Matt Crafton

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Stewart Friesen wins at Phoenix to advance to Truck championship race

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Stewart Friesen held off a late challenge by Brandon Jones to not only win Friday night’s NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series race at ISM Raceway, but also to lock himself into next week’s championship race at Miami.

Friesen will be joined in the championship race by defending Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt, Ross Chastain and Matt Crafton.

Austin Hill, who started tonight’s Lucas Oil 150 from the pole, and Tyler Ankrum both failed to advance to Miami.

For Friesen, the win was a vindication of sorts. He was penalized by NASCAR for jumping the start at the beginning of the race, being sent to the back of the field as a result.

But the Canadian driver was a man on a mission and was not to be denied, earning his second career Truck Series win (the other win was earlier this year at Eldora).

“What a race car,” Friesen told FS1. “We were able to pass them all clean. … It’s awesome (to be in the championship round). It’s what we’ve been geared up for all year long. We just didn’t get a lot of breaks. We lost races about every which way you could lose them and thought it was another one tonight.

“This one’s for everybody. We can all celebrate this one together tomorrow and then it’s game on (at Miami). We’ve got a bad-ass piece for next week, too.”

Chandler Smith finished third in Friday’s race, followed by Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger, Crafton, Harrison Burton, Johnny Sauter, Chastain and Moffitt.

“We had a bad day, we’ll move on, we’ll go to Homestead where I’ll feel a hell of a lot better,” Moffitt told FS1.

Click here for race results.

Click here for updated standings.

Stage 1 winner: Ben Rhodes (third stage win of season)

Stage 2 winner: Brandon Jones (fourth stage win of season)

Who else had a good race: Crafton began the race below the playoff cutline, but stuck to the gameplan and now he’s Miami-bound. “We did exactly what we had to do,” Crafton told FS1. “We had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. We fought really hard each and every stage. We didn’t want to stage race, but we had to and at the end of the day, that’s what got us in (to the championship race).”

Who had a bad race: After starting from the pole, Austin Hill finished an unlucky 13th, low enough to knock him below the playoff cutline and to see Crafton move past him for the final championship race spot. “We just didn’t perform tonight and didn’t execute like we were supposed to,” Hill told FS1. “We just weren’t good enough when it mattered.”

Notable: After mechanical issues forced him to miss qualifying and to start the race at the back of the field, Harrison Burton came back strongly to finish seventh. … Chastain is a Florida native and is looking forward to going to his home track to race for the championship, telling FS1: “I am excited. This is incredible. … We’re going to Homestead. It’s an absolute dream come true.

What’s next: The 2019 Truck Series season all comes down to one race next Friday: the season finale and the championship-deciding race at Miami.

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Austin Hill takes pole for tonight’s Truck race at ISM Raceway

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Austin Hill bumped Stewart Friesen late in qualifying to take the pole for tonight’s Lucas Oil 150 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix.

Hill took the pole with a speed of 133.230 mph. Friesen will start alongside Hill on the front row with a qualifying run of 133.126 mph.

“I tried to hit my marks as best as I could,” Hill told FS1. “I didn’t think it was a great lap. … That’s the best it finished all day. Now we’re starting on the pole. Now we just have to go and finish this thing off.”

Hill and Friesen were the only drivers to exceed 133 mph in the session.

Qualifying third through 10th in the 34-truck field were Sheldon Creed (132.989 mph), Ben Rhodes (132.949), Ty Majeski (132.876), Chandler Smith (132.836), Brandon Jones (132.738), Grant Enfinger (132.704), Todd Gilliland (132.694) and Matt Crafton (132.528).

One incident of note occurred to the No 18 Toyota Tundra of Harrison Burton. He was unable to get his truck started to make a qualifying attempt and, as a result, will start tonight’s race from the back of the field.

Tonight’s race will take the green flag shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on FS1.

Click here for the full qualifying results.

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John Hunter Nemechek on Cup debut at Texas: ‘This is what we all dream about’

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The car number (36) will remain the same but there’ll be a different face and body behind the wheel for this weekend’s NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

John Hunter Nemechek will replace Matt Tifft, who will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a seizure this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

The 22-year-old Nemechek, who is in his first full season of racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, is looking forward to making his first career Cup start in Tifft’s place – but wishes the circumstances were a bit different.

This definitely isn’t the way any driver wants to be able to go and make their first NASCAR Monster Energy Series debut,” Nemechek told Dave Moody on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s SiriusXM Speedway. “I’m really hoping Matt is okay, gets better really soon and is back in his car as soon as possible. That’s what’s important right now.

I’m really grateful for the opportunity (to) go and make Front Row Motorsports, their partners and Matt proud in the next few weeks.”

Front Row Motorsports had to scramble to find a replacement driver after Tifft was taken to a hospital in Martinsville. Matt Crafton replaced him in this past Sunday’s Cup race there.

Fortunately for Nemechek, when Front Row came knocking, Chevrolet agreed to let its young driver go out and pilot a Ford Mustang for the remaining three Cup races – while also still driving a Chevy for GMS Racing in the Xfinity Series.

It really happened overnight,” Nemechek told Moody. “It’s just something that kind of happened. I’m really grateful for Bob Jenkins and everyone at Front Row to make this opportunity happen for myself and all of our partners in GMS Racing and for Chevrolet willing to let me go to drive a Cup car and gain some valuable experience.

Once you’re tied to a manufacturer, it’s really hard to go and drive for another one. I’m very grateful for Chevrolet and everything they’ve done for me in my career and how they’ve been loyal to myself and dedicated and pushed me through the ranks over the last couple of years and I definitely don’t want to upset them. But when this opportunity came up, we’re going to drive a Cup car. It’s pretty amazing.”

In addition to gaining his first amount of Cup experience, Nemechek also has another bit of motivation: “We’re leaving Matt’s name on the car. It’s his ride, his car. I’m just filling in, trying to get the most of what we can, run some laps and finish it off.”

Son of veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek, the younger Nemechek is already feeling butterflies – and he hasn’t even gotten to the Lone Star State yet.

There most definitely is,” Nemechek said when Moody asked if he’s feeling any anxiety. “Any time you’re racing in a new series, you get butterflies. As a young guy continuing to move up the ranks, this is what we all dream about. We all want to be in the Cup Series one day, and it’s our goal when we’re running in the Xfinity and Truck series.

Growing up, I wanted to be in the top level of the sport. This weekend, there’s definitely going to be butterflies, but you just have to take what it’ll give us, try to have a solid debut, run all the laps and gain all the experience I can. You ain’t learning anything if you’re up on jack stands is what I’ve been told (by his father Joe), so we just have to go out and do the best we can.

I really like Texas Motor Speedway. It’s a great race track and a great opportunity for myself. I’ve always liked Texas ever since I was old enough to run there. I remember going there with dad and having a lot of fun with him when I was young. We’ve run really well there in the Truck Series and have run pretty well in the Xfinity Series. Should have won the Xfinity race there last year. It’s another good mile-and-a-half race track. It’s going to be exciting, for sure.”

Nemechek has had good success at Texas in the past in other series. He’s made two Xfinity Series starts there, finishing ninth (last fall) and fourth (this spring). In five Truck Series starts there, he has one top-10 and three other top-20 finishes.

While he still plans on driving the last two Xfinity races of the season for GMS Racing in addition to the last three Cup races, Nemechek does not have a contract to race for any team in any series for 2020 yet. That’s why Texas is an important litmus test of sorts.

Being able to go run in the Cup Series and be somewhat competitive and be able to go out and earn respect from the top Cup guys,” he said when asked what he hopes to achieve in Sunday’s Cup debut. “There’s guys racing for a championship right now, so you definitely don’t want to be that guy that gets in their way.

The storyline is we want to go and have a quiet weekend for us, just run as many laps as we possibly can and gain as much experience and just have a solid weekend. That’s our goal. It’s all new for me, I’ve never driven a Cup car before so it’s going to be a whole new process and whole new learning curve.”

 

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Matt Tifft will miss rest of season after suffering seizure at Martinsville

Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Matt Tifft will not race the rest of the season after suffering a seizure Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, he stated in a Twitter video Tuesday. 

Tifft will continue to consult with his doctors and work with the NASCAR medical team to return to racing as soon as possible, Front Row Motorsports stated.

John Hunter Nemechek will drive the No. 36 Ford in place of Tifft the remaining three Cup races of the season.

Tifft was taken to the infield care center shortly before Cup practice Saturday at Martinsville Speedway and transported to a local hospital. He was later released and went home. Matt Crafton drove for him Sunday at Martinsville.

Tifft said in a Twitter video posted Tuesday that he was feeling fine Saturday at Martinsville and then “felt my tongue cramp up. Next thing I knew I blacked out and my crew members helped me down. Next thing I knew I woke up in the ambulance getting transported to a local hospital. I was actually out of the race because I suffered a seizure this weekend.

“Luckily, my test results with the CT scan and my MRI today on Monday showed that there’s nothing there as far as my brain tumor. Trying to find out some answers of what exactly is going on.”

He had surgery to remove a tumor in his brain on July 21, 2016. He returned to NASCAR in September 2016, competing in a Truck race at Chicagoland Speedway. Tifft has had no issues since the surgery.

He announced Jan. 9 that his recovery had gone so well that he would not have to undergo a routine followup brain scan for at least a year.

Tifft also added in his Twitter video posted Tuesday: “Appreciate your guys’ support and certainly will let you guys know as I learn more too. Unfortunately, because of this I will be missing the rest of the 2019 season. So I want to wish Front Row Motorsports and the whole 36 team the best of luck the rest of this year. Hate that I have to miss out the rest of my rookie season. The most important thing right now is my health and figuring out what is going on.”

With Tifft out, Nemechek will make his Cup debut this weekend at Texas (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN).

“This isn’t the way any driver wants to make their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut,” said Nemechek in a statement from the team. “I am hoping that Matt feels better and can get back in his car as soon as possible. That is what is important. Hopefully I can learn a lot and make Matt, the Front Row Motorsports team and its partners proud.”

The 22-year-old Nemechek is completing his first full season in the Xfinity Series, driving for GMS Racing.

 

Winners and losers at Martinsville

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WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr.He had not won a Cup race on a short track until this season. Now he’s won three of the six races on short tracks this year. And won Sunday in dominating fashion, leading 464 of 500 laps.

William Byron He had not finished better than 13th this season in any of the races on a short track but Martin Truex Jr. said seeing the No. 24 behind him late in the race made him think about Jeff Gordon driving that car.

Matt Crafton He finished 25th filling in for Matt Tifft, who suffered a medical issue Saturday and was home Sunday. Tifft’s car has finished 25th in four of the last five races.

David RaganFinished a season-high 11th at Martinsville.

 

LOSERS

Chase ElliottWas put in nearly a must-win situation in the previous round because of an engine failure at Dover. He barely advanced and opened this round by having an engine failure in practice Saturday and a broken axle in Sunday’s race, finishing 36th. Asked about his concern with the mechanical issues the past few weeks: “I’m concerned.”

Jimmie JohnsonWrong place at the wrong time and couldn’t avoid Aric Almirola’s car. The result is that he finished last.

Clint BowyerRan well until various issues left him with a 35th-place finish.

Team members jumping into fights Joey Logano was upset with Denny Hamlin for contact between the two late in Sunday’s race and went to talk to Hamlin about it. Not satisfied with Hamlin’s reaction, Logano shoved Hamlin, starting a scuffle on pit road that involved both crews. It’s one thing for team members to protect their driver, it’s another thing to go after the other driver.