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Johnny Sauter clinched the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular-season title simply by starting the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The other four winners – Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley, Ben Rhodes and Noah Gragson – were also locked in at the race’s beginning, and Grant Enfinger was locked in via points at the drop of the green flag.
That left two spots left to fill, and by the end of stage one Stewart Friesen had punched his ticket into the playoff field.
Ultimately the final spot went to veteran Matt Crafton, due to the misfortunes of his competitors.
Christopher Bell, piloting the No. 51 Toyota after Harrison Burton was sidelined due to sickness, started on the pole and led through two early cautions. John Hunter Nemechek slipped into the lead on a lap 31 restart, and the No. 8 Chevy raced away from the field on the high line, capturing the stage victory.
On lap 68, Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Todd Gilliland got into the left side of Jesse Little in Turn 2, spinning and bringing out the yellow. Gilliland was busted for pitting outside his box and was held one lap. Little had a large amount of damage and was able to finish the race, but the contact effectively ended his night as the No. 97 finished 26th out of 32 trucks.
Stage two was fairly tame, as Nemechek was never challenged while holding off coming down pit road, winning the second stage as well. On the stage’s final lap, Myatt Snider had both left-side tires go down, banging his No. 13 into the inside wall, and the potential spoiler was never able to recover, dropping out about 40 laps short of the finish.
For the opening 15 laps of green-flag racing in stage three, Sauter and Gragson jostled for the lead before Sauter was able to take command on lap 130. Bell lost his power steering around lap 160, saddling him with a disappointing 28th-place finish.
Gilliland, now back on the lead lap, sailed around traffic along the outside, charging his way into the top 10.
While Sauter was fighting traffic, Nemechek slipped past on the outside at lap 175 and he looked poised to grab his second victory of 2018, but what the Fox broadcast cited as a fuel-pump issue slowed his truck dramatically with five laps to go, allowing Sauter to pass him for the win, the fifth victory of the 2018 season for the GMS Racing No. 21 team.
Friesen was second, Nemechek limped to third, Parker Kligerman ran fourth for the part-time Henderson Motorsports team, Gilliland was fifth, Haley sixth. Rhodes was seventh, Crafton was eighth, Gragson ninth and Enfinger finished out the top 10.
The 2018 CWTS playoffs begin on Sunday, Aug. 26 at 2:30 p.m. with the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, with TV coverage on FS1.
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