Saturday, June 11, 2022

TRUCKS: Stefan Parsons’ early exit caps exhausting Sonoma weekend for G2G Racing

ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard

by Brock Beard Editor-In-Chief

Stefan Parsons picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Door Dash 250 at the Sonoma Raceway when his #46 Toyota fell out with a ruptured oil cooler after 9 of 75 laps.

The finish came in Parsons’ 6th series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 2nd from an oil cooler, the 6th for the #46, and the 44th from a Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 6th from an oil cooler, the 43rd for the #46, and the 374th for Toyota.

Parsons came into his fourth XFINITY Series season in what was originally a full-time effort with B.J. McLeod Motorsports. Announced last September, he would be the sole driver of the #99 with sponsorship from SOKAL Digital. But he got off to a rough start. After failing to qualify for the Daytona opener, he crashed out of the next two races, then ran mid-pack through the spring. By April, the McLeod team elected to scale him back to a part-time effort – just one of several XFINITY teams to have scaled back or shut down entirely the first half of this year. But his prospects have since improved. He’s become the latest to join upstart Alpha Prime Racing, with whom he’s run the last three races. And back with McLeod, he participated in Darlington’s “Throwback Weekend,” where he ran 20th in a car reminiscent of his father Phil Parsons’ 1988 Talladega winner.

Coming into the Sonoma weekend, Parsons wasn’t even scheduled to run any of the weekend’s races. He’d instead been brought on as a spotter for all three events, splitting time between Todd Bodine’s Truck Series effort in the #62 Camping World Toyota, Michael McDowell’s #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford on the Cup side, and an ARCA West team. But when he landed, he got a call from G2G Racing.

After the end of the 2021 season, part-time racer Tim Viens and Billy Shear purchased CMI Motorsports, a small two-truck organization previously entered by Ray Ciccarelli. The team planned to enter two trucks of their own, committing to Toyota. One would be driven by Matt Jaskol, who brought with him sponsorship from that had previously migrated from Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management to GMS Racing. The second truck went to series veteran Johnny Sauter, who would split time with his previous ride at ThorSport. But from the outset, G2G Racing has struggled. Electrical woes left Sauter a distant 34th in Daytona, where Jaskol failed to qualify, and Jaskol parted ways with the team before the fifth race at Martinsville. Brennan Poole, who has struggled to qualify Mike Harmon’s XFINITY entry, had run four races since, but has endured more mechanical issues of his own.

For Sonoma, G2G Racing brought on two newcomers, each with sponsors of their own. The #46 Toyota would go to Mason Filippi, who last week in Portland carried the same sponsor on DGM Racing’s #91 Chevrolet for his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut. Through heavy rains, the accomplished sports car racer earned a 25th-place finish, three laps down to race winner A.J. Allmendinger. The #47 Toyota, which carried backing from California Tank Pneumatics, would go to local racer Travis McCullough, a late model competitor from nearby Lodi, California. This would be McCullough’s first start in NASCAR’s national series competition – if he could qualify. As the 37th entry for a 36-truck field (after AM Racing withdrew their #22 as Austin Wayne Self’s wife Jennifer is expecting their first child), McCullough would have to qualify 31st or better to make the show.

When the track opened for practice on Friday, however, McCullough’s truck was on jack stands with all four wheels off and several parts left on the trunk lid. The team had barely made it to the track. A combination of flat tires and breakdowns kept them from arriving until 2:00 P.M. local time, about an hour before the start of opening practice, and with little time to get both trucks through inspection. When talking with the team, there came another surprising revelation – McCullough wasn’t allowed to run on the track because Drug Free Sports, the outfit with which NASCAR contracted to process the required drug tests, did not get the results forwarded to NASCAR in time to clear him to run opening practice. 

Even more curiously, the issue didn’t only affect McCullough. Colin Garrett, who has two Truck Series starts and 12 in XFINITY, was supposed to be driving the #30 Unbroken Toyota in place of the team’s regular driver Tate Fogleman. But Garrett’s results, too, were not received back in time, and he was also not cleared to participate in opening practice. Thus, Garrett’s #30 and McCullough’s #47 remained stranded in the garage area, leaving the remaining 35 drivers to run the lone practice session. For McCullough, this would end his weekend immediately – not only did he need the test processed, but without any NASCAR starts, rules dictated he couldn’t have Saturday’s qualifying session be his first laps on track. Garrett still had a chance to run because of his experience, but the results still didn’t come on Saturday. With that, Josh Bilicki took over his ride.**

“We were just waiting on drug test results that were taken on Tuesday,” said Garrett. “So we don't know, we didn’t hear from Drug Free Sport. . .I was in Michigan and got the call on Monday to run this deal. And then I went down on Tuesday and got all this done. And NASCAR said it’ll be able to be done by now. And it's not (NASCAR’s) fault - they're not the ones doing it. So we're all we're all working together trying to come up with solution. So it's kind of crazy and a little unacceptable. . .it is what it is.”

“We're at the mercy of the drug enforcement that NASCAR uses,” said Tim Silva, G2G Racing’s team manager and crew chief. “So it's their rules, we got to follow them. We hate it. We were really looking forward to Travis (McCullough) driving – On Point (Motorsports) is in the same situation, they were looking forward to the driver they had. But unfortunately, that's the rules. And that's how we have to follow it. We would love to get drivers a lot sooner and get the NASCAR protocol done a lot faster. But sometimes it just don't happen.”

Travis McCullough's idle #47.

