_Author’s Note: Hey readers! As the 2012 season is winding to a close, we’re already planning for next year. Please click here to send me an e-mail or let me know in the comments below what you’d like to see in Tracking the Trucks that currently isn’t in there. Is there something you don’t like about this format? I want to know that, too! I’ll collect your comments throughout the rest of the year and the offseason and debut the new and improved Tracking the Trucks in February for the season opener at Daytona. Thank you for your dedicated readership! –Beth_
*In a Nutshell:* Johnny Sauter took the checkered flag 2.199 seconds ahead of Parker Kligerman to win the WinStar World Casino 350 at Texas Motor Speedway Friday night. The driver of the No 13 SealMaster / Curb Records Toyota led 28 of 147 laps en route to a sweep at the 1.5-mile oval this season. Polesitter Nelson Piquet, Jr., Kyle Busch, and rookie Ty Dillon rounded out the top 5.
*Who Should Have Won:* *Johnny Sauter.* Though he started back in 13th, Sauter methodically worked his way forward throughout the first half of the race, taking the lead for the first time on lap 10. Following a round of green flag pit stops, Sauter found himself about three seconds behind then-leader Parker Kligerman thanks to the No. 7 team making a last-minute call to take two tires. But the four tires on Sauter’s No. 13 helped his speed enough that he easily ran down Kligerman, taking the lead on lap 137 and never looking back.
*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:*
*1. How did Brandon McReynolds fare in his Truck Series debut?*
The WinStar World Casino 350 marked Brandon McReynolds’s maiden Truck Series voyage, made behind the wheel of a Turner Motorsports-fielded Chevrolet. The 21-year-old had raced everything from Bandoleros all the way up the ARCA before making his first career start Friday night. He made a single Nationwide Series start back in 2010 at the now defunct Gateway International Raceway where he started 25th and finished 19th, four laps down.
After starting 17th, the driver of the No. 4 Wolf Pack Rentals Chevrolet made some impressive moves on track, side-drafting with other competitors to do so. But around a third of the way, through on lap 55, McReynolds began feeling a vibration that brought concern to the cockpit and the pits. Though the crew removed a spring rubber to help with the vibration, it got worse before the truck tightened up considerably. Despite having worked on the Chevy throughout the race, McReynolds was left to settle for an 18th-place result, one lap down.
“I can’t thank Steve Turner [team owner] enough for this opportunity. Today has been a dream come true for me,” McReynolds said. “This really wasn’t the finish I was wanting, but we know where we can be better, and hopefully we’ll get another shot at it. I appreciate all the hard work from everyone at Turner Motorsports. I learned a lot working with Mike Hillman, Jr. and I’m proud we made it to the end. I hope I have the opportunity to run with Turner Motorsports again soon.”
McReynolds may not have led any laps or even challenged for the lead, but Texas is typically a tough track where balance is difficult to find, especially for someone with such little experience. But his setup was pretty solid and he managed to stay out of trouble on the slippery oval for a solid finish in his debut. Although it remains to be seen whether McReynolds will get another opportunity to race in the Truck Series this season, you can bet if he does, he’ll once again make the most of it.
*2. How did Nelson Piquet, Jr. fare in his 50th career start?*
Nelson Piquet, Jr. made his 50th career start Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, and he did it in almost perfect fashion. After leading both practice sessions on Thursday, the driver of the No. 30 TAG Heuer Avant-Garde Eyewear Chevrolet backed up that performance on Friday afternoon, snagging the pole as the only driver to crack the 180 mph mark.
When the green flag flew, Piquet wasted little time asserting himself as one to beat, leaving teammate James Buescher behind. Piquet led the first 35 laps before losing that lead in a four-wide battle on the restart. He took the lead once again on the second and final restart of the night on lap 70 from Cale Gale, a lead he didn’t relinquish until his final green-flag pit stop on the night. A slight slowdown on that stop cost Piquet valuable track position, though and he was left playing catch up to the leaders. Add that to an almost unheard of 78-lap, caution-free run to close out the race, and Piquet had little chance to run down the leader for a shot at the win.
“Texas Motor Speedway is a very tricky track. It’s fast and slick and very hard to find that natural balance that everyone is looking for,” Piquet said. “My team did an outstanding job, not only building me a truck that could be so powerful, but to continue to work to find the perfect setup for this weekend. I also can’t thank TAG Heuer enough for coming on board with me for this race and for the support they have given me this year. I can honestly say right now is the happiest I’ve ever been in my racing career; to be surrounded by such hard working people is a dream come true.”
Although it wasn’t the trip to Victory Lane that the Brazilian came into the weekend hoping for, Piquet has plenty of reasons to be happy with not only his milestone race but his season as a whole. Having gotten the opportunity to lead several laps early and losing track position during his green-flag pit stop, it’s still a 50th career start worth remembering.
