NASCAR Race Weekend Central
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Tracking the Trucks: 2015 Fred’s 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

In a Nutshell: Timothy Peters took the checkered flag under caution ahead of Brandon Jones in Saturday afternoon’s Fred’s 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway. Jones led the field to the green on the lone green-white-checkered attempt, though Peters was easily able to take the top spot. A wrecking Spencer Gallagher and John Wes Townley brought the yellow out just half a lap into the first of two circuits to complete the race. Mason Mingus, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Simply put, hitting a bullseye when playing darts is easier than picking a deserving winner at Talladega. In the end, it comes down to who plays the draft well enough to survive the on-track carnage and take the checkered flag first. Peters started on the pole and though he got shuffled back as far as 11th during a round of green flag pit stops, the final restart allowed him to power around rookie Brandon Jones to take his second consecutive victory at the superspeedway.

Race Rundown

Brian Keselowski Shines in Series Debut

In place of the injured Austin Theriault, who is still recovering from hitting a non-SAFER barrier head on at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski Racing tapped Brian Keselowski to pilot the No. 29 Ford at Talladega on Saturday. After starting 11th, Keselowski made a rookie mistake and sped on pit road, putting him a deep hole to dig out of. But as the race went on, a round of green-flag pit stops allowed him to get out front where he led 10 laps.

“I did the one thing I said I shouldn’t do is speed down pit road, so it didn’t start off the way that we needed to,” Keselowski said. “Obviously, starting on the bottom helped because the bottom line was the way to be, so we rode in line and had that first pit stop and had to go back. I was like, ‘OK, let’s see if we can work our way to the front,’ and we worked our way to the front. I worked with the [No.] 4 truck, he did a good job. I worked with the [Nos.] 23, the 33 – those guys all did a really good job of pushing when you needed to and not pushing when you shouldn’t.”

It wasn’t meant to be for the debuting driver, though. As the field rolled around under caution getting ready to take the green flag for a two-lap shootout to end the race, the No. 29 sputtered and slowed on the apron, out of fuel, dashing Keselowski’s hopes to become the feel-good story of the weekend; he finished 17th.

“That’s just the way luck goes sometimes. We didn’t expect to get the fuel mileage we did when we were out there leading,” he said. “When we were out there in the pack I could roll off the gas and save gas a lot, and when we got out front we just had terrible fuel mileage. That’s just the way it is in this pack-type racing. Anyone that’s out in front is gonna be on the throttle the whole time and everybody else is part throttle trying to save. We missed it by two laps. If we hadn’t had a green-white-checker, we would have been OK.

“I’m emotional. I’m really proud of how we ran. I’m disappointed that it was probably my only chance. We’ll see how it works out.”

While Keselowski doesn’t necessarily have the numbers in his limited Sprint Cup starts, it’s impotant to note that he was doing it in a car he prepared on a shoestring budget. Suddenly at Talladega, he was put in a truck that has solid sponsorship backing and is one of the stronger ones on the track in the Truck Series, and it was easy to see the talent level there. With a couple of rides opening up in the series next season, it would be nice to see the older Keselowski brother get a shot in equipment that stands of chance for winning a race and a championship.

Christopher Bell Black Flagged for Pushing Brandon Jones

Late in the Fred’s 250, NASCAR was put in a situation where it was forced to act on the rule that prohibits a pair of drivers to lock bumpers and drive to the front of the field. Christopher Bell hooked the nose of his No. 54 Toyota to the back end of Jones’s No. 33 Chevrolet, and the duo was able to power the outside line to the lead ahead of Keselowski, who held the top spot at the time.

“It’s pretty easy to see that when they’re next to you, especially when the [No.] 33 is all over the place,” Keselowski said. “The [No.] 23 (Gallagher) is bumping me and got locked up a few times, but released, which was the right way to do it and they said that was OK, but the [Nos.] 33 (B. Jones) and 54 (Bell) stayed together for a long time. I knew if they stayed together, they’d beat us and that’s what got the [No.] 17 out there.

Though it took a little time, NASCAR did make the call to penalize Bell for the illegal contact during the caution that set up the GWC finish. He ended up settling for a 13th-place finish.

“The penalty was definitely disappointing, but I’m learning as I go,” Bell said after the checkered flag flew. “This was my first-ever restrictor-plate race. If I don’t push them like that then you end up getting hung out and not getting up to the front. We’ll learn from it and go on to the next one.”

Of course, social media exploded when only Bell was penalized and Jones was left at the front of the field. In several previous incidents at both Talladega and Daytona, the driving doing the pushing and the one getting the benefit from being pushed were both black flagged.

When the rule first came out, I questioned how fair it was to penalize a driver who simply couldn’t get the one behind him off of the back bumper, especially since leaving it the NASCAR’s discretion opens up a whole different can of worms. I don’t want anyone making sudden moves that could create a melee on the track, nor do I want to see the call made to penalize both in one incident and turn around and change its mind in the next.

It seems that NASCAR has actually figured out the driver being pushed can’t control what the person behind him chooses to do. It’s the way the rule should have been enforced all along, and as long as the sanctioning body continues to be consistent with ruling in this way, it’s something I can embrace.

With that said, it could create a situation where a teammate or driver clearly out of the championship battle in the future sacrifices their finishing position to help another get a better result. And while that could have its own implications, all I ask of NASCAR is consistency in its rulings: penalize both or just penalize the pusher. Taking out the subjectivity from the calls will go a long way in helping the sanctioning body earn back a little of the trust so many fans have lost in the past.

Quick Hits

  • ThorSport Racing teammates Matt Crafton and Cameron Hayley faced some issues trying to get through inspection on Friday. According to a report from our Jerry Jordan, the source quoted said “there was a template issue and NASCAR is looking at it.” A NASCAR spokesperson confirmed there were issues with inspection that both teams were allowed to fix.
  • For one race only, NASCAR changed the GWC rule, limiting attempts from three to one. The late-race Big One happened with a little over one lap remaining in the scheduled distance, setting the field up for a two-lap shootout. But instead of that shootout, Townley got into the back of Gallagher, sending the two into the outside wall to bring out the yellow just a half-lap into the final restart. The remaining laps were run under yellow for a lackluster finish to what had been a solid race.

  • Matt Crafton‘s championship hopes took another hit at Talladega on Saturday. From debris to running out of fuel to crash damage from two different incidents, the No. 88 team endured it all. But despite the 24th-place finish, Crafton remains unconcerned about his championship chances, saying “we’re going to go try to win the next four and see what happens.” He currently sits third in the standings, 23 markers behind leader Erik Jones and five back from Reddick in second.
  • The pressure of a tight championship battle and racing at Talladega hit Erik Jones and the No. 4 team early in the race. On the first round of pit stops, a miscommunication between the crew chief and the crew members performing the service saw a planned fuel only stop turned into one that included four fresh tires. Despite the setback that nearly dropped Jones outside the top 20, he was able to recover for a solid fourth-place finish, something any championship contender would be happy to walk out of Talladega with.
  • Billy Boat Motorsports teammates Chad Boat and Mingus each scored their career-best finishes Saturday afternoon. Boat, who had damage from the wreck that caused the green-white-checkered finish, scored a ninth-place result, while Mingus finished a solid third.

Truck Rookie Report
2015 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 4 Erik Jones
No. 07 Ray Black Jr.
No. 08 Korbin Forrister
No. 8 John Hunter Nemechek
No. 13 Cameron Hayley
No. 14 Daniel Hemric
No. 23 Spencer Gallagher
No. 94 Wendell Chavous

No. of Rookies in the Race: 15 (add Jordan Anderson, Stanton Barrett, Bell, Boat, Austin Hill, Brandon Jones, Keselowski, Tyler Tanner and Matt Tifft)

No. of Rookies in top 10: Brandon Jones, finished second; Erik Jones, finished fourth; Hayley, finished sixth; Boat, finished ninth

Rookie of the Race: Erik Jones, finished fourth
(Note: Only drivers declared for the Rookie of the Year battle are eligible for Rookie of the Race.)

Points Update: Erik Jones remains as the championship leader, though he now has a little breathing room, thanks to Crafton’s struggles. Jones holds an 18-point advantage over Reddick, who moved up one position on the strength of a fifth-place finish. Meanwhile, Crafton, who dropped one position after a dismal day, sits five markers back in third. Johnny Sauter and race winner Peters, who jumped one spot, round out the top five.

Rookie Hayley took advantage of a quiet day and a sixth-place finish and jumped to sixth, 120 points behind the leader. Hemric, who suffered multiple setbacks, including a hood pin failure early in the race, dropped to seventh. Townley, Ben Kennedy and Gallagher round out the top 10.

Quotable

“This is for her (Ashlee Richmond, sister of crew chief Marcus Richmond). We know you’re watching. Ashlee Richmond, we love you to death. Thank you for riding with us today and being who you are. This is just an awesome feeling. Thanks to all these guys – Red Horse Racing back at the shop, Triad horsepower, Toyota Tundra was awesome today. Oh my goodness – just Tom DeLoach (team owner) for believing in us and this time. We got on a roll starting at Chicago and, man, it’s just been up from here.” – Timothy Peters

“Everything went our way for the entire race. We had great pit stops all day and we were really in position the whole time to be able to get the lead and stay out front. We knew both GMS Racing teams had a shot at a win today. I didn’t want to give away the preferred groove on the last restart and I knew I had some really strong trucks behind me, so we decided to take the bottom line. Shane (Huffman, crew chief) was telling me on the radio that if I got out front and there was a caution it would be over, so holding the lead before another caution could come out was our main goal and it just didn’t work out that way.” – Brandon Jones, finished second

“That wasn’t bad at all. The outside lane went that time and everyone worked together and then it just fell apart in a real hurry down the backstretch and it brought the caution out and the end of the race. It’s a shame we couldn’t gain more points than what we did, but we’re still right there to apply pressure on the [No.] 4 if he ever does slip up.” – Tyler Reddick, finished fifth

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to Martinsville Speedway next . Last year, Darrell Wallace Jr. led a race-high 97 laps en route to a 0.495 sec. victory over Peters. Coverage for the Kroger 200 begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    Does anybody care that the race was on the main NBC Networks? I tuned in until Mikey showed up (which wasn’t long) and I switched to hockey. Imagine that!