Saturday, May 11, 2019

TRUCKS: Late entry, qualifying crash, driver swap hand Joey Gase first series last-place finish

PHOTO: @DnfRacers
Joey Gase picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s Digital Ally 250 at the Kansas Speedway when his #10 Osage Contractors Chevrolet fell out with chassis issues without completing any of the 167 laps.

The finish came in Gase’s third series start, and now gives the driver at least one last-place run in each of NASCAR’s top three series. In Truck Series last-place history, it was the 19th for the #10 and the 371st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 123rd for the #10 and the 1,657th for Chevrolet. It was also the first time a last-place finisher of a points race in NASCAR’s top three series fell out with “chassis” issues, making it the 125th different reason out in NASCAR national series history.

Up until the middle of last week, Gase was only slated to run Saturday’s Cup race for Carl Long’s team, Motorsports Business Management. In a rare off-weekend for the XFINITY Series, where Gase drives MBM’s #35 Toyota, the driver would also debut Long’s new second Cup car. Joining Timmy Hill in the blue #66, a part-time effort, would be Gase’s black #46. The number held special significance for Long, as it was the number the veteran campaigned for his first team a decade ago, when a controversial penalty following the All-Star Open race shut down his program and kept him out of NASCAR’s top series. It would be Gase’s fourth Cup start of the season, following all ten of the first XFINITY races. Gase swept the last-place finishes of both series in Las Vegas. As it turned out, both Gase and Hill would run both races.

A double-duty weekend for both Gase and Hill was the result of the Truck Series’ first short field since October 14, 2017 at Talladega. Just 28 trucks appeared on the preliminary entry list, and ultimately two of those – All Out Motorsports’ #7 and On Point Motorsports’ #30 – withdrew by Wednesday. Coming to the rescue were four underdogs – Bayley Currey in the previously un-entered and unsponsored Beaver Motorsports #1 Toyota, and three backup trucks fielded by Niece Motorsports (#38 with T.J. Bell), NEMCO Motorsports (#87 with Hill), and Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing (#0 with Gase).

Gase’s white #0 Chevrolet, identical to Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 Chevrolet but for the sponsor decals, began the weekend 22nd of 23 drivers in opening practice, outpacing Josh Bilicki, set to make his series debut in the Reaume Brothers’ #34 Chevrolet. Gase didn’t participate in Happy Hour, and prepared to roll off 10th in the qualifying order, one spot behind Cobb. Unfortunately, it was on Cobb’s run that she clipped the apron of Turn 4 and backed into the outside wall, pushing in the rear clip. She somehow avoided splitter damage by slowing as she reached the infield grass. After a brief delay, Gase put up the 27th-fastest lap of 165.477mph (32.633 seconds).

Similar to Gateway in 2017, when Cobb started a damaged truck after a similar incident, the crew managed to piece the truck together. The team also elected to swap Cobb into the #0 for the planned full-race run, putting Gase in the #10 for a “start-and-park.” The driver swap would incur both drivers tail-end penalties. “That was a bad day,” the crew told Cobb as she fired up #0, “but it’s night now – it’s gonna get better.” The driver change was so late that this and other radio communications came over the parked #10’s channel instead of the one listed for #0.

Prior to the start, the Cobb duo would be joined by Currey’s #1, whose team had to make unapproved adjustments for a flat-sounding engine that aborted their qualifying attempt. “You know the deal here,” said Currey’s crew. “We’ll try to keep it clean.”

When the command to fire engines was given, 16th-place starter Jordan Anderson in the #3 / BG Services Chevrolet failed to start, and the line was held up before he started rolling. Once the green flag flew, Gase pulled into the garage without completing a lap, and was joined four circuits later by Currey. Hill came next, another four laps later.

For most of Stage 1, the next spot in 27th belonged to Johnny Sauter, whose #13 Tenda Ford stopped on the track after 20 laps with an unusual transmission failure that required more than 60 circuits in the garage. Sauter finally returned to the track and clawed his way out of the Bottom Five to finish 22nd. This dropped the final two spots to Austin Wayne Self with engine issues on the #22 Go Texan / AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet and the final last-minute entry of T.J. Bell in the #38 Niece Equipment Chevrolet.

Josh Reaume finished just outside the Bottom Ten in 20th, one spot ahead of Norm Benning in 21st. The extra Bottom Ten by Benning pulls him into a tie with Reaume for the 2019 LASTCAR Truck Series lead. Reaume retains the lead on a bottom-fifteen tiebreaker of 5-4.

Friday’s race proved emotional for the series’ underdogs for two very different reasons.

Earlier that day, Mike Mittler passed away after a lengthy illness. Mittler, whose team MB Motorsports had competed in every Truck Series season since the inaugural campaign in 1995, fielded a combined 301 entries. His driver roster included Cup race winners Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray, XFINITY winner Justin Allgaier, and the late Tony Roper, who the team raced on in his memory since a fatal accident at Texas in 2000. The team came closest to victory lane in 2015, when dirt track ace Bobby Pierce won the pole at Eldora, led 39 laps, and finished 2nd to Christopher Bell. It turned out to be MB’s only top-five finish. The team, now under the command of D.J Copp, wasn’t among the entrants in Friday’s race.

Then came the finish, which was settled between two hard-luck drivers, each looking for their first series win. In the final laps, race leader Stewart Friesen was in position to finally break through after five runner-up finishes, but he’d left early from a four-tire stop, preventing the #52 team from filling the fuel tank. This proved problematic as in 2nd was a hard-charging Ross Chastain, the only driver to finish Top Ten in every Truck Series race in 2019. Eight months after his first XFINITY Series win with a Chip Ganassi team he was set to run full-time before a catastrophic sponsorship issue, Chastain was the only driver to run every Cup, XFINITY, and Truck race in 2019. Driving for an Al Niece team that didn’t score a Top Ten of their own in their first full season two years ago, Chastain kept the race close, forcing Friesen to run out of fuel with three laps to go. Chastain pulled away, and in his 66th series start dating back to 2011, broke through with his first Truck Series victory.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #10 in a Truck Series race at Kansas.

30) #10-Joey Gase / 0 laps / chassis
29) #1-Bayley Currey / 4 laps / electrical
28) #87-Timmy Hill / 8 laps / vibration
27) #22-Austin Wayne Self / 26 laps / engine
26) #38-T.J. Bell / 44 laps / electrical

1st) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, NEMCO Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (1)


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