The Frontstretch: Tracking the Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200 by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Sunday May 20, 2012

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Tracking the Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200

Beth Lunkenheimer · Sunday May 20, 2012

 

In a Nutshell: Justin Lofton took the checkered flag 0.261 seconds ahead of Brad Keselowski in Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Lofton took the lead for the final time with just ten laps remaining and held on through one more restart to score his first career Camping World Truck Series victory. Todd Bodine, Jason Leffler and Ron Hornaday, Jr. rounded out the top-5 finishers.

Justin Lofton scored his first career victory Friday night at Charlotte and has finished inside the top 5 in all five events this season.

Who Should Have Won: Justin Lofton. The driver of the No. 6 CollegeComplete.com Chevrolet ran top 5 in both practice sessions before qualifying second. When it came to the actual race, it appeared each restart would be like kryptonite for the third-year driver as he struggled with power on the initial start, dropping outside the top 10 within the first 20 laps. However, Lofton’s team made the necessary adjustments to turn his truck competitive in a short race. He managed to take the lead from Timothy Peters just before the fifth caution flew, in front twice for 44 laps en route to Victory Lane.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:

1. Why was Brad Keselowski upset with Ron Hornaday, Jr.?

As the cameras panned to Hornaday and Keselowski deep into a heated discussion on pit road following the checkered flag, I watched in confusion. What could have gotten Keselowski so upset to hurl profanities at the four-time champion? After all, he led some laps, finished third and probably picked up some information that will prove beneficial to Parker Kligerman’s No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing team.

But then I found out — Keselowski took issue with a bump from Hornaday on the second-to-last restart.

“I came over the radio and asked him ‘Hey, man, I’ll play it cool and just be nice and smooth here and we’ll both have great days,’” Keselowski in his post-race press conference. “Instead, he decided to be a jackass and just ran me over. It cost him what would have been an easy second place and obviously cost me the win.”

However, Hornaday had a completely different view of the contact.

“Go look at the back of my truck — I got run into,” Hornaday said. “It was such a slow start and everybody jammed up and I ran into the back of him. I didn’t mean to do it. I guess I’ve got to apologize to him.”

I can understand Keselowski’s frustration in having not scored the victory he so badly wants in the Truck Series. After all, his father, Bob, scored a victory in 1997 at Richmond International Raceway and a victory by Brad would make the pair the first father / son duo the win in this division. But with that being said, the contact in question was just a racing incident. We’ve seen it time and again all across NASCAR’s top three series — the guy up front doesn’t get moving, the field stacks up behind him and contact ensues. From my vantage point, what happened between Hornaday and Keselowski was exactly that. Additionally, Keselowski has to remember that Hornaday is racing for a championship and has to fight for every position he can get each week.

Whether Hornaday should have to apologize to Keselowski is questionable as it was just simply a racing incident. Yes, it would be a nice gesture for the 53-year-old, as it is for most drivers involved in similar incidents; however, I have a feeling it would make little difference for a Cup driver who seems to have already made up his mind.

“I told him I take care of him all of the time and I respect him, and he shows me no respect,” Keselowski said shortly after their heated argument ended. “Well, I’m not going to show him any respect from now on.”

2. Is anyone standing out as a championship favorite five races into the season?

The Camping World Truck Series season may only be five races old, but with only 22 races on the schedule, we’re almost 25 percent into the season. Though Johnny Sauter was pegged as a preseason favorite for the title, he’s suffered from Jeff Gordon-like luck, scoring a single finish on the lead lap (fourth at Rockingham). Friday night was no different — the No. 13 Toyota suffered a fuel pickup issue that ultimately turned out to be a broken cable leading from the fuel pump. As a result, he sits 18th in points, 85 markers behind leader Justin Lofton and in a hole that may be too deep to dig himself out of.

On the other end of the standings, the top 4 find themselves separated by just 18 points. Lofton, Timothy Peters and rookie Ty Dillon have each finished inside the top 10 in all five events this season and have the early momentum working for them. However, another preseason favorite, James Buescher, sits in fourth after a disappointing 22nd-place finish.

Of those top 4, it’s easy to point at Peters and Buescher, as both have run strongly in the past. But the real question comes from Lofton, who struggled a bit in his first two seasons before landing at Eddie Sharp Racing where he’s found success early on. The ultimate unknown inside the top 5 is Ty Dillon. Following two top-10 finishes in three starts last year, many wondered if Dillon could snag the Rookie of the Year title along with the series title in the same season, and with five consecutive top-10 finishes, including a runner-up at Martinsville, Dillon could definitely be on that path despite having little knowledge of the tracks on the schedule.

But don’t count out Ron Hornaday, Jr., who sits just a single point outside the top 5. After starting the season with a 14th-place finish at Daytona, he couldn’t quite crack the top 10 until Kansas a few weeks ago, where he finished sixth. But the Joe Denette Motorsports driver may have started something as he battled inside the top 5 late Friday night before ultimately finishing fifth. While Hornaday is with a new team that’s got significantly fewer resources at their disposal, he does have the benefit of experience and being a four-time champion. And everyone knows if the 53-year-old gets on a tear, he can easily click off multiple victories.

Don’t get me wrong—a lot of things can change between now and November, but there are plenty of teams that have positioned themselves well in the early stages this season. And regardless of who comes out on top, there’s likely to be another first-time champion celebrating at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Truck Rookie Report
2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Dakoda Armstrong (No. 98)
Ty Dillon (No. 3)
Dusty Davis (No. 15)
T.J. Duke (No. 07)
Ross Chastain (No. 08)
Cale Gale (No. 33) *Max Gresham *(No. 24)
Paulie Harraka (No. 5)
Caleb Holman (No. 75)
John King (No. 7)
Bryan Silas (No. 99)
John Wes Townley (No. 09)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 14 (add Clay Greenfield, Brennan Newberry and Jake Crum)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: two; Jeb Burton, finished eighth; Ty Dillon, finished 10th
Rookie of the Race: Jeb Burton

Rookie Notes

Jason Leffler came into Charlotte looking to put two DNFs behind him just five races into the year, and that’s just what he did. After starting fifth, he dropped back in the running order but made some racy moves on the track and ultimately scored his first top 5 of the season when he finished fourth.

Pole-sitter Ty Dillon led the first 25 laps through two different restarts before losing the top spot on pit road. Back in dirty air, Dillon struggled with the handling of his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and dropped through the field. However, he managed to work his way toward the front once again, scoring a tenth-place finish, his fifth top 10 of the season.

Brennan Newberry brought out the first caution just three laps into competition Friday night. After contact with Jennifer Jo Cobb, Newberry’s No. 14 Chevrolet spun, however he managed to avoid hitting the wall and was able to continue. But the troubles didn’t end there for Newberry, who spun three more times before the checkered flag flew, avoiding damage each time. He went on to finish 27th, nine laps down. The strange thing about Newberry’s final spin came when he ran way off the pace around the track inside the white line without the caution flag flying. While I understand he was off of the racing surface itself, a vehicle driving that slowly is a huge hazard to not only themselves but also the entire field. After all, Paulie Harraka spent some time earlier in the race sliding around the same area Newberry occupied as he limped his truck back around to pit road, so I don’t understand why NASCAR chose not to throw the caution.

Ross Chastain has struggled in the first four races this season, scoring just one top-10 finish—a seventh at Martinsville, and Friday night was no different. Just 12 laps in Chastain’s engine expired, bringing out the second caution of the night, resulting in his third DNF in five starts, a 35th-place finish.

Daytona winner John King ran just 24 laps before a cut tire sent him into the wall, causing terminal damage to the No. 7 Consol Energy Toyota. The 24-year-old was credited with a 33rd-place finish and his second DNF in the last three races. As a result, he dropped five positions in the standings to 13th, 65 points behind leader Justin Lofton.

Rookie Quotes

“I kind of got down on myself a couple weeks ago at Kansas and made a rookie mistake. I’m shaking right now. I’ve wanted this real bad, and I’m blessed with the opportunity. I’m excited for my family and myself. I’m trying to improve myself so I can get an opportunity, so I can race with these guys each week.” Sunoco Rookie of the Race Jeb Burton, finished eighth

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of my crew chief, Marcus Richmond and all the guys. They worked really hard to make this truck fast and it showed by earning the pole award. We had a really fast Bass Pro Shops truck but we couldn’t bring home the finish to show for it.” Ty Dillon, finished 10th

“The restarts and traffic tonight were really tough. It was nearly impossible to pass on the inside; if there was a truck above you, they just took all of the downforce away and you couldn’t move ahead. Dan Stillman (crew chief) made great calls in the pits all night to gain us some positions and he made the right call to come in for fresh tires on that second to last caution. We could’ve easily had a top-10 finish in our EverFi Tundra tonight if it just would’ve stayed green until the end.” Dakoda Armstrong, finished 13th

“We started off fairly strong but we had a tire go down midway through the race tonight which put us in the wall and a few laps behind. We were on a lap of our own the rest of the race and trying to play catch-up, but we were never able to gain much ground. It’s just so unfortunate; we had a really fast BugBand Chevrolet. I hate it for all the guys and I hate it for Dan Ritter and his entire team at BugBand because we didn’t give them the show they deserved.” Max Gresham, finished 24th

Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:

It was refreshing Friday night to not only have a full field, but only two start-and-park teams in the 36-truck lineup. Dennis Setzer ran just 19 laps before retiring due to overheating issues and scored a 34th-place finish behind the wheel of the No. 38 RSS Racing Chevrolet. Similarly, Chad McCumbee’s No. 60 Turn One Racing Chevrolet dropped out with the same issue after completing just 61 laps; he finished 31st.

Joey Coulter and the No. 22 team turned around what could have been a rough weekend and pulled out a solid seventh-place finish. Under the third caution, the

Race winner Justin Lofton jumped two spots and landed atop the standings, leading Timothy Peters by just one point. Ty Dillon gained a spot and leads James Buescher—who dropped two positions thanks to a 22nd-place finish following contact with a wrecking Paulie Harraka—by just two points. Parker Kligerman moved up one spot and rounds out the top 5, just 30 points behind the leader.

Ron Hornaday, Jr. sits just one point outside the top 5 after his first top-5 finish of the season, and Jason White moved up two spots to seventh following his third top 10 in five races. Nelson Piquet, Jr. dropped three spots following two separate incidents where he bounced off of the wall; the second proved terminal and relegated the driver of the No. 30 Alpinestars Chevrolet to a 29th-place finish. Todd Bodine and Joey Coulter each moved up two spots and round out the top 10.

Quotable:

“This is amazing. I really don’t even know what to do. This day’s been a long time coming. This entire week, it was one of those weeks where I was just real calm, real excited about the race. It’s just amazing to be able to do it for these guys. I’ve seen all the hard work that Dan (Bormann, Crew Chief) puts in, day in and day out. Dan believed in me, taking a chance, quitting a job, coming over to take over as crew chief. He has done an amazing job.” Race winner Justin Lofton

“We had a great Cooper Standard RAM. I’m really proud of everybody at BKR. This was the truck to beat tonight and they worked their butts off to make it happen. It all came down to the restarts and who was willing to work together, and the last restarts, nobody worked with me. They did everything they could to wreck me. I was real frustrated about that but that’s racing and we’ll move on.” Brad Keselowski, finished second

“We didn’t have the best truck; we started off really loose. Our Tundra was too loose and Rick (Gay, crew chief) made a bunch of adjustments, got it better and we went one more step and made it a little too tight. So, to come out of here with a third. We’ve had some good runs this year and we struggled. We’re getting our act together. This Toyota Care Tundra—it was okay.” Todd Bodine

“The Dollar General Toyota was really god tonight—strategy didn’t work for us. I thought we had a chance to win tonight—we just went from second to 15th when that caution came out after we made a green-flag pit stop. I’m glad to be here and flag to be driving this No. 18 Toyota. It was really nice to drive—they are fun to drive when they are good like this. It won’t be long before this Dollar General Tundra is in victory lane.” Jason Leffler, finished fourth

“Jeff (Hensley, Crew Chief) and the guys did a great job today. We didn’t have the best truck when we got here, but they worked hard to get this Great Play Chevrolet in contention for a top-5 finish. It’s pretty cool for Joe Denette and everyone at Joe Denette Motorsports to get their first top-5 finish of the season here tonight. We have been working hard the last five races and have been getting better each week. Thank you to Great Play for stepping up to support us here tonight; we couldn’t do this without support from great partners.” Ron Hornaday, Jr., finished fifth

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to Dover International Speedway in two weeks for the Lucas Oil 200 on Friday, June 1st. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 4:30 PM EDT; it can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.

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john
05/22/2012 12:19 PM
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Look what happens when there’s no Cup invaders! A great race with a great win.

(Yes I know BK was in the field, but he’s never won a truck race, and he was driving his own underfunded truck.)

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