Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Austin Hill, Hattori Racing Gamble to Win in Las Vegas

In a Nutshell: Austin Hill scored his third win of the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season with a 2.116-second victory over Ross Chastain in Friday night’s World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Toyota restarted 20th on lap 87 restart after a late decision to pit for four tires and drove through the field during the final 48-lap, green flag run en route to victory lane.

This is the hardest one I’ve had to win,” Hill said. “We were going to stay out that last caution and we stayed out and everybody else pitted. We decided we needed to pit or we were going to be screwed. We came down pit road, restarted at the tail end of the longest line and it stayed green.

“I had to drive all the way through the field and this truck was unbelievable. I can’t thank Gumma Toyopet for coming on board. Toyota, TRD, the Aisin Group, United Rentals – everybody and all my partners that allow me to do this. HRE, Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and the boys gave me a heck of a piece tonight. We wouldn’t have won this race without them. We’re two-for-two with this truck so we’re going to try to go three-for-three with it. Can’t thank all the boys enough.”


Chastain led a race-high 88 of 134 laps and won the first two stages but had nothing for Hill’s fresh tires.

“I just got too tight,” Chastain said. “All year, I’ve never had a truck swing that way. [We’ll] try to do our homework and not let that happen again. Congrats to the No. 16 team; that’s a big call to come get tires there, and we probably just fell off too much, more than a big problem. Just tire degradation and we only took fuel on that last stop.”

Pole sitter Christian Eckes made his first career mile-and-a-half track start and led four of the first 13 laps. He got caught in the middle of a three-wide battle and faded just outside the top 10 before ultimately recovering to a career-best third-place finish for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“It went pretty well. There were some mistakes here-and-there that cost us a shot at better track position,” Eckes explained. “Lots to be learned. We had a pretty fast Tundra overall. Now, we can move on to Martinsville and Homestead with a little momentum with a pole and a third. Overall, a good night, but definitely something to improve on.”

Rookie Sheldon Creed scored his fourth top five in the last five races with a fourth-place result. Todd Gilliland rounded out the top-five finishers.

Brennan Poole, in sixth, snagged his best performance since a runner-up at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. Brett Moffitt, who started at the rear of the field following a flat tire in qualifying, led just 12 laps en route to a seventh-place result. Ben Rhodes, Harrison Burton and Dylan Lupton rounded out the top 10.

In a race slowed by six cautions, four of which came for motor failures, the Round of 6 was set with Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger, who both suffered engine problems, eliminated from the championship battle. Moffitt, Hill, Chastain, Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton, who also retired early with an engine problem, and Tyler Ankrum advance with a shot at the making the Championship 4.


Race Rundown

Stewart Friesen Battles to Advance to Round of 6

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway weekend was quite unkind to Stewart Friesen and the No. 52 team. Heading into the race with just a six-point margin over the cutoff line, he needed a solid run to advance in the playoffs.

Instead, the problems started with inspection when Friesen, along with eventual winner Hill, had their truck chiefs ejected from the track after multiple failures.

Then, after pacing the lone practice session early Friday, Friesen qualified 19th, putting him in a hole from the start. During stage one, the No. 52 truck started going down on power, leading the team to believe the motor was down a cylinder. Under the stage caution, the crew swapped out spark plug wires and appeared to believe they had found the source of the problem, despite falling two laps down.

That wasn’t the end of the nightmare for Friesen, though. He suffered more power issues and the team was forced to raise the hood again under the caution that flew almost immediately after stage three began.

Despite the troubles, Friesen limped to a 19th-place finish, two laps down. It could have been disastrous. Instead, the fight the team showed gave them just enough of a cushion to sneak by into the Round of 6 by nine points over Johnny Sauter.

ThorSport Racing Faces Engine Problems For 3 of Its 4 Drivers

The ThorSport Racing contingent would probably like to forget the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway happened, with the exception of Ben Rhodes, who was the only driver of the four to race to the finish.

Grant Enfinger was the first victim as his engine expired in a large cloud of smoke to bring out the first caution of the night on lap 7. The team diagnosed it as a rear main seal failure on the motor.

Fast forward to the middle of stage two and it was Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton whose motors both went up in smoke. They both had fire burst from the right front at almost the exact same time.

The fire under Crafton’s truck was too severe and he was forced to exit the truck on pit road, ending his night on the spot. Crew chief Carl Joiner appeared dumbfounded at what could have happened, especially with how strongly the team felt about its chances at victory lane after the No. 88 Ford unloaded strong from the beginning of the day.

Crafton speculated that Sauter had run over something he said he saw right before the smoke started from the No. 13, and he ran over it almost immediately afterward.

Sauter’s team took their truck behind the wall and worked on making repairs in hopes of saving their championship hopes. The report on the truck was that the team speculated there was an oil leak from the rear main seal. They repaired the leak, added more oil and sent him back out, but almost immediately after the green flag flew, the yellow flew once again as heavy smoke billowed out of the back of the No. 13 Ford, ending his day.

Sauter, Crafton and Enfinger finished 29th, 30th and 31st, respectively. Though he was concerned about when his motor might expire, Rhodes ended up finishing eighth, his third straight top 10.

“I saw the first one and was like ‘man, that’s really bad,’” Rhodes told Frontstretch after the race. “I saw the next two immediately at the same time on the same exact lap, same straightaway right in front of me, and that really concerned me.

I said ‘I’m about due in two laps,’ and I was getting a little amped up on the radio wanting them to go figure out what the issues were, go get me some information. I can’t do anything, I’m along for the ride. Low and behold, it stayed together, very thankful for that.”

It was the first time this season the trio of Sauter, Crafton and Enfinger suffered engine failures. However, Rhodes saw his expire at Chicagoland Speedway after he completed a single lap.

“I think it’s the same exact thing that’s been happening,” Rhodes said. “That’s nothing that we can control. It comes from them (Ilmor), but it seems like a lot of people had motor issues tonight. I don’t know if I necessarily had all the power that I should have either.

“We gotta get with NASCAR, get everybody involved and figure out why these engines aren’t holding together,” he continued. “It’s been a recurring thing for our team this year. It’s happened to me once, but my teammates more often than not. A little discouraging, but glad mine stayed together.”



Jesse Iwuji Suffers Hard Crash in Qualifying, Justin Johnson Races No. 34 in His Place

Jesse Iwuji returned to the Truck Series for what he had hoped would be his fifth start of the 2019 season. During qualifying, though, he got loose and slid down pit road before slamming hard into the pit wall. Despite the hard hit, he walked away uninjured.

Without a backup truck available, Iwuji was unable to race. However, Las Vegas native Justin Johnson failed to qualify and used the owner points from the No. 34 team to make the race.

In his first start since 2011, Johnson started 32nd and ended up 23rd, seven laps down.

Quick Hits

  • John Hunter Nemechek’s race ended before it even began at Las Vegas. He qualified 11th for what was supposed to be his second Truck Series start of the season. But when the field was given the command to fire engines, the motor wouldn’t start and the team was forced to push the truck to the garage. Nemechek was credited with a 32nd-place finish, citing fuel pressure as the reason for retiring.

  • Dylan Lupton scored his third top 10 in five starts this season, four of which have come with DGR-Crosley. After starting 17th, he quietly finished 10th.

  • Let’s just take a moment to, once again, appreciate the Truck Series drivers for pushing so hard every single lap. I’m still not sure how they managed to get through this five-wide run without wrecking.

Rookie Report
2019 Rookie of the Year Candidates:

No. 02 – Tyler Dippel
No. 2 – Sheldon Creed
No. 12 – Gus Dean
No. 17 – Tyler Ankrum
No. 18 – Harrison Burton
No. 54 – Anthony Alfredo/Natalie Decker

Number of Rookies in the Race: 7

Number of Rookies finishing in the Top 10: 2; Sheldon Creed, finished fourth; Harrison Burton, finished ninth

Rookie of the Race: Creed

Points Update: The Round of 6 has been set with only four races remaining to crown the 2019 champion. Brett Moffitt leads Austin Hill by 17 points while Ross Chastain sits third, a single marker back from Hill. Stewart Friesen currently holds the fourth spot in what would become the Championship 4. Meanwhile, Matt Crafton and Tyler Ankrum find themselves below the cutoff line, facing a three and nine-point deficit, respectively.

ThorSport teammates Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger will finish the season no worse than seventh and eighth after being eliminated from the playoffs.

Ben Rhodes maintains his lead over those who didn’t make the postseason and sits ninth in the standings. He holds a 51-point lead over Harrison Burton in 10th.


Up Next: The Truck Series takes a month off before heading to Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, Oct. 12 to open the Round of 6. Coverage for the Sugarlands Shine 250 begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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