Sunday, April 17, 2022

CUP: Justin Allgaier once again eliminated early in infrequent Cup start on Bristol dirt

PHOTO: @SpireMotorsport

Justin Allgaier picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway when his #77 Brandt Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 74 of 250 laps.

The finish, which came in Allgaier’s 80th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup race since last fall at Talladega, 14 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 38th for the #77, the 629th from a crash, and the 823rd for Chevrolet. In NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 51st for the #77, the 1,286th from a crash, and the 1,834th for Chevrolet.

The Bristol Dirt Race marked Allgaier’s first Cup attempt since his last-place showing at Talladega, again driving Spire Motorsports’ #77 Chevrolet with his XFINITY sponsor Brandt Agriculture. The race happened to fall on an off-weekend for the XFINITY Series, where he ranked seventh in points after a difficult 29th-place showing in Martinsville. The Martinsville run was his fourth straight finish outside the Top 10 after his first four were all 10th or better.

Allgaier began the Bristol weekend 30th of the 36 entrants in opening practice, then after a spin in Turn 4 in Happy Hour ranked last overall. This placed him 4th on the grid for Heat Race 2.

The four Cup Series heat races followed those for the Truck Series, each for 15 laps with nine cars apiece. Rounding out the field in Heat Race 1 was Cole Custer in the #41 Jacob Construction / Haas Tooling Ford. By Lap 2, Custer was locked in a side-by-side battle with Martin Truex, Jr. in the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, the pair 0.037 apart at the stripe. Custer climbed to 6th by Lap 4, while Truex still rounded out the field. Ryan Blaney then slid into 8th place, hooking the apron with his #12 Menards / Dutch Boy Ford. Truex bumped Blaney in Turn 2, then on Lap 9, Blaney spun by himself and took over last. On the restart, Blaney set to work on Corey LaJoie in the #7 Nations Guard Chevrolet, and Truex joined this to form a three-wide battle on the final lap. None finished last, however, as Ross Chastain spun his #1 Advent Health Chevrolet on the final lap. Custer, who started last, took the win and ultimately the pole.

Heat Race 2 saw Daniel Suarez start 9th in the #99 Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet. The field remained tightly packed at the green flag with Suarez just 0.039 second behind 8th-place running Erik Jones in the #43 Tide Chevrolet. Suarez dropped Jones to last on Lap 3, but Jones then dropped to 9th place Josh Williams, making his Cup debut in B.J. McLeod’s #78 Alloy Employer Services Ford. Williams had just dropped Justin Allgaier to last in his #77 Brandt Chevrolet – the pair 0.096 apart at the stripe – when the caution came out for Suarez, who spun from 6th place. Suarez dropped to last as he re-fired his engine. When the race restarted, Suarez dropped Williams back to last with Kevin Harvick slipping to 8th in the #4 Busch Latte Ford. Both Harvick and Williams lost ground to Suarez by the checkered flag with Williams in last. Allgaier finished 6th, securing him 27th on the grid for the main event.

In Heat Race 3, Noah Gragson rolled off 9th in the #16 Chevy Truck Month Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing. From the start, Gragson raced side-by-side with Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, and began to work to Hamlin’s outside. On Lap 7, Gragson had yet to complete the pass, though he remained within two-tenths of Hamlin’s rear bumper. This persistence paid off on Lap 12, when Gragson cleared the #11, who finished 0.656 back of Gragson’s Chevrolet. “Well, that was fantastic,” Hamlin said with some sarcasm as he was guided back to the garage.

Heat Race 4, the last of the night, began with Harrison Burton rounding out the group in the Wood Brothers’ #21 Dex Imaging Ford. When the race started, Burton was already 0.255 back of Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT Ford, and Ware was running side-by-side with Aric Almirola in the #10 Cummins / Rush Truck Centers Ford. Almirola held off Ware, who was then caught by Burton on Lap 7. Burton cleared Ware that time by, and Ware dropped seven-tenths back of the #21 two circuits later. The reason, from Ware’s radio, was “zero forward drive,” which kept him two-tenths off the leader’s pace. Ware remained in last for the final few laps, crossing the stripe 6.672 seconds back of the leader and 0.831 back of Almirola, who Burton passed for 7th in the final moments.

When “passing points” were finally tabulated, the four last-place finishers of the heat races would roll off in the final four spots: Ross Chastain, last in Heat Race 1, took 33rd alongside Denny Hamlin, last in Heat Race 3, in 34th. Cody Ware, last in Heat Race 4, took the 35th spot inside Josh Williams, last in Heat Race 2, set to make his Cup debut. “Let’s have some fun,” said the Live Fast team. “Show the what you can do out there.” At the same time, the #78 crew made sure to keep the car cover on hand, knowing there was rain in the area.

