In a Nutshell: Austin Dillon took control at Pocono when Kyle Larson’s engine went south, then survived a flurry of late restart battles with Clint Bowyer to win his first Truck Series race since Eldora last July. Dillon, who hadn’t won in any of NASCAR’s top three series since then, prevailed in an event that mostly showcased the sport’s two main Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year candidates instead of Truck Series regulars. Johnny Sauter, pushing Dillon to the front during the final green-white-checkered restart, drafted his way to second while Joey Coulter, Bowyer, and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 5.
Who Should Have Won: Larson seemed to have the field covered, his No. 32 Truck on its own planet in terms of speed. By 13 laps into the race, only Dillon was within eight seconds as Larson flew, leading 21 circuits overall. Even after the first caution, where Sunday’s pole sitter briefly dropped from first to fifth after pit stops, he cut through his competitors like a knife. So why Dillon? It was a failing valve spring, showing up near the race’s halfway point, that kept Larson from a dominating victory. By race’s end, he was limping home 18th, the second-to-last car on the lead lap and down at least a cylinder after multiple yellow-flag stops failed to correct his ailing Cartwheel by Target Chevrolet. The Cup rookie left without comment, politely declining and rightfully frustrated over a victory that was nixed by a broken part.
Welcome to the newest addition to Tracking the Trucks! In this section for each race, we’ll take a look at the most important things to know just in case you weren’t able to watch it. Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below.
Quiroga Ruffles Feathers Again While Reddick Parked
German Quiroga has had his share of run-ins throughout his Truck career, irking everyone from veteran Ron Hornaday, Jr. to Erik Jones this season. Saturday, a fresh chapter was written with a new twist: his rival wound up parked by NASCAR. Late in the race, Quiroga and Tyler Reddick made contact, multiple times before the driver of the No. 77 seemingly turned Reddick into the wall. After the ensuing restart, both drivers, their Trucks now heavily damaged, picked up positions and battled once again. This time, it was Reddick making the contact, a retaliation move which involved innocent bystander Tyler Young getting the worst of it. After knocking Young hard, into the outside wall Reddick then maneuvered toward the checked up Quiroga machine, sending the No. 77 side first into the outside SAFER barrier. As a result, Reddick was parked for the remainder of the race, a controversial decision as Quiroga went on to finish the event.
“Definitely on the restart, we were all driving very aggressive trying to get track position,” Reddick said, deftly avoiding the conflict that left him briefly inside the NASCAR hauler. “Just trying to get everything we could and it just didn’t work out very well. We got loose off of two and we ended up wrecking. Tough deal, but it happens in racing all the time.”
Quiroga, meanwhile was far less politically correct after ending up 22nd, just one spot ahead of Reddick in the running order.
“I don’t know what his deal was,” he claimed. “The 19 truck just slammed me towards the wall in the tunnel and he just kept pushing me toward the wall. Then he spun, and I had nothing to do there. Then, on the restart, we fixed our truck and they fixed theirs. We had a good run past six or seven trucks, and he just ran into me exiting the turn. I raced with him at Dover, I think it was, for 40 laps with him and I was on the inside, I never touched him so I don’t know what his deal is. We need to make these points up the next couple races. It’s going to be tough. We have to start winning.”
Ten Extra Laps? Truck Drivers Give It A 10 Out Of 10
An expansion of the race at Pocono, from 50 to 60 laps this year, changed strategy for most trucks on the grid. It was an adjustment that forced an extra pit stop, an added element drivers felt produced a better race.
“Last year,” said Johnny Sauter. “So much of our focus was on qualifying and track position. This time, with two stops at one point, I didn’t know where I was running.”
The unpredictability from the cockpit translated on-track, with several teams adopting different pit cycles and shuffling the order on restarts. That led to ten lead changes, a new record for this race and a greater ability for drivers to move forward at a track notoriously difficult to pass at. This year was no different, side-by-side action at a premium after restarts as the draft, among other factors helped combine with aero push to produce single-file competition.
