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Marcus Ericsson finished last for the 4th time in his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach when his #8 Huski Chocolate Honda crashed out of the race after completing 25 of the race’s 85 laps.
The finish was Ericsson’s first since Gateway in 2020, twenty races ago.
After a formula racing career that spanned from the United Kingdom to Japan, Ericsson joined Formula 1 with the Caterham team in 2014, where he failed to score any points all season. After that team shut down, he spent three years with Sauber (now Alfa Romeo), and this time scored 18 points over three years. The end of 2018 saw Ericsson move to IndyCar, where he ran with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He scored a runner-up finish at Detroit but missed the Grand Prix of Portland while serving as a reserve driver for Alfa, finishing 17th in the standings. The Swedish driver then moved to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2020, stringing together five straight top-tens in the early portion of the season. He returned to the squad in 2021 and won two races in a breakout year. Heading into Long Beach, he'd only finished outside the top ten in three races.
Ericsson entered the weekend as the only current Ganassi driver not confirmed for 2022 - eventual championship winner Alex Palou and the all-star car of Jimmie Johnson with Tony Kanaan have already inked deals for next year. The entry list held much the same from last week at Laguna Seca; the lone addition was Southern California native Charlie Kimball, driving the same #11 car he drove for the month of May at A.J. Foyt Racing.
Dalton Kellett, Kimball’s teammate at Foyt, trailed the first practice in 28th with Johnson in 27th. The pair swapped positions in practice 2 at the bottom. Ericsson was already having a weekend to forget, placing 17th in first practice and 22nd in final practice. Both Kellett and Johnson picked up their pace in qualifying enough to best Oliver Askew, who looked like a revelation in the third Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car last week but struggled for speed in Long Beach, compounded by a penalty in qualifying for impeding another driver.
It was not long before the field found trouble. On the first lap, Ed Jones dove to the inside of James Hinchcliffe in a hairpin turn, nudging Pato O’Ward and sending the Mexican driver in to a spin. The field stacked up behind them, and it was Sebastien Bourdais that came across the line last at the conclusion of the first lap. Askew was still 26th, ahead of only Bourdais and O’Ward, and Ericsson was 14th, up three places from his starting spot of 17th. Ryan Hunter-Reay was also among cars with damage in the first-lap melee, and an extended pit stop dropped him to last at the end of Lap 2.
Hunter-Reay, in his last full-time race with Andretti Autosport, stayed in last until Lap 18, when O’Ward stalled at the end of the pit lane with a broken driveshaft. It was a heartbreaking end to a championship bid for the Arrow McLaren SP driver, however unlikely the championship would have been, as he entered the race 35 points back of Palou.
On Lap 26, Ericsson was racing Alexander Rossi for 19th position in a quick left-right set of turns. Rossi gained the inside position for the left-hander, and Ericsson’s car slid wide and wound up in the tire barriers, ending his day.
Callum Ilott, driving for Juncos Hollinger Racing, succumbed to brake issues after 47 circuits, and it looked like that would be the Bottom Three for the day. However, O’Ward’s crew repaired his broken car and sent him back out on track to gain points. He wound up completing 43 total laps, although it was not enough to keep from falling back to third in the point standings.
Ericsson, who had been running a comfortable 12th before the first pit cycle, wound up in last, securing his first last-place finish of 2021. Ed Jones secured the 2021 LASTCAR NTT IndyCar Series drivers championship by virtue of having one more Bottom Three finish than Conor Daly. A.J. Foyt Racing and Andretti Autosport tied for the owners championship with three last-place finishes apiece, and Chevrolet claimed the manufacturers championship via a 9-7 margin over Honda.
