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In a Nutshell: Without a single lap on track before the green flag flew, Matt Crafton scored his fourth win this season in Thursday night’s UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway. Ben Kennedy‘s No. 11 Toyota slid along the wall and catchfence, ripping a large hole in the fence with just five laps remaining. NASCAR made the decision to call the race, citing repairs that would take too long, and the driver of the No. 88 headed straight to Victory Lane ahead of Erik Jones. Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez and Timothy Peters rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Crafton. Regardless of how you feel about whether the remaining five laps should have been run, the driver of the No. 88 Toyota clearly had one of the best trucks out on the track, alongside Jones, who finished second. And despite having run zero laps before the green flag flew, Crafton and crew chief Junior Joiner made the adjustments needed to keep the No. 88 up front for much of the night. Crafton led 43 laps en route to his ninth career victory.
Ben Kennedy’s Wild Ride Ends Race Early
Kennedy had already struggled, twice getting caught for driving through too many pit stalls. But it looked like he would end the night with a solid top-10 finish, despite the penalties. With just five laps remaining, everything changed as Kennedy slid up the track, thinking he was clear of David Gilliland‘s No. 92 machine, and turned across Gilliland and John Wes Townley‘s front ends. The combination of being sideways and being pushed along the track at full speed sent the left side of Kennedy’s No. 11 up off the racetrack before it slid along the wall, caught the catchfence and was spun violently around, ripping a hole in the catchfence and bending one of the support beams along the way.
After Kennedy’s truck came to rest on the track, he wasted little time telling his crew that he was alright over the radio, and a collective sigh was let out by all watching. The damage to the catchfence left NASCAR with the decision to wait for repairs that were expected to take 90 minutes to two hours to run the final five laps of the race, run the rest of the laps under caution to the checkers or just call it complete and let everyone pack up and head home. The sanctioning body decided on the latter and ended the race. As it turned out, according to a report from Kentucky Speedway “the repairs took 3 ½ hours and included repairing 75 feet of welded wire mesh fencing and replacing two support posts as well as 15 of the foam pyramids that fit between the steel tubing of the SAFER barrier and the concrete retaining wall behind it.”
Kennedy, who made the mandatory trip to the infield care center, was visibly shaken in his interview after emerging unhurt. And who could blame him?
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) July 10, 2015
The steel beam that was bent by the Kennedy truck. pic.twitter.com/AOmechKWeB
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) July 10, 2015
“I’m fine; thank the good Lord for keeping me safe and everything NASCAR does to keep these trucks safe,” Kennedy said in a team release. “Had this been a few years ago, I don’t know if I would have gotten out of my truck on my own power like that.
“I was coming down the front straightaway and I heard clear and I guess the [No.] 92 (David Gilliland) got a run on the outside. As soon as I heard clear, I wanted to get a good arc into the corner and I started heading up towards the wall and got hit in the right rear. I guess the rest is history. I was on top of the wall for a while; you don’t know what to expect being up there. Falling down from the wall to the ground is a pretty hard hit as well. Like I said, thank the good Lord for keeping us safe out there and hope we can get them at Eldora [Speedway].”
Of course, whenever NASCAR is forced to make a controversial decision, there will be people all over second-guessing the sanctioning body’s choice. And that’s just what happened as many compared this event to last weekend at Daytona where NASCAR raced well into the wee hours of Monday morning to run the Coke Zero 400 in its entirety.
For one thing, NASCAR had no choice but to repair the fence, even though there were no fans sitting in the vicinity. Not only does the catchfence serve as a safety barrier between fans and the trucks on the track, it also serves as a way to keep those drivers from slamming into the grandstands if something unforeseen (like Kennedy’s wreck) happens. There’s no way the sanctioning body could have allowed the trucks to return to full speed without that safety equipment in place and fully operational.
