Saturday, May 22, 2021

TRUCKS: Reaume team’s determination in final four laps allow Cameron Lawrence to finish his NASCAR debut on the track

PHOTO: @CLawrenceRacing

Cameron Lawrence picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Toyota Tundra 225 at the Circuit of the Americas when his #33 Impact Health Chevrolet finished under power, seven laps down, in the 41-lap race.

The finish came in Lawrence’s series debut. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th while running, the 8th for the #33, and the 406th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 47th while running, the 51st for the #33, and the 1,778th for Chevrolet.

Lawrence, who moved to Austin a couple years ago, is a two-time SCCA Trans Am Series champion of the TA2 class, which earned him a ride with Dodge. Six years ago in the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Floridian finished 1st in class, 11th overall, sharing an IMSA Dodge Viper SRT with Al Carter, Dominik Farnbacher, Ben Keating, and Kuno Wittmer. Lawrence, Carter, and Marc Goosens shared the Viper that year at Watkins Glen, where they were again first in class.

For the inaugural NASCAR weekend at COTA, Lawrence would follow Goosen’s earlier path into stock car racing. In 2006 and 2007, “The Goose” made two Cup starts and one in XFINITY, the latter a 9th-place showing on the Autodromo Hermonos Rodriguez course in Mexico City. Goosens drove a Yates Racing entry that day, while Lawrence would run the flagship #33 for Reaume Brothers Racing. Among the backers on his orange-and-black Chevrolet were Front Line Mobile Health, Impact Heath, and a rear deck logo for FAST, a program which has pursued a cure for the neurogenetic disorder Angelman Syndrome. Morgan Lawrence, APR tweeted pictures of special cookies made with the team’s #33 decorated in frosting.

The kick-off to the inaugural NASCAR weekend at COTA saw the return of practice and qualifying to all three of the sport’s elite series. This change – which remains for only a few races this season – reduced the size of the field from 40 to 36 entries, just in time for a large 44-truck list to enter. Norm Benning withdrew his #6 MDS A Sign Company Chevrolet earlier in the week, meaning seven drivers would be sent home after qualifying.

PHOTO: @Morgan_Roush

When qualifying concluded, three of the seven DNQs consisted of the entire CMI Motorsports team, all of them driving for John Atwell in Trans Am. Leading the group was Atwell himself in the #49 Lecomite Homes / Multi Building Incorporated Chevrolet, joined by Brad Gross in the #83 Manufacturing News Chevrolet and Samuel Lecomte in CMI’s new #72 entry, also sponsored by Multi Building Inc. Jennifer Jo Cobb turned in the slowest lap of the session in the #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet. Logan Bearden missed out on his series debut in the #44 Bearden Automotive / Parker Electric Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports, joined by series regulars Dawson Cram (#41 Good Sam Chevrolet) and Spencer Boyd (#20 Freedom Warranty Chevrolet).

Meanwhile, Lawrence enjoyed a strong start to the weekend. After timing in 30th in the lone practice session, he jumped to 7th in qualifying with a speed of 74.168mph (2:45.517). This was the best-ever Truck Series start for the Reaume Brothers team, improving on the 12th-place start by Angela Ruch at Charlotte on May 26, 2020.

Rolling off 36th and last was Tanner Gray, who failed to complete a qualifying lap on Saturday after he lost the engine on his #15 Ford Performance Ford. Gray would incur a redundant tail-end penalty for changing engines, one of five drivers docked before the start. Ryan Truex had also changed engines on his #40 Freightliner Chevrolet, costing him 12th on the grid, while a transmission change penalized Lawless Alan, the 32nd-place starter in the #34 Auto ParkIt Chevrolet. Unapproved adjustments were the listed reason for penalizing both 29th-place Austin Wayne Self in the #22 AM Technical Solutions / Go Texan Chevrolet and 31st-place Chase Purdy in the #23 Chevrolet.

When the field addressed the starting line for the green flag, Gray remained in 36th place, but another driver dropped to 35th alongside the penalized Chase Purdy – the #3 I Love Mac ‘n Cheese Chevrolet of Roger Reuse. Gray remained in last at the start, 7.899 seconds back of the lead, but passed Reuse for the spot by the time they returned to the starting line. An instant later, Reuse climbed back to 35th when Parker Kligerman pitted his #75 Good Sam Chevrolet for new right-side tires, having cut one down on the opening lap. Lawrence had likewise been bumped around in traffic that first time by, at one point knocked out of the groove, but managed to remain among the leaders.

Kligerman held last place until Lap 6, when the spot fell to Tate Fogleman in the #12 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet. Moments earlier coming out of Turn 20, Fogleman had spun with Hailie Deegan’s #1 Monster Energy Ford and continued on with damage to his right-front corner. He then spun a second time, which forced him to pit road. The crew pulled the fender off the tire and applied some bear-bond before he returned to the track 10.777 seconds back of 35th-place Reuse. Reuse then incurred a pass-through penalty for cutting through the Esses, but stayed ahead of Fogleman until the final lap of Stage 1. As the leaders took the green-checkers on Lap 12, Reuse was just in front of the leaders, about to go a lap down.

During this same caution, Reuse indicated he had radio issues, forcing another lengthy stay on pit road that nearly put him a lap down. He returned to the track just in front of the leaders just before the restart, which meant he had to pick up his speed to catch the tail end. But the radio issue prevented the team from communicating this message, and he drove slowly around the track as the leaders took the green. A possible collision was averted as Reuse pitted the next time by for more work on the radio. The team concluded the issue was in the truck, not the headset, and told him “He just has to drive – don’t worry about the radio.” For the rest of the race, the team switched to Channel 2, occasionally going back to Channel 1 to see if the issue had been resolved. On Lap 17, they told him not to key the radio if they heard him, and at least twice told him to stick his hand out the window if they could hear him. There was no indication that Reuse heard either message. On Lap 27, when the caution fell to end Stage 2, Reuse was eligible for the Lucky Dog. The team then told a NASCAR official not to worry about it. Because of the radio issue, they couldn’t tell him how to properly pass the leader. He’d ultimately lose a third lap in the final stage.

Lawrence's truck after the race.

Lawrence began to have issues on Lap 23, when he slipped to 35th, the last truck on the lineup. The team asked him about the car’s voltage, but still managed to keep going. He also suffered some damage to the right-front corner of his truck, requiring a silver patch of tape. On Lap 37, with just four laps to go, NASCAR reported Lawrence had pulled into the garage with a mechanical issue. Though so little of the race remained, the Reaume team replaced the steering wheel and performed some electrical repairs, dropping the window net to cut some wires and splice them together. This occurred on Lap 38, when Lawrence finally took last from Reuse. The team ultimately changed the battery and got back onto the track just as the leaders took the white flag. NASCAR indicated Lawrence still owed a pass-through penalty, though it’s unclear whether this was served in time before the checkered flag. Regardless, the team managed to get their driver back on track to finish his first race. 

CORRECTION (May 23, 2021): According to Lawrence, the team was unable to get Lawrence out to complete another lap, and their race ended on pit road.

Reuse ultimately climbed to 34th at the finish, passing the #98 FarmPaint / Curb Records Toyota of Christian Eckes. With five laps to go, Eckes suffered a suspension failure behind the left-front wheel, causing the truck to grind the track down the long backstretch. He made it to pit road without a caution, only to pull behind the wall and out of the race – the day’s only DNF. Ahead of Reuse in 33rd was Chandler Smith, whose #18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota spun off into a gravel trap on the last lap. While NASCAR allowed the race to finish with Smith in the gravel, Smith was still credited with finishing under power, one lap down. Timothy Peters rounded out the Bottom Five in the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet, which had been docked a lap for pitting outside the box midway through the race.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #33 in a Truck Series race since September 6, 2020 when Bryant Barnhill’s #33 Bell & Bell Buick DMC Trucks Chevrolet crashed after 4 laps of the South Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Darlington.
*Lawrence is the first Truck Series driver to finish last while under power since June 17, 2006, when Aric Almirola’s #75 Spears Manufacturing Chevrolet finished 69 of 102 laps of the Con-way Freight 200 at Michigan. Wayne Spears also fielded Dan Press’ #75 during the NAPA 200 at Tucson on March 1, 1997, when like on Saturday, the next-to-last-place finisher was the only driver who failed to finish. That day, it was Bryan Reffner, who crashed out in the #66 Carlin Combustion Ford.

36) #33-Cameron Lawrence / 34 laps / running
35) #98-Christian Eckes / 36 laps / suspension
34) #3-Roger Reuse / 38 laps / running
33) #18-Chandler Smith / 39 laps / running
32) #25-Timothy Peters / 40 laps / running

1st) Niece Motorsports (3)
2nd) GMS Racing (2)
3rd) CMI Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Roper Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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