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THREE TAKEAWAYS: UNOH 175 at NHMS

The UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway served as the first battleground for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase playoffs. Already some of the eight contending drivers were met with adversity and will need to make up for it in the upcoming two events of this round. In the end, William Byron grabbed the first victory of the playoffs and earned entry into round two.

Here are three takeaways from event one of the Chase:

KBM Puts Everyone on Notice

From the drop of the green flag, Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates and Chase contenders Byron and Christopher Bell dominated the 175 lap race.  Many drivers tried various pit strategy, but they were no match for the Toyota-powered organization. Byron and Bell executed a flawless race, led a total of 171 laps and finished first and second respectively.

The strong showing from the organization secured them as early favorites for the championship. If either of the two rookies were to grab the title this year, they would be among the youngest Truck Series champions – Byron (18) would be the youngest ever.

Problems Are Going to Come

Among the Chase contenders, Daniel Hemric did not have the happiest of days. Early on in the race, the 25-year-old driver suffered a flat left-rear tire and sustained minor damage. After repairs on pit road, the driver was several laps down, and couldn’t recover. He finished 28th.

The No. 19 team now stands eighth, 21 points from safety. Two drivers will be eliminated after the event at Talladega Superspeedway. To advance to the next round, Hemric might need a little luck to pull through. However, problems are bound to happen for other contenders as well – especially with a restrictor plate event looming in two weeks. Perhaps the team just needs to focus and stay consistent.

Won’t Back Down

Just because they’re not in the Chase, doesn’t mean they’re going to back down. It might serve as a surprise that several non-chase drivers earned strong top-10 finishes Saturday afternoon. Tyler Reddick secured his fifth top-5 of the season and rookie Cole Custer placed sixth. Furthermore, part-time Truck Series competitors Kaz Grala and Brett Moffitt finished seventh and eighth respectively.

Drivers like these might be a source of aggravation for the Chase contenders, but they prove how talented and competitive the Truck Series field is. While they might not be scraping for a title, their season isn’t over until the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway – and victory lane remains on their mind.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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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

Caution Clock Brings “Huge Variable”

When NASCAR initially introduced the caution clock in February, there were those totally against the idea, and questions surrounding what would happen.

“As with any major change, there was a little bit of concern in how it was going to play out,” says Shane Huffman, Timothy Peters‘ crew chief at Red Horse Racing.

Rudy Fugle, William Byron‘s crew chief at Kyle Busch Motorsports, was concerned about the “purity” of some races. “There are a couple of races where it’s fun to know you’re going to have to go through a full set of tires and make a green flag pit stop (but) there are some races where you need to break it up.”

In contrast, Chad Kendrick, crew chief for Daniel Hemric at Brad Keselowski Racing, initially didn’t think the caution clock would change things as debris cautions often served the same purpose.

Now, with just over half the season complete, most crew chiefs agree with Huffman’s opinion that “it’s a huge variable in the series. You’ve seen a lot of people gain and lose because of it.”

For Kendrick, he says sometimes he has enjoyed the clock due to the strategy falling in his favor. However, he admits there are races where he wishes the series didn’t have it.

Beyond the strategy, the crew chiefs state it’s made decisions throughout the event interesting. Shane Huffman says before making a call, you have to see how the clock relates to your lap times, fuel mileage and tire wear.

“Every week you figure out how much time it takes to go around the track, how many laps you’re going to run during that caution clock. Is it going to work out with your fuel mileage?” Gere Kennon, the crew chief for John Hunter Nemechek at NEMCO Motorsports, says.

“Every time the caution comes out,” Kendrick says “you’re looking to see when the next caution clock would potentially go off and if can you make it.”

Though while making the decisions Huffman says “a lot of this stuff is on the fly so you really have to pay attention to your ‘get home lap’ versus when the final caution clock will expire.”

For some, the caution clock has “somewhat simplified the strategy a little bit,” according to Fugle. He says his team leaves the shop knowing how many laps they think they can run on a set of tires, so they know ahead of practice. Come practice time, rather than focusing on a full fuel run, they now focus on aspects they can use to their advantage within the new rule, such as how their tires will last a 20 minute period.

Cole Custer‘s crew chief at JR Motorsports, Marcus Richmond, says at many tracks it’s still really cut-and-dried with the caution clock.

“You know what is going to happen during that period, “he says. “You play the mileage right up to that time you know you can make it in for that next caution clock and if you can’t, you pit.”

Kendrick and Kennon agree the caution clock allows for more strategy.

“It allows you to come up with something different. Take a chance, let (other teams pit) and we’ll move up to the front and hope we catch a caution before the clock and hope we can stretch our fuel mileage,” Kendrick says.

Kennon adds, “If your vehicle’s really good and tire wear is not an issue, it gives you a chance to be up front (if other teams pit). It’s a strategy game. It’s another angle that allows teams to have the option to get up front or make an adjustment.”

Kennon went on to say this strategy has made the series better, noting the different faces battling for the win throughout the year.

“I think it’s made the races way more interesting for the viewer,” Huffman says “There are so many varying strategies just because of fuel mileage versus tire wear.”

“At the end of the day,  the trucks that have the most speed and teams that do the right things, make the right calls, are prepared the most and don’t have issues usually rise to the top and are able to find a way to win the race,” Kendrick says.

Richmond says another major change is the caution clock bunches up the field.

“At places like Pocono and Kentucky and Kansas, when it bunches it up, it definitely gets a little bit more hairy. At places like Bristol and Martinsville, you’re going to have a lot of cautions,” he says. “Cautions breed cautions most of the time.”

“The race strategy part intrigues me,” Huffman says. “It’s made it a lot more fun for me.”

Fugle still has mixed feelings as he believes there should be longer time clocks for races like Iowa because the current version made the race too easy. While he was able to score the win, he said if they were eighth versus at the front, there’s no chance for strategy under the current 20-minute window.

Fugle and Kendrick can see where the caution clock benefits the fans.

“The fans know the caution’s going to come out, when they’re going to get good restarts, and they know when the race is going to break up,” Fugle says.

Kendrick also sees the caution clock as a chance for “a break in the action” as in other sports.

“A race that could go green start to finish doesn’t give a fan (a chance) to step away from the race (to get a beverage or snack),” he says. “They know, worst-case scenario, they can get that drink in 20 minutes.”

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

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