But that’s not all. There was absolutely no reason to sit around for nearly four hours to run just five laps. Sure, we saw a 20-minute rain delay in the Sprint Cup race at Bristol earlier this year just to run a green-white-checkered finish, however 20 minutes is a slight bit shorter than 3 1/2 hours. And while it’s possible a patchwork job could have been done just to finish the race, even something like that would have taken a while.
While it’s everyone’s hope to see all races run to completion, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that force NASCAR’s hand. And while one decision might make one group of people happy, there will always be plenty of others on the other side just waiting to complain.
And just for the record… Kentucky is a mile-and-a-half track. Do you still think vehicles going airborne is just a Daytona and Talladega problem? Didn’t think so.
Late Red Flag For Spencer Gallagher Wreck
After scoring back-to-back top-10 finishes, Spencer Gallagher‘s night at Kentucky was a struggle. He was running well before he got loose and turned nearly completely sideways, bringing out the second caution, despite keeping his No. 23 Chevrolet from actually going around. With very little, if any, damage, Gallagher was able to continue, describing the slide to his crew chief on the radio.
“I started going down the hill, then all of a sudden, the nose sat down and it was gone”
Fast forward to lap 141, and once again, Gallagher was involved in bringing out the caution after tangling with Townley, only this time, it was for a hard lick into the outside wall that proved to be terminal. Hitting the wall at a high rate of speed at an angle that has proved fatal in the past, Gallagher’s truck suffered heavy front-end damage and spread debris across the track to the point that NASCAR chose to red flag the race with just 10 laps remaining for the cleanup, rather than parading the field around under caution. The stoppage lasted just 3 1/2 minutes before the field started rolling again.
While the restart that followed the red flag ultimately brought out the race ending caution, NASCAR made the perfect call in this instance. With so few laps remaining, it would have been just as easy to allow the field to parade around under caution and set up for a short shootout to the finish, but in an effort to give fans what they expected, especially after all other Truck Series action for the day was washed out by rain, the sanctioning body made the right decision and should be applauded for that.
Start-and-Park Entries Shrink Ever So Slightly
While there were 31 drivers that started the race, four of those were out of the race before the 100-lap mark. Norm Benning likely made the decision to start-and-park based on the cost versus reward for a team like his on a mile-and-a-half track. BJ McLeod also retired early, citing electrical problems, and I was unable to find any information one way or the other on whether it was a start-and-park effort. With that said, it would be safe to assume that he had no intention of running the race in its entirety, given that the most laps he’s run in a single race this season is 56 at Dover, citing a variety of reasons, including vibration, ignition and electrical.
Meanwhile, Ryan Ellis and the No. 50 MAKE Motorsports truck only made it 16 laps before electrical problems, and while that sounds like a start-and-park excuse, the team posted on Twitter that the rain earlier in the day likely caused the malfunction, something that actually plagued the organization at Gateway Motorsports Park earlier this year when communications were interrupted.
@nascarfan4311 electrical problems .. We think possibly due to all the rain earlier in the day.
— Beaver Motorsports (@BeaverMSPTS) July 10, 2015
And you can add Jordan Anderson to the list of drivers with a legitimate reason to fall out of the race. Early on, the power steering pump broke on the No. 19, and while Anderson did the best he could, his power steering ended up locking up and he was no longer able to continue.
— Jordan Anderson (@j66anderson) July 10, 2015
While there are still start-and-park efforts in the Truck Series today, it’s refreshing to see more and more teams running the distance – or at least planning to do so – even without full financial backing. Sometimes, it’s the small victories….
- Cody Coughlin quietly made his Truck Series debut in a field that shrank from 34 on the initial entry list to 31 by the time the green flag flew. Having started 30th, the driver of the No. 25 Toyota gained ground early and remained right around the top 20 for much of the night and finished a respectable 20th.
- Wondering what happened to the rest of the trucks entered for Thursday night’s race? Three trucks withdrew from the race prior to the green flag flying. Two weren’t much of a surprise as one was the fourth entry for Kyle Busch Motorsports, following the news of Christopher Bell replacing Justin Boston, and the other was a second entry for the Mittler Bros. with a TBA driver. The third, however, came on race day when Mike Affarano was forced to withdraw after his hauler broke down on the way, according to a post on his Facebook page.
- After struggling with weepers, following a deluge of rain that last two days, Kentucky Speedway came up with a brilliant plan to keep the water leaks from wreaking havoc on Thursday night’s race. Crews cut a slit in the track from the weepers all the way down to the apron, allowing the rain water a place to flow away from the racing surface. And while several drivers mentioned a few wet patches that caused a few spinning tires, the cuts in the racing surface served the purpose that they were needed for, and there were no stoppages for water on the track.
- Due to the lack of practice and qualifying for the Truck Series, teams were given an extra set of tires and had five at their disposal instead of the originally planned four. Additionally, NASCAR threw a competition caution to allow teams to check tire wear and make adjustments needed, given there was zero track time prior to the race.
Truck Rookie Report
2015 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 4 Erik Jones
No. 07 Ray Black Jr.
No. 08 Korbin Forrister
No. 13 Cameron Hayley
No. 14 Daniel Hemric
No. 23 Spencer Gallagher
No. 94 Wendell Chavous
No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 5; Erik Jones, finished second, Suarez, finished fourth; Gilliland, finished seventh; Hayley, finished ninth; Brandon Jones, finished 10th
Rookie of the Race: Erik Jones
“Our Tundra was pretty good. It didn’t start off exactly where we needed it. We started off pretty free and kind of tightened it up throughout the night and then got to a point when the sun went down and I was pretty comfortable with it. Didn’t quite have the speed that Matt [Crafton] had, but we got in clean air a couple times and we were able to hold them off behind us. Just kind of taking the air away from them and that whole game, but Matt got a good push on the restart, cleared us and got the right push at the right time and that’s how it’s going to go sometimes. I wish we could have another restart to at least have a shot, but it was a good night overall. Just proud of these guys, it’s not easy to unload from the truck and go racing by any means and we got pretty close with it, which is pretty impressive for any team.” – Erik Jones, finished second
“It was a very positive, albeit strange day since rain washed out practice and qualifying. Everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports did a great job giving me a fast Tundra right off the hauler. We had a lot of speed all night, but we lost a bit of balance in the Tundra in the second part of the race. Overall, it was an excellent job by the whole team. We had a very competitive Toyota Tundra and were up front most of the event. We’ll keep working hard and getting better. Thanks again to all the fans that came out and of course to ARRIS, Toyota and Kyle Busch Motorsports for the support.” – Daniel Suarez, finished third
“Our ADVICS Tundra was really good today. I’m really happy to have ADVICS on board and give them a good solid top-10 run. We just really needed some track position. We weren’t where we needed to be at the start of the race, because we didn’t have practice today, but the guys worked so hard throughout the race to get that truck freed up and get it better for me. My spotter, Eddie D’Hondt, helped me a ton out there in the spotters stand with my lane and my line, and I think it will help me a ton with the rest of the mile-and-a-half racetracks coming up.” – Cameron Hayley, finished ninth
“I’m proud of the finish we were able to get in the MasterForce Chevrolet. Not having a chance to practice or qualify wasn’t what we had hoped for, but I spent time talking with some drivers that had experience at Kentucky and I was pretty confident that we would do well. Shane [Huffman] made the right calls to get us into the top five early on, giving me a chance to see how well we could run toward the front. It was a wild night, but we still had a lot of fun and I’m glad our MasterForce team was able to get another top-10 finish for GMS Racing. I’m glad everyone is okay.” – Brandon Jones, finished 10th
“It’s crazy how much can change during a race. Just from lap to lap and turn to turn, something changed on the truck each time. It wasn’t a piece of cake at Kentucky, but it was definitely a fun track – bumps included. It’s a bummer the race finished that way. We were back on the lead lap, and I felt we had a little more to give in the closing laps,“ said Black. “I think we would have earned a top 10 if we had been able to run out the last five laps. But it was a great night for the team. They put up a great fight, and we made up a lot of ground from the start of the night.” – Ray Black Jr., finished 13th
“I learned a lot tonight. I was able to learn how air manipulated the truck. The first couple laps were crazy. You wouldn’t think with as heavy as the trucks are they would move around, and I almost got thrown into the wall a couple times because I wasn’t expecting how much the air affected them. I felt like I did a good job learning how to pass guys and move around to find where your truck is happy at around traffic. I still have to do a better job on pit stops, but my Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra was really strong and hopefully we’ll be able to rebound with a good finish soon.” – Christopher Bell, finished 17th
“My first experience with Kentucky Speedway has been tough for sure; we came out here to test last week and never got on track because of rain. Then, to lose out on our four-hour practice session and qualifying just really set us back. As a rookie, you want as much time as possible to get to know a new racetrack, and this place was a mystery to all of the rookies until the green flag. Unfortunately, the gear issue and a little bit of contact at the beginning of the race really put us in a bad position early on, and after that, it was just an uphill battle. Next up we have Eldora, which I think everyone agrees can be a bit of a wild card. Hopefully we’ll have better luck with the weather than we did this week.” – Daniel Hemric, finished 18th
“Our Allegiant Travel Chevrolet had some decent speed. We were going to bring home a good finish. I got caught in the crosshairs of a pretty crappy situation and paid a big price for it. I’m all good, and we’ll go to Eldora [Speedway] and run again. I hate that our stretch of good finishes came to an end, but with no practice or qualifying, I thought our GMS Racing team did a good job of unloading well-prepared trucks and racing inside the top 10. I’ve gotten some dirt experience this year, so I can’t wait to put it to good use at Eldora and gain some points back.” – Spencer Gallagher, finished 24th
Points Update: The top five in the championship standings remains unchanged following Kentucky. Crafton retains his lead by 20 points over Tyler Reddick. Erik Jones is third, followed by Johnny Sauter. Townley rounds out the top five, 87 markers behind Crafton.
Peters gained one spot and sits sixth after a top-five run, followed by Hayley, who moved up two positions. Gallagher dropped two spots to eighth following his DNF on Thursday night. Hemric, down one position and Kennedy round out the top 10.
“I have to thank Ryan Blaney, he was all about that restart. I know we had the best truck here when we got the track position. When I got the track position earlier and I drove away from everybody, and then we had a little problem on pit road when we were trying to get in our pit box on that green flag pit stop, and we lost the lead. I think that was the only reason we lost the lead, but this Menards Toyota Tundra was really, really good. I don’t know what we could have done to make it that much better. It was really, really good on the long run – really good on the short run, but it says a lot to these guys with what they bring to the racetrack each and every weekend. We roll off the trailer and 90% of the races we are really, really close and we just have to fine tune it.” – Race winner Matt Crafton
“We were so loose during the race and we took big swings at it but couldn’t really get the Cooper Standard Careers For Veterans Ford F-150 where we needed it. I thought being the leader on that restart late in the race was going to work and I’m not really sure what happened there. It’s good for these guys to pull off a decent finish after where we started.” – Ryan Blaney, finished third
“I kind of got off a little bit with what I wanted during the race and Marcus [Richmond] made a good call there the last couple of stops to free me back up and I was able to get all we could on the restarts. We’ll take a top-five finish in our Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra and we’ll just keep building this momentum as we go on to Eldora [Speedway].” – Timothy Peters, finished fifth
Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series takes next weekend off before descending on Eldora Speedway for a little midweek dirt racing. Last year, Darrell Wallace Jr. led 97 of 150 laps en route to Victory Lane. Coverage of the 1-800-CarCash Mudsummer Classic begins with qualifying, followed by heat races to set the lineup at 5:15 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.
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