(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Tracking the Trucks: Kyle Larson Scores Big at Eldora

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In a Nutshell: Kyle Larson conquered the mud-caked banks of Eldora Speedway to win Wednesday night’s Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby by 0.767 seconds ahead of defending winner Christopher Bell. Larson recovered from going a lap down early to take advantage of troubles Rico Abreu, Jake Griffin and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top 5.

Who Should Have Won: Simply put, Kyle Larson wheeled his No. 24 Chevrolet masterfully to score his first victory at Eldora Speedway in his third attempt. He led 16 laps early to end the first segment and begin the second segment, but a cut right rear tire sent him spinning, where he stopped on the inside of the track, triggering the yellow flag. NASCAR docked Larson a lap for intentionally bringing out the caution, but a free pass under the sixth caution allowed him to rejoin the lead lap and charge through the field. Able to capitalize on Bobby Pierce’s late cut tire, Larson sailed to victory virtually unchallenged.

Race Rundown

Bobby Pierce’s Strong Run Cut Short

Starting on the pole after winning his heat race, Bobby Pierce looked to match the magic he found last season at Eldora Speedway when he stormed onto the NASCAR scene with a runner-up finish in a Mittler Brothers truck that normally would barely contend for top-20 finishes.

But it wasn’t meant to be for the dirt standout. He led the first 34 laps before relinquishing the lead to Kyle Larson. Just 16 laps later, he took advantage of Larson’s spin from the lead due to a flat right rear tire. A late-race restart saw Larson surge ahead, and a pair a hard hits to the outside wall did enough damage to cut the right rear tire on Pierce’s No. 63. As his truck crashed to a stop nose first at the inside wall, so did Pierce’s hopes for the win.

With his truck stuck in fourth gear from an earlier issue, Pierce was unable to move away from the wall and was forced to take the ride to the infield care center, while his truck was towed back to the garage area. The dirt racing standout was left to settle for a 25th-place finish.

BEARDEN: Bobby Pierce Falls Short of Eldora Glory

Rico Abreu, Travis Kvapil Tangle

If there was any doubt of just how important the qualifying heat races are at Eldora, there isn’t anymore.

During the third heat race, Rico Abreu, Cole Custer and Travis Kvapil got sandwiched into a three-wide battle, and when Custer backed out, Abreu shot up the track, slamming Kvapil into the outside wall hard enough to send the No. 50 truck airborne briefly. Kvapil, clearly not pleased with Abreu, slammed him straight down the track and continued the contact until the caution flew. Both drivers were forced to race in the last chance qualifier to determine their starting spots.

While I don’t believe Abreu’s contact with Kvapil was anything more than hard racing that resulted in an innocent victim, I can understand why the latter was so upset. For a small team like MAKE Motorsports, the dirt is often an equalizer in terms of speed and performance, much like the plate races at Daytona and Talladega, and Kvapil was looking to capitalize on his opportunity. With that said, he may feel differently about the contact after he sees exactly what happened.

Abreu and Kvapil finished third and 17th, respectively.

Quick Hits:

  • John Wes Townley remains sidelined due to the concussion symptoms that removed him from the No. 05 Chevrolet for Kentucky Speedway. In his place, ARCA driver Brady Boswell drove the truck for Athenian Motorsports. For Boswell, it was a relatively uneventful debut where he started 16th and finished 21st, seven laps off the pace. According to the team, Townley will once again be evaluated on July 25. He expects to be cleared to race in time for Pocono.
  • Tommy Joe Martins stepped aside from the No. 44 truck at Eldora Speedway to let J.R. Heffner take the wheel. Heffner didn’t disappoint, taking the win in his heat race to start fourth. And despite the shoestring budget the team operates on, Heffner brought home a solid 15th-place finish.
  • Joey Logano got in on the fun at Eldora Speedway, pledging to donate $22 to the Tony Stewart foundation for every time the phrase “slide job” was used during Wednesday night’s race. As of press time, Logano had vowed to count the tally Thursday morning to determine his donation amount. It’s one of the many charitable efforts drivers throughout the sport participate in each year.

Truck Rookie Report
2016 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 00 Cole Custer
No. 4 Christopher Bell
No. 9 William Byron
No. 18 Cody Coughlin
No. 22 Austin Wayne Self
No. 33 Grant Enfinger
No. 41 Ben Rhodes
No. 98 Rico Abreu

No. of Rookies in the Race: 16 (add Brady Boswell, Sheldon Creed, Stewart Friesen, Jake Griffin, J.R. Heffner, Kyle Larson, Bobby Pierce and Justin Shipley)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 4; Kyle Larson, finished first; Christopher Bell, finished second; Jake Griffin, finished fourth; Austin Wayne Self, finished ninth
Rookie of the Race: Christopher Bell

2016 Chase Qualifiers:
Johnny Sauter (Daytona)
John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta)
William Byron (Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Kentucky)
Matt Crafton (Dover & Charlotte)
Christopher Bell (Gateway)

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Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to Pocono Raceway on Saturday, July 30. Coverage for the Pocono Mountains 150 begins at 1 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.

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