(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Tracking the Trucks: John Hunter Nemechek Wins Snow-Delayed Martinsville Race

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

In a Nutshell: After a nearly 45-hour snow delay, John Hunter Nemechek emerged victorious by a slim 0.106-second margin over Kyle Benjamin, who made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway. The part-time driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet took the lead with 31 laps to go in a thrilling three-wide move and had to endure three restarts en route to his sixth career victory in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250. Atlanta winner Brett Moffitt was third, followed by Grant Enfinger. Noah Gragson, who won Martinsville last October, rounded out the top-five finishers.

Who Should Have Won: From the drop of the green flag on Saturday, Ben Rhodes had the truck to beat, leading the first 23 laps before the race was red-flagged for snowfall. When racing resumed Monday morning, much of the same was to be had as he held the top spot for 134 of the first 140 laps. But under caution following the conclusion of the second stage, a slow pit stop mired the No. 41 Ford in 15th and Rhodes was never able to recover. He ended up a disappointing 12th after leading the most laps he had in a single race in his career to date.

Race Rundown

Kyle Benjamin Shines in Truck Series Debut

Earlier this year, DGR-CROSLEY announced its formation and entrance as a new Truck Series team, and just a couple months later, the organization got plenty of coverage when driver Kyle Benjamin, who made his Truck Series debut, led 74 laps.

After starting fourth, he remained inside the top 10 by the conclusion of the first stage, though he did drop back during the second. A little late-race pit strategy and a choice to stay out when the rest of the field pitted under the yellow at the end of the second stage gave him the lead. He didn’t relinquish that top spot for 74 laps and lost it in a three-wide battle for the lead with Todd Gilliland and eventual race winner John Hunter Nemechek.

Despite two more restarts, Benjamin didn’t quite have enough to make a pass on the No. 8 Chevrolet, and despite making it to Nemechek’s rear bumper on the white flag lap, the debuting driver was forced to settle for a runner-up finish.

“It was pretty close right there. We had a pretty good truck, mostly on long-runs,” Benjamin said after the race. “Unfortunately, it came down to a short run. I had to give him (John Hunter Nemechek) a run for his money in the last corner coming off of Turn 4. I had to give him some contact but we had a good day. Thank you to all the guys at David Gilliland Racing (DGR) for giving me a fast truck. I wish we could have had a few more laps there but hopefully, we continue to the momentum and I get another shot here to do it somewhere else.”

Though Benjamin did have an opportunity to knock Nemechek out of the lead, he drew the line at light contact and wasn’t quite able to pull even as the checkered flag flew.

“You don’t want to make any enemies and I’ve tried to race people how I want to be raced,” he explained about his decision for light contact. “I don’t mind moving somebody if it’s for a win, but not anything out of the control. Something where you can just get position on them, not knock them out and cause any huge problems. That’s not how I want to be raced and I’m not going to race other people like that. I just try to do to others what you want being done to yourself or what you would be okay to have done to yourself.”

Todd Gilliland Returns to Racing

After sitting on the sidelines for the first three races of the season, Todd Gilliland, who plans to run full-time following his 18th birthday in May, returned to the seat at Martinsville. And it was certainly an eventful weekend for the driver of the No. 4 Toyota, who suffered an engine failure in the second practice. After the motor change, he was the fastest in the first round of qualifying, though the team opted to skip the final two rounds since Gilliland had to start at the rear of the field anyway.

Fast forward to race day where Gilliland had his work cut out for him to make it through the field. He entered the top 10 during the second stage, and a decision to stay out during the caution that followed allowed him to restart second where he remained until a string of cautions saw him drop through the field to an eventual 14th-place finish.

“I’ve never been around so many people that were that aggressive that put you three-wide, in the middle and everywhere,” Gilliland said after the race. “I guess everyone is just scrapping for every position and that’s what short track racing is about. A few times I was on the moving side and sometimes I was the one getting moved. That’s what it’s all about.

“I have to say thank you to everyone at KBM for such a fast Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra today. Coming from the back was rough, but that’s what we had to do and once we got up there, we were really fast. We came down pit road and we were really tight that last run. Struggled a little bit there, but overall I’m very happy with the speed we had. I think I just need to be smarter on my part and put in the situations with the people I’m around. Just a big learning day for sure and we’ll move on for Dover.”

After racing at Dover May 4, Gilliland will once again sit on the sidelines for the Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway, but in that weekend between Kansas and Charlotte, he’ll turn 18 and run the remainder of the season.

Quick Hits:

  • For the first time this season, Timothy Peters made his return to Truck Series racing. After qualifying 16th, he quietly marched through the field for a solid seventh-place finish. Though he was never a factor for the lead or the win, Peters did exactly what was necessary to keep the truck in one piece through the carnage that mired the latter half of the final stage. Peters said before the race that if he did well then there was the potential for more races for Ricky Benton Racing, but no future races have been announced yet. Peters is currently planning to defend his Triple Crown title in the Virginia late model division, as well as race in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown.
  • Cory Roper, who seemingly popped up out of nowhere to make his Truck Series debut at Martinsville, made it through the race without getting into trouble. While there was damage to his truck, thanks to the contact that almost seems mandatory at the short track, Roper finished 13th in his debut race after starting 17th.
  • At the start of the season, Premium Motorsports announced that Robby Lyons, who sits 18th in the CWTS standings, would drive the team’s No. 15 in the first four races of the season. Martinsville was the fourth race on the schedule, and prior to his 24th place finish at The Paperclip, Lyons confirmed to Frontstretch.com that he will continue to pilot the truck for the time being.
  • Monday’s race marked the return of MDM Motorsports, with Tyler Matthews driving the team’s No. 99 to a 21st place finish in his CWTS debut. MDM fielded a truck in 17 races last season with Brandon Jones, Ty Dillon and Dalton Sargeant driving it the most. The small team was highly competitive — Darrell Wallace Jr. won them their first race at Michigan International Speedway in 2017 — but they had yet to be seen in Truck competition this year until Martinsville. Before that, the team had been putting more effort into its three ARCA Racing and two K&N Pro Series East entries. A source in Matthews’ camp said that Matthews would drive the No. 99 truck later this season at Iowa Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park. Sheldon Creed, who has driven for MDM in the lower divisions, will race their truck at Eldora Speedway. The rest of the team’s CWTS schedule is unknown at this point.

Truck Rookie Report

2018 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 4 Todd Gilliland
No. 13 Myatt Snider
No. 25 Dalton Sargeant
No. 45 Justin Fontaine
No. 54 Bo LeMastus

No. of rookies in the race: 4

No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 1; Myatt Snider, finished sixth

Rookie of the Race: Snider

Points Update: Johnny Sauter maintains the point lead, but thanks to a 19th-place finish one lap down, that margin is now 29 markers over second-place Grant Enfinger. Brett Moffitt sits third, followed by Ben Rhodes. Meanwhile, Noah Gragson rounds out the top five.

Stewart Friesen, who suffered a tough race after getting spun early on, sits sixth in the standings following a disappointing 20th-place finish and is tied with Matt Crafton. Rookies Myatt Snider and Dalton Sargeant sit eighth and ninth, while Austin Hill rounds out the top 10.

Sauter still has the most playoff points at six but is followed closely by Moffitt, who has five. Rhodes and Gragson each have two, while Friesen and David Gilliland, who has just one start this season, have one apiece.

Tweetable

 

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series takes another one of its ridiculously long breaks before returning to action in early May at Dover International Speedway. Coverage for the Bar Harbor 200 begins at 5 p.m. ET May 4 on FOX Sports 1. The race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR channel 90.

Michael Massie also contributed to this report.

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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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