Wednesday, May 31, 2023

INDYCAR: Indy 500 sees Katherine Legge take 33rd in drawn-out last-place battle


by William Soquet Staff Writer

Katherine Legge finished last for the 2nd time in her NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday's Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when her #44 Hendrickson Honda retired with damage from contact after completing 41 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish came in Legge’s 12th IndyCar start, and was her first since Sao Paulo in 2012, 184 races ago. Across IndyCar Series history, it was the 202nd due to contact, the 217th for Honda and the third for the #44.

Legge’s previous last-place finish in 2012 came during Lotus’ ill-fated effort to become a third IndyCar manufacturer. Stepping in when a new engine and chassis were introduced, Lotus was markedly off the pace in most events and wound up stepping out of IndyCar after that lone season. This was just another in a long line of opportunities gone south for Legge. After running out of money in the British formula racing scene, she moved to America in 2005 to race Toyota Atlantic with the backing of Cosworth. That led to two seasons of CART right before reunification. These years yielded modest success with a best finish of sixth with Dale Coyne Racing on the streets of Las Vegas in 2007. From there, Legge transitioned to German DTM, where she ran from 2008 to 2010. The aforementioned 2012 season was when she returned to American open-wheel racing, signing with Dragon Racing as part of the Lotus effort. After Legge's last-place run in Sao Paulo, Dragon ditched Lotus for Chevrolet and downsized from two teams to one. Legge became the team’s oval driver, while Sebastien Bourdais became the road and street-course driver.

After that season, Legge has remained active in multiple racing series. She has started every 24 Hours of Daytona since 2014. Racing in both the prototype and GT Daytona classes, Legge has driven for teams like Meyer Shank Racing and has been paired with drivers such as Alexander Rossi, A.J. Allmendinger and Stefan Wilson. She recorded a second-in-class finish in 2018 with Shank and finished fourth-in-class this year with Gradient Racing in GTD. She also made a brief detour into NASCAR, running three Xfinity Series road courses and Richmond for JD Motorsports in 2018. Of these, she nabbed a best finish of 14th at Road America.

On February 9th of this year, Legge was announced as the driver of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s fourth entry for the 2023 Indianapolis 500. Hendrickson, a suspension component manufacturer, was also announced as primary sponsor. The move was a reunion of driver and team, as Legge had previously driven for RLL in the Jaguar I-PACE Series. Legge completed an oval refresher test at Texas the weekend that IndyCar raced there in early April and then went to work on the open test in late April. The open test, however, did cause concerns. Legge was just 33rd on the speed charts, ahead of only rookie Benjamin Pedersen. She was 1.5 seconds off the pace set by eventual race winner Josef Newgarden and was five spots behind Jack Harvey, the next RLL driver. Practice in May did not go much better. Showings of 31st, 34th and 29th came before time trials as the entire RLL effort struggled. Qualifying was barely better, as Legge was sitting outside of the locked-in zone before an attempt near the end of the time period slotted her into the final guaranteed spot in 30th.

The last row of the race was set on the Sunday before the race. In a shootout that included four cars for three spots, Christian Lundgaard, Sting Ray Robb, and Jack Harvey secured their spots in the race. That left Graham Rahal as the only driver on the outside of the grid. However, that changed early in the week. During open practice on Monday, a group of drivers were doing a race simulation in a train when the group checked up coming off of turn one. Legge did not check up as much and ran into the back of Stefan Wilson. While Legge was not hurt in the crash and required only a backup car, Wilson suffered vertebrae issues and was sidelined from the race. Tuesday morning, Wilson’s Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team made the call that Rahal would step in as relief driver. With that, the team forfeited the 25th-place starting spot that Wilson earned and would start shotgun on the field.

Rahal on pit road as the race start.
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

On Sunday, trouble started even before the drop of the green flag. When the grid fired up from its 11 rows of three on the frontstretch, two cars did not leave the grid with the rest. One was Helio Castroneves, in his second attempt at winning a fifth Indianapolis 500. After a few panicked moments, his car did eventually get into gear and took its place. The other car was that of Rahal. After a week of trying times for the Dreyer & Reinbold team, yet another obstacle was popping up in their way. After several attempts, the car still would not fire. The driver indicated that it was a battery issue, and the car was then pushed behind the wall. Being an Indy 500-only team, the crew scrambled to find a backup battery. During the final pace lap, the crew had the back cover off and was working on swapping out the battery.

Nevertheless, the field took the green flag without Rahal's #24 car on track. This brought Jack Harvey back to his original position as last car on track. However, by the end of Lap 1, Harvey had jumped up to 29th. He passed R.C. Enerson, Sting Ray Robb, and Legge, the latest of which trailed the field after a lap, 7.9 seconds back of the lead.

Work continued on the Rahal car, and as the field was completing its second lap, the machine finally came to life and Rahal got going again. He came out of pit lane in the hinterland, about two-and-a-half laps back of the lead. As the first stint progressed, the back end of the field stayed much the same. Rahal kept plugging along without the help of a draft, while Enerson, Robb and Legge remained the last three cars on the lead lap. As the train formed, the three were just shy of 15 seconds behind the leader for most of the run.

Green flag pit stops commenced for the first time with Scott Dixon coming in on Lap 26, although the majority of cars pitted while the lap count was in the mid-30s. Legge cycled up to 24th on Lap 31 before coming to pit road on Lap 32. She slowed abnormally much heading into pit lane, almost reminiscent of the two times in practice during the month of May that she ran out of fuel on an access road. Despite that, she made it to her pit stall, where the Rahal Letterman Lanigan crew performed normal service on her car. 

Exiting the stall, Legge spun the rear tires and got loose, arcing around the entrance lane on pit road and back into a later empty pit stall, barely grazing the wall of the stall just before that of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Legge immediately returned to pit road, but this time, it was an extended stop. The crew inspected the area where she grazed the wall, and reports indicated that a toe link swap was going on in the left front, where the car hit the pit wall.

Eventually, the #44 machine was moved off pit road and into the garage area. The broadcast announced Legge as “out” around Lap 68 before interviewing her. In her interview, Legge said that she thought something in the suspension was broken, but she was unsure of its nature. The bigger note she provided was that despite the announcement of her retirement, Legge thought that there was a chance her crew could fix the issue in time for her to make a number of laps.

At nearly the same moment that Legge’s interview was concluding, R.C. Enerson came to pit road. Enerson's Abel Motorsports entry also remained parked on pit lane for a number of laps before work went back to the garage area. In a race that had plenty of action up front, NBC, in a similar vein to the Legge interview, found the time to talk to the Indy 500 rookie about his situation. On Lap 88, Enerson said that he was unsure of what was wrong with the car, offering the clutch as a possible culprit. When asked about returning to the race, he too was up in the air about his return plans.

That left the unusual situation of two cars in the garage with potentially terminal issues with an undefined timetable on both. The suspense did not last very long, however, as the first confirmed retirement of the race came mere laps later. 

On Lap 92, Sting Ray Robb was running 27th, one lap down. Rahal was still the last car on the track, running in 31st at the time. Rahal made a move to the inside of Robb going into Turn 1, leaving the #51 car to take the outside lane. Robb's tires then caught the marbles and ceased to turn, going straight into the outside wall on the exit of the corner. Robb finishing last would’ve been quite the story. Since the inaugural running of the current IndyCar Series in 1996, no driver has finished last in three consecutive races. The closest anyone ever been to the record was Sebastien Bourdais, who finished last three times in a four-race stretch during 2011.

The gap between Legge and Enerson was 34 laps, and the gap between Legge and Robb was 49 laps. As the remaining circuits ticked by, there was no indication that either car would return to the track. After Romain Grosjean crashed to bring out the caution on Lap 150, the next circuit went by under caution with no Legge, eliminating Robb from last-place contention. On Lap 166, the lap Legge would need to rejoin the race to beat Enerson, went by during the next green-flag run with no sight of either car, locking Legge in 33rd. Neither Legge nor Enerson ever returned to the track.

*The finish marked the first last-place finish for the #44 in IndyCar Series competition since October 16, 2005, when Thiago Medeiros did not start at Fontana.
*All three drivers that have finished last in the #44 have been from different countries: Davey Hamilton in 2000 (USA), Medeiros in 2005 (Brazil), and Legge in 2023 (United Kingdom).
*Honda has now finished last in five straight races.

