|PHOTO: Speedway Collective, @SCfantasyRacing|
by Brock Beard
Tanner Gray picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Saturday’s CRC Brakleen 150 at the Pocono Raceway when his #15 Dead On Tools Toyota crashed after 3 of 60 laps.
The finish, which came in Gray’s 86th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Truck Series race since October 17, 2020 at Kansas, 63 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 7th for the #15, the 52nd for Toyota, and the 185th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 49th for the #15, the 397th for Toyota, and the 1,343rd from a crash.
Since he was last featured here, Tanner Gray has steadily become a threat for his first career victory. The 2020 campaign – his first full-time season – saw him score his first Top Fives and Top Tens, yielding a solid 14th-place rank in points. He’s scored at least one finish of 5th or better in each season since, including each of the last two season openers at Daytona. This includes the current year, where his ride at David Gilliland Racing switched to Toyota, becoming TRICON Garage. After his runner-up to Zane Smith in Daytona, he’s since finished 5th at Martinsville and 3rd at Darlington, placing him 12th in points for a bid at the Playoffs.
Gray was among the 39 drivers entered to attempt the 36-truck field. He was also one of the fastest, ranking 2nd in practice a mere 0.165 second off session leader Kyle Busch, making him tops of the series regulars. He also qualified a solid 13th, securing the spot with a single lap of 166.482mph (54.060 seconds). This was 0.795 off polesitter Nick Sanchez, but he’d narrowed the gap on Busch even more, drawing within seven-thousandths of Busch’s 12th-best lap.
Failing to qualify were Chad Chastain, who was slated to race against older brother Ross Chastain in a NASCAR national series race for the first time, but ended up the fastest DNQ in Randy Young’s #20 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet. Also sent home were both Bryan Dauzat in FDNY Racing’s #28 O.B. Builders / FDNY Chevrolet and Norm Benning in his #6 Chevrolet, both missing the Pocono field for a second year in a row. The rear of Benning’s truck still bore the scars from its repaired damage at North Wilkesboro.
Stating 36th and last on the grid was Tyler Hill, who took the wheel of an unsponsored #56 Hill Motorsports Toyota. Hill was one of three drivers to not take time in qualifying, his due to an axle failure. Also not putting up a time were 35th-place Christian Eckes, who had an issue in the rear end of his #19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet, and 34th-lace Ty Majeski, who had a flat tire on his #98 Farm Paint / Curb Records Ford. Eckes and Majeski would incur tail-end penalties for unapproved adjustments along with 22nd-place Ben Rhodes in the #99 Kubota Ford, 29th-place Josh Reaume in the #33 JAG Metals LLC Ford, and 33rd-place Dean Thompson in the #5 Thompson Pipe Group Toyota.
When the race started, Hill was last across the stripe, 4.093 seconds back of the lead and just under six-tenths back of 35th-place Reaume with 32nd-place qualifier Stephen Mallozzi back to 34th in AM Racing’s #22 GreatPoconoHomes.com Ford. Coming to the stripe, there was a big stack-up behind the leaders. Two trucks ahead of Gray, 9th-place Corey Heim rear-ended 7th-place Rajah Caruth, and Gray appeared to bump his brother Taylor Gray, who lined up 11th. More drivers made contact behind, causing several in the inside line to scatter to the inside. This left Hill by himself as the field entered Turn 1, still under green.
At the end of Lap 1, Hill had cleared Reaume, who was now 8.13 seconds back of the lead and a full 0.767 behind Hill’s #56. NASCAR declared all trucks that had bumped each other at the start cleared minimum speed for purposes of the “Crash Clock.” Starting Lap 3, Reaume was now 10.632 back of the lead and dropped another two-tenths to 35th-place, now held by Mallozzi at 0.978 ahead of him. Further ahead, it was reported that Parker Kligerman in the #75 Tide Chevrolet had concerns about Gray’s #15, saying “I don't know how the 15's hanging on he's so sideways.”
On Lap 4, Reaume’s spotter said, “Spin off one, he went low – caution is out.” As Reaume exited Turn 1, the driver radioed, “He killed it.” The incident was for Gray, whose truck had slammed nose-first into the inside wall. Gray had been running the inside line alongside Kaz Grala, one of his teammates at TRICON Garage. He was side-by-side with Grala’s #1 Serial 1 Premium E-Bikes Toyota when he broke loose, clipped the right-front fender of a nearby Tyler Ankrum in the #16 LiUNA! Toyota, and slammed the wall hard enough to spin twice. After the crash, Gray tried to drive away, but NASCAR told him to stop as he was leaking fluid, and the truck had lost oil pressure. With that, the tow truck came to the scene, ending Gray’s race. Gray took over last place on Lap 5, and was declared out around Lap 26. In between, Gray was embarrassed by the wreck and critical of mistakes he’s made this season.
Taking 35th was Jake Garcia, who in Turn 1 was involved in a tangle with fellow front-row starter Nick Sanchez. While Sanchez pulled out of a slide in his #2 Gainbridge Chevrolet, Garcia backed into the wall, ending his race in the #35 Adaptive One Calipers Chevrolet. The Bottom Five was then promptly filled by the day’s biggest pileup exiting Turn 1 on Lap 52, triggered by contact between Carson Hocevar’s #42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet and Parker Kligerman’s #75. Both trucks continued to the finish, but five others did not. Taking 34th was Zane Smith, whose #38 Birch Gold Group Ford swept both victories in Stages 1 and 2, but caught fire in Turn 2 after nose damage from the wreck. Austin Hill was left 33rd in a damaged #7 ARCO Design / Build Chevrolet while 32nd fell to Stewart Freisen, whose #52 Halmar International Toyota found the inside Turn 1 wall not farm from where Gray wrecked.
Three underfunded trucks earn solid finishes at Pocono
Finishing 20th was Kaden Honeycutt, who lost a close battle for 19th to polesitter Nick Sanchez on the final lap. Honeycutt brought Al Niece’s #44 entry back to the series for the first time this year and secured a 17th starting spot. Without sponsorship and with possible nose damage from the check-up on the initial start, Honeycutt earned his third-straight finish in the Top 20, combined with his previous two runs for Young’s Motorsports in another unsponsored truck at Darlington and North Wilkesboro.
Taking home 24th in just his fourth career Truck Series start was Stephen Mallozzi, who was inches away from involvement in the big Turn 1 wreck as Ross Chastain to his left collided with Stewart Friesen. Mallozzi picked his way through the incident and came within just two spots of tying his career-best 22nd, which he earned for Reaume Brothers Racing in his series debut last year at Mid-Ohio.
A few spots behind, Bret Holmes’ 29th-place run for his unsponsored #32 Bret Holmes Racing Chevrolet may not seem like a good run, but he did so after the bolt on his tie rod came loose midway through the event, dropping him off the lead lap. Holmes earned the Lucky Dog, only to lose the lap again as the crew examined the issue under caution, then cleared the same Turn 1 wreck. He finished as the last truck on the lead lap, 26.26 seconds back of race winner Kyle Busch.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #15 in a Truck Series race at Pocono.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #15-Tanner Gray / 3 laps / crash
35) #35-Jake Garcia / 45 laps / crash
34) #38-Zane Smith / 51 laps / crash / led 19 laps / won stages 1 and 2
33) #7-Austin Hill / 51 laps / crash
32) #52-Stewart Friesen / 51 laps / crash
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) G2G Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing (3)
2nd) AM Racing, Niece Motorsports, TRICON Garage, Young’s Motorsports (2)
3rd) CR7 Motorsports, GK Racing, Roper Racing (1)
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota (5)
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP