This MNR Review is presented by Monday Night Racing.
On Monday, Feb. 6, the Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series hosted the penultimate round of season six and the final opportunity for playoff drivers to secure their spot in the Championship 4 with the running of the Next Level Racing 120 in the NASCAR Trucks at Chicagoland Speedway. Leighton Sibille employed pit strategy to get his second win of the season and reserve his spot in the Championship 4. David Schildhouse slotted into second place, playoff driver Adam Cabot came home third, and Michael Fisher and James Bickford finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Check out the race recap from Frontstretch’s Joy Tomlinson here. You can also view the full race broadcast, along with the Frontstretch post-race show, featuring Brandon Hauff and Jared Haas, on the Frontstretch YouTube Channel.
Here are the top five storylines coming out of Chicagoland:
1. Sibille Walks It Off Again
Sibille is making a serious case for being called the Christopher Bell of MNR. For the second time this season, the driver of the No. 25 got a win when he needed it most, visiting victory lane after coming into Chicagoland 22 points behind the cutline, a virtual must-win situation.
At the drop of the green flag, the situation looked bleak for Sibille as he qualified 22nd, the worst of the eight playoff drivers. He was able to gain some ground on the first green flag run, but could only get as high as 14th, still the lowest in the running order among the playoff drivers at the time.
Sibille’s evening shifted on a pit strategy call, coming down pit road for his first stop on lap 30, one lap earlier than the rest of the field. This move would pay dividends when the field cycled through green flag pit stops, and Sibille emerged with the race lead on lap 38.
He would repeat the same strategy for his second and third pit stops on laps 60 and 88, and would retake the lead with 12 laps to go. From there, Sibille fended off the field to get his second walk-off win of the season to go along with his victory in the regular season finale at Talladega.
“That feels really good,” Sibille said to Eric Estepp post-race. “We just didn’t have the raw pace. It was a hard-fought race, but my number one shot around Chicagoland was to short-pit these guys, and it worked out.”
2. Cabot, Cabre Round Out Championship 4
With Sibille securing a playoff spot and Corey Heim already locked in last week, that left two final spots in the Championship 4 up for grabs. Those spots would be filled by season four champion Cabot and the standout rookie Chase Cabre.
Coming into the race with a 17-point cushion over the cutline, Cabot kept his No. 17 truck in contention all race long. His third-place finish was more than enough to clinch his return to the Championship 4.
While not as competitive as Cabot, Cabre guided his No. 39 truck to a top-10 finish, continuing his spectacular rookie season.
That left Ryan Vargas, Joey Padgett, Presley Sorah and Matt Stallknecht as the four drivers eliminated from playoff contention.
Vargas had a solid day at Chicagoland, but his seventh-place finish was not enough to overcome the 10-point gap between himself and the cutline. Padgett contented early, but he would lose track position due to a late-race incident, plummeting to 23rd in the final running order.
Stallknecht started the race with the biggest points gap, 29 points below the cutline. On multiple green flag pit cycles, he attempted to stay out and stretch his fuel tank as far as possible, hoping for a caution that ultimately never came. Stallknecht would settle for a finish of 16th place.
Perhaps the most shocking elimination is that of reigning MNR champion Sorah. Starting from seventh position and racing in the top five in the opening laps, Sorah’s championship defense came unraveled on lap 33. Coming in for his first pit stop, Sorah had trouble slowing down and entered pit road outside of the cones. As a results, Sorah was held in his pit stall for a black flag; when he finally came back on track, Sorah was two laps down in 34th. The lack of cautions to get caught up on track position sealed his fate, finishing two laps down in 25th.
3. Schildhouse, Heim Bring the Beef
Throughout the race, Schildhouse and Heim seemed to be joined at the hip. They started alongside each other in the second row, Heim in third and Schildhouse in fourth. They spent the first green flag run in the top three, and at one point, they were running first and second.
At around 52 laps to go, the complexion of the race changed completely for Heim when he had internet issues, disconnecting from the server. Heim would be able to return to the race, but he was well off the pace at 20 laps down. So, when Heim and Schildhouse crossed paths again in the closing laps, one would expect Heim to give Schildhouse, who was second and contending for the win, a little extra room.
Instead, the opposite occurred. Heim raced Schildhouse hard, even blocking him for a number of laps. There is an added wrinkle to this situation: Heim’s teammate is Sibille, the driver Schildhouse was trying to run down for the race win.
Heim got around Schildhouse with 22 laps to go, and the race ended with no further incident between the two. Schildhouse, however, was irate with Heim afterward.
“[Heim] came out and protected Leighton so he could win, it’s pretty obvious,” a frustrated Schildhouse said. “It’s pretty disappointing to see this kind of behavior out of someone multiple laps down.”
Heim will face repercussions from MNR in the form of a pass-through penalty on pit road at the start of next week’s championship race at Homestead for influencing the outcome of this race.
“I’m going to make Corey’s life a living hell as much as I can,” Schildhouse declared. “I’m not going to wreck him, but he’s not getting any breaks from me.”
4. Squeaky Clean Racing at Chicagoland
For the first time in MNR season six, a race went caution free as there were no yellow flag sightings throughout the entire 120 laps of the Next Level Racing 120. This can be attributed to three different factors.
One, the 36 drivers in the field were working with a more familiar track/car combination this week than they have in many other races this season. The MNR Pro Series is no stranger to the trucks or 1.5-mile tracks like Chicagoland, and so the drivers had a higher level of experience and comfort with both, resulting in cleaner racing.
Secondly, the no fast repair rule implemented at the start of the playoffs continues to play a factor in transforming the style of racing in MNR. Whereas drivers would have thrown caution to the wind at the beginning of the season, they are now piloting their vehicles more conservatively and being more selective with the moves they make and when. The last thing any driver wants is to get caught up in an early crash that costs them a lot of points.
Finally, it looked as though race control was a little more relaxed as far as what constituted a caution and what did not than in prior races. With a lot on the line as far as the Championship 4, it is likely that Josh Mendoza in race control wanted to let the drivers race and settle it amongst themselves to the greatest extent possible.
The confluence of these three factors created what was easily the cleanest race of season six of MNR.
5. Next Up: Handicapping the Championship 4
We have now reached the climax of MNR season six: the championship race with the Xfinity Series cars at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This is the same racetrack that hosted the season five championship race, along with a familiar car that is being rolled out for the fourth time in the past two MNR seasons. This season’s Championship 4 presents a lot of intriguing storylines.
First, you have the steady veteran in Cabot, with one win on the season at Auto Club Speedway. While not the flashiest driver this season, the MNR season four champion seems to always be in contention, and that high level of consistency along with his experience could give him the upper hand next week.
As a multi-time winner in the Truck Series, Heim brings real life NASCAR experience to the table, and is a two-time winner this season. Those two wins came at the Daytona road course and last week at Pocono, two very different tracks that showcase Heim’s versatility. However, the connectivity issues this week and the pass-through penalty from his hard racing with Schildhouse give reason for pause.
Cabre is the lone rookie in the final four, instantly turning heads in his first full season in MNR. Also a two-time winner, Cabre collected his checkered flags at Twin Ring Motegi and Richmond Raceway. Can he cap his rookie campaign in style with a championship?
Last but not least, there is Sibille, the plucky veteran underdog. Although he has not been among the most dominant drivers this season, Sibille has arguably been the most clutch, picking up his two wins at the most critical moments of the season. That ability to compete under pressure could serve him well next week.
It is tough to choose a champion out of this group, but I will pick Cabot to become the first two-time champion in MNR history. His experience and consistent speed week in and week out will be the two x-factors that separate him from the other three at Homestead.
About the author
Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Richmond. He is a high school history teacher and cross country/track & field coach for his day job.
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