Saturday, November 5, 2022

XFINITY: Dillon Bassett’s late-race engine woes add to dramatic last-place championship showdown in Phoenix

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Dillon Bassett picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s XFINITY Series Championship Race at the Phoenix Raceway when his #77 Jerry Hunt Supercenter Chevrolet lost the engine after 152 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Bassett’s 11th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since June 8, 2019, 119 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 11th for the #77, the 275th from engine issues, and the 609th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #77, the 1,129th from engine trouble, and the 1,868th for Chevrolet.

After making their first few XFINITY starts in cooperation with Mario Gosselin’s team DGM Racing, Dillon and older brother Ronnie Bassett, Jr. embarked on starting their own team, acquiring Chevrolets from Richard Childress Racing to be their #77. Their team’s inaugural season in 2021 was hampered by NASCAR’s post-pandemic qualifying procedure, meaning after Ronnie missed the Daytona opener, they would have limited chances of timing their way into races. Their only start that year came with Childress’ own Cup regular Austin Dillon, who steered their car to a 13th-place finish in the inaugural Circuit of the Americas event. At season’s end, Bassett Racing had amassed a staggering 14 DNQs.

Bassett's car 12th on the grid.

This year, qualifying has been no less challenging – and not for the Bassetts alone. This year has seen B.J. McLeod Motorsports and Motorsports Business Management team’s do Owner Point swaps to keep a car on the track, DGM Racing scale a car to part-time after a lost sponsor, and Mike Harmon Racing scale back to one car on a reduced schedule. In their 13 previous attempts coming into Phoenix, the Bassett brothers made five starts – two with Ronnie and three with Dillon – and carried sponsorship from Honest Amish on their bright orange Chevrolets. Their second start at Pocono proved costly when Ronnie was collected in a wreck off Turn 3, shoving in the nose of his car.

At Phoenix, the Bassett Racing hauler parked closest to the entrance to the garage – a simple white trailer with the #77 on each side. Like other teams, the Bassett group had two rows of studio-style folding chairs set up beneath the liftgate, but each had strips of black tape on the back, perhaps covering the name of their previous owner.

With 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, Saturday’s race would be the only event all weekend where anyone would be sent home. In the most immediate danger were teams like Bassett Racing, which had run only a partial schedule and made limited starts. In the lone practice session on Friday, Basett ranked a solid 22nd on just 15 laps, fewer than any of the drivers who outpaced him. He then stunned in qualifying, securing the 12th spot with a lap of 132.380mph (27.174 seconds). With Bassett solidly in the show, Matt Mills ended up the lone DNQ in B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. This whittled the list of drivers eligible for the 2022 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship from nine to eight.

Securing the 38th and final starting spot was another title challenger in Joe Graf, Jr. During practice, Graf made contact with the right-rear corner of his #07 Ford. Damage seemingly confined to the rear decklid ultimately led the SS-Green Light Racing team to roll out the backup, replacing his white-and-black Ford with a black-and-red version. With this car, Graf turned in the slowest qualifying lap of the session, four-hundredths over Mills, who was sent home. Graf incurred a redundant tail-end penalty, to be joined by Rajah Caruth, who missed driver intros after timing his #44 Rally For Valor Chevrolet in 37th. The result put the same two drivers in the final two spots.

When the race started, Graf trailed by open track by the time Lap 1 was completed. With two more Bottom Fives than leader Bayley Currey, Graf could have taken the LASTCAR title if he finished in 38th. By Lap 8, Graf was still running last, though now behind Dawson Cram in Motorsport Business Management’s #13 DCX / Rennsport Ford. The field left Cram behind the next time by, and Graf began to inch closer. By Lap 12, Cram was now working over 36th-place B.J. McLeod in the #78 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet. But on the 15th circuit, Graf had lost touch with Cram, and race leader Ty Gibbs had caught him down the backstretch three laps later. Graf still stayed near Cram on track, but lost more ground on Lap 25 as more of the leaders rushed past.

On Lap 31, still another LASTCAR championship contender joined the battle in Brandon Brown, who for a second-straight race was Graf’s teammate at SS-Green Light Racing. Brown’s #08 Amptricity Ford didn’t have the sponsor’s logos on the quarter panels until the day of the race, only to hit the wall in Turn 2 after an apparent blown right-front tire. Brown stopped, then cut hard left to make it onto pit road, where the crew spent a particularly long time on the right-front. By then, he’d promptly taken last from Graf, and was sent out at least two down on Lap 35. But Brown said something felt broken in the front of the car, and came in again for additional bear-bond on the right-rear. On Lap 38, Brown followed the pace car off pit road as the leaders took the green, and cleared the “Crash Clock” en route to the Stage 1 ending caution on Lap 45.

Brandon Brown's car receiving repairs in garage.

Under the Stage 1 caution, Brown’s crew called for the sway bar off the team’s backup car, then called him in on Lap 49 for more extended work on the right-front wheel. In so doing, the crew decided the hood pins would be too difficult to replace if they lifted the hood, so they instead removed the right-front wheel and worked on the suspension behind. By now, there was a crescent-shaped piece of debris cut off the car sitting in the pit box. Brown shut off the engine, then re-fired and returned to the track before the race restarted. Under green, Brown’s crew was already talking about going to the garage to complete further repairs. He did so on Lap 57, where he pulled into his garage stall on the back side of the building. The crew lifted the hood and re-set the toe, keeping a blower on the driver’s window to keep Brown cool. Among those watching were representatives of associate sponsor Mid-State Asphalt, whose matching t-shirts read “Let’s Go Brandon (Brown).” On Lap 82, Brown re-fired the engine and returned to the track, ultimately 35 laps down. At that time, no one else was out, and the rest of the 37 cars were within two laps of the leader.

On Lap 84, as NASCAR confirmed Brown had returned to the race, Brown now had the lead in the 2022 LASTCAR XFINITY Series standings over Bayley Currey by a single bottom-five finish, 6-5, but still trailed Currey on Bottom Tens at 13-12. This meant that, even if Brown finished last, Currey could still take the title if he finished 34th or worse. But at the time, Currey’s #4 Hy-Vee Chevrolet was running well inside the Top 15. Regardless, with Brown and not Graf now positioned as Currey’s closest challenger, Currey had a clearer path to the title – depending on who else found trouble.

Other drivers did sustain damage to their cars, most significantly Sam Mayer’s #1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet which lost the rear bumper after a tangle on the frontstretch, and Sammy Smith, whose strong run early in the #18 Pilot Flying J Toyota was undone by multiple spins and consequent pit stops. Through it all, Brown remained under power, and the repairs in the garage kept him ahead of these and other damaged cars. Brown made a pit stop on Lap 149, which dropped him another two circuits behind to 37 down, and soon there were just 47 laps to go.

By this point, Dillon Bassett had dropped back from his 12th place on the grid, having suffered some damage to the back of his car after a hard hit to the rear bumper, requiring some tape to hold together the left-rear fender. But coming off a corner on Lap 155, the engine let go in a massive plume of white smoke, drawing what would become the final caution of the day. Bassett was brought back to the team’s hauler – just behind the garage entrance – and the car followed on Lap 160. 

Brown’s team was aware of Bassett’s exit, knowing they would be able to climb out of last place with just 10 laps to go. The question was whether they would risk running that far. But when the race restarted, Brown continued, and gradually reduced the deficit. On Lap 191, Brown finally dropped Bassett to last place. Just two circuits later, Brown pulled behind the wall, citing suspension issues as his reason out. By staying out just long enough, Brown surrendered the LASTCAR Championship lead back to Bayley Currey, who was still not out of the woods yet. 
Rear bumper damage in the garage area.

Currey had just last week taken the lead in the 2022 LASTCAR XFINITY Series standings from his JD Motorsports teammate Brennan Poole, who after not running Martinsville returned this week partnered with “Out of the Groove’s” Eric Estepp in the #6 Chevrolet. Poole sustained some right-front damage in the early laps and was briefly in the Bottom Five early. But in the final ten laps, Currey crossed the line 19th with Poole in 29th – just five spots short of a decisive Bottom Five.

Graf, who pitted in the final laps, took home 36th with Sam Mayer’s damaged #1 taking 34th. Splitting the two was Anthony Alfredo, whose #23 Pit Boss Grills Chevrolet suffered damage in the wreck with Mayer.

*Bassett’s 152 laps broke the record for most laps complete in a XFINITY Series race at Phoenix, besting the previous mark of 139 by Phil Parsons on November 6, 1999. No other XFINITY race at Phoenix saw the last-place finisher complete more than 58 laps.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #77 in a XFINITY Series race since August 16, 2014 by Roger Reuse at Mid-Ohio. The number had never finished last in a XFINITY race at Phoenix.

38) #77-Dillon Bassett / 152 laps / engine
37) #08-Brandon Brown / 154 laps / suspension
36) #07-Joe Graf, Jr. / 193 laps / running
35) #23-Anthony Alfredo / 194 laps / running
34) #1-Sam Mayer / 195 laps / running

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

1st) Chevrolet (24)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (4)


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