|PHOTO: Scott Stenzel's Facebook|
The finish, which came in Stenzel’s 14th series start, was his first of the season, and his first since this same race last year on March 2, 2018, 23 races ago. In Truck Series last-place history, it was the 23rd for the #63, the 36th from electrical issues, and the 367th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 40th for the #63, the 122nd from electrical issues, and the 1,644th for Chevrolet.
The 2019 season marks D.J. Copp’s third season as a Truck Series team owner, and perhaps his most significant yet. His trucks now carry the #63 in place of Copp’s traditional #83, a change that signals the next step in his ongoing business partnership with longtime team owner Mike Mittler.
Since the Truck Series’ inception in 1995, Mittler’s MB Motorsports team has fielded race trucks from his Missouri shop. Justin Allgaier, Jamie McMurray, and Carl Edwards are just some of the drivers whose successful NASCAR careers began in his equipment. An elusive first victory for the team nearly came at Eldora, where Bobby Pierce dominated back-to-back races on the clay oval. But an ongoing battle with cancer has forced Mittler to scale back his involvement with the team. The “Stand Up To Cancer” initiative saluted Mittler’s fight last fall at Martinsville on the 63rd lap.
Who would drive for Copp this season turned into a strange story. Last November, Copp jokingly tweeted a picture of Jeremy Mayfield standing next to his truck, hinting at a comeback despite Mayfield’s ongoing suspension from NASCAR dating back to 2009. Around the same time, Mike Senica tweeted that he would be driving for Copp, returning to the series for the first time since last spring at Martinsville, where Senica was parked for failing to heed instructions from NASCAR officials. This, too, was debunked by Copp, who later revealed that ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart would again drive the #63 at Daytona, as he had under Mittler’s ownership.
During that wild season opener, Gerhart managed to avoid nearly all of the night’s multi-truck accidents – nearly, that is, until he crashed out of a Top 5 in overtime following a tangle with Austin Wayne Self and Stewart Friesen. At Atlanta, Timmy Hill ran double-duty with the XFINITY Series on the same afternoon. Hill, swapped in for Gerhart on the preliminary entry list, exited after 53 laps with brake issues. Stenzel was then brought on to make his season debut at Las Vegas, and soon after welcomed new sponsorship from mattress company Personal Comfort.
Stenzel began the weekend slowest of the 29 drivers who turned laps in the opening practice session, having run the fewest circuits of anyone (three). He improved somewhat in Happy Hour, climbing to 28th of 31 that participated. In qualifying, he ranked 30th, settling on Owner Points with a lap of 165.965mph (32.537 seconds). This time, he outpaced both Josh Reaume and last-place starter Norm Benning.
Benning trailed a field of 32 despite some additions and subtractions from the preliminary entry list. Chad Finley’s team was forced to withdraw their #42 Chevrolet following a bizarre incident at Atlanta where the hauler driver attempted to exit through a tunnel that was too small for his truck. Next to pull out was the #49 CMI Installations Chevrolet of Ray Ciccarelli, who like Finley's team had made both of the season’s first two races in his first full season as owner-driver. Taking the place of the two was Korbin Forrister, whose All Out Motorsports team hadn’t been entered in Friday’s race, then joined in to keep the field full. Forrister ultimately finished 14th on Friday, his best finish of the young season.
Another small team made headlines with his qualifying run. Two weeks after being wrecked in a late-race battle for the lead at Daytona, and one week after a solid 16th-place run in Atlanta, Cory Roper put his #04 Preferred Industrial Contractors Ford 4th on the speed charts in Round 1, then held on to take 5th in Round 2. It was far and away Roper’s best qualifying run, supplanting a 17th-place start in his team’s debut at Martinsville last year. Unfortunately, Roper’s night wouldn’t end with him so close to the lead. When the race started, Roper found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle off Turn 2, and was then routed out of the inside groove after a door-banging battle with Stewart Friesen.
Meanwhile, at the back of the pack, Josh Reaume’s unsponsored #33 Chevrolet held down last after trailing the field to the green flag, then conceded the spot to Norm Benning on Lap 3. Reaume and Benning soon had two-second gaps between each other and the rest of the field, and Benning fell four seconds back of Reaume when the first caution came on Lap 7.
