Saturday, July 8, 2023

TRUCKS: Colby Howard takes last place after intense rain-soaked battle in Mid-Ohio

PHOTO: Seriously Fast Motorsports, @Seriously_Fast

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Colby Howard picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 150 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when his #9 Grant County Mulch Chevrolet fell out with transmission issues after 21 of 67 laps.

The finish came in Howard’s 42nd series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #9, the 435th for Chevrolet. In NASCAR’s all-time rankings, it was the 59th for the #9 and the 1,897th for Chevrolet.

While this was Howard’s first last-place run in the Truck Series, he was featured here once before. On May 25, 2020, he was sharing the #15 entry for JD Motorsports in the XFINITY Series. That day at Charlotte, his SANY America-sponsored Chevrolet finished last with overheating issues after 11 laps. It was after this race that Howard enjoyed some solid performances during that COVID-affected season, securing top-twenty finishes in his next four consecutive starts. His series-best performance came that summer at Daytona, taking 12th.

Unfortunately, this momentum didn’t carry over into 2021, though the year did see him earn some solid finishes in his return to the Truck Series. After making a pair of races for Young’s Motorsports in 2019, Howard teamed up with Codie Rohrbaugh in CR7 Motorsports, where he immediately earned a 13th at Darlington and 15th at Bristol. Last year, he earned a full-time ride with McAnally Racing, debuting the #91 entry with Gates Hydraulics as sponsor. Howard earned several impressive runs, breaking into the Top Ten at this same Mid-Ohio track, finishing 9th. Two more Top Tens followed at Kansas and Talladega, and he was on his way to an even better finish at IRP before contact from Carson Hocevar sent him into the wall.

This 2023 season sees Howard reunited with CR7 for the first time since 2020, replacing Blaine Perkins who returned to the XFINITY Series. The pairing resulted in Howard’s first-ever Top Five when he secured 4th in the rain-shortened Daytona opener. Running for a lower-funded operation hasn’t resulted in the same finishes as he’d scored with McAnally last year, but Howard has still earned six other finishes inside the Top 20 since Daytona, including a strong 12th-place showing on a hot afternoon in Gateway. He arrived in Mid-Ohio after a 29th-place run in the series’ most recent event at Nashville.

In practice at Mid-Ohio, Howard ranked 25th of the 38 entrants, but couldn’t turn a lap in qualifying due to a dent in the driveshaft. The team attempted to replace the unit with their backup, only to find it too was dented, and ultimately had to take the part from the backup truck and install it on the primary. Howard still secured the 36th and final starting spot, besting the two Reaume Brothers Racing entries, which both failed to qualify. Josh Reaume himself was in the #33 Colonial Countertops Ford along with newcomer Caleb Costner, who in qualifying slid off-track in the #34 Lickety Lews Ford.

What was left of Will Rodgers' No. 02
after the finish.
PHOTO: @willrodgers65

Howard’s driveshaft change incurred him a redundant tail-end penalty, one of seven drivers docked before the start of Saturday’s race. Also penalized were 10th-place Zane Smith in the #38 Tipico Sportsbook Ford, 14th-place Matt DiBenedetto in the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet, 18th-place Conor Daly in the #41 Unishippers Chevrolet, 23rd-place Jake Garcia in the #35 Quanta Chevrolet, 34th-place Spencer Boyd in the #12 Chevrolet, and 35th-place Stewart Friesen in the #52 Halmar International Toyota. Friesen had slid off course in Turn 6 in practice, which didn’t damage the truck but did cause a wire failure in the starter. Smith’s #38 stalled on track in the shortened final round of qualifying, leaving him without a time in that round.

A squall line dumped massive amounts of rain on the track Saturday morning, first causing a delay due to lightning, and then multiple pace laps as the rain gradually eased. While the race was declared wet and teams were able to run rain tires, multiple drivers spun out before the race even started. On the first pace lap, Ryan Vargas spun his #30 Critical Path Security Toyota in the final pair of corners with Conner Jones also off-track ahead of him in the #66 TSport Ford. Nick Sanchez then spun on another part of the track in his #2 Gainbridge Chevrolet, as did Taylor Gray in the #17 Dead On Tools Toyota. Matt DiBenedetto, already incurring a pre-race penalty for a steering box issue, made an unscheduled pit stop as his defogger wasn’t working. The crew had to point the device in the correct direction.

Just before the green flag, two more drivers came down pit road. Matt Mills pitted from 30th in his #20 Thompson Electric Inc. Chevrolet with apparent issues on his fogger. Just ahead of him came Jake Garcia – another of the drivers with pre-race penalties – who this time had radio issues. Mills rejoined the field well before Garcia, who now had to drive quickly to catch the tail end of the field as the leaders prepared to take the green flag. But Garcia ran too fast, and spun off into the gravel pit at Turn 2. This drew the caution, during which time Garcia returned to the track, only to spin a second time. He made it to pit road under yellow as Mills closed from 72.337 seconds back of the leader to 56.825, still in 35th and behind Jack Wood, who dropped to 34th after he also spun his #51 Rowdy Manufacturing Chevrolet in Turn 2. When Garcia finally completed his first lap, he was a full 158.117 seconds – nearly three minutes - back of the lead, 101.292 seconds back of Mills.

The track remained so slippery that Garcia still couldn’t catch the tail end of the pack. At Lap 3, he remained 73.066 seconds back of 35th-place Mills, then restarted the race on Lap 4 a full 53.139 behind the same truck. This restart saw more chaos with multiple trucks sliding off course. Most avoided serious contact with the exception of Carson Hocevar, whose #42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet cut down a left-rear tire after suffering damage to the left side of his truck. Hocevar pitted as the field slowly crept past on the soaked track, including Howard, whose #9 spun at the stripe, then continued onward. Hocevar returned to the track by Lap 6, when he’d dropped to 35th place. Garcia’s deficit was still so large that he didn’t pass Hocevar during or after his stop, still needing to make up 7.214 seconds. The next time by, Garcia still had 4.58 seconds back of 35th-place, now held by Landen Lewis after he’d spun Cory Roper’s #04 CarQuest Ford.

On Lap 7, Tanner Gray was running inside the Top 10 when his #15 JBL Toyota pulled straight at Turn 2, sticking itself fast in the gravel. It was this truck that Garcia finally passed, climbing him to 35th under the ensuing caution. Tanner’s truck was pulled free by the rear bumper while Hocevar came to pit road. Hocevar had already made another stop since his previous incident, where the crew had cut away part of his right-front fender. He now came in for further repairs, allowing the crew to wipe away the fog from the inside of his windshield. Garcia also pitted his #35 around this time, the team reporting they made wedge adjustments to improve the truck’s “rear security for the wet conditions.” 

Under this caution, Hocevar lost a lap along with Tanner, but Tanner dropped Hocevar back to last on the Lap 12 restart. But Tanner this time find trouble at China Beach, where he pulled straight at Turn 4. This time, Tanner matted the gas and cut hard to the right, pulling his truck in a long curve. He somehow managed to reach the grass on the other side and return to the track, only for Hocevar to drop him back to last place. This, too, was only temporary as on Lap 14, Hocevar overdrove the approach to Turn 2 and collided with Colby Howard’s #9. Howard, who recovered from a second spin on the track, was bumped off the track, sending both axle-deep into the gravel and drawing the caution again. Tanner dropped Hocevar to last on Lap 15 as first Hocevar, then Howard was pulled free by track crews. Hocevar now found himself two laps down in last with Howard one down, on the same lap as Tanner Gray.

Under green on Lap 18, Spencer Boyd was locked in a side-by-side battle with Conner Jones when Jones got into Boyd’s right-rear fender, snapping the #12 around 180 degrees and sticking him fast into another gravel trap, and trapping Jones alongside him. Jones tried to get going again, but could only back into Boyd’s truck, further damaging Boyd’s right-front fender. The two stranded trucks fell off the lead lap, and gradually fell further down the rankings. Boyd briefly held 35th before Jones took it on Lap 21, lifting Boyd to 34th behind the now 33rd-place Howard. Hocevar remained last for the Lap 22 restart, when he barely avoided contact with a spinning Nick Sanchez. On Lap 24, the caution came out again when Lawless Alan spun his #45 IEDA Chevrolet free of a gravel trap, only to drive back into it. Under this caution, Howard pulled behind the wall following a pit stop, and on Lap 25 took last from Hocevar. By Lap 37, Howard was shown the first truck “out” on FS1’s leaderboard.

Finishing 35th was Dale Quarterley, who in the early laps worked his way into the Top 20 in G2G Racing’s #46 Van Dyk Recycling / Motul Toyota. Quarterley ran off course to avoid a crash in the middle stages, then pulled behind the wall around the time Howard was declared out. Finishing 34th, whose #02 Randco Industries Chevrolet ran off course multiple times, including a tangle off Turn 13 with Austin Wayne Self that put him into the tire barriers. Dean Thompson made it just five laps further than Rogers before he came to pit road with the nose stoved in on his #5 Thompson Pipe Group Toyota. Rounding out the group was Bret Holmes, who like Rodgers had multiple off-course excursions before finishing two laps down.

On the final lap, both Carson Hocevar and Jake Garcia, who each spent multiple laps in last place, found themselves battling for positions just outside the Top 10. Garcia slipped up the track as Hocevar bumped his way to a 12th-place finish, dropping Garcia back from around 14th to 16th at the checkered flag.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #9 in a Truck Series race since February 27, 2016, when current Cup Series Playoff leader William Byron lost the engine on Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #9 Liberty University Toyota after 59 laps around Atlanta.

36) #9-Colby Howard / 21 laps / transmission
35) #46-Dale Quarterley / 35 laps / overheating
34) #02-Will Rodgers / 54 laps / crash
33) #5-Dean Thompson / 59 laps / crash
32) #32-Bret Holmes / 65 laps / running

1st) G2G Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing (3)
2nd) AM Racing, Niece Motorsports, Young’s Motorsports (2)
3rd) CR7 Motorsports, GK Racing, Roper Racing, TRICON Garage (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (5) 
2nd) Toyota (4)


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