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In a Nutshell: William Byron scored his second win in just four races when he bested a dominant Matt Crafton with just five laps remaining in Friday night’s Rattlesnake 400 at Texas Motor Speedway. He also outlasted a hard-charging Rico Abreu, who hit the wall twice in the closing laps to score the victory by 2.095 sec. over Crafton. Polesitter Johnny Sauter finished third, followed by Ben Kennedy, who scored his best finish this season in fourth. Tyler Reddick, who suffered a blown tire and went a lap down early, rebounded to round out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Matt Crafton wasted little time in taking the top spot on Friday night when he grabbed the lead from polesitter and former teammate Johnny Sauter on lap one, pulling away at a pace that made him the driver to beat. But just 12 laps into the race, the driver of the No. 88 Toyota suffered a tire failure that sent him into the outside wall to bring out the first caution. Restarting 25th, it took Crafton just 20 laps to drive through the field to take the lead to once again, sending a clear message to the field. He went on to hold the top spot five times for 133 of 167 laps before Byron bested him with just a handful of circuits remaining.
Ryan Truex Sidelined
If you had asked Ryan Truex at Daytona if he thought he would run every race leading up to the Truck Series June visit to Texas Motor Speedway, he likely would have expressed that it was his hope but was largely dependent upon sponsorship backing. Well that roadblock struck the 24-year-old as the Rattlesnake 400 approached.
Without financial backing, Truex was forced to sit out at Texas and will again watch from the sidelines at Iowa Speedway next weekend.
“Shige Hattori (team owner) told me he didn’t know if we’d be able to run the full season, but then we didn’t expect to run second at Daytona and this deep in the season be top-six in points,” Truex told Motorsport.com Wednesday night.
“I think the start of the year took us a little bit by surprise. I knew I could do it as a driver, it just took the right combo with me, the team and the trucks and everything. It’s amazing when you consider we have had about three trucks in the shop this season.”
In Truex’s place, Jesse Little competed using the No. 81 team’s owner points. The 19-year-old ended up 19th, two laps down.
Rico Abreu’s Shining Moment
As Rico Abreu continues to acquaint himself in the Truck Series, he took the opportunity Friday night at Texas to show the talent he holds behind the wheel. After qualifying 13th, he ran inside the top 10 for much of the night and managed to race his way inside the
top five multiple times during the course of long green-flag runs.
And as the laps wound down in the Rattlesnake 400 and eventual winner Byron made his move to take the lead, Abreu sought to make the finish even more interesting, gaining on the top spot. But an ill-timed brush with the wall as he was within a few truck lengths of the lead opened Byron’s gap. A second, much harder hit, caused a tire to go down and Abreu dropped like a rock to his eventual ninth-place result, a career-best finish.
“We’ll just build off of that. Obviously not the finishes we want,” Abreu said after emerging from the No. 98 Toyota. “I’ve crashed so many trucks by these guys. Duke and Rhonda Thorson (owners), I just thank them for believing in me and giving me this opportunity at ThorSport Racing with Safelite and Curb Records – they’re all here because I’m here. I’m just really disappointed – I wish I could get them better finishes. I know we have speed, I just have a lot of drive and am never going to quit.
“I got the top going in (turns) three and four there and I kept following and following and you can only follow for so long. We came to the white (flag) and you have to push it with the way they’ve built this Chase format you have to win and he’s (William Byron) has already won. I wasn’t going to do something too stupid and wreck him because I’ve done that before.”
Though the ninth-place finish can be considered disappointing for the rookie, Abreu has nothing to be ashamed of. Not only did he give his all in the name of a race win, but he also gained plenty of respect from his fellow competitors, fans and media alike. The performance he showed Friday night confirms that thoughts that he can – and will – find his way to Victory Lane at some point this season.
Christopher Bell‘s Early Departure
If you were to look up the word unlucky in the dictionary, you might just find Christopher Bell’s photo. Beginning with his airborne crash in the season opener at Daytona in February, a streak of sour luck has plagued the driver of the No. 4 Toyota. And though there have been flashes of hope in shaking the monkey off his back, Bell once again fell victim to what he called a “rookie mistake” Friday night.
Before completing a single lap, Bell slowed and immediately took his truck to the garage area to retire with an engine failure.
“Just missed a shift there. First time I’ve ever done it, went from third to second instead of third to fourth,” Bell said, describing why he was already in the garage. “I just hate it for my guys. This JBL Tundra has been really fast all week and felt we had something to compete which we desperately need to get into the Chase. I hate it for my guys, it’s such a shame.”
Simply put, Bell desperately needs to find some good luck and put it together for several races in a row if he has any chance in repeating the success Erik Jones found behind the wheel of that truck last season. Three straight top-10 finishes from Kansas through Charlotte made it appear the No. 4 team was on the right track, but an early engine failure dropped Bell to 13th in the standings, 69 markers behind the point leader.
With that said, before he can think about championship contender, he simply needs to be a consistent race-winning competitor first, and it’s something Bell’s driving talent is capable of if he can quit beating himself.
- The Rattlesnake 400 marked the first full field in a June race at Texas Motor Speedway since 2010 and the first full field at the 1.5-mile oval since Nov. 2012. Jennifer Jo Cobb and Norm Benning failed to make the field.
- German Quiroga returned to the Truck Series for the first time since 2014. Picking up in the No. 11 Toyota with Red Horse Racing, which he ran for before leaving the series, he qualified second and ran in the top 10 for much of the night before settling in for a solid eighth-place finish.
- William Byron proved early in the race that he has the mile-and-a-half tracks figured out. Just a month removed from his first career victory at Kansas Speedway, the 18-year-old, fresh out of high school, engaged in a spirited side-by-side battle with Matt Crafton for six laps before the veteran bested him. During that battle, Byron took the time to learn about the side draft and how the trucks react to the aerodynamics from a driver with many more years of experience, something that will prove valuable for him as his career progresses.
No. of Rookies in the Race: 12 (add Austin Hill, Jesse Little, Ryan Lynch, Tommy Joe Martins and Tim Viens)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 2; William Byron, finished first; Rico Abreu, finished ninth
Rookie of the Race: William Byron
2016 Chase Qualifiers:
Johnny Sauter (Daytona)
John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta)
William Byron (Kansas & Texas)
Matt Crafton (Dover & Charlotte)
“I found the top earlier in the race and it didn’t work very well lap 15 to 20 in the run. Once I could get laps on the tires – it’s all about heart and you have to want it and my team wants it and I see that every day. We have a Vietnam Veteran here today with Liberty University and it’s really cool to have their support and have a fast Toyota Tundra. We didn’t have it that good (a shot to win the race) until the last run, but Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) fixed me up that last run. I can’t thank everyone enough – Kyle (Busch, team owner), Samantha (Busch), KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports), the fans – it was a great crowd tonight.” William Byron, race winner
“If I could have done it any differently, I would have. We just lost all drive off the corner for whatever reason there. We ran so hard at the beginning of that run that it had zero drive off. It says a lot about this team. If you look at the right side of this Tundra and how beat up this thing is, we led the most laps and should of, could of won this race. It’s all about these guys and never giving up.” Matt Crafton, finished second
— Ben Kennedy (@BenKennedy33) June 11, 2016
Felt like I cost our guys a top 5. Happy that we had speed in the race, especially on the long run. Good we got our stuff better this week!
— Cole Custer (@colecuster00) June 11, 2016
Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series will head to Iowa Speedway next Saturday night. The Speediatrics 200 will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET and can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM channel 90.