It was in this caution that Roper’s night took a turn for the worse. Sheldon Creed, who started 9th in his #2 AM Ortega / United Rentals Chevrolet, spun off the fourth corner, forcing the field to accordion behind him. In the smoke, Roper, running 12th at the time, tangled with the slowing Matt Crafton, shoving in the nose of the #04. Still under power, Roper made it down pit road. Crafton took last on Lap 8, followed by Ben Rhodes on Lap 9, then Roper on the 10th go-round. Extensive repairs on pit road made Roper the first driver to lose a lap to the leaders. He’d lose a second by Lap 26, and by then was on the same lap as Benning in 31st. Roper passed Benning for the spot on Lap 37.
As Benning took the last spot, Stenzel had pulled behind the wall, citing an electrical issue. This dropped the #63 to the final spot on Lap 38, during which time the crew looked under the hood for the problem. Radio communications indicated the team suspected the battery, then the alternator, but found no issues with either of them. On Lap 49, a crewman said “We’re not gonna have anything to gain, guys. Pack it up.” On the 55th lap, the crew determined the battery and alternator were okay, but the issue hadn’t been resolved. The response: “10-4 buddy, let’s load this shit up and get outta here.” A crewman thanked Stenzel and the spotter for their help with the “one-man band” as they called it a night.
Finishing 31st was Stefan Parsons, whose 2019 debut came with Beaver Motorsports’ #1 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet, a truck that had been withdrawn from both Daytona and Atlanta after making the preliminary entry list. After running on the lead lap in Stages 1 and 2, Parsons cited an issue with the transmission, saying it wouldn’t shift from third to fourth on a restart. The crew worked behind the wall, then were unable to push-start the truck to get it fired again, ultimately ending their night. Carburetor problems were the cited cause. “I think it’s toast,” said the crew. The team left disappointed, stating they thought they had a chance at a Top 20.
Daytona winner Austin Hill took 30th, joining all drivers but 28th-place Norm Benning in scoring their first bottom-five finishes of 2019. Hill started 6th in HRE’s #16 A&D Welding Toyota, but a mid-race overheating issue forced the team behind the wall with a blown engine. Spencer Boyd, who also started the year strong at Daytona, fell out soon after with engine issues of his own on the #20 1A Auto Chevrolet.
On his third consecutive weekend of running triple-duty, Ross Chastain ran in the Top 5 for most of the night, his #45 TruNorth Chevrolet running as high as 3rd in the first two stages, then leading on the final exchange of pit stops. Unfortunately, the good run went away on the final pit stop when his truck stalled after a fuel-only stop. The miscue cost Chastain a lap and left him 10th.
One spot ahead of Chastain came the #17 Dexcom Toyota of Ryan Reed, who finished 9th in his first Truck Series start since September 28, 2012, when he ran 17th for Richie Wauters. An XFINITY Series regular until his Roush-Fenway Racing ride closed its doors at the end of 2018, Reed hadn’t even attempted a Truck Series race since the 2016 opener at Daytona, where he failed to qualify.
For more on Copp Motorsports’ efforts with the Mittler team, check out this article by Amanda Vincent of Auto Racing Daily.
*Friday’s finish was significant for truck #63, which not only trailed the third of the last four series races at Las Vegas, but also broke a tie with the #93 for the second-most last-place runs in Truck Series history (the lead remains #0 with 46). The number’s most recent last-place run came August 11, 2018, when Timmy Hill’s #63 Fr8Auctions.com Chevrolet had suspension issues after 7 laps of the Corrigan Oil 200.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #63-Scott Stenzel / 34 laps / electrical
31) #1-Stefan Parsons / 67 laps / carburetor
30) #16-Austin Hill / 82 laps / engine
29) #20-Spencer Boyd / 108 laps / engine
28) #6-Norm Benning / 121 laps / running
2019 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, NEMCO Motorsports (1)
2019 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Toyota (1)
2019 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP