Friday, May 7, 2021

TRUCKS: Cory Roper gives #04 first Truck Series last-place finish

PHOTO: @RoperRacingTeam

Cory Roper picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s LiftKits4Less.com 200 at the Darlington Raceway when his #04 Tech-Net Professional Ford fell out in a wreck after 13 of 147 laps.

The finish came in Roper’s 33rd series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the first for the #04, the 111th for Ford, and the 167th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 18th for the #04, the 973rd for Ford, and the 1,250th from a crash.

The Texas-born Roper – of no apparent relation to the late Tony Roper from the same series – has similarly worked his way into NASCAR with a small team. He has done so as an owner-driver, fielding his red #04 Fords with several flashes of brilliance. On March 26, 2018, he turned heads in his debut at Martinsville, finishing a strong 13th, then in 2019 established himself as a fast qualifier, taking 5th on the grid in Las Vegas and 7th at Charlotte. He’d planned to run the full schedule in both 2019 and 2020, but each time had to scale back due to a lack of funding, often missing much of the season’s second half.

A full-time effort has again been the goal for 2021, where Roper came closer than he ever has to reaching victory lane. He did so at Daytona, where in his first three attempts, he’s shown surprising speed each time. In 2019, he worked his way up to 2nd when he was knocked into a spin off Turn 4, leaving him 20th. In 2020, he came home on the lead lap in 14th. Then came this past February, where Roper locked onto the rear bumper of Sheldon Creed on the final lap of an overtime finish. Creed threw the block, causing Roper to bounce off the outside wall, but he still managed a pass to the inside of Turn 1. Roper led all the way to the tri-oval, when he was split by Ben Rhodes and Jordan Anderson. Roper finished 3rd, improving on his career-best 9th from Texas in 2019.

Roper has been looking to regain that form ever since. Coming into Friday’s race, he’d finished no better than 31st and twice gave over the wheel to Cup rookie Chase Briscoe. Briscoe finished 5th with the team during the Bristol Dirt Race, then 19th the last time out in Kansas.

Also prior to Darlington, the #04 was one of just 13 numbers to have never finished last in a Truck Series points race. Prior to Roper’s series debut in 2018, the number hadn’t run in the series since August 20 2008, when Patrick Carpentier finished 25th at Bristol. He drove for the late Bobby Hamilton, who Roper would honor in the race itself. Specifically, the team ran the Tech-Net scheme that Hamilton himself drove during the 2005 season, winning at both Daytona and Mansfield and finishing sixth in the standings. This turned out to be Hamilton’s final full-time season in the series before his passing two years later.

Incidentally, Timothy Peters and the Rackley-WAR team would also honor Bobby Hamilton in the race with the familiar Square D scheme on their #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet. Peters would line up 21st for the race with Roper not far behind in 29th.

Cory Roper after he hit the wall
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

Rolling off 40th and last was Norm Benning, who again ran the blue-and-yellow scheme from Marcus Lemonis’ Camping World and Overtons underdog sponsorship efforts (this time running the former). The truck was also without enough tape inside the windshield, as Benning was among the many who complained they couldn’t see the track due to the extreme glare coming off Turn 2 and onto the backstretch. Benning would be joined at the back by 23rd-place starter Akinori Ogata, who missed the rookie meeting. Ogata’s #34 Kyowa Industrial Toyota carried a “throwback” scheme of Kenji Momota’s #71, which ran in the second-ever Truck Series race at Phoenix in 1995.

When the green flag dropped, Ogata pulled ahead of Benning, who was 4.917 seconds ack of the lead. The team noticed Benning’s engine sounded rough by Lap 2, when he was already 2.585 seconds back of new 39th-place runner Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet. As Benning, Cobb, and Ogata each ran by themselves on the track, Benning was almost immediately in danger of losing a lap. Heading down the backstretch on Lap 7, race leader John Hunter Nemechek attempted to pull to Benning’s inside when the #6 was already committed to the low lane. Unable to get out of the way in time, Nemechek checked-up, causing Austin Hill to make a pass for the lead. On Lap 9, NASCAR warned Benning that “once that 6 gets out of traffic, he's gonna need to pick up his speed quite a bit.” He was then black-flagged to make repairs on Lap 12, when Benning declared his motor was damaged.

That same time by, Roper was running by himself when an apparent right-front tire failure sent him into the outside wall in Turn 3, then again in Turns 1 and 2. NASCAR didn’t immediately throw the caution as he pulled to the inside lane and made it to pit road, instead waiting for the originally scheduled competition yellow on Lap 15. This apparently made someone on Roper’s crew think they could go to the garage for repairs since they didn’t draw the caution. They must have been corrected – or quickly found their truck wouldn’t easily make the turn – as they continued repairs on pit road, losing multiple laps.

Kris Wright and Codie Rohrbaugh tangle
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

On Lap 18, when Roper took last from Benning, the #04 crew asked their driver if he could get back out and meet minimum speed. “I can get the speed,” said Roper. “But the brake rotor’s shattered.” With that, the team said, “Okay, we’re done.” The crew first tried to push the truck behind the wall, but the right-front was damaged so badly it couldn’t roll. NASCAR waved off the restart to dispatch a wrecker to the stall, getting the truck to the garage area, done for the night. 

Benning continued on after his team’s lone attempt to make adjustments, but they continued to struggle for speed. The driver said his low speed was due to his being told to run the low line, and that when he ran the preferred line, his times were fine. He also believed other entries – specifically Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 – were not being docked for running below minimum speed. These communications came after Lap 64, when NASCAR black-flagged him for a second time, sending him behind the wall. He only finished 37th as by then another early wreck collected Kris Wright in the #02 WrightCars.com Chevrolet – a throwback to Ron Hornaday, Jr.’s GM Goodwrench Chevrolet – and Codie Rohrbaugh in the #9 Grant County Mulch Chevrolet. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Chase Purdy, whose #23 BamaBuggies.com Chevrolet – decorated like Davey Allison’s Camaro from his ASA days – was eliminated in a single-truck crash.

Carson Hocevar had a career night under the lights at Darlington, finishing 3rd in Stage 2 and 3rd overall at the finish. Driving a throwback scheme to Johnny Benson’s #10 Valvoline Pontiac from 2001 through 2003, Hocevar’s #42 Scott’s / GM Parts Now Chevrolet made several daring moves in the late stages, including a three-wide pass entering Turn 3 and a door-banging defense of his spot against Johnny Sauter. He also led his first lap of the season, pacing the field on Lap 95.

Also impressive was Timmy Hill, who overcame a significant setback in his 1997 Kenny Irwin, Jr. throwback scheme. Like Hocevar, Hill entered the battle in Stage 2, taking 6th at the end of the stage in his #56 LiftKits4Less.com Chevrolet. But on Lap 111, when slowing for a crashing Tanner Gray on the frontstretch, Hill was run over by an out-of-control Akinori Ogata, sending all three into the inside wall. Hill’s truck was the only one still rolling, though he lost two laps in the process. By the run to the finish, Hill had made it through the night’s biggest wreck and was back on the lead lap, taking 7th at the finish.

Running 9th was Austin Wayne Self, who honored his current spotter Tony Raines and his former #19 Pennzoil entry. Self’s #22 AM Technical Solutions / Go Texan Chevrolet climbed into contention in the final laps to take 9th, just one spot ahead of an equally impressive Jordan Anderson. Anderson’s #3 Rusty’s Off Road / Bommarito.com Chevrolet, a throwback to Mark Martin’s 1982 Cup Series entry, worked its way up from 31st on the starting grid.

When the field was whittled down by a massive restart wreck, Danny Bohn, Stewart Friesen, and Parker Kligerman were also in position for Top Tens, only to each drop out in the final moments. Bohn spun out of 10th while Kligerman blew a right-front tire in Turns 1 and 2, collecting Friesen. Bohn ended up 18th with Friesen and Kligerman 25th and 26th, respectively.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*Roper’s is the first Ford to finish last in a Truck Series race at Darlington.
*Roper is the fifth first-time Truck Series last-place finisher in the last seven races.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #04-Cory Roper / 13 laps / crash
39) #02-Kris Wright / 25 laps / dvp
38) #9-Codie Rohrbaugh / 26 laps / dvp
37) #6-Norm Benning / 61 laps / too slow
36) #23-Chase Purdy / 80 laps / crash

2021 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Niece Motorsports (3)
2nd) GMS Racing (2)
3rd) CMI Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Roper Racing (1)

2021 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)

2021 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP


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