Saturday, July 8, 2023

XFINITY: Greg Van Alst’s NASCAR debut ends with disappointing crash in Atlanta

PHOTO: @TeamAlphaPrime

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Greg Van Alst picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #44 CB Fabricating Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 62 of 169 laps.

The finish came in Van Alst’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 30th for the #44, the 382nd from a crash, and the 622nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 70th for the #44, the 1,341st from a crash, and the 1,898th for Chevrolet.

The 41-year-old veteran from Anderson, Indiana was the feel-good story of this year’s Speed Weeks at Daytona, where Van Alst pulled off a remarkable upset in the Brandt 200 at Daytona, the season opener for the ARCA Menards Series. He did so in an equally surprising battle with Canada’s Jason White, who led 14 laps before Van Alst cleared him in the final moments. His emotional post-race interview brought extra attention to his underfunded effort, which continued to search for sponsorship as the season progressed. But in the fifth race at Charlotte, contact from the Joe Gibbs Racing entry of Connor Mosack – the runner-up finisher in Daytona – sent Van Alst into the wall, destroying his car. This led to Van Alst suspending operations, taking him out of the championship battle.

Coming to the rescue were Tommy Joe Martins and Caesar Bacarella, co-owners of Alpha Prime Racing, who presented Van Alst with the opportunity to make his first NASCAR national series start. Carrying sponsorship from CB Fabricating, one of his sponsors from Daytona, Van Alst would pilot the #44 entry, to be joined by teammates Ryan Ellis in the #43 and Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #45. 

It was the opportunity of a lifetime, as Van Alst relayed to Joe Laracuente of on the grid before the race: “A little surreal,” he said. “I’ve been working my whole life to get to this point, and with the help of CB Fabricating and Alpha Prime (Racing), here we are.” He was also racing in honor of his father, who passed away earlier this year. “He’ll be riding along with me and we’ll just hopefully have a good, safe race and just looking to run all the laps.”

After the withdrawal of Motorsports Business Management, which cited weather concerns and sponsorship issues for pulling Chad Finchum and the #66, Van Alst was among exactly 38 cars entered for as many spots. With no practice on the Atlanta “superspeedway,” Van Alst’s first lap was in qualifying, where he nearly spun off Turn 3, handing him the 38th and final starting spot with the slowest lap of 151.215mph (35.553 seconds), 2.295 seconds off Sheldon Creed’s best lap of the session. However, in Round 2 of qualifying, both Creed’s #2 Whelen Chevrolet and his teammate, 2nd-fastest Austin Hill in the #21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet, each incurred transmission issues that kept them from running in Round 2. This not only placed Creed and Hill 9th and 10th on the starting lineup, but incurred each a tail-end penalty for repairs. Creed, Hill, and Van Alst would each be sent to the back along with 20th-place Parker Retzlaff in the #31 / FVP / EasyCare Chevrolet and 32nd-place Mason Massey in the #08 A-Z Companies / Special Olympics Chevrolet.

“Stay relaxed, have fun,” said Van Alst’s team before the green. “You only get to do your first one time.”

Based on intervals, Van Alst was still last across the stripe, 4.199 seconds back of the lead and directly alongside Garrett Smithley’s #4 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet, which was just 0.029 ahead. Among the other penalized drivers, Creed crossed the line 36th with Austin Hill further up in 32nd:

30) 36-Kyle Weatherman 3.121
31) 53-Akinori Ogata 3.163
32) 21-Austin Hill 3.313
33) 31-Parker Retzlaff 3.509
34) 08-Mason Massey 3.725
35) 35-David Starr 3.762
36) 2-Sheldon Creed 3.86
37) 4-Garrett Smithley 4.17
38) 44-Greg Van Alst 4.199

At the end of Lap 1, Van Alst had climbed past Smithley, who was 4.191 seconds back of the lead and 0.326 behind David Starr’s #35 FR8 Auctions / Half Off Ford, which had maintained its 35th-place starting spot despite the drivers sent back for pre-race penalties. Starr was then locked in a side-by-side battle with Smithley, which briefly dropped Starr to last on Lap 3 before Starr pulled ahead on Lap 4. By then, both cars were a full 1.403 seconds back of Van Alst, who had climbed to 36th.

First to find trouble was Mason Maggio, who this week took the controls of SS-Green Light Racing’s #07 ACE Hardware / HMY Yachts Chevrolet. In the Truck Series at Atlanta this past spring, Maggio had bounced off the wall on the first lap, then cut a tire and hit the wall again, ultimately leading to a day that saw him finish 35th ahead of Keith McGee. That bad luck continued into Saturday as Maggio dropped off the pace with a flat tire, dropping him to last on Lap 7 as he came in for an unscheduled stop. He returned between one and two laps down, but by Lap 10 had developed a bad tire rub. The leaders caught and lapped him once more, catching the attention of the USA broadcast, and he pitted a second time on Lap 13. The crew called for “four (rounds) in both rears” and sent him back out for a second time. But, incredibly, his gauges went dead on Lap 18, causing a grinding sound in the engine. A frustrated Maggio pulled back down pit road a third time, saying he never overrevved the engine before the issue began. The team fired the engine then cut it off, and around Lap 24 pushed him behind the wall. There, they changed batteries and also looked over the wiring to the alternator. A wheel spacer was also removed, and the entire left-rear wheel was swapped out for another one. The car then re-fired, and on Lap 30 finally returned to the track. By then, he was 16 laps down, holding last place by a wide margin.

Maggio returned to the race during the first caution of the night, caused by Parker Kligerman’s single-car spin in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet. Kligerman recovered to finish 8th. Maggio did not lose another lap over the next 30 circuits before the caution came out on Lap 63. This time, it was for Van Alst. After bottoming out through the corner, Van Alst’s #44 collided with Mason Massey’s #08 and struck the outside wall, causing heavy damage to the right-front corner of both cars. While Massey made it back to pit road, Van Alst’s right-front tire had come apart completely, the car trailing sparks and flames as it ground to a halt on the apron. Van Alst climbed out without injury, but his night was done. Van Alst slipped to last on Lap 79, and Mason Maggio managed to finish 30th before he dropped out with his recurring electrical issue.

The Bottom Five was completed by the night’s biggest pileup entering Turn 3, triggered by Riley Herbst. Herbst had just that night won his first-ever stage, taking the lead from Josh Berry in the final seconds of Stage 1. But on Lap 89, his #98 Monster Energy Ford slowed suddenly, causing a stack-up behind. In it, Brandon Jones’ #9 Menards / Atlas Roofing Chevrolet cut left into the side of Ryan Sieg’s #39 Ford, and the track was blocked. Sieg, who had led 15 laps to Herbst’s 3, was eliminated in the wreck along with Sheldon Creed, who had along with teammate Austin Hill climbed from the back to the front of the field and even won Stage 2. Jones finished just outside the Bottom Five in 33rd under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” By a single lap, he dropped Anthony Alfredo to 34th in his own damaged #78 TicketSmarter Chevrolet.

Also climbing out of the Bottom Five was Akinori Ogata, who around Lap 84 went behind the wall with transmission issues on his #53 TKK aP Chevrolet. While running 37th for several laps, Ogata returned to the track around 28 laps down and climbed to 29th at the checkered flag, ultimately falling out along with Maggio in the final laps.

Kyle Sieg earns career-best 7th on an excellent night for RSS Racing

Ryan Sieg’s wreck after such a promising start was a setback for RSS Racing, but the team had a great night with all three of their cars. Joe Graf, Jr., driver of the #38 Ford, had fought his way into the lead for four laps and was still battling amongst the Top 10 when his car had an issue on pit road and had to be pushed back. Graf still made it to the finish in 21st, one lap down. The final member, Kyle Sieg, charged from 34th on the grid to finish a career-best 7th in the #28 Cedar Ridge Landscaping Ford. It was just the second top-ten finish for Kyle Sieg, who had previously run 10th at Daytona last August, and was also among the leaders at Talladega before a late crash. The overall team performance was particularly meaningful for happening at Atlanta, the team’s home track, as it’s just down the road from the RSS shop in Tucker.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #44 in a XFINITY Series race since July 23, 2022, when Rajah Caruth’s run for Alpha Prime in the #44 Martin De Porres Chevrolet ended with a crash after 1 lap around Pocono.

38) #44-Greg Van Alst / 62 laps / crash
37) #39-Ryan Sieg / 87 laps / crash / led 15 laps
36) #98-Riley Herbst / 88 laps / crash / led 3 laps / won stage 1
35) #2-Sheldon Creed / 88 laps / crash / led 24 laps / won stage 2
34) #78-Anthony Alfredo / 90 laps / dvp

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

1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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