Sunday, March 26, 2023

CUP: Opening lap stack-up knocks Ty Dillon out of Cup race at COTA

PHOTO: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Ty Dillon scored the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas when his #77 Ferris Commercial Mowers Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident, preventing him from competing any of the 75 laps.

The finish, which came in Dillon’s 207th series start, was his second of the season and first since the Daytona 500, five races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 41st for the #77, the 643rd from a crash, and he 835th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 55th for the #77, the 1,322nd from a crash, and the 1,879th for Chevrolet.

After a late-race engine failure in Fontana to follow his issue at Daytona, Dillon finished the next three races under power. But it wasn’t until last week in Atlanta that he finished inside the Top 30, taking a solid 23rd for his first lead-lap finish of 2023. He looked for a better run in COTA, where in the last two runnings he finished even better in 21st and 20th, coming home on the lead lap each time.

Dillon entered the third annual COTA weekend 29th in practice among the 39 drivers entered. He then ran 16th fastest of 19 drivers in Qualifying Round 1A, putting up a lap of 91.909mph (133.567 seconds), which secured him the 34th spot on the grid.

Taking 39th and last was Aric Almirola, whose #10 Smithfield Ford turned in the slowest lap of the session at 67.306mph (182.392 seconds), the result of flat-spotted tires. After more than ten drivers incurred unapproved adjustments penalties in Saturday’s Truck Series and XFINITY Series races, and after NASCAR approved of multiple brake changes due to a cracking issue, only one car was sent to the rear. This was 20th-place Michael McDowell for splitter repairs suffered to his #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford that ran off-course in Turn 19 during qualifying. McDowell dropped to the back in The Esses, remarking “I’m the Lone Ranger” as he dropped to 39th behind Almirola coming to Turn 20.

These were the intervals of the trailing cars as they crossed the stripe, including their original starting spots:

29-29) 4-Harvick 3.066
30-32) 17-Buescher 3.101
31-34) 77-Ty Dillon 3.318
32-31) 84-Johnson 3.384
33-36) 38-Gilliland 3.472
34-33) 78-Bilicki 3.597
35-38) 12-Blaney 3.763
36-35) 50-Daly 3.836
37-37) 51-Ware 4.007
38-20) 34-McDowell 4.174
39-39) 10-Almirola 4.282

When the green flag dropped, McDowell was running at driver’s right, which put him just ahead of Almirola at the stripe. It also put the #34 in position to gain several spots in the high lane through Turn 1, placing him alongside 32nd-place starter Chris Buescher in the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford. Almirola also gained spots, and by the exit of Turn 1 had dropped Conor Daly to last in The Money Team’s #50 Bitnile Chevrolet. Daly told his crew he backed off on purpose. “Sorry I lost those spots,” he told his crew. “I didn't want to hit the 84, 48, or 77. I had to get on the brakes.” Daly was still running last as the field worked its way off Turn 19, headed to the last corner and the completion of Lap 1.

The hood damage from Ty Dillon's on-board on Lap 1.

Coming off Turn 19, Brad Keselowski was running around his 30th starting spot when spun his #6 Wyndham Rewards Ford, leaving him stopped in the middle of the track. Closing fast, his RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher cut to the right, which trapped Ty Dillon between Buescher and the #38 Reudebusch Ford of Todd Gilliland. The contact hooked Dillon to the left, where he speared a passing Jimmie Johnson in the left-rear of his #84 Club Wyndham Chevrolet. The impact pushed up the hood of Dillon’s Chevrolet and damaged the right-rear of Johnson’s car, ultimately drawing the caution. Dillon took last from Daly with Johnson now 38th.

Both Johnson and Dillon made it to pit road. Dillon’s crew soon said “It’s killed,” and prepared to go to the garage. Not wanting to push the car due to an oil leak, the crew called for a tow truck, which pulled his car behind the wall. Meanwhile, Johnson’s crew raced against the “Crash Clock,” applying strips of tape to the right-rear fender and working on an apparent suspension issue. On Lap 3, when Johnson was down to his last 30 seconds on the clock,’s leaderboard briefly showed the #84 in last place, but this switched back to Dillon on the same lap. While Johnson had qualified ahead of Dillon, Dillon was ahead of Johnson during the wreck. 

It was during this same third lap that Johnson’s crew radioed “We’re done. Take it to the truck.” Johnson’s crew was also concerned about leaking oil on pit road, and also made further repairs to get their car rolling again. They ultimately had Johnson re-fire the engine and pull behind the wall on Lap 4, where he joined Dillon as out under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” Moments after the Lap 6 restart, both Dillon and Johnson were declared out by NASCAR officials, citing crash damage as the cause. Johnson was credited with 38th, listed as “DVP” since his clock ran out during repairs.

Jimmie Johnson's #84 in the garage after the wreck.
PHOTO: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas
Finishing 37th was a frustrated Bubba Wallace, whose #23 Money Lion Toyota broke an oil line after he collided with Kyle Larson at the end of the long backstretch. As with Johnson’s car, Wallace’s 23XI Racing team debated about how best to go to the garage to not leak oil on the adjoining pit stalls. He was ultimately pushed backwards across Alex Bowman’s stall and into the rear garage entrance near the media center and Truck Series garage. This same entrance was then used by Conor Daly, whose transmission had been vibrating for much of the weekend. Daly pulled into his garage stall for repairs and was ultimately ruled out on Lap 33. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Brad Keselowski, who after multiple spins ultimately stalled his #6 on the track in the closing laps, triggering a sequence of restarts that pushed the race seven laps past its scheduled distance.

*This marked the second time the #77 finished last in a Cup race at COTA. The other time was the May 23, 2021 inaugural, when Justin Haley’s #77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet had steering issue after 12 laps.
*Dillon is the first driver to finish last in a Cup points race without completing a lap since May 27, 2020, when Garrett Smithley’s #53 Chevrolet crashed after his valve cover came loose on the first lap around Charlotte. It hasn’t happened on a road course since June 23, 2013, when Bobby Labonte’s #47 Kingsford Toyota lost the engine at Sears Point.

39) #77-Ty Dillon / 0 laps / crash
38) #84-Jimmie Johnson / 0 laps / DVP
37) #23-Bubba Wallace / 10 laps / crash
36) #50-Conor Daly / 16 laps / transmission
35) #6-Brad Keselowski / 56 laps / driveshaft

1st) Live Fast Motorsports, Spire Motorsports (2)
2nd) Kaulig Racing, Penske Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Ford (1)


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