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News

Justin Haley gets first Cup win at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the dark clouds and lightning descended upon Daytona International Speedway Sunday afternoon, Justin Haley climbed out of his No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet feeling like it was perhaps divine intervention. He was first on the scoreboard at the time Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 was red-flagged for lightning 33 laps short of the intended 160-lap distance.

Two hours and 12 minutes later, the 20-year old Indiana native was celebrating his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win – in only his third career start. It was an unlikely turn of events in a very eventful race

As Haley stood speaking with reporters during the long weather delay, a team member walked up and hugged him, delivering the career-defining news to the Xfinity Series standout, “You just won your first Monster Energy NASCAR race.”

“It’s absolutely a blessing, pretty incredible that I have so many people around me who have given me this opportunity,” Haley said, just before receiving a hug from his mother Melissa Dennis.

“I knew eventually we’d be standing there and celebrating a win but I was definitely not prepared on his third Cup start to be here and experience this,” Dennis said, beaming with pride and conceding she nervously spent the red flag downtime cleaning the family’s motor coach just to keep her mind busy.

As Haley – the second youngest Cup winner in Daytona International Speedway history – stood inside the driver meeting room during the weather delay, he smiled nervously and showed reporters how his hands were shaking in tense anticipation.

Drivers were actually called to their cars to restart after the initial red flag, but lightning moved into the immediate area again – necessitating another 30-minute safety delay. Before that time passed, the rain came again. And the race was declared official.

In the end, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson finished second and third. And Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.

As elated as Haley was by the unforeseen circumstances, the 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch was equally as gutted. He had been leading the race during the yellow flag caution period immediately preceding the red flag stoppage. He had opted not to pit initially with the poor weather approaching, but when given the one-to-go signal prior to the restart Busch zipped down pit road for a last minute fill-up.

Unfortunately for him, however, the weather conditions changed so quickly that by the time the field was on the backstretch, NASCAR decided to keep the yellow caution flag flying instead of dropping the green flag to race again. Within minutes, the red flag came out, and teams were ordered to pit road, their cars covered with the bad weather approaching. Busch had rejoined the field in 10th place – his ultimate finishing position.

That was only one chapter of the race’s fully dramatic story.

The who-and-when of pit stops became especially strategic after a caution flag on lap 120 of the scheduled 160-lapper. The “Big One,” as multi-car accidents are called on the Daytona high banks, occurred when the frontrunning cars of Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer touched at high speed in Turn 1. In all 18 cars were collected – most of them considered pre-race favorites such as polesitter Joey Logano, Hendrick Motorsports cars Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman and all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and defending race winner Erik Jones.

Asked what happened, Bowyer said in his typically candid fashion, “I guess he didn’t want me to pass him.

“I don’t know,” Bowyer said of Dillon. “I got under him and he blocked and we got together, I got off of him, moved down and got off of him – and here he comes back down even more and just finally wrecked us all.”

Even though their competitive hopes were finished in that accident, Logano (41 laps) and Dillon (46 lap) led the most laps on the afternoon. The time up front was especially impressive for the polesitter and Stage 1 winner Logano, who was involved in two accidents to varying degrees. But he still rallied to finish 25th.

As the series heads to Kentucky Speedway next week, Logano still maintains an 18-point lead over 14th place finisher Kyle Busch in the Cup championship standings.

The first major incident of the afternoon ironically involved one of the two cars also part of the only practice wreck leading into the race. Only this time, it was Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford that got the rough end of contact.

On Lap 83, his Ford was hit from behind by fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford sending Keselowski hard into the high side wall and multiple cars spinning off track in reaction. Ultimately Keselowski retired his car, Harvick returned after multiple pit stops to repair damage as did his SHR teammate Daniel Suarez, who spun off the track with Richard Childress Racing rookie Daniel Hemric – the lone Chevy involved in the incident.

Shortly after the dark skies started creeping in and the race intensity increased accordingly.

All the teams were keeping an eye on the sky and Haley’s veteran crew chief Peter Sospenzo conceded that the game plan was absolutely to keep Haley on track not stopping in the pits.

“My thought process was even if we had four flat tires we weren’t going to pit,” Sospenzo said. “We were going to ride out the weather. It was our only option to steal a win, if you want to call it that. We were not going to come in and I was actually a little surprised a couple guys in front of us did.

“We just wanted to have a decent finish,” he added, “not get caught up in any wrecks and it just worked out.”

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XFINITY

Haley Sees Second Straight Top-10 In Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nev — For the second straight week, NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie Justin Haley captured a top-10, finishing Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 in tenth.

Despite the positive result, the 19-year-old described the afternoon as a difficult one.

While his No. 11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet was able to hang around the top-10 for most of the Boyd Gaming 300, as he placed ninth and 11th in the pair of stages to earn just a single point. However, Haley suffered a setback in the late in the race, having to make an unscheduled pitstop for a flat tire, losing a lap in the process.

Fortunately for him, he would be saved by late race attrition, that not only allowed him to take the wave around but also work his way back into the top-10.

“Well, it was our worst day out of all the races, so we just got to just keep getting better,” Haley told POPULAR SPEED. “Obviously, me trying to figure out what I need out of the car and examining it, obviously a learning day. Having that tire go down, put us a few laps down, we couldn’t rebound.”

With the result, the Indiana-native sets himself in nice company as one of just 11 drivers to earn two top-10’s in the season, a stat made the more impressive when considering it is only Haley’s third race with Kaulig Racing.

Now the rookie set on moving up the scoring pylon as the season continues.

“Just going to need a little luck, and just be a little better to be up there in the top-five,” Hayley said.

Through three races, Haley sits 12th in the standings, 50 points behind Christopher Bell, who is the leader.

Up next on the schedule is ISM Raceway, where the No. 11 team will look to build momentum at a track where Haley has seen success before, scoring his first top-10 in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series back in 2015.

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.

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XFINITY

Rookie Outlook: XFINITY Series

When looking at a rookie class one might wonder, how much success is possible for these drivers? Well, if the last couple of years in the XFINITY Series is any indication, the sky is the limit.

Three of the last five drivers to win the award have gone on to win the championship, and just by looking at whose eligible this year, it could be argued that it is likely to happen again in 2019.

With that said, let’s take a look at those who will be competing for the honor.

Chase Briscoe

Well, it could be argued that a lot of these drivers could be perceived as the favorite, Briscoe may have the best case for himself.

He has experience in the form of 17-race schedule last year, where he had four top-10’s and a win. Not to forget the 24-year-old will be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the best teams not only in the series but in the sport as a whole. SHR proved the strength in their program last year by winning the owner’s championship with Cole Custer behind the wheel.

The expectations will, and rightfully so, be high for Briscoe.

Noah Gragson

Speaking of high expectations, there is Gragson, who joins JR Motorsports, whose last three rookie drivers (Tyler Reddick, William Byron, and Chase Elliott) have won the championship. So, no pressure right?

However, the Las Vegas native has proven himself worthy of the ride after two full-time seasons in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, where he scored two wins, 12 top-five’s, and 30 top-10’s.

While he may not have as much XFINITY experience as some of his competitors, Gragson did have success in his three starts last season for Joe Gibbs Racing. His worst finish with the team was seventh, and he even came close to winning in his debut at Richmond Raceway in a runner-up effort.

John Hunter Nemechek

A team that has seen strong development over the last year, GMS Racing, partnered with a driver in Nemechek whose shown capable, could prove to be a lethal combo.

Nemechek comes from a season where he split time between XFINITY and trucks, where he was able to win in both. The 21-year-old showed off his talent in NASCAR’s second-tier series, where in addition his lone victory at Kansas Speedway, he was able to produce six top-five’s and 11 top-10’s in an 18-race effort for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Despite his impressive stat line though, he seemed to be overshadowed by Kyle Larson and Ganassi’s late-season addition, Ross Chastain, whom he split the No. 42 with.

With the ride at GMS all to himself, it will be interesting to see how he capitalizes on the opportunity.

Justin Haley

How about a dark horse? Haley enters the 2019 season, relatively under the radar, despite being impressive in 2018.

The 19-year-old was able to capture three wins in the truck series last year, and produced a strong enough playoff run to get himself into the series’ Championship 4. He also made three starts in XFINITY for GMS, where he was one legal pass away from winning at Daytona International Speedway.

This year though, Haley will be with a different team in Kaulig Racing, whose fielded a playoff entry in each of the last three seasons and, saw a noticeable increase in performance last year, scoring 11 top-10’s with then-driver, Ryan Truex.

Gray Gaulding

A driver who actually has more experience in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Gaulding looks to develop a much more stable schedule after spending the last few seasons jumping around multiple teams.

He joins SS-Green Light Racing to drive the No. 08 Chevrolet. The team fielded an entry for Spencer Boyd in 2018, averaging a 26.9 finish.

Seeing how Gaulding has never had one season-long ride to himself, it will be interesting to see how the 20-year-old can improve being with just the one team.

Matt Mills

Mills, who ran eight races last season in XFINITY, will join B.J. McLeod Racing in 2019 to drive the No. 8 Chevrolet.

The 22-year-old did get the chance to run two races with the team in 2018, where he was able to grab his season-best qualifying effort (25th) and matched his career-best finish (27th) at Richmond Raceway.

Part-Timers

The least experienced of all the drivers listed, Zane Smith, will join JR Motorsports for a limited schedule driving the No. 9 Chevrolet.

Despite his lack of experience, Smith is still well-accomplished, with four wins in the ARCA Racing Series and, a fifth-place finish in his truck debut last year.

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.

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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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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: JAG Metals 350 at Texas Motor Speedway

While the focus may have been on the six drivers that are in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs, this race will be remembered for another reason.

Justin Haley got to reap the rewards of a well-earned win in victory lane, celebrating after running up front all night and making the last lap pass on Todd Gilliland for the win. Ultimately, it puts the championship in GMS Racing’s favor with both of their eligible drivers locked in to the Championship 4. The battle of youth vs. experience is a story in itself.

The night, though, appeared to be set to belong to Gilliland in the form of his first series victory, after he took the lead following the last round of pit stops. However, everything fell apart when his No. 4 Toyota sputtered on the last lap, out of fuel. It’d be understandable to see a team run out of gas if you’re pitting early in a cycle, and trying to conserve enough at the end. However, instead, this was a case of a splash and go being performed too quickly. A couple extra seconds on pit road, and the tables would have turned in his favor.

The last time Gilliland found himself in the lead late in the event was at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, when contact with his teammate Noah Gragson took him out of contention. Who took advantage on that race day? Haley, once again.

Stewart Friesen also had a chance to win the event, as he initially took the top spot with 39 laps to go before the pit cycle began. However, a pit road speeding penalty set him back, resulting in an eighth-place finish. 

Although a lot of “What ifs?” can be asked about this event in conclusion, the racing was solid on-track. There were battles for position throughout the event, sometimes three-wide down the backstretch as drivers looked for a lane to get by their competitor. 

A solid day by Brett Moffitt, combined with Gragson rebounding after stage two contact for a top-10, now have both drivers sitting pretty, 18 points above the cut-off line. Grant Enfinger and Matt Crafton will need to make something happen at ISM Raceway to keep their playoff hopes alive.

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

Justin Haley punches Homestead ticket with dramatic victory at Texas

FORT WORTH, Tex. – Todd Gilliland’s heartbreak was serendipity for Justin Haley, who staked out his place in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 race with a stunning victory Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

Gilliland was half a lap away from collecting his first series win in the Jag Metals 350 when his No. 4 Toyota sputtered on the backstretch and ran out of fuel. Haley, who was 1.3 seconds back on the white-flag lap, surged past Gilliland and crossed the finish line 8.133 seconds ahead of runner-up Ben Rhodes.

With his third victory of the season and his second in the Playoffs, Haley joined GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter for a chance to win the series title in the Nov. 16 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That leaves two spots available to the remaining six competitors.

“That was amazing,” the 19-year-old Haley said in Victory Lane. “I thought we had it lost there. I didn’t quite maximize my pit road (on the final green-flag stop)… This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. To get two Chevrolets-me and Johnny-back to back to Miami, that’s what we want.

“We’ve got a 50-percent chance of winning it.”

Gilliland took on one can of fuel when he came to pit road on Lap 115 of 147, and his team calculated-erroneously, as it turned out-that he had enough gas to go to Lap 150. Haley stopped under green seven laps later and was five seconds behind Gilliland when the pit sequence cycled out.

Haley gradually gained ground over the final 25 laps but would have run out of time had Gilliland not run out of fuel.

“I didn’t know we were close on fuel at all,” said Gilliland, who hit the wall in qualifying and had to start from the rear of the field after his team made unapproved adjustments to the truck. “It’s horrible. I’m incredibly disappointed. I still feel like we could have been faster if I hadn’t wrecked during qualifying.

“So many things… we win and lose as a team. But I’m super proud to be in that position, to be fighting for wins every now and then. I feel like we’re on the verge of being a competitor week-in and week-out. I think we’re getting there every week, and that’s what I’m really proud of, but at the same time, it really hurts.”

Gilliland rolled across the stripe in fourth place behind playoff driver Brett Moffitt, who holds third in the Playoff standings behind Sauter (last week’s winner at Martinsville) and Haley.

After a change in gear rules, Moffitt was running the crate NT-1 engine for the first time, in lieu of a Mark Cronquist-built Toyota engine.

“It’s different,” Moffitt said. “I wouldn’t say good, bad or either, but it’s certainly different… We lost a lot of track position, and it doesn’t matter what you have under the hood here at Texas, you’re not going to make up that many spots.

“We just have to execute a better race and move forward. It certainly helps to run good, but when you’re in the Playoffs like this, you have to get back to Victory Lane.”

Noah Gragson, who finished 10th, is the fourth in the Playoff standings, 18 points ahead of Grant Enfinger, who ran out of fuel on the final lap and finished 12th, and 23 ahead of two-time series champion Matt Crafton, who ran ninth.

Austin Hill scored a career-best fifth-place finish in his 49th NCWTS start.

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Trucks

ASHLEY ASKS…… Justin Haley

With a victory at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Justin Haley knows that he will be apart of the Round of 6 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. That means entering this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, there’s no pressure for the GMS Racing driver.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts entering Talladega?

JUSTIN HALEY: I’m pretty excited for Talladega for a lot of reasons. I’ve always been pretty good at Talladega – won an ARCA race up there, and led some laps last year and ran up front. Just in general, the plate races have been good to go me and I’ve seem to taken it to it very well, and GMS (Racing) is a good team as they bring good cars and trucks. So I think it’s been a pretty good match so far.

I’m looking forward to it. I’m really looking forward to it because I can go there and enjoy it, enjoy the process of drafting, and helping teammates and using the air to try and get the win. It’s going to be a lot better than if we were in a tough spot. I’m looking forward to it.

PS: Now are you planning to be conservative or go all out?

JUSTIN: I think we’re going to air towards the aggressive side; I think that’s the side we sort of air towards everywhere. We really don’t change mentality week-to-week, but rather with a focus on winning. We never just want to survive; we want to win. That mentality has worked for us so far this year, and we’ve won a few times so I think we’ll just keep with that and focus on winning.

PS: How much relief is on your mind in knowing your locked in via the victory to start this round?

JUSTIN: It’s a big relief. It’s pretty big for us, and like I said, I think going into it, we’d be fine, but Talladega is one of these places where if you do have raw speed, it doesn’t show as much as a mile and a half or a short track. There’s a lot of trucks that run really good at superspeedways that usually don’t, so you have them in the pack racing.

Like I said, I’m just super thankful and especially with how spread out the truck series schedule is. We had a few weeks between Las Vegas and Canada, and then a full month in between since then. It’s been pretty relaxing to get this time off, but I’m ready to go for Talladega.

PS: That said, take us back to those final laps at CTMP. What was going through your mind?

JUSTIN: Canada was obviously really cool for us, and not a lot of people know, but I have a road course background. It’s kind of one of the races that I had circled for a long time and wanted to run well there. We ran well there last year as I qualified second and finished fourth after a bad pit stop. I’ve always just had this monkey on my back at these road courses races that I couldn’t win. I’d go run TransAm, K&N cars, ARCA cars – always finish second, track record, pole, but never win a race. Finally I got the win in Canada on a road course and that meant a lot to my family in putting in a lot and coming from a road course background.

But the last few laps, obviously they were very intense. We were very under-motored all day. The Toyotas had brought their manufacture motors and KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) had actually gone up and tested both motors to see which was better, because we all had a suspicion. They were just almost a second and a half faster than us a lap, and we were kind of the underdogs all day; me and John Hunter (Nemechek) were the only ones that could keep up with them all day.

The last few laps, we had that restart where I restarted third and I knew I couldn’t run down Todd (Gilliland), or Noah (Gragson), or keep up with them for that matter. So I let Noah go on that restart for the green-white-checkered. I knew my best chance I had was to have Noah go up there and get into Todd, and that happened. I had that in the back of my mind. It was one of those things like you have a lot of faith in something, and there was something in the back of my head saying it would be okay, to let Noah go and it would come to you. It was pretty intense and obviously they got together, and the seas parted for us and it was a cool experience.

PS: How would you evaluate your team’s playoff chances right now?

JUSTIN: I think our playoff chances are good. We have the best average finish in the playoffs, an average finish of second, which is great. I know we’re only two races in, but we’re a winning team, a top-three team any given week. I know we were seeded low going into the playoffs, but that was just due to some bad luck early in the season and it’s hard to make up when you get behind the first few races. We had a few bad races, which weren’t really our issue. We had a few mechanical failures that were from the manufacture, so nothing we could do.

But we’ve run up front all year, had winning trucks at multiple races, so I think what it comes down to is I know we’re a top-four team if we can get Miami if everything falls right, and you have to have a little luck to do so. But at the end of the day, if we get to (Homestead-)Miami, we’ve done everything we’ve can and from there it’s just a chessmatch.

PS: Entering the next round – Martinsville, Texas, and ISM. What’s your weakest and what’s your strongest?

JUSTIN: Martinsville is my least favorite track. Man, I just do not like that track. I’ve never ran really well there. I’ve been set-up for good finishes – second, third with a few laps to go and gotten wrecked. That’s why I don’t like Martinsville is a lot of it is out of your hands. The other two tracks are phenomenal for us. Texas is my best track on the circuit; I can’t tell you why, but my crew chief Kevin Bellicourt and the 24 guys have just really taken to Texas. We qualified pole in this race last year, and led a good part of it, and I’ve never finished worse than sixth there. Phoenix is a good track for us, too. We were actually going to win that race last year but got into some trouble racing for the lead. So two really good tracks for us.

The only two that I’m not sure about is Miami and Martinsville. Martinsville we can make up for, but Miami we’re really going to have to get at. A lot of times on the simulator and getting used to running the wall, and fine tuning the truck to get it better.

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: World of Westgate 200

Expect the unexpected. It’s the motto you normally hear while making your way through the city of Las Vegas, but right now could also describe the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. Two races in, and the brackets for most people are probably busted.

For the second time this year, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway put on a thrilling race for the trucks, with passing throughout including battles that took us four-wide, at once five-wide. There was always a battle to watch, with everyone under a blanket for a top-10 at one point due to how much the trucks punch a hole in the air. It’s easy to see why some fans call the lowest of the three premiere series the one with the best competition.

As the battles broke out at the front of the field at the end, Grant Enfinger sliced and diced his way through the field with four Goodyear tires to the front, making a three-wide pass to take the top spot. He then held off the field in three ensuing late-race restarts to score the victory.

The victory is the shot in the arm that ThorSport Racing also needed. The focus most of the year has been on GMS Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports, but Friday night saw ThorSport place all four trucks in the top-six positions. 

When the playoffs began, Justin Haley and Enfinger were two of the competitors most picked to possibly fail to make it to the next round based solely on performance. With wins in the first two races, though, they have locked themselves into the Round of 6 heading into Talladega Superspeedway. 

On the flip side, teams that have been surging to the front and stealing the headlines are struggling.

Brett Moffitt was leading in the late stages, but running out of gas costing him valuable points at the end.

Noah Gragson was fast through the first half of the race, but once again this season failed to put the finish together on the final tally. Contact in the late stages resulted in a flat tire, bringing him down pit road en route to placing 18th. That’s his second bad race in a row to start the playoffs after the incident with teammate Todd Gilliland coming to the checkered at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

The driver in the worst rut right now, though, has to be Stewart Frisen. A lot of people expected the Canadian to be the next one to break through with a victory. Instead, he may be one of the drivers eliminated when the dust settles at Talladega as he currently sits last of the eight playoff drivers. After struggling at CTMP with a mid-race spin, he spun three different times on Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway en route to finishing 17th.

All roads will now lead us to Talladega, where it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Can the drivers struggling turn it around? Will the usual suspects be up front? Will someone nobody expected fail to make the second round? What will happen with the big one looming? Unfortunately, thanks to a strung out schedule that nobody will ever understand, we have to wait 28 days to answer these questions.

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: Chevrolet Silverado 250

Canadian Tire Motorsports Park has produced a thrilling finish each season, and the 2018 edition of the Chevrolet Silverado 250 was no different with a pair of Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates clashing.

It will debated for the weeks to come until the next NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as to whom is at fault for the contact. Did Noah Gragson dive in a hole that wasn’t there? Did Todd Gilliland throw a block on his teammate? Regardless, though, the outcome is the same and that falls on the shoulders of Gragson.

Gragson is one of the eight drivers in the playoffs this season, and just cost himself seven points falling from second to ninth with the spin. If he misses the Round of 6 by that margin, he will look back on this day with regret. Sure, it’s win and you’re win to the next round, but being smart and scoring as many points as possible is just as important to move forward. He had already gotten 20 points via winning stages, and running ahead of all his playoff contenders would have lent him a nice gap moving to the next two races. 

Furthermore, it’s one thing to get into a fellow driver, but it’s another to get into a fellow teammate. The other competitor you can just avoid and apologize without much fault, but now you have to face Gilliland on Monday at the shop, along with the crew members from both teams. Everybody on both teams poured everything into preparing two fast Toyota Tundras as they were clearly the class of the field, to see all of their hard work go up in flames in a split second.

Should we also mention that their third teammate Harrison Burton spun in the chaos as well? Oh to be a fly on the wall for the competition meeting in hearing what Kyle Busch has to say. 

The real winner out of this deal is Justin Haley, as he scored the victory to lock himself into the next round of the playoffs. Not originally discussed with the likes of Gragson, Johnny Sauter and Brett Moffitt as someone likely to move forward, he will be able to breath easy going into the next two races. That’s really important when you consider Talladega Superspeedway is one of those. With no finishes outside of the top-10 including a pair of wins in the late eight races, you may want to keep a closer watch on the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado.

Outside of the debatable last-lap maneuver, the racing was great as always on the road course with battles for position throughout the day, which NASCAR on FOX did the duty of showing correctly. Who knew you could go three-wide down the frontstretch, eh? 

That said, it is worth admitting that there were times the production of the event could be less than desired. Who goes to commercial when there’s six laps to go under green flag conditions?

Okay, so maybe we can let that incident go as technical glitches are bound to happen here and there. But it’s hard to do so when they were other problems during the broadcast, like way too many commercial breaks and failing to come back in time to catch a late-race restart. Normally NASCAR on FOX does a good job at producing the truck races, so hopefully this is fixed for the final stretch.

The other side is thanks to NASCAR.com for airing a live stream of the event via their website for Canadians who may not get Fox Sports 1. With only a few cable providers carrying the specialty channel under the name FOX Sports Racing, the majority of fans often get left out north of the border in seeing some of the best action in NASCAR. Often, they have to illegally stream the event.

Hopefully seeing the numbers from the event will finally encourage TSN to carry all three of NASCAR’s premiere series, and not just the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series alongside the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. That, or maybe we can get the rest of the cable providers to jump on-board in carrying the channel. Comwave, you’re next!

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Justin Haley Steals Intense Truck Series Playoffs Opener at Mosport

BOWMANVILLE, Ont. — The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series made the annual trip to Canada to open up their 2018 Playoffs at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Despite missing the playoffs, Todd Gilliland seemed almost destined to win his first career truck series race Sunday at CTMP. Taking the lead on Lap 54 from Johnny Sauter, it was smooth sailing for Gilliland, until a late-race caution set up a thrilling NASCAR Overtime battle with his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate and playoff driver Noah Gragson. Gragson, who won both previous stages, dove to pass Gilliland in the final turn.

In similar shades to the move made by Chase Elliott in the 2013 race, the contact sent both Gragson and Gilliland spinning. The two trucks blocked the racetrack, causing a massive pile up coming to the checkered flag. The ensuing carnage allowed fellow playoff driver Justin Haley to sneak through the wreckage and lock in his Round of 6 spot with a win in the Chevrolet Silverado 250.

The 19-year-old driver from Winamac, Indiana lead only a single lap all race long and it proved to be the most important one. With this victory, Haley claims his second checkered flag of the 2018 season.

“We were just in the right place at the right time” said Haley celebrating in Victory Lane. “I can’t thank everyone at GMS Racing enough; it was a truly blessed day.”

Haley also becomes the sixth different winner in as many races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and scores GMS Racing’s first win at the historic 2.459-mile road course.

A visibly dejected Gilliland expressed his anger towards his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate following the contact in Turn 10.

“I should have never let him get to me,” Gilliland said. “We should have given him the inside. We had the fastest truck and we didn’t win again.”

Gragson took immediate responsibility for the contact in the final corner, apologizing profusely to his teammate.

“That was on me,” said Gragson. “I was racing for the win.”

“I apologize to Todd, the No. 4 team and everyone at KBM. I was expecting a little more room on the bottom and we made contact. Again I want to apologize to everyone on that 4 team, that was on me.”

Following the intense finish at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Haley locks himself into the Round of 6 continuing his hunt for the 2018 NASCAR Camping Truck Series championship. The Round of 6 begins October 27 at Martinsville Speedway.

“This is what we came to do,” Haley added. “This is road course racing and now we are really looking forward to Vegas. Mission accomplished.”

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action Friday, September 14 for the second race in the playoffs, the World of Westgate 200 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Ben Rhodes is the defending winner.