by Brock Beard
Sammy Smith picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Cabo Wabo 250 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #18 Pilot / Flying J Toyota was collected in a multi-car accident after 11 of 125 laps.
The finish, which came in Smith’s 30th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since August 26, 2022 at Daytona, 31 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #18, the 160th for Toyota, and the 383rd from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 53rd for the #18, the 398th for Toyota, and the 1,345th from a crash.
Since he was last featured here, Smith closed out his ARCA Menards Series effort with six wins, taking fourth in points despite a part-time schedule. This, in turn, changed his part-time XFINITY program to a full-time effort in the #18. After three mid-pack runs to start the 2023 season, Smith broke through in Phoenix, leading nearly half the 200-lap distance after a battle with teammate Ryan Truex. With his first Playoff appearance now in hand, Smith has since scored another three Top Fives and nine Top Tens. His only three DNFs were all due to crashes, most recently last week in Road America.
Last summer’s Michigan race, which marked just the third series start for Smith, saw him qualify 5th, lead his first career lap, and finish 12th. This time around, he ran 2nd-fastest in opening practice, trailing Justin Allgaier by just 0.181 second. He then qualified 9th on the grid with a lap of 187.339mph (38.433 seconds). With 40 drivers entered for 38 spots, the two teams that failed to qualify were Mason Massey, a late substitution for Leland Honeyman who was not approved by NASCAR to run Alpha Prime Racing’s #44 Eighth Order Chevrolet, plus C.J. McLaughlin in Emerling-Gase Motorsports’ #53 Sci-Aps Chevrolet.
Securing the 38th and final starting spot was Blaine Perkins in the #02 AutoParkit.com Chevrolet. Four teams joined him in the back for pre-race penalties: 19th-place Connor Mosack in the #24 Toyota Racing Development Toyota, 20th-place Kyle Weatherman in the #91 Fresh Water Chevrolet, 29th-place Josh Williams in the #92 Alloy / General Formulations Chevrolet, and 33rd-place Sage Karam in the #66 CrashClaimsR.us Ford. Not penalized, but incurring a delay of his own, was the #10 Jockey Chevrolet of Ross Chastain, who sat on the grid for an extended period to take off a leaking cool shirt.
Coming to the green flag, Perkins had Weatherman’s car behind him, the pair now running 35th and 36th. Behind them came 37th-place Williams, 3.49 seconds back of the lead, followed by new last-place runner Karam, 3.804 behind. Karam retained the 38th spot at the end of Lap 1, showing 5.024 seconds back of the lead and 0.214 behind Williams. By Lap 3, the spot fell to Mason Maggio in the #08 Phoenix HVAC Ford, now 7.202 back of the lead and 0.271 behind Karam’s Ford. On Lap 4, Maggio was 9.036 behind the lead, but Karam had dropped Perkins back to 37th, just 0.208 second ahead. Then came the first caution on Lap 5, when 18th-place running Kaz Grala lost control of his #26 Toyota Genuine Parts Toyota just past the entrance to pit road. Grala spun into the grass without serious damage, and instead of turning around to pit entrance limped around the track with at least a flat right-front tire. This caused Grala to lose a lap as the new last-place runner, and returned to the track with fresh tires. Needing to stretch this set as long as possible, Grala hoped for an early caution to get back into the race.
On Lap 12, Grala was still running in last place when his spotter said, “Back it down, back it down, watch your inside. . .We’re not gonna get in the fence, be smart. Stay away from any debris.” The reason was a multi-car incident involving all three Joe Gibbs Racing entries off Turn 2. At the time, Ty Gibbs held 4th place in his #19 He Gets Us Toyota ahead of John Hunter Nemechek’s #20 Mobil 1 Toyota with Sammy Smith running right behind them both in 6th. Coming off the corner, the three bunched up, causing Nemechek to bump Gibbs into a spin. As Nemechek spun down the track, Smith cut left to avoid Gibbs, only to slam directly into the left-rear of Carson Hocevar’s #77 Premier Security Chevrolet, damaging Hocevar’s exhaust pipes and tearing open the bodywork.
