Monday, March 29, 2021

TRUCKS: Early smash-up lands Tyler Ankrum in last place on Bristol’s dirt


Tyler Ankrum picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Monday’s Pinty’s Race on Dirt at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track when his #26 Liuna Chevrolet was eliminated in a crash after 34 of 150 laps.

The finish came in Ankrum’s 50th series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 6th for the #26, the 166th from a crash, and the 404th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, I was the 44th for the #26, the 1,246th from a crash, and the 1,770th for Chevrolet. 

While his background has, like many of his fellow competitors, been predominately with pavement racing, Ankrum ran well in his only previous dirt start. During the most recent Truck Series race at Eldora in 2019, he was the winner of the Last Chance Qualifier and finished 9th in the main event. This came in a career resurgence with the DGR-Crosley team, which he rejoined after a lack of sponsorship forced driver and team to part ways. Ankrum “start-and-parked” for NEMCO Motorsports at Iowa and Gateway, finishing last in the former before Ross Chastain was disqualified.

Ankrum then moved to GMS Racing last season, finishing a season-best 2nd to Kyle Busch at Homestead, and making it all the way to the penultimate round of the Playoffs. Finishes of 34th, 16th, and 12th knocked him out of the Championship Four, though he closed the year with an 8th-place run in the finale. This year, however, has been more of a struggle. Heading into the Bristol race, he’d finished no better than 18th and crashed out at both Daytona and Las Vegas.

Ankrum ran 9th and 8th in the weekend’s two practice sessions, which put him 6th on the grid for Heat Race 1. Unfortunately, the massive storm that has plagued the southeast for much of the week slipped into Tennessee on Saturday, thoroughly soaking the track. NASCAR attempted to get Heat 1 started on Saturday, but after a single lap, Ankrum’s truck was so covered in wet mud that he couldn’t see. The same issue affected the rest of the field, other than leader Mike Marlar in the #56 Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick’s #17 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford took last from Austin Hill’s #16 United Rentals Toyota before NASCAR threw the red flag. The heat races for both Trucks and Cup were both cancelled, and Ankrum drew the 19th spot in the field of 40.

The weekend also saw J.R. Heffner, the polesitter for Heat Race 4, withdraw from the event after a practice crash in the #3 A. Colarusso & Son / Upstate Utilities Chevrolet. This was the second time Heffner withdrew from a Truck Series dirt race for pre-race issues, following his 2017 engine failure before the Eldora event, when he was driving for current XFINITY regular Tommy Joe Martins. This opened the door for one of CMI Motorsports’ entries to start a race for the first time this season. The team’s #49 edged the #83 for the spot, decided ultimately by the #83 not running a lap in Daytona time trials due to a dropped drive shaft. This meant that Andrew Gordon would make his series debut in the #49 Staar Trucking Chevrolet, rolling off 40th in the field.

The storm ultimately pushed the race to Monday, with engines fired just before the start of the broadcast at 12 P.M. Eastern. Before the field rolled off pit road, 35th-place starter Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #10 Fastener Supply Co. Chevrolet needed a push to get started. Cobb would later report that she nearly wrecked because the steering was so heavy and was being pushed with the wheels turned one direction. Derek Kraus, the 12th-place starter, also made an unscheduled stop in the #19 Hunter Nation Toyota, which forced NASCAR to wave off the start for another lap. Both Kraus and Cobb dropped to the rear before the start, slotting in behind Gordon’s #49.

Cobb took over last place at the end of Lap 1, and was encouraged by her crew to drive her truck in deeper. She was the first to lose a lap on the 11th circuit, at which point she and 39th-place Spencer Boyd in the #20 Eco Twist Chevrolet were trailing 38th-place Norm Benning in the #6 MDF A Sign Co. Chevrolet Chevrolet by 3.119 seconds. When the first caution fell for a spinning Tanner Gray, whose #15 Ford Performance Ford slipped to 38th on Lap 14, Cobb decided not to mess with her brakes and instead sling her truck into the corners for the next run. On Lap 16, Kraus took last from Cobb, followed by Benning on Lap 18. Cobb set her sights on Kraus as she opened up a gap on Benning.

