The Frontstretch: Tracking the Trucks: UNOH 225 by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Saturday June 29, 2013

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Tracking the Trucks: UNOH 225

Beth Lunkenheimer · Saturday June 29, 2013

 

In a Nutshell: Ty Dillon, who left Texas three weeks ago sorely disappointed in a runner-up finish, took the checkered flag 5.735 seconds ahead of Brad Keselowski, scoring his first win of the year in Thursday night’s UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway. Following a lap 113 restart in sixth, Dillon spent just a dozen laps to catch and pass then-leader Kyle Busch before leading the final 26 laps en route to victory lane. Busch, James Buescher and rookie Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 5.

Who Should Have Won: Ty Dillon. You could make a case for either Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch or even Darrell Wallace, Jr.—who led a combined 124 of 150 laps—as drivers who should have been celebrating in victory lane, but their misfortunes combined with Dillon’s late race speed put him the catbird seat. After starting 22nd, a two-tire pit stop call by crew chief Marcus Richmond put the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet inside the top 10. From there, it was a chassis adjustment on his final stop that seemed to turn the truck around. Pulling out to a lead of more than five seconds, Dillon clearly had the truck to beat in the closing laps of the race.

Race Rundown

Did you miss the race? In this section of Tracking the Trucks, you’ll find the major storylines that went on all in one place.

Brett Moffitt Enjoys Solid Debut

Thursday night’s UNOH 225 marked Brett Moffitt’s Camping World Truck Series debut. After running outside the top 15 in both practice sessions as he tried to familiarize himself with the truck, Moffitt had a rough qualifying run, wrecking his primary truck and forcing the team to set up teammate Johnny Sauter’s backup truck without a single lap on the track. Though he started in the back of the pack, the driver of the No. 13 AISIN Toyota worked his way inside the top 25 within the first ten laps. By the time the field had run 30 laps, Moffitt had worked his way inside the top 20 and remained there the rest of the night, slowly picking off spots one by one until he settled into a solid 14th-place finish.

“I learned a lot. These things are really aero dependent so it’s a big learning curve when you come to a big mile-and-a-half because it’s all about the air. Definitely learned what not to do in qualifying—got that down and hopefully that never happens again. It was an overall good experience; I just wish we would have ended up better than we were,” Moffitt said. “We had to unload that backup truck and just get as close as we could before the race. Hats off to the guys—all three of the ThorSport teams came over to help us get it together so thanks to all of them. Thank you to Duke Thorson (team owner) for the opportunity. Just hoping I can get in some more of these.”

While a wreck in qualifying certainly wasn’t the start to the day Moffitt had been hoping for, a solid finish was exactly what he needed to earn his right to race at Michigan International Speedway in his next planned event. Moffitt never worked his way into the top 10, however a quiet night where every lap run in his first career race allowed him to gain valuable track time while learning how the trucks handle. It’s hard to say after a single race whether he’ll manage to run better than top 15, but it is worth noting that Todd Bodine’s best finish behind the wheel of the same truck was 11th twice. One thing that I am sure of, though, is that I’m looking forward to Moffitt’s next start in the series as he continues in his quest to run in one of NASCAR’s top three series.

Townley Showing Performance Improvement

Before the green flag even flew over Thursday night’s race, John Wes Townley had every reason to be happy with his trip to Kentucky Speedway. After all, he had just posted a third-place qualifying lap, a career-high for the 23-year-old driver. Starting near the front of the field, Townley remained there until the first round of pit stops when he lost several positions on pit road. And as has been the case in the Truck Series for a while now, the handling on the No. 7 Zaxby’s Toyota changed a little farther back in traffic.

Then, on lap 80, Townley brought out the fourth caution when he slid sideways on the outside of Brad Keselowski’s machine before righting his truck and continuing on without any contact to the wall. Though several drivers have been able to get themselves out of situations like those unscathed in the past, the Townley of a few years ago likely would have gotten into the wall and sent himself to the garage. Instead, he continued racing and wound up with a solid 11th-place finish, a run that allowed him to jump two spots in the standings to 15th.

“[Racing with the leaders] was a lot of fun while it lasted. We had us a great qualifying run and we stayed up there for a little bit,” Townley said. “Unfortunately we got a little bit behind on the pit stop and we were kind of playing catch up ever since. Overall, we didn’t get the finish we wanted, but we got the image out there. Now we have to stay up there—that’s the goal as we keep going on.”

Sure, Townley wasn’t really in contention for the win in the late going, but he did start off strong and ran well until losing valuable track position on pit road. Add in the impressive save that he made after skidding sideways, and it’s hard not to look at the driver of the No. 7 Toyota and see that he is making some progress. Most will say that he’s wrecked more than enough equipment for a handful of drivers in his career—and they wouldn’t be wrong—but running in the Truck Series appears to be just what Townley needs to continue improving his performance.

NASCAR’s Questionable Caution Calls

NASCAR made a couple of questionable caution calls on Thursday night. The first came when John Wes Townley had his truck sideways and recovered with no spin. The slide reminded me quite a bit of a single-truck version of Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday, Jr.‘s synchronized spin at Kansas in 2010, where the pair got sideways and somehow managed to right both trucks and keep right on racing, all why the green flag continued to fly over the field. The question in my mind remains as to why NASCAR felt that the caution for Townley last Thursday night was needed. With no debris and no trucks stranded on the track to worry about, it seems odd that the caution flag flew with such a minor slide.

The second incident came when the sanctioning body chose not to throw the yellow when Joey Coulter wrecked as the field took the white flag. With the help of an air disturbance from German Quiroga, Coulter’s truck snapped around, hit the wall and quickly got straightened back out for a trip down pit road and out of the race. Yes, Coulter righted the No. 18 Toyota and got it out of the racing surface, but replays showed the shower of debris that flew off of his truck after hard contact with the wall, some of which sat directly in the path of Norm Benning’s No. 57 Chevrolet as he cruised around the track on the high side.

Had it been turn one or two on the final lap, I would have had no issue with NASCAR not throwing the caution. But it’s different when the leaders will come back by that debris at full speed to take the checkered flag. You could say that the debris was high enough on the track for the sanctioning body to ignore it as a hazard to the drivers on the track, especially since it was the final lap and fans definitely want to see a race end under the green flag, but in these days where a water bottle on the track causes the caution to fly, it’s hard not to scratch your head at such a no-call.

Quick Hits:

- In the late stages of the UNOH 225, rookie Ryan Blaney chased down then-leader Kyle Busch and appeared to have a truck strong enough to make the pass and take the win, but Busch wandered up the track and the slight contact sent Blaney’s No. 29 Ford into the wall, caving in the right front corner and essentially ending his run for the victory. Though Blaney didn’t blame Busch for it and the latter did back off of the throttle in an attempt to avoid the contact, Busch didn’t feel the need to apologize to Blaney. Sure, he said how much he “hated it” for the young driver, but it’s amazing what the two little words ‘I’m sorry’ will do to fix unintentional contact.

- After starting off the year with back-to-back victories, Johnny Sauter has struggled in the last few races, and Thursday night was no different. Before the green flag even flew, Sauter’s truck was without power and had to be pushed to pit road by a safety vehicle. Just as the crew was about to pop the hood in an attempt to figure out the problem, the engine re-fired and Sauter joined the field for the beginning of the race. Having gained several positions in the opening laps, the problems didn’t end there for the driver of the No. 98 Carolina Nut Toyota. He was busted during the first round of pit stops for a loose tire and was forced to restart at the tail end of the longest line. Though he was able to work his way up to a respectable 12th-place finish, Sauter dropped another spot in the standings and now finds himself tied with rookie Ryan Blaney for fifth, 47 points behind teammate and leader Matt Crafton.

- Cale Gale, who won last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, made his first Truck Series start of the season Thursday night behind the wheel of the No. 30 Rheem Chevrolet, fielded by Turner Scott Motorsports. After starting 18th, the 28-year-old had an uneventful race and spent some time running inside the top 10 before dropping back to an eventual 13th-place finish.

Truck Rookie Report
2013 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Ryan Blaney (No. 29)
Jeb Burton (No. 4)
Brennan Newberry (No. 14)
German Quiroga, Jr. (No. 77)
Ryan Truex (No. 30)
Darrell Wallace, Jr. (No. 54)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 8 (add Danny Efland, CJ Faison and a debuting Brett Moffitt)

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 3; Ryan Blaney, finished fifth; German Quiroga, finished eighth; Jeb Burton, finished ninth

Rookie of the Race: Ryan Blaney

Rookie Quotes:

“What a night it was. We sat on the pole and finished in the top five with a damaged Truck. I am so proud of everyone on this team, they always fight until the last possible second. Looking at the big picture, we continue to make strides in a positive direction. I can’t wait to get to Iowa — It’s one of my favorites.” Ryan Blaney, finished fifth

“I’m very happy for the Red Horse Racing 77 Otter Box Toyota Tundra was very good. We were fast and practice we were sixth and fourth in both practice and we qualified eighth. We knew we could take a risk of putting the truck loose. We’re good and I’m happy with a top-10 and hopefully we can get better with every weekend. This was good for the rookie points, so that’s what we’re looking for and hopefully and hopefully we get a top-five next race.” German Quiroga, finished eighth

“It wasn’t the finish we wanted, but the team worked so hard and did great tonight. A top-10 finish is never a bad thing. It’s just tough not being able to get these guys a back-to-back win. It means a lot to have everyone’s support. It only makes me more determined to win.” Jeb Burton, finished ninth

“It was just hard racing going into (turn) three. Me and Ryan (Blaney) — just a little tight right there and I got loose. I thought I had it saved and I think if he wasn’t there and already gone that I might have saved it and just lost more positions. Just hard racing. I’m still trying to figure these trucks out — I’m a rookie, that’s what the yellow stripes are for. Thanks again to Toyota, Good Sam, Camping World — we’ll be back. We had another truck to beat and we were out running the boss, so that’s pretty fun.” Darrell Wallace, Jr., finished 28th

Championship Checkup:
Welcome to the newest addition to Tracking the Trucks. Each week we’ll take a look at the championship picture and find out which drivers were affected the most by the racing on track. Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below.

