NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Mike Neff)

Tracking the Trucks: Grant Enfinger Emerges Victorious from Talladega Chaos

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In a Nutshell: Grant Enfinger scored his first career win on a chaotic day at Talladega Superspeedway. The part-time driver led the field to green on the final restart and held on through a relatively tame finish by plate standards to take the victory 0.107 seconds ahead of teammate Spencer Gallagher in the fred’s 250 Saturday afternoon. Timothy Peters, Rico Abreu and Ben Kennedy rounded out the top 5.

Who Should Have Won: The uncertainty at Talladega makes it impossible to really pinpoint one specific driver that’s more deserving than another in the field. But when it comes to overall weekend performance, look no further than GMS Racing. After a strong win in the season opener with its newest addition to the organization, GMS came out swinging in Alabama,

Talladega Tortures Chase Drivers

Everyone knew heading into this weekend that chaos would likely be the story at Talladega. But what we didn’t expect was to see so many Chase drivers face adversity throughout the day.

The first to fall was John Hunter Nemechek, whose race was over before it ever really began. Just 13 circuits into the 94-lap event, the No. 8 Chevrolet went up in a big puff of smoke without warning, ending Nemechek’s day and his championship hopes. According to his interview from the garage area, the motor gave no warning before it let go, while the water temperature and oil pressure numbers were normal, leaving the team wondering what happened.

Perhaps the only blessing to come out of the first official engine failure for NEMCO Motorsports is that the penalty the team incurred following New Hampshire Motor Speedway didn’t turn out to the be the difference-maker in missing the Round of 6.

15-16 September, 2016, Joliet, Illinois USA Daniel Hemric ©2016, Brett Moist NKP
Daniel Hemric struggled, taking 11th and ending his Chase (credit: Brett Moist / NKP)

Daniel Hemric fought a losing battle most of the day. After early pit strategy that saw the trio of Brad Keselowski Racing trucks stay out on track under the first caution, the driver of the No. 19 was caught up in two different on-track incidents, neither of his own making, before spinning on his own to bring out the sixth caution. Though his pit crew worked feverishly to make repairs and even helped Hemric bring home an 11th-place finish, the result wasn’t enough to allow Hemric to move into the Round of 6.

Compared to Hemric’s issues, Christopher Bell’s problem with a broken shifter seems like a simple inconvenience. Though it took multiple pit stops under two different caution periods, the No. 4 team managed to replace the knob and keep its driver on the lead lap. Bell ended up sixth on the day, despite his troubles.

Bell’s teammate and six-time winner William Byron, who already locked himself into the Round of 6 with a win at New Hampshire, suffered significant right side damage in the smaller of the two major incidents that marred the field on Saturday. But despite that damage, he still managed to bring home a 10th-place finish.

Mostly immune to the carnage on the track, a fueling issue saw Timothy Peters spend an extended amount of time on pit road, but compared to the rest of the Chase drivers who faced problems, the concerns were rather small for the No. 17 team. Though there was concern over some back end damage from earlier in the race, Peters was well in the battle for the win as the laps wound down.

Additionally, Matt Crafton, who was the only driver in the field to have run every Truck Series race at Talladega, suffered some late-race motor trouble. Thinking the engine was down a cylinder, the No. 88 team checked under the hood in hopes that a loose plug wire was the cause, however nothing stood out. But just a handful of laps later, Crafton’s truck, and his shot at the win, went up in smoke, albeit in a less impressive way than Nemechek’s had earlier in the race.

Crafton’s former teammate Johnny Sauter, who locked himself into the Chase during the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, faced a broken shock that the team was forced to replace under caution. Apparently the repair did the trick because the No. 21 Chevrolet was right in the mix for the victory in the closing laps, though not without stressful moments.

Meanwhile, Sauter’s teammate Ben Kennedy was the lone driver in this year’s Chase field to avoid trouble all day long. After qualifying inside the top 5, the driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet managed to keep his fenders clean and contend for the win in the closing laps, though he officially crossed the finish line fifth.

Though Nemechek and Hemric saw their championship hopes dashed by missing the Chase cutoff line, the remainder of the top 6 were able to make the most out of their race despite the issues faced throughout. As the season inches ever-closer to the finale, the cream continues to rise to the top.

Quick Hits:

  • Dylan Lupton made his first career start behind the wheel of the No. 02 Chevrolet normally piloted by Tyler Young and quietly avoided trouble in the first half of the race. However, a poorly timed move helped to trigger a wreck that brought out the third caution and collected Brandon Hightower in a vicious hit to the outside wall. Lupton managed to avoid damage and brought home a respectable 12th-place finish.
  • GMS Racing seems to have its restrictor plate program dialed in pretty well after sweeping the wins at Daytona (Johnny Sauter) and Talladega (Grant Enfinger). In fact, the four Chevrolets fielded by the organization even started inside the top 5 Saturday, with only polesitter Cole Custer breaking up the party at the front of the field. Enfinger and Spencer Gallagher finished 1-2, while Ben Kennedy and Johnny Sauter finished fifth and seventh, respectively.
  • One false move by rookie Ben Rhodes triggered a massive pile-up that collected nearly half of the field. The melee, which officially collected 14 of the remaining 30 drivers on the track at the time, happened so fast, there was no chance for anyone to even react. Of those involved, six (Cole Custer, John Wes Townley, Korbin Forrister, Tyler Reddick, Brandon Brown and Ben Rhodes) sustained terminal damage and were out on the spot. Thankfully, everyone was able to walk away under their own power before being evaluated and released from the infield care center.

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: 17 (add Brandon Brown, Austin Cindric, Bobby Gerhart, Brandon Hightower, Dylan Lupton, Reed Sorenson, Matt Tifft, Ryan Truex and Cody Ware)

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 6; Grant Enfinger, finished first; Rico Abreu, finished fourth; Ryan Truex, finished eighth; Matt Tifft, finished ninth; William Byron, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Rico Abreu, finished fourth

Chase Standings:

  1. William Byron
  2. Christopher Bell (-14)
  3. Timothy Peters (-19)
  4. Ben Kennedy (-19)
  5. Johnny Sauter (-25)
  6. Matt Crafton (-31)
  7. Daniel Hemric (-44)
  8. John Hunter Nemechek (-65)

And then there were six. The Round of 8 has come to an end, and the championship field cut to six drivers. Following an engine failure, Nemechek was the first one to drop out of the hunt, and Hemric’s involvement in multiple on-track incidents sealed the deal for the Brad Keselowski Racing driver.

Best of the Rest: Tyler Reddick, who used his trip to Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to take the top spot for the non-Chase drivers, maintains the ninth spot in the standings but has expanded his lead to three points over Cole Custer. Following his last-lap crash, Cameron Hayley now sits 20 markers behind Custer and just five ahead of Spencer Gallagher, who scored a runner-up finish at Talladega.

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series will race every weekend through the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Next Saturday afternoon, the Round of 6 kicks off with the Alpha Energy Solutions 200 at Martinsville Speedway. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on Oct. 29; the race can also be heard on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90 or your local MRN affiliate.

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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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