33) #44-Katherine Legge / 41 laps / contact
32) #50-R.C. Enerson / 75 laps / mechanical
31) #51-Sting Ray Robb / 90 laps / contact
30) #28-Romain Grosjean / 149 laps / contact
29) #18-David Malukas / 160 laps / contact

1st) Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing (2)
2nd) A.J. Foyt Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1)

1st) Honda (5)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

XFINITY: Lengthy repairs on fuel pump leave Parker Kligerman last in Charlotte

PHOTO: @pkligerman

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Parker Kligerman scored the 3rd last-place finish in Monday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #48 Big Machine Racing Spiked Coolers Chevrolet finished under power after 144 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Kligerman’s 68th series start, was his second of the season and first since Dover, two races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th where the driver was still running, the 9th for the #48, and the 617th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 33rd for the #48, the 51st while running, and the 1,889th for Chevrolet.

This moved Kligerman into the 2023 LASTCAR XFINITY Series lead as the first repeat last-place finisher of the season.

Following his rough outing at Dover, Kligerman finished 13th in Darlington, then after a strong practice run in the Truck Series race at North Wilkesboro missed the field by a fraction of a second. He’d return to action with Big Machine Racing’s entry in Charlotte as one of 40 entrants. In practice, he ran 25th, then secured the 20th starting spot with a lap of 176.864mph (30.532 seconds). Missing the show were Timmy Hill in the #66 Coble Commercial Properties Toyota and C.J. McLaughlin in the #53 Sci-Aps Ford. Both were likely back at the shop by the time the race began Monday morning, a 48-hour delay caused by rain.

Securing the 38th and final starting spot was Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose #45 South Point Bank / ForeverLawn Chevrolet was one of three cars unable to log a lap in qualifying, incurring a tail-end penalty as a result. All three made the show, including 36th-place Ryan Sieg – whose #39 Ford lost an engine in practice, and 37th-place Parker Retzlaff for unapproved adjustments on the #31 Funkaway Chevrolet. Unapproved adjustment penalties were also handed to 14th-place Josh Berry for a power steering issue on the #8 Tire Pros Love The Drive Chevrolet, 22nd-place Stefan Parsons in the #07 Springrates Chevrolet, and 24th-place Kyle Sieg in the #28 Cedar Ridge Landscaping Ford. The postponement also led to Justin Haley taking 6th-place Kyle Busch’s place in the #10 LA Golf Chevrolet. Rajah Caruth had issues starting his #44 Winston Salem State University Chevrolet, but got going in enough time to remain 19th on the grid.

Coming to the stripe, Berry was some distance behind Retzlaff, who was on the inside of Haley. But when the race started, Retzlaff was last across the stripe, 4.06 seconds back of the lead with Berry in 37th and Haley up to 34th. By the end of the first lap, the spot fell to Natalie Decker, who was a late driver swap into SS-Green Light Racing’s #08 Cracker Jack / Cracker Jill Chevrolet. At that point, Decker was 7.152 seconds back of the lead and 0.511 back of new 37th-place runner Blaine Perkins in the #02 Our Motorsports Chevrolet. By Lap 5, Decker pulled alongside Perkins, and the two were just 0.086 apart at the stripe. The battle continued for another lap – even closer, at 0.016 at the line. At last, Decker cleared Perkins, opening up three-tenths on him at Lap 7.

As Perkins monitored his car’s temperature readings, Decker reeled in new 36th-place runner Garrett Smithley, who reported an intermittent issue with either the motor or electrical system on his #4 Hoffman Tool Chevrolet. Decker passed Smithley on Lap 13, and Perkins closed to within 0.574 of the #4 the next time by. Perkins cut the gap to just 0.169 on Lap 16, then got under him and made it by on Lap 18. By then, Smithley was now 31.198 seconds back of the lead, but still within sight of Perkins, just 0.188 ahead. Smithley continued to run in Perkins’ tire tracks on the inside line as the leaders lapped them both on the outside of Turns 1 and 2. A competition caution came out on Lap 20, handing the Lucky Dog to Perkins. During this yellow, Smithley and crew talked about taking off the battery cover to examine the connections. But with Stage 1’s caution coming at Lap 45, Smithley’s team elected to stay out and take the wave-around. Before they could, rain began to fall, and the race was red-flagged. During the delay, Smithley’s crew discovered they only had one battery on hand, and discussed removing the rev limiter chip once the caution was back out.

When the track was dry, it was Carson Hocevar who this time couldn’t get rolling in his #77 Premier Security Chevrolet. As the field rolled around him, the crew called for a wrecker to push him, and sought out a replacement battery in Brandon Jones’ pit stall. The crew also had to prepare their stall, which was blocked by blower fans that Chandler Smith’s crew was using to dry their own stall. Hocevar then discovered he had accidentally tripped the “kill switch” on the steering wheel. He pushed it again, and the car re-fired, regaining his original spot.

Through Hocevar’s issues, Smithley remained in last, and on Lap 30 received his wave-around to rejoin the lead-lap cars. On Lap 31, after the choose cone, Smithley dropped Decker back to last, and the spotter was watching a car ahead of him. “Not a big fan of that 74, but we’ll make quick waste of him,” Smithley’s team said, referring to Dawson Cram in the #74 CHK Racing Chevrolet. Anthony Alfredo made a pit stop in his #78 Andy’s Frozen Custard Chevrolet, but remained ahead of Decker’s #08. 

The Lap 32 restart was a slow one for Decker, who by Lap 35 dropped from 1.843 to 2.457 seconds back of 37th-place Smithley. “Don’t turn early on me,” her spotter advised. Further ahead, Smithley was counting down the laps to the end of Stage 1, and on Lap 38 remained 1.567 behind Cram’s #74. Both soon passed Stefan Parsons, whose #07 began to slip back through the rankings due to an issue with either the throttle linkage or carburetor. “Gonna get in front of that 4 and 07 if we can,” said Decker’s spotter. By Lap 41, Smithley had dropped Parsons to 37th with Decker closing fast. This allowed Decker to catch and pass Parsons by Lap 43, the two already 0.785 second apart.

On Lap 45, the last lap of Stage 1, Parsons was lapped off Turn 2, which secured him the Lucky Dog. But, once again, a gathering mist had turned to rain, forcing another red flag. Prior to that, Parsons’ crew wanted to look under the hood and make a second stop to service the car. NASCAR made another attempt to restart the event, but the rain continued to fall. “I know they want to get this in,” said someone on Parsons’ channel. “But come on, let's have a little common sense here.” The rain intensified, forcing a postponement of the race’s remaining 151 laps with all 38 starters still running on the lead lap.

When engines re-fired following the Coca-Cola 600, Parsons was running by himself in the high lane under caution, waiting for NASCAR to let him pass the pace car. This was done on Lap 51, and the next time by he climbed past Cole Custer, whose #00 3D Systems Ford needed lengthy repairs for damage to his right-rear fender. Smithley retook the spot on Lap 54, but when Parsons’ carburetor issue required lengthy repairs, he was again one lap down in last place for the Lap 56 restart.

Under green on Lap 63, Daniel Hemric made an unscheduled stop for a loose left-rear wheel on his #11 Cirkul Chevrolet. He lost a lap as he returned to the track in 37th, one spot ahead of Parsons. This put Hemric in the Lucky Dog spot until Lap 73, when the leaders caught Natalie Decker and other cars trailing the pack. Also finding trouble was Brett Moffitt, who on Lap 88 bounced off the wall in his #25 AMerican Heroes Ford after a flat right-front tire. Moffitt returned to the track as the new 37th-place runner, and when Stage 2 ended on Lap 90, the leaders had lapped their way up to 28th. Moffitt received additional repairs on Lap 96, but remained ahead of Parsons – but not for long.

