The Frontstretch: Tracking the Trucks: VFW 200 by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Monday August 20, 2012

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Tracking the Trucks: VFW 200

Beth Lunkenheimer · Monday August 20, 2012

 

In a Nutshell: Nelson Piquet, Jr. took the checkered flag nearly ten seconds ahead of Jason White in Saturday afternoon’s VFW 200 at Michigan International Speedway. Piquet, Jr. used a fuel mileage gamble and had enough in the fuel tank to score his first career victory. Dakoda Armstrong, Parker Kligerman, and James Buescher rounded out the top 5. Pole-sitter Joey Coulter failed to lead a lap and finished seventh.

Who Should Have Won: Nelson Piquet, Jr. Though he followed Kurt Busch for much of the first half of the race, Nelson Piquet, Jr. clearly had a strong truck Saturday afternoon. However, the driver of the No. 30 Chevrolet got loose as he and Busch drove out of turn two and spun, bringing out the fifth and final caution of the race. And despite restarting 19th, Piquet, Jr. made quick work of the field, rejoining the top 10 with just 20 laps remaining. Because the field was so spread out in the long green flag run, track position wasn’t in Piquet’s favor; so Chris Carrier made the call to gamble on fuel mileage, and it paid off.

Nelson Piquet, Jr., in the No. 30 car, took the checkered flag this weekend, despite a spin in the second half of the race that left his car sideways.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:

1. Is NASCAR too quick to throw the yellow flag at times?

When Nelson Piquet, Jr. got loose while battling Kurt Busch for the lead, NASCAR quickly threw the yellow flag when the No. 30 Chevrolet went sideways despite Piquet’s ability to continue without creating an on-track obstacle. But when the same thing happened with Tim George, Jr. just ten laps later, the field remained under the green flag, and the driver of the No. 2 Applebee’s Chevrolet collected his truck and continued en route to a 21st-place finish two laps down.

Huh? With two nearly identical incidents at the exact same spot on the track, why were there two different calls made?

You’ve got your conspiracy theorists that will likely say NASCAR chose to throw the caution on the Piquet incident but not on George’s incident to benefit the driver of the No. 30, who has come close to victory lane so many times but failed to grab the checkered flag. However, I don’t think that’s the case at all. In fact, it was more of an issue of the sanctioning body failing to wait to see if the incident could be cleared up without blocking the track.

In the end, NASCAR made the right call when George, Jr. got sideways and managed to collect his truck without disrupting anyone else on track. NASCAR should have done the same just a handful of laps earlier when Piquet went sideways. Perhaps the sanctioning body will think twice before randomly throwing the yellow and wait to see if those involved can continue without affecting anyone else.

2. Did Paulie Harraka and Wauters Motorsports make the right decision to sit two races out?

Just a couple days before the Truck Series headed off to Michigan, Paulie Harraka and Wauters Motorsports announced they would skip this weekend and the mid-week showdown at Bristol on Wednesday while the rookie and his mentor, Ted Musgrave, evaluate where the team stands at the halfway point of the season.

“Paulie is a true rookie in this series, having raced very minimally in 2011 while he finished his degree at Duke. This year was all about getting him to these tracks and getting him experience,” Musgrave said. “He has shown that he has the speed, and has shown that he is able to learn. Now, we need to take these lessons and continue to move forward in our plan for him.”

Truck owner and crew chief Richie Wauters remains dedicated to the development of the young driver as they decide which of the remaining races to add to their schedule.

“Paulie has grown a tremendous amount as a race car driver this season, without question,” Wauters said. “He has continually shown the work ethic and dedication to keep learning, and the halfway points int he season marks the perfect time to take a step back and analyze everything we’ve done together up to this point.”

In 11 races, Harraka scored a career-best 17th-place finish at Dover and Kentucky all while completing his degree at Duke.

“This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to be a full-time race car driver, having graduated from Duke this past May,” Harraka said. “Being able to put all of my time into being a true student of the sport has allowed me more time to watch race tapes, talk to other drivers and analyze my development than ever before. It’s also the first time that I’ve had a mentor and coach like Ted to teach me things I may have otherwise missed. I’m excited about the opportunity to keep learning and growing this season, and I’m fortunate to have to the sound backing of our PHLLC partners as I do that.”

I’ve always been an advocate that the best training any driver striving to make his mark on NASCAR comes behind the wheel, so I question whether pulling off track is necessarily the right move. But that said, the 22-year-old suffered four DNFs in his last seven events and has run unsponsored in six races this season. Everyone knows that racing in NASCAR isn’t cheap, so I’m not all that surprised to see Wauters evaluating their season and how to move forward since funding is paramount to running competitively.

In the end, the loss of track time can and likely will hurt Harraka’s development. However the time away from the track, if used correctly to utilize Musgrave’s experience and knowledge, should help in the long run. After all, what’s the point in racing just to be on the track if the team goes bankrupt in the process? It’s better for them to be sure of which races will be the best for them to expand Harraka’s racing education and ultimately sign the sponsorship needed to run competitively week after week.

Truck Rookie Report
2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Dakoda Armstrong (No. 98)
Ty Dillon (No. 3)
Dusty Davis (No. 15—not entered at Michigan)
T.J. Duke (No. 07—not entered at Michigan)
Ross Chastain (No. 08)
Cale Gale (No. 33) *Max Gresham *(No. 24—released from ride)
Paulie Harraka (No. 5—not entered at Michigan)
Caleb Holman (No. 75—not entered at Michigan)
John King (No. 7—team suspended)
Bryan Silas (No. 99)
John Wes Townley (No. 09)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 7 (add a debuting Stephen Leicht)

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 2; Dakoda Armstrong, finished third; Ty Dillon, finished sixth

Rookie of the Race: Dakoda Armstrong

Dakoda Armstrong scored his first career top-5 finish Saturday afternoon. Crew Chief Dan Stillman called the driver of the No. 98 Toyota to pit road under the fourth caution intent on running the final 48 laps without stopping again. As it turned out, the fuel mileage gamble paid off through a third-place finish, beating his previous career-best of ninth at Kentucky last season.

Rookie Quote:

“I knew coming into the race that the track would have a lot more grip than it did before, and after three practices, I knew it was going to be like an old-style Daytona race where we would run in big packs nose to tail. It was all about the draft. My EverFi crew really rallied back from a not-so-good day in the pits to give us a good finish. I have to apologize to my team for slowing us down on that 2 tire pit stop, but we found our way back to the front from Dan’s [Stockman, Crew Chief] good call on the pit strategy. They worked really hard to get me a truck that was able to handle pretty well in the draft, and they never gave up. I have to give a big thanks to TRD for getting us a great engine and fuel mileage that allowed us to finish in the top 3. Our Tundra handled pretty good all day I just wish we had a little more speed when we were out on our own.”

Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:

Parker Kligerman made his first career start with Red Horse Racing Saturday afternoon. After starting 11th, he finished a solid fourth, ahead of his former No. 29 Dodge ride that finish eighth with BKR owner Brad Keselowski behind the wheel.

The VFW 200 featured a dismal ten start-and-park drivers in the 35-truck field. All ten completed no more than 15 laps before retiring for a variety of reasons from transmission to vibration and even overheating. Scott Riggs piloted the No. 5 Chevrolet in Paulie Harraka’s absence for just four laps before pulling out of the race, citing engine problems.

Kurt Busch made his first career Truck Series start in 11 years behind the wheel of the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. He started fourth and led a race-high 57 laps en route to a ninth-place finish.

Timothy Peters and Ty Dillon are tied for the points lead after sixth and 13th-place finishes, respectively. James Buescher sits third, just six markers behind the leaders followed by Justin Lofton in fourth. Parker Kligerman, who gained a spot following his third top-5 finish this year, rounds out the top 5, 25 points behind.

Matt Crafton, who dropped a spot after struggling with an ill-handling truck most of the day, sits sixth. Joey Coulter remains seventh followed by Nelson Piquet, Jr., who moved up a spot and sits 57 points behind the leaders. Ron Hornaday, Jr., who dropped a spot, and Jason White round out the top 10.

Quotable:

“Me and Chris [Carrier, Crew Chief] have been fighting for this win since the beginning of last year and we finally made it. It came in a dramatic way, but it came. It doesn’t matter how, but we did it and I’m really happy the whole team stayed behind me this whole time. It is a little weight off my back and for the whole family. For my whole family, my whole name, the only thing I can say is that I’m just living to do what our family always did, win races and win championships. I have a whole different career than my father had in Europe. This is something different here in America and NASCAR. I want to prove to fans that I can win in any car that they put me into.” -_Nelson Piquet, Jr._

“Man, what an awesome day. These guys worked so hard on the truck and we had a good one—we went from 12th to third and dropped back to fifth. Me and Doug [George, Crew Chief] talked back and forth and decided to take the gamble and we made it. We had a fast truck; gotta thank GunBroker and Ford. Awesome job and we’re excited to go to Bristol next week.”-_Jason White, finished second_

“After they revived me [following Piquet’s lap 57 spin], we just had to push reset and take the situation at that moment. [I said] we’re going to regroup here. All the decisions at that point were no-brainers. I knew that Nelson is very good at saving fuel. It comes very natural to him. We kind of just rolled the dive. We changed out minds three times in one lap.” -_Chris Carrier, Crew Chief_

“I thought passing the [No.] 31 [James Buescher] there—no one had told me there was fuel mileage racing going on—so when we passed the 31 off [turn] four I was like, ‘Last lap pass for the win? This is awesome. Woo,’ but them we didn’t win. We were fourth, but it’s a great start for this No. 7 Red Horse team. You know, I look at this run right here and say that this is a team that can go win this championship and I’m just thankful for the opportunity and I just can’t thank my teammates enough also for the work they put in practice to get this truck as fast as it could be.” -_Parker Kligerman, finished fourth_

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series faces a short week before heading to Bristol Motor Speedway for the annual mid-week showdown Wednesday night. Last year, Kevin Harvick led 103 laps and took the checkered flag ahead of Johnny Sauter, who made a hard charge on the final restart. The UNOH 200 will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 8:00 PM EDT; it can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM Channel 90.

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