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Truckin’ Thursdays: 5 Takeaways From Pocono Headed into the Off Week

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While the NASCAR XFINITY Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head off to Watkins Glen International this weekend, the Camping World Truck Series takes a weekend off before moving on to Michigan International Speedway for the first of two more races to set the eight drivers who will make up the 2018 playoff field.

As you well know, Johnny Sauter (four wins) and Brett Moffitt (three wins) have asserted themselves, combining to win half of this season’s races thus far, despite the latter facing some insecure moments in his funding. Meanwhile, Justin Haley and Noah Gragson are the only other two series regulars with victories this season, which also locks them in the championship battle.

The remainder of the top eight looks pretty secure, and as long as there isn’t a new winner over the next two races at Michigan and Bristol, the playoff field is set.

Dalton Sargeant Stands Out

Simply put, Dalton Sargeant has struggled for speed this season. The GMS Racing No. 25 Chevrolet had finished inside the top 10 just three times prior to the series’ trip to Pocono Raceway. In fact, his average finish was a 15.2 headed into last weekend.

But when the checkered flag flew over the Gander Outdoors 150 on Saturday (July 29), Sargeant emerged with a career-best third-place finish — it was also his second top 10 in the last three races. He started fourth and was able to utilize a short-pit late in stage 2 to score some much-needed track position. Sargeant even managed to lead four laps before being surpassed by eventual winner Kyle Busch, who was pretty much untouchable all race.

“Overall it was a really good day for our Performance Plus Motor Oil team, being able to start in the top five and take home a top-three finish,” Sargeant said of his career-best run. “Hopefully it’s some much-needed momentum that we can build off of in the next couple of races. We’re really looking to just get a win, whether it be at Michigan or Bristol, and make the playoffs. We had some bad luck and have made some mistakes throughout the season that have cost us pretty big.

“But overall, this was a really good day. Can’t be too disappointed with getting beat by Kyle (Busch) and Erik (Jones), but we still have some big steps to take to continue to improve and grow as a team.”

The 20-year-old driver takes a substantial amount of momentum with him into the off-weekend before the series heads off to Michigan International Speedway. Given that he currently sits 105 points below the cutoff line for this year’s playoff field, Sargeant will need a victory to make it into the championship battle.

The point here, though, is that the team is headed in the right direction. GMS Racing already has five wins this season with Sauter and Haley. And even if he doesn’t make the playoffs, if the rookie can continue to improve his performance and potentially find his way to Victory Lane at some point later this season, the year can still be considered a success.

Noah Gragson Sitting Out Was Correct

Just hours before the race on Saturday, the NASCAR world was rocked when the announcement came that Noah Gragson would not be racing at Pocono after doctors didn’t clear him due to an illness he had been struggling through. Some reports stated he had made multiple trips to the Infield Care Center for fluids. It was an unexpected turn of events that left people wondering what was next for the No. 18 team.

With all due respect to my colleague, Brandon Hauff, it was the right call for Gragson to sit out. After all, he had just apparently passed out on pit road, and he didn’t look much better in the video shown when he was carted to the Infield Care Center.

For his own safety, and the safety of his fellow competitors, Gragson sitting on the sidelines and spending the time to work his way toward being 100 percent was the right move. Sure, the sophomore driver wasn’t happy about the decision, but who would be?

The bottom line is that it was better that he sat out the race, especially since NASCAR gave him a waiver to continue to compete for the championship, just in case. Gragson has since been cleared to return to competition, though it took until Tuesday (July 31), so the whatever the illness was must have had a pretty strong hold on him. Here’s to a healthy rest of 2018 for Gragson.

Erik Jones Shines in Substitute Role

Speaking of Gragson’s illness, it was a short time before the race when Erik Jones was given the task to fill the No. 18 seat. With no seat time at all, Jones was thrust behind the wheel and had to make his way from the rear of the field when the green flag flew.

Starting in the back, Jones joined the top 10 by the end of stage 1, and he would have been there again if not for pit road strategy that saw him make a green-flag stop shortly before the end of stage 2.

And despite the strong truck eventual winner Kyle Busch had, Jones was able to run down the leader and put up a bit of a fight for the top spot before ultimately dropping back and settling for a second-place run in his last-minute return to the series.

“It was definitely a surprise, you know? I didn’t think that I’d be running a Truck race today, but it was fun,” Jones said. “You’re definitely changing your mindset getting into a Truck race. I knew it was going to be a little challenging coming from the back and, obviously not being in the truck all day, I didn’t know how it drove. I don’t know how Noah (Gragson) drives his trucks, and so it was a lot of things that go through your head, but we had a great truck. We fired off and it was very quick and we were able to get up to the front pretty fast.”

Sure, he’s a Cup driver and should be expected to adapt rather quickly, however, it’s hard not to be impressed by his second-place run. It’s a testament to the talent Jones has and the people in place at KBM that were able to adjust and adapt at the last minute when their driver changed. For Jones, the Cup Series sophomore who scored his first MENCS win a few weeks ago, there’s a bright future and many more years of racing ahead.

Kyle Busch Ties Race Wins Record

Say what you will about Kyle Busch racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but you can’t deny the talent and skill he shows every time he climbs behind the wheel. With that said, a Cup driver running the Truck Series should be expected to excel, especially in equipment as strong as KBM runs each week.

Busch became the first repeat Truck Series winner at Pocono, but more importantly, the milestone he reached Saturday in his final 2018 start – 51 wins – is one that will likely stand in the series’ record books for many years, especially since he’ll probably surpass that number next season.

“It’s awesome. I can’t say enough about everybody at Kyle Busch Motorsports and everybody that’s gotten these win totals to where they’re at, you know?” Busch said of tying Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.’s record. “It’s a true testament to all the hard work and everybody, all the dedication and perseverance everybody has a Kyle Busch Motorsports. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of great people, and [I] wouldn’t be here without them.”

Busch’s Truck Series career has spanned over 145 races, including six as a 16-year-old in 2001 before NASCAR raised the minimum competition age. During that season, he had a pair of top 10s to bookend the season with Jack Roush’s now non-existent team.

The KBM owner scored 16 wins for Billy Ballew Motorsports before starting his own team in 2010. Since then, he’s gone on to visit Victory Lane a whopping 35 times in 76 starts (46 percent) in his own team’s equipment. And along the way, he’s also helped develop and bring in talents like Jones, Gragson, Daniel Suarez, William Byron and Christopher Bell, to name a few.

Regardless of what side you’re on when it comes to Busch racing in the Truck Series, it’s hard to deny that the record is impressive, especially since none of the other KBM drivers have won at that rate in their time with the same equipment. And beyond race wins alone, the talent he’s helped cultivate is second-to-none and isn’t something to be taken lightly.

Things That Make You Go Hmm…

Alright, so this one isn’t from Pocono, though it did pop up in the penalty report out of that race weekend. Doug Chouinard, who was listed on the team rosters as race engineer for Todd Gilliland‘s No. 4 Toyota at Eldora Speedway a couple weeks ago, was suspended indefinitely this week for an infraction dated July 25.

Chouinard was nabbed under Sections 12.1.a (If NASCAR/NEM observes or is made aware of an act or omission by a NASCAR Member that constitutes a violation of the NASCAR Rules or that is detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR, and if NASCAR/NEM determines that the act or omission is sufficiently serious to warrant the imposition of a Penalty, the Official shall report the violation to the Series Managing Director and/or Senior Vice President, Competition as soon as practicable. ) and 2.11.a (Any NASCAR Member charged with any violation of the law (misdemeanor and/or felony) shall notify NASCAR … prior to the next scheduled Event or within 72 hours of being so charged, whichever is earlier.) of the 2018 rule book.

I’m not here to speculate the reasoning behind his suspension, but the text doesn’t read very well for sure.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Matt Mills will make his return to the Truck Series next weekend at Michigan International Speedway, piloting the No. 54 Chevrolet for DGR-Crosley. The 21-year-old has 10 prior series starts over 2016 and 2017, though two of those were start-and-park efforts in Jennifer Jo Cobb’s No. 0 truck. He has a best finish of 17th twice with Faith Motorsports last season at Kansas Speedway and Dover International Speedway.

“I’m very excited to be getting an opportunity to run for DGR-Crosley. The past few years, I have been using my opportunities to learn and grow as a driver. Now I’ll get to test the skills and see where I rank up with other drivers in the field. The DGR-Crosley team brings fast trucks to the track every weekend. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel to see what I can do and how much more I can learn with them at Michigan. Having David [Gilliland] there to help me is going to be a huge asset. I can’t thank everyone at J.F. Electric and DGR-Crosley enough for giving me this opportunity.”

  • Marcus Lemonis, Camping World’s chief executive officer, was on hand at Pocono last weekend to reveal the 2018 Gander Outdoors Truck Series logo. After nine years with Camping World as the presenting sponsor for the season, Gander Outdoors, another of Lemonis’ companies, will step in next season.

“Nearly a decade ago we felt strongly our entitlement sponsorship would dramatically increase Camping World’s customer base, and it’s delivered. We expect the passionate fans of NASCAR will embrace Gander Outdoors the same way they supported Camping World, and we couldn’t be more excited about the future of the series.”

About the author

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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