Tracking the Trucks: Kroger 200

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

In a Nutshell: Darrell Wallace, Jr. took the checkers ahead of Timothy Peters to win the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway, while Matt Crafton, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 5. The win is Wallace’s third of 2014 and the fourth of his career, with his first win coming in this race a year ago.

Who Should Have Won: Wallace, hands down. He led four times for 97 laps, including the last dozen. Johnny Sauter also had a strong truck and at one point held a commanding lead until a caution at the halfway point shuffled the field with varying pit strategies and changed the dynamic. Sauter got back to second and for a while looked faster than Wallace, but he burned up his tires in the closing laps and faded back to eighth.

Race Rundown:

A Hall of Fame Effort

Wallace wasn’t exactly alone on the track en route to the win this week. Wallace carried a special paint scheme and No. 34 to honor Wendell Scott, a NASCAR pioneer from nearby Danville, Va. who was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014 and will be inducted in January. Until Wallace won the fall race at Martinsville last year, Scott stood alone as the only African-American driver to win a NASCAR national touring series race with his 1964 victory at Jacksonville, in what was then the Grand National Series (now Sprint Cup).

Many members of Scott’s family were on hand for Wallace’s victory. The light blue No. 34 looked similar to Scott’s car in the 1960’s. It was common in those days to put the names of team mechanics on the cars, and Scott, who served as his own crew chief, was no exception. His cars simply said “Mechanic: Me” on them. Wallace has a deep appreciation for Scott’s place in the sport’s history, and carried the No. 34 to Victory Lane from the pole with pride.

“I know I had a guardian angel looking over me this weekend,” said Wallace after the race. “To be able to put it in Victory Lane, you couldn’t ask for a better weekend. You thought last year was special, but this definitely beats it.”

Hometown Hero

Timothy Peters shouldered his way up to second place in the closing laps, shoving his way past Johnny Sauter for the position. Also a Danville native, Peters had a little extra incentive to win: he doesn’t have a Martinsville grandfather clock. Peters has a Truck Series win at Martinsville, but it came in 2009, before Martinsvile gave a clock to winners in that series. He’s also got a win in Martinsville’s Late Model race from 2005. He did get a clock for that one, but says it was commandeered by his mother, who isn’t giving it back any time soon. Peters came close this time—had the race been 250 laps like the spring show is, he might have gotten it, but with a truck set up for long runs and a late restart, he couldn’t quite get there this time.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. took the checkers on Saturday in a paint scheme honoring NASCAR legend Wendell Scott.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. took the checkers on Saturday in a paint scheme honoring NASCAR legend Wendell Scott.

Aggressive Youngsters…and Not-So-Youngsters

Martinsville Speedway rarely lacks for action, and Saturday’s race was certainly no exception. Youngsters Brennan Newberry and Mason Mingus got together, bringing out a caution. Newbies Matt Tifft and Brandon Jones got together, bringing out a caution. Veteran Joey Coulter and rookie Cole Custer got together along with Gray Gaulding and Justin Jennings, bringing out a caution. See where this is going? And it didn’t end there. Timothy Peters and Bryan Silas made contact. Johnny Sauter and Gray Gaulding are always aggressive, but they seemed to give a little extra effort this week. John Wes Townley moved to block Ryan Blaney and ended up slamming the wall along with Brandon Jones, resulting in a red flag that lasted just under 11 minutes for cleanup. Sauter and Peters exchanged what were probably some colorful words after the race over Peters’ late move for second.

But the defining moment for short track racing at its notorious best was when Sauter got antsy while racing Wallace for the lead among some lapped cars and took it three wide. German Quiroga decided to get in on that action and took it four wide with Sauter, Wallace, and Wendell Chavous on the backstretch. They didn’t make it through Turn 3, with Quiroga spinning. Chavous and Sauter were also involved, though the damage to Sauter’s truck was minimal. It’s that type of racing—hard, fearless moves to try and win races—that race fans are missing in NASCAR 2014. The chief complaint among many viewers is drivers not going for wins late in races, but at this track, in this series, on this day, fans were reminded what the sport was made of.

Things get oily…

Driver aggression wasn’t the only reason the yellow flag flew at Martinsville Saturday. The No. 99 of Bryan Silas billowed smoke and dropped oil from Turn 2 down the backstretch. NASCAR didn’t react with a yellow flag right away, and several trucks spun coming off the corner, including Jeb Burton, Ryan Blaney, Brandon Jones (marking the third incident Jones was involved in on the day), Caleb Holman and John Hunter Nemechek.

The incident looked as though it could have been avoided. There was almost a full lap between the oil leak and the first spin in the fluid, and several drivers were warned to look out for oil long before they got to it. Teams knew it was there, but there was nowhere to go to avoid it as they were racing tightly for position. It was a bit of a black mark on an otherwise excellent day of racing at NASCAR’s oldest track.

Rookies, rookies everywhere

There are usually a fair number of rookies in the field at Martinsville. Since it’s a short track and a bit more forgiving than Bristol or Richmond, it’s the perfect place for drivers to get their feet wet. Some of the drivers in the field Saturday aren’t yet old enough to compete on longer tracks, as NASCAR sets the minimum age for tracks a mile or less at 16 but at 18 for the bigger, faster venues. This week a full half of the field was made up of rookie drivers (Rookie of the Year contenders as well as those with fewer than seven series starts prior to 2014) as 18 took the green flag.

