Kaz Grala

Matt Crafton captures Eldora Dirt Derby with late surge

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ROSSBURG, Ohio – Matt Crafton picked a fine time for his first victory on a dirt track.

The two-time Camping World Truck Series champion took the lead with 16 laps remaining and ended a yearlong winless drought with a victory Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway.

“This definitely wasn’t the one that I thought was going to put us in the playoffs, without a doubt,” Crafton said. “I was looking to come in here and have a top five – a good solid top-five run.  Kept searching and finally found something at the end.”

Crafton seized first from runner-up Stewart Friesen, who started on the pole position and led a race-high 93 of 150 laps in the Eldora Dirt Derby. Chase Briscoe was third, followed by Grant Enfinger and John Hunter Nemechek.

It snapped a 27-race winless streak for Crafton, who hadn’t won since May 21, 2016 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was the 14th career victory for the ThorSport Racing driver, who has finished in the top 10 in all five races at Eldora (though Wednesday was his first top five here).

It was only the 15th career start for Friesen, who has struggled in his first full-time season racing in the trucks. He had finished outside the top 25 six times in the first 10 races and withdrawn from two events.

“It would have been super important,” the Canadian veteran of dirt Modifieds and the World of Outlaws series said of breaking through for a NASCAR win. “The first seven races probably are the most frustrating I ever have been a part of in my life. To run good and be in the top five is good, I just wanted to close it out. It’s a little bit of a silver lining but not much.”

The Canadian continued a trend in which dirt-track veterans have excelled against the truck regulars on the half-mile clay oval, but some said Eldora raced differently.

Briscoe, another sprint car veteran, said the bottom groove worked well enough that drivers weren’t as on the edge of out of control and sliding off the corners.

“There wasn’t as much of a cushion you had to hustle,” Briscoe said. “That’s where the dirt guy has an advantage over the non-dirt guys.”

Crafton has turned himself into a “dirt guy,” investing his own money in running a Modified on dirt tracks this year. He rebuilt a car with his father earlier this year and studied the nuances of running up against the wall.

“It helped a lot,” he said. “Just learning what the track does. In the years past, I didn’t know what I was looking at to be totally honest. Just kept studying and kept studying.

“Since I was a kid, I always heard about Eldora and watching the guys the last few years put the thing on the fence. I came committed to run the top and give up the bottom. I’m going to run the top when it matters. It’s one of the greatest wins I’ve had because it’s something so out of the ordinary.”

STAGE WINNERS:  Crafton won a caution-plagued first stage. Friesen was in front at the end of the second stage.

HOW CRAFTON WON: His No. 88 Toyota avoided a multitude of wrecks that collected more than a dozen drivers in the field, powering past Friesen on the outside lane.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Christopher Bell, who won here in 2015 and finished second last year, rebounded to finish ninth after sustaining heavy-right side damage from losing control of his No. 4 Toyota off the third turn on the 36th lap. “We had the truck to win, and I made a mistake that cost us,” Bell said. … Bobby Pierce, who led a race-high 102 laps last year and was the 2015 runner-up to Bell, placed sixth despite being involved in two crashes in the first 20 laps (after also wrecking during a qualifying heat).

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ben Rhodes finished a season-worst 29th after getting caught in a wreck on Lap 43. … Rookie Kaz Grala was 31st after a wreck near the end of the first stage.

NOTABLE: Bell and Pierce had combined to lead 247 of 300 laps in the past two races at Eldora but led 22 on Wednesday. … The race was slowed by 10 cautions for 59 laps (just off the record of 61 yellow-flag laps for 13 cautions in 2015).

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “It should be called the demolition derby not the dirt derby because our truck is destroyed.” – Rhodes, who was involved in a wreck near the beginning of the second stage.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Overton’s 150 will take place July 29 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Kyle Busch fastest in final Truck practice at Kentucky Speedway

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Kyle Busch barely held the upper hand on teammate Christopher Bell, as both drivers paced the 32-truck field in Wednesday’ final Camping World Truck Series practice at Kentucky Speedway.

