Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: 4 Potential First-Time Winners at Gateway

Chase Briscoe almost broke through and scored his first career victory last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. In fact, many thought he was the one who’d weaved through the chaos that ended the race and won, but it was Christopher Bell who emerged victorious.

But Briscoe’s near-victory, coupled with Ryan Blaney’s first career Cup Series win at Pocono on Sunday got me to thinking about which drivers in the Camping World Truck Series might be next to notch a win. Though Gateway Motorsports Park hasn’t delivered a first career win in the past, there are several drivers poised to break through to Victory Lane .

Chase Briscoe

Let’s just start with the obvious choice here. Fresh off of the suspension on his crew chief for four races after his left front tire came off at Dover, Briscoe nearly won at Texas with a substitute crew chief. Sure his results to date haven’t been spectacular, however he survived the carnage at Daytona to finish third, scored his first career pole and Charlotte and was inches away from winning at Texas.

Chase Briscoe had victory within his grasp at Texas (Photo: NKP)

While seven races is hardly enough to judge talent and ability, the fact that Briscoe is even in the conversation about potential first-time winners speaks highly of him and his team. He has just seven laps led through Texas, but with zero Cup drivers on the entry list again this week, it’s a time for series regulars to really shine. And Briscoe is one of the drivers that can do just that on Saturday.

Ben Rhodes

We can talk for days about the heartbreak Ben Rhodes experienced at Kansas Speedway. After engaging in a couple intense side-by-side battles with Kyle Busch, who had been leading at the time, Rhodes not only took the lead, but was driving away toward his first career victory before disaster struck and the motor let go, dashing his hopes of winning that race.

Since the engine failure at Kansas, he’s finished inside the top 10 in each of the last three events, including back-to-back top fives at Dover and Texas. Add in that he started on the pole and led four laps before eventually finishing runner-up to Bell at Gateway last season, and you’ve got the recipe for someone who might break through. For Rhodes, it’s not a matter of if he’ll win this season, it’s more of a matter of where and when it will happen, and Gateway could just be that place.

Ryan Truex

What more is there to say about Ryan Truex and his Hattori Racing Enterprises team? Last season, the intent was to run full-time, though sponsorship problems sidelined that effort. This year, fully funded and ready to race the entire schedule, the No. 16 team has been able to place more emphasis on its equipment, and those results are showing on the track.

After getting caught up in a lap one crash at Daytona in the season-opener, it looked like this season could turn out to be another tough one for the driver who has bounced between several teams across NASCAR over the last few years. But a 13th-place finish in Atlanta during the second race of the season marks the last time Truex finished outside the top 10. Five straight top-10 results mean the world to a single-truck team, and Truex already showed at Dover that he has the equipment and the ability to lead. If he can stop beating himself in certain situations, he’ll break through to Victory Lane very soon.

Noah Gragson

No conversation about potential first-time winners would be complete without Noah Gragson. Fresh off of his first career pole, the recent high school graduate just led the first laps of his career at Texas. Differing strategies left him just outside the top five when the checkered flag flew, but the potential shown bodes well for the rookie.

Consider that Gragson’s teammate, Christopher Bell, already has two wins this season, and you’d expect Gragson could do more of the same. Much like Truex, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota has a knack for beating himself. If he can reign himself in just a little and keep from overdriving, Gragson could be the one celebrating this weekend.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • For the second standalone race in a row, the Truck Series looks like it will run a short field. At Texas, just 28 drivers started the race, and as of press time, the entry list for Gateway this weekend sits at 28 once again. While there could be late entries to fill out the field, the consistently short entry lists point to a bigger problem in the series that needs to be fixed sooner, rather than later.
  • Speaking of short entry lists, one of the reasons we’re missing at least one truck is the announcement earlier this week by Halmar Friesen Racing. The team, led by Stewart Friesen, posted on its Twitter page it would be taking off the next two races and will return to the track at Kentucky Speedway early next month. Friesen has had a tough season to date; he has four DNFs in seven races, including back-to-back crashes at Dover and Texas. His best finish of the season came as a 19th-place result in Atlanta.
  • For the second race in a row, Chase Briscoe’s No. 29 team was the subject of penalties for tire issues. This time, it was improperly installed lug nuts that cost interim crew chief Buddy Sisco a $2,500 fine. The penalty is no surprise to anyone who was watching the last pit stop Briscoe made as clearly his rear tire changer was unhappy Briscoe pulled away when he did, indicating not all lug nuts had been hit. But Sisco made the decision to race for the win, rather than bringing his driver back down pit road, and it’s hard to say it was the wrong move when the second-place finish stands, tarnished only by a small monetary fine no one will remember in a few weeks.

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