The influx of young drivers is a good sign. The Truck Series has struggled with car counts recently, and NASCAR recently reduced the field to 30 trucks for 2015. If some new teams can get a start with youngsters, it could mean more competitive races for those 30 starters, as well as some talent for NASCAR’s future as some of its current stars age out. These young guns aren’t just turning laps; some of them are running up front—names like Erik Jones, Cole Custer, Gray Gaulding, Alex Guenette, Austin Hill, John Hunter Nemechek might be the ones fans are hearing about at the top in a few years.

Contact was a frequent occurrence in a race filled with young drivers.
Contact was a frequent occurrence in a race filled with young drivers.

Quick Hits:

* The win was the 12th Truck Series victory at Martinsville for Toyota. It was also the manufacturer’s 15th of 2014, a single-season best along with 2010.

* The race saw five different leaders, including Wallace, Sauter, Crafton, Blaney and rookie Austin Hill in his series debut. Hill took the lead under caution at lap 104 when pit strategy shuffled the field, but he led the field to green on lap 108 and again on lap 115and then held off the field for nine more laps to lead a total if 21 in his first race. There goes that bright future, shining again…

* Not only did the Kroger 200 have a full field of trucks, but two drivers had to pack it in and go home after failing to qualify. Rookies Charles Buchanan, Jr. and Dustin Hapka missed the show at Martinsville, ending their weekend dreams early but giving the series overall a shot in the arm.

Truck Rookie Report
2014 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Tyler Young (No. 02)
Tyler Reddick (No. 19)
Mason Mingus (No. 15)
Ben Kennedy (No. 31)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 18 (add Erik Jones, Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Gray Gaulding, Alex Guenette, Brandon Jones, Jody Knowles, Brandon Brown and debuting drivers Enrique Contreras III, Matt Tifft, Camden Murphy, Wendell Chavous, Cody Erickson and Austin Hill )

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 4; Erik Jones, finished fourth; Tyler Reddick, finished sixth; Matt Tifft, finished eighth; Alex Guenette, finished ninth

Rookie of the Race: Tyler Reddick, finished sixth
Note: Only drivers declared for the Rookie of the Year battle are eligible for Rookie of the Race honors.

Reddick continued to impress, finishing in the top 10 for the fourth time in his last five races.

Rookie Quotes:

“It was a fight for sure. Just weren’t as good as we needed to be all weekend. Never really found it, but fought hard and even had a shot there at the win for a little bit. Just a good overall points day for the owner’s points and we need to keep this 51 up front. We’ll come back and have a little bit better Tundra next time.” –Erik Jones, finished sixth

Points Update: Matt Crafton held onto the points lead after Martinsville, holding point over Ryan Blaney by 18 with three races to go. Wallace remains in third spot, 22 behind Crafton and four behind Blaney. Sauter sits 18 markers behind Wallace, and Peters rounds out the top 5, 37 down to Sauter and 77 off the lead.

Quotable:

I wasn’t worried about anybody honestly. They kept telling me where everybody was and I said I didn’t care. It’s our weekend and we’re going to come out and take this clock home with us and we just did that. That was so fun. Martinsville is my favorite place to come to. Without the support of NASCAR and Toyota — the whole Wendell Scott family is here and this is a special moment. Just a perfect weekend for us. It’s a true honor to have Wendell Scott on our Toyota Tundra and to be able to put it in victory lane — I know he (Scott) just said up there, ‘Hell yeah.’ This is cool.” –Darrell Wallace, Jr., race winner

“It feels good for all the guys — everyone back at the shop and everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports that work so hard and puts in all the hours and does such a great job building some great equipment. Both trucks were really good today. Darrell (Wallace Jr.) obviously sitting on the pole and being able to lead some laps there early. Then biding his time and being able to run a smart race and just putting his mind to it and knowing what he wanted to do and knowing that he wanted a trophy at the end of the day. I thought it was a great race by both Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) and Bubba and they put it together and were able to win tonight. From there just excited about the opportunity to have the NASCAR Hall of Fame Wendell Scott inductee Tundra in victory lane with Bubba driving — I think that was special for everyone including their family, but also just the KBM family being able to put all that together as well and again, just the success that these guys have had here. The success that Darrell has had here and also KBM — this is three fall races in a row we’ve won here. It’s pretty cool to win here in Martinsville — close to home for everybody, but with a short track race anything can happen here and our guys were the smartest I feel like today.” –Kyle Busch, winning truck owner

“I cut him a break earlier and it’s just Martinsville. I can’t thank these guys enough. They prepare a great truck at the shop and we showcased it last week and this week. Great points day for us. (Johnny) Sauter is Sauter — I’ll buy him a beer next week at Texas. I can’t thank Toyota enough — all the guys that are really associated with this team. Really excited this week and we’ll take that and run the last three. Whatever the outcome is at Homestead, we’ll take it.” –Timothy Peters, finished second

“Eventful — definitely eventful. We had a very, very good truck. Took off in the middle and got the lead. The 98 (Johnny Sauter) ran into me and moved me up the track. It is what it is at that point and we just tried to survive there at the end and just tried to make the best of the day. We got mired back in traffic so bad at that point and just tried to pick them off one by one. I’m happy to be where we are, but definitely not satisfied.” –Matt Crafton, finished third

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the WinStar World Casino 350K. Last year, Ty Dillon rolled to victory by 2.663 seconds over Johnny Sauter. The race will be aired on FOX Sports 1 and MRN Radio at 8 pm Eastern time.

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Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

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