Biggest Winner:

Biggest Loser: On the strength of five straight top-5 finishes, Brendan Gaughan came into Kentucky Speedway third in points and 35 markers behind leader Matt Crafton. Hoping to capitalize on another mile-and-a-half track, Gaughan started fourth and looked like he just might be able to continue his top 5 streak. But that all came crashing to a halt when smoke began billowing out of the back end of the No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet. Relegated to the garage area for 34 laps, the team discovered that the oil pump on the truck had failed. After replacing it, Gaughan returned to the track in 32nd place and spent the remainder of the race logging laps and gaining positions through attrition en route to a 27th-place finish. As a result, Gaughan dropped four sports in the standings and, perhaps more importantly, lost 17 points to leader Matt Crafton.

“That was not the finish this South Point Chevrolet team was looking for or deserved. We had a great qualifying effort and Shane (Wilson, crew chief) made some big changes before we went out there,” Gaughan said. “We were good in the race and just finding our rhythm and stride when we ended up in the garage. But, like I knew we could, we were able to fix it to get back out and earn some points.”

While it certainly wasn’t the strong finish the driver or team had hoped for, the hard work spent in the garage area to make repairs to the No. 62 truck paid off in the form of five more points in the all-important championship battle. There was no way for Gaughan to win this race. However, those additional positions he gained while running 34 laps down could end up making the difference between a trip to this year’s awards banquet and sitting at home while other drivers go in his place. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for Gaughan to the win the championship at this point, but what I will say is that he definitely can’t afford to have another disappointing run like he did in Kentucky.

Points Update: Matt Crafton maintains his spot atop the standings, but Jeb Burton has managed to knock another point off of his deficit, bringing it down to 22 just eight races into the season. Race winner Ty Dillon jumped three spots to third on the strength of his win. Defending champion James Buescher, who moved up a position, and Johnny Sauter, who dropped one, round out the top 5.

Rookie Ryan Blaney moved up another spot to sixth, while Brendan Gaughan dropped four positions to seventh following his 27th-place run. Miguel Paludo’s fifth top-10 finish on the year moved him up to eighth. Darrell Wallace, Jr. dropped a spot to ninth and is followed by Timothy Peters to round out the top 10.

Quotable:

“Man, what a night. I can’t thank my guys enough for everything they do for this team. Marcus (Richmond, crew chief) made some awesome calls that put us right where we needed to be to win this race. We started off with a not-so-great qualifying effort, but the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet became a rocket there at the end. The last five laps were the longest ones of my life. To beat Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, two of the best on four wheels right now; they’re winning everything right now, I look up to those guys and I want to be like them. To be able to beat them was really special. I’m so happy to be here in Victory Lane, have this opportunity to race for my grandfather and put on a great show for all the fans. I’m truly blessed.” Ty Dillon

“We had an interesting night for sure, had a couple of ups and downs. It just didn’t come together. We still had a shot at it and I think that just goes to show how everyone on this team is fighting hard to get a win. it would mean a lot to me. We’ve got a lot of these second [place]‘s but we don’t have a win. It’s coming soon. I just appreciate everybody’s hard work. The truck wasn’t drivable early on. I thought something was wrong and thought I might have screwed it up, but when I came in and put new tires on it, then it was okay. We were really fast in practice, just came up a little bit short to [race winner Ty Dillon], who did a great job. I made one or two bad moves that hurt us, and we needed to be just a little bit better in a couple of other areas.” Brad Keselowski, finished second

“The ToyotaCare Tundra was really fast — we didn’t make a good enough adjustment on that last pit stop and we put two tires on it to get it tight enough to hustle the truck through the corners. I was just fighting for what I had.” Kyle Busch, finished third

“It was a great night for our Fraternal Order of Eagles team. We have been having great runs all season long, but we just haven’t had the finishes we were looking for. I feel like we are finally starting to get the results we deserve, and I am confident that we’ll be in victory lane very soon.” James Buescher, finished fourth

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series takes a week off before heading to Iowa Speedway on Saturday, July 13th. Last season, Timothy Peters started on the pole and led four times for 87 laps en route to his fourth career victory. The American Ethanol 200 will be televised on live SPEED beginning at 8:30 PM ET; it can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM Channel 90.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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