THE BOTTOM THREE 28) #8-Marcus Ericsson / 25 laps / crash 27) #5-Pato O’Ward / 43 laps / crash 26) #77-Callum Ilott / 47 laps / brakes
2021 LASTCAR NTT INDYCAR SERIES MANUFACTURERS CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL 1st) Chevrolet (9) 2nd) Honda (7)
2021 LASTCAR NTT INDYCAR SERIES OWNERS CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL 1st) A.J. Foyt Racing, Andretti Autosport (3) 2nd) Arrow McLaren SP, Carlin, Dale Coyne Racing (2) 3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Top Gun Racing (1)
2021 LASTCAR NTT INDYCAR SERIES DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP - FINAL
PICTURED: Ed Jones, 2021 LASTCAR IndyCar Series Drivers Champion
Paul Pedroncelli finished last for the 3rd time in his ARCA Menards Series West career in Thursday's Star Nursery 150 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring when his #31 Pedroncelli Mobile Bottling Chevrolet suffered brake issues after three laps.
The finish came in Pedroncelli’s sixth career start and was also his third last-place finish in the last four races.
While Pedroncelli’s first laps as a driver came earlier this season at Sonoma, his family has been involved with the West Series for over a decade. His son, Paul Pedroncelli Jr. (better known as “P.J.”), is a series veteran whose debut came in the then-Camping World West Series at Irwindale in 2008. P.J. continued to compete part-time with his father as his crew chief until 2011, when they moved to local divisions as the West Series became too expensive for their family team.
The Pedroncellis started their own mobile wine bottling company in 2014, a business that provided P.J. the opportunity to return to the West Series at their home track of Sonoma two years ago. P.J. had also intended to run the Sonoma race in the series in 2020 before its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This season, P.J. elected to make the jump to full-time West Series competition, while Paul has also joined his son on the track in every race so far save for the season-opener at Phoenix. P.J. has enjoyed a good amount of success with a pole at Irwindale and three top-three finishes through seven races.
Currently, the Pedroncellis have three cars on hand: a road course car, a short track car, and a backup car driven by Paul Sr. While the father-son duo hardly has a budget comparable to top teams in the series such as Bill McAnally Racing or Sunrise Ford Racing, they are a team that embodies what ARCA is all about: giving part-time racers an opportunity to not only live their dreams, but also to enjoy success.
BMR’s Amber Balcaen followed up the running order in twenty-second as she fell out after 20 laps due to crash damage. Amber Slagle, who suffered contact with the wall in the first corner on the opening lap, lasted 53 laps before her radiator gave out. Bridget Burgess completed two further laps before being taken out in a crash, while series veteran John Wood rounded out the Bottom Five, retiring with radiator issues of his own after 69 laps in Kart Idaho's #08.
Balcaen, Slagle, and Burgess made up three of five female drivers in the race, believed to be a record for the most women ever to compete in a single West Series event. The other two - Mariah Boudrieau and Jolynn Wilkinson - followed up the running order in 18th and 17th respectively. Boudrieau retired with crash damage after 112 laps while Wilkinson was the only woman of the five to be running at the finish, completing 127 of 150 laps after her crew spent time repairing crash damage of her own.
From left to right: Amber Slagle, Bridget Burgess, Jolynn Wilkinson, Mariah Boudrieau, and Amber Balcean PHOTO: Diego Alvarado, @DiegoxAlv
THE BOTTOM FIVE
23) #31-Paul Pedroncelli / 3 laps / brakes
22) #19-Amber Balcaen / 20 laps / crash
21) #17-Amber Slagle / 53 laps / radiator
20) #88-Bridget Burgess / 55 laps / crash
19) #08-John Wood / 69 laps / radiator
2021 LASTCAR ARCA MENARDS SERIES WEST MANUFACTURERS CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Toyota (1)
3rd) Ford (0)
2021 LASTCAR ARCA MENARDS SERIES WEST OWNERS CHAMPIONSHIP
J.J. Yeley picked up the 20th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #66 FatBoy Premium Ice Cream Toyota fell out with handling issues after 76 of 267 laps.
The finish, which came in Yeley’s 333rd series start, was his first of the season and first since October 25, 2020 at Texas, 40 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 54th for handling issues, the 64th for the #66, and the 171st for Toyota. Across all three of NASCAR’s top series, it was the 82nd for the #66, the 125th for handling problems, and the 365th for Toyota.
Yeley remains perhaps the most prolific of NASCAR’s journeyman drivers, running for multiple different teams and attempting at least one Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series race in 2021. He’s been particularly prolific in the XFINITY Series, where he’s most often driven for Rick Ware Racing in conjunction with Bobby Dotter’s SS-Green Light Racing. Despite starting just 11 of the season’s first 27 races, he’s earned a season-best 12th at Homestead and a pair of 13th-place finishes at Phoenix and Daytona. He also earned a 14th in a one-off for Our Motorsports at Dover.
Heading into Las Vegas, Yeley welcomed new backing from social media platform Parler, and had an ECR engine under the hood of the Ware / Dotter #17 Chevrolet. In the early laps, Yeley charged from 33rd on the grid into the Top 10, only to be eliminated in a grinding 12-car pileup that left him 37th. Six tires from DGM Racing’s Alex Labbe, also involved in the crash, would ultimately be acquired by Carl Long, owner of Motorsports Business Management, who would field Yeley a Cup ride on Sunday in the #66. The standard black rims were distinguishable by decals bearing the three DGM team numbers.
Carl Long discussed the tires on Sunday. “Most of the time I'm able to get some (tires) from Gibbs or some of the rest of the big teams, but last night's race everybody used up about everything they had. And the first crash that went out, B.J. McLeod and Rick Ware scuffed up everything - they had deals with those teams, and nobody would help me (laughs).”
According to MBM crewman @WookieAutomoTV, Yeley would drive one of MBM’s newest Cup cars – chassis JGR 685 – which Long had purchased at the end of 2020. Chad Finchum had driven the car at Nashville, where the driver pinpointed what seemed to be a steering box issue. The box was replaced after Finchum dropped out just past half distance into the race. At Vegas, the #66 would be sponsored by FatBoy Premium Ice Cream, which debuted with Yeley in last fall’s Cup race at Texas, where he finished last after an early crash.
Yeley secured the 38th and final starting spot in the field, and on Sunday would incur a redundant tail-end penalty following three pre-race inspection failures. Three other drivers failed inspection twice, and would also be sent to the rear – 3rd-place William Byron in the #24 Axalta / Service King Chevrolet, 4th-place Martin Truex, Jr. in the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and 17th-place Aric Almirola in the #10 Mobil 1 Ford. All three passed on their third go-round while Yeley did not, meaning the #66’s car chief was ejected and the driver would have to serve a pass-through penalty after taking the green flag.
When the race started, Yeley was holding the outside lane and drew ahead of both 35th-place Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet and 37th-place Joey Gase in the #15 NV Donate Life Chevrolet, who represented half of Rick Ware Racing’s four-car lineup. This put Gase in last place until Yeley came down pit road for the pass-through. Yeley returned to the track just in front of Gase, who reported what he believed to be a broken shock. “Feels like something’s broke,” he reported on Lap 5. After a rough run though Turn 4, Gase was told to come in so the crew could look under the hood. This was done on Lap 10, and Gase took over the 38th spot from Yeley when he returned to the track on Lap 12. At the same time, Yeley was lapped a second time, but remained in 37th.
Yeley in the garage.
NASCAR threw their competition caution on Lap 25, when Gase made a second stop with the other lapped drivers. This time, they didn’t look under the hood. He remained in 38th on the Lap 30 restart, when he started ahead of a few other cars. All these cars passed him by the end of that first lap, and the #15 once again trailed by at least two carlengths. On Lap 44, Gase was within sight of 37th-place Yeley, a margin that continued to shrink as the leaders lapped them both in the tri-oval. When Stage 1 ended on Lap 81, Gase had dropped 7 laps down, but was now one lap behind Yeley.
As it turned out, Yeley had pulled into the garage around Lap 80, and pulled into Stall 52 in the Neon Garage – the last stall on the side facing Turns 1 and 2. NASCAR relayed “66 to the garage, mechanical” on Lap 82, and Gase dropped the #66 to last under the stage-ending caution. Long spent some time talking with Yeley while one MBM crew member wiggled the right-front wheel by hand. Soon after, the team took off the DGM tires and put on a set of stickers with MBM logos on them. By then, it was Lap 90, and Long had just confirmed they were out of the race. He spoke to me about what had happened:
“We believe it's a wheel bearing that is going out,” said Long. "The car just gets a bad vibration in it. J.J. can't drive it in the corner. It's not consistent. It won't just push or it won't get loose. It will start to push, it will snap loose. The steering has moved on him.”
He discussed the Nashville issue that Chad Finchum discovered with the car. “So we had this problem at Nashville with this car, and we diagnosed it as a steering box. And so we put a new steering box in it, but this is a set of spindles that we couldn't find bearings that fit anymore. So we had a machine company make us an adapter to go over the spindle so it would fit our hubs and bearings, and that's got to be what the problem is. He can't feel the steering - I mean when it goes in, it's kind of towing out, it's washing around. It's not safe to be out there during the Chase.”
Although the spindle adapter was the cited cause, NASCAR listed the #66 out with “handling” issues. Yeley stayed for at least a half-hour after climbing from the machine, tossing sample ice cream sandwiches to the fans watching from the second floor of the Neon Garage.
Not long after our interview, on Lap 93, the day’s most serious accident occurred. Joey Gase, now running 37th, was again trailing the field on the Lap 88 restart. Heading through Turns 1 and 2, something failed in the left-rear of his car, causing the left-rear wheel to come off at high speed. The rear of Gase’s car stepped out, shedding at least two pieces of debris that smashed the lens of NBCSN’s Turn 2 camera. A moment later, the left-rear of the #15 backed into the wall hard enough to ramp the driver’s side off the ground. The car landed on its three remaining wheels and hit the inside wall several hundred feet from where his loose wheel had stopped against the barrier. Gase did not drop the window net, but when the safety crew dropped it, he was seen moving and throwing the steering wheel onto the dash. After a trip to the infield care center, Gase was then transferred to a local hospital for further evaluation.
As of this writing, there is no further official word on Gase’s condition from either NASCAR or Rick Ware Racing. NASCAR also has no additional information on the left-front wheel issue that caused the accident.
UPDATE: Shortly after posting, Gase's PR reported he has been released from the hospital and will be further evaluated in Charlotte.
The rest of the race was run without incident, and no other drivers joined Yeley and Gase in the garage area. Josh Bilicki in 36th finished 15 laps down to race winner Denny Hamlin in his #52 Byrna “The Un-Gun” Ford, Two laps ahead of him came the last of the RWR contingent, Garrett Smithley, in the #53 Red Line Chevrolet. Quin Houff round out the group in 34th, one lap ahead of Smithley in the #00 Eagle Rock Wealth Chevrolet.
Joe Graf, Jr. picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 302 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #07 Bucked Up Energy Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 30 of 201 laps.
The finish, which came in Graf’s 59th series start, was his first of the season and first since August 29, 2020 at Daytona, 38 races ago. In the LASTCAR XFINITY Series standings, this marked the 11th for the #07, the 358th from a crash, and the 580th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 22nd for the #07, the 1,274th for Chevrolet, and the 1,807th from a crash.
Graf is closing out his second full XFINITY Series season with Bobby Dotter’s SS-Green Light Racing team, a program that has increasingly cooperated with Rick Ware Racing and their #17 effort. Following an 11th-place finish in this year’s Daytona opener, however, Graf has struggled for much of this season, coming home no better since. He entered Las Vegas with the most Bottom Fives (4) and Bottom Tens (9) of anyone without a last-place finish in this year's XFINITY Series. Four DNFs due to accidents and another under the Damaged Vehicle Policy weighed down his average, and he failed to qualify at Charlotte. He was also swapped out for Ross Chastain at COTA, only for Chastain to himself drop from contention on the first lap.
