Friday, July 9, 2021

TRUCKS: Morgan Alexander's NASCAR debut ends after early wreck in wild Knoxville inaugural

PHOTO: @NieceMotorsport

Morgan Alexander picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Corn Belt 150 Presented by Premier Chevy Dealers at the Knoxville Raceway when his #44 Geneva Farms Chevrolet was involved in a multi-truck accident after 63 of 179 laps.

The finish came in Alexander’s series debut. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #44, the 169th from a crash, and the 411th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 64th for the #44, the 1,261st from a crash, and the 1,794th for Chevrolet.

A dirt late model racer from Georgia who most recently has campaigned the car No. 711, Alexander has this year been eyeing a transition into asphalt racing. In a combined effort with Niece Motorsports and Bruce Cook, Alexander made his ARCA Menard East Series debut on the four-tenths-mile Southern National Motorsports Park on June 12th. According to his interview with Christian Koelle, Alexander had originally been entered in Cody Efaw’s #50 before the deal changed to Bruce Cook Racing’s #41 Chevrolet. Alexander rolled off 12th in the 16-car field and finished in the same spot, out with electrical issues. 

It was somewhat surprising, then, that Alexander’s first Truck Series start would see him return to dirt in the inaugural Knoxville event. Continuing his working relationship with Al Niece, he’d run the team’s part-time #44 team. This team had run most recently at Darlington, where Bayley Currey finished 21st, and Kyle Larson campaigned the entry in the Bristol Dirt Race, where a crash left him 35th. Multiple sponsors signed on to sponsor Alexander’s truck, including Geneva Farms, Senoia Raceway, Sugar Creek Raceway, Alexander Produce, Booger Brooks Racing, and Performance Lift.

Alexander ranked 34th of 39 drivers in Thursday’s opening practice, a session that did not see the #49 Staar Trucking Toyota of Andrew Gordon not turn a lap. CMI Motorsports’ hauler had a fuel line come loose on the way to the track, causing them to arrive after the end of the session. Alexander’s #44 would roll off 6th in Friday’s third of four heat races and finished next-to-last, beating only point leader John Hunter Nemechek, who voluntarily pulled his backup truck into the garage area midway through the event. Nemechek, sent to the backup after he backed into the wall late in practice, would start 37th in his #4 Mobil 1 Toyota. Alexander’s run put him one row in front in 35th.

Set to start 40th and last was Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet. She’d be joined in the rear by Nemechek due to his backup truck, plus a late-arriving Chris Windom. Windom wasn’t originally entered in Friday’s race, but was contacted after XFINITY regular Michael Annett only managed 38th in practice driving the #02 TMC Chevrolet. Windom likewise struggled in his heat, and had only managed the 32nd spot prior to the penalty.

By the time the field approached the starting line, Cobb was back in last place with Devon Rouse, whose Reaume Brothers Racing team rebuilt the rear of his #33 Camping World Chevrolet following an incident in practice. When the green flag dropped, Cobb pulled ahead of Rouse, 5.888 seconds back of the leader. On Lap 4, Rouse edged Cobb for 39th by just four-thousandths of a second, and gradually dropped more than a second back of the #33. By the 13th circuit, Rouse had caught and passed Alexander, dropping him to 39th.

Next to take over last was Tate Fogleman, whose #12 Basin Pump Down Services Chevrolet took the spot on Lap 20. Despite a developing overheating issue that would soon cause his truck to spray water, Fogleman re-passed Cobb on Lap 22 and climbed to 37th by Lap 27. Another shakeup then occurred, dropping Rouse to last on Lap 31, then on Lap 32 the #41 Magnum Contracting Chevrolet of Cody Erickson. By then, both Rouse and Erickson were shown one lap down. Erickson re-passed Rouse on Lap 38, just before the caution fell for Jessica Friesen’s Turn 2 spin in the #62 Halmar International Toyota. Friesen’s truck was stuck in gear, dropping her a lap down, then to last place on Lap 39.

On the Lap 41 restart, Jessica Friesen got the drop on Rouse in what was now the battle for the Lucky Dog. Rouse then re-passed Friesen on Lap 50, just before the leaders started lapping the tail end of the field. By Lap 65, Friesen caught up to the lapped Jennifer Jo Cobb, whose #10 was now shown 3 laps down. Moments later, Friesen was bumped by the lead lap running Derek Kraus in the #19 NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota. Friesen spun and stopped in the high lane. Seconds later, Alexander, who was running the high lane after he was lapped, skidded sideways and smacked the right-rear of the #62 with the left-rear wheel of his truck. Friesen managed to keep rolling, but Alexander’s truck was towed to the garage with heavy damage around the right-rear wheel.

Crashes would continue to fill the rest of the Bottom Five, particularly in the third and final stage. Taking 39th was Jack Wood, whose #24 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet ruptured the radiator after contact with Parker Price-Miller’s #3 Townline Variety Chevrolet with 59 laps to go. The final wrecks moved Price-Miller from 38th to 29th at the finish.

Taking 38th was Brett Moffitt, whose top-ten run in AM Racing’s #37 Concrete Supply / Destiny Homes Chevrolet ended with a flat left-rear tire after contact from Grant Enfinger, putting him into the wall. Jett Noland ranked 37th after his battered #45 Hype Motorsports was the last to slide into the night’s biggest pileup entering Turn 1. Cup regular Chase Briscoe rounded out the group after the same wreck eliminated Cory Roper’s #04 Ford.

The night’s 14 cautions and 29 laps in overtime resulted in several surprising runs.

After his brief run in last place, Tate Fogleman climbed to 9th at the finish, his first career top-ten finish in his 40th series start. His previous best run was a 13th last summer at Michigan.

Danny Bohn earned just the third top-ten finish of his career and first of the season, taking 10th in On Point Motorsports’ #30 North American Motor Car Toyota. Bohn’s other two top-ten finishes both came at Martinsville.

Jake Griffin made just his eighth series start, worked his way into the Top 10 late, was involved in the start of the night’s biggest accident, and still managed to finish 12th in the Reaume Brothers’ #34 Great Escapes RV Center Chevrolet. His was the teammate to Devon Rouse, who after running last for much of the event salvaged an 18th-place finish.

Chris Windom’s last-minute substitution for Michael Annett took a detour after a late-race incident left him stalled on the track with damage to the #02 TWC Chevrolet. But he got back on the lead lap and managed 15th at the finish, just one spot short of his career-best 14th at Eldora in 2018.

Finally, Norm Benning has long looked forward to running the series’ dirt races, and was looking for a comeback after an incident knocked him out of this spring’s Bristol Dirt Race. Running the same #6 MDS A Sign Co. Chevrolet, he bounced back from colliding with Cody Erickson in the big pileup to finish on the lead lap in 19th. In his 241st series start, this still trails his career-best 12th at Talladega in 2013, but is his best Truck Series finish since October 12, 2019 at Talladega, when he ran 18th. It’s also his first lead-lap finish in a Truck race since August 26, 2018 at Mosport, where he was 20th.

Larry Hess' #44 Rambler, circa 1966
PHOTO: TheNascarHistorian

*The #44 has not finished last in a points-paying NASCAR dirt race since March 25, 1967, when Larry Hess’ 1966 Rambler lost the engine after 5 laps of the Greenville 200 at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Hess scored three of the only four last-place finishes for the Rambler, including the last, which came in the Rebel 400 at Darlington on May 11, 1968.
*This marked the third last-place finish for Niece Motorsports’ #44 team in 2021, joining James Buescher at Daytona on February 12th and Conor Daly at Las Vegas on March 5th.

40) #44-Morgan Alexander / 63 laps / crash
39) #24-Jack Wood / 91 laps / crash
38) #37-Brett Moffitt / 139 laps / crash
37) #45-Jett Noland / 151 laps / crash
36) #04-Chase Briscoe / 153 laps / crash

1st) Niece Motorsports (5)
2nd) GMS Racing, Rackley-W.A.R. (2)
3rd) CMI Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Roper Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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