Thursday, March 23, 2023

PREVIEW: COTA fields stacked with ringers, champions, and entirely too many Cup regulars

IMAGE: Pardus Racing, Inc. Press Release

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Saturday, March 25, 2023 (1:30 P.M. ET, FS1)
TRUCKS Race 4 of 23
XPEL 225 at the Circuit of the Americas
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Sheldon Creed

There are 39 drivers entered for 36 spots as the Truck Series kicks off the first road course weekend of 2023, meaning three will fail to qualify.

Kaz Grala will make his 50th career Truck Series start and first since his 17th-place run in Las Vegas as he rejoins TRICON Garage as driver of the #1 entry, taking the place of 28th-place Atlanta finisher Layne Riggs. Grala, who finished 14th in this race last year and was runner-up to Todd Gilliland in the 2021 inaugural, carries sponsorship from Island Coastal Lager.

RETURNING: #7-Spire Motorsports
Alex Bowman, who came within a couple turns of winning last year’s Cup race at COTA, makes his 5th career Truck Series start ad first since his 29th-place showing at Sonoma last June. Bowman’s other Truck start last year came at COTA, where he ran 25th after qualifying 3rd.

RETURNING: #8-NEMCO Motorsports
The 62-year-old Texas native Samuel LeComte makes his fourth attempt at an elusive Truck Series debut. This time, he joins Joe Nemechek’s team NEMCO Motorsports, which has not started a Truck Series race since February 19, 2021 on the Daytona Infield Road Course, where Camden Murphy took a strong 13th.

Speaking of the Nemecheks, John Hunter Nemechek is not entered in the Truck Series race following a close 3rd-place run last week in Atlanta. Taking his place is a returning Taylor Gray, who joins his brother and teammate Tanner Gray for his first Truck Series start of the season. Tanner ran 26th in this race last year and most recently took 17th in the 2022 finale at Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
One of the many interesting road course “ringers” on this week’s entry list is 2016 Indy Lights Series Champion Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates – the very driver who scored three podium finishes in 63 career IndyCar Series starts including a 3rd behind Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. While this will be Jones’ first NASCAR start, it will not be his first in closed-fendered competition. In sports car ranks, Jones has competed in the last three runnings of the 24 Hours of Daytona and just recently ranked 6th in the 12 Hours of Sebring. Little Caesars sponsors Jones, who takes the place of 35th-place Atlanta finisher Mason Maggio.

Logan Bearden made his Truck Series debut in this race last year, taking the 28th spot in a second AM Racing entry. This year, he runs the flagship #22 for the AM team, taking the place of 23rd-place Atlanta finisher Josh Reaume.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Among the many bizarre driver changes caused by delayed drug test results last June in Sonoma was that of Colin Garrett, who handed the wheel of his 11/11 Veteran Project / UnBroken Toyota to Josh Bilicki. This week, Garrett makes up for lost time, bringing the same sponsors to the same entry he was slated to run that day – On Point Motorsports’ #30 Toyota. Garrett, who seeks his first Truck Series start since 2020 at Kansas, when he ran 24th for Niece Motorsports, takes the place of Ryan Vargas, who earned a sterling 14th-place finish in his Truck Series debut at Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Speaking of Sonoma, Mason Filippi is back in the Truck Series for the first time since a disastrous afternoon in Mid-Ohio last year, where engine issues caused him to pull off the track in the early laps, and an equally difficult Sonoma where he handed the wheel over to Stefan Parsons before the race. Both races were with G2G Racing, for whom he is not racing this time around. For Saturday, he joins with Reaume Brothers Racing, taking the place of last week’s last-place finisher Keith McGee.

DRIVER CHANGE: #41-Niece Motorsports
After Bayley Currey’s career-best 4th-place finish in Atlanta’s frantic final laps, defending Cup Series COTA winner Ross Chastain will pull double-duty, taking to the controls of the #41 Worldwide Express Chevrolet.

Akinori Ogata also earned a respectable finish at Atlanta, running in the Top 20 and overcoming an incident where he spun into the inside wall to finish 17th, a new career-best for him in the Truck Series. This week, the ride goes to longtime short tracker Dale Quarterley, whose Toyota will carry sponsorship from Van Dyk Recycling and Motul. This will be Quarterley's first Truck Series start.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Looking to spoil the party on Saturday is a returning Kyle Busch, who last time out won from the pole and led 84 laps at Las Vegas. Busch takes the place of Jack Wood, who finished 10th in this truck at Atlanta.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Road course racing means last year’s Mid-Ohio winner Parker Kligerman, who will run double-duty on Saturday between his full-time XFINITY effort for Big Machine Racing and his longtime part-time entry with Charlie Henderson. This will be Kligerman’s first Truck Series start since he ran 32nd in this year’s Daytona opener and follows a 19th in this race last year.

CUP INVADERS: #7-Alex Bowman, #41-Ross Chastain, #51-Kyle Busch

Saturday, March 25, 2023 (5:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
XFINITY Race 6 of 33
NASCAR XFINITY Series 250 at the Circuit of the Americas
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Bayley Currey

There are 42 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning four will fail to qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Kaulig Racing
After, like Alex Bowman, last year’s Cup win at COTA just slipped from his grasp, defending COTA XFINITY race winner A.J. Allmendinger will likewise pull double-duty on the track, his in both XFINITY and Cup. Saturday marks Allmendinger’s first XFINITY start since last November’s championship race marked the handing over of his full-time entry to current rookie Chandler Smith. He takes the place of his Cup teammate Justin Haley, who ended up 10th in Atlanta.

RETURNING: #17-Hendrick Motorsports
While his Cup teammate Bowman runs a Hendrick-sponsored entry in the Truck Series race, William Byron – the only two-time race winner in 2023’s young Cup season – will do the same in XFINITY. This #17 entry last ran at Darlington last September, where Kyle Larson finished 5th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #19-Joe Gibbs Racing
Like Allmendinger, Ty Gibbs will make his first XFINITY start since last November’s championship race – his the scene of his title-clinching effort over three JR Motorsports teammates. Gibbs takes the place of Ryan Truex, who ran a strong 3rd in Atlanta.

DRIVER CHANGE: #35-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
Parker Chase brings sponsorship from nativity to the lead Emerling-Gase entry this week, taking the place of Patrick Emerling himself, who ran 18th in Atlanta. Chase rejoins the circuit for the first time since this year’s Daytona opener, where he ran 16th for Sam Hunt Racing.

DRIVER SWAP: #44-Alpha Prime Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #45-Alpha Prime Racing
Two of the three Alpha Prime entries swap drivers as Jeffrey Earnhardt, 34th in Atlanta, takes the wheel of the #45 and Sage Karam, 31st after radiator issues last Saturday, pilots the #44.

NEW TEAM: #50-Pardus Racing, Inc.
Three-time SCCA national champion Preston Pardus, long a road course entry for DGM Racing, will this year drive for his family’s own brand-new team. Pardus Racing, Inc. will run the #50 – a number crew chief and NASCAR veteran Dan Pardus ran in 1999 – and carries a vibrant paint scheme with Texas-based sponsor Garage Oil Spirits. If they qualify, this will be Preston’s 20th XFINITY start following a pair of 14th-place runs in the last two COTA races.

DRIVER CHAGE: #53-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
Welcome back the popular Brad Perez, who last year made his first NASCAR national series start in COTA’s Truck Series race driving for Reaume Brothers Racing. This time around, Perez seeks his third XFINITY start and first of the year. As with his previous two starts, where he ran 20th at Watkins Glen and 23rd on the Charlotte “Roval,” Perez drives for Emerling-Gase, though this time in the second entry which in Atlanta was driven by Joey Gase before he was collected in a Lap 2 crash. APEX Coffee Roasers and Weiss Sand & Clay LP join as sponsors.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
It’s been a particularly rough first few races for Motorsports Business Management. Last week, in partnership with Alpha Prime Racing, Caesar Bacarella fell victim to a freak axle issue that triggered his Lap 2 crash with Joey Gase, leaving Bacarella in last place. MBM had planned to enter Argentinian driver Baltazar Leguizamon for Saturday, but the deal fell through due to lack of sponsorship. Cameron Lawrence has since stepped into the #66, seeking his own XFINITY debut at the track where he finished last in the inaugural Truck Series race in 2021. While Leguizamon is expected to run for MBM later this season, he has also landed another ride for Saturday as he takes the place of Atlanta DNQ Dawson Cram in CHK Racing’s #74.

RETURNING: #88-JR Motorsports
Miguel Paludo continues his road course part-time schedule for JR Motorsports, returning to the site of a 34th-place run in 2021 and a 9th just last year. Last seen in last year’s race on the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, where he took 24th, Paludo will again share BRANDT Agriculture sponsorship with Justin Allgaier.

Josh Bilicki returns for only his second XFINITY start of the year following a 31st-place run in Las Vegas, again as driver of DGM Racing’s #91 Chevrolet. The road race ace takes the place of Chad Chastain, who finished 24th last week in Atlanta.

Following the well-publicized incident in Atlanta where NASCAR’s controversial decision to park his #92 led to him stopping on the starting line and walking away from his car, Josh Williams has been suspended for one week and will not run the Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet this Saturday. As sales from his charity benefitting t-shirts continue to rise, longtime DGM driver Alex Labbe will run in Williams’ place.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
After a disastrous start to the 2023 season where he’s ranked 37th in Owner Points and been on the verge of LASTCAR title contention, Blaine Perkins has parted ways with the Bobby Dotter team, effective immediately. Stepping aboard is Truck Series regular Carson Hocevar, whose planned XFINITY debut with Spire Motorsports has effectively been moved up to this weekend. Hocevar’s first XFINITY race will be a double-duty effort on Saturday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
The second Dotter entry has been made available to one of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cup drivers in Aric Almirola. Almirola, who enjoyed a strong run at Atlanta before a blown right-rear tire nulled his chances, will take the place of 20th-place Atlanta finisher Gray Gaulding. Rush Truck Centers is the sponsor for this fourth entry fielded by a Cup Series regular. This will be Almirola’s first XFINITY start since August 4, 2018 at Watkins Glen, when he ran 5th for Biagi-DenBeste.

CUP INVADERS: #10-A.J. Allmendinger, #17-William Byron, #19-Ty Gibbs, #08-Aric Almirola

Sunday, March 26, 2023 (3:30 P.M. ET, FOX)
CUP Race 6 of 36
EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Andy Lally

There are 39 drivers entered for 40 spots, the biggest Cup field since Daytona, but also its fifth consecutive short field.

DRIVER CHANGE: #9-Hendrick Motorsports
As planned following the race in Las Vegas, endurance racing star Jordan Taylor will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut this Sunday as driver of Chase Elliott’s fleet #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, replacing 18th-place Atlanta finisher Josh Berry. Wearing a Jeff Gordon-themed helmet adorned with his alter ego “Rodney Sandstorm,” Taylor will certainly be one to watch.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Rick Ware Racing
Another major storyline for Sunday are the entries of not one but two Formula One World Champions in this week’s race. Running the RWR #15 affiliated with RFK Racing is 2009 World Champion Jenson Button, winner of 15 Grands Prix including his storybook 2009 title with upstart Brawn GP. Mobil 1 extends its sponsorship for what will be Button’s first start in any of NASCAR’s top three series. He takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who ran 26th in Atlanta.

RETURNING: #50-The Money Team Racing
Welcome back Conor Daly and The Money Team, back at the track for the first time since their tumultuous SpeedWeeks at Daytona. will again sponsor the #50 this week as Daly makes his first Cup laps on the Austin track.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
Josh Bilicki pulls double-duty with his XFINITY effort for DGM as he looks to turn around a rough stretch for the Live Fast team, which has finished last the previous two races with B.J. McLeod. Bringing back his familiar sponsorship from Zeigler Auto Group, which backed him last year at Spire Motorsports, Bilicki finished 22nd in this race last year and seeks his first Cup start since last August at Michigan, where he was 21st.

RETURNING: #84-Legacy Motor Club
Also back for the first time since Daytona is Jimmie Johnson, who this time around will make his first Cup laps at COTA. Carrying sponsorship from Club Wyndham, Johnson continues his pursuit of an 84th victory, his first on a road course since Sonoma in 2010.

RETURNING: #91-Trackhouse Racing (Project 91)
Last but certainly not least, Trackhouse’s Project 91 is back for the first time since last summer at Watkins Glen, and as they had that day brings with them 2007 Formula One World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. At The Glen, Raikkonen made it just short of halfway before teammate Ross Chastain triggered a wreck in the Inner Loop, leaving Kimi in 37th. He looks to improve in his second Cup start, which will mark the first time he’s raced Jenson Button in professional competition since the Grand Prix of Monaco on May 28, 2017. That day, Button crashed out of his final Grand Prix while Raikkonen ran 2nd to Sebastien Vettel.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (March 23, 1996): Jeremy Mayfield picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Busch Grand National Series career in the Dura Lube 200 at Darlington when his #98 Northstar Motorsports Ford crashed after 50 laps. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

CUP: B.J. McLeod’s lead-lap run spoiled when leaders wreck at Atlanta

PHOTO: @teamlivefast

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

B.J. McLeod scored the 11th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ambetter 400 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #78 B’laster Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 189 of 260 laps.

The finish, which came in McLeod’s 119th series start, was his second of the season and second in a row. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 32nd for the #78, the 642nd from a crash, and the 834th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th for the #78, the 1,321st from a crash, and the 1,876th for Chevrolet.

Following a frustrating afternoon in Phoenix where a faltering fuel pump sent his ill-handling car behind the wall in the opening stages, McLeod looked to regain his superspeedway speed in Atlanta. He’d again be sponsored by B’laster Products, the chemical company which backed his Live Fast Motorsports entry five times last year. This included Atlanta last July race, where the car got away from him in the early laps, resulting in a crash that left him last. 

With no practice, McLeod’s first laps would be in qualifying – and he’d have to be first on track. But the surface proved so dirty that McLeod spun, ultimately preventing him from logging a time. This secured him the 36th and final starting spot. Joining McLeod in the back was Christopher Bell, who like McLeod spun in qualifying, but did so in Round 2 and suffered damage to his #20 DeWalt Toyota. The team received an unapproved adjustments penalty for repairs to the diffuser strakes and replacement of the splitter. During the pace laps, Bell dropped to the back, but McLeod let the #20 slot in front of him, second-to-last on the outside line.

When the race started, McLeod crossed the stripe in 35th, just ahead of 35th-place starter Ty Gibbs, whose #54 Monster Energy Toyota turned in the slowest completed lap in qualifying. Gibbs cleared McLeod on the first lap, but McLeod stayed in his draft and kept the #54 in his view. On Lap 4, Gibbs passed Bell, who McLeod drew alongside on Lap 7, the two just 0.071 second apart. The next time by, with the field still locked in a two-wide pack, Bell pulled away from McLeod and also passed J.J. Yeley’s #15 Barnett Southern Corporation Ford. McLeod pulled to Yeley’s inside, and for the next two circuits the two were just a few hundredths of a second apart.

On Lap 11, the first caution fell when 19th-place Bubba Wallace lost control of his #23 Door Dash Toyota down the backstretch. He slid into the inside wall and made contact with the left-front fender, then needed a push to make it back to pit road. Wallace immediately took last from the McLeod and Yeley battle, and lost a lap in the process. On Lap 13, the crew sent Wallace back on track to try and make minimum speed (35.16 seconds), telling him “crazy shit’s gonna happen” to allow them to gain some spots. Wallace cleared minimum speed on Lap 16, at which point he was two laps down. But something was still dragging on his #23, causing him to lose touch with McLeod and Yeley as they resumed their side-by-side battle on the restart, now for 34th and 35th.

By Lap 38, the tail end of the field began to lose touch with the main pack. The gap began with 33rd-place Cody Ware, whose #51 Biohaven Ford was now a second behind the 32nd-place car. Behind Ware, both McLeod and Yeley formed up into a draft with Wallace some distance behind, waiting for a caution to make further adjustments. Stranded, Wallace lost a third lap by the 44th circuit, and by Lap 52, the draft of Ware, McLeod, and Yeley had dropped 12.965 seconds back of 32nd-place Ty Dillon in the #77 Ferris Commercial Mowers Chevrolet. The caution didn’t fall until the end of Stage 1, when the crew asked what Wallace needed to improve the car’s handling. The team elected to put rounds in both the right-front and right-rear, and also work more on the splitter.

When the race restarted on Lap 68, Wallace passed a couple of cars, but by Lap 74 had dropped to the tail end of the line again. This time, he remained in touch with the trailing cars of McLeod, Yeley, and Ware, and the group began to draft. On Lap 81, Wallace pulled to McLeod’s inside off Turn 2, but McLeod charged back. McLeod defended another pass off Turn 4. Two circuits later, another driver found trouble. This was Ryan Preece, whose #41 Autodesk / Ford fell off the pace on Lap 83. “41’s gone,” said Wallace’s spotter. “He’s got some kind of issue.”

Wallace (right) passes Preece, putting the #41 in last.

By Lap 85, Preece had fallen to 35th, 7.61 seconds back of the lead and 2.216 seconds back of 34th-place McLeod, who still racing the lapped Wallace. Like Wallace, Preece waited for another caution to fall, but also didn’t get it. By Lap 89 – just four laps later – he had fallen a full 11.972 seconds back of McLeod and was completely by himself on track. Reading off the data from his digital dash, Preece was soon told the leaders were catching him. On Lap 93, Preece held the low lane as the leaders rushed past up high in single-file formation. Preece said his issue felt like what Briscoe experienced in Fontana last month – the engine running low on power. He estimated this was an injector issue, perhaps an injector not clogged or stuck open. 

Behind Preece, Ware now led the trailing pack of Wallace, McLeod, and Yeley as the leaders bore down to put them a lap down. As they did, the group attempted to merge into the lead draft. This caused the quartet to rush past the stranded Preece down the backstretch. And with Preece now on the same lap as Wallace, the #23 moved Preece to last off Turn 2. Green-flag pit stops ensued, and Wallace briefly retook last place on Lap 132, but Preece ran out of fuel and then incurred a pass-though penalty when he had to steer around Harrison Burton at the new pit entrance on the apron of Turn 3. This put Preece back to last on Lap 136, and the crew elected to look under the hood. The stop meant he still had to serve the pass-through, after which he was told the number two cylinder on the right side was dead, and he was now nine laps down to the leader, three behind 35th-place Wallace.

Stage 2 ended on Lap 162 with Preece still in last and all 36 cars under power. Preece’s crew brought him back in to change the spark plug for the dead cylinder, then changed the tires after. With Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. now leading the race on the restart, Preece anticipated the aggressive driver would draw a caution, but again, yellows were far from guaranteed. On Lap 181, Preece was now a full 13 laps down. He was still stranded, running by himself well off the pace, and on Lap 188 saw teammate Chase Briscoe pit his #14 High Point Ford for a bent toe link after contact with the wall. No sooner had Briscoe made it to pit road when the spotter broke in, saying, “Big wreck, big wreck. Whole field’s wrecked behind you.”

Trouble had broken out up front, but Stenhouse wasn’t to blame. The leaders were Kevin Harvick, who had a hard charging Ross Chastain filling his rear-view mirror. Coming off Turn 2, with Chastain a few inches behind Harvick’s rear bumper, Harvick’s #4 Busch Light Ford broke loose and was collected by Chris Buescher’s #17 Violet Defense Ford, triggering a multi-car pileup. Further back, coming off Turn 2, McLeod’s #78 spun sideways in a second wreck that also included Kyle Busch’s #8 Lenovo Chevrolet. Of those involved, both Buescher and McLeod’s cars failed to complete another lap, and were both towed to the garage, done for the day. McLeod was classified lower, and was first to close the gap on the lapped machines of Wallace and Preece. At the time of the wreck, McLeod was still running on the lead lap.

On Lap 204, Preece finally passed McLeod, putting the #78 in last place. That same time by, NASCAR confirmed McLeod was out due to the accident along with Buescher, Harvick, Burton, and the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet of William Byron. Burton had attempted to clear the “Crash Clock,” but was told on track that his time had expired, meaning NASCAR would no longer score his laps. This filled the Bottom Five, and ultimately lifted Wallace and Preece to 27th and 28th in the final running order.

LaJoie and the rookies survive Atlanta with great finishes

Finishing 4th was the #7 Celsius Chevrolet of Corey LaJoie, who for a third-straight Atlanta superspeedway race was a factor in the battle for the win. This time, it netted LaJoie his career-best Cup finish, improving on his first career Top Five in the 2022 running of this race. 

Both top Rookie of the Year contenders also enjoyed strong runs. After his poor performance in qualifying, Ty Gibbs rallied to a career-best 9th in his #54, besting his previous mark of 10th last summer in Michigan. Three spots behind came Noah Gragson, who turned around a frustrating start to 2023 with a 12th-place finish – his best run with Legacy Motor Club and third-best in a Cup race behind his 5th for Beard Motorsports in a crash-marred Daytona race and 11th last fall in Las Vegas substituting for Alex Bowman.

*This marked the second-straight last-place run for McLeod and the #78 in a Cup race at Atlanta.

36) #78-B.J. McLeod / 189 laps / crash
35) #17-Chris Buescher / 189 laps / crash
34) #21-Harrison Burton / 190 laps / crash
33) #4-Kevin Harvick / 190 laps / crash
32) #24-William Byron / 192 laps / crash

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (2)
2nd) Kaulig Racing, Penske Racing, Spire Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford (1)


Saturday, March 18, 2023

TRUCKS: Keith McGee out early in Atlanta after Reaume team faces recurring transmission issue

PHOTO: Dominick Howe, @iDomHowe

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Keith McGee picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Saturday’s Fr8 208 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #34 Reaume Brothers Racing Ford fell out with transmission issues after 7 of 137 laps.

The finish came in McGee’s ninth series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 8th for the #34, the 39th for transmissions issues, and the 117th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 54th for the #34, the 170th for the transmission, and the 1,006th for Ford.

The Alaska-born McGee is relatively new to NASCAR, but has already distinguished himself in his efforts to both activate sponsorship and make it to the track. At Texas in June 2021, McGee was sponsored by “The Mullet That Changed My Life,” and brought with him a group of four supporters wearing t-shirts and checkered-flag shorts decorated with images of his Reaume Brothers Racing entry. That fall in Las Vegas, he teamed up with professional gambler Mikki Mase and took home $81,000 in casino winnings, enough to run for CMI Motorsports. Another quirky collection of sponsors joined him, including Dirty Goth Boi, Banger Buddy, and Hey Big Mike. McGee was even on hand at Sonoma last summer, where he nearly became G2G Racing’s substitute driver during a disastrous and controversial weekend for the team.

McGee’s most recent appearance came last fall at Phoenix, where his reunion with the Reaume team ended early after a tangle with Armani Williams. He’d drive for Reaume again in Atlanta, but this time in a comparatively bland-looking Ford. He would run the #34, which remained unsponsored as it had when Josh Reaume drove it earlier this month in Las Vegas. That night, Reaume only completed four laps, eliminated by a transmission that kept jumping out of gear.

With practice and qualifying rained out on Friday, McGee secured the 36th and final starting spot. Mason Massey, taking the controls of Reaume’s #33 Wespro JCB Ford, lined up 26th. No teams were sent home in qualifying, and none were sent to the rear for pre-race penalties. 

However, while McGee crossed the stripe in last, 5.124 seconds back of the lead, first-lap intervals indicated a few trucks did take the green in different spots. Ryan Vargas, making his Truck Series debut in On Point Motorsports’ #30 Leargas Security Toyota, crossed the line 30th after lining up 35th. Kris Wright was to start 25th in the #02 F.N.B. Corporation Chevrolet, but crossed the stripe in 35th, 4.695 seconds back of the lead and about a half-second ahead of McGee. The following were the interval from 30th on back, compiled from the leaderboard, with their original starting spots listed:

30-35) 30-Vargas 4.022
31-28) 22-Reaume 4.186
32-32) 13-Deegan 4.388
33-34) 46-Ogata 4.477
34-33) 32-Holmes 4.538
35-25) 02-Wright 4.695
36-36) 34-McGee 5.124

On the first lap of the race, McGee was first warned of a group of trucks going three-wide, then another truck bouncing off the outside wall. This was Mason Maggio, who rolled off 31st in the #20 HMY Yachts Chevrolet. During a close battle into Turn 3, Maggio bounced off the wall, then kept going, only to reportedly hit the wall a second time on Lap 3. This second hit, which caused McGee’s spotter to worry about a cut tire on the #20, forced Maggio to make a green-flag stop on Lap 4, when he took last from McGee. “I’m sorry, guys,” said the driver.

Maggio returned to the track on Lap 6, only to incur a pit road speeding penalty both on entry and exit, specifically Sections 1 and 13-18. Already four laps down, Maggio served his pass-through penalty on Lap 8. But by that lap, McGee had also come down pit road and lost two laps of his own. The reason was the transmission was popping out of gear – Reaume’s issue from Vegas back once more. On Lap 10, McGee’s team asked to look over the truck for another minute before going to the garage. “It feels like something in fourth gear is broken or slipping,” said McGee. On Lap 14, the #34 was pushed to the garage at an entrance just past one of the ThorSport Racing team’s boxes.

Behind the wall, McGee was told to stay in the truck as the crew jacked up the left side. “It almost feels like a broken gear, or a part of the gear is sheared off,” said McGee on Lap 19. “All right, we’ll call it,” said the team in response. On Lap 22, the driver asked his team if they wanted him to get out. “If you can nurse it, I would leave that window net up for at least the next 30 seconds,” the crew answered. But McGee had already dropped the net and was climbing out. A moment later, the first caution came out for a wreck in the quad-oval between Layne Riggs and Tanner Gray. Both would ultimately continue. 

It wasn’t until much later that McGee was declared out of the race. The official in the garage was about to report it on Lap 48, but didn’t relay the message to the tower. The word came on Lap 103, along with official word of the retirements of both Maggio’s #20 and Corey Heim in the #11 Safelite Toyota. After his Lap 1 damage and subsequent penalty, Maggio came down pit road at the end of Stage 1 on Lap 60 with heavy right-front damage. The crew examined the a-frame, and when they saw the lower control arm was bent and rubbing against another part, the team pushed him to the garage on Lap 63. As they did, the crew bucked up their driver, who continued to apologize for the run. “It's all right, kiddo,” they said. “We'll fight another day.”

Heim’s day ended on a Lap 84 restart where, following a pit road incident with Stewart Friesen and Colby Howard, Heim was pushed into the rear of Nick Sanchez, who was slow though the gears. The impact stoved in the nose of Heim’s Toyota and ruptured something in the engine, causing oil to spray on the windshield. He parked on the apron of Turn 1 and climbed out, done for the day.

Finishing 33rd was Kayden Honeycutt, whose #04 Carquest Ford briefly battled for the lead when he restarted on the front row, only to suddenly stall on the backstretch. The reason was a stray piece of aluminum which fell between the alternator and engine block, causing a short in the system. Honeycutt went to the garage on Lap 59 – just moments before Maggio came in with his right-front damage – and returned to the track on Lap 61, just before Maggio’s retirement. Honeycutt crossed the line 14 laps down, three behind Lawless Alan, whose #45 AUTOChargit Chevrolet tangled with teammate Carson Hocevar in Turns 3 and 4.

Currey’s 4th-place finish among many standout runs

Just days after parting ways with JD Motorsports’ XFINITY Series team, Bayley Currey earned a career-best 4th in Al Niece’s #41 Unishippers Chevrolet, bouncing off the wall just before the stripe after a tight battle with 3rd-place finisher Ben Rhodes. This was the first of many strong runs for several teams.

Timmy Hill took home 8th in his #56 UNITS Storage Toyota, his first top-ten finish since October 30, 2021 at Martinsville. 

Ryan Vargas’ Truck Series debut in On Point Motorsports’ #30 Leargas Security Toyota yielded a strong 14th-place finish.

Kris Wright, who nearly took the green flag in last, climbed back to finish 15th, which is tied for his third-best Truck Series finish.

Taking home 17th for G2G Racing was a surprising Akinori Ogata, who was running inside the Top 20 on the lead lap when he spun down the backstretch, suffering damage to both the left-front and left-rear. Ogata cleared the “Crash Clock” and not only finished on the lead lap, but earned his career-best Truck Series finish in his 14th start. His previous best mark of 18th came at Loudon back on September 26, 2015.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Truck Series race at Atlanta.

36) #34-Keith McGee / 7 laps / transmission
35) #20-Mason Maggio / 40 laps / crash
34) #11-Corey Heim / 83 laps / crash
33) #04-Kaden Honeycutt / 123 laps / running
32) #45-Lawless Alan / 126 laps / crash

1st) Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
2nd) TRICON Garage (1)

1st) Ford (2)
2nd) Toyota (1)


XFINITY: Freak axle issue leads to first-lap tangle between Caesar Bacarella and Joey Gase

PHOTO: @MBMMotorsports

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Caesar Bacarella picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Raptor King of Tough 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #66 Prime Bites Protein Brownie Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after just 1 of 163 laps.

The finish, which came in Bacarella’s 27th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since February 19, 2022 at Daytona, 37 races ago. In the XFINTY Series rankings, it was the 15th for the #66, the 376th from a crash, and the 612th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 85th for the #66, the 1,320th from a crash, and the 1,875th for Chevrolet.

With his investment in the former Martins Motorsports team, now reorganized as Alpha Prime Racing, Bacarella has remained an infrequent competitor in the XFINITY Series’ superspeedway races. His last-place run at Daytona was followed by a season-best 25th at Talladega despite a late-race crash. His schedule also included the summer race at the Atlanta track, whose reconfiguration had transformed it to an unofficial “mini-superspeedway” of its own. That race, which saw Bacarella finish 28th, was one of two he finished under power. 

Following successful completion of NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” program after he reportedly unknowingly took a workout supplement on the banned substances list, Bacarella was reinstated in time to attempt this year’s Daytona opener. But an illness sidelined him, and Stefan Parsons finished 13th in his Chevrolet.

The news came this past week that Bacarela would run a fourth entry for Alpha Prime Racing – though unofficially. Perhaps due to the bad weather predicted for qualifying day, Bacarella’s new #42 entry was withdrawn, replaced by the #66 to be crewed by Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management (MBM). MBM’s #66 team had made just one start in the first four races, taking 32nd in Fontana, and wasn’t entered last week in Phoenix. Bacarella’s Atlanta car carried a neon-hued paint scheme for sponsor Prime Bite Protein Brownies, a new protein snack sold by his company Alpha Prime Supplements.

Just like with the Truck Series race run earlier on Saturday, XFINITY practice and qualifying were rained out on Friday. This secured Bacarella the 38th and final starting spot. The lone DNQ was Phoenix last-place finisher Dawson Cram, whose #74 Chevrolet didn’t have a driver listed all week, and had just picked up sponsorship from ServiceMaster Restore. 

Incurring pre-race penalties for unapproved adjustments were RSS Racing teammates Joe Graf, Jr., who was set to start 27th in the #38 Jacob Companies Ford and 26th-place Kyle Sieg in the #28 Cedar Ridge Landscaping Ford. Graf was last across the stripe, 3.866 seconds back of the lead with Sieg just ahead of him in 37th, moving Bacarella to 35th ahead of Chad Chastain in the #91 Protect Your Melon Chevrolet. Coming off Turn 4 to complete the first lap, Graf was still running in last, 4.1 seconds back of the lead, when the spotter told him to “check up.”

Just past the starting line in the middle of the quad-oval, Bacarella’s #66 suddenly broke loose, cut left and his left-front struck the right-rear corner of Joey Gase’s passing #53 Donate Life GA Chevrolet, which started 33rd. The contact hooked Gase to the right, sending him nose-first into the wall before the left-rear hit the barrier. The damage caused Bacarella to slow in front of Kyle Sieg, whose #28 bumped the #66 in the left-rear with his right-front, sending Bacarella into a second spin that put him into the outside wall.

While Gase climbed from his car on the apron near pit exit, Bacarella made it back to pit road and soon after pulled behind the wall on Lap 3. Through it all, Bacarella was ranked one spot behind Gase, and the two dropped to the final two spots on that same third lap. On Lap 4, MBM’s spotter talked with Carl Long, explaining that Bacarella was on the “Crash Clock” once he entered pit road, so he was out of the race under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” Long responded, saying “It’s fucked up more than a soup sandwich. We’re not coming back out.”

While Gase’s crew tried to make sense of the wreck and asked who was driving the #66, Bacarella explained that something broke in his car coming to the stripe. This was reportedly a broken axle, which explained he car’s sudden turn. 

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by another wreck on Lap 12 in Turns 3 and 4. The wreck began with Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose #44 Advanced Material Handling Chevrolet blew a tire and spun, collecting Kaz Grala in the #26 Crush Lime Margarita Toyota. Closing in was Gray Gaulding in the #08 FollowMe Global Business Solutions Chevrolet and Garrett Smithley, reunited with JD Motorsports in the #4 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet. While Gaulding skirted the wreck by cutting left, Smithley’s spotter told him to go high. Smithley ended up striking Grala’s car in the door. Both Grala’s and Smithley’s days were done, their cars both trailing fluid. Earnhardt made it to pit road, but his “Crash Clock” expired on Lap 16. “Push it behind the wall, guys,” said the team.

PHOTO: @Josh6williams

All of this was settled before perhaps the most memorable moment of the race involving Josh Williams, driver of the #92 Coolray / Alloy Employer Chevrolet. Both Williams and Jeb Burton had suffered damage in the Lap 11 accident, perhaps colliding with each other. Williams was left with right-front fender damage, requiring some taping on pit road. He returned to the track, but dropped a piece of debris on the track as the tape came apart. After the Lap 32 restart, the caution quickly flew for another piece off the Williams car. On Lap 33, NASCAR reported that Williams would be heading to the garage. The next time by, NASCAR said they were no longer scoring the #92, again telling him to go to the garage. “Spotter for the 92, let’s not mess this up for everybody else,” the official said. The lap after, NASCAR told Williams, spotter Reed Sorenson, and team owner Mario Gosselin to report to the XFINITY Series hauler after the race. Williams stopped his car at the starting line, climbed out, and walked back to pit road. As reporters sought an interview, Williams was being directed to the infield care center. Instead, he was brought to the XFINITY hauler, where he remained until after the race to speak with Wayne Auton. Well after the finish, Williams was released for interviews, but his car remained parked by the XFINITY hauler. Williams, whose entry was parked after the incident, was listed out with “crash” damage as the reason, ranking him 33rd.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #66 in a XFINITY Series race since October 22, 2022, when J.J. Yeley crashed after 3 laps at Homestead. The number had never before finished last in a XFINITY race at Atlanta.
*This was only the fifth time the last-place finisher of a XFINITY Series race at Atlanta completed just the opening lap. The last time was on February 27, 2016, when Jeff Green had electrical issues

38) #66-Caesar Bacarella / 1 lap / crash
37) #53-Joey Gase / 1 lap / crash
36) #4-Garrett Smithley / 11 laps / crash
35) #26-Kaz Grala / 11 laps / crash
34) #44-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 11 laps / crash

1st) CHK Racing, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


Thursday, March 16, 2023

PREVIEW: Atlanta weekend begins with multiple drivers making their first Truck start of the season


by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Saturday, March 18, 2023 (2:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
TRUCKS Race 3 of 23
Fr8 208 at Atlanta
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Hailie Deegan

There are 36 drivers entered for as many spots in the Truck Series field as they kick off a Saturday double-header on the Atlanta superspeedway.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-Tricon Garage
On Wednesday, it was revealed that Layne Riggs would make his series debut, replacing 17th-place Las Vegas finisher Kaz Grala. This will be just the fourth start of Riggs’ career following a successful three-race stint in the second Halmar Friesen Racing entry last year, when he finished no worse than 19th after a sterling 7th-place debut at IRP.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
After his XFINITY Series debut at Las Vegas came up short, Maggio returns to the Truck Series for his own 2023 debut, following a four-race stint for the Reaume Brothers where he ran no better than 27th, which was his series debut at Gateway. This time, Maggio drives Randy Young’s #20 entry, taking the place of 26th-place Vegas finisher Matt Mills.

DRIVER SWAP: #22-AM Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
As with Tricon’s #1, the driver for the Reaume effort’s #34 wasn’t announced until midweek with Keith McGee returning to the Truck Series for the first time since last November’s Phoenix finale, where he and Armani Williams tangled in an early wreck. McGee takes the place of Josh Reaume himself, who moves back to the #22 for the first time since Daytona. Max Gutierrez is not entered after his emotional 21st-place return in Vegas.

RETURNING: #30-On Point Motorsports
For weeks, Ryan Vargas has been counting down to this, his first-ever Truck Series start, and has since changed his points declaration from XFINITY to Truck Series for 2023. With returning sponsorship from Leargas Security, who backed his XFINITY effort with CHK Racing at Daytona, Vargas will pilot the On Point effort, which we last saw in this year’s Daytona opener. That night, Chris Hacker finished 25th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #41-Niece Motorsports
Joining Vargas in the move from the XFINITY Series is Bayley Currey, who this week parted ways with JD Motorsports’ #4 team (see below). While Currey’s future plans are still coming together, he had already landed this ride in a fast Al Niece Chevrolet with Unishippers as sponsor. While Currey is still another driver making his first Truck Series start of the season, this is his 34th series start overall. Last year, he made three starts in Niece’s #44 with a season-best 15th at Bristol.

In just 13 career Truck Series starts, Akinori Ogata has made more starts at Atlanta and Phoenix than any other track with three apiece. He breaks the tie this week with G2G Racing, taking the place of 33rd-place Vegas finisher Brennan Poole in the #46 Kyowa-Eidemiller Precision Toyota. Ogata is still another driver making his first Truck start of the season. His last in the division came last spring in Darlington, where he and Poole traded last place for much of the night.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Following his win in the Truck Series race in Vegas, Kyle Busch will not run this week, and hands the wheel back to Jack Wood. Wood looks to bounce back from a disappointing run in Daytona where he finished 27th after a 3rd-place qualifying run.


Saturday, March 18, 2023 (5:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
XFINITY Race 5 of 33
Raptor King of Tough 250 at Atlanta
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Jade Buford

There are 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning one will fail to qualify.