Busch had the best speed at 180.886 mph, while Bell was just a tick behind at 180.789 mph.

Kaz Grala was third (180.687), followed by Matt Crafton (180.620), Johnny Sauter (180.590), Brandon Jones (180.560), Austin Hill (180.542), Noah Gragson (180.150), Justin Haley (179.575) and John Hunter Nemechek (179.569).

Click here for the full field rundown.

 

Grant Enfinger fastest in first of two Truck practice sessions at Kentucky

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Grant Enfinger was fastest in the first of two Camping World Truck Series practice sessions today.

Enfinger was the only driver among the 30 that took practice laps to crack 182 mph, recording a top speed of 182.020 mph.

Kyle Busch was second (181.555 mph), followed by Brandon Jones (181.409), Noah Gragson (180.983) and Ben Rhodes (180.941).

Sixth through 10th were Johnny Sauter (180.421), Austin Cindric (180.114), Matt Crafton (180.102), Christopher Bell (180.024) and Kaz Grala (179.629).

There were originally three practice sessions scheduled for today, but NASCAR cancelled the first session that was slated to start at Noon ET.

There will be one more practice session this afternoon from 5 pm to 6:25 p.m. ET.

Click here for full results from the first Truck practice session.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

 

John Hunter Nemechek wins at Iowa, second Truck victory in a row

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At one point going four-wide on a restart with seven laps to go, John Hunter Nemechek drove from fourth to first to win the M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It is Nemechek’s second Camping World Truck Series win in two weeks after an emotional victory at Gateway Motorsports Park. It is his fifth career win.

Nemechek passed low on Chase Briscoe and Johnny Sauter into Turn 1 and cleared them on the backstretch a lap into the final run. The No. 8 team changed four tires during the final caution. Sauter, who led 72 laps, did not pit.

“All year we felt really good about this whole stretch,” Nemechek told Fox Sports 1. “Gateway, Iowa and Kentucky. Hopefully we can go to Kentucky and make it three in a row.”

Driving the same truck he used to win last week, Nemehcek had to pass Sauter, Briscoe and Noah Gragson on the restart.

The top five was Nemechek, Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Enfinger and Christopher Bell.

Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell

Stage 2 winner: Johnny Sauter

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Brandon Jones’s third-place finish is his season best and first Truck top five since 2015 … Christopher Bell earned his sixth top five through nine races … Grant Enfinger earned his fourth top five, but it came at the expense of teammate Matt Crafton, who he caused to crash to bring out the final caution … Jesse Little finished ninth for his first career top 10 in his 11th start.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ben Rhodes, Kaz Grala and Austin Wayne Self were in a wreck with three laps left in Stage 2 …. Ryan Truex’s night ended with 33 to go when he brought his truck to pit road for an engine problem. He finished 20th … Matt Crafton backed hard into the outside wall with 15 laps to go after being tagged by his teammate, Grant Enfinger, on his left-rear quarter panel. It is his first DNF of the year. Crafton finished 19th … Harrison Burton and Justin Haley crashed in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag. Burton placed 11th; Haley 10th.

NOTABLE: The race was red flagged for 12 minutes and 26 seconds to clean up fluid from the three-truck crash at the end of Stage 2.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “That’s me. Four tires. That’s the man right there. Fire Alarm (Services). What do they want? They want a win and we got them one.” – Gere Kennon, crew chief for John Hunter Nemechek after winning the M&M’s 200.

WHAT’S NEXT: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 6 on Fox Sports 1.

Brandon Jones leads final Truck practice at Iowa

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Brandon Jones paced the final Truck practice Friday at Iowa Speedway. Jones had a lap of 135.251 mph.

He was followed by Ryan Truex (135.245 mph), Ben Rhodes (134.100), Johnny Sauter (133.350) and Kaz Grala (133.350).

There were no incidents in the session.

The series qualifies at 6:05 p.m. ET today and races at 8:30 p.m.

Click here for Truck practice report