Saturday, September 3, 2022

XFINITY: Debris punctures Tommy Joe Martins’ radiator at Darlington

ALL IMAGES: @TommyJoeMartins

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Tommy Joe Martins picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Sport Clips VFW Help a Hero 200 at the Darlington Raceway when his #5 Capital City Hauling Chevrolet fell out with engine failure after 44 of 147 laps.

The finish, which came in Martins’ 127th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since October 30, 2021 at Martinsville, 25 races ago. In the XFINITY Series rankings, it was the 4th from radiator issues, the 12th for the #5, and the 603rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 21st from a busted radiator, the 38th for the #5, and the 1,856th for Chevrolet.

Martins’ most recent feature on this site coincided with the impending reorganization of his Martins Motorsports team with new business partner Caesar Bacarella, now rebranded as Alpha Prime Racing. Though currently leading the LASTCAR Owner’s Standings, the resulting two-car team has made steady gains while boasting a deep driver roster. In addition to both Martins and Bacarella have been current drivers Stefan Parsons, Josh Bilicki, Ryan Ellis, Howie DiSavino III, Andy Lally, Kaz Grala, and Sage Karam, plus newcomers Rajah Caruth and Julia Landauer. Parsons earned a career-best 12th at Watkins Glen while just last week in Daytona, Karam awarded Alpha Prime their first Top Five. Bilicki quite literally picked up new sponsorship for the team when his car caught a Sargento billboard at Road America, resulting in the team’s first diecast release.

For Darlington, the Alpha Prime duo of Ryan Ellis and Stefan Parsons would each carry “throwback” paint schemes. While Parsons’ #45 carried a 1970s-themed color scheme for sponsor Pops Mart, Ellis’ #44 Chevrolet carried a gorgeous recreation of Jeff Gordon’s iconic “flames” paint scheme from 2001-2008. Martins, too, would run a “throwback” to the Budweiser cars fielded by Junior Johnson, though not for his own team. He’d reunite with B.J. McLeod, who had entered Martins in XFINITY races since 2017, and would drive one of McLeod’s cars. It would be just the fifth start of the season for Martins as driver, his first since taking a season-best 17th at Darlington this past spring.

At Darlington, Martins made it 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning one team would fail to qualify. Martins was able to put him in position to make the field, securing 32nd in opening practice and qualifying 33rd with a lap of 158.168mph (31.091 seconds) – the last car to make the show on speed. This was helped in part by four teams who did not take time: Denny Hamlin’s substitute driver Christopher Bell for an engine change on the #18 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota, Anthony Alfredo in Our Motorsports’ #23 Carolina Cowboys Chevrolet, Kyle Sieg in RSS Racing’s #38 H&W Electrical Ford, and Chad Finchum in Motorsports Business Management’s #13 Ted Russell Ford Lincoln Ford. Finchum – driving for the very #13 team that finished runner-up with Timmy Hill last week in Daytona – ended up the lone DNQ.

By the rulebook, Bell, Alfredo, and Sieg rounded out the starting grid and would each incur tail-end penalties before the start – Bell for the engine change and Alfredo and Sieg for unapproved adjustments. Also docked for unapproved adjustments were 29th-place Josh Williams in the #36 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet, 34th-place Kris Wright in the #68 First National Bank Chevrolet, and 32nd-place Brandon Brown in the #78 JABS Construction Chevrolet. While the pace laps saw contact between 5th-place Ty Gibbs and 6th-place Justin Allgaier as both scrubbed their tires, both continued on without incident as the field approached the starting line.

Damage to the nose of Martins' car from the debris
that ended his run.

As the green flag dropped, Brandon Brown’s #78 was last across the stripe, 4.993 seconds back of the lead and a tenth of a second behind of Kyle Sieg. The start was briefly under review as David Starr reportedly had an issue getting up to speed in his #08 TicketSmarter / Special Report with Bret Baier Ford. But an instant later, there were problems for the Mike Harmon Racing entry of Brennan Poole. Poole qualified for his first XFINITY race since Atlanta in July, and the first for the MHR team at Indianapolis, taking 28th on the grid and crossing the line in 34th. But on the first lap, Poole radioed “I think something could be broken, could be the rear end.” He ducked down pit road the next time by, where after the crew turned the wheel, they concluded the axle had broken. Mike Harmon radioed it was an issue with the right-rear axle. Poole was sent back on track, but didn’t enter the XFINITY garage on the backstretch. Instead, he completed another lap and on Lap 6 pulled into the Cup garage on the frontstretch. There, the crew called for red axle grease, a quarter-inch t-handle, and an axle cap. Getting the cap proved the most difficult, and by Lap 23, Denise Harmon-Mixon headed to the XFINITY garage to look for a replacement. As she did, the team discovered that neither axle was broken, noticing they were the same axles from when the team attempted to qualify at Michigan. Apparently, the bolts had not been tightened after the change, leading to the loss of the axle cap. Around Lap 45, the cap was finally reattached, and Poole returned to the track, 42 laps down.

Poole had hardly returned to the track when Tommy Joe Martins found trouble. The pre-race penalties incurred by other drivers lifted him from 33rd to 30th at the start. But on Lap 45, a piece of debris went through the lower grille of Martins’ Chevrolet and punctured the radiator, sending him behind the wall. The damage to the engine proved terminal, ending their day. The debris may have come off the #17 Chevrolet of Kyle Larson, who drew the caution moments later for shedding debris after earlier wall contact. This same caution saw Anthony Alfredo collide with John Hunter Nemechek’s #26 Freedom 13 Toyota down the backstretch. Alfredo, fighting an illness all weekend, was reportedly dry heaving just before impact. Alfredo pulled behind the wall on Lap 53, done for the day under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.”

A heavy rainstorm red flagged the race on Lap 68, at which point Brennan Poole was still in last, but just 19 laps from dropping Martins to last place and around 24 laps from moving Alfredo down to 36th. Still short of the halfway point, however, Poole would have another shot to make up the remaining laps. After a nearly three-hour delay, the race restarted on Lap 79 with Poole now around nine laps from climbing to 37th. This was accomplished on Lap 87, when Poole finally climbed to 37th. Poole would ultimately finish 31st, climbing out of the Bottom Five before he pulled behind the wall in the final 20 laps. Alfredo’s wrecked car took 37th, followed by Kris Wright, who was involved in a multi-car wreck off Turn 2 on Lap 56. Joining him were 35th-place Ty Dillon in the unsponsored #02 Chevrolet, who suffered electrical issues, and Riley Herbst in a damaged #98 Monster Energy Ford.

After his bizarre incident with Anthony Alfredo, John Hunter Nemechek recovered to finish 9th, his first top-ten finish since he ran 4th with the same Sam Hunt Racing team in the spring Darlington race.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #5 in a XFINITY Series race at Darlington since May 8, 2021, when Matt Mills crashed after also completing 44 laps.
*This was the first time a last-place finisher of a XFINITY Series race fell out with radiator issues since August 17, 2002, when Dan Shaver’s #49 Petro Express Ford fell out after 17 laps at Michigan.

38) #5-Tommy Joe Martins / 44 laps / radiator
37) #23-Anthony Alfredo / 51 laps / crash 
36) #68-Kris Wright / 55 laps / crash
35) #02-Ty Dillon / 55 laps / electrical
34) #98-Riley Herbst / 56 laps / dvp

1st) Alpha Prime Racing (4)
2nd) JR Motorsports (3)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
4th) Big Machine Racing, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, Our Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (2)


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