Friday, May 26, 2023

TRUCKS: Keith McGee’s last NASCAR start – for now – ends early with fuel pump issues

McGee (far left) looks over his truck after his early exit Friday.
PHOTO: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Keith McGee scored the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Friday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #34 JAG Metals LLC Ford had fuel pump issues after 20 of 134 laps.

The finish, which came in McGee’s 11th series start, was his second of the season and first since Atlanta, eight races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 8th for fuel pump issues, the 9th for the #34, and the 120th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 35th from the fuel pump, the 55th for the #34, and the 1,013th for Ford.

With the finish, McGee becomes the first repeat last-place finisher of the 2023 LASTCAR Truck Series season, taking the lead from Dean Thompson. It was Thompson who turned in the strongest run of the night, finishing a strong 3rd after a thrilling late-race battle for position with both Corey Heim and Carson Hocevar. Barely a week after his frustrating afternoon in North Wilkesboro, Thompson earned his first career Top Five in his 35th series start.

The Charlotte race had particular significance to McGee for two reasons. First, as a disabled U.S. Air Force veteran, competing on Memorial Day weekend afforded an opportunity to honor fallen comrades and continue to speak out on the cause of veterans’ assistance. Second, McGee announced in a Twitter video earlier in the month that next month he would be returning home to Alaska to spend more time with his family. 

Between all this, McGee had also designed the Reaume Brothers Racing team’s tribute to the late Ken Block, with which Josh Reaume narrowly missed the field at Darlington. Reaume would run an altered version of that scheme at Charlotte alongside McGee, who brought the team’s second entry – the #34 – back to the track for the first time since Texas. McGee would run a patriotic paint scheme of his own which featured the name of Lt. Col. Larry Undercoffer, McGee's grandfather, beneath the driver’s side window.

McGee during practice.
PHOTO: Reaume Brothers Racing, @RBR_Teams

McGee began the weekend 35th of the 36 entrants, just under two-tenths faster than Justin S. Carroll in the #90 Carroll’s Automotive / Duratrain Toyota. McGee then turned the slowest lap in qualifying with a speed of 164.029mph (32.921 seconds), 2.985 seconds off Tanner Gray’s pole speed. But McGee ranked 33rd ahead of three drivers who were unable to take time. 

In 34th came the #2 Gainbridge Chevrolet of Nick Sanchez, whose oil cooler was punctured by debris in practice. The 35th spot went to Tyler Ankrum, whose #16 LiUNA! Toyota came out of gear in Turn 3 and overrevved the engine, requiring a new engine, transmission, and driveshaft. Rounding out the field was Ryan Vargas, who required unapproved adjustments of his own in the #30 Rangeline Group Toyota. The three were ranked in descending order by Owner Points, and prior to the start both Sanchez and Ankrum would incur tail-end penalties.

When the race started, Vargas began his climb through the field. The first incident of the night occurred on Lap 3, when Armani Williams apparently made contact with the outside wall, causing his truck to trail smoke and sparks as he worked his way to the apron. The incident did not draw the caution flag, and as he lost a lap coming to pit road, McGee had fallen to the last truck on the lead lap. The G2G Racing crew managed to get Williams back on track two laps down, but incurred a speeding penalty for Sections 12-16. He served the penalty by Lap 9, when he returned to the track between four and five laps down. During this run, crew chief Tim Silva bucked up his driver, telling him on Lap 8, “Armani, calm down – you’re a good driver. . .just drive smoothly, you got this.” Steadily, Williams’ lap times began to improve.

On Lap 20, the leaders lapped both McGee and Carroll, which took Williams out of the Lucky Dog spot. Two laps later, McGee was seen running slow on the apron, the truck bouncing over the humps from the “Roval” layout. “Yeah, it shut off,” said McGee as he pulled his truck behind the wall and stopped behind the team’s hauler. McGee asked for his crew to come check if a plug wire came loose, but each member was too far from where the #34 had stopped. In the meantime, the Ilmor representative arrived, ad indicated the truck had lost fuel pressure. On Lap 27, McGee took last from Williams, who was still running five laps down on the track. On the 29th circuit, McGee called for a fuel can at Ilmor’s suggestion, likely to check the fuel pump. Moments later, McGee climbed from the truck, and on the Lap 37 restart, the #34 was declared out of the race with the fuel pump issue.

Williams continued, and the crew remained positive over the radio, reminding him of their plan from before the race, “I don't care if you finish 20 laps down, my goal is for you to have fun and finish this race. . .Doing a helluva job. Helluva job.” Williams still had some issue communicating with his crew, including on Lap 63 where they asked if he wanted something to drink. On Lap 66, the #46 stalled on pit road, and the crew had Williams pop the clutch to coast behind the wall in second gear. On Lap 74, Williams returned to the track once more, 14 laps down, only to seconds later be involved in a scary incident off Turn 4. Coming off the corner, Williams lost control and slid onto pit road, striking the wall with the left-front just past the first opening to the garage. No crew members were injured, and Williams climbed from his truck, done for the night. McGee and Williams were the night’s only two retirees.

Finishing 34th was Justin S. Carroll, whose #90 finished 12 laps down at the checkered flag. Taking 33rd was Hailie Deegan, whose #13 Ford Performance Ford dropped off the pace in the final laps after damage suffered earlier in the event during a tangle in the quad-oval with Zane Smith. Kris Wright rounded out the group after his #02 F.N.B. Corporation Chevrolet suffered damage of its own in a backstretch wreck with Tyler Ankrum.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Truck Series race at Charlotte.
*This was the first time a Truck Series last-place finisher fell out with a fuel pump issue since September 23, 2017, when Ray Ciccarelli had issues on the first lap at New Hampshire. The issue had never been a reason for a Truck Series last-place finisher at Charlotte.

36) #34-Keith McGee / 20 laps / fuel pump
35) #46-Armani Williams / 65 laps / crash
34) #90-Justin S. Carroll / 122 laps / running
33) #13-Hailie Deegan / 128 laps / running
32) #02-Kris Wright / 130 laps / running

1st) G2G Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing (3)
2nd) AM Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
3rd) Niece Motorsports, Roper Racing, TRICON Garage (1)

1st) Ford (5) 
2nd) Chevrolet, Toyota (3)


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