Sunday, March 27, 2022

CUP: Tangle with Keselowski hands Andy Lally first NASCAR last-place finish since 2008

PHOTO: @RealJaredHaas

Andy Lally picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas when his #78 Surface Sunscreen / Ford fell out with suspension issues after 19 of 69 laps.

The finish came in Lally’s 40th series start. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 12th for suspension problems, the 25th for the #78, and the 715th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 39th for the #78, the 47th from suspension issues, and the 987th for Ford.

The 47-year-old from Northport, New York boasts one of the most impressive resumes in American road course racing. He’s been crowned champion of three different classes in Grand-Am competition alone, and was on class-winning teams in five runnings of the 24 Hours of Daytona, most recently in 2016. 

Driving for California-based TRG Motorsports in sports car competition got Lally a shot at NASCAR. Team owner Kevin Buckler fielded entries in the XFINITY and Truck Series in 2007, then in 2009 made his Cup debut at Watkins Glen. He finished 27th. Two years later, Lally and Buckler teamed up for a full-season Cup Series effort. The pair won Rookie of the Year virtually unopposed, scoring a season-best 19th at Talladega.

Ever since, Lally’s NASCAR appearances have remained infrequent as a “road course ringer.” His series return came in the 2014 XFINIY race at Road America, where he ran 7th for SS-Green Light Racing. The first of four 5th-place finishes came with the same team at Mid-Ohio in 2017. He’s also become one of the sport’s most popular color commentators, and would continue this role in Saturday’s Truck Series race for FS1.

For COTA, Lally drove for Live Fast Motorsports, with whom he made his return to Cup competition last summer at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit. That day, he finished 39th, out in the middle stages with rear gear trouble. This time, Lally would join in the road course debut of NASCAR’s NextGen car, this time with both Surface Sunscreen and as sponsors of B.J. McLeod and Matt Tifft’s #78 Ford.

Lally joined several other “road course ringers” from both Chartered and “open” teams, resulting in a stout 39-car entry list. He ranked just 33rd in opening practice, but along with Joey Hand in Rick Ware Racing’s #15 Ford Pass Rewards Visa Ford, did not complete a qualifying lap. While Hand’s car required repairs after a blown right-front tire damaged his fender, Lally couldn’t qualify as his car failed inspection three times. This would also mean he’d incur a redundant tail-end penalty on Sunday before serving a pass-through after the green flag.

On Sunday, Lally would roll off 39th behind the 38th-place Hand, whose repaired fender made him one of six drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Joining Hand would be 20th-place A.J. Allmendinger in the #16 Action Industries Chevrolet, 27th-place Michael McDowell in the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, 30th-place Erik Jones in the #43 Focus Factor Chevrolet, 34th-place Josh Bilicki in the #77 Ziegler Auto Group Chevrolet, 36th-place Loris Hezemans in the #27 Hezeberg Systems Ford, and 37th-place Boris Said in the #66 Ford.

When the race started, Lally maintained the 39th spot as the last car on the inside lane. During the pace laps, he’d been warned about his speed down pit road, having originally been clocked at 52mph. He would instead come down pit road at 4400rpms in first gear. During Lap 1, Lally remained in touch with the rest of the field, crossing the stripe 4.589 seconds back of the leader. He began Lap 2 on pit road, 27.789 seconds back of the lead and 13.470 behind Loris Hezemans in 38th. 

But Lally had barely returned to the track when Hezemans was then handed a pass-through for short-cutting Turn 5. The driver protested his case, saying he didn’t pass anyone, but served his penalty on Lap 3. This allowed Lally to close within 5.915 seconds of Hezemans. Another 12.083 seconds ahead of Hezemans in 37th was Boris Said, who that time by was also snagged by NASCAR for driving off onto the red-painted runoff in the Esses. Said served his pass-through on Lap 4, just as Hezemans took over last, 2.192 seconds back of Lally. Said returned to the track 14.630 seconds back of Cody Ware’s #51 Nurtec ODT Ford in 36th. Lally then climbed to 37th, 4.063 ahead of 38th-place Hezemans with Said now last, 3.254 back of Hezemans.