Next to enter the battle was Carson Hocevar – 2nd in opening practice – whose #42 Scott’s / GM Parts Now Chevrolet was decorated in honor of the late Bryan Clauson. Hocevar slowed down the backstretch and pulled to the apron, taking over last from Benning on Lap 24. At the time, he was 2.795 seconds back of Benning’s #6. “Did it lock up on you?” asked Hocevar’s crew as he made it to pit road, steam billowing from the overflow valve. On Lap 28, the team saw the radiator was packed with dirt, and hooked up the cool-down machine to bring the water temperature from 260 degrees down to 180. He returned to the track on Lap 29, three laps down, and trailed the field as they headed to the green.

On Lap 35, Ankrum was running back in the pack when Austin Wayne Self’s #22 AM Technical Solutions / Go Texan Chevrolet bumped Chandler Smith’s #18 JBL Toyota into a spin in Turn 2. Smith’s truck was facing the wrong way and slowly pulling closer to the outside wall when Ankrum arrived on the scene. As Ankrum skated sideways through the corner, he was pinned to the middle lane with two trucks to his outside – Hailie Deegan’s #1 Monster Energy Ford and Kyle Larson’s #44 Rich Mar Florist / Circle B Chevrolet. Unable to pull any higher, Ankrum’s left-front slammed into the left-front of Smith’s truck.

Ankrum apparently attempted to get rolling again, but his truck pulled to the left and was stuck against the wall. On Lap 38, as a tow truck was summoned to the scene, Ankrum’s team said, “We’re done. We’re done. Steering arm’s broken off it.” The truck was pulled behind the wall at Turn 3, where they prepared to put a caster on the right-front before loading up. At the time, the crew remarked that the “outwear” protecting the radiator was clean. The team loaded up on Lap 42, the same lap NASCAR’s garage official reported “26 out, accident.”

Derek Kraus’ rough start to the race took a turn for the worse on Lap 49, when he and Timothy Peters’ #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet tangled in Turn 2, just moments after John Hunter Nemechek’s #4 Mobil 1 Toyota was spun by Matt Crafton’s #88 Denali Aire / Menards Toyota entering the corner. Nemechek managed to avoid hitting the outside wall, and appeared to be awaiting a spot in line when Kraus slammed into Nemechek’s right-front with Peters just behind. Peters managed to keep going, but Kraus and Nemechek were done. Benning took 37th, having cut a left-rear tire when he was running by himself on Lap 71. He returned to the track seven laps down, only to be collected in a four-wide battle heading into Turn 3, further damaging his truck. He was parked soon after. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Danny Bohn, whose #30 North American Motor Car Toyota slammed hard into Kyle Larson’s #44 after a collision with a slowing Mike Marlar on Lap 99.

After losing three laps with his radiator issue, Carson Hocevar recovered to finish on the lead lap in the 21st spot. Tanner Gray likewise recovered from his spin, climbing from 38th to 13th at the finish, while Austin Wayne Self, who bumped Chandler Smith in the wreck that collected Ankrum, finished in 10th. Joining Self in the Top 10 were Cup rookie Chase Briscoe, who gave Cory Roper’s team a strong 5th-place finish, and Parker Kligerman, who ran 8th in Charlie Henderson’s #75 Food Country USA Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #26 in a Truck Series race since August 12, 2000, when the late Tony Roper lost an engine on Mike Mittler’s #26 Mittler Tool Ford after 14 laps of the Federated Auto Parts 250 at the Nashville (Fairgrounds) Speedway.

40) #26-Tyler Ankrum / 34 laps / crash
39) #4-John Hunter Nemechek / 48 laps / crash
38) #19-Derek Kraus / 49 laps / crash
37) #6-Norm Benning / 72 laps / parked
36) #30-Danny Bohn / 98 laps / crash

1st) GMS Racing, Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) Norm Benning Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)


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