Thursday, March 19, 2020

iRACING: Donovan Strauss overcomes damage to lead early, but is eliminated in hard Atlanta crash

Donovan Strauss finished last in Thursday’s running of eTruck Series Night in America Powered by FilterTime at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #51 JDR Graphics Toyota fell out in a crash after 18 of 110 laps.

Strauss, who also campaigns the #51 in Bandoleros, piloted the blue-and-red JDR Graphics machine in Thursday’s race, a scheme reminiscent of a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck. JDR themselves designed the scheme. Last week on March 11, Strauss steered his machine to a 6th-place finish at Daytona, recovering from an accident on Lap 60. Strauss was among the open entrants who qualified for Thursday’s race, and in qualifying took 24th on the grid of 43 with a lap time of 30.913 seconds.

Meanwhile, at the back of the pack, the #91 of Daylon Barr was briefly in last place until he locked in his 25th-fastest time with just 23 seconds to go in qualifying. Turning in the slowest completed lap was Matt Wishart, whose #32 timed in at 31.675 seconds. Three other drivers filled out the field without a completed lap: 41st-place Rajah Caruth in the #6, Ryan Truex in 42nd driving the #35, and last-place starter Brandon Brown (listed as Jerry Brown2) in the #21. Brown, who was originally going to run the same #68 as his actual XFINITY Series ride, was shown during the final moments of qualifying session trying to complete his lap, but his truck disappeared just before it reached the start/finish line.

When the race started, the front half of the field pulled away into the first corner while trouble broke out further back. Joey Stone, whose #8 carried the names of several NASCAR YouTubers, inexplicably turned right as he entered the quad-oval, steering his Chevrolet into the outside wall. He bounced off the barrier and directly into the path of Strauss, crushing the right-front corner of the #51. At least a half-dozen other trucks then piled in as both slid into the grass, drawing the first caution of the night. Strauss drove the rest of the way around the track with smoke trailing from his machine.

By the time the full field rundown was shown for the first time on Lap 5, the 43rd spot belonged to Rajah Caruth, who on Lap 13 was shown six circuits behind the leader in his #6. Caruth’s last completed lap was shown at 38 seconds, a full seven seconds slower than the leaders. Strauss, meanwhile, parlayed pit strategy to take the lead from polesitter Mike Conti on Lap 14. Whether or not Strauss used his “Fast Repair” by this point, the #51 showed noticeable damage to the front grille under caution, a damage pattern different from the first-lap incident.

When the race restarted on Lap 15, Strauss jumped out to a one-trucklength lead, but was caught by Christian Eckes entering the third corner, whose #18 Safelite Toyota of made the pass for the lead on the inside. Strauss then fought to hold the outside line, then worked back low on Lap 18 to defend a spot in the Top 5. But, coming off Turn 2, Strauss broke loose off the nose of the #5 of Jarrett Liebert, sending the #51 hurtling toward the inside wall. Liebert was then hooked in the right-rear by the #26 of Tyler Garey, triggering another pileup down the backstretch. Strauss hit the inside wall with the left-front, and this time was done for the day. Strauss’ final pit stop was just 2.3 seconds, perhaps due to exiting the simulator. He took last from Caruth by Lap 24.

Finishing 42nd was Max McLaughlin, whose #1 Mobil 1 Toyota crossed the nose of the #33 GM Chevrolet of Oliver Cordell, putting him into the Turn 3 wall. McLaughlin was seen pulling down pit road with visible damage to the right-rear, and ultimately completed just one more lap than last-place Strauss. Ty Gibbs took 41st in his #42, out nineteen laps after McLaughlin, while Eckes’ strong run ended one lap later for a 40th-place finish. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Brandon Brown, eliminated four laps after Eckes.

Caruth, who ran 43rd for most of the early stages, climbed to 37th by Lap 82, when he was unable to avoid the wrecking Kenny Brady, whose #54 slid into his path on the apron of Turn 1. Caruth remained 37th at the finish with Brady in 35th. Joey Stone, whose #8 triggered the race’s first incident, climbed to 33rd, seven laps down at the checkered. Tyler Garey, whose #26 was one of two trucks to flip down the backstretch in the Lap 18 incident that eliminated Strauss, recovered nicely to finish 9th.

For more on Strauss, follow his Twitter account here:

*The #51 has just five last-place finishes in the history of the NASCAR Gander Outdoor & RV Truck Series and none since September 13, 2003. That day, in the New Hampshire 200 at Loudon, Carl Long had rear end trouble after 4 laps, driving an unsponsored truck owned by current Cup Series team owner Rick Ware.

43) #51-Donovan Strauss / +92 laps
42) #1-Max McLaughlin / +91 laps
41) #42-Ty Gibbs / +72 laps
40) #18-Christian Eckes / +71 laps
39) #21-Brandon Brown / +67 laps

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