Saturday, June 13, 2020

TRUCKS: Bryant Barnhill’s season debut ends early at Homestead

PHOTO: Bryant Barnhill Racing Facebook
Bryant Barnhill picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander & RV Outdoors Truck Series career in Saturday’s Baptist Health 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #34 RBR Graphics Chevrolet fell out with transmission issues after 1 of 134 laps.

The finish came in Barnhill’s 4th series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th for the #34, the 35th for transmission issues, and the 386th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th for the #34, the 161st for transmission woes, and the 1,717th for Chevrolet.

Barnhill, a 21-year-old late model racer from Conway, South Carolina, first raced closed-fendered cars in 2017, testing in the ARCA Menards Series at Daytona. That July, he made a K&N Pro Series West start at the Iowa Speedway. It was a short night – fuel pump issues left him next-to-last in the 34-car field. But he’d made some important connections in the sport. He drove a car fielded by Jesse Iwuji, who shares his current Truck Series ride at Reaume Brothers Racing. He also carried sponsorship from his family’s real estate company, Barnhill Realty Co.

On June 23, 2018, Barnhill made his Truck Series debut at Gateway, a track that in recent years has seen many other competitors cut their teeth on running larger tracks. Driving for Premium Motorsports, Barnhill qualified 28th in the 32-truck field, but was out after just five laps with engine woes. He returned to Gateway the next year, where he made his first start with the Reaume Brothers. This time, he ran all but five laps, finishing a career-best 22nd. Another start came later that summer at Pocono, where he ran 27th.

When the series returned from its suspension following the pandemic, Barnhill and Reaume were entered in the first two races back at Charlotte and Atlanta. Since other drivers had raced the #34, Barnhill would have been able to start the Charlotte race, but the team traded their rank in Owner Points to guarantee Chase Elliott a spot in the field. Elliott capitalized, winning the race and the bounty that came with it. Unfortunately for Barnhill, this point swap also excluded him from Atlanta, where he was one of the seven teams sent home.

Homestead, however, would be different. Exactly 40 trucks were entered, meaning everyone would start the race. The list then shrank by two. Ray Ciccarelli had been slated to run his own #83 Chevrolet alongside Bayley Currey in his #49. Following Ciccarelli’s statement Wednesday regarding NASCAR’s ban on the Confederate flag, he withdrew the #83 and Currey left the team. Ciccarelli would drive the #49 in Currey’s place and roll off 35th. Tim Viens drew the 39th starting spot, but Mike Affarano’s #03 Patriots of America PAC Chevrolet withdrew after multiple issues in technical inspection, sending him home within hours of the green flag.

Barnhill drew the 38th starting spot, which became last place after Viens withdrew. The Reamue team planned to run the full race, but reports indicated they didn’t have enough money for tires, so they would exit the race early. While the truck appeared mostly white without major sponsors, RBR Graphics had purchased space on the quarter-panels with both the National Parkinson Foundation and Crowe Equipment, Inc. on the decklid. The Chevrolet was incorrectly listed as a Toyota on the entry list.

Barnhill would be joined at the back by Kyle Busch, whose #51 Cessna Toyota drew the outside-pole, but had several issues in pre-race inspection. Busch would drop to the rear, lifting Barnhill to 37th, and also have to incur a pass-through penalty after the start. Also sent to the rear were 29th-place starter Tate Fogleman in the #02 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet and 20th-place starter Tanner Gray in the #15 Turtle Beach Construction Ford, both for unapproved adjustments.

When the race started, Barnhill crossed the stripe 5.587 seconds back of the leader, nearly a full second behind 37th-place Dawson Cram in the #55 Long Motorsports Chevrolet. Busch served his pass-through penalty on the first lap, and while he took over last place on Lap 2, he managed to not lose a lap. Just moments later, NASCAR Officials reported “34 to the garage, mechanical,” indicating Barnhill had pulled behind the wall. Later, he was declared officially out of the race.

Zane Smith had been one of the series’ biggest stories since last month’s return, pulling off daring Turn 3 moves at both Charlotte and Atlanta for finishes of 3rd and 5th, respectively. While Homestead was one of the four races this season where his #21 GMS Racing Chevrolet didn’t have sponsorship, costing the driver $55,000 out-of-pocket, there were hopes the streak would continue. Unfortunately, on Lap 20, he made contact with teammate Chase Elliott off Turn 3, triggering a multi-truck pileup that eliminated himself and teammate Brett Moffitt in the #23 Chevrolet.

Taking the 35th spot was T.J. Bell, whose run in the #40 Cypress Ridge Hunting Preserve Chevrolet ended when he pulled into the garage after dropping crush panels midway through the race. Rounding out the Bottom Five in 34th was Norm Benning, who was plagued by radio issues all night in his first start of the 2020 season. Benning earned the Lucky Dog at the end of Stage 1, and the team looked to purchase Moffitt’s tires to run the rest of the race, but the lack of communication made their night practically impossible. At one point, Benning was told he was placed a lap ahead of the field, and he gave up three laps coming to pit road. Handling issues were the officially listed cause of his exit after 89 laps.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Truck Series race at Homestead since November 15, 2002, when Eric Jones (no relation to current Cup Series driver Erik Jones) broke an axle after 2 laps of the Ford 200. The Iowa native made 27 Truck Series starts from 2001 through 2004 with a best finish of 6th at Kansas in 2003.

38) #34-Bryant Barnhill / 1 lap / transmission
37) #21-Zane Smith / 19 laps / crash
36) #23-Brett Moffitt / 20 laps / crash
35) #40-T.J. Bell / 70 laps / crash
34) #6-Norm Benning / 89 laps / handling

1st) Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
2nd) Niece Motorsports, Spencer Davis Motorsports (1)

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


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