Saturday, August 7, 2021

TRUCKS: Chandler Smith’s first last-place finish a footnote to his first Playoff appearance

PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images

Chandler Smith picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s United Rentals 176 at Watkins Glen International when his #18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota finished in 18th, but was disqualified after completing all 61 laps.

The finish came in Smith’s 31st series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 3rd for the #18, the 5th by disqualification, and the 40th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44th from disqualification, the 49th for the #18, and the 360th for Toyota.

Will Rodgers picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s United Rentals 176 at Watkins Glen International when his #41 Elevated Performance Chevrolet fell out with transmission issues after 6 of 61 laps.

The finish came in Rodgers’ series debut. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 3rd for the #41, the 38th from transmission issues, and the 412th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 58th for the #41, the 168th from transmission problems, and the 1,797th for Chevrolet.

The 2021 season marks Smith’s first full-season effort in the Truck Series, where he’s climbed the ladder as a development driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Smith made the jump from Bandoleros and Super Late Models to ARCA just three years ago. There, he won the pole in his series debut at the Nashville Fairgrounds, then led more than half the laps at Madison en route to victory. His Truck Series debut with KBM came the following year at Iowa, where he again won the pole and this time finished 8th.

When the Truck Series last raced at Knoxville, Smith matched his career-best runner-up finish from Bristol in 2019, leading 71 laps of the wild event. This moved him to 11th in the overall series standings, all but locked-in to the Playoffs unless there was a new season winner at Watkins Glen. This was a key goal for the KBM team, which saw none of its trucks make the cut in 2020, and the #18 team in particular struggle with newcomer Christian Eckes. John Hunter Nemechek, Smith’s teammate, already has five wins on the season and a grip on the point lead. Smith would roll off 3rd at The Glen.

With the return of metric qualifying, all 40 entered trucks would start the race. Rolling off in last place was Sam Mayer, one of a handful of starters who ran Friday’s ARCA Menards Series race for extra track time. Mayer’s #32 Camping World Chevrolet would first be joined by two other entries. Chase Purdy’s #23 Bama Buggies Chevrolet drew 25th, but a positive COVID-19 test handed the wheel to road race ace A.J. Allmendinger. Josh Reaume was also instructed by NASCAR to surrender 33rd on the grid in his #33 Levrack Toyota.

By the time the leaders addressed the starter’s stand for the green flag, Reaume was still in last place, but Allmendinger had moved up to 36th and Mayer to 32nd as several other trailing trucks swapped position. The following list are the drivers in positions 32 through 40 as they crossed the start/finish line, organized based on the intervals back from the leader at far right. The number after the starting spot is where each driver was scheduled to start:

32-40) #32-Sam Mayer 4.137
33-34) #20-Spencer Boyd 4.144
34-39) #66-Paul Menard 4.352
35-35) #3-Bobby Reuse 4.62
36-25) #23-A.J. Allmendinger 4.67
37-31) #45-Chad Chastain 5.317
38-26) #6-Norm Benning 5.599
39-37) #49-Roger Reuse 5.967
40-33) #33-Josh Reaume 6.511

The lineup immediately changed as the field headed into Turn 1 for the first time. John Hunter Nemechek, who started 6th, pulled to the right in his #4 Mobil 1 Toyota and banged doors with both Derek Kraus in the #19 Hunter Nation Toyota and Ben Rhodes in the #99 Bombardier Lear Jet 75 Toyota. The contact sent Rhodes into a spin, which also hooked Chandler Smith’s #18. Reaume and Norm Benning in the #6 MDS A Sign Co. Chevrolet were the last to arrive on the scene, and Reaume pulled ahead of Benning off the corner as Rhodes and Smith continued on alongside. By the end of that first lap, all four had disposed of Jennifer Jo Cobb, whose #10 Fastener Supply Company Ford was last to complete Lap 1.

The next time by, Rhodes pulled onto pit road behind Kaz Grala, who suffered right-front damage with a tire going down on his #02 Randco / Sim Seats Chevrolet. Grala led Rhodes and the #26 Liuna Chevrolet of Tyler Ankrum into the pits while the race remained under green. Ankrum, who had spun by himself in The Esses but managed to avoid contact, took last spot from Cobb on Lap 3. Grala took last on Lap 4 after further repairs to his right-front corner, and a pit road speeding penalty brought the #99 in a second time, putting him 39th.

Will Rodgers (center) behind the wall.
PHOTO: Matt Miller, @MGMiller17

Back on the track on Lap 6, the leaders lapped Cobb entering the back stretch, followed by Benning as they entered the chicane. Moments later, Will Rodgers, making his series debut in the #41 Elevated Performance Chevrolet, had entered the last-place contest. Rodgers had radio issues after the command, requiring he pull into his pit stall before rejoining the field. According to crew chief Brian Keselowski, Rodgers was pushed off the track on Lap 4, causing grass on the grille to overeat the engine. Contact to the left-rear shown in a photo by Matt Miller also caused a vibration. Soon after, the transmission failed, breaking the driveshaft U-joint, and forcing him behind the wall. Rodgers was declared out by NASCAR on Lap 29, the same lap Grant Enfinger was declared out for a transmission issue of his on the #9 Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet. The result would have been the first last-place run for the #41 in a Truck Series race since August 20, 2008 with Tayler Malsam at Bristol.

Chandler Smith, meanwhile, recovered from his first-lap spin to finish 18th after the race was cut short by lightning. That changed about 30 laps into the following XFINITY Series race, when it was announced Smith had been disqualified for failing post-race heights, classifying him last in the field. Regardless, with Knoxville winner Austin Hill taking the checkers again, Smith secured his spot in the 2021 Truck Series Playoffs as the ninth seed.

Smith’s disqualification lifted Rogers to 39th with Enfinger 38th, and bumped Taylor Gray out of the Bottom Five. Now taking 37th was Norm Benning, who was black flagged for his oil tank leaking into the fuel cell, then was ultimately parked for not maintaining minimum speed. Jennifer Jo Cobb rounded out the Bottom Five, 16 laps down, but still under power.

While the race was cut short of its scheduled distance, the drivers who lined up 38th, 39th, and 40th on the starting grid all finished inside the Top 10. Parker Kligerman lined up 38th in the #75 Chevrolet and finished 5th, his first series top-five finish since last summer at Bristol. Paul Menard lined up 39th in the #66 Sun Tree Snack Foods Toyota and finished 8th in only his eighth series start and second of the season. Even Sam Mayer, who rolled off 40th and had a noticeably high-riding nose on his #32 Camping World Chevrolet, battled near the front of the pack and finished in 9th – matching his season-best finish at Richmond.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #18 in a Truck Series points race since February 24, 2012, when Jason Leffler’s #18 Dollar General Toyota crashed after 17 laps of the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona. The only other time the number finished last in a series race was back on August 1, 1996, when David Green had mechanical issues on his #18 Pennzoil Chevrolet after starting outside-pole in the Cummins 200 at IRP.

40) #18-Chandler Smith / 61 laps / disqualified
39) #41-Will Rodgers / 6 laps / transmission
38) #9-Grant Enfinger / 8 laps / transmission
37) #6-Norm Benning / 40 laps / too slow
36) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 45 laps / running

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

1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Toyota (2)
3rd) Ford (1)


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