Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks
In a Nutshell: Rain was the big story for much of the day Wednesday, delaying practice early in the day and placing some doubt on whether drivers would even be able to qualify. But the track stayed dry until late in the UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP; the red flag flew with just 34 laps remaining and stayed over the field for just over 45 minutes.
When the checkered flag flew 36 laps later, it was Ryan Blaney who emerged victorious after a green-white-checkered finish to take the win over Kyle Busch. The driver of the No. 29 Ford overcame an early-race black flag for jumping the restart following the first caution. Rookies John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric and Erik Jones rounded out the top fve.
Who Should Have Won: Cole Custer. Custer paced the final practice session Wednesday morning at Bristol and looked like he had one of the strongest trucks on the track as the laps wore down. But an untimely spin just ahead by the No. 23 of Spencer Gallagher, fighting desperately to stay on the lead lap just before the red flag for rain collected the leader. Custer, who had led a race-high 111 of 202 circuits, was left with heavy right-side damage and a disappointing 16th-place finish.
Caleb Holman’s Solid Run Cut Short
When I saw Caleb Holman 12th quickest on the practice charts from Tuesday, I raised my eyebrows a little. After all, the Virginia-based team he drives for, owned by longtime NASCAR supporter Charlie Henderson has only run a part-time schedule each year since 2012 on a miniscule budget. But when he wound up ninth in the final practice and eighth on the charts during qualifying, it was time to pay attention.
When the green flag flew over the field at the start of the race, I expected Holman to be practically eaten alive by the teams surrounding him with much larger budgets. Instead, he was racy and had plenty of speed, passing multiple drivers and engaging in several intense side-by-side battles. It even looked like he was on the way to a career-best finish and perhaps the team’s first top 10.
Sadly, it all came to an abrupt halt when Ray Black Jr. spun on lap 113. Holman wasn’t in the vicinity of the No. 07 truck; however the tight confines of Bristol made it impossible for the 21-year-old to clear Black, already stopped on the track. Committed to the high line headed into turn 4, Holman tried to squeeze between the back end of Black’s truck and the wall, but there just wasn’t enough room, and terminal damage was done to the No. 75 as a result. Holman was left to settle for a disappointing 31st-place finish.
“I’d been running the top. The only way to make time here is running super hard and super high,” Holman said from the garage area. “I did that; it was working pretty good – we were running pretty well. By the time I let off the gas, my spotter said ‘go low,’ and I couldn’t do it. I had already committed. Ray did what he was supposed to do – he held the brake. The banking had him sliding down a little and I thought my only shot was between him and the wall. He quit sliding down.
“It’s just really tough to take. A fast as we are, as such a small team, we don’t get opportunities to run this good that often. We were making the most of it. We’ll be back; we don’t do this because it’s easy. It’s supposed to be hard.”
While it’s completely understandable that Holman was so disappointed, there’s really nothing for him to be ashamed of; the Food Country USA team showed well. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I saw the driver of the No. 75 interviewed on television. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have been for something more positive than wrecking out of sixth place.
Start-and-Park Sends Full-Time Team Home
Jordan Anderson, Caleb Roark, BJ McLeod and Cody Lane failed to qualify for Wednesday night’s race, yet there was still one start-and-park truck in the field piloted by Tyler Tanner. I can’t speak for Lane’s plans, especially since he was a late entry and was likely just doing a one-off race anyway. Roark and McLeod are both start-and-park rides that pop up on a pretty regular basis.
For Anderson, though the blow of missing the race hits hard. Here’s a guy in the Truck Series that has put everything on the line to make each week. Having driven the same truck since Daytona in February, Anderson has documented his adventures going cross country trying to make a name for himself. He’s set up in hotel parking lots to work on his truck, leaned on numerous others to help his bare-bones crew, spent sleepless nights adjusting setups and drives his own truck to the track each week.
The amount of money spent just to get ready for Bristol and make it to the track turned out to be for naught. The driver, who normally keeps his fans up to date via his social media accounts, has been quiet since qualifying, surely disappointed that he worked so hard to turn around and go home.
While I understand why MB Motorsports needs to have a start-and-park entry to keep its team going, it’s disappointing to see drivers who intend to run the full race sent home by a truck that ran a whopping 12 laps before citing brake issues and retiring. It actually begs the question of whether NASCAR should allow larger fields – up to the 36 that used to be the norm in recent years – when more than 32 drivers show up. It’s a topic for another day but definitely one worth considering.
Wauters Motorsports Returns
Back in 2012, veteran NASCAR crew chief Richie Wauters dove headfirst into team ownership when he purchased a few trucks and started his own team with the hopes of running full-time with Paulie Harraka behind the wheel. But after just 11 races – including four DNFs – the team took a break to regroup before announcing it had parted ways with Harraka. Since then, Wauters has tried to field multiple drivers but has only gotten 8-10 races in before mysteriously disappearing from the track again, most likely because sponsorship dollars dried up.
Enter late model driver Dalton Sargeant. Having worked with the team before, the 17-year-old set up to make his first career Truck Series start at Bristol, knowing there aren’t many tracks left on the schedule for a driver under the age of 18 to compete at. After starting 18th, Sargeant remained just outside the top 15 for much of the race before a late scramble sent him to an eventual 10th-place finish.
“Overall I can’t be more proud of everyone at Wauters Motorsports for the work they put into this No. 5 Toyota Tundra,” Sargeant said of his debut. “It was just a huge learning process through the entire race and I ended up bringing it home in the top 10. Can’t be more than happy with that finish for my first Camping World Truck Series start, especially coming to a place like Bristol where it’s absolutely crazy. It’s just been a really cool experience and I can’t be more than thankful.”
Since Bristol is the type of track that tends to chew up rookie drivers and spit them out in a wad of sheet metal, it’s impressive that Sargeant managed to pull out a solid top-10 finish. He was far from competitive for even a top 5, remaining back in the pack for much of the race, but that seat time is what’s most important for a driver who’s never run a truck before. While I’m not sure if we’ll see more of Sargeant this year, he will be one to watch if he can enter the Truck Series with the right team to keep him on track for a full season.
Well You Don’t See That Every Day
The first red flag that flew over practice Wednesday morning was caused by a rabbit loose on the track. Thankfully, NASCAR halted the session before it became a tragedy but hilarity ensued while officials attempted to wrangle the stray animal. Eventually, they managed to chase it into the infield and practice resumed with no further visits from the four-legged renegade.
(Author’s Note: Shoutout to our own Mike Neff, who was caught on the broadcast in turn 4 taking pictures while officials attempted to wrangle the rabbit.)
- JJ Haley and newly-formed Braun Motorsports made their Truck Series debut together Wednesday night. After starting 21st, the driver of the No. 32 Chevrolet quietly clicked off laps and notched a 14th-place finish in his debut. The team, created by Todd Braun (yes, the same Todd Braun who sold his Xfinity Series assets a few years ago) plans two more starts this season.
- For the first time in eight races, Daniel Suarez failed to finish inside the top 10 when the checkered flag flew. Suarez put himself in a hole when he wrecked his primary No. 51 truck late in the final practice session hard enough to bend the suspension and the front clip. His team worked feverishly to pull out the backup, and though the first laps turned in that truck were in qualifying, he started 16th. Quickly moving his way through the field and into the top 10, it looked like Suarez was on his way to another impressive finish in his short career; however, he managed to help bring out the first caution after a spin with Cameron Hayley. Though the crew made repairs to the truck, the Toyota eventually struggled with overheating issues and was forced to retire after 154 laps. Suarez finished 30th.
“It was a lot of problems for one day of racing. Everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports did a great job giving me a fast Tundra for this race. Unfortunately, we had some bad luck during practice and had to go to a backup for qualifying. The team once again worked hard and we felt like we had a good Tundra for the race. We were fast and passing other drivers before the contact early in the race and then had more bad luck when we overheated at the end. Great job by everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports, we’ll come back my next series race and be better.”
- NTS Motorsports made its 125th (and 126th) Camping World Truck Series start at Bristol. The organization made its debut at Martinsville Speedway in 2012 with Brennan Newberry behind the wheel. In the 124 starts leading up to Wednesday night’s race, a total of 16 different drivers have piloted NTS equipment since then, accumulating two poles, 11 top fives, 37 top-10 finishes and 118 laps led. Wednesday night, Hemric and Ty Dillon carried the banner for NTS; while Hemric matched his career-best finish, Dillon was caught up in a late-race accident and had to settle for a DNF. The duo finished fourth and 23rd, respectively.
- Instead of piloting his usual No. 51 Toyota (driven by Suarez this week) Busch was behind the wheel of the No. 54 with backing from JEGS. In the ride that Justin Boston struggled with mightily, Busch faced both loose and tight conditions and even dealt with his splitter hitting the track early in the race. But despite handling woes, Busch managed to bring home a solid runner-up finish, even with a late-race pit stop that saw him restart 15th. Perhaps the problem for Boston was less about the equipment and the team and more about a talent that hasn’t yet been fully developed.
- Blaney has now won a truck race in each of the four years he’s been racing within the series. It’s an impressive mark for a driver who has full-time Sprint Cup aspirations in 2016.
Truck Rookie Report
2015 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 4 Erik Jones
No. 07 Ray Black Jr.
No. 08 Korbin Forrister
No. 13 Cameron Hayley
No. 14 Daniel Hemric
No. 23 Spencer Gallagher
No. 94 Wendell Chavous
No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 5; Nemechek, finished third; Hemric, finished fourth; Brandon Jones, finished fifth; Erik Jones, finished sixth; Sargeant, finished 10th
Rookie of the Race: Nemechek, finished third
Points Update: Tyler Reddick leaves Bristol Motor Speedway with his point lead intact, although it did shrink by two markers. Matt Crafton now sits six points behind with Erik Jones hot on his tail, seven back from Reddick. Crafton was frustrated after the event as a potential top-three finish went out the window when his truck sputtered on a late restart. Apparently, the Thorsport Racing Toyota ran out of gas as Crafton nursed it home to seventh place.
Crafton’s teammate Johnny Sauter remains fourth in the standings and Hemric, on the strength of a fourth-place finish, moves up one spot to round out the top five. Both are far enough behind the title chase that it appears to be a three-man affair.
Hayley dropped one position to sixth and finds himself just four points ahead of John Wes Townley in eighth. Sandwiched in between the two is Timothy Peters in seventh, who holds a single point advantage over eighth. Gallagher and Ben Kennedy round out the top 10.
“It feels really good. I’m proud of everyone on this No. 29 team. I’ve had a chance to drive this truck four times this year and we’ve come really, really close every single time and to finally get it to Victory Lane. [It’s] my last start of the year for this truck, it really means a lot to get Chad (Kendrick, crew chief) and Brad (Keselowski, team owner) back to Victory Lane. To do that in that fashion coming from a lap down and being able to drive through the field like that says a lot about our race team and a lot about what as an organization we can do.” – Ryan Blaney
“There was just not enough laps. Our JEGS Tundra was fast tonight, just not in the right position. Sometimes through the night we didn’t make very many good calls. I tried to make too many calls tonight, I should have left more of that on my crew chief’s shoulders. Overall, we had a good finish and a strong run for the [No.] 54 and for that team and for JEGS. We appreciate them being on board here this weekend. I won’t go on to the next one, but my next one will be Loudon (N.H.) so I’ll be there.” – Kyle Busch, finished second
“I spun the tires there on that last restart and I was kind of beating myself up about it going into turn 1, and then they all stacked up and I had a chance to get underneath of them so I took it. We got under them and made the pass. I hope we can have a couple more top fives but hopefully we can get a win under our belt. I feel like we have the potential to do so. We’ve just got to have Lady Luck on our side.” – John Hunter Nemechek, finished third
— Daniel Hemric (@DanielHemric) August 20, 2015
— Brandon Jones (@BrandonJonesRac) August 20, 2015
“I was trying to go up and follow Kyle [Busch], but unfortunately the [No.] 33 (Brandon Jones) was trying to go the same way after Kyle went by so I couldn’t get up there. Sixth was a good day for us overall and we made up some with our Tundra in the points – we made up two points and that’s two more points closer than we were. Not a terrible day overall, but we definitely need to get better and figure out some of our stuff and what we need to do better, what we went wrong and just figure out how to be better.” – Erik Jones, finished sixth
Up Next: Thanks to the midweek showdown at Bristol, Camping World Truck Series teams get a long week before heading north of the border to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on Sunday, Aug. 30. Last year, Blaney took the victory over German Quiroga in an intense battle to the checkered flag. Coverage for the Chevrolet Silverado 250 begins at 1:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90 or your local MRN affiliate.
Mike Neff contributed to this report.