Sunday, August 25, 2019

TRUCKS: Stumbling engine sends Ray Ciccarelli home early in Canada

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard
Ray Ciccarelli picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park when his #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after 2 of 64 laps.

The finish, which came in Ciccarelli’s 16th series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since November 17, 2017, when he trailed the Homestead finale when engine troubles stopped him on the first lap. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 48th for the #0, the 155th from engine trouble, and the 379th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 88th for the #0, the 1,074th from engine woes, and the 1,682nd for Chevrolet.

Two weeks ago, Ciccarelli turned heads with his first career top-ten finish, surviving the chaos at Michigan to steer his truck home 9th. He was driving for his own team, CMI Motorsports, which came together after Jay Robinson closed his Truck Series effort at the end of last year, inheriting truck #49. The start-up was formed with the funding of he and his wife’s company CMI Installations, a furniture company with 37 employees which has installed such fixtures as floor-to-ceiling glass walls in his native Maryland. The race team, however, has just two full-time employees, making the Michigan run that much more impressive.

“Yeah, we’re pretty excited,” said Ciccarelli on Sunday. “[W]e don’t have no sponsors or nothing, nor do we have engineers or factory backing, so to be able to run the Top Ten is like a win as far as I’m concerned. Hell, I’m happy if I run 18th or 22nd, ‘cause a lot of these places I haven’t been to and you’re racing some of the best there is I mean between the ThorSport guys, the Kyle Busch guys, and to have a chance to race with them guys is an honor.”

The #49 team was just the latest step in the 49-year-old driver’s career, which has seen him come from dirt cars, asphalt late models, and street stocks to part-time efforts in the K&N Pro Series East and ARCA Menards Series. “We love doing this,” said Ciccarelli of his team. “I ain’t getting no younger and don’t have a lot of years left, so I’m just trying to enjoy a childhood dream. . .It’s a ladder you’ve gotta climb, but at the end of the day, it’s all about money.”

Ciccarelli pulls into the garage area during the race.
Sunday’s race in Canada was Ciccarelli’s first start since that Michigan run, though his CMI team wouldn’t be making the journey. He would instead drive for owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb, who gave Ciccarelli his first series start at Eldora in 2017, and all but two of his runs since prior to becoming a team owner. The Cobb team faced adversity in that same Michigan race after Daniel Sasnett wrecked the team’s second truck, the #0 Chevrolet, which also made them the race’s lone DNQ from a 33-truck entry list. The wreck left Cobb with only three functioning trucks in her shop, one of them reserved only for superspeedways. Of the two remaining entries, Cobb’s white #10 was their “Old Reliable,” which ran the last several rounds at Pocono, Michigan, and Bristol. The #0 running in place of Sasnett’s entry had engine issues at Eldora, and the team hoped the issue was fixed for Ciccarelli’s run at Mosport. The truck also ran white wheels with AM Racing’s #22 on the rims.

Both Cobb trucks were guaranteed starting spots in Sunday’s race as just 28 entries for 32 positions made the preliminary entry list. D.J. Kennington joined several of his fellow Pinty’s Series competitors when he was tabbed to replace a suspended Tyler Dippel in the Young’s Motorsports #02 on Saturday. The group also grew to 29 following the late addition of a fourth entry fielded by Josh Reaume. While Reaume was running his own Toyota in place of Joe Nemechek’s #8, Canadians Dan Corcoran ran the #33 and Jason White in the #34, a new #32 joined the roster.

Driving the last-minute #32 entry was Reaume crew chief Greg Rayl, who had a short outing in his series driving debut at Gateway when he crashed in Cobb’s #0. Rayl’s weekend also got off to a difficult start when a dog wandered onto the track. “I don’t know, nobody seems to see me in qualifying. I was on the backstretch and this dog come out of the woods and I clobbered the poor thing. It was terrible. I don’t know if he made it or not.” The affable Rayl looked for better things, and remarked on his nickname “Short Stack,” indicated on the roof rails of his #32. “Beats me,” he said of the nickname’s origin. “Somehow, we go to pancake houses in the morning before races and stuff and order pancakes and somehow they said ‘you’re short stack, that’s your new nickname.’ And I’m short. I’m 5’5” so it kind of fits, and I like pancakes anyway, so I’m good with it.” “Maybe Phoenix, I’ve raced there a couple times, so it would be nice to go back to that track and have some fun.”

The track proved treacherous for others further up the entry list as three separate accidents occurred in Saturday practice. Local hero Stewart Friesen struck the Turn 1 barriers with the right-front of his #52 Halmar International Chevrolet, sending the team to a backup. The same fate awaited Sheldon Creed, who dug up dirt with the splitter of his #2 Chevrolet Accessories Chevrolet as the tires shortened the front end of his machine.

Ciccarelli climbs out of his truck as officials look on.
An even harder hit was suffered by Jordan Anderson, both literally and figuratively, as his #3 Bommarito.com / WCIParts.com Chevrolet lost its brakes into a corner and backed into the wall hard enough to destroy the rear clip. Worse yet, Anderson didn’t have a backup truck as he was also fielding entries for brothers Bobby and Roger Reuse of sponsor WCIParts.com with help from Hill Motorsports and Roper Racing. If the team couldn’t somehow repair Anderson’s truck, he would become the second “did not start” in the Truck Series’ brief history at Mosport, joining Robert Mitten after a similar wreck in 2015. And so, while the Halmar and GMS teams worked on backup trucks, the Anderson team cut away the rear clip and began piecing the Chevrolet back together. By race morning, the team had straightened all the parts nearly perfect again, one-upping Anderson’s scramble to get a battered Bolen Motorsports truck back into the Eldora main event in 2016.

“I ran dirt late models for two years and I felt like I was at the dirt track, because at the dirt track you’ve knock a door in or a quarter panel, just take it back off and knock it out and put it back on the car. And that’s what we did yesterday, I mean, Wally my crew chief, Danie, Cody, Dylan, Kyle, guys from other teams over here – Roper, Roper’s guys, Crag Whitbeck, Chris – so many guys helped us make this thing look like a race truck again. We had the whole back end of the thing cut off and put it back on. We’ve got bear bond, wrap put over the bear bond to make it look blue again. . .it’s a testament to how hard a group of guys we have, how hard they work.” Anderson ultimately finished 16th in a truck whose rear clip has to be cut off again back at the shop.

All of this preceded qualifying, where Norm Benning took the last spot in his own return to the circuit for the first time since Michigan, where he finished last with engine woes (LINK). This time, it was Ciccarelli who had problems under the hood. After just two laps in practice, the truck sounded rough as it came by on each of its at least three qualifying laps, sounding like a dropped cylinder as it ran off the pace. His speed of 86.068mph (1 minute, 42.854 seconds) was the slowest completed lap, 3.8 seconds slower than the next-slowest truck of Rayl in the #32. Benning turned laps in qualifying, but no speed was recorded, classifying behind both Ciccarelli and Rayl.

On the first pace lap, Cicarelli moved behind Benning, and Rayl joined him just prior to the start. By the end of Lap 1, Rayl fell behind Ciccarelli, and both trucks were trailing the rest of the field. The gap widened significantly the next time by, when Ciccarelli was sputtering even further back. Rayl didn’t enter the final corners until the leaders lapped him as he came to pit road, then returned to the track. At the end of Lap 3, Ciccarelli was also about to be lapped on track when he pulled down pit road, the made a hard left turn into the garage. The driver climbed out, and they were done for the day.

“Motor problems, man,” said Ciccarelli. “It’s been motor problems since we got here. Supposedly they had the same problems at Eldora and got it fixed, but it was just as bad, so no sense trying to blow the thing up. . .I don’t know if it was a carburetor, a distributor – whatever it is, it ain’t right (laughs).” Despite the disappointment, the driver looked ahead to returning to his team. “I’m probably gonna take my truck maybe to Vegas, if not maybe Phoenix and Miami at the end of the year.” Ciccarelli changed into his street clothes and left the track before the end of Stage 1.

Ciccarelli leaving the track
in Stage 1.
As our interview wrapped, Rayl had already pulled behind his hauler just a few stalls away. The window net remained up, and the crew put a jack and jack stands under the driver’s side to set to work. The issue was a shifter linkage that was stuck, and he returned to the track multiple laps down. In the end, he only turned two more laps than Ciccarelli before he re-entered the garage from the forward entrance near the start / finish line. This time, Rayl was done for the day. He’d soon have to resume his duties as crew chief for the Reaume Brothers team as teammate Dan Corcoran wrecked the #33 Corcoran Excavating / Hughson Batteries Chevrolet. Rayl brought over the team’s jacks and inspected the truck before it was loaded up.

Finishing 26th was Josh Reaume himself, whose run in his own Toyota was saddled with suspension issues that took him out of the race in the final laps. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Roger Reuse in the #04 Belimo Chevrolet after he’d served a black flag for a malfunctioning radio. Brother Bobby finished three spots ahead in the Hill #56.

Flying under the radar the entire weekend was Gary Klutt, who was running double duty with the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. Klutt was brought on to drive Al Niece’s #44 Color Compass Corp. Chevrolet, starting the weekend 17th in opening practice and 16th in Happy Hour. With some aggressive moves off the final corner, Klutt worked his way past Playoff contender Grant Enfinger in the final laps, ultimately finishing a strong 12th. It was also the fourth top-twenty finish for the #44 team in the last six races.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the fifth last-place finish for the Cobb team at Mosport and the fourth for the #0. Both most recently trailed this event in 2017, when Tommy Regan lost an engine without completing a lap.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
29) #0-Ray Ciccarelli / 2 laps / engine
28) #32-Greg Rayl / 4 laps / transmission
27) #33-Dan Corcoran / 27 laps / crash
26) #8-Josh Reaume / 50 laps / suspension
25) #04-Roger Reuse / 58 laps / running

2019 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, NEMCO Motorsports (3)
2nd) Norm Benning Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
3rd) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Halmar Friesen Racing, Hattori Racing Enterprises, JJL Motorsports, Niece Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing, ThorSport Racing (1)

2019 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (14)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)

2019 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

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