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Trucks

Where does NASCAR draw the line with hard racing?

Over the last two weeks, there has been no shortage in drama between the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. In both the NAPA Auto Parts 150 and the M&M’s 200, viewers were treated to a wide range of hard racing and it’s end results, which begs the question– where does NASCAR draw the line? 

Hard racing is by no stretch a bad thing for the sport. It provides viewers with excitement and has the ability to boost ratings for NASCAR . Some of the sport’s brightest stars have even made a name for themselves with aggressive racing styles. While this type of competition, is generally a positive thing for the sport, drivers will understandable get upset, and those reactions can lead to boundaries being crossed. 

During the closing laps at Colorado National Speedway on June 9, Bill McAnally Racing teammates Hailie Deegan and Derek Kraus made headlines after Deegan spun Kraus entering Turn 4, coming to the white flag.

Was the move Deegan made on Kraus warranted? It depends how you look at what happened prior to the final contact made.

Kraus, who had been battling adversity since Lap 50 with a broken sway-bar, managed to keep himself in contention for the win in the NAPA Auto Parts 150, restarting third and directly behind Deegan. When the green flag waved on the final restart, the past series champion opted to make the most of his opportunity and took Deegan and Jagger Jones three-wide entering Turn 1, ultimately getting into the left rear of Deegan’s No. 19 Toyota Camry. Deegan, justifiably upset with the move made by her teammate, spun Kraus and his No. 16 Toyota Camry entering Turn 4 to lock down her second win of the 2019 season.

“I think it’s just short track racing,” Kraus told POPULAR SPEED. “She (Deegan) drove it pretty deep on the last restart and drifted up the hill. I saw a hole and I took it of course — like any driver would. I got into her a little bit and coming to the white flag I got loose, then she got into me and everyone saw the end results.” 

Kraus was able to salvage an eighth-place finish and maintain his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West points lead after the move made by Deegan. Following the madness at Colorado, Deegan and Kraus were treated to a team meeting the smooth things over and clear the air.

“Everything went alright in the meeting and we’re back on good terms,” Kraus said. “I don’t have any hard feelings, we’ve both moved on and we’re both ready for a clean race at Sonoma.”

The events which took place in Colorado are an example of hard racing done right. Although unfortunate and controversial as this occurred between teammates, this brought tons of exposure to not only NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West, but the young up and coming drivers of Deegan and Kraus. In a time where it can argued that NASCAR’s upper divisions are lacking personality, the pair offered fans a possible glimpse into the future.

Exactly one week following the incident between Deegan and Kraus, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series had it’s own share of conflict and drama in the M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

Early in the final stage, Johnny Sauter moved the No. 16 Toyota Tundra of Austin Hill out of the way to advance his position. Hill would go on to retaliate on Lap 136, sending Sauter’s No. 13 Ford F-150 into the outside wall. Sauter then took things one step further running down Hill under caution and sending both trucks hard into the wall through Turns 3 and 4.

Sauter would go on to be parked for the remainder of the race. NASCAR then suspended the past series champion for this weekend’s upcoming event at WWT Speedway.

“We were racing hard going into Turn 1,” Hill said. “He (Sauter) got into me a bit and I returned the favor. I don’t race like that, so if you’re going to race me like that, I’m not going to put up with it and I think you saw that.”

If Sauter and Hill ended their back and forth feuds in the closing laps following the caution on Lap 136, this incident would have been perfectly fine. The problem resided in Sauter’s retaliation to Hill under caution. When NASCAR officials throw out the yellow flag, drivers are expected to comply with the sanctioning body’s rules of speed and safety.

It’s not uncommon for drivers to give one another a bump during caution periods to voice their displeasure after the way they’ve been raced on the track. But what Sauter did was unforgivable and punishable, plain and simple. Sauter essentially used his truck as a weapon by intentionally wrecking Hill under caution at high speeds and put not only himself and Hill in danger, but his fellow competitors and safety officials as well.

The argument can be made that Hill was just as much at fault for sparking the initial dust up between the two drivers; after all, his product of hard racing and retaliation is what triggered Sauter. However, this was all done under the green flag and within reason.

NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition, Scott Miller said that officials considered handing down penalties to Hill, but they ultimately just opted to punish Sauter for his actions.

