In a Nutshell: Chase Elliott found himself in excellent position when leader Christopher Bell got hung up in traffic with fewer than 30 laps remaining at Martinsville Speedway. Bell finally had enough with Austin Cindric and Kyle Donahue and tried to muscle his way through, but Cindric spun in front of Bell and swept the No. 4 truck up the track enough for Elliott and teammate Johnny Sauter to squeeze through. Bell came home third after showing the way for most of the second half of the race. Noah Gragson and Ty Dillon rounded out the top 5
Who Should Have Won: Bell. Bell did a masterful job of holding off Elliott and Sauter lap after lap in the second half, even through lapped traffic, and it didn’t look like either one could complete the pass on Bell. While it’s understandable for drivers to want to finish on the lead lap and get every position they can, there’s a line between holding ground and interfering with the race for the win, and if Donahue and Cindric didn’t cross it, they at least stood squarely on it Saturday.
Battle Between Teammates
While Elliott is not a series regular, he and Sauter were teammates Saturday for GMS Racing, an independent, family-owned team. Did it make a difference in the outcome? Maybe; Sauter took a shot at Elliott in the closing laps, but it didn’t look as though he was quite close enough to pull off the bump and run. Sauter might have had a shot or two at Elliott earlier, but it’s hard to say whether he held off because the No. 23 was a team truck or because it wasn’t quite close enough to the end of the race to take the chance. Might Sauter have been more aggressive if it were another team he was contending with? Definitely, but that’s still no guarantee he would have been in the right position to do it.
There were just two Sprint Cup regulars in the field on Sunday, Elliott and Dillon, but their presence was felt during the race, in particular Elliott’s. Elliott won the pole and the first stage of the race while Dillon finished ninth in the first stage. Neither managed to steal the show in the second stage, but with just under 100 laps to go, both Elliott and Dillon were inside the top five, where they stayed, with Elliott taking the win and Dillon finishing fifth. Elliott is just a second-year Cup driver and Dillon a rookie, so they were out to learn. Elliott in particular raced the regulars with respect and courtesy, but some fans will be unhappy with the regulars missing out on some points.
The Next Generation
It can be debated whether driving ability is inherited, but the field was stacked with drivers who were coming to the track with their racing families long before they got behind the wheel. Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek (whose father, Joe, was also in the race), Ryan Truex, Cody Coughlin and Dillon all represent the latest generation of their racing families, and they’re great for the series if fans tune in to see what the children of their favorite drivers can do on the track in the coming years. Given the talent among this group of youngsters, it’s unlikely that fans will be disappointed.
Time to Expand
In a press conference at Martinsville on Friday, series veteran Timothy Paters said he’d like to see NASCAR expand the Truck Series schedule back to 25 races, which was the number on the schedule until the last few years. Such a move would add two races to the docket, which may not seem like a lot, but they would prevent a six-week spring gap between races that the series faces starting after Martinsville. Perhaps joining the XFINITY Series at a couple of its road-course dates would give the series a couple more races while allowing some weekends to shine away from the Cup Series.
- Chase Elliott became just the fourth driver in Saturday’s field to have a win at Martinsville in the Truck Series, joining Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Timothy Peters
- Elliott’s win was his second in the Truck Series in just 12 races
- The race featured four lead changes among just three drivers: Elliott, Bell, and Sauter.
- There were 10 cautions for a total of 63 laps. All but one were for on-track incidents. The remaining caution was after the conclusion of stage one; stage two ended under caution No. seven.
Truck Rookie Report
2017 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 13 Cody Coughlin
No. 18 Noah Gragson
No. 19 Austin Cindric
No. 29 Chase Briscoe
No. 33 Kaz Grala
No. 49 Wendell Chavous
No. 52 Stewart Friesen
No. 98 Grant Enfinger
No. of rookies in the race: 12 (add Harrison Burton, Kyle Donahue, Donnie Levister, Bryce Napier)
No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 1; Noah Gragson, finished fourth
Rookie of the Race: Noah Gragson, finished fourth
Points Update: Sauter leaves Martinsville with a slim four-point lead over Bell. Matt Crafton sits third, 23 points behind Sauter. Timothy Peters is fourth, 30 back, and Kaz Grala rounds out the top five, 37 points in arrears to Sauter. Also in the top 10 after three races: Ben Rhodes, Chase Briscoe, Grant Enfinger, Regan Smith and Brett Moffitt.
“We had our struggles this afternoon and definitely came into this race a little frustrated with that, so just trying to think throughout. I had a great shot today. Had a little help from our friends there in the latter stage of the race to give us the lead back. We had a fast truck, but I still feel there was a couple things I’m not doing fundamentally correct. I kind of see how to (get around Martinsville), I just have to figure out how to do it.” race winner Chase Elliott
“In the second stage, the thing was just phenomenal – one of the fastest trucks I’ve ever had here. We were in great shape; I called for no adjustments. I’m just disappointed that pit road wasn’t open when I drove by there and open for the rest of the field shortly thereafter. Not really sure what that glitch was all about.” –Johnny Sauterfinished second
“We were in really heavy lapped traffic and obviously both the GMS trucks were rally fast. I felt like our truck was able to maintain and we were strong enough that we were going to be able to hold on there, and getting through lapped traffic, I go to the (No.) 19 and got into the back of him going into (turn) four, and then he got all the way up the race track off of four, all the way to the wall. So at that point, I went down to try and get underneath him going into (turn) one and he decided he was going to go down with me.” –Christopher Bell, finished third
“That’s the future of NASCAR! We were racing on the outside, just down in front of Chase and had plenty of room. Got to the bottom and he blasted me about two or three times. The third one got me. I don’t know. I’m sure he doesn’t even remember it, so it doesn’t matter.” –Ross Chastain, finished seventh, on contact with Chase Elliott that sent him spinning early
Frustrating having an ignition box fail. Had a great truck before it shut off running 4th. Getting the bad luck out of the way early!
— John Hunter Nemechek (@JHNemechek) April 1, 2017
— Team JEGS Racing (@TeamJEGS) April 1, 2017
Up Next: The Truck Series is out of action again until it heads to Kansas Speedway Friday, May 12. Coverage for the Toyota Tundra 250 begins at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90 or your local MRN affiliate.