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In a Nutshell: Johnny Sauter turned the Monster Mile into a Monster Smile, as he ended his winless gremlins in Friday’s Bar Harbor 200 from Dover International Speedway.
Holding off teammate Kaz Grala, Sauter took advantage of a late fuel gamble to grab the lead and hold it for the final 33 laps — his first ever led in nine Dover starts.
While Grala closed the gap on multiple occasions, he was unable to pass the 2016 Camping World Truck Series champion. Sauter now hopes the victory locks in a spot in the series playoffs later this fall.
Though two GMS Racing trucks ended 1-2, the race had multiple drivers show their strength on the one-mile oval. Matt Crafton, Ryan Truex and Ben Rhodes each led the race for 40 or more laps, flexing some muscle before fading from contention at the end.
Who Should Have Won: Ben Rhodes. Another one bites the dust for Rhodes, who lost out on that first Truck Series win once again when fuel mileage and a late, untimely caution dragged him back to eighth on the final restart.
Coming from sixth, Rhodes quickly became one of the race’s top drivers, as he moved inside the top five and took the lead for the first time on Lap 94. In total, he led 71 circuits, the most of anyone on the day.
Unfortunately, a loose tire by Chase Briscoe brought out the caution with 30 laps to go in the middle of green-flag stops. The yellow trapped Rhodes one lap down before being rewarded with the free pass.
Since clean air gives trucks a prime advantage at Dover, Rhodes’ drive back to the front stalled out. He made it back to fourth but was unable to pass third-place Grant Enfinger as he watched the top two drivers pull away.
Miles the Monster hasn’t exactly torn up Johnny Sauter’s trucks through the years. But the one-mile oval has still been a tricky place for this Truck Series champion to master.
In eight prior career starts here, the veteran was unable to score a victory. In fact, Sauter never even led a lap at Dover before the drop of the green flag in Friday’s Bar Harbor 200.
Both those facts fell by the wayside by the conclusion of this race. Sauter held off Grala to score a Dover win, his first of 2017 and 14th of his career.
Though the reigning champion isn’t an odd face to see in Victory Lane, it was odd to see the number of drivers who held the top spot. In a true sense, this 200-lapper was a race of comers and goers.
Starting from the pole, rookie Chase Briscoe was a consistent truck inside the top five. However, he wasn’t the man in charge for the first half of the event. That title went to Ryan Truex, who grabbed the lead off the start and held it for a career-high 47 laps.
The No. 16 Toyota soon was shuffled back after pit strategy, ending up 10th. But his fourth such result in a row is a sign of great things to come for the team in 2017.
Matt Crafton was among those who shuffled Truex back, as the No. 88 Toyota took the race lead and held it for 46 laps. It was one of his strongest races so far this season.
Crafton wound up with a similar fate to Truex, however when the final caution came. Just like with Rhodes, the yellow took these contending trucks and stripped them of valuable track position. In Crafton’s case, it trapped the two-time champion a lap down; he finished 11th.
The shake-up run to the end brought new names to the top 10. Enfinger came home third followed by Austin Cindric, who earned his first top five in fifth. Brandon Jones, Regan Smith, Justin Haley and Noah Gragson rounded out the top-10 performers.
Jesse Little had a strong effort in his unsponsored family-owned Toyota entry. Qualifying fifth in his first start of 2017, the 20-year-old ran as high as second consistently. Sadly, a late pit stop, one where he stalled his No. 97 while exiting the pit box, ended his hopes. Little finished 14th, two laps down.
But the disappointment of the day may have come with second-place runner in the championship Christopher Bell, who cut a tire and crashed out of the event just 35 laps in. In doing so, Sauter increased his advantage substantially heading into Texas Motor Speedway next week.
Suspension Likely for No. 29 Crew Chief Mike Hillman Jr.
The wow moment of the race occurred with 30 laps to go when one of the race’s quickest contenders lost a wheel while exiting pit lane.
Chase Briscoe won his first Truck Series pole earlier Friday and led four laps in his No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford.
However, when push came to shove, a pit crew error left Briscoe with only three wheels, which brought out both the race’s final caution and one big problem for crew chief Mike Hillman Jr.
Due to releasing a car or truck onto the racetrack with a loose wheel, one that ultimately got loose and brought out a yellow, it is expected that Hillman will see a four-race suspension per the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rulebook.
“We’re just going to go to the NASCAR hauler and see what they have to say,” Hillman said. “It’s a safety thing, the way it came off on the apron, being the first pit stall, you just don’t have time for something to come apart. We will see what they have to say and we’ll work through it.”
Hillman recently worked as crew chief for Richard Childress Racing, overseeing drivers like Brian Scott and Brandon Jones. On the Truck Series side, Hillman is well-known in the garage area, winning two championships with Todd Bodine in 2006 and ’10.
With plenty of experience in the sport, Hillman made it certain nothing was intentional.
“We weren’t manipulating the rule,” he said. “Accidents happen.”
The No. 29 team finished 12th on the afternoon.
Truck Rookie Report
2017 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 13 Cody Coughlin
No. 18 Noah Gragson
No. 19 Austin Cindric
No. 24 Justin Haley
No. 29 Chase Briscoe
No. 33 Kaz Grala
No. 49 Wendell Chavous
No. 52 Stewart Friesen
No. 98 Grant Enfinger
No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: four
Rookie of the Race: Kaz Grala, second
Points Update: Race winner Johnny Sauter increased his gap over Christopher Bell to 52. Matt Crafton sits third ahead of Ben Rhodes and Chase Briscoe. Further back, Ryan Truex earned his first playoff point by winning a stage. However, he sits more than 100 points behind Sauter in the regular season standings.
“Rules are rules. But sometimes, rules are there and they don’t affect the situation. There just weren’t any lug nuts on the left front (tire). I think the gun was in reverse. Being in the first pit stall, you don’t have a chance to stop on pit road and fix it. You’re hollering, ‘Stop! Stop!’ and he stops when the tire comes off.” – Mike Hillman Jr. addressing a tire that was sent loose following the team’s final pit stop
“It kind of stinks to finish like this but I learned a ton. I got to restart on the front row. All stuff that is very valuable to me.” – Todd Gilliland after a suspension failure ended his series debut early
Up Next: The Truck Series is done with off weeks for a bit, as they pack up and head west to Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, June 9. It will be the series’ first trip to the newly-configured surface after Cup and XFINITY were there in April. Coverage for the Rattlesnake 400 begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.