Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks
In a Nutshell: Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag 1.308 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch to win the E-Z-Go 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick dominated the race, leading 100 of the 130 laps run Saturday afternoon on the way his seventh career Camping World Truck Series victory. Aric Almirola, Steve Wallace and Todd Bodine rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Harvick. Harvick’s No. 2 E-Z-Go Chevrolet was fast straight off of the truck, running in the top two in both practice sessions. The driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet took the lead for the first time on lap 15 and managed to pull out to a more than five-second lead during the first 50 laps. His dominant win marked the second track where Harvick has won in all three of NASCAR’s top series; the first was Phoenix International Raceway.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race
1. How did Steve Wallace fare in his Truck Series debut?
The E-Z-Go 200 marked Wallace’s CWTS debut. Behind the wheel of the No. 15 Red Top Collector Car Auction Toyota fielded by Billy Ballew Motorsports, Wallace start out running 12th quickest in the first practice but managed to improve to fourth in the final practice. Continuing on that improvement, Wallace started in sixth place, just ahead of teammate Almirola.
Wallace managed to keep his No. 15 Toyota inside the top 10 for the majority of the afternoon and even led three laps during the mid-section of the race. However, a late-race pit-stop error cost the 22-year-old driver a couple spots on pit road.
“I had my foot off the brake there on the last stop,” Wallace said. “The tires spun and we lost a lot of spots there.”
Despite that pit road error, Wallace managed to work his way from seventh back up into the top five, but not before having a minor incident with Bodine. With just four laps remaining, Wallace moved up the track a little and Bodine moved down, causing the two to collide. Both drivers were able to continue racing, and Wallace settled into his final finishing position of fourth.
“We had a good Toyota Tundra today. We just went a little too far on that last adjustment and got it a little too tight. We pulled some air out of those front tires. After that, the truck started to come back to life.” Wallace continued, “All in all, it was a good day. Billy Ballew got third- and fourth-place finishes in his home town. It’s a cool day.”
Overall, Wallace should be proud of his CWTS debut. He managed to bring the No. 15 Toyota back to Billy Ballew with minimal damage and added a top five to his resume. Should the opportunity arise again, Wallace would be silly not to give the Truck Series another shot.
2. Can Aric Almirola contend for a championship?
Almirola made a comment during his post race interview that he and No. 15 team are on a different kind of strategy this season. Last season, they were focused on getting owner’s points for Billy Ballew and attempting to win races. Though they came close a couple times, Almirola has yet to score that elusive win.
“We’re consistent. We’re racing for a championship this season, but at the same time we want to win races. Richie Watters (crew chief) and Billy Ballew Motorsports worked hard during the offseason to get this program where it is,” Almirola said. “We’ve still got our homework to do. We just weren’t as good as we needed to be on the long runs. We came up third, but if we keep running top five like this and put ourselves in position to win races, eventually we will.”
All of that sounds great, but can BBM’s No. 15 team really win the championship this season?
Almirola is definitely in the hunt to win the CWTS championship this season. Since joining BBM at Texas Motor Speedway last June, Almirola has 11 top-10 finishes in 18 starts, including eight top-five finishes. Though it’s early in the season to be thinking about the standings, the 26-year-old driver currently finds himself in the thick of the championship hunt in fourth, just 48 points behind leader Bodine.
Almirola has already proven he has the talent to race with the series veterans, and his No. 15 team stands strong behind him. Expect Almirola and his team to make their presence known for the remainder of the season and for years to come if he chooses to stay in the series.
No. of Rookies in the Race: 4
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1; Dillon, finished 10th
Rookie of the Race: Dillon
Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Dillon scored a career best 10th-place finish Saturday afternoon. The 19-year-old driver started fifth but quickly dropped outside the top 10 after the green flag flew. A little patience and a few adjustments to the truck moved the driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet through the field for his first career top-10 finish.
“It was a long wait to get back in it again. I’ve been thinking all this time about what I could have done differently at Daytona.” – Austin Dillon
Bodine moved up one spot and is now the points leader after a solid top-five finish while Timothy Peters dropped one spot and sits just four points out of first. Jason White moved up one spot to third, 45 points behind the leader. Almirola and Busch, who jumped eight and 17 spots respectively, round out the top five.
Stacy Compton remains in sixth, 83 points behind leader Bodine. Dennis Setzer dropped four spots to seventh, and a disappointing 27th-place finish dropped Matt Crafton three spots to eighth. Tayler Malsam jumped eight spots to the ninth position and Donnie Neuenberger remains in the 10th position, 111 points out of first.
Several drivers, who were involved in wrecks at Daytona International Speedway, made big gains in the standings as well. Ricky Carmichael jumped 17 spots to 12th. Dillon moved up 11 positions to 15th, but just two points behind, Rick Crawford moved up 12 spots to 16th. Johnny Sauter rebounded with a solid top-10 finish and moved up 16 positions to 19th in the standings.
Defending series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. finds himself in a deep hole after back-to-back DNFs. A 27th-place finish at Daytona International Speedway coupled with a 34th-place finish Saturday afternoon has the driver of the No. 33 Longhorn Chevrolet sitting in 28th place in the points standings at this point. He has three more races to move back into the top 25 before the teams start using 2010 owner points for qualifying lock-ins.
“What a great day to come watch a race. The crowd was pretty awesome. I never let off over I don’t know how many laps (to the finish). The only chance they had was on the restarts because these things draft so well. It was a lot of fun. We’ll keep at it.” – race winner Kevin Harvick
“It was a great day. We’re looking for more partners, and this is true testament to what this team will do this year. Today was a start. Overall we’ll get some things going and we’ll get a lot better. I just wanna say hey to all the kids in the grandstands with the Kyle Busch Foundation. Eric (Phillips, crew chief) and the crew did well today so I could at least see” – runner-up Kyle Busch
“It’s been a good start to the year. I don’t know if we could have beat the [No.] 2 truck today. This has turned into the Chevy Silverado benefit series. They got all the rules and the horsepower and we still struggle, but we’re proud to be driving a Toyota Tundra. To come back from a spin and end up fifth on the board and leading the points, it’s not a bad day. We’ll take it.” – Todd Bodine
(Author’s Note: Despite Bodine’s rant, five of the top-seven trucks when the checkered flag flew were Toyotas)
“It wasn’t the best day on pit road, but these guys worked really hard. I can’t say enough for Turner Motorsports and Monster Energy for giving me this opportunity. Sixth place against these guys – it’s not like I got beat by a bunch of guys that don’t have any experience. I love Atlanta and I love NASCAR racing. I just can’t believe it; I need to be up here to stay.” – Ricky Carmichael
Up Next: The Craftsman Truck Series heads to Martinsville Speedway in three weeks for the Kroger 250 on Saturday, March 27th. In 2009, Harvick won the race after favorite Busch found himself the victim of a pit-road commitment cone violation late in the race. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.