Sunday, April 3, 2022

CUP: Greg Biffle handed first last-place finish since 2008 after Kurt Busch’s crew repairs early fuel pressure issue at Richmond


Greg Biffle picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond Raceway when his #44 Norfolk State University Chevrolet fell out with suspension issues after completing 96 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Biffle’s 514th series start, was his first of the season and first since July 5, 2008 at Daytona, 493 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 13th from suspension issues, the 30th for the #44, and the 822nd for Chevrolet. In NASCAR’s overall standings, it was the 48th from the suspension, the 66th for the #44, and the 1,830th for Chevrolet.

The 2022 season has seen both Biffle and the NY Racing Team return from extended absences from NASCAR. At Homestead in November 2016, Biffle had all but retired from full-time competition following fourteen consecutive seasons as driver of Jack Roush’s #16 Ford, claiming 19 victories to go with his series championships in both the Truck Series and XFINITY Series. 

At the same track two years later, team owner John Cohen concluded a partnership with Front Row Motorsports, who that summer had acquired a Charter from the shuttered BK Racing. While the pair earned a best finish of 17th with J.J. Yeley in Las Vegas, they did so with FRM’s Bob Jenkins as the listed owner. In the 17 previous Cup starts where Cohen was sole owner, the NY Racing Team itself finished under power just four times and came home no better than 32nd. That race saw Reed Sorenson finish on the lead lap in a backup car in what was Cohen’s only Daytona 500 start as a team owner.

Cohen has fielded cars in NASCAR’s top three series since 2009, when his XFINITY Series entries made a trio of starts with Mike Harmon and Josh Wise. It was Wise who earned the team’s best finish of 27th in Texas, though he did so after pulling behind the wall with electrical issues. That same year saw Biffle endure his first winless season since he went full-time Cup racing in 2003. Following his departure from Cup competition at the end of 2016, Biffle had jokingly considered returning while driving car #69. But when Kyle Busch gave him a chance to run his Truck at Texas in 2019, he capitalized, taking the win after a late-race pass on Tyler Ankrum. Following a 19th-place finish for GMS Racing the following year, and with NASCAR’s NextGen car on its way, the opportunity presented itself for Biffle to make more Cup attempts.

After their partnership with Front Row Motorsports ended in 2018, the NY Racing Team planned to return to Cup competition in 2019, fielding a Ford Mustang with returning sponsor Steakhouse Elite for driver J.J. Yeley. That deal fell through before the season started, though Cohen maintained a presence in NASCAR for the next two seasons. By the 2021 finale at Phoenix, representatives from the team were seen at the track wearing shirts with the NY Racing Team logo. 

Just this year, all this culminated with a photo revealing a NextGen car being assembled in the Richard Childress Racing shop with Biffle’s name on the top of the windshield. This would become the #44 that Cohen would enter for Biffle in the Daytona 500. Biffle made the field, but pulled behind the wall early with fuel pump issues. He avoided a last-place finish by logging laps after a wreck on the backstretch, but the same issue arose again in Las Vegas. The duo’s most recent start in Atlanta fared much better. Biffle avoided a late-race tangle with Cody Ware and finished 20th – the best-ever finish by Cohen’s team.

Each of Biffle’s starts for Cohen has seen him in a car featuring the name of a different university. Grambling State University was on board for Daytona, followed by Florida A&M in Las Vegas and Stillman College in Atlanta. The Richmond car would bear the name of Norfolk State University, and feature a white-and-green paint scheme somewhat similar to the Kodiak cars piloted by Rusty Wallace and Ken Schrader in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Biffle during the early laps.

Biffle turned the slowest lap in practice, a full 1.419 seconds off the Kyle Busch’s fastest time. But both his car and the #31 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet each failed inspection three times, which resulted in multiple pre-race penalties for each. NASCAR ejected both Jaron Antley, Haley’s car chief, and Nick Ollila, Biffle’s engineer. Both drivers would not be allowed to qualify, and each would incur a pass-through penalty after the green flag - one of the first occurrences of two drivers having to do the pass-through simultaneously. Both would be joined at the rear by Austin Cindric, whose #2 Discount Tire Ford was set to start 20th before unapproved adjustments.

