Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: So Close, Yet So Far for Martin Truex Jr. & Noah Gragson

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: So Close, Yet So Far for Martin Truex Jr. – Kyle Busch scored his third-straight win at Richmond Raceway, joining Kevin Harvick to account for six victories in nine races this season. But perhaps what was more surprising was that it was Martin Truex Jr. who was cruising his way toward Victory Lane as the laps wound down.

Normally one to struggle on the short tracks, the driver of the No. 78 led a race-high 128 laps and nearly scored his second win of the season Saturday night. But a late-race flurry of cautions tightened up the field and set off a string of trips down pit road that ultimately ended Truex’s shot at Victory Lane.

Not only did Truex lose the lead during one of those late-race pit stops, he also lost any hope of racing for the win when the crew needed an extra crank on the jack to get the left side tires off of the car. The extra few seconds spent on the final stop mired Truex deep in the top 10 and he was left to settle for a seventh-place finish.

“Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance,” Truex said after the race. “I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-tracks and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. Frustrated, but proud of everyone for the effort and hopefully we get them next week.”

That first career win on a short track was so close yet is still so far away. However, one thing Truex proved in his strong run Saturday night was that he can be a threat on tracks shorter than one mile in length. It’s just a matter of sealing the deal when the checkered flag flies. But that opportunity will have to wait now until August when the series returns to Bristol. – Beth Lunkenheimer

XFINITY Series: Christopher Bell Edges Noah Gragson for Victory – Friday’s ToyotaCare 250 was a barn-burner between the two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson. Bell was looking for his first victory of the season, while Gragson impressed the hell out of everyone in his first XFINITY start.

The final 80 laps of the race were run under the green flag, much like most of the race. While Daniel Hemric and Elliott Sadler each picked up stage wins, the final stage became the JGR show, as Bell and Gragson scooted away from the field, to duke it out between the two of them.

Gragson caught Bell with less than 20 laps to go, getting into the rear of the No. 20 Toyota ever so slightly. But it looked as though Gragson wore the rear tires off his racecar, as Bell was able to edge away at the end, picking up his first victory of 2018.

“I thought Noah did a phenomenal job,” Kyle Busch said following his victory on Saturday. “I was really impressed with his run in second. I wasn’t sure that he would run that well.  We kind of mentioned a few weeks ago about he’s kind of stuck fifth to eighth in the truck.”

Heading to Talladega Superspeedway, Sadler remains the championship leader by 29 points over Bell. Daytona winner Tyler Reddick is in third, with Hemric and Justin Allgaier rounding out the top five. – Dustin Albino

NHRA: Texas Showdown – The NHRA Springnationals from Houston, Texas, are in the books with a first-time winner in Pro Stock in Matt Hartford, a comeback completed in Top Fuel for Brittany Force, and the first repeat winner in Funny Car in J.R. Todd.
Hartford didn’t even expect to race this year after losing his sponsorship at the conclusion of last season, but a last-minute deal came together and this weekend he found himself facing off against hometown favorite Erica Enders in the final round. Hartford’s run of 6.552 seconds at 211.36 mph was enough to beat Enders’ 6.570 seconds at 210.50 mph, earning him his first Wally.
“We started in the back half of the field today and had to work our way through,” said Hartford. “We earned this. We did a better job with our car today than the other teams. My driving is not why we won today and that is a fact. My crew tuned the car enough for us to be able to drive around her at the end.”
Hartford also beat Chris McGaha, Tanner Gray and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in earlier round competition.
Brittany Force had a rough start to the year, suffering a vicious crash in the first race of the season, the worst of her career so far, but she didn’t let that slow her down and today she confirmed that by earning her first win of 2018. Force posted a run of 3.762 seconds, 299.46 mph in the final round to best Terry McMillen’s 3.818 seconds at 311.56 mph. Force also got by Terry Haddock, Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher to reach the finals.
J.R. Todd became the first repeat winner in the Funny Car class so far this year, and also earned his first back-to-back wins in Funny Car when he put down a lap of 3.955 seconds at 313.29 mph to beat Robert Hight’s 3.993 seconds at 308.14 mph.
“It’s nice to have this much momentum early in the season,” said Todd. “We struggled really bad last season and didn’t really turn around till probably the Western Swing. It’s nice as Kalitta Motorsports to come out swinging at these races this year.”
Todd beat Tommy Johnson, Jr., Jeff Diehl, and Tim Wilkerson en route to the final round matchup with Hight. Toni Montgomery

ARCA: Christian Eckes Snags First Career Win – Chandler Smith stole headlines at Salem all weekend. Natalie Decker has been stealing headlines all season even before winning the pole at Daytona. But on Sunday in southern Indiana, it was the other Venturini car that found its way to Victory Lane.

Christian Eckes, who incrementally improved the No. 15 Toyota from a short run car to a front-runner, took the lead from his teammate Smith on pit road after a lap 147 caution and proceeded to weather challenge after challenge from Smith to score his first career ARCA win. Smith pounded the Turn 1 wall on the final lap (he would report to the team after the race that his brakes failed) and failed to finish. Zane Smith, Sheldon Creed, Josh Berry and Chase Purdy rounded out the top five. – Bryan Davis Keith

Sports Cars: The WEC Finds a New Home on Velocity – Discovery Networks announced last week it has signed a multi-year deal that will see Velocity serve as the exclusive home in the U.S. and Canada for the FIA World Endurance Championship.  The coverage moves to Velocity after multiple years on FOX Sports 1 and 2. However, just because the races are on a network that will cater to the series doesn’t mean you’ll get full coverage on television.

For Sebring and the two editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that are part of the Super Series, you’ll get those races flag-to-flag on Velocity (soon to become the Motor Trend Network).  The other six races will have live coverage of the first and last hours of the race on television.  The remaining four hours, plus practice and qualifying will air on either the Motor Trend app or on MotorTrend.com.  For Sebring and Le Mans, there will be additional live feeds available on the Motor Trend app.

That coverage is not free.  It costs either $4.99 a month, $49.99 for one year, or $89.99 for two years.  The coverage available via the Motor Trend service should be commercial-free.

Coverage of the 2018 – 19 FIA World Endurance Championship will begin on Thursday, May 3 with the first practice at 6 a.m. ET.  The season-opening 6 Hours of Spa-Francochamps will go green on Saturday, May 5 at 8:30 a.m. ET on Velocity. – Phil Allaway



About the author

Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

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