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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.

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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway

There’s a reason why ISM Raceway is known as the crown jewel in the desert, and that was on full display Friday night.

The NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series put on a great event as they set their Championship 4 for the playoffs in 2019. The unique track layout allotted for drivers to battle all the way around the speedway, sometimes even four-wide at times with different wide lanes being taken through the frontstretch dogleg. Though it was not just restarts producing solid competition, as the long green-flag runs brought forth close fights for positions, including for the lead in the late stages between Stewart Friesen and Brandon Jones.

The Truck Series has proven to put on the best shows of the weekend with the right race package being put together. However, unlike other weekends where you would be letdown the further you got from Friday, you should expect the same great racing to continue with the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series the next two days.

Traction Compound

ISM Raceway has always been known as a place for great racing everywhere, so the thought of adding a traction compound to the speedway asks several questions. Like, is this really necessary?

For the most part, the higher groove where it was applied was not used throughout the night, except by a couple drivers. Although 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? 

Something Needs to Change

As the field came to the green flag, 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. 

Teammate Etiquette

As the race 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.

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

Stewart Friesen wins at Phoenix as Gander Trucks Championship 4 set

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Stewart Friesen thought he had led the first lap of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

He was wrong.

After suffering a penalty for jumping the start of the race, however, Friesen rallied to lead the lap that counted most — the last one — and secured a spot in next weekend’s Championship 4 race with the second NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory of the season and his career.

“We’ve got a badass piece for next week, too,” promised Friesen, who will try for the title next Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Friesen will have to contend with defending series champion Brett Moffitt, who locked himself into the Championship 4 after finishing ninth in the second stage of Friday night’s race.

Ross Chastain also gained a berth in the title race with a 14-place finish, and two-time series champion Matt Crafton claimed the final spot after finishing sixth — and edging pole winner Austin Hill (13th) — by six points for the final spot.

After the fifth and final caution of the evening for a wreck in Turn 3 involving Sam Mayer and John Hunter Nemechek, Friesen charged into the lead before past Brandon Jones and Ben Rhodes and led the final 44 circuits.

It was no cakewalk, though. With five laps left, Jones made a last-ditch run to the inside of Friesen but couldn’t get past the No. 52 Chevrolet. Friesen pulled away on the last two laps to beat Jones to the finish line by .860 seconds.

“It was a great race car,” said Friesen, who was sent to the rear of the field after getting to the stripe ahead of Hill, who spun his tires on the initial start. “We were able to pass ‘em all, pass ‘em all clean,” said Friesen.

“Great race car, great race team. We’ll all celebrate tomorrow, and then it’s game on.”

Moffitt came to Phoenix with the series lead and was first to clinch a spot in the final race. But the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet, who won last year’s championship driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises, had two objectives on Friday.

My main concern for the day was getting us locked into the owner points as well,” Moffitt said. “We got both jobs done today.”

Chastain finished with a 13-point margin over Hill, who lost ground to Crafton on the Lap 107 restart and never recovered. Chastain didn’t declare for the Truck Series championship until nine races into the season but qualified for the Championship 4 nevertheless.

“Man, this is crazy — a dream come true though,” Chastain said.

Crafton came to Phoenix nine points behind Hill but made up most of the deficit with 17 points combined in the first two stages.

“I didn’t have anything to lose and everything to gain,” Crafton said. “And that’s the way I drove it from the green flag to the checkered flag.”

Hill joined fellow Toyota driver Tyler Ankrum on the sidelines for the final race. Ankrum suffered early damage and finished 26th, six laps down. Hill simply didn’t have any juice on the restarts.

“We just didn’t have any short-run speed,” Hill said. “I hate it for my guys. I just couldn’t do anything on the restarts. The front end would slide, the rear would slide, and during that last long green-flag run, it was terrible.

“I hate that we finished where we did, especially after qualifying from the pole. I definitely had high hopes for the race after qualifying on the pole and showing speed in second practice. We’ll move on to Homestead and regroup for next year.”

Chandler Smith finished third, followed by Rhodes and Grant Enfinger. Crafton, Harrison Burton, Johnny Sauter, Chastain and Moffitt completed the top 10.

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News

Stewart Friesen gets his first Truck win at Eldora Speedway

ROSSBURG, Ohio – First at last.

Canadian Stewart Friesen held off Sheldon Creed by .728-seconds in the Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway to earn his first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory Thursday night.

It was a typical Eldora night of close racing, hot tempers, and high drama on the Rossburg, Ohio half-miler. Friesen, the driver of the No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet took the lead on Lap 95 of the 150-lap race and held off the field despite multiple caution periods and restarts – before prevailing in a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag.

Championship points leader Grant Enfinger finished third, followed by Mike Marlar and Todd Gilliland. Defending Eldora winner Chase Briscoe, who led a race best 94 laps, finished seventh. Briscoe and Friesen were the only two race leaders.

“Oh man, thank you to all the race fans that stuck with us,” Friesen said in Victory Lane. “Today, this is the day. This is the week. Thanks to everybody. This is meant to be. We needed to get it done on the dirt. Thanks to everyone. What a special event.”

The race certainly had its share of excitement.

Briscoe, last week’s NASCAR Xfinity Series winner at Iowa, won both the first and second stages and was caught up in multiple incidents on the night. However, he managed to keep his truck racing to take a hard-earned top-10 finish.

For many of the usual frontrunners, the unique Eldora challenge presented new obstacles. It was the dirt debut for several fulltime drivers, including three-race winner Ross Chastain, who ran impressively among the top five early in the race, spun out on his own after the Stage 2 restart but rallied to a 12th-place finish.

Sunoco Rookie Harrison Burton, who was making his Eldora debut, dealt with over-heating during the brief break following the opening stage. He was running eighth when he spun and brought out the fourth caution flag of the night and then was collected in another multi-truck accident. He eventually had to retire his No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota and suffer a 31st-place finish in the 32-truck field.

As for Friesen, who had been a symbol of “coming so close” to victory, this was finally his career highlight night. He has six runner-up finishes in the last three seasons – including two earlier this year. A last place finish last weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway had really put him in championship peril – dropping him to last among the current eight eligible drivers. Instead, with Thursday’s win, he has an automatic berth to contend for the title.

The series moves to Michigan International Speedway for the regular-season finale next Saturday.

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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Vankor 350 at Texas Motor Speedway

When Kyle Busch takes to his No. 51 Toyota Tundra at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a couple months, there’s one thing that you should know – he is probably going to reach victory lane.

Throughout the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series season, a driver earning points in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is allowed to run a total of five truck events. Busch has currently ran four of those, and won each of them in convincing fashion. His latest came on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway as  he paced 97 of the 147 laps en route to victory lane. 

Despite his fourth consecutive series victory, the speed from the guys in Kyle Busch Motorsports shop was lacking according to their boss.

“I don’t know, we just lacked a little bit of overall speed tonight,” Busch said. “We just didn’t quite have exactly what we wanted. Kind of worked on it all in practice. I thought we were pretty good, but just not enough. Those guys were just able to keep up with us way too much throughout the night, I thought. It’s a better race that way when they’re able to keep up, so that means we’ve got to go to work and work harder in order to get ourselves a little faster.”

Unlike previous events where it seemed the veteran would cruise to victory lane, he was actually passed for the lead with Brett Moffitt going around the outside on Lap 99. Unfortunately, contact in the late stages with Grant Enfinger after getting loose resulted in a flat tire, ending his chances of victory.

Stewart Friesen also showed promise towards scoring the victory, as he was able to close the gap between himself and Busch as the laps began to wound down with 25 to go. While he got to the No. 51’s tailgate, he was unable to complete the pass, fading back with a tight truck to a second-place finish. It was stated last year, and the same goes once again in 2019 – it’s only a matter of time before the No. 52 Chevrolet is in victory lane.

Overall, the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series proved once again why they are the most exciting to watch on the intermediate tracks. Drivers battled side-by-side throughout the event, using the big hole punched in the air by the trucks to work the draft around each other. Although the first stage was a little rough with a couple back-to-back incidents, things ran smoothly from there on with a couple thrilling three-wide moments and saves from various drivers as they slid up the track.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series package was supposed to resemble that of the drafting nature with the reduced horsepower and high spoiler. That was evident once again in qualifying with drivers not wanting to be the first to go out on-track and be in line behind others. While it hasn’t played as big of a role through the first three intermediate events this year, perhaps Texas Motor Speedway’s layout with fresh pavement and the traction compound in the second groove is the right method for some excitement.

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

ASHLEY ASKS…… Stewart Friesen

Three races into the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series season, and Stewart Friesen has scored a pair of top-10 finishes. Following a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Canadian took some time to share his thoughts on Martinsville Speedway, the year to date, and more with POPULAR SPEED.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts looking towards Martinsville?

STEWART FRIESEN: Honestly, Martinsville is not my favorite track on my schedule. We’ve had a lot of bad luck there and struggled the last few times we’ve ran there, so hopefully everything we’ve learned we can apply this year and have a better result.

PS: What’s the biggest challenge of Martinsville?

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

STEWART: For me, it’s just patience. For me, with the trucks having the spec engines, there’s limited horsepower so it’s a little bit of a different short track type of racing then I grew up doing with the modified engines and high horsepower. It’s just having patience, and having a good game plan and playing it out.

Trip Bruce, my crew chief, and I have talked about it. There’s probably a couple different ways to play it, so we’re going to watch some video of last year’s races and see how it played out, and make our best decision on a plan and stick to it.

PS: What are your thoughts on your season to date?

STEWART: It’s been good. We struggled at Atlanta a little bit. Daytona is always a bit of a crapshoot, but we were able to get out of there with some points and have a 10th-place run, even with the wreck at the end. We learned a lot at Atlanta, and then we had a great run at Vegas and learned a lot from that, too.

We’ve applied some stuff that we’ve learned from those two mile-and-a-halves to our mile-and-a-half program with our bodies on our Chevys, and hopefully when we go to Texas in two weeks we can apply some of that stuff and really shine there.

PS: You’ve come close to winning your first career victory a couple different times now. What do you feel you and your team need to make that happen now?

STEWART: Just execute a good, full race weekend. Have a good first practice; when you unload off the truck, there’s always things you can do to the race truck to make it better, and we’ve done that – but just haven’t been able to execute a full race. We have a couple of sure wins and we pitted under green flag stops and they got away from us – last year at Kentucky and at the end of the year at Texas. That was just miscues on my end, speeding in the pits and then stalling at Kentucky under a gas-and-go deal.

John Harrelson | NKP

So it’s just having good, clean races. Vegas was good for us. We had some bad luck at the beginning where we had a flat tire and stuff we had to battle through, but that’s what it takes to win a race at any day – having a flawless day. The day that we do that, I will be jumping up and down and telling you about our first win.

PS: Beyond Martinsville, what track are you most looking forward to?

STEWART: I’m really looking forward to Texas. We were fast there both races last year and like I said, our mile-and-a-half program has been good. With the association with GMS (Racing) and their fab shop, and the stuff that we’ve learned and applied from this year already, I’m really looking forward to getting there.

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

STEWART: That’s a good question. Probably Richmond. I’ve never been there, but watching the races, they put on a really good NASCAR race there. And then I was a really big fan of New Hampshire. That was where I made my first truck series start on pavement three years ago in 2016. I just had a couple good runs there, so I wish that was on the schedule – and the fact that it’s close to home here in upstate New York.

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

STEWART: I’ve been able to run a bunch of sprint cars, and win some of those races which has been cool. I got to run a non-wing car in California on Thanksgiving, and that was pretty cool. Maybe getting back to the Chili Bowl is kind of a bucket list thing, and maybe having a shot at Xfinity or Cup would be something I’d like to be able to participate in before I hang it up.

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

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.

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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Buckle Up Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is known for their dramatic chaotic competition on a weekly basis, but Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway failed to deliver. With clean air seeming to reign supreme, and a spread out field, the Buckle Up Your Truck 225 was just average.

That said, Eddie Troconis played the perfect strategy for his driver Ben Rhodes. Knowing they were good on the longer run at the end, he chose to go with no tires, just fuel, and an adjustment to get his driver out front. Once the ThorSport Racing driver got the lead, there was no looking back as he cruised to the win. 

From the drop of the first green flag this season, Rhodes has been up front – but mechanical gremlins and wrecks kept taking him out of contention. Now after going three straight weeks with finishes outside of the top-15, he has placed on the podium two weeks in a row highlighted by this hometown victory.

They always say there’s a right time to get momentum, and with only four events remaining before the playoffs, Rhodes has found the secret.

On the flip side, Stewart Frisen had led the entire third stage up until the final round of stops began, where his team elected for tires. That didn’t play out for him as well he was fast initially and closing on Rhodes, he got tighter as the checkered neared and lost ground.

You never want to say that a driver is deserving of their first win more than somebody else, but let’s just use that expression for the No. 52 right now. He came close throughout the final half of 2017 and has led laps in seven events this season with seven top-10’s in 12 races. When it comes to the next intermediate track, do not let him slip under your nose as Frisen may be celebrating in victory lane. Possibly sooner, as we are heading to where he’s most comfortable on dirt next Wednesday at Eldora Raceway.

Speaking of Eldora, Matt Crafton scored the victory last year – and like his ThorSport Racing teammate, he got a good kick in the butt with at third-place finish on Thursday night. While he is a multi-series champion, the switch to Ford hasn’t treated him well as this was only his fifth top-10 of 2018. You can never count the veteran out, but finding consistency through the summer is necessary.

Like the past several weeks, Noah Gragson has been fast – but yet once again came up short on victory. This time after winning the second stage, an extended pit stop for a wheel spacer set him back deep in the field and he only rebounded to eighth. Nice way to overcome a difficult night, but continuing to come up short is well, not championship material. An argument in his situation could easily be made longer here, but we’ve done that several times this year so please just refer to previous observation editions for further notice.

When you look at mistakes, it was also strange to see Johnny Sauter make two back-to-back on the final pit stop.

Ah yes, we’re getting to the time of the season where the discussion begins to solely focus on the championship.

Four races remaining, and you have five drivers locked in – Sauter, Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley, Rhodes, and Gragson. As of right now, that leaves three drivers to get in on points. With Frisen, Grant Enfinger and Crafton having a gap of 79 points on Myatt Snider, it’s going to take a lot for someone to change the situation based on points. 

However, we do know that situation can change in a split second as the manta goes win and you’re in, meaning if any other competitor wins a race – like Cody Coughlin, Dalton Sargeant, or Todd Gilliland – and we’d certainly have a battle on our hands for the last position. With wild cards such as Eldora on Wednesday, and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park still in play, who knows what could happen.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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: PPG 400 at Texas Motor Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
Trucks

Friesen’s Success Defines Eldora Excitement

Stewart Friesen went from being a well-known dirt racing ace to the latest name to arrive on the NASCAR scene with an impressive performance in Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series Eldora Dirty Derby 150 at Eldora Speedway.

The Canadian put on a show, using his dirt experience to lead a race high 93 laps, and finish second to Matt Crafton.

Although Crafton came on strong late to take the victory, Friesen stole the limelight.

It’s a spotlight under which prominent dirt racing competitors have been featured as a result of their stout performances at Eldora, exposing them to a new audience of motorsports fans.

All eyes were on Bobby Pierce over the last couple of years and again on Wednesday as he finished second in 2015 and dominated in 2016 but crashed late.

Pierce again performed well, but Friesen emerged as the top dirt racer in 2017, representing an aspect of Eldora that fans find intriguing.

The annual dirt track race has become a signature event for the Truck Series, showcasing the sport’s roots, up and coming competitors, and the unpredictability that racing thrives on.

Underdog stories are popular across all sports and Eldora’s ability to consistently produce them each year attests to the uniqueness of the event.

Seeing names like Friesen and Pierce battle series regulars and some of NASCAR’s best dirt racers and excel produces the same excitement that restrictor plate races bring to the table regarding surprise contenders surpassing expectations. 

Watching Friesen compete for the win captured the attention of those watching as it came down to the closing laps to see if the smaller Halmar Friesen Racing team could pull off the upset.

Creating those situations on a weekly basis is difficult. However, it’s what makes Eldora special.

Knowing there will be an element of unpredictability adds to the intrigue of the event, and Friesen perfectly captured this aspect of racing.

It’s these moments that define the excitement of racing and Eldora once again delivered in numerous ways on Wednesday night. 

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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.