Back at McCullough’s #47, the G2G Racing team did have on hand Reaume Brothers Racing driver Keith McGee, who has made seven Truck Series starts including two this year – one each on the Bristol Dirt Race and at Charlotte. But instead of enlisting McGee’s aid, the team called Parsons. Parsons was reportedly first contacted to run the #47, and helped look over the truck on both Friday and Saturday. But this was apparently unrelated to Saturday’s race - G2G’s crew chief and team manager Tim Silva said he’d withdrawn the #47 on Friday afternoon. Instead, Parsons was intended to replace Mason Filippi. In Friday’s practice, Filippi’s #46 was slowest overall – a full 5.861 seconds off the top speed put up by Christian Eckes. According to Silva, Filippi was struggling with the truck because of the unique handling characteristics of the trucks versus XFINITY cars. With that, Parsons was brought on to qualify and race the #46 in Filippi’s place. So quickly had this change been made that the Sonoma Raceway’s own public leaderboard still showed Filippi’s name in the #46 on race day.

“They said that Travis was having some trouble - I think his drug tests hadn’t been processed yet, and they might need somebody to drive that truck,” said Parsons. “So I said ‘sure.’ We lined somebody up to spot for Todd and I ended up being able to drive to 46. So definitely an eventful weekend.” Parsons also said he did not know why Filippi was swapped out of the truck. Signaling the last-minute nature of this driver change, Parsons wore what appeared to be his Motorsport Games uniform from B.J. McLeod Motorsports, which had a Camping World Truck Series logo taped over the XFINITY Series logo.

Parsons qualified 35th of the 36 entries, clocking in at 1 minute, 24.067 seconds (85.218mph), which was still just under five seconds off the pole. He just beat last-place qualifier Spencer Boyd, whose #12 Grofully Chevrolet ran slowest with a lap of 1 minute, 24.156 seconds (85.128mph). Parsons would slot in behind Boyd for unapproved adjustments – not for the driver change as it had happened prior to qualifying – but because the truck’s hood was up in the impound section with the crew still working on it. He’d be joined in the back by none other than polesitter Carson Hocevar, who after surgery on his right tibia following a brutal last-lap crash with Tyler Hill at Gateway still managed to win the pole. But in so doing, he wrecked, and the entire Niece Motorsports team rebuilt the rear clip of his #42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet.

During the pace laps, there was yet another problem for the G2G team. While Parsons’ truck had fired and rolled down pit road, he’d then made an unscheduled stop just before the initial start. “We were just working on our throttle a little bit, working on our airbox, trying to get that right,” said Parsons afterward. “But I don't think that had anything to do with what happened,” referencing what was about to happen next. The unscheduled stop left Parsons at least 20 seconds behind the 35th-place runner when the green flag dropped, keeping him in last place.

Parsons in the garage with oil covering the
engine compartment

For the next few laps, Parsons’ #46 seemed to slide the right-front tire through Turn 11 each time. The team urged him onward, saying he was faster than the next five trucks in front of him, and that “they’ll come back to you.” By Lap 8, and still running by himself, Parsons was told to turn on the radiator fan. Further ahead, the now 35th-place Boyd began to lose touch with the pack along with Jade Buford, who made his Truck Series debut in Josh Reaume’s #33 Spiked Coolers Toyota. But by Lap 9, Parsons reported he smelled smoke, thinking it was the rear gear. The team told him to pull behind the wall next time by, which he did, trailing smoke from behind his Toyota from at least Turn 7 all the way into the garage. Back behind the team’s hauler, the crew lifted the hood only to find the entire engine compartment covered with oil. More oil was splattered against the underside of the hood. The team said they were done for the day, and NASCAR confirmed them out by reason of “oil cooler” on Lap 27.

“I’m not 100% sure,” said Parsons soon after he climbed from the truck. “I think a line got up against the power steering and cut a hole in it. So unfortunate, but appreciative to G2G and Tim Viens and everybody for giving me an opportunity.”

Josh Bilicki, the other driver swapped into a ride because of the drug test report issue, was involved in the day’s hardest accident when he tangled with Stewart Friesen and Hailie Deegan entering the first corner. All three climbed from their trucks without serious injury. Bilicki, who said the impact was his worst yet in racing, said, “We didn't practice so we were a little bit off from where I think we needed to be. But I think we had a Top 15 truck. We just kept getting cycled back, and then I had a pit road speeding penalty in Stage 1 which kind of set us back. But aside from that, I think we were we were shaping up to have a good day. So I hate it. I took over the seat and they have a destroyed (truck) but like I said. . .there's not much you can do.”

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by a combination of crashes and mechanical failures. Christian Eckes’ #98 TSPORT / Curb Records Toyota spun off the nose of John Hunter Nemechek’s Toyota in the Esses, and couldn’t recover from the damage caused by the resulting hit to the outside wall. Teammate Matt Crafton lost time with an extended pit stop late, and ultimately dropped out with transmission failure on his #88 Oregon / Menards Toyota. Jade Buford’s Toyota dropped out seven laps laer for the same reason. Hailie Deegan, caught up in the Bilicki accident, rounded out the group.

**NOTE: A follow-up article to this one with additional details will be posted here in the near future.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #46 in a Truck Series race at Sonoma.
*The only other instance of a Truck Series driver finishing last because of an oil cooler occurred on June 29, 2018, when Mike Harmon’s #74 Troptions Chevrolet dropped out on the opening lap of the Overtons 225 at Chicagoland.

36) #46-Stefan Parsons / 9 laps / oil cooler
35) #98-Christian Eckes / 26 laps / crash
34) #88-Matt Crafton / 54 laps / transmission
33) #33-Jade Buford / 61 laps / transmission
32) #1-Hailie Deegan / 66 laps / crash

1st) David Gilliland Racing, G2G Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) AM Racing, Front Row Motorsports, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Young’s Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (3)


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