Saturday, July 29, 2023

XFINITY: Katherine Legge's mechanical issue leaves her last in NASCAR return

ALL PHOTOS: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Katherine Legge picked up the 1st last-place finish of her NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Road America 180 at Road America when her #07 Blast Equality Collab Chevrolet fell out with fuel pump issues after 9 of 49 laps.

The finish came in her fifth series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 8th from a fuel pump issue, the 15th for the #07, and the 625th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 26th for the #07, the 36th for the fuel pump, and the 1,904th for Chevrolet.

Saturday marked Legge’s first NASCAR start since 2018, when she ran her first four XFINITY Series races with JD Motorsports, then running the #15 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Airtec. Her best of these four came at this very track in Road America, where she finished on the lead lap in 14th. One week after her oval debut in Richmond, where she took 28th, her most recent start came on the Charlotte “Roval,” where she finished 33rd. In the years since, the British-born Legge has been a regular in the Weathertech SportsCar Championship, where she finished runner-up in the GTD standings in 2018, and this year made her first Indianapolis 500 in a decade. Unfortunately, damage sustained on pit road left her in last place.

Legge has been no stranger to Road America, where she made two starts in CART, seven in the Weathertech sports cars, and one in the American Le Mans Series, where she ranked 3rd in the famous DeltaWing LM12, and two in CART open-wheel competition. She’s also no stranger to the track’s dangers, most significantly her frightening wreck in CART in 2006 that sent her car airborne at Turn 11. For Saturday’s race, Legge would this time drive for Bobby Dotter in SS-Green Light Racing’s #07. Both Legge and teammate Alex Labbe in the #08 carried sponsorship from the ref-ology + Blast Equity Collab, a non-profit regarding sports officiating. 

At Road America, Legge ranked 28th in opening practice, where she at one point drove through the grass. She then qualified 14th in Qualifying Round 1B, securing 24th on the grid with her fourth and best lap of 107.411mph (135.673 seconds).

With 38 drivers entered for as many spots, no teams would be sent home, but several would struggle on the track’s newly repaved surface. Rolling off 38th and last was Kyle Weatherman, who ran second-slowest in practice after he drove through a gravel trap during the session. Weatherman was one of seven drivers to not turn a lap in qualifying as he was also one of ten to incur a tail-end penalty for Saturday’s race. 

The seven including Weatherman who didn’t take time ranked 32nd through 38th: Daniel Hemric for an engine change on the #11 Cirkul Chevrolet; Brandon Jones who backed into the wall during his warm-up lap in the #9 Menards / Pennington Grass Seed Chevrolet sending him to a backup car; Ryan Sieg after right-front damage to his #39 Ford; Joe Graf, Jr. for unapproved adjustments on the #38 GTECHNIQ Ford; Ryan Ellis for unapproved adjustments on the #43 1-844-TOM-KEEN Chevrolet; and 37th-place Alex Labbe, Legge’s teammate, who along with Stefan Parsons practiced the #08 Compass Team Schuler Ford, a car which caught fire on pit road at the end of practice, necessitating an engine change.

The other three who incurred pre-race penalties were 10th-place Sammy Smith who hit the wall during his qualifying lap in the #18 Allstate Peterbilt Toyota, 13th-place Josh Berry in the #8 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet for unapproved adjustments, and 31st-place Jeremy Clements in the #51 Whitetail Smokeless Chevrolet, who was sent to a backup car after an incident that forced the team to expedite decals to place on their Chicago Street Course car. Clements’ team worked right up to the garage area’s closing on Friday, and continued into Saturday morning.

After all the penalties were incurred, Saturday’s race began with Alex Labbe’s #08 in the final row alongside Dexter Stacey, who surrendered 30th on the grid in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 ReCap Recovery Drink Toyota. Stacey crossed the stripe 5.555 seconds behind the leader with Labbe a half-second ahead in 37th, Smithley now up to 35th from 38th on the grid ahead of Kyle Sieg, who surrendered 27th on the grid in his #28 Ford. Kyle Sieg arrived in Road America without a sponsor, then picked up backing on Saturday from Lynch Truck Center.

At the end of Lap 1, Stacey remained in last place, 20.598 seconds back of the lead and 0.157 back of new 37th-place runner Patrick Emerling, running an unsponsored black #53 Chevrolet for Emerling-Gase Motorsports. Both were a full 1.489 seconds back of Kyle Sieg, who remained in 36th. On Lap 2, Stanton Barrett, making his first XFINITY start since 2019, slid off track in his #35 Stanton Barrett Family Wines Toyota and rejoined the track just in front of the trailing Emerling and Stacey, the trio now a full 4.231 seconds back of Kyle Sieg. Stacey locked-up his tires as the three battled for position, and was asked by his crew if he had a vibration. 

Kyle Sieg in the garage early with a brake line issue.