However, just last week, Graf came home 17th in a physical Bristol race, his best run since Daytona. He had reason to be excited for a return to Las Vegas, as the 18th-place showing this past March had been his second-best before Bristol. Bucked Up Energy, which had a significant brand presence at the Las Vegas track, would again back his #07, and he’d roll off in 21st.
Starting 40th and last was C.J. McLaughlin, who was back in Mike Harmon Racing’s #74 Sci Aps Chevrolet for the first time since his last-place run earlier this month in Richmond. The team also welcomed back returning sponsorship from Findlay Cadillac and the law firm of Lerner & Rowe. While no drivers were sent to the rear for pre-race penalties, two were briefly stopped on pit road as the field rolled off – 19th-place Tommy Joe Martins for a disconnected hose on his #44 Market Rebellion Chevrolet, and 22nd-place Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose #0 K9 Grass by Forever Lawn Chevrolet needed a push-start. Earnhardt ran nearly full-throttle to catch up to the pack, and soon retook his place in line.
Coming to the green, Carson Ware had dropped to the rear. Ware was running a Rick Ware Racing Toyota sponsored by KeepItSecure.net, the same brand that backed Graf last week in Bristol. The Ware car bore RWR markings on the nose and b-pillar, but was entered under Jimmy Means Racing as the #52 (used by both teams).
When the race started, Ware slotted in behind McLaughlin and took over the 40th spot. This didn’t last long, however as by the end of the first lap, Ware had worked under McLaughlin in the tri-oval an completed the pass. The #74 then continued to drop back through the opening run until Lap 7, when the gap stabilized. By then, the leaders were starting to bear down on them. On Lap 12, Spencer Boyd had slipped to 38th in the #90 Mini Doge Chevrolet, but there was still open track between the trailing Ware and McLaughlin behind him. On Lap 14, McLaughlin made another charge at Ware, a gap that continued to shrink as the leaders put both a lap down. Ware had just passed Boyd for 38th when the competition caution fell on Lap 25. Ware reassumed the spot after slowly pulling from his pit stall, taking 40th by Lap 28.
On the Lap 31 restart, McLaughlin had retaken last from Ware, and was running to the inside of Josh Williams in the #92 Silverton Hotel & Casino Chevrolet. Just as the cars crossed the line, however, trouble broke out among the leaders.
The problem began around 11th place, where the field fanned out five-wide. In the middle lane, Jeb Burton’s #10 Nutrien Ag Chevrolet came up into Josh Berry’s #1 Pilot Travel Centers Chevrolet, which then clipped the left-rear corner of Riley Herbst’s #98 South Point Hotel & Casino Ford. Herbst spun across the track, which was quickly blocked to rapidly-closing field. Among those were J.J. Yeley, whose #17 Parler Chevrolet had charged from 33rd on the grid into the Top 20 – only to be collected in the ensuing pileup.
"Obviously, just super disappointed," said Yeley. "The other guys at SS-Green Light literally have been fine tuning on this car for three weeks. Having Parler on board, wanted to give them a great effort. Had an ECR engine. All the things that we needed to go out and be a Top Ten car. We started 33rd, drove up to 19th, was running Top Ten lap speeds. Realistically, just kind of cruising. So knowing that we were going to get the competition caution and push it, you get a restart. They go four or five wide. I'm not exactly sure who caused it, but I saw Jeb (Burton) come across the field. I'm on the brakes and think I'm in great shape, and the 26 (Dylan Lupton) was behind me never checked up, never let off the gas until we were plowed into the fence. So, complete surprise - not sure what (Lupton's) problem was, but he took himself out, too. But it sucks. It definitely sucks. Because I think that based off of the small adjustments we needed to make to the car, we had talked about running without attrition or anything else, just going out there and beating really good cars with a small team."
In all, 12 drivers were involved, including Graf, who was trapped in the high line, damaging the left-front corner and rear of his car. His was among the cars that managed to limp their way back to pit road for repairs, each placed on the six-minute “Crash Clock.” First to reach the pits was Brandon Brown in the #68 TradeTheChain.com Chevrolet, followed shortly by the battered Sam Mayer in the #8 Big Machine / Carly Pearce Chevrolet with Riley Herbst’s #98 right behind. Dylan Lupton trailed sparks when his #26 Marques General Engineering Toyota followed after.
Last place on Saturday was decided by Jeremy Clements (left, top and bottom) being pushed to the garage before Joe Graf, Jr. (right, top and bottom)
During all this, Graf had also made it to pit road along with Jeremy Clements in the #51 First Pacific Funding Chevrolet. Joining Clements' backers in Las Vegas was Eric Estepp's NASCAR YouTube series "Out of the Groove," which was featured prominently on each side. Both Graf and Clements were the first to pull into the garage through the first pit road entrance off Turn 4 – Clements on Lap 33, followed by Graf on Lap 34. With both drivers on the same lap, this spelled the difference in who would be ranked behind the other. Since Graf arrived after Clements, he was ranked behind the #51, which by Lap 34 had dropped to the final two spots. As the cleanup continued, three other cars were towed into the garage adjoining Turns 3 and 4 from another entrance – Yeley’s #17, Herbst’s #98, and Alex Labbe’s #36 Larue Industrial Snowblowers Chevrolet. Lupton’s #26 was also in the garage by this time along with Jeb Burton’s #10, meaning by then seven destroyed cars were already in different phases of being loaded on their haulers. Labbe, Yeley, and Burton rounded out the Bottom Five.
Finishing a solid 13th was Bayley Currey, who in just his second XFINITY start to complement his runs with Mike Harmon Racing finished 13th – his best series run since a season-best 7th for Harmon in this spring. I caught up with Currey after the race:
Bayley Currey (center, right - in black-and-red) after his 13th-place run.
Bayley Currey finishes “Lucky 13” in Vegas
Finishing a solid 13th was Bayley Currey, who in just his second XFINITY start to complement his runs with Mike Harmon Racing finished 13th – his best series run since a season-best 7th for Harmon in this spring. I caught up with Currey after the race:
“I just feel happy. Really thankful to Johnny Davis for allowing me to come and drive this 15 car this weekend. Guys worked on it hard all day, made all the right adjustments, and ended up P13. I was pedaling like hell trying to keep them other two guys behind (Brett Moffitt and Ty Gibbs), couldn't do it. We short pitted, good strategy and jumped a couple of them in front of us and yeah - Lucky 13!”
As Currey mentioned, he was running in the 11th spot in the final laps before Brett Moffitt for Our Motorsports and Ty Gibbs with Joe Gibbs Racing got by, dropping him to 13th. He also overcame damage to the nose of his car suffered in a rear-end collision with Dylan Lupton earlier in the race. Currey also hopes this run will help him on the sponsorship front, which has been an issue this year both at JD Motorsports and MHR.
“I mean, yeah, hopefully hopefully I did open some eyes and it's one more thing I could put in the marketing deck. We're top 15 car, we're here with JD, and I think we can continue to be that.”
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #07 in a XINITY Series race since November 16, 2019, when Ray Black, Jr. lost the engine after 4 laps at Homestead. The number had never before finished last in a XFINITY race at Las Vegas.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #07-Joe Graf, Jr. / 30 as / crash
39) #51-Jeremy Clements / 30 laps / crash
38) #36-Alex Labbe / 30 laps / crash
37) #17-J.J. Yeley / 30 laps / crash
36) #10-Jeb Burton / 30 laps / crash
2021 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) B.J. McLeod Motorsports (5)
2nd) Mike Harmon Racing (3)
3rd) DGM Racing, JD Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Our Motorsports, RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (2)
4th) Brandonbilt Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2021 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
Chris Hacker picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 Presented By Westgate Resorts at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #45 Charred Flags Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 6 of 134 laps.
The finish came in Hacker’s 2nd series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the first under the Damaged Vehicle Policy (DVP), it was the 6th for the #45, and the 413th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 4th by DVP, the 40th for the #45, and the 1,806th for Chevrolet.
The 21-year-old Hacker is the latest of a series of Truck Series competitors who have championed the cause of medical conditions they have dealt with in their lives. Following Armani Williams, who was diagnosed with Autism, and both Todd Peck and Natalie Decker, who have fought arthritis, Hacker suffered nerve damage in his left arm from a Brachial Plexus injury. After years of surgery and therapy, Hacker has both raised money and lectured on the topic, and has used his racing career to bring further attention to the cause.
That racing career began at the age of eight in quarter midgets, and by 2020 earned him an ARCA Menards Series West ride with Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing Team at Phoenix. He finished 15th of the 27 starters, two laps down. Another one-off ARCA national series start came this past summer at Charlotte, where he ran 10th for Kevin Cram. A bid at the Truck Series, announced last August, had originally entered him in a second On Point Motorsports entry at Gateway. When metric qualifying kept that truck out of the race, Hacker jumped aboard Josh Reaume’s #34, and overcame initial mechanical issues to finish 27th.
Las Vegas would be Hacker’s first Truck Series start since the Gateway event, and this time would come in Al Niece’s #45 – an entry suddenly freed up after Brett Moffitt parted ways with the program earlier this year. Hacker brought backing from woodworking website Charred Flags, and the nickname “Hackerman” was on the roof rails of his Chevrolet. He’d line up 27th, again due to metric qualifying.
The preliminary entry list showed 38 trucks entered for 40 spots, but the list shrank to 37 after Dawson Cram didn’t bring his #41 Be Water Chevrolet to the track. Drawing the last spot was Alaska native Keith McGee, whose extraordinary path to CMI Motorsports’ #49 Dirty Goth Boi Ford involved a literal gamble with professional gambler Mikki Mase. The crew had a backup hood with the Dirty Goth logo set aside by the team’s hauler. Several fans of both McGee and XFINITY Series newcomer Matt Jaskol were on hand in a vacant pit stall to send off the #49.
McGee’s late driver swap with CMI team owner Ray Ciccarelli incurred him a redundant tail-end penalty along with 36th-place Dylan Lupton for unapproved adjustments on the #34 Marques General Engineering on the hood. McGee made one more pass down pit road by himself before the race started. When it did, there was a logjam around midway up the inside line, causing 19th-place Chase Purdy’s #23 BamaBuggies.com Chevrolet to drive into the back of the truck in front of him. Purdy continued on, but under the first caution would pit for a patch of tape on the left-front corner of his truck’s nose.
As the race went underway, McGee remained in last place with new 37th-place runner Bret Holmes in the #32 Southern States Bank Chevrolet. Holmes then reeled in 36th-place Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #10 Fastener Supply Company Ford, and Cobb then dropped back toward the approaching McGee. McGee was within striking distance of the #10 when the caution fell for an incident in Turn 4.
Hacker, who was still running near the tail end of the field, spun and backed into the Turn 4 wall, damaging the left-rear corner of his truck and buckling the rear deck. He managed to make it to pit road, where the six-minute “Crash Clock” began to count down. Under the ensuing first caution of the race, the team facilitated repairs, pushing the bent panels and taping them back in place. He returned to the track off the lead lap, but on Lap 9 was seen on camera running off the pace. Back on pit road on the 11th circuit, Hacker’s team was then informed by NASCAR that their “Crash Clock” had expired. The team pushed the #45 behind the wall on the Turn 1 side of pit road, then parked their truck next to their hauler, last in line. Hacker could not be reached for a quote, but his mother indicated he will next run in Martinsville.
A brutal wreck on Lap 71 ended up filling most of the Bottom Five. The incident started when Tyler Ankrum’s #26 Liuna Chevrolet broke loose in Turn 1. Chandler Smith, whose #18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota was running the high lane, couldn’t avoid contact and skated down to the inside of the track, where Ankrum also collected Chase Purdy’s #23 and Hailie Deegan in the #1 Craftsman Ford. Meanwhile, Sheldon Creed had cut to the apron in his #2 LiftKits4Less.com Chevrolet, and collided with Smith at high speed, destroying both trucks and starting a fire under the hood of the #2. Creed, Smith, and Ankrum climbed from their vehicles and were checked and released from the infield care center.
