During Sunday afternoon’s running of the Camping World RV Sales 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, only 43 cars were entered. The sport nearly had a short field for the second time over the course of three events, but BK Racing entered a fourth car with Mike Bliss behind the wheel. However, there were multiple small teams on track that put together last minute deals because funding had arisen.
Morgan Shepherd, 72, broke his own record for being the oldest driver to start his engine in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event when the green flag waved at Loudon. Shepherd was running his second contest in 2014 after starting and parking the Joe Nemechek owned No. 87 Toyota at Phoenix.
At Phoenix, he raced even while qualifying multiple seconds off the pace. Meanwhile, Landon Cassill and Josh Wise, two drivers scheduled to run the entire race, missed the event because Shepherd’s car had more owner points from the 2013 season. To this point, Shepherd’s start and park effort is one of a handful to do so throughout the 19 races this year.
Then, the real controversy erupted.
While racing more than a dozen laps down, considerably off the pace, Shepherd got into Joey Logano – who was racing in the second position at the time. Shepherd was already marked another lap down, and running times more than a second slower than the race leaders. However, he was racing above the minimum speed.
“I got taken out by the slowest car out there. You would think there would be some courtesy to the leaders. We were in second place. He gets out of the way on the straightaway and then goes into the corner and slides right up into the lane I was in,” Logano said after the wreck. “I can’t get too mad at ourselves over this. It is just dumb that it happened. I feel like that should be stuff that shouldn’t happen at this level of racing.”
Logano has two wins this year for Team Penske and even after the accident – he sits inside of the top-10 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Meanwhile, Shepherd is not racing full-time, nor has he done so in NASCAR’s top-tier division since 1996.
Although Shepherd is a well-known driver, his age might be becoming a factor. Although the incident had nothing to do with talent, Shepherd could have run the higher groove and there would have been no harm to anyone. However, his slow No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport Racing was leisurely crawling around the speedway on the low groove – a spot where cars get extremely loose. And Shepherd was defended by several drivers – including Kyle Busch.
“It seemed like he had a hard time holding the bottom of the racetrack a little bit, but that's sometimes to be expected. It's so flat down there. But there were other lap(ped) cars that were just rolling around on the top and not getting into anybody's way really,” Busch said.
Shepherd has not finished on the lead lap of a NASCAR-sanctioned race since running 26th at Homestead in 2010. If he had the equipment to run better, Shepherd might have been able to put up some competitive times, but that clearly wasn’t the case. He also attempted the Daytona 500 this year in conjunction with BK Racing, but was extremely off the pace during the Budweiser Duel qualifying event.
“It’s not like Joey hadn’t never had a problem and he’s a lot younger than me. It’s an accident. Those things happen. It could happen to anybody. It could happen with any competitor,” Shepherd said after the race.
But since he was running faster than the minimum speed, NASCAR officials did not penalize him. NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton, stated that there was nothing physically or mentally preventing the 72-year-old from being approved to race. As long as a driver passes all of the pre-requisites, there is no reason why a driver shouldn’t be able to race, according to Pemberton.
There is no word if Shepherd will return to the seat for Circle Sport Racing, or any other organization this year. It is expected that he might run a limited amount of races for his own team in the Nationwide Series, but that depends on sponsorship.