Monday, May 30, 2022

CUP: Ryan Preece’s strong triple-header at Charlotte ends with early suspension damage

The damage to Preece's left-rear appeared minor, yet proved to be anything but.

Ryan Preece scored the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #15 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford fell out under the Damaged Vehicle Policy (DVP) after 16 of 413 laps.

The finish, which came in Preece’s 115th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup points race since July 4, 2021 at Road America, 30 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 3rd from the DVP, the 29th for the #15, and the 719th from Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 6th under the DVP, the 46th from #15, and the 991st for Ford.

Preece had a promising start to his full-time Cup career in 2019, when he caught the attention of fans in his first Daytona 500, dodging late-race wrecks to finish 8th. But over the following two years, the NASCAR Modified star struggled for consistency, including a streak of three consecutive last-place finishes in the summer of 2020. By then, Preece had been moved from JTG-Daugherty Racing’s primary #47 to their new #37 entry, which last year lost its Charter. After another difficult season as the only “open” team to enter all 36 races, JTG-Daugherty scaled back to a single entry for teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., leaving Preece as a free agent.

Coming to the rescue was Stewart-Haas Racing, which has become the latest team to adopt a strategy most often seen in Formula 1 – hiring a “reserve driver.” As part of Preece’s contract, he would run part-time in all three of NASCAR’s national series, each with SHR-affiliated Ford teams. The deal began with Rick Ware Racing (RWR)’s #15 Cup team at the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, whose quarter-mile bullring immediately reminded him of Bowman Gray Stadium. It continued through four Truck Series starts with David Gilliland Racing, where his #17 finished no worse than 7th, a XFINITY race for B.J. McLeod Motorsports at Richmond, taking 16th, and a points race with RWR’s Cup team at Dover, where he ran 25th. 

The biggest challenge awaited Preece in Charlotte, where he would run for all three teams in three races totaling a combined 1100 miles. In Friday’s Truck Series race, Preece led 9 laps, finished 3rd in both stages, and was positioned to challenge a dominant Carson Hocevar after a late-race caution erased a six-second lead and set up an overtime finish. On the restart, Hocevar pulled up to block an advancing Preece down the backstretch, then lost control entering Turn 3, eliminating both in the resulting spin. In post-race interviews, Hocevar took responsibility for the mistake while Preece was critical of Hocevar’s block. On Saturday, Preece’s XFINITY race with McLeod was less controversial. He started 3rd, ran 7th and 5th in the stages, and finished 5th. But as on Friday, he was well behind another dominant Chevrolet. This time, it was Josh Berry, who after a door-to-door battle with JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier racked up an 18.039-second winning margin over Ty Gibbs. 

After the XFINITY race, Preece returned to the track for Cup Series practice and qualifying with the RWR team. Hunt Brothers Pizza, which backed his XFINITY run, rejoined as primary sponsor. As part of the traditional “NASCAR Salutes” program, Preece would also join the rest of the field in honoring a fallen serviceman. His windshield carried the name of Staff Sgt. First Class Gary Ray Harper, Jr., who served with the U.S. Navy. A recipient of both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart who enlisted in 1993, Sgt. Harper died October 9, 2005 while serving in Baghdad.

Preece ranked 26th of the 37 entries in practice, where he spun in Turn 4, then qualified 26th with a lap of 179.158mph (30.141 seconds). Incidentally, the slowest completed qualifying lap was turned by Brad Keselowski, whose #6 Kohler Generators Ford spun in time trials, resulting in a speed of just 92.152mph (58.599 seconds), nearly 30 seconds off Denny Hamlin’s pole lap.

While Keselowski didn’t incur a tail-end penalty for his spin, many others did. In the opening minutes of Group A practice, Corey LaJoie spun and slammed the Turn 2 wall with his #7 The USO / Coca-Cola Chevrolet. LaJoie’s Spire Motorsports crew worked until 7:00 A.M. the next morning preparing his backup car, which secured the 37th spot and incurred a redundant tail-end penalty prior to the start. Also docked was 36th-place Kyle Larson, whose #5 Chevrolet bounced off the outside wall, requiring repairs to the right side of his car that constituted unapproved adjustments. Like LaJoie, Larson didn’t turn a qualifying lap, and inherited the 36th spot. Kaz Grala, his The Money Team Racing entry the lone “open” team in the garage, also incurred a penalty for unapproved adjustments resulting from his hood flying open on his #50 SEGI TV Chevrolet during Group B practice. 

By race day, three more teams would be sent to the back, bringing the total to six penalized drivers. Both 24th-place Aric Almirola in the #10 Smithfield Ford and 29th-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the #47 Kroger / Reese’s Chevrolet required a steering rack replacement while 21st-place starter Cole Custer in the #41 Chicken Cock Whiskey Ford required a halfshaft change. In the end, Grala’s #50 voluntarily dropped behind the other five docked drivers as the field approached the starting line.

At the start of the race, Grala held the 37th spot, and by the end of Lap 1 was 4.075 seconds back of the leader, 0.721 behind now 36th-place LaJoie. By Lap 3, Cody Ware slipped to 36th in his #51 Nurtec ODT Ford, and Grala narrowed the deficit to 0.434 second. But Grala would soon lose ground again, and this time at a faster rate. By Lap 6, he was 1.331 behind 36th-place Ware, 3.002 behind on Lap 8, and 8.474 back on Lap 13. Grala reported his car was “undriveable” as the spotter warned him of the fast-closing leaders, who put him the first car one lap down on the 15th circuit. Grala was still running in last place, well back of Ware, who had also lost touch with 34th-place Josh Bilicki in the #77 Zeigler Auto Group Chevrolet, when the first caution fell on Lap 18.

Preece pulls behind the wall after time expires.
PHOTO: @DnfRacers

Coming off Turn 4, three cars spun off Turn 4 and slid to the apron. Preece had locked wheels with Chris Buescher in the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, who slid down the banking together. Not far behind, Noah Gragson spun his #16 Charlotte Knights Chevrolet to avoid the pair as they stopped on the apron. All three made it to pit road under caution with no visible damage. Grala climbed past Gragson on Lap 18, putting the #16 in last until the following lap, when Preece took over the spot. Gragson and Buescher returned to the track, each a lap down. According to LASTCAR reader @DnfRacers, Preece’s car was jacked up on the left side and remained on that side as their six-minute “Crash Clock” counted down. By Lap 21, Preece was multiple laps down with just 30 seconds remaining. The next time by, the crew said, “We’re done, guys. We’re done.” According to RWR’s Twitter, the crew discovered heavy damage to the toe link in the left-rear suspension. Radio traffic indicated “Couldn’t get the bolts out, it’s all twisted in there.” Dejected, Preece slowly pulled behind the wall on Lap 24, eliminated under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.”

Spire Motorsports filled the next two spots in the Bottom Five. Josh Bilicki’s race ended with a wreck in Turn 4, where his #77 Chevrolet slapped the wall with the driver’s side. The same fate befell Corey LaJoie’s backup car, which lost a tire in Turn 1 and smashed the wall with the same side. The next victim was Austin Cindric, who lost a left-rear tire entering Turn 4, sending his #2 Menards / Cardell Cabinetry Ford rear-first into the outside wall. Chase Elliott rounded out the Bottom Five in his #9 NAPA Chevrolet when he was collected in the night’s biggest accident in terms of car count after 6th-place Ryan Blaney spun in Turn 1 following a Lap 192 restart. Elliott and Blaney were among the 13 drivers involved.

Another heartbreak was that of Cole Custer, who after his aforementioned pre-race penalty for a halfshaft change was in position for a Top Five in the late stages, only to be eliminated in a pileup off Turn 4 during the first overtime attempt. He finished 21st.

Two overtime finishes pushed the race well past the five-hour mark at 413 total laps – nearly the entire scheduled race distance past the moment Preece fell out of the event. Eighteen cautions – most for single-car spins off Turn 4 – resulted in a war of attrition where only 20 of the 37 starters finished under power with 16 on the lead lap. Among them were Harrison Burton, who in his 15th series start earned a career-best 11th-place showing in the #21 Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford. Cody Ware earned his career-best non-superspeedway finish in 18th, one spot ahead of B.J. McLeod, whose #78 Circle B Diecast Ford equaled McLeod’s season-best 19th in Atlanta. And though 13 laps down at the finish, Kaz Grala earned The Money Team Racing its best finish in 23rd, improving on his previous mark of 25th in COTA.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #15 in the Coca-Cola 600. The number had finished once in another Cup points race at Charlotte – the Bank of America 500 on October 11, 2014, where Clint Bowyer’s #15 Pink Lemonade 5-hour Energy Toyota had engine issues after 94 laps.

37) #15-Ryan Preece / 16 laps / DVP
36) #77-Josh Bilicki / 31 laps / crash
35) #7-Corey LaJoie / 60 laps / crash
34) #2-Austin Cindric / 145 laps / crash
33) #9-Chase Elliott / 188 laps / crash

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (3)
2nd) Spire Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing (2)
3rd) Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (1)


Saturday, May 28, 2022

XFINITY: Career-best qualifying run for Timmy Hill undone by broken shock mount

PHOTO: @STaranto92

Timmy Hill picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #13 Prime Hydration Toyota was involved in a single-car crash after 25 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 232nd start, was his first of the season and first since October 24, 2020 at Texas, 48 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #13, the 154th for Toyota, and the 364th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th for the #13, the 373rd for Toyota, and the 1,290th from a crash.

The 2022 season has been another step forward for Hill, who continues to split time between driving and team ownership. Hill Motorsports, the Truck Series team he fields with brother Tyler, has upgraded its flagship #56 to the new Toyota, yielding four top-twenty finishes in the first nine races with a season-best 14th in Daytona. The team has also expanded to a second part-time entry, the #5, which Tyler raced to a 21st in Kansas and 25th last week in Texas.

On the Cup and XFINITY side, Hill has remained loyal to Carl Long, whose Motorsports Business Management team has continued to enter him in races whenever possible. After left following the pandemic-affected 2020 season, Hill’s full-time Cup schedule scaled back to just 13 starts in 2021 with no finishes better than 27th. MBM did acquire at least two NextGen cars, but Hill ended up missing the Daytona 500 field for a second-straight year. Other than Boris Said’s 26th-place run at COTA, the #66 has not started a race since. Their second entry, the #55 with J.J. Yeley, has only made one start at Talladega, taking 25th.

Hill and MBM have instead focused more on the XFINITY Series, which has had its own share of challenges. While J.J. Yeley secured full-time backing to run the team’s #66, their #13 entry began the year struggling to even qualify. Stan Mullis failed to make the races at Las Vegas and Phoenix, followed by another two DNQs for Chad Finchum at Atlanta and Martinsville. Natalie Decker took the controls at Talladega, but the result was the same. Hill, meanwhile, picked up a one-off with RSS Racing for Fontana, an opportunity inherited from Yeley before he’d landed his full-time effort. But that ride ultimately went to Joe Graf, Jr., who failed to qualify a Stewart-Haas Racing prepared entry for SS-Green Light Racing.

In late April, RSS appeared to return the favor by selling the owner points for their struggling third entry, the #28, one of at least three XFINITY programs to have scaled back from full-time to part-time this season. The points went to MBM’s #13 just in time for Chad Finchum to make the field in the following race at Dover. Hill then took the wheel the next week at Dover, finishing 33rd, and improved last week in Texas with a 27th-place finish. 

In his previous two series start, Hill carried sponsorship from Coble Enterprises, which joined he and MBM late in the 2021 season. But he would carry a new look at Charlotte. This time, his Toyota was blue, matching the color scheme of sponsor Prime Hydration. The latest in a series of coconut water-based drinks similar to Ryan Blaney sponsor BodyArmor, Prime carries the branding of social media influencers Logan Paul and KSI. Paul tweeted about Hill’s sponsorship in the lead-up to the race.

Despite his Owner Points from RSS, Hill would have his work cut out for him in Charlotte. His was one of 42 teams in the garage area set to contest the 38-car starting grid, meaning four would be sent home. In practice, Hill ranked 28th – just ahead of teammate Yeley – but then stunned with a fast lap in qualifying, securing 9th with a lap of 176.131mph (30.659 seconds). Hill’s was third-fastest of the Toyotas, trailing only the high-powered Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Brandon Jones in the #19 Menards / Bali Toyota (5th) and Trevor Bayne in the #18 Devotion Nutrition Toyota (6th). Ultimately, both Jones and Bayne would incur tail-end penalties before the start for unapproved adjustments, making Hill’s the highest-classified Toyota in the lineup. This was Hill’s career-best XFINITY Series qualifying effort, improving on his previous mark of 15th at Darlington last year.

Five drivers failed to turn a lap in qualifying, of which three made the field – Ty Gibbs, whose team was making repairs to the right side of his #54 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota, Riley Herbst in the #98 Monster Energy Ford who was sent to a backup car, and Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #26 Forever Lawn Toyota. These three secured the final starting spots with Earnhardt in last place. All three would also incur pre-race tail-end penalties – Herbst’s for the backup, and Gibbs and Earnhardt for unapproved adjustments. Also docked for unapproved adjustments were Ryan Vargas in the #6 Chevrolet, Joe Graf, Jr. in the #07 Ford, and the aforementioned Jones and Bayne.

The other two who didn’t time in missed the cut – Ronnie Bassett, Jr. in the #77 Honest Amish Chevrolet – still shut-out of a start so far in 2022 – and the same #28 RSS Racing team that had sold its Owner Points to MBM and Hill. To be raced by Kyle Sieg, the #28 Night Owl Ford was a dazzling “throwback” scheme to the late Davey Allison’s Havoline Ford - specifically the black-and-gold version that won the Mello Yello 500 at the Charlotte track in 1990. The other two who made attempts, but fell short were Mason Massey in the #91 Anderson Power Services Chevrolet and David Starr in the #08 EVERFI / Special Report Ford.

Hill on pit road.
PHOTO: @DnfRacers

Another team that, like Hill, turned heads in qualifying was Mike Harmon Racing. Just before his eventual last-place finish in Friday’s Truck Series race, Brennan Poole qualified Harmon’s #47 American Scroll Chevrolet a solid 19th on the grid. This would mark just the fourth series start for Poole in 2022 and his first since Martinsville, where a clutch failure coming to the green flag also left him in last place. But when the command to start engines came on Saturday, history repeated itself. The #47’s engine wouldn’t fire, stranding him on pit road as the rest of the field rolled away. Ryan Sieg also had issues securing his window net some distance behind in his stopped #39 A-Game Ford. Sieg caught up to the field after the first pace lap, but Poole was still on pit road when the green flag dropped, citing a battery issue. Poole immediately took over last place from the penalized drivers, and wouldn’t return to the track until around Lap 10.

Hill, meanwhile, did not drop to the back of the field, and defended his top-ten start from the top lane. He didn’t drop to 11th until Lap 3, and even then still engaged in a tight battle with Jeb Burton in Our Motorsports’ #27 Puryear Tank Lines Chevrolet. On Lap 7, Brandon Brown made an unscheduled stop under green for a flat right-front tire on his #68 Trade The Chain Chevrolet. Brandon Jones then brought out the first yellow on Lap 16, when he spun during his charge from the back of the pack. Both Brandons avoided serious damage with Brown getting the Lucky Dog under Jones’ yellow, each still several laps ahead of the returning Poole for the Lap 20 restart.

Heading into Turn 3, Hill broke loose in Turns 3 and 4 and only made minimal contact with the right-rear corner of his Toyota. He then came down pit road reporting a flat tire, during which time Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick of the “Drivers Only” FS1 broadcast crew remarked on Hill’s excellent qualifying run. The MBM crew changed right-side tires and sent him back on track under the ensuing caution. But by Lap 31, with the race back underway, Hill was behind the wall and out of the race, the Damaged Vehicle Policy ultimately citing crash damage as his reason for falling out. Hill tweeted that a broken shock mount caused both the spin and incident - the same reason for Keith McGee's short night in Friday's Truck race.

Jeffrey Earnhardt’s day also ended early when on Lap 42 he tangled with Kyle Weatherman’s #34 Equity Prime Mortgage Chevrolet and Myatt Snider’s #31 Chevrolet, drawing the fourth caution of the day. Both Earnhardt and Weatherman were done for the day while Snider recovered to finish 10th. Poole’s battery issue became a brake issue later in the first half of the event, leaving him 35th. Joe Graf, Jr. rounded out the Bottom Five following a five-car tangle on Lap 110 that turned out to be the final caution of the race.

*This marked Hill’s first XFINITY last-place finish at Charlotte since October 9, 2016, when electrical issues after 33 laps handed him his first series last-place run.

38) #13-Timmy Hill / 25 laps / crash
37) #26-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 41 laps / crash
36) #34-Kyle Weatherman / 41 laps / crash
35) #47-Brennan Poole / 71 laps / brakes
34) #07-Joe Graf, Jr. / 109 laps / crash

1st) Alpha Prime Racing, JD Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing (2)
2nd) Big Machine Racing, Kaulig Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


Friday, May 27, 2022

TRUCKS: Brennan Poole’s sudden driveshaft failure eliminates him from Charlotte race

PHOTO: @XStriker002

Brennan Poole picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #46 Thank You Military Toyota fell out with driveshaft failure after 38 of 143 laps.

The finish came in Poole’s 32nd series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th for the #46, the 5th from driveshaft issues, and the 43rd for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 27th from a driveshaft, the 42nd for the #46, and the 372nd for Toyota.

In addition to his XFINITY Series effort with Mike Harmon Racing, Poole has remained active in NASCAR’s top three series by running a few Truck Series events with Tim Viens’ team, G2G (for “Glory 2 God”) Racing. Poole’s Truck effort began this season at Las Vegas, where he qualified the team’s #46, then stepped aside so then-teammate Matt Jaskol, who DNQ’d, could take his place. Poole then made the cut at Atlanta, where he ran 28th, then fought electrical gremlins in Darlington, where he missed the start and still managed to finish 30th. He then earned his first lead-lap finish just last week in Texas, earning a new season-best of 23rd.

Poole would again run double-duty at Charlotte for both G2G and Harmon. Coming into the weekend, there were indications G2G would bring back their second entry, the #47, with Ryan Huff driving. By Thursday, team owner Tim Viens had taken Huff’s place, but soon after the #47 was withdrawn for a second-straight race, citing an engine issue discovered in Texas. Veins’ withdrawal came after Trey Hutchens pulled his #14 entry, which had already brought the entry list down to 36 entries for as many spots. With now 35 trucks for 36 spots, the remaining drivers all made the show. Running a paint scheme combining both military camouflage and the American flag, Poole ranked 27th in practice and 28th in qualifying with a lap of 170.557mph (31.661 seconds). Then, on the XFINITY side, where 42 drivers entered for 38 spots, Poole secured a 19th starting spot for the #47 American Scroll Chevrolet, ending a streak of three consecutive DNQs for Harmon’s team.

Brennan Poole on track.
PHOTO: @DnfRacers

Securing the 35th and final starting spot was Atlanta last-place finisher Hailie Deegan, whose crew discovered a seal failure in the right-rear, preventing her #1 Wastequip Ford from taking a timed lap. She’d also incur a redundant tail-end penalty for the resulting unapproved adjustments, to be joined by 26th-place starter Austin Wayne Self in the #22 AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet for the same reason. As the field cued up for the start, Self was instructed to line up last in the outside lane with Deegan trailing the inside.

When the green flag dropped, Deegan and Self crossed the line 33rd and 35th, respectively, splitting the #43 Barstool Sports Toyota of Keith McGee. McGee – who, incidentally,’s scanner app incorrectly listed as “Keith McGree,” – lost one of his associate sponsors just days before the race, but team owner Josh Reaume followed through with his end of the contract, allowing the Alaska native to make his second start of the season. Less than a half-hour after this news reached social media, EnvelaCorp signed on to fill the team's complement of sponsors, the team placing decals on the quarter-panels. McGee crossed the line 3.365 seconds back of the leader, just over two-tenths ahead of Self, but right from the start fought a truck that was loose both coming in and off the corner. At the end of the first lap, he was already 1.081 seconds behind 34th-place Self. 

By Lap 3, Self dropped Reaume to 34th in the #33 Rrhoid Rage Toyota, and McGee cut the deficit down to 0.833 second. But the gap only grew from there, back up to 2.128 seconds on Lap 5, 5.375 on Lap 8, then 9.158 on Lap 11. By this point, McGee was told by his spotter the leaders were running the middle line. Mindful of Jesse Iwuji’s struggles at Kansas, where his run with the same team ended early for not maintaining minimum speed, the team reminded McGee to stay on the inside line and not drift up into faster traffic. But McGee’s truck was so loose that when he was finally lapped on the 13th circuit, he had to fight to stay on the bottom. The team advised him to run slower, at which point McGee reported his engine “sounds like it’s laying over.”

On Lap 26, race leaders Zane Smith and Ty Majeski caught McGee, tightening the gap so suddenly that McGee found himself running the low line in a three-wide battle, Smith fighting for control as he steered through the corners. McGee remained last, now two laps down, and on the 29th circuit was told a truck was slowing down the backstretch. This was current LASTCAR Truck Series leader Dean Thompson, who had a flat left-rear tire on his #40 Worldwide Express Chevrolet. Thompson pitted for a tire change, and incurred a tail-end penalty for the crew coming over the wall too soon. He returned two laps down as Stage 1 concluded, putting him on the same circuit as McGee. 

On Lap 34, under caution flag stops, Thompson took last from McGee following further repairs to the left-rear corner of the #40. The Niece Motorsports crew told Thompson “I want you to go hard, but I want you to take care of your tires,” indicating that “We’re gonna have to take the gamble here in a few minutes.” Thompson thus dropped to last for the Lap 37 restart, letting one other truck by because the spotter said he was driving too aggressive. This may have referred to McGee, who Thompson re-passed the next time by, putting the #43 back in last. On Lap 39, McGee was back racing Reaume, who was much closer to him. “Don’t wreck the boss, bud,” he was warned.

Keith McGee's #43, which had an eventful night.
PHOTO: @DnfRacers

Also on Lap 39, Brennan Poole was running near the back of the pack when sparks and smoke erupted from his #46 entering Turn 1. The camera cut away and broadcasters didn’t respond to the incident, which didn’t draw a caution. Poole managed to make it to pit road and pulled behind the wall that same lap, the crew reporting something had “locked-up.” Poole climbed from his truck as repairs were attempted, but the team’s radio traffic ceased other than a few radio checks. Poole wasn’t declared out by NASCAR until Lap 90, citing a driveshaft which perhaps failed on that approach to Turn 1. Also declared out was Matt Mills, whose #20 J.F. Electric Chevrolet wrecked on Lap 58.

Keith McGee’s race didn’t last much longer. On Lap 70, he was posted by NASCAR and came to pit road six laps down in 33rd. The crew jumped over the wall too soon, incurring a pass-through penalty. But on the 76th circuit, as McGee was back up to speed, the driver reported his truck was still riding the splitter and had to come back in. The crew examined the truck further, wondering if the track bar had come loose. They instead found a shock mount had broken, and pushed the #43 behind the wall. McGee said he was lost, having apparently pulled into the XFINITY garage. Though the Reaume team declared McGee was out, the #43 pulled back out of the garage on Lap 84, running the apron so he could re-enter the garage at the correct entrance, which he did on Lap 86, thanking veterans for their service as he did to mark the Memorial Day holiday. NASCAR officials were not pleased with him returning to the race, though the crew joked about the misunderstanding afterward. Suspension issues were the listed cause for McGee’s exit, completing a challenging month of May for the second Reaume entry.

Reaume himself rounded out the Bottom Five in 31st, the last truck running at the finish. The last truck he passed was 32nd-place Jesse Little, whose #02 Race City Sports Memorabilia Chevrolet drew the penultimate caution after a Turn 3 tangle with Tyler Ankrum in the #16 Liuna! Toyota. This caution cost race leader Carson Hocevar a lead of over six seconds, leading to an ill-fated green-white-checkered finish where he collided with Ryan Preece’s #17 Ford. Both Hocevar and Preece collided, ultimately handing the win to Ross Chastain, who shared Dean Thompson’s Worldwide Express sponsorship on his Al Niece-prepared #41 Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #46 in a Truck Series race since June 9, 2006, when Kraig Kinser’s #46 Centrix Auto Finance Chevrolet, entered by David Dollar, fell out with crash damage after 55 laps of the Sams Town 400. Kinser had started a strong 3rd in the race.
*Poole’s run marked the first Truck Series last-place finish due to a driveshaft failure since March 28, 2009, when Sean Murphy’s #08 ASI Limited Chevrolet dropped out after 4 laps of the Kroger 250 at Martinsville.

35) #46-Brennan Poole / 38 laps / driveshaft
34) #20-Matt Mills / 57 laps / crash
33) #43-Keith McGee / 67 laps / suspension
32) #02-Jesse Little / 128 laps / crash
31) #33-Josh Reaume / 138 laps / running

1st) Reaume Brothers Racing, Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) AM Racing, David Gilliland Racing Ford, Front Row Motorsports, G2G Racing, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


Thursday, May 26, 2022

PREVIEW: Ryan Preece's triple-header among challengers at Charlotte

IMAGE: RSS Racing, @RSS283839

Friday, May 27, 2022 (8:30 P.M., FS1)
TRUCKS Race 10 of 23
NC Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Timothy Peters

Following one mid-week withdrawal, there are now exactly 36 drivers entered for as many spots, meaning all will qualify.

MISSING: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
After a strong 14th-place finish in last week’s Texas event, Jordan Anderson is again not entered this week.

MISSING: #5-Hill Motorsports
Also missing is the second Hill Motorsports entry with which Tyler Hill took 25th place in Texas. Following the team’s DNQ in their attempted debut at COTA, the #5 had started each of the last two races with Tyler finishing 21st and 25th.

WITHDREW: #14-Trey Hutchens Racing
Trey Hutchens was set to follow-up his return to competition in Kansas this week, but was withdrawn by Wednesday. It was in this race last year that Hutchens was involved in a serious late-race crash with Johnny Sauter.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Matt Mills will attempt double-duty this weekend as he brings sponsor J.F. Electric to the Randy Young #20 for a fourth time this year. After a 15th-place season debut in Las Vegas, Mills has failed to finish his following two starts at Atlanta and Kansas, each due to mechanical woes. He takes the place of Garrett Smithley, who failed to qualify last week in Texas.

MISSING: #32-Bret Holmes Racing
Bret Holmes is still another driver not entered this week, his coming after a 15th-place performance in Texas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
Team owner Josh Reaume will again pilot the #33 Toyota this week, taking the place of 31st-place Texas finisher Chris Hacker. The military-themed sponsor Rrhoid Rage will back Reaume’s effort.

RETURNING: #37-AM Racing
With the withdrawal of Trey Hutchens, the Charlotte race will see the NASCAR national series debut of 19-year-old Max Gutierrez of Mexico. A seven-time winner in the NASCAR FedEx Challenge Series, Perez has this year finished 3rd in ARCA East opener at New Smyrna and 10th in the ARCA Menards race at Talladega. Both races saw him carry Toughbuilt as sponsor, which follows him to the returning second AM Racing entry along with Distributed Ledger. We last saw this #37 entry in COTA, where Logan Bearden finished 28th after fuel pump issues.

DRIVER CHANGE: #43-Reaume Brothers Racing
Alaska native Keith McGee is back in action this week, the latest upstart to attempt to turn around a miserable May for the second Reaume entry. McGee takes the place of Armani Williams, who failed to qualify in Texas, and eyes his first tart since he ran 34th with this team in the Bristol Dirt Race. UPDATE: McGee lost an associate sponsor four days before the race, but Reaume is honoring his commitment to run the race.

RETURNING: #47-G2G Racing
For the first time since COTA, the G2G team will enter both trucks in the Charlotte race. Alongside a returning Brennan Poole in the flagship #46 is Ryan Huff, who made his season debut in the #46 at Kansas and this time runs the #47. G2G had entered both trucks last week, but withdrew the #47 before the action began in Texas. UPDATE: By Thursday, Tim Viens has taken Huff's place in the #47.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Kyle Busch will make his fourth series start of the season and first since Martinsville, ironically still seeking his first Truck win of 2022. He finished 2nd in Las Vegas, then 3rd and both COTA and Martinsville. Busch takes the place of Corey Heim, who ran 7th in Texas.

MISSING: #62-Halmar Racing
Following his 13th-place showing in Texas, Todd Bodine will not run in Charlotte, but is slated to run next week’s series return at Sears Point.

CUP INVADERS: #41-Ross Chastain, #51-Kyle Busch

Saturday, May 28, 2022 (1:00 P.M., FS1)
XFINITY Race 13 of 33
Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Grant Enfinger

There are 42 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning four will fail to qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #5-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
RETURNING / DRIVER SWAP: #55-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Ryan Preece will attempt all three races at Charlotte in an intense triple-header. For Saturday, he is back in the #5 Ford for what should be his second XFINITY start of the year and first since Richmond, where he came home 16th. Preece has only two previous XFINITY starts at Charlotte which came in 2016, when he ran 22nd and 23rd for JD Motorsports. Hunt Brothers Pizza will back Preece, who bumps double-duty driver Matt Mills to B.J. McLeod’s returning part-time entry, the #55. Mills did not qualify when this team was last entered at Richmond.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Charlotte sees Trevor Bayne return to the XFINITY Series for the first time since his 28th-place showing at Atlanta, and looks to regain the form of his 3rd-place Fontana and 4th-place Phoenix runs that preceded it. Bayne takes the place of Ryan Truex, whose unsponsored Toyota finished 6th in Texas. Devotion Nutrition will again be Bayne’s sponsor.

Kyle Sieg is back for the first time since Darlington, and the scaled-back third RSS Racing entry will also attempt its first race since Talladega, where C.J. McLaughlin failed to qualify. The result is perhaps the most eye-catching scheme from Saturday’s field, a “throwback” to the late Davey Allison’s 1990 Havoline Ford that went to victory lane on October 7th of that year. 

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Jesse Iwuji Motorsports
When military duty pulled Jesse Iwuji out of his car for practice and qualifying in Texas, Kyle Weatherman got the car solidly in the show. Iwuji then struggled when he took over in the race. This week, Weatherman is listed as driver of the #34 for the first time since Darlington, where he gave the team its season-best 12th-place showing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #35-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
Shane Lee seeks his fifth XFINITY start of the year and first since Talladega, where he turned in a season-best 14th. He takes the place of Patrick Emerling, who in 28th was the last car under power at the checkered flag, three laps down.

Sponsorship issues have once again reared their ugly head in the XFINITY Series as Alex Labbe, unsponsored last week in Texas, will not drive this week. Labbe is slated to return next week for the road course race in Portland. This will be the first race Labbe has missed since this year’s Daytona opener, where he failed to qualify in DGM’s #90. Taking his place will be Garrett Smithley, who has yet to make a XFINITY start this season. Smithley, who ran the All-Star Open last week for Rick Ware Racing, finished 18th the last time he ran a XFINITY race last fall in Kansas, also for Ware.

DRIVER CHANGE: #48-Big Machine Racing
One week after Tyler Reddick scored Scott Borchetta’s team its first-ever victory in barely a season-and-a-half of existence, Reddick’s Cup teammate at RCR Austin Dillon will take his turn in the #48 Critical Components / SCW Chevrolet. This will be Dillon’s first XFINITY start since last September in Darlington, where he finished 29th for Jordan Anderson.

RETURNING: #77-Bassett Racing
Bassett Racing’s ongoing search for their second series start, their first with either of the Bassett brothers driving, continues into this weekend’s qualifying session. This time around, it’s Ronnie, Jr. taking the wheel of the #77 Chevrolet, following a pair of DNQs in Daytona and Martinsville.

MISSING: #88-JR Motorsports
William Byron is not entered following his runner-up finish in Texas.

RETURNING: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Nick Sanchez is back for his second career XFINITY start, once again teaming with B.J. McLeod’s multi-car team. This time, he drives the now part-time #99 effort, having run the #5 in his series debut at Phoenix, where he finished 26th. The #99 last ran at Darlington, where Stefan Parsons finished 20th in a paint scheme honoring his father’s lone Cup win in 1988.

CUP INVADERS: #48-Austin Dillon

Sunday, May 29, 2022 (6:00 P.M., FOX)
CUP Race 14 of 36
Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
2021 Last-Place Finisher: Kurt Busch

There are 37 drivers entered for 40 spots, marking the 13th short field of 2022, and the first since Richmond in April with a single “open” team on the list.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Rick Ware Racing
Ryan Preece completes his triple-header in Charlotte as he rejoins Rick Ware’s #15 team in a points race for the first time since Dover, where he ran 25th. Carrying the same Hunt Brothers Pizza sponsor from Friday’s race, Preece takes the place of Garrett Smithley, who raced with the team in the All-Star Open.

DRIVER CHANGE: #16-Kaulig Racing
Following A.J. Allmendinger’s turn in the All-Star Race, Noah Gragson is back in the #16 for the first time since his solid 18th-place showing in Kansas, this time carrying sponsorship from the Charlotte Knights minor league baseball team. Gragson will likewise run double-duty with his full-time XFINITY effort.

RETURNING: #50-The Money Team Racing
The lone “open” team this time around is The Money Team, which we last saw Kaz Grala drive for in COTA. Grala is again the driver with this time SEGI TV as sponsor of the #50 Chevrolet. It will be Grala’s first Cup start at Charlotte.

DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
After a rough evening in the All-Star Open for Landon Cassill, who crashed out early, Josh Bilicki is back in the #77 with a patriotic variant of his #77 Zeigler Auto Group Chevrolet. This will be Bilicki’s third Cup start at Charlotte and second in the 600, following a 35th-place showing for Rick Ware Racing last May.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 26, 2007): Ken Butler III picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Ohio 250 at Mansfield when he lost the engine on his #00 Aaron’s Lucky Dog Toyota after 167 laps. Butler started 25th in what was to be the first of his three series starts. His best finish came in his final start on August 27, 2010, when he finished 27th for Rick Ware at Chicagoland.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

CUP: Kyle Larson the first All-Star retiree since 2019

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Kyle Larson finished last in Sunday’s All-Star Race at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #5 Chevrolet was involved in a single-car crash after 36 of 140 laps.

Larson, the defending series champion, secured his starting spot with an incredible ten-win season that began in the third round of the year at Las Vegas. Larson, crew chief Cliff Daniels, and the Hendrick Motorsports crew have made the adjustment to NASCAR’s NextGen car, taking the checkered flag just two races into the season at the Auto Club Speedway. The year since has been rather hot-and-cold, racking up six Top Fives, but also four DNFs, most recently a blown engine on a fast Tim Richmond “throwback” scheme in Darlington that left him last.

On Saturday evening, Larson turned the second-fastest lap behind Denny Hamlin, then made the eight-car cut in single-car qualifying to make it into the “knock-out” shootout for the pole. There would be three rounds with the top eight matched head-to-head in four groups of two. A drag-race start, four-tire stop, and single lap at speed would decide each winner. Third in line and paired with Kurt Busch, Larson prevailed in Round 1, only to stall his car in Round 2. Larson thus secured 4th while Kyle Busch, who bested Larson in Round 2, went on to beat Ryan Blaney for the pole.

Starting 24th and last was “fan vote” winner Erik Jones in the #43 Focus Factor Chevrolet, though he’d be joined at the back by 20th-place starter Alex Bowman, his #48 Ally Chevrolet slowest in single-car qualifying, for unapproved adjustments. “Obviously, we can only go forward from here,” said Bowman’s crew over the radio.

When the race started, Bowman’s car was last across the stripe, 1.911 seconds back of the lead with Jones now 22nd, just ahead of All-Star Open Segment 3 winner Daniel Suarez in the #99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet. Bowman and Suarez dropped Jones to last by the end of Lap 1, while Jones cleared Chris Buescher’s #17 Fastenal Ford by the start of Lap 3. Buesher, the winner of Open Segment 2, remained locked in a side-by-side battle with Jones, just 0.056 behind the #43 to start Lap 4. Jones shook of Buescher the next time by, but the #17 stayed within two-tenths of his competitor.

On Lap 8, Michael McDowell had slipped to 23rd in his #34 WISE-EV Ford, and Buescher set to work trying to pass him. The pair were 0.014 apart in a side-by-side battle at the stripe, then remained just 0.072 apart two laps later. McDowell finally inched ahead the next time by as McDowell now dropped Brad Keselowski to 23rd in his #6 Kohler Generators Ford. Buescher couldn’t quite catch his teammate, though Keselowski now found himself locked in a side-by-side battle with Jones, the pair seven-thousandths apart on Lap 17. Buescher steadily lost ground to 0.477 back of Keselowski on Lap 20 while Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., the Open Segment 1 winner, dropped to 23rd in the #47 Kroger / Viva Towels Chevrolet. On Lap 25, just before the end of the opening sage, Jones dropped to last, 1.595 back of Buescher, who then caught Stenhouse for 23rd. This put the #43 back where he started when the stage ended.

Under the ensuing caution, Jones endured a lengthy stop along with Kevin Harvick, whose crew raise the hood of the #4 #BuschBacon Ford. When Stage 2 began on Lap 26, McDowell slipped to last spot 3.061 seconds back of the lead, but now neck-and-neck with Bubba Wallace in the #23 Dr. Pepper Dark Berry Toyota. The next time by, Wallace dropped 16.1 seconds back of the lead and 10.844 back of McDowell. The #23 had made an unscheduled stop for a loose right-front wheel on his previous stop, putting him a lap down. Wallace remained in last, hoping for a quick caution to earn the Lucky Dog, when trouble broke out up front.

On Lap 35, Kyle Larson was running 2nd to a dominant Kyle Busch. Heading through Turns 3 and 4, the right-front tire blew on Larson’s car, putting him hard into the outside wall. Larson came off the fence and drove through the grass, revealing significant damage to the passenger side of his Chevrolet as he pulled into his pit stall. The driver climbed out under his own power, done for the day. Cliff Daniels had the tow truck bring the car to their garage stall, Stall 21, so the crew could ready the car for loading on the hauler. Wallace got the Lucky Dog under the caution, dropping Larson to last in the process.

On the ensuing restart, another tire went down, triggering another series of hard hits. This time, it was race leader Kyle Busch, whose #18 M&M’s Crunchy Cookie Toyota slowed off Turn 4 and pulled to the inside of the quad-oval. Closing fast behind was Ross Chastain, who elected the inside lane in his #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet. Chastain struck Busch’s car in the left-rear, sending him straight up the track into Chase Elliott’s #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Elliott spun off Chastain’s car into the outside wall, knocking the front-end geometry out of alignment. All three drivers climbed from their cars, done for the night. Erik Jones rounded out the Bottom Five after he spun and backed into the outside wall off Turn 4 while running 14th.

*This marked the third time the #5 has finished last in the All-Star Race. The first occurrence was in the inaugural on May 25, 1985, when Geoffrey Bodine’s #5 Levi Garrett Chevrolet lost the engine after 14 laps. The most recent occurrence was May 21, 1994, when Terry Labonte had a transmission failure after 36 laps in his #5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet.
*Larson is the first driver to fail to finish on the lead lap under power in an All-Star Race since 2019.

24) #5-Kyle Larson / 36 laps / crash
23) #9-Chase Elliott / 47 laps / crash
22) #1-Ross Chastain / 47 laps / crash
21) #18-Kyle Busch / 47 laps / crash
20) #43-Erik Jones / 103 laps / crash

CUP: After Stenhouse transfers, Cassill first driver out of the Open for a hard crash

PHOTO: @TheLTFiles

Landon Cassill finished last in the All-Star Open at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #77 Shelton Energy Solutions Chevrolet was involved in a single-car crash after 25 of 50 laps.

After a difficult start, Cassill has begun to reap the rewards of his double-duty effort running full-time in the XFINITY Series for Kaulig Racing with a partial schedule in fellow Chevrolet effort Spire Motorsports’ #77 Chevrolet. Following a last-place finish after an engine fire in the XFINITY race in Fontana, Cassill finished 9th or better the next three races, then came within a few carlengths of beating Brandon Jones for the win in Martinsville, ultimately taking a career-best 2nd. The Cup side has seen more modest results, though in all five of his starts, he brought the car home under power with two top-twenty finishes, capped by a 15th in the Daytona 500. 

Cassill would also run the #77 in the All-Star Open, taking over for Kansas starter Josh Bilicki, in what would be his first pen start since 2019. His best finish in the race came in 2016, when he drove to an 8th-place finish for Front Row Motorsports. Shelton Energy Solutions would make their debut as sponsor for the non-points event.

Cassill’s Texas weekend began with the XFINITY race, where his #10 Voyager: Crypto for All Chevrolet was involved in the first incident in practice. Contact with the wall sent him to a backup car, leaving him last on the grid without a single lap completed. In the wild 167 laps that followed, Cassill clawed his way to 10th at the checkered flag. He faced similar adversity on the Cup side, ranking slowest of the 16 drivers in practice, but then improved to 11th in time trials with a lap of 184.382mph (29.287 seconds).

Starting 16th and last in the second-shortest Open field in the history of the event was B.J. McLeod in the #78 B.J. McLeod Pala Casino Ford. He’d be joined by two drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments – Justin Haley in the #31 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, and Tyler Reddick in the #8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet, who had steering issues that would later be suffered by teammate Austin Dillon in the race. Both McLeod and 15th-place starter Garrett Smithley in the #15 Trophy Tractor Ford decided not to start ahead of Haley and Reddick, so the last row remained the same at the start.

When the race started, McLeod and Smithley remained locked in a side-by-side battle for the 16th spot. At the end of Lap 1, they were one-thousandth apart, then six-thousandths on Lap 2, 0.016 of a second on Lap 3, followed by five-thousandths on Lap 4. It wasn’t until the fifth lap that Smithley finally shook off McLeod, who remained just 0.284 back of the #15. The gap between the two grew to 0.525 on Lap 17, but in the final laps, McLeod began to close the gap, reaching 0.394 at the last lap of the stage, then 0.319 as it ended. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the stage, technically handing him last place as the first driver to transfer into the main event.

Under caution, both McLeod and Haley incurred tail-end penalties for uncontrolled tires, putting them in the tail end of the pack to start behind the longest line. Stenhouse inherited last when Stage 2 began on Lap 21, and this time Smithley pulled ahead of McLeod more easily, opening up a 0.263 second advantage the first time by. McLeod was still 0.327 behind on Lap 26, when the caution fell for the first incident of the race. Cassill, running through Turns 3 and 4, was told by his team to try the high line, but it didn’t work. He lost control and backed into the outside wall, spinning down to the apron. Cassill climbed out uninjured, his day done.

Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez won the race’s two remaining stages with Erik Jones earning the Fan Vote. Tyler Reddick, who like Haley had been climbing through the field, ended up spinning in the same spot as Cassill, then was struck by a slowing Harrison Burton in the #21 Motorcraft / Dex Imaging Ford. Both Reddick and Burton were done for the race, ultimately filling the Bottom Five. 

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Cassill and the #77 in the Open.

16) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 20 laps / led 20 laps / advanced stage 1
15) #77-Landon Cassill / 25 laps / crash
14) #17-Chris Buescher / 40 laps / led 9 laps / advanced stage 2
13) #21-Harrison Burton / 42 laps / crash
12) #8-Tyler Reddick / 42 laps / crash

Saturday, May 21, 2022

OPINION: The time has come for NASCAR to ban Cup drivers from the lower series

PHOTO: @WilliamByron

Despite multiple rule changes that have allowed the lower series to develop unique identities of their own, there remains a concerted effort to get Cup Series regulars into the lower series, and the XFINITY Series in particular. 

As with too many things these days, this subject has become a war of semantics. Those happy with Kyle Busch running fewer XFINITY races have been dismissed by their detractors as obsessed with “the Kyle Busch problem,” as if the source of their frustration was just from Kyle Busch running in the lower series, and not the presence of any Cup regulars. This forgets that Busch made himself the problem by staying in the series longer and for more races per season than the other post-2001 “Buschwhackers.” The culmination of this was the perversion of Richard Petty’s 200-win mark that allowed Busch’s combined top three series wins to be made part of the same conversation. But the concept of a “Kyle Busch problem” has now been used to silence these same critics as other Cup drivers creep back into the XFINITY series unchecked.

Some “Buschwhackers” are brought in under the guise of helping smaller teams evaluate their competitiveness. This occurred in February at the Auto Club Speedway, where SS-Green Light Racing brought on Stewart-Haas Racing driver Cole Custer, and this past Saturday in Texas, where Big Machine Racing brought on Richard Childress Racing driver Tyler Reddick. Both drivers were far from picked at random – SS-Green Light is as closely aligned with SHR as Big Machine (thanks to a renegotiation last October) is to RCR. These technical alliances have undoubtedly helped these teams become more competitive – both Custer and Reddick brought those teams their first wins. 

But, as with anything, this benefit has not been given freely. Running Cup level equipment has cost these smaller teams some of their identity and autonomy. Custer and Reddick's wins, while tremendous for their respective teams, are not equal stories to Jeremy Clements' win at Road America in 2017, nor David Gilliland's at Kentucky in 2006. Only the latter were true examples of series regulars sticking it to the big teams. Instead, too many small teams have become Trojan Horses, creating a path for Cup drivers to more easily slide into the XFINITY Series and at a direct detriment to series regulars. For barely over a season’s work, Jade Buford’s full-time schedule has now been reduced to just one more regular season race, to be replaced by not one, but both of RCR’s Cup drivers. Say what you will about Buford's performance in just 44 series starts, but other up-and-coming drivers for Cup-affiliated programs should be concerned if this becomes a trend.

In another case, Cup drivers are being airdropped into the field with impunity. Enter the case of JR Motorsports’ #88, which in April decided to expand its part-time schedule to allow the last two series champions Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott – plus current point leader William Byron – to run a combined five additional XFINITY races. This announcement came while Hendrick drivers were also entered in Truck Series races for fellow Chevrolet team Spire Motorsports. In both cases, none of the traditional excuses for Cup guys running the lower series adds up. There's no sponsor demanding the drivers be entered - both the XFINITY and Truck efforts carry logos for The selected races are not at new venues, negating a reason to familiarize themselves with the track. Even if they were, the Hendrick quartet are all championship winning or title-caliber drivers. Each drive new NextGen cars in Cup that are radically different from any other vehicles raced in NASCAR national competition. This feels no different than the 2001-era “Buschwhackers” – a means of racking up easy victories by taking spots from other teams trying to qualify.

Neither of these phenomena are entirely new, but this steady escalation this season should raise an eyebrow. I personally believe that Kyle Busch finally scaling back has encouraged other Cup teams to stuff the field with their own drivers. NASCAR has not responded by making any changes to their current rules. Part of this is because, to some, there is no issue. Many XFINITY drivers themselves have been on record saying they like having Cup guys in the field to match their skills. But just because someone wants something doesn’t mean they should have it. The very reason we have XFINITY drivers capable of regularly contending for wins is because Cup drivers are not allowed to earn points and are limited in their number of starts. But these are passive measures, and teams will continue to find workarounds for as long as they’re able. 

The time has finally come for NASCAR to make things black-and-white. If their intent with past rule changes has been to keep Cup drivers out of the lower series, then they need to ban Cup drivers outright. Anything less will only encourage Cup teams to come up with even more workarounds to get their Cup drivers into races where they don’t belong, which will remain a threat to both the identity and health of the lower series.

XFINITY: Ryan Vargas shows speed early before engine lets go in Texas

PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Ryan Vargas picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s SRS Distribution 250 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #6 Twin Liquors Chevrolet lost the engine after 21 of 167 laps.

The finish, which came in Vargas’ 53rd series start, was his first of the season and first since April 9, 2021 at Martinsville, 38 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 18th for the #6, the 273rd from engine issues, and the 594th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #6, the 1,120th from engine woes, and the 1,841st for Chevrolet.

Last year marked Vargas’ first bid at running nearly a full season, ultimately starting 29 of 33 races with a best finish of 14th in the summer race at Atlanta. Using his social media presence to welcome new sponsors like Monarch Roofing and Swann Security, Vargas also led the first three laps of his XFINITY career during the spring race at Talladega. This also proved to be a transitional year for team owner Johnny Davis, whose four-car lineup was reduced to just two. Vargas has returned this year in the #6, joined by former Mike Harmon Racing driver Bayley Currey, who started running for Davis midway through last season.

Through this season’s first 11 races, both Vargas and Currey have fought to finish inside the Top 20. Vargas’ best run of the year again came at Atlanta, this time taking 12th on the reconfigured speedway. Currey’s best remains a pair of 17th-place showings in consecutive races at Martinsville and Talladega. Vargas has also run a few special paint schemes, including a “throwback” to Jeff Gordon’s Pepsi car at Darlington, and a continued effort with Craniosysnostosis outfit Cranio Care Bears to honor the life of Brentley Ehmann.

For Texas, Vargas would welcome returning sponsorship from Twin Liquors Fine Wine & Spirits along with the company’s sister company Siegel’s, which previously backed him at COTA in March. The result was a different look from a traditional JD Motorsports entry, this time running a black car with a red roof and white rims. The scheme would be run on Chassis 059, which had to be rebuilt following a three-car tangle with Jesse Iwuji and Stefan Parsons at Las Vegas. It was at this same Texas track on October 24, 2020 that Vargas – running another distinctive paint scheme for TikTok – flew to an 8th-place finish in the closing laps, which remains his career-best performance. 

This year, Vargas’ weekend began with a spin 13 minutes into the lone practice session, though he managed to keep his car out of the wall. The resulting tire change would incur him a tail-end penalty for Saturday’s race after he qualified 31st with a lap of 175.558mph (30.759 seconds). 

Vargas was far from the only driver to find trouble on Friday. Before his incident, Landon Cassill bounced off the Turn 3 wall with his #10 Voyager: Crypto for All Chevrolet, sending him to a backup car and preventing him from turning a qualifying lap. A.J. Allmendinger couldn’t turn a lap in practice when NASCAR suspected a height issue with his #16 Action Industries Chevrolet, requiring another trip though the inspection queue. In the time trials themselves, Anthony Alfredo bounced his #23 First Phase Chevrolet off the Turn 4 fence and cancelled his lap. Kyle Weatherman secured the 17th starting spot when he was swapped into the #34 Equity Prime Mortgage Chevrolet due to a military obligation. Iwuji would still start Saturday’s race at team co-owner Emmitt Smith’s home track. The lone DNQ was Brennan Poole, whose #47 Mike Harmon Racing Chevrolet carried new backing from apparel company American Scroll.

On race day, Allmendinger didn’t incur a tail-end penalty after securing 13th in qualifying with no practice. But last-place qualifier Cassill was docked for his backup car along with 37th-place Alfredo’s repaired #23 and 17th-place Iwuji’s driver change. This is not counting another five drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments: 7th-place Ty Gibbs for a tire change on the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, 18th-place Stefan Parsons in the #45 Market Rebellion / Sokal Chevrolet, 22nd-place Bayley Currey in the #4 Chasco Constructors Chevrolet, 23rd-place Brandon Brown in the #68 BrandonBilt Foundations Chevrolet, and 29th-place David Starr in the #08 Ticket Smarter Ford.

By the end of Lap 1, Iwuji had taken last from 37th-place Cassill, and the gap was already 1.961 seconds between the two. The gap continued to grow in the early laps as Iwuji turned his first laps of the weekend, growing to 2.791 seconds on Lap 4, 3.549 on Lap 7, and 4.152 on Lap 11. By Lap 13, Iwuji began to find his footing, and for the next two laps closed the deficit on new 37th-place runner Timmy Hill in the #13 TX Remodeling / Toyota. Hill was struggling with a vibration, and had himself started to lose ground with new 36th-place runner Matt Mills in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. Hill’s deficit to 36th place grew to 4.157 seconds on Lap 15, then 5.4 on Lap 18. In between, Iwuji became the first driver lapped on the 16th circuit followed by Hill, who was caught in Turns 1 and 2.

On Lap 22, just moments after Emmitt Smith was interviewed about Iwuji by the FS1 crew, Ryan Vargas had clawed his way to 31st on the track. Earlier in the run, he’d fought Ty Gibbs’ high powered Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota off Turn 4, running the high line as he defended the position. He’d climbed to 23rd in just five laps, the biggest mover in the early stages. But this time off the fourth corner, the engine suddenly and violently let go, resulting in a massive plume of white smoke from the pipes and underneath the car. Vargas coasted to a stop on the apron of Turn 1 as the first caution came out. The broadcast estimated that the engine may have let go because of his spin in practice. NASCAR officially declared Vargas out on Lap 48.

Taking 37th was Mills, whose #5 was collected in a multi-car pileup off Turn 2 seconds after the Lap 88 restart. Noah Gragson was likewise involved in his #9 Bass Pro Shops / TrueTimber / BRCC Chevrolet, but continued on, only to wreck a second time four laps later, shoving in the rear clip of his car. Ryan Sieg’s day went a similar trajectory, suffering early damage to the right-rear of his #39 / A-Game Ford before he was involved in two more accidents in consecutive cautions, ultimately ending his day. Iwuji also didn’t escape the Bottom Five when he became the last car involved in the day’s biggest accident off Turn 4, sliding into a pair of stopped cars in the infield grass.

Among those involved in the same wreck as Iwuji was J.J. Yeley. Yeley came into Saturday’s race with one of his best cars. According to Bob Pockrass, his #66 Workpro Ford was a former Penske Racing car the team sold to Motorsports Business Management after CarlLong helped Penske with backup parts during the West Coast Swing. The car showed tremendous speed, ranking 4th-fastest in opening practice behind Ryan Truex, Justin Allgaier, and Tyler Reddick, then qualified in 14th. After 10 cautions, most of them for multiple wrecks, Yeley was battling between 11th and 13th in the final stage. But with just 30 laps to go, Alex Labbe broke loose by himself off Turn 4. Yeley cut low, only for Labbe to clip him in the right-rear, sending him head-on into the outside wall and triggering a massive pileup. Yeley climbed out uninjured, but was left a disappointing 31st with his car in shambles.

Taking the checkered flag for the first time was Scott Borchetta’s second-year team Big Machine Racing, which over the last four races has re-evaluated their program by benching Jade Buford in favor of Kaz Grala, then Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and soon, Austin Dillon. In his second start for Big Machine, Reddick in the #48 Big Machine Racing / JAG Metals Chevrolet started outside-pole, led 31 laps, and took the checkered flag over the JR Motorsports entry of William Byron. For now, Buford’s future remains up in the air beyond  planned start in the upcoming road race in Portland. Reddick and Dillon will share the car in the remaining races leading into the Playoffs, with the driver from the Playoffs moving forward to be determined at a later date.

Damon Lusk wrecks after the first lap of the Busch Series race at Texas.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #6 in a XFINITY race at Texas since March 29, 2003, when Damon Lusk’s #6 Sta-Rite Pumps Dodge, entered by Tommy Baldwin Racing, crashed in Turn 2 after completing just the opening lap of the O’Reilly 300. The other occurrence was on April 4, 1998, when Joe Bessey’s #6 Power Team Chevrolet tangle with Doug Reid III in Turn 3 after 2 laps of the Coca Cola 300.

38) #6-Ryan Vargas / 21 laps / engine
37) #5-Matt Mills / 87 laps / crash
36) #9-Noah Gragson / 95 laps / crash / led 32 laps / won stage 1
35) #39-Ryan Sieg / 129 laps / crash
34) #34-Jesse Iwuji / 137 laps / crash

1st) Alpha Prime Racing, JD Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing (2)
2nd) Big Machine Racing, Kaulig Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)


Friday, May 20, 2022

TRUCKS: A rough night for the McAnally team in Texas as Derek Kraus takes first last-place finish

ALL PHOTOS: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Derek Kraus picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s 220 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet fell out due to crash damage after 88 of 149 laps.

The finish came in Kraus’ 59th series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it as the 4th for the #19, the 422nd from Chevrolet, and the 171st for a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 82nd for the #19, the 1,289th from a crash, and the 1,840th for Chevrolet.

Continuing the legacy of impressive drivers from the state of Wisconsin, including Dave Marcis and Matt Kenseth, Kraus burst onto the NASCAR scene in 2017, when the 15-year-old claimed his first series win in the K&N Pro Series West finale at Kern County. He drove for longtime regional team owner Bill McAnally, and soon became the latest from that team to carry sponsorship from NAPA. Over the next two seasons, Kraus and McAnally stormed to nine more West wins and three in the East, culminating with another win in Kern County as he was crowned series champion.

