Sunday, July 1, 2018

CUP: Not just one, but two dramatic finishes at Chicagoland as Timmy Hill nips David Ragan for last in the final laps

PHOTO: Nigel Kinrade Photography
Timmy Hill picked up the 6th last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway when his #66 Toyota fell out with a busted oil cooler after 185 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 70th series start, was his first in the Cup Series since October 1, 2017 at Dover, 24 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it’s the 4th caused by an oil cooler, the 52nd for car #66, and 148th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 5th for an oil cooler, the 62nd for the #66, and the 296th for Toyota.

Hill’s ride at Chicagoland was fielded by Motorsports Business Management (MBM), which made the jump from XFINITY to Cup racing last year. Making the team’s first Cup start at Kansas was team owner Carl Long, his first NASCAR green flag since the sanctioning body handed down a controversial penalty in 2009. In addition to driving Long’s XFINITY Series cars, Hill drove the #66 Cup car six times, not including a relief role for Long at Darlington. The season highlight was Hill’s career-best 14th in the crash-marred round in Indianapolis, the young driver’s 200th NASCAR start.

This year, Hill has continued to split time in both Cup and XFINITY. He’s run every XFINITY Series race for MBM since he was narrowly bumped from the field at Daytona, finishing a season-best 27th at Bristol and Talladega. Chicagoland would be his fourth Cup start for MBM, following a trio of starts with Rick Ware Racing at Phoenix, Fontana, and Talladega. Hill’s best two Cup finishes this year were both in the #66, a pair of 32nd-place showings at Kansas and Charlotte. In place of the green-and-gold throwback scheme to Long’s 2009 car, the #66 that Hill drove would be black with two blue streaks on each front fender. The car carried sponsorship from CrashClaimsR.Us, the website of longtime race fan and personal injury attorney John Carter, Esq.

Chicagoland was another opportunity for Hill to run double-duty for MBM. On the XFINITY side, he drove Long’s #13 OCR Gaz Bar Toyota and started 28th, the sixth time in 14 starts that he’s qualified better than 30th (his season-best stands a 22nd at Dover). Suspension issues left him 37th, out after just 52 laps. In Cup, Hill ran 37th in both practice sessions, then qualified slowest overall with a lap of 167.567mph (32.226 seconds), more than two seconds off Paul Menard’s pole-winning run.

Although he turned the slowest lap in qualifying, Hill lined up 35th of the 39 entrants. Behind him were four drivers whose cars failed qualifying day inspection, causing all four of their times to be disallowed. Ranked by their positions in Owner Points, the group included 36th-place Martin Truex, Jr., 37th-place Denny Hamlin, 38th-place Jimmie Johnson, and last-place starter Chris Buescher in the #37 Kleenex Wet Wipes Chevrolet. Buescher had originally qualified 23rd.

Buescher didn’t hold the spot for long. During the parade and pace laps, four drivers were sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments, including Hill. The other three were Reed Sorenson in Premium Motorsports’ #7 Chevrolet, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Daniel Suarez. Sorenson was the first to drop back, followed by Stenhouse, Suarez, and finally Hill. Also voluntarily falling to the rear was B.J. McLeod, driving Hill’s old Rick Ware Racing ride in the #51 Chevrolet. McLeod drove what was clearly the red-white-and-blue Chevrolet that Cody Ware struggled with in Sonoma, the car numbers changed from #52 to #51.

When the green flag fell, Hill was at the back of the field, watching Sorenson and McLeod battle for position in front of him. He caught the pair by Lap 3, at which point a side-by-side battle developed, including the #99 St. Charles Glass & Glazing Chevrolet of Kyle Weatherman, back on the Cup circuit for the first time since last fall. Weatherman slipped to 38th by Lap 5, but Hill started to lose touch with the #99 over the next few laps.

On the 14th circuit, race leader Ryan Blaney caught sight of the last-place Hill. As Hill moved to the inside three laps later, Clint Bowyer caught Blaney for the lead, causing a hair-raising three-wide battle into Turn 1. Bowyer took the lead from Blaney soon after. On Lap 20, Hill caught the now-lapped Weatherman for 38th, dropping the #99 to last for the first time that afternoon. During this green-flag run, the StarCom Racing crew talked with Weatherman about how to adjust the track bar. Moments later, Weatherman’s teammate had struggles of his own.

Between Laps 29 and 30, Landon Cassill, back from a one-week hiatus, pulled down pit road in StarCom’s flagship #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet. The stop took much longer than normal, and Cassill quickly took last from Weatherman as the #00 lost several laps. By Lap 36, the car pulled behind the wall, the crew tweeting that the sway bar had come unhooked, forcing the team to make repairs in the garage.

Around Lap 58, as Cassill’s crew worked on the #00, David Ragan pulled into the garage area. The #38 Connor Company Ford had broken an axle, forcing extensive repairs. On Lap 67, Cassill’s #00 was rolling out of the garage, and following a pit stop near pit exit for tires and fuel, returned to the action 39 circuits behind. With Ragan’s repairs ongoing, this put the Georgia driver in real danger of his first Cup Series last-place finish in nearly five years – October 27, 2013 at Martinsville.

Ragan’s Front Row Motorsports crew also managed to piece the #38 back together after the conclusion of Stage 1, the car rolling out of its garage stall on Lap 86. He returned to the action the next time by without making a stop, now 29 laps down. He managed to hold off Cassill for last by just nine laps. Unfortunately, this return was short-lived. On Lap 93, Ragan was off the pace once more, and he pulled down pit road, then immediately into the garage on Lap 94. This time, the crew tweeted that there was a problem either in the transmission or drive train. On Lap 102, Ragan took last from Cassill, who was still running under power.

On Lap 140, Ragan was rolling out of the garage a second time, this time with repairs made as well as a new battery, though now 77 laps behind. At this point, NASCAR’s RaceView software glitched out, showing the computer-rendered #38 Ford spiraling higher and higher above the track until the speedway was no longer visible. By the time the program corrected itself on Lap 162, B.J. McLeod had pulled the #51 behind the wall for repairs of his own. McLeod had fallen 24 laps behind at that point, just 16 circuits from being passed by the running Landon Cassill. But, like Cassill and Ragan, McLeod managed to return to the action. He did so on Lap 172, at which point he was 33 laps behind in 37th. Cassill remained 38th, 40 laps back of the leaders, with Ragan running 39th and last, still 77 laps behind.

Hill didn’t re-enter the last-place battle until Lap 194, when he made what appeared to be a normal green-flag stop. Moments later, the crew pushed the #66 behind the wall, the crew chief saying “let’s get cleaned up.” The team had Hill pull the car behind the team’s transporter instead of the garage stall, and was soon the first driver listed out of the race on NBCSN’s leaderboard. With that, Hill had become the first driver to fail to finish a Cup Series race at Chicagoland since 2014. The #66 was pulled off RaceView on Lap 201.

However, since Hill was just seven laps down when he retired, it was not guaranteed that he would finish last. There were 74 laps to go at that point, and last-place David Ragan was still running 77 laps behind in last place. This meant that, for Hill to finish last, Ragan would have to finish the race under power without losing any more laps. In that scenario, Ragan would pass Hill for last with just four laps to go. Complicating matters was an approaching band of thunderstorms which threatened to stop the race short of the finish. How soon that rain came would have a direct effect on the races at both ends of the field.

As the laps wound down, Hill continued to drop down the rankings. On Lap 222, he fell behind McLeod for 37th. On Lap 227, he fell behind Cassill for 38th. Then, on Lap 243, with rain fast approaching, Ragan lost a 78th lap to race leader Kyle Busch, meaning the #38 would need to still be running with three laps to go. This he accomplished on Lap 264, dropping Hill to last with just three laps remaining.

As Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson waged their thrilling battle for the win, Hill settled down in last. Ragan finished 38th, one spot behind the #3 Dow Intellifresh Chevrolet of Austin Dillon, who ran the same number of laps before a right-front hub failure caused a small fire behind the wheel. It was Dillon's first bottom-five finish of 2018. 36th went to Cassill with McLeod rounding out the Bottom Five. Only Hill and Dillon failed to finish the race.

According to Hill's Twitter account, MBM's next Cup attempt will be at Kentucky in two weeks.

*This marked the first time a Cup Series last-place finisher fell out with a busted oil cooler since October 12, 1997, when the late Billy Standridge fell out in his #47 Cofab Steel / Jayski’s Silly Season Site Ford Thunderbird after 51 laps of the DieHard 500. It also came two days after Mike Harmon became the first driver in any of NASCAR’s top three series to fall out of a points race for that reason since Standridge.

39) #66-Timmy Hill / 185 laps / oil cooler
38) #38-David Ragan / 189 laps / running
37) #3-Austin Dillon / 189 laps / wheel hub / led 13 laps
36) #00-Landon Cassill / 224 laps / running
35) #51-B.J. McLeod / 227 laps / running

1st) TriStar Motorsports (3)
2nd) Premium Motorsports, StarCom Racing (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Germain Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (3)


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