Rounding out the Bottom Five was John Hunter Nemechek, whose metric qualifying pole mirrored his pre-race standing as the presumptive favorite. Nemechek’s #4 Berry’s Bullets Toyota started sputtering with an electrical issue, and would lose multiple laps in the process, finishing 49 laps down, but under power. Another three trucks ahead of him failed to finish, including McGee, who was flagged off the track for not maintaining minimum speed.
Tyler Hill rolls his battered truck to pit road after the race.
Tyler Hill Frustrated With Last-Lap Wreck
The race, which saw Christian Eckes score his first career series win, ended under caution following a last-lap crash. The wreck totaled the unsponsored #56 Chevrolet of Tyler Hill, which happened to be the last 1.5-mile truck in the Hill Motorsports’ stable. While no other 1.5-mile tracks remain in 2021, Hill was less than pleased with how his race ended.
“We were just racing hard for nothing way back in the pack and I think it was the #02 - I believe it was Kris Wright - just felt like a hero on the last lap racing for God knows what probably 18th and just decided he wanted to destroy us on last lap. So this is so unfortunate - this is the last mile-and-a-half truck that we had. At least we don't have any more mile-and-a-halves to go to but just completely wipes us out for the year. And I guess we start start building new trucks for next year.”
I also asked Tyler about the race up to that point.
“We had a great truck - we just unfortunately with our budget we didn't have a set of tires there at the end to put on and we had some trucks that shouldn't have been around us driving up through the field. They get coming on you so fast with tires that they think they can just do anything and unfortunately some drivers just don't have the experience to handle that. It winds up killing some guys that can't be killing trucks and and it's just not a whole lot more you can do about it really. Part of it.”
I have reached out to Young’s Motorsports for a comment from Wright on the incident.
Holmes (second from left) before the start.
Bret Holmes Earns Career-Best 11th
Further up the standings, Bret Holmes had continued his climb through the field from 35th on the grid to finish in 11th – his best-ever finish as a driver by a full 16 spots. I caught up with Holmes after the race:
“Yeah, I mean for me at least,” said Holmes. “Our team has ran a little bit better when Sam (Mayer) raced with us earlier in the year. But yeah, we really needed that. We've had a bad stretch of races here as far as just execution and luck goes all around. And it's been a tough summer for us really so I'm glad. It's been a while. . .I was one off from a Top Ten - I was hoping I could at least get a Top Ten, but I'm satisfied with today's race with how everything's been going for sure.”
I asked how the race played out for him with all the hard crashes throughout:
“I mean it's just on restarts, it's so hard on lane choice, and you make one wrong decision, you can lose five spots just like that. So I feel like I made two wrong decisions on choosing the inside as far as a few laps after the restarts go. So the more races in these trucks, then the better I'll be that instinct or decision making so I'll get better at that and we'll continue to improve for sure. Without practice, our notebook's starting off in the race, so it's been it's been tough but we're getting there.”
Finally, I asked Holmes on his plans for 2022.
“Yeah, plans are still kind of coming together. They're just kind of now starting to talk. . .just kind of more dependent on sponsorship, what we can do so. I definitely feel like we'll be in Trucks for sure, Trucks in some capacity. And then maybe ARCA - I'm not sure about that - but we'll see.”
*This marked the first Truck Series last-place finish for the #45 since June 12th of this year, when Ross Chastain was disqualified AAProTools Set of 4 Dentist Restorative Composite Filling Instru. All six of the last-place finishes for the #45 in Truck Series history have come with different drivers – Rich Bickle (1999), Tommy Regan (2014), Ty Majeski (2020), Trevor Bayne (2020), and Chastain (2021).