Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks
In a Nutshell: Elliott Sadler took the checkered flag 0.445 seconds ahead of Kasey Kahne to win the inaugural Pocono Mountains 125 Saturday afternoon at Pocono Raceway. Sadler held off a charge from Kahne and Matt Crafton during a second green-white-checkered attempt to score his first career victory in the series. Aric Almirola and Justin Lofton rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Sadler. Sadler dominated both practice sessions and showed he had a strong truck when he took the pole with a speed two-tenths of a second faster than second-place starter Kahne. He easily led the first 20 laps of the race before fading late in a green-flag run, letting his Cup Series teammate briefly take control. But he assumed the lead for the final time on the first of two GWC attempts and never looked back, scoring an emotional win.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race
1. Did the inaugural Truck Series race at Pocono live up to expectations?
Coming into the Pocono Mountains 125, there was quite a bit of hype about the altered qualifying procedure, as well as the inaugural race at Pocono Raceway. The question that remains is whether the race actually lived up to that hype once the checkers flew.
In a word, yes.
Starting off with an unusual qualifying session, NASCAR sent drivers out on the track using inverted practice speeds. Every 25 seconds, a new driver was sent off pit road, and if anyone spun, all trucks making their laps were given a chance to pull onto pit road to cool off their tires before making another qualifying attempt. That meant in a session which usually takes nearly two hours to complete, the entire field wound up running their laps in just about an hour.
When the field took the green flag for the first time in the race, it didn’t take long for the chaos to begin. Entering turn 1, Jason White and Timothy Peters made contact, sending White’s No. 23 GunBroker.com Dodge spinning in front of the field. The next restart saw a little more caution at the hands of the drivers, and they managed to run nearly a third of the race before the second caution flew.
My expectations coming into this weekend were extremely high knowing this race would replace the annual visit to Fontana, and the racing didn’t disappoint. As has always been the case in green-flag runs, the field spread out and the leader held a large clean-air advantage, but the three-wide racing on restarts is some of the best I’ve seen in the series.
Add to that racing excitement a very healthy crowd and you’ve got a recipe for future success. Saturday afternoon saw possibly the best crowd of the season, and that can probably be attributed to not only the hype leading up to this race but the family ownership of the track itself. Kudos to all of the fans in attendance, and I’m looking forward to next year’s visit to the “Tricky Triangle.”
2. How did Chase Mattioli fare in his Truck Series debut?
Growing up at Pocono Raceway, Chase Mattioli has spent plenty of time helping maintain the family track from as early as the age of seven; before Saturday afternoon, he had six starts at the 2.5-mile tri-oval in the ARCA Racing Series. But this time, it was his first start in the Truck Series with a Stacy Compton-owned truck.
It looked as though Mattioli’s Truck Series debut would be uneventful until the laps started winding down. With just five laps remaining, Mattioli became the second driver in three weeks to be taken out of his debut through no fault of his own. Two weeks ago at Gateway, Jeffrey Earnhardt became an innocent victim after Ricky Carmichael spun across his tracks, and the same happened to the driver of the No. 64 Pepsi Max Chevrolet when Donny Lia spun directly in front of him.
Prior to that wreck, Chase had spent much of his race in the mid-to-lower 20s on the track. He fell a lap down midway through the race, but was rewarded the Lucky Dog moments later when Bobby Hamilton Jr. lost it on his own.
The weekend wasn’t a total loss for the 20-year-old driver, though. He also raced in the ARCA Series Weis Markets 125 immediately following the conclusion of the Truck Series race, where he finished 12th. Despite the disappointment in his Truck Series debut, Mattioli should have some great memories from this weekend at a track that has been such a huge part of his life for so long.
“This weekend has been such a roller coaster of emotions,” Chase said. “I’m just glad we were able to go out there and put on a good show for all our sponsors here on my home track.”
3. Will Elliott Sadler end up racing in the Truck Series next season?
Ever since a reader suggested the possibility of Sadler joining Ron Hornaday Jr. in a second full-time Kevin Harvick Inc. truck a few weeks ago, I haven’t been able to quit thinking about that scenario. Sadler had four previous starts behind the wheel of a KHI truck before Saturday afternoon, and he made it clear earlier this season that he won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports in the Cup Series for 2011.
Add a win in the inaugural race at Pocono with a brand new sponsor, and you’ve got a pretty good reason to think Sadler in the Truck Series full-time is a real possibility. Sadler’s first win in NASCAR since 2004 when he beat out Kahne at Fontana is one that will likely stand as a more important memory for quite a while.
“You sit at home a lot, wondering if you’re ever going to make it back to victory lane,” Sadler said after the race. “There’s a lot of naysayers out there, and there’s a lot of people that write me off, not giving me a chance to make a comeback and be a strong presence again in this sport.”
The Truck Series could be just the place for that to happen for Sadler. Some drivers are just better off in a different series, and it’s hard to argue this result against a Cup season in which he’s yet to finish inside the top five. Though he’s only spent five races behind the wheel for KHI, Sadler does have three straight top-10 finishes and now a win behind the wheel of the No. 2.
Regardless of what Sadler’s plans for 2011 and beyond may be, it would certainly be nice to see a second full-time team for KHI again going forward.
No. of Rookies in the Race: 5 (Add a debuting Mattioli)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 2; Lofton, finished fifth and Dillon, finished seventh
Rookie of the Race: Lofton, finished fifth
Lofton scored his second-career top-five finish in what has been a frustrating rookie season, fresh off winning the ARCA Racing Series championship last season by just five points over Parker Kligerman.
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
KHI scored their fifth race win this season and 31st win overall. The team has won the last three races with three different drivers – Kevin Harvick (Gateway), Hornaday (ORP) and Sadler.
Richard Childress Racing announced they will end their Nationwide Series effort at the end of the season in favor of running two trucks for Childress’ grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon. The new Nationwide cars that were built will go to KHI through a deal between the two teams.
Sadler joins Almirola and Dillon as the third driver to score his first career Truck Series win this season. He’s also the sixth driver to win from the pole in 2010.
Todd Bodine saw his points lead shrink by 28 after a 12th-place finish and now paces Almirola, who scored his ninth top-10 finish of the season, by 149 points. Johnny Sauter remains in third, 193 out of first, while Peters moves up one spot to fourth. Crafton’s third consecutive third-place finish moved him up two spots to round out the top five.
Austin Dillon remains in sixth while Hornaday Jr. took the biggest hit, dropping three spots to seventh. Mike Skinner trails Hornaday Jr. by just one point in eighth. David Starr and White round out the top 10.
“It’s hard to put in words what this means to me. To be able to come here, sit on the pole, win the race and race against people like Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin, who I think are two of the best racecar drivers we have in our sport, means a great deal to me. This is the biggest win of my career.” – Elliott Sadler
“I had a really good Toyota truck and have to thank Kyle Busch (team owner) for letting me drive it. It was a lot of fun. We had a legitimate shot at racing with Elliott [Sadler], we had done it throughout the race. We just lost position and never got back to be close enough to Elliott.” – Kasey Kahne, finished second
“I learned so much here this weekend. I’ve only seen this place on TV and let me tell you, TV doesn’t do this place justice at all. I know the fans here saw a great race with a lot of action packed into a very short sprint, but I wish we had another 50 laps to go. I threw a couple of Hail Marys on the last couple of restarts, and they paid off.” – Matt Crafton, finished third
Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to Nashville Superspeedway for the Nashville 200 next Saturday night. Earlier this season, Kyle Busch dominated at Nashville, leading 131 of 150 laps on the way to his first victory as a driver/owner. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.