Sunday, October 9, 2022

CUP: Daniil Kvyat’s strong XFINITY debut followed by first last-place finish

PHOTO: @TeamHezeberg

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Daniil Kvyat picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” Road Course when his #26 Hezeberg Systems Toyota lost the engine after 17 of 112 laps.

The finish came in Kvyat’s third series start. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 26th for the #26, the 181st for Toyota, and the 714th from engine issues. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th for the #26, the 387th for Toyota, and the 1,128th from engine woes.

NASCAR has had its share of Formula One drivers take their turns behind the wheel, most notably Juan Pablo Montoya – winner of seven Grands Prix before he began his nine seasons in Cup Series competition – and Christian Fittipaldi, who in 2003 drove for Petty Enterprises. Kvyat – born in Russia the year Fittipaldi made his last F1 start – is of a new generation. From 2014 through 2020, he made 110 starts, predominately for Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso. He scored three podium finishes, including a career-best runner-up finish to Sebastian Vettel in the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix.

On Sunday, the day Max Verstappen secured his second consecutive Formula One World Championship for the Red Bull effort, Kvyat was preparing to make his third career NASCAR Cup Series start. He took notice of the series after testing a car for NASCAR’s Whelen Euro Series, where drivers like Alon Day and Loris Hezemans have made their way into NASCAR’s three American divisions. It was with Hezemans that Kvyat would run a second car for Team Hezeberg. Alongside the flagship #27, Kvyat would campaign the #26 – the same number he raced to his best finish in F1.

Kvyat made his NASCAR debut in July’s Cup Series race at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, making him the first driver from Russia to start a NASCAR race in the United States. Adding further intrigue was his Toyota’s engine, prepared by Dutch company APP Racing. The engine held up, but suspension issues at one point left him stranded in a run-off lane, and he finished 36th. His next attempt at a rain-dampened Watkins Glen was another learning experience. This time, he lost 32 laps as the crew addressed an issue with the power steering, and he again finished 36th.

At Charlotte, Kvyat would pull double-duty for the first time, entering both the XFINITY and Cup Series races. His Saturday ride was with Sam Hunt Racing, bringing sponsorship from Nemaco on their #26 Toyota Supra. After a chaotic 72 laps, Kvyat brought his car home an impressive 15th. Since 2019, only 16 of SHR’s combined 74 entries have finished better. 

On the Cup side, Kvyat and the Team Hezeberg group ranked 36th of 39 entrants in practice and qualified 33rd – the fourth-slowest to complete a lap in qualifying. Three other drivers didn’t take time: The crew for the #10 Smithfield Ford of 37th-place Aric Almirola had to change engines after the belts slipped before qualifying. Taking 38th was Josh Williams, whose multiple inspection failures on the #78 Alloy Employer Services Ford would require him to serve a pass-through after taking the green flag. In 39th was Conor Daly, making his Cup debut for a returning The Money Team Racing. An apparent steering issue in practice caused Daly’s #50 Bitnile Chevrolet to veer straight into the wall exiting the backstretch chicane. Daly’s crew managed repairs, but incurred an unapproved adjustment penalty. 

While Almirola, Williams, and Daly incurred tail-end penalties, four other drivers were also docked for unapproved adjustments: 10th-place Ross Chastain in the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, 21st-place Chris Buescher with his #17 Fastenal Ford, 31st-place Brad Keselowski in the #6 Castrol Ford, and Kvyat’s teammate Loris Hezemans, set to start 37th in the #27 Hezeberg Systems Ford.

When the race started, Conor Daly remained in last place, 4.272 seconds back of the leader and about a half-second back of new 38th-place runner Almirola. Williams, preparing to make his pass-through after the start, took the green in 36th, another two-tenths ahead of Almirola. Coming out of the backstretch chicane, Williams’ spotter told him to “wave off,” and he dropped to last place as the field crossed the stripe, 22.274 seconds back of the lead and 7.883 behind now 38th-place Daly. Williams remained last on Lap 3, even after Austin Dillon served a pass-through penalty of his own for not coming to a complete stop for cutting a corner. On Lap 4, Dillon’s #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet was down to 38th, still 3.965 ahead of Williams.

Crews were still working around Kvyat's car as
the checkered flag fell.

On Lap 6, Bubba Wallace made an unscheduled stop in his #45 Root Insurance Toyota after he flat-spotted his tires overshooting a chicane and, unlike Dillon, came to a satisfactory stop on the track before resuming. Wallace took over last place on Lap 7, then returned to the track 43.196 back of the lead and 5.568 back of 38th-place Williams. Wallace and his fresh tires then gained ground quickly, cutting the deficit to Williams down to 3.369 on Lap 8, 1.726 on Lap 9, then was just 0.195 behind as the two crossed the stripe for Lap 10. The next time around, Williams was back to last and Wallace had opened up a 2.126 second advantage. As Wallace continued to pass more cars, Wallace soon set his sights on Loris Hezemans’ #27, which Wallace dropped to 38th on Lap 14 en route to a sterling 7th-place finish. Williams closed from 4.432 behind Hezemans’ Ford to 2.678 two circuits later.

Williams was still reeling in Hezemans on Lap 19, when both dropped Kvyat to last place. According to NBC, Kvyat had come in for a four-tire stop at 15.5 seconds, but the crew was now addressing a mechanical issue. The crew removed the passenger-side window and peered in, hearing the car had lost oil pressure. As they looked under the car for leaking oil, Kvyat said the engine sounded rough. He shut off the engine, then re-fired it, and went behind the wall on Lap 20. The next time by, with their car now five laps down, someone on the radio said “Guys, we’re done,” followed by a report that the motor had failed. The car remained in the garage area on Lap 28 with several people looking under the hood, and the team discussed selling their remaining tires. On Lap 32, NASCAR declared Kvyat the first car out of the race. Kvyat’s on-board camera remained operational for the rest of the race, during which time several people looked over the engine, including multiple crew members with GMS Racing uniforms.

Through Stages 1 and 2, attrition remained so light that Kvyat was the only retiree and the remaining 38 starters were on the lead lap. It wasn’t until Lap 63 that Conor Daly lost two laps due to an electrical fire from the wiring to his rear-view camera. Daly returned to the race and later revealed right-front fender damage from an apparent blown tire.  By race’s end, he just managed climb out of the Bottom Five. Taking 38th was Joey Hand, whose #15 Ford BlueOval City Ford was rear-ended by Austin Cindric heading into the backstretch chicane, stuffing Hand’s right-front into the outside wall. The resulting suspension damage was enough to put him out of the race, the day’s only other retiree. Trackhouse Racing teammates Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez took the next two spots, the result of a toe link failure after striking the Turn 1 wall with the right-rear and a complete loss of power steering, respectively. Suarez struggled with his #99 CommScope Chevrolet as far back as Lap 65 before he finally received repairs. The two were joined by fellow Playoff contender Kyle Larson, whose #5 Chevrolet also lost laps for repairs to his right-rear, ultimately knocking both Larson and Suarez out of the Playoffs along with Cindric and Alex Bowman. Bowman did not start due to his ongoing concussion symptoms suffered in Texas.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #26 in a Cup race since August 10, 2014, when Cole Whitt’s BK Racing entry crashed after 9 laps at Watkins Glen.
*Kvyat is the first driver born in Russia to finish last in any of NASCAR’s top three national series.

39) #26-Daniil Kvyat / 17 laps / engine
38) #15-Joey Hand / 79 laps / crash
37) #1-Ross Chastain / 103 laps / running / led 3 laps
36) #99-Daniel Suarez / 107 laps / running
35) #5-Kyle Larson / 107 laps / running

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (6)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing (4)
3rd) 23XI Racing, Spire Motorsports (3)
4th) Penske Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Hezeberg, Trackhouse Racing (2)
5th) Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (12)
2nd) Toyota (8)


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