As Lally set to work trying to catch Ware, who began to report both an overheating and steering issue, Said set to work catching Hezemans. On Lap 6, the two were 2.902 seconds apart, then closed to 1.714 on Lap 7, 1.552 on Lap 8, and 1.189 on Lap 9. But Hezemans picked up another four-tenths on the 10th circuit as Said now reported his gear was overheating, reporting over 260 degrees. Team owner Carl Long radioed back that the gear could handle up to 300 degrees, but no further – if it hit that number, they’d be done for the day. Said continued to lose ground to Hezemans, dropping to 3.739 back of the 38th-place runner on Lap 13.

On that same lap, Kaz Grala took over last place with a green-flag stop on his #50 Pit Viper Sunglasses Chevrolet. He returned to the track a distant 23.081 seconds back of Said, then lost another seven seconds the next time by. He was saved by the Stage 1 ending caution on Lap 16, though it took at least one full caution lap for him to finally catch the tail end of the field. Grala soon passed Ware, who pitted under yellow for adjustments. By then, both driver and team were concerned something was either broken in the rear of the car, or the steering had malfunctioned. Ware himself said there were so many issues he couldn’t relay them to the team. Regardless, he decided against a second stop and chose to restart on Lap 18.

Heading up the hill into Turn 1, Ware quickly passed Daniel Suarez, who up to that point had been enjoying a strong race. Suarez’ #99 CommScope Chevrolet took the lead from polesitter Ryan Blaney and cruised to victory in Stage 1. But pit strategy put Suarez a few spots back in the pack, where contact from another car sent him into a spin. The contact also cut down the left-rear tire, forcing him to limp around nearly the entire three-mile track length to make it to pit road. Suarez’ smoking car made it to the pit safely, taking last from Ware on Lap 19. Suarez returned to the track 76.197 seconds behind the new 38th-place runner, Kyle Larson, whose #5 Chevrolet spun in a separate incident. Suarez met minimum speed on Lap 20.

Despite Ware’s multiple issues, his #51 was still on the track when the first car pulled behind the wall. This was Lally, who NASCAR reported entered the garage on Lap 20. The team unbolted the left-rear wheel, and instructed the driver to keep the window net up as they looked for a torque wrench. While missed by FOX’s cameras, Lally had tangled with Brad Keselowski’s #6 Wyndham Rewards Ford, and the contact was enough to damage the control arm. As Lally took last from Suarez on Lap 21, someone on the team radio said, “Ah, we aren’t gonna be able to fix it – the whole thing’s broken.” Then, the next time by, “We’re done, boys. We’re done.” NASCAR confirmed Lally was done for the day on Lap 25.

Bubba Wallace took 38th after his #23 Leidos Toyota lost a left-rear wheel and stopped in the run-off area, needing a tow back to the garage area. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. lost a cylinder on his #47 Sunny D Chevrolet midway through the race, only to eventually stall in the middle of the backstretch. Corey LaJoie finished 36th after a separate stall, this one caused by a blown engine on his #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet. Joey Hand rounded out the Bottom Five, citing late-race suspension issues on his Ford.

Ross Chastain led 31 of the 69 laps and fended off a furious challenge by both A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman on the final lap, ultimately knocking Allmendinger into Bowman’s path. Chastain, who started the year as the last-place finisher of the Daytona 500, capped a streak of three consecutive top-five finishes with his first career win in his 121st series start. It was also the first victory for second-year team Trackhouse Racing, whose flagship #99 also had an excellent run with Daniel Suarez leading 15 laps and winning Stage 1. Only Suarez’ aforementioned spin kept him back in the order, and he slipped to 24th on the final lap.

*Lally’s only previous last-place finish in a points-paying NASCAR Cup, XFINITY, or Truck Series race came on March 29, 2008 at Martinsville, when his #7 TRG Motorsports / Adobe Road Winery Chevrolet crashed out after 77 laps of the Kroger 250.
*This marked the first last-place run for the #78 in a Cup Series race since June 7, 2020, when one of B.J. McLeod’s first efforts as a Cup Series team owner ended with his bright red #78 Chevrolet dropping out with clutch issues after 3 laps at Atlanta.

39) #78-Andy Lally / 19 laps / suspension
38) #23-Bubba Wallace / 44 laps / suspension
37) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 52 laps / drivetrain
36) #7-Corey LaJoie / 57 laps / engine
35) #15-Joey Hand / 60 laps / suspension

1st) Trackhouse Racing (2)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, Live Fast Motorsports, Spire Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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