Categories
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.

Categories
Trucks

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.

Categories
Trucks

BEN RHODES SCORES NCWTS POLE FOR CHEVROLET SILVERADO 250

(BOWMANVILLE, Ont. – Aug. 25, 2018) Ben Rhodes, in the No. 41 FEI World Equestrian Games Ford 150, will start on pole for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Stewart Friesen will start 16th.

In damp track conditions, Rhodes, of Louisville, Ky., clinched his fifth career NCWTS pole – and third of the season – with a lap time of 1.30.465 seconds while on rain tires. Starting in the second position will be Noah Gragson of Las Vegas, Nev. in the No. 18 Safelite Autoglass Toyota Tundra. Friesen, in the No. 52 We Build America Chevrolet Silverado is the lone Canadian among eight drivers, along with Johnny Sauter (Necedah, Wis.), Brett Moffitt (Grimes, Ia.), Gragson, Rhodes, Grant Enfinger (Fairhope, Ala.), Justin Haley (Winamac, Ind.) and Matt Crafton (Tulare, Cal.), that have qualified to begin the playoff quest for the 2018 Driver’s Championship starting with Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250.

Other notable Canadians in tomorrow’s feature race are Alex Tagliani (Montreal, Que.) in the No. 12 RONA Chevrolet Silverado, starting from the 10th spot, and DJ Kennington (St. Thomas, Ont.) in the No. 49 APC Auto Parts Chevrolet Silverado, who will start 13th.

L.P. Dumoulin, of Trois-Rivieres, Que., in the No. 47 WeatherTech Canada/Bellemare Dodge will start on pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Pinty’s Series TOTAL Quartz 200. The grid for Sunday’s race was set on the fastest times from the series’ final practice session earlier in the day as inclement weather led to the cancellation of the qualifying session.

In other action from Saturday, Ottawa’s Zacharie Robichon won the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama race in the No. 98 Mark Motors Racing Porsche 991, clinching the 2018 series driver’s championship.

Race Day Sunday tickets are available at CTMP gates. Children 16 and under are free when accompanied by a paying adult. VIP Hospitality packages (for those who would like to be closer to the action in style) are also still available. For more information, please visit canadiantiremotorsportpark.com or call 1-800-866-1072.

Categories
Trucks

Playoff Picture – Camping World Truck Series

When the checkered flag flies at the end of Thursday’s Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway, it will mark the beginning of the playoffs. However, the regular season isn’t over yet, with a lot of drivers still having a lot to fight for.

Johnny Sauter

Sauter currently owns a 56-point advantage over Noah Gragson, meaning he is your 2018 regular season champion. That will translate into an additional 15 playoff points, boasting another department where the veteran already leads.

Nonetheless, a victory, or at the very least a stage win would be still significant for the No. 23 team as it would give them even more of an edge.

Noah Gragson

As noted above, Gragson cannot take the points lead from Sauter. So with one championship out of the picture, and only one win and 12 playoff points,increasing those numbers would help his chances at a different title.

Brett Moffitt 

Hot off a win, a repeat performance could allow him to enter the playoffs with the most playoff points. Other than that, Moffitt sits pretty heading into this week.

Justin Haley, Ben Rhodes

Haley and Rhodes are both locked in virtue of wins and have nothing to lose. For the two young drivers, Thursday should be all about winning stages and the race.

Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen

Both own a significant points advantage over Matt Crafton and zero wins. While Friesen (+39 over Crafton) doesn’t hold quite the safety net Enfinger does (+53), it would still take a lot to put him in any danger of missing the post-season. Their biggest concern should be getting their first win of 2018. 

Matt Crafton

Out of the top-eight drivers, Crafton is in the most danger. Fortunately for the two-time champion, no one outside the cutoff can pass him in points. The only thing that would kick him out would be a new winner (excluding Friesen and Enfinger).

Also worth noting, the 42-year-old has never won a race at Bristol.

Spoilers

So, who could knock out Crafton? The obvious would be Todd Gilliland.

While Gilliland has yet to be victorious, he drives for one of the best teams in the sport, Kyle Busch Motorsports. His team has also been heading in the right direction, with four finishes of seventh or better in the last six races.

His last visit to the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” also resulted in a K&N Pro Series East win earlier this year.

Other possibilities?

A look into Bristol history shows that last first-time winner came in 2016 when Ben Kennedy won with GMS Racing, a team that has been one of the best this season. An organization that also has two drivers, Cody Coughlin and Dalton Sargeant, looking for their first wins.

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.

Categories
Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Buckle Up Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is known for their dramatic chaotic competition on a weekly basis, but Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway failed to deliver. With clean air seeming to reign supreme, and a spread out field, the Buckle Up Your Truck 225 was just average.

That said, Eddie Troconis played the perfect strategy for his driver Ben Rhodes. Knowing they were good on the longer run at the end, he chose to go with no tires, just fuel, and an adjustment to get his driver out front. Once the ThorSport Racing driver got the lead, there was no looking back as he cruised to the win. 

From the drop of the first green flag this season, Rhodes has been up front – but mechanical gremlins and wrecks kept taking him out of contention. Now after going three straight weeks with finishes outside of the top-15, he has placed on the podium two weeks in a row highlighted by this hometown victory.

They always say there’s a right time to get momentum, and with only four events remaining before the playoffs, Rhodes has found the secret.

On the flip side, Stewart Frisen had led the entire third stage up until the final round of stops began, where his team elected for tires. That didn’t play out for him as well he was fast initially and closing on Rhodes, he got tighter as the checkered neared and lost ground.

You never want to say that a driver is deserving of their first win more than somebody else, but let’s just use that expression for the No. 52 right now. He came close throughout the final half of 2017 and has led laps in seven events this season with seven top-10’s in 12 races. When it comes to the next intermediate track, do not let him slip under your nose as Frisen may be celebrating in victory lane. Possibly sooner, as we are heading to where he’s most comfortable on dirt next Wednesday at Eldora Raceway.

Speaking of Eldora, Matt Crafton scored the victory last year – and like his ThorSport Racing teammate, he got a good kick in the butt with at third-place finish on Thursday night. While he is a multi-series champion, the switch to Ford hasn’t treated him well as this was only his fifth top-10 of 2018. You can never count the veteran out, but finding consistency through the summer is necessary.

Like the past several weeks, Noah Gragson has been fast – but yet once again came up short on victory. This time after winning the second stage, an extended pit stop for a wheel spacer set him back deep in the field and he only rebounded to eighth. Nice way to overcome a difficult night, but continuing to come up short is well, not championship material. An argument in his situation could easily be made longer here, but we’ve done that several times this year so please just refer to previous observation editions for further notice.

When you look at mistakes, it was also strange to see Johnny Sauter make two back-to-back on the final pit stop.

Ah yes, we’re getting to the time of the season where the discussion begins to solely focus on the championship.

Four races remaining, and you have five drivers locked in – Sauter, Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley, Rhodes, and Gragson. As of right now, that leaves three drivers to get in on points. With Frisen, Grant Enfinger and Crafton having a gap of 79 points on Myatt Snider, it’s going to take a lot for someone to change the situation based on points. 

However, we do know that situation can change in a split second as the manta goes win and you’re in, meaning if any other competitor wins a race – like Cody Coughlin, Dalton Sargeant, or Todd Gilliland – and we’d certainly have a battle on our hands for the last position. With wild cards such as Eldora on Wednesday, and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park still in play, who knows what could happen.

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.

Categories
Trucks

Kentucky Native Rhodes Speeds to Victory at Home Track

SPARTA, Ky. –The Louisville Slugger knocked it out of the park on Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Ben Rhodes, who grew up less than an hour west of the venue in Sparta, Kentucky, finally won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at his home track.

A fuel-only gamble by the No. 41 ThorSport Racing team in the closing laps paid off for the 21-year-old Louisville native, who led the final 24 laps of the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225.

Rhodes held off Stewart Friesen by .922-seconds at the line for his first win of the season and the first victory for ThorSport since switching to Ford Performance at the start of 2018.

“I still don’t have any words,” Rhodes said after his second-career win in the Camping World Truck Series. “This is amazing, a dream come true. This has been such a long time coming. These guys deserved it so much. They’ve been working their butts off and we’ve been having such bad luck this year.

“We’ve had trucks like this all year long, finally we could showcase it. I’m so proud of this team. This is exactly what we needed.”

Friesen came from the rear of the field after the team was forced to change engines prior to the race to finish second – tying his career-best from Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year.

“We had an engine problem during time trials and the whole team stepped in,” Friesen said. “It was awesome. We had less than an hour to go to swap ’em out and we had a good finish. We led some laps. Didn’t get off the way we needed to on pit road at the end and it was the difference of about 100 yards and a lot of clean air. Proud of the guys, but I made a little mistake there and it cost us.”

Matt Crafton, Brandon Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Grant Enfinger, Todd Gilliland, Noah Gragson, Dalton Sergeant and Justin Haley rounded out the top 10.

Rhodes passed pole sitter Noah Gragson with three laps remaining in the first segment to win Stage 1. Gragson came back to win Stage 2. Parker Kligerman led the field to green for the final segment. Friesen swapped spots with Kligerman and finally gained control of the point by Lap 89.

Rhodes came from fifth to second with a bold move taking Kligerman and Brandon Jones three-wide to gain the position. Although Friesen led 37 laps, a problem in the pits with the right rear tire proved costly for the No. 52 Chevrolet on Lap 124. Rhodes gained the lead before pitting on the next lap.

Crew chief Eddie Troconis elected to pit for fuel only and a chassis adjustment. Although he had the lead entering pit road, a fire in the pit ahead of him left a cloud of smoke blocking his view of his box.

“I was really worried,” Rhodes said. “I came in with the pit stall on fire in front of us. I almost missed my stall with all the smoke coming out.”

Still, Rhodes cycled out to the lead with Friesen in second place.

“It was a bold move, but that’s how you win, you win with bold moves,” Troconis said. “That’s what we came here to show them that we’re going to win this championship. This kid has a lot of talent.”

With 15 laps remaining, Rhodes’ lead was just over .32-seconds over Friesen. But after Rhodes settled in he extended his advantage over the Friesen in the closing laps.

“A huge thank you to Ford Performance, ThorSport Racing and Carolina Nut Company,” Rhodes said. “They’ve been behind us 100 percent. This is our first win with Ford this year for ThorSport, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

Johnny Sauter, who suffered a speeding penalty on pit road late in the race finished 15th but retained the points lead by 42 over Noah Gragson.

The only caution other than the completion of stages occurred on the first lap of the race when Tyler Matthews made contact with Nemechek and spun the No. 83 truck.

Categories
Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Overtons 225 at Chicagoland Speedway

First came the late race slide job attempt by Noah Gragson at Gateway Motorsports Park. Then came a crazy late-race restart at Iowa Speedway handing a victory over to Justin Haley. So when there was a last lap pass at Chicagoland Speedway, don’t blame us for not being surprised.

John Hunter Nemechek quickly asserted himself as the dominant driver on Friday night, taking the lead early in the third stage and not looking back, despite being challenged by both Gragson and Brett Moffitt. It seemed that he was well on his way to his second victory of 2018, and then his truck sputtered. After his gas man failed to put in enough fuel on the final stop, Nemechek ran out of gas just three-quarters of a lap short of victory. Rather than celebrating a win, he was left to coast to the line in seventh.

The beneficiary of Nemechek’s problem was Moffitt, who made the pass and put his No. 16 Toyota Tundra in victory lane for the third time this year. It seems easy enough, but this win as far from that. The Hattori Racing Enterprises guys weren’t initially set to be there this weekend, looking for sponsorship to make the event that they only received on Tuesday evening. Sometimes when it’s meant to be, the pieces just come to together in a magical way, and that could describe this win.

Seeing the contrast between Moffitt and Nemechek was summed up perfectly by Michael Waltrip in saying, “the thrill of victory, along with the heartbreak of defeat.” 

Ben Rhodes was able to score a runner-up finish, which is a welcome rebound considering the bad luck with mechanical gremlins and such his team has endured through the past several weeks. Currently sitting in the coveted eighth spot – last playoff slot, any point that he can get is crucial. A 42-point cushion over Myatt Snider will have him more comfortable entering the off-week now.

Johnny Sauter‘s consistency continued with a third, followed by Gragson in fourth – but more on that later. Brandon Jones rounded out the top-five as he made his way to the front late.

The contrast of success and failure can be used to describe more than just the final lap, as other drivers saw their success quickly turned upside down.

Todd Gilliland was looking set for a solid top-five when a flat tire sent him down pit road with seven laps to go. After missing four races due to not being old enough, he has gotten a playoff waiver from NASCAR; though one thing is missing – a win.

Stewart Friesen has shown every ability to win a race through this season, running up front on a weekly basis and contending for wins. However, he has yet to breakthrough. Instead, incidents – whether of his own making or someone else’s – have seen him spin around or crash in each of the last three weeks. With the playoffs growing nearer, finding consistency will be critical.

Consistency and success haven’t been a problem for Moffitt, and now his third win makes him an obvious contender to consider for the championship. You also can’t skip over Johnny Sauter with his victories and the fact he leads the standings, 65 points ahead of Noah Gragson.

Compared to multiple wins by the others, Gragson has only visited victory lane once this season. It hasn’t been for lack of effort though, as his No. 18 Toyota Tundra has been fast on a weekly basis. Though when it comes to the intermediate tracks, it seems he leads laps in the first two stages and then fades for a decent top-five in the last section of the event.

The sophomore expressed his thoughts on the matter post-race, saying that he is the quarterback for the team, and that lies on his shoulders. It’s common for drivers to shoulder more blame than they should, and that should be considered here as the handling on the truck falls on everybody to make the adjustments necessary. However, if Rudy Fugle isn’t getting the feedback he needs from Gragson, how is that possible? 

Each year, Kyle Busch Motorsports has seen one of their young drivers be right in the midst of championship contention. Gragson should be no different based on speed alone, but small improvements like feedback will be necessary moving towards the end of the 2018 campaign. 

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.

Categories
Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: 37 Kind Days 250 at Kansas Speedway

Like most of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events this season, the 37 Kind Days 250 at Kansas Speedway left fans satisfied when it was over in having witnessed a great event. 

Noah Gragson was able to score the victory in the form of perfect redemption after crashing late last week at Dover International Speedway while battling for the lead with Johnny Sauter. It happened via three factors – speed, survival, and strategy

For starters, he had plenty of speed in the No. 18 Toyota Tundra as witnessed by winning the pole, and leading 128 of 167 laps to win all three stages en route to victory lane. Part of the credit for that has to go to spotter Tony Hirschman, who was great in his advice to the second-year driver in how to break the draft down the backstretch and guidance in where drivers were getting the runs on Gragson in the corner. But that should be expected, as Hirschman works with Kyle Busch in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Despite the dominance, there were times it appeared as though he could be beaten, as evidenced by Ben Rhodes‘ performance. Rhodes work his way to the front and was set to challenge Gragson for the lead in the second stage, when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to a mechanical issue. It marks the second straight year that the ThorSport Racing driver has been plagued at Kansas Speedway as he had a quick truck last year and was destined to win until a puncture in the radiator in the late stages. Cue the other key – survival.

Brett Moffitt was also fast enough to challenge for Gragson, but he was hit by mechanical problems as well with an alternator issue, causing him an unscheduled pit stop for a battery change.

Stewart Friesen had managed to pass Gragson and take the lead just before a caution at Lap 107. Under the yellow flag, the transmission shifter knob came off, and while trying to fix that, Frisen went slower than caution speed, which dropped him back to ninth. He didn’t let that deny him, though, driving his way back to the top-three shortly after the restart, and rebounding for a third-place finish. 

Once the dust settled with the issues, strategy was the name of the game in the late stages of the event. Justin Hayley began to open the door of opportunity for that when he got two tires at the end of the second stage, while the rest of the field took four. It didn’t pan out well for Hayley, as he went from first to 10th on the first lap back green. He ended up finishing 10th when it was said and done, too.

The bigger calls came in the final stage of the race in when to make your final pit stop under green. Rudy Fugle elected to bring Gragson down before anybody else, putting four tires on the No. 18. His closest competitors, Frisen and Busch, elected for two tires. The speed difference in the fresh rubber proved to be everything as Gragson ran both drivers down, passing them for position. That didn’t put him right in the lead as other drivers, namely Myatt Snider and Austin Hill, tried to stretch their gas to the end from the final caution at Lap 107. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as all of them slowed, giving Gragson the lead, and the win. 

If you’re looking for one more S on the night – let’s talk about a surprise as points leader Johnny Sauter was a non-factor in the battle for the win, struggling with the handling of his truck all night. It marks the first time that has happened this season. Though like a true champion, his team bounced back and used some fuel strategy late to finish fifth. That’s why he currently leads the standings by 35 points over Gragson heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

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.

Categories
Trucks

RHODES: ThorSport Racing “was my only option” for 2018

After experiencing a breakout campaign in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, many people expected Ben Rhodes to be one of the first announced returning drivers. However, it wasn’t just until last week that it was revealed that he would be back to ThorSport Racing for a third consecutive season.

Before the news was released, though, Rhodes’ name was being thrown a couple of different directions in the rumor mill as to where he would be in 2018. While admitting there was interest shown by a couple of teams, some of those were lies, too, as he recalled people saying he toured certain shops when that wasn’t indeed the case.

In his mind, though, ThorSport is where he always wanted to be for this coming year, and that is solely based on the belief that Duke Thorson has for him.

“The deciding factor to me is Duke Thorson himself,” Rhodes said. “He is investing in me as a person and a driver. He is putting a lot of time and energy and effort into me, and I just have a ton of respect for that. Nobody else has done that for me. He has faith in me to do that. I think that is amazing and I am kind of indebted to him for that. Really, he was my option. That was the place.”

After success in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, Rhodes made the jump up to NASCAR’s top-tier divisions but was unable to find himself a full-time ride. He made four Truck Series starts in 2014, before running a partial NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule for JR Motorsports. The phone call from Thorson for the 2016 campaign changed the game for Rhodes, and that is something which has continued to stick with the driver of the No. 41 Ford F-150.

“Duke has believed in me 100%,” he said. “If it wasn’t for him I don’t know if I would be right here right now. In some sense, whether I would be a part-time driver or what. Maybe I was full time in something else but certainly not with a chance to run for the championship like Duke has offered me.”

So far, Rhodes has been doing a good job paying his owner back, as he was able to place fifth in the series standings last year, following six top-fives and 12 top-10’s, highlighted by his first career victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Ready for his third full season, there’s an enormous amount of faith in his team, knowing that this will be the second straight year working with Eddie Troconis.

“When you have three years in a row you start to build a rapport with your team and people that are there,” he said. “You develop relationships that I think will be lasting, even if I were to move up in other series’. I consider them great friends.”

It’s the right combination that will hopefully lead Rhodes to the success that he wants to have to thank Thorson in return for his support.

“I want to perform to the best of my ability and give them a championship, and multiple race wins, give them everything they deserve,” he said.

After the success last year, Rhodes went on to say that anything less than being part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway would be disappointing this year.

“After the performance at Homestead, that boosted their confidence and my confidence,” he said. “I know we can do this. It is a matter of cleaning up our mistake from last year and making our whole season a little more polished.”

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

Categories
Trucks

Ben Rhodes Returns to ThorSport

Ben Rhodes is set to embark on his third full season of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and it will be filled with familiarity. He will once again drive for ThorSport Racing, behind the wheel of the No. 41 Ford. 

“It’s great to be back this year at ThorSport Racing with Ford behind us,” Rhodes said. “Duke and Rhonda Thorson have given me an excellent opportunity to build on our 2017 performance. We are working hard to start this year off with the momentum we had at Homestead, and after our performance improved with every start last season, I feel this year is going to be no exception. Having a second year with my crew chief Eddie [Troconis], and the same team, is a big plus. All of our foundations are there, which makes winning right out of the gate much easier.”

Rhodes piloted the No. 41 Toyota Tundra in his first full-time campaign in 2015, though switched to the No. 27 last season for branding purposes. Now entering 2018, the Kentucky native will return to the number he used coming up the ranks. 

“Obviously, we’re very excited in having Ben and Eddie back together for a second season,” team general manager David Pepper said. “They proved they could run up front and win races last year, and we’re looking forward to the possibility of winning more races and having a chance to compete for the championship in 2018.”

Over the past two seasons, Rhodes has scored a win, nine top-fives, and 20 top-10’s, along with a pair of pole awards for ThorSport. He placed fifth in the year-end standings in 2017. 

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