Sunday, September 3, 2023

CUP: Blown engine stops B.J. McLeod just 25 laps short of setting new laps completed record by last-placer at Darlington

PHOTO: Live Fast Motorsports, @teamlivefast

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

B.J. McLeod picked up the 13th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway when his #78 Affliction Chevrolet lost the engine after 210 of 367 laps.

The finish, which came in McLeod’s 131st start, was his series-leading fourth of the 2023 season and his first since Richmond, five races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 35th for the #78, the 717th from a blown engine, and the 847th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 50th for the #78, the 1,137th from a blown engine, and the 1,913th for Chevrolet.

McLeod was last featured here when he took the checkered flag under power within just five laps of Richmond race winner Chris Buescher. His only start since came just last week in Daytona – scene of another Buscher win – where this time he finished on the lead lap in 23rd. The run stands as McLeod’s second-best of the season, trailing only his 18th-place run at Talladega this past spring. In between, Josh Bilicki made the other three races in the #78 with a best of 27th at Watkins Glen, also a lead-lap performance for the Live Fast Motorsports team.

At Darlington, McLeod debuted a new sponsor partnership with Affliction Clothing, an apparel company that hadn’t sponsored a Cup Series team since September 25, 2011, when they backed Matt Kenseth’s #17 at Roush Racing in a five-race deal. McLeod’s version featured the team’s “Live Fast” branding with Affliction’s logo on the hood. 

McLeod’s car was 34th-fastest of the 36 entrants in practice, then qualified 36th and last on the grid with a lap of 163.908mph (29.989 seconds), two-tenths slower than 35th-place Ryan Newman in Rick Ware’s #51 Parts Plus / Biohaven Ford, and nearly a full second off Christopher Bell’s pole speed. Joining McLeod at the tail end of the field was the #8 McLaren Custom Grills Chevrolet of Kyle Busch, who required a right-rear toe link change after bouncing off the wall in practice, then qualified 11th.

McLeod (center-left) at the tail end of the starting grid.
PHOTO: Wargiven27, @WGiven27

When the green flag dropped, McLeod crossed the stripe in 34th based on intervals, his 3.035-second gap from the leader ahead of 35th-place Ryan Newman at a 3.079. Both were a half-second ahead of Kyle Busch’s penalized #8, which crossed the line 3.521 seconds behind. Busch remained last at the end of Lap 1, 4.954 seconds back of the lead and just 0.227 behind Newman, but by Lap 3 had dropped Newman to last. On Lap 5, Newman passed his teammate J.J. Yeley to 36th in the #15 Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Ford, 10.495 seconds back of the lead. Yeley reported a tight condition, but remained within sight of Newman. On the 17th lap, Yeley radioed that he felt like “the right-front doesn’t want to do anything for that middle-third” of the corner, but remained within a half-second of Newman. Yeley then dropped Newman back to last on Lap 25, and it was Newman who gave McLeod last place for the first time on Lap 29.

Green-flag stops began on Lap 30, when Ryan Preece took over last following his first stop for the #41 Ford. Todd Gilliland’s stop in the #38 Quincy Compressor Ford put him last on Lap 33, followed by Newman again on Lap 35 and McLeod on Lap 37. By now, McLeod was the only driver two laps down, joined soon after by 35th-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who incurred a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 33 that dropped hi down in the order in his #47 Boost by Kroger / Irish Spring Chevrolet. Around Lap 50, Ty Dillon made an unscheduled stop for a flat tire due to an air pressure issue on his #77 Raze Energy Blue Shock Chevrolet and dropped behind Stenhouse into 35th, on the same lap as both Stenhouse as McLeod. McLeod’s handling began to improve around this time, and he dropped Dillon to last on Lap 54. Ryan Preece’s second stop came soon after, moving the #41 back to 35th with Dillon still in last. Dillon dropped McLeod to last on Lap 69, and the #78 soon lost a third lap. Ty Dillon’s next stop put him to last on Lap 87 and on the 90th circuit he zipped past McLeod into 35th. McLeod remained last on Lap 116, when the first caution fell to end Stage 1 an instant after Bubba Wallace’s spin battling Joey Logano for 10th off Turn 4. At the time, McLeod’s team told him he was running faster laps than the leader.

McLeod took the Lap 123 restart three laps down and continued to steadily improve his speed and handling. He wasn’t four laps down until just before the Lap 190 red flag for off-site electrical crews to address the failed trackside lights on the apron of Turns 3 and 4. At the ensuing Lap 192 restart, McLeod was four laps down, and now in position to set a new record for most laps completed by a Cup Series last-place finisher at Darlington. The mark remained 234 laps, set by Greg Biffle before late-race engine issues in 2008. On Lap 215, McLeod was showing five laps down when he radioed his car “just blew up.” McLeod pulled to the apron in a plume of smoke and stopped, drawing the caution flag. The team remarked that the car seemed to be “running backwards” before it shut off. McLeod climbed from his car, done for the night. By Lap 220, McLeod’s car was towed behind the wall and left at the team’s hauler.

McLeod fell just 25 laps short of Biffle’s record, and was 20 laps short of reaching the end of Stage 2.

McLeod's car stopped on the backstretch after the engine let go.

After so many long green-flag runs while McLeod was on track, crashes completed the Bottom Five. On Lap 319, blocks exchanged by Alex Bowman in the #48 Ally Chevrolet and Daniel Suarez in the #99 Chevrolet led to Bowman crossing Suarez’ nose entering Turn 1, putting both in the wall and collecting Harrison Burton’s #21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford. The group finished 35th, 34th, and 33rd. Taking 32nd was Playoff contender Michael McDowell, whose Front Row Motorsports team just began to improve the handling on the #34 StageFront.VIP Ford when Denny Hamlin’s #11 Sport Clips Toyota slid in front of him trying to avoid another car. McDowell rear-ended Hamlin, destroying the nose of his Ford and sending him behind the wall.

The race was won by Kyle Larson, just one day after he finished last in the XFINITY race at the same track. Larson became the first driver to accomplish this since October 14, 2006, when Kasey Kahne won the Cup Series race at Charlotte the day after his #9 Wisk Dodge crashed after 7 laps of the XFINITY Series race at the same track.

*This was McLeod’s second last-place finish in Darlington and his first since September 1, 2019, when he was driving Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Jacob Companies Stroker Ace Throwback Chevrolet crashed after 194 laps. McLeod has now completed the second and third-most laps of any Cup Series last-place finisher at Darlington.
*This marked only the second last-place finish for the #78 in a Cup Series race at Darlington and the first in the Southern 500. The only other last-place run for the #78 at this track came on April 15, 1984, when Lennie Pond’s #78 Jim Testa-owned Buick lost an engine after 9 laps of the TranSouth 500.

36) #78-B.J. McLeod / 210 laps / engine
35) #21-Harrison Burton / 318 laps / crash
34) #99-Daniel Suarez / 320 laps / crash
33) #48-Alex Bowman / 322 laps / crash
32) #34-Michael McDowell / 329 laps / crash

1st) Live Fast Motorsports, Spire Motorsports (4)
2nd) Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (3)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Legacy Motor Club (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Trackhouse Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Ford (8)
3rd) Toyota (2)


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