Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Remembering H.B. Bailey and NASCAR’s First Track Record at Indianapolis

H.B. Bailey
SOURCE: Stock Car Racers Reunion
On a cool August morning in 1994, Gasoline Alley roared to life with the deafening noise of 86 NASCAR Winston Cup cars - twice as many as would start the inaugural Brickyard 400, the first stock car race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Several cars were already lined up on pit road, eagerly awaiting one of the most anticipated qualifying sessions in racing history.

Standing next to the iconic black-and-silver Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Joe Dan Bailey had on his game face.  Four years earlier, Bailey and his Whitcomb Racing teammates leapt for joy from Daytona’s pit wall as Derrike Cope pulled the upset in the Daytona 500.  Now, he was working for Richard Childress, where the shredded tire from that 500 hung from the wall of the shop.  Childress signed Bailey to help the team rebound from a disappointing 1992, which they did with a sixth championship the very next year.  Now second in the 1994 standings, sixteen points behind Ernie Irvan’s dominant Robert Yates entry, Bailey and the rest of the Childress team looked to make history on the way to an equally-historic seventh title.

But first, Earnhardt and team would have to wait.  They were twelfth in line, well out of view of the candy apple red Pontiac sitting at the front of pit road.  The 36 car driven by Bailey’s 57-year-old father, Herring Burl, or as he was more popularly known, “H.B.”

H.B. Bailey sought to make his 86th Cup Series start, the latest chapter in a career that began forty years earlier at Playland Park in his native Houston.  In 1962, Bailey made his first Cup Series start in a Pontiac he bought from Hall of Famer Bud Moore.  Moore got Bailey in touch with the manufacturer, starting a relationship which continued for nearly three decades in both NASCAR Cup and Grand American competition.  From very early in his career, Bailey’s cars were painted bright red with a white racing stripe across the roof, a design created for the sleek Firebirds he raced in the early 1970s.

“He ran the very first Trans-Am paint scheme with the bird on the hood,” said the younger Bailey.  “Pontiac always took care of him.  They’d send him 303 decks for the Grand American car for his Firebirds, so that’s why he always drove Pontiac.”

Bailey was also the owner of Almeda Auto Parts, one of the biggest salvage yards in Houston, and his means of funding his race team.  Among ten acres of wrecked cars, two of Almeda’s 40-by-60 buildings made up Bailey’s race shop.  One building contained a dynamometer Bailey bought from Cotton Owens.  The other was the fab shop, where a young Joe Dan Bailey learned how to prepare his father’s number 36 Pontiac for race day.

“My Dad always told me this, he said, ‘Become a jack of all trades, and a master of none.’. . .I started out sweeping the floors and then I was packing bearings, then I was doing light aluminum work - what they call ‘finish fab’ today.”

“Back then, you actually went to the dealership, you got a header panel, then you had to make all these aluminum pieces to fill the holes and stuff.  So, there was a lot more finish fab work back then. . .Now you just get a nose piece and you put it on and you’re done - you just have to do the duct work behind it.  There was a lot of little tedious work back then and that’s how I learned to fabricate.  By the time I was 17, I could pretty much fabricate anything on the car, so I guess four years it took me to learn.”

Then, as now, Cup Series teams based outside of the Charlotte area were a rarity.  This required Bailey run a part-time schedule, never competing in more than eight Cup races each season.  Although he ran several short tracks earlier in his career, Bailey preferred the big tracks, especially his favorite - Darlington.

“He loved Darlington.  Darlington was his favorite place, and it’s still my favorite place. . .The eight races he always ran was both Atlantas, both Michigans, both Charlottes, and both Darlingtons.  Now, when Texas World [Speedway] was on the circuit, naturally, he’d try and go there.  But those four tracks he ran religiously each year and it was a lot of fun.  But that was about all we did back then, you know, on a regular schedule.”

Bailey’s schedule provided its own logistical challenges as the team spent several weeks away from Houston, the team’s only car on a tag-along trailer behind their cab-over truck.

“We’d leave Houston and we’d drive to Jackson, Michigan.  We’d run the August race at Michigan.  Then, after we’d leave Michigan, we’d come to North Carolina and stop at Walter Ballard’s shop, go to Hutcherson-Pagan and rent a stall from them, and work on the car in that place down in the outer part of Charlotte, and we’d work for a week there.  The regular series would go to Bristol, but then after Bristol, we’d go down and run the Southern 500 at Darlington.  So, it was a three-week span when we were gone.  And it was just me and my dad, and normally another crew guy.  There was one crew guy who worked with him for years, David Jr., and then after David quit working with him, there was another guy working with him, Sammy and Buzz and those guys.  But, normally, there would be three and maximum of four.”

Once they were in town for the race, Bailey and team benefited from a unique arrangement between contingency sponsors and underfunded teams.  Today, the patchwork of tiny decals on the front quarter-panels of Cup Series cars looks nearly identical from one car to the next.  The reason for this is that more teams are now capable of contending for the sponsor’s bonus money, so there’s no reason to leave any of them off.  But in the 1980s, when owner-drivers like Bailey made up a bigger portion of the field, which contingency decals you carried depended on whether the company was providing any vendor deals to the team that weekend.

“We used to live on a lot of the products [the vendors] gave away.  You didn’t want to buy oil, you know, because every week at the race track, you had to make sure you went over to the Union 76 building and you got two free cases of oil.  And you took your rear end pump down there and they had a 55-gallon drum and they’d fill your rear gear.  You always went over and got at least one set of ball joints from MOOG.  Earl Parker was there with the Champion stuff, so you got your spark plugs for your next event.”

“Back then, if you weren’t getting your products like that, that was an extra couple hundred dollars you had to spend out of your pocket, either shipped to you or you didn’t have to get it or you weren’t gonna get it until you got to the next track. . .And the vendors were great about it, those guys just took wonderful care of you back then, and you depended on those guys.  It was something that helped you get into the next show.”

“It was their ‘thank you’ for you running their product and having that sticker on their car, that type of stuff.  It was a trade-off.  That was the closest we got to merchandise deals or contingency plans back then. . .[Y]ou look at an entry blank from these guys back then, and it says ‘If you run the MOOG Suspension sticker and you finish first, you’re gonna get $50,’ and ‘If you run the Union 76 Oil sticker and you win it, then you’re gonna get an extra $50.’  But the thing is, when you looked at guys like J.D. [McDuffie] or my dad or Elmo [Langley] or Jabe Thomas or Cecil [Gordon] or any of those cats - they’re not gonna win it.  They’re not getting that $50.  It’s not that they’re not eligible for it, but they’re not gonna win the race, you know? So, that was a way for them to still run that sticker and be compensated for it.  So, it’s a deal that back then, they understood these guys aren’t millionaires. . .They’re doing it for the love of it, and they need some help with it just like anybody else.”

“My dad would go through that decal package, and if they weren’t offering something like that, or they weren’t giving a free set of gauges, you know, Stewart-Warner wasn’t giving a free set of gauges or something, if you ran 20th, then there’s no sense in putting that Stewart-Warner sticker on the car.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s free advertisement otherwise.  And NASCAR makes you run certain stickers on the car, but the other ones, if it’s not, then from an independent’s point of view, there’s no sense in doing it.”

H.B. Bailey's #36 preparing to qualify at Indianapolis, 1994
SOURCE: ESPN
After sharpening his skills on his father’s team, Joe Dan Bailey was invited by Dick Bahre to move to North Carolina and help Michael Waltrip through his rookie Cup season in 1986.  Bailey’s father encouraged him to make the trip, offering some wise - and direct - advice:

“ ‘Your first two years [in North Carolina], shut up.  Learn everything you can and absorb it.’  And that’s what I did.  There’s a lot of value in listening.”

It was a difficult transition for the younger Bailey, now working a full Cup Series season for the first time.  One afternoon in Darlington was more difficult than most.  While in the backstretch pits getting Waltrip’s car ready for qualifying, he heard a car slam into the Turn 2 wall.

“Caution came out and I looked in the corner, and Dad had lost a right-front tire and went in the wall pretty hard.  He kind of nosed in rather than slid into it, so anyway, and I was changing front tires back then.  I’m standing on the wall, and we’re pitting on the back straightaway.  He’s over there in turn two, stuck in the wall there, and I keep looking up, looking at my dad, looking at the car, waiting to see him to drop the window net and he hadn’t dropped the window net, he hadn’t moved yet.  And then about the time I see my car come down, I’m looking back and forth and here comes Michael, so I have to go over and do my job.  I go over and change tires and get back.  And normally, first I’m getting the tires back and making sure we’re not having a tire issue.  But when I first got back, I asked ‘Did he get out of the car okay?’ and they said ‘Yeah, he’s in the ambulance.’  And I said ‘Good,’ so I was able to do my job.  That was one of the times I remember when it was tough doing my job.”

H.B. Bailey was uninjured, and eight years later, father and son were again on pit road, again getting ready for qualifying.  Earlier that August morning in 1994, Joe Dan talked with his father before he climbed in number 36.  A photographer came by and snapped a picture of the two of them talking - H.B. in his bright red driver’s uniform, his son in GM Goodwrench black and white.  “I loved that picture,” said Bailey.  “That was the coolest picture.”

Minutes later, back with the Childress crew, the younger Bailey had the best seat in the house to watch his father make history.

“The guy with the booming voice, Tom Carnegie, he is in the booth and there’s a certain amount of excitement. . .So with that, Dad was on the track, he came down, and when he came down, Carnegie’s all excited on the P.A. system, so he makes his lap, he comes back around, and Carnegie yells out ‘There’s H.B. Bailey with a 51.40’ or something like that, and ‘A New Track Record!’  And that was something ‘cause Dad didn’t have the speed the whole time, and all of a sudden for this guy to get all excited about it.”

“And what [Carnegie] said was the absolute truth - that was a new track record. . .That was very cool, and I remember that well, just hearing his voice announce my dad’s name.  I was the tire guy on the 3, so I was still doing my job, but as he came by, it was neat seeing him come by, that was really the best moment.”

Unfortunately, Bailey didn’t make the field for the Brickyard - ranking 69th of the 86 entrants - and he made just one more Cup attempt before he passed away in 2003.  Yet still, Bailey holds a special place in both the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and in NASCAR itself.  To many today, racing is a career.  But to H.B. Bailey, it was something much more.

“He always said racing was his hunting and fishing.  That’s the way he looked at it.  Some people go to Montana hunting or fishing wherever, but that was his vacation, his hunting and fishing.  He’d save up his money and get enough to do that, and that’s what he did.  That was his break from the normal everyday.”

Today, Joe Dan Bailey is still active in NASCAR as the Senior Engineer for Toyota Racing Development.

TRUCKS: Mike Affarano Overheats After Racing His Way Into First NASCAR Start

SOURCE: Mike Affarano Motorsports' Facebook page
Mike Affarano picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Wednesday’s 1-800 Car Cash Mudsummer Classic at the Eldora Speedway when his #03 Won-N-Done Automotive Car Products Chevrolet fell out with overheating problems after he completed 93 of the race’s 150 laps.  The finish came in Affarano’s series debut.

Affarano is the 50-year-old owner of Affarano’s U Pull It wrecking yard in his native Lockport, Illinois.  His team, Mike Affarano Motorsports, made its first stock car start in the ARCA race at Talladega on May 4, 2012, a race which ended with this spectacular tumble in the tri-oval.  Uninjured, he went on to score a career-best 16th at Springfield’s one-mile dirt track.

This year, Affarano has looked to expand his operation into the NASCAR Nationwide and Truck Series.  While plans to run the Nationwide opener at Daytona and last week’s Truck Series race at Iowa did not materialize, he spent much of the summer working with Kyle Busch Motorsports and PME preparing a bright pink 2013 Chevrolet Silverado for his NASCAR debut.  The truck was finished just in time for one of the most hotly-contested races of the season - Eldora.

33 trucks appeared on the preliminary entry list for the second annual Mudsummer Classic, but Affrano’s post-entry made it 34, meaning that thirteen trucks would compete for the final nine spots in Wednesday’s field.  Among his fellow “go-or-go-homers” were 2013 polesitter Ken Schrader, Big Block Modified star J.R. Heffner, series regular Ty Dillon, and 2013's Cinderella story of the Last Chance Qualifier, Norm Benning.

Affarano did not participate in Friday’s opening practice session, then trailed the field in Happy Hour.  He improved to 31st in qualifying, turning in a lap of 81.389 mph.  Two drivers who trailed him did not complete a lap: T.J. Bell’s #50 American Lineman Chevrolet lost a right-front tire in practice, forcing the team to make repairs, while the #07 Crop Production Services Chevrolet of Jared Landers slammed the Turn 2 wall on his qualifying lap.  Landers ended up withdrawing from the event, unable to start Heat Race #4.

Affarano’s run put him at the back of the seven-truck Heat Race #2, joining Mason Mingus, Jeb Burton, John Wes Townley, Joey Coulter, Gray Gaulding, and Cody Erickson.  On the opening lap of the race, Townley and Erickson hooked bumpers in Turn 1 and spun.  Fortunately, the spin didn’t bring out the caution, and when Affarano missed the two spinning trucks, his 5th-place finish was enough to lock himself into the 22nd spot for the 150-lap main event.  Townley and Erickson went on to compete in the Last Chance Qualifier, where Townley qualified and Erickson did not, joining Jennifer Jo Cobb, her father Joe, and the withdrawn Landers on the DNQ list.

In the race itself, the 30th and final starting spot went to Cup Series rookie Michael Annett, whose #14 was battered after a battle with Erickson in the Last Chance Qualifier.  Affarano fell to last on Lap 2, then was the first to lose a lap heading into Turn 1 on Lap 19.  He got his lap back under the competition caution on Lap 62, then repeated the process once more, losing it again on Lap 82 then getting it back when the yellow flew for the fifth time on Lap 88.

The Lap 88 caution came out for a pair of cut tires on the #51 Toyota of polesitter Erik Jones and the #3 Chevrolet of Ty Dillon.  Jones made contact with the outside wall, the latest in a series of struggles that began with a spin on Lap 28.  His shredded tire disabled his rear brakes, costing him six laps in the garage area.  When Jones returned to the track, Affarano had exited with overheating issues, and on Lap 100 shuffled the #03 to 30th for the final time.  Jones climbed no higher than 29th.

Finishing 28th was dirt tracker Jody Knowles, also making his first NASCAR start in the #80 Clayton Signs / Sinister Suites Ford fielded by Tracy Wallace.  In 27th was Norm Benning, who once again made the race in the Last Chance Qualifier, this time in a newly-renumbered blue #6 Watt’s Truck Center Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was 26th-place Kyle Larson, who electrified the crowd in his #32 GLAD Chevrolet by closing in on leader Darrell Wallace, Jr. despite several hits to the outside wall.  With two laps to go, his right-front tire finally let go, and Larson pulled off the track.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #03 in a Truck Series race since May 18, 2007, when 9th-place starter Justin Hobgood crashed his Southeast Toyota Dealers Toyota after 8 laps of the Quaker Steak & Lube 200 presented by Circle K at Charlotte.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #03 in a dirt track race sanctioned by one of NASCAR’s top three divisions.  Prior to the most recent Cup race on dirt on September 30, 1970, the number had finished last just three times, and only on the paved tracks at Bowman Gray Stadium, Bristol, and Nashville.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
30) #03-Mike Affarano / 93 laps / overheating
29) #51-Erik Jones / 144 laps / running / led 24 laps
28) #80-Jody Knowles / 148 laps / running
27) #6-Norm Benning / 148 laps / running
26) #32-Kyle Larson / 148 laps / crash / led 5 laps

LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Ryan Ellis (2)
2nd) Mike Affarano, Alex Guenette, Justin Jennings, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski, Tommy Regan, Scott Stenzel, Jason White (1)

LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb, #36-Mike Mittler (2)
2nd) #42-Randy Young, #45-Regan Motorsports, #63-Mike Mittler, #74-Mike Harmon, #93-RSS Racing, #03-Mike Affarano Motorsports (1)

LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) RAM (1)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

N’WIDE: Kevin Lepage Leads Early Retirees Just Before Hornish’s Engine Lets Go

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
Kevin Lepage picked up the 14th last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Saturday’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at the Chicagoland Speedway when his #74 The Thirty Days Foundation Dodge fell out with electrical problems after he completed 3 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish was Lepage’s second of the 2014 season and his first since Road America, four races ago.

That day in Road America, the 52-year-old Lepage drove the #93 JGL Racing Dodge, one of four teams he’s raced for this season.  In Saturday’s race, the #93 would be driven by owner-driver Mike Harmon for the first time in 2014, leaving Harmon’s #74 open for Lepage to take over.  Chicago would be Lepage’s sixth start of the year in Harmon’s equipment, a start that was guaranteed when the 41st entry - the #13 of Carl Long - withdrew before qualifying.  Long was switched into the #72 Crash Claims-R-Us Chevrolet owned by James Carter and was himself guaranteed a starting spot.

Lepage did not participate in the weekend’s opening practice session, but turned in a solid 29th-fastest time in Happy Hour, ranking him sixth of the ten teams in the “go-or-go-home” category.  He nearly matched the position in qualifying, securing the 32nd spot with a lap of 168.078 mph.

The logos of several nonprofit and charitable organizations remained a fixture on the cars of many Nationwide Series teams near the back of the grid.  Joining the Supportmilitary.org Foundation on LASTCAR Nationwide Series leader Blake Koch’s #10 and the Support Life cause carried by racer and organ donor advocate Joey Gase, Lepage’s #74 promoted The Thirty Days Foundation, a fund to help some of the many families facing serious financial crises.

LASTCAR Truck Series leader Ryan Ellis returned to the #46 The Motorsports Group team this week as Matt DiBenedetto took the controls of TMG’s primary #40.  DiBenedetto was off relief driver duty for Jeffrey Earnhardt, who this time was relieved by the un-entered Harrison Rhodes.  DiBenedetto started last, but was quickly supplanted by Mike Harmon by the back straightaway.  Harmon held the 40th spot for the first two laps before Lepage pulled off the track, followed a lap later by Koch in the #10.

