Saturday, October 8, 2022

XFINITY: Hard hit in early laps leaves Kris Wright last for first time


by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Kris Wright picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Drive For The Cure 250 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” Road Course when his #68 F.N. B Corporation Chevrolet was involved in a single-car accident after 7 of 72 laps.

The finish came in Wright’s 12th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 6th for the #68, the 372nd from a crash, and the 607th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 29th for the #68, the 1,310th for a crash, and the 1,864th for Chevrolet.

The Pennsylvania-born Wright is not only a relative newcomer to NASCAR, but to racing. His first athletic pursuits were in golf, but he soon threw himself into flying, then in 2015 the sports car ranks of the Pirelli World Challenge. He’s since competed internationally in open-wheel racing, and in sports cars made the jump to IMSA prototypes. Driving for Performance Tech Motorsports in the 2019 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Wright finished second in LMP2 with co-drivers Cameron Cassels and Kyle and Robert Masson.

Eager to race just about anything, Wright soon found his way to stock car racing, running a mix of late model and ARCA Menards Series races on both road courses and bullrings. In 2020, he finished 15th in his first ARCA Menards Series East race at Bristol, and scored a pair of 7th-place showings in ARCA’s national series. That same year, with loyal sponsorship from First National Bank (F.N.B. Corporation), iHeart Radio, and Big Dog Energy, Wright made his Truck Series debut on the Daytona Road Course. Relying on his experience from IMSA, he finished 25th for GMS Racing.

Wright increased his Truck Series schedule with first Young’s Motorsports, then Niece Motorsports, but the transition proved difficult. His best finish in the series remains a 12th-place showing in 2021’s opener at Daytona, and seven of his eight DNFs have been due to crashes. Midway through this season, Wright parted ways with Niece Motorsports. He then found his way to Brandonbilt Motorsports, a team struggling with sponsorship all season. In August, Wright signed with the team to run nine XFINITY races – his first since an equally challenging seven-race stint for Sam Hunt Racing and JD Motorsports in 2021 – bringing F.N.B. as sponsor. After coming up just short of a win and a Playoff spot at Daytona, Brandon Brown’s final start with his family’s #68 team came just last week at Talladega. Wright would take over again in Charlotte, where Brown would again run for B.J. McLeod. In his four previous starts out of the #68 where Wright ran in his place, Brown had finished ahead of him each time.

At Charlotte, Wright joined an entry list of 41 drivers set to fill a field of 38. He ranked 32nd in opening practice after running five laps, but then needed a transmission change which kept him from qualifying. The team’s rank in Owner Points was just enough to secure him the 38th and final starting spot, sending home Gray Gaulding in Mike Harmon Racing’s #47 Chevrolet, Brennan Poole in Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Chevrolet, and Austin Wayne Self in Jordan Anderson Racing’s second entry, the #32 AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet.

Wright’s transmission change would incur him a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. Also docked for the same reason were 26th-place Scott Heckert in the #5 Malco Automotive Chevrolet and 36th-place Ryan Vargas in the #6 Chevrolet. Also penalized was Noah Gragson, who during the early minutes of practice crashed his #9 Bass Pro Shops TrueTimber BRCC Chevrolet in Turn 2, sending him to a backup car.

When the green flag dropped, Heckert’s penalized car was last across the stripe, 4.655 seconds back of the lead with Gragson already up to 35th past 34th-place starter Timmy Hill in the #13 Coble Enterprises / Toyota and 35th-place starter Joe Graf, Jr. in the #07 Bucked Up Energy Ford. Gragson then went three-wide to work his way past Wright, 33rd at the stripe. “9’s going to be middle, let him go,” said Wright’s spotter. Heckert remained last at the end of Lap 1, 14.645 seconds back of the leader and just 0.208 back of Graf, and had pulled to the inside of Graf’s #07 at the stripe. 

As Heckert’s crew relayed messages about possible issues with their engine, 3rd-place runner Daniel Hemric was just 1.442 seconds back of the lead when he ran wide in Turn 3 and slammed the tire barriers flush with the driver’s side. Hemric continued to roll with a noticeable fender rub and made it to pit road, taking over last on Lap 4. Hemric’s crew made quick repairs and sent him back out to reach minimum speed, which he did on Lap 5. At the time, Hemric was still barely on the lead lap, 57.94 seconds back of the lead and 29.107 back of Graf, who had fallen to 37th after Heckert cleared him for position on track.

On Lap 6, NASCAR alerted teams to a car slowing on the backstretch into the chicane. This was Wright, who was having issues with his replaced transmission. He pitted, taking over last from Hemric on Lap 7, and shut off the engine as he tried to shift the car into gear. The transmission then started working again, and after the team confirmed he had all four gears, he returned to the track one lap down on Lap 8. 

Two laps later, as J.J. Yeley slipped to 36th after a single-car spin of his #66 WorkPro Breast Cancer Awareness Toyota, the caution came out. Again, it was for Wright, whose tires locked on the approach to Turn 1. “Hold the brakes, hold the brakes, spin to the right,” said his spotter as Wright struck a bend in the SAFER barrier with the right-front of his car. Wright was uninjured, and as the caution came out, asked if he could drive it back around the track. At first, the spotter said, “No – I don’t want you to move,” but then decided to let him back around. But it was only a few seconds later when Wright stopped again and the team called for a tow. “Sorry guys,” said the driver. “I went in there, hit the brakes, and nothing.” Wright’s crew headed to the garage, where the car was brought on by Lap 12. The team discovered the tie rod was stuck in the oil pump pulley, the belt off the pump itself, and were done for the day.

Finishing 37th was Josh Williams, whose #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet had track bar issues after Stage 1. Marco Andretti, making his NASCAR debut in Big Machine Racing’s #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet, saw his race come to an end when Jeb Burton’s #27 Arrowhead Brass Chevrolet spun ahead of him. While Andretti slammed into Burton’s right-rear, causing pain in Andretti’s healing wrist, Burton recovered to finish 18th. Kaz Grala’s one-off for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports ended with crash damage on his #34 eRacing Association Chevrolet. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Josh Bilicki, whose Top 20 run in Alpha Prime Racing’s #44 Insurance King / Susan G. Komen Foundation Chevrolet was spoiled by a broken axle. Bilicki lost six laps for repairs and returned to the track on Lap 46 under the Andretti caution, ultimately climbing to 34th.

Labbe and Kvyat finish strong; Parsons and Karam’s top fives end in chaos

Bilicki’s teammate, Stefan Parsons, continued a string of strong late-season finishes in the #45 Keffer Volkswagen Chevrolet, climbing as high as 5th and surviving several late-race incidents among the leaders. He was still running 7th on the final overtime finish when contact sent him into a spin that left him 25th at the checkered flag. 

Also impressive was Sage Karam, who took the controls of Our Motorsports’ #02 Chevrolet. Other than a late-race tangle with Sheldon Creed that sent Creed into a spin, Karam was enjoying an excellent race where he climbed to 3rd. He was still running in that spot on Lap 64 when he spun off Turn 6, ultimately backing into a barrier and damaging his rear clip. This spin, which had lifted Parsons from 6th to 5th at he time, left Karam a disappointing 30th.

Through all the chaos, Alex Labbe finished a strong 6th in DGM Racing’s #36 Can-Am Chevrolet – his third top-ten finish in five starts on the Roval, site of his career-best 4th in 2020. Some distance behind in 15th came Daniil Kvyat, who in his first XFINITY Series start after a pair of difficult Cup efforts with Team Hezeberg piloted Sam Hunt Racing’s #26 Nemaco Toyota to a 15th-place finish.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #68 in a XFINITY Series race since August 21, 2021, when Brandon Brown picked up his first last-place finish in his 108th series start following a crash at Michigan.

38) #68-Kris Wright / 7 laps / crash
37) #92-Josh Williams / 35 laps / track bar
36) #48-Marco Andretti / 45 laps / crash 
35) #34-Kaz Grala / 59 laps / crash
34) #44-Josh Bilicki / 66 laps / running

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, Brandonbilt Motorsports, DGM Racing, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, Richard Childress Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (22)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (2)


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