Friday, September 25, 2020

TRUCKS: After not receiving medical clearance, Natalie Decker the first NASCAR driver to be classified last due to fatigue

PHOTO: @NieceMotorsport

Natalie Decker picked up the 2nd last-place finish of her NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series career in Friday’s World of Westgate 200 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when her #44 Ruedebusch Development Chevrolet didn’t complete any of the 134 laps as the driver was listed out due to fatigue.

The finish, which came in what was credited as Decker’s 31st series start, was her first of the season and first since the February 15, 2019 opener at Daytona, 40 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the first due to fatigue, the 7th for the #44, and the 395th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 1st from fatigue, the 61st for the #44, and the 1,745th for Chevrolet.

UPDATE (October 5): has since re-classified the reason for Decker's last-place finish as "did not start," which would be the 3rd for the Truck Series and 44th across NASCAR's top three series. However, as of this writing, NASCAR's official race results from their statistical services do not reflect this change. Thus, the statistics have not yet been changed.

It’s been a difficult climb for the 23-year-old Decker as she’s tried to find her footing in the Truck Series. Her first last-place finish came in her debut, a setback after a solid ARCA campaign in 2018 where she started the year on the pole at Daytona and earned her first of two career-best 5th-place finishes on her way to 7th in the standings. Driving for DGR-Crosley, Decker’s best finish in 2019 was a 13th, which curiously also came at Las Vegas.

This year, Decker has scaled back to a part-time effort in the Truck Series, sharing Al Niece’s #44 ride with Jeb Burton, Ross Chastain, and Bayley Currey. The season got off to a much better start – at Daytona, she equaled her career-best 5th from ARCA with another 5th-place showing – the best-ever for a female Truck Series competitor. But in the 11 starts that followed, she’d finished no better than 20th. 

On September 14, Decker tweeted that she was born with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis – the same condition suffered by fellow Truck Series competitor Todd Peck – and had just recently been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. In addition to the stiffness and swelling in her joints, she also listed fatigue among her symptoms. This was just months after she’d been sidelined from racing at Pocono due to a medical emergency stemming from her gallbladder surgery last December. Bayley Currey took over for her that day and finished in 16th.

For Friday’s race, Decker was slated to take the green flag in 22nd, but during the pace laps, a NASCAR Official and several crew members were seen pushing the #44 behind the wall with no driver behind the wheel. It was reported that Decker had not been medically cleared to start the race, and since the truck had both cleared pre-race inspection and been gridded, the entry would be immediately credited with a last-place finish. As of this writing, it is not yet clear what exact medical condition sidelined Decker for the race, nor why the team was unable to obtain a relief driver in time. The only other report indicated she was checked and released from the infield care center.

The moment caused Decker to immediately take over last place from Tim Viens, who was slated to roll off in last place in the #83 CMI Motorsports Chevrolet. Ultimately, Viens only climbed to 33rd before he was flagged off the track for not maintaining minimum speed. The two trucks he passed were Dawson Cram, who suffered crash damage on his #41 Chevrolet in the early laps, and Jennifer Jo Cobb, who ended up 34th after an oil tank rupture on her #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet. Rounding out the group was Jordan Anderson, whose new-look #3 / Sefton Steel Chevrolet broke a track bar in the late stages.

Decker's truck pushed behind the wall before the start

While this did mark the first occasion that “fatigue” was the listed reason out for the last-place finisher of a NASCAR top-three division points race, the reason has not been an uncommon reason for a DNF. In the 1992 Pepsi 400 at Daytona, brutal heat combined with an opening 108-lap green-flag run led to three drivers falling out for that reason – Eddie Bierschwale, Bobby Gerhart, and Richard Petty. Bierschwale actually took a turn driving in relief of Petty, but also didn’t run more than a handful of laps before he exited a second time. The group finished 36th, 37th, and 38th in a 40-car field where Dale Earnhardt finished last with engine failure. More recently – in fact, just last year – both Cup drivers Cody Ware (Sonoma) and Josh Bilicki (Bristol Night Race) fell out due to similar illnesses that arose during the race, each with their DNF listed as “fatigue.”

Friday was not, however, the first time in NASCAR’s top three series that a driver was classified last due to an illness. That significance goes to Larry LaMay, an accomplished Sportsman, Late Model, and ARCA competitor who went on to work with A.J. Foyt’s Winston Cup team in the late 1980s. Earlier in his career on September 12, 1976, LaMay made his Cup Series debut in the Capital City 400 at the Richmond Fairgrounds. Driving Don Robertson’s #23 Chevrolet sponsored by Schlitz beer, LaMay managed to complete just 87 of the day’s 400 laps before he dropped out of the race. The official results classified him out by “driver ill,” which to this date is the only time the reason has been used for a last-place finisher of any of NASCAR’s top three series. It’s somewhat surprising that NASCAR didn’t elect to use this option in their official results for Friday’s race.

*This was the second-consecutive last-place finish for Niece Motorsports and the first for the #44 since Ross Chastain’s disqualification at Iowa on June 16, 2019. The number had never before finished last in a Truck Series race at Las Vegas.
*This marked the seventh time the last-place finisher of a Truck Series race at Las Vegas failed to complete even one lap of the event, and the third time in the last four years.

36) #44-Natalie Decker / 0 laps / fatigue
35) #41-Dawson Cram / 16 laps / crash
34) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 62 laps / oil tank
33) #83-Tim Viens / 69 laps / too slow
32) #3-Jordan Anderson / 85 laps / track bar

1st) Reaume Brothers Racing (4)
2nd) Niece Motorsports (3)
3rd) Norm Benning Racing, ThorSport Racing (2)
4th) CMI Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, FDNY Racing, Halmar Friesen Racing, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Spencer Davis Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Ford (4)
3rd) Toyota (3)


No comments: