Sunday, May 15, 2022

CUP: B.J. McLeod among victims of Kansas’ left-rear tire failures as roof hatch deploys during spin

PHOTO: @teamlivefast

B.J. McLeod picked up the 7th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Advent Health 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #78 General Formulations Ford fell out with chassis damage after 32 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in McLeod’s 96th series start, was his second of the season and first since Martinsville, 5 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the first from chassis issues, the 27th for the #78, and the 718th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 3rd from chassis issues, the 41st for the #78, and the 990th for Ford.

After a difficult night in Martinsville, the Live Fast Motorsports team brought on Josh Williams, McLeod’s lead XFINITY driver, to make his Cup debut during the Bristol Dirt race. The result was a solid 25th-place finish on the lead lap. While McLeod returned to finish 26th the next week in Talladega – the driver’s third-best finish in the first 12 races of the season – the two races after featured frustrating afternoons with brake issues. McLeod ran next-to-last at Dover when the left-front wheel locked-up, then at Darlington his car caught fire on pit road. McLeod climbed out without injury, but a 32nd-place finish was the result, the team’s fourth DNF of 2022. Last year, the Live Fast team only had four DNFs for the entire season.

At Kansas, McLeod ranked 35th of the 36 entrants, besting Josh Bilicki’s #77 UACC Chevrolet by two-tenths of a second. McLeod climbed to 32nd in qualifying with a ap of 168.251mph (32.095 seconds), but again only beat Bilicki based on time. Three other drivers didn’t turn a lap and thus rounded out the field, each due to blown left-rear tires that sent them into spins: Joey Logano in the #22 Verizon 5G Ford, Chris Buescher in the #17 Castrol GTX Full Synthetic Ford, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the #47 Dillons / Louisiana Hot Sauce Chevrolet. Only Logano and Buescher went to backup cars. Stenhouse incurred an unapproved adjustment penalty along with 18th-place starter Denny Hamlin in the #11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota and 31st-place Todd Gilliland in the #38 First Phase Credit Card Ford.

By Lap 5, Cody Ware had fallen to last place in his #51 Nurtec ODT Ford as all the penalized drivers now ranked 34th ad higher, Logano already up to 28th. Ware dropped McLeod to last the next time by, and opened up a 0.641-second advantage. Moments later, the first caution came out when Chase Briscoe’s #14 Rush Truck Centers / Cummins Ford spun off Turn 4 and endured a rough ride through the rain-soaked infield grass. Briscoe made it back to pit road without serious damage, but did take last from McLeod in the process on Lap 7. Ware retook the spot the next time by, but an apparent second stop by Briscoe dropped him back to 36th on Lap 9. 

By the 10th circuit, with the race back underway, Briscoe climbed to 34th with Ware two-tenths back of McLeod in the race for 35th. Ware then climbed to 33rd the next time by, dropping the #78 to last once more. From there, McLeod struggled with a car that was loose on both entry and midway through the corner, dropping him 1.253 seconds back of new 35th-place runner Bilicki on Lap 16. The gap continued to grow, increasing to 4.220 seconds on Lap 20, then 5.931 on Lap 22 before McLeod was first to be lapped the following time around. Both Ware and Bilicki were a lap down by Lap 30.

Then on Lap 35, McLeod cut down a left-rear tire as he neared the stripe. While staying off the outside wall, he spun to a stop on the apron with all four tires flat and his roof hatch fully deployed, held against the top of the car by its tethers. Now three laps down, McLeod expressed concern that the underside of his car was damaged in the spin, though he conceded he wasn’t sure how durable the diffuser assembly actually was. “I think we should just quit,” he said to the crew. Moments later, McLeod climbed from the car, saying something was on fire in the cockpit. The crew attempted to hail a flatbed to tow their Ford to the garage, but instead it was bumped to the garage by an equipment truck. While the team wasn’t sure if they were out even though McLeod climbed from the car, on Lap 40, the driver quietly said “We’re done.” The radio went silent until Lap 54, when another crew member confirmed “We’re gonna be done. It did a lot of damage to the car by spinning out. The team instructed the pit crew to pack up their equipment. On Lap 59, NASCAR confirmed McLeod was out, citing “chassis” as the cause perhaps due to McLeod’s concerns about the undertray and diffuser.

Taking 35th was Justin Haley, who during McLeod’s caution exited his pit stall only to lose the left-rear wheel, blocking Denny Hamlin behind him, followed by the left-rear corner of Haley’s car catching fire. Haley’s #31 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet then caught fire a second time around Lap 64, and pulled behind the wall, done for the day. Haley and McLeod were the only two drivers who failed to finish. Cody Ware took 34th, 12 laps down. Daniel Suarez, his #99 CommScope Chevrolet damaged after still another left-front cut down, putting him in the wall, took 33rd. Erik Jones rounded out the Bottom Five after his crew spent seven laps tried everything they could to remove a stuck right-rear wheel from his #43 Focus Factor Chevrolet.

Behind Kurt Busch, who gave the #45 its first Cup Series points race win since 1964, Noah Gragson picked up a career-best 18th-place finish in Kaulig Racing’s #16 Chevrolet, improving on his previous mark of 20th last month at Talldega for Beard Motorsports.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in a Cup race at Kansas.
*This was the first last-place finish due to a “chassis” issue in a Cup Series points race. Prior to Sunday, it had also happened in exactly one XFINITY race (July 4, 2020, when Jeffrey Earnhardt dropped out after 9 laps at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit) and one in Trucks (May 10, 2019, when Joey Gase was swapped into Jennifer Jo Cobb’s damaged truck to park it at Kansas).

36) #78-B.J. McLeod / 32 laps / chassis
35) #31-Justin Haley / 64 laps / electrical
34) #51-Cody Ware / 255 laps / running
33) #99-Daniel Suarez / 256 laps / running
32) #43-Erik Jones / 261 laps / running

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 (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Ford (4)
3rd) Toyota (1)



Vic said...

Gone back in time, so your numbers won't be off. You say suffered a crash, but then it says chassis. So the numbers of last finishes due to "crash" should be one less and "chassis" should be one more, right?

Brock Beard said...

@Vic - It would, yes - thank you for catching that mistake. Article and stats are now updated.