Friday, April 14, 2023

TRUCKS: AM Racing team jumps the battery on Stephen Mallozzi's truck before rain stops the action in Martinsville

ALL PHOTOS: Cameron Tracey, @conrail_1

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Stephen Mallozzi picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Friday’s Long John Silver’s 200 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #22 Stacking Dennys Ford finished under power, coming home eight circuit down after 116 of 124 laps.

The finish came in Mallozzi’s second series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #22, the 7th to finish under power, and the 118th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 45th for the #22, the 50th for one still running at the finish, and the 1,008th for Ford.

The excitable 22-year-old driver from New Jersey has worn many hats in his pursuit of a racing career. He’s been a college sports commentator, a writer for sponsor, and a go-kart enthusiast. Last summer, we were introduced to Mallozzi in the lead-up to the Truck Series race at Mid-Ohio, where he would drive for the Reaume Brothers in the #43 COMPKART Toyota. There, he was involved in a practice crash caused by oil leaking from Mason Filippi’s #46 Toyota, leading to his statement that G2G is the “biggest joke of a racing organization in NASCAR.” Driver and team managed to repair the #43 in time for qualifying, where he earned the last starting spot. In the race, Filippi’s faltering engine failed after just 9 laps, but Mallozzi finished on the lead lap in 22nd. Friday’s race would be Mallozzi’s first since that day.

For Martinsville, Mallozzi was originally entered in the Reaume Brothers Racing #34 – the same team as the #43 he ran last summer in his debut – but Reaume decided to swap rides in case qualifying was rained out, putting Mallozzi into AM Racing’s #22. The #34 would ultimately be withdrawn, trimming the entry list from 38 trucks down to 37. The change was made early enough for Mallozzi to release his own merchandise with the #22, proudly featuring his sponsors. Chief among them is the Stacking Dennys podcast, which helped with a fundraiser that placed several supporter’s names on the hood of his truck. Joining as sponsors were, L’uva Bella Wines, the Kingsway Regional School District’s STEM Racing program, and AM Racing’s partner AM Technical Solutions.

After running slowest in practice, qualifying was not rained-out, and Mallozzi secured the 35th starting spot with a lap of 90.184mph (20.997 seconds).

While Mallozzi’s lap was the slowest of the session, starting 36th and last was Dean Thompson, whose #5 Thompson Pipe Group Toyota required unapproved adjustments after turning the 27th-fastest time in practice. The battle for the final starting spot on speed was won by Brad Perez, whose #20 Bonesteel Aerospace Chevrolet bested Justin S. Carroll’s #90 Carroll’s Automotive / Duratrain Toyota by just 0.047 second. For Carroll, the result was his first DNQ of 2023 and his sixth unsuccessful attempt at an elusive Truck Series debut. 

Mallozzi stalled on pit road.

After a lengthy delay for a lightning hold, then a massive downpour, the field bolted on wet-weather tires with the condition that everyone switch to dry tires at the competition caution on Lap 25. Just before the green, Chase Purdy surrendered the 8th-place starting spot in his #4 Bama Buggies Chevrolet and dropped to the tail end of the field due to an unapproved adjustments penalty. But, according to timing and scoring, Purdy took the green flag in 33rd place ahead of Perez, Thompson, and Mallozzi. Mallozzi brought up the rear 7.33 seconds back of the lead, and more than a second back of Thompson, who was 5.876 back of the leaders.

By the end of Lap 1, Mallozzi had fallen 2.014 back of Perez, who Thompson had dropped back to 35th. By Lap 3, Mallozzi cut that deficit down to 1.777. On Lap 4, Perez climbed past Mason Massey in the #33 Colonial Countertops Ford, and that time by Mallozzi closed to just 0.616 second back of Massey’s rear bumper. The gap continued to fluctuate over the next two laps, during which time Mallozzi’s spotter said, “When we get there, we’re not gonna waste any time.” Massey then climbed to 34th past Kaden Honeycutt, whose #04 CarQuest Ford had plummeted from 17th on the grid. On Lap 10, Mallozzi was told to “show your nose” under Honeycutt’s truck, and the two pulled side-by-side the next time by, just 0.047 apart. The next time by, Mallozzi was clear, putting Honeycutt to last for the first time. By Lap 13, the leaders caught both trucks, and put each a lap down.

When the competition caution fell on Lap 25, Honeycutt remained in last place while Chase Purdy, 33rd at the start, was now the final truck on the lead lap in 25th. One spot ahead was Brad Perez, who after battling Mallozzi for last in the early laps reached 24th. The prolonged caution for non-competitive pit stops for dry tires caused last place to change once more. On Lap 39, Spencer Boyd was classified last in the #12 Freedom Warranty Chevrolet, but Honeycutt retook the spot on Lap 40 after the lapped trucks made their stops. Honeycutt remained last through the ensuing restart until Lap 47, when he dropped Mallozzi back to 36th. The #22 remained there when Stage 1 soon ended on Lap 50. During this caution, both Honeycutt and Mallozzi faced opposing brake issues. While Honeycutt’s brakes were “shaking like hell” from running too cold, Mallozzi was using his too much, causing the rotors to glow noticeably brighter.

More rain led to more caution laps, and another change in the running order. On Lap 64, Rajah Caruth was classified last in his #24 Wendell Scott Foundation Chevrolet. “Rain is picking up here,” said Mallozzi’s crew. “Keep getting heat in those tires, don’t get lazy on me.” NASCAR called off the restart, then by Lap 67 sent the trucks down pit road to stop under the red flag. That time by, Mallozzi was again credited with last with Caruth now 34th. Somehow, the scoring changed once more under the ensuing delay with newcomer Jonathan Shafer ranked last in the #30 Osgar’s Autobody Toyota. But Mallozzi regained the last spot when track drying completed on Lap 69.

Mallozzi (center) goes behind the wall
as the race restarts.

Back under green on Lap 72, Mallozzi was encouraged to race Brad Perez, who had been penalized by NASCAR for making two stops. “Don’t be too timid,” said the crew. “Stay with that 20, he’s making moves.” By Lap 76, Mallozzi had dropped Shafer back to last again, but Shafer raced him back for position. Moments later, the caution fell on Lap 82 when contact from Daniel Dye’s #43 HEISE LED Lighting Systems Chevrolet sent Lawless Alan’s #45 AUTOChargit Chevrolet into a spin entering Turn 3. Alan continued without damage, but took over last that time by.

On the Lap 87 restart, Alan met minimum speed, and the next time by dropped Mason Massey’s #33 back to last place. With a fast-closing Hailie Deegan behind him, Massey now raced to the outside of Mallozzi’s Ford on Lap 92. But the Lap 97 caution for Stewart Friesen spinning his #52 Halmar International Toyota forced Stage 2 to finish under the caution flag. During this yellow, Massey’s crew took a photo of his right-front tire and texted it to another crew member, remarking on the cosmetic damage. Regardless, Massey stayed out, and on Lap 103 allowed the penalized Spencer Boyd to slot in front of him. Massey then dropped Mallozzi back to last on Lap 112. “Way to keep those elbows up, man,” said the #33 crew.

The next time by, Mallozzi’s truck stalled on track. “It won’t turn over at all,” said the driver. The crew told him to shut off all his fans to save energy, but by then, NASCAR was showing the one-to-go signal for a restart following Daniel Dye’s spin. The crew diagnosed the issue as either a dead battery or faulty alternator, and now pushed him down pit road to the nearest garage entrance at Stall 11. Behind the wall on Lap 115, the crew set to work jumping the battery by the Illmor trailer in the infield. As the crew worked, Carson Hocevar was parked for two laps after he turned his #42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet into Taylor Gray’s #17 Dead On Tools Toyota. While Gray continued on without spinning and finished 8th, Hocevar spun to a stop in Turn 3 with a flat right-rear tire.

Under Hocevar’s caution on Lap 118, Mallozzi’s engine re-fired and he returned to the track eight laps down, joining the rest of the field that was still under power. The driver apologized to the crew, who said, “Don’t worry about it. . .We’ve just gotta be disciplined with the fans because this is what happens on the short tracks.” This same caution saw issues for Brad Perez, whose #20 had been damaged during the previous run and now had just two minutes left on his “Crash Clock.” With Mallozzi back running, this narrowed the gap from him to the now 35th-place Perez – all while the rain started to pick up again. 

On Lap 122, Perez returned to the track seven laps down, just two ahead of Mallozzi. Perez didn’t have a chance to make minimum speed as the rain finally put an end to the evening. He joined the field coming down pit road one more time, where the race was soon called 76 laps short of the scheduled distance. “Good job, guys, everyone,” said Perez’ crew. “Busted your butt to stay in the fight.” Perez, having just completed his first NASCAR oval race, said, “Definitely did. We need to get more aggressive with these fuckers.” “If that is it, Brad, I appreciate it. Can't wait for the next opportunity.”

Hocevar finished 34th ahead of Perez and Mallozzi with Massey and Alan completing the Bottom Five.

Chase Purdy climbed to 10th at the finish after starting 33rd with his pre-race penalty, one spot behind a surprising William Sawalich. On an excellent night for TRICON Garage, which saw four of its five trucks in the Top 10 behind race winner Corey Heim, 16-year-old Sawalich finished 9th in his series debut driving the #1 Starkey / Soundgear Toyota. 

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #22 in a Truck Series race since September 9, 2022, when Brett Moffitt lost his engine at Kansas. It’s the first last-place finish for the number in a Truck race at Martinsville.
*Only three times has the last-place finisher of a Truck Series race at Martinsville completed more than the 116 laps turned Friday by Mallozzi. The record remains 136, set by Ken Schrader who had radiator issues on his #52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet on April 17, 2004.
*This is only the second Truck Series race where all the starters finished under power. The last time it happened was on the Bristol Dirt Track on April 16, 2022, where the AM Racing #22 also finished last with Austin Wayne Self.

36) #22-Stephen Mallozzi / 116 laps / running
35) #20-Brad Perez / 117 laps / running
34) #42-Carson Hocevar / 122 laps / running
33) #33-Mason Massey / 122 laps / running
32) #45-Lawless Alan / 122 laps / running

1st) AM Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
2nd) Niece Motorsports, TRICON Garage (1)

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


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