Friday, September 15, 2023

XFINITY: Smoking rear gear spoils Timmy Hill’s strong run at Bristol

ALL PHOTO: Steven Taranto, @STaranto92

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Timmy Hill picked up the 7th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Food City 300 at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #66 Coble Enterprises Toyota fell out with rear gear trouble after 81 of 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 242nd series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since May 28, 2022 at Charlotte, 47 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 16th for the #66, the 18th for rear gear trouble, and the 161st for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 50th for the rear gear, the 86th for the #66, and the 400th for Toyota.

When he was last featured here, Timmy Hill was on the verge of the best run of his career. Under Daytona’s lights last August, only a late-race caution kept him from challenging Jeremy Clements for the lead, ultimately settling on a runner-up finish. It was also the best run yet for Carl Long’s team Motorsports Business Management, which this year has faced even stiffer challenges. Coming into Bristol, MBM’s flagship #66 qualified for exactly as many races as it had missed – 11 each – and were unable to return to Daytona in August after a deal on a leased engine fell through. 

Hill had only made three previous XFINITY starts with MBM this year, taking 32nd in Fontana, 30th at Dover, and 32nd in Darlington. He was slated to run last week in Kansas, where he again qualified on speed. But after a deal with Tommy Joe Martins, Hill handed the wheel to Alpha Prime’s driver Leland Honeyman. After failing to qualify earlier in the day, Honeyman came home to finish a solid 26th. Hill’s focus has been on his Truck Series effort at Hill Motorsports, where he ran a “throwback” scheme to honor his and brother Tyler's father Jerry at North Wilkesboro, and ran 8th in the spring race at Atlanta.

Hill again ran double-duty at Bristol, starting with a 26th-place finish in Thursday’s Truck Series race. On Friday’s XFINITY portion, Hill ranked 35th of the 39 entrants in practice, then qualified 34th with a lap of 118.364mph (16.211 seconds). The run came after a single team withdrew earlier in the afternoon. The Emerling-Gase Motorsports team entered two near-identical black Chevrolets, putting Patrick Emerling in the #35 and B.J. McLeod in the #53. During practice, Emerling cut a right-front tire and slammed the outside wall. With no backup car, Emerling withdrew, and McLeod’s orange-numbered #53 was hastily re-decaled with the white numbers of the #35. The car kept McLeod’s sponsorship from the Meredith Haga Foundation on the hood. Because of the number change, NASCAR would still count McLeod’s car as Emerling’s backup, incurring him a redundant tail-end penalty from 37th on the grid.

Jeb Burton also wrecked in practice, though his Jordan Anderson Racing team had a backup #27. There was one catch: Burton’s primary carried sponsorship from Alsco Uniforms while this backup carried a full wrap for Celsius beverages. Steven Taranto reported that, since the team had no time to change the wrap for the race, Alsco would be run on the car for a makeup race, either at Homestead or Phoenix. Burton secured the 38th and final spot on the grid next to 37th-place McLeod, the two the only drivers who didn’t turn a lap in qualifying. Three other teams were sent to the back for unapproved adjustments: 16th-place Riley Herbst in the #98 Monster Energy Ford, 18th-place Derek Kraus in the #11 Crav’n Flavor / Hardscape Construction Chevrolet, and 32nd-place Anthony Alfredo in the #78 Dude Wipes “Dumpkin Spice” Chevrolet. Of these drivers, Burton recovered nicely, taking 13th at the finish.

Prior to the start, NASCAR reminded Alfredo to drop behind Kraus’ #11, which put him at the tail end of the field. When the green flag dropped, Alfredo was last across the line, already trailing Kraus by over three carlengths. By Lap 3, as Alfredo had dropped McLeod to last, NASCAR was already watching Hill’s #66 for smoke. The race stayed green, and McLeod maintained his position. By Lap 5, he was now tracking down Blaine Perkins in the #02 Gratis Chevrolet, a car that by Lap 10 had passed Stefan Parsons’ #07 Sokal Chevrolet. That time by, McLeod pulled to within 0.154 of Parsons, and on Lap 13, the two were side-by-side at the stripe, just 0.046 apart. Parsons held off the charge and dropped Perkins back to 37th, leaving McLeod another 0.674 behind on Lap 15. Two circuits later, McLeod’s was the first car to be lapped, and he was nearly two down by the 32nd go-round.

It was on Lap 32 that Jeremy Clements made an unscheduled stop in his #51 All South Electric Chevrolet, which had qualified a strong 9th. The stop dropped Clements to last by Lap 35, and he returned to the track three laps down. From there, Clements set after McLeod for the 37th spot, and on Lap 44 turned a 16.494-second lap to McLeod’s 17.819. Six laps later, Clements caught and passed McLeod, putting the #35 to last once more. 

McLeod's #35 joins Hill's #66 (background) in the garage.

Nearing the end of Stage 1 on Lap 76, McLeod was running between four and five laps down. Meanwhile, Timmy Hill had managed to climb to 24th. But on Lap 83, Hill pulled behind the wall, his car smelling strongly of gear oil, and the right side showing visible damage. On Lap 87, when the caution fell to end Stage 1, McLeod reported he was having a power steering issue, and talked with the team about coming behind the wall to bleed the system. He joined Hill in the garage on Lap 89, at which point the two were two laps apart. McLeod returned to the track on Lap 98, his previous lap clocked at 392.361 seconds, and gradually increased his gap over last-place Hill. But on Lap 103, NASCAR was still having its spotters watch McLeod, who apparently was still not up to speed. This was followed on Lap 112 by NASCAR confirming Hill – still in the garage – was the first car out of the race. McLeod returned to the garage a second time on Lap 134, and was likewise declared out of the race.

Completing the Bottom Five were no less than three of the five entered JR Motorsports cars. A Lap 168 tangle between Josh Berry’s #8 Bas Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet, Sam Mayer’s #1 Huck’s Market Chevrolet, and Brandon Jones’ #9 Menards / Patriot Lighting Chevrolet. Berry and Mayer were done for the night – Berry’s car after briefly catching on fire – while Jones managed to turn 12 more laps before suspension issues ended his night in 34th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #66 in a XFINITY Series race at Bristol since September 18, 2020, when Stephen Leicht had clutch issues after 11 laps.
*The 81 laps Hill completed came just four short of breaking the record for most laps complete by a last-place finisher of a XFINITY Series race at Bristol. The record of 84 laps was set by Derrike Cope, whose #28 AMD / FOX Sports en Espanol Ford lost the engine on April 4, 2005.

38) #66-Timmy Hill / 81 laps / rear gear
37) #35-B.J. McLeod / 117 laps / power steering
36) #8-Josh Berry / 166 laps / crash
35) #1-Sam Mayer / 166 laps / crash
34) #9-Brandon Jones / 178 lap / suspension

1st) SS-Green Light Racing (4)
2nd) Alpha Prime Racing (3)
3rd) Big Machine Racing, CHK Racing, DGM Racing, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Jordan Anderson Racing, Kaulig Racing, Our Motorsports, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (21)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (2)


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