On Lap 97, Kligerman’s car was being pushed down pit road by a wrecker, citing a loss of power. He went behind the wall, where the crew put the #48 on jack stands and set to work on the fuel pump. On Lap 99, when Kligerman took last place, the team decided against filling the car with more fuel and set to work finding the replacement fuel pump. Unfortunately, the crew never found the new pump, which was believed to be in a plastic tote on the hauler. The effort then became to replace the fuel pump cable, which was frayed at one end. On Lap 120, the crew had Kligerman re-fire the engine, but reported no fuel pressure. Kligerman then bumped the starter instead of the ignition, and the crew said they had to pull the failing fuel pump from the car. Somehow, the crew got the car to fire on Lap 145, at which point they were 51 laps down with just 55 laps to go. He returned to the track on Lap 149, and by Lap 151 was shown 54 laps down. With no other driver more than three laps down, Kligerman was assured the last-place finish. But the team elected to finish the rest of the race under power. In the final laps, Kligerman reported a vibration, but still finished the race 56 laps down.

By Lap 181, Blaine Perkins had fallen out with a blown engine – the only retiree from the race. He remined 37th at the checkered flag, still 19 laps ahead of Kligerman’s still-running car. Between 36th-place Cram and 34th-place Decker came Sam Mayer, who after spinning his #1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet shredded a right-front tire, destroying his fender.

Jordan Anderson Racing, Hocevar, and Kyle Sieg impress during Charlotte's late hours

Jordan Anderson Racing enjoyed another strong race with Parker Retzlaff finishing 6th ahead of teammate Jeb Burton’s #27 PurYear Tank Lines Chevrolet in 7th. Carson Hocevar took 8th in just his third series start - his second in the #77 Premier Security Chevrolet – and second top-ten finish in that span. Also impressive was Kyle Sieg, who finished 11th in the #28 Cedar Ridge Landscaping Ford – his second-best career finish.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #48 in a XFINITY Series race at Charlotte since October 14, 2005, when Jimmie Johnson scored his first career series last-place run after crashing his #48 Lowe’s / Kobalt Tools Chevrolet 29 laps into the Dollar General 300.
*The 144 laps completed by Kligerman was the second-most by a XFINITY last-place finisher who came home under power, trailing only the 180 laps by Ed Feree at Langley Field Speedway on April 30, 1988.

38) #48-Parker Kligerman / 144 laps / running
37) #02-Blaine Perkins / 163 laps / engine
36) #74-Dawson Cram / 193 laps / running
35) #1-Sam Mayer / 193 laps / running
34) #08-Natalie Decker / 195 laps / running

1st) Big Machine Racing, CHK Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (2)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


CUP: Disastrous afternoon for the Legacy Motor Club sees Jimmie Johnson finish last in second-straight 600

Johnson exits the garage after repairs from his first incident on Monday.
SCREENSHOT: @LegacyMotorclub

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Jimmie Johnson scored the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #84 Club Wyndham Chevrolet fell out following a crash after 115 of 400 laps.

The finish, which came in Johnson’s 689th start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup race since this same event on May 24, 2020, 115 races ago, when he was disqualified after finishing runner-up. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 12th for the #84, the 649th from a crash, and the 839th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 27th for the #84, the 1,333rd from a crash, and the 1,888th for Chevrolet.

With four of his twelve career Cup wins at Charlotte coming in NASCAR’s longest race, it was of little surprise that Johnson included this event in his part-time Cup schedule in 2023. Now both a driver and investor in the reincorporated Legacy Motor Club – formerly Petty-GMS Racing – Johnson looked to have fun at one of his best tracks. But his return to Cup competition has been fraught with frustration. While qualified for the Daytona 500, he was collected in a late-race crash that left him 31st. Then at Circuit of the Americas, he collided with Ty Dillon, knocking both cars out of the race just one corner away from completing the first lap.

As part of NASCAR’s own Memorial Day tribute, the windshield of Johnson’s car for Charlotte carried the name of Sgt. Kendell Kioma Frederick. According to the team’s press release, Sgt. Frederick immigrated from Trinidad and joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a mechanical engineer with the 983rd Engineer Battalion. While serving in Iraq, he continued his work toward becoming a naturalized United States citizen. Tragically, that effort was cut short when he was killed in action on October 19, 2005. In his memory, Congress enacted the Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act, intended to streamline the process by which servicemembers can seek citizenship.

Erik Jones (center) on pit road with
a punctured radiator.
PHOTO: No Tires Just Gas on YT
The persistent rain and mist that plagued nearly all of Charlotte’s Memorial Day weekend cancelled both practice and qualifying. As the only “open” team on the entry list of 37 – and a part-time effort at that – this put Johnson into the 37th and final starting spot. There were no pre-race penalties incurred, so Johnson would retain the spot, taking the green by himself on the inside line, 3.643 seconds back of the lead. “Long, long race,” his crew told him. “All we can do is go forward. . .Have some fun.”

By the exit of Turn 2, Johnson had already cleared Todd Gilliland in the #51 Ruedebusch Development & Construction Ford and opened up a couple carlengths. This was the next in a series of races where Gilliland stepped out of his #38 entry at Front Row Motorsports for defending Truck Series champion Zane Smith. By Lap 3, Gilliland was a full 2.287 seconds back of Johnson and 7.093 back of the leader, fighting a car that felt like it was dragging the track. On Lap 5, Johnson had climbed to 33rd, putting back to 36th Ty Dillon in the #77 Ferris Commercial Mowers Chevrolet, who retained a 2.825 second advantage over Gilliland. Both Gilliland and Dillon’s crews instructed them to read off data on their digital dashboards to diagnose their issues. 

On Lap 15, Gilliland was now sliding the right-rear tire through the corner, his car so loose that at one point he reported “zero grip.” Still 2.994 back of 36th-place Dillon, the gap increased to 4.868 just two circuits later, then 7.214 on Lap 21. The next time by, the leaders caught Gilliland, who held the middle lane as the leaders lapped him on the inside. Dillon lost a lap by the 29th circuit, when Chase Briscoe in 35th was also caught by the leaders in his #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford. 

Under a competition caution on Lap 36, Gilliland’s crew called for two rounds out of the right-rear and two rounds into the left-rear, taking care to look over the suspension as they removed the wheels. The driver also reported he thought his spark plug wire had come loose. Despite these repairs, Ty Dillon had a longer stop for what turned out to be an electrical issue on the driver’s side of the engine. Dillon lost two laps, taking last from Gilliland on Lap 37, then came back in on Lap 40 to change the entire coil system. “We’re gonna have to fix it,” said Dillon’s crew. “We’ll lose another lap, but it’s a long race. . .We’ll bite the bullet now.” Among the crew members working on Dillon’s car was at least one person wearing a JTG-Daugherty Racing uniform. 

On Lap 43, one lap after the restart, Dillon returned to the track in last place, four laps down. He lost a fifth as he came up speed, the field passing him in Turns 3 and 4. Back under power, Dillon reported his car was running particularly well, and noticed he was significantly faster than the now 36th-place running Gilliland. “We’re absolutely gonna catch the 51, so we’ll lap him two or three times,” said the crew. 

Lap 117 - A rough afternoon for
the Legacy Motor Club.

This was on Lap 75, when Jimmie Johnson’s day took a turn for the worse. Running 24th at the time, Johnson spun coming off Turn 2 and bumped the outside wall with his left-front corner. Under the ensuing caution, Johnson came down pit road with a flat tire, putting him on the “Crash Clock.” The crew made some repairs to the left-front corner and sent him back out, now back in 35th and between one and two laps down for the Lap 80 restart. Dillon remained in last place for the end of Stage 1 on Lap 101, still between four and five laps behind. By then, Gilliland had fallen onto Dillon’s lap, which moved the #51 back to last on Lap 104. An instant later, NASCAR reported Johnson had gone to the garage for a mechanical issue. Since the #84 had cleared the “Crash Clock,” the team could now complete further repairs.

It was also on Lap 104 that not one but both of Johnson’s teammates pulled down pit road, having run over debris. The crew for Erik Jones’ #43 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet was first to discover he punctured the radiator, and pushed him behind the wall not long after Johnson. The same damage was found to Noah Gragson’s #42 Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevrolet, which went behind the wall only a couple laps after. As the first to pull behind the wall, Johnson took over last on Lap 107 with Jones taking over 36th and Gragson 35th. On Lap 120, with Gilliland now up to 34th and Ty Dillon in 33rd, Johnson was 19 laps down, two laps behind Jones and another two laps back of Gragson. All three cars had their hoods up, and the race to return began.

On Lap 144, Johnson’s crew was first to complete their work, putting the hood down and jacking up the left side once more. He pulled out of his stall on Lap 150, returned to the track on Lap 152, and on Lap 153 was on the same lap as 36th-place Jones. Johnson dropped Jones to last on Lap 154, but three circuits later yet another brief rainstorm had crossed the track. This forced a red flag on Lap 158, forcing both Gragson and Jones’ crews to stop their work. At that point, Johnson was 49 laps down, four laps ahead of Gragson and six ahead of Jones. During the delay, Johnson then spoke with his teammates in the garage.

When the caution came back out, it only took until Lap 160 for Gragson’s crew to drop the hood and the driver to refire the engine. On Lap 161, Gragson finally completed his first lap since going to the garage. The next time by, Jones’ crew dropped the hood and sent him back out the lap after, putting all three cars back on track for Lap 163. By this point, Jones was still in last, three laps back of Gragson and 10 back of Johnson, all three prepared to restart the race.

On Lap 164, as the field came up to speed, Johnson came up and crossed Gragson’s nose off Turn 2, putting both cars into the outside wall. Both made it to pit road with Johnson showing debris on his right-front tire. Gragson returned to the track and ultimately cleared the “Crash Clock” himself, but Johnson’s crew had a different diagnosis. “If it’s bent up, we’ve just gotta call it a day.” The crew sent Johnson out on track for one more lap, but at a reduced pace. “Yup, we’ll have to call it a day.” With that, Johnson returned to pit road and pulled into the garage on Lap 167, eliminated under the DVP. The NASCAR official in the garage nearly reported Johnson was out on the Lap 170 restart, the lap Gragson cleared the “Crash Clock.” Later that same lap, the report was made. Johnson slipped to 36th on Lap 174, then last on Lap 177. While the Lap 174 report listed “DVP” as his reason out, the results still showed “accident.”

Johnson now looks forward to an even longer race – the 24 Hours of Le Mans – where he will be part of NASCAR’s “Garage 56” entry in this year’s running.

Gragson pulled behind the wall after climbing two laps ahead of Johnson. Allowed to complete more repairs since he’d cleared the “Crash Clock,” they were instead done for the day, this time citing engine trouble. Taking 35th and 34th were Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, who traded bumps during a violent frontstretch accident on Lap 185. Hamlin, who said Elliott wrecked him intentionally after Elliott struck the wall, saw his #11 SportClips Haircuts Toyota ranked behind Elliott’s #9 NAPA Patriotic Chevrolet. Gilliland rounded out the Bottom Five after his car spun, then was apparently stuck in gear when crews attempted to give him a push on the apron of Turn 4. Gilliland was told to climb out, ending his night.

Zane Smith earns first top-ten finish; Yeley earns another strong run

Zane Smith, Gilliland’s substitute in the #38 Boot Barn Ford, was among the leaders in the race’s second half and came home in the 10th spot – his first career top-ten finish in only his sixth career Cup start, and just one week short of a year removed from his debut relieving Chris Buescher at Gateway in 2022. Also impressive was J.J. Yeley, Gilliland’s teammate at Rick Ware Racing, who finished 16th in the #15 Patriot Mobile Ford. It was in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2007 that Yeley scored his career-best runner-up finish to Casey Mears. Monday’s finish was Yeley’s best since his 11th-place showing at Talladega this spring.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #84 in a Cup Series points race since September 7, 2008, when A.J. Allmendinger’s #84 Red Bull Toyota finished under power, 65 laps down, at Richmond – a race won by Johnson. 
*The #84 hadn’t finished last in a Cup race at Charlotte since May 24, 1964, when Pete Stewart’s 1963 Pontiac had a con rod problem after 1 lap of the World 600.

37) #84-Jimmie Johnson / 115 laps / crash
36) #42-Noah Gragson / 117 laps / engine
35) #11-Denny Hamlin / 185 laps / crash
34) #9-Chase Elliott / 185 laps / crash
33) #51-Todd Gilliland / 265 laps / crash

1st) Spire Motorsports (3)
2nd) Legacy Motor Club, Live Fast Motorsports, Penske Racing, Rick Ware Racing (2)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, Richard Childress Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (4)
3rd) Toyota (1)


Friday, May 26, 2023

TRUCKS: Keith McGee’s last NASCAR start – for now – ends early with fuel pump issues

McGee (far left) looks over his truck after his early exit Friday.
PHOTO: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Keith McGee scored the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #34 JAG Metals LLC Ford had fuel pump issues after 20 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in McGee’s 11th series start, was his second of the season and first since Atlanta, eight races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 8th for fuel pump issues, the 9th for the #34, and the 120th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th from the fuel pump, the 55th for the #34, and the 1,013th for Ford.

With the finish, McGee becomes the first repeat last-place finisher of the 2023 LASTCAR Truck Series season, taking the lead from Dean Thompson. It was Thompson who turned in the strongest run of the night, finishing a strong 3rd after a thrilling late-race battle for position with both Corey Heim and Carson Hocevar. Barely a week after his frustrating afternoon in North Wilkesboro, Thompson earned his first career Top Five in his 35th series start.

The Charlotte race had particular significance to McGee for two reasons. First, as a disabled U.S. Air Force veteran, competing on Memorial Day weekend afforded an opportunity to honor fallen comrades and continue to speak out on the cause of veterans’ assistance. Second, McGee announced in a Twitter video earlier in the month that next month he would be returning home to Alaska to spend more time with his family. 

Between all this, McGee had also designed the Reaume Brothers Racing team’s tribute to the late Ken Block, with which Josh Reaume narrowly missed the field at Darlington. Reaume would run an altered version of that scheme at Charlotte alongside McGee, who brought the team’s second entry – the #34 – back to the track for the first time since Texas. McGee would run a patriotic paint scheme of his own which featured the name of Lt. Col. Larry Undercoffer, McGee's grandfather, beneath the driver’s side window.

McGee during practice.
PHOTO: Reaume Brothers Racing, @RBR_Teams

McGee began the weekend 35th of the 36 entrants, just under two-tenths faster than Justin S. Carroll in the #90 Carroll’s Automotive / Duratrain Toyota. McGee then turned the slowest lap in qualifying with a speed of 164.029mph (32.921 seconds), 2.985 seconds off Tanner Gray’s pole speed. But McGee ranked 33rd ahead of three drivers who were unable to take time. 

In 34th came the #2 Gainbridge Chevrolet of Nick Sanchez, whose oil cooler was punctured by debris in practice. The 35th spot went to Tyler Ankrum, whose #16 LiUNA! Toyota came out of gear in Turn 3 and overrevved the engine, requiring a new engine, transmission, and driveshaft. Rounding out the field was Ryan Vargas, who required unapproved adjustments of his own in the #30 Rangeline Group Toyota. The three were ranked in descending order by Owner Points, and prior to the start both Sanchez and Ankrum would incur tail-end penalties.

When the race started, Vargas began his climb through the field. The first incident of the night occurred on Lap 3, when Armani Williams apparently made contact with the outside wall, causing his truck to trail smoke and sparks as he worked his way to the apron. The incident did not draw the caution flag, and as he lost a lap coming to pit road, McGee had fallen to the last truck on the lead lap. The G2G Racing crew managed to get Williams back on track two laps down, but incurred a speeding penalty for Sections 12-16. He served the penalty by Lap 9, when he returned to the track between four and five laps down. During this run, crew chief Tim Silva bucked up his driver, telling him on Lap 8, “Armani, calm down – you’re a good driver. . .just drive smoothly, you got this.” Steadily, Williams’ lap times began to improve.

On Lap 20, the leaders lapped both McGee and Carroll, which took Williams out of the Lucky Dog spot. Two laps later, McGee was seen running slow on the apron, the truck bouncing over the humps from the “Roval” layout. “Yeah, it shut off,” said McGee as he pulled his truck behind the wall and stopped behind the team’s hauler. McGee asked for his crew to come check if a plug wire came loose, but each member was too far from where the #34 had stopped. In the meantime, the Ilmor representative arrived, ad indicated the truck had lost fuel pressure. On Lap 27, McGee took last from Williams, who was still running five laps down on the track. On the 29th circuit, McGee called for a fuel can at Ilmor’s suggestion, likely to check the fuel pump. Moments later, McGee climbed from the truck, and on the Lap 37 restart, the #34 was declared out of the race with the fuel pump issue.

Williams continued, and the crew remained positive over the radio, reminding him of their plan from before the race, “I don't care if you finish 20 laps down, my goal is for you to have fun and finish this race. . .Doing a helluva job. Helluva job.” Williams still had some issue communicating with his crew, including on Lap 63 where they asked if he wanted something to drink. On Lap 66, the #46 stalled on pit road, and the crew had Williams pop the clutch to coast behind the wall in second gear. On Lap 74, Williams returned to the track once more, 14 laps down, only to seconds later be involved in a scary incident off Turn 4. Coming off the corner, Williams lost control and slid onto pit road, striking the wall with the left-front just past the first opening to the garage. No crew members were injured, and Williams climbed from his truck, done for the night. McGee and Williams were the night’s only two retirees.

Finishing 34th was Justin S. Carroll, whose #90 finished 12 laps down at the checkered flag. Taking 33rd was Hailie Deegan, whose #13 Ford Performance Ford dropped off the pace in the final laps after damage suffered earlier in the event during a tangle in the quad-oval with Zane Smith. Kris Wright rounded out the group after his #02 F.N.B. Corporation Chevrolet suffered damage of its own in a backstretch wreck with Tyler Ankrum.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Truck Series race at Charlotte.
*This was the first time a Truck Series last-place finisher fell out with a fuel pump issue since September 23, 2017, when Ray Ciccarelli had issues on the first lap at New Hampshire. The issue had never been a reason for a Truck Series last-place finisher at Charlotte.

36) #34-Keith McGee / 20 laps / fuel pump
35) #46-Armani Williams / 65 laps / crash
34) #90-Justin S. Carroll / 122 laps / running
33) #13-Hailie Deegan / 128 laps / running
32) #02-Kris Wright / 130 laps / running

1st) G2G Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing (3)
2nd) AM Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
3rd) Niece Motorsports, Roper Racing, TRICON Garage (1)

1st) Ford (5) 
2nd) Chevrolet, Toyota (3)


Thursday, May 25, 2023

PREVIEW: Speedway regulars young and old rejoin the field in Charlotte triple-header

David Gilliland climbs back behind the wheel in this truck on Friday.

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Friday, May 26, 2023 (8:30 P.M. ET, FS1)
TRUCKS Race 11 of 23
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Brennan Poole

There are 36 trucks entered for as many spots, meaning all will qualify.

For the first time since May 7, 2021, David Gilliland will start a Truck Series race, this time piloting the #1 entry he co-owns under the TRICON Garage banner. Serial 1 E-Bikes will sponsosr Gilliland’s first Truck start at Charlotte since 2015, when he finished 27th for RAB Racing. Gilliland takes the place of Bubba Wallace, who enjoyed a tight battle with Kyle Larson for the win at North Wilkesboro en route to a 5th-place finish.

MISSING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Among the teams not entered this week is that of Norm Benning, who after extensive upgrades to his truck joined his crew in rebuilding it a second time at the track following a hard crash in practice. Benning did not qualify.

MISSING: #7-Spire Motorsports
North Wilkesboro winner Kyle Larson is not entered along with the Spire #7 entry.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young’s Motorsports
Matt Mills returns to the Truck Series for the first time since his hard crash with Dean Thompson at Texas, again carrying sponsorship from J.F. Electric on the #20 Chevrolet. Mills takes the place of Kaden Honeycutt, who despite a lack of sponsorship enjoyed back-to-back strong runs at Darlington and North Wilkesboro, taking 10th and 17th, respectively.

Mason Maggio will make his first Truck Series race since Kansas, where he ran 27th, and will run for his third different team in as many starts this season. After running both Randy Young’s #20 and Josh Reaume’s #33, he takes the place of 28th-place North Wilkesboro finisher Josh Williams in AM Racing’s #22 entry. ACE Hardware Rock Hill is the listed sponsor with HMY Yachts rejoining as associate.

DRIVER CHANGE: #30-On Point Motorsports
Following Chris Hacker’s strong 12th-place finish in North Wilkesboro, the On Point Motorsports team looks to keep the momentum going as Ryan Vargas returns for the first time since Darlington, where he 14th and 8th-place runs this year were followed by a challenging 27th. Rangeline Group remains as sponsor.

RETURNING: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Following his recent announcement that he’d step away from racing to move back to his native Alaska, it was surprising to see Keith McGee back on the entry list this week. He’s also entered in Josh Reaume’s second truck, the #34, which has not run since McGee drove it in Texas to a 33rd-place finish.

DRIVER CHANGE: #41-Niece Motorsports
Bayley Currey reunites with Al Niece’s team to make his 35th series start and first since Atlanta, where he earned his first series top-five finish with a 4th-place run. Unishippers, which backed Currey that day, is again sponsoring him as he takes the place of Ross Chastain, who took 9th in North Wilkesboro. 

Following a double-DNF due to early engine issues on both its trucks in Darlington, G2G had to withdraw from North Wilkesboro after a third engine failure in practice resulted in a fire that seriously damaged Akinori Ogata’s Toyota. Regardless, the team has pieced together another entry for Armani Williams, who last ran for the team in Texas.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
Jack Wood makes his 39th series start and first since Texas, where he finished a season-best 9th in Kyle Busch’s #51 Chevrolet. With sponsorship from Eberlestock, Wood takes the place of Cup regular William Byron, who finished 11th in North Wilkesboro.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
Tyler Hill swaps in for brother Timmy Hill, who struggled after multiple incidents damaged his #56 en route to a 31st-place finish in North Wilkesboro. Tyler and his sponsorship seek to improve on Tyler’s only Truck start this season, when he took 22nd in Kansas.

MISSING: #61-Hattori Racing Enterprises
The HRE team will not enter its second truck, which was brought back as a one-off in North Wilkesboro for Cup regular Christopher Bell, who took 16th.

MISSING: #66-ThorSport Racing
Conner Jones struggled in North Wilkesboro, ultimately dropping out with electrical issues just short of the finish that left him 29th. His part-time fourth ThorSport entry is not entered this week.

MISSING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Parker Kligerman was a surprising DNQ last week after he turned fast laps in practice, ultimately making it a short weekend for the Charlie Henderson team. Driver and team are also not on this week’s list.

RETURNING: #90-Terry Carroll Motorsports
Following his series debut in Kansas, Justin S. Carroll will again be locked-in for Charlotte for his second series start. Carroll finished a solid 23rd, two laps down, in Kansas.

WITHDREW: #04-Roper Racing
After a freak alternator fire sent him out of the race in North Wilkesboro, both Johnny Sauter and the Roper Racing team were originally entered this week but were withdrawn at first posting of the list on Monday.

This is a “Triple Truck Challenge” race, so no Cup or XFINITY drivers.

Saturday, May 27, 2023 (1:00 P.M. ET, FS1)
XFINITY Race 13 of 33
Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Timmy Hill

There are 40 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning two teams will fail to qualify.

MISSING: #3-Richard Childress Racing
Ty Dillon is not entered this week along with RCR’s iconic #3, which made its first XFINITY start of the year last time out in Darlington.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Kaulig Racing
It’s a lateral change of Cup regulars in the Kaulig #10 entry as Kyle Busch swaps in for Darlington winner Kyle Larson.

DRIVER CHANGE: #19-Joe Gibbs Racing
Another Cup regular is rookie Ty Gibbs, who takes the place of Ryan Truex, who was 35th in Darlington after he was collected in the race’s biggest pileup off Turn 4.

DRIVER CHANGE: #24-Sam Hunt Racing
After Corey Heim took home 10th in only his second career XFINITY Series start, Connor Mosack returns to the #24 for the sixth time this year and first since Martinsville, where he ran 33rd.

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Alpha Prime Racing
Rajah Caruth will pull double-duty with his full-time Truck Series effort as he rejoins Alpha Prime Racing, taking the place of 31st-place Darlington runner Sage Karam. Winston Salem State University is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
C.J. McLaughlin will make his 35th XFINITY start and fifth of the 2023 season, his first since Dover, where he ran 34th. Taking the place of Matt Mills, who will focus on Randy Young’s Truck Series ride following a 28th-place run in the “Herbie” scheme in Darlington, McLaughlin will again be sponsored by Sci-Aps.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MBM looks for a turnaround in a year that’s seen them start as many races – five – as they’ve failed to qualify. Taking the place of Darlington DNQ Chad Finchum is a returning Timmy Hill, who gave the team its most recent start at Dover and finished a season-best 30th.

