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Ever since NASCAR added Eldora Speedway to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series schedule in 2013, teams have circled this event on their calendars for a variety of different reasons, ranging from fear of the unknown to excitement. What was once a wild-card race – and to an extent still is – has become one that teams prepare for well ahead of time, and it’s also a race that tends to bring in dirt-track talent from around the racing world.
The series’ visits to the track have had no shortage of intense moments and fantastic racing too. And for the last six years, it hasn’t disappointed.
2013: Norm Benning Squeezes His Way into the Inaugural Dirt Derby
This one will, perhaps, remain as one of the all-time best Truck Series moments at Eldora. In a feel-good story that had a portion of the drivers cheering him on, Norm Benning fought lap after lap to make his way into the inaugural field in the last-chance qualifying race, and he did so despite heavy damage to his truck along the way. But the most heartwarming part of the story is that several teams stepped in with people to help put Benning’s truck back together enough to run the main event.
“I couldn’t get to my own truck through all the people working on it,” Benning said at the time. “I want to personally thank each and every one of them. There were so many, I can’t remember them all. But I really appreciate what they did.
“I don’t get an opportunity to have a level playing field too often. It wasn’t about aerodynamics at Eldora and it wasn’t about big horsepower. I’d love an opportunity to come out and do it right every week, but I just don’t have the money.”
Austin Dillon went on to win this one and will forever hold the prestige of being the Truck Series’ first victor at Eldora.
2014: Bubba Wallace Wins After Kyle Larson Wrecks
Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace dominated the race, leading a combined 121 of 150 laps. Jones faded to an eventual 29th-place finish after winning his heat race and leading the first 24 circuits in the main event. Wallace ended up in victory lane following a spirited battle with dirt-track ace Kyle Larson, who tried to knock down the walls — almost literally — all around the track trying to catch Wallace until he hit too hard and was forced to settle for a DNF in 25th.
“Thanks to Turner Scott Motorsports for building a strong truck to make it last that long,” Larson said at the time. “Didn’t realize how stupid I was driving. Darrell [Wallace] did a really good job. He was fast all day today and he ran close to the wall the whole time and never really hit it.”
2015: Bobby Pierce Impresses in Series Debut
Well known in dirt racing circles, Bobby Pierce made his series debut with long-tenured team Mittler Brothers Motorsports and promptly put his truck on the pole for the race. After winning his heat race too, many expected Pierce to excel in the feature, and that’s exactly what he did, though it wasn’t without its challenges.
Pierce got shuffled back on an early restart and looked like he wouldn’t be able to recover. Then, when he finally did get to the front again, Pierce engaged in several side-by-side battles with eventual winner Christopher Bell, who led 108 laps, that could only be described as epic. He did so even when one of his many smacks to the wall in the closing laps loosened the bed cover on the back end of the truck, damage that looked like it might end his race. Instead, NASCAR let Pierce continue to race since the piece was tethered to the truck and wouldn’t cause a danger to spectators or competitors.
“The last 10-15 laps, I was really going for it,” Pierce said after the race. “After watching Kyle (Larson) beat the wall down last year, I knew these trucks could take a lot before they start falling apart. “Whenever I hit the wall with the truck, I made sure it was the back end. I tried to keep the front end out of it, but a couple of times we got up in there. That’s just what happens when you’re really going for it at the end.
“Christopher did an unbelievable job. Hats off to him. He raced clean the whole race. It was just a lot of fun, and beating the wall down is something I’m normally good at, so it’s been a great week.”
2016: Kyle Larson Recovers From Penalty to Win
During his rookie season, Bell took a shot at going back-to-back at Eldora, while Pierce once again started on the pole and won his heat race. This time, neither one emerged victorious. Bell ended up second to eventual winner Larson, while Pierce dominated, leading 102 laps, before retiring early to a disappointing 25th-place finish.
Much like he had done the year before, Pierce spent a good chunk of the race bouncing off of the wall — only this time, he did so while struggling to get his truck out of fourth gear. When contact with the wall left him with a flat tire, the truck ended up nose-first in the inside wall, and Pierce was unable to move, forcing him out of the race and what was likely a sure win.
For Larson, the record books won’t show what he went through en route to victory lane. Contact resulted in a cut tire and spin from the lead, but NASCAR deemed the spin avoidable and docked him a lap. A free pass under the sixth caution allowed Larson to rejoin the lead lap, and he worked his way through the field to the win.
2017: Stewart Friesen Shines While Matt Crafton Snaps Winless Streak
In his first full-time Truck Series season with Halmar Friesen Racing, Stewart Friesen struggled in the first seven races, finishing no better than 19th (Atlanta Motor Speedway). At that point, the organization took a few races off to reorganize and put itself in a better spot to run competitively. Three races later, HFR and Friesen returned with a new partnership with GMS Racing, and it’s one of the best decisions the team made. Just take a peek at Friesen’s results since then.
Given his extensive dirt racing background, many pointed at Friesen, who made his series debut at Eldora in 2016, as one to watch, and he sure didn’t disappoint. He posted the fastest lap in qualifying and won his heat race, giving him a front-row starting spot. After leading a race-high 93 laps, he ended up second.
“Second sucks, bottom line,” Friesen lamented at the time. “Having this opportunity has been a dream come true. It feels good to run good, but not closing out the deal burns.”
Meanwhile, it was Matt Crafton who snapped a 27-race winless streak with a nearly two-second margin of victory.
2018: Chase Briscoe, Grant Enfinger Wage Epic Battle for the Win
Any NASCAR fan wants to see a race decided by beating and banging with one driver edging the other by inches at the start/finish line. This one was just that when Chase Briscoe made a one-off start for ThorSport Racing last year. In his return to the series, Briscoe battled side-by-side with Grant Enfinger, as the two leaned on each other for the final couple of laps. Ultimately, Briscoe took the victory, leaving Enfinger wanting more.
Each year, the racing seems to get better and better as the teams figure out the surface and the strategies required and the track continues to ensure a strong racing surface.
“No matter how big this (sport) gets, tonight was an example of the passion we all have for what we do,” Eldora owner Tony Stewart said after the inaugural race. “You don’t see that with pavement racing. It gives us hope for why we all do this.”
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