After two partial seasons in NASCAR’s top division, the Maryland driver moved from Frank Stoddard’s FAS Lane Racing (#32) to the #33 fielded by Circle Sport. Circle Sport is the same Joe Falk-owned team that, since last year, has helped keep Richard Childress Racing’s part-time fourth team up in the Owner Points by running the remainder of the season.
The RCR-Circle Sport alliance continues into this season. After Brian Scott ran for Childress in the #33 at Daytona and Phoenix, Hill made his 2014 debut last Sunday at Las Vegas, finishing 38th in Joe Falk’s flat blue Chevrolet. Hill had made his Cup debut at the Vegas track two years earlier, finishing 42nd in Rick Ware’s #37 Ford. His best Cup finish came at Kansas last October, where he finished 22nd in Frank Stoddard’s #32. His best Nationwide Series finish in 64 starts are a 7th and 9th in the two Daytona races in 2012.
Sunday would be Hill’s first Cup start at Bristol, a track where he’d finished no better than 22nd in three previous Nationwide Series starts. He managed to improve that mark with a 21st-place run in Saturday’s race while driving or R3 Motorsports, but his Cup Series weekend went less smoothly. Hill was just 44th-fastest in the opening session, besting only Justin Allgaier, who failed to complete a lap due to a crash. He had the slowest car in qualifying, putting up a speed of just 122.084 mph, nearly 9 mph off the pace of polesitter Denny Hamlin. He made the field with a provisional, besting David Reutimann in Front Row Motorsports’ #35 and Dave Blaney, now 0-4 in Randy Humphrey’s #77. On Saturday, Hill trailed the second practice session, then improved to just 38th in Happy Hour.
At the start of Sunday’s race, four drivers fell to the rear before the green flag, but Hill not only fell to 43rd, but was nearly two seconds behind the next driver around Lap 20. Hill’s car was the first to go a lap down, but the relentless pace of the first 51 laps before the competition caution put him out of contention for the Lucky Dog. After that caution, Hill briefly lost 43rd to Alex Bowman, who lost several laps when the battery on his #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota fell out on the track for Parker Kligerman to his with his #30 Swan Racing entry. Bowman and Kligerman returned to the race. Hill, still struggling with his car, slipped back to 43rd when rain stopped the event after 136 laps.
After a three-hour delay, Hill continued to struggle under the lights, often running the high lane to avoid faster traffic. On Lap 167, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt tangled on the frontstretch, sending Whitt sliding into traffic. Parker Kligerman slowed to avoid hitting his teammate, causing leaders Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth to do the same. With Jamie McMurray running the low lane, Hill remained up high. Apparently unaware the leaders had stopped, Hill collided with the back of Kenseth’s car, destroying the nose of his Chevrolet while ripping the bumper from Kenseth’s car.
Hill spent several laps behind the wall, then returned to complete another thirteen laps around Lap 270 before he pulled out of the race for good.
By that point, the race remained a crashfest. Finishing 42nd was Ryan Truex, who cut down a right-front tire on Lap 277 and pounded the backstretch wall. 41st went to Joe Nemechek, the all-time leader in last-place finishes at Bristol, who went behind the wall several times in his NEMCO-JRR #66. Cole Whitt’s battered #26 finished the race under power, but in 40th, 73 laps in arrears. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Kevin Harvick, his second-straight finish of 39th or worse, this time following a grinding Lap 452 crash due to a mechanical failure.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #33 at Bristol since 2001, when Joe Nemechek’s Oakwood Homes Chevrolet overheated after he completed 108 laps of the Food City 500 (LINK). The number’s most recent last-place run in Cup came five races ago at Phoenix last fall, when Tony Raines drove a near-identical Chevrolet for Falk.
*Hill is only the second first-time Cup Series last-place finisher in the last 48 races, joining Danica Patrick in last fall’s Kansas race.
*The 160 laps completed by Hill are the most by a Cup Series last-place finisher at Bristol since 2008, when Sterling Marlin completed 184 laps before crash damage ended his run in the Sharpie 500. That race was also the most recent time a Chevrolet finished last in a Cup Series race at Bristol, prior to Sunday.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #33-Timmy Hill / 160 laps / crash
42) #83-Ryan Truex / 271 laps / crash
41) #66-Joe Nemechek / 322 laps / rear gear
40) #26-Cole Whitt / 430 laps / running
39) #4-Kevin Harvick / 450 laps / crash / led 28 laps
LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Timmy Hill, Michael McDowell, Morgan Shepherd, Martin Truex, Jr. (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #33-Circle Sport, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #87-NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)