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Tracking the Trucks: 2008 Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350

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In a Nutshell: Mike Skinner took the checkered flag 0.020 seconds ahead of Erik Darnell to win the Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350 Saturday night. Several cautions set up the green-white-checkered finish that allowed Skinner to pull past Darnell at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Matt Crafton, John Andretti and Ron Hornaday Jr. rounded out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Darnell. Darnell ran second quickest in the first practice but dropped off considerably in the final practice. The problems the No. 99 team had during the final practice turned around when the team took the track under the lights. Darnell lead 56 laps only to be passed by Skinner on the sixth green-white-checkered finish of the season.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. Should Jack Sprague have been upset with Brendan Gaughan?

On lap 75, the caution flag flew for the fifth time when contact from Gaughan sent Sprague spinning into the outside wall. After he got out of the No. 2 Camping World Chevrolet, Sprague walked up toward the track and made gestures at Gaughan who pointed back at him, and he made it very clear who he thought was at fault in the incident

“The guys gave me a great truck. I raced Brendan [Gaughan] underneath him most of the race and never touched him so I don’t know what his excuse is,” Sprague said. “Just got taken out. There’s no reason for that.”

While Sprague was quick to blame Gaughan for taking him out, it certainly didn’t look intentional. All night, drivers who raced on the inside of other trucks found themselves extremely loose. The same thing happened with Gaughan when he was on the inside of the No. 2 of Sprague. Sure, Sprague had a reason to be upset because the wreck ended his night, but the other driver could have been anyone.

2. What happened to points leader Johnny Benson?

Benson and the No. 23 team came into the Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350 with a 74-point lead, but that lead was almost completely erased by the time the checkered flag flew. But what happened to allow Hornaday Jr. to gain 73 points on Benson?

Benson qualified his No. 23 Exide Batteries Toyota in the fifth spot. When the yellow flag flew for the second time on lap 24, Todd Bodine led the field down pit road, and Benson led the field off pit road after taking fuel only.

Just 40 laps later, Benson ended up with a cut tire that sent him hard into the outside wall and turned his truck into “complete junk.” The team quickly went to work on the truck, but soon after decided the damage to the No. 23 was terminal. Benson had no warning at all that he had a tire going down.

“The truck was perfect. Zero warning. It was just a little free and not bad at all,” Benson said. “I was just cruising right along and there it went. Looks like we’re pretty much done for the day.”

Though Benson’s lead was cut to nothing, there are still plenty of races left. In fact, the bad fortune of the No. 23 team has actually helped to tighten the points race even more. Now, the top seven drivers are separated by just 257 points, and a bad week for any of those drivers can change the points race even more.

Truck Rookie Report
2008 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Colin Braun (No. 6)
Andy Lally (No. 7)
Donny Lia (No. 71)
Justin Marks (No. 9)
Marc Mitchell (No. 15)
Phillip McGilton (No. 22 – replaced by Scott Speed at Kansas)
Brian Scott (No. 16)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 5

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1; Lia finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Lia

Braun ran in the top five for quite a bit of the night. Prior to the green-white-checkered finish, Braun was running third and looked like he had a chance at passing Skinner and Darnell. But his truck ended up getting loose, and Braun wrecked across the start/finish line; he ended up finishing 12th.

Worth Noting/Points Shuffle

The Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350 was slowed by a record-breaking 12 cautions; the previous record of nine was set in 1996.

After a wreck in practice, Ted Musgrave and HT Motorsports mutually agreed to part ways after completing less than a full season together. Stacy Compton was behind the wheel of the No. 59 at Las Vegas. Team owner Jim Harris said, “We will evaluate our options once we get back home and make an announcement on our driver or drivers for the rest of the season then.”

Benson’s second DNF of the season allowed Hornaday Jr. to erase most of the 74-point lead Benson held coming into this race. Hornaday Jr. now trails Benson by just one point. Crafton remains in third but gained points on the leader; he sits only 164 points out of first. Darnell and race-winner Skinner each gained two positions and round out the top five.

Rick Crawford dropped two spots to sixth and leads Bodine, who also dropped two spots, by just 11 points. The rest of the top 10 remain unchanged, with Sprague leading Dennis Setzer and Terry Cook.

Quotable

“Erik’s (Darnell) truck was awfully good and that [No.] 6 (Braun) truck was right up my butt. I knew I wasn’t going to wreck to win the race. I was going to push him, bounce off of him, do whatever I needed to do. But he’s a friend. He’s a class act and he has a great future in this business.” – Mike Skinner

“Mike [Skinner] was just a little better than us on the restarts. If we had had green-flag laps, I think we would have driven away from him. Congratulations to Mike.” – Erik Darnell

Up Next: The Craftsman Truck Series takes two weeks off and heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the Mountain Dew 250 Fueled by Winn-Dixie on Saturday, October 4th. In 2007, Bodine won a three-wide battle to the finish with Crawford and Benson to score his second win of the season. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on SPEED; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.

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