“Today, in the first segment I had aligned myself with a good truck to draft with, on an island by myself and ran a 55.05,” Sauter added. “In the final segment, I had a pretty good train of trucks around me, right behind Joey [Coulter] and ran a 53.80. That’s 1.2 seconds… air is very important.”
Clint Bowyer Successful In Sub Role For John Wes Townley
John Wes Townley‘s double duty filled 2014 season came to a screeching halt Friday afternoon. During ARCA qualifying, he smacked the turn three wall and was taken to the hospital for precaution. He was cleared and released, but after suffering from headaches it was agreed that he would sit out the remainder of the weekend. Enter NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer, Super Sub who qualified 10th but moved through the field early. After Kyle Larson’s issues, it appeared Bowyer had a realistic shot at the victory, but Austin Dillon had the better push on the late restarts. It was an exceptional run for the fledgling Athenian Motorsports team, though as a fourth-place finish was nice wrap to a stressful weekend.
“I think, honestly we were a third-place truck,” Bowyer said. “Larson was the class of the field and luckily blew up and gave Austin and I a chance and Austin capitalized. It was a lot of fun to drive this Zaxby’s Toyota. These trucks are a blast when they draft the way they do down there. The restarts are a lot of fun, just come up a little short and got beat but had a lot of fun.”
Justin Lofton Turns In Impressive Run
Former full-time driver Justin Lofton continued to make the most of a limited schedule this weekend, posting his third top-10 result of the season in only four tries. Lofton had a fast truck the entire weekend and credited his ninth-place finish to his crew.
“It was a good day for a great team over here with at NTS Motorsports,” Lofton said. “Jeff Hensley and R Mac (Ryan McKinney) over at the (No.) 9 truck, they do a great job working together. Camaraderie builds great teams and that’s what these guys are. Bob Newberry and Dwayne Gaulding; they are 100 percent committed to racing and that always helps.”
While they ran higher than ninth most of the afternoon, a late race restart prevented him from capitalizing for an even stronger finish. So what’s next for Lofton in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series? It’s not certain. Michigan in two weeks is tentative, driving this truck but he will definitely be racing at Las Vegas later in the year. Chicagoland and New Hampshire are also options as Lofton ponders what tracks to run at as part of his deal.
“Right now, we’re going to have a good run at the two races I have left,” Lofton explained. “And work on something for 2015.”
Martel Mashes Up Truck, But Still “Finishes” A Lap For A Cause
For the third straight year, Kyle Martel pulled ARCA and Truck Series double duty in August at his home track with his family-owned team. Unfortunately, it concluded with a damaged machine. Up until that moment, he was having a good showing for the underfunded operation.
“We were staying on the lead lap,” he said after wrecking out. “We were making some changes throughout our pit stops and all. The guys were doing a great job. We struggled a little bit all weekend with setups and whatnot. The left rear went out in turn one. Tried to catch it, but we couldn’t. Better than spinning down the track in front of everybody.”
Regarding future races Martel mentioned that they are on a tight budget. They would like to run one or two more, but it will depend on funding and how much damage their truck sustained. But the rest of the day was quite a success, as another event the Bill Martel Racing team has hosted each year has been a track walk following the Pocono Mountains 150.
“This year is our third one here at Pocono,” Martel explained, “And it goes toward a great cause for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition. The fans get to walk the track and ask the pit crew and myself questions, something that they don’t normally get the chance to do.”
Thousands of dollars were raised for charity, a small consolation for Martel after ending the race in 27th place.
Truck Rookie Report
2014 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Tyler Young (No. 02)
Tyler Reddick (No. 19)
Ben Kennedy (No. 31)
Mason Mingus (No. 35)
No. of Rookies in the Race: 13 (add Ray Black, Jr., Ryan Ellis, Spencer Gallagher, Justin Jennings, Erik Jones, Kyle Martel, B.J. McLeod, Todd Peck, Caleb Roark)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1 (Erik Jones, finished sixth)
Rookie of the Race: Ben Kennedy, finished 13th
Note: Only drivers declared for the rookie battle are eligible to win the Rookie of the Race honors.
“It was good. I feel like we definitely got the truck better as the run went on. We had a fast Tundra from the start of practice, I just wish we could’ve had a little bit – been on that outside line on that last restart really at the end of the day. We probably should’ve run third, but don’t know if we had anything for the win. It was a good day overall. Made a good call in the pits. Eric (Phillips, crew chief) did great calling the race and getting us good track position for the end.” – Erik Jones
“It’s real big for the team. This is our home race being the FDNY Racing Team and supporting all the charities that we do with FDNY and NYPD with the widows and children from 9/11 attacks. For us to come to the New York area and have a race like this recovering from that Charlotte mishap, especially with all the help from our fans is huge. It feels great obviously to get a finish under our belt especially after that last race. Every year they run the same three or four races and this is definitely one of their favorites so to come back here and especially work with Jim Rosenblum and all the guys that all volunteer. We all just come out here and have a good time and get as good of a finish as we can. To get two top twenties this year is pretty big.” – Ryan Ellis, finished 19th
Each week, we’ll take a look at the championship picture and find out which drivers were affected the most by the racing on track.
Biggest Winner: Johnny Sauter has struggled, at times at Pocono claiming, “For whatever reason, I struggle in the tunnel turn and always have.” With just one top-5 finish in the first four races here, not much was expected but the driver of the No. 98 Toyota dodged chaos on restarts and put his truck in position to capitalize down the stretch. In the final 24 laps of the race, he gained a dozen spots and the runner-up result also pushed him to second in the season standings. It’s tracks like these, in the past where Sauter has struggled to stay consistent; notching top-5 finishes here is a good sign he’s in this title battle for the long haul.
Biggest Loser: Matt Crafton spent the whole race running solidly inside the top 10, fifth heading to the final green-white-checkered restart. But as we’ve seen so often in NASCAR, one bad move coming up to speed, in overtime can cost you 150 miles worth of working through the field. Crafton stumbled through the gears, then got rubbed the wrong way and before you knew it, his rhythm was off and the No. 88 tumbled to 14th place. Crafton didn’t talk after the race, but Lofton, who started behind him claimed the defending series champ simply lost grip heading into Turn 1 and struggled to keep control. The nine-point difference that resulted, erasing an opportunity to close in on Ryan Blaney, might be “the one that got away” he looks back on when watching someone else hold the trophy at Homestead.
Points Update: Ryan Blaney, by virtue of his fifth-place finish expands his championship lead to seven over new second-place point man Johnny Sauter. Crafton, after his freefall, sits third, 12 markers off the pace while Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Darrell Wallace, Jr. round out the top 5. Those drivers are separated by just 31 points, within a race’s worth of the lead in one of the close title races the series has seen in recent years.
German Quiroga, post-Reddick sits sixth, 43 points out while rookie Ben Kennedy is a strong seventh. Timothy Peters remains in eighth, with Joey Coulter ninth and rookie Jeb Burton cracking the top 10.
“I think Kyle Larson is a great race car driver. But I think I’m just as good or better.” – Austin Dillon, won, on battling against his rookie rival
“For me, it’s the most nerve-wracking restarts of the whole year. Daytona & Talladega don’t compare to this.” – Johnny Sauter, finished second, on Pocono restarts
“There were a couple of opportunities that fell in my lap today, but there’s just so much room. By the time you’re in the gas, taking the green you’ve got all day to figure out getting in to Turn 1. It can either work out, or not.” – Joey Coulter, finished third on handling restarts
Up Next: The Truck Series takes a week off, skipping the road course of Watkins Glen in favor of the Irish Hills of Michigan. Their Careers For Veterans 200, primary support to the Cup Series that weekend, takes place at 12:30 PM on Saturday, August 16th. FOX Sports 1 provides television coverage while your local MRN affiliate or SIRIUS XM Channel 90 will broadcast the radio feed.