Friday, January 13, 2023

OPINION: What more can Michael Andretti do?

PHOTO: @FormulaArgOK on Twitter

by Ben Schneider Staff Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: Congratulations to Ben, who thanks to the increased support of the Patreon was promoted to Staff Writer this offseason, joining William Soquet. This opinion piece kicks off our coverage for 2023.

A few months ago, I wrote an opinion piece here arguing that if Formula One wanted an American driver badly enough, they would have had one by now. That piece mainly focused on Andretti Autosport IndyCar driver Colton Herta’s inability to qualify for an FIA Super License, which ultimately cost him a reported opportunity in F1 with AlphaTauri. Ironically, this missed opportunity may have been what opened the door for another young American driver to get his chance. Mercedes junior Nyck de Vries, who made one Grand Prix start with Williams in 2022, ended up getting the AlphaTauri seat instead, which kept the door open for Logan Sargeant to step into the seat of the departing Nicholas Latifi. When Sargeant makes his debut this upcoming season, the United States will have its first F1 driver since Alexander Rossi made five starts with Manor Marussia in 2015.

But while America finally has an F1 driver of its own, that wasn’t the only issue I brought up in my piece in September. I also mentioned the struggle of the Andretti Global project, spearheaded by Herta’s IndyCar team owner, Michael Andretti. For over a year now, Andretti has been determined to find a way into F1 ownership, which would allow Herta the easiest path to earning a spot as a driver on the F1 grid. First, Andretti spent the final months of 2021 attempting to purchase an existing team, only for a proposed deal with the Sauber-owned Alfa Romeo team to fall through at the eleventh hour. Determined to find a way into F1 by any means necessary, Andretti then announced plans to start his own team, Andretti Global.

As was noted in September, the response from existing team principals and owners has been lukewarm at best. The name “Andretti” on its own, they argue, does not add value to the sport, and an entry from a new manufacturer such as Audi or Porsche would make for a better option should the FIA allow for a new team to expand the grid.

Undeterred by these setbacks, Andretti pressed on. Last month, he broke ground on a $200 million facility for the team’s headquarters, a 575,000 square foot project that had previously been announced in August. And finally, just last week, Andretti made good on the manufacturer demand, surprising the motorsports world with an announcement that Cadillac was onboard with the Andretti Global project.

And yet, despite meeting every demand, it appears the goalposts may very well be moving yet again. A tweet from Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern highlighted a quote in an article from the BBC’s Andrew Benson earlier this week: “Within F1, there is a general sense that many of those racing in America in categories where teams buy cars off the shelf and run them with fairly small-scale operations don't quite grasp just how high the level is in F1, how complex the task.”

We could go in many directions with this quote. We could bring up how Red Bull won only two NASCAR Cup Series races in five seasons before pulling out. We could bring up the time McLaren got bumped from the Indianapolis 500 by Juncos Racing, who had spent the prior 48 hours converting a road course backup car to a speedway car. If we really wanted to dig deep, we could bring up Ferrari’s lone attempt at the “500” in 1952, where Alberto Ascari retired after just 40 laps with a wheel collapse, resulting in Ascari’s only non-win of the year in championship events he entered.

But those are neither here nor there. Instead, let’s recap what Andretti’s application brings to Formula One. A $200 million headquarters. A brand new American manufacturer with an already established presence in motorsports. The name Andretti. We’re not talking about an unknown or sketchy “Rich Energy” kind of deal here. We’re talking about an established name in the motorsports world, one that is practically synonymous with the sport of motor racing, joining forces with General Motors to build what Andretti believes will be “the biggest story of the year.” Even FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem tweeted Sunday that the adverse reaction to the news has been “surprising,” reaffirming his support for “encouraging prospective F1 entries from global manufacturers like GM and thoroughbred racers like Andretti and others.”

Enough is enough. As IndyStar’s Nathan Brown wrote on Friday, “Michael Andretti’s answered every F1 challenge.” As far as I’m concerned, that leaves only one more question left to be answered.

What more can he do?

Sunday, November 6, 2022

CUP: Landon Cassill’s crash damage forces him behind the wall in somber Phoenix finale

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Landon Cassill picked up the 14th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Cup Series Championship at the Phoenix Raceway when his #77 Mutoh / General Formulations Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 84 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in Cassill’s 344th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup race since September 8, 2019 at Indianapolis, 118 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 39th for the #77, the 640th from a crash, and the 830rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 53rd for the #77, the 1,316th from a crash, and the 1,869th for Chevrolet.

When Cassill was last featured for a Cup Series last-place run in 2019, he was splitting time racing for two NASCAR legends in Morgan Shepherd and Derrike Cope. But the following year, Quin Houff took Cassill’s place at Cope’s StarCom Racing team while COVID-19 qualifying protocols scaled back Morgan Shepherd’s XFINITY program. Cassill soon reunited with Johnny Davis at JD Motorsports, where he’d later acquire new cryptocurrency sponsorship from Voyager and Carnomaly. The latter got Cassill back into a part-time Cup ride with the Gaunt Brothers while the former soon opened a door at Kaulig Racing, where he’d replace Jeb Burton in the #10 XFINITY Series ride. 

The result has seen Cassill finish 5th at Atlanta – his first XFINITY top-five run since 2011 – and finish runner-up at Martinsville. He’s since threatened in other races, resulting in a nearly successful push into the Playoffs that was decided in the final seconds at Bristol. Cassill’s sponsorship has also allowed him to maintain a presence in the Cup Series for this new NextGen car, running a partial schedule with Spire Motorsports’ #77 that began with the car’s official roll-out in the Clash at the Coliseum. This, too, has yielded success, as Cassill escaped Daytona’s multi-car pileups in August to take 4th – equaling his series-best finish from 2014.

Cassill would close out the 2022 season running double-duty with Spire’s Cup program, which would welcome back sponsorship from Mutoh and General Formulations for the first time since Fontana, where teammate Corey LaJoie carried the logos. In practice, he ranked just 33rd of the 36 entrants, then in qualifying broke loose in Turn 2, ranking his lone timed lap slowest with a speed of 126.698ph (28.414 seconds). Cassill fared much better on the XFINITY side - finishing 4th behind three of the four championship contenders. This was Cassill’s fifth Top Five and 12th Top Ten, securing him 13th in the final point standings - best of the non-Playoff drivers.

Taking the XFINITY championship that night was Ty Gibbs, who dominated the competitive title fight up front, leading 125 of 200 laps and besting Noah Gragson by just under four-tenths of a second. The race came just one week after Gibbs spun his departing teammate Brandon Jones at Martinsville, costing Jones a spot alongside Gibbs in the Playoffs. Unphased, Gibbs scored the win and the championship in his first full season, and like Cassill was slated to run double-duty in Sunday’s Cup race. His ride would again be the #23 Monster Energy Toyota, which he’d been driving since Kurt Busch’s season-ending concussion at Pocono. Prior to Saturday’s XFINITY race, Gibbs ran 3rd-fastest in Round 1 of qualifying, then secured 10th on the grid – tied for his second-best start of the season.

Ty Gibbs' crew prepares for a driver change after
news of the death of Ty's father Coy.

But the following morning, 23XI Racing crew members and NASCAR officials were standing around Gibbs’ car, which just after 10:00 A.M. local time was the only one of the 35 starters not yet on the grid. As crowds gathered, there was word that Gibbs wouldn’t run the race due to a family emergency. As the nature of this emergency remained unclear, the 23XI crew brought out several different seat inserts, combined with others from Kaulig Racing. Kaulig’s own drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Daniel Hemric both climbed inside the car to help adjust it, and 23XI’s backup car was briefly brought into the adjoining stall, apparently for parts. Brandon Jones, eliminated from Saturday’s title by Gibbs, also stood by the team’s hauler. At last, 23XI Racing confirmed Hemric would run in Gibbs’ place, at which point the team’s transporter driver lowered the liftgate. Then came the news of the emergency: Coy Gibbs, Ty’s 49-year-old father and co-owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, had died in his sleep. Coy passed just hours after celebrating with Ty the night before.

From 2000 through 2002, Coy Gibbs had himself made 39 NASCAR XFINITY Series starts and 58 in the Truck Series. He never finished last in any of those 97 combined starts, and in each series turned in some of his best runs at Texas. His 10th-place XFINITY run in 2003 as his second-best to a 9th at Talladega the following week, while his best in Trucks was a runner-up to Brendan Gaughan the previous September. Curiously, Coy was perhaps best known for his own incident at Martinsville, where he was on the receiving end of contact from Kevin Harvick – contact which got Harvick suspended from the following day’s Cup race. We at LASTCAR extend our condolences to the Gibbs family in their time of grief.

Under the cloud of this tragedy, Hemric’s relief role for Gibbs made his #23 the only car sent to the back before the green flag. He did so just before the one lap to go signal, slotting in behind Landon Cassill’s #77. When the green flag dropped, Hemric caught 35th-place starter Garrett Smithley in the #15 Jacob Companies Ford and passed him to the inside off Turn 2. Hemric also passed B.J. McLeod’s #78 Pala Casino Ford, which by Lap 2 were now side-by-side for the last spot. Smithley cleared McLeod the next time by, but the #78 gradually inched closer to Smithley’s bumper. By Lap 14, McLeod had caught Smithley, then hounded his rear bumper on Lap 16 before clearing him the next time by. It was McLeod, then, who pulled away as Smithley became the first driver lapped by Joey Logano on Lap 23. Smithley would lose a second lap on the 43rd circuit, keeping him 36th when Stage 1 ended incident-free on Lap 61. Smithley said his car was “chattering,” saying he couldn’t get into the corner and was “wrecking loose” off.

On the Lap 68 restart, Cole Custer’s #41 Ford was last in line, but made quick work of McLeod and Smithley that first time by. McLeod, now one lap ahead of Smithley despite a slow caution-flag stop of his own, cleared Smithley on Lap 71. On Lap 85, Smithley’s radio had been quiet for some time as he remained a full nine seconds ahead of race leader Logano. Then heading into Turn 1 and 2, came a “Check up! Check up! Check up!” It was here that Landon Cassill entered the last-place battle.

Cassill's car in the garage after the wreck.

According to Cassill himself, his car unexpectedly lost traction off the corner, sending the right-rear into the outside wall. The car then slapped the wall with the left-front, leaving the rear of the car exposed into oncoming traffic. Unable to avoid was Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., whose #47 Fry’s / Nature Valley Chevrolet had dropped toward the back of the pack the previous run. Stenhouse struck Cassill’s car in the right-rear, ultimately drawing the caution flag. Both cars made it to pit road under yellow. Cassill’s crew sent him back out, having discovered the issue couldn’t be fixed on pit road. Per NASCAR’s latest protocol, the crew told Cassill to pull into the garage, which he did on Lap 87, taking him out of the race under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” With his car in Stall 37, Cassill took last from Smithley that same time by, securing the 36th spot. Cassill was checked and released from the infield care center soon after.

Stenhouse’s damaged car ultimately climbed to 32nd, passing eventual 33rd-place finisher Smithley and two other drivers who found trouble. Taking 35th was Brad Keselowski, whose #6 Kohler Generators Ford suffered a fire behind the right-front tire that let out a visible trail of smoke in the final laps. Keselowski promptly went to the garage for what was listed as “electrical” issues. Completing the group in 34th was Alex Bowman, back behind the wheel for the first time since his concussion at Texas. Bowman’s #48 Ally Chevrolet suffered nose damage after he tangled with Michael McDowell off Turn 2, drawing the final caution with just over 40 laps to go.

*This marked the second last-place finish of the season for Spire’s #77 team, the first coming on the Bristol dirt with Justin Allgaier on April 17th. The number had never before finished last in a Cup race at Phoenix.

36) #77-Landon Cassill / 84 laps / crash
35) #6-Brad Keselowski / 270 laps / electrical
34) #48-Alex Bowman / 304 laps / running / led 1 lap
33) #15-Garrett Smithley / 304 laps / running
32) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 307 laps / running

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (6)
2nd) 23XI Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Spire Motorsports (4)
3rd) Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
4th) Penske Racing, Team Hezeberg, Trackhouse Racing (2)
5th) Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, RFK Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Ford (14)
2nd) Chevrolet (13)
3rd) Toyota (9)


Saturday, November 5, 2022

XFINITY: Dillon Bassett’s late-race engine woes add to dramatic last-place championship showdown in Phoenix

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Dillon Bassett picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s XFINITY Series Championship Race at the Phoenix Raceway when his #77 Jerry Hunt Supercenter Chevrolet lost the engine after 152 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Bassett’s 11th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since June 8, 2019, 119 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 11th for the #77, the 275th from engine issues, and the 609th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #77, the 1,129th from engine trouble, and the 1,868th for Chevrolet.

After making their first few XFINITY starts in cooperation with Mario Gosselin’s team DGM Racing, Dillon and older brother Ronnie Bassett, Jr. embarked on starting their own team, acquiring Chevrolets from Richard Childress Racing to be their #77. Their team’s inaugural season in 2021 was hampered by NASCAR’s post-pandemic qualifying procedure, meaning after Ronnie missed the Daytona opener, they would have limited chances of timing their way into races. Their only start that year came with Childress’ own Cup regular Austin Dillon, who steered their car to a 13th-place finish in the inaugural Circuit of the Americas event. At season’s end, Bassett Racing had amassed a staggering 14 DNQs.

Bassett's car 12th on the grid.

This year, qualifying has been no less challenging – and not for the Bassetts alone. This year has seen B.J. McLeod Motorsports and Motorsports Business Management team’s do Owner Point swaps to keep a car on the track, DGM Racing scale a car to part-time after a lost sponsor, and Mike Harmon Racing scale back to one car on a reduced schedule. In their 13 previous attempts coming into Phoenix, the Bassett brothers made five starts – two with Ronnie and three with Dillon – and carried sponsorship from Honest Amish on their bright orange Chevrolets. Their second start at Pocono proved costly when Ronnie was collected in a wreck off Turn 3, shoving in the nose of his car.

At Phoenix, the Bassett Racing hauler parked closest to the entrance to the garage – a simple white trailer with the #77 on each side. Like other teams, the Bassett group had two rows of studio-style folding chairs set up beneath the liftgate, but each had strips of black tape on the back, perhaps covering the name of their previous owner.

With 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, Saturday’s race would be the only event all weekend where anyone would be sent home. In the most immediate danger were teams like Bassett Racing, which had run only a partial schedule and made limited starts. In the lone practice session on Friday, Basett ranked a solid 22nd on just 15 laps, fewer than any of the drivers who outpaced him. He then stunned in qualifying, securing the 12th spot with a lap of 132.380mph (27.174 seconds). With Bassett solidly in the show, Matt Mills ended up the lone DNQ in B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. This whittled the list of drivers eligible for the 2022 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship from nine to eight.

Securing the 38th and final starting spot was another title challenger in Joe Graf, Jr. During practice, Graf made contact with the right-rear corner of his #07 Ford. Damage seemingly confined to the rear decklid ultimately led the SS-Green Light Racing team to roll out the backup, replacing his white-and-black Ford with a black-and-red version. With this car, Graf turned in the slowest qualifying lap of the session, four-hundredths over Mills, who was sent home. Graf incurred a redundant tail-end penalty, to be joined by Rajah Caruth, who missed driver intros after timing his #44 Rally For Valor Chevrolet in 37th. The result put the same two drivers in the final two spots.

When the race started, Graf trailed by open track by the time Lap 1 was completed. With two more Bottom Fives than leader Bayley Currey, Graf could have taken the LASTCAR title if he finished in 38th. By Lap 8, Graf was still running last, though now behind Dawson Cram in Motorsport Business Management’s #13 DCX / Rennsport Ford. The field left Cram behind the next time by, and Graf began to inch closer. By Lap 12, Cram was now working over 36th-place B.J. McLeod in the #78 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet. But on the 15th circuit, Graf had lost touch with Cram, and race leader Ty Gibbs had caught him down the backstretch three laps later. Graf still stayed near Cram on track, but lost more ground on Lap 25 as more of the leaders rushed past.

On Lap 31, still another LASTCAR championship contender joined the battle in Brandon Brown, who for a second-straight race was Graf’s teammate at SS-Green Light Racing. Brown’s #08 Amptricity Ford didn’t have the sponsor’s logos on the quarter panels until the day of the race, only to hit the wall in Turn 2 after an apparent blown right-front tire. Brown stopped, then cut hard left to make it onto pit road, where the crew spent a particularly long time on the right-front. By then, he’d promptly taken last from Graf, and was sent out at least two down on Lap 35. But Brown said something felt broken in the front of the car, and came in again for additional bear-bond on the right-rear. On Lap 38, Brown followed the pace car off pit road as the leaders took the green, and cleared the “Crash Clock” en route to the Stage 1 ending caution on Lap 45.

Brandon Brown's car receiving repairs in garage.

Under the Stage 1 caution, Brown’s crew called for the sway bar off the team’s backup car, then called him in on Lap 49 for more extended work on the right-front wheel. In so doing, the crew decided the hood pins would be too difficult to replace if they lifted the hood, so they instead removed the right-front wheel and worked on the suspension behind. By now, there was a crescent-shaped piece of debris cut off the car sitting in the pit box. Brown shut off the engine, then re-fired and returned to the track before the race restarted. Under green, Brown’s crew was already talking about going to the garage to complete further repairs. He did so on Lap 57, where he pulled into his garage stall on the back side of the building. The crew lifted the hood and re-set the toe, keeping a blower on the driver’s window to keep Brown cool. Among those watching were representatives of associate sponsor Mid-State Asphalt, whose matching t-shirts read “Let’s Go Brandon (Brown).” On Lap 82, Brown re-fired the engine and returned to the track, ultimately 35 laps down. At that time, no one else was out, and the rest of the 37 cars were within two laps of the leader.

On Lap 84, as NASCAR confirmed Brown had returned to the race, Brown now had the lead in the 2022 LASTCAR XFINITY Series standings over Bayley Currey by a single bottom-five finish, 6-5, but still trailed Currey on Bottom Tens at 13-12. This meant that, even if Brown finished last, Currey could still take the title if he finished 34th or worse. But at the time, Currey’s #4 Hy-Vee Chevrolet was running well inside the Top 15. Regardless, with Brown and not Graf now positioned as Currey’s closest challenger, Currey had a clearer path to the title – depending on who else found trouble.

Other drivers did sustain damage to their cars, most significantly Sam Mayer’s #1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet which lost the rear bumper after a tangle on the frontstretch, and Sammy Smith, whose strong run early in the #18 Pilot Flying J Toyota was undone by multiple spins and consequent pit stops. Through it all, Brown remained under power, and the repairs in the garage kept him ahead of these and other damaged cars. Brown made a pit stop on Lap 149, which dropped him another two circuits behind to 37 down, and soon there were just 47 laps to go.

By this point, Dillon Bassett had dropped back from his 12th place on the grid, having suffered some damage to the back of his car after a hard hit to the rear bumper, requiring some tape to hold together the left-rear fender. But coming off a corner on Lap 155, the engine let go in a massive plume of white smoke, drawing what would become the final caution of the day. Bassett was brought back to the team’s hauler – just behind the garage entrance – and the car followed on Lap 160. 

Brown’s team was aware of Bassett’s exit, knowing they would be able to climb out of last place with just 10 laps to go. The question was whether they would risk running that far. But when the race restarted, Brown continued, and gradually reduced the deficit. On Lap 191, Brown finally dropped Bassett to last place. Just two circuits later, Brown pulled behind the wall, citing suspension issues as his reason out. By staying out just long enough, Brown surrendered the LASTCAR Championship lead back to Bayley Currey, who was still not out of the woods yet. 
Rear bumper damage in the garage area.

Currey had just last week taken the lead in the 2022 LASTCAR XFINITY Series standings from his JD Motorsports teammate Brennan Poole, who after not running Martinsville returned this week partnered with “Out of the Groove’s” Eric Estepp in the #6 Chevrolet. Poole sustained some right-front damage in the early laps and was briefly in the Bottom Five early. But in the final ten laps, Currey crossed the line 19th with Poole in 29th – just five spots short of a decisive Bottom Five.

Graf, who pitted in the final laps, took home 36th with Sam Mayer’s damaged #1 taking 34th. Splitting the two was Anthony Alfredo, whose #23 Pit Boss Grills Chevrolet suffered damage in the wreck with Mayer.

*Bassett’s 152 laps broke the record for most laps complete in a XFINITY Series race at Phoenix, besting the previous mark of 139 by Phil Parsons on November 6, 1999. No other XFINITY race at Phoenix saw the last-place finisher complete more than 58 laps.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #77 in a XFINITY Series race since August 16, 2014 by Roger Reuse at Mid-Ohio. The number had never finished last in a XFINITY race at Phoenix.

38) #77-Dillon Bassett / 152 laps / engine
37) #08-Brandon Brown / 154 laps / suspension
36) #07-Joe Graf, Jr. / 193 laps / running
35) #23-Anthony Alfredo / 194 laps / running
34) #1-Sam Mayer / 195 laps / running

1st) Alpha Prime Racing (4)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, JD Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management (3)
3rd) Mike Harmon Racing, Our Motorsports, Sam Hunt Racing (2)
4th) Bassett Racing, Big Machine Racing, Brandonbilt Motorsports, DGM Racing, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, Richard Childress Racing, RSS Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (24)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (4)


Friday, November 4, 2022

TRUCKS: Armani Williams takes blame for early Phoenix wreck with Keith McGee

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Armani Williams picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #20 Visit Mesa Chevrolet was involved in a two-truck crash after 6 of 154 laps.

The finish came in Williams’ fourth series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #20, the 179th from a crash, and the 430th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 55th for the #20, the 1,315th from a crash, and the 1,867th for Chevrolet.

The finish also secured Young’s Motorsports the 2022 LASTCAR Truck Series Owner’s Championship with their fifth last-place run of the season, breaking a tie with G2G Racing.

Hailing from Michigan, the 22-year-old Williams is just starting to develop his own NASCAR resume, and as the sport’s first driver openly diagnosed with Autism. Williams has spread awareness of the condition, which has not kept him from racing, nor from his current educational pursuits studying mechanical engineering.

Since age eight, Williams climbed the traditional ladders of go-karts, bandoleros, and regional competition in what is now the ARCA Menards Series West and East. This same Phoenix track saw Williams make his ARCA national series debut in 2020, finishing 17th out of 24 starters for Andy Hillenburg. Williams has also competed internationally in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, making six starts with a best finish of 9th at Loudon. 

Williams' truck towed to the garage after the wreck.

Williams has remained a part-time competitor through each series, and just last year expanded into the Truck Series. Teamed with Josh Reaume, Williams made his series debut last year at Gateway, where he finished 21st. He made three prior appearances this year, rebounding from a DNQ in Texas to take 31st in Pocono. He also started the race at Kansas, only to pull behind the wall as a tight condition caused him to struggle for speed. Josh Reaume himself spoke to NASCAR about allowing a driver change, but Reaume himself also struggled and was soon parked for running too slow.

Williams’ family was on hand for this most recent start at Phoenix, where this time he’d race Young’s Motorsports’ #20 entry. The truck carried sponsorship from “Visit Mesa,” a tourism website promoting vacation activities in Mesa, Arizona. Unfortunately, speed was an issue as Williams ran second-slowest of the 35 entrants in practice, then anchored the charts in qualifying with a lap of 127.687mph (28.194 seconds).

Prior to the start of the race, two trucks were sent to the rear for pre-race issues. Derek Kraus was sent to a backup truck after a practice incident damaged the left side of his #19 NAPA AutoCare Chevrolet, putting him in an all-black version of his truck that then had continued issues in inspection before timing in 23rd. The other was 26th-place Dean Thompson, whose #40 Worldwide Express Chevrolet changed engines. The lap before that, 34th-place starter Keith McGee had to catch up to the tail end of the field on the first pace lap in his #33 Murphy’s Towing and Diesel Chevrolet.

At the end of Lap 1, both Thompson and Kraus had dropped McGee to last place, and Williams slipped to 34th. By Lap 3, both McGee and Williams had started to lose touch with the rest of the pack, but Williams started to pull away from McGee the next time by. On Lap 6, Williams broke loose off Turn 2, and McGee quickly cut down the deficit. The next time by, McGee pulled to Williams’ inside off the corner, but the two made contact into Turn 3. Williams’ truck received the worse end of it, pinned against the outside wall with heavy damage to the left-front and rear. Williams climbed out and was checked and released from the infield care center. In his interview, Williams took full responsibility, saying he made a mistake. His truck was towed to the wrong garage on Lap 13, then pulled into the right one moments later.

McGee continued onward with a flat tire and the rear bumper pushed in, though the crew waited an instant too late to have him come in, forcing him to limp around another lap with sparks coming from under his truck. As McGee returned to the track, he now had a serious vibration. On Lap 22, McGee pulled behind the wall, declared out under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” He was checked and released from the infield care center just moments after Williams’ release, expressing his disappointment since he’d been looking forward to this race for some time. The 33rd spot then fell to newly crowned 2022 LASTCAR Truck Series Champion Spencer Boyd, whose #12 Off The Grid Chevrolet was black-flagged for running too slow and pulled into the garage on Lap 75.
Keith McGee's truck in the garage, out under the DVP.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were 32nd-place Rajah Caruth, whose #7 Circle Chevrolet was clipped in Turn 2 during a stack-up involving multiple other trucks, flattening the driver’s side of his truck in the fifth caution of the night. Hailie Deegan’s night ended in Turn 3 with a blown right-front tire sending her straight into the barrier. Both drivers were reportedly uninjured.

On a night that saw Zane Smith score his first career Truck Series Championship after Layne Riggs qualified outside-pole in just his third career start, Kaden Honeycutt scored a surprising 9th-place finish – his first top-ten run in just his ninth career start, and with On Point Motorsports’ #30 Race Face Digital Toyota. Honeycutt made his series debut with G2G Racing at Martinsville this past spring, and has run six of the final seven races of the season with On Point.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #20 in a Truck Series race since March 26th of this year, when Sheldon Creed had a drivetrain issue after one lap around the Circuit of the Americas. The number had not finished last in a Truck race at Phoenix since April 21, 1996, when Walker Evans’ #20 Dana / Perfect Circle Dodge crashed after 7 laps of the Chevy Desert Star Classic.

35) #20-Armani Williams / 6 laps / crash
34) #33-Keith McGee / 15 laps / dvp
33) #12-Spencer Boyd / 63 laps / too slow
32) #7-Rajah Caruth / 106 laps / crash
31) #1-Hailie Deegan / 133 laps / crash

1st) Young’s Motorsports (5)
2nd) G2G Racing (4) 
3rd) Niece Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing (3)
4th) AM Racing, David Gilliland Racing (2)
5th) Front Row Motorsports, Halmar Friesen Racing, Jordan Anderson Racing, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Toyota (6)
3rd) Ford (3)


Thursday, November 3, 2022

ARCA WEST PREVIEW: Tuttle’s expected absence hands Pedroncelli Sr. back-to-back LASTCAR titles

Pedroncelli’s car from last season’s race at Phoenix
PHOTO: Brock Beard

by Ben Schneider Guest Contributor

As one of the few remaining true “start-and-parks” left in ARCA, Paul Pedroncelli was always the favorite to back up his 2021 LASTCAR ARCA Menards Series West championship. The senior driver at his family-owned Pedroncelli Motorsports team has not finished a race under power since Portland last season, running the team’s second car primarily to collect a share of the purse to help fund their primary effort driven by his son P.J.

Despite a premature end to their season to begin focusing on 2023, it looked as if Pedroncelli’s title defense would be a sure thing, having picked up four last-place finishes in the series’ first six races. With only five races remaining in the 2022 season, it was going to take an improbable run of last-place finishes in the second half of the season for another driver to make a run at the title.

For a moment, however, it looked like Andrew Tuttle might be mounting such a charge. At Portland, Tuttle lost the engine between qualifying and the race, resulting in a “did not start,” for which he was credited 13th-place. His team would suffer a similar fate at Roseville, bringing his LPF total to two. And most recently, Tuttle only completed four laps in the series’ penultimate race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring, giving him three LPFs to Pedroncelli’s four.

With only one race left, Tuttle would hold the tiebreaker over Pedroncelli should he finish last at the finale in Phoenix, as he would have eight Bottom Five finishes to Pedroncelli’s seven. However, when the entry list was published on Monday, Tuttle’s No. 39 Last Chance Racing team was absent from the entry list. Barring a last-minute surprise post-entry, the final standings will be four to three in favor of Pedroncelli, making him the back-to-back LASTCAR Drivers’ Champion of the ARCA Menards Series West.

Tuttle and Pedroncelli’s names aren’t the only ones noticeably missing from the entry list for Phoenix. Former "Malcolm in the Middle" actor-turned-racing driver Frankie Muniz tested an ARCA car at Daytona in January and announced on FOX Sports’ All-Star Race broadcast in May that he would be running the West Series finale “for sure.” However, as of Thursday, Muniz is not entered in the race either.

Also absent from the Phoenix race is Sarah Burgess, who made history with her daughter Bridget at the Bullring as the first mother and daughter to compete against each other in a NASCAR-sanctioned event. As expected, Sarah will return to her usual role this weekend as Bridget’s crew chief as Bridget looks to make up a five-point deficit on Takuma Koga for 6th in the points standings. 

Despite these absences, the entry list currently stands at a strong 31 cars with plenty of storylines throughout the field. Among the entries are 2021 and 2022 ARCA Menards Series East champion Sammy Smith, entered in his usual No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. West Series veteran Bobby Hillis, Jr. returns for only his second start of the season, having finished 26th in the season-opener at Phoenix in March. David Gilliland Racing teammates Taylor Gray and Andres Perez de Lara return after their 1-2 finish at the Bullring. And 15-year-old Katie Hettinger will get another opportunity for Young’s Motorsports after crash damage with Chris Lowden ended her series debut at the Bullring prematurely.

The championship battle is locked up at the front of the field as well, as Jake Drew will officially clinch the 2022 ARCA Menards Series West title simply by taking the green flag. Drew, who holds a 56-point lead over Sunrise Ford Racing teammate Tanner Reif, was involved in a much more dramatic championship battle in last season’s Phoenix race that came down to the last lap, where Drew took the line in 10th-place as champion before then-teammate Trevor Huddleston was passed by Bill McAnally Racing’s Jesse Love, giving Love his second consecutive West Series title on a tiebreaker.

26) #39-Andrew Tuttle / 4 laps / engine
25) #4-Sean Hingorani / 10 laps / handling
24) #11-Chris Lowden / 15 laps / crash
23) #02-Katie Hettinger / 15 laps / crash
22) #21-RJ Smotherman / 90 laps / oil leak

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (1)
3rd) Toyota (0)

1st) Pedroncelli Racing (4)
2nd) Last Chance Racing (3)
3rd) Jones Racing (1), Brian Kamisky Racing (1), Kart Idaho Racing (1)