Saturday, June 25, 2022

XFINITY: Kyle Weatherman inherits last from returning Yeley on hot Nashville track

PHOTO: @KyleWeatherman

by Brock Beard Editor-In-Chief

Kyle Weatherman picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Tennessee Lottery 250 at the Nashville Superspeedway when his #34 eRacing Association Chevrolet fell out with power steering issues after 118 of 188 laps.

The finish, which came in Weatherman’s 72nd series start, was his first of the season and his first in a XFINITY Series race since September 26, 2020 at Las Vegas, 54 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ rankings, it was the 2nd from power steering issues, the 10th for the #34, and the 596th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 8th from power steering, the 52nd from the #34, and the 1,845th for Chevrolet.

Weatherman remains one of the most surprising underdogs in the XFINITY Series garage. The first driver to give Mike Harmon Racing a top-ten finish – an 8th at Kentucky in the summer of 2020 – Weatherman closed out the season with three more finishes inside the Top 20 in the last nine races of the year. Another seven top-twenty performances came in the 2021 season before he moved to DGM Racing in the #92 entry for the first part of 2022. There, he tied his career-best 8th at Atlanta and finished 16th in Fontana. But Mario Gosselin had to scale back the #92 team to a part-time effort, leaving Weatherman without a ride barely one-third of the way into the season.

This year has also seen the debut of Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, co-founded by NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and active U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander turned racer Jesse Iwuji. Entering his fifth season running part-time in NASCAR’s XFINITY and Truck Series, Iwuji has still struggled to find speed in the JIM team’s #34 Chevrolet. After finishes of 27th, 36th, and 34th in the first three races, Iwuji put Jesse Little in the car at Phoenix, where they failed to qualify. Iwuji returned to finish 27th at Atlanta, and himself failed to qualify at COTA, where Weatherman made his last start with DGM. This opened the door at Richmond, where Weatherman climbed into Iwuji’s car, qualified 29th, and finished 28th. The very next week in Martinsville, Weatherman took 16th, and at Darlington earned the team a new season-best 12th.

While still sharing the ride with Iwuji, Weatherman would take another turn at Nashville, where he face another challenge. His #34 was one of 41 entrants attempting the 38-car field. But immediately, the #34 car showed speed. He ranked 6th in opening practice despite running fewer laps than all but one driver ahead of him. He just about backed this up in qualifying, taking 16th on the grid with a lap of 154.104mph (31.070 seconds) – more than enough to make the show.

The first driver sent home after qualifying was Matt Mills, his #99 J.F. Electric Chevrolet the first car out to qualify. Coming off Turn 4, Mills’ car spun, backed into the outside wall, then drove though the grass, cancelling his attempt. Also sent home was Brennan Poole, who had handling issues on Mike Harmon Racing’s #47 Chevrolet, and Mason Massey, who returned to DGM Racing’s #91 LOS MAGOS Chevrolet.

Rolling off 38th and last was Patrick Emerling, whose unsponsored #35 Chevrolet secured the final spot based on Owner Points. He’d be joined at the rear by 37th-place Natalie Decker, whose #66 Nudie’s Honky Tonk Bar Toyota incurred an unapproved adjustments penalty following handling issues in qualifying, and 18th-place Tyler Reddick, whose team had to change engines on the #48 Big Machine Racing Lady A Chevrolet after Reddick missed a shift in practice. NASCAR instructed Reddick pull last in line on the outside with Decker trailing the inside line.

When the green flag dropped, Decker was just ahead of Reddick across the stripe – her 4.343 back of the lead to Reddick’s 4.585. By the end of the first lap, the spot fell to Kyle Seig, whose #38 Night Owl Ford was 8.095 back of the leader, and already 1.203 behind Decker. This changed an instant later as J.J. Yeley made an unscheduled stop in the #13 Coble Enterprises Toyota. Like Weatherman, Yeley turned heads in opening practice with a 5th-fastest lap, but managed just 33rd in time trials. While shifting between third and fourth gear on the opening lap, an electrical fault caused his gauges to “peg and reset” repeatedly. He made it to pit road, where the crew first looked to change the battery, then examined the alternator, and also considered whether the air conditioning system had caused a short. 

Yeley’s team ultimately put the old battery back in the car, but the gauges still fluctuated wildly, and on Lap 20, the team pushed the #13 behind the wall. Since Yeley’s car was pitted far behind the next garage entrance, he crossed the line in the process. After his first lap of 35.223 seconds, this created a second lap of just 621.77 seconds, equating to 7.718mph. The crew finally completed repairs on Lap 30, sending him back out onto the track. Yeley completed his 3rd lap on Lap 33 with a time of 390.022 seconds, or 12.304mph. He improved significantly the next time by with a 32.598 or 147.211mph, his best of the race so far. Unfortunately, the electrical issue put him 29 laps down.

