Saturday, March 18, 2023

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 Perhaps due to the bad weather predicted for qualifying day, Bacarella’s new #42 entry was withdrawn, replaced by the #66 to be crewed by Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management (MBM).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)


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