Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Johnny Sauter Makes Late Charge to Victory at Martinsville

In a Nutshell: Contreras Motorsports put together a truck with the help of JR Motorsports for Chase Elliott to get some valuable seat time around Martinsville Speedway. Elliott responded by putting the truck on the pole and leading the most laps in the race. Johnny Sauter started fifth but methodically worked his way forward, making his car better throughout the race and led the final 25 laps to win the race. The race was surprisingly calm with the caution only flying five times and only one of those for more than two cars. The final caution saw Ben Rhodes and Ben Kennedy make contact. After the race, there were heated words in the garage between the two drivers.

Who Should Have Won:  Elliott may have had a truck that could win but Sauter was just as strong and Elliott didn’t want to impact the Chase. Sauter led 25 laps early in the race and then made a late race pass on Elliott and John Hunter Nemechek to secure the lead with 25 laps to go. Elliott pressured him as the laps wound down but chose not to make contact which allowed Sauter to cruise to the win.

Subdued Martinsville Still Challenges Chasers

The shortest track on the schedule can be surprisingly treacherous for competitors and, with the specter of the Chase looming over six drivers’ heads, the pressure was palpable. The majority of the Chase contenders managed to come home safely in the top 8, but two drivers encountered difficulty and face an uphill battle over the final two races before Homestead.

Sauter obviously had the best run of the Chasers, starting fifth and never running outside of the top three for the entire event. The win for Sauter locks him into the final race of the Chase for the Truck series at a track where the Wisconsin native has won

Christopher Bell had a run that was systematically consistent just like Sauter’s for a solid fourth place finish. Bell started sixth and spent the entire race between third and sixth before settling into the fourth spot. Bell could well be the surprise contender for the title with a mile and a half and one mile tracks left to run.

No surprise for Timothy Peters finishing top five at Martinsville, what was surprising was his starting slot of 19th. Peters patiently worked his way through the field but found himself caught up in the penultimate caution of the race. He held onto his track position in 10th and clawed his way to his top 5 run

The season win leader William Byron started the race seventh but had to overcome a mid-race setback to come home in eighth. Byron seemed off all day long, but when the chips were in the middle of the table, he managed to rake in his top 10 finish.

Matt Crafton could have had a horrendous result at Martinsville, but he and his team cobbled together a championship effort to salvage a 17th-place run. Crafton lost a seal on his left rear brake caliper. While his team affected repairs, he went a lap down but only one lap. He garnered the Lucky Dog on the final caution of the race and battled to his mid-pack finish.

Kennedy chased Crafton to the finish with his damaged ride to be the worst finishing Chase driver. Rhodes’ spin of Kennedy didn’t result in much damage but, unfortunately for him, John Wes Townley was caught up late in the melee and inflicted some significant damage to Kennedy’s truck. Kennedy and Crafton face an uphill battle over the next two races to try and advance to the final four in Homestead.

Quick Hits:

The Donahue brothers, Kevin and Kyle, were the first brothers to make their debut simultaneously at Martinsville Speedway. Unfortunately for them, both of their days ended inauspiciously. Kyle had a brake failure on lap 51 which backed him into the wall in turn one and ended his day. Kevin ran 115 laps before his engine expired and cut his day short.

Speaking of making his Truck debut, Harrison Burton jumped in the No. 18 truck this weekend and was on his way to a solid debut before being caught up in the lap 163 incident with Peters. While Peters stayed on the lead lap, Burton lost a lap and was relegated to a 22nd-place finish, the first truck one lap down.

Contreras Motorsports has been putting in a yeoman-like effort this season to attempt to make the entire series schedule. They failed to qualify for the season opener at Daytona, but they have had a truck in every other race this season. They’ve utilized joint efforts with JR Motorsports and Ken Schrader Racing and no less than ten different drivers during the 2016 season. The Mexican owned team is doing whatever they can to gain a footing in the Truck series.

Truck Rookie Report
2016 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 00 Cole Custer
No. 4 Christopher Bell
No. 9 William Byron
No. 18 Cody Coughlin
No. 22 Austin Wayne Self
No. 33 Grant Enfinger
No. 41 Ben Rhodes
No. 98 Rico Abreu

No. of Rookies in the Race: 6 (add Matt Tifft)

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 3; Christopher Bell finished fourth, Cole Custer finished seventh and William Byron finished eighth.

Rookie of the Race: Cole Custer (Finished seventh)

Chase Standings:

  1. Johnny Sauter 3036
  2. Christopher Bell (-7)
  3. Timothy Peters (-8)
  4. William Byron (-11)
  5. Matt Crafton (-20)
  6. Ben Kennedy (-21)

Best of the Rest: Daniel Hemric missed the second round of the Chase thanks to his misfortune at Talladega. He finished ninth at Martinsville, but he still has 15 points in hand over Nemechek. The rest of the drivers are headed by Custer, who used his strong run in Virginia to leap ahead of Tyler Reddick by four points. Cameron Hayley is 21 points in arrears to Reddick and Spencer Gallagher is 46 back of Hayley.

Up Next: The series packs up and heads to the Lone Star State for the second race of round two of the Chase. The series hits the mile and a half racing surface at Texas Motor Speedway for the Striping Technology 350 at 8:30 Friday Nov. 4. The action can be seen on FS1. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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