|PHOTO: PHOTO: Mark Kristl at Frontstretch via Twitter, used with permission|
by Brock Beard
Matt Mills scored the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s New Holland 300 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #78 J.F. Electric Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 39 of 125 laps.
The finish, which came in Mills’ 114th series start, was his first of the season and first since May 8, 2021 at Darlington, 45 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 9th for the #78, the 367th for a crash, and the 601st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44tth for the #78, the 1,298th from a crash, and the 1,852nd for Chevrolet.
It has been a difficult 2022 season for B.J. McLeod Motorsports, whose team owner B.J. McLeod has had struggles of his own on the Cup Series side. Stefan Parsons’ full-time effort in the #99 was rolled-back to a partial schedule, and Josh Williams – a frequent contender for Top Tens with DGM Racing – has failed to qualify four times in the #78, including last week at Indianapolis. Those frustrations were tempered as Williams came back the next day to make his second career Cup Series start, following his debut in the Bristol Dirt Race.
As for Mills, he’s had to share his own #5 entry with Stewart-Haas Racing’s reserve driver Ryan Preece, who has run three XFINITY races in Mills’ place using Ford equipment from SHR. After three seasons of running nearly every race, Michigan would see Mills make only his 12th start in 21 races in 2022. However, he’d do so at a track that gave him one of his best career finishes – a 14th in this race just last year. This time, he’d swap rides with Williams, putting Mills in the #78 with his J.F. Electric sponsorship and Williams in the #5 with General Formulations and ALLOY on board.
Mills and Williams were among the 41 drivers entered to attempt the field of 38. Mills faced adversity from opening practice, where he blew the engine in a spectacular plume of white smoke through Turns 1 and 2. He stopped in the grass and climbed out, unable to turn a qualifying lap as a result. Also not taking laps were Blaine Perkins in his first race replacing Brett Moffitt in Our Motorsports’ #02 Detroit Taco Company Chevrolet and David Starr in the #08 TicketSmarter Ford, who together occupied the final three starting spots. Like Mills, both Perkins and Starr had incurred tail-end penalties, theirs for unapproved adjustments. A mechanical issue had kept Perkins from participating in both practice and qualifying. Also docked for unapproved adjustments were 35th-place Bayley Currey, whose #4 Hy-Vee 4 Chevrolet cut down a tire on his qualifying lap, resulting in the slowest lap, and 34th-place C.J. McLaughlin in the #38 Sci Aps Ford.
Mills’ #78 secured the 38th and final starting spot ahead of Brennan Poole, whose #47 KNOW Advertising Chevrolet ranked just 34th of the 37 who took time in qualifying. Poole was sent home along with Akinori Ogata, whose #13 Kyowa-Eidemiller Toyota was second-slowest in qualifying, and Jordan Anderson, whose new second team spun on his qualifying lap, sending home his #32 Bommarito Automotive Group Chevrolet. In the season’s first 21 races, the #47 and #13 teams have qualified for just 8 and 10 of them, respectively.
During the pace laps, NASCAR was watching Jeremy Clements who rolled off 21st in the #51 Wings, Etc. Grill and Pub Chevrolet. Their concern was with smoke visible from behind the left-front wheel, which had been noticed by Bayley Currey. Clements didn’t notice an issue, believing it was merely the splitter dragging the track, then turned his attention to adjusting his approach to pit road. During the pre-race pass through, he was caught speeding in Section 7.
Two drivers earned impressive qualifying runs on Saturday. With Jesse Iwuji away from the track due for military training, Kyle Weatherman practiced and qualified the #34 Equity Prime Mortgage Chevrolet and secured an 8th-place starting spot – a new career-best ahead of his 10th-place showing for DGM Racing earlier this year at Phoenix. Also impressive was Dillon Bassett, who after a series of DNQs for the Bassett Racing team and a hard crash at Pocono secured a strong 14th-place run in the #77 Jerry Hunt Supercenter Chevrolet. Dillon’s previous best was a 17th at Iowa in 2019, when he too drove for DGM Racing. But with one lap to green, Bassett surrendered his starting spot and dropped to the rear. He ultimately took the green in 37th, 3.722 seconds back of the lead with Mills still last, 4.014 back of first place. Weatherman retained his 8th-place spot, and in the early laps had a couple close calls racing Josh Berry’s #8 Harrison’s USA Chevrolet, which bounced off the Turn 2 wall.
On Lap 3, Mills remained in last place, 0.502 back of Bassett, but two circuits later Ryan Ellis slipped to 37th in the #44 Keen Parts / Autism Awareness Chevrolet. With still a 0.714 second advantage over last-place Mills, Ellis climbed back up to 36th, dropping David Starr’s #08 back to 37th. By Lap 8, Mills drew within just 0.164 of Starr and passed him the next time by, dropping Starr to last place for the first time. By then, both had lost touch with the pack along with 36th-place Blaine Perkins, whose #02 was a full 1.558 seconds back of 35th. Mills climbed to 36th on Lap 20, dropping Perkins to within three-tenths of last-place Starr. On Lap 24, Starr was within sight of Perkins when the leaders put both a lap down on the approach to the starting line. By then, Perkins reported his water temperature was 240 degrees, and Mills developed an overheating issue of his own. On Lap 27, 33rd-place Bassett lost a lap, pulling to the inside off Turn 2.
When Stage 1 ended on Lap 31, Starr remained in last, saying he was fighting a loose condition that caused him to nearly loose grip in the rear of the car. Perkins in 37th said his car was tight in the center of Turns 1 and 2 and the exit of Turn 4, but loose into Turn 3. At the same time, Mills came down pit road by himself to address his overheating issue, dropping him to last on Lap 33. Mills’ crew called for a second stop to change tires as he’d dropped a half-second in the closing laps of Stage 1. This stop was completed by Lap 36, keeping Mills in last with now Patrick Emerling’s unsponsored #35 Emerling-Gase Motorsports Toyota taking 37th from the now 36th-place Starr. Emerling would clear Starr on the Lap 37 restart while, on Lap 40, Starr dropped Bassett’s #77 to the 37th place. The next time by, trouble broke out off of Turn 2.
Coming off the corner, C.J. McLaughlin’s #38 Ford snapped loose in the high lane. McLaughlin tried to catch it, but ended up pounding the outside wall with the right side, sending his car careening into traffic. While he narrowly missed collecting other cars, Mills ended up spinning as well. Running several cars behind McLaughlin, Mills had apparently locked the brakes and spun himself, sending his car backing into the wall with the left-rear corner some distance behind McLaughlin. While McLaughlin was able to drive back to the pits, Mills was only able to pull back from the wall before rescue crews arrived. Both were done for the day.
Josh Williams’ day didn’t last much longer as an electrical issue forced multiple pit stops past the halfway point before he pulled into the garage, declared out by NASCAR on Lap 103. David Starr’s run also took a few detours, starting with a spin off Turn 2 after Bassett’s #77 got into hi coming off the corner. Starr came to pit road with damage to the right-rear and decklid, where he cleared the “Crash Clock” – only to make a late-race pit stop for a fire behind his right-front wheel. Bassett rounded out the Bottom Five, three laps down.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in a XFINITY Series race at Michigan.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
38) #78-Matt Mills / 39 laps / crash
37) #38-C.J. McLaughlin / 40 laps / crash
36) #5-Josh Williams / 87 laps / electrical
35) #08-David Starr / 100 laps / hub
34) #77-Dillon Bassett / 122 laps / running
2022 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Alpha Prime Racing (4)
2nd) JD Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
3rd) Big Machine Racing, B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Our Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2022 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (2)
2022 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP