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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Truckin’ Thursdays: Christopher Bell’s Series Return Among Storylines at Bristol

For the first time, the Camping World Truck Series will have a primetime broadcast this Thursday night (Aug. 16) at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Even if Johnny Sauter finishes dead last and Noah Gragson manages to win both stages plus the race, Sauter will still win the regular season championship and earn the 15 bonus playoff points to carry with him all the way to Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Beyond Sauter and fellow four-time winner this season Brett Moffitt, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley and Ben Rhodes have all visited Victory Lane and secured themselves a spot in the playoffs.

Setting the Playoff Field

Five drivers are locked into the playoffs courtesy of at least one trip to Victory Lane this season, and Grant Enfinger will also secure his spot in the championship battle just by starting the race. But that’s where it gets a little more uncertain.

Stewart Friesen is most likely safe. Given that he holds a 39-point advantage over Matt Crafton, he can finish 18th while scoring zero stage points and he won’t be knocked out. And if you consider that he’s finished outside the top 15 just four times in 15 races, then he looking good to make it in.

Crafton, on the other hand, may not admit it but he’s sweating the trip to Bristol. He’s shown a very nonchalant attitude about making the playoffs and being a part of the championship battle, but a victory by Todd Gilliland, Myatt Snider or Dalton Sargeant could spell the end of his title hopes this season.

That’s not to say Crafton won’t be a part of the playoffs. After all, a driver outside the top eight in the standings would need to win to knock him out, but he could also pull off a victory and take his fate into his own hands. And it’s worth noting that Crafton hasn’t faced a winless season since 2012, a streak he and crew chief Junior Joiner don’t intend to break.

Christopher Bell in for Harrison Burton

Harrison Burton was scheduled to make his 11th career Truck Series start Thursday night but was forced to withdraw due to an illness. In his place, 2017 champion Christopher Bell will pilot the No. 51 Toyota.

“It will be great to get back in a Tundra with KBM at Bristol, but wish it was under better circumstances,” Bell said. “I hope Harrison feels better soon, and I’m hoping I can get the Hunt Brothers Pizza Tundra into Victory Lane on his behalf Thursday night.”

Burton, who’s been racing since he was four years old, has never had to miss a race before this week.

“I hate to let down my guys, but my doctors just don’t believe I’m ready,” Burton said. “Having to miss this race will give me even more motivation to come back even stronger in Canada next week.”

Burton still has five more scheduled races this season, beginning with next weekend’s playoff-opening visit to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

In his 10 prior Truck Series starts, Burton boasts three top fives and four top 10s, including a best finish of third at Iowa Speedway earlier this season.

New Faces

Thursday night’s trip to Bristol means track debuts for 11 drivers. Camden Murphy, Cory Roper, Codie Rohrbaugh, Myatt Snider, Stefan Parsons, Tanner Thorson, Scott Lagasse Jr., Chad Finley, Justin Fontaine, Riley Herbst and Bayley Currey will all face the half-mile bullring for the first time.

But perhaps what’s more important is that two of those drivers will be making their series debut.

Parsons, son of former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver and owner Phil Parsons, has joined Premium Motorsports to pilot the No. 15 Chevrolet.

“I’m super excited to make my truck debut at Bristol,” Parsons said. “I can’t thank Jay Robinson and everyone at Premium Motorsports enough, as well as James Finch and Phoenix Construction for giving me this opportunity. I’m excited to work with Mike Hillman Sr. and Peter Sospenzo as I make my NASCAR debut.

“This is something I’ve been dreaming about my whole life, and I can’t put into words what this means to me. My family has a history of winning at Bristol and I hope to continue that tradition.”

Meanwhile, Codie Rohrbaugh will debut his family-owned team at Bristol. The ARCA Racing Series driver, who boasts a career-best finish of seventh at Pocono in 17 ARCA starts, plans to make at least one start in the final three races at Texas, Phoenix or Homestead.

“We’re very excited about Bristol this week,” Rohrbaugh said. “It’s a huge step for us to take a very low-key ARCA program and try to make one of the biggest Truck Series races of the year. But I feel we can do it and do it well.

“We could have made our Truck debut sooner, but we wanted to wait for that right opportunity, that right chance to make an impression. I think Bristol is it. I have experience there before in a K&N car, and even though I’ve never raced in a truck, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get comfortable pretty quick and we can focus on qualifying and race runs.”

With 38 trucks on the entry list and no points in their back pocket, the team will have to make the field on speed.

“Once we’re in the race, we’ll regroup and look to gain a bunch of knowledge and finish the race,” Rhorbaugh continued. “If was can do that, the race will be successful.”

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Ben Rhodes has picked up a new two-race sponsor for his No. 41 ThorSport Racing Ford. FEI World Equestrian Games (held every four years) and Tryon International Equestrian Center will adorn his truck at Bristol and next weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

“It’s an honor to be able to represent the FEI World Equestrian Games at Bristol Motor Speedway and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. It’s an event of monumental size and the largest sporting event in North Carolina’s history,” Rhodes said. “For me, that makes it all the more fun to represent them on the racetrack. Knowing so many support this event and so many are involved across the globe in the World Equestrian Games, it’s going to be fun to share that with the racing world starting this weekend.”

  • Ross Chastain will pull triple-duty this weekend. He joins Niece Motorsports with backing from Black Rifle Coffee Company to make his third career start at Bristol. He has a best finish of third in 2012. He also has seven NASCAR XFINITY Series starts and one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at the track.

“I’m excited about getting back in a truck this week at Bristol,” Chastain said. “I’ve had the opportunity to run a few Truck races this year, which is always a good time. I’ve been to the shop with Cody and the Niece Motorsports team, and I am really looking forward to Thursday’s race. I think we will have a great chance at a strong performance.”

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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 13-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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