Sunday, August 21, 2022

CUP: Kyle Tilley’s steering trouble leaves him last in international Watkins Glen field

PHOTO: @teamlivefast on Twitter

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Kyle Tilley picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International when his #78 Brush Creek Valley Farms Ford fell out with steering issue after 15 of 90 laps.

The finish came in Tilley’s fifth series start. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 24th from steering issues, the 30th for the #78, and the 725th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st from steering problems, the 45th for the #78, and the 998th for Ford.

A member of Era Motorsport’s LMP2 class winner in the 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Tilley had successfully finished all four of his previous Cup Series starts, each as a “road ringer” for Live Fast Motorsports in the #78 Ford. Most recently, he’d matched his career-best 30th-place finish at Road America – his first in NASCAR’s NextGen car. Last year at Watkins Glen, Era Motorsport sponsored Tilley’s first XFINITY ride, fielded by Live Fast co-owner B.J. McLeod. But on a Lap 12 restart, contact from another car turned Tilley into the wall, and the resulting overheating issues ultimately left him in last place due to the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.”

The England-born Tilley represented one of a series-record seven different countries represented in Sunday’s field, headlined by 2007 Formula One World Champion Kimi Raikkonen of Finland. Raikkonen’s “Project91” entry, fielded by Trackhouse Racing, debuted with the intent of bringing even more international drivers into Cup races. As of this writing, both this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and 2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button have expressed interest.

In opening practice, Tilley was slowest of the 39 entered drivers, then despite running off-course in the chicane improved to 37th in qualifying with a lap of 117.403mph (1 minute, 15.126 seconds). This was still the slowest lap of the session as two other drivers didn’t take time – Christopher Bell, who during practice lost the engine in the Esses on his #20 DeWalt Toyota, and Cody Ware who took the last starting spot in the #51 Nurtec ODT Ford. Both Ware and Tilley were docked for unapproved adjustments along with 4th-place William Byron in the #24 Chevrolet, 16th-place Ty Gibbs in the #45 Toyota SmartPath Toyota, and 36th-place Daniil Kvyat in the #26 Hezeberg Systems Toyota. Kyle Busch, set to roll off 10th after running off-course on his timed lap, would also be penalized for an engine change on his #18 Snickers Toyota.

First lightning, then a steady rain delayed the start of Sunday’s race. As water puddled in several corners during the initial pace laps, at least two teams had issues with their windshield wipers. Loris Hezemans, set to start 34th, saw his wiper motor short out, smoke, then fail to respond. As Hezemans struggled to see his way around the track in the #26 Hezeberg Systems Ford, Mike Rockenfeller’s wiper spun in a complete circle and failed, making the laps equally treacherous for the #77 NationsGuard Chevrolet. NASCAR called off the start and brought the field back to pit road, where both crews made repairs – though Hezemans’ crew wasn’t sure if they could fix it. The rain eased, but a damp track still confronted the 39-car field, which addressed the starter’s stand single-file, per NASCAR regulations.

When the green flag dropped, Tilley was 36th across the stripe ahead of Aric Almirola, whose #10 Go Bowling Ford was to start 35th, followed by 38th-place Kvyat and 39th-place Ware, 19.425 seconds back of the lead. But heading into the chicane for the first time, Almirola missed the turn and served a stop-and-go in the access lane, dropping him to last, 2.317 seconds back of Tilley to start Lap 2. Heading back into Turn 1, Austin Cindric’s #2 Menards Richmond Ford got into A.J. Allmendinger’s #16 Action Industries Chevrolet, sending Allmendinger into a spin. Shortly after, both Harrison Burton’s #21 DEX Imaging Ford and Corey LaJoie’s #7 Raze Energy Chevrolet spun in the same corner, both narrowly avoiding the stopped Allmendinger. Allmendinger rejoined the field in 34th while Burton took over last from Almirola on Lap 4.

On Lap 5, Justin Haley made an unscheduled stop for a loose window net on his #31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, dropping 2.049 seconds back of the now 38th-place Burton. The next time by, Haley had dropped to 6.881 seconds back of Burton and was now nearly a minute behind the leader, a full 57.228 seconds in arrears. By Lap 8, Haley had climbed to 37th with Tilley now back to 38th as Almirola made a pit stop for slick tires, dropping his #10 to last for a second time. On the 10th go-round, Almirola was now a lap behind the leaders, but running laps five seconds faster than he had on rain tires. By Lap 12, he was still the only driver lapped, and remained just in front of then 3rd-place runner Chase Elliott.

By now, the track was starting to dry, and other drivers came in for green-flag stops to change to slick tires. Cody Ware’s stop dropped him to last on Lap 13, when Daniil Kvyat incurred a penalty for speeding on pit road. Burton retook last on Lap 14, followed soon after by Kvyat after he served his pass-through penalty. Tilley, too, sped on pit road, and served his penalty the next time by, dropping the #78 back to last on Lap 16. As he came back up to speed, however, Tilley reported an issue with the steering, and the crew instructed him to pull behind the wall. This was done on Lap 18, when NASCAR reported his car first to enter the garage. On Lap 28, as Kvyat sat on pit road for an issue with the power steering, NASCAR declared Tilley out of the race. 

Kvyat’s faulty power steering force him to pull into the garage twice more, including a camber change on his second stay. He still finished under power in 36th, though 32 laps down to race winner Kyle Larson. The first car he passed was Todd Gilliland, whose #38 took the lead under green and led for five laps, only to suddenly slow with an apparent transaxle issue coming out of Turn 5. Kimi Raikkonen’s Cup debut included his own bid for a Top Ten in his #91 Recogni Chevrolet. But on Lap 45, during a stack-up exiting the chicane, Raikkonen was sideswiped by Loris Hezemans, putting him nose-first into the wall and out of the race. Bubba Wallace rounded out the Bottom Five with late-race suspension issues on his #23 SiriusXM Toyota.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #78 in a Cup race at Watkins Glen.
*This was the first time the last-place finisher of a Cup race fell out with steering issues since May 23, 2021 at COTA, where Justin Haley’s #77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet dropped out after 12 laps.

39) #78-Kyle Tilley / 15 laps / steering
38) #38-Todd Gilliland / 28 laps / rear axle
37) #91-Kimi Raikkonen / 44 laps / crash
36) #26-Daniil Kvyat / 58 laps / running
35) #23-Bubba Wallace / 83 laps / running

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (6)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Spire Motorsports (3)
3rd) Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Trackhouse Racing (2)
4th) 23XI Racing, Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Hezeberg (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (10)
2nd) Toyota (4)


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