Saturday, May 19, 2018

TRUCKS: In and out of the garage, J.J. Yeley extends Mittler team’s last-place streak

PHOTO: Max Neuwirth, @racingfan83
J.J. Yeley picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #63 Fr8Auctions Chevrolet fell out with transmission problems after 21 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in Yeley’s 31st series start, is his first since last summer at Iowa, 21 races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it’s the 19th for truck #63, the 33rd by reason of transmission failure, and the 350th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 36th for the #63, the 156th by reason of transmission failure, and the 1,597th for Chevrolet.

It was also Yeley’s 22nd last-place finish across NASCAR’s top three series, breaking a tie with Mike Harmon for 12th in the all-time rankings. Curiously, Harmon would play a role in Friday’s finish.

As through much of his NASCAR career, Yeley has remained a journeyman across the sport’s top three series. Since 2014, his focus has been on the XFINITY Series, where this year he moved from TriStar Motorsports to RSS Racing, teamed with Ryan Sieg and all-time last-place leader Jeff Green. Yeley’s best XFINITY finish was his 11th-place showing at Talladega, where Sieg and Green all finished in the lead pack. He’d also made a single Cup start at Martinsville, driving Premium Motorsports’ #55 Chevrolet to a 31st-place finish.

Prior to last Friday, Yeley’s most recent start in the Truck Series came last fall at Texas, where he ran 29th for MB Motorsports in the #63 Chevrolet. Despite their past history, Yeley was a last-minute driver change on for Charlotte. Up until Friday, Camden Murphy had been entered in the #63 truck, following a last-minute ride with TJL Racing in the #1 Chevrolet last week in Kansas. But Murphy was swapped out before opening practice, leaving him without a ride.

The driver swap at MB Motorsports was the latest of several driver and team swaps through the week. The preliminary entry list for Friday’s race saw 38 entries, meaning that six trucks would miss the cut. But on Wednesday, two teams withdrew: TJL Racing’s #1 Chevrolet, which hadn’t picked a driver for Charlotte, and Clay Greenfield, who was slated to return to his family’s #68 AMVETS Please Stand Chevrolet for the first time since his strong run at Daytona. By Friday, Joe Nemechek had withdrawn the #87 Chevrolet he was slated to run.

The remaining drama of the resulting 35-truck list went away with steady rain on Friday, cancelling qualifying and setting the field on Owner Points. The three teams washed out of the field were part-time efforts with strong entries. Korbin Forrister and All Out Motorsports have been solid in 2018, but the #7 Now Matters More Chevrolet missed out in their first attempt since Dover. Series race winner Timothy Peters was sent home with RBR Enterprises’ #92 BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors / Carquest Ford, marking the first time he’d missed the series race at Charlotte since 2007. Last to miss was Bo LeMastus, who was set to debut DGR-Crosley’s new second team, the #17 Crosley Brands Toyota.

With qualifying rained out, Yeley and the #63 team took the final starting spot on Owner Points. The truck showed some speed in practice - Yeley ran 25th of 35 trucks in Friday’s opening session, then 27th of 35 in Happy Hour.

Yeley’s truck was sponsored by, an infrequent backer of Front Row Motorsports’ Cup operation. The auction company had sponsored both Yeley’s most recent truck race at Texas, but also two other starts with Copp Motorsports’ #83 Chevrolet. As with the Mittler’s #63 and Copp’s #83 last week in Kansas, both decorated with MB Motorsports graphics, Charlotte would show cooperation between the two teams. Bayley Currey would run Copp’s #83, which carried sponsorship this time from the Ingersoll-Rand corporation.

On race night, Yeley rolled out last, but was joined at the rear by Austin Wayne Self, who was sent to a backup truck after wrecking Al Niece’s primary #22 Don’t Mess With Texas / AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet. Falling to the rear voluntarily was Timmy Hill, tabbed to pull double-duty in the #50 Crossbar E-Cigarettes Chevrolet for Beaver Motorsports. When the race started, it was Hill who was classified last, 4.293 seconds back of the leader. Hill lost another two seconds at the end of the first lap, still holding down 32nd, 6.059 seconds back.

After the completion of Lap 2, NASCAR’s leaderboard was slow in updating the intervals for the final four trucks of Yeley, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Robby Lyons, and Hill. The issue, similar to the tracking of Mike Senica’s run at Martinsville earlier this year (LINK), was likely caused by the trucks running off the pace and being lapped in the very early going. On Lap 4, Cobb’s #10 Think Realty Chevrolet was moved to last, 13.051 seconds back with a speed of just 160.815mph - more than 20mph slower than Matt Crafton’s top speed in practice of 181.129mph. On Lap 5, Yeley was classified last, having slowed onto pit road with a lap of just 105.064mph. The running order was refreshed on that circuit to show Yeley two laps down. Cobb, warned by NASCAR to pick up the pace, pulled down pit road after Lap 9, placing her 31st.

On Lap 22, the first caution fell for tire debris off Grant Enfinger’s #98 Champion Power Equipment / Curb Records Ford. By the next time by, both Cobb and Yeley had returned to the track. Yeley was still last, 19 laps down, with Cobb 8 down, 11 laps in front of Yeley’s #63. On the ensuing restart, Yeley picked up his pace from earlier, improving on his sluggish best of 168.713mph to a 170.686. Cobb, meanwhile, could only improve slightly on her best, putting up a 161.329mph.

When Stage 1 ended on Lap 32, Mike Harmon entered the last-place battle. Harmon had started 31st that night, placing him alongside Yeley in the final row. At the end of the stage, Harmon had fallen to 30th, two laps down to the leaders in his #74 Koolbox / Horizon Transport Chevrolet. Harmon continued to lose laps during the caution and through the restart, dropping him down the rankings. On Lap 38, when Stage 2 began, Harmon took 31st from Cobb, who was now nine laps down. If things stayed the same, Yeley would pass Harmon on Lap 48, dropping Harmon’s #74 to last.

But on Lap 43, Yeley, then 20 laps down, lost a 21st circuit. Then a 22nd the next time by. Just eight laps from losing last to Harmon, Yeley was now widening the gap between his truck and the #74, apparently from another trip to the garage. With 10 laps to go in Stage 2, the FS1 leaderboard showed Yeley and Harmon off the track while Cobb, still 30th, was still logging laps. Harmon returned to action on Lap 60, just before the end of Stage 2. When Yeley still didn’t return to the track, this opened up the margin between the two trucks.

Still another competitor entered the picture when Norm Benning suffered crash damage after 55 laps, dropping his #6 Zomongo / H&H Transport Chevrolet into the Bottom Five. On Lap 67, Benning took 30th from Cobb. Harmon, who continued to keep his truck running after his Lap 60 return to action, passed Benning soon after, leaving Benning’s #6 in 31st. But Benning would fall no further. By Lap 68, FS1’s leaderboard indicated that J.J. Yeley was out of the race, having not turned another lap since the 43rd circuit. Thus, Yeley secured last place by 34 laps over Benning.

Finishing 30th was Justin Fontaine, whose #45 ProMatic Automation / Superior Essex Chevrolet backed into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 82. Fontaine’s truck was the last one Harmon’s #74 passed before the finish, doing so by just two laps. Harmon came just two laps from passing 28th-place finisher Timmy Hill, who lost an engine on the #50 in the final laps.

*This marked the second-straight truck race at Charlotte where MB Motorsports’ #63 finished last. In 2017, it was Todd Peck behind the wheel. The Mittler team has now finished last in three of the most recent five Truck Series races this season.
*UPDATE (May 21): Yeley's 21 laps completed are the most by a Truck Series last-placer since the 2016 Homestead finale, where Ryan Truex completed 49 laps before engine woes. In that span, only two other times did the last-place finisher complete more than 8 laps: Caleb Holman at Eldora and Stewart Friesen at Kansas.

32) #63-J.J. Yeley / 21 laps / transmission
31) #6-Norm Benning / 55 laps / crash
30) #45-Justin Fontaine / 97 laps / crash
29) #74-Mike Harmon / 99 laps / running
28) #50-Timmy Hill / 100 laps / engine

1st) MB Motorsports (3)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (2)
3rd) Copp Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)


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