NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Johnny Sauter Puts Exclamation Point on Championship 4 Bid

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In a Nutshell: Johnny Sauter passed Matt Crafton just before the field took the white flag to win the Striping Technology 350 Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. Sauter led just six laps en route to his third win of the season and the seventh for GMS Racing. Daniel Hemric, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 5.

Who Should Have Won: Simply put, Spencer Gallagher was the class of the field all day Friday. After a wet track delayed Thursday’s practice sessions, the driver of the No. 23 Chevrolet was sixth quickest in the lone practice session Friday, and he managed to follow that up by grabbing his second pole in six races. And if that wasn’t enough, Gallagher led three times for 88 laps, but fell short when a 17-second pit stop under the third and final caution buried him deeper in the field and out of contention for the win. He ended up finishing seventh.

Race Rundown:

Christopher Bell Finds Redemption

When the Camping World Truck Series visited Texas in June, Christopher Bell didn’t even complete a lap before he headed to the garage with a blown motor. So it didn’t take much to make this race better than the last.

But Bell went a step beyond by leading the lone practice session Friday morning before struggling a little in qualifying. Though he started the race ninth, Bell threatened for the lead, and even though he was never officially credited with holding the top spot, he engaged in a three-wide battle for that position.

Late race contact with Cole Custer and Cameron Hayley spoiled the run, but Bell still finished 11th.

Cameron Hayley and Christopher Bell Tangle

In the closing laps of the Striping Technology 350, Hayley and Bell got together, with Hayley sliding across the nose of Bell’s No. 4 Toyota. The incident followed earlier contact that saw Bell avoid Custer as he came down the track, sending Hayley down onto the apron.

After the checkered flag flew, Bell expressed his displeasure with the driver of the No. 13 Toyota by bumping him in the door a few times, but it turns out it was all a misunderstanding.

“At that last restart, I don’t know what happened, but I guess we went three-wide and Christopher [Bell] got loose and got into me and I got a pretty bad right-front tire rub,” Hayley said. “That had nothing to do with what happened on the last lap. I apologize for that to him, and I know he’s in the Chase. My spotter was telling me, ‘Clear, clear, clear,’ and obviously clearly we weren’t.

“I need to go apologize, that’s not the way I wanted to race a Chaser, but overall a great run for our Ride TV Tundra. Ride TV is based out of Fort Worth and we’ve got Tundras built here in Texas as well, so it’s cool to get a top-10 run today.”

Bell’s account didn’t place blame on Hayley, but rather himself.

“Man, it was just hard racing there at the end,” Bell explained. “Cameron [Hayley] got a big run on me off of [turn] 2. He’d been running the middle in [turns] 3 and 4, so I moved up, and then he shot the gap in the bottom and almost had me clear, and I should have lifted, but I stayed in it.”

The incredible part of the whole incident came long after the checkered flag flew. Once television had interviewed both drivers, Hayley sought out Bell for an apology and explanation of the contact. It’s a move from which many of today’s Cup veterans could learn.

Quick Hits:

  • The Striping Technology 350 is the first race to be slowed by just the caution clock and no yellows for actual on-track incidents. The field was slowed three times for just 12 of 147 laps.
  • Jesse Little made his return to the Truck Series Friday night behind the wheel of the No. 97 Toyota, and after qualifying ninth, the 19-year-old expressed great optimism for the race on Twitter. But it wasn’t meant to be; Little struggled throughout the race and ultimately ended up 20th.
  • Gallagher once again had a strong enough truck to visit Victory Lane only to have the run spoiled, this time by pit road struggles. But the positive for the No. 23 team to walk away with is that he held the top spot for 88 laps, more than triple the number of circuits he’d spent out front in his entire career combined.

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

Chase Standings:

Johnny Sauter (two wins)
William Byron (-20)
Christopher Bell (-21)
Matt Crafton (-24)
Timothy Peters (-25)
Ben Kennedy (-37)

Quoteable:

“It was all about these guys on pit just having great, great pit stops. We were just off all night. I got drove into the fence off turn 2, and the right-rear tail is moved over quite a bit and we got really free up off the corner. I was trying to manage and trying to manage, and with about four (laps) to go I just got really free, and I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ I was hoping that Johnny (Sauter) and the 19 (Daniel Hemric) raced each other a lot longer than they did. This Menards Toyota Tundra – these guys kept working all night, and we made progress. In clean air it would run good for a little bit, but was slow in behind, and we fought that all night.” Matt Crafton, finished second

“It’s just a bummer day. We had a shot to win there with a really fast JBL Toyota Tundra. Sucks to end up 11th, but we’re still in the hunt and still in the game here. Points are really tight going into Phoenix and we have to make it count.” Christopher Bell, finished 11th

Up Next: The series heads west to Phoenix International Raceway. Last season, Timothy Peters led just 28 laps en route to Victory Lane ahead of John Hunter Nemechek. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 on FOX Sports 1. The race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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