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Trucks

Through the Eyes of NKP: 2019 NGOTS Champion Matt Crafton

With seven top-five’s and surprisingly no trips to victory lane, Matt Crafton put together a stellar season en route to being crowned the 2018 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Champion.

With the help of Nigel Kinrade Photography (NKP), led by veteran photographer, Nigel Kinrade, lets take a look back at the season that was for the ThorSport Racing driver.

Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway | Nigel Kinrade

 

North Carolina Education Lottery 200 | Rusty Jarrett

 

North Carolina Education Lottery 200 | Matthew T. Thacker

 

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Awards | Nigel Kinrade

 

Chevrolet Silverado 250 | Logan Whitton

 

UNOH 200 | Nigel Kinrade

 

NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 | John Harrelson

 

Ford EcoBoost 200 | Rusty Jarrett

 

Sugarlands Shine 250 | Rusty Jarrett

 

World of Westgate 200 | Rusty Labounty

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

GOOD & BAD: 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Season

Another year of NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series competition is in the books, with a familiar sight as Matt Crafton was crowned the series champion. Along the way, though, there were some highlights and low lights to consider from the action on-track all year.

Although I was unable to watch all of the races, let’s take a look back at the good and the bad.

GOOD: Through the years, the trucks have earned the reputation of putting on the best shows of the weekend with the right race package being put together. That did not change in 2019 as there were certainly many events where they out-shined both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 

ISM Raceway was one of those weekends, for example. The Cup Series semi-final saw great racing on the restarts with drivers all over the surface, but they seemed to spread apart once the green flag had been flying for awhile. In contrast, the truck series long green-flag runs brought forth close fights for positions, including for the lead in the late stages between Stewart Friesen and Brandon Jones.

BAD: The ideology that the traction compound can fix anything as it seemed each weekend, officials were trying to lay that sticky stuff where they felt it could improve the racing. Instead of using a manufactured substance, why don’t we get back to basics and actually fix the issue?

ISM Raceway tried to apply it in the higher groove for their event, and for the most part, drivers avoided it. Mind you, Sheldon Creed showed a bit of promise with a couple strong runs off the corner, it did not seem to make a difference in the type of battles witnessed. So why bother?

Furthermore, the substance can be tricky especially if it is not worked in properly. Both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott experienced that the hard way last week in the Cup Series, sliding it sideways and making contact with the wall. Now imagine if something like that happens to take a driver out of contention for the Championship 4 either tomorrow or Sunday. There’d be certainly tons of backlash from fans, considering we’ve proven it’s not a necessary for ISM Raceway. Do you really want to risk that? 

GOOD: Thank you for the pair of ThorSport Racing teammates not listening to what the commentators in the booth were saying.

As the ISM event neared conclusion, Matt Crafton ran behind a pair of his ThorSport teammates sitting just six points above the cutline. Both the No. 88 truck crew chief Carl Joiner and NASCAR on FOX’s analysts Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons expected both Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger to lay over and allow Crafton go by. Despite the constant complains by the booth through the final laps of the event, they did the right thing running their race.

If Crafton was sitting was in jeopardy of being above the cutline and needed those two points, then certainly it would be nice to see his teammates work with him. However, he was safe where he was racing them for position so it was not a necessity for them to give up ground in their own race for his sake. Let’s say that they let him go by and then a late race caution comes out to set-up a restart. How would they feel restarting further back than intended?

The unique factor in NASCAR is watching drivers compete every single lap against each other as hard as they can – despite being teammates. The day that team orders become a thing is the day that you ruin the utmost important rule of racing in competition.

BAD: It’s been discussed many times before, and yet nothing has been done about it. Initial green flag and restart rule procedures need to be adjusted.

As the field came to the green flag for the Lucas Oil 150 at ISM, Friesen would beat pole sitter Austin Hill to the line, enabling a penalty from NASCAR for jumping the start. However, Friesen did not get into the throttle before the leader, rather laying off to try and avoid, except Hill spun his tires causing a slower start. How is it fair for a competitor to get penalized for another driver’s mistake?