On Lap 4, the trailing three cars had taken one second off their deficit to 35th-place Sieg, who made an unscheduled stop for smoke in the car. The team soon pulled the #28 behind the wall, saying they lost a brake hose as they took over last place on Lap 5. The crew didn’t extinguish the fire behind the right-rear wheel of his car, but did bring it under control and began to refill the brake fluid. When the driver’s foot still went to the floor, the team called for a replacement caliper. NASCAR reminded the team that, if they returned, they would have to serve a pass-through penalty for speeding through Sections 1-5 when he came down pit road. 

Sieg’s crew was still hard at work on Lap 10 when Legge’s #07 slowed on the track, then stopped short of the uphill rise near Turn 6. “It’s not doing it,” she said. “I’ve got nothing.” Drawing the caution on the exact lap when NASCAR planned to throw a competition caution due to the new track surface, emergency crews arrived at the scene. With a push, Legge finally arrived on pit road at Lap 11, during which time she was unable to refire the engine. The crew wanted to go behind the wall, but NASCAR told Legge to stay in her pit stall as the leaders were about to come in and pit. At the time, the crew noticed a water leak from the #07, and noted water in the pan, which seemed to indicate a water pump failure. On Lap 12, as Kyle Sieg’s crew finished replacing the right-rear caliper, Legge’s crew prepared to push her backwards to the entrance of the garage. Sieg then returned to the track seven laps down, and Legge’s crew said the car had pushed out all its water. The team tried to put in more water, but had already told Legge she could unbuckle her belts as she went to the garage. On Lap 17, NASCAR declared Legge out with a fuel pump issue – not the water pump – and Sieg passed her for 37th on Lap 19. After the race, a scoring error resulted in Legge being left off the unofficial results, erroneously putting Chandler Smith last in a 37-car field.

Kyle Sieg managed to earn back at least three of his eight lost laps and climbed out of the Bottom Five, finishing 32nd. The first car he passed was Chandler Smith, who on Lap 21 suffered a catastrophic left-front brake failure entering Turn 1. Acting quickly, Smith pulled his car to the left and slammed the unprotected concrete barriers, slowing his car enough to stop at the edge of the gravel trap. As Smith climbed from his car uninjured, Brett Moffitt pulled his #25 AM Technical Solutions Ford behind the wall on Lap 24, citing a leaking axle seal that became a hub issue. Ryan Ellis suffered rear end damage after a Turn 3 tangle with Riley Herbst, then ended up 35th with the resulting damage. Rounding out the group was John Hunter Nemechek, whose #20 Mobil 1 Toyota twice ran off-course during the race. The second instant off Turn 13 caused the splitter to dig into a rut in the grass, tearing away the splitter and rupturing the radiator, ending his day.

Wisconsin natives Mayer and Bilicki among many surprises

As Sam Mayer took the checkered flag at his home track, scoring his first XFINITY Series victory in his 71st series start, several others also turned heads. Among those in the frantic late-race battle was runner-up Parker Kligerman in the #48 Big Machine Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet, a new career-best after a pair of 3rd-place finishes. 

In the final overtime finish, both Mayer and Kligerman slipped past Sage Karam, whose #24 Carousel Online Toyota clawed its way into the lead before Kligerman made his move. Karam still finished a career-best 4th, besting his 2022 run at Daytona for Matins Motorsports, and was joined by his Sam Hunt Racing teammate Kaz Grala in the Top Ten, his #26 Fire Department Coffee Toyota in 7th. 

One spot further back came Josh Bilicki, another Wisconsin native, who earned his own career-best 8th-place run in DGM Racing’s #91 TRIM-TEX Drywall Solutions Chevrolet. Bilicki, making his 85th series start, had just one top-ten run when he ran 9th in the Daytona opener in 2022, and had never run better than 12th at Road America. 

Also earning a career-best finish was Brad Perez, who for the first time raced the Alpha Prime Racing #44 on which he served as a crew member for the last few years. Making just his sixth career start, and running the same Bonesteel Aerospace paint scheme from the shortened race on the Chicago Street Course, Perez took home 19th, improving his mark of 20th from his 2022 debut at Watkins Glen. In all six of his XFINITY starts, Perez has finished under power and on the lead lap. Perez' run coincided with an end to the team's streak of three consecutive last-place finishes.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #07 in a XFINITY Series race at Road America.
*Legge is the third driver to finish last in a XFINITY Series race due to a fuel pump issue, joining Joey Gase in Las Vegas and Dawson Cram in Phoenix. Only five other XFINITY races have seen the last-place finisher fall out for that reason.

38) #07-Katherine Legge / 9 laps / fuel pump
37) #16-Chandler Smith / 20 laps / crash
36) #25-Brett Moffitt / 23 laps / hub
35) #43-Ryan Ellis / 25 laps / crash
34) #20-John Hunter Nemechek / 31 laps / crash

1st) SS-Green Light Racing (4)
2nd) Alpha Prime 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 (16)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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