Friday, May 6, 2022

TRUCKS: Akinori Ogata prevails in epic war of attrition over Brennan Poole; Crafton's disqualification rescinded

PHOTO: @RBR_Teams

Akinori Ogata picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Dead On Tools 200 at the Darlington Raceway when his #43 Precision Kyowa Toyota fell out with engine problems after 54 of 149 laps.

The finish came in Ogata’s 13th series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 3rd for the #43, the 42nd for Toyota, and the 138th from engine issues. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it’s the 49th for the #43, the 371st for Toyota, and the 1,117th from engine problems.

Matt Crafton picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Dead On Tools 200 at the Darlington Raceway when his #88 Jack Links / Menards Toyota finished 5th, but was disqualified after completing all 149 laps.

The finish, which came in Crafton’s 505th start, was his first of the season and first since June 28, 2020 at Pocono, 46 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 5th for the #88, the 7th from disqualification, and the 42nd for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th from disqualification, the 58th for the #88, and the 371st for Toyota.

The 48-year-old native of Kanagawa, Japan, Ogata is not one of the most prolific competitors in the Truck Series, having never run more than three races in a season. But as of last Friday, he has now done so for eight consecutive seasons. Active in motorcross since 1987, Ogata made the move to four wheels in quarter midgets and late models. Stateside, he made his Truck Series debut on November 7, 2014 in Phoenix, where he ran 29th for WinTron Motorsports. His series-best finish came the following year at Loudon, where he ran 18th for the late Mike Mittler. He’s also made three XFINITY Series starts – one each for owner-drivers Carl Long, Jimmy Means, and B.J. McLeod. The McLeod race last fall at Martinsville is his most recent, and also yielded a series-best, coming home on the lead lap in 26th.

The final two starting spots in Friday’s race belonged to Ogata and teammate Josh Reaume. Ogata rejoined the Reaume Brothers team in the #43 Precision Kyowa Toyota, one of two to run a “throwback” paint scheme reminiscent of Mike Skinner’s black-and-white #5 Toyota (Ogata running the 2008 version, Tyler Ankrum in the Hattori #16 running the 2005 version). Josh Reaume himself would run the team’s flagship #33 Hardy Boys Consulting entry, an older model Toyota with a black-and-silver Dale Earnhardt scheme. In practice, Reaume ran slowest of the 36 entrants with Ogata second-slowest, through nearly a full second faster. They remained in the bottom two spots in qualifying, though by a wider margin – Ogata 35th with a lap of 159.709mph (30.791 seconds) to Reaume’s 36th-place 153.282mph (32.082 seconds).

Before the race started, Reaume was managing his team from behind the wheel. He confirmed that the tape on the nose of his truck was the same as it had been in practice. He also had an issue with his water bottle, and called for a straw on the next stop, but the crew couldn’t find one. With his #33 pitted next to GMS Racing’s Grant Enfinger, Reaume also reminded his crew that they would try and stay out of his way on pit road. He also wanted to stay mindful of teammate Ogata, and to give each other enough space in the early laps since restarts were so dangerous.

Joining Reaume in the back of the field was 34th-place Tate Fogleman, whose #30 Rangeline Group Toyota was sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. But by the time the field took the green flag, Fogleman was up to 32nd based on intervals. At that moment, Fogleman was ahead of both Ogata and Reaume, nose-to-tail in the final two spots on the track, plus Dean Thompson in the #40 Worldwide Express Chevrolet. But neither Reaume nor Ogata were in last place.

After a frustrating weekend at Bristol, where their #46 was still registered to Ray Ciccarelli, requiring a last-minute number change, the G2G Racing team entered an old Toyota of their own, decorated similar to Cole Trickle’s green #46 Chevrolet from “Days of Thunder,” though with purple accents instead of yellow. Behind the wheel was Brennan Poole, who had qualified solidly into the XFINITY race for Mike Harmon Racing, only for the lap to be discarded when rain cut short the session. Poole’s problems didn’t end there. NASCAR.com reported that Poole’s truck didn’t start at the command, and had to be pushed behind the wall. The leaderboard, however, indicated he crossed the line in 36th and last place, 6.318 seconds back of the leader at the green flag, and 2.5 seconds back of Reaume, who took the green on track. Unless the NASCAR.com report was incorrect, Poole apparently exited the garage during the pace laps and re-entered at the start. Either way, the issue was electrical, and the team called for a replacement battery on Lap 5.

Moments later, the Reaume team’s night came undone. Reaume had been trying to pass Ogata for several laps, and was finally let by in Turns 1 and 2. But Ogata didn’t get out of the gas long enough and clipped Reaume’s #33 as it passed, putting both trucks into the outside wall. Reaume ultimately lost one lap under caution and returned to action, but Ogata’s truck stalled. After unsuccessfully trying to push-start it, NASCAR instructed the #43 team to push their truck back to their pit stall. The engine finally re-fired on Lap 11, and Ogata returned to the track 2 laps down in 35th with Reaume now one lap back in 34th. Too many crewmen came over the wall during the fiasco, and Ogata incurred a redundant tail-end penalty.

By the Lap 13 restart, Ogata – who was also having radio trouble – reported he had engine issues. The spotter reported the truck’s engine was sputtering, and had to carefully guide him to the back of the pack. The crew estimated a plug wire had come loose, but since they hadn’t yet cleared the “Crash Clock,” they couldn’t come down pit road to address it. On Lap 15, the crew insistently told Ogata to stay on the track, which he did through the second caution on Lap 21 for Lawless Alan’s single-truck spin in the #45 AutoParkIt.com Chevrolet. It was under this caution that Poole’s engine re-fired in the garage. And though the only gauge working was his tachometer, Poole managed to keep the rpms at 3800 as he rejoined the race, 20 laps down, completing his first circuit on Lap 21.

For the following restart, 35th-place Ogata, now 6 laps down and 14 ahead of Poole, was told “you gotta go hard” by his crew as he had still yet to clear his “Crash Clock.” They then instructed him that he had exactly three laps to run fast enough to continue. On the Lap 25 restart, Ogata’s truck ducked out of line completely out of control, skating sideways on the apron just past the starting line. He somehow managed to keep the truck straight, and even more remarkably cleared the “Crash Clock” the next time by.

Akinori Ogata's #43 goes behind the wall.
PHOTO: Max Neuwirth, @racingfan83

With his own truck back on track – and with fresher tires due to his early trip to the garage – Poole was now running faster than other trucks at the back of the field, and on Lap 34 passed Lawless Alan’s #45, still on the lead lap in 30th place. The next time by, NASCAR informed Ogata that he was not meeting minimum speed. Having just cleared the “Crash Clock” moments earlier, this meant the Reaume team had one opportunity to fix the issue. He came down pit road on Lap 37, when the crew examined the ECU, and finally returned on Lap 41. As the spotter hurriedly found Ogata a spot in line, the #43 was now 13 laps back, eight ahead of last-place Poole. Looking to cool down the engine, Ogata tried to engage the fans, but they’d been disabled in the wreck with Reaume. When Stage 1 ended on Lap 45, Poole remained in last, 21 laps down.

Under this caution, Poole was penalized for equipment over the wall too soon. He rejoined the field as Ogata was instructed by his team to fall back so he wouldn’t be run over by faster trucks. By this point, the Reaume team was working out a plan to bring the #43 to the garage area, at first waiting for the moment the leaders caught him to put their Toyota another lap down. The team believed Ogata may have overrevved the engine, breaking a valve spring. But on Lap 58, they were saved by a caution for Todd Bodine’s single-truck spin down the backstretch. With the engine sounding worse and trucks pulling away faster, Ogata was told to come to the garage. “Ilmor thinks we broke the motor,” the crew told him on Lap 59. “We broke a rocker arm on Piston 1.”

But Poole’s truck then shut down on him again, and he pulled behind the wall on Lap 60. The engine quickly re-fired, and no sooner had NASCAR confirmed he went to the garage that he was rolling again. “You’ve got a bad gremlin in there,” the team told him. Ogata, meanwhile, held off coming to the garage area and dropped to the tail end of the field for the restart. At this point, the #43 was now nine laps ahead of Poole’s #46. The race restarted on Lap 63, and NASCAR’s spotters were again paying attention to how Ogata’s truck was struggling. On Lap 66, the crew called him in, and he pulled behind the wall with mechanical issues. From there, Poole gradually whittled down his deficit to Ogata, and when caution fell on Lap 75 for Tate Fogleman’s spin, Poole was one lap back of Ogata and just two laps from climbing out of last place.

But the next time by, as the leaders came down pit road, Poole was coasting onto pit entry, then taking his own hard left turn into the first garage entrance. Adding even more intrigue on that same Lap 76, Ogata’s team prepared to roll their truck back onto pit road. The #43 rolled back out of the garage exit, crossed the start / finish line---then immediately ducked back into the garage in Turn 1. In so doing, Ogata was now two laps ahead of Poole, meaning Poole would have to return to the track and turn three laps to climb out of last place. 

Then on the lap after, the 77th circuit of the race, Poole’s truck sped out of the garage, completing his own 53rd lap in the process. The G2G team had apparently found the issue, and on the ensuing restart reported Poole had run his fastest lap of the race. With that, on Lap 80, after spending the first 20 laps in the garage, Poole finally clawed past Ogata into 35th place. He’d ultimately climb out of the Bottom Five as well, reaching 30th spot with 125 of 149 laps complete. “We have to keep grinding and our day will come,” Poole tweeted after the race. But for Ogata, his night was done. NASCAR’s garage official was about to make the report on Lap 87, but was instructed to wait until the end of Stage 2. That word then came on Lap 92.
Matt Crafton, classified last by DQ until Thursday's successful appeal.
PHOTO: @ThorSportRacing

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by late-race accidents. Chase Purdy had one of the night’s biggest hits when his #61 Bama Buggies Toyota pulled up in traffic, slamming him into the Turn 3 wall nearly head-on. Tanner Gray, his #15 Dead On Tools Ford involved in the crash, turned just one more lap, taking 34th to Purdy’s 35th. Kris Wright damaged his #44 VFW Chevrolet in an incident, and fell out past the 100-lap mark, followed by Tate Fogleman after a grinding frontstretch wreck with Blaine Perkins.

That is, until post-race inspection.

Matt Crafton finished 5th, escaping the carnage with his first Top Five finish of the season. But in post-race inspection, Crafton’s #88 was found to be too low in the front. The resulting disqualification dropped Crafton to last place, bumping Ogata up one spot and taking Tate Fogleman out of the Bottom Five.

UPDATE: Then on Thursday, May 12th, Crafton's disqualification was rescinded after a successful appeal found no issue with the offending part of the #88 truck, placing Ogata back into last place.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #43 in a Truck Series race since September 8, 2005, when Johnny Sauter picked up his first career last-place finish in the #43 Menards / Energizer Chevrolet – due to crash damage, at least officially – after 100 laps of the Cheerios Betty Crocker 200 at Richmond. The #43 had never finished last in a Truck Series race at Darlington.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #43-Akinori Ogata / 54 laps / engine
35) #61-Chase Purdy / 97 laps / crash
34) #15-Tanner Gray / 98 laps / crash
33) #44-Kris Wright / 105 laps / crash
32) #30-Tate Fogleman / 123 laps / crash

2022 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) AM Racing, David Gilliland Racing Ford, Front Row Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

2022 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)

2022 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP


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