When the field took the green, Cindric lined up 34th, three-tenths of a second ahead of J.J. Yeley, who was already set to start 35th in the #15 Nabor Force Ford for Rick Ware Racing. Haley was just two-hundredths back of Yeley in 36th with Biffle bringing up the rear, nearly three-tenths back of Haley and 4.286 behind the leader. After taking the green, Biffle then followed Haley down pit road, the pair a half-second apart. Biffle crossed the stripe 13.715 seconds back of the leader to Haley’s 13.234, each now 7.514 seconds back of Yeley in 35th. On Lap 3, both were back on the track with Haley entering Turn 3 as Biffle got up to speed off Turn 2. Each had been lapped with Haley holding fast to the Lucky Dog.

Haley soon received a break. Kurt Busch, who qualified just 27th in 23XI Racing’s #45 Embrace Home Loans Toyota, started to lose power as early as Lap 6, then after completing Lap 8, drew the caution as he stalled on the backstretch. The reason was a loss of fuel pressure, and an equipment truck arrived under caution to push him behind the wall. On Lap 10, when the caution came out, Busch took last from the lapped Biffle as Haley received the Lucky Dog. The 23XI crew prepared to look under the hood and hook up the computer. On Lap 11, NASCAR reported “45 to the garage, mechanical.” After examining the ECU, the crew’s attention turned to the fuel pump, and Kurt’s car was pushed to its garage stall around Lap 17.

Around Lap 50, when Busch’s crew reported they were nearly done with repairs, 23XI’s social media team tweeted that Busch was out of the race due to a loss of fuel pressure. At the time, NASCAR had yet to confirm he was out. In fact, Kelly Crandall reported the team was still working, and a photo by Bozi Tatarevic showed at least six crewmen at work, one with a spare fuel pump harness. By Lap 81, Busch’s crew was reading off fuel pressure measurements, and on Lap 99, someone said “Gotta button up a few things inside.”

It was also on Lap 99 that Biffle, now three laps down after his pass-through penalty, pulled behind the wall with a mechanical issue of his own. Radio traffic retrieved by Max Neuwirth reported Biffle’s car had picked up a terrible vibration, and that he also smelled gear oil in the cockpit. Further communications on Lap 102 were that the issue was worse on deceleration, and included brake shake. By this point, 23XI had deleted their earlier tweet and reported the team was still working on the fuel pressure issue. 

On Lap 109, Busch reported he had power and fuel pressure, but the starter wouldn’t engage. The crew directed him back onto the track on Lap 113, and Busch finally completed his ninth circuit on Lap 117, his first lap since his car broke down. Three laps later, NASCAR confirmed Biffle was out with suspension issues, though the team would tweet they had a rear end failure. At that point, Busch was 84 laps from dropping Biffle to last place. Busch closed the distance and passed Biffle on Lap 205. Busch ultimately climbed to 35th, still under power and 109 laps down to race winner Denny Hamlin.

The only other car Busch passed was Cody Ware, whose purple #51 Nurtec ODT Ford was spun in a chain-reaction incident that sent him into the outside wall. His was the day’s only other retiree, sent behind the wall on Lap 252 as the crew extinguished a fire coming from the car. Though immediately eliminated under the Damaged Vehicle Policy, NASCAR’s garage official confirmed Ware was out on Lap 273. Yeley, who ran near Biffle and Haley at the start, finished 33rd, four laps ahead of B.J. McLeod in the #78 Surface Sunscreen Ford.

*This was the first time a Cup Series last-place finisher fell out due to suspension issues since April 26, 2014, when Clint Bowyer scored his first career last-place finish after 159 laps of the Toyota Owners 400.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #44 and the NY Racing Team in a Cup race since September 28, 2014, when Timmy Hill had a vibration after 11 laps of the AAA 400 at Dover. Neither Biffle nor the number had ever before finished last in a Cup race at Richmond.

37) #44-Greg Biffle / 96 laps / suspension
36) #51-Cody Ware / 241 laps / crash
35) #45-Kurt Busch / 291 laps / running
34) #78-B.J. McLeod / 386 laps / running
33) #15-J.J. Yeley / 390 laps / running

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

1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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