*In A Nutshell:* Denny Hamlin pushed and shoved his way past Matt Crafton with five laps to go to take the win in the Kroger 200 over a charging Nelson Piquet, Jr. Hamlin drove the No. 51 Toyota by Crafton after the final restart of the race to take home his second career Camping World Truck Series win in 15 starts. Hamlin had to come from the back of the pack after missing the drivers’ meeting due to Sprint Cup practice. Both of Hamlin’s wins have come at Martinsville Speedway; he also won the fall race last year. Joey Coulter, Crafton, and Scott Riggs rounded out the top 5.
*Who Should Have Won:* Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was forced to start form the back of the pack because the Truck Series drivers’ meeting overlapped with the final practice session for the Sprint Cup Series, where Hamlin is running for the championship. Had Hamlin started here he qualified, fifth, it’s likely that the race would have been ugly; his Kyle Busch Motorsports truck was clearly the class of the field in the race; he came from the back into the top 10 within the first 60 laps. While Kevin Harvick led the most laps on the day (Harvick elected to attend the drivers’ meeting before practicing his Sprint Cup car), his No. 2 truck faded late in the going and a flat tire sealed his fate. Hamlin led just six laps, but they were the right ones, and really, nobody else had a shot once Hamlin got to the leaders on the late restarts.
*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race*
*1. Is the title now James Buescher’s for the taking?*
In a word, yes. Buescher came into Martinsville with Ty Dillon a formidable obstacle on his road to his first title and the first for Turner Motorsports in the series, but he left with Dillon firmly in his rearview mirror. Dillon entered the day with a one-point advantage, but a blown tire and the drive back to pit road without an inner liner (which are not used at short tracks) caused significant suspension damage to the No. 3 truck, opening the door for Buescher, who took full advantage, coming back from a lap down to finish sixth and leave the Virginia hills with a 21-point advantage.
What does that mean for Buescher? Simply put, it means that everything is in his hands from here on out. With three races remaining, Buescher controls the title picture—as long as he makes no mistakes and finishes close to the front, there is nothing that either Dillon or Timothy Peters (who did gain a single point on the lead thanks to a bonus point for leading a lap) can do, no matter how they run. As it stands, Dillon needs to beat Buescher by over seven points per race to take the prize, and Peters would need to beat him by 8 positions each time out. If Buescher keeps his truck in one piece, it’s unlikely that either of the others will catch him.
*2. How stiffly will NASCAR penalize a non-truck regular for his postrace actions?*
Brian Scott, a Nationwide Series regular, took umbrage with a late-race move by Nelson Piquet, Jr. after Piquet shoved his No. 18 Toyota out of the racing groove for a pass. While Piquet was a little overaggressive at times during the race (and admitted it afterward), that type of move is generally accepted at Martinsville as long as nobody gets wrecked. However, Scott didn’t think so, and showed his displeasure by getting into Piquet’s truck on pit road after the checkered flag.
NASCAR has consistently penalized drivers for hitting others on pit road, so a penalty is likely for Scott, but because Scott is ineligible for Truck Series Points, NASCAR’s only recourse is an owners’ points deduction for truck owner Kyle Busch, and a monetary fine or suspension for Scott. This is unlikely as Scott has not had prior offenses. That means NASCAR could choose to make the fine a particularly painful one if they choose to make an example of Scott. Is that wrong? Not really—Scott is just in the trucks to play, while Piquet and the other Truck regulars have a lot more at stake. So while NASCAR may or may not feel the same way, a higher fine for a non-regular in lieu of a points deduction seems reasonable.
*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—replaced by Jeff Agnew at Martinsville)
*Ross Chastain* (No. 08)
*Cale Gale* (No. 33)
*Max Gresham* (No. 24—released from ride; in No. 8 at Martinsville)
*Paulie Harraka* (No. 5—replaced by Josh Richards at Martinsville)
*Caleb Holman* (No. 75)
*John King* (No. 7—replaced in No. 7 by Parker Kligerman)
*Bryan Silas* (No. 99)
*John Wes Townley* (No. 09)
*No. of Rookies in the Race:* 10 (add Ryan Blaney, Tyler Young, and a debuting Ryan Truex)
*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top-10:* 0
*Rookie of the Race:* Max Gresham (finished 11th)
“It’s not your typical short track. There are definitely unique characteristics about it. Probably one of the hardest short tracks I’ve raced at. It’s a very difficult place, especially in these heavy and high-powered trucks. It definitely is one of a kind and definitely the hardest one I’ve ever been to… I think the 27 (Ryan Truex) missed a shift and couldn’t find a gear. As soon as I got wide open and shifted to third I was plowing into the guy in front of me and the guy behind was pushing me also. It was one of those deals where someone misses a shift and at this place there’s nowhere to dodge ‘em. That was a bad deal but that happens.” _-Ryan Blaney, finished 8th, on his first impressions of Martinsville and how he sustained damage to the No. 29 during the race_
“[I am definitely pumped up to race there. Our whole team is excited. We know our role right now in this series is to get in the show, race clean and finish all the laps because that’s how we’re going to keep getting better. But just to compete at Martinsville in a truck will be a thrill just like the other tracks were for us. I trust Cody Sauls and all these guys to give me what I need and we’re going to go do our best to do something better than we did last time out. If we do that, it will be a good day.”_-Tyler Young (finished 30th) before the race, on making his fourth career CWTS start_
*Worth Noting / Points Shuffle*
Martinsville is typically a race where few teams park it early on purpose, and Saturday’s event was no exception, with 31 of 36 trucks running at the end and just two—those of Chris Fontaine and Matt Merrell—whose early exits due, respectively, to clutch and transmission issues, could be interpreted as having parked it on purpose.