DRIVER SWAP: #4-JD Motorsports
STILL MISSING: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
On Monday came news that Bayley Currey had parted ways with JD Motorsports, putting Garrett Smithley into the #4 car for 14 races. It’s a reunion for Smithley, who drove JDM’s #0 entry nearly full-time from 2016 through 2019. This switch came after a report at Phoenix that Smithley had agreed to drive more races for DGM Racing, whose #91 team he joined last week in place of Josh Bilicki. That #91 will be driven this week by Chad Chastain with Protect Your Melon as sponsor. Speaking of Smithley, the #99 entry he ran at Las Vegas is not entered this week after it was withdrawn for Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Kaulig Racing
Kyle Busch is likewise not running Saturday’s XFINITY race following a 9th after a last-lap near-spin in Phoenix, but another Cup driver will in Kaulig Racing’s own Justin Haley. This will be Haley’s first XFINITY start on the reconfigured Atlanta track, where he ran a strong 11th and 7th in last year’s two Cup races.

NEW TEAM / WITHDREW: #42-Alpha Prime Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
A planned fourth Alpha Prime Chevrolet for Caesar Bacarella was revealed as the #66 – not the #42 that had already been withdrawn on Monday. This would put Bacarella in place of Timmy Hill, who had been entered in MBM’s #66 Ford after his substitution for Brian Weber in Phoenix. Bacarella himself had most recently entered this year’s Daytona opener, but he was sidelined by illness and replaced by Stefan Parsons. Bacarella’s pink-and-yellow machine is sponsored by Prime Bites Protein Brownies.

DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Alpha Prime Racing
Rejoining the Alpha Prime team for the first time since last fall’s run on the Charlotte “Roval” is open-wheeler Sage Karam. It was in this race last year that Karam finished fifth in Stage 2 before a late-race wreck dropped him to 32nd in the running order. This week, he takes the place of Leland Honeyman, whose double-duty effort with ARCA in Phoenix yielded a 27th-place showing.

CUP INVADERS: #10-Justin Haley

Sunday, March 19, 2023 (3:00 P.M. ET, FOX)
CUP Race 5 of 36
Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Noah Gragson

There are 36 drivers entered for 40 spots in Sunday’s Cup field, marking the fourth consecutive short field in five races this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #38-Front Row Motorsports
Following Zane Smith’s 31st-place finish in FRM’ #38 entry, one spot ahead of Todd Gilliland in RWR’s #15, Gilliland returns to the #38. This opens the #15 for a returning J.J. Yeley, who finished 33rd his last time out in Las Vegas.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (March 16, 1997): Ed Spencer III picked up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR Busch Grand National Series career in the Las Vegas 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #2 Zippo Chevrolet had transmission issues after 2 laps. This was the fifth of six series starts for Spencer, son of Cup veteran Jimmy Spencer.

ARCA: Power steering sidelines Monroe in West Series’ lone combo race

PHOTO: Christian, @TheLowkeyGenius

by Ben Schneider Staff Writer

Tim Monroe finished last for the 4th time in his ARCA Menards Series career (as well as the first time in his ARCA Menards Series West career) in Friday’s General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway when his No. 10 Fast Track Racing Ford fell out with power steering issues after completing 23 of 160 laps.

The finish came in Monroe’s 20th career ARCA start.

Debuting in the series in 2020, Monroe ran more than half of the 2022 ARCA Menards Series season, making 13 starts for Fast Track and one for Ryan Huff’s No. 36 team. While most of Monroe’s starts have consisted of “start-and-park” entries, he did score a strong seventh-place finish on the lead lap at DuQuoin last season to go with an eighth and a sixth at Springfield and DuQuoin respectively in 2021. His first last-place finish in ARCA came at Lebanon in 2020, followed by two more at Talladega and at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2022.

In all, 32 cars appeared on the initial entry list for Phoenix, though only 31 ended up taking part in the race. The lone DNS from Phoenix was Monroe’s Fast Track teammate Bryce Haugeberg. Haugeberg’s No. 11 Ford placed 26th in practice with a best lap of 30.662 seconds; however, he contacted the wall after losing the rear end in Turn 4, damaging his car beyond repair. Because Haugeberg did not take the green flag, Monroe will be credited with this week’s last-place finish just as Hunter Deshautelle was at Daytona after Andrés Pérez de Lara’s DNS.

In qualifying, 28 of the 31 remaining cars recorded a lap time, the slowest of which was Brad Smith, whose No. 48 Ford clocked in at 32.553 seconds. Monroe ended up one row ahead of Smith on the grid, placing 26th on the timing charts with a time of 31.880 seconds.

Several minor incidents slowed the pace early on, including spins for Frankie Muniz, Tyler Reif, and A.J. Moyer, all of whom were able to continue in the race with minimal - if any - damage. After completing 23 laps, Monroe pulled behind the wall to become the race’s first retirement, followed by Brad Smith and R.J. Smotherman, who each completed 26 circuits before falling out with clutch and drivetrain issues respectively. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Jack Wood and Jesse Love, who were taken out in an accident involving Love’s Venturini Motorsports teammate Conner Jones, who was able to continue on and finish seventh.

On a more serious note, driver D.L. Wilson, driving a third Fast Track Racing car, would also encounter misfortune towards the end of the race when he was caught up in a crash involving Christian Rose. Entering Turn 3 on Lap 147, Leland Honeyman Jr. sent Toni Breidinger up the track and into the wall. As the pack looked to avoid Breidinger, Rose hit Wilson, sending them both into the barrier. Wilson sustained a sternum injury in the crash as well as three broken ribs and a concussion. Per team owner Andy Hillenburg on Twitter, he was released from the hospital Sunday evening and is expected to make a full recovery.

At the front of the field, 16-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing development driver William Sawalich took pole position in his ARCA debut, but a spin on a late-race restart denied him of the win. It was 15-year-old Tyler Reif who capitalized on this opportunity, recovering from his own spin earlier in the race to pass Landen Lewis on the final lap. The younger brother of two-time ARCA West race winner Tanner Reif, Tyler’s victory came in only his third career ARCA West start and his first under ARCA’s national tour.

31) #11-Tim Monroe / 23 laps / power steering
30) #48-Brad Smith / 26 laps / clutch
29) #46-R.J. Smotherman / 26 laps / drivetrain
28) #6-Jack Wood / 80 laps / crash
27) #20-Jesse Love / 83 laps / crash

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (1)

1st) Brother-in-Law Motorsports, Fast Track Racing (1)


1st) Ford (1)

1st) Fast Track Racing (1)


Sunday, March 12, 2023

CUP: Handling issues and a faulty fuel pump shorten B.J. McLeod’s race at Phoenix

PHOTO: Jonathan Fjeld, @Jonathan_Fjeld

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

B.J. McLeod picked up the 10th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway when his #78 Superior Logistics Services Chevrolet fell out with fuel pump issues after 50 of 317 laps.

The finish, which came in McLeod’s 118th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup Series points race since July 17, 2022 at Loudon, 20 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 20th for the fuel pump, the 31st for the #78, and the 833rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 34th for the fuel pump, the 46th for the #78, and the 1,874th for Chevrolet.

After a difficult 2022 campaign where McLeod secured the LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, his Live Fast Motorsports team has made the manufacturer change from Ford to Chevrolet and continue to seek improvement. As discussed in our interview at Fontana, after fighting a suspension issue in the Clash at the Coliseum, his Daytona 500 entry showed impressive speed. In qualifying, his lone entry ranked ahead of both rivals at Rick Ware Racing and the duo at Spire Motorsports. But in the race, a fuel pump failure sent him behind the wall for several laps, limiting him to a 30th-place finish. He improved at Fontana, running on the lead lap until the final moments to take 24th, then ran 32nd last week in Las Vegas. All three times he finished under power.

McLeod's car being pushed to the garage.

For Phoenix, McLeod welcomed back sponsorship from Superior Logistics Services, marking the third time since 2021 the company had backed his #78. The race also marked the debut of NASCAR’s new short track and road course aero package, featuring fewer flanges on the rear diffuser and a two-inch rear spoiler. With this package, McLeod began the race weekend with the slowest lap of the 36 entrants in practice, though the field was so close that he was just 0.052 off the next-slowest car of Cody Ware in the #51 Biohaven / Jacob Companies Ford. McLeod and Ware were also slowest in their respective qualifying groups with McLeod timing in at 127.687mph (28.194 seconds) during Group B. This ranked McLeod 33rd and Ware last, the two split by Zane Smith in the #38 Wellcare Ford and Ty Dillon in the #77 Mutoh Chevrolet. 