After the preliminary entry list only indicated a “TBA,” the Gosselin team’s #91 will this week go to Kyle Weatherman, who we haven’t seen on track in the series since Dover, where he steered Our Motorsports’ #02 to a 14th-place finish in relief of Blaine Perkins. Weatherman this time takes the place of Ross Chastain, who ran 18th in Darlington. CreatiVets is the listed sponsor.

DRIVER CHANGE: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Natalie Decker takes the place of Gray Gaulding and brings on Cracker Jack as sponsor of the #08 entry.

CUP INVADERS: #10-Kyle Busch, #19-Ty Gibbs

Sunday, May 28, 2023 (6:00 P.M. ET, FOX)
CUP Race 14 of 36
Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Ryan Preece

There are 37 drivers entered for 40 spots, marking the 13th consecutive short field after 40 cars took the green in the Daytona 500.

NUMBER CHANGE: #4-Stewart-Haas Racing
After much anticipation, it was a rough evening for Kevin Harvick in what would be his final start running the #29. He finished 18th in North Wilkesboro, two laps down. This week, he returns to campaigning the #4 for the remainder of his final season.

MISSING: #13-Kaulig Racing
Not among the entrants this week is Kaulig Racing’s part-time third team with which Chandler Smith finished last in the All-Star Open following crash damage.

DRIVER CHANGE: #38-Front Row Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #51-Rick Ware Racing
The 600 marks the next race for Zane Smith to pilot FRM’s #38 in place of Todd Gilliland, who moves to Rick Ware Racing’s #51 in place of Ryan Newman. Gilliland finished a strong 11th in his most recent points race at Darlington while Smith took 37th in his most recent run in the #38 at Talladega.

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-Live Fast Motorsports
After Josh Bilicki drove in his place at North Wilkesboro, B.J. McLeod is back behind the wheel of the #78 B’laster Chevrolet for what will be his sixth start in the Coca-Cola 600. McLeod survived much of the chaos last year and finished a track-best 19th.

RETURNING: #84-Legacy Motor Club
The lone “open” team on this week’s entry list is that of four-time 600 winner Jimmie Johnson, who is back in the third Legacy Motor Club entry for the first time since a first-lap crash left him next-to-last in COTA. This is Johnson’s first start in the 600 since 2020, when he was classified last due to a disqualification.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (May 25, 1985): Morgan Shepherd scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Busch Grand National Series career when his #1 Advance Auto Parts Buick lost the engine after 3 laps of the Winn-Dixie 300. Across the seven seasons from 1982 through 1988, this 1985 season was the only one in which Shepherd did not score a Busch Series victory.

ARCA EAST: Jeff Smith takes last on a weekend of several ARCA returns

Jeff Smith's No. 49 Ford next to his brother Brad's No. 48 Chevrolet
PHOTO: Gavin Newton, @runnings_racing (via Colby Evans @StartAndParkCar)

by Ben Schneider Staff Writer

Jeff Smith finished last for the 1st time in his ARCA Menards Series East career in Saturday’s Dutch Boy 150 at Flat Rock Speedway when his No. 49 Ford retired with clutch issues after completing 1 of 150 laps.

The finish came in Smith’s ARCA East debut.

Jeff is the older brother of longtime ARCA Menards Series veteran Brad Smith. Jeff made his ARCA debut on August 8, 1987, at Rockford Speedway in Illinois, where he finished 28th and last due to an engine failure on the opening lap. Since then, he has primarily served as a crew member for Brad’s ARCA team. Last season, Jeff made headlines at Milwaukee by being the sole pit crew member for Brad’s No. 48 car. Brad would go on to finish 21st in the 28-car field, completing 136 of the race’s 150 laps. Jeff would later tell, “I did it because it was for my brother. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else….it was his 400th start and I wanted to give him his best shot.”

This past weekend, Jeff made a return to the driver’s seat, 35 years, 9 months, and 12 days after his previous one-off appearance. Driving the team’s backup car, renumbered with red tape to create the No. 49, Jeff completed one lap before pulling behind the wall with “clutch” as the reason out. While Saturday’s race was strictly an East Series event, it is believed to be the longest-ever stretch between last-place finishes in ARCA-sanctioned competition.

Jeff and Brad Smith on Saturday at
Flat Rock Speedway
PHOTO: @DriverBradSmith
Just 16 cars appeared on the entry list in total. In the days leading up to the event, Jeff’s comeback was not the only ARCA return making headlines. The return of Flat Rock to the ARCA schedule for the first time since 2000 also brought series team owner Billy Venturini out of retirement for a one-off return of his own. Venturini did not compete full-time in ARCA until 2002, two years after Flat Rock was dropped from the schedule. “It was really something that was on my bucket list my whole life,” Venturini told Frontstretch. “I grew up watching my father race there, [he] won his first ARCA race there. [He] had done countless races, and it was always my favorite track.” The opportunity to check the track off of his bucket list inspired Venturini to make his return behind the wheel of his team’s No. 20 Toyota.

While ARCA timing and scoring indicates Jeff Smith ran a total of nine practice laps, he not make a lap in qualifying, locking him into the 16th and final starting spot. Nate Moeller joined Smith on the back row of the grid, placing 15th with a time of 14.879 seconds. Dale Shearer, Brad Smith, and Ryan Roulette rounded out the Bottom Five qualifying positions.

After Jeff Smith pulled off on Lap 3, Dallas Frueh became the next retirement when he pulled behind the wall with overheating issues after running 18 circuits. Brake issues forced Moeller and Brad Smith out of the race after 25 and 31 laps respectively, while Roulette rounded out the Bottom Five with an engine issue after 42 laps.

Up front, William Sawalich scored another win after executing a bump-and-run pass on polesitter Sean Hingorani with 48 laps to go. Lavar Scott scored a career-best finish of second, bumping Hingorani back to a third-place finish. Venturini, meanwhile, enjoyed a successful return to the driver’s seat, placing fourth in his first ARCA-sanctioned start since Talladega on October 5, 2007.

16) #49-Jeff Smith / 1 lap / clutch
15) #01-Dallas Frueh / 18 laps / overheating
14) #06-Nate Moeller / 25 laps / brakes
13) #48-Brad Smith / 31 laps / brakes
12) #12-Ryan Roulette / 42 laps / engine

1st) Toyota, Ford (2)

1st) Wayne Peterson Racing (2)
2nd) Fast Track Racing, Brad Smith Motorsports (1)


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

PREVIEW: The debut of Abel Motorsports and R.C. Enerson awaits at Indy

PHOTO: Luis Torrres, @TheLTFiles

by William Soquet Staff Writer

Sunday, May 28, 2023 (12:45 P.M. EDT, NBC)
INDYCAR Race 6 of 17
Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Rinus VeeKay 

There are 34 drivers entered for 33 spots on the grid. All part-time entries locked in on the first day of qualifying, sending four full-time teams to the last row shootout on Sunday, May 21. Graham Rahal was the lone driver that failed to qualify - at least at first - leaving the starting grid set a week in advance.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Chip Ganassi Racing
Takuma Sato takes over the #11 machine for the second of four scheduled oval starts. He is splitting the car with Marcus Armstrong this year as the two inherit what was the #48 team last season. His first start, which came at Texas, yielded an early crash and a last-place finish. Sato now goes to Indianapolis, the track that has treated him the best as an IndyCar driver. Two of his six IndyCar wins have come on the famed oval: in 2017 with Andretti Autosport and in 2020 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. CGR was a dream pairing for Sato, with the team excelling at Indy year in and year out. Sato led two days of practice and qualified eighth for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

MISSING: #11-A.J. Foyt Racing
Foyt's expansion has, in the past, been a constant at Indy. After moving over from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, J.R. Hildebrand had been the driver of the team’s third entry each of the past two years. However, for whatever the reason, a third Foyt entry was not rolled out for the 500 this year. The IndyStar newspaper reported that Hildebrand was waiting on the team to roll out a third entry, wanting to keep his consecutive starts streak alive (which sat at 12 after 2022). IndyCar media member Marshall Pruett said on his podcast that Foyt was an option for R.C. Enerson to land for this year’s 500 before ultimately deciding to bring his chassis to Abel Motorsports. It was probably more of the former, as Foyt brought in two new drivers and an organizational overhaul for 2023 – something from which a third team could pull resources.

