Thursday, September 10, 2020

TRUCKS: Mechanical gremlins cause Cobb and Decker to fight to even start Richmond race

PHOTO: Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing's Facebook Page

Jennifer Jo Cobb picked up the 8th last-place finish of her NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series career in Thursday’s ToyotaCare 250 at the Richmond Raceway when her #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet fell out with clutch issues without completing any of the 250 laps.

The finish, which came in Cobb’s 204th series start, was her first of the season and first in the series since June 17, 2017 at Gateway, 77 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, this was the 18th from clutch issues, the 20th for the #10, and the 393rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 68th from a clutch, the 126th for the #10, and the 1,742nd for Chevrolet.

Cobb has continued to fight to keep her underfunded owner-driver effort competitive in the Truck Series, battling both to make the field and to outlast her competition. Last summer, a qualifying crash at Michigan by teammate Daniel Sasnett left her with just one race-ready truck for the short tracks and larger tracks, her teammate’s backup #0 nowhere near ready. The only other truck in the garage was only for the superspeedways. When it ran at Talladega, she flat-spotted her only set of tires after a spin. That alone would have ended her race had it not been for fans who paid her tire bill. Talladega also saw her best finish since 2014 when she finished 11th in 2018, one month after a 12th-place run in Las Vegas.

Without practice or qualifying after the season’s second round, 2020 has been particularly challenging for underfunded teams. While her team was all but guaranteed a starting spot after she DNQ’d for the season’s first two rounds at Daytona and Las Vegas, she had shelved her second #0 truck, making her runs in the primary #10 more critical for the team’s success. Unfortunately, she’s seen an uptick in DNFs since the resumption of the season, failing to finish five races coming into Richmond after just two in all of 2019. She’s also finished no better than 26th.

The next race marked the first Truck Series race at Richmond since 2005, three years before Cobb’s first series start. While Cobb had never run her truck at Richmond, she had once before attempted an XFINITY race in September 2011. Unfortunately, she failed to qualify her #13 HipChixFundraisers.com Dodge, turning the slowest lap in time trials. The team hoped for better results this time around. According to Cobb’s radio traffic on Thursday, the team had replaced their old engine from the Daytona road course with a rebuilt motor, but used the old bell housing from the Daytona motor to link it to their Jasper transmission.

Cobb was set to start 31st, but when the command came to fire engines, there were problems immediately. During the pace laps, Cobb was sitting in the middle of pit road, the crew attending to the truck. She received a push from the tow truck, damaging the rear bumper, but the clutch continued to slip. With great difficulty, the team pushed her back to her pit stall and looked under the hood. Cobb said it felt like her transmission was stuck in neutral. After the rest of the field rolled down pit road for speed checks, she was pushed behind the wall. NASCAR indicated “10 to the garage, mechanical” an instant after the green flag. Instantly, she took last place from Tim Viens, who was slated to start last in the #83 Trump 2020 Chevrolet.

But Cobb wasn’t the only driver to miss the start. Four stalls behind Cobb, Natalie Decker was also sitting in her pit stall with the hood up on the #44 Ruedebusch Development Chevrolet, dropping her from 27th to 35th, one spot ahead of Cobb. The team cited an electrical issue with dashboard on Lap 3, just as Josh Reaume dropped off the pace down the backstretch in the #00 Motorsports Safety Group Toyota. Reaume actually beat both Cobb and Decker to the garage area on Lap 8, putting him laps ahead of the pair, who had each yet to complete even one circuit.

What ensued was a battle between both Cobb and Decker to return to the track. On Lap 13, Decker’s crew examined the battery. Two laps later, Cobb’s team believed they had a transmission issue, but didn’t have a replacement on hand. Decker was pushed behind the wall on Lap 19, when Cobb’s team believed they would have to replace both the transmission and the drive shaft. On Lap 23, Cobb requested her phone from her helmet bag so she could contact both her father, Joe Cobb, and also track down the transmission specialist. “Bearing might be stuck in the tranny” was Joe’s response on Lap 58. On Lap 30, with the #10 now on four jack stands, the crew began to wonder if the clutch was the issue instead. Four laps later, Decker’s crew was looking for a replacement battery from their two teammates at Niece Motorsports.

On Lap 46, Decker pulled onto the track for the first time, and on Lap 50 finally completed her first lap of the race. But after completing just seven laps, the electrical problem had resurfaced, and she went back behind the wall a second time. Cobb, meanwhile rallied the troops under the caution flag. “This is what it is right now,” she said, “No need to be ranting and raving.” Truth be told, Cobb’s crew sounded much calmer than Decker’s over the radio, particularly as the #44 crew struggled to find the right tools. Even so, Cobb couldn’t help but be disappointed. “It's like I'm cursed here,” she said on Lap 55, “I've been here twice, and I've never made a lap at this damned place.”

On Lap 60, Cobb’s team pulled the transmission and readied the rivet gun, all the while further examining the clutch issue. The transmission didn’t appear damaged, so they decided not to try and get a backup transmission from Austin Wayne Self’s #22 team. By Lap 72, the crew set to work piecing the truck back together, but the crew knew few drivers had fallen out of the race. Josh Reaume had since returned with Decker soon on her way back out. The only retiree had been Tim Viens, whose #83 was spun by teammate Ray Ciccarelli, then parked under the Damaged Vehicle Policy despite not hitting anything. Cobb climbed out of the truck on Lap 80 while Decker returned to action on Lap 95. Decker, meanwhile, was worried about a strange burning smell in her truck, which the team said was caused by new paint.

On Lap 119, just short of the halfway point, Cobb’s team changed strategy. “Are you saying we’re done?” someone asked. “Yes, sir,” was the answer. “I don’t blame you one bit.” On Lap 130, NASCAR confirmed that Cobb was out of the race with clutch issues. Decker ultimately climbed past Viens into 34th while Reaume ended up 32nd, both of them still under power at the finish. The only other DNF of the race was that of Danny Bohn, who suffered electrical issues of his own on the #30 North American Motor Car / Sierra Delta Toyota.

Despite the struggles for many of the series’ underdogs, two others enjoyed brilliant runs. For the second-straight week, Timmy Hill finished 9th in his unsponsored #56 Chevrolet, and this time picked up a stage point with a 10th-place finish in Stage 2. This marked the first back-to-back Top Tens for the Hill Motorsports team since their debut last year. Equally impressive was Codie Rohrbaugh, who ran as high as 5th before taking home 6th in the #9 Pray For Joshua Chevrolet. After the CR7 Motorsports team skipped both rounds at Dover and Gateway to rebuild his fleet following three crashes over the summer, Rohrbaugh earned his best finish since his career-best 3rd in the Daytona opener, and his best-ever on a non-superspeedway.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for both the #10 and Cobb in a Truck Series race at Richmond.
*This was the first time the last-place finisher of the Truck race at Richmond fell out with clutch issues since September 4, 1997, when Ernie Irvan picked up the first last-place run of his Truck career after 18 laps in the #28 Federated Auto Parts Ford during the Virginia Is For Lovers 200.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 0 laps / clutch
35) #83-Tim Viens / 50 laps / dvp
34) #44-Natalie Decker / 155 laps / running
33) #30-Danny Bohn / 175 laps / electrical
32) #00-Josh Reaume / 217 laps / running

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Reaume Brothers Racing (4)
2nd) Norm Benning Racing, ThorSport Racing (2)
3rd) CMI Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, FDNY Racing, Halmar Friesen Racing, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Niece Motorsports, Spencer Davis Motorsports (1)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (4)
3rd) Toyota (3)

2020 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP