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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

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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

OBSERVATIONS: PPG 400 at Texas Motor Speedway

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series normally thrills with their intermediate events, but Friday night’s PPG 400 at Texas Motor Speedway was missing something. Just ask the crowd.

While this was an event to normally look forward, this isn’t the case anymore.

Although a few drivers were able to make their way forward – namely just Stewart Friesen – without using much strategy, track position was superior throughout the night and ultimately helped decide the winner, even if one of the fastest trucks won. The chaotic racing that we have grown used to in the series was missing as passes were difficult to make, with trucks getting aero loose underneath each other.

Ultimately, Johnny Sauter got to visit victory lane once again as he pulled the strategy call at the end of the event and his team was solid off pit road to give him the track position. Friesen didn’t make it easy for him, though, as he came within inches of his first career win. Based on the past couple of weeks, don’t expect him to miss out much longer.

Initially on the night it appeared that Kyle Busch Motorsports was going to come out on top as Todd Gilliland appeared to have the fastest truck through the first two stages – despite missing out on leading at the end of each. In both situations when a late caution came out, crew chief Marcus Richmond elected to bring Gilliland down pit road so he could stay out when the checkered waved, allowing for track position.

Looking back on the night, you could say it cost them valuable points – but does that matter in his situation? Due to being under the age of 18, Gilliland missed four races to start the season. Now NASCAR has granted him a playoff waiver, but he needs to win a race to make the post season. Richmond’s strategy was focused on that, trying to put his young driver in the best position at the right time. Unfortunately, fading back a bit did not allow him to recover as Gilliland finished sixth.

The other concern on the night surrounded slower trucks in the field, as there’s no questioning the speed difference between the front runners and the back markers. It almost becomes a safety concern and you have to wonder if NASCAR should increase the minimum speed. We almost saw a wreck in getting around Norm Benning, and we saw a wreck when Dalton Sargeant and Myatt Snider got behind Jennifer Jo Cobb. Although, if we’re being honest, Sargeant could’ve shown some more patience.

We have seen small teams improve over time – that’s why we give them a chance when they’re starting out. Just ask Jordan Anderson. He has continued to get stronger and was running just outside of the top-10 most of the night before problems struck late in the going. Certainly a heartbreaker for sure.

The next race for the trucks is at Iowa Speedway alongside the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Heading back to a smaller track, hopefully we find the magic that was missing on Friday night.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@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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Sauter Gets Fourth Win of The Season in Series’ Closest Finish at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas – Johnny Sauter continued his uncanny mastery of Texas Motor Speedway Friday night, holding off Stewart Friesen on a three-lap shootout to win the 22nd annual PPG 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.

The series point-leader, Sauter posted his fifth career win on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval and fourth in eight events this season. But he and crew chief Joe Shear Jr. had to gamble on fuel as the laps wound down and then keep pole-sitter Friesen at-bay following a restart on Lap 165 of the scheduled 167.

Sauter finished 0.092-seconds ahead of Friesen, who was aiming for his first career Camping World Truck Series victory. Sauter took the lead for the first time on Lap 117 passing teammate Justin Haley between Turns 1 and 2.

“I complained about it all night long, just no balance, no grip,” said Sauter, driver of the No. 21 ISM Connect Chevrolet Silverado fielded by GMS Racing. “We made great adjustments and played the track position game. That’s where the speed is at, getting in clean air. This has been a dream start and proud to get this win. I’m speechless…don’t know what to say anymore. Five wins at Texas, it’s awesome.”

Only two-time NCWTS champion Todd Bodine has more wins in Cowtown, with six.

Sauter has won six of the last 11 series races, and posted top-threes in 10 of the last 12. The native of Wisconsin now has 21 career victories in 229 series starts. With his win Friday night, Sauter now is the third driver in series history to post four or more wins in the first eight races of a season. Kyle Busch and Mike Skinner are the only other drivers to do so.

Sauter has now compiled 16 top-10 finishes in 20 races at TMS. Additionally, Sauter hasn’t started outside of the top-10 and has finished in the top-five in every race this season except for the half-mile Martinsville Speedway, where he placed 19th.

Friesen, however, nearly completed a pole-to-Victory Lane scenario. “I knew he’d be aggressive,” Sauter said of the 34-year-old Canadian. “He was hungry for his first win. I got a good launch and that’s all it took. Justin Haley helped push me along. Going into Turn 3 on the last lap I ran out of fuel, but then it fired up.”

Sauter increased his point lead from 59 over Noah Gragson to 77 over the driver of the No. 18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota Tundra fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Friesen recorded his first top-10 finish in three races at TMS, as well has his fifth top-10 result of 2018.

Grant Enfinger held off Friesen during a one-lap shootout to win Stage 2. That restart was set up after the race’s fifth caution on Lap 75, brought out when Bo LeMastus crashed along the backstretch after contact with the truck driven by Norm Benning cut the right front tire of LeMastus’ No. 17 Crosley Brands Toyota Tundra.

During the caution, race-leader Todd Gilliland pitted for four tires and fuel, a move crew chief Marcus Richmond explained was about securing track position in the final stage of the 167-lap/250.5-miler.

Earlier, Friesen scored his second career stage win after 40 laps. Friesen, who won his second career pole earlier Friday afternoon in the No. 52 We Build America Chevrolet Silverado, finished 0.326-seconds ahead of two-time series champ Matt Crafton and his No. 88 Matador Beef Jerky/Menards Ford.

 
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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: North Carolina Education Lottery 200

Although Johnny Sauter made it clear that he was the man to beat in Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200, there was some possible contention just lurking right out of his rearview mirror along the way.

But, let’s give Sauter the credit he deserves. The defending series champion has been on a terror thus far this season, winning three of the first seven races this year to lead the points standings by 59 markers over Noah Gragson. He’s also led laps in five of those events, and only struggled once with a 19th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway. If you weren’t sure already, mark it down – he is your early title favorite, and that probably won’t change as we get closer to the playoffs.

However, he can be beaten, as shown already this year, and as put into the book of possibility. Just ask Kyle Busch. Busch had the fastest truck throughout the entire race based on lap times alone, and will go down as the man who passed the most competitors on a single night. However, constant pit road issues – including a penalty for his crew jumping over the wall too soon, resulted in Busch restarting deep in the field multiple times during the event. He still walked away from the night with a good finish, having made his way back up to second by the checkered. But he also didn’t mince words post-race, either.

“If my pit crew did not lose me six, seven spots and then have penalties and have to restart at the back every single time,” he said. “We passed the most trucks, but if you pass the most trucks, it doesn’t matter if you can’t win the thing where you need to be, restart where you need to be. Really pathetic night on pit road. These trucks are terrible in traffic. You can’t pass. Splitter game is horrendous. They want flat splitters and you put flat splitters on these things and they plow.”

The displeasure shown by the veteran comes as no surprise. Both he and Kevin Harvick have grown a reputation for not mincing words following losses, and being the hardest of any competitor on their pit crews. However, they also have something in common – they’ve won three or more races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this year. That strive for perfection and performance has allotted them to have the success thus far in 2018. 

Obviously frustration is a clear display behind those comments, though, because some of what Busch said could be chalked up to false news. The trucks may not be the best handling at times, but to say that “you can’t pass” is laughable. If that was the case, why has the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series put on the best races of any division in 2018? Why was Busch able to make the moves that he was able to? Why do you see constant battles for position each lap? Anger is understandable, but let’s try to keep our comments truthful.

That said, I almost want to hear what Gragson had to say after this race. He had a fast truck all night long, leading laps and running in the top-five. He even managed to fight his way back to second with 18 laps to go despite having a pit road speeding penalty in the opening stage. However, a bump from the boss, Busch, on the restart got the No. 18 Toyota Tundra sideways, almost into the grass. The contact cost Gragson valuable track position, dropping him back to 10th; he was only able to recover back to eighth. 

So yes, Kyle Busch Motorsports placed two trucks in the top-five – actually, all four Toyotas in the top-10. However, it was still a night to wonder what if? 

For the majority of the event, though, the racing was clean and competitive, with only a couple small spins and a flat tire for Grant Enfinger warranting yellow flags. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series package for Saturday night is modeled after what the truck series rules, with the splitter and reduced speed creating passing opportunities. If they have it anywhere near close, you can expect to be entertained.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@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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Johnny Sauter Pulls Away to Win at Charlotte for First Time

CONCORD, N.C. – As drivers battled for position behind him, Johnny Sauter pulled away his No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet during the final 10-lap run to win Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We won Charlotte!” an elated Sauter screamed over his radio as he crossed the finish line 1.340 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch, who was frustrated in his attempt at a series-record tying 51st victory.

A few minutes later, in Victory Lane, Sauter, the pole winner, reveled in the significance of the victory, his third of the season and the 20th of his career.

“This is a tough place,” said Sauter, who turned 40 on May 1. “Everyone wants to win here. I never thought I’d win here. To win this race is just super special. I never thought 40 would be so good.

“This is the biggest race of my career, and I’ve won a lot of big races. We kept making adjustments on the truck all night and made it better and better.”

Sauter scored his 20th straight top-10 finish on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway, a streak that includes four victories. He also scored points in the first two stages of the race (won by Brett Moffitt and John Hunter Nemechek, respectively) to run his string of in-the-money stage finishes to 30.

Busch’s effort was hampered by a pair of pit road penalties, both incurred when members of his crew came over the wall too soon. Nevertheless, he twice came from the back of the field to finish second, passing Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate and third-place finisher Brandon Jones for the runner-up spot on Lap 133 of 134.

Asked how he managed to charge through the field, Busch said dourly, “Pure talent. That’s about it. My pit crew did absolutely nothing to help me out tonight. My truck drove like (crap)… But somehow, some way I was able to get back to the front. Had a blast.”

Moffitt ran fourth, followed by Ben Rhodes. Stewart Friesen, Parker Kligerman, Noah Gragson, Nemechek and Todd Gilliland completed the top 10.

Sauter took control of the race when he passed Moffitt for the lead on Lap 87, one circuit before Josh Reaume’s spin brought out the fifth caution of the race. Sauter went on to lead a race-high 71 laps and increased his series lead to 59 points over second-place Gragson and 65 over Moffitt in third.

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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: JEGS 200 at Dover International Speedway

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has produced exciting races all year long, and the JEGS 200 did not disappoint.

The series got their first repeat winner of the season, courtesy of Johnny Sauter. If anybody had any doubt that GMS Racing would not be affected by Spencer Gallagher’s suspension, he quickly erased those concerns with a victory. 

However, a fifth straight different victor wasn’t far from distance, given the performance by Noah Gragson. After winning the pole in qualifying, he led the entire first stage, before fading back to seventh due to a slow pit stop. However, he was able to regain the lost track position, challenging Sauter for the win in the closing laps. Ultimately, it didn’t pan out as he wanted, getting loose, turning the truck around backwards and crashing into the wall. 

Although some may be harsh on the young driver for crashing the truck, you also have to look at the flip side of the coin where if you critique too much, you’ll lose that fire. Fans crave for seeing drivers battling as hard as they can, but are also the first to complain should things go wrong. In a world where we want to see the hardest racing possible, it’s better to have someone try and go over that edge, then watch everybody just fall in line to the checkered.

It’ll also be a crucial growing experience for Gragson, too, as he will learn from the mistake that he made and become a better driver moving forward. Just look at Christopher Bell. He made some errors during the beginning of his truck series career, but yet has turned around to be one of the most talented to watch now in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

The first step in growing is taking responsibility, and he did just that.

“Just pushed it over the limit and I take full responsibility for what happened,” Gragson said. “Just sometimes – it’s so hard to win these things, so you give 100 percent and sometimes you cross the line when you’re in the situation like that. I was racing for the win and tried to side draft him and we hit off each other and I went around. It’s just hard racing – no fault to Johnny (Sauter). I respect him as a driver and that’s just a racing deal.”

Of course, Gragson wasn’t the only driver who threw his race away as others did the same, and much earlier in the event. Cue the cautions flying in the first couple of laps, ruining the days for various drivers including Stewart Friesen and Brett Moffit right off the drop of the green on Lap 2. For Moffitt, it’s extra disappointing as he had a strong start to 2018 thus far, highlighted by the victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He had worked his way at rebounding from the trouble, until an incident later on in the event.

Other teams managed to beat themselves with pit road penalties. Gragson was able to rebound from his, but others that were hit with similar issues including Jesse Little, Todd Gilliland, David Gilliland and Harrison Burton. All three were able to make their way back to the front, though, scoring top-10 finishes. Just imagine if they would’ve avoided the penalties.

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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Johnny Sauter Tames Monster Mile to win Truck Series Race at Dover

DOVER, Del. — After what had happened moments earlier, Johnny Sauter’s victory in a two-lap overtime shootout seemed almost routine by comparison.

Sauter, who turned 40 on May 1, held off fellow 40-something Matt Crafton to win Friday’s JEGS 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Dover International Speedway — but not until Sauter won an intense struggle against pole winner Noah Gragson, whose race ended on the next-to-last lap of regulation when his No. 18 Toyota backed hard into the outside wall.

The victory was Sauter’s second straight at Dover, his second of the season and the 19th of his career. And it came during a bittersweet week for GMS Racing, after Spencer Gallagher, the son of team owner Maury Gallagher, won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega and on Tuesday was suspended indefinitely for a violation of NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.

“Tough week for the Gallagher family—this one’s for Spencer,” Sauter said. “He’s a smart kid, and he’ll get it right.”

Gragson grabbed the lead from Sauter one circuit after a restart on Lap 188 of a scheduled 200, but Sauter wasn’t finished. With six laps left, Sauter got a strong run to the outside, but Gragson cut him off, and Sauter’s No. 21 Chevrolet tapped the wall.

“We had to work for this one today,” Sauter said. “Noah, I had a good run on him there, and he squeezed me off. And I was like, ‘He just gave me the green light to be aggressive.’ This was just hard racing right there.”

The drivers were racing side-by-side for the lead coming to the white flag when Gragson’s attempt to side-draft Sauter’s Silverado went awry. Gragson lost control and crashed, destroying the rear end of his Kyle Busch Motorsports Tundra.

Gragson, who won’t turn 20 until July 15, was disconsolate when he left the infield care center after the wreck.

“I’m really disappointed in myself,” he said. “It’s just a racing deal. These things are so hard to win, and I was so close to getting my first win (of the season). I went up to side-draft him and got pointed to the inside wall and went up to side-draft him again—and it was just a racing deal.

“Not the way I try to race people. I take full responsibility in that right there. It was a hundred percent my fault. It’s just unacceptable on my part. Man, I was so close to winning. All I can think about is just the mistake I made. I really wanted to get that monster (trophy). This is such a bad-ass track, and not to be able to get it done … I’m just devastated.”

After Gragson’s wreck and subsequent cleanup, the race restarted on Lap 209. Crafton got an excellent restart and held his own against Sauter through the first two corners but couldn’t clear him. Sauter then pulled out to a two car-length lead and took the checkered flag a lap later.

“We just did not have short-run speed,” said the 41-year-old Crafton. “For whatever reason, it would just not fire off. I had a really good restart there at the end, and I moved him up as far as I could. I was waiting for Stevie (Reeves), the spotter to tell me, ‘Clear, clear.’ I knew I was close, real close.

“Johnny turned 40 this week, so he’s part of the old man crew, and we got a lot of flak this week by being the 40-year-olds, but the 40-year-olds showed the kids how to do it, I guess.”

One of those kids, 19-year-old Justin Haley, ran a solid, consistent third. David Gilliland came home fourth in his second start of the season, and Harrison Burton finished fifth. Cody Coughlin, Joe Nemechek, Ben Rhodes, Jesse Little and Todd Gilliland (David’s son) completed the top 10.

Sauter extended his series lead to 51 points over second-place Rhodes and 58 over third-place Gragson. The series races next at Kansas Speedway with Friday’s 250-miler (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

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Trucks

Four Lessons Learned in Four Truck Series Races

Out of the three premiere series, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has the slowest start to the season with just four races in the first three months of the schedule. It can beneficial to some of the smaller teams in allowing them to get organized, but doesn’t favor for creating early momentum. 

That said, those races were some of the most exciting that we’ve seen on-track all season and as the trucks get set to return on May 4 at Dover International Speedway, here are four things we learned from the first four races.

Best Shows in NASCAR

They may be the lowest run of the top three series on the ladder, but let’s face it – most of the time they put on the best shows the sport sees. 

During the Atlanta Motor Speedway race weekend, the Active Pest Control 200 was one of the most competitive events, with trucks spending multiple laps battling for position, even going three-wide at times, throughout the entire field. From challenges for the lead, to three drivers vying for a top-five spot at once, the race had everything mixed into one. Now combine that with a dramatic ending with an overtime finish and the strategy of taking two or four tires equally four-wide jostling for the lead, and you have the perfect package for a race put together.

However, they backed it up with the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway that produced even more close quarter exciting racing, including a couple attempts at three-wide on the half-mile. 

Everybody talks about the need to shorten races at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level, and certainly the trucks put in a good argument for how well that works. With less time to get the job done, you have the drivers up on the wheel more. Combine that with a good aerodynamic package and you have a recipe for success.

Great Competition

Four races are in the books, and four different teams have won with four different drivers. Where do you see that happen? Johnny Sauter won Daytona for GMS Racing, followed by Brett Moffitt at Atlanta for Hattori Racing Enterprises, Kyle Busch at Las Vegas for his own team, and lastly John Hunter Nemechek for the family-backed Nemco Motorsports team at Martinsville. 

This is a trend that could also continue beyond Dover as well, given the talent showcased by the likes of Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes, Noah Gragson, and others in the first four races. It just means that the fight for the playoffs could become interesting in only taking eight drivers as what happens if you have nine winners eligible? 

It also proves that budget and size of team isn’t as dependent as other series, with single-truck organizations like Hattori and Nemco being highly successful.

Cody Coughlin Looking for Momentum

While some drivers have had great starts to the season, Coughlin isn’t among those. Making the move to GMS Racing over the off-season after spending 2017 at ThorSport Racing, he only scored one top-10 in the first four races, with a pair of finishes of 20th or worse.

Currently ranked 13th in the standings, that is where he completed last season with three top-10’s total on the year. Given the success of his teammates thus far, it is clear that GMS has the equipment. Now it’s just about seeing if he can get the job done.

Sauter is still King

Surrounded by youth and new faces, everybody wants to talk about the up-and-coming stars that are making their names known. However, the veteran presence of Johnny Sauter still rules the series.

After winning the championship in 2016, he is currently leading the standings with three top-fives in four races. He easily could’ve made it four top-fives if not for battery issues at Martinsville Speedway. 

Expect the success to continue when the series returns at Dover as he won there last year, and has scored a top-10 in each of his last five starts.

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: Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway

“Tick Tock, We Got A Clock.”

Four races in the books for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and the fans haven’t been left disappointed yet by the action on track. 

As typically expected with Martinsville Speedway, the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 was filled with close quarter action and even if the final stretch of the event had run without a caution, it was bound to be a barn burner as Todd Gilliland had began to close the gap on Kyle Benjamin. That said, thanks to a big piece of pipe laying on the track, the yellow flag flew with less than 40 laps to go.

The result? Pure chaos. Three-wide competition throughout the whole field, bumping and banging off each other – but with nobody actually getting turned around. 

John Hunter Nemechek has shown that he can get the job done in the clutch of the moment and snag an unexpected win – recall Canadian Tire Motorsports Park anybody? He once again proved his ability as a driver, as his attack on the restart with 31 laps to go was everything. While Gilliland and Benjamin looked set to battle, Nemechek snuck underneath both drivers going into the turn, eventually passing them both. From being well-timed to set-up and executed, it was the perfect move that you can’t discount no matter how you look at it.

Nemechek’s situation is unique this year. He is splitting a ride in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Kyle Larson, while running whatever truck races do not conflict. Despite showing countless talent, sponsorship hasn’t ever come easy for the 20-year-old. If he was able to get some funding to a full schedule – whether XFINITY or Truck, there’s no question he’d be a championship contender.

You can’t discount Nemechek’s closest competition, either. Benjamin was able to get back to Nemechek’s bumper and certainly a little harder hit or couple more laps and we may have a different story on our hands. You have to credit Benjamin for his poise shown, as he could’ve just wrecked the No. 8 Chevrolet to get himself to victory lane – but chose the respectful route instead.

By the way, Monday’s race was Benjamin’s series debut with a first year team – DGR-Crosby Racing. Not a bad beginning for either party. The 20-year-old said he hoped he earned himself more chances behind the wheel with his performance – don’t worry, you did. 

While the youngsters impressed, the veterans were unable to be up front as expected. Past winners Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter each ran inside the top-10, but neither were a factor for the victory and ultimately found themselves out of winning contention due to other problems. Sauter suffered from battery issues with the No. 21 truck stalling off the corner at one point, with Crafton getting heavy damage as he ran into the back of Sauter then. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@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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Johnny Sauter Asserts Plate-Track Dominance with Daytona win

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a race that produced seven cautions for 35 laps and left 21 trucks running at the finish, Johnny Sauter held off Justin Haley by .098 seconds at Daytona International Speedway to win Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250, the season-opener for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Sauter grabbed the lead from pole winner David Gilliland on Lap 92 of 100 and stayed out front the rest of the way. The victory was Sauter’s third at Daytona and 18th of his career.

The 2016 series champion dedicated the win to his crew chief Joe Shear, whose wife, Chandra Shear, passed away in December. The race performance of both driver and crew was impeccable.

“I felt like we executed flawlessly,” Sauter said. “I don’t even remember the pass for the lead. We had good track position and we lost it a couple times. I’m just so thankful to be driving this truck. This is best group of guys I’ve ever been around, and it’s great to start the season off like this.

“I just felt comfortable today and I don’t even know why. I didn’t have one nerve. I just felt like this was our day.”

As he watched Sauter close in on the victory, Shear was overcome with emotion.

“This is very, very, very special,” Shear said. “I don’t know if a lot of people know, but I lost my wife in December. She’s looking down on us. She was in love with racing just as much as I was.

“She was looking over us and helped us to this win. And I’m so grateful to be in the position that I’m at and have these people around me. This means so much. I’ll never forget this one.”

Haley had the lead for a restart on Lap 87 but surrendered it to Gilliland on Lap 91. One lap later, Sauter surged past Gilliland into the top spot. A lap after that, Gilliland slapped the outside wall on the approach to Turn 1 and brought his car to pit road, finishing 21st, four laps down.

“Those final laps were crazy,” Haley said. “I finally got shuffled back a little bit there on the last lap, and there wasn’t that much energy on the high side.”

Veteran Joe Nemechek came home third, followed by Ben Rhodes and Scott Lagasse Jr., who took the white flag in second place but couldn’t mount a charge against Sauter on the final lap.

John Hunter Nemechek wasn’t as fortunate. After leading for a restart on Lap 70, he picked up a tire rub trying to block a run from Ben Rhodes on the outside, and on Lap 73, his right rear tire exploded, ripping apart the entire wheel well and triggering a seven-truck accident that knocked Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen and Myatt Snider out of the race.

Grant Enfinger finished sixth, ahead of Spencer Davis, Dalton Sergeant, Jordan Anderson and Justin Fontaine. Two-time series champion Matt Crafton was part of a five-truck wreck on Lap 82 and ran 19th in his heavily damaged No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford.

Note: Sauter used one of the fuel-injected spec engines available to series competitors this season and applauded NASCAR for making the lower-cost option available to Truck Series teams.