On race day, Smith’s #38 was the only car to incur a pre-race penalty, his for unapproved adjustments. As the field approached the line, Smith was behind Ty Dillon on the inside line with Ware holding the last spot in the high lane. As the green flag dropped, Ware got a massive run up high, passing Dillon and pulling to McLeod’s high side through Turns 1 and 2, forming a three-wide battle with Dillon in the low lane. Smith couldn’t find his way through, and took over last spot at the stripe, 3.92 seconds back of the lead. But by then, Smith had pulled alongside Dillon, the pair 0.080 apart at the stripe, and Smith reached 34th by Lap 4. By then, both Smith and Dillon had caught and passed McLeod, who was 6.148 back of the lead and 0.135 back of Dillon.

By Lap 6, Dillon had dropped Ware to 35th place, and McLeod locked onto his rear bumper through Turns 1 and 2. During this run, McLeod stayed in touch with Ware, but McLeod wasn’t happy with his car, saying on Lap 12 it was both free in and off the corner. On Lap 16, he said “Just so you know it’s doing that weird hopping shit it did at the Coliseum,” referencing the strange suspension issue diagnosed at the shop. Three circuits later, both Ware and McLeod had dropped 1.412 seconds back of 34th place, then held by Todd Gilliland in the second Rick Ware Racing entry, the #15 OTR Mobile Ford. The two were around three seconds back of the pack on Lap 29, when the leaders put both McLeod and Ware a lap down. 

McLeod's car stopped in the garage area.

On Lap 39, McLeod pulled to Ware’s inside at the stripe, but Ware got another fast run up high to defend the 35th spot. The next time by, McLeod’s crew discussed making adjustments on their next stop, but the driver said “It’ll take more than one fucking stop” to fix it. By then, he’d nearly wrecked three times, and felt like something was wrong with the car’s balance. Then on Lap 53, McLeod lost fuel pressure. After letting several cars pull by, McLeod pulled to the apron and made it to pit road. He tried recycling the onboard computer, but the car wouldn’t re-fire. “Push it behind the wall,” he said. “No fuel pressure.” As the crew pushed the car backward to the nearest opening, the fuel pressure returned to 90 pounds, but the car still wouldn’t fire. Behind the wall on Lap 57, McLeod said he wouldn’t return to the track until the issue was resolved.

The Live Fast crew stopped McLeod’s car just behind pit wall in the XFINITY garage near Turn 3 and looked under the hood. “At this point, it’s probably just better to park it,” he said, “I just have no interest riding around 15 laps down.” He also said this appeared to be the same fuel pump issue he had from Daytona where it “works when it feels like it.” Unlike the fuel pump cable issues from the last two XFINITY races, the crew diagnosed this as an issue with the relay, and looked to get a replacement. But there remained the issue of the car’s handling, which the crew described as “evil” as it bounced on the rear shocks. On Lap 70, the crew replaced the fuel pump relay, but it still wouldn’t fire. “We’re done – we can’t get it to start,” said the team on Lap 75. McLeod climbed out, and on Lap 81, the car was pushed through the Cup garage to the hauler. The car arrived at the hauler on Lap 87, NASCAR declared him out on Lap 91, and the on-board camera was shut off by Lap 101.

McLeod's car arrives at the team's hauler.

McLeod was the race’s only retiree, and even 35th-place wasn’t settled until the race’s final laps. With just ten laps to go, Harrison Burton’s #21 DEX Imaging Ford broke loose on the frontstretch and spun, either caused by or resulting in a shredded right-front tire. The race-altering caution ultimately pushed the finish toward a “green-white-checkered” finish, during which Burton slipped to 35th, one lap back of Ware. Aric Almirola took 33rd, his #10 Go Bowling Ford clearing the “Crash Clock” after a Lap 138 incident where the right-front rim failed and separated from the tire. Gilliland rounded out the Bottom Five, one lap ahead of Almirola.

Finishing a surprising 10th was Josh Berry, who was making just his second Cup start of the season as Chase Ellott’s relief driver. Just days after it was confirmed he would run the remaining oval races until Elliott’s return, Berry joined his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates in the Top Ten. Berry’s previous series-best was just 26th, which came with Spire Motorsports at Michigan in 2021.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in a Cup race at Phoenix since November 13, 2016, when Martin Truex, Jr.’s #78 Furniture Row / Denver Mattress Toyota crashed after 258 laps. It was Truex’s third-straight election year where he’d finished last in that event.
*McLeod is the first last-place finisher of a Cup race at Phoenix to finish last due to the fuel pump.

36) #78-B.J. McLeod / 50 laps / fuel pump
35) #21-Harrison Burton / 310 laps / running
34) #51-Cody Ware / 311 laps / running
33) #10-Aric Almirola / 313 laps / running
32) #15-Todd Gilliland / 314 laps / running

1st) Kaulig Racing, Live Fast Motorsports, Penske Racing, Spire Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Ford (1)


Saturday, March 11, 2023

XFINITY: CHK Racing exhausts every option to keep Dawson Cram on track at Phoenix

PHOTO: Jonathan Fjeld, @Jonathan_Fjeld

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Dawson Cram scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s United Rentals 200 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #74 Lerner & Rowe Injury Lawyers Chevrolet fell out with fuel pump issues after 99 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Cram’s fourth series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 7th from fuel pump issues, the 16th for the #74, and the 611th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 33rd for the fuel pump, the 56th for the #74, and the 1,873rd for Chevrolet.

Dawson “DK” Cram from San Diego has been racing since he was five, and after scoring 13 wins in Bandoleros began his ascent into NASCAR’s top three ranks. He’s made occasional appearances since 2018, when the now 16-year-old Cram finished 17th in his Truck Series debut at Martinsville driving for Beaver Motorsports. He improved there the next year, taking 13th for Josh Reaume. During the tumultuous 2020 campaign, he and his family would ultimately enter their own truck under Cram Racing Enterprises, and the #41 made eight starts. This included a controversial incident in the Phoenix finale, where his spin coming to the white flag forced an overtime restart. The series title then slipped from Brett Moffitt’s grasp and was picked up by Sheldon Creed.

In 2021, Cram made his XFINITY Series debut for Mike Harmon Racing, taking home a 35th-place finish in Loudon.  He then made a pair of starts last year, taking 30th for Emerling-Gase Motorsports in the fall race at Darlington, then 31st in his return to Championship Weekend in Phoenix when he drove for Motorsports Business Management (MBM). In all three races, Cram finished under power, and in two of them was within four laps of the leader. This was not forgotten this past weekend, when Cram reunited with the Harmon team, now rebranded as Clayton Harmon Keller Racing, or CHK Racing. Coming into Phoenix, CHK’s #74 had yet to make a start with Ryan Vargas, though a combination of mechanical issues and cancelled qualifying sessions meant Las Vegas was Vargas’ only attempt.

Cram was one of 40 drivers entered to close out this year’s “West Coast Swing,” a list trimmed to 39 after B.J. McLeod Motorsports withdrew their #99 entry as Garrett Smithley took Josh Bilicki’s place in DGM Racing’s #91 Chevrolet. Needing to beat just one car to make the show, Cram impressed with the 26th-best lap in practice, then picked up another tenth in qualifying to secure 29th with a lap of 125.931mph (28.587 seconds). The lone team sent home was MBM, which hired Brian Weber to make his first XFINITY start since May 18, 2003 at Nazareth. When Weber’s #66 Ford struggled for speed in practice, at one point bumped by John Hunter Nemechek, Timmy Hill took over. But the #66 was too tight in qualifying, and Hill came just short of making the show. Curiously, the car Hill drove was the very same one Cram qualified into last fall’s Phoenix race.