NASCAR is famously known for inconsistency with race calls, and certainly has made some highly visible mistakes through the years. However, they are always looking for ways to improve and that was shown with an adjustment to pit road and where tires can be throughout a stop, whether in arm’s length of a crew member or not.

It’s time for them to take another glance at this rule and perhaps include a judgment aspect that if the leader spins the tires, then the penalty is waved for the second-place car jumping. Sure, it adds a layer that nobody wants to be sitting and deciding, but that’s the nature of the game as proven by the yellow line rule and judging whether a driver was pushed below or not. 

GOOD: It’s Bristol Baby” is a famous tagline that has been heard through the years, due to the track’s reputation. It was nice to see the Truck Series bring back some of that old flare. Throughout the entire UNOH 200, the playoff drivers were mixing it up with not only each other, but their fellow competitors on the track. Nobody appeared to be giving each other an inch, with bumps being traded throughout the field, and some going around as a result. 

The fans have been asking for the old Bristol to come back, and if this event is any indication, they got their wish. It’s easy to see why they wanted the bottom groove to be prime real estate as sparks flew, with drama throughout the night. Certainly the drivers who grew up running tracks of this style with a rough edge to their driving enjoy it. Just ask Ross Chastain.

“That’s what built this place,” he said. “You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”

GOOD: The trucks always put on some of the craziest restrictor plate racing, and the NextEra Energy Resources 250 was no exception. Throughout the event, from the drop of the initial green flag to the end, there was side-by-side racing as drivers jockeyed for positions, sometimes even three-wide.

Over the course of Daytona Speedweeks, fans have practically begged for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers to stop running single file up against the wall as we saw in both the Advance Auto Parts Clash and the Gander RV Duels.

However, patience was the name of the game as drivers solely wanted to go to the event of the with a car, and  on the case Thursday, save their equipment for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500. There’s no time for that in the trucks as stage points are given out on two different occasions, and the race is only 100 laps total in length. Combined with a lot of youthful drivers eager to prove themselves, riding along doesn’t happen. 

BAD: There is a price to pay with what we saw happen, though, as the truck series only had nine drivers complete the race out of the 32 who took the green flag. The constant battling for position resulted in several wrecks, with 11 cautions taking happening. Oddly enough, more than half of the event was run under the yellow flag (55 laps).

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

DGR-Crosley, Ford Partnership A Win For All

On Wednesday, Dec. 12 it was announced that DGR-Crosley will be switching manufacturers from Toyota to Ford in 2020.

The move came after a successful 2019 season where the team recorded wins in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, ARCA Menards Series East, and the ARCA Menards Series. So, after all the success, the decision may seem like a strange one; however, when you look at the situation at hand, this was probably the best time to do it for all parties involved.

For one, when it came to trucks, DGR was always going to be the number two option for Toyota’s development system behind Kyle Busch Motorsports. Not to forget the amount of Toyota teams in the various lower-tier series as well.

Now, this was not a horrible thing for the team, but this new opportunity allows them to take a bigger role as a driver development group. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if this team gets even better next season with its newfound manufacturer support.

This brings us to Ford.

A group that really didn’t have a pipeline system into the lower series like the one Chevrolet has with GMS Racing, and Toyota has with KBM. They know have that with DGR, which really cannot be understated.

While a full driver lineup as yet to be announced, there are a bunch of qualities options at the table that the team could add or resign, that would be good additions for the Ford camp also.

For one there is Todd Gilliand, who is a free agent and has that obvious connection with DGR, that could be somebody scooped up. Yes, he did not have the best of seasons with KBM in 2019, but he did show potential and did win a race with the team.

Then there is somebody like a Tanner Gray, who is young and won in his first season in the East Series last year with a history of success attached to his name.

And finally, there’s the appeal to other drivers who may be stuck in the Toyota pipeline that may not have a clear vision upwards. Someone like a Hailie Deegan, who is currently a free agent, has a history with DGR and been rumored to be joining the team.

The announcement may already be creating waves, and the manufacture sent out a media advisory that they will be announcing a new development driver to their program on Tuesday, December 17.

Not to forget that if DGR is successfully able to devise a pipeline for Ford, it may raise the likelihood of a team like Team Penske or Stewart-Haas Racing of maybe investing in DGR to invest in the future of their own race teams.

While all of this may be looking into a crystal ball one thing is for certain, this is move is a win for all parties involved.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

“They Said What?” NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Edition

Sometimes when you stick a microphone in front of a driver’s face, you have no clue what they may say and a couple of times you’ll hear something that surprises you or gives you a bit of a perspective.

Throughout the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, I had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of different competitors. During those interviews, there were some quotes that stood out. So it seems only fitting we take a glance back through the year at what was said.

MATTHEW T. THACKER | NKP

For me, it was just the air. The first five laps of the race I struggled a little bit because I was just so taken away of how aggressive the air is, and how much it affects the truck. We tried to get behind some trucks in practice at Texas, but it just seemed no one wanted to be around each other like they did at Vegas or Atlanta. It just kind of seemed like everyone was trying to figure out their own package before qualifying and the race.

That, and how aggressive everyone drove – or how assertive how everyone drove. There were a few really aggressive drivers out there who would not get off your door. They would just drive on your door every corner, and you get pissed off around them as it’s not that respectful. There’s this gentleman’s code amongst drivers if it is 10 to go, I understand why you got down on my door and got me loose, or got me sideways. But when it’s Lap 15 or 50 or even 100, when there’s still a good distance to go, it gets frustrating.

There’s a lot of respectful drivers out there, but I just couldn’t believe what you could do to manipulate someone else’s truck without even touching them. You get a foot on either corner of the truck, and you can affect them somehow. You almost have out to outthink them. On the short tracks, you can outdrive them, but looking up front, you’re just manipulating the air and you mirror drive a lot. Even at Texas, you’re mirror driving a lot; you block and you get drafts off other trucks, and it’s a whole different style of racing than I’m used to.

Tyler Ankrum on biggest surprise in his first intermediate start

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

I think there’s so much that I could’ve done differently. I started racing full-time when I was 19-years-old, so it’s kind of interesting to think back when you’re 25. I think like anyone whose 25 and looks back at their life when they were 19, they would do a couple things different. I think there are things that I could’ve done a little better, probably listen more and talk a little less, and maybe worked a little harder and done a bit better job here and there. I think it would’ve made a difference, but ultimately, everything happens for a reason.

I feel like all the decisions led me to where I am today – good, bad, and different – and whatever is next is going to come as a result of hard work. That’s something that I knew always was that my work ethic was always there, right or wrong. I just want to continue working hard and learn from my mistakes, and build on the things that I did right. That’s all you can do as a person, and I think it’s a really exciting time for me.

Anytime you have a big change in your life, it leads you wondering what’s next. It can be a little scary, but it also can be very exciting if you accept the challenge, and I think that I have the right system around me with mom, dad, and my girlfriend that have gave me a lot of support through it all and excitement for the future.

Ryan Reed 

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Dover has gotten a lot rougher over the years, so every time I go there, I try to focus on the bumps in turn three and four and getting through those bumps good. I also focus on carrying a lot of speed through the corner. Dover, to me, is all about how much throttle you can carry through the corner and not get tight. We call it the 5/8th mark of the corner, but as you get right in the middle and start to get off on exit, the car or truck starts to get tight in that spot, and I think the key is going to be being able to hold throttle through that part of the corner so you can carry a lot of speed.

Obviously, in the trucks, momentum is really important – even at Dover. When I’ve been there in the past in an Xfinity car, you’re not out of the gas very long; it’s just such a fast mile track and high-banked. One, it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of my favorite tracks that we go to, but it’s about making sure you can carry a lot of throttle through the corner and get through the bumps in turn three good and you can wrap the bottom of the corner to get off of it.

But I think we have a good game plan going into Dover. We’ve got a truck that we’ve been working on. It’s going to be a new truck for us, so I’m just excited to see the stuff that we’ve been working on and see if it pays off for us and see if we have a little bit more speed and see what we got.

Brennan Poole

VENTURINI MOTORSPORTS

They don’t know the whole story, that’s for sure, just like any other person; I’m just a normal person in the public eye. But I would like to tell them they don’t know the whole story, but thank you to all of them because it definitely pushes me harder, it makes me want to work harder for myself and prove to myself and them and the fans that support me that anything is possible and you can make your dreams come true.

Natalie Decker on her critics

LOGAN WHITTON | NKP

For me, the racing doesn’t get much better than what we do. We get to drive race trucks. That’s a dream of mine to always compete in the top level of NASCAR.  I have a beautiful family and it doesn’t get much better than that – spending time with family and getting to race fast trucks.

Timothy Peters 

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

I’ve been able to run a bunch of sprint cars, and win some of those races which has been cool. I got to run a non-wing car in California on Thanksgiving, and that was pretty cool. Maybe getting back to the Chili Bowl is kind of a bucket list thing, and maybe having a shot at Xfinity or Cup would be something I’d like to be able to participate in before I hang it up.

Stewart Friesen

MATTHEW T. THACKER | NKP

Tire management is everything at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The surface is just a cheese grater. So you want to get out there and get as much out of the truck you can the first few laps to separate yourself from the other guys, and then just manage your tires, hold off your tires. Realize that maybe you can get them go for a couple laps if they’re going to just run off their tires real quick. So just recognizing the race pace, and not steering from that plan.

Spencer Boyd

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

There’s a lot of good race tracks that aren’t on the schedule. It’s going to be a short track for sure, so the Milwaukee Mile or Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Memphis Motorsports Park. Something like that is what I would like to see on the schedule. I’m a short track guy so I’d like to see us go to some of those types of places for sure.

Johnny Sauter 

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

I’d like to drive everything, pretty much. Nothing stands out in particular, as I kind of want to try everything that I can get my hands on.

Tyler Dippel

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Todd Gilliland Looking at “Couple Different Things” for 2020

With Kyle Busch Motorsports finalizing their pair of full-time entries for 2020, it gave confirmation that Todd Gilliland will not return to the organization for another season.

The second generation racer alluded to this fact last weekend at ISM Raceway when discussing his future plans. 

“We have a couple different things,” he said at ISM Raceway. “We’re hoping to have things locked down pretty soon to be able to announce. Right now we’re just staying focused on what’s in front of us. We’ll take it one week at a time and be the best race car driver I can be.”

Gilliland has not performed as well as he has hoped this year driving in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, failing to make the playoffs with just six top-five’s and 13 top-10’s in 22 races. 

However, there has been recent success as he was able to score his first career series victory at Martinsville Speedway a couple weeks ago. He admits feeling relief right upon crossing the finish line. 

“Afterwards you just feel like you belong,” he adds. “It’s something I was really lucky to be able to do was win early in the ARCA Series in my first race and then my first race here at Phoenix in the K&N Series, just makes things so much easier. Puts you in the talks every single week. Just being a winner in every series makes things easier.”

Following a championship in the K&N Pro Series, it’s easy to understand that he felt this season would have gone much better right from the start.

“Still to this day, I don’t feel like it should have been this hard,” he commented. “Even from the beginning of my truck races, I ran almost better than I had been. I started out running pretty competitive and then went downhill slowly. I really don’t know. Communication, people and obviously KBM has really great people. Me and Marcus (Richmond, crew chief) really didn’t gel together. Communication is key in every business.”

The lack of success earlier this year brought forth many critics, including Kyle Busch making comments to the media about Gilliland’s lack of success. After all, Christopher Bell and Erik Jones were both able to win titles quickly in his equipment with Busch winning all five races he entered.

Everything came to a head when Gilliland shouted over the radio upon crossing the finish line that, “Kyle Busch should stay in the f***ing motorhome.” The young driver has since apologized to his team owner for the comments, saying that they talked on the phone middle of the week and got “everything smoothed out.” 

“I feel like obviously he wasn’t happy,” Gilliland said. “I wouldn’t be either, but at the same time a part of him understood just the frustration and I’m sure he didn’t want me to be back here, but luckily we talked things out and I’m happy to still be in this No. 4 JBL Toyota Tundra.”

As the options are considered for 2020, one option that stands out would be having Gilliland driving for his father David Gilliland‘s team. 

“I wouldn’t even really call it falling back on, I think it’s always a good option,” Todd Gilliland said. “He’s always been there for me and at this point, they’ve built a really good race team. That’s always something to look at, but there’s a bunch of other really great race teams out there. Just always have to keep your options open. Just try to get the best results possible.”

Gilliland could also see his father’s team expanding in the future, knowing that David “would do anything he could get his hands on.”

“He has five trucks here this weekend and a K&N car. That’s literally everyone in the shop,” he commented. “It’s pretty cool to see how fast they are growing, but you also see sometimes that people get ahead of themselves. I’m hoping that’s not the case with them. It’s really cool the people they’ve brought in and brought together to be able to expand and be competitive at this level so far.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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OBSERVATIONS: Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway

There’s a reason why ISM Raceway is known as the crown jewel in the desert, and that was on full display Friday night.

The NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series put on a great event as they set their Championship 4 for the playoffs in 2019. The unique track layout allotted for drivers to battle all the way around the speedway, sometimes even four-wide at times with different wide lanes being taken through the frontstretch dogleg. Though it was not just restarts producing solid competition, as the long green-flag runs brought forth close fights for positions, including for the lead in the late stages between Stewart Friesen and Brandon Jones.

The Truck Series has proven to put on the best shows of the weekend with the right race package being put together. However, unlike other weekends where you would be letdown the further you got from Friday, you should expect the same great racing to continue with the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series the next two days.

Traction Compound

ISM Raceway has always been known as a place for great racing everywhere, so the thought of adding a traction compound to the speedway asks several questions. Like, is this really necessary?

For the most part, the higher groove where it was applied was not used throughout the night, except by a couple drivers. Although Sheldon Creed showed a bit of promise with a couple strong runs off the corner, it did not seem to make a difference in the type of battles witnessed. So why bother?

Furthermore, the substance can be tricky especially if it is not worked in properly. Both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott experienced that the hard way last week in the Cup Series, sliding it sideways and making contact with the wall. Now imagine if something like that happens to take a driver out of contention for the Championship 4 either tomorrow or Sunday. There’d be certainly tons of backlash from fans, considering we’ve proven it’s not a necessary for ISM Raceway. Do you really want to risk that? 

Something Needs to Change

As the field came to the green flag, Friesen would beat pole sitter Austin Hill to the line, enabling a penalty from NASCAR for jumping the start. However, Friesen did not get into the throttle before the leader, rather laying off to try and avoid, except Hill spun his tires causing a slower start.

How is it fair for a competitor to get penalized for another driver’s mistake?

NASCAR is famously known for inconsistency with race calls, and certainly has made some highly visible mistakes through the years. However, they are always looking for ways to improve and that was shown with an adjustment to pit road and where tires can be throughout a stop, whether in arm’s length of a crew member or not.

It’s time for them to take another glance at this rule and perhaps include a judgment aspect that if the leader spins the tires, then the penalty is waved for the second-place car jumping. Sure, it adds a layer that nobody wants to be sitting and deciding, but that’s the nature of the game as proven by the yellow line rule and judging whether a driver was pushed below or not. 

Teammate Etiquette

As the race neared conclusion, Matt Crafton ran behind a pair of his ThorSport teammates sitting just six points above the cutline. Both the No. 88 truck crew chief Carl Joiner and NASCAR on FOX’s analysts Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons expected both Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger to lay over and allow Crafton go by.

Despite the constant complains by the booth through the final laps of the event, they did the right thing running their race.

If Crafton was sitting was in jeopardy of being above the cutline and needed those two points, then certainly it would be nice to see his teammates work with him. However, he was safe where he was racing them for position so it was not a necessity for them to give up ground in their own race for his sake. Let’s say that they let him go by and then a late race caution comes out to set-up a restart. How would they feel restarting further back than intended?

The unique factor in NASCAR is watching drivers compete every single lap against each other as hard as they can – despite being teammates. The day that team orders become a thing is the day that you ruin the utmost important rule of racing in competition.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Stewart Friesen wins at Phoenix as Gander Trucks Championship 4 set

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Stewart Friesen thought he had led the first lap of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

He was wrong.

After suffering a penalty for jumping the start of the race, however, Friesen rallied to lead the lap that counted most — the last one — and secured a spot in next weekend’s Championship 4 race with the second NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory of the season and his career.

“We’ve got a badass piece for next week, too,” promised Friesen, who will try for the title next Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Friesen will have to contend with defending series champion Brett Moffitt, who locked himself into the Championship 4 after finishing ninth in the second stage of Friday night’s race.

Ross Chastain also gained a berth in the title race with a 14-place finish, and two-time series champion Matt Crafton claimed the final spot after finishing sixth — and edging pole winner Austin Hill (13th) — by six points for the final spot.

After the fifth and final caution of the evening for a wreck in Turn 3 involving Sam Mayer and John Hunter Nemechek, Friesen charged into the lead before past Brandon Jones and Ben Rhodes and led the final 44 circuits.

It was no cakewalk, though. With five laps left, Jones made a last-ditch run to the inside of Friesen but couldn’t get past the No. 52 Chevrolet. Friesen pulled away on the last two laps to beat Jones to the finish line by .860 seconds.

“It was a great race car,” said Friesen, who was sent to the rear of the field after getting to the stripe ahead of Hill, who spun his tires on the initial start. “We were able to pass ‘em all, pass ‘em all clean,” said Friesen.

“Great race car, great race team. We’ll all celebrate tomorrow, and then it’s game on.”

Moffitt came to Phoenix with the series lead and was first to clinch a spot in the final race. But the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet, who won last year’s championship driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises, had two objectives on Friday.

My main concern for the day was getting us locked into the owner points as well,” Moffitt said. “We got both jobs done today.”

Chastain finished with a 13-point margin over Hill, who lost ground to Crafton on the Lap 107 restart and never recovered. Chastain didn’t declare for the Truck Series championship until nine races into the season but qualified for the Championship 4 nevertheless.

“Man, this is crazy — a dream come true though,” Chastain said.

Crafton came to Phoenix nine points behind Hill but made up most of the deficit with 17 points combined in the first two stages.

“I didn’t have anything to lose and everything to gain,” Crafton said. “And that’s the way I drove it from the green flag to the checkered flag.”

Hill joined fellow Toyota driver Tyler Ankrum on the sidelines for the final race. Ankrum suffered early damage and finished 26th, six laps down. Hill simply didn’t have any juice on the restarts.

“We just didn’t have any short-run speed,” Hill said. “I hate it for my guys. I just couldn’t do anything on the restarts. The front end would slide, the rear would slide, and during that last long green-flag run, it was terrible.

“I hate that we finished where we did, especially after qualifying from the pole. I definitely had high hopes for the race after qualifying on the pole and showing speed in second practice. We’ll move on to Homestead and regroup for next year.”

Chandler Smith finished third, followed by Rhodes and Grant Enfinger. Crafton, Harrison Burton, Johnny Sauter, Chastain and Moffitt completed the top 10.

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Creed Continues To Improve in Truck Series

LAS VEGAS — Sheldon Creed may be out of the playoffs, but that has not stopped him from contending for wins in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Entering Friday night’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the driver of the No. 2 had four straight finishes of sixth or better. This trend continued during the World of Westgate 200, where Creed once again proved to be a contender all night long and put himself in a constant battle for the lead.

“I mean we’ve been getting better and better. I feel like I’ve finally got my team back this week, so that was nice,” Creed told POPULAR SPEED. “I thought we were going to be pretty good, maybe a little snug, and we were plowing. Like I could hall butt for 10, 15 laps and then I would get so tight. But I don’t know. I had a shot there at the end. I have a lot of fun battling with those guys for the top three. Then I just got too tight there at the end, even trying to keep up. It’s a bummer but it’s something to build off of.”

While he may drive for one of the best teams in the series in GMS Racing, this season has still be a learning process for the 21-year-old rookie.

