Saturday, May 12, 2018

CUP: Race-long last-place battle between Hill and McLeod gives way to Ty Dillon edging Blaney at Kansas

PHOTO: @GermainRacing
Ty Dillon picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s KC Masterpiece 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #13 Twisted Tea Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 247 of 267 laps.

The finish came in Dillon’s 66th series start. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 18th for car #13, the 565th by reason of a crash, and the 745th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 28th for the #13, the 1,138th by reason of a crash, and the 1,596th for Chevrolet.

The younger grandson of Richard Childress, Ty Dillon cut his teeth in Bandoleros and go-karts. He ran his first K&N Pro Series race in 2009, won his first race at Gresham Motorsports Park in 2010, and in 2011 cruised to the ARCA Racing Series Championship with seven wins. Also in 2011, the 19-year-old Ty made his Truck Series debut at Kentucky, finishing 21st.

From there, Ty followed older brother Austin through NASCAR’s top three ranks. At first, he took over his rides each time Austin advanced to the next level. When Austin moved to the XFINITY Series in 2012, Ty took over RCR’s #3 truck and nearly won the next two Truck Series titles, taking three wins along the way. Ty’s XFINITY debut came at Dover in 2012, and his only XFINITY win came at Indianapolis in 2014. Again, he was a championship contender, finishing no worse than 5th in the standings for three consecutive seasons.

When Austin was selected to bring back the #3 to Cup competition in 2014, Ty made his Cup debut in a second RCR car, the #33, at Atlanta on August 31, 2014. Ty finished 25th that day, and improved on that with a 14th-place run with the #33 bunch at Michigan the next summer. In 2016, Ty’s Cup schedule expanded from five races to 11. He split time between Stewart-Haas Racing, where he relieved an injured Tony Stewart for three races, as well as small teams Leavine Family Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. His best run that season was a 15th at Phoenix in Stewart’s #14.

It wasn’t until 2017, three years after Austin, that Ty Dillon earned a full-time ride in the Cup Series. With Austin in the #3, Ty wouldn’t drive for Childress this time, but instead Germain Racing, who had entered into a technical alliance with RCR. He took the place of Casey Mears, who had raced Germain’s GEICO-sponsored cars since late in 2010 season. For those seven seasons, Mears helped the Germain team transition from a part-time “start-and-park” to a full-time competitor. He earned a team-best 4th-place finish at Daytona, but managed no better than 23rd in the standings, which he accomplished in 2015.

Ty’s first start for Germain was a 30th-place finish in the 2017 Daytona 500. In the next plate race at Talladega, he improved his career-best Cup finish with a 13th. The next month at Dover, he very nearly took his first career victory, leading 27 laps and pacing the field as late as 40 to go before a late-race crash left him 14th. He finished the year with a new career-best of 11th in the return to Talladega and at Phoenix. But Ty still finished only 24th in the standings, about the same Germain had with Mears.

2018 has been a year of great change for Ty Dillon and Germain Racing. On top of the introduction of Chevrolet’s new Camaro ZL1 model, Germain ended their long relationship with crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker. Like Mears, Barker had been instrumental in developing the #13 team, joining the effort in 2009 when road racer Max Papis was behind the wheel. In Barker’s place came Matt Borland, the longtime crew chief for Ryan Newman. A crash in the Daytona 500 left Dillon 39th in the opener, and other than a 13th at Texas and a 15th at Talladega, the team has struggled to find consistency. Coming into Kansas, Ty Dillon sat 28th in the point standings. What unfolded would drop him another two spots.

Ty would drive the Twisted Tea car at Kansas, a sponsor that joined Ty and Germain Racing after Brian Scott retired at the close of the 2016 season. In this same Kansas race last year, Ty finished 14th, one of his best runs of the year. This time around, the car struggled for speed. Ty ran 31st in the opening practice, then ran 26th in qualifying with a speed of 182.692mph (29.558 seconds).

Just 38 drivers would start the race, the first short Cup field in Kansas’ history. A 39th entry, Derrike Cope in his #99 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet, was withdrawn on Monday.

Starting last was Timmy Hill, driving the #66 Toyota for Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management. Kansas marked the one-year anniversary of Long’s return to Cup competition, and Hill was the third different driver in as many starts to run the #66 in 2018. By Friday, appeared on the quarter-panels of the black Toyota. Hill was one of six drivers whose cars failed to pass pre-qualifying inspection, and as the lowest-ranked in points of the three, took the last spot. In preparations for the night race, his crew added a pair of light bars to Hill’s pit board, a drawing of the character Timmy from “South Park.”

When engines fired, Hill and the rest of the pack had to move around the #15 LowT Centers Chevrolet of Ross Chastain. Chastain, the last-placer at Bristol, had stalled on pit road and, according to Chris Knight, needed a push. The #15 turned a slow lap on the apron, then returned to his pit stall for repairs. This caused him to miss the start of the race. He pulled down pit road as the leaders completed the first lap, avoiding a “did not start,” but causing him to start the race one lap down.

Despite his mechanical issues, Chastain showed speed early, and was within sight of 37th-place Hill by Lap 8. He caught Hill on the 12th circuit and just made it past on the 13th circuit. Just then, race leader Kevin Harvick passed both of them on the high side of Turn 1, putting Chastain a second lap down and Hill one lap behind. This kept Chastain two laps down until the competition caution on Lap 30, when he took the wave-around to get one of them back. Doing so moved him to 37th during pit stops, dropping to last Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Prefund Capital Chevrolet, driven for the first time this year by XFINITY Series regular B.J. McLeod.

The first 237 laps of Saturday’s race were slowed only by the competition yellow and the ends of each stage. During that time, none of the 38 starters pulled behind the wall, and a tight last-place battle ensued between Hill and McLeod. On Lap 40, McLeod was tracking down Hill for position, both of them two laps down. Hill edged away from McLeod on Lap 48. By Lap 62, McLeod was four laps down, and on Lap 78 he was five down, where he remained at the end of Stage 1.

The stage caution allowed McLeod to restart next to Hill (also five laps down) for the Lap 89 restart, and two circuits later he caught and passed Hill for position. Hill gradually lost laps to the leader as he held 38th. He lost a 6th by Lap 107, a 7th on Lap 114, and an 8th after a pit stop on Lap 128. During this time, McLeod lost laps at the same rate, allowing Hill to this time race him for position on Lap 138. After Kyle Larson lapped the pair a 9th time on Lap 140, Hill drove past McLeod by Lap 145. McLeod lost a 10th lap on Lap 155, then Hill re-took the 38th spot with a pit stop on Lap 164, following the end of Stage 2.

On Lap 168, the final stage started with Hill one lap behind McLeod, so when Hill passed McLeod under green, he still held the 38th spot. On Lap 182, Hill was still last, and now 11 laps behind. McLeod made a green-flag stop on Lap 188 and was 13 laps down, then made a second unscheduled stop on Lap 201 that put him 15 laps behind. This put McLeod a handful of laps behind Hill. But Hill once again kept pace with McLeod, and closed to within one lap on the 226th circuit. That time by, Hill passed McLeod in the tri-oval, but McLeod remained one lap behind Hill – 15 to his 14.

Ty Dillon on pit road at Kansas
PHOTO: @DnfRacers
The complexion of the race – both for the lead and for last place – changed when Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez tangled off Turn 2 on Lap 238. While Bowman remained within one lap of the leader, Suarez lost nine laps for repairs, making his #19 Stanley Tools Toyota a threat for a Bottom Five. The ensuing restart caused a second wreck on Lap 248, when Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney tangled in a heated race inside the Top 5. Contact entering Turn 1 damaged the right-rear of Larson’s #42 Clover / First Data Chevrolet, but sent Blaney’s #12 REV Group Ford into the outside wall. With 19 laps to go, Blaney turned his #12 behind the wall, out of the race by virtue of the “Crash Clock” protocol. With McLeod 15 laps down at the time and Blaney on the lead lap when he crashed out, Blaney would take last with four laps to go – if nothing happened to the drivers behind him.

The race restarted on Lap 253, triggering the night’s biggest accident. Coming off Turn 4, William Byron lost control of his #24 Liberty University Chevrolet and swerved into traffic, collecting Clint Bowyer in the #14 Haas 30 Years of the VF1 Ford and Ryan Newman’s #31 Bass Pro Shops / Cabela’s Chevrolet. More drivers piled in on the apron, including Jamie McMurray, Chris Buescher, Matt Kenseth (in his Cup Series return for Roush-Fenway Racing), and Ty Dillon.

Dillon’s car slid to a stop in the grass, the radiator knocked out (according to RacingUnderdogs), ending his race. Due to the night’s long green-flag runs (and damage suffered to the left-rear before the halfway point), Ty was six laps down at the time of the accident, the lowest-ranked of the cars involved in the wreck. On that same lap, Blaney’s eliminated car had fallen six laps down, joining the same lap as Dillon. Though both Dillon and Blaney were on the same lap, and Blaney wrecked first, NASCAR’s leaderboard ranked Dillon beneath Blaney. This meant that Dillon would finish last – again, if nothing happened to the drivers behind him.

Through it all, 38th-place McLeod lost a 16th lap, changing the magic number to three laps to go. When no other drivers fell out, Dillon and Blaney took the final two spots from McLeod and Hill on Lap 264, followed by Kenseth’s #6 Wyndham Rewards Ford on the very last lap. McLeod finished 35th. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Chris Buescher, whose #37 Breyers 2 in 1 Chevrolet was also eliminated in the Byron accident, but was running fewer laps behind than Kenseth or Dillon.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #13 in a Cup Series race since October 9, 2016, when Casey Mears’ #13 GEICO Chevrolet fell out in a crash after 61 laps of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte.
*This marked the first time the #13 finished last in a Cup Series race at Kansas.

38) #13-Ty Dillon / 247 laps / crash
37) #12-Ryan Blaney / 247 laps / crash / led 54 laps
36) #6-Matt Kenseth / 250 laps / crash
35) #51-B.J. McLeod / 251 laps / running
34) #37-Chris Buescher / 252 laps / crash

1st) TriStar Motorsports (3)
2nd) Premium Motorsports (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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