NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Tracking the Trucks: Austin Hill Secures His Spot in Round of 8 With Las Vegas Win

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

In a Nutshell: Austin Hill scored his second Gander RV & Outdoors victory this season in Friday night’s World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After struggling through much of the first two stages, Hill snagged the top spot via a strong restart with 39 laps remaining and held off a hard-charging Sheldon Creed, who had dominated much of the race.

Rookie Tanner Gray tied his career-best finish with a third-place run. Stewart Friesen, who scored his sixth top 10 in the last seven races, ended up fourth. Part-time driver Chandler Smith rounded out the top five.

Race Rundown:

Ben Rhodes Struggles to 23rd-place Finish

Ben Rhodes definitely didn’t get the finish he wanted when he left Las Vegas in 23rd, but it’s incredible that he was even able to run the race to completion.

Under the competition caution, the driver of the No. 99 Ford reported smelling oil, and on a second stop under that yellow, the team did see a lot of oil under the truck.

With no indication as to what the problem was, Rhodes went back out on the track and kept fighting. And he still ran well despite the problem, finishing fifth in stage one and sixth in stage two.

Just over 20 laps into stage three, contact with Friesen sent Rhodes spinning, and the No. 99 Ford backed into the inside wall.

To make matters worse, there was also a fire under the truck as Rhodes drove it down pit road to the attention of his crew.

But even with the different problems, he was able to continue racing, albeit a lap down. Rhodes limped his way through the remainder of the race and ended up 23rd, two laps down.

In the end, it’s hard not to recognize what the No. 99 team did at Las Vegas. Sure, the 23rd-place finish wasn’t ideal by any means, but it’s much better than what could have been if they had pulled the truck to the garage under that competition caution.

Rhodes could have easily parked with an unknown oil leak and called it a night with a 35th-place finish, but instead, the No. 99 team fought and finished 12 positions better, something that could end up making a big difference when it comes to making the Round of 8.

He currently sits ninth in the standings and six points below the cut line; however he would have missed out on 20 points if he had ended the race in 35th. A six-point deficit is a lot easier to make up than 26 would have been, especially facing the unknown that Talladega Superspeedway brings with it.

Natalie Decker Not Cleared to Race

Just before the race started, it was announced that Natalie Decker was “not medically cleared” to race and that she would be credited with a 36th-place finish.

During stage three, NASCAR announced that Decker had been treated and released from the infield care center, but no further details were available. There has been no indication as to what may have sidelined Decker, though the official results posted by NASCAR list the reason she retired as “fatigue.”

She missed the Pocono race in June due to hospitalization for complications from gall bladder surgery last December. She also has an autoimmune disease that she explained to her Twitter followers a couple of weeks ago.

There was talk about why Niece Motorsports wouldn’t have had a backup driver in place, and the simple answer is that the team likely didn’t expect that she would need one. And while there were other drivers available, her truck is set to fit her needs, and a last-minute sub wouldn’t be able to get the truck adjusted in time.

Saturday morning (Sept. 26), Decker tweeted an update, though there’s still no indication of what actually kept her from racing.

Quick Hits:

  • Conor Daly made his Truck Series debut Friday night and did exactly what he needed to. He started 27th and worked his way up to 18th and the first truck one lap down by the time the checkered flag came out. But what’s more important is that he quietly made his debut and didn’t bring any trouble to the playoff drivers even though he had zero experience in a truck before the green flag flew.

  • Dylan Lupton made his first Truck Series start since Phoenix Raceway last season. Piloting the No. 17 DGR-Crosley Ford, the 26-year-old started 34th and quietly finished 14th. He has two more scheduled starts with the organization at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix.

  • Here’s an interesting little tidbit about Creed and when he’s led the most laps in a race recently. He led a career-high 89 circuits but came up short with a runner-up finish.

  • Several drivers throughout the top three series donated their signature panels to the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation for the Las Vegas race weekend. Eight Truck Series drivers carried the name of a “cancer hero” and all funds raised through the auction of the signature panel go to the MTJ Foundation.

Rookie Report

2020 Rookie of the Year Candidates

Tate Fogleman – No. 02 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
Raphael Lessard – No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Spencer Davis – No. 11 Spencer Davis Motorsports Toyota
Zane Smith – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet
Tanner Gray – No. 15 DGR-Crosley Ford
Christian Eckes – No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Derek Kraus – No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota
Ty Majeski – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet

Number of Rookies in Race: 7

Number of Rookies finishing in the Top 10: 3; Tanner Gray, finished third; Zane Smith, finished seventh; Christian Eckes, finished eighth

Rookie of the Race: Tanner Gray

Points Update: Sheldon Creed moved into the point lead with his two stage wins and a runner-up finish. He knocks teammate Brett Moffitt, who finished 15th, to second. Rookie Zane Smith sits third, followed by Grant Enfinger. Tyler Ankrum and Matt Crafton are tied for fifth, though Ankrum takes the tiebreaker between the pair.

Race winner Austin Hill sits seventh, followed by Christian Eckes. Sitting six points below the cut line is Ben Rhodes, and Todd Gilliland, who’s 19 points behind Eckes, rounds out the top 10. Hill is the only driver heading into Talladega Superspeedway that’s guaranteed his spot in the Round of 8.

Derek Kraus continues to lead the rest of the field by 61 markers over Tanner Gray, who moved up a spot to 12th. Raphael Lessard’s struggles throughout the Las Vegas race dropped him to 13th after a 20th-place finish. Stewart Friesen and Johnny Sauter round out the top 15.

Series-regular winners this season: Grant Enfinger (Daytona, Atlanta, Richmond), Sheldon Creed (Kentucky, Daytona road course, Gateway), Austin Hill (Kansas 1, Las Vegas 2), Matt Crafton (Kansas 2), Zane Smith (Michigan, Dover), Ben Rhodes (Darlington)

Tweetable:

Up Next: The Truck Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway next Saturday afternoon for the third and final race in the Round of 10. Coverage for the Sugarlands Shine 250 begins at 1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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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.