Starting 38th and last was Parker Kligerman, who was sent to a backup car after an incident in his #48 Big Machine Racing Spiked Coolers Chevrolet, preventing him from turning a qualifying lap. Kligerman incurred a redundant tail-end penalty along with Cup regular Kyle Busch, who for a second-straight race would run Kaulig Racing’s #10 LA Golf Chevrolet. This time around, Busch had an issue with the fuel regulator in practice, and the subsequent repairs prevented him from completing a lap in qualifying. Also docked for a pre-race penalty was 31st-place Jeffrey Earnhardt for unapproved adjustments on his #44 Gas POS / BZ Mart Chevrolet. Bayley Currey incurred no penalty for a Turn 1 incident on his qualifying lap which secured him 32nd in the #4 Mikes Weather Page / Firman Chevrolet.

After the command to fire engines on Saturday, Cram pulled his #74 into his pit stall for an issue that would soon plague the rest of his afternoon. He returned after the first pace lap, and NASCAR told him to pull into the high lane to make up the lap. Cram slotted into the final spot in line, and off Turn 2 coming to the green flag, Kyle Busch pulled to the inside line to join him. 

Cram returns to the track after his first fuel pump
cable was replaced.
PHOTO: Aaron Clay, @ABCracing54

When the race started, Busch pulled to the low line in a three-wide battle beneath Cram and Garrett Smithley’s #91. Busch bumped doors with Cram, who bounced off Smithley. Smithley dropped to last on Lap 2 with smoke coming off his car and a noticeable tire mark on the driver’s door. Smithley continued onward, and drew within one-tenth of Cram by Lap 5. On Lap 6, both Cram and Smithley passed Patrick Emerling, who for the first time took 38th in the #53 Sci Aps Chevrolet. Fighting a loose condition all around the track, Emerling quickly lost touch with the drivers ahead of him, falling 0.925 back of Smithley on Lap 8, then 1.385 on Lap 10.

On Lap 15, Cram pulled down pit road under green. “Push it to the garage,” said the CHK crew. “We can fix it.” As the crew pushed Cram behind the wall, NASCAR informed the team that Cram owed a penalty if he came back out for speeding in Section 1. After discussions about the camshaft and carburetor, the crew discovered the fuel pump cable had broken – the same issue that ultimately left Joey Gase last the previous round in Las Vegas. This led the CHK team to check with the Emerling-Gase Motorsports team for a replacement cable. The cable was found on Lap 34, and work began on Lap 37. Even though bolting on the cable required the use of a different-sized nut from an air cleaner, the crew managed to complete repairs by Lap 43, when Cram returned to the track 30 laps down. Cram remained on the apron as he came up to speed during the final two laps of Stage 1.

By Lap 47, the CHK crew confirmed Cram’s cable broke in exactly the same place as Gase’s in Las Vegas, which had been photographed by the team after the race. In the meantime, the crew kept their driver in the race.  “It's not over yet,” they said to Cram on Lap 51. “It's gonna get crazy. Now what, so what? We've got a lot of racing left to do.” Multiple cautions throughout the race meant Cram couldn’t serve his pass-through penalty for speeding in Section 1 back on Lap 15, so on Lap 53, he instead went to the tail end of the longest line. 

On the ensuing run, Cram showed consistent speed, running laps better than others in the Bottom Five. “We're better than the couple cars in front of us,” the team told Cram on Lap 70, “Just no sense in passing them.” That same lap saw Connor Mosack spin his #24 Toyota Racing Development Toyota during a tight battle with Riley Herbst, sending Mosack driver’s side first into the outside wall. Mosack’s crew managed to clear both fenders, keeping him on the lead lap, and soon cleared the “Crash Clock.” Also clearing the clock was Josh Williams, whose #92 Call 811 / Alloy Employer Chevrolet skid into the wall trying to avoid Mosack’s wreck.

Low attrition and frequent cautions allowed Cram to earn back a few of his laps with the Lucky Dog, bringing him from 30 laps down to only 27 on Lap 85. By then, Cram was suffering brake pedal fade, and reported he “lacked all right-side grip” and that it wouldn’t turn. This same caution – the second for a spin by Josh Berry – also saved new 37th-place runner John Hunter Nemechek in the #20 Safeway / Albertson’s Toyota. Following another similar incident from Las Vegas, Nemechek pulled to the apron just before the starting line, forcing a pass-through penalty that dropped him to 37th, still on the lead lap, but six seconds back of the car in 36th. The caution allowed Nemechek to make up that gap, and he’d ultimately climb as high as 2nd before another he settled back in 6th at the finish.

By Lap 96, Cram had made up four laps from the Lucky Dog and was now 26 laps behind the leaders. During a stop that time by, here was some delay in getting the lug nuts tight on one of his tires, though he managed not to go another lap down. “Doin’ a great job, bud, a very smart race,” said Cram’s crew on Lap 118. But on Lap 125, Cram reported he was losing fuel pressure once more, and the crew told him to go back to the garage for a second time. Again, Cram incurred a penalty in the process, an was told on Lap 129 that he’d owe a pass-through if he came back out. By Lap 134, the CHK crew discovered their backup fuel pump cable had also failed, and they would need a second to return to the track. By then, Cram was 40 laps down with around 60 to go, and no one else was out of the race.

That is, until Lap 139, when Gray Gaulding’s #08 Panini NFT Ford apparently lost a right-front tire going into Turn 1 and slapped the outside wall. Gaulding climbed from the car a few moments later, and his car was towed to the garage, done for the day. “I’m signing off,” said someone on his SS-Green Light Racing crew. “Sorry about the bad luck.” With that, Cram’s crew sought out the SS-Green Light hauler for a second replacement cable, saying this was their last shot at returning to the track. At the time, they were just 38 laps back of Gaulding, but time was running out. On Lap 144, the answer came: “Boys, we’re out of fuel cables to borrow.” With that, Cram climbed from his car in the garage, done for the day. “Good job out there, nothing you could do about it.” NASCAR confirmed Cram was out on Lap 161.

Behind 37th-place Gaulding, Justin Allgaier took 36th after his #7 Hello Water Chevrolet was damaged in a Turn 4 stack-up triggered by his JR Motorsports teammate Brandon Jones. Blaine Perkins took 35th after late-race suspension issues on his #07 Swift Chevrolet while Kaz Grala’s #26 Fire Department Coffee Toyota rounded out the Bottom Five.

Alfredo impresses with late-race charge in McLeod #78

Turning in an impressive run on Saturday was Anthony Alfredo in B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ #78 Ticket Smarter Chevrolet. After starting 25th on the grid, Alfredo worked strategy to restart 2nd in the final laps of Stage 2. He managed to hang on to finish 6th in the stage, then after a spin spent much of Stage 3 climbing back into the Top 20. With just nine laps to go, he moved from 20th to 17th, then 15th with four laps remaining. He then did battle with Parker Kligerman for 14th, the pair trading the position until the final lap, where Alfredo inched ahead by just 0.015 second at the stripe. This marks Alfredo’s season-best run – his third Top 20 in a row – and comes one year after he missed the start of this very race with mechanical issues. It also came just days after news that Alfredo will make a few Cup starts in McLeod’s #78 – Alfredo’s first in the series since his Cup rookie run for Front Row Motorsports in 2021.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #74 in a XFINITY Series race at Phoenix.
*The 99 laps completed by Cram are third-most among Phoenix XFINITY Series last-place finishers, trailing only the 139 completed by Phil Parsons on November 6, 1999, and the track record 152 by Dillon Bassett just last November.

38) #74-Dawson Cram / 99 laps / fuel pump
37) #08-Gray Gaulding / 137 laps / crash
36) #7-Justin Allgaier / 178 laps / crash / led 20 laps
35) #07-Blaine Perkins / 192 laps / suspension
34) #26-Kaz Grala / 199 laps / running

1st) CHK Racing, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

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