*In a Nutshell:* Nelson Piquet, Jr. took the checkered flag 0.223 seconds ahead of Matt Crafton to win the Smith’s 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday night. The driver of the No. 30 Chevrolet led four times for 30 laps and made a thrilling last-lap pass for his second victory of 2012. Joey Coulter, Brendan Gaughan, and Todd Bodine rounded out the top 5.
*Who Should Have Won:* *Nelson Piquet, Jr.* Having run sixth in the lone practice session, the driver of the No. 30 Toyota qualified 13th and took the lead for the first time during a round of green flag pit stops. He went on to lead three more times, including the final lap. Though he tried and failed to make a pass on Crafton twice in the closing laps, he made one last attempt on the final lap and made the move stick en route to his third national series victory this year.
*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:*
*1. How did Travis Pastrana and Ryan Reed fare in their Truck Series debuts?*
The Smith’s 350 featured another pair of drivers making their Camping World Truck Series debuts Friday night. In a field that was only 34 trucks strong, neither one had to worry about whether they’d make the field. Travis Pastrana, who has made nine Nationwide Series starts, snagging a best finish of 13th in Indianapolis, piloted the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Toyota. Ryan Reed, who made his first NASCAR start, drove for Wauters Motorsports behind the wheel of the No. 5 Ford vacated by Paulie Harraka earlier this season.
The duo started side by side in the ninth row with Pastrana 17th and Reed 18th. But once the checkered flag flew, it didn’t take long for the driver of the No. 98 Toyota to find trouble, bringing out the second caution with a single-truck spin on lap 7. And despite restarting 31st, he worked his way up through the field throughout the day before settling into a solid 15-place finish on the lead lap.
On the other hand, Reed was virtually invisible all day long. From the pre-race show, where SPEED spotlighted Pastrana’s debut but ignored Reed’s all the way to the checkered flag, the only way anyone would know the 19-year-old was racing was if they had watched the leaderboard ticker. Despite dropping back as far as 23rd at one point, Reed kept his nose clean and brought the No. 5 truck home in one piece with a 17th-place result, the first truck one lap down.
Although neither driver was ever a threat for the win, both were impressive in their debuts. Pastrana’s day did start off a little rough with the early race spin, but his ability to keep from hitting anyone or anything allowed him to finish off the race. The duo should be pleased with their performance and are likely looking forward to their next chance to run in the Truck Series.
*2. Is Turner Motorsports the strongest team in the Truck Series right now?*
For the last few years, Kevin Harvick, Inc. stood out as one of the stronger teams in the Camping World Truck Series, but that all changed with their closure at the end of the 2011 season. Now, a new team may be the best on the track: Turner Motorsports. For a team that began as a small, family-operated organization, they’ve become quite a powerhouse.
Consider the numbers for the organization this season: seven wins in 17 races with three different drivers and all three of their full-time trucks inside the top 10 in points. But if that’s not enough, the Turner Motorsports drivers–both part and full time–have a combined 30 top-10 results, including a tenth and a sixth for young driver Kyle Larson behind the wheel of the No. 4 Chevrolet. And that doesn’t even take into account the number of times James Buescher has been in position to win and had a parts failure or some other incident knock him out of the race.
The bottom line is that any driver that has the opportunity to drive for Turner Motorsports knows the power the team has and will do what they can to make the most of the chance. Should any of their trio of full-time drivers choose to move on to another series or team, you can bet there will be several drivers clamoring for the chance to drive some of the best equipment in the series at this point.
*Truck Rookie Report*
*2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates:*
*Dakoda Armstrong* (No. 98–released from ride)
*Ty Dillon* (No. 3)
*Dusty Davis* (No. 15–team suspended)
*T.J. Duke* (No. 07)
*Ross Chastain* (No. 08)
*Cale Gale* (No. 33)
*Max Gresham *(No. 24–released from ride)
*Paulie Harraka* (No. 5–team suspended)
*Caleb Holman* (No. 75)
*John King* (No. 7–team suspended)
*Bryan Silas* (No. 99)
*John Wes Townley* (No. 09)
*No. of Rookies in the Race:* 10 (add Grant Enfinger, David Mayhew, Travis Miller and debuting drivers Travis Pastrana, and Ryan Reed)
*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10:* 3; Cale Gale, finished seventh; David Mayhew, finished ninth; Ty Dillon, finished tenth
*Rookie of the Race:* Cale Gale, finished seventh
“Once we got into Ty [Dillon] coming off pit road on that gas-only stop, the Dollar General Tundra was just way too tight and instead of competing for the win, we just had to salvage what we could. Our game plan going in was to keep putting on four tires early in the race and it all worked out well until the contact on pit road. I hate it for all the guys–everybody worked hard all weekend, we had a really fast truck and it should’ve been a lot better result. I have to thank Kyle [Busch] for the opportunity as well as all the sponsors who support this team–Dollar General, Toyota, Flexco, M&Ms, and Advanced Payment Services.” _David Mayhew, finished ninth_
“It was a tough night for the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops team. We definitely had a truck that could have contended for the win, but we had that incident on pit road that we couldn’t battle back from. I’m really proud of Marcus Richmond [crew chief] and the team. They never gave up tonight. That’s what a championship team is all about.” _Ty Dillon, finished tenth_
“You know we definitely improved the whole time. Doug Randolph made some great calls on pit road. We gave up a little track position at the beginning to gain some in the middle. I made a couple mistakes towards the beginning of the race. I feel like we probably had a sixth to eighth-place truck there at the end but getting by those trucks was really, really tough. It seemed like when I chose the high line, the low line would move, and when I’d choose the low line, the high line would move. overall, it was a solid run but wasn’t as good of a finish as what our RAM was.” _Grant Enfinger, finished 12th_
*Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:*
SPEED mentioned during the broadcast that the No. 2 team, piloted by Brendan Gaughan, is in R&D mode for the remainder of the season as they look forward to 2013. Though Gaughan never led a lap, he was right in the middle of the battle for the lead on the final restart and finished solidly inside the top 5, marking his fourth consecutive top-5 result in six starts.
Ty Dillon maintains the top spot by a mere one point over James Buescher. Timothy Peters remains in third but gained two markers on the leader and now sits 24 back. Joey Coulter moved up a spot. Parker Kligerman, who dropped on position, round out the top 5.
Most of the rest of the top 10 remains unchanged: Matt Crafton is sixth followed by Justin Lofton in seventh. Nelson Piquet, Jr. finds himself just one point behind Lofton in eighth with teammate Miguel Paludo in ninth. Jason White, jumped two spots following another engine failure for Ron Hornaday, Jr. and rounds out the top 10.
“I have no idea what happened. I had to give it a last try, I stuck it in there and God gave me a little bit more grip on the inside and we made it. It feels great. We really needed this win–probably the best win of my career. For sure, [one of the] top 5 moments of my career.” _Nelson Piquet, Jr._
“That sucks … just plain and simple sucks. We had a great truck. We were really good on the second run and the third we got really loose and thing thing was really good right there at the end. They said the 30 [Nelson Piquet, Jr.] was running on the top, so I moved to the top and was trying to keep up the momentum that he was and he got a real good run there off of [turn] four. I can’t thank these guys enough. That is a tough–tough one to lose on the last lap, but I can’t thank these guys enough for working so hard on this Menards Toyota Tundra. I mean–that’s a very, very hard one to swallow. I can’t thank these guys enough and Duke and Rhonda Thorson [team owners].” _Matt Crafton, finished second_
“I just can’t say enough about the No. 22 team as a whole. They worked so hard to put together this Silverado and I thought we had the truck to win this evening. It was a good points night for us and we are looking on to Talladega.” _Joey Coulter, finished third_
“The No. 2 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet team worked really hard tonight to get the truck where it needed to be at the end of the race. We were fast there at the end but didn’t have enough laps to get the job done. I love racing here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and for Richard Childress Racing. I can’t thank the guys and Gere Kennon [crew chief] enough for the great truck this weekend.” _Brendan Gaughan, finished fourth_
“I think my team was the hardest working team on pit road. We were so loose to start the race and we took some rubbers out and we did air pressure and as typical racers go we over adjusted it. Early, I had somebody on my butt there and it looked like Parker [Kligerman], but that’s the way it goes. It just got really loose and never even caught, but to come back after that and finish fifth and have a shot at the win, we can’t complain. The Toyota Care Tundra was fast, just too tight at the end.” _Todd Bodine, finished fifth_
*Up Next:* The Camping World Truck Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway Saturday afternoon for the Coca-Cola 250 powered by Fred’s. Last season, Mike Wallace led 54 of 94 laps en route to his first Truck Series victory since 2000. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 3:30 PM ET; it can also be heard on your “local MRN affiliate”:http://www.motorracingnetwork.com/Affiliates/Affiliates.aspx#showFindStations or SiriusXM Channel 90.