Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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
LASTCAR.info 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)


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