Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Raphael Lessard Scores 1st Career Win at Talladega

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In a Nutshell: Raphael Lessard scored his first career win under caution as several drivers crashed on the white flag lap Saturday (Oct. 3) afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. The rookie led just the final lap as he took the checkered flag ahead of Trevor Bayne. Chandler Smith, Ben Rhodes and Codie Rohrbaugh rounded out the top five.

Race Rundown:

Zane Smith Advances After Early Crash

Just 13 laps into Saturday’s race, the Big One struck early. The wreck, involving 11 trucks and resulting in a five-minute red flag, ended the day for seven of the drivers involved including Zane Smith. But given the uncertainty of Talladega and the 29-point advantage he had coming into the race, it made for an 80-lap wait to determine whether Smith would continue to race for a championship.

Despite his early exit, Smith made the Round of 8 by squeezing through with 11 points to spare. He, along with three of his GMS Racing teammates move forward to the next round, thanks in large part to the 22 playoff points Smith scored throughout the regular season.

The next round brings with it Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway

Todd Gilliland, Christian Eckes Eliminated From Playoffs

When the checkered flag flew over Talladega, it marked the end of the Round of 10 in the Truck Series playoffs. For Todd Gilliland and Christian Eckes, it also meant the end of their run for the championship.

Eckes entered into Saturday’s race with a slim six-point advantage over Ben Rhodes at the cut line, and after finish third in stage one to Rhodes’ fifth, he gained a mere two points. Then came the speeding penalty on pit road that put him at the back of the field. Eckes wasn’t in the top 10 at the end of stage two and was in a position toward the end where his fate was going to come down to the finish.

As the laps wound down, the margin flirted between Eckes being above the cut line to as far as four to six points below the cut line. But the white-flag crash that collected a handful of trucks and ultimately resulted in the yellow that froze the field also collected Eckes. He ended up 18th and missed making the next round of the playoffs by eight points.

“I just came up short. Sucks that we are not going to be able to move on to round two, but in the same aspect my Safelite Toyota team tried hard,” Eckes said after the race. “We did all we could. I’m sure we made some mistakes on the day like the pit road penalties and some other things, but we will move on to the last four races and give the playoff guys hell.

“We don’t have any championship hopes on the line, unfortunately, anymore, but in the same aspect, there is still plenty of team goals to achieve. We will do the best we can. I wish we did a little bit better in the first two races of this round to separate us, but that’s 2020 and we will move on to the next four.”

For Gilliland, the situation was a little different. Facing a 19-point deficit to the cut line, the No. 38 team knew that a victory was the best way to move forward. But given the nature of Talladega, Gilliland also fought for as many stage points as possible and managed to score 13 in the first two stages. His championship hopes came to a screeching halt with an engine failure that ended his race on lap 47.

While their championship runs have come to an end, both drivers still have the final four races this season to make their mark on the season.

Trevor Bayne Scores Career-Best 2nd-Place Finish

Just four races ago, Trevor Bayne stepped into the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Cheverolet to make his first Truck Series start, and his first two races back were forgettable, at best, with mechanical failures. Fast forward to Bristol Motor Speedway where he ran well but was disqualified, and suddenly his average finish in three races was a dismal 30.7.

Enter Talladega. After staying out of trouble throughout the race, expecting the early Big One that did happen, Bayne made his move toward the front with 15-20 laps remaining and found himself at the front of the field on the white flag lap. But the way the caution flew when the field wrecked, Bayne was denied the victory and scored a second-place run. It was his best finish in any of NASCAR’s top three series since a third-place run at Talladega in 2017.

“I’ve never driven a truck in a superspeedway race before, so I had a learning curve on how to side draft, how to move around, what lane carried momentum,” Bayne said during a post-race Zoom press conference. “It’s similar to a Cup car but a little bit different. We were glad to be leading down the backstretch. Looks like we lost by six thousandths of a second.

“I’m really proud of this team, really thankful for the opportunity. Five, six weeks ago, I thought I may never run another NASCAR race, so to have a shot to come here and win, to be competitive at Bristol, it’s been a lot of fun and I’m really thankful to be back.”

Bayne also confirmed he will finish out the rest of the 2020 season behind the wheel of the No. 45 Chevrolet. As far as whether he continues to race into next season, it’s something he’s working on but wants the right opportunity for. Translation: if he can run in competitive equipment, Bayne would definitely return to racing full time.

Quick Hits:

  • Chandler Smith’s third-place run marked his best finish this year and his third top five of the season in nine races. His career-best remains second from Bristol last season.
  • Ben Rhodes’ fourth-place finish was his eighth top five this season, which matches his career-best from 2018. He also has 12 top 10s, one short of a career-best 13 in 2018 and 2019.
  • After a pre-race penalty for failing inspection and having to start at the rear of the field, Codie Rohrbaugh recovered to a fifth-place finish. It’s his second top five this season after a third-place run in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Include a sixth-place run at Richmond Raceway and Rohrbaugh has three top 10s in 16 races this season.
  • Jordan Anderson scored his second top 10 with a sixth at Talladega, his best result at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. It’s the second time in three years the driver/owner has finished in the top 10 in both superspeedway races.
  • Kaz Grala, who surprised with his first career win in 2017 at Daytona International Speedway, returned to the Truck Series for the first time since that season. Piloting the No. 44 Chevrolet in place of Natalie Decker, who still wasn’t medically cleared to race, Grala stayed out of trouble and scored a ninth-place finish. Perhaps what’s even more interesting is that he has just six starts in NASCAR this season but has posted at least one top 10 in all three of the top series.

  • For the second year in a row, Gus Dean took a nosedive hard into the inside wall at Talladega. This year, driving the No. 56 for Hill Motorsports, the impact was nearly identical to his hit from last season.

Rookie Report

2020 Rookie of the Year Candidates

Tate Fogleman – No. 02 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
Raphael Lessard – No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Spencer Davis – No. 11 Spencer Davis Motorsports Toyota
Zane Smith – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet
Tanner Gray – No. 15 DGR-Crosley Ford
Christian Eckes – No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Derek Kraus – No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota
Ty Majeski – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet

Number of Rookies in Race: 6

Number of Rookies finishing in the Top 10: 2; Raphael Lessard, finished first; Derek Kraus, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Lessard

Points Update: Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed head into the Round of 8 tied for the point lead. After spending much of the Talladega race wondering whether he would even move through to the next round, Zane Smith is third, followed by Grant Enfinger. Brett Moffitt rounds out the top five.

ThorSport Racing teammates Ben Rhodes and Matt Crafton sit sixth and seventh, respectively, and Tyler Ankrum is the eighth and final driving whose championship hopes are still alive.

Christian Eckes and Todd Gilliland, who were both eliminated from the title race at Talladega sit ninth and 10th, respectively.

Series-regular winners this season: Grant Enfinger (Daytona, Atlanta, Richmond), Sheldon Creed (Kentucky, Daytona road course, Gateway), Austin Hill (Kansas 1, Las Vegas 2), Matt Crafton (Kansas 2), Zane Smith (Michigan, Dover), Ben Rhodes (Darlington), Raphael Lessard (Talladega)


Up Next: The Truck Series heads to Kansas Speedway in two weeks to kick off the Round of 8. Coverage for the Clean Harbors 200 begins at 4 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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Bill W

Baine was screwed by NASCAR.

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