Brian Scott wasn’t the only driver who was unhappy with Piquet’s aggressive showing on Saturday. Piquet traded paint and tire rubs with several drivers and prompted Joey Coulter’s team to instruct Coulter to wreck Piquet in the closing laps after he got hard into the side of the No. 22 to make the pass for second-place. Coulter was unable to get back to Piquet’s bumper, otherwise, the apology and “it’s all good” hug on pit road after the race might not have happened.
Denny Hamlin became the third Sprint Cup regular to log a CWTS win in 2012. He joins Kevin Harvick (spring Martinsville) and Kasey Kahne (Rockingham) in the party crasher category this year.
Undoubtedly the biggest impact that the race had, though, was in the points. Ty Dillon’s flat tire and subsequent suspension damage cost him 22 points to James Buescher, who now holds a 21-point advantage over Dillon with three races remaining. Timothy Peters sits third, 25 back and is the last driver with a realistic title chance. Parker Kilgerman and Joey Coulter remain in fourth and fifth spots, 36 and 46 markers back respectively.
Matt Crafton remains in sixth-place, and gained four points on the lead to sit 52 behind Buescher. Nelson Piquet, Jr. moves around Justin Lofon to take over seventh spot, while Lofton slides to eighth. Ninth and tens places are unchanged, with Johnny Sauter holding ninth by five points over Miguel Paludo.
“I love this place, and man, that’s short track racing at its finest. I gave the 88 extra room on the outside. I went to the second lane and didn’t want to crowd him into one, and tried to pass him on the outside and he shoved up into me and pushed me into the third groove. I just got back to him, so I didn’t try to wreck him or anything like that—you’re going to have contact at Martinsville. I would expect the same thing from anyone else. I tell you, I’ve lost a bunch that way.” _-Denny Hamlin, race winner_
“If you want to call that a pass—that’s just moving somebody. Running in the back of somebody, that doesn’t take anything. Anybody can do that. I didn’t let the tires come up quite clean enough on the last restart, I do admit that. That’s part of it, I didn’t get my tires cleaned up, but I did not run into the back of him…We were there all day and we were contending to win. We will win us a couple by the end of the season. I told (Denny Hamlin) that it took a lot of man to run in the back of somebody, not even try to pass me—didn’t even run behind me for one lap to see what he can do, just ran in the back of me—that’s all he did.” _- Matt Crafton on Hamlin’s late-race pass for the win_
“We bolted on that last set of tires and our Tundra just did not like them. We did what we had to do to salvage a good day. We started on the pole, led some laps—the points battle closed up pretty good, so we’re going to Texas and Phoenix and Homestead and see what happens.” _-Timothy Peters, who started on the pole and led the first 59 laps before finishing 7th_
“I have a running joke this year: I’ve been fired twice, so I have nothing to lose.” _-Parker Kligerman before the race on whether he could make up a 34-race deficit in four races_
“We had a good run going in our Shore Lodge Toyota…I don’t know if we had a truck that could keep up with Denny—congratulations to him—but we had a top-5 truck. There’s a correct way to dive bomb somebody and an incorrect way. (Nelson Piquet, Jr.) wasn’t even close and he drove in there and should have wrecked us all. Luckily I was able to save it. I thought it as a stupid move. I was just letting him know.” _-Brian Scott on why he hit Piquet’s truck on pit road._
*Up Next:* The Camping World Truck Series heads to Texass Motor Speedway for Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 350. Last year, Kevin Harvick beat Austin and Ty Dillon to the checkered flag, but it was Kyle Busch who grabbed the headlines after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday, Jr. under caution and was subsequently parked for the rest of the weekend. The race will be broadcast on SPEED at 7:30 EDT and also on your local radio (check listings) or SiriusXM 90.