Traffic thwarts strategy, chance to win for Martin Truex Jr.

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LONG POND, Pa. — For all the planning, there was nothing crew chief Cole Pearn could do about the traffic.

Focused on a win — Pearn pitted Martin Truex Jr. before the end of Stage 2 even though Truex was leading — Pearn thought he had the right strategy Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Instead, Truex finished third to winner Kyle Busch and runner-up Kevin Harvick.

When Truex exited pit road after making his final stop on Lap 126, he returned to the track behind Denny Hamlin, who had pitted a lap earlier. Both ran into heavy traffic.

“We were in a good spot there,’’ Truex said. “We proceeded to catch lapped traffic in every single wrong place possible. That ultimately cost us second.’’

Truex got bottled in traffic a few laps later. That allowed Harvick to pass. 

Busch pitted from the lead on Lap 135. Crew chief Adam Stevens said he kept Busch on track longer to ensure that traffic wouldn’t be an issue when Busch exited pit road. That allowed Busch to catch the leaders.

“I think the key for him was staying out there and then having clean air on old tires,’’ Hamlin said of Busch. “He was running good times, 52.5s or so. We come out on new tires where we should be running 51-somethings, but we’re running 53s in the pack. We didn’t get any benefit from our new tires, so when he comes back out, and has the new tires and clean air, you see what happened there, he was able to maneuver pretty easily.’’

Said Truex: When (Busch) got to us, we were all half used up. He still had really good tires because he was in clean air the whole time.

Pearn’s strategy was partially set when he pitted Truex on Lap 97 — three laps before the end of Stage 2.

“Five (playoff) points is a lot better than one bonus point,’’ Pearn said for the decision.

Pearn said it also helped that Kyle Larson, who is second in the points to Truex, had problems earlier in the race and was due for a poor finish (33rd). Knowing that Larson wasn’t going to gain any points made it easier for Pearn to make the call and give up the one playoff point and 10 stage points for winning that stage. Truex has an 85-point lead on Larson in the season standings with five races left until the playoffs begin.

That set Pearn for the next stop. Then Hamlin pitted.

“Our original plan was to split the run like (Busch) did,’’ Pearn said. “We were ready for whatever. We were going to let everybody behind us dictate what we did. I thought (Busch) was going to come too (with Hamlin). It was just a scenario you didn’t want to be way off strategy to everybody. Didn’t quite anticipate hitting the lapped traffic as bad as we did. And we hit them like every corner.’’

While traffic didn’t go Truex’s way, pit road wasn’t an issue. Truex raced with new front tire changers. The team gets its pit crew from Joe Gibbs Racing, which suspended Truex’s tire changers for an incident on pit road with Stevens last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pearn said he was pleased with the how new front tire changer John Royer and new rear tire changer Kip Wolfmier performed.

“They did good,’’ Pearn said. “The first (stop), they hung a lug (nut) but then after that they settled in. For coming together as a group you couldn’t have asked for them to have done any better. I’m proud of them.’’

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Results, statistics from Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck season finale

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Chase Briscoe earned his first Camping World Truck Series victory in Friday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And while finishing second is supposed to be the first loser, it wasn’t for Christopher Bell, whose runner-up showing clinched the 2017 Truck Series championship for him.

Click here for the full results from Friday’s race.

MORE: Christopher Bell wins Truck Series championship, Chase Briscoe earns first career Truck win

MORE: Here’s the final 2017 Camping World Truck Series driver standings


Here’s the final 2017 Camping World Truck Series driver standings

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Christopher Bell won the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200, with all four Championship 4 drivers finishing within four points of each other.

Bell finished with 4,035 points, 2016 Truck champ Johnny Sauter finished second in the standings with 4,034 points, rookie Austin Cindric finished third (4,032) and two-time series champ Matt Crafton finished fourth (4,031).

Click here for the final 2017 season driver standings.

MORE: Christopher Bell wins Truck Series championship, Chase Briscoe earns first career Truck win

MORE: Results, statistics from Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck season finale

Christopher Bell wins Truck title, Chase Briscoe earns first career series win

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The first champion of the NASCAR Championship Weekend was crowned Friday night as Christopher Bell earned his first Camping World Truck Series title.

Chase Briscoe won the race, the Ford EcoBoost 200, leading a race-high 77 laps in the 134-lap event, while Bell captured the championship by finishing second.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bell told FS1. “These trucks are so good and they pay so much attention to all the detail that goes into these things, and that’s what makes these Tundras so fast. I’m just speechless.”

MORE: Results, statistics from Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck season finale

MORE: Here’s the final 2017 Camping World Truck Series driver standings

Bell, an Oklahoma native who turns 23 on Dec. 16, has already been announced to drive next season in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. He ends the 2017 Truck campaign with five wins and 21 top-10s in 23 Truck races.

“To be see Christopher be able to mature and grow … it just goes to show these guys develop and we do a good job of developing these guys,” team owner Kyle Busch told FS1. “Erik Jones won our first driver’s championship and now with Christopher Bell bringing home our second, it just continues to solidify our legacy.”

Briscoe, who also turns 23 one day before his good friend Bell, helped send Brad Keselowski Racing out on a high note. BKR is closing after this season.

“This is a long time coming,” Briscoe told FS1. “I’m so proud of these guys to know they’re not going to have job next year, yet they continue to bring real good trucks even though we were outside of the playoffs. … For those guys to continue to believe in me, I’m so blessed and thankful.”

Briscoe was also named Truck Series Rookie of the Year.

Team owner Brad Keselowski, who will be vying for the NASCAR Cup championship on Sunday, told FS1 about Briscoe: “He has a big, bright future ahead of him and along with (BKR teammate) Austin Cindric and I’m just happy to play a role and help him out.”

The other Championship 4 contestants that came up short were 2016 Truck champ Johnny Sauter (finished third), Austin Cindric (fifth) and Matt Crafton (sixth).

STAGE WINNERS: Stage 1 (Christopher Bell), Stage 2 (Ben Rhodes)

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Cindric showed a lot of mettle while running near the front much of the race. Not bad for a 19-year-old rookie. … Bell did exactly what he needed to do to win the title: finish ahead of his other three challengers.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Noah Gragson had a rough night, finishing 18th, three laps behind the leaders.

NOTABLE: Toyota earned its fifth consecutive Truck Manufacturers Championship, and 10th overall in the last 14 seasons. … With the exception of the two cautions between stages, there were no other cautions caused from on-track action.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This whole organization, this whole team has been so good for so many years, you just don’t want to be that guy to let them down – and I’m really glad I didn’t let them down tonight.” – 2017 Truck Series champ Christopher Bell (via FS1).

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2017 season has concluded. The next race is the 2018 NextEra Energy Resources 250, Friday February 16, Daytona International Speedway.

Starting lineup for Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Cup title race

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After making contact with both the outside wall and Chase Elliott last Sunday at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin failed to advance to Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But that didn’t stop Hamlin — who has two career wins at the South Florida 1.5-mile track — from earning his second career pole for Sunday’s race.

Martin Truex Jr. — who has six wins on 1.5-mile tracks in his seven overall victories this season — was the highest qualifying Championship 4, starting on the front row alongside Hamlin.

The other Championship 4 drivers qualified third (Kyle Busch), fifth (Brad Keselowski) and ninth (Kevin Harvick).

Click here for the starting lineup for Sunday’s race.