NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Alpha Energy Solutions 250

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In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch got shoved out of the way at the beginning of the day, and he didn’t let it happen again, holding off the field on multiple restarts late in the race to win by .425 seconds over John Hunter Nemechek.  William Byron was third, Kyle Larson fourth, and Timothy Peters fifth.

Spencer Gallagher, Matt Crafton, Parker Kligerman, Cameron Hayley and Rico Abreu rounded out the top 10.

Who Should Have Won: John Hunter Nemechek. To be fair, Busch had the best truck, but there were a couple of runs where it looked as though Nemechek, a series regular, might have something for him only to have an untimely caution come out.  So why Nemechek?  He was easily the best of the series regulars Saturday, racing in an unsponsored truck for a small operation and he outclassed everyone.  Had the race been true to the first couple of events, where the regulars were left to duke it out on their own, Nemechek had the field covered.

Race Rundown

A Healthy Field

There’s been much talk in the Sprint Cup and XFINITY series about the dwindling number of entries, but the Truck Series saw a full field and then some at Martinsville – six teams went home with DNQ’s.  It is early in the season, some teams might not last the year, and there are always a few part-timers at Martinsville, but overall, the number of entries was a positive for the series.  There was a little noise on social media about full-time teams going home for the likes of Busch and Larson.  Both ran for established teams but not in full-time entries Saturday.  And it is a bummer that the real truck guys went home, but in the long run, it’s a better problem to have than a short field.

But Seriously?

How on earth does John Hunter Nemechek not have a sponsor yet?  Nemechek races in an unsponsored family-owned truck and yet was the only driver who might have been a real challenge for Kyle Busch, who has a plethora of resources at his disposal.  Nemechek leaves Martinsville as the point leader and the way he’s looked so far, he’s a title threat now. Imagine what he could be doing if his team had more money.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch hoisted the checkers at Martinsville for the first time in his career Saturday. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Welcome Back

If there was an award for the worst schedule in NASCAR, and maybe in motorsports, the Truck Series would win it, hands down.  The series last raced at Atlanta before Saturday, more than a month ago!  Not only does the gap kill momentum for race teams, it kills it for the series as well as any excitement generated at Daytona or Atlanta has long since been forgotten as the XFINITY and Cup series took the spotlight from them.

This is Why We Have Bumpers

They get used at Martinsville – a lot.  Sometimes drivers use them the right way, like when Ben Rhodes muscled his way past Busch to lead early.  In general, there was plenty of rooting trucks out of the way, perfectly acceptable at a short track.   When it got messy was later in the race as the action ramped up; several incidents marred the final laps of the day, including a chain reaction pileup in which Cole Custer and Christopher Bell both suffered heavy damage, and a late incident that saw 16-year-old Justin Haley’s truck get hung up on the inside retaining wall when Haley had been running in fourth position.

Tire-d Out

A couple of drivers, teammates Johnny Sauter and Kaz Grala, saw their day end early due to melted beads, and there were other incidents caused by tire issues throughout the day.  Fresh tires were also a key to strategy, and several teams were left wishing they had changed tires (or had a fresh set to change) as the laps wound down.  Tire wear has been a continuing theme across NASCAR this season.  It’s been a major cause of the attrition from many races, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; there are so few areas left for teams to really strategize in, and it adds one to the mix.

Quick Hits:

* One thing we didn’t learn anything about was how the new caution clock affects races.  It never came into play, because there were 11 cautions for a total of 68 laps (that’s just over 27 percent of the race for you math-minded folks) and 20 minutes of green flag racing wasn’t a thing.

* Matt Crafton is not off to a fast start in 2016, sitting 11th in driver points after Martinsville.  He’s got a pair of top 10s and it’s really his crash at Atlanta that’s keeping him from a better points position. But are we seeing a changing of the guard in the series? Crafton turns 40 this year, and the two-time series champion is racing drivers less than half his age now.  Is a third title in the cards for the veteran, or is time slipping away?

Truck Rookie Report
2016 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 00 Cole Custer
No. 4 Christopher Bell
No. 9 William Byron
No. 41 Ben Rhodes
No. 98 Rico Abreu

No. of rookies in the race: 13 (add Austin Wayne Self, Justin Haley, Paige Decker, Ryan Truex and debuting drivers Shane Lee, Claire Decker, Kaz Grala and Spencer Boyd)

No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 2; William Byron, finished third; Rico Abreu, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: William Byron, finished third

Points Update: Following up his Atlanta win with a runner-up this week, John Hunter Nemechek takes over the point lead from Parker Kligerman and leads Kligerman and Timothy Peters by three points.  Tyler Young moves into fourth, 10 points behind Nemechek, and Cameron Hayley is tied with Ryan Truex in fifth, with Hayley getting the spot on tiebreaker.  Daniel Hemric dropped five spots to seventh, Brandon Brown slipped one to eighth, and Spencer Gallagher gained four spots, moving into ninth.  Ben Rhodes rounds out the top 10.

Quotable:

I’ve got a couple owner’s (grandfather clock trophies), but never one of my own, so this is just a day that we’ve been looking for for a long, long time. We just haven’t never necessarily had all the pieces go together like they should have and I didn’t know that the pieces we’re going to go together today either the way all them cautions were kind of playing out, the way tire strategy was playing out, when to pit, when not to pit, how to do all of that. Wes (Ward, crew chief) and I we both leaned on each other and we both had no idea, so we just dumbed into this I think, but it all worked out, so this Toyota Tundra was awesome.” –Kyle Busch, race winner

“That was the big key: for us to finish second;  if not, we were probably going to lose a couple spots. Those restarts were hectic at the end. I just kept spinning the tires on the restarts. We’ve got to go back and look at some things. I could never get to Kyle (Busch).” –John Hunter Nemechek, finished second

“It looked like the 4 (Bell) got turned by the 05 (Townley), and so many guys are going for one spot, it was bound to happen. It was pretty crazy on that restart.” –Cole Custer, finished 29th after getting collected in a late crash

Up Next: Remember that worst schedule ever commentary?  Yeah, well…the Truck Series is out of action again until May 6, when it runs Friday night at Kansas at 8:30 p.m. ET.  The Toyota Tundra 250 will be broadcast on FOX Sports 1 and radio coverage will be on SiriusXM channel 90 or your local MRN affiliate.

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4 Comments
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Fed Up

Any explanation of why NA$CAR went from a red flag to running under caution for about 6 laps under caution when they still had equipment on the track? Why didn’t they stay parked until the track was clean? Could it
be that the leader had used his tires up and they wanted to give him a better chance at another win?

dewayne

You stole my thunder. How do you go from red to caution, then use up 6 or 7 of the remaining 15 laps left running around while they finish cleaning the track? Was not that the reason for the red flag?

rg72

How can this series possibly survive running one time in a 9 week period of time? This schedule is actually an improvement over 2014, when the Martinsville race was the only one between Daytona and Kansas.
While the weather is dicey in many parts of the country, you can’t tell me there isn’t a short track somewhere in the Southeast that would put on a good show. This track could make it a big deal, ideally in March when Cup is on the West Coast swing and Kyle can’t come in and poach a win from the regulars.

Fred

They have had the worst, laziest schedule in na$car for several years. Weeks and weeks off between events? And to top it off, Kyle comes in to cherry pick a cheap win? Great way to turn off what few fans they have left. Pitiful. ridiculous!!!

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