By Tommy Baldwin Racing
Mechanical Failure Ends Bodine’s Return to Sprint Cup Racing Early
No. 35 Luke & Associates Chevrolet finished 39th
Geoffrey Bodine started the Coke Zero 400 from the 35th position in the No. 35 Luke & Associates Chevrolet and utilized 143 laps to get comfortable with the two-car draft at Daytona International Speedway. Without a drafting partner for majority of the race, Bodine settled in to finish the 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) event when a wheel barring broke and ended the team’s day early. The Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) team chose to call Bodine to the garage so there was not a risk of tearing up equipment. The No. 35 Luke & Associates Chevrolet finished 38th.
Thursday rain showers allowed Bodine a short 45-minute practice session to tune in the No. 35 Luke & Associates Chevrolet in the team and sponsor’s NSCS debut. Since the Luke & Associates team did not have a guaranteed starting spot in Saturday’s race, they focused on making qualifying runs. Due to the impound, the TBR team setup the No. 35 in race trim, and Bodine posted the 41st-fastest time of 50.019 seconds. He locked the Luke & Associates Chevrolet into the Coke Zero 400 with the 35th-fastest qualifying lap of 50.206 seconds.
Bodine took the green flag from the 35th position and began to learn the two-car draft. By the first caution on lap six for a three-car incident in turn one, Bodine was in the 40th position and working with TBR teammate Dave Blaney. Trying to avoid the incident, Blaney flat-spotted his tires. TBR owner Tommy Baldwin called both teams to pit road in order to restart close to one another.
Bodine drove down pit road for his first pit stop, but a miscommunication caused him to drive past his pit stall. He was then penalized for speeding during his exit off pit road. The next lap, he drove the No. 35 Luke & Associates Chevrolet back down pit road, and the crew made a fuel-only pit stop.
The field restarted on lap eight with the No. 35 in the 36th position. At the restart, Bodine found a new partner in the No. 71 of Andy Lally before teaming back up with Blaney by lap 17. An incident in turn four caused the second caution of the day on lap 24. Bodine was in the 36th position when he drove down pit road for a four-tire pit stop. He restarted 24th and joined Blaney in the two-car draft. The twosome swapped positions for the first time on lap 32 to allow the No. 35 Luke & Associates Chevrolet to cool down. Six laps later, the TBR team decided to swap back as the pair ran faster lap times with Blaney in front.
Still learning the nuances of the two-car draft, Bodine drove high into the corner and caught the right rear quarter panel of the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet. Blaney spun in the corner and brought out the third caution of the night on lap 49.
For the remainder of the race, Bodine struggled to find a drafting partner to work with and continued to race in the top-36. On lap 51, the Luke & Associates team made a four-tire pit stop, their third of the night. The team made their fourth pit stop on lap 92 and changed two right-side tires and added fuel. Bodine continued to race in the 36th position but fell a lap down on lap 108. The Chemung, N.Y., native swapped positions with the No. 7 of Robby Gordon and fell to 37th.
The Luke & Associates team made their final scheduled pit stop on lap 134. The team changed two right-side tires and added fuel. Ten laps later, Bodine radioed that he had a problem with the left front wheel. Baldwin called the 62-year-old racer down pit road to change four tires to try to fix the problem. Bodine drove off pit road but returned four laps later with the same issue. The No. 35 team assessed the problem and determined that the left-front wheel barring broke.
Baldwin called for Bodine to drive the No. 35 Luke & Associates Chevrolet back to the garage in order to not risk ruining equipment. The team finished the event 38th in its debut.
“It was very interesting learning experience,” explained Bodine. “Unfortunately, part of my learning experience was spinning out my teammate Dave Blaney. That wasn’t very good, and I feel very bad about that. I just made a mistake trying to keep the engine cool. You duck to the right to get air, and I went too far. I came back and turned Dave into the wall. After that, I didn’t have any trouble.”
“I had a lot of fun,” he continued. “If we could get hooked with a fast car, we were really fast. Unfortunately, all the fast cars had teammates already, so we didn’t get to show the potential that the car had. Toward the end, we broke a wheel barring. My crew and everyone did such a great job setting the car up with a rookie in this type of racing, so I was really happy with that. I was pretty happy with the finish. I was really excited being there with our new sponsor Luke & Associates. They had a great time and enjoyed the race. They understand the outcome and how things go. They’re pleased, and that’s the most important thing. They had some good introductions to potential customers, so the program is already working. We look forward to continuing with them.”