_Author’s Note: Nelson Piquet, Jr.’s Turner Motorsports teammate Miguel Paludo will make his 50th career Truck Series start next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Be sure to tune in to Paludo’s latest driver diary in this week’s Truckin’ Thursdays to find out what he’s learned, how his goals in NASCAR have changed and so much more._
*Truck Rookie Report*
*2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates:*
*Dakoda Armstrong* (No. 98 — team suspended)
*Ty Dillon* (No. 3)
*Dusty Davis* (No. 15 — team suspended)
*T.J. Duke* (No. 07 — not entered at Texas)
*Ross Chastain* (No. 08)
*Cale Gale* (No. 33)
*Max Gresham *(No. 8)
*Paulie Harraka* (No. 5 — driver released)
*Caleb Holman* (No. 75 — not entered at Texas)
*John King* (No. 7 — driver released)
*Bryan Silas* (No. 99)
*John Wes Townley* (No. 09)
*No. of Rookies in the Race:* 13 (add David Mayhew, Ryan Blaney, Russ Dugger, German Quiroga, Stephen Leicht, B.J. McLeod, and a debuting Brandon McReynolds)
*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10:* 1; Ty Dillon, finished fifth
*Rookie of the Race:* Ty Dillon
“Overall, I’m happy with our finish tonight. This fifth-place finish helped us a lot in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship point battle. Marcus [Richmond, Crew Chief] and the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops team did a great job tonight on pit road. We’re going to keep digging next weekend and gain more ground in the points.” _Ty Dillon_
“We had a pretty good truck to start the race. The MMI/Steak & Grape RAM ran good. I knew we were a little bit too tight. I came in for the first pit stop to make a few little changes, I thought we were going to be pretty good. I was running somewhere around 10th, 11th or 12th position and was OK. But then something happened with the tires during the second pit stop. We were just terrible. I think we may have put the tires on backwards because it was just really tough to drive. We came back in the next time to fix it and ran really good again. We had a fast RAM. But we had lost too much ground and had another tire issue late and was just out there holding on. Just a long night.” _David Mayhew, finished 24th_
“I was really hoping that we would be able to post another top-10 finish for everyone on this team that has been working hard and for our sponsor, NET 10 Wireless. We didn’t qualify as well as we needed to, but I was starting to get a feel for the track as the race went along. I think we would have continued to pass some trucks and move forward in the second half of the race. I’m looking forward to a quick turnaround and getting right back on the track next week in Phoenix.” _German Quiroga, finished 28th_
“We blew a right front tire. The first five laps of the race, the Cooper Standard RAM felt great. After that, it just kept getting tighter and tighter. The only thing funny that I felt was maybe a little bit in Turns 3 and 4. Our Cooper Standard RAM just kept getting tighter and tighter for some reason. I didn’t think anything of it, just that we were a little bit tight. It got really bad in three and four and just blew out on the straightaway. I’m actually lucky that it didn’t blow out coming through four because it would have been a pretty hard hit. We just tore it up too bad. It stinks. Our Cooper Standard RAM was fast. It felt great all day and I really thought that I had something for them tonight. That’s just racing. We’ll get them in Phoenix next weekend.” _Ryan Blaney, finished 30th_
*Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:*
The entire top 10 in the championship standings remains unchanged following the WinStar World Casino 350. However, James Buescher lost a small portion of his cushion following mid-race damage that negatively affected the handling on his No. 31 Chevrolet. He now holds a 15-point lead over rookie Ty Dillon. Timothy Peters remains third and Parker Kligerman is in fourth, 25 and 27 markers behind the leader, respectively. Joey Coulter rounds out the top 5.
Matt Crafton remains sixth, 47 points behind the leader. Nelson Piquet, Jr. sits seventh, 29 markers ahead of Justin Lofton who holds eighth. Johnny Sauter and Miguel Paludo round out the top 10.
Polesitter Nelson Piquet, Jr.’s third-place finish helped Chevrolet to clinch the Truck Series Manufacturer’s Championship Friday night. It marks the eighth title for the manufacturer since the series began in 1995. Chevrolet has visited Victory Lane 11 times this season with seven drivers including James Buescher (four wins), Nelson Piquet, Jr. (two wins), Ty Dillon, Joey Coulter, Justin Lofton, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, and Ron Hornaday, Jr.
“I looked up [after the green flag pit stops] and he was pretty far out there, and I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ At that point they kept telling me lap times, telling me I was two, three, four tenths faster than [Parker Kligerman] per lap, and I knew that, with as much time as there was left in the race — 20 or 25 laps — I didn’t think [two tires would] prevail. I just knew it was a matter of time. As fast as we reeled him in, I just figured there was plenty of time.” _Johnny Sauter_
“I hate to finish second and you don’t want to be the one that gives up a win when you’re so close, but we gave it everything we had tonight and I’m proud of this Red Horse Racing team. This Toyota Tundra chassis has been great for us at every race so far, and Chad Kendrick [Crew Chief] made great calls in the pits today and even a little strategy at the end to try and win it. It’s good momentum going into the next two races, which realistically I think we can go to Victory Lane at both Phoenix and Homestead. It’s going to be a tight battle for this championship, right down to the wire.” _Parker Kligerman, finished second_
“Unfortunately [we] had a battery or alternator or something going wrong. The guys fought hard, we fought hard and just tried to get back towards the front. Just didn’t have enough. These truck races — when do you ever see a truck race go to the end caution free except tonight? Can’t say enough about Dollar General and all these guys — appreciate their support and what they’ve given us this year. I’ve got one more chance to get them in Victory Lane coming up at Homestead. The Toyota ran strong and we’ll go get them next time.” _Kyle Busch, finished fourth_
*Up Next:* The Camping World Truck Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway next Friday night for the Lucas Oil 150. Last year, the series visited the one-mile oval with the Cup Series for the second event of the year. Kyle Busch led a race-high 107 laps en route to Victory Lane. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 7:30 PM ET; it can also be heard on your “local MRN affiliate”:http://www.motorracingnetwork.com/Affiliates/Affiliates.aspx#showFindStations or SiriusXM Channel 90.