Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks
A week later, Heim returned the favor at Bristol Motor Speedway, passing a dominant Eckes with six laps to go to win the Craftsman Truck Series race at Bristol, which served as the first race of the Round of 8 in the playoffs. With the win, Heim is the first driver to lock himself into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
Eckes, to that point, had put on a clinic the entire night, leading the most laps and winning both stages from the pole. Lapped traffic played a huge factor in the outcome of an otherwise mild-action race.
The Top Truckers at Bristol Motor Speedway:
Winner: Corey Heim
Polesitter, Stage 1 and 2 Winner, Most Laps Led (151 of 200 laps): Christian Eckes
Rookie of the Race: Rajah Caruth
Top Storylines of the Race
- Carson Kvapil made his NASCAR debut, driving the No. 7 for Spire Motorsports. Kvapil and crew played off strategy to the leaders in hopes to make something happen, but with the one-groove racetrack combined with no cautions in the final stage, Kvapil was unable to rebound as well and finished 12th.
- The biggest accident of the night happened early on, when Jack Wood got turned into the outside wall. He told Frontstretch that race winner Heim sent it into the corner too early and turned him. As Wood was sliding to a stop, Dean Thompson couldn’t get his truck slowed up and plowed into the stopped No. 51, destroying both trucks and ending the night of both drivers.
- On lap 104, playoff driver Ty Majeski bounced off of Heim trying to work his way by the lapped truck of Spencer Boyd and cut his right front tire. Instead of pitting, Majeski rode around the last six laps of the stage. Although Eckes lapped him just before winning the stage, Majeski was the most recent truck to go a lap down so he immediately got the free pass and was back on the lead lap. He pitted with the leaders for a fresh set of tires and returned to the track; despite finishing 19th, he potentially saved his chance at a championship.
- Zane Smith had a costly penalty for pitting outside the box under the caution for the end of stage 2. The penalty sent him to the rear of the field and h was never able to recover, finishing 24th for the same reason everyone else was unable to move up — traffic and one-groove racing with a lack of cautions.
- The official time of the race was one hour, 16 minutes and five seconds, likely making it one of the fastest Truck Series races in recent memory.
The Winning Move
With lapped traffic the theme of the night, it was difficult to pass, and that included the leaders trying to get through lapped traffic. Eckes didn’t have much of a problem the whole night until he came across playoff drivers Smith and Majeski, who were also trying to pass slower trucks.
At one point in the final stage, Eckes had as big as a second and a half lead on Heim, but his continued failure to lap Smith or Majeski allowed Heim to close the gap to less than half a second.
Heim stalked Eckes until around five to go, when Tanner Gray, occupying the outside lane, caused Eckes to check up out of turn 2, while Heim rerouted his line in anticipation and dove underneath Eckes. With PJ1 making Bristol a one-groove track, the bottom lane was the sole option the entire night, meaning Heim was easily able to get past Eckes.
Eckes was unable to get back to Heim in the final six laps, allowing Heim to pull away to the victory, his third of the season, and the first Championship 4 berth.
Smith and Majeski’s poor finishes shook up the points quite a bit, and Heim’s win locks him into the Championship 4. However, a solid night for all other playoff drivers (the other six all finished in the top-10) means the cutline is already at 14 points.
With two races remaining in the Round of 8, here is what the standings look like. These are bound to change greatly with Talladega Superspeedway looming.
While Taylor Gray earned his second straight top five, Rajah Caruth earns Rookie of the Race by virtue of earning his career-best finish, leaving Bristol with a sixth-place finish.
No. 1 – William Sawalich (30th)
No. 2 – Nick Sanchez (ninth)
No. 7 – Carson Kvapil (12th)
No. 17 – Taylor Gray (fifth)
No. 20 – Greg Van Alst (34th)
No. 22 – Stephen Mallozzi (32nd)
No. 24 – Rajah Caruth (sixth)
No. 32 – Bret Holmes (27th)
No. 33 – Memphis Villarreal (33rd)
No. 35 – Jake Garcia (11th)
No. 43 – Daniel Dye (21st)
No. 61 – Jake Drew (20th)
No. 66 – Conner Jones (15th)
One Thought About This Race
Did Tanner Gray intentionally hold up Eckes to allow Heim to win?
Immediately after the race, people called into question the role Gray played in the outcome of the race. Gray ended up finishing a dismal 29th, two laps behind the leaders, but some fans — and even Eckes himself — suggested that Gray intentionally waited on Eckes to come by to hold him up to allow Heim, a teammate of Gray’s at TRICON Garage, to pass Eckes and win the race.
“I just think that’s a little ironic that the 15 truck was three laps down and waited, but whatever,” Eckes told FOX Sports 1 with dejection after the race.
Bristol is a naturally tight track, and that was proven multiple times throughout the night in both the ARCA race and the truck race. It isn’t too surprising that Gray was unable to get out of the way of the leaders. The issue is that a lot of the lapped traffic held the bottom and made the leaders go around the top.
Not only did Gray hold the outside, but he appeared to almost run Eckes down the track out of turn 2. However, all of this is to say that this appears to be an incredibly mistimed exit for both Gray and Eckes. Eckes definitely could have done more to get around Gray; it wasn’t like Gray was straight up blocking Eckes’ line and Heim was able to take advantage.
Even the FOX Sports 1 broadcasters saw nothing more than a racing deal that was incredibly misfortunate for Eckes. But I’m sure NASCAR will at least take a look at the replay and listen to the No. 15’s radio chatter to see if there was any sort of race manipulation.
That said, given the information available to us now, it seems like nothing more than a misfortunate racing incident.
“I’m out of breath.” – Heim excited to win at Bristol:
“We needed to be better at the end, regardless of how I feel about teammates blocking for [Heim].” – Eckes broke down the end of his race to Frontstretch:
Wood and Thompson react to the crash that ended both their nights early:
“It’s a really cool racetrack, just a terrible race.” – Smith is not a fan of the one-groove racing the PJ1 provided:
Despite attaining his best career finish, Caruth echoed Smith’s sentiments on the PJ1 making it hard to pass:
“The situation could have been a lot worse.” – Majeski looks ahead to Talladega after his flat tire at the end of stage 2:
“If they were complaining this year, they must not have been racing last year.” – Grant Enfinger pleased with finish but also displeased with the Bristol package:
Kvapil says he “learned a bunch” and he completed his goal of completing all the laps:
Paint Scheme of the Race
The last time we saw Outback Steakhouse on a NASCAR race car was when Kevin Harvick carried its colors in the Cup Series in 2016. Ironically, he won the playoff race at Kansas Speedway that year with Outback as his sponsor.
It took seven years, but Outback made its return to the track — although in a unique twist, it sponsored one of its employees.
Stephen Mallozzi has made a handful of starts for AM Racing and Reaume Brothers Racing. He has actively stated on his social media how hard he works to get behind the wheel, even selling his car to be able to race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Hey @NASCARONFOX. I just sold my car to race gateway next week. I think that deserves a little coverage on the broadcast.— Stephen Mallozzi (@DriverMallozz) May 27, 2023
No one can ever tell me I didn’t give my all for this dream. I fight for it every god damn day.
After his race at Martinsville Speedway earlier this year, Mallozzi made waves when he explained what his itinerary was. Mallozzi drove himself to the track at 7 a.m. ET, competed in the truck race, finishing 36th, and drove back home after the race, getting home around 3 a.m. ET so he could be ready for work the next day.
His day job? A waiter at Outback Steakhouse.
So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like being a small-time racing driver…— Stephen Mallozzi (@DriverMallozz) April 15, 2023
Yesterday I drove myself to @MartinsvilleSwy at 7 AM.
I raced in the @NASCAR_Trucks race for @AMRacingNASCAR.
I drove myself back to my apartment, getting back around 3 AM.
Now, I’m serving @Outback. pic.twitter.com/rlBlJZYox4
The story got so popular that Outback decided to lend some support to its own employee. And the resulting paint scheme will always be fresh in the Outback.
Maybe Outback can let Mallozzi wear his firesuit as his work uniform from now on.
Chaos awaits in Alabama.
The Craftsman Truck Series has an off week before making its annual trip to Talladega Superspeedway. Chaos is sure to occur for playoff drivers (except Heim), who are hoping to make it out without too big of a hit to their points. Matt DiBenedetto is the defending winner of the race.
Coverage for the Love’s RV Stop 250 at Talladega begins at 1 p.m. ET. FOX Sports 1 will have the TV broadcast of the race.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He is an editor and co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer and dabbles in SRX coverage too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing a master's degree. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training in his free time. He's a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.