Sunday, October 11, 2020

CUP: Scuffed tires carry Timmy Hill from last to fifth at the end of Stage 1 before engine lets go

PHOTO: @mlharvey00

Timmy Hill picked up the 14th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Bank of America 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” when his #66 Toyota fell out with engine problems after 57 of 109 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 124th Cup start, was his series-leading fifth of the season and first since Richmond, four races ago. With four races remaining, Hill has broken his tie with Ryan Preece, and now holds a one-finish over him, two finishes over Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Preece’s teammate at JTG-Daugherty Racing.

In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 61st for the #66, the 167th for Toyota, and the 698th for an engine. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 79th for the #66, the 349th for Toyota, and the 1,094th from an engine.

While still dealing with mechanical gremlins on the Cup Series side, finishing 37th in the next two rounds after his most recent last-place finish, Hill was again very strong on the superspeedway last week in Talladega. Driving a Ford for the first time since the Daytona 500 in collaboration with Go FAS Racing, Hill battled inside the Top 10 for much of the race before crossing the stripe in 15th. It was the second-best finish of Hill’s entire Cup career, trailing only his 14th-place showing at Indianapolis in 2017.

At the Charlotte “Roval,” Hill would again pull double-duty with the XFINITY Series, driving MBM’s #66 Toyota on Saturday. There, he finished 19th for his third Top 20 finish in the series out of the last four races. He did so despite heavy rains that proved a stumbling block for teams both bigger and smaller than his, which must have instilled confidence for Sunday’s main event, where more rain was anticipated. Hill drew the 27th spot in the entry.

Rolling off 38th and last was Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., whose early wreck last week in Talladega put his pink #47 Kroger Chevrolet into the final spot. Joining him in the rear were 29th-place Josh Bilicki, who was swapped in for Joey Gase in the #51 Rich Mar Florist / Lemons of Love Chevrolet, and 14th-place Erik Jones for unapproved adjustments. Jones’ #20 Craftasman ACE / CMN Toyota wouldn’t fire at the command to start engines, and the penalty was incurred when a crewman had to reach into the car to get it started. 

Coming to the green flag, at least four more drivers dropped to the rear voluntarily: 22nd-place Brennan Poole in the #15 Remember Everyone Deployed Chevrolet, 33rd-place J.J. Yeley in the #77 Chevrolet, 25th-place Quin Houff in the #00 Sim Seats Chevrolet, and Timmy Hill. Of these drivers, Yeley slotted into the last spot, and was among the four drivers trailing the field on the opening lap.

From there, the last spot changed several times. On Lap 3, Yeley raced past Houff, opening up a 0.632-second gap between the two drivers. By Lap 4, Yeley had also passed Hill, and Houff dropped Hill to last for the first time on Lap 6. The next time, when Poole dropped to 37th, Hill trailed the #15 by 4.258 seconds. The issue was tire degradation as during this time the damp track started to dry, and the team debated whether to change to dry-weather slicks. The MBM team also considered looking under the hood on their next stop as the driver expressed concerns over his ability to reach full throttle. 

Hill held the last spot through the competition caution on Lap 11, and with all 38 starters still on the lead lap, pit stops shuffled the bottom of the order. Rick Ware Racing’s James Davison in the #53 Tilson Chevrolet took it first, followed by his teammate Bilicki, who held last for the Lap 13 restart. Bilicki got a better start than Hill, however, and the #66 was once again in last place. Hill then caught Bilicki two laps later and passed him, but on Lap 16 the pair moved past the spun #6 Castrol Ford of Ryan Newman. That time by, Newman had dropped to 6.317 seconds back of Bilicki, and set to work reeling in the tail end of the field.

On Lap 17, as Newman caught Bilicki for 37th, several drivers began to pit for slick tires, starting with Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Ally Chevrolet and Christopher Bell in the #95 Rheem Toyota. Johnson took over last on Lap 17. Two circuits later, Johnson was reeling in new 37th-place runner Michael McDowell in the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, but both of them moved past Stenhouse, who took over last on Lap 19. Stenhouse then dropped Gray Gaulding to last on Lap 20, passing his #27 Panini America Ford as he, too, pitted for slicks. It was then Gaulding who dropped Denny Hamlin to last after Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Ground Toyota following a spin in Turn 6. Hamlin was barely able to return to the track and had minor damage to his car.

The next last-place challenger was John Hunter Nemechek, whose #38 Citgard Ford spun into the barriers, damaging the right side of his car and eventually causing the hood to come loose. Stuck in the wet grass, he lost at least a lap trying to pull back on track. Just before he was about to receive a push from a service truck, he finally pulled back onto the speedway, by which point he was shown at least two laps down. By this point, however, Timmy Hill had stayed out on scuffed tires during a pit sequence, and was running as high as 3rd place. On Lap 25, right when Nemechek cleared the “Crash Clock,” Hill lost two spots to Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron, but held on to finish 5th.

“Thanks for the TV time, Timmy,” said Carl Long over the radio. “Yes, sir!” answered the driver. Only then was Hill told he had scuffed tires on during that run. "I could've won the stage!" he laughed.

While Hill enjoyed his strong run - which would have awarded him stage points had he not declared for the XFINITY Series in 2020 – another underdog team was struggling. J.J. Yeley incurred a one-lap penalty for pitting outside the box. Unfortunately, the Spire Motorsports team was having radio trouble, and for much of the race couldn’t hear their driver over the static. NASCAR reminded the team he had to serve the penalty, which he served on Lap 29, and he returned a lap down in 37th.

By Lap 45, Nemechek was still in last with Yeley holding 37th, but more problems awaited the #77. Yeley was spun by Davison entering the backstretch chicane, then spun himself in Turn 6, slapping the wall in much the same way as Nemechek. The impact resulted in heavy damage to the right-rear, and two pit stops were required to clear the fenders and cut away some debris. The second stop was required after the fender continued to rub as Yeley ran on the oval’s banked turns. Even after all this, Yeley managed to stay out of last place, remaining just ahead of Nemechek in 37th.

On Lap 52, as Yeley’s crew voiced their frustrations after missing out on the “Lucky Dog,” the driver reported a bad vibration in the front of the car. The team said there was nothing they could do, and Yeley had to deal with it as best he could to the finish. On Lap 54, during a tight battle in Turn 6, the damaged Hamlin rear-ended Hill, who was rammed by Davison, leaving Hamlin and Davison with the worst damage of the three. Davison’s crew managed quick repairs for a second time, following left-rear damage suffered earlier, and cleared the “Crash Clock” soon after Hamlin on Lap 56.

Finally, on Lap 58, Hill slowed while still on the lead lap, and NASCAR officials watched him to make sure he made it to pit road. The crew reported smoke from the exhaust pipes, but still looked over the car before going to the garage that same lap. Running 34th on the lead lap at the time, Hill soon took over last place from Nemechek on Lap 63, and was declared out by NASCAR on Lap 69.

Finishing 37th was Brennan Poole, whose #15 broke down on the apron in the late stages, and was the only other retiree, citing suspension issues. Nemechek and Yeley climbed to 36th and 35th, respectively, with Matt Kenseth’s #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet left in 34th after he stuffed the nose of his car into the barriers during the final laps.

In addition to Hill’s breakout performance in Stage 1, others who finished back in the order each threatened strong finishes of their own. Ryan Preece, Hill’s closest LASTCAR contender, led eight laps in the #37 Maxwell Houses For Heroes Chevrolet before the leaders caught him on Lap 82, leaving him 14th. Ty Dillon in the #13 GEICO Chevrolet had his second strong run in a row after his 3rd-place finish in Talladega, working out the right tire strategy in the opening stage to lead five laps of his own, but a mid-race slide into the barriers ultimately left him 23rd. Christopher Bell in the #95 Rheem Toyota was likewise battling to get Leavine Family Racing a win after their disappointing last-place run at Talladega, leading six laps before taking 24th. These were among the 32 drivers, including Michael McDowell, who spun in the final laps, who all finished on the same circuit as the leader.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #66 in a Cup Series road course race since November 18, 1984, when Phil Parsons' #66 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet fell out with a broken shock after 15 laps of the Winston Western 500 at Riverside. Curiously, it was Hill who honored Parsons with a throwback scheme to his Skoal car at Darlington just last month.

38) #66-Timmy Hill / 57 laps / engine
37) #15-Brennan Poole / 95 laps / suspension
36) #38-John Hunter Nemechek / 105 laps / running
35) #77-J.J. Yeley / 108 laps / running
34) #42-Matt Kenseth / 108 laps / running

1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing (7)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (6)
3rd) Rick Ware Racing (5)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Leavine Family Racing, Penske Racing (2)
5th) Beard Motorsports, B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Toyota (9)
3rd) Ford (4)


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