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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

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.

Categories
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway

Anybody remember the Powershares QQQ 300 from February? The second verse produced by Daytona International Speedway with the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 was just as memorable.

The race started off exciting with the field remaining side-by-side for the first half of the first stage, though the second half failed to produce with a single-file train to the checkered. The following stage was the opposite as no much passing to begin, but the race to the end had a thrilling battle between Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott.

However, the battle to the end of the event was even better than that. 

Sure, the event produced it’s familiar big wreck with 19 laps to go, and that included Austin Cindric going for a small barrel roll on the turn one banking. But we’ve grown used to that on the restrictor plate tracks due to how close the field is. Thankfully, all the drivers involved were okay. This, combined with two more smaller cautions, set-up a late-race run to the checkered – which saw everything you’d expect. 

Larson and Elliott Sadler were set to battle side-by-side right to the checkered, each nosing ahead at different times through the overtime finish. Ultimately, they will go down as having one of the closest finishes in series history according to the record books, separated by 0.005 seconds at the line.

Now, let’s discuss Justin Haley. As the pair traded blows, Haley got a run off of turn four and used to that his advantage, beating the pair back to the line. However, there was a problem with his move – he dipped below the yellow line.

To prevent drivers from racing down on the apron and back up on the track for safety concerns, NASCAR has a double-yellow line rule, which states “when the vehicle’s left side tires are beneath the left line of the inside double yellow lines that separates the apron from the racing surface while passing another vehicle,” a competitor is penalized in violation – unless they are forced under.

With a whole car-width between himself and Sadler, it is clear that Haley wasn’t forced below with his move. The replay also shows him nosing ahead as his left side tires are below the first of the two yellow lines to the left of his No. 24 Chevrolet.

If he would’ve remained on the surface, Haley could’ve had his first career victory. Instead, he gets credited with an 18th-place finish. Certainly a disappointing situation, but he did take it in stride and that is to be applauded given his youth. 

For Sadler, it marks his second straight Daytona runner-up by a mere bumper as he looks for his first series victory since September 2016 at Kentucky Speedway. As the current points leader, it’s clear that he has the consistency to contend for the championship. However, a victory would really solidify his chances against competition like Justin Allgaier and Christopher Bell.

Oh, and there’s another rule that could be analyzed as drivers aren’t supposed to lock bumpers. However, there were plenty of times that competitors got close to each other and there was no call made by the sanctioning body. Recall Haley’s tweet from February.

The NASCAR XFINITY Series can produce some of the best restrictor plate racing as witnessed with each of their three events this year. It’s a shame that both Daytona events have been filled with controversy and will be remembered that way instead.

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

ASHLEY ASKS…… Justin Haley

Running up front during the NextEra Energy Resources 250, Justin Haley got his 2018 campaign off to a good note with a runner-up finish behind GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter.

Entering his second full year of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition, the 18-year-old shared his thoughts with POPULAR SPEED.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts entering the season?

JUSTIN HALEY: I think this season will be pretty good to us. Obviously, last year was kind of a learning experience – not with me and Kevin (Bellicourt) as we worked together before, but it was still a new partnership with GMS, and everything like that. Going into this year, we had a lot of success late last season – some good podium finishes, so looking forward to it.

PS: What are your goals and expectations?

JH: I think going into the season, like any season, you want to win the championship. I don’t know if we can necessarily say win the championship, but I think there’s no reason we can’t contend as we’re with one of the more dominant teams. I think we’ve grown as an organization at GMS, and the (No.) 24 team has grown within that. If we don’t make it in the final four at the end of the season, I’m going to be pretty disappointed in our effort. So that’s kind of my expectation.

PS: What track are you most excited for?

JH: I always look forward to the superspeedways just because it’s such a different type of racing. But, it’s always good to get back to the road courses. I’ve got some really good background in road course racing. I was in contention in Canada last year, but had a bad pit stop. We were also pretty good at the intermediates, too. I think last year we struggled quite a bit on short tracks as GMS as a whole, but I think Johnny and Kaz (Grala) and everyone last year found some stuff late in the season. As long as we keep sharing information like we did last year, there’s no reason we can’t win at any type of race track.

PS: You’ve got some new faces at GMS. What are your thoughts in working with your new teammates?

JH: I’ve actually been teammates with every single one of them, somehow someway. I was with Cody Coughlin in 2015, teammates in the ARCA Racing Series. Then in 2016, I was teammates with – maybe 2015, I don’t even know, but teammates with Dalton Sargeant in the K&N Pro Series. Obviously, Sauter was with me last year. So I’ve worked with all of them, some way or another. The crew chiefs will be the same, too.

I think we’ll be great working together. Mike Beam, the general manager, creates a good atmosphere and we all work together well. We’ve had meetings with drivers, crew chiefs, and engineers together to talk about forming as a Daytona, especially with our technical alliance with Niece Motorsports.

PS: If you could break through for your first career victory, what would that mean to you?

JH: It’d mean a lot. Obviously, I didn’t even know growing up as a kid that I would be racing in the Camping World Truck Series, for one. We would always work on my go-karts, and one day I was walking home from the shop and I said, “I just want to start one truck race. If I could start one, that’ll be it; I’ll be happy.” Then I started the one truck race at Bristol on my mom’s birthday in 2015 in the Great Clips truck for Braun. So to get that first win, it’d be a tribute back to her. Everyone in my family has put a lot into this to help me progress my career to get to this point.

PS: What was the biggest thing you learned last year you’re carrying into this year?

JH: There’s so much that I learned last year that it’s kind of hard to pinpoint one thing. But I’ve always had pretty good strategy last year. So I think going into this year, it’s just about the big picture. Obviously, you can get riled up or mad easily if stuff doesn’t go our way. At the end of the day, you have to keep the big picture in mind and continue working towards getting to the final four. We just need to keep our heads down and focus so we can be there.

PS: With having been through the stage racing for a year, does it change your strategy for this year?

JH: I think me and Kevin Bellicourt have worked pretty good over there. We’re both young guys and hungry. Having that background, I think what we have going right now is good. We’ve been building good trucks, innovating, making better speed. We had a good Charlotte test and figured some stuff out. I think we’re going to be really good this year.

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

Haley, Sargeant and Gragson Announce Truck Series Plans

Although the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series silly season has been quiet thus far, it seems business is starting to pick up as the opening event of 2018 looms at Daytona International Speedway. Three more drivers confirmed their plans over the weekend, setting up for a strong field when the first green flag flies.

Haley Returns to GMS Racing

GMS Racing confirmed on Monday that Justin Haley will drive the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado once again in 2018. He will have primary sponsorship from Fraternal Order of Eagles.

“We found a lot of success toward the end of the 2017 season, so there’s a good amount of momentum that we can carry over into this year,” said Haley. “The No. 24 team is working hard in the off-season to take us to that next level, to be able to keep running up front and improving week to week. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be competing for a championship when we get to Miami, and I couldn’t be more excited to be heading in that direction with GMS and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.”

The 18-year-old was strong last season, scoring three top-fives and 12 top-10’s in 21 races, while capturing his first career pole at Texas Motor Speedway. He will once again have Kevin Bellicourt calling the shots on the pit box.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the work that not only this team has done, but that Justin has put in over the off-season,” said Bellicourt. “From working in the gym to time on the simulator, he’s focused on getting himself prepared to make a run for the title. The team has put everything we’ve got behind him and we’ve watched him do the same. It feels like all the pieces are coming together at the right time.”

Sargeant Joins GMS Racing

Matthew T. Thacker NKP

GMS Racing will also expand their organization in 2018, as they signed Dalton Sargeant to drive the No. 25 Chevrolet Silverado. 

The 19-year-old has shown speed the past couple of years in both the ARCA Racing Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Over the past two years, he has scored four ARCA wins and scored a runner-up in the 2017 year-end standings. He has also made 18 K&N Pro Series starts in both the East and West combined, scoring a win and 10 top-five finishes. Sargeant was part of the 2015 NASCAR Next Class. 

“I’m really excited to be joining a championship-caliber team in GMS Racing for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season,” said Sargeant. “Mike Beam and everyone at GMS Racing has put so much effort into this No. 25 team during the off-season and I can’t thank them enough for this opportunity. GMS Racing has put together an all-star team of people and equipment, plus had faith in me to drive and compete for wins. I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish in 2018. It’s always been a dream and a goal to compete at this level in NASCAR. I left a career and a life in Europe to compete against the best in NASCAR and today is that day. We have a full slate of things coming up as a team and I know we’re all really looking forward to getting on the track and beginning the season.”

He will enter this season with four truck series starts under his belt, including a pair of top-10 finishes. 

GMS Racing also announced that Doug Randolph joins the organization and will call the shots for Sargeant in 2018.

“I can’t thank Mike Beam and GMS Racing enough for the opportunity to lead this race team in 2018,” said Doug Randolph. “I met Mike on my first job in racing as a mechanic for Junior Johnson’s team in 1982. We’ve worked together many times throughout our careers and have stayed friends along the way. He and Maury Gallagher have certainly given us all the resources we need to win races and championships. I’ve watched Dalton progress in his career for a while now. He’s been impressive and won in everything he’s driven, against tough competition for years. I’ve taken a lot of pride into developing drivers over the years, and the opportunity to work with Dalton at a race team like GMS Racing is something that I’m excited to be a part of.”

Gragson Returns to KBM

John K Harrelson NKP

After a successful rookie campaign in the Truck Series, Noah Gragson will once again drive the No. 18 Tundra in 2018 for Kyle Busch Motorsports, featuring sponsorship from Safelite AutoGlass. 

“This year is already off to a great start knowing that I’ll be back at Kyle Busch Motorsports to compete for a Truck Series championship in 2018 with Safelite as the primary sponsor on my No. 18 Tundra,” Gragson said. “Having Kyle as a mentor and the technology that Toyota and TRD have in place for young drivers allowed me to learn a lot in my first full-time season in trucks, and I know that I’m better prepared to start 2018 off strong. I was able to get my first taste of victory late last year and it was special. This year I plan on climbing more fences and celebrating more wins with everyone at Safelite.”

Last year, the Las Vegas native placed 10th in the year-end standings with 13 top-10 finishes, highlighted by his first career series victory at Martinsville Speedway. 

“Noah showed continuous improvement in 2017 winning a couple of poles in the first half of the season, and in the second half of the season putting whole races together,” team owner Kyle Busch said. “He was able to showcase his potential late in the year winning in the Super Late Model at Winchester and followed that up with a Truck Series victory at Martinsville a few weeks later. His progress was similar to Christopher’s (Bell) at the end of 2016, and we’re confident now that Noah has a year of experience in the trucks under his belt, he will be able to win more races and compete for a championship this year. Harrison also made great strides during his six-race schedule in 2017 and we look forward to being a part of his continued development as he returns for an expanded part-time schedule at KBM in 2018.”

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

ASHLEY ASKS……..Justin Haley

18-year-old Justin Haley is having a solid rookie season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, currently riding a streak of four straight top-10 finishes, highlighted by a season-best sixth at Texas Motor Speedway.

The GMS Racing driver took some time to speak with Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin about his thoughts on the year so far.

 

POPULAR SPEED: How would you characterize your season so far?

JUSTIN HALEY: We struggled at first – me and my crew chief (Kevin Bellicourt); it was a new pairing, so we had to get used to each other. So NASCAR doesn’t let us test a lot anymore so it’s not like we could go out and test, and work with each other; we just dove in head first. I think as time has gone on, we’ve gotten better together and working really well now, and run well good. I think we just need a little bit more out of the truck and keep learning each week to continue improving.

PS: Where do you feel your team needs to improve?

JH: I feel like they’re set-up really well, but we just have to keep pushing more. We have very good horsepower with Hendrick (Motorsports) and bodies, so it’s just continuing to get better. Through continuing to spend time in the wind tunnel, and stuff like that – any little thing we can attack, because in the long run, every little thing adds up into one more big speed improvement. I think we’re very close. We’re obviously very fast, but we need a little bit more to go up there and run with the fast guys. 

PS: What’s been the biggest surprise for you as a rookie?

JH: I think it’s been the air – that and how aggressive everybody runs in the truck series. Like, the K&N was pretty mellow and a lot of short track racing. Then you move up to big tracks, and they talk about air all the time. People can tell you and warn you all the wise, but till you feel it and how the air moves the truck around and how little control you have of it, it’s pretty different. So getting used to that on the mile and halves have been something that I am still working on to this day, and will be awhile. But yeah, that and restarts are crazy because they’re the only time to gain track position as once we get single file, you can’t pass due to the aero. You have to be on each restart.

PS: Are there any tracks coming up that you are excited for more so than others?

JH: I feel like I go into every weekend confident, unless it’s a mile and a half. Obviously, I’m a road course racer so obviously going to Canada here is going to help. Then I grew up racing dirt, so maybe I’ll have a chance at Eldora. But you know, there’s tracks here and there that I favor over other tracks. Like, I feel I’m really good at Phoenix; we’ve always run really good there. So you know, I feel every week we’ll be alright. 

PS: So with running on dirt growing up, what was it like transitioning to asphalt?

JH: It wasn’t really that bad because I started my career in quarter midgets on asphalt, and then kind of did some sprint car stuff. Then while I was doing sprint car stuff, I was also doing stock car stuff. So it wasn’t like I ever ran dirt for a long period of time without asphalt. It really that doesn’t big a change.

But I feel like it’s helped me because I can go on dirt on a Wednesday, and then come back and be alright on asphalt. So it’s just knowing the limits and having the control of the car or truck. 

PS: Which one of your GMS teammates have you leaned on the most for advice?

JH: I have leaned on Johnny (Sauter), more than I probably should have. I probably bug him too much; he’s probably getting mad at me. But obviously, he’s doing this for longer than I’ve been alive. So I go over there and he’s been an open book with me. He’ll shoot me straight and tell me if I’m doing it right, or if I’m completely not doing it right at all. I’ve enjoyed working with Johnny and Kaz (Grala) over here in the truck series, and Spencer (Gallagher) is a lot of help too.

I like how GMS is. It’s pretty open book. Everybody shares set-ups and everything is open book, so you can always lean on someone. It’s very friendly, almost like a family.

Haley will look to keep the momentum rolling when the truck series heads to Kentucky Speedway on July 6.

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

Justin Haley Set to Join GMS Racing in 2017

A busy off-season continued for GMS Racing on Friday as they announced reigning K&N Pro Series East champion Justin Haley will drive the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado in the Camping World Truck Series next season beginning at Martinsville Speedway.

Haley, an Indiana native, began his racing career at nine years old, has won in quarter midgets, micro sprints, the CRA Late Model Sportsman Series, JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour, ARCA Racing Series, and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

2016 was a banner year for the 17 – year – old as he scored his first career KNPSE win at Greenville – Pickens Speedway and later on last season he scored his second career win at Columbus Motor Speedway. With only one finish outside the top five all season, Haley claimed the series championship by a 22 point margin.

“I’m so excited and thankful for this opportunity with GMS Racing. The past few years in K&N has been an effort to get to the next step in my career and I don’t think we could have done any better than joining GMS, especially at this point in time,” expressed Haley. “Everyone knows what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last year and it’s that type of consistency and drive that every driver wants to see when making a decision like this. Kevin Bellicourt coming on for 2017 is one of the most exciting parts of this deal. He’s had a lot of success with young drivers and I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish.”

Haley’s rookie campaign will be directed by Kevin Bellicourt, who worked with Ben Rhodes and ThorSport Racing last season. Bellicourt was also the crew chief for William Byron’s 2015 KNPSE championship run.

“There are a lot of great things happening at GMS Racing,” said Bellicourt. “It’s one thing to watch the progress and success from a distance, but to now be a part of what is coming together is a completely different experience and I’m thankful for chance to be here. Justin is a great driver, who has had a lot of success fast, but he has handled it like a driver who has been doing this for years. I’m excited to see what he’s able to do once we get him in the No. 24.”

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

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
News

Justin Haley Leads Consistent Season to K&N Pro East Championship

HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks has proven they know what they’re doing in the K&N Pro East Series. Coming into this year, they had won the past three series champions with Dylan Kwasniewski (2013), Ben Rhodes (2014) and William Byron (2015).

They are now four-time champions as Justin Haley finished fourth at Dover International Speedway this past weekend to put capture the 2016 K&N Pro East Series Championship by 22 points over Kyle Benjamin.

“It was a really good season we had with the HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks guys,” Haley told POPULAR SPEED. “We were always fortunate to bring fast cars to the race track every week – really reliable. That’s a testament back to all the guys there, and my crew chief Shannon Rursch. We had a little bit of luck on our side to not have any flat tires on the track or anything like that, but it was a really good season.

“We were really consistent. It was almost a season that you always dream of, but never had. I’m just very blessed to go out and run like we did.”

Consistency was certainly the key for the 17-year-old as he finished inside the top-nine in each of the 14 races with only one finish outside of the top-five. The signs were there for success this season based on a solid campaign last season which saw Haley finish sixth in points with six top-five finishes. Though he says the difference this year was his new crew chief, Shannon Rursch.

“He just gave me so much confidence on and off the track,” Haley stated. “I feel like he’s been a major help to our success and just having that confidence helps in getting those results.”

With confidence through Rursch and from having experience on his side, the success was able to come and the signs of possibly being a champion this year were shown with his first career victory at Greenville Pickens.

“We came so close so many times in 2015 and we were bringing better equipment to the track in 2016 so I knew we had a better shot at winning,” Haley said. “But just finally getting that win and breaking the ice showed to me that we can go do this, compete for a championship and compete for wins each week.”

With the championship in hand, the focus starts to shift to the future and possibly running in the Camping World Truck Series or XFINITY Series. Haley has gotten a taste of the trucks, running six races over the past two years with a career-best finish of seventh at Phoenix International Raceway in 2015. As of right now, Haley admits there’s nothing on the table.

“We’re trying to work something out and taking it day-by-day and trying to piece together something,” he said.

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.