Monday, March 26, 2018

TRUCKS: In just eight laps, Mike Senica starts slow, ignores black flag, stalls, and is parked by NASCAR

PHOTO: @TurnerEdwin
Mike Senica picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday and Monday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #1 Pennsylvania Power Products Chevrolet was parked after 8 of 250 laps.

The finish, which came in Senica’s 12th series start, was his first of the season, and his first since November 10, 2017 at Phoenix, five races ago. In the LASTCAR Truck Series rankings, it’s the 14th for truck #1, the 497th for Chevrolet, and the 3rd where the driver was parked. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 63rd for the #1, the 1,583rd for Chevrolet, and the 7th where the driver was parked.

Senica, the defending LASTCAR Truck Series Champion, has become a center of controversy. The 51-year-old driver from Pennsylvania made the move from the ARCA Racing Series to the Truck Series last year, but was flagged off the track for running too slow in his series debut at Iowa. He made equally-short runs in his following nine starts in Norm Benning’s second truck, the black #57 Chevrolet, yielding his first three last-place finishes. This year, his speed has remained an issue, most notably at Las Vegas, where the leaders had to move up a lane to pass his single truck on the inside.

Vegas marked Senica’s season debut, when he this time drove Jennifer Jo Cobb’s second truck, the #0 Chevrolet. The fact that he drove for Cobb was a bit of a surprise given the many tweets he made over the offseason indicating he would still be driving Benning’s #57 with sponsors including Betty Lou’s and Pennsylvania Power Products (P3), among others. He’d photographed himself in a new uniform with the Betty Lou’s logo and printed out hero cards with the sponsors on the #57. However, reports indicated that Benning was unaware of any of this, and the owner-driver didn’t even enter the #57 until Martinsville. When Benning did, it was with Super Cup Stock Car Series driver Jeff Zillweger and sponsorship from Zomongo. Senica has since re-posted his hero cards with a personal logo covering the “57” on the door.

For Martinsville, Senica would be driving for Tracy Lowe’s single-truck team TJL Motorsports, in part because Jennifer Jo Cobb didn’t field her #0 Chevrolet. At Las Vegas, the #1 shared sponsorship with Beaver Motorsports’ #50 (both with Motorsports Safety Group on their trucks), fueling rumors that the two teams are operating as one, as they did when Lowe and Mark Beaver worked together at MAKE Motorsports. At Martinsville, however, Lowe’s white #1 Chevrolet carried Senica’s sponsorship from P3 Products as primary with Betty Lou’s as an associate. Cowboy Coffee Chews, another brand that Senica indicated would run as a primary over the offseason, has yet to make its 2018 debut.

Senica was one of 36 drivers on the preliminary entry list, but perhaps due to the threat of rain and snow, the list soon shrank. First to withdraw were NextGen Motorsports, which planned to make their series debut with 2003 champion Travis Kvapil in the #35, and NEMCO Motorsports’ second truck, the #87, to be driven by team owner Joe Nemechek. Next was Jeff Zillweger in the Benning #57, who turned 29 laps in Happy Hour but could only manage a top speed of 80.947mph (23.393 seconds), 3.472 seconds off the best lap by Grant Enfinger. This was the only session where Senica wasn’t slowest overall. After not turning a lap in the opening practice, Senica ran a 22.953 in session two (2.930 seconds off pace), then improved slightly to a 22.540 in Happy Hour (2.619 seconds off pace, just over eight-tenths better than Zillweger).

Finally, Senica qualified for the 32nd and final starting spot with a lap of 87.582mph (21.621 seconds). Though an improvement from both practice sessions, he was 1.4 seconds slower than owner-driver Mike Harmon in his #74 Chevrolet. Due to his team’s inferior rank in Owner Points, Harmon was sent home while Senica would start the race.

Under threatening skies, the race began Saturday with Senica last on the grid. He was joined during the pace laps by four other drivers. Both Todd Gilliland’s #4 Mobil 1 Toyota and Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 Chevrolet had made engine changes, Cobb tweeting that she acquired a backup engine from Jay Robinson’s Cup team Premium Motorsports. Josh Reaume had made unapproved adjustments to his #33 R-Coin / Green Heart Partners Chevrolet. And Norm Benning missed the driver’s meeting, dropping his #6 Zomongo / H&H Transport Chevrolet from 30th to the back.

When the race started, Benning took last, and at the end of two laps was already 10.876 seconds behind the leaders. On Lap 3, MRN Radio reported that 29th-place Cobb lost power on the #10, forcing her to pit road and making her the first to lose a lap. At the time, Senica was last, 13.601 seconds back. On Lap 5, the leaderboard showed Senica 16.484 seconds back in 31st with Cobb still not under power. The next time by, Senica was also off the lead lap with a best lap of just 82.867mph (Benning, who was later flagged off the track for going too slow, ran a best of 88.943mph). In the space of two minutes, Senica went down seven laps and took last from Cobb as she returned to action six laps down. This culminated in the day’s most controversial moment on Lap 16 where Senica stalled on the backstretch.

According to Chris Knight, who was listening to radio traffic, Senica had ignored a black flag from NASCAR. Race director David Hoots then shouted “Tell him to turn in, he’s done!” At that point, Senica had completed just eight of the race’s 16 laps. He pulled behind the wall not long before heavy rain ended the day’s action. Senica, Tracy Lowe, and crew chief William Guinade were called to NASCAR’s hauler after the race.

On Sunday, Senica took issue with Knight’s concern with the danger of the driver not running up to speed. Senica’s five-tweet reply, put together in one paragraph, was the following:

“I am very respectful of our constitutional rights, one of them being “freedom of speech”. There are some who abuse this right to boost their ratings to elicit response by racing fans for their own personal benefit! Here are several tweets by Chris Knight and yes it is true Chris and I do not see eye to eye with one another but, I also would like to know when Chris has ever strapped into a race truck or car and actually competed in a NASCAR sanctioned event? I am also like other drivers who do not have millions of dollars at my discretion and cannot pay for rides that are higher priced so we compete with what we have to work with and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that are afforded to me. I am truly grateful to my corporate partners for their support and will continue to provide them with best resources I can. There are many people who will throw shade towards me and I say to them that if you want to "show me up" then go out and obtain a NASCAR license and show me what you got!! Until you sit in the seat, stop playing armchair QB and deal with the fact that I am not going anywhere! Thank you to those who have supported me along the way and my corporate partners for their continued commitment to work with me and trust and believe that I will continue to work just as hard as I have in the past.”

Senica’s was the only truck to not restart the race on Monday morning. The driver has not responded to our requests for an interview.

Finishing 31st on Monday was Norm Benning, for the aforementioned flagging off the track due to his own speed. Cobb’s lapped machine managed to make it up to 29th at the finish before electrical issues and a fire behind her right-front wheel ended her day at 55 laps. Between the two came 30th-place Kevin Donahue, citing brake issues on Mike Mittler’s #63 First Responder Racing Chevrolet. Rounding out the Bottom Five in 28th was Justin Fontaine, his #45 ProMatic Automation / Superior Essex Chevrolet collected in a wreck with Tyler Matthews on Lap 160.

*This marked the second year in a row that TJL’s #1 finished last in the spring race at Martinsville. Last year, the finish went to newcomer Bryce Napier. Napier was himself parked after three laps due to smoke in the cockpit. Only one other time has a Truck Series last-place finisher been parked – Casey Kingsland during still another Martinsville race in 2005.

32) #1-Mike Senica / 8 laps / parked
31) #6-Norm Benning / 35 laps / too slow
30) #63-Kevin Donahue / 49 laps / brakes
29) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 55 laps / electrical
28) #45-Justin Fontaine / 158 laps / crash

1st) Beaver Motorsports, Copp Motorsports, MB Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)


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