By then, Kraus made his Truck Series debut in the penultimate round at Phoenix on November 9, 2018, bringing McAnally back to the series for the first time since his 2001 campaign with Brendan Gaughan. Kraus qualified 8th for the race, and even more impressively also finished there, beating two of the championship contenders. Following a part-time campaign in 2019, he went full-time Truck Series racing in 2020, kicking things off with his first Top Five in his first-ever Daytona start, finishing 4th. He finished the year a strong 11th in points with 13 top-ten finishes. But his 2021 campaign was somewhat of a disappointment. Though he scored his first two poles, he earned just one Top Five and four Top Tens. 

This year, the McAnally-Hilgemann team has made a manufacturer change from Toyota to Chevrolet, and brought on XFINITY Series competitor Colby Howard as Kraus’ teammate in the #91. But coming into Texas, Kraus’ 8th-place run at Kansas the previous week had been his best of 2022 so far.

Texas offered the opportunity for a turnaround. Kraus had one of the fastest trucks, taking 5th in opening practice and securing 9th on the grid with a lap of 179.856mph (30.024 seconds), fastest of the Chevrolets. He also avoided the misfortunes faced by many of his fellow competitors. 

Taking the 36th and final starting spot was the #33 Dal Dirt Chevrolet of Chris Hacker, whose spin into the Turn 2 wall, combined with teammate Armani Williams’ DNQ due to mechanical troubles on the #43 Ice Cold Technologies Toyota, continued what has been a frustrating May for the Reaume Brothers Racing team. While Williams joined Garrett Smithley in the #20 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet on the early ride home, Hacker’s team completed repairs, and would incur a redundant tail-end penalty prior to the start. 

Three other trucks didn’t turn a lap in qualifying. Matt DiBenedetto in the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet was prohibited from qualifying when his crew adjusted the wedge bolts under the hood after practice, an adjustment NASCAR had just prohibited. Lawless Alan’s #45 MG Machinery Chevrolet likewise rolled off in the back after he did not complete a timed lap. Colby Howard in the #91 Gates Hydraulics Chevrolet was another victim of Turn 2 when he spun in qualifying, sending him to a backup truck. Howard incurred a tail-end penalty for his backup, joining the unapproved adjustments penalties for polesitter John Hunter Nemechek after a crew member was spotted stepping on the splitter of his #4 Tom Thumb / Albertson’s Toyota, 11th-place Grant Enfinger in the #23 Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet, 23rd-place Austin Wayne Self in the #22 AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet, 27th-place Jordan Anderson in the #3 Dometic Outdoor Chevrolet, 31st-place Bret Holmes in the #32 Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet, and the aforementioned Chris Hacker.

Across the stripe, Hacker remained in the 36th spot, 4.199 seconds back of the leader with Howard and DiBenedetto the next two trucks in front. On Lap 3, Hacker passed Kris Wright in Al Niece’s #44 America’s Auto Auction Chevrolet, but Wright passed Hacker back on Lap 7. From there, Hacker dropped to 1.897 seconds back of Wright before he spun by himself, again in Turn 2, drawing the first caution of the day on Lap 10. Hacker avoided hitting the wall this time – and also any other trucks by running last – though the crew admonished him to drive more carefully until they could make adjustments. Now one lap down, Hacker reported he’d been driving at 80%, but would run more conservatively on the next run. The crew made significant adjustments when he pitted by himself after the leaders.

The race restarted on Lap 15 with Hacker looking for a quick caution to secure the Lucky Dog. But the rest of Stage 1 ran without incident, putting him nearly two laps down by the 29th circuit. Then with three to go in the stage, the leaders lapped 35th-place Spencer Boyd in the #12 Montucky Cold Snacks Chevrolet, followed by 34th-place Jordan Anderson at the stripe with the one to go signal. This secured Anderson the Lucky Dog when the yellow fell moments later. By the restart on Lap 43, Hacker was shown two laps down to Boyd’s one, each still tying to maintain pace.

But on Lap 47, current LASTCAR Truck Series championship leader Dean Thompson faced another issue on his #40 Worldwide Express Chevrolet. He made at least one unscheduled pit stop under green for a fender rub, then believed he had a right-rear tire going down. Losing multiple laps in the process, Thompson fell to last on Lap 48, and now reported his water temperature sat at 250 degrees. The team wasn’t concerned about this, saying the stop-and-go of pitting increased his temperature, and now four laps down on Lap 50, focused on improving his truck’s handling. By Lap 59, he said the #40 was loose on exit.

Hacker continued to struggle as well. On Lap 61, he suddenly slowed on the frontstretch with other trucks flying around him at speed. The #33 resumed race pace without incident, but soon fell into the leader’s clutches. By Lap 67, he’d lost a fourth lap, putting him on the same circuit as Thompson just before the end of Stage 2. Under the ensuing caution, Hacker’s team pulled out a spring rubber and gave their driver a water bottle while Thompson’s team continued to examine the tire they’d changed earlier. The #40 crew said it was a mistake to not change four tires earlier, perhaps contributing to the issue.

On Lap 75, Thompson dropped Hacker back to last, and soon after the #33 was sent to the tail end for bringing equipment over the wall too soon. When the green flag dropped to begin the final stage, Hacker was now shown four laps down to Thompson’s three, again separating the two competitors. 

Next to enter the last-place battle was Colby Howard, whose backup truck apparently made contact with the wall but did not draw the caution flag. He dropped off the pace on Lap 81 and came down pit road, the crew clearing the fenders with particular focus on the right-rear. The team then discovered a fluid leak, and narrowed this down to the brake lines. Howard had no brake pressure, and the crew lifted the hood as they attempted to clamp the line. But on Lap 86, just as Howard took last from Hacker, the caution came out for his teammate.

Kraus on pit road after the tangle with Majeski.

Derek Kraus had finished 9th in Stage 1 and 6th in Stage 2. His #19 was still among the leaders in the final stage when he and Ty Majeski entered the treacherous second corner. Majeski broke loose and slid up into Kraus, whose #19 pounded the outside wall enough to dislodge the rear decklid. Kraus joined his teammate on pit road, dropping three laps down by the 88th circuit. On Lap 92, when Majeski’s #66 Road Ranger Toyota was determined to have met minimum speed, Kraus’ truck was pushed behind the wall, out of the race under NASCAR’s “Damaged Vehicle Policy,” or DVP. Around this time, Howard returned to the race 11 laps down with the brake issue apparently solved. He’d only climb to 34th by the checkered flag, passing Kris Wright, whose #44 wrecked after a tangle with Tyler Hill’s unsponsored #5 Toyota entering Turn 3. Wright pulled behind the wall on Lap 108, also out under the DVP. 

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Tyler Ankrum, whose #16 Toyota Tsusho Toyota had an incident leaving pit road before he spun on track, ultimately citing overheating issues, and Zane Smith, involved in the same pit road incident, who later bounced his #38 Speedy Cash Ford off the outside wall.

Some of the drivers sent to the back before the start bounced back with solid finishes. Matt DiBenedetto climbed from 34th to finish 10th, his second-straight top-ten finish and fourth of the year. Jordan Anderson recovered to finish 14th – a new season-best and his strongest performance since last fall at Talladega, where he ran 11th. Right behind came Bret Holmes, who clawed his way from 31st to 15th – his second-best finish of the season so far.

*The 88 laps completed by Kraus stands as the second-most of the 48 last-place finishers of Truck Series races at Texas, trailing only Ross Chastain’s disqualification from this race last year after a lead-lap finish.
*This marks the first last-place finish for the #19 in a Truck Series race in exactly 21 years. This dates back to May 20, 2001, when Ricky Sanders’ #19 Ford lost the engine and was pushed behind the wall before the green flag dropped to start the Jelly Belly 200 Presented by Dodge at the Pikes Peak International Raceway. CORRECTION: It is the first last-place finish for the #19 in a Truck Series race since August 11, 2007, when Travis Kittleson’s #19 Xpress Motorsports Ford had ignition trouble after 1 lap of the Toyota Tundra 200 at the Nashville Superspeedway.

36) #19-Derek Kraus / 88 laps / crash
35) #44-Kris Wright / 106 laps / crash
34) #91-Colby Howard / 139 laps / running
33) #16-Tyler Ankrum / 139 laps / overheating
32) #38-Zane Smith / 143 laps / running

1st) Reaume Brothers Racing, Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) AM Racing, David Gilliland Racing Ford, Front Row Motorsports, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

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