“Him (Sauter) driving half a track with a smoking truck, winding through traffic to get to the No. 16 and running over him, then bouncing off the wall and running to into his door was pretty aggressive,” Miller said. “It was definitely not anything that could in any way, shape or form be defended as a racing incident.”

While suspended for this weekend, this will not effect Sauter’s opportunity to compete for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship with a  playoff waiver issued.

“In this case, we felt like his actions certainly warranted being sat down for an event, but it felt a little too harsh to take him straight out of the championship, so we think we landed on what we feel is fair and a deterrent,” Miller concluded.

While Sauter was the only driver suspended for the incident on Lap 137, Miller stated that NASCAR officials would be keeping Hill “under a microscope” throughout the remainder of the season.

Two of NASCAR’s lower series divisions rose to the occasion when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series had a scheduled off-week and all in all brought more exposure when the sport needed it most. There is a broad spectrum for what can be deemed acceptable and what is punishable when it comes to hard racing and fans got just that with the races at Colorado and Iowa.

While hard racing will almost always provide viewers with piqued interest and excitement, it should be done within reason and this should be recognized– not only by the fans– but from the sport’s athletes as well.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

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Trucks

Johnny Sauter Suspended One Race for Contact with Austin Hill

It seems as though Johnny Sauter will not be taking part in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series trip to World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway as a result of being suspended.

Following contact on-track during the event at Iowa Speedway, the ThorSport Racing driver made contact with Austin Hill under caution. Although Sauter will sit out this weekend’s event, he will still be playoff post-season eligible per the sanctioning body with a waiver issued.

“We look back at the history of everything we’ve done and try to react with the precedents that we’ve set and then obviously tailoring those to the situation that we have at hand,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “In this case, we felt like his actions certainly warranted being sat down for an event, but it felt a little too harsh to take him straight out of the championship, so we think we landed on what we feel is fair and a deterrent.”

Previously, NASCAR has parked drivers for similar incidents. Matt Kenseth sat out two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races wrecking Joey Logano under green flag conditions at Martinsville Speedway. Kyle Busch missed a NASCAR XFINITY Series and Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway after wrecking Ron Hornaday, Jr. under caution in the truck series event.

“We tend to look at incidents under caution as more of a retaliatory thing,” Miller said. “Obviously, him driving half a track with a smoking truck and winding through a few cars to get to the 16 and then running over him, then bouncing off the wall and running into his door, it was pretty aggressive. It was definitely not anything that could in any way, shape or form be defended as a racing incident.”

Miller went on to state that NASCAR will also have Sauter and Hill sit down together to talk out their differences prior to Sauter’s return. 

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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News

Sauter captures third straight Dover win in Truck Series

DOVER, Del. – You can call him the Dover Dominator.

With a No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford that was strongest at the end of Saturday’s Jegs 200 at Dover International Speedway, Johnny Sauter beat pole winner Brett Moffitt to the finish line after a late restart to win his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race of the season and his third straight the Monster Mile.

The former series champion, who returned to ThorSport this season after a less-than-amicable split with GMS Racing, could hardly contain himself after taking the checkered flag .603 seconds ahead of Moffitt, the reigning series champion, who signed with GMS during the offseason.

“When you get kicked to the curb, you feel like you have a lot to prove,” Sauter said in Victory Lane. “I have to thank (owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson most importantly — a couple months ago I didn’t know if I’d be racing.

“To get three in a row here is extra special. I have to thank these guys. I was highly motivated. I shut the motor off earlier today in the race and it wouldn’t re-fire and I was like, ‘Oh well.’ Track position was so important, but experience paid off.

“It’s so special. This ranks up there as one of the biggest wins of my career. We’ve got to keep it going—that’s the main goal here, not to get complacent. I knew after Atlanta (where Sauter finished second on Feb. 23) we’d have a shot to win races. I felt like we gave one away at Martinsville but got it today.”

Moffitt won the first 45-lap stage wire-to-wire and held the lead with nine laps left in Stage 2. But Sauter charged from third to first in two laps, passing Moffitt for the lead — and ultimately the stage win — on Lap 82.

Saving fuel during the final run, however, Sauter was turning his ignition off and on under caution, but the engine wouldn’t re-fire. Eventually he let the clutch out and the truck started, but Sauter fell to eighth for a restart on Lap 160.

Systematically, he worked his way back through the field, aided by a subsequent caution. He restarted sixth on Lap 166 after an accident that KO’d the No. 2 truck of Sheldon Creed. On Lap 170 Sauter navigated around both Moffitt and third-place finisher Harrison Burton to take the lead.

From that point on, Moffitt pursued Sauter to the finish line.

“It’s all about track position, really,” Moffitt said. “When we were out front, we could lead and won the first stage, but it was just a lot of traffic cost us track position that we never got back.”

ThorSport teammates Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes finished fourth, fifth and sixth, followed by Austin Hill, Derek Kraus, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain, who recorded his sixth top 10 in six races this season.

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Trucks

ASHLEY ASKS…… Johnny Sauter

After finding uncertainty through the off-season without a ride, Johnny Sauter returned back to ThorSport Racing, ready to chase after his second NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series title. Thus far, he has shown speed with four top-10’s in five races.

The veteran recently spoke with POPULAR SPEED about his thoughts on the year thus far, and moving forward.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on you and your team’s start to the season?

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

JOHNNY SAUTER: I think it’s been pretty good. We’ve had speed, week-in-week-out, so that’s encouraging. We’ve had some bumps along the way, and still managed to have decent days out of those problems that we’ve had. I feel really good about where we’re at, and where we’re headed so we just have to keep it going.

PS: Where do you feel that you and ThorSport could get better to be even stronger?

SAUTER: Well, I think the biggest thing is we’ve had speed off the truck and then come race time, like this past weekend at Texas, we just weren’t good. So I obviously have to get better at what I’m feeling and the feedback that I’m giving so that we can race better ultimately. So a couple of the little things that happened to us have been preventable, but for the most part, we unload with speed each week and it’s up to us to keep that going.

I don’t think it’s a lot of big things. I think it’s just a couple things here, and a couple things there, and we’ll be knocking on the door for the win I feel like.

PS: Drivers have mixed feelings in having this early-season break. Your reaction?

SAUTER: I mean, you can’t add more races and the season goes from February to November. It’s perfect at the amount of races it is, and that means there’s going to be gaps in the schedule. I guess I just don’t pay attention to it. For me personally, and for where we are right now, we got through the first five races kind of unscaved and didn’t tear anything up.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

So I’m looking at it as a positive and it gives us a chance to look at our stuff, and see what we want to do differently, or what we can maybe make better instead of just trying to constantly build. I feel like it’s a good break and comes at a good time. I do hear the criticism of the breaks and all that, but at the end of the day, the truck series schedule is what it is and if you add more races, you start to add more costs. So I’m good with it.

PS: Next race on the schedule – Dover International Speedway. What are your thoughts entering that event?

SAUTER: Well, the last few years we’ve won there so I feel really good about going back. Even prior to having ever won at Dover, I felt like it was one of my favorite race tracks, just because of the speed and how fun that place is. I love it and even if I run terrible, I love it. Great place to go, and even honestly looking further beyond that, there’s some really good race tracks for us. But Dover is definitely in the top-five favorites for this season for sure.

PS: What’s the toughest challenge of the Monster Mile?

SAUTER: Handling is really important, and track position is really important. We’re going around there so fast that its put a big emphasis on track position and clean air and things that you hear people talk about a lot. But having that said, if you have speed, you have options to move around the race track which is always encouraging. I just think the sheer speed of it. We all know that we’re going fast at that race track, but for some reason, Dover you can really feel how fast you’re going and I feel that’s what a lot of the drivers like.

PS: Beyond Dover, what track are you most excited to get to?

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

SAUTER: I mean, I like a lot of different tracks for a lot of different reasons. As I look ahead, I like every place, honestly. I’m probably not the biggest fan of Eldora, but beyond that, I like everywhere that we go. Charlotte is a good one, we’re going back to Texas before too long – there’s a lot of good summer races like Michigan and Bristol, all tracks that I enjoy.

PS: What track do you wish was on the NASCAR schedule that currently isn’t?

SAUTER: 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.

PS: We’ve seen drivers explore running different series and cars. Is there anything on your bucket list to do?

SAUTER: No, not really, just ultimately winning a second championship is on my list. I still do some of the late model stuff here and there. There’s one or two races left on that deal that I’d like to win. But as far as Cup or anything like that, I’m good.

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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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Xfinity Series-Gander Outdoor Truck Series Double Header

Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of the best tracks for any of NASCAR’s three divisions to race at, and they doubled the fans pleasure on Saturday with back-to-back events.

While known for it’s three-wide, across the whole surface racing, both the NASCAR Xfinity Series Rinnai 250 and NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Ultimate Tailgating 200 were dominated by a single driver. However, it was not simple for either to reach victory lane, though.

Christopher Bell was quick from the drop of the green flag in the Rinnai 250, taking the lead early and not ready to look back. Though after dominating the first two stages, a hang-up with the right rear on pit road under green would cause him to lose valuable track position. It didn’t deter the sophomore driver, as he quickly rallied and made the pass three-wide to ultimately put himself back on top. A quick restart at the end, and he took the Toyota Supera to victory lane for the first time.

It’s no secret the level of talent that Bell has behind the wheel, as many believe it’s just a matter of time before we see him in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Actually, it’s really about waiting for a seat to open up for him. Though after leading the Xfinity series in victories last year, he failed to win the championship. Given his chase for perfection, that’s certainly fueling him to perform this year.

His determination, though, can sometimes shine a negative light. While you’re expecting a driver to purely happy in victory lane, Bell is the type to look at what he did wrong right in that moment. At the Chili Bowl after winning on preliminary night, he critiqued his restarts; on Saturday, he spoke of how he wasn’t able to run the bottom line like he should have. Although some may be confused by hearing these types of comments on a celebratory moment, it showcases the desire, and how badly he wants to make it to the top – a fire that honestly could be something of admiration.

Kyle Busch dominated the Ultimate Tailgating 200, but wasn’t able to just hang in the top-five and have fun all day long. A vibration brought forth an unscheduled pit stop, sending him back to 24th in the running order. Busch did not waste time making his way back to the front, returning to the lead before the stage’s conclusion. He then held off Johnny Sauter‘s charge on a late-race restart to take the victory, a record 52nd in the series.

Although criticized by many for his attitude at times, there is denying Busch’s talent, or the fact that he will be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day.

Sauter, meanwhile, may feel the wrath of fans given his comments post-race in how he was trying to wreck Busch on the ensuing final restart.

“Honestly, I was kind of trying to wreck him,” Sauter said. “I just couldn’t get there. I was locked on to him and I was hoping he would spin out but he did a great job of blocking.” 

Sauter is known for his no brash attitude, and it’s certainly created a divide in the stands. Given the fact he was almost without a ride for this season, you have to wonder if comments like these are really necessary. Thank you for the honesty, though. 

The double header proved successful for Atlanta Motor Speedway as both races were great to watch from the seats.

Although at times it seemed the Xfinity Series was spread out in parts, there was always a battle somewhere to watch throughout the field, with multiple cars mixing it up at a time. Whether you chose to run the high lane, the middle, or conserve your tires with the low line, you never totally felt bored. The joy of worn out tracks with multiple grooves.

The Gander Outdoor Truck Series is known for their jaw-dropping intermediate action, with the runs that they’re able to get on each other with the current aero package. Saturday was no exception, with drivers battling throughout the whole night as evidenced by a three-wide battle for the lead at one point, along with Busch and Sauter swapping back and forth through the middle of the race.

If there’s any negative to say about the track, you could say that restarts can be torture if you start in the outside lane. No matter who seems to start second, they spin the tires and lose track position to those on the inside. Harrison Burton felt that in the truck race, going from second to seventh on the final restart. But Atlanta isn’t the only track with this problem, and if that’s the only downfall, then we can live with that. Once again, please don’t repave this track.

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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Nigel Kinrade Photography Trucks

GALLERY: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4

22 races in the books, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series now comes down to the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With dramatics filling the season, there’s certainly more to be expected on Friday night when the best vow for the title. 

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

1. Johnny Sauter

Season Statistics: Six race wins, four stage wins, 14 top-five’s, 17 top-10’s.

Last season, Johnny Sauter won at Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway ahead of the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, placing third to win the championship. This year, it was a victory at Martinsville to get him locked in; he has finished 11th and seventh in the two races since.

Along with last year’s third, the GMS Racing driver has scored a top-10 in his four starts at Homestead-Miami to go with a victory in 2011.

NKP

2. Justin Haley

Season Statistics: Three race wins, one stage win, nine top-five’s, 17 top-10’s

Justin Haley used the contact between Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates to make the Round of 6 with a win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and now used KBM driver Todd Gilliland‘s misfortune at Texas to score a victory and make the Championship 4. Combined with a sixth at Martinsville to start this round, he wasn’t kidding when he told POPULAR SPEED he was confident about his team’s chances. Unfortunately, he enters Homestead following a 28th-place finish at ISM due to an oil leak.

He finished ninth last season in his first trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway.

BARRY CANTRELL | NKP

3. Brett Moffitt +22

Season Statistics: Five race wins, two stage wins, 12 top-five’s, 12 top-10’s

Brett Moffit knew he had a good chance to make the Championship 4 after finishing second and fourth to start the round, but took control of his situation by scoring the victory at ISM Raceway after a late-race pass on Noah Gragson and Grant Enfinger.

He has yet to run a truck race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

4. Noah Gragson +18

Season Statistics: One race win, 10 stage wins, seven top-five’s, 16 top-10’s

Noah Gragson is the only driver to not score a win during the Round of 6 that is in the Championship 4, but it isn’t for lacking of trying. He has shown speed to win, but either an incident or slow pit stop has hurt his chances. Despite that, a runner-up at ISM after a rough pit stop following stage two was enough to secure his chances and lock him in. 

He has failed to score a top-10 in his two previous starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, placing 15th and 18th. 

All Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

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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News

Johnny Sauter earns Championship 4 berth with dominating Martinsville win

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Qualifying aside, Saturday at Martinsville Speedway belonged to Johnny Sauter, who earned another shot at the NASCAR Camping World Series championship with a dominating victory in the Texas Roadhouse 200.

After inheriting the lead when pole winner and race leader Todd Gilliland came to pit road with 11 laps left in Stage 1, Sauter was out front for 148 of the remaining 161 Laps, sweeping both stages and the race win to grab a berth in the NCWTS Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In winning a series-record fourth time at the .526-mile short track, the sixth time this season and the 23rd time in his career, Sauter, the 2016 series champion, assured himself of a sixth straight finish of fourth or better in the final standings.

With practice wiped out by rain on Friday, Sauter had to scramble from the eighth-place starting position he earned Saturday morning in the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet.

“These guys busted their tails – everybody at GMS Racing,” Sauter said. “We came here, and we had done a lot of work with a new setup and we had it all ready to go. And we came here, and it was raining (on Friday) and I was like, ‘Now what?’

“And they said we’d run the old stuff because we couldn’t run that now. Just so proud of everybody at GMS Racing. I’m going to Homestead to fight for a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”

Brett Moffitt worked his way through the field from his 17th-place starting position to finish a distant second, 4.572 seconds behind Sauter. Moffitt heads to the second race in the Round of 6 third in the standings, 15 points ahead of fifth-place Justin Haley, who ran sixth on Saturday at a track he considers one of his worst.

Playoff driver Noah Gragson was second in each of the first two stages, finished seventh and holds second in the standings, 24 points above the cut line for the Championship 4, which will be set in two weeks hence at Phoenix.

Moffitt fought his way past third-place finisher Myatt Snider on Lap 187 of 200 to secure second place, but he couldn’t gain ground on Sauter.

“Obviously, we didn’t qualify this morning where we wanted to or expected to,” Moffitt said. “We had to be patiently aggressive. That was our game plan before the race. Fortunately, we stayed out of trouble and (crew chief) Scott (Zipadelli) did a great job adjusting on the truck and telling the guys on pit road what to do to make the truck faster.

“We weren’t where we needed to be at the start of the race. It’s Martinsville, so I guess survival is great, but losing another one to Johnny is not.”

Championship contender Grant Enfinger rallied from a costly spin on Lap 160 to finish 14th and maintain fourth place in the standings, two points up on Haley. Two-time champion Matt Crafton is sixth in the Playoff standings after running 13th on Saturday.

Ben Rhodes, bounced from the Playoffs at Talladega two weeks ago, came home fourth, followed by Kyle Benjamin, who scored his second top-five showing at Martinsville in only his second start in the series.

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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway

In previous years, the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway was a must-see attraction for fans. Now, though, it seems that the half-mile has lost it’s sparkle. In all honesty, Thursday night’s race was just average.

The first two stages of the event left you looking for some action, waiting to see battles for position, but instead stuck sitting on the edge of your seat hoping the second groove came in so it would happen. All in the process, you had John Hunter Nemechek cruising away from the field which does nothing to add to the event.

The second half of the race, though, gave you something to chomp on when the leaders got hung up in lap traffic, having to dodge left and right at times to figure out the best way through. Combine with Nemechek’s late motor issues, along with a late-charge from Stewart Frisen, and this event will probably stick around in your memory longer than it should’ve based on the beginning.

While you may question where Bristol’s magic was lost – and how much you want to scream about the reconfiguration that took place a couple years ago still, there’s is no denying Johnny Sauter‘s form right now. He drove a flawless race, and took advantage of Nemechek’s slip-up at the right time. Combined with four victories before this week, and he has to be entering the playoffs as the favorite. If he can survive the wild car first round – which he admits being afraid about, then it may be GMS Racing celebrating at year-end once again.

Nemechek should also snag a win before this year is over, too. This marks the second time this season a late-race mechanical failure has lost him the event. Anybody recall Chicagoland Speedway when he dominated until the last lap and lost to Brett Moffitt?

Frisen is also knocking on the door of that win, almost kicking it open as he was chasing Sauter down at the end and maybe five more laps you would’vs seen a different winner. It’s been a common sight as he has finished second three times this year now.

Shout-out to Todd Gilliland for the late charge through the field to finish fifth after a mid-race spin. Just imagine if he hadn’t made that mistake. We may have seen his first career win, and watched Matt Crafton miss the playoffs. 

After left with the feeling of being let down, there’s hope going into the first round of the playoffs. Canadian Tire Motorsports Park has become the home of dramatics since joining the schedule, Las Vegas Motor Speedway produced a memorable event in the spring, and Talladega Superspeedway is always unpredictable. 

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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News

Johnny Sauter wins at Bristol, Clinches Regular-Season Title

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Passing John Hunter Nemecheck for the lead on Lap 196 of 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Johnny Sauter picked up his series-best fifth victory of the season, along with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular-season championship, but fellow two-time champion Matt Crafton wasn’t about to begrudge Sauter his success.

Thanks to Sauter’s win, Crafton grabbed the eighth and final spot in the NCWTS Playoff on points. Also advancing to the Playoff in Thursday night’s UNOH 200 were race runner-up Stewart Friesen and Grant Enfinger, who clinched the sixth Playoff berth when he took the green flag to start the race.

Those three join race winners Sauter, Brett Moffitt, Noah Gragson, Ben Rhodes and Justin Haley in the NCWTS postseason, which starts Aug. 26 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

Nemechek passed Sauter for the lead in heavy traffic on Lap 177, but after pulling out to a lead of more than 10 truck-lengths, Nemechek suffered fuel pickup issues late in the race, allowing both Sauter and Friesen to pass him before the finish.

“I’m so proud of this team,” said Sauter, who won for the first time at the .533-mile high-banked concrete track and the 22nd time in his career. “I knew we had a great truck today. What a way to cap off the regular season with a win. I had to race really hard with the 52 (Friesen) there for a while, which was exciting.”

In fact, Sauter and Friesen waged an intense battle for second place, with Freisen briefly gaining the spot in traffic before Sauter prevailed by splitting the middle between Friesen and a lapped truck. That proved to be the winning pass, after Nemechek had his troubles in the last few laps.

“I’ve never won at Bristol before, so I was pumped,” Sauter said. “I’m so lucky I’ve got this group of guys. We won at Bristol-this is the ultimate. For a short track guy, and I consider myself a short-track guy, to get a win at a place like this is so special.

“I’m just pumped, and I can’t wait to start our championship run.”

Still seeking his first victory in the series, Friesen nevertheless reveled in the competition.

“That was probably the most fun I’ve had all year,” Friesen said. “Bumping and grinding, and no better guys to race with than John Hunter and Johnny. We’ll take it and move on.”

Notes: Sauter led 58 laps to Nemechek’s 104. Nemechek won both the first and second stages. Sauter enters the Playoff as the top seed, with 42 playoff points to 27 for Moffitt in second and 22 for Gragson in third.

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

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