The green flag dropped, and Williams crossed the stripe just three-thousandths of a second ahead of Cody Ware. Ware remained last on Lap 4, 8.558 seconds back of the leader, but was still within three-tenths of Williams. The track remained as muddy as it was during the start of the Truck Series race the day before, and three Stewart-Haas Racing teammates struggled immediately. Kevin Harvick’s #4 Busch Latte Ford fell to 34th on Lap 4, then 35th on Lap 6 and last on Lap 7. Five circuits later, as Harvick was lapped on track, polesitter Cole Custer pitted to clear the mud from his #41, followed by Aric Almirola’s #10. This forced NASCAR to throw a competition caution on Lap 15, allowing everyone to clear the noses of their cars. At the time, Custer was nearly three laps down with Almirola down one, on the same lap as Harvick. After much confusion, NASCAR gave Almirola the Lucky Dog, putting him back on the lead lap. NASCAR deemed Harvick ineligible for the Lucky Dog instead of Almirola, saying he was lapped on track instead of the pits. Paradoxically, NASCAR also gave back Custer two of his three laps by Lap 21, which put him on the same lap as Harvick in a new battle for the Lucky Dog.

On Lap 26, Custer restarted the race in last, then passed Harvick for position on Lap 33. Harvick continued to struggle, and his spotter told him his fourth teammate – Chase Briscoe – was in position to put him a lap down. But on Lap 48, Briscoe’s #14 High Point Ford broke loose and slapped the outside wall, ultimately cutting down the right-rear tire and sending him into a spin. Moments before the incident, Briscoe had just lapped both Cody Ware and Josh Williams, so the yellow handed Williams the Lucky Dog. On the restart, Harvick remained in last until Lap 56, when he re-passed Custer for position. Both then pounced on Ware, who was fighting a tight condition on the #51. The next time by, Ware ended up 35th between Custer and Harvick. After Harvick took last around Lap 60, Ware slipped to last two circuits later. Ware now kept clear of the two teammates, who he noticed were racing so hard for the Lucky Dog that they nearly wrecked. Thus, when Stage 1 ended on Lap 75, Ware was still holding 36th.

Moments before Stage 1 ended, Allgaier’s car pushed up the track in Turns 3 and 4, then slammed the outside wall with the right-front. He continued on with damage, but something failed in the steering, causing the car to veer hard left into the inside wall. Anticipating bent suspension parts, the #77 crew called for a hammer – then a big hammer – only to find the control arms and suspension were still intact. The team now believed it was an internal issue, and gathered wrenches as they pulled behind the wall. Though the car did go on jack stands, this was after someone on the crew said “we’re done.” Since scoring was suspended between the stages, Allgaier didn’t take over last place until Lap 77, when he was shown three laps down. NASCAR’s official in the garage confirmed Allgaier was out on Lap 120.

Also confirmed out on Lap 120 was Denny Hamlin, whose engine soured on his #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, then pulled behind the wall around Lap 90. Harvick’s night didn’t go much better, either, as a multi-car pileup on the frontstretch destroyed the right-front suspension on his #4 Ford. Harvick pulled behind the wall on Lap 103. Ross Chastain was running near the front when rain stopped the night’s action – a saving grace as his #1 Advent Health Chevrolet had a failing engine. When the race restarted on Lap 151, Chastain had already pulled behind the wall, done for the night. Chastain dropped behind the lapped Noah Gragson into 33rd on Lap 157. Kurt Busch rounded out the Bottom Five after his #45 Monster Energy Toyota was spun into the outside wall during a chain-reaction incident triggered by a slowing Austin Dillon.

The incident that eliminated Busch also took out J.J. Yeley, who for much of the race was battling inside the Top 25 in Rick Ware Racing’s #15 Georgia Strong / JAG Metals Ford. Yeley was still on the lead lap on Lap 211 when he sideswiped the slowing Dillon entering Turn 1, causing enough damage to end his night in 30th. Meanwhile, Austin’s brother Ty Dillon followed up his Heat Race 4 victory by battling inside the Top 10 for much of the night, ultimately taking home 10th – by far his best Cup finish on a track smaller than 1.5 miles in length. One spot ahead came Michael McDowell, who after taking 12th in the 2021 running finished 9th in the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford – his best-ever finish at Bristol.

*This marked the first last-pace finish for the #77 in a Cup Series dirt track race since July 20, 1962, when Larry Frank’s 1962 Ford had an overheating issue after 17 laps around the half-mile Savannah Speedway in Georgia.

36) #77-Justin Allgaier / 74 laps / crash
35) #11-Denny Hamlin / 91 laps / engine
34) #4-Kevin Harvick / 100 laps / crash
33) #1-Ross Chastain / 150 laps / engine
32) #45-Kurt Busch / 211 laps / crash

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

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)


No comments: