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In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch took the checkered flag 0.560 seconds ahead of Ron Hornaday Jr. to win the Heluva! Good 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon. Busch took the lead during a round of green-flag pit stops in the late stages of the race, and never looked back despite having to face a restart with seven laps remaining. Kevin Harvick, Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Hornaday Jr. Hornaday Jr. had a fast truck Saturday afternoon, and proved it by leading 101 of the 200 laps. With 65 laps remaining, the driver of the No. 33 Copart Chevrolet had built up a nearly two-second lead over Kyle Busch in second. But when the field had to make green-flag pit stops for fuel with less than 30 laps remaining, Hornaday spent more time on pit road than Busch, giving up the lead and ultimately the race win.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race
1. Should Harvick be upset with Hornaday Jr.?
Saturday afternoon, Hornaday Jr. and his team owner Harvick had the two strongest trucks on the track, but neither one of them made it to victory lane. Harvick blames that on poor communication between the No. 2 team and the No. 33. Multiple times over the last 100 laps, Harvick demanded that Hornaday pull over on the radio because he had a faster truck capable of either taking the lead or running down late-race leader Kyle Busch. But Hornaday refused to follow his boss’s orders, not backing down whenever the two drivers fought side-by-side for position.
After the checkered flag flew, Harvick was the first driver back to pit road and out of his truck. When Hornaday Jr. pulled up, Harvick went over to have a seemingly heated chat with his driver before he got out of his truck. When asked about the battle between the two later on, Harvick did not hide his displeasure.
“There was no thought process. If you’re gonna have teamwork, you gotta have a two-way street. It’s something we’ll address when we get to the shop,” he said, frustrated. “Just poor communication between Rick Carelli (Harvick’s crew chief) and Hornaday and Rick Ren (Hornaday’s crew chief). I felt we gave [the race] away.”
However, Hornaday Jr. didn’t seem to quite understand why his boss was so mad when the two pulled onto pit road.
“I don’t know what I’ve done wrong,” Hornaday Jr. said. “He (Harvick) got up to me three or four times. I backed off and he ran underneath me. I don’t know if he was getting loose or whatever underneath me. I had older tires and knew he had fresher tires.”
The short answer to whether Harvick should be upset with his driver is absolutely not. In fact, Harvick should be happy that Hornaday Jr. wouldn’t just pull over and give up a spot on the track. After all, the No. 33 team is running for their record fourth Camping World Truck Series championship.
Hornaday, Jr. did his job Saturday afternoon and took every point he was able to get to protect his lead over Crafton, points that could come back to help the driver of the No. 33 Copart Chevrolet in the final six races this season. Mathematically, a driver can gain as many as 140 points in a single race, so one tough weekend could close the gap between first and second in the standings very quickly.
By next weekend, I expect this to be a non-issue at Kevin Harvick Inc. Team owner Harvick has probably already explained his side of the story to Hornaday Jr., and a team meeting at the shop on Monday should ensure that both crew chiefs and spotters are clear on how the situation should be handled in the future.
2. Could Sauter have won the Heluva! Good 200?
In the four races prior to the Heluva! Good 200, Sauter and the No. 13 ThorSport team have managed to string together four consecutive top-five finishes. Saturday afternoon, Sauter had another fast truck and rolled off the grid in the seventh position.
He remained in the top 10 for the majority of the race, and after the field passed the halfway point, his truck seemed to really come to life. In one lap, Sauter was able to cut six tenths of a second out of the lead that Hornaday Jr. held over him in second.
But it wasn’t meant to be for the rookie driver. As he was preparing for a green-flag pit stop to get enough fuel for the remaining 31 laps, the No. 13 Chevrolet ran out of fuel and coasted around the track to pit road. Yet despite coasting for almost an entire lap, Sauter managed to remain on the lead lap and have a chance to make up some spots.
After dropping back to 12th following that mishap, Sauter did indeed manage to muscle his way up to a fifth consecutive top-five finish. So although he could have gotten his first career CWTS win if he hadn’t run out of fuel, Sauter was still positive when asked about the situation after the race.
“It’s funny, because you know the race goes by and you’re constantly focused on hitting your marks. I swear that they told me I could run five, 10 more laps,” he said. “We were actually going to pit the next time by because the leader forces your hand. As soon as I came off turn 4, it started to miss and stumble. By then, I was out of fuel and coasted all the way around. I don’t know how we stayed on the lead lap. It’s a miracle.”
It’s hard to know for sure that Sauter would have been able to make the pass for the lead, but his speeds sure made it look like he would. Had the driver of the No. 13 Fun Sand/Curb Records Chevrolet not run out of gas, there would have definitely been a good battle for up front.
And even if the rookie hadn’t come out on top, he could have been proud possessing a truck that was able to challenge the best driver in the history of the CWTS.
Truck Rookie Report
2009 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Chase Austin (No. 32 – on hold due to funding)
James Buescher (No. 10)
Ricky Carmichael (No. 4 – part-time, shared ride)
JR Fitzpatrick (No. 4 – part-time, shared ride)
Tayler Malsam (No. 81)
Johnny Sauter (No. 13)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1; Sauter, finished fifth
Rookie of the Race: Sauter
“It was a good day for us. I’m proud of all the guys on the Fun Sand/Curb Records Chevy. Sometimes, the fastest truck doesn’t win. We had a lot of mishaps on pit road today. [But] we had a fast truck, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for. We’ll take it and move on.” – Johnny Sauter
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
With his victory Saturday afternoon, Kyle Busch added a sixth track where he has won in the CWTS, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series. The other five tracks are Bristol Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway in California, Chicagoland Speedway, Dover Downs Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Hornaday Jr. regained most of the points he lost last week after being involved in a late-race incident with Crafton. He now leads Crafton by 217 points with only six races remaining on the schedule. Mike Skinner remains in third, 246 points out of first. Brian Scott and Colin Braun, who moved up one spot, round out the top five.
Todd Bodine dropped one spot to sixth after his fuel pump went out in the early stages of the Heluva! Good 200; he finds himself 35 points behind Braun. Sauter’s fourth consecutive top-five finish moved him up three spots to seventh and he trails Bodine by just 28 points. Just 11 points behind Sauter, Rick Crawford moved up one spot to eighth. David Starr dropped two spots to ninth, but is only seven points behind Crawford. Stacy Compton moved up two spots and finds himself 11 points behind Starr to round out the top 10.
“They told me we were going to be five [laps] short [on fuel]. I was like ‘You gotta be kidding me! We just stopped and filled this thing.’ It ran out coming into victory lane. What an awesome Tundra today. It was able to keep up with the Chevrolets, at least. I was waiting to get run over on that last restart. I’m glad I was out front being chased instead of chasing the guys out front.” – Kyle Busch
“It was a good day until after the race. I thought I was better than Kevin [Harvick] for a while. He (Harvick) pushed me a couple times down the straightaway, and I just thought he was playing around having fun. I just ran as hard as I could. To come home second for the Copart Chevrolet, it was a good day.” – Ron Hornaday Jr.
“It was definitely nice to put the helmet on and get to put all that behind us (the Gateway wreck). We got the fender tore up, and that made for a long day. I mean, it’s fourth and we lost some points to Ron [Hornaday Jr.], but from what I understand someone wasn’t real happy over there. We salvaged a top five and had a tore up left-front fender. All in all, salvaged and not a bad day.” – Matt Crafton
Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Saturday night for the Las Vegas 350. In 2008, Skinner took the lead during a green-white-checkered finish and beat out Erik Darnell by a slim 0.020-second margin. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.
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