MISSING: #16-Paretta Autosport
Ever looking to get back on the grid, Beth Paretta worked all her possible connections in an attempt to get her team and Simona de Silvestro back on the IndyCar grid. Previous partners Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing were not interested in being partners this time around, and with the team’s limited resources, the #16 ultimately did not wind up making an attempt.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Ryan Hunter-Reay started no IndyCar races in 2022 after he did not return to Andretti Autosport. He did serve as an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing’s IMSA efforts. Hunter-Reay did not return to that role this year, just as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing was looking for a new driver for their #23. The driver that the Indy 500-only team contracted last year, Santino Ferrucci, moved on to a full-season ride with A.J. Foyt Racing, which promptly put his car on the second row. DRR and RHR announced the pairing on March 15, although the deal was worked out quite in advance of that date. Hunter-Reay qualified 18th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #24-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
It seemed as though Sage Karam and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing would be a pairing that would stand the test of time. The two first partnered in 2014 for Karam’s IndyCar debut, which came at Indianapolis. They shocked the world, finishing ninth. Save for a 2015 season where Karam ran full-time for Chip Ganassi Racing, driver and team have run every Indy 500 since. The 2021 annual was another highlight year for the pairing, with two laps led and a seventh-place finish. Despite that, DRR filled the entry early, and Karam was left on the outside looking in. The driver signed was Stefan Wilson. Fresh off a scramble in 2022 to fill out the grid with a DragonSpeed entry, Wilson and backer Don Cusick decided to take care of things early for 2023 - so early, in fact, that they announced the Indy 500-only deal in November 2022. Wilson was set to start 25th in the race, but a savage crash with Katherine Legge in Monday practice resulted in a fractured vertebra that has put Wilson out of the race. Graham Rahal, who failed to qualify in his usual Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry, was tabbed as the replacement driver on Tuesday.

RETURNING: #33-Ed Carpenter Racing
Texas, Iowa, and Gateway are fine and all, but Indianapolis is the main reason that Ed Carpenter still hangs around the IndyCar Series as a driver. Now in his 10th year of an ovals-only driving schedule, the month of May remains a highlight for both Carpenter as a driver and his entire team. Carpenter has finished as high as second at Indy before, and his team has speed, with Rinus VeeKay putting his Ed Carpenter Racing car on the front row. The team owner will start 13th in this year’s running.

RETURNING: #44-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
With a 17th Honda engine lease up for grabs, RLL jumped on it in order to once again expand for the Indy 500. The team most recently did this in 2021, when it fielded the #45 for Santino Ferrucci. Now at three full-time entries with Christian Lundgaard piloting the #45, the fourth entry was numbered #44. The driver selected was Katherine Legge, tabbed for her third Indy 500. Legge drove ten races in 2012 for the ill-fated Dragon/Lotus effort and was signed by then-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for a 2013 Indy 500 bid, in which she finished 26th. From there, Legge became immersed in the world of sports cars, becoming a GTD mainstay in IMSA. She also dabbled in other series, and actually drove for RLL in the Jaguar I-PACE series, winning in Mexico in 2019. This year’s driver and team pairing were announced on February 9. After a tense week of practice leading up to qualifying, Legge was the only RLL car to lock in on the first day, nabbing the 30th starting spot.

NEW TEAM: #50-Abel Motorsports
Five years ago, a seventeen-year-old Louisville native debuted in the U.S. F2000 championship at Road America, running a car fielded by his father. Fast forward to 2023, and that small team has now blossomed into the newest entrant in the IndyCar Series. Bill Abel, a construction businessman, got in the ownership game when his son Jacob entered single-seater racing, but he had eyes set much higher than that. When Jacob moved up to then-Indy Lights in 2022, the team expanded to multiple entries, and that whetted an appetite to go IndyCar racing. The team found a match in driver R.C. Enerson, who owned the chassis that Top Gun Racing tried to qualify for the 2021 Indy 500. The team and driver worked out a provisional agreement before the IndyCar season started and secured one of the final Chevrolet engine leases during the Texas race weekend. Despite being the obvious pick for ‘slowest car at the Speedway’, Abel and Enerson did well on their efforts, with the car locking in during the first day of qualifying and avoiding any potential Bump Day shenanigans. If all goes well, Abel is exploring a move to a full-time IndyCar operation in 2024.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Arrow McLaren
A year ago at the Indianapolis 500, Tony Kanaan was running a special fourth entry for Chip Ganassi Racing during what was supposed to be his farewell oval tour. He came tantalizingly close to another victory at the Speedway, mixing it up for the lead after a late caution en route to a third-place finish. After becoming the Tom Brady of IndyCar with his many retirement tours, TK is back for one final Indy 500, this time with Arrow McLaren. The team once again fields an extra entry for the 500, although this year it is a fourth entry and numbered #66. Last year, Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th in the extra entry, third-best of all Indy 500 one-offs. Kanaan will start ninth in this year’s 500.

RETURNING: #98-Andretti Autosport
As noted by the man himself, Marco Andretti has now been running the Indianapolis 500 for half of his life. The 36-year-old returns for his 18th attempt at a Borg-Warner trophy, driving for his family’s team. Despite not running any additional IndyCar races in 2022, it was still a busy summer for Marco, as he drove the entire Superstar Racing Experience schedule and was named the champion of that series. A year removed from a 23rd-place starting spot, Andretti qualified 24th, looking to improve upon his 22nd-place finish last year.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

CUP: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. spins early, finishes last in North Wilkesboro endurance race

PHOTO: Steven Taranto, @STaranto92

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished last in Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at the North Wilkesboro Speedway when his #47 Kroger / Coca-Cola Chevrolet finished under power after completing 196 of 200 laps.

Coming into the 2023 season, Stenhouse had started the All-Star Race four times, transferring in from the All-Star Open in both 2013 and 2022. His win in this year’s Daytona 500 secured him a guaranteed spot in the field for the first time since 2018, placing him into the landmark race at North Wilkesboro. Stenhouse arrived at the track fresh off six straight finishes of 15th or better since Richmond, where he had the fastest car in the early laps before a mechanical issue left him 35th.

At North Wilkesboro, Stenhouse ran 20th of the 37 entrants in opening practice, then retained his 20th spot in the pit crew competition with a stop of 15.063 seconds, incurring no penalties in the process. This placed Stenhouse 6th on the grid for the first of two 60-lap heats on Saturday night. Due to a damp track, the 11-car field of Heat Race 1 ran on wet weather tires. Starting last was Erik Jones, slowest in the pit crew competition, whose #43 STP Chevrolet was decorated to resemble Richard Petty’s Pontiac from his 1992 “Fan Appreciation Tour.” Jones started last, 1.478 seconds back of the leader, then on Lap 8 dropped Kevin Harvick to last in the #29 Busch Light Ford, a tribute scheme to the car with which Harvick scored his first Cup win in 2001. Harvick dropped Jones back to last on Lap 9 as the #43 fought a brutal tight condition. A caution on Lap 37 dropped Christopher Bell to last in the #20 Interstate Batteries Toyota on Lap 39, followed by Jones on Lap 40, Harvick on Lap 42, then Jones again on Lap 43. The pair were just 0.017 second apart at the stripe, but Jones lost ground in the final laps with Stenhouse slipping back to 10th, securing him 19th on the grid for Sunday’s main event.

Heat Race 2, run under dry conditions, saw Tyler Reddick roll off 10th and last in his #45 The Beast Unleashed Toyota. The group remained tighter together at the start, separated just 0.901 second from first to last. Lap 4 saw Brad Keselowski fall to last after his #6 Nexlizet Ford was stuck in the high lane as traffic passed by down low. On Lap 5, Keselowski dropped Kyle Busch to last in the #8 Thorntons Chevrolet, and Busch fell 1.006 seconds back of Busch by Lap 17. Busch closed on Keselowski by the time the caution fell for rain, looking to fix a loose condition as the field performed noncompetitive stops for wet tires. Busch remained last until 13 laps to go in the event, when he dropped Ross Chastain to 10th in his #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet through Turns 3 and 4. Chastain then passed Reddick on Lap 57, and opened a 3.028-second gap on the #45 by the end of the 60-lap event. This placed Reddick 20th on the grid for Sunday ahead of 21st-place Jones, last in Heat Race 1.

