Saturday, April 16, 2022

TRUCKS: Austin Wayne Self last at Bristol, where entire Truck field comes home under power for the first time in series history

PHOTO: @nascarcasm

Austin Wayne Self picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track when his #22 AM Technical Solutions Chevrolet finished under power with 143 of 150 laps complete.

The finish, which came in Self’s 135th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Truck Series race since May 13, 2016 at Dover, 138 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, this was the 5th for the #22, the 6th where the finisher was running, and the 420th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 41st for the #22, the 48th while running, and the 1,833rd for Chevrolet.

Self’s only previous Truck Series last-place finish came in his first full season of competition, when he’d just come off a runner-up ARCA campaign behind Grant Enfinger. Still searching for his first career win, having led just one lap so far, which came at Talladega back in 2016, Self has also ranked no worse than 16th in the final point standings. His career-best runner-up finish came in the 2017 opener at Daytona, where he trailed Kaz Grala and was joined in the Top 10 by a rare second entry from the AM Racing stables, driven by 9th-place J.J. Yeley. He also finished 5th at Michigan in 2019. More recently, Self was the center of controversy at Martinsville, when he made contact with Playoff contender John Hunter Nemechek during the final laps of the penultimate race, sending Nemechek into the wall.

Coming into the Bristol Dirt Race, where he finished a strong 10th in the 2021 inaugural, Self’s best finish of the young season was a 9th in Las Vegas, a run he followed by a 10th in Atlanta. He entered the event a solid 15th in points, looking for a possible Playoff berth. On Friday, he ranked 27th of the 38 entrants in opening practice and, after a spin in Turn 2, took 26th in the second session. This placed him 8th on the grid for Heat Race 1.

An early-morning rain on Saturday left the track muddy for the four 15-lap Truck Series heat races, and Heat Race 1 faced the worst of this. Jack Wood rolled off 10th and last in the #24 Chevrolet, but was soon joined by Andrew Gordon in the #49 Trick Shot Products / Staar Trucking Ford. Gordon’s truck had originally been entered as the #46 under G2G Racing, who bought Gordon’s 2021 entry from CMI Motorsports. But since the truck was still registered to CMI, the team had to hastily change the car numbers back to the #49, constructively withdrawing their own #46. Gordon's truck also trailed smoke during the pace laps from what was reportedly clutch fluid getting on the exhaust pipes. This smoke cleared before the start.

When Heat Race 1 started, Gordon broke loose on the apron, but still re-passed Wood, and by the end of Lap 1 had climbed to 7th. Wood then moved closer to a side-by-side battle for 8th between Timmy Hill in the #56 Hill Motorsports Toyota and Blaine Perkins in the #9 Raceline Chevrolet. Perkins moved ahead of Hill, and Wood soon followed, dropping Hill to last on Lap 6. Hill lost nearly two seconds to Wood by Lap 10, when Tanner Gray slowed down the backstretch in an overheating #15 Ford Performance Ford. Gray came to pit road, taking last on Lap 11, and a circuit later was joined by Buddy Kofoid for an overheating #51 Mobil 1 Toyota. These were the only two retirements from the race as Gordon finished 4th, locking himself into the main event. Austin Wayne Self finished 5th, one spot behind Gordon, and secured a solid 11th on the grid for the main event.
The nose of Andrew Gordon's truck before the start
of the main event.
PHOTO: Aaron Bearden, @aaronbearden93

In Heat Race 2, Mike Marlar started last in Josh Reaume’s #33 JDS Technologies Toyota. There were no pre-race tail-end penalties for this 10-truck field. When the green flag dropped, Marlar advanced past Chase Purdy, whose #61 Bama Buggies Toyota was last across the stripe, 1.583 seconds back of the lead. By Lap 6, Purdy had caught the #43 Vulcan Towing & Recovery Chevrolet of Keith McGee, Marlar’s teammate at the Reaume team, and the pair were 0.069 second apart at the stripe. Purdy dropped McGee to last the next time by, and the #43 struggled to break a 20-second lap for the rest of the run. McGee took the checkered flag in last, the team congratulating him on running 1.5 seconds faster than he had in practice.

Heat Race 3 saw Matt DiBenedetto start 9th and last in the #25 TW Frierson / Rackley Roofing Chevrolet. He’d be joined by the second tail-end penalty of the day as 4th-place starter Hailie Deegan had been sent to a backup truck following a crash in practice. Deegan’s #1 Wastequip Ford, lined up last on the outside lane, pulled ahead of DiBenedetto’s truck at the start. On Lap 4, DiBenedetto caught Ben Rhodes, whose #99 Tenda Toyota worked to the outside of Kris Wright in the #44 Big Dog Energy Chevrolet. A three-wide battle ensued with Wright in the middle breaking loose and slipping to last behind the other two. The caution then fell on Lap 7 as Deegan spun from 6th place and stalled on the apron. When the race restarted, last place fell to Norm Benning, who was attempting his first race of 2022 with new sponsorship from Circle B Diecast. Benning’s #6 Chevrolet dropped behind Wright around Lap 10, and was 1.253 seconds behind Wright two circuits later. At the finish, Benning crossed the stripe 2.549 back of Wright, and was ultimately the first truck eliminated from the main event. Benning was frustrated that his truck wouldn’t pick up grip until two-thirds the way around the corner, and that both the mud and the restart didn’t help his chances.

The final two spots of the nine-truck Heat Race 4 belonged to Stewart Friesen and his wife Jessica, who competed against each other for the second-straight Truck Series dirt race, each in identical blue Toyotas sponsored by Halmar International. No drivers were sent to the rear, so Stewart’s #52 lined up behind Jessica’s #62. Both made quick work of Spencer Boyd, whose #12 Rimtyme Chevrolet slipped to last on Lap 3. Boyd was told by his crew to run more aggressively, especially on corner entry, and at one point cut a couple tenths off his deficit to Jessica. Jessica, in turn, needed to pass one more truck to qualify for the main event. She came within a couple trucklengths of catching LASTCAR Truck Series championship leader Dean Thompson in the #40 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, but joined Norm Benning on the DNQ list. Boyd, who was fighting a tight condition, finished last in the heat.
Self on pit road after the incident.
PHOTO: Matt Miller, @MGMiller17

Boyd would line up 34th in Saturday’s main event, one spot ahead of Tanner Gray, who finished last in Heat Race 1. Keith McGee secured the 36th and final starting spot after his own last-place run in Heat Race 2. The pre-race penalties incurred by both Hailie Deegan and Andrew Gordon in the heat races would likewise carry over to the main event, dropping Deegan from 26th and Gordon from 22nd. Gordon’s right-front fender had been damaged during his heat, requiring a large patch of black bear-bond to cover the headlight on his white truck. To make sure the truck number was still visible, the team placed a small red square with what appeared to be ordinary black mailbox numbers on the sticker.

When the race started, Chase Purdy was last across the stripe as his #61 Bama Buggies Toyota trailed the outside line. By Lap 4, he’d climbed past Tanner Gray, putting the #15 in last, around a half-second behind McGee in 35th. Purdy dropped McGee back to last on Lap 7, and the crew encouraged him to reel in the new 35th-place runner, which was now Spencer Boyd in the #12. McGee closed within a half-second of Boyd, but was soon in peril of losing a lap. On Lap 14, McGee dropped to 0.870 back of Boyd as the leaders looked to his inside. By Lap 17, McGee was first to lose a lap to the leaders, followed by Boyd. Three circuits later, the leaders had also lapped Kris Wight in the #44 Big Dog Energy Chevrolet and his Niece Motorsports teammate Lawless Alan in the #45 Chevrolet. Through it all, McGee was told he was faster than the five trucks ahead of him, but he struggled to catch any of them.

The first caution on Lap 25 fell for Andrew Gordon, who after his unapproved adjustments penalty had once again shown how fast his renumbered #49 had bee. He was running around the 27th spot when he spun off Turn 4, showing damage to the right-rear corner of his truck. Gordon took last from McGee under the caution as he struggled to re-fire the engine, citing a possible fuel pressure issue. By the time he made it to pit road, he was two laps down, but thankfully with the water temperature holding at 190 degrees. Not so fortunate was Jack Wood, whose #24 pitted for a cool-down under the same caution, dropping him off the lead lap into 35th.

Gordon remained excitable on the radio for the ensuing run, at one point saying something exploded in his car that “about gagged me.” He also indicated the water temperature gauge wasn’t working, though it eventually reset to show the water at 190. He remained last when Stage 1 ended on Lap 41, and held the spot on the restart. Kris Wright drew the next yellow on Lap 55, his #44 pointed the wrong way after a spin in Turn 2. Wright gently guided his car down the slippery banking, but revealed a flat left-rear tire as he slapped the inside wall. By Lap 56, Wright had taken over last place, showing the same two laps down as Gordon. Wright lost a third lap when he failed to beat the pace truck off pit road, and had to line up at the tail end for the restart. On Lap 78, Wright lost a fourth lap when the leaders caught him off Turn 2, his #44 holding serve in the low lane. 

The nose of Self's truck after the race.
PHOTO: Jordan Bianchi, @Jordan_Bianchi

Wright was still running in last place on Lap 98, when the strangest incident of the night occurred. Working their way through Turns 3 and 4, Matt DiBenedetto’s #25 attempted to complete a three-wide pass to the inside of Austin Wayne Self, who had Joey Logano’s #54 Planet Fitness Ford to his outside. As DiBenedetto came up, he suddenly slowed, and Self got into the back of the #25. Instead of causing a spin, the two remained hooked together for nearly a lap. The pair stopped on the backstretch, drawing the caution flag, then ultimately the red on Lap 101. Self tried to slam his truck into reverse, but the two were still stuck fast. 

Just before the red came out, Self and DiBenedetto dropped to the final two spots, lifting Wright to 34th. Self, who now held last place, expressed frustration over the crews tearing up the nose of his truck to try and separate them. Of particular concern was his radiator as the #22 was now spraying water. By the time the two were separated by means of a tow truck, DiBenedetto was briefly credited with last place as he returned to line up with the rest of the field. Wright re-took last on Lap 104 when he came in for bear-bond to be applied to his damaged nose. At that point, Wright was now one lap behind DiBenedetto, and seven behind the leaders. When the race restarted, Self remained in last, seven behind, and two laps back of 35th-place DiBenedetto. 

Keith McGee made another bid for last place on Lap 114, when he came down pit road after backing into the outside wall in Turn 4. He returned to the track three laps down in 31st, but NASCAR forced him to make another stop for some bars that were sticking out of the bodywork. He then served a pass-through penalty, which dropped him four laps down in 34th. By then, McGee was in 34th – on the same lap as Kris Wright, but one and three laps ahead of DiBenedetto and Self, respectively.

The race restarted with just 31 laps to go, and all 36 trucks still under power. Two more cautions would fall by the time it was over, but neither accident was enough to even knock any of the five combined drivers off the lead lap. Coming around to the checkered flag, another wreck did collect a few other trucks – including Andrew Gordon – but none were listed as DNFs, and each were unable to unseat Self as the last-place runner. With that, the #22 secured the 36th and final spot, a mere seven laps short of completing the full race distance. DiBenedetto, McGee, Wright, and Gordon rounded out the Bottom Five.

Carson Hocevar in the #42 Premier Security Solutions Chevrolet was once again tantalizingly close to scoring his first career Truck Series victory, only to be passed in the final stages by defending series champion Ben Rhodes. Hocevar led 55 laps on Saturday – the only 55 that Rhodes himself did not lead. Also impressive was Parker Kligerman, who earned another Top Five for hometown team Henderson Motorsports, taking 4th in the #75 Food Country USA / Bounty Chevrolet.

*This marked the first last-place finish of the #22 in a Truck Series race at Bristol – paved or on dirt. The number had not finished last in a Truck Series race since Self’s most recent last-place showing at Dover in 2016.
*This marked the first time in Truck Series history that every entrant that started the race took the checkered flag under power. Such a thing hasn’t happened in the Cup Series since November 18, 2018 at Homestead, while in the XFINITY Series, it hasn’t occurred since August 15, 1998 at Michigan.
*This is actually the second time a last-place finisher of a Truck Series race at Bristol finished under power. The other occurrence was on June 20, 1998, when Rick Crawford was still running despite completing just 20 of the 206 laps of the Loadhandler 200. Crawford missed the start due to a clutch issue, and returned to the track in the final moments. He took the checkered flag just 12 laps short of dropping Stacy Compton to last place. Compton was one of eight drivers who failed to finish.

36) #22-Austin Wayne Self / 143 laps / running
35) #25-Matt DiBenedetto / 145 laps / running
34) #43-Keith McGee / 146 laps / running
33) #44-Kris Wright / 146 laps / running
32) #49-Andrew Gordon / 146 laps / running

1st) Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) AM Racing, David Gilliland Racing Ford, Front Row Motorsports, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford (2)


1 comment:

Chad said...

Wow. I can't believe there's never been a DNF free NCWTS race until now.