|PHOTO: Dominick Howe, @iDomHowe|
by Brock Beard
Keith McGee picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Saturday’s Fr8 208 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #34 Reaume Brothers Racing Ford fell out with transmission issues after 7 of 137 laps.
The finish came in McGee’s ninth series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 8th for the #34, the 39th for transmissions issues, and the 117th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 54th for the #34, the 170th for the transmission, and the 1,006th for Ford.
The Alaska-born McGee is relatively new to NASCAR, but has already distinguished himself in his efforts to both activate sponsorship and make it to the track. At Texas in June 2021, McGee was sponsored by “The Mullet That Changed My Life,” and brought with him a group of four supporters wearing t-shirts and checkered-flag shorts decorated with images of his Reaume Brothers Racing entry. That fall in Las Vegas, he teamed up with professional gambler Mikki Mase and took home $81,000 in casino winnings, enough to run for CMI Motorsports. Another quirky collection of sponsors joined him, including Dirty Goth Boi, Banger Buddy, and Hey Big Mike. McGee was even on hand at Sonoma last summer, where he nearly became G2G Racing’s substitute driver during a disastrous and controversial weekend for the team.
McGee’s most recent appearance came last fall at Phoenix, where his reunion with the Reaume team ended early after a tangle with Armani Williams. He’d drive for Reaume again in Atlanta, but this time in a comparatively bland-looking Ford. He would run the #34, which remained unsponsored as it had when Josh Reaume drove it earlier this month in Las Vegas. That night, Reaume only completed four laps, eliminated by a transmission that kept jumping out of gear.
With practice and qualifying rained out on Friday, McGee secured the 36th and final starting spot. Mason Massey, taking the controls of Reaume’s #33 Wespro JCB Ford, lined up 26th. No teams were sent home in qualifying, and none were sent to the rear for pre-race penalties.
However, while McGee crossed the stripe in last, 5.124 seconds back of the lead, first-lap intervals indicated a few trucks did take the green in different spots. Ryan Vargas, making his Truck Series debut in On Point Motorsports’ #30 Leargas Security Toyota, crossed the line 30th after lining up 35th. Kris Wright was to start 25th in the #02 F.N.B. Corporation Chevrolet, but crossed the stripe in 35th, 4.695 seconds back of the lead and about a half-second ahead of McGee. The following were the interval from 30th on back, compiled from the NASCAR.com leaderboard, with their original starting spots listed:
30-35) 30-Vargas 4.022
31-28) 22-Reaume 4.186
32-32) 13-Deegan 4.388
33-34) 46-Ogata 4.477
34-33) 32-Holmes 4.538
35-25) 02-Wright 4.695
36-36) 34-McGee 5.124
On the first lap of the race, McGee was first warned of a group of trucks going three-wide, then another truck bouncing off the outside wall. This was Mason Maggio, who rolled off 31st in the #20 HMY Yachts Chevrolet. During a close battle into Turn 3, Maggio bounced off the wall, then kept going, only to reportedly hit the wall a second time on Lap 3. This second hit, which caused McGee’s spotter to worry about a cut tire on the #20, forced Maggio to make a green-flag stop on Lap 4, when he took last from McGee. “I’m sorry, guys,” said the driver.
Maggio returned to the track on Lap 6, only to incur a pit road speeding penalty both on entry and exit, specifically Sections 1 and 13-18. Already four laps down, Maggio served his pass-through penalty on Lap 8. But by that lap, McGee had also come down pit road and lost two laps of his own. The reason was the transmission was popping out of gear – Reaume’s issue from Vegas back once more. On Lap 10, McGee’s team asked to look over the truck for another minute before going to the garage. “It feels like something in fourth gear is broken or slipping,” said McGee. On Lap 14, the #34 was pushed to the garage at an entrance just past one of the ThorSport Racing team’s boxes.
Behind the wall, McGee was told to stay in the truck as the crew jacked up the left side. “It almost feels like a broken gear, or a part of the gear is sheared off,” said McGee on Lap 19. “All right, we’ll call it,” said the team in response. On Lap 22, the driver asked his team if they wanted him to get out. “If you can nurse it, I would leave that window net up for at least the next 30 seconds,” the crew answered. But McGee had already dropped the net and was climbing out. A moment later, the first caution came out for a wreck in the quad-oval between Layne Riggs and Tanner Gray. Both would ultimately continue.
It wasn’t until much later that McGee was declared out of the race. The official in the garage was about to report it on Lap 48, but didn’t relay the message to the tower. The word came on Lap 103, along with official word of the retirements of both Maggio’s #20 and Corey Heim in the #11 Safelite Toyota. After his Lap 1 damage and subsequent penalty, Maggio came down pit road at the end of Stage 1 on Lap 60 with heavy right-front damage. The crew examined the a-frame, and when they saw the lower control arm was bent and rubbing against another part, the team pushed him to the garage on Lap 63. As they did, the crew bucked up their driver, who continued to apologize for the run. “It's all right, kiddo,” they said. “We'll fight another day.”
Heim’s day ended on a Lap 84 restart where, following a pit road incident with Stewart Friesen and Colby Howard, Heim was pushed into the rear of Nick Sanchez, who was slow though the gears. The impact stoved in the nose of Heim’s Toyota and ruptured something in the engine, causing oil to spray on the windshield. He parked on the apron of Turn 1 and climbed out, done for the day.
Finishing 33rd was Kayden Honeycutt, whose #04 Carquest Ford briefly battled for the lead when he restarted on the front row, only to suddenly stall on the backstretch. The reason was a stray piece of aluminum which fell between the alternator and engine block, causing a short in the system. Honeycutt went to the garage on Lap 59 – just moments before Maggio came in with his right-front damage – and returned to the track on Lap 61, just before Maggio’s retirement. Honeycutt crossed the line 14 laps down, three behind Lawless Alan, whose #45 AUTOChargit Chevrolet tangled with teammate Carson Hocevar in Turns 3 and 4.
Currey’s 4th-place finish among many standout runs
Just days after parting ways with JD Motorsports’ XFINITY Series team, Bayley Currey earned a career-best 4th in Al Niece’s #41 Unishippers Chevrolet, bouncing off the wall just before the stripe after a tight battle with 3rd-place finisher Ben Rhodes. This was the first of many strong runs for several teams.
Timmy Hill took home 8th in his #56 UNITS Storage Toyota, his first top-ten finish since October 30, 2021 at Martinsville.
Ryan Vargas’ Truck Series debut in On Point Motorsports’ #30 Leargas Security Toyota yielded a strong 14th-place finish.
Kris Wright, who nearly took the green flag in last, climbed back to finish 15th, which is tied for his third-best Truck Series finish.
Taking home 17th for G2G Racing was a surprising Akinori Ogata, who was running inside the Top 20 on the lead lap when he spun down the backstretch, suffering damage to both the left-front and left-rear. Ogata cleared the “Crash Clock” and not only finished on the lead lap, but earned his career-best Truck Series finish in his 14th start. His previous best mark of 18th came at Loudon back on September 26, 2015.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Truck Series race at Atlanta.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #34-Keith McGee / 7 laps / transmission
35) #20-Mason Maggio / 40 laps / crash
34) #11-Corey Heim / 83 laps / crash
33) #04-Kaden Honeycutt / 123 laps / running
32) #45-Lawless Alan / 126 laps / crash
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
2nd) TRICON Garage (1)
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Ford (2)
2nd) Toyota (1)
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP