Thursday, February 11, 2021

CUP: Overheating Josh Bilicki loses draft, pulls out of Duel Race 1

PHOTO: David PeQueen, @CarSDS2078

Josh Bilicki finished last in Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #52 Wisconsin Lighting Lab Ford fell out with overheating problems after 14 of 60 laps.

The difficult 2020 season saw Bilicki participate in more NASCAR races than any previous season in his career. He made seven starts in the XFINITY Series for B.J. McLeod Motorsports, the road racer earning his best finishes on the infield road courses at Daytona (12th) and Charlotte (13th). Five more starts came in the Truck Series with Reaume Brothers Racing, capped by a season-best 19th at Texas. He would have finished even better that day had he not been wrecked by Ben Rhodes on the final lap.

Bilicki was busiest in the Cup Series, competing in a career-high 22 of the season’s 36 races – all of them affiliated in some way with Rick Ware Racing. He first drove for Tommy Baldwin Racing, who leased cars from Ware, made two starts for Spire Motorsports (associated with Ware’s merger with Premium Motorsports), and made at least one start in each of Ware’s own three cars. While he finished no better than 25th at both Indianapolis and Kansas, he only failed to finish twice, and completed 88.7% of the laps he attempted.

Late in the offseason, it was reported Bilicki would again driver for Ware – this time in his first attempt to make the Daytona 500. He would drive the #52, a car number that briefly disappeared from the RWR lineup after the Premium merger, replacing the #27 that sponsors had requested at the time. Sponsoring the effort were the Wisconsin Lighting Lab served as primary sponsor, joined by several associates: Palermo’s, Custom Fiberglass Molding, DITEC Marine Products, Junction Fuels, FOX Nation, and longtime backer Insurance King.

Bilicki ran just three laps in Wednesday’s opening practice and ranked next-to-last, just 0.085 second ahead of teammate Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet. Bilicki then turned the slowest completed lap in qualifying, but ranked 42nd as both Derrike Cope and Noah Gragson, who didn’t run. This put Bilicki 22nd and last on the grid for Race 1.

On race night, Bilicki briefly surrendered the last spot to a penalized Tyler Reddick, whose team changed transmission on the #8 Lenovo Chevrolet. When the green flag dropped, Reddick jumped to the outside lane and began to advance, dropping Bilicki to last. Bilicki slotted in behind Ware on the inside lane, but was immediately losing ground to the pack. By the end of Lap 1, Bilicki was 0.527 second back of Ware and Quin Houff, who formed a trailing three-car pack behind the leaders.

By Lap 3, Bilicki had completely lost the draft, and was 3.051 seconds back of the lead. The driver reported his car was overheating, and soon said “Might have to get a different radiator for Sunday.” By Lap 12, with the race still under green, Bilicki was 33.326 seconds back of the leader, and he went a lap down on the 15th circuit. By then, he’d made a pit stop, but was caught for speeding, and had to serve a pass-through. Now three laps down, he pulled down pit road, then into the garage. He was reported out by NASCAR on Lap 26 due to the overheating issue.

Bilicki was the only driver who failed to finish the race. Cody Ware finished four laps down, the same circuit as Daytona 500 polesitter Alex Bowman. Bowman felt like he had a problem with the engine, but returned to the track with the hood up on pit road. One lap ahead of Bowman was Timmy Hill, whose #66 VSI Racing Ford dropped off the lead lap, then was rolling off pit road as the leaders took the white flag. Quin Houff rounded out the group, two laps down in StarCom Racing’s #00 Mane ‘n Tail Chevrolet.

*This marked the third straight year that a Rick Ware Racing entry finished last in at least one of the Duel races. In 2019, Cody Ware and B.J. McLeod swept both races while J.J. Yeley’s wreck in the #54 Ford came in Race 2 last year.
*Bilicki is the first driver to finish last in a Duel due to overheating issues since February 16, 2060, when Hermie Sadler’s #00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Ford dropped out after 12 laps of Race 1.

22) #52-Josh Bilicki / 14 laps / overheating
21) #51-Cody Ware / 56 laps / running
20) #48-Alex Bowman / 56 laps / running
19) #66-Timmy Hill / 57 laps / running
18) #00-Quin Houff / 58 laps / running

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