Saturday, August 12, 2023

XFINITY: Brake issues hand Brad Perez first last-place finish at Indianapolis

PHOTO: Stephen Stumpf, @stephen_stumpf

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Brad Perez picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit when his unsponsored #53 Emerling-Gase Motorsports Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 24 of 62 laps.

The finish occurred in Perez’ seventh series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 4th for the #53, the 59th for brake issues, and the 626th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 29th for the #53, the 166th from brake trouble, and the 1,908th for Chevrolet.

One of the most hardworking individuals in the garage area, Perez has balanced his racing ambitions with both his other on-track responsibilities and building ties with his sponsors. While developing his road racing skills from go-karts through the Spec Miata series, he attracted backing from both Harris Lue at Lue Creative, plus @RacingUnderdogs on Twitter. During his work as a tire specialist for several smaller NASCAR teams, including JD Motorsports, Martins Motorsports, and now Emerling-Gase Motorsports, he also attracted the attention of sponsors Apex Coffee Roasters, Victory Sim, Kimberly Kirven, and GreenTech Energy, among others.

In 2021, Perez was finally ready to make the jump. His first race in a stock car came in that year’s ARCA Menards Series race at Watkins Glen. He drove for Josh Williams, with whom he’d raced in Legends cars, and battled among the leaders before he finished 24th. The 2022 season saw his Truck Series debut at COTA, where he joined forces with Reaume Brothers Racing. There, he earned screen time on the FS1 broadcast on his way to a lead-lap finish in 20th. His next series start came at Sonoma, where this website was among those on his #43, now sponsored by the rock band I Set My Friends on Fire.

Perez now continues his road course schedule in the XFINITY Series, where last year he finished on the lead lap in his first two races with Emerling-Gase Motorsports, taking 20th in Watkins Glen and 23rd on the Charlotte “Roval.” He continued this streak into the first part of 2023, finishing under power and on the lead lap in his returns to COTA and Sonoma – again with LASTCAR logos in the latter – then the Chicago Street Course. His career went full-circle at Portland, where he was brought on to relieve an ill Leland Honeyman in Alpha Prime Racing’s #43. Now driving for Tommy Joe Martins, one of the first team owners to hire him, Perez was 13th before he wrecked off the final corner. In his reunion with Alpha Prime at Road America, Perez rebounded with a career-best 19th.

This time around, Perez would drive Emerling-Gase’s #53 Chevrolet, a car whose driver was shown as “TBA” on the preliminary entry list. Similar to teammate Alex Labbe, whose #35 had only limited backing from Elevate Luxury on his Toyota, Perez’ car had no primary sponsorship, though at least three backers signed on to decorate the black machine, including Front Row Tailgating. With 42 drivers entered for 38 spots, Perez ran 31st in opening practice, then defended his 31st spot in qualifying with a lap of 89.156mph (98.484 seconds). This was particularly significant as the Indy road course had seen Perez’ only DNQ in 2022. Labbe also made the cut, securing 26th, and would finish a strong 11th.

Four other teams failed to qualify: Conor Daly in the #44 Gilreath Farms / AAN Adjusters Chevrolet, Will Rodgers in the #66 Coble Enterprises Toyota previously run at Road America by Dexter Stacey, and both SS-Green Light Racing teammates Camden Murphy in the #08 Garners Towing Ford and Colin Garrett in the #07 11/11 Veteran Project Chevrolet. Both Murphy and Garrett were attempting to make their first XFINITY Series starts since 2021 and 2019, respectively. For Daly, this was only his second XFINITY Series attempt, his first since his 2018 debut at Road America.

Securing the 36th and final starting spot was Blaine Perkins in the #02 Gratis Chevrolet. Perkins incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, the same penalty handed to Perez along with 20th-place Jeremy Clements in the #51 Wings Etc. Grill & Pub Chevrolet and 35th-place Brennan Poole in the #6 Toxic Waste Hazardously Sour Candy Chevrolet. Joe Graf, Jr., who started 37th in the #38 G-Coin Ford, also had to start in the back as he missed driver introductions. 

During the pace laps, Clements was the last driver to fall to the back. After two radio messages from NASCAR, Clements slowed from 20th approaching the Restart Zone off Turn 13. This dropped Clements to 37th as he crossed the stripe, 8.208 seconds back of the lead, one spot behind 36th-place Perkins, and just ahead of new last-place runner Brad Perez, 9.077 behind. By the end of Lap 1, both Perez and Clements had leap-frogged past RSS Racing teammates Joe Graf, Jr. and the unsponsored #28 RSS Racing Ford of Kyle Sieg. Graf now held last place, 14.281 seconds back of the lead and 0.352 behind Sieg. Graf dropped Sieg to last on Lap 3, and the teammates gradually lost touch with the rest of the field as rain began to fall. By Lap 6, Kyle Sieg was 32.189 seconds back of the lead, 0.785 behind Graf. On the following lap, NASCAR detected a lightning strike near the track, throwing a caution amid a gathering rainstorm. At the time, Kyle Sieg closed within 0.328 of Graf, 37.016 seconds behind the leaders.

After the 43 minute, 50 second red flag was lifted for the lightning hold, Kyle Sieg remained in last place after the field changed to wet weather tires. But as the sun peeked through to quickly dry the damp track, several cars throughout the field began to come to pit road, starting on Lap 10 with leaders A.J. Allmendinger and Sam Mayer. On Lap 11, the spot fell to Kyle Weatherman, whose unsponsored #4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet dropped to the back of the field for a commitment line violation. Joining him in 37th was Ryan Ellis, who on Lap 6 was penalized by NASCAR for short-cutting Turn 6. Unable to do the stop-and-go in Turn 12 before the red flag, he was instead sent to the tail end with Weatherman for the restart. Ellis took last from Weatherman on Lap 12, then dropped Weatherman to last on Lap 13.

Pit stops continued to shake up the order. On Lap 14, the spot fell to Connor Mosack, who after pitting his #24 Toyota Genuine Parts Toyota returned to the track a full 93.235 seconds back of the lead, 36.830 behind Ellis. Ellis then pitted by Lap 15, when he was 99.433 behind the leader and 6.679 behind the now 37th-place Mosack. By the 17th lap, both Ellis and Mosack had passed both Kyle Sieg and Joe Graf, Jr., who now each showed one lap down to the leaders. 

The first driver with mechanical issues was Josh Williams, who on Lap 19 trailed smoke from his #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet. NASCAR told Williams to get out of the racing line and come to pit road, which was done by Lap 20. Williams came into the pits and immediately entered the garage, where he pulled to the team’s stall B-25. It was also on Lap 20 that Brad Perez served a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road in Sections 1 and 2, dropping him two laps down in 37th as Williams took over last on Lap 21. Williams’ crew put the #92 on jack stands and worked under the right side of the car. After calling for a “pump for the gear lube,” Williams returned to the track on Lap 25, showing between five and six laps down.

Then on Lap 26, Perez trailed smoke, and was told by NASCAR to stop in the run-off at Turn 12 – which was the unused Turn 1 of the Indianapolis oval. Prior to the race, spotters were told that this was one of five locations where emergency equipment would be parked. Perez soon climbed from his smoking car, which was leaking fluid from the right-front wheel. The driver tweeted later that his brake pedal went to the floor. With a two-lap advantage over Williams, who returned to the race after his own issue, it wasn’t until Lap 31 that Perez fell to last place. Perez was declared out by NASCAR on Lap 37, citing brake issues.

Finishing 37th was Ross Chastain for suspension issue on DGM Racing’s #91 Skip Barber Racing School Chevrolet. The 36th spot fell to Andre Castro, who for a second time in as many attempts qualified Jesse Iwuji Motorsports’ #34 Wings and Wheels Foundation Chevrolet. Castro’s car started smoking on Lap 36, and NASCAR ordered him to pit road, where the crew dealt with a loss of power steering. Castro struggled with extreme heat in the cockpit until Lap 42, when his car stopped at another emergency runoff area. Completing the group were Joe Graf, Jr., who was pushed up pit road late with a snapped axle, followed by 34th-place Chandler Smith who pulled behind the wall on Lap 60 in his #16 Quick Tie Products Inc. Chevrolet.

Sage Karam continues impressive streak

In addition to the 11th-place showing for Perez’ teammate Alex Labbe in the unsponsored #35 Toyota, Sage Karam continued his string of surprising runs since his near-victory at Road America. After driving for Sam Hunt Racing that day, then leading a lap for Motorsports Business Management last week in Michigan, Karam took home 15th for Alpha Prime Racing, the best of the team on Saturday.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #53 in a XFINITY Series race since August 10, 2019, when Max Tullman’s #53 Means Motorsports Chevrolet lost fuel pressure after 2 laps around Mid-Ohio.

38) #53-Brad Perez / 24 laps / brakes
37) #91-Ross Chastain / 38 laps / suspension
36) #34-Andre Castro / 39 laps / suspension
35) #38-Joe Graf, Jr. / 46 laps / axle
34) #16-Chandler Smith / 56 laps / suspension

1st) SS-Green Light Racing (4)
2nd) Alpha Prime Racing (3)
3rd) Big Machine Racing, CHK Racing, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Jordan Anderson Racing, Kaulig Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (17)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (2)


No comments: