Categories
Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: World of Westgate 200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Categories
Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway

In previous years, the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway was a must-see attraction for fans. Now, though, it seems that the half-mile has lost it’s sparkle. In all honesty, Thursday night’s race was just average.

The first two stages of the event left you looking for some action, waiting to see battles for position, but instead stuck sitting on the edge of your seat hoping the second groove came in so it would happen. All in the process, you had John Hunter Nemechek cruising away from the field which does nothing to add to the event.

The second half of the race, though, gave you something to chomp on when the leaders got hung up in lap traffic, having to dodge left and right at times to figure out the best way through. Combine with Nemechek’s late motor issues, along with a late-charge from Stewart Frisen, and this event will probably stick around in your memory longer than it should’ve based on the beginning.

While you may question where Bristol’s magic was lost – and how much you want to scream about the reconfiguration that took place a couple years ago still, there’s is no denying Johnny Sauter‘s form right now. He drove a flawless race, and took advantage of Nemechek’s slip-up at the right time. Combined with four victories before this week, and he has to be entering the playoffs as the favorite. If he can survive the wild car first round – which he admits being afraid about, then it may be GMS Racing celebrating at year-end once again.

Nemechek should also snag a win before this year is over, too. This marks the second time this season a late-race mechanical failure has lost him the event. Anybody recall Chicagoland Speedway when he dominated until the last lap and lost to Brett Moffitt?

Frisen is also knocking on the door of that win, almost kicking it open as he was chasing Sauter down at the end and maybe five more laps you would’vs seen a different winner. It’s been a common sight as he has finished second three times this year now.

Shout-out to Todd Gilliland for the late charge through the field to finish fifth after a mid-race spin. Just imagine if he hadn’t made that mistake. We may have seen his first career win, and watched Matt Crafton miss the playoffs. 

After left with the feeling of being let down, there’s hope going into the first round of the playoffs. Canadian Tire Motorsports Park has become the home of dramatics since joining the schedule, Las Vegas Motor Speedway produced a memorable event in the spring, and Talladega Superspeedway is always unpredictable. 

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: Overtons 225 at Chicagoland Speedway

First came the late race slide job attempt by Noah Gragson at Gateway Motorsports Park. Then came a crazy late-race restart at Iowa Speedway handing a victory over to Justin Haley. So when there was a last lap pass at Chicagoland Speedway, don’t blame us for not being surprised.

John Hunter Nemechek quickly asserted himself as the dominant driver on Friday night, taking the lead early in the third stage and not looking back, despite being challenged by both Gragson and Brett Moffitt. It seemed that he was well on his way to his second victory of 2018, and then his truck sputtered. After his gas man failed to put in enough fuel on the final stop, Nemechek ran out of gas just three-quarters of a lap short of victory. Rather than celebrating a win, he was left to coast to the line in seventh.

The beneficiary of Nemechek’s problem was Moffitt, who made the pass and put his No. 16 Toyota Tundra in victory lane for the third time this year. It seems easy enough, but this win as far from that. The Hattori Racing Enterprises guys weren’t initially set to be there this weekend, looking for sponsorship to make the event that they only received on Tuesday evening. Sometimes when it’s meant to be, the pieces just come to together in a magical way, and that could describe this win.

Seeing the contrast between Moffitt and Nemechek was summed up perfectly by Michael Waltrip in saying, “the thrill of victory, along with the heartbreak of defeat.” 

Ben Rhodes was able to score a runner-up finish, which is a welcome rebound considering the bad luck with mechanical gremlins and such his team has endured through the past several weeks. Currently sitting in the coveted eighth spot – last playoff slot, any point that he can get is crucial. A 42-point cushion over Myatt Snider will have him more comfortable entering the off-week now.

Johnny Sauter‘s consistency continued with a third, followed by Gragson in fourth – but more on that later. Brandon Jones rounded out the top-five as he made his way to the front late.

The contrast of success and failure can be used to describe more than just the final lap, as other drivers saw their success quickly turned upside down.

Todd Gilliland was looking set for a solid top-five when a flat tire sent him down pit road with seven laps to go. After missing four races due to not being old enough, he has gotten a playoff waiver from NASCAR; though one thing is missing – a win.

Stewart Friesen has shown every ability to win a race through this season, running up front on a weekly basis and contending for wins. However, he has yet to breakthrough. Instead, incidents – whether of his own making or someone else’s – have seen him spin around or crash in each of the last three weeks. With the playoffs growing nearer, finding consistency will be critical.

Consistency and success haven’t been a problem for Moffitt, and now his third win makes him an obvious contender to consider for the championship. You also can’t skip over Johnny Sauter with his victories and the fact he leads the standings, 65 points ahead of Noah Gragson.

Compared to multiple wins by the others, Gragson has only visited victory lane once this season. It hasn’t been for lack of effort though, as his No. 18 Toyota Tundra has been fast on a weekly basis. Though when it comes to the intermediate tracks, it seems he leads laps in the first two stages and then fades for a decent top-five in the last section of the event.

The sophomore expressed his thoughts on the matter post-race, saying that he is the quarterback for the team, and that lies on his shoulders. It’s common for drivers to shoulder more blame than they should, and that should be considered here as the handling on the truck falls on everybody to make the adjustments necessary. However, if Rudy Fugle isn’t getting the feedback he needs from Gragson, how is that possible? 

Each year, Kyle Busch Motorsports has seen one of their young drivers be right in the midst of championship contention. Gragson should be no different based on speed alone, but small improvements like feedback will be necessary moving towards the end of the 2018 campaign. 

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: 37 Kind Days 250 at Kansas Speedway

Like most of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events this season, the 37 Kind Days 250 at Kansas Speedway left fans satisfied when it was over in having witnessed a great event. 

Noah Gragson was able to score the victory in the form of perfect redemption after crashing late last week at Dover International Speedway while battling for the lead with Johnny Sauter. It happened via three factors – speed, survival, and strategy

For starters, he had plenty of speed in the No. 18 Toyota Tundra as witnessed by winning the pole, and leading 128 of 167 laps to win all three stages en route to victory lane. Part of the credit for that has to go to spotter Tony Hirschman, who was great in his advice to the second-year driver in how to break the draft down the backstretch and guidance in where drivers were getting the runs on Gragson in the corner. But that should be expected, as Hirschman works with Kyle Busch in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Despite the dominance, there were times it appeared as though he could be beaten, as evidenced by Ben Rhodes‘ performance. Rhodes work his way to the front and was set to challenge Gragson for the lead in the second stage, when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to a mechanical issue. It marks the second straight year that the ThorSport Racing driver has been plagued at Kansas Speedway as he had a quick truck last year and was destined to win until a puncture in the radiator in the late stages. Cue the other key – survival.

Brett Moffitt was also fast enough to challenge for Gragson, but he was hit by mechanical problems as well with an alternator issue, causing him an unscheduled pit stop for a battery change.

Stewart Friesen had managed to pass Gragson and take the lead just before a caution at Lap 107. Under the yellow flag, the transmission shifter knob came off, and while trying to fix that, Frisen went slower than caution speed, which dropped him back to ninth. He didn’t let that deny him, though, driving his way back to the top-three shortly after the restart, and rebounding for a third-place finish. 

Once the dust settled with the issues, strategy was the name of the game in the late stages of the event. Justin Hayley began to open the door of opportunity for that when he got two tires at the end of the second stage, while the rest of the field took four. It didn’t pan out well for Hayley, as he went from first to 10th on the first lap back green. He ended up finishing 10th when it was said and done, too.

The bigger calls came in the final stage of the race in when to make your final pit stop under green. Rudy Fugle elected to bring Gragson down before anybody else, putting four tires on the No. 18. His closest competitors, Frisen and Busch, elected for two tires. The speed difference in the fresh rubber proved to be everything as Gragson ran both drivers down, passing them for position. That didn’t put him right in the lead as other drivers, namely Myatt Snider and Austin Hill, tried to stretch their gas to the end from the final caution at Lap 107. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as all of them slowed, giving Gragson the lead, and the win. 

If you’re looking for one more S on the night – let’s talk about a surprise as points leader Johnny Sauter was a non-factor in the battle for the win, struggling with the handling of his truck all night. It marks the first time that has happened this season. Though like a true champion, his team bounced back and used some fuel strategy late to finish fifth. That’s why he currently leads the standings by 35 points over Gragson heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

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.