The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: An Eldora Recap by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday July 25, 2013

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Truckin' Thursdays: An Eldora Recap

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday July 25, 2013

 

In a Nutshell: After a nearly 43-year absence from dirt racing, the Camping World Truck Series embarked on the unknown in its inaugural visit to Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. When the dust settled, it was Austin Dillon who survived a green-white-checkered finish to grab the victory ahead of Kyle Larson in the Mudsummer Classic. Ryan Newman, who spent many of the closing laps beating and banging with his teammate Larson, finished third. Truck Series regulars Joey Coulter and Timothy Peters rounded out the top 5.

In a race that was slowed by a handful of legitimate debris cautions, there was only one yellow for a wreck on the track when Jared Landers spun, taking out Ty Dillon and Johnny Sauter along the way. Sauter and Jeff Babcock, who suffered an engine failure in the beginning of the second segment, were the only two drivers to post DNFs.

Race Rundown: Living Up to the Hype

Where do I begin? From the moment NASCAR released the 2013 Truck Series schedule, fans and media alike chattered with excitement and interest in the inaugural visit to Eldora Speedway. And in the weeks leading up to the inaugural Mudsummer Classic, the hype built to levels that I feared it wouldn’t be able to stand up to. Man was I wrong … and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Beginning with the five heat races to set the field to the last chance qualifier, it was clear that 150 laps wouldn’t feel like enough when the checkered flag finally flew, and that couldn’t have been more accurate. Once Austin Dillon took the victory, I found myself wanting to turn back the clock and do it all over again, and though it wasn’t a scientific study by any means, the general consensus on Twitter was that many felt the same. In fact, Wednesday night was the first time I can remember following along with an event on Twitter and seeing nothing but positive comments.

Of course there was plenty of beating, banging and crumpled sheet metal to go around by the time the checkered flag flew, but was that really any different than any other dirt race on your local track? The racing was so entertaining throughout the entire event that I almost forgot it was a points race until SPEED showed their update near the end of the broadcast. But perhaps the most important part about this race was the spotlight that sat squarely on not only the Truck Series, but on the excitement that is dirt track racing. For those that have never taken in an event at their local track and have instead always hit the big tracks on the NASCAR circuit, it was a chance to see the kind of action that brings people out each and every week to the small venues all over the country.

The bottom line is that the racing lived up to the hype and didn’t turn into the wreckfest that many feared. Instead, it was a hit and NASCAR would be wise to keep this event on the schedule for many years to come.

Quick Hits:

- Before the field took the green flag, the drivers lined up in a four-wide parade lap as a tribute to the fans. It’s not that the excitement level leading up to the green flag needed any increase, but that sure was a fun way to start off the series’ inaugural dirt track race.

- How cool was that victory celebration? Austin Dillon and his team joined on the track with a golden shovel for a ceremonial dirt digging. Each team member took home a part of the racing surface as a special reminder of their victory. Why can’t more tracks come up with unique celebrations like this one?

- Dirt track ringer Scott Bloomquist laid down the gauntlet earlier this week, declaring “we are going to win this race,” but it wasn’t meant to be for the 49-year-old. Though he was locked into the field based on owner points, the driver of the No. 51 Toyota dropped through the field, complaining of loose conditions and fell off of the lead lap midway through the first segment. It was a deficit he was unable to recover from and ultimately settled in to a 25th-place finish, two laps behind.

- Did you see Brendan Gaughan and Ty Dillon cheering for Norm Benning as he raced his way into the event through the last chance qualifier? Benning held onto the fifth spot as the caution flew with just three laps remaining to set the final five spots in the main event Wednesday night, and though he had to restart on the inside line where most drivers lost ground in the early parts of the night, Benning wasn’t content to just sit idly by and watch the race fall out of his hands. Instead, he forced his way up into the high line, ruffling Clay Greenfield’s feathers in the process, and though Greenfield did his share of beating and banging against the No. 57 on the final lap, nearly spinning Benning off of his front bumper, Greenfield came up short and Benning made the race. And Benning even offered a friendly one-fingered salute to Greenfield after the checkered flag flew. Though he ultimately ended up finishing 26th, four laps down to the winner, Benning should count his visit to Eldora as a win for his self-funded effort in the Truck Series.

Championship Checkup:

Despite the trepidation many drivers likely held coming into Eldora, the top 5 in points remains unchanged, with Matt Crafton still leading the charge by 48 markers over Jeb Burton. Defending champion James Buescher sits just three points behind his teammate in third, while Ty Dillon is fourth. Johnny Sauter rounds out the top 5, holding a tie-breaker over Timothy Peters, who has jumped five spots in the last two races.

Brendan Gaughan sits seventh, tied with rookie Ryan Blaney after jumping two spots in a nice recovery from two straight bad finishes at Kentucky and Iowa. Rookie Darrell Wallace, Jr. sits ninth, and Miguel Paludo, who dropped three spots rounds out the top 10.

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads Pocono Raceway on Saturday, August 3rd. The Pocono Mountains 125 will be televised on live SPEED beginning at 1:10 PM ET; it can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM Channel 90.

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Bill B
07/25/2013 12:26 PM
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I actually thought the hype exceeded the race. Don’t get me wrong, since I think short tracks produce the best races it was a good race but I didn’t think it was anymore compelling than a Martinsville race.
Admittedly, with the exception of a World of Outlaws highlights on news clips, that is the first dirt race I have watched from beginning to end. I was surprised that there wasn’t more contact. Really, there are more cautions and bent sheet metal at Bristol or Martinsville. The other thing that suprised and disappointed me was that there wasn’t any actual mud being flung around. Afterall, they billed it as the “Mudsummer Classic” but I didn’t really see much mud on the trucks.
I also was under the impression that dirt tracks usually wet the track down a couple of times during the night. Guess I was mistaken. Just shows my ignorance with respect to dirt track racing.
Once again. I’ll give it five stars just like I usually give Martinsville races but call me underwhelmed given the hype that surrounded the race.
Also, I wasn’t impressed with the concept of setting the field via heat races. I know there are folks that suggest this from time to time and even without ever seeing one I didn’t like the idea. Now that I’ve seen a race field set that way my negative appraisal of ever using that method at the cup level is cemented in place.

Dyno Dave
07/25/2013 12:57 PM
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So what’s wrong with heat races Bill? It’s not like the alternative (qualifying by time) has much entertainment value.

BTW – as a general rule, at least from my experience in this part of the country, most dirt tracks do not water during the program.

Love those “black ice” dry-slick racetracks…

FSBeth
07/25/2013 01:03 PM
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I actually really enjoyed the heat races. It forced the drivers to really work for their starting positions rather than just dialing in their trucks for two laps. Plus, the ending of the LCQ was a classic.

Bill B
07/25/2013 01:14 PM
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Dyno,
I wasn’t impressed with the heat races because to me they just added more of a crapshoot factor to the sport. A lot of fans like the idea that a top tier driver in top tier equipment won’t qualify for the race and some underdog with a snowball’s chance in hell of winning will displace that top tier driver/team. I am not one of those fans. I want the best teams and the best drivers in the race. The idea of my driver wrecking his primary car in a qualifying heat race does not thrill me either.

john
07/25/2013 01:16 PM
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What a killer race, what a killer night. No BS, just good ol’ fashioned racing. Norm Benning drove like a man possessed in the last chance and turned himself into a hero. Apparently a bunch of other crews helped him patch the truck up in time for the Feature. That’s classy stuff.

The race itself will evolve, if NASCAR gives it a chance in the coming years. Eventually, someone will start to figure out more of a middle or low line setup, put down some rubber, and the racing will be more side-by-side.

I was really impressed, overall. I thought the drivers acquitted themselves really well, and really showed the dirt snob fans who thought it would just be a giant wreck-fest. Only one caution for spin, and no wrecks in a 150 lap race! Even the “dirt ringers” were nowhere to be found. Sure, Dillon, Larson and Newman have dirt experience, but they’re all NASCAR drivers who have raced on dirt. All the dirt RINGERS, like Jared Sanders, Jeff Babcock and Scott Bloomquist ended up doing very little. Much like road course ringers not being very useful anymore, the top names in NASCAR are proving they can do well on any racing surface.

Speaking of, WTF happened to Bloomquist? He was my early pick and he was junk all night. I wonder what kind fit Kyle Busch was throwing as he watched the TV…

john
07/25/2013 01:22 PM
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Bill B

For what it’s worth, every single dirt track is a little bit different, not just in shape but in surface. The kind clay that’s at Eldora really really rubbers in, and gets that smooth sheen as the race goes on and on. Some tracks DO that, but others don’t, depending on weather, temperature, whether it rained, etc etc… So sometimes you end up with a giant super-loose dustball where you can’t see a thing… Sometimes it gets wet and turns into actual mud and gets big ugly ruts… and sometimes the track locks down, as Bowyer described, like tonight, where it’s sort of “perfect.” All the really well-prepared dirt tracks (like my local Ohsweken Speedway, too) are expert at getting the track just right so it rubbers in for the Feature.

What would have been fun is if it rained lightly…. dirt races mostly continue on as long as it’s a mild rain, which would have slicked the track out and turned it into mud.

Bill B
07/25/2013 01:37 PM
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John,
Then whey did they hype it as “Mudsummer” if there wasn’t going to be any mud? Heck, even the sidewalls of the tires stayed mudless.

Once again, let me say I thought the race was great and it kept me interested the entire time (just like Martinsville). I hope they do it again next year. I just thought it was over-hyped. Not as over-hyped as the allstar race or Indy will be, but they hype still caused my expectations to exceed reality.

Michael in SoCal
07/25/2013 02:26 PM
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To me it was a lot of fun to watch. But it just showed, yet again, that short tracks put on great races. Mile and a half tracks (and larger) built for Indy Car and Nascar don’t.

Zetona
07/25/2013 03:09 PM
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Last night’s race was a ton of fun and I can’t wait till the trucks do it again next year. Five-wide, trucks banging off each other and the wall, everyone some degree of sideways, it was great stuff. The only problems were that it was a little too tough to pass on the bottom (so when Dillon got the jump on the last restart, Larson had nothing for him), and that it was over too damn quickly—the feature should be 200 laps minimum in the future. It would also be nice if we could do this at a track with a proper pit road, so that we don’t need to bring everyone to the pits just when the leaders are mixing it up with the lapped cars.

There’s a .4-mile dirt track right next to Charlotte Motor Speedway. I propose that the next All-Star Race be held there. With the smaller fields and segment format, the size and lack of a full pit road won’t be a problem.

Also, is it feasible to cover Richmond or Indianapolis Raceway Park in a few inches of dirt once a year? Because THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.

Earner
07/25/2013 03:25 PM
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That was Real Racin..We were entertained completly & Thanks Tony & Nascar for this event…Did you notice every driver got out seemed to have BIG smiles & said lets do it again…Great event..One thing tho Beth …The race I saw had Austin winning…Did you have a good time?

DoninAjax
07/25/2013 07:17 PM
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I enjoyed the race but it reminded me of the racing at IRP. Up against the wall all the way around and tough to pass lower down.

Scott must have listened to Kyle’s tips on how to run on dirt. He should have listened to Larson’s.

Tony
07/25/2013 08:36 PM
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great racing. The last chance qualifier with Norm Benning driving like his life depended on it the last few laps was some of the best racing in the last few years. Yes I know he didn’t have the equipment to challenge for a decent finish but man that was awesome to watch. OK nascar add some more exciting races like this and get rid of some if not all the cookie cutters

Buck Futz
07/25/2013 11:01 PM
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How much lipstick did Tony Stewart leave on Mike Helton’s rear end?
NASCAR just had to segment the “race” and make it another of their manipulative bad jokes, didn’t they?
Real dirt track races don’t have pit stops.
The track should have been graded, watered and packed before the main.
Anyone that thinks this was a great dirt track race has never seen one because this was nothing more than a circus side-show.

Ken Smith
07/26/2013 10:03 AM
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Bill B – I did read somewhere that one of the reasons they did not wet the track down more was that they decided to run windshields and if the track had mudded up there would have been no way for them to clean the windsheilds during the race. Of course normal dirt cars don’t run a glass windshield and instead run a “mud screen.” I would suggest that next time they should make them remove the windshields !! Great race – great night for Tony !!

phil h
07/29/2013 01:22 AM
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Bill B

I agree, it wasn’t much to me either.
No mud, that track was hard as Daytona, hell maybe harder.
Not impressed.
I can admire Nascar for going back to an earlier time, but not this far back.
Give me Rockingham,North Wilkesboro and Nashville type tracks.
You know, one’s that are PAVED!

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