By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, Ala.) — The complexion of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship picture took a dramatic turn on Saturday afternoon in the Fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Points leader Matt Crafton survived to a 14th-place finish while teammate Johnny Sauter, who entered only 16 markers back, punctured a radiator and was dealt a damning blow to his title hopes with a P31 finish. Combined with top-10 efforts by Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace, it appears that ThorSport Racing may have lost a considerable amount of momentum with only four races remaining until a champion is crowned.
Blaney is now second and 16 points back while Wallace is third and 28 behind. Sauter dropped from second to fourth and now sits 36 points (nearly a full race) out of the lead.
Running sixth on lap 24, Sauter slowed on the backstretch and was forced to bring his Toyota Tundra to pit road — and eventually the garage — for a leaky radiator. The ThorSport veteran believes he ran over a bolt that initiated the damage that may has dealt a critical blow to his championship bid.
“The water temperature never showed anything,” Sauter said. “We’re out of the race — the motor is blown up and it’s really unfortunate. I hate it for everybody. We’ll lick our wounds and go to the next one.”
Meanwhile, Crafton had an eventful day complete with several stops on pit road to address his woeful front downforce, serving a NASCAR penalty for push-drafting and cycling in-and-out of the top-10. Crafton looked poised to contend for the win but circumstances and the battle royale atmosphere shuffled him to the edges of the top-15.
“We didn’t have the day we had hoped for, but it was a decent day for us points wise,” Crafton said. “We didn’t gain any points but we didn’t lose many points. Talladega was marked as the wild card race on our calendars and I guess we survived it.
“It could have been a lot worse.”
The final four races of the season will be contested at Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.
John Wes Townley, Plate Ace
John Wes Townley has posted a single career restrictor plate victory — albeit in the ARCA Racing Series at Daytona — but came close to scoring a second on Saturday afternoon at Talladega.
The Athenian Motorsports veteran led five laps in the closing stages of the race and seemingly had one of the most powerful engines in the field. Holding him back was a lack of track position and draft aid when it was needed the most and he ultimately was scored in eighth. Townley restarted outside of the top-10 on the green-white-checkered finish and was held up on the outside by Spencer Gallagher. Complicating matters is that no one seemed willing to draft with Townley, a complete turnaround from the first half of the event, something not lost on the 24-year-old.
“We had guys help us all day and then at the end of the race, guys just went and did their own thing,” Townley said. “That’s just how it goes at these places. You think you have people willing to stick to a plan and then it goes out the window.”
Townley thinks he may have been able to get a top-5 if not for the block but conceded that it was a part of pack racing at Talladega.
“You know what, we’ll take an eighth though,” Townley said. “We didn’t have the momentum we needed at the end but that’s okay.”
Suarez Shines in Restrictor Plate Debut
Daniel Suarez made his NASCAR Truck Series debut on Saturday afternoon at Talladega, with Win-Tron Racing, with the primary goal of gaining valuable restrictor plate experience prior to his full-time promotion to the XFINITY Series in 2015 with Joe Gibbs Racing.
In that regard, mission accomplished.
Suarez hovered around the top-10 all afternoon but ran out of fuel coming to the green flag on the final restart. He pulled onto the apron and the pick-up kicked-in enough to get him to the checkered flag where he finished 15th.
The late race dramatics aside, Suarez feels proud to have made it to have logged all the laps in his first start at the combustible Talladega Superspeedway.
“It looked like we were going to run out of fuel for a second,” Suarez said. “I don’t know exactly how but we got going and worked our way through the field on the bottom until someone broke their momentum and killed all of ours too.
“It was a solid run. We overcame all of our mistakes and learned a lot of things that we can take into our next restrictor plate race. I’m very pleased.”