Michigan: CJM Racing race report

Racing with Heavy Hearts at Michigan, CJM Racing Finishes 17th Brooklyn, MI -- CJM Racing received some heartbreaking news Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway. The team was told that their car chief and friend Steve "Big Guy"...

Racing with Heavy Hearts at Michigan, CJM Racing Finishes 17th

Brooklyn, MI -- CJM Racing received some heartbreaking news Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway. The team was told that their car chief and friend Steve "Big Guy" Helwig had lost his battle with leukemia and passed away. With heavy hearts the team forged through the weekend and was able to bring home a 17th place finish for Carfax and America's Incredible Pizza Company.

For the second year in a row Carfax teamed up with CJM Racing for the Carfax 250 in Michigan. The crew came in optimistic and was looking to redeem themselves after the less than stellar performances at Montreal and Watkins Glen.

Friday morning began with technical inspection and then two practice sessions following later that day. It wasn't too long after passing inspection that CJM Racing was made aware that "Big Guy" had passed away that morning. The Carfax/America's Incredible Pizza Company race team proceeded to cover the car and take some time to grieve for the loss of their friend.

As the time neared for practice the crew got back to work and Keller took to the track for the first session. The Carfax/America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet posted the 24th quickest time with a 41.193 second run, 174.787 mph. In the final practice session, NASCAR asked the team to make a solo lap around the track to honor "Big Guy". Once the lap was complete the other cars joined him out on track and final practice was underway. Keller posted the 23rd quickest time by running a 41.063 second lap, 175.340 mph.

The Carfax/America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet qualified Saturday morning and Keller was able to place the No. 11 machine in the 26th position for the Carfax 250.

"It's a little nerve-racking starting mid-field but I know we have a good car and as long as nothing happens right in front of us we'll be able to get through the field pretty quickly," Keller stated.

As the Carfax 250 got underway, the No. 11 Carfax/America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet moved up four positions in the opening laps. It was on lap 13 that Keller reported in a handling concern, "there is a lack of total rear grip. I'm having to race on the bottom of the track. I can't turn up on top."

With pit strategy playing a big factor in the outcome of the race, crew chief Todd Gordon opted to keep the Carfax/America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet out on the track until green flag pit stops began to cycle through on lap 40. On lap 45, Keller brought the No. 11 machine down pit road for four tires, fuel and a slight air pressure adjustment. Unfortunately when the field cycled through the No. 11 was displayed one lap down in the 22nd position.

The teams luck would turn around just 10 laps later as the caution flag flew and Keller was posted in the "lucky dog" position. The Carfax/America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet was credited with their lap back and Keller returned to pit road for some aggressive changes including a wedge adjustment, air pressure, rubber out of the rear and a track bar adjustment to alleviate the lack of grip everyone was experiencing out on track.

At the halfway point of the 125-lap event Keller was running in the 19th position. One more pit stop was made under caution on lap 92 for fuel, four tires, and an air pressure adjustment. The Carfax/America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet restarted in the 17th position and never looked back. Keller held his position throughout the closing laps and crossed the finish line in the 17th position.

"We raced with heavy hearts this weekend. We did the best we could as a team to get through it," explained Keller.

-credit: cjmr

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Series NASCAR XFINITY