Saturday, March 12, 2022

XFINITY: Riley Herbst’s crash leaves him last after Alfredo’s Our Motorsports crew finish replacing entire drive train

PHOTO: Jonathan Fjeld, @jonathan_fjeld

Riley Herbst picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s United Rentals 200 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #98 Monster Energy Ford was eliminated in a crash after 20 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Herbst’s 80th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since March 6, 2021 at Las Vegas, 33 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #98, the 159th for Ford, and the 361st from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 43rd for the #98, the 985th for Ford, and the 1,283rd from a crash.

Entering his second season with the Stewart-Haas Racing effort, Herbst is still looking for his first victory in NASCAR’s top three series. He ranked 11th in points last year with a career-best five top-five finishes. His best run came under the lights at Bristol, where he ran 3rd as race leaders A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric crashed across the finish line in front of him. Another Top Five came in this year’s Daytona opener, where he finished 4th, but the next two races saw him finish 9th in Fontana and 14th in Las Vegas. He also came into the race without leading a lap since the 26 he paced at Talladega last fall.

At Phoenix, Herbst showed speed early, running 9th-fastest of the 42 entrants in practice, but slipped to 21st in qualifying with a lap of 129.176mph (27.869 seconds). First of the four teams to miss the show was Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, which picked up its first DNQ of the year after a late driver change that put Jesse Little in for team co-owner Jesse Iwuji to run the #34 eRacing Association Chevrolet. Josh Reaume’s #33 has yet to make a start this year, this time after Loris Hezemans’ #33 Reaume Brothers Racing Toyota had to check-up for David Starr, who spun his #08 TicketMarter Ford on its warm-up lap. Starr made the show while Hezemans and Little were joined by Stan Mullis in the #13 / Sharelife Toyota and Brennan Poole in the #47 Lerner 7 Rowe Injury Lawyers Chevrolet.

Poole was one of three drivers to not complete a lap in qualifying – citing their continuing engine issues – but the only member of that group to miss the show. The other two lined up in the final two spots. Anthony Alfredo had a drive train issue on Our Motorsports’ #23 Dude Wipes Chevrolet that prevented him from turning a lap in practice or qualifying. Following a transmission and rear end change, he’d line up 37th ahead of Ryan Vargas, who had a throttle issue on his #6 Advanced Masonry & concrete Chevrolet. Four other drivers were docked for unapproved adjustments, sending them to the tail end of the line: Stefan Parsons in B.J. McLeod’s #99 Sokal Ukraine Chevrolet, and the JR Motorsports trio of Sam Mayer in the #1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet, Justin Allgaier in the #7 Brandt Chevrolet, and Josh Berry in the #8 PUBG Mobile Chevrolet.

When the engines fired, polesitter Trevor Bayne had an issue with the kill switch cutting on and off, requiring a steering wheel swap. Alfredo, too, had issues before he could roll off. While the crew managed to push the #23 onto the grid, the car still wouldn’t fire, and was shown sitting in its pit stall as the first pace lap was completed. Bayne received his replacement steering wheel at the two to go signal and returned to the track, but Alfredo’s crew had by then lifted the hood. NASCAR added another pace lap as Alfredo’s crew dropped the hood, and as the field addressed the starter’s stand, were seen pushing him to the garage for what the team cited as “equipment failure.” As the race started, Alfredo’s crew set to work replacing the clutch, which took the entirety of Stage 1. 

Herbst climbs from his car after the crash.
PHOTO: Dominic Aragon, @DominicAragon

On Lap 21, Riley Herbst was running 13th behind Justin Allgaier when the brake pedal went to the floor entering Turn 3, forcing him into a spin. The car hit hard with the left-rear and left-front, drawing the first caution of the day. Herbst climbed out with some difficulty, and was evaluated and released from the infield care center. His car was towed to the garage, done for the day.

On Lap 50, under the caution at the end of Stage 1, Alfredo re-fired the engine and pulled onto the track, lining up at the back of the field. As he finally completed his first lap of the race on Lap 51, a radio transmission from the team reported “Keep me out of trouble - we’re only logging laps.” The team also remarked on how destroyed Herbst’s car looked as it was being loaded up. By that point, Herbst’s had still been the day’s only accident, and Alfredo managed to get one of his laps back under a caution on Lap 56, moving him to 49 laps down. This allowed Alfredo to drop Herbst to last on Lap 69.

The attrition remained low for the rest of the distance – so low that Alfredo was still 37th and another ten laps short of catching the nearest retiree, first-time XFINITY starter Parker Retzlaff. Retzlaff, who battled amongst the leader early after a strong 6th-place qualifying run, pulled RSS Racing’s #38 Ponsse Ford off the track on Lap 165 citing fuel pump problems. Josh Williams finished 35th after ignition issues on his #78 Phoenix Children’s / I.M.S. Chevrolet in the final laps. And in the race’s final seconds, Kaz Grala climbed to 33rd after a blown right-front tire earlier, dropping Jeffrey Earnhardt into the Bottom Five in his #35 Dal Strong Toyota for Emerling-Gase Motorsports. 

Sam Hunt Racing enjoyed perhaps their best race yet with John Hunter Nemechek, who took the lead under green with 99 to go and led 11 laps in the #26 Stillhouse Toyota. Nemechek crossed the line in 5th, besting the likes of Ty Gibbs, A.J. Allmendinger, and Justin Allgaier. It was Nemechek’s best run with the team since last fall at Richmond, when he steered the #26 to a 3rd-place run.

Brandon Brown finished 13th in his largely undecorated #68 Chevrolet, just days after it was announced Zero FG Energy Drink had signed with the team for next week’s round in Atlanta. Brown’s 29th-place finish after a botched tire strategy remain s his only finish worse than 13th all season, good enough to keep him 13th in points.

Ryan Ellis has already turned heads in just his second start with Alpha Prime Racing, following up his 13th-place showing in Las Vegas with a 16th-place run on Saturday in the #44 Keen Parts Chevrolet. This was Ellis’ first XFINITY start at Phoenix, and just four months after he failed to qualify at the same track driving for Mike Harmon.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #98 in a XFINITY race at Phoenix.

38) #98-Riley Herbst / 20 laps / crash
37) #23-Anthony Alfredo / 147 laps / running
36) #38-Parker Retzlaff / 158 laps / fuel pump
35) #78-Josh Williams / 178 laps / ignition
34) #35-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 196 laps / running

1st) Alpha Prime Racing, Kaulig Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (2)


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