Just as Harmon followed Ellis to the garage on Lap 7, smoke billowed from beneath the #54 Monster Energy Toyota entering Turn 3.  Sam Hornish, Jr. had qualified 6th, but was sent to the back for unapproved adjustments.  He was rallying through the field when the engine let go, sending him to the garage and bringing out the first caution of the night.  His rounding out the Bottom Five was the worst finish by the #54 in 2014 - and just its third finish worse than 5th all season.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #74 in a Nationwide Series race since June 16, 2012, when Mike Harmon’s own turn in the #74 West Virginia Miners Baseball Chevrolet ended with a vibration after 1 lap of the Alliance Truck Parts 250 at Michigan.  It is the number’s first last-place finish in a Nationwide race at Chicago.
*This is Lepage’s first last-place finish in a Nationwide Series race at Chicago since July 8, 2006, when his #34 CheapTickets.com Chevrolet owned by Frank Cicci lost the engine after 70 laps of the USG Durock 300.
*Dodge had not finished last in a Nationwide Series race at this track since July 9, 2010, when Dennis Setzer’s #92 K-Automotive Motorsports Dodge lost the ignition after 3 laps of the Dollar General 300 Powered by Coca-Cola.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #74-Kevin Lepage / 3 laps / electrical
39) #10-Blake Koch / 4 laps / vibration
38) #93-Mike Harmon / 6 laps / fuel pump
37) #46-Ryan Ellis / 6 laps / vibration
36) #54-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 7 laps / engine

LASTCAR N'WIDE SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Blake Koch (6)
2nd) Jeff Green (3)
3rd) Matt DiBenedetto, Kevin Lepage (2)
4th) Tanner Berryhill, Ryan Ellis, Robert Richardson, Jr., Tim Schendel, Jimmy Weller (1)

LASTCAR N'WIDE SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (7)
2nd) #46-The Motorsports Group (3)
3rd) #91-TriStar Motorsports (2)
4th) #17-Vision Racing, #23-R3 Motorsports, #55-VIVA Motorsports / SS Green Light Racing, #74-Mike Harmon Racing, #87-Rick Ware Racing, #93-JGL Racing (1)

LASTCAR N'WIDE SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (6)
3rd) Dodge (3)

UPDATE: This Thursday, July 24, I will be posting both the article for the Truck Series race at Eldora AND a special historical retrospective on the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 from the perspective of one of the 43 drivers who just missed the field.  Then, on Monday, July 28, comes the Cup and Nationwide articles for Indianapolis as we start the countdown to the 2014 LASTCAR Championships!

Monday, July 14, 2014

OPINION: The Importance of “The Right to Race”

Bill Meacham (far left) triggers his second wreck at
Darlington in 1991 (SOURCE: ESPN)
It was an unfortunate situation.  In a weekend that began with a blown left-rear tire and a crash in Friday’ practice, 2nd-place Joey Logano found himself in Loudon’s outside wall once more, his Ford done for the day.  Rolling away from the accident was 72-year-old Morgan Shepherd.  Seconds earlier, Shepherd had pulled his #33 Circle Sport entry to the inside to let Logano by, then seconds after that, lost control as the Penske car drove past.

In a situation like this, it’s easy to jump to conclusions.  Logano is one of the sport’s youngest talents driving for one of the best teams and was in contention for his third win of the season.  Shepherd, having just beaten his own record as the oldest driver to start a Cup Series race, was driving for an underfunded single-car team and was several laps down.  Several, including Logano, questioned whether Shepherd should have been on the track at all.

Thankfully, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, ruled otherwise.

“Morgan Shepherd has always been approved; he's been approved for decades,” said Pemberton. “Under our situation here, you take a physical at the beginning of the year, you pass your physical, you pass inspection with your car, you qualify for the race and you run the event. He met everything he needed to meet.”

And that’s all there is to it.

Sunday’s wreck wasn’t a commentary on age, but an ordinary racing accident.  It occurred between two drivers who both had to jump through the same hoops to get a Cup Series ride as well as a starting spot in Sunday’s field.  By qualifying, both had earned their right to race, and in exchange accepted the risk of an accident happening during the event.

However, this does not mean that NASCAR did not investigate Sunday’s accident.  History tells us that the “right to race” is not absolute, but is rather a privilege that can be revoked during the weekend or the race itself.  We’ve seen this many times in the form of suspensions and parked cars.  The most instructive of these occurred on April 7, 1991.

That day, 31-year-old Pineville, North Carolina driver Bill Meacham raced into infamy during the TranSouth 500 at Darlington.  A part-time racer since 1988, Meacham was making his third Cup Series start and his first at the old speedway.  He qualified 38th in the field of 40, driving an unsponsored #05 Oldsmobile entered by his family’s team.

On Lap 26 of the 367-lap race, Meacham slid up in Turn 4 and spun 6th-place Alan Kulwicki, sending the #7 Ford hard into the inside wall.  When the race restarted on Lap 31, Meacham lined up next to the leaders, then quickly plummeted through the field.  Entering Turn 3, he clipped Harry Gant, who was passing him to the outside.  The contact triggered a grinding four-car accident that sent Dale Jarrett head-on into the outside wall.

Immediately after the second wreck, Meacham was black-flagged, ending his third, and ultimately, final Cup start.

While Meacham’s afternoon was an example of a driver who was not yet prepared to tackle one of NASCAR’s most difficult tracks, Shepherd’s was a racing incident that occurred late in the event, when brake and handling issues begin to rear their ugly head.  It could have happened to anyone - and, in fact, did to rookie Justin Allgaier on Lap 299.

By recognizing this difference, NASCAR is not only respecting Shepherd’s ability, but is also telling future drivers that they, too, will be given the same benefit of the doubt.  This principle, which distinguishes NASCAR from other elite forms of motorsport, may well prove crucial to the sport’s survival as it continues to seek new talent.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

CUP: This Time, Mike Bliss’ Post-Entry Saves Jimmie Johnson From First Last-Place Finish

SOURCE: NASCAR
Mike Bliss picked up the 15th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway when his #93 Dr. Pepper Toyota fell out with electrical problems after he completed 6 of the race’s 305 laps.

The finish is Bliss’ first of the 2014 season and his first since this exact race last year, 36 races ago.  It is also Bliss’ 20th last-place finish across NASCAR’s top three divisions, giving him sole possession of the record for 9th-most all-time.

The 2013 running of the 301-miler was Bliss’ final start in the unsponsored #19 Toyota fielded by Humphrey-Smith Racing.  The team was co-owned by Mark Smith, owner TriStar Motorsports, which fielded the same number for Bliss in the Nationwide Series, and Randy Humphrey.  The car qualified for 15 of the season’s first 22 races, but finished under power just once - the season-best 29th by Alex Kennedy at Watkins Glen.

After three DNQs and a withdrawal at Chicago, Humphrey-Smith Racing ceased operations, surrendering the LASTCAR title to Phil Parsons Racing and driver Michael McDowell.  Humphrey then prepared to start his own team in 2014 with Dave Blaney behind the wheel of the #77.  Bliss, meanwhile, finished out his third consecutive season with TriStar in the Nationwide Series and prepared for a fourth in 2014.

Coming into last week’s race, Bliss had not started a Cup Series race since last fall at Atlanta, when he drove the #51 Phoenix Racing entry in relief of Bobby Labonte, the Texan driver injured in a bicycling accident.  However, his performances in the Nationwide Series have continued to improve with ten finishes inside the Top 20 in seventeen starts, including a season-best 10th at Road America.

One week after the Road America race, only 42 cars were entered for the Cup Series race at Kentucky.  Among them were three rookie drivers all fielded by BK Racing - Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, and Cole Whitt, the latter acquired from the collapse of Swan Racing heading into Richmond.  With the threat of the first short field since 2001, BK entered a fourth car in Kentucky - one of Bowman’s backup cars with #93 decals from 2013 applied in place of the rookie driver’s #23.  Bliss, tabbed to drive the car, still found himself in a short field after the subsequent withdrawal of Xxxtreme Motorsports and their #44 of J.J. Yeley.  Bliss finished 41st of 42 at Kentucky, pulling out three laps after Denny Hamlin’s race-ending crash.

At Loudon, the #44 withdrew once more, joining Clay Rogers, who was looking to make his Cup Series debut in his family-owned #75 Beard Oil Chevrolet.  Once again, BK re-entered Bliss and the #93, and this time kept the field at 43 cars.  After running 41st-fastest in the opening practice, Bliss timed in 41st for Sunday’s field at an average speed of 130.779 mph.  He did not turn a lap in either of Saturday’s two practice sessions.

Tire problems marred the weekend with both Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson struggling with left-rear tire issues.  Johnson’s sent him to pit road for an unscheduled stop on Lap 7, dropping him a lap down after starting on the outside-pole.  At the moment Johnson pulled back on track, the cameras caught Bliss making the hard left-hand turn into the garage area, his day done.  His exit was timely for Johnson, who five laps later exploded a left-rear tire and collided with the wall in Turn 1, leaving him with his second-consecutive 42nd-place finish.  Johnson is still without a last-place finish in 454 Cup starts.

Finishing 41st on Sunday was Timmy Hill, making his fifth start of 2014 and his first since his season-best 36th at Pocono, five races ago.  Hill drove the #87 fielded by Identity Ventures Racing (formerly NEMCO Motorsports / NEMCO-JRR), a car that hadn’t been fielded in a Cup race since Las Vegas in March.  At Loudon, as at Las Vegas, Jeff Burton drove the #66 for IVR, yet team owner Joe Nemechek was noticeably absent from both the Cup and Nationwide fields - perhaps due to his son’s competing in the weekend’s Truck Series race at Iowa.  Hill struggled early before electrical issues ended his day just short of the one-third mark.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Joey Logano and Morgan Shepherd, both involved in a controversial accident in the closing stages.  Shepherd, making his first start for Circle Sport in the #33 Thunder Coal Chevrolet, successfully extended his record from Phoenix in March as the oldest driver to start a Cup Series race at age 72 years, 9 months, and 1 day.  Unfortunately, Shepherd struggled to find speed in practice and qualifying, and he lost a lap early on Sunday.  On Lap 212, just after letting 2nd-place Joey Logano by to his outside entering Turn 3, Shepherd lost control and collided with Logano, sending the #22 into the outside wall.  It was Logano’s second wreck of the weekend, following a practice crash on Friday.  In a post-wreck interview, Logano expressed frustration about Shepherd’s speed.  Shepherd did, however, maintain minimum speed, and finished under power, 27 laps down, at the finish.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This is the first last-place finish for the #93 in a Cup Series race since August 26, 2000, when Dave Blaney’s Amoco Pontiac crashed after 49 laps of the goracing.com 500 at Bristol.  It is the second for BK Racing this season, joining Ryan Truex’s last-place run at Kansas, eight races ago.
*This is the first time a Cup Series last-place finisher was listed as out due to “electrical” issues since the 2012 Ford 400, the season finale at Homestead, which Bliss himself exited after 19 laps while driving Mark Smith’s #19 Plinker Tactical Toyota.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #93-Mike Bliss / 6 laps / electrical
42) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 11 laps / crash
41) #87-Timmy Hill / 76 laps / electrical
40) #22-Joey Logano / 211 laps / crash / led 3 laps
39) #33-Morgan Shepherd / 278 laps / running

LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Dave Blaney (2)
2nd) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Mike Bliss, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers (1)

LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
2nd) #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #40-Hillman Racing, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-Identity Ventures Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #93-BK Racing, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (7)
2nd) Chevrolet, Ford (6)

N’WIDE: Matt DiBenedetto Pulls In Early To Relieve Earnhardt at Loudon

SOURCE: Mike Neff, Frontstretch
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career in Saturday’s Sta-Green 200 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #46 The Motorsports Group Chevrolet fell out with brake problems after he completed 1 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish is DiBendetto’s second of the 2014 season and his first since Kentucky, two races ago.

Forty-one teams were on the entry list for Saturday’s race, but after Carl Long lost the engine on his #13, the team withdrew, and the remainder of the field made the race.  After running 27th in the first practice and 33rd in Happy Hour, DiBenedetto timed in 26th for the race at an average speed of 125.182 mph.  Though fifth-fastest of the eleven “go-or-go-homers” who entered and two spots ahead of teammate Josh Wise in TMG’s #40, DiBenedetto was not only slated to park his entry, but was sought as a relief driver.

Prior to last Friday’s race at Daytona, Jeffrey Earnhardt, driver of JD Motorsports’ #4 Chevrolet, broke his collarbone in a motorcycle accident.  DiBenedetto, who failed to make the show in the rain-shortened qualifying session, relieved Earnhardt and brought the car home 33rd.  At Loudon, with a car in the field, DiBenedetto pulled out almost immediately after just one lap, allowing him to relieve Earnhardt again after an early caution.  This time, DiBenedetto brought the #4 home in 23rd.

Blake Koch, still the leader by three finishes in the 2014 LASTCAR Nationwide Series Championship, fell out three laps later, just as Trevor Bayne’s spin in Turn 2 brought out the first yellow of the afternoon.  DiBenedetto’s teammate Josh Wise lost the clutch and stopped the #40 on the apron of the backstretch, bringing out the second yellow flag.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were Harrison Rhodes, giving James Carter’s #72 team its second start of the season, and Iowa last-placer Ryan Ellis in his first start for JGL Racing.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This is the first last-place finish for the #46 in a Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #46-Matt DiBenedetto / 1 lap / brakes
39) #10-Blake Koch / 4 laps / vibration
38) #40-Josh Wise / 9 laps / clutch
37) #72-Harrison Rhodes / 22 laps / brakes
36) #93-Ryan Ellis / 62 laps / transmission

LASTCAR N'WIDE SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Blake Koch (6)
2nd) Jeff Green (3)
3rd) Matt DiBenedetto (2)
4th) Tanner Berryhill, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Lepage, Robert Richardson, Jr., Tim Schendel, Jimmy Weller (1)

LASTCAR N'WIDE SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #10-TriStar Motorsports (7)
2nd) #46-The Motorsports Group (3)
3rd) #91-TriStar Motorsports (2)
4th) #17-Vision Racing, #23-R3 Motorsports, #55-VIVA Motorsports / SS Green Light Racing, #87-Rick Ware Racing, #93-JGL Racing (1)

LASTCAR N'WIDE SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (9)
2nd) Chevrolet (6)
3rd) Dodge (2)

TRUCKS: Debut For Tommy Regan and #45 Team Ends On Iowa’s Opening Lap

SOURCE: Associated Press
Tommy Regan picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday's American Ethanol 200 presented by Enogen at the Iowa Speedway when his #45 JD2 Shark Welding / American Tactical Chevrolet fell out with ignition problems on the opening lap of the 200-lap race.  The finish came in Regan’s series debut.

A native of Tracy, California (not far from LASTCAR's home base), Regan has four starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West with a best finish of 19th at the All American Speedway in nearby Roseville in 2012.  Looking to make the jump into NASCAR’s big leagues, Regan set his sights on a Truck Series start at Iowa with his single-truck team, Regan Motorsports, with B.J. McLeod as the listed team owner.

McLeod, a Truck Series driver with fourteen series starts from 2010 through his 25th-place finish for Bobby Dotter in this spring’s race at Texas, would make his first start as a team owner at Iowa with Regan behind the wheel.  That is, if the team could out-qualify two of the 38 teams entered for the first full Truck Series field since Martinsville in the spring.  However, after the withdrawal of Richie Wauters’ #5 team following the departure of driver John Wes Townley and of Mike Mittler’s “start-and-park” #36 RAM, Regan and McLeod were guaranteed a starting spot for Friday’s race.

The #45 truck went through a couple different looks before it hit the track.  The original design, according to the team’s website, featured two bright red guns on each side and a decimal in front of the “45 caliber” numbers on the doors.  However, by the time the truck rolled on the track at Iowa, the gun decals were gone, replaced by large white door numbers and sponsor graphics.  The truck itself remained a pre-2014 Chevrolet, as with many other single-truck and underfunded teams this season.

Building on the team’s test at the Motor Mile Speedway, Regan showed speed early, timing in 31st in the weekend’s only practice session, beating five other “go-or-go-homers” in the process.  He qualified even better, timing in 28th at an average speed of 128.719 mph.

However, Regan didn’t have much time to show that speed in the race.  According to a trackside report from a fan sitting near the entrance to pit road, Regan was on the grid for the race, but immediately pulled down pit road on the very first lap.  Citing ignition issues, Regan’s first Truck Series start was over as quickly as it had started.

Regan beat two LASTCAR contenders for 2014 - the Jennifer Jo Cobb-owned #0 Koma Unwind RAM, this time driven by Caleb Roark, and Charles Lewandoski in Randy Young’s #42 Randco / Young’s Building Systems Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were two old Chevrolets - Korbin Forrister, making his third start of the season in Ken Smith’s #07 McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. Chevrolet; and the #56 Battlefield Ford / The Sign Shop Chevrolet of owner-driver Raymond Terczak, Jr. - his first start since Dover.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*The finish is the first for the #45 in a Truck Series race since April 17, 1999, when Rich Bickle’s 10-10-345 Ford lost the engine after 1 lap of the NAPA 250 at Martinsville.  Winning the race that day was Jimmy Hensley, driving for Petty Enterprises.  It was the beginning of a weekend sweep for the Petty’s as John Andretti took the checkers in the Cup race the next day - the last win by the #43 in Cup until Aric Almirola won last Saturday’s Coke Zero 400.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #45-Tommy Regan / 0 laps / ignition
35) #0-Caleb Roark / 3 laps / vibration
34) #42-Charles Lewandoski / 4 laps / vibration
33) #07-Korbin Forrister / 38 laps / brakes
32) #56-Raymond Terczak, Jr. / 66 laps / steering

LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Ryan Ellis (2)
2nd) Alex Guenette, Justin Jennings, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski, Tommy Regan, Scott Stenzel, Jason White (1)

LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb, #36-Mike Mittler (2)
2nd) #42-Randy Young, #45-Regan Motorsports, #63-Mike Mittler, #74-Mike Harmon, #93-RSS Racing (1)

LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) RAM (1)