Sunday, March 8, 2020

CUP: Timmy Hill unable to claw past wrecked Ryan Blaney at Phoenix

Hill (center) the first driver in the garage during Sunday's race.
ALL PHOTOS: Dominic Aragon,
Timmy Hill picked up the 11th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Fan Shield 500 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #66 Pit Boss Grills Toyota fell out with engine troubles after 51 of 316 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 96th series start, was his second of the season and first since Las Vegas, two rounds ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 58th for the #66, the 161st for Toyota, and the 693rd from engine trouble. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #66, the 329th for Toyota, and the 1,086th from engine problems.

Following his most recent last-place run in Vegas, Hill rebounded to finish 26th in that night’s rain-delayed XFINITY Series race. He then returned to the Cup side in Fontana, but fell off the pace early and finished sixteen laps down in 37th, besting only Christopher Bell with a blown engine. Phoenix would see Hill run double-duty for Motorsports Business Management, both efforts sponsored by returning backer Pit Boss Grills. With a 23rd-place finish in the Saturday race, Hill looked to improve on the Cup side.

Unfortunately, Hill’s Toyota again struggled for speed. His was the only car on the entry list of 38 to not turn a lap in opening practice, then ran 35th in Happy Hour. He also turned in the slowest lap in qualifying, putting up a speed of 130.510mph (27.584 seconds), nearly 1.5 seconds off Chase Elliott’s pole lap. This secured Hill the 38th and final spot on Sunday’s grid.

Joining Hill in the back were two other drivers: John Hunter Nemechek for a new radiator on his #38 MDS Transportation Ford, and Martin Truex, Jr. once again found himself at the tail end after an engine change on his #19 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats & ATVs Toyota.

When the race started, however, the last spot fell to Joey Gase, who this week drove an unsponsored black #53 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. Gase, the 37th-place qualifier, worked his way past Hill by the end of the first lap, dropping the #66 to last. From there, both Hill and Gase lost touch with the pack, and were soon each running by themselves. On Lap 8, Hill was 1.3 seconds back of Gase, who was another 1.641 seconds behind his teammate Garrett Smithley in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet. Hill was the first driver to be lapped on the 17th circuit, followed soon after by Gase. Both were two laps down by the 34th circuit. Around Lap 45, Smithley had fallen to last place, three laps down. He wouldn’t hold the spot for long.

Around Lap 52, Hill came down pit road, then was told three times over the radio to steer his car to the garage. This gave Hill the last spot again around Lap 54. On Lap 59, Hill’s crew told him to fire the engine again, then shut it off soon after. The MBM crew was still examining their car when trouble broke out in Turn 4. On Lap 64, Denny Hamlin made a move into Turn 3 when his #11 FedEx Toyota broke loose and collected Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. The impact sent Keselowski’s #2 Alliance Parts Ford into a spin, but pinned Blaney’s #12 Menards / Tarkett Ford into the fence. Blaney, who suffered a broken upper control arm in the crash, pulled behind the wall under caution on Lap 68, out of the race under the Damaged Vehicle Policy.

Ryan Blaney (top-center) saw his day end in this Lap 64 wreck.
Blaney’s exit lit a fire under the MBM crew, whose spotter originally thought Hamlin would be done for the day. The crew made sure Hill had fuel pressure, and collected a set of 17-lap scuffed tires for their next run. The engine re-fired on Lap 90, and Hill returned to the track. Unfortunately, “It still sounds really bad,” said the driver. “There’s no way they’re gonna let you run that pace out there,” said the crew. Hill turned just two more laps before he came back into the garage. The crew hooked up their computer to the car and prepared for their next run. It wouldn’t come. When Hill re-fired the engine once more on Lap 140, the crew wasn’t satisfied. And on Lap 141, NASCAR officials reported Hill was out – “66 out, engine.” The gap between Hill and Blaney remained at 14 laps.

Crashes and mechanical failures made the garage area a very busy place. Finishing 36th was Austin Dillon, who after an unscheduled stop early in the race blew a right-front tire and totaled his #3 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. Taking 35th was Garrett Smithley, whose #51 trailed a large plume of white smoke entering Turns 3 and 4, requiring a lengthy clean-up. Rounding out the group was Quin Houff, whose own engine failure sent his #00 Mount-N-Lock / Ashurst Honey Chevrolet spinning into the outside wall.

For the second-straight race, Tyler Reddick worked his way into the Top 5, and this time earned a great deal of TV time from FOX Sports. His #8 I Am Second Chevrolet was running 14th on Lap 266 when the right-front tire failed, sending him hard into the Turn 2 wall. Reddick climbed out without serious injury and finished 33rd.

*This marked Hill’s second last-place finish in a Cup Series race at Phoenix. The other occurred on November 11, 2018, when his #66 Toyota had an oil leak which ended his day after 40 laps.

38) #66-Timmy Hill / 51 laps / engine
37) #12-Ryan Blaney / 65 laps / crash
36) #3-Austin Dillon / 129 laps / crash
35) #51-Garrett Smithley / 181 laps / engine
34) #00-Quin Houff / 208 laps / crash

1st) Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Toyota (3)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)


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