Retaking the 37th spot was Mason Massey, whose #08 incurred splitter damage in the wreck, dropping him off the lead lap. Gibbs held 36th with Smith now 35th, both joining Nemechek on pit road. Nemechek and Gibbs returned to the track in short order, Gibbs expressing his displeasure as he pulled alongside his teammate. Hocevar tried to join them, but the right-rear wheel came loose, forcing him to back up for additional repairs. By Lap 13, Smith had climbed from the #18, the damage to the left-front corner of his car too significant to continue. At the same time, Maggio’s crew was watching the “Crash Clock” as they took over last on Lap 14. Maggio returned to the track on Lap 15, told not to return to pit road or else risking his clock expiring. It was on this lap that Maggio dropped Smith to last place, the #18 already done for the day.
On the ensuing run, Maggio set to work trying to meet minimum speed, which the team relayed was a lap time of 41.71 seconds. On Lap 20, as his water temperature dropped, Maggio was told by his crew that he cleared the “Crash Clock.” Barely five seconds later, Maggio radioed back that he’d cut down a right-front tire, then slammed the Turn 1 wall, drawing another caution that ended his race. Maggio climbed from his car on the apron. “What the hell happened?” his crew asked. “There was no damage to the right-front.” But the results were the same, keeping him in 37th.
Taking 36th was Connor Mosack, whose #24 crossed the nose of Joe Graf, Jr.’s #38 GTECHNIQ Ford entering Turn 1, causing significant damage to both ends of Mosack’s Toyota. Mosack made it to pit road, only to pull behind the wall by Lap 40. Finishing 35th was Kyle Weatherman, who after his pre-race penalty suffered an apparent alternator issue that sent him behind the wall for a battery swap. Completing the Bottom Five was Patrick Emerling, whose #35 Sci-Aps Toyota forced a late-race caution after he bounced off the wall in Tur 2 with what appeared to be a flat right-front tire.
Nemechek recovered from the Lap 12 spin to win the race.
Top Tens for Jordan Anderson Racing, Solid Finishes for Karam and Cram
Saturday’s race saw a double-Top Ten performance by Jordan Anderson Racing with Parker Retzlaff taking home 9th in his #31 Funkaway Chevrolet, just one spot ahead of his 10th-place teammate Jeb Burton in the #27 Bommarito.com / EasyCare Chevrolet.
Further back, the Michigan race was a breakthrough for two of the series’ least-funded teams. For the first time all year, both Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management and Mike Harmon’s CHK Racing qualified for the same race. Entering the event, MBM had 10 DNQs in 2023 and withdrew from the summer race in Atlanta. CHK had racked up 12 DNQs, plus a withdrawal in Loudon.
On the heels of Sage Karam’s near-win last week in Road America, Karam piloted Long’s #66 CrashClaimsR.us Ford to a 25th-place finish, matching Dexter Stacey’s run on the road course. Karam also led Lap 102 during the final round of green-flag stops, Karam’s first lap led in a XFINITY race, and the fist led by MBM’s XFINITY program since October 1, 2022 at Talladega.
CHK Racing had a sponsor back out just before the #74 Chevrolet team headed to the track, ultimately landing just enough from 500KChevrolet’s YouTube channel to secure tires. With his father Kevin Cram atop the pit box, Dawson Cram finished 28th in what was the team’s first start since Charlotte. Both Cram and Karam finished one lap down.
*This was the first time the #18 finished last in a XFINITY Series race at Michigan.
*Smith is the first XFINITY driver to finish last after starting inside the Top 10 since April 23, 2023, when polesitter Parker Kligerman crashed at Dover.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
38) #18-Sammy Smith / 11 laps / crash
37) #08-Mason Maggio / 16 laps / crash
36) #24-Connor Mosack / 39 laps / crash
35) #91-Kyle Weatherman / 91 laps / electrical
34) #35-Patrick Emerling / 120 laps / running
2023 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) SS-Green Light Racing (4)
2nd) Alpha Prime Racing (3)
3rd) Big Machine Racing, CHK Racing, JD Motorsports (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Jordan Anderson Racing, Kaulig Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2023 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (2)
2023 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP