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NASCAR Cup Series

Chastain lands big opportunity with Ganassi

After a busy 2019 saw him compete in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions, Ross Chastain will start of the 2020 campaign with another double-duty effort.

It was announced Thursday that Chastain will drive the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports for the Daytona 500 in a car that will be prepared by Chip Ganassi Racing with AdventHealth serving as the primary sponsor.

The deal bears a resemblance to the deal between Spire and CGR last season when Jamie McMurray ran the Daytona 500; however, Chastain’s opportunity will span two races as they will come together again for the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

“To have the opportunity to run the DAYTONA 500 is awesome, and it’s great to do it this year with AdventHealth on board my car,” Chastain said in a press release. “I’ve only had one start in the DAYTONA 500, and can’t wait to run that race again in what I know will be a competitive car. I’m also looking forward to racing the Coca-Cola 600. That’s another iconic race that all of us want to win.”

The move also serves as a reunion of sorts of Chastain and CGR who came together during the 2018 season for three races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where Chastain captures his first win and earned himself a contract with the team.

Unfortunately, that did not include any races last season though due to lack of sponsorship with DC Solar filing for bankruptsy.

It’s no secret that Chastain made the most of a bad break though, as he captured wins in Xfinity and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, and even brought his Niece Motorsports’ truck all the way through to the Championship 4.

Now this opportunity is Chastain’s biggest yet, though.

Some people may be thrown off by the Spire Motorsports label associated with the ride, but this is without a doubt his best opportunity yet in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Rewind back to the Xfinity races at Daytona International Speedway last season, where Chastain ran strong in both races with Kaulig Racing, winning the summer race. While it may be NASCAR’s second-tier series, Chastain proved to be a quality superspeedway driver.

Now, he’ll be in even better equipment in the sport’s biggest race of the season with CGR.

Chastain himself he knows that this will be a competitive car that will give him a chance to steal a win, which could lead to bigger and better things as after all, Chip Ganassi likes winners.

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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Trucks

GOOD & BAD: 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Season

Another year of NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series competition is in the books, with a familiar sight as Matt Crafton was crowned the series champion. Along the way, though, there were some highlights and low lights to consider from the action on-track all year.

Although I was unable to watch all of the races, let’s take a look back at the good and the bad.

GOOD: Through the years, the trucks have earned the reputation of putting on the best shows of the weekend with the right race package being put together. That did not change in 2019 as there were certainly many events where they out-shined both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 

ISM Raceway was one of those weekends, for example. The Cup Series semi-final saw great racing on the restarts with drivers all over the surface, but they seemed to spread apart once the green flag had been flying for awhile. In contrast, the truck series long green-flag runs brought forth close fights for positions, including for the lead in the late stages between Stewart Friesen and Brandon Jones.

BAD: The ideology that the traction compound can fix anything as it seemed each weekend, officials were trying to lay that sticky stuff where they felt it could improve the racing. Instead of using a manufactured substance, why don’t we get back to basics and actually fix the issue?

ISM Raceway tried to apply it in the higher groove for their event, and for the most part, drivers avoided it. Mind you, Sheldon Creed showed a bit of promise with a couple strong runs off the corner, it did not seem to make a difference in the type of battles witnessed. So why bother?

Furthermore, the substance can be tricky especially if it is not worked in properly. Both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott experienced that the hard way last week in the Cup Series, sliding it sideways and making contact with the wall. Now imagine if something like that happens to take a driver out of contention for the Championship 4 either tomorrow or Sunday. There’d be certainly tons of backlash from fans, considering we’ve proven it’s not a necessary for ISM Raceway. Do you really want to risk that? 

GOOD: Thank you for the pair of ThorSport Racing teammates not listening to what the commentators in the booth were saying.

As the ISM event neared conclusion, Matt Crafton ran behind a pair of his ThorSport teammates sitting just six points above the cutline. Both the No. 88 truck crew chief Carl Joiner and NASCAR on FOX’s analysts Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons expected both Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger to lay over and allow Crafton go by. Despite the constant complains by the booth through the final laps of the event, they did the right thing running their race.

If Crafton was sitting was in jeopardy of being above the cutline and needed those two points, then certainly it would be nice to see his teammates work with him. However, he was safe where he was racing them for position so it was not a necessity for them to give up ground in their own race for his sake. Let’s say that they let him go by and then a late race caution comes out to set-up a restart. How would they feel restarting further back than intended?

The unique factor in NASCAR is watching drivers compete every single lap against each other as hard as they can – despite being teammates. The day that team orders become a thing is the day that you ruin the utmost important rule of racing in competition.

BAD: It’s been discussed many times before, and yet nothing has been done about it. Initial green flag and restart rule procedures need to be adjusted.

As the field came to the green flag for the Lucas Oil 150 at ISM, Friesen would beat pole sitter Austin Hill to the line, enabling a penalty from NASCAR for jumping the start. However, Friesen did not get into the throttle before the leader, rather laying off to try and avoid, except Hill spun his tires causing a slower start. How is it fair for a competitor to get penalized for another driver’s mistake?

NASCAR is famously known for inconsistency with race calls, and certainly has made some highly visible mistakes through the years. However, they are always looking for ways to improve and that was shown with an adjustment to pit road and where tires can be throughout a stop, whether in arm’s length of a crew member or not.

It’s time for them to take another glance at this rule and perhaps include a judgment aspect that if the leader spins the tires, then the penalty is waved for the second-place car jumping. Sure, it adds a layer that nobody wants to be sitting and deciding, but that’s the nature of the game as proven by the yellow line rule and judging whether a driver was pushed below or not. 

GOOD: It’s Bristol Baby” is a famous tagline that has been heard through the years, due to the track’s reputation. It was nice to see the Truck Series bring back some of that old flare. Throughout the entire UNOH 200, the playoff drivers were mixing it up with not only each other, but their fellow competitors on the track. Nobody appeared to be giving each other an inch, with bumps being traded throughout the field, and some going around as a result. 

The fans have been asking for the old Bristol to come back, and if this event is any indication, they got their wish. It’s easy to see why they wanted the bottom groove to be prime real estate as sparks flew, with drama throughout the night. Certainly the drivers who grew up running tracks of this style with a rough edge to their driving enjoy it. Just ask Ross Chastain.

“That’s what built this place,” he said. “You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”

GOOD: The trucks always put on some of the craziest restrictor plate racing, and the NextEra Energy Resources 250 was no exception. Throughout the event, from the drop of the initial green flag to the end, there was side-by-side racing as drivers jockeyed for positions, sometimes even three-wide.

Over the course of Daytona Speedweeks, fans have practically begged for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers to stop running single file up against the wall as we saw in both the Advance Auto Parts Clash and the Gander RV Duels.

However, patience was the name of the game as drivers solely wanted to go to the event of the with a car, and  on the case Thursday, save their equipment for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500. There’s no time for that in the trucks as stage points are given out on two different occasions, and the race is only 100 laps total in length. Combined with a lot of youthful drivers eager to prove themselves, riding along doesn’t happen. 

BAD: There is a price to pay with what we saw happen, though, as the truck series only had nine drivers complete the race out of the 32 who took the green flag. The constant battling for position resulted in several wrecks, with 11 cautions taking happening. Oddly enough, more than half of the event was run under the yellow flag (55 laps).

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: UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway

There’s always talk about the action picking up when it is playoff time, and that is certainly appearing to be the case in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series as they started off their post-season with a bang.

Throughout the entire UNOH 200, the playoff drivers were mixing it up with not only each other, but their fellow competitors on the track. Nobody appeared to be giving each other an inch, with bumps being traded throughout the field, and some going around as a result. 

The fans have been asking for the old Bristol to come back, and if Thursday night is any indication, they got their wish. It’s easy to see why they wanted the bottom groove to be prime real estate as sparks flew, with drama throughout the night.

Certainly the drivers who grew up running tracks of this style with a rough edge to their driving enjoy it. Just ask Ross Chastain.

“That’s what built this place,” he said. “You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”

He certainly made true on that promise, certainly throwing his elbows up each time he got the chance. He ran up inside the top-five from the drop of the green flag until the pit crew was deemed for “too many men over the wall.” Restarting at the tail of the field, he made his way up through the field – aggressively with his fair share of bump and runs for his competitors in the process, ultimately spinning Raphael Lessard.

His driving wasn’t well received post-race, as he was met by a couple crew members of Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“I think the crew chiefs come down here and puff their chests out—they’re old washed-up race car drivers,” Chastain said. “I love Marcus (Richmond) and Rudy (Fugle), but, my goodness, let your drivers come handle it. And one at a time, line ‘em up, and let’s race. And let’s handle it after, outside the race car.”

Chastain’s aggressive nature has been put under the microscope before, with other competitors in the garage area expressing their opinions. It also resulted in Justin Allgaier spinning him in an NASCAR Xfinity Series race following contact. 

Well it’s clear that he knows how to dish it, it could easily come back to bite him. Kyle Busch Motorsports doesn’t have a truck in the playoffs, but they could affect the outcome if they resort to payback for Chastain. It could also easily be someone else.

Does Chastain want his aggressive fellow competitors to be the reason why he doesn’t complete his ultimate Watermelon Man Challenge of winning the championship? 

But rest assured, he is not the only playoff driver in the midst of controversy with Stewart Friesen and Matt Crafton trading jabs at each other during the event. Both competitors finished in the top-10, and talked about their differences following the event. Experience tells them to make sure feuds are put to bed, right?

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
News

Ross Chastain cruises to third victory as Truck Series Playoff race tightens

Ross Chastain made it look easy on Saturday at Pocono Raceway, but the battle for Playoff spots intensified dramatically in the Gander RV 150 at the 2.5-mile triangular track.

Pitting early near the end of Stage 2 in the 60-lap NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, Chastain regained the lead on Lap 33 and held it the rest of the way, beating surging 18-year-old Tyler Ankrum to the finish line by 1.007 seconds.

Stage 2 winner Harrison Burton charged from 10th to third during the closing 26-lap green-flag run and made a statement where the Playoffs are concerned.

Burton, 18, posted his fourth top-five in a span of five races and closed significant ground on Canadian Stewart Friesen, who self-destructed on the first lap. Burton trails Friesen by 13 points for the final Playoff position with two races left in the regular season.

But no one was a match for Chastain, who won the first stage with ease on the way to his third victory of the season and reaffirmed his status as one of the clear favorites for the series title. Chastain dedicated his first Pocono win to Kaulig Racing crew chief Nick Harrison, who passed away at age 37 after last Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

“I know we were a little mad because we lost Nick Harrison,” Chastain said. “We realize that everybody goes when it’s their time, but, man, we miss that big boy. These boys (on the Niece Motorsports team), a lot of them worked with him.

“I got to work with him at Kaulig Racing this year. Man, we miss him.

Ankrum punished his No. 17 Toyota in a futile effort to catch Chastain during the closing run.

“Me and Ross were able to run away from the field,” Ankrum said. “I thought I had a good enough truck to chase him down, but I couldn’t get close enough to him to catch the draft. I was just fighting ‘tight,’ and I burned my tires up trying to catch him.”

Short of a victory that would have locked him into a Playoff spot, Burton turned in an optimal performance from the standpoint of the points he gained.

“I wanted to win really bad,” Burton said. “We had a truck that was capable of winning. I think everyone kind of knew that… We were charging at the end, which was a lot of fun. I didn’t expect to be able to do that that well. I thought we were in trouble there on that last restart, but we made a lot of ground up and were really aggressive.

“As far as points, we gained a ton today, which is really, really good.”

The Playoff aspirations of Friesen suffered a major blow before the field cleared the first corner. Moments after the start, Friesen took a low line into Turn 1 and his No. 52 Chevrolet broke loose in the corner, collecting the Toyota of Anthony Alfredo and slamming into the outside wall.

Friesen finished 32nd after failing to complete a lap.

“Got spun around, made contact with the wall,” Friesen said succinctly after leaving the infield care center. “Just a bummer. Got on the apron there and away we went.

“I had a lot of friends and family here today, and I’m really, really disappointed. I wish I could have done more to last a little longer out there, obviously. We’ll be back—it just sucks right now.”

If there’s a silver lining for Friesen, it’s the location of the next race—the half-mile dirt track at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Friesen has more than 900 career starts on dirt in a variety of series and has finished second and third in his last two Eldora races. Burton finished 15th in his only Eldora start two years ago.

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News

Ross Chastain leads podium sweep at Daytona for Kaulig Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kaulig Racing found the key to victory in Saturday night’s Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway, and the team did so in triplicate.

In a wild race that featured five multicar wrecks, hired gun Ross Chastain teammates Justin Haley and AJ Allmendinger across the finish line in a 1-2-3 finish for Kaulig Racing, which collected its first NASCAR victory.

Chastain finished .109 seconds ahead of Haley and .206 ahead of Allmendinger, who made his first NASCAR start since last year and his first-ever Daytona start in a NASCAR Xfinity Series car.

“Oh, my god, we did—Daytona!” exulted Chastain, a watermelon farmer from Florida who continued his roller-coaster ride in NASCAR racing with his first Xfinity victory of the season and the second of his career. “I watched these races in July as a kid, and I never could come (to the track) because we were growing watermelons

“The guys right here (from Kaulig Racing) gave me a car that could win at Daytona!”

Chastain took the lead from series leader Tyler Reddick on Lap 93 of 100 and pulled Haley with him. Allmendinger, who steered his way adroitly through an 11-car incident on the backstretch on Lap 87, worked his way forward after a restart on Lap 91 and picked off fifth-place finisher Austin Cindric and fourth-place Christopher Bell to put an exclamation point on the first win for team owner Matt Kaulig.

“I’m so pumped to be a part of Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger said. “Of course, you want to be the driver that tries to get the win, but there’s nothing cooler than being a 1-2-3, and I just can’t thank Matt Kaulig enough.

“When I got to fifth, I wanted to make it a Chevy 1-2-3, and all I cared about was getting to third. Once I got there, I wasn’t ever going to do anything. I just wanted to get there and have that cool photo coming across the start/finish line of a Kaulig Racing 1-2-3.”

For Haley, the race was a redemption of sorts for last year’s event, when he crossed the finish line first but was demoted for passing below the double yellow line approaching the flag stand.

“After last year at Daytona, finishing second here is pretty cool,” Haley said. “To have a 1-2-3 finish is absolutely incredible for us.”

A race that was a pinnacle for Kaulig Racing took its toll on a number of heavyweight teams. Bell survived late contact with Michael Annett to run fourth and trails Reddick by 77 points. Reddick had to pit with a flat tire after losing the lead to Chastain on Lap 93.

But four-time winner Cole Custer caught pieces of three different wrecks, the last of which (on Lap 87) totaled his No. 00 Ford and relegated him to 27th place.

“That was terrible,” Custer said. “It’s just speedway racing. I just have never been good at it, I guess. I always get caught up in the wrecks, so I don’t know.”

In a race that started two hours late because of rain and was red-flagged for 17 minutes 45 seconds after the Lap 87 pileup, Justin Allgaier also had an evening full of contact. His last incident came on Lap 92, when he spun after contact from Allmendinger’s No. 10 Chevrolet. Allgaier finished 18th, a lap down.

But the big winner was Chastain, who lost his Xfinity ride with Chip Ganassi Racing when his sponsored folded in the offseason. Opting in midseason to run for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship, Chastain lost a victory on a disqualification at Iowa, only to win at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois in the next event.

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News

Ross Chastain bounces back with Gander Trucks victory at Gateway

Ross Chastain corralled a redemptive victory Saturday night in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, emerging from a late-race restart at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in the final event of the Triple Truck Challenge.

Chastain’s Niece Motorsport No. 45 Chevrolet led 21 of the 160 laps in the CarShield 200, collecting an extra $50,000 payday to round out the three-race Triple Truck Challenge initiative — also known as “The Trip.” He held off the primary challenger Christian Eckes down the stretch, gaining track position from a fuel-only stop on his final trip to pit road.

Chastain’s second victory of the season was his first at the 1.25-mile Gateway track and the second of his Gander Trucks career. He was flagged as the winner last Sunday at Iowa Speedway, but he was disqualified and demoted to a last-place finish after his truck failed post-race inspection. Saturday at the Illinois track, Chastain’s truck was given the all-clear signal with no issues in inspection after the race.

“I didn’t want to take tires and then it was up to me to freakin’ hold ’em off,” Chastain said of the fuel-only stop that left him with worn tires for the final sprint. “I don’t know how, but oohhh, I’m going to take that money home and they’re not taking it from us this time.”

Chastain changed his series eligibility earlier this month, declaring on June 4 that he would compete for Gander Trucks championship points after accruing Xfinity Series points from the start of the season. That left him with zero points halfway through the Gander Trucks’ 16-race regular season and meant that his win in the series’ event at Kansas in May did not count toward the series title race.

The victory checked one requirement for Chastain to qualify for playoff eligibility. The other is a jump into the top 20 in the series’ standings; Saturday’s result unofficially moved him to 26th in the standings.

“I can’t believe it, but I can, man,” said Phil Gould, Chastain’s crew chief. “This is tough bunch. This has been a tough, tough week for this team and everybody involved. To come back and battle back through that adversity, that’s pretty damn awesome.”

Todd Gilliland matched a career-best finish in second, his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 Toyota just .704 seconds behind at the checkered flag. Stewart Friesen, Chandler Smith and Brett Moffitt, last week’s winner, completed the top five in the finishing order. Grant Enfinger swept both stages, leading 52 of the first 72 laps in the ThorSport No. 98 Ford before fading to a sixth-place result.

Myatt Snider took 10th place in a substitute role for the suspended Johnny Sauter in the ThorSport Racing No. 13 Ford. NASCAR competition officials banned Sauter for one race after the veteran rammed rival Austin Hill in last weekend’s event at Iowa Speedway. Snider’s fill-in start was just his third appearance in the Gander Trucks tour this season.

Eckes started from the pole position after inclement weather canceled qualifying. That forced officials to set the lineup according to team owner points, placing Eckes’ Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Toyota in the first starting spot. Eckes led 57 laps, but finished 14th after a final-lap spinout.

The event was full of tributes to longtime Truck Series team owner and St. Louis native Mike Mittler, who died May 10 after a long bout with cancer. Mittler’s family members were invited to the event as pre-race dignitaries, and all race teams stood atop the pit wall on Lap 63 in recognition of Mittler’s long-running truck number.

The track renamed the prize for its annual Gander Trucks race the Mittler Memorial Trophy.

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Trucks

NASCAR was Right to Disqualify Chastain

It was a dominant day turned sour for Ross Chastain, as he became the first driver to be disqualified under the new rules implemented by NASCAR.

Chastain won both stages and led 141 of 200 laps en route to initially capturing his second Gander Outdoors Truck Series win of the season. However, after failing post-race inspection, NASCAR, in controversial fashion, immediately stripped him of the victory  and all points earned from the event due to the truck being too low.

It is an unfortunate ordeal for Chastain, who recently announced he was running for truck series points after starting the season pursing a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. The 26-year-old desperately needed the win and a good day in general to help his chances of making the playoffs.

It is also unfortunate for Niece Motorsports, a team seemingly beginning to find a groove in the sport, who will now face even more pressure to provide equipment capable of winning on a weekly basis.

Most importantly though, it is not the preferred outcome for the fans who watched the event either in-person or on TV who watched one result live, only to be told of a different outcome long after the checkered flag flew, and the television coverage ended. There are likely fans out there that still don’t know Brett Moffitt won his first race of the season.

That being said, NASCAR absolutely made the right call.

For years, drivers and team were able to essentially break the rules, get penalized, but still be declared the “winner,” despite being caught red-handed. Not anymore.

When it was announced that winners had the threat of being stripped of their victory if they were found to be competing with an unfair advantage, it sounded good in theory. However, there was no guarantee that NASCAR was serious until they followed through.

While some may not like it, at the end of the day, Chastain failed the post-race inspection and did not deserve to leave Iowa Speedway with a trophy. NASCAR needed a situation like this to assert their seriousness, and when they got it, those in charge stepped up to the plate and followed through on their word.

Even if Chastain won his appeal and reclaimed his victory, the right call was made Sunday. Teams will always test the boundaries to see what they can and get away with; however, there is now a clear line in the sand as far as possible punishments may go now thanks in part to this ruling.

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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News

Moffitt declared Iowa winner after No. 44 truck fails post-race inspection

The No. 44 Niece Motorsports race-winning truck of Ross Chastain failed post-race inspection at Iowa Speedway and was officially disqualified from Sunday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.

NASCAR officials discovered the No. 44 truck was too low in the front during post-race technical inspection, according to a NASCAR spokesperson. Chastain will not receive credit for the victory and will be scored as earning last-place points for the race. He will lose the points earned from the victory and the seven playoff bonus points as a result.

The second-place finishers in both stages received 10 race points associated with respective stage wins. Matt Crafton has been awarded 10 points and the playoff bonus point for Stage 1, while Ben Rhodes collected the same amount of points for Stage 2.

The team can appeal the penalty in an expedited process up until noon ET on Monday, according to NASCAR.

Brett Moffitt was officially declared the winner of Sunday’s M&M’s 200 at Iowa, earning his first victory of the 2019 season with GMS Racing in his first season with the organization. Moffitt will also collect the $50,000 bonus for the Triple Truck Challenge program. He won this race last season as well.

The post-race process is part of a new, more timely approach to inspection for all three NASCAR national series. Competition officials announced in February that thorough post-race inspections would take place shortly after the checkered flag at the track instead of midweek at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.

Those inspections come with a stiffer deterrence structure that includes disqualification for significant rules infractions — “a total culture change,” according to Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer. In the past, race-winning teams found in violation of the rules were penalized with post-race fines, points deductions and/or suspensions, but victories were allowed to stand.

Competition officials introduced the quicker post-race inspection timetable in an effort to make the results official on race day, aiming for a 90-minute target time frame to complete their scrutineering. The new post-race inspection process was also designed to deal with potential violations more promptly, avoiding any midweek news that might cloud the previous week’s results or the build-up to the following week’s event.

NASCAR will still inspect cars and parts at the R&D Center as needed, but the more comprehensive at-track inspection will take priority.

According to NASCAR statistical archives, the last time a premier series driver was disqualified occurred in 1973, when early retiree Buddy Baker was demoted to last place in the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The last time an apparent race winner in NASCAR’s top division was disqualified came on April 17, 1960, when Emanuel Zervakis’ victory at Wilson (N.C.) Speedway was thrown out because of an oversized fuel tank on his No. 85 Chevrolet.

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News

Chastain captures first Truck Series win as Friesen runs out of fuel in Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Elation and heartbreak were barely more than a lap apart when Ross Chastain took the checkered flag to win Friday night’s Digital Ally 250 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway.

Chastain took the lead on Lap 165 of 167 after Stewart Friesen ran out of fuel — the result of a miscommunication between the driver and crew chief Trip Bruce. Chastain crossed the finish line .483 seconds ahead of runner-up Ben Rhodes to secure his first victory in the series in his 66th start and the first for Niece Motorsports and owner Al Niece.

Friesen, on the other hand, rolled home in 15th, a lap down and a study in frustration as a first victory in the Truck series continued to elude him.

For Chastain, the victory was a welcome vindication after his rags-to-riches-to-rags story of 2018. With superb performances in limited NASCAR Xfinity Series action with Chip Ganassi Racing last year — including a victory at Las Vegas — Chastain earned a full-time ride in Ganassi’s No. 42 Chevrolet for 2019, only to lose it when the team’s sponsorship collapsed.

“Aw, man, this is what sports is all about,” Chastain said, barely able to contain his emotions. “We had the world by the tail last fall, and everything got taken away from us. We didn’t quit, though … I’m going to celebrate this one a lot more than I did the last one.

“I thought, after the last one (in Las Vegas), they were going to come a lot more easy. But it’s not easy … I hate to see Stewie lose one like that. I know he’s been trying to win, but, yes — we got it!”

Friesen came to pit road for his final stop under green on Lap 126 but left his stall after taking right-side tires only on a planned four-tire stop. Though Friesen had a lead of more than five seconds over Grant Enfinger when he got back up to speed, the shortness of the pit stop didn’t allow the crew to fill the fuel cell.

Friesen’s chances looked better when the third-place truck of Brett Moffitt got loose under Enfinger’s Ford and cut Enfinger’s right-rear tire, forcing both trucks to pit road for unscheduled stops. And when the No. 33 Chevrolet of Josh Reaume stopped on the track on Lap 146 to cause the sixth and final caution, Bruce figured Friesen had enough fuel to finish the race.

Within three laps of the checkered flag, however, Friesen ran out.

“It’s been a dream to race at this level and thanks to all the car owners that have given me a chance after all these years,” Friesen said. “I came with nothing but a helmet bag. Just a little miscommunication that we need to work on.

“We just can’t close it. I figured I’d screw up a restart at the end, rather than run out of fuel. They said that we were to the good. I didn’t know we were taking four (tires). I thought for sure we were taking two. Just a lot of silence on the radio. That’s it.”

Notes: With the victory, Chastain extended his streak of top-10 finishes to start the season to seven, all with Niece Motorsports. … Toyota drivers Todd Gilliland, Austin Hill and Brandon Jones finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively. … Pole winner Matt Crafton ran sixth, followed by Enfinger and Moffitt.

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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Strat 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Although the racing was a little more spread out than you’d expect for the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, the same result was seen when the checkered flag was flown in the Strat 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Everybody knows the joy that Kyle Busch gets from winning, and the disappointment he feels with defeat – just look at the frustration in several interviews over the years. So it’s no surprise to see him with a big smile in his face as he celebrated with his own team.

While it’s fun to pad his record book with a career 53rd career victory, there’s actually a method to the madness.

Rudy Fugle told Fox Sports 1 that putting Busch behind the wheel of his own trucks is all about improving them to the program stronger so their young drivers can contend for victories and the championship, making reference to Christian Eckes jumping behind the wheel later this year. While many believe they are where they should be, Fugle reference more work needing to be done to get there. The victory was nice, but Busch fought a tight truck through the night and the team was unable to win the title last year with Noah Gragson.

It goes back to last week, and the expectations that Busch has for the program. When he places a driver in the truck, he expects them to perform. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you may be replaced by the next person in line for the job. Just look at what he said in reference to Todd Gilliland last week.

“Todd (Gilliland) we certainly have to work with him and continue to bring him up and get him filled in on what it takes to be fast at these places,” Busch said. “We’ll hopefully be able to get him places because you know his career is on the line. You don’t get very many chances at this and I’m sure that we’ll hopefully be able to get him going better. He should have run two races last year, no question about it, but obviously it just didn’t happen. He’s got to show up this year and make it happen.

“There were times last year where Todd wrecked every week and we were like dude you got to just slow down, you’ve got to figure out how to finish. To finish first, first you must finish, right?”

Some people may say it is cruel and certainly Busch was criticized for his comments, but it is the nature of business. Sponsors are only going to pay for those who succeed and money is necessary to pay the bills and perform. 

Thus far, both Harrison Burton and Gilliland have scored top-10’s in the last two races, with Burton running as high as second in the late stages last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Though when the action picks back up for the series at Martinsville Speedway, those aren’t the results that KBM is looking for, but rather checkered flags.

Late race heartbreak could be used to describe the nights for small fries Ross Chastain and Jordan Anderson. Both of them were set for respectable finishes given the equipment they were running until running into mechanical issues late. As a result, Chastain failed to finish in the top-10 for the first time this year, while Anderson placed 21st.

Anderson spoke highly of his program entering the year, banking on experience and the alliance with GMS Racing to bring him further up the grid to a solid top-20, possible top-10 performer. He was able to finish 19th at Atlanta last weekend after getting crashed out at Daytona. 

If you’re looking for an underdog to follow this year, the No. 3 Chevrolet Silverado is exactly that as Anderson is impressing as he enters his second season of doing things on his own, and slowly building his team. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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