by Brock Beard
B.J. McLeod picked up the 12th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Cook Out 400 at the Richmond Raceway when his #78 Freedomworkshere.com Chevrolet finished under power, five laps down, completing 395 of 400 laps.
The finish, which came in McLeod’s 129th series start, was his third of the season and first since Atlanta in March, 17 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 33rd for the #78, the 40th finishing under power, and the 845th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 49th for the #78, the 53rd while running, and the 1,905th for Chevrolet.
Since he was last featured here, B.J. McLeod and his Live Fast Motorsports team have entered rides for both a returning Josh Bilicki and Anthony Alfredo. Alfredo ran the spring race at Richmond – his first since parting ways with Front Row Motorsports at the end of 2021 – and finished 33rd, followed by a 35th in Martinsville. Bilicki drove the #78 in the All-Star Open at North Wilkesboro plus five points-paying races, most recently a 23rd on the Chicago Street Course. This stretch also saw McLeod earn the team’s best finish of the season at Talladega, taking 18th, though he nearly earned an even better run this month in Atlanta before settling in 20th. Most impressively for such a small team, the #78 has only failed to finish once since March – a steering issue by McLeod at Darlington.
At Richmond, McLeod debuted new sponsorship from Freedomworkshere.com, an initiative promoting employment in South Dakota. With this car, McLeod was the weekend’s biggest surprise in qualifying, rebounding from 36th and last in opening practice to secure 21st on the grid with a lap of 112.881mph (23.919 seconds). It was a new career-best for the driver, whose previous mark of 22nd came earlier this year at Dover.
Starting 36th and last was A.J. Allmendinger, who didn’t practice nor qualify his #16 Action Industries Chevrolet while he competed in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race at Road America, where he finished 9th after brake trouble. Derek Kraus, who has also driven for Kaulig, turned his first laps in a Cup car, but turned in the second-slowest lap to McLeod’s in practice and the slowest in qualifying. Allmendinger returned on Sunday and would incur a redundant tail-end penalty for the driver change.
|McLeod is first to be lapped by Reddick (far left)|
SCREENSHOT: NASCAR Drive
Allmendinger took the green flag to the outside of J.J. Yeley in Rick Ware Racing’s #15 Patriot Mobile / Sound of Freedom Ford, then made quick work of him in Turn 1. Yeley crossed the stripe in last, 4.209 seconds back of the lead and 0.137 behind Allmendinger’s Chevrolet. By Lap 2, Yeley had passed his teammate Ryan Newman in the #51 Parts Plus / Biohaven Ford, and Newman reported his car was “a little free off.” By Lap 9, McLeod had slipped down the rankings into Newman’s clutches, and on the 10th lap was now in 36th, 11.382 seconds back of the lead. Just ahead, Ty Dillon now ran outside Newman in the #77 Gainbridge Chevrolet, trying to gain speed by running the high lane. Concerned that doing so would wear his own tires out, McLeod stayed to the low line. By Lap 21, McLeod reported he was “really tight center, no drive off,” and five laps later had dropped 2.062 seconds back of Newman. By Lap 30, Newman had passed Corey LaJoie, whose #7 FOE Chevrolet now held 35th. Entering Turn 1 on Lap 38, race leader Tyler Reddick put McLeod the first car one lap down. On Lap 71, McLeod finished Stage 1 two laps down, and discussed adjustments to the left-front.
After adjustments, McLeod took the Lap 79 restart still in 36th, but now one lap down, and kept in touch with the tail end of the field. By Lap 112, he requested “the same change, just more of it,” and watched as Ty Dillon continued to run the high line, now to the outside of Noah Gragson, whose 30th-place #42 Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet was the last car on the lead lap. Green-flag stops unfolded, which changed the running order. On Lap 125, the spot fell to Justin Haley, who showed three laps down in the #31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet. Three laps later, Harrison Burton took the spot after pitting his #21 Dex Imaging Ford. J.J. Yeley took it the next time by, his #15 showing two laps down. Then on Lap 131, after making a wedge adjustment, McLeod reassumed 36th place, still showing 2 laps down. By the 153rd circuit, McLeod reported he was “free in, tight center, free off,” and on Lap 157 passed both Spire Motorsports cars as both Ty Dillon and Corey LaJoie pitted on consecutive laps. McLeod himself pitted on Lap 174, when he retook last once more, now four laps down. He remained four laps down on Lap 231, when only the second caution of the race fell to end Stage 2.
McLeod had a fast stop under this caution, dropping Ty Dillon to last on Lap 237, and allowing McLeod to navigate traffic on the Lap 240 restart to begin the final stage. In this traffic, Dillon caught McLeod and dropped him back to last the next time by. McLeod stopped again on Lap 285, dropping him a fifth lap down when he returned to the track. Ty Dillon stopped again on Lap 295, putting the #77 back to last before McLeod once again took last two laps later. With 48 to go, McLeod was shown between six and seven laps down, and with 11 to go radioed that he had “no grip at all.”
Then with 8 to go, the only caution fell for an on-track incident. Daniel Suarez, who was trapped two laps down after a one-stop strategy in Stage 1 backfired, spun his #99 Jockey Chevrolet after contact from Noah Gragson in Turn 4. Suarez continued with little damage, but fell to four laps down by the restart, placing him 33rd on the same lap as Yeley and Ty Dillon. By now, McLeod was shown five laps down, but still in last place. Had Suarez wrecked out after the contact from Gragson, he could have taken last from McLeod within the 400-lap distance. Instead, the order didn’t change in the sprint to the finish, and McLeod finished the race under power. LaJoie completed the Bottom Five, one lap ahead of Suarez, Dillon, and Yeley.
Ryan Preece earns much-needed Top Five
Finishing an impressive 5th was Ryan Preece, who during a challenging year for Stewart-Haas Racing overcame both a post-race argument with Corey LaJoie after his late-race spin in last week’s race at Pocono and early struggles in the Richmond race itself to earn his first top-five finish since August 28, 2021 at Daytona. This stands as Preece’s best-ever finish at Richmond, a track where his best in six previous starts was 18th this past spring.
*This was the first Cup Series points-paying race where all the starters finished under power since November 18, 2018 at Homestead, where Regan Smith finished 27 laps down after missing the start. The last time this happened at Richmond was on April 24, 2016, when Reed Sorenson finished 10 laps down after a cut tire.
*By finishing five laps down, McLeod completed five laps more than Sorenson, second-most among Richmond last-place finishers behind only Erik Jones’ DNQ from 4th place after turning all 400 laps on September 21, 2019.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in a Cup race at Richmond since September 8, 2007, when Joe Nemechek’s #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet crashed after 130 laps of the Chevy Rock ‘n Roll 400.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #78-B.J. McLeod / 395 laps / running
35) #15-J.J. Yeley / 396 laps / running
34) #77-Ty Dillon / 396 laps / running
33) #99-Daniel Suarez / 396 laps / running
32) #7-Corey LaJoie / 397 laps / running
2023 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Spire Motorsports (4)
2nd) Live Fast Motorsports, Penske Racing (3)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Legacy Motor Club, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (2)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Trackhouse Racing (1)
2023 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (2)
2023 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP