Sunday, February 23, 2020

TRUCKS: Josh Bilicki’s handling woes give truck #34 first last-place finish since 2002

PHOTO: Sebastian LaForge, @WookieAutomoTV
Josh Bilicki picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series career in Friday’s Strat 200 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #34 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet fell out with handling issues after 3 of 134 laps.

The finish came in Bilicki’s 6th series start. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 4th for the #34, the 18th from handling issues, and the 385th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th for the #34, the 122nd from handling woes, and the 1,704th for Chevrolet.

It was with this same Reaume Brothers Racing team that Bilicki, the road course racer turned NASCAR journeyman, made his first Truck Series starts just last year. His series debut came last spring at Kansas, where he finished a season-best 18th. After failing to qualify at Charlotte, he followed this run with two more Top 20 performances, running 19th at Chicagoland and 20th in Kentucky. Electrical issues in the Homestead finale ended the streak with a 30th-place finish.

Over the offseason, Bilicki has shored up his business relationship with sponsor Insurance King, which has backed a number of the driver’s races in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. Among the perks is a former show car trailer from Gray Gaulding’s tenure with SS-Green Light Racing, which was redecorated as the #53 Bilicki has run in Cup for Rick Ware Racing. The sponsor was again with him last week in Daytona, where in the XFINITY race, he ran 21st for team owner B.J. McLeod.

However, at Las Vegas, Bilicki’s first Truck Series start of the season would come in a #34 Chevrolet with no primary sponsorship, and he’d face some difficulties on the track. This came after a rollercoaster week for the Reaume team in Daytona, where the #34 was forced to withdraw after a part failure in practice, teammate Angela Ruch’s #00 was destroyed in a mid-race accident, but Canadian racer Jason White earned a career-best 10th-place finish in the #33.

Bilicki was one of 35 drivers entered for Friday’s 32-truck field. He turned just one lap in opening practice and was ranked next-to-last, besting only Bayley Currey, who didn’t complete a lap in Ray Ciccarelli’s #49 Springrates Chevrolet. The truck struggled for speed even more in qualifying as Bilicki put up the slowest completed lap at just 144.768mph (37.301 seconds), more than seven full seconds off the pole speed. Still, the #34 team’s rank in Owner Points secured Bilicki the 32nd and final starting spot. Sent home were three trucks in the 31-32 second range: Currey’s #49, Korbin Forrister in the #7 All Out Toyota, and Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #10 Chevrolet. Cobb has yet to qualify for a race in 2020.

Prior to the start, Bilicki was joined at the back by Cory Roper for an engine change on his #04 Carquest Ford, plus unapproved adjustment penalties for the #00 DWF Flooring & Cabinets Toyota of Angela Ruch, who spun coming off pit road for her qualifying lap, Stefan Parsons, a late driver swap on Thursday into Ray Ciccarelli’s #83 Springrates Chevrolet, and Matt Crafton in the #88 Black Label Bacon / Menards Ford.

Friday’s race had barely started when, for the second-straight race, Derek Kraus found trouble early, dropping him to last place. This time, the incident was on Lap 2, when his #19 ENEOS / NAPA Filters Toyota spun in Turn 4 and made contact with the right-rear of his truck. Two laps later under the caution, NASCAR officials reported Bilicki had pulled his #34 behind the wall. Scoring, however, showed the Kraus first lose the last spot to Tate Fogleman, who lost two laps in his #02 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet. On Lap 6, Fogleman was then shown in 31st, one lap down, as Bilicki took over the last spot, two circuits back.

While the position would not change again, it was not until Lap 96 – 38 laps to go – when NASCAR officials confirmed Bilicki was out of the race with handling issues.

It took nearly the rest of the race to complete the Bottom Five. Taking 30th and 31st were Raphael Lessard in the #4 Mobil 1 Toyota and last week’s Daytona winner Grant Enfinger in the #98 Protect The Harvest / Curb Records Ford, who brought out the night’s final caution when they spun out racing for position. Finishing 29th was Stefan Parsons, whose turn for Ciccarelli saw him charge into the Top 15 before persistent engine issues which forced several unscheduled stops, leaving them 22 laps down. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Timmy Hill, who parlayed pit strategy to restart among the leaders late in the race, only to lose several laps with unscheduled stops of his own. Hill’s overheating issues on the #56 Hill Motorsports Chevrolet dropped him at least thirteen laps down. When it was clear Parsons couldn’t drop Hill another spot, Hill elected to pull his truck into the garage on Lap 125.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in the Truck Series since November 15, 2002, when the Safelite Auto Glass Chevrolet of Eric Jones (part-time racer from Iowa, no relation to the current Cup Series driver of the #20 Toyota) fractured an axle after 2 laps of the Ford 200 at Homestead. The number had never finished last in a Truck Series race at Las Vegas.
*Handling woes are also a relatively rare reason for a last-place finish in the Truck Series. The most recent time this happened was on August 15, 2015, when Justin Jennings’ run in the #36 Mittler Bros. Machine & Tool Chevrolet ended after 6 laps of the Careers for Veterans 200 at Michigan.

32) #34-Josh Bilicki / 3 laps / handling
31) #98-Grant Enfinger / 89 laps / crash
30) #4-Raphael Lessard / 90 laps / crash
29) #83-Stefan Parsons/ 112 laps / running
28) #56-Timmy Hill / 113 laps / overheating

1st) Niece Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)


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