Racing teammates dropped to the rear with Bacarella in 37th and Martins in 36th. While Joey Gase in the #53 Kitty Kat Coin Ford had also dropped back to join Shane Lee, his teammate at Emerling-Gase Motorsports, Bacarella was losing ground to Martins on the track. By Lap 12, the #45 was 9.148 seconds back of Martins, and soon pulled down pit road with engine trouble. On Lap 14, as the caution came out for a wreck between Drew Dollar’s #18 Lynx Capital Toyota and Jeremy Clements in the #51 All South Electric / One Stop Convenience Chevrolet, Bacarella took over last place from Alfredo. “I hate dropping out early,” said someone on the #45 team’s channel. “Motor problems.” “It’s still under warranty,” someone joked.

Clements and Dollar’s wreck put them 37th and 36th in the finishing order. The next two spots were the result of 35th-place finisher C.J. McLaughlin, who lost control of his #38 Sci Aps Ford entering the tri-oval on Lap 92. The resulting pileup collected nine more cars, including Brett Moffitt’s #02 Hometown Lenders Chevrolet. Moffitt finished 34th after heavy splitter damage.

Myatt Snider’s terrifying last-lap flip into the catchfence entering Turn 3 ended the race under caution. As Snider climbed from his car with only a sore left foot, others who drove through the ensuing carnage managed to earn strong finishes. Anthony Alfredo, who lost three laps and held last place until Bacarella’s issues, got back on the lead lap and finished 7th. Two spots behind Alfredo came Josh Bilicki in a career-best 9th, significant damage behind the left-front wheel on his #36 Zeigler Auto Group / Elliott’s Custom Trailer Chevrolet. Ryan Truex, who started last, flirted with a Top Ten late before settling in 12th. And despite his car picking up a truck arm from Snider’s disintegrating Chevrolet, J.J. Yeley took home 13th in Carl Long’s #66 Remote Health Solutions Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #45 in the February XFINITY race at Daytona. The number had once before finished last in a XFINITY race there, which came on July 6, 2018 with Josh Bilicki’s engine issues after 33 laps behind the wheel of the #45 Prevagen Toyota.

38) #45-Caesar Bacarella / 11 laps / engine
37) #51-Jeremy Clements / 13 laps / crash
36) #18-Drew Dollar / 14 laps / crash
35) #38-C.J. McLaughlin / 91 laps / crash
34) #02-Brett Moffitt / 91 laps / crash

1st) Alpha Prime Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


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