Timmy Hill picked up the 16th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Instacart 500 at the Phoenix Raceway when his #66 LasVegas.net / Diamondback Surveying Toyota fell out with engine trouble after 15 of 312 laps.
The finish, which came in Hill’s 132nd series start, was his second of the year and first since Homestead, two races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 63rd for the #66, the 169th for Toyota, and the 1,097th from engine trouble. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 81st for the #66, the 353rd for Toyota, and the 1,097th from engine woes.
As at Homestead, Hill’s Phoenix weekend began with a strong run in the XFINITY Series race. Carrying sponsorship from Interstate Batteries for the first time, Hill surged late in the race to finish 14th. This was a new season-best and track-best – his previous an 18th in 2011. It was also a recovery from his first DNF of the season at Las Vegas, where he finished 37th. That weekend, his Hill Motorsports team in the Truck Series was one of the last to join Marcus Lemonis’ Camping World challenge, the team wrapping the truck until early race morning. Timmy’s brother Tyler drove that night, but finished 35th after a pair of accidents.
On the Cup side, however, Timmy Hill and Motorsports Business Management have continued to struggle just to finish. He started last in Las Vegas and climbed just two spots before the finish, coming home 36th as the final car under power. The team then turned around his blue Toyota to run at Phoenix. They ran the same paint scheme from Vegas, but Diamondback Land Surveying only had its logo on the hood. The two decals on both doors were removed. The car pulled 37th through metric qualifying.
James Davison drew the 38th and final spot in his return to Rick Ware Racing’s #15 Smart Sanitizer Chevrolet, but he wouldn’t start there on Sunday. No fewer than six drivers were sent to the rear for various pre-race penalties. On Saturday, three were docked for twice failing pre-race inspection: 2nd-place Kyle Larson in the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, 10th-place William Byron in the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and 31st-place Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet. Garrett Smithley in 34th was sent to the rear as J.J. Yeley was on the preliminary entry list to run the #53 Turf Sellers Chevrolet. On Sunday, NASCAR officials found issues with the side skirt of Chase Elliott’s #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, dropping the defending champion from 6th for unapproved adjustments. Quin Houff rounded out the group in his #00 Mount-N-Lock Chevrolet, dropping him from 36th for unapproved adjustments of his own.
By the time the field took the green, however, Timmy Hill had dropped to last place, and followed Cody Ware on the inside line. Ware had reported a possible engine issue during the pace laps, but still held off Hill at the start. By Lap 7, Hill caught Davison, and the pair were side-by-side, just 0.022 seconds apart at the stripe. On Lap 11, both passed Smithley, and again, Hill was just ahead of him at the stripe.
On Lap 16, Smithley was the first driver to lose a lap followed by Hill, but as the spotter navigated him through traffic, Hill pulled down pit road. Hill dropped to last place the next time by as the crew diagnosed an engine issue. “Check the spark plug wires, guys,” said Hill’s radio channel on Lap 21. “It smell like it blew up, Tim?” There was little radio traffic afterwards, and on Lap 43, NASCAR’s garage official confirmed “66 out, engine.”
Finishing 37th was Anthony Alfredo, who lost a lap early in his #38 MDS Ford, then tangled with Cody Ware in Turn 2. Ware’s car slid up the track into Alfredo, putting both hard into the outside wall. Alfredo was done, and at first it seemed Ware’s race was over, too. “It is what it is,” said Ware on pit road. “You guys built a fast race car. Just got into it with a lapped car, what are you gonna do?"
But the Ware crew managed to get the #51 back on track, and cleared the “Crash Clock” with around two minutes remaining. Unfortunately, it was after this that the engine issue from earlier returned, and the car started to lose power. “You want me to ride it until it blows up?” the driver asked. Despite this, when he pulled into the garage on Lap 114, NASCAR officials deemed him out of the race due to a crash instead of engine failure. Alfredo was officially declared out on Lap 118.
Rounding out the Bottom Five were Josh Bilicki, whose #52 Junction Fuels Ford lost power steering in the final laps, and teammate Garrett Smithley, who was the final driver to finish under power, 12 laps down to race winner Martin Truex, Jr.
Although he ended up finishing well back in the order, Corey LaJoie stretched his fuel and tires late in Stage 2 to lead 12 green-flag laps. This almost doubled his career total of 13 laps led in Cup, which all came last year, and marked the first time he’d led more than six laps in any one Cup race. LaJoie finished 27th, one lap down.
Bubba Wallace also enjoyed perhaps his best run since this year’s Daytona 500, his #23 McDonald’s Toyota leading a season-high four laps and driving his way up as high as 7th, passing Kevin Harvick late in the final stage. A gamble to stay out on old tires didn’t pay off, though it did put him into the lead. Taking on fresh tires after still another caution allowed him to salvage a 16th-place finish – a new season-best. Prior to Sunday, Wallace had only finished on the lead lap in two Phoenix races with a track-best 10th-place finish in 2018.
*Motorsports Business Management has now finished last in three of the last six Cup races held at Phoenix. All three were with Hill, who now has four last-place runs at the track along with his November 15, 2015 run with Premium Motorsports.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
38) #66-Timmy Hill / 15 laps / engine
37) #38-Anthony Alfredo / 87 laps / crash
36) #51-Cody Ware / 101 laps / crash
35) #52-Josh Bilicki / 258 laps / power steering
34) #53-Garrett Smithley / 300 laps / running
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Rick Ware Racing, StarCom Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (2)
2nd) Ford (1)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
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