Sunday, July 2, 2023

XFINITY: Early moments of Chicago street race see Justin Marks finish last in first XFINITY start since 2018

PHOTO: Michael Massie, @m_massie22

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Justin Marks picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s The Loop 121 at the Chicago Street Course when his #10 Jockey Chevrolet lost the engine after 3 of 25 laps.

The finish, which came in Marks’ 36th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since May 14, 2016 at Dover, 237 races ago. In the XFINITY Series, it was the 74th for the #10, the 278th from engine issues, and the 621st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 133rd for the #10, the 1,135th from engine issues, and the 1,895th for Chevrolet.

When Marks was last featured here as a driver, he was sharing the #42 entry at Chip Ganassi Racing with Cup regular Kyle Larson. Five months later, Marks scored his lone XFINITY Series win during a rainy afternoon at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In late 2018, the Ganassi ride was about to go to Ross Chastain, but the collapse of sponsor DC Solar delayed that until 2021, when Chastain was brought on to drive Ganassi’s Cup entry. By then, Justin Marks had co-founded Trackhouse Racing with recording artist Pitbull, acquiring a leased Charter for his driver Daniel Suarez. When the lease ran out, Marks bought out his former team at Ganassi, acquiring both Charters and, ultimately, Chastain for a second entry. The result has been four wins between Chastain and Suarez, most recently Chastain’s victory just last week in Nashville.

During the rise of Trackhouse Racing, Marks had made only one NASCAR start since 2018 – July 9, 2022, when he returned to Mid-Ohio for the Truck Series race and finished 31st after a late-race crash. But with the new Chicago Street Course coming up, and NASCAR by rule excluding Cup drivers from the field for a new venue, this presented the opportunity for different names to fill the field. While Trackhouse has no XFINITY program, Marks was invited by Kaulig Racing to take the place of Cup regular A.J. Allmendinger, who won last week’s XFINITY race at Nashville. Marks carried his team’s sponsor in Jockey, and as pointed out by the team would run Kaulig’s first paint scheme with foil numbers.

The decision immediately paid dividends. When the XFINITY Series was first to hit the track on Saturday morning, Marks turned the fastest lap in practice, his 16th and final lap enough to edge the fast Richard Childress Racing entry of Sheldon Creed by just 19 thousandths of a second. He was one to watch in qualifying, where he nearly secured the fifth and final transfer spot into Round 2 before he was beat in the final seconds by Parker Kligerman’s #48 Big Machine Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet, this time by 75 thousandths. Regardless, this put Marks a solid 12th on the starting grid.

In all, 43 drivers attempted to make Saturday’s 38-car field, meaning five teams would be sent home early. This list of DNQs included Dexter Stacey, whose #66 ReCap Recovery Drink Toyota for Motorsports Business Management was slowest in practice due to a snapped axle, Joey Gase in the #08 Clubfoot Solutions Ford for SS-Green Light Racing, Dawson Cram who welcomed new sponsorship and a full-body car wrap from Nexus Auto Transport on CHK Racing’s #74 Chevrolet, plus Alpha Prime’s Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #45 ForeverLawn Chicago Chevrolet and Dexter Bean in the #91 Badger Environmental Chevrolet. 

Near the end of Group 2 in Round 1 of qualifying, Bean’s #91 spun at Turn 2, and as he prepared to turn, was nearly struck by a fast-closing Sam Mayer. Mayer lost control and clobbered the wall with the rear of his #1 Huck’s Market Chevrolet, and he hounded Bean’s car back to pit road. This sent Mayer to a backup car, meaning he’d have to surrender 14th on the grid. Also sent to a backup car was Sheldon Creed, who after battling Marks in practice was on a flying lap trying to beat Cole Custer for the pole in Round 2 of qualifying. Creed pushed too hard entering Turn 8, however, and after clipping the inside wall slammed hard rear-first into the outside, destroying the rear of his #2 Whelen Chevrolet. Creed would have to give up the outside-pole.

Mayer and Creed were two of the six drivers sent to the rear before the start of Saturday’s race. The other four were due to unapproved adjustments, three of them due to incidents in Turn 4. Brandon Jones lined up 30th in the #9 Menards / Little Hug Chevrolet, but in the first round of qualifying, glanced off the wall with the driver’s side. Blaine Perkins in the #02 Gratis Chevrolet was the first to run off course in opening practice, having to turn around in the run-off lane. Spencer Pumpelly qualified 22nd after running as high as 5th on the speed charts, only for his #07 Volkswagen of Oak Lawn Chevrolet to lose control entering Turn 4 and back into the tires with the left-rear. John Hunter Nemechek suffered similar damage after he backed into the tires in his #20 Yahoo Toyota, wrinkling the rear bumped. But Nemechek wasn’t among the penalized drivers. Instead, the last one docked was Josh Williams for issues on his #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet. Williams would face more issues in the race itself.

Josh Williams pulls into the garage
after the start.
PHOTO: Joe Laracuente,

Securing the 38th and final starting spot was Brent Sherman, who hadn’t competed in any of NASCAR’s top three series since August 28, 2009, when he ran 16th in the Truck Series race at Chicagoland. The Chicago-area native drove RSS Racing’s #28 / A. Marek Jewelry Ford, but didn’t have the speed of both the team’s previous drivers in Aric Almirola and Zane Smith. Sherman was slowest overall for most of practice, and only late in the session climbed to 39th of the 43 entrants. Just before the green, NASCAR gave a run down of the proper order for the penalized drivers. As to the right lane, where Connor Mosack inherited Sheldon Creed’s outside-pole, Creed would start behind Sherman followed by Mayer, Perkins, Jones, and Williams. 

When the race started, the NASCAR leaderboard showed Jones the furthest back on intervals, showing 11.396 seconds back of the lead, but Pumpelly, Williams, and Sherman had a “0” in place of their intervals. Sherman’s gap was then updated to 13.655 seconds, placing him behind Jones, but Williams’ mark still showed a “0.” As the field completed the opening lap, Williams was now shown a lap down, though the reason was unclear due to radio interference from the team. He was apparently on pit road as he had yet to complete a lap, and remained behind Sage Karam when he pitted his #44 Green Line Automotive Chevrolet for a flat right-front tire as the leaders came down to complete Lap 1. On Lap 2, NASCAR reported Williams was too fast on pit road in Sections 1 and 2, and Williams’ crew was having trouble finding their tools that had been left on the wall. With the XFINITY haulers a long walk away to the opposite end of the park, this limited their options. On Lap 3, NASCAR radioed, “92 to the garage,” then after a pause said “the would be mechanical.” NASCAR had guided the #92 to a narrow opening near pit exit, where the crew then went to work. “What are we doing?” said a voice in frustration.

The first caution came out on Lap 4 with a report of fluid on the track. At the time, Justin Marks had climbed to the 10th spot and was running ahead of Riley Herbst’s #98 Monster Energy Ford as the two entered Turn 8. Coming into the corner, Marks’ car suddenly erupted in a large plume of smoke. Herbst couldn’t avoid contact and bumped Marks, caving in the left-front fender. Marks then limped to Turn 11, where he was clipped by a car to his outside. Marks then spun, his car stopped and facing downtown. A lengthy cleanup was required before the race was restarted with Marks’ car joining Williams in the garage.

Under that caution on Lap 6, Williams returned to pit road and finally completed his first lap of the race. He then dropped Marks to last on Lap 9. With Williams still to serve a pit road speeding penalty, he was now told to drop to the tail end of the longest line. Williams attempted this, but the field got a slow restart, and Williams was penalized again for both starting in the wrong spot and changing lanes before the starting line. On Lap 17, as Williams continued as the only car off the lead lap still running, a radio message came in, saying “No brakes, no brakes, no brakes.” This was Andre Castro, whose #34 University of Chicago Medicine Chevrolet had bumped the slowing Marks into his spin earlier. Castro had qualified a solid 28th for his first-ever NASCAR start, getting Jesse Iwuji Motorsports into its first race since the opener in Daytona. But heading into Turn 1, the brakes failed, and he slammed hard into the tires with the left-front. Castro climbed from the car, but the #34 was heavily damaged on the driver’s side.

The first of a series of lightning holds stopped Saturday’s action at 25 laps, ultimately forcing a postponement to Sunday morning. But by then, the gathering storm gave way to torrential rains, ultimately leading to NASCAR’s decision to declare the race official two laps short of the end of Stage 2. With that, Josh Williams remained in 36th, now two laps down after his early issues. Taking 35th was Connor Mosack, who after finishing 5th in Stage 1 dropped down the rankings in his #19 Porter Pipe and Supply Toyota. Rounding out the group was Brent Sherman, the last-place starter.

Pardus, Weatherman, and Guenette leave with great Chicago finishes

While the finish proved anticlimactic, some small teams still salvaged good runs. Taking 13th in only the second start for Pardus Racing, Preston Pardus finished 12th in the #50 Chincor Electric, Inc. Chevrolet. Preston ran a “throwback” to his father Dan Pardus’ patriotic Midwest Transit entry from 1999. Two spots behind in 14th came Kyle Weatherman, who rallied from 32nd in JD Motorsports’ #4 Pure Kick Chevrolet. And Alex Guenette, making his first XFINITY start since 2016, rejoined DGM Racing and took home a career-best 15th in the #36 Paille GM / DLGL / GP3R Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place run for the #10 in a XFINITY Series race since February 26, 2022, when Landon Cassill’s #10 Carnomaly Chevrolet lost the engine after 6 laps at the Auto Club Speedway.

38) #10-Justin Marks / 3 laps / engine
37) #34-Andre Castro / 16 laps / crash
36) #92-Josh Williams / 22 laps / running
35) #19-Connor Mosack / 25 laps / running
34) #26-Brent Sherman / 25 laps / running

1st) SS-Green Light Racing (3)
2nd) Big Machine Racing, CHK Racing, JD Motorsports (2)
3rd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, Jordan Anderson Racing, Kaulig Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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