Saturday, September 24, 2022

XFINITY: Jeffrey Earnhardt eliminated early in hard crash at Texas; Nick Sanchez and C.J. McLaughlin impress


by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Jeffrey Earnhardt picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #26 YesWay / ForeverLawn Toyota was eliminated in a crash after 17 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Earnhardt’s 142nd series start, was his first of the year and first in a XFINI0TY Series race since November 6, 2021, 27 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 16th for the #26, the 157th for Toyota, and the 371st from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th for #26, the 384th for Toyota, and the 1,306th from a crash.

After parting ways with JD Motorsports last year, Jeffrey Earnhardt has scaled back to a part-time effort in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Most notably was his effort at Talladega, where he and sponsor ForeverLawn made a one-off start for Richard Childress Racing. Running the iconic #3 with crew chief Larry McReynolds back atop the pit box for the first time since 2000, Earnhardt won the pole and finished a close 2nd to Noah Gragson – a new career-best. 

Other than another one-off with Emerling-Gase Motorsports at Phoenix, Earnhardt has shared the Sam Hunt Racing with seven different drivers. His best run in Hunt’s Toyota came this past summer at Nashville, where he crossed the line in 7th. For Texas, he’d carry associate sponsorship from YesWay and Allsup’s, two different convenience store chains based in nearby Fort Worth.

The preliminary entry list for Texas showed 39 cars, but by Wednesday that list was cut to 38 after the withdrawal of Mike Harmon Racing’s #47. Brennan Poole had been set to rejoin the Harmon effort after attempting to qualify Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 last week in Bristol, but secured a three-race deal to run the #6 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports, leading to the #47 team’s withdrawal. With that, the remaining 38 entrants were assured spots in Saturday’s field. Of these, Earnhardt ran 17th in practice and secured 27th on the track with a lap of 179.009mph (30.166 seconds).

Taking the 38th and final starting spot was Akinori Ogata, who rejoined Motorsports Business Management in the black-and-yellow #13 Mooneyes Toyota. Ogata ran slowest in practice when his engine picked up a stumble, and ended up not taking a lap in qualifying. Ogata’s team did not change engines, but Garrett Smithley’s team did as his #78 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet was the only car to not complete a timed lap in practice. With neither taking laps in qualifying, Smithley outranked Ogata for the 37th spot, and both would incur redundant tail-end penalties for their repairs. Also docked for unapproved adjustments were 8th-place Ty Gibbs in the #54 Interstate Batteries Toyota, 28th-place J.J. Yeley in the #66 Precision Construction & Roofing Ford, 29th-place Tommy Joe Martins in the #44 Market Rebellion Chevrolet, and 18th-place Bayley Currey in the #4 Hy-Vee Chevrolet. Currey would also have to serve a pass-through penalty after the green flag. Currey bounced back to come home 12th, following up his strong 11th-place showing last week in Bristol.

Shortly after the green flag dropped, all eyes were on polesitter Brandon Jones, who pulled off a dramatic save on the apron of Turn 1 after Daniel Hemric bumped his #19 Menards / Pelonis Toyota. Further back on the inside line, Parker Retzlaff’s #02 Funkaway Chevrolet ran in the back of a car in front of him, causing significant nose damage. As Currey came down pit road to serve his pass-through penalty, Retzlaff also came in and stopped in his stall, where his crew completed repairs. Retzlaff, making his first start since he parted ways with RSS Racing, returned to the track by Lap 10 a full seven laps down with Currey ahead of him in 37th, just one lap behind. This moved last-place starter Ogata up to 36th, though he was still about three seconds behind 35th place and the rest of the field.

On Lap 18, Jeffrey Earnhardt was up to 33rd and racing inside of Currey’s lapped car off Turn 2 when his #26 broke loose and smashed into the inside wall. Earnhardt climbed out uninjured, but his car suffered heavy damage to both ends of his car, and he was done for the afternoon. Retzlaff continued after his earlier damage, ultimately dropping Earnhardt to last on Lap 27. Retzlaff came home in in 21st, the last car under power, aided by two massive multi-car pileups that eliminated many of the leaders on consecutive restarts. The first of these wrecks happened after the Bottom Five was completed.

Taking 37th was David Starr, whose #08 CANTERA Design / TOP MFG Ford bounced off the wall coming off Turn 2. Jeremy Clements, whose Playoff spot was reinstated after his Daytona penalty was overturned, suffered a frustrating electrical issue that put his #51 Straitline Nitro Chevrolet behind the wall before the halfway point. Akinori Ogata took 35th due to suspension issues after his #13 trailed smoke down the backstretch late in the race. Rounding out the group was J.J. Yeley, whose #66 Ford lost the water pump.

Nick Sanchez enjoys breakout run; C.J. McLaughlin scores first Top Ten

C.J. McLaughlin overcame an early spin off Turn 2 and earned a career-best 10th in Saturday’s race – his first career top-ten finish in just his 26th series start. McLaughlin came home one spot behind teammate Ryan Sieg, giving RSS Racing their second double top-ten of the season, following Sieg and Parker Retzlaff’s 9th and 10th-place runs in Richmond.

But by far the biggest surprise was current ARCA Menards Series point leader Nick Sanchez, who in just his fourth career XFINITY start and one week after struggling in the early laps at Bristol enjoyed a career run in Big Machine Racing’s #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet. During the first major pileup, Sanchez raced through a minefield of spinning cars down the backstretch and found himself challenging for a top-five finish. He ultimately finished one lap down in 11th, a massive improvement over his previous best of 26th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Earnhardt and the #26 in a XFINITY Series race at Texas.
*Early attrition is so common in the XFINITY races at Texas that just six of the previous 43 series races run there saw the last-place finisher complete more than Earnhardt’s 17 laps.

38) #26-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 17 laps / crash
37) #08-David Starr / 77 laps / crash
36) #51-Jeremy Clements / 79 laps / ignition
35) #13-Akinori Ogata / 99 laps / suspension
34) #66-J.J. Yeley / 99 laps / water pump

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

1st) Chevrolet (20)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (2)


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