Friday, August 2, 2019

TRUCKS: Austin Hill handed first career last-place finish after Eldora “yard sale”

PHOTO: @Hattori_Racing
Austin Hill picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Thursday’s Eldora Dirt Derby at the Eldora Speedway when his #16 United Rentals Toyota fell out due to crash damage after he completed 79 of the night’s 150 laps.

The finish came in Hill’s 66th series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 5th for the #16, the 34th for Toyota, and the 153rd from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th for the #16, the 319th for Toyota, and the 1,189th from a crash.

Hill has been active in the Truck Series since late 2014, when he ran 26th in his series debut at Martinsville for Ricky Benton Racing. Two years later, his family fielded a truck of its own, yielding what was then a career-best 12th-place finish in Atlanta, just his seventh series start. The team was then absorbed into Young’s Motorsports, and by 2018 became a full-time effort. After years of running with limited sponsorship, United Rentals signed on for the first part of the season. He finished 9th at Martinsville, 8th in Mosport, then a first top-five finish that November in Texas.

Hill’s solid 2018 season earned him a new ride with Hattori Racing Enterprises, the defending Truck Series Champions. Brett Moffitt had carried the #16 Toyota team to an improbable title that year, capitalizing on six wins, many of which decided in the final laps. Hill and his United Rentals sponsorship was brought on in place of Moffitt, who was bumped over to GMS Racing’s #24 team. At Daytona, their first race together, Hill scored his first career Truck Series victory, outlasting the field in a crash-marred 111-lap endurance race that locked the team into their second Playoffs in a row.

Since Daytona, Hill has earned three poles and two more top-five finishes, but has struggled to find consistency. Heading into Eldora, he’d been bitten by two straight early-race mechanical issues – a blown engine at Kentucky that placed him 31st, and a burned clutch at Pocono that left him 30th. Another mechanical issue during qualifying prevented Hill from putting Hattori’s team into the XFINITY race at Daytona earlier that month. Hill was also the victim of an on-track scuffle with Johnny Sauter at Iowa. When Hill bumped Sauter into a spin in the final laps, Sauter retaliated by wrecking the #16, leading NASCAR to park Sauter. Hill managed to finish just 12th that day, the last truck on the lead lap.

While the HRE team has historically run some very colorful paint schemes in the past, Hill’s #16 at Eldora was one of many plain white-painted machines in the field. The truck ran 19th in opening practice and 14th in Happy Hour. With no single-truck qualifying for this first time in this race’s history, the Heat Races would be set by combining these practice times. This put Hill 4th on the grid for Heat Race 4. Hill maintained that 4th position in the 10-lap heat, won by Thursday’s eventual race winner Stewart Friesen, thus avoiding the Last Chance Qualifier. Hill would line up 19th for the 150-lap main event.

Thursday also marked the first time the Dirt Derby had exactly 32 trucks for as many spots, meaning no teams were sent home after the Last Chance Qualifier. The LCQ went to Tyler Ankrum, while Norm Benning edged Mason Massey for the runner-up spot, securing them 26th and 27th on the grid. While positions 28 through 32 were to be set based on Owner Points, the 32nd spot ended up with Austin Wayne Self, who was the only driver to fail to finish any of the Heats. Self’s #22 Go Texan / AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet struggled in Heat Race 1, then spun out twice in the LCQ with the second spin costing him a lap to Ankrum. He pulled behind the wall on Lap 8, and was shown out of his truck with the steering wheel on the roof.

When the green flag fell for the main event, Self made quick work of 31st-place starter Devin Dodson, who was also sent to the LCQ after he spun out in Heat Race 3. Dodson’s white #32 Chevrolet, one of three entries from Reaume Brothers Racing, was 5.392 seconds back of the leader at the start, then 8.146 seconds back at the end of Lap 1. Two circuits later, he passed another driver making his series debut – former TJL Racing crew chief Darwin Peters, Jr. Peters was tabbed to drive the #74 J.R. Peters Roadside Auto Chevrolet fielded by Lou Goss, the same Lou Goss who acquired Mike Harmon’s truck and ran it briefly in Gateway. Peters then caught and re-passed Dodson on Lap 8, at which point the #32 was shown two laps down, likely due to an unscheduled pit stop.

On Lap 29, Dodson passed another driver who was struggling early. Jake Griffin finished 4th in the 2016 race at Eldora for Red Horse Racing, and was back at the track driving for Mike Affarano, the last-place finisher in 2014. Griffin gave the #03 Chevrolet a strong run in Heat Race 3, challenging Todd Gilliland’s Kyle Busch Motorsports entry for 2nd before a late-race caution dropped him back to 4th. While trying to pick his way through traffic, Griffin cut down a right-front tire and spun, forcing him to limp onto pit road. He lost at least two laps in the process, which eventually dropped him beneath Dodson in the rankings. Griffin did manage to re-pass Dodson with four to go in Stage 1, dropping the #32 back to last place.

The next part of the race saw several big teams suddenly struggle. First was Brett Moffitt, whose #24 Arlon Graphics Chevrolet came in for an extended stop due to an overheating issue. As the team hooked up the cool-down machine, the #24 lost two laps, dropping him down to 30th. He returned to action by Lap 63, when a large pileup unfolded in Turn 1. Heading into the corner, Christian Eckes spun his #51 Mobil 1 Toyota and slid into the outside groove. This trapped a long line of traffic that had already committed to the high lane, triggering a multi-truck accident. It was this accident that brought Hill into last-place contention. Caught in the middle of the pack, Hill suffered extensive damage to the right-front corner of his Toyota, forcing an extended stay on pit road. While Griffin retook last place from Dodson on Lap 65, it was Hill who took it from Griffin on Lap 74.

Immediately after this came Harrison Burton, in still another Kyle Busch Motorsports truck with struggles of its own. Burton’s #18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota came down pit road, and the crew looked under the hood as the driver complained of a possible belt coming loose. The repairs dropped Burton to last on Lap 78. Like Hill, Burton had yet to finish last in any of his 29 Truck Series starts. By the end of Stage 2, the gap between Burton and Hill had widened to 12 laps, and it appeared that Burton would take the spot from Hill. But by Lap 96, Burton was back on the track and closing the gap on Hill, who was still off the track. The interval was between six and eight laps by then – the range due to scoring issues on the NASCAR app’s leaderboard – and on Lap 103, Burton finally dropped Hill to last place. As it turned out, Hill was the only driver to fail to finish the main event.

Burton would climb no further, taking 31st with 30th-place Dodson on the same lap as 29th-place Moffitt. Moffit and Dodson earned their first Bottom Fives of 2019. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Gus Dean, who was eight laps down in the #12 Chevrolet.

Winning the race was Stewart Friesen, who saw a streak of his own finally end with his first career victory in his 63rd series start. The victory, where he led 57 laps, came following six career runner-up finishes and two last-place finishes, most recently the last round at Pocono just five days prior, where he wrecked in the first turn.

Darwin Peters, Jr. finished a solid 17th in the Lou Goss #74.
PHOTO: Justin Orminski, @AM1520Justin
Mike Marlar came home 4th in his first career Truck Series start, giving Reaume Brothers Racing their first top-five finish in 51 combined starts. Marlar’s #33 Chevrolet had originally been scheduled to be sponsored by Marathon Oil, his backer in the Dirt Modified ranks, but NASCAR forced the team to remove those decals due to a conflict with Sunoco as the sport’s official fuel supplier (although Marathon backed Cup cars for Joe Auer and Petty Enterprises from 2004 through 2008, the first five years of Sunoco’s partnership). Coming on board was Smithfield Homes, Chad Finchum’s backer in the XFINITY Series, which Marlar gave a fine showing on Thursday.

Tyler Dippel returned to the site of his own Cup debut last year and equaled his career-best 8th-place finish earlier this year in Texas in the Randy Young-owned #02 Lobas Productions / Jersey Filmmaker Chevrolet. After the checkered flag fell, however, Dippel and Ben Rhodes banged fenders over their late-race battle, then nearly came to blows in the garage area.

Justin Shipley’s fourth consecutive start in the Dirt Derby with Jacob Wallace Racing yielded a career-best 11th-placce finish, his first run better than 25th. Shipley did this after a herculean effort by the team after his #80 Roger’s Ford was seriously damaged when it ran over an errant chunk of lead during practice, then pulled an incredible move to avoid a spinning Ross Chastain late in the race.

Three more dirt track specialists yielded impressive finishes in their first-ever Truck Series starts. Mark Smith finished 15th in Al Niece’s #38 Chevrolet, a team that just last week was a last-minute entry to fill the field at Pocono. Tim Ward and the new Kart Idaho team made the most of their test in Iowa, hanging onto the lead lap for much of the night and finishing 16th in the #08 Country AF Radio Toyota. Perhaps most impressive was Darwin Peters, Jr., who after losing a lap in his heat race and briefly holding last in the main earned the final Lucky Dog with 12 laps to go and kept it, finishing 17th in the former Harmon truck.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #16 in a NASCAR national touring series’ dirt track race since April 1, 1951, when Cliff Woodson’s Oldsmobile crashed out of a Cup race on the Charlotte dirt track. Interestingly, the #16 wouldn’t finish last in another Cup race until 1969, when Don Schissler trailed the inaugural event at Talladega.
*Hill’s was the first Toyota to finish last in the Eldora Dirt Derby.

32) #16-Austin Hill / 79 laps / crash
31) #18-Harrison Burton / 127 laps / running
30) #32-Devin Dodson / 141 laps / running
29) #24-Brett Moffitt / 141 laps / running
28) #12-Gus Dean / 142 laps / running

1st) NEMCO Motorsports (3)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
3rd) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Halmar Friesen Racing, Hattori Racing Enterprises, Niece Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, ThorSport Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Toyota (2)
3rd) Ford (1)



UnderdogFan89 said...

Do you happen to know when the last time someone finished last one week and follower it up with a win the following week?

Brock Beard said...

That's a good question. I think it's happened pretty recently, but I'll have to look.

UnderdogFan89 said...

How about it happening twice in a weekend! Both Friesen and Elliot.

Brock Beard said...

Now THAT may have never happened before!