|PHOTO: NASCAR Media|
The finish came in Nemechek’s 47th series start and was his first since August 16, 2017 at Bristol, 19 races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it’s the 6th for truck #87, the 34th for an electrical issue, and the 353rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 49th for the #87, the 116th with electrical problems, and the 1,606th for Chevrolet.
Joe Nemechek began the 2018 season with a sterling 3rd-place finish in the Daytona opener, his best finish in the series since h ran runner-up to Ron Hornaday, Jr. at Watkins Glen way back on August 25, 1996. He did so driving his #87 alongside his son John Hunter Nemechek in the #8, who was collected in an accident that night and finished 25th. For much of the 2017 season, Joe’s runs in the #87 were “start-and-park” performances to help fund John Hunter’s effort. Only three times in 16 starts did Joe finish under power.
This year, those brief runs have been the exception, not the rule. For the first time since 2015, Joe and John Hunter have shared the #8 ride while his son focused on his developing XFINITY Series career in another shared ride for Chip Ganassi Racing. One week after his Daytona performance, Joe drove the #8 to a 12th-place run in Atlanta, then a 7th at Dover and a 15th at Texas. Coming into Gateway, he’d parked the #87 just four times and withdrawn the entry twice more.
With the XFINITY Series off last week, John Hunter remained in the #8 at Gateway, welcoming new sponsorship from Toenjes Brick Contracting. Joe would return to the #87 with Fleetwing rejoining longtime NEMCO supporters D.A.B. Constructors. In opening practice, Joe ran 20th, held fast to 21st in Happy Hour, and slipped to 27th in qualifying with a lap of 132.423mph (33.982 seconds). John Hunter ran 8th and 13th in those sessions, then qualified 7th.
Gateway saw 34 trucks entered for 32 spots, leaving two entries with an early ride home. First to miss the race was B.J. McLeod, originally listed to drive Rick Ware Racing’s #51 in Sonoma, who ended up driving Mike Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet. Also sent home was Camden Murphy, his second-straight DNQ in Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet. Both were faster than the five drivers who started 28th on back based on Owner Points. Slowest of them was Josh Reaume, the only driver to not turn a lap in Round 1.
Joining Reaume, who incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, were Ben Rhodes, sent to a backup truck, and Joe Nemechek, who pitted before the green. The issue was apparently tied to Nemechek’s race-ending electrical issue as he failed to complete a lap of the race.
Finishing 31st was Bryant Barnhill, whose Truck Series debut ended with an early engine problem on Premium Motorsports’ #15 WCIParts.com Chevrolet. 30th went to Dalton Sargeant, who slammed the Turn 4 wall on Lap 33, drawing the second caution of the evening.
Ross Chastain, replaced by road ringer Justin Marks in his Cup ride, had a good showing in the lead-up to the race. Driving Beaver Motorsports’ #50 VIP Racing Experience Chevrolet, Chastain put up the 12th-fastest lap in Round 1, and only wound up 23rd because he didn’t turn a lap in Round 2. A vibration left him 29th in the running order.
Rounding out the Bottom Five was outside-polesitter Christian Eckes. Making only his second Truck Series start in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #46 Mobil 1 Toyota, Eckes took the lead on Lap 37 and led the next 34 laps, taking the win under caution in Stage 2. The promising night came to an end on the ensuing restart, when contact from Stewart Friesen sent him backwards into the outside wall of Turn 2.
On top of Justin Haley’s first career win in his 37th series start, other underdogs had fine outings. Finishing 6th was Chad Finley, who was not only driving for his own brand-new team, but did so in his first series start since 2015. Finley’s #42 Auto Value Service Centers / Strutmasters.com Chevrolet rallied from an equally-strong 20th on the starting grid.
One spot ahead of Finley came Zane Smith, the ARCA regular enjoying a strong run in his series debut for DGR-Crosley.
Austin Hill finished 11th, continuing a quiet streak of five consecutive top-twenty finishes for Young’s Motorsports. The season-best performance by the #02 Chevrolet remains a 9th at Martinsville, followed closely by a 10th in Las Vegas.
And after several weeks of “start-and-park” efforts, the #63 Mittler Brothers Machine & Tool / Extreme Oil Chevrolet finished 12th, a career-best for driver Kevin Donahue. It was the best run by Mike Mittler’s MB Motorsports since last fall at Talladega, when Bobby Gerhart finished 11th.
*This marks the third-consecutive year that the last-place finisher of this event has failed to complete the opening lap, joining Brandon Brown in 2016 and Jennifer Jo Cobb last year.
*This is the first last-place finish for both Joe Nemechek and the #87 in a Truck Series race at Gateway.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #87-Joe Nemechek / 0 laps / electrical
31) #15-Bryant Barnhill / 5 laps / engine
30) #25-Dalton Sargeant / 31 laps / crash
29) #50-Ross Chastain / 43 laps / vibration
28) #46-Christian Eckes / 76 laps / crash / led 34 laps
2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) MB Motorsports (4)
2nd) Beaver Motorsports (3)
3rd) Copp Motorsports, NEMCO Motorsports, TJL Racing (1)
2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (10)
2018 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP