Sunday, April 2, 2023

XFINITY: Anthony Alfredo’s last-place finish follows a rough afternoon for Joe Graf, Jr.

PHOTO: @truexfangirl134

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Anthony Alfredo picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Toyota Care 250 at the Richmond Raceway when his #78 Dude Wipes Chevrolet was involved in an accident after 144 of 250 laps.

The finish came in Alfredo’s 59th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #78, the 377th from a crash, and the 614th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th for the #78, the 1,323rd from a crash, and the 1,880th for Chevrolet.

The Richmond weekend marked Alfredo’s return to the Cup Series for the first time since November 2021, when he concluded his rookie campaign with Front Row Motorsports. This time around, he’d run double-duty for owner-driver B.J. McLeod, each in #78 Chevrolets sponsored by Dude Wipes. Through five of the first six XFINITY races of 2023, Alfredo has finished between 14th and 19th, including a spirited charge at the finish of the Phoenix race. Through it all, he’d finished under power each time and completed all but two laps, which he lost during a 19th-place showing in Las Vegas.

With qualifying rained out at Richmond, Alfredo secured the 13th starting spot. The two teams sent home were Dawson Cram in CHK Racing’s #74 Service Master Restore Chevrolet – the team’s sixth DNQ in seven races this season – and the attempted debut of FRS Racing, which hired Kyle Weatherman from Our Motorsports and brought sponsorship from the BrewHaha Brewing Company to back equipment from the shuttered Brandonbilt Motorsports.

Starting 38th and last was Mason Maggio, who after a DNQ in Las Vegas was able to make his XFINITY Series debut in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 HMY Yachts Toyota. This was only the third start in seven races for MBM’s team, and the first with one of their own cars since Timmy Hill ran 32nd in Fontana (as Caesar Bacarella’s Atlanta entry was from Alpha Prime Racing). He’d be joined in the back by 20th-place starter Parker Kligerman, whose #48 Big Machine Racing Spiked Coolers Chevrolet was docked for unapproved adjustments. Kligerman would ultimately recover to finish 8th.

When the green flag dropped, Kligerman crossed the line in 37th, 3.932 seconds back of the lead to last-place Maggio’s deficit of 4.145. In the early laps, as Maggio tracked down 37th-place Garrett Smithley in the #4 Morooka UA Chevrolet, MBM team owner Carl Long checked with Maggio to make sure his brake fans were on. On Lap 5, Long warned that a car was in the wall ahead of him in Turn 2. This was Joe Graf, Jr., who was making his third start of 2023 as driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s #19 CoverSeal Toyota. Running 19th at the time, contact from Cole Custer’s #00 Haas Automation Ford had reportedly cut a tire, putting him into the Turn 2 wall. The caution didn’t come out, and Graf took over last place on Lap 6 as he made it to pit road.

This began a series of struggles for Graf, who endured a mix of penalties and handling issues for the rest of the afternoon. For his Lap 6 pit stop, he incurred a pass-through penalty for speeding in Sections 1 and 6, and returned to action three laps down. As the team watched for smoke from his damaged fender, they said his earlier incident was likely because Graf hit the brakes too hard, causing the splitter to hit the track. After instructing Graf to arc his entry into the corners, the crew said he was managing the brakes much better and running decent lap times. With a competition caution coming up on Lap 35, they hoped to get one of their laps back. But on Lap 34, the leaders put Smithley’s #4 a lap down, taking away the Lucky Dog. Graf’s crew managed to complete more repairs to his fenders under caution.

After the Lap 42 restart, both entries from SS-Green Light Racing had issues. Stefan Parsons fell to 37th, reporting a 220-degree oil temperature and 200-degree water on his #07 SOKAL Chevrolet. Gray Gaulding in the #08 Ford dropped to 36th, the last car on lead lap by more than two seconds of open track behind 35th-place Maggio in the #66. Gaulding then pitted on Lap 49 as the crew discovered they bolted the tires on the wrong side of the car. Gaulding took last from Graf, and was shown between three and four laps down when he returned to the track on Lap 53. Gaulding also fought a serious loose condition, but managed to lose just one more lap when Stage 1 ended on Lap 75.

Under the caution, Ryan Sieg was instructed by NASCAR to pull his #39 Ford to the apron. Following the competition caution, Sieg’s car was seen trailing smoke, which by Lap 59 the team described as a “haze.” This haze now grew worse, and the team believed it to be a brake fluid leak, pinpointing it to the right-front wheel. When Sieg pitted, the crew discovered it was instead an oil leak coming from a feed line on the back of the engine block. This made the crew abandon their attempt to stay on the lead lap, and he returned on Lap 80 showing two laps down in 35th. Posted for too many crew members over the wall, Sieg made a second stop for tires, which meant he had to start at the tail end of the longest line for the restart. The crew bucked up their driver, saying he still had time to get back on the lead lap. They were right – Sieg charged back to finish 7th, his best finish of the season so far.

Stage 2 began with Gray Gaulding still holding last place and battling 37th-place Graf on track, though not for position as Gaulding was a lap further behind. It was then that Graf’s handling problems worsened, and twice off Turn 2 he found himself in a full four-wheel drift, nearly losing control. He came down pit road on Lap 106, only to incur still another pit road speeding penalty, now in Sections 6 and 7. “No way,” said Graf, who was told he was likely caught speeding for running the inside line at pit entry. Graf served his penalty on Lap 110, re-taking last from Gaulding, only to find his car was now stuck in gear. On Lap 114, Graf’s crew called for bear-bond, and two circuits later returned to the track nine laps down. He still owed a pass-through penalty since the gear issue was performed when he was about to serve it. This was done, and by Lap 120, Graf was now 12 laps down, six behind 37th-place Gaulding.

Then, on Lap 145, Graf’s spotter said, “We’ve got one in the wall – Turn 2.” 

This was Anthony Alfredo, who was still running on the lead lap in the Top 20 when his #78 slammed into the outside wall off Turn 2. “Got no fucking brakes,” he said. “Blew the caliper off. Might have taken the brake line off.” The crew remarked they were “surprised he could hit the wall that hard at this place.” Even more surprising, no caution fell as Alfredo pulled down pit road with visible damage to the right-rear corner of his car. The race stayed green for the final few laps of Stage 2, which concluded on Lap 150. That time by, as Alfredo’s car was pushed behind the wall, someone shouted on his channel, "I'm leaving this piece of shit here - these people here doing their fucking jobs! Open your damned eyes!" Alfredo took last from Graf on Lap 155.

Alfredo was the race’s only retiree, and Graf remained 37th, 14 laps down after a frustrating afternoon. Jeremy Clements tumbled to 36th in the final laps after his #51 Fox Sports / Spartan Waste Chevrolet stalled on the track on Lap 221, drawing the caution flag. Gray Gaulding cleared Clements by two laps, taking 35th, another two laps back of Brennan Poole. Poole, making his 100th XFINITY start, completed the Bottom Five in an unsponsored red #6 Chevrolet.

Chandler Smith’s first win also sees underdogs succeed

A day of first-time winners began with Chandler Smith breaking through in only his 10th series start, moving him to 4th in the point standings.

Finishing 4th on the track was Kaz Grala in the #26 Toyota Racing Development Toyota, tying Grala’s career-best from Daytona in 2018 and matched at Road America in 2020. It’s also tied for the second-best finish by Sam Hunt Racing, matched with John Hunter Nemechek’s 4th-place performance at Darlington last May.

Taking the 11th spot was Alex Labbe in the #91 Parking Guidance Systems Chevrolet, his best finish at Richmond and best in a XFINITY Series race since last fall on the Charlotte Roval.

Also impressive was Chris Hacker, who in his XFINITY Series debut driving RSS Racing’s #38 Morgan & Morgan Ford climbed into the Top 20 before the end of Stage 2 and came home 14th, the third-highest finishing Ford behind Cole Custer and teammate Ryan Sieg.

One spot behind Hacker came Ryan Ellis in the #43 Device 42 Chevrolet, his best finish of the season and tops of the three entries from Alpha Prime Racing. Saturday was Ellis’ first XFINITY start at Richmond since 2016, and prior to Saturday had finished no better than 29th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in a XFINITY Series race at Richmond since September 11, 2009, when Kevin Lepage’s #78 Derrike Cope, Inc. Dodge crashed on the opening lap of the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.
*The 144 laps Alfredo completed are the second-most of a XFINITY Series last-place finisher at Richmond, trailing only the disqualification of Chad Finchum on September 11, 2020, where his #61 Smithbilt Homes Toyota completed 246 of 250 laps in 27th before a rear heights violation.

38) #78-Anthony Alfredo / 144 laps / crash
37) #19-Joe Graf, Jr. / 236 laps / running
36) #51-Jeremy Clements / 243 laps / running
35) #08-Gray Gaulding / 245 laps / running
34) #6-Brennan Poole / 247 laps / running

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

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


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