The good news for Creed? He has himself surrounded by a lot of people to lean on for advice, including two drivers that are current championship favorites.

“I have a ton of speed, just learning how to race better and better every weekend. Just trying to learn from Brett (Moffitt), and from Ross (Chastain), and from all these guys up front. I just want to learn as much as I can. I feel like tonight I did a really good job of passing and just being patient. Just need to keep working on that.”

The California-native will hope to keep to continue the improvement going in the closing stages of the season, but it could prove challenging with as the next two tracks the trucks visit. Creed has yet to run an event at Talladega Superspeedway, he finished outside the top-15 in his two prior starts at Martinsville Speedway.

Despite this, Creed will also look to break into the top-10 in points, as he currently sits 11th in the standings.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Poole’s Part-Time Effort Strives In Vegas

LAS VEGAS — For Brennan Poole, the year has not been what he expected.

After starting the season with a full-time ride with On Point Motorsports, the ride quickly turned into a part-time effort, eliminating them from championship contention.

“Well we want to be a full-time team,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “That was our goal at the beginning of this season. I think, yeah, we had to take a look at our program. Where it was at, at the beginning of the year. We were a little thin on some people. We weren’t quite organized. We needed to take a minute to work on our stuff and make it better. I think all in all that’s been a good decision for us.”

It has not been all negatives for him and the team though, as they have proven to be competitive in the efforts they have made. This was on full display during Friday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Poole was able to capture the team’s fourth top-10 with a sixth-place finish.

“I mean it’s big for our team. We’ve worked on our stuff this year and we continue to get better. I think we learned some stuff this weekend,” Poole said. “We were a little bit nervous about it, after practice and qualifying we weren’t sure how fast we would be. We felt like a long run would be all right, but short run speed we were a little nervous about. But tonight, we had everything. We were really good on restarts. The truck was solid in traffic and stayed with me on the long runs. I felt like we had a good shot to run in the top five tonight. We were just missing maybe just a little bit of balance, between both ends of the racetrack, to get up there and battle for the win.”

He also noted that team could have been even better. You see, the No. 30 was saving a set of tires, hoping for another caution that would never be.

“16, and the 4, and some of those guys, they got in front of us. They put tires on and they were just, tires were a lot better tonight than what we had on our truck,” Poole said. “But. all in all, I’m happy. I’m looking forward to going to Talladega before too long. It should be a good one.”

Heading to Talladega, Poole will hope to show strength again at a track he nearly captured an Xfinity Series win at.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Eckes Stays Solid In Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Christian Eckes has made a name for himself in the ARCA Menards Series with three wins this season; however, do not let that distract you from how well he has done in his short time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Entering Friday night, the 18-year-old had three top-10’s and two top-five’s in six starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports, and he continued to impress this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In his mile and a half debut, Eckes started the day off with his third career pole and ended it with a career-best, third-place finish.

“You know, it’s definitely cool to come run good. Especially in my first true a mile and a half race. So, I had fun,” Eckes told POPULAR SPEED. “Honestly, this is one of the more fun races I’ve ever raced. I was able to move around a decent amount and had a good enough truck to make moves that it was fun. I look forward to the next two. I’ve got two more this year, Martinsville and Homestead. And just looking forward to those with this 51 team and what we pick up in there.”

While his next start it is over a month away, the part-time driver of the No. 51 is already looking forward to his trip to the paperclip along with his final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“You know, Martinsville is kind of more of what I’m used to,” Eckes said. “As far as here and moving around and stuff like that because it’s going to be huge for Homestead. So it’s a lot to be learned still. I’ve made a few mistakes out there and I felt like it costs us a shot at getting better track position in 16 was really good there, so I’m not sure if I would have been able to fully hang on, but in the same aspect, if we were there you never know.”

If he is able to continue to perform at his final starts of the year, one will really have to wonder what his future holds given how well he has performed.

However, in the meantime, Eckes will look to capture the ARCA Championship before anything else. In that series, he is currently second in points with three races remaining, including this weekend at Salem Speedway.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.