(Photo: Nigel Kinrade NKP)

Tracking the Trucks: John Hunter Nemechek Goes Back-to-Back With Iowa Win

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In a Nutshell: John Hunter Nemechek led just the final six laps in Friday night’s M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway en route to a 1.652 second victory over Johnny Sauter. Nemechek took advantage of four fresh tires to pass Sauter and Chase Briscoe, who finished seventh, in a three-wide battle for the lead and never looked back. Brandon  Jones brought home an impressive third-place run for MDM Motorsports just a week after the team made a difficult decision to withdraw from Gateway. Grant Enfinger and Christopher Bell rounded out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Christopher Bell had the truck to beat Friday night. After starting on the front row alongside teammate Noah Gragson and Bell spent just 16 laps running second before taking the lead. He didn’t relinquish the top spot until late in the second stage when the rest of the field pitted with eight laps to the stage end after a caution for Mike Senica’s spin.  Bell ended up stopping for fresh tires and fuel under the stage caution, and while he did make significant ground up from restarting outside the top 10, the driver of the No. 4 Toyota ended up taking the checkered flag in fifth. He led a race-high 99 circuits.

Race Rundown

Matt Crafton Upset With Grant Enfinger

Matt Crafton is having an interesting year (Photo: Rusy Jarrett / NKP)

Matt Crafton, who struggled mightily with a different setup the team tried for the first practice session, walked away disappointed Friday night at Iowa. Lacking the speed needed to compete for the lead, the driver of the No. 88 flirted with the back end of the top 10 for much of the night and looked like he might have to settle for getting the most he could out of the truck, rather than being able to race for the win.

But late in the race, contact from teammate Grant Enfinger sent Crafton spinning into the outside wall, squeezing the back end like an accordion. Though unhurt, Crafton was clearly upset as he walked away from the ambulance and down to the inside wall. He ended up waiting for the field to come around, gesturing at what we can assume was Enfinger’s truck before taking the mandatory ride to the infield care center. Crafton finished 19th.

“I’m embarrassed,” Enfinger said after the race. “I was going for the bottom and I thought he (Matt Crafton) was going to go in the middle and I just – he come down and it was completely my fault. I mean, I just run over him. I feel terrible for those guys.

“Sorry, but sorry doesn’t fix race cars, you know? Unfortunately, it wiped him out and I just feel horrible about it. Really proud of all our ThorSport guys and how far we’ve come. You know, we had a pretty good truck and, like I said, I just – it’s going to take a while to shake that off. I just – I feel terrible.”

While Enfinger is absolutely correct that sorry doesn’t fix race cars, it’s admirable to see the rookie driver accept responsibility for his part in the incident. And you can bet there won’t be animosity for long as the two will likely talk at the shop by the time Monday rolls around, if they haven’t already.

It’s little consolation for Crafton, who still searches for that elusive first win of the season. I’d guess that’s where part of the frustration came from on Friday night too.

Pit Strategy Costs Johnny Sauter Potential Win

Under the final caution, every truck on the lead lap pitted for fresh tires with 12 laps remaining, with the exception of Johnny Sauter. Crew chief Joe Shear, Jr. immediately regretted his decision.

“I think I made a mistake there,” Shear said under caution, visibly disappointed. “I didn’t think everybody would come. It’s going to be less than 10 laps to go. We’re just going to have to see if we can hold on. I just made a mistake here.”

As it turned out, fresh tires were exactly what made the difference for eventual winner Nemechek, who used four new ones to make a three-wide pass for the lead. Sauter, thanks to the grip the high line gained throughout the night, managed to hang on to a second-place finish.

“Obviously with tires, you’re a sitting duck there at the end of the race,” Sauter said after the checkered flag flew. “In hindsight, tires probably would have been the right call, but I knew there was grip in that third groove.”

Any time a driver walks away disappointed by a second-place finish can still be considered a good day, though you know Sauter wanted to notch another win in his effort to become the second driver to win back-to-back titles.

Quick Hits

  • Ryan Truex saw his streak of six straight top-10 finishes end when he pulled down pit road with just 34 laps remaining. The official cause for retirement was listed as overheating. Truex was credited with a 20th-place finish.
  • Four drivers in Friday night’s field will also race the XFINITY Series event Saturday night at Iowa Speedway. Brandon Jones (third), Scott Lagasse Jr. (13th), JJ Yeley (32nd) and Christopher Bell (fifth) will all pull double duty this weekend.
  • Harrison Burton impressed in his third career start behind the wheel of the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. After a pair of 13th-place results in his first two races, Burton was on the way to his first top-10 finish before last lap contact with Justin Haley resulted in the pair wrecking at the finish. Unofficially, he was credited with an 11th-place result, which is still a career-high for the 16-year-old.

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 in the race: 8

No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 5; Grant Enfinger, finished fourth; Noah Gragson, finished sixth; Chase Briscoe, finished seventh; Austin Cindric, finished eighth; Justin Haley, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Enfinger

Points Update: Johnny Sauter remains the championship leader, now by 42 points over Christopher Bell. Rookie Chase Briscoe is third, followed by Matt Crafton, who scored his first DNF since Talladega last season. Ben Rhodes rounds out the top five.

Grant Enfinger sits sixth in the standings, followed by Ryan Truex. Race winner John Hunter Nemechek finds himself eighth after back-to-back victories. Two more rookies, Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala, round out the top 10.

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series will take a weekend off before making its annual Thursday night trek to Kentucky Speedway on July 6. Coverage for the Buckle Up Your Truck 225 begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

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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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