Sunday, June 11, 2023

XFINITY: Parker Retzlaff’s first last-place finish no indicator of Jordan Anderson Racing team’s efforts to return to the track

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Parker Retzlaff scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Door Dash 250 at the Sonoma Raceway when his #31 Funkaway Chevrolet had transmission issues after 21 of 79 laps.

The finish came in Retzlaff’s 23rd series start. In the XFINTY Series rankings, it was the 5th for the #31, the 52nd from the transmission, and the 619th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th for the #31, the 174th from the transmission, and the 1,892nd for Chevrolet.

Just last year, the 19-year-old ARCA Menards East Series driver from Wisconsin made an immediate impression with only a part-time effort for RSS Racing. In his XFINITY debut at Phoenix, he qualified 6th, and was still running well before fuel pump issues. He returned at Richmond to finish 10th, and over the next three starts ran no worse than 17th, including a 12th on a brutally hot race in Nashville. This was also Retzlaff’s first race with Funkaway odor eliminators as sponsor, branding he brought with him to Our Motorsports, then this year to a full-time ride with Jordan Anderson Racing.

Coming into Sonoma, Retzlaff’s best finish of the year was his career-best 4th-place showing in this year’s Daytona opener, his first career Top Five in just his tenth series start. He’s since picked up a pair of top-ten finishes with a 7th at Talladega and 6th in Charlotte, all while incurring just a single DNF – a crash on the Atlanta superspeedway. Even mechanical issues in Las Vegas didn’t keep him from completing all but 14 laps of that race. 

I opening practice, Retzlaff ranked 18th, then claimed 10th in Qualifying Group 1B, securing the 16th starting spot with a lap of 89.549mph (80.001 seconds). He also ran Friday’s ARCA Menards Series West race at Sonoma, the General Tire 200. Driving for Tyler Young, Retzlaff started 7th and finished 25th of 28 starters, pushed behind the wall with electrical issues.

A strong entry list of 41 drivers were entered to contest the XFINITY Series’ 38-car grid, including seven full-time Cup drivers. In qualifying, the first of three sent home was Brennan Poole, whose JD Motorsports team brought out the same #6 Chevrolet from Portland – now sponsored by Eli Black Racing - including the slight nose damage that preceded their unexpected last-place finish in that race. Next was Leland Honeyman, a late driver swap into Emerling-Gase Motorsports’ #35 Rokform Chevrolet. Honeyman brought his sponsor over from Alpha Prime Racing, with whom he swapped driving roles with Brad Perez following a bout of food poisoning in Portland. Completing the group was Mason Filippi, whose #66 / Ford spun off the track near the end of qualifying as a car that was too tight in practice turned too loose in qualifying.

Securing the 38th and final starting spot was the #38 Ford of Joe Graf, Jr. Graf’s was one of four RSS Racing entries following the addition of the #29 Ford driven by Alex Labbe in place of an originally announced Kyle Sieg. All four made the show with Labbe qualifying an impressive 11th, his #29 a former RCR chassis which only carried limited sponsorship from Darren Dilley’s SCCA team Cheap Fast Racing on the lower quarter panel and TV panel.

Anthony Alfredo's primary car after practice crash (above),
the Portland car as his backup for Saturday (below).

The only driver sent to the rear was 37th-place Anthony Alfredo, who during Friday’s lone practice session, Alfredo suffered the weekend’s most serious accident. Entering Turn 1, the throttle stuck on Alfredo’s #78 Dude Wipes Chevrolet, sending him hard into the concrete barriers with the right side. The car then skidded through the dirt, slipped right, and stopped against a tire barrier. The entire right side sheet metal was stripped down to the roll cage, but Alfredo walked away without serious injury. The B.J. McLeod Motorsports crew then unloaded their backup – Alfredo’s car from his 21st-place showing last Saturday in Portland, complete #with tire marks and a dented panel behind the right-front wheel. The crew managed to pull out the dents and present the car on Saturday, but the tire marks remained as Alfredo claimed 37th alongside Graf.

When Saturday’s green flag dropped, Alfredo started to the inside of Graf in Turn 11, and the #78 began to draw away coming to the green. Coming around to complete the first lap, Graf had fallen at least five carlengths back of Alfredo, who now set to work on 36th-place Dylan Lupton in the #43 Lupton Excavation Inc. Chevrolet. On Lap 7, Graf ran wide in Turn 11 while Alfredo remained stuck behind Lupton, who now worked to the inside of teammate Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #45 Forever Lawn Chevrolet. By then, Earnhardt had suffered damage to the right-front corner of his car’s nose. After Lupton cleared Earnhardt, Alfredo got under Earnhardt on Lap 9, dropping the #45 back to 37th as Graf closed in from last. Graf’s deficit grew on Lap 14, when he spun in Turn 4 and continued without a caution. This put him into the clutches of a fast-closing Kyle Larson, whose #17 Chevrolet put Graf the first car one lap down off Turn 11.

Graf remained in last place when the first caution fell on Lap 22. Josh Berry’s #8 Tire Pros Chevrolet lost power going into Turn 7 and stalled coming out of the corner, ultimately needing a push. After a truck arrived, Berry coasted onto pit road with the engine still shut off, only to stall in the middle of pit lane as others came in for service. Somehow, the field avoided contact, and Berry was soon brought to his stall for service, taking last on Lap 23. But he wasn’t alone. At least two other cars were in for lengthy stops. One was Connor Mosack, whose #24 Toyota wasn’t the one with which he finished 8th last week in Portland. As Mosack returned, Parker Retzlaff was still in his own stall with a transmission issue. The crew called for tools, reading off measurements of specific nuts and bolts, and by Lap 25 had fallen to last as Berry returned to the track. Soon after came the call: “Shut it off,” said Retzlaff’s team. “Push it to the garage.”

By Lap 29, Retzlaff’s car was on jack stands behind its hauler in the paddock. The #31 transporter was third from the end on the first bank of trailers, near an open space where traffic could make a left turn and reach the remaining half of the XFINITY grid. “Put a transmission in it,” said the crew, which was soon joined by team owner Jordan Anderson. With some assistance, Retzlaff climbed from the car, but kept his helmet on. On Lap 30, the team re-fired the engine, but shut it off when the rear wheels wouldn’t turn. Aiming to repair the transmission instead of replacing it, they tried again on Lap 35, and this time the wheels turned slowly, so the car came off the jack stands. Retzlaff climbed back behind the wheel and fired the engine on Lap 36.

Josh Williams (white uniform) sets to work helping the DGM crew.

At that exact moment, Josh Williams pulled into the garage with the right-front wheel of his #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet tilted inward at a steep angle. Williams made it past Retzlaff’s car, but couldn’t complete the left-hand turn to his hauler on the other side of the garage and had to back up. By then, Retzlaff himself backed up and tried to return to the track, but the car only moved at a snail’s pace. After several attempts to get rolling again, Retzlaff shut off the engine and was pushed back to his hauler, putting him back on jack stands to complete a full transmission swap. 

Meanwhile, Williams’ crew had removed the right-front wheel of the #92 and set to work on the suspension, the hood up for a reported power steering issue. The car also had minor damage to the right-front corner and the right-rear bumper. Williams himself then climbed from the car, then ran to the hauler to retrieve something and returned to continue the work on Lap 39. On Lap 42, the Williams crew bolted on the right-front wheel and re-fired the engine, only to shut it off once more. The crew then retrieved some zip ties and focused their attention on something on the front of the engine. After another round of tightening the right-front lug nuts, Williams fired the engine on Lap 45, and this time returned to the track.

Alfredo rushes into the garage area.

On Lap 47, Retzlaff’s crew had tools and parts scattered everywhere, still determined to complete their transmission swap in time. An instant later, Anthony Alfredo’s Portland car rushed into the garage and sped around the corner, unhindered by the suspension issue that affected Williams. Back on the other side of the hauler bank, Alfredo climbed from his car on Lap 49 and removed his helmet. On Lap 51, the message was relayed by the team to NASCAR officials that they were done for the day, “78 out, suspension.” Shortly after, Alfredo completed work on a research study on driver health, then spoke about what put them out:

“We just had a mechanical failure. Unfortunately. It sucks because yesterday we totaled the car when the throttle stuck going into Turn 1 on our fourth lap of practice. And then right there in (this) situation we just had a right-front mechanical issue. Just part of it, I guess, sometimes. But the last eight weeks have been literally miserable. Honestly, there's no better way to describe it. Our team has showed speed - the same speed we had at the start of the year - but we don't have the finishes to back it up. So, it's disappointing because I felt like we could accomplish some amazing things this year. And I know there’s a lot of racing left. But man, these guys have to work way too hard. Just seems like every week we have some sort of crazy thing happen that's out of our control. . . I hate that for our sponsors, for our crew. But man, God’s got a plan. At this point, I'm gonna stop questioning it and just try to trust it, because it's the only thing we could do.”

Back on the other side of the garage, Retzlaff’s crew was as busy as ever, but was rapidly running out of time. By Lap 58, they were 23 laps behind the now-retired Alfredo, who had just dropped to 37th behind the running Williams, and now had just 21 laps left in regulation. Even if Retzlaff returned to the track immediately, it was unlikely he’d gain even one position. As the crew continued, I spoke to Retzlaff as he stood by in the hauler.

“We’re not sure yet. We think it’s something with the transmission on the inside of it broke. We're not sure. . .There was nothing until I went up the hill and it broke and I couldn’t downshift. I couldn’t do anything. There was nothing there. . .The guys are working hard to try and fix it and see if we can go back some more laps in this race and learn more before the next road course race. But I'm just thankful for everyone on this Funkaway 31 team. We were really good. We were running like 12th or something there before it broke. So, we’re moving forward, gaining a lot of speed, and we'll continue to get better.”

Even with the last-place finish, Retzlaff’s percentage of laps completed remains an impressive 96.3% after 14 rounds.

It wasn’t until Lap 71 – just eight laps to go – that Retzlaff’s crew declared themselves out with transmission issues. Williams only climbed to 35th, passing Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose #45 suffered even more damage in a late-race off-course incident. Williams then returned to the garage on Lap 76, declared out with suspension trouble three laps short of the finish. Completing the Bottom Five was Earnhardt’s other Alpha Prime teammate Sage Karam, who had transmission problems of his own on the #44 Quality Roof Seamers / Tough Guard Chevrolet.

Taking the win was Cup regular Aric Almirola, who was entered in a Stewart-Haas Racing chassis from Riley Herbst's fleet under the RSS Racing banner. The result was the first win for the Sieg family's team after 11 years in the series.

Brad Perez (center) with Brock Beard and Ben Schneider,
two of the three writers at

Brad Perez carries LASTCAR logos to 29th place at Sears Point

A special thank you to Brad Perez, who carried logos for on the b-pillars of his #53 Apex Coffee Roasters Toyota this weekend! When Leland Honeyman's deal to drive the #35 at Emerling-Gase Motorsports came together late this week, Perez' equipment had to be swapped into a Toyota, which was the only other car the team had ready. After wrapping the #53 Supra in graphics designed for a Chevrolet, Perez qualified 31st for Saturday's race and finished 29th, locked in a tight battle for position that continued across the finish line. 

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #31 in a XFINITY Series race since August 16, 2008, when Kenny Hendrick’s #31 Chevrolet – entered by Stanton Barrett – had ignition issues after 1 lap of the Carfax 250 at Michigan.

38) #31-Parker Retzlaff / 21 laps / transmission
37) #78-Anthony Alfredo / 44 laps / suspension
36) #45-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 59 laps / crash
35) #92-Josh Williams / 60 laps / suspension
34) #44-Sage Karam / 71 laps / transmission

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

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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