Weatherman first entered last-place contention on Lap 37, when he fell off the pace and came to pit road. “Something broke – steering,” said the driver. The crew looked under the hood and discovered an issue with the power steering belt. A lap later, Dillon Bassett, who was finally able to give his family’s team its second series start, made an unscheduled stop of his own in the bright orange #77 Honest Amish / Jerry Hunt Chevrolet. First Bassett, then Weatherman returned to the track, both three laps down in 36th and 37th, respectively. Weatherman then dropped Bassett to 37th the next time by. Bassett stayed low to avoid the fast-closing leaders as Stage 1 ended with all 38 cars still running. Yeley lost another lap by this point, and was now 30 behind.

Despite the overwhelming heat, attrition remained low during Stage 2, though Yeley was nearly put in the wall when 5th-place runner Trevor Bayne came up into him off Turn 4. As the segment ended, Yeley was still 30 down with Bassett in 35th. Weatherman had already climbed past at least two other drivers – Decker’s #66 and the #36 Yoco Vodka Chevrolet of Alex Labbe – who each had malfunctioning cooling systems. Labbe had lost laps due to an issue with the right-front wheel that forced an unscheduled stop.

On Lap 95, Weatherman pulled behind the wall as the crew attempted to repair the power steering pump. He soon re-fired the engine and backed out onto pit road, only to be told that the crew couldn’t fix it. The crew then prepared to make their next pit stop in 10 laps for tires and fuel. Two minor incidents didn’t pull any other drivers into the Bottom Five, but during the laps in between, Weatherman continued to struggle without power steering. According to his tweet after the race, he also didn’t have air conditioning. Weatherman pulled behind the wall a second time on Lap 121, just moments before a multi-car accident brought out the next caution.

Heading through Turns 1 and 2, Jeb Burton’s #27 Hawkins Homes Chevrolet made contact with Sheldon Creed’s #2 Whelen Chevrolet, sending them both into the outside wall. Committed to the high lane was a closing Joe Graf, Jr., who hit the brakes on his #07 Bucked Up Energy Drink Ford. Graf nearly cleared Burton before he clipped the left-front of the #27, sliding his right-front into Creed’s stopped car. The contact spun Creed backwards against the outside wall with Graf stopped on the apron. Graf climbed from his car, done for the race, while Burton made it to pit road. A push truck got Creed off the outside wall, and though the #2 managed to re-fire, his damage was too much to continue. Burton dropped out on Lap 130, another two laps after Creed.

Because of the wreck, Graf was classified lowest of the three involved in the 36th spot, just ahead of Weatherman and Yeley. And while Weatherman’s radio remained silent, Yeley was able to run ahead of both Natalie Decker and Dillon Bassett during this time. On Lap 130, Yeley was within 21 laps of dropping Weatherman to last place. On the 147th circuit, NASCAR confirmed Weatherman was out of the race due to power steering issues. Just three laps later, Yeley finally passed the #34, putting Weatherman in last. Yeley climbed to 33rd by the checkered flag, pulling his car out of the Bottom Five. In so doing, he passed the wrecked Graf, Creed, and Burton, plus Josh Williams in the #78 Peg Leg Porker / Alloy Chevrolet. Williams was listed out due to electrical issues on Lap 151, though it was reportedly due to illness. The #78 team attempted to bring either Graf or Weatherman in as relief driver, but neither were available.

Jeffrey Earnhardt enjoyed one of his best runs in the #26 Forever Lawn Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing. Earlier in the race, he’d spun out of 11th while racing Sheldon Creed for the spot through Turns 3 and 4. Avoiding serious damage, Earnhardt ran the rest of the way and climbed to 7th at the checkered flag – his best performance since his career-best runner-up for Richard Childress Racing at Talladega.

Brett Moffitt likewise earned his first Top Ten since Talladega, securing the 10th spot in Our Motorsports’ #02 RED / Half Off Wholesale Chevrolet ahead of 11th-place Brandon Brown, whose #68 BrandonBilt Foundations Chevrolet now has four consecutive finishes of 17th or better. But right behind the two came Parker Retzlaff, who continued his impressive debut season with a 12th-place run in the #28 FUNKAWAY Ford. Retzlaff has finished 17th or better four times in just five career starts – all since this year’s fourth round in Phoenix.

*The only other XFINITY Series last-place finisher to fall out due to power steering issues was T.J. Bell, whose #50 Liberty Tire Recycling / Pinnacle Rubber Mulch Chevrolet fell out after 2 laps around Chicagoland during the Dollar General 300 on September 17, 2011.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #34 in a XFINITY Series race since July 8, 2006, when Kevin Lepage’s #34 Chevrolet had engine issues after 70 laps of the USG Durock 300 at the Chicagoland Speedway. Lepage drove for Frank Cicci, whose longtime team made just eight more series starts after that day.

38) #34-Kyle Weatherman / 118 laps / power steering
37) #07-Joe Graf, Jr. / 123 laps / crash
36) #2-Sheldon Creed / 124 laps / crash
35) #27-Jeb Burton / 126 laps / crash
34) #78-Josh Williams / 136 laps / electrical

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

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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