Completing Sunday’s field were Josh Berry in the #48 Ally Chevrolet and Ty Gibbs in the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, the top two finishers of the All-Star Open, plus Fan Vote winner Noah Gragson in the #42 Sunseeker Resorts Chevrolet. The now last-place Gragson incurred significant damage after striking the pit wall in the All-Star Open, forcing the team to tape up much of the bodywork. On a strip of silver tape across the nose, the words “Thanks Fans” was written in felt pen. No other cars incurred pre-race penalties for Sunday’s 200-lap race, so Gragson’s repaired car would line up outside of Gibbs’ #54 in the final row of the 24-car field.

At the start, Gragson remained in last, and by Lap 4 was 0.142 back of Berry’s #48. On Lap 7, Gragson dropped Reddick to last and opened an advantage of 0.503 second, 7.303 back of the leader. On Lap 17, Jones’ #43 bumped Stenhouse into a spin off Turn 4, drawing the first caution of the night and immediately dropping Stenhouse to last as he recovered without damage. Still under caution on Lap 19, Bubba Wallace took over last in his #23 Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota. This was during pit stops, during which Kyle Larson incurred a speeding penalty in his #5 Chevrolet. This dropped Larson to last on Lap 20.

Larson restarted in last for the Lap 21 restart, and immediately found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle for position. This dropped Stenhouse to last the next time by while Larson jumped to 18th, setting the stage for Larson to retake the lead on Lap 55 and pace all but one of the remaining laps on his way to a dominant victory. Meanwhile, Stenhouse dropped Chastain to last on Lap 25, followed by Gibbs on Lap 27, and Gibbs edged Stenhouse by 0.025 apart at the end of Lap 32. By Lap 35, Gibbs had shaken off Stenhouse, opening an advantage of 1.035 seconds. On Lap 46, Stenhouse was told he was the only driver reaching 100% throttle, and his lap times were improving. 

On Lap 62, William Byron’s #24 Liberty University Chevrolet took over last place as he pitted early for tires, Stenhouse passing him on the track at the exit of Turn 4. Kyle Busch pitted soon after, dropping him off the lead lap with Byron as he took last on Lap 65. Busch aimed to get one of his laps back on the 69th circuit, by which point Stenhouse was lapped on track. Both Busch and Byron dropped Stenhouse to last on Lap 89, where the #47 remained at the race’s halfway point. Stenhouse was still fighting a loose condition, and by now was showing two laps down. “Pray for a bunch of cautions,” Stenhouse’s crew said before the Lap 111 restart.

The rest of the race finished under green, during which point Stenhouse lost another two laps, the last of these in Turn 3 with just three laps to go. During the stretch run, Stenhouse’s crew remarked that the racing appeared “boring, the spotter saying, “Yeah, it's just follow the leader. Only time anybody passes is when someone screws up.” Then on Lap 134 came the transmission, “Those cars that ran the second heat race are sure running good, aren't they?” referring to the differing rain tire use between Saturday’s two heat races.

Gragson, Busch, and Byron remained in the Bottom Five along with Austin Cindric, whose #2 Keystone Light Ford slipped to 21st in the final laps.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #47 in both a Cup Series race at North Wilkesboro and in the All-Star Race itself.
*This is the third time in the last four years the last-place finisher of the All-Star Race finished under power – all at different tracks.

24) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 196 laps / running
23) #42-Noah Gragson / 197 laps / running
22) #8-Kyle Busch / 198 laps / running
21) #2-Austin Cindric / 198 laps / running
20) #24-William Byron / 198 laps / running

CUP: Chandler Smith eliminated early in physical Open race at North Wilkesboro

PHOTO: Brett Baldeck, @BrettBaldeck

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Chandler Smith finished last in Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Open at the North Wilkesboro Speedway when his #13 Quick Tie Products, Inc. Chevrolet was involved in an accident after 49 of 100 laps.

Smith, who won his first XFINITY Series race last month at Richmond, made his Cup debut that same weekend with a strong 17th-place finish. It was only the second start of the season for Kaulig Racing’s “open” #13 team, which after a DNQ in the Daytona 500 finished next-to-last in the Bristol Dirt Race with Jonathan Davenport. During an off-weekend for the XFINITY Series, Smith would run the #13 again for the Open race at North Wilkesboro, where his would be the only non-Chartered entry attempting the race.

At North Wilkesboro, Smith ran a surprising 9th in opening practice, entering his best time in his first of 53 laps run in the session. In the pit crew competition that determined the lineup to both the Open and Saturday night’s heats, Smith briefly took 2nd with a stop of 14.004 seconds. But a loose lugnut incurred a 5-second penalty that left him 30th of the 37 entrants – though third-highest of the ten drivers penalized. This placed Smith 13th on the grid for the 16-car All-Star Open.

Rolling off 16th and last in the race was J.J. Yeley, whose #15 Ford promoted a fundraiser to help the family of Stewart-Haas Racing engineer D.J. VanderLey, who suffered a serious injury last September. Yeley was slowest of the Open drivers in the pit crew competition, incurring a 5-second penalty on his 16.066-second stop. When no drivers incurred pre-race penalties, Yeley was last across the stripe, 1.507 seconds back of the lead. On Lap 2, Yeley dropped Noah Gragson to last in the #42 Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet. Gragson dropped Yeley back to last on Lap 3, followed on Lap 5 by the #77 Nations Guard Chevrolet of Ty Dillon. “Very loose, no drive,” said Dillon as he set back after Yeley. 

During this run, Dillon’s crew discussed increasing air pressure in the right-front tire, and was told by his spotter to “try and keep your rights on that black asphalt strip if you can.” On Lap 24, Dillon’s spotter told him to catch Josh Bilicki, whose #78 Ziegler Auto Group Chevrolet was passed by Yeley and dropped to 15th. “If we get him, it will probably keep us from getting lapped,” said the #77 team. Dillon dropped Bilicki to last on Lap 25 as the #78 struggled with a significant loose condition “wrecking free on entry and exit.” Bilicki was first to be lapped on the 28th circuit through Turns 3 and 4. Dillon was lapped soon after, bumped up the track by then-leader Ty Gibbs.

The competition caution on Lap 41 gave Dillon his lap back, and allowed Bilicki to get a round-and-a-half in the right-rear. On the Lap 48 restart, Bilicki was the only driver one lap down, still in last place, and remained there when the next caution fell. Coming into Turn 1, Gragson’s #42 cut it too close at the tip of the wall at pit exit. The impact bounced Gragson directly into the path of Todd Gilliland’s #38 Boot Barn Ford, sending both into the outside wall. Smith’s #13 was just behind Gilliland, causing him to bump Gilliland, then get struck in the right-rear, sending Smith’s car spinning into the wall. Also damaged was Ryan Newman, whose #51 Biohaven Ford was trapped behind Gilliland in the high lane.

Smith made it to pit road and took last from Bilicki on Lap 52. The crew attempted repairs, but by Lap 55, the car’s rear wheels were hooked up to a tow truck, pulling it backwards into the garage entrance just past the exit of Turn 2. Gilliland’s car followed soon after while Gragson and Newman continued with significant patches of tape on the noses of their cars. Newman completed the Bottom Five. He was held on pit road after receiving repairs, then was lapped a third time in the race’s final stages. 

Completing the Bottom Five were Justin Haley and Michael McDowell, who collided off Turn 4 on the restart following the accident. While Haley’s #31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet was done for the day, McDowell’s #34 Fr8Auctions Ford – a “throwback” scheme to Mark Martin’s Folgers Ford from 1990-1991 – twice held up Ty Gibbs, who triggered their accident. 

Gragson finished 7th and transferred into the main event with the Fan Vote. Last-place starter Yeley finished a strong 6th – his best finish in the Open since his rookie season in 2006.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #13 in the All-Star Open since May 19, 1991, when Mike Skinner’s #13 Glidden Chevrolet did not start. The number never finished last in a Cup Series points-paying race at North Wilkesboro.

16) #13-Chandler Smith / 49 laps / crash
15) #38-Todd Gilliland / 52 laps / crash
14) #31-Justin Haley / 58 laps / crash / led 1 lap
13) #34-Michael McDowell / 97 laps / running
12) #51-Ryan Newman / 97 laps / running