|ALL PHOTOS: William Soquet|
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer
and Brock Beard
Loris Hezemans picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 presented by Jockey Made in America at Road America when his #27 Hezeberg Engineering Systems Ford fell out with fuel pump issues after 9 of 62 laps.
The finish occurred in Hezemans’ 2nd series start. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 19th from the fuel pump, the 30th for the #27, and the 720th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st from fuel pump issues, the 57th for the #27, and the 993rd for Ford.
Born in the Netherlands, Hezemans made his Cup debut at COTA earlier this year, where he finished 34th of 39 starters after rear gear issues in the closing laps. He drove for Team Hezeberg, one of the few new teams to sprout up over the previous offseason, a combined effort with current Truck Series team owner Josh Reaume. The historic road course in Elkhart Lake held special significance as it was site of Hezemans’ NASCAR national touring series debut on August 24, 2019. Driving for B.J. McLeod as the only international driver in the field, he started 24th and finished a respectable 22nd. Two months later at Circuit Zolder, Hezemans was crowned champion of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, during which he scored four consecutive race victories.
Road America marked just the eighth time in the season’s 18 races that at least one of the Cup Series’ dwindling number of “open teams” entered a race, and only the fifth time in those eight that the group was represented by a single car. In fact, in the seven races since Talladega, only one “open team” had been entered – The Money Team, which yielded a 23rd-place finish for Kaz Grala in the Coca-Cola 600. The Hezeberg team gained more exposure on race weekend as Formula One driver Daniil Kvyat came to visit with designs on attempting a Cup race of his own. He was among the VIPs attending the race, where the team used a Sam Hunt Racing war wagon with pit chairs carrying “The Ruch Life” branding from former Reaume Brothers Racing driver Angela Ruch.
|Corey LaJoie behind the wall as the race starts.|
After his car passed on its third time through tech inspection, Hezemans ranked 30th in practice ahead of six Chartered entries, including Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. He then struggled in qualifying with the second-slowest speed of the session at 2 minutes, 18.129 seconds (105.501mph). Issues with low fuel pressure were to blame, forcing the team to make unapproved adjustments that would result in a tail-end penalty before the start. Also docked was 13th-place Kyle Busch, whose team had to change engines on the #18 Skittles America Mix Toyota. Racing-reference.info reported two more drivers were sent to the back for missing driver intros – 19th-place Ryan Blaney in the #12 Menards Dutch Boy Ford and 29th-place William Byron in the #24 RaptorTough.com Chevrolet – but based on intervals, neither were at the tail end of the field for the initial start.
When the field took the green flag, Hezemans and Kyle Busch were the last two cars on driver’s right next to Justin Haley in the #31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet and, a second behind both, Kyle Tilley in the #78 Patriot Military Family Foundation Ford for Live Fast Motorsports. Tilley crossed the stripe 5.284 seconds back of the lead to Busch’s 4.133, but both were only 35th and 36th.
The 37th spot fell immediately to Corey LaJoie, who was set to start 35th in the patriotic-themed #7 Built.com Chevrolet. NASCAR.com’s leaderboard indicated LaJoie crossed the stripe 8.39 seconds back of the leader, and likely did so on pit road, as he was in the garage with a reported steering issue. In the garage, several of LaJoie’s crew members worked under the hood, including a couple from Hendrick Motorsports in polo shirts, including Chad Knaus. As it happened, Knaus was being consulted on a steering issue polesitter Chase Elliott was having on his #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. On Lap 4, the crew told LaJoie to fire the engine, then see if he could “turn it back and forth.” He was then told to shut off the engine until the following lap, when LaJoie said the steering felt “like it’s supposed to.” LaJoie was finally rolling on Lap 6, but it wasn’t until the leaders were on Lap 8 that he completed his first lap of the day. With his tires fresher than the rest of the field, LaJoie was told by the team he ran the 20th-best lap on the 10th circuit.
|Cody Ware (far right) in the garage with Hezemans.|
It was on Lap 10 that Hezemans, too, found trouble, saying his car was “winding down.” He came down pit road for an extended stop, where his front tire changer was hit in the back of the head by a removed tire. The car was then was pushed behind the wall with NASCAR citing a mechanical issue. The crew kept the window net up, cooling Hezemans with two fans and a water bottle as they worked under the rear decklid. The team replaced a part, re-fired the engine, but again lost fuel pressure and shut it off. From there, the crew tried swapping in a different part, but the pace of their work had slowed. By Lap 16, LaJoie’s lapped machine had dropped Hezemans to last place, and the #27 was nearly 10 laps down to the leaders as the only car in the garage. But work continued, and the team at one point asked a NASCAR official the quickest way to get to the garage.
|Bilicki enters the garage.|
Back at Hezemans’ car, the driver had long since climbed out and returned to the hauler. Crew chief Josh Reaume talked with NASCAR officials about if they were done for the day. By Lap 45, Reaume made the “cut” gesture across his neck and said “we’re done,” a message relayed by NASCAR officials that same time by. Our William Soquet, while compiling many of these notes, interviewed Hezemans shortly after:
Q: Were you ever able to get up to speed, or was the car malfunctioning from the start?
A: “No. Basically we had the fuel pressure pump right from the beginning, basically this whole weekend we have been struggling with that. It was getting to the point that it was getting worse and worse and we were losing more and more power. We thought we fixed it yesterday after qualifying, because the car was handling pretty well compared to what we had at COTA, so if we didn’t have any issues, I think we would’ve been good. But basically, from Lap 1 in the race, I could just see the guys pulling away to pretty big gaps, and it was just getting worse and worse and so eventually we sadly had to retire the car.”
Q: Road America was the place where you made your first Xfinity start a few years ago. Did that help at all coming back in a Cup car?
A: “Yeah, I think definitely. I managed to do the whole race, I was hoping to do this whole race as well and it definitely helped. Sadly we didn’t get to show our true pace [today], hopefully we can show it in Indianapolis, which will be our next race.”
Bilicki finished the race under power in 36th, five laps behind LaJoie in 34th. Between them came Bubba Wallace, who endured a frustrating afternoon in the #23 Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota. Wallace twice crossed paths with Joey Logano – spinning with him on track, then nearly retaliating before Logano drove off track minutes later. Wallace’s car then lost the brakes in the first corner and escaped the gravel pit, only to lose the brakes for good and park in the Turn 5 runoff. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Brad Keselowski, who made contact with Wallace in Turn 1 before he later glanced off a concrete wall in his #6 Kohler Generators Ford.
Tyler Reddick finally earned his first Cup win on Sunday in his 92nd series start, following five runner-up finishes in Cup and two NASCAR last-place finishes – one each in Cup and XFINITY.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #27 in a Cup Series race since October 25, 2020, when J.J. Yeley’s Fat Boy Ice Cream Chevrolet crashed after 20 laps at a Texas (the race was red-flagged soon after and completed on the 28th). The #27 hadn’t finished last in a Cup Series road course race since June 21, 1987, when Rusty Wallace’s Kodiak Pontiac lost an engine after 5 laps around Riverside International Raceway.
*J.J. Yeley is also the most recent Cup Series driver to finish last due to the fuel pump, which occurred June 14, 2020 at Homestead after his #27 Rick Ware Racing Ford turned 211 of 267 laps.
*Hezemans is also the first Dutch driver to finish last in a Cup Series race.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
37) #27-Loris Hezemans / 9 laps / fuel pump
36) #77-Josh Bilicki / 52 laps / running
35) #23-Bubba Wallace / 54 laps / brakes
34) #7-Corey LaJoie / 57 laps / running
33) #6-Brad Keselowski / 58 laps / running
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Live Fast Motorsports, Spire Motorsports (3)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing (2)
3rd) 23XI Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Team Hezeberg (1)
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford (6)
3rd) Toyota (2)
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP