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Last-place finishes can happen to the best of ‘em. Even defending champion Joey Logano has brought up the rear in a race already in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series. However, that’s the exception rather than the rule for Logano, who entered the season with just two last-place showings in 507 races.

Sunday’s first man out was a driver who’s reached double digits in that category in just 118 starts. The good news for him is that it will take a lot of misfortune to become the driver with the most last-place finishes in the Cup Series.

That driver is still active, but his record is deserving of a great big asterisk.

B.J. McLeod added to his list of last-place finishes at Phoenix

Michael McDowell waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Feb. 26, 2023. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images
Michael McDowell waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Feb. 26, 2023. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

B.J. McLeod was the first driver out in Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway. In fact, it was mostly an incident-free Cup Series race, and McLeod was the only driver not to finish. His Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 Chevy made it through 50 laps before the fuel pump gave out.

McLeod’s first back-of-the-pack result in 20 races brought his total to 10 last-place finishes. According to the Last Car website, a fountain of information about misfortune, McLeod led all Cup Series drivers last season with four last-place finishes and 13 in the bottom five.

Had a mechanical failure not ended his day, McLeod likely was headed for the back of the pack anyway. He logged the slowest practice lap of the weekend as teams adjusted to the new NASCAR aero package and ran the slowest time in his qualifying group and the fourth-slowest overall.

Michael McDowell is the Tom Brady of last-place finishes

B.J. McLeod can bring up the rear in two-thirds of the races this season and still not catch the record-holder for last-place finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series. That distinction belongs to Michael McDowell, currently driving the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.

McDowell has finished last 35 times entering the 2023 season. Rounding out the top five, according to the Last Car website, are Joe Nemechek (33), J.D. McDuffie (32), Derrike Cope (29), and Dave Blaney (24).

The primary source of the problem for McDowell is that he did not finish 111 of 127 races from 2009-2013. According to data compiled on the Racing-Reference.info website, the leading culprits were brakes (34 times), vibrations (20), and electrical issues (15).

Alas, there’s way more to the story than that.

Michael McDowell was saddled with start-and-park assignments

Michael McDowell broke into the NASCAR Cup Series in 2008 with Michael Waltrip Racing, and the timing was terrible. By late in the year, the housing sector of the economy was collapsing under the weight of mortgage defaults. By early the next year, the country was engulfed in the Great Recession. NASCAR teams started suspending operations or folding as spending by sponsors plunged.

McDowell grabbed rides where he could, competing for nine teams over the next five seasons. Unfortunately, most of those rides were of the start-and-park variety. Teams like Prism Motorsports, HP Racing, and Phil Parsons Racing struggled to hang on long enough to get the dollars flowing again.

In the interim, small teams showed up at the track to qualify their cars, put them on the starting grid, and then pulled them behind the pit wall around the time the tread on the first set of tires went bare. The assorted official reasons for retiring cars were usually bogus, and NASCAR treated the practice with benign neglect because of the economic conditions.

Of his 127 races from 2009-13, McDowell logged 50 or fewer laps 74 times, helping to explain the 35 last-place finishes on his racing resume. Winning the 2021 Daytona 500 made up for some of those many starts where McDowell knew he never had a chance.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at JohnM@Sportscasting.com.

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