Who had a good race: In just his third career series start, 17-year-old Chandler Smith finished a career-high second for Kyle Busch Motorsports. … Ross Chastain won a stage and finished third, overcoming a pit road penalty.
Who had a bad race: Natalie Decker got spun by the tow truck as her truck was being pushed away during a caution. She finished 25th. … Johnny Sauter was involved in multiple cautions and finished 11th. … Tyler Ankrum finished 20th, worst among the eight playoff drivers.
Next: The series races Aug. 25 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Hill bounced back from a speeding penalty early in the final stage to lead 26 of 105 laps.
“It’s huge, we’ve had a struggle these last four or five races,” Hill told FS1. “We just keep having issues and can’t finish races. Man, these guys just work their tails off day and night just trying to put these trucks together. This is actually a brand new truck, first time (it saw) the race track was yesterday. When we unloaded we had to workout some bugs on it. We got it driving really good.”
The overtime finish was setup by a large wreck on a restart with four laps to go in the scheduled distance. Tyler Ankrum, who was the leader, received a push from Matt Crafton, which turned his truck into the outside wall and started a chain reaction.
“I think (Ankrum) just spun his tires, to be honest,” Crafton said after the race. “That’s from what I saw from my seat. I asked a couple of people and they said it looked like he was still spinning the tires when I hit him. Definitely, never going to try wreck somebody. We worked so good together on the restart before that. I shoved him to the lead and it was just wrong timing.”
Pole-sitter Ross Chastain led every lap of Stage 1. But during the ensuing pit stops, Johnny Sauter turned Codie Rohrbaugh into Chastain’s right side as Chastain exited his box. The damage from the collision sent Chastain to the garage and ended his day.
By just starting the race, Grant Enfinger clinched the regular season championship and was awarded 15 playoff points.
With Hill’s win, Crafton clinched the last playoff spot based on points since there wasn’t a new winner.
The eight driver playoff field is Brett Moffitt, Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Chastain, Hill, Crafton, Sauter and Ankrum.
Not involved in the playoffs is Kyle Busch Motorsports. Both Gilliland and Harrison Burton needed to win Saturday to get into the playoff field. At least one KBM driver has been a member of the championship four the last three years.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Ross Chastain
STAGE 2 WINNER: Brett Moffitt
WHAT’S NEXT: Playoff opener: UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway at 8:30 p.m. ET Aug. 15 on FS1.
Ross Chastain wins at Pocono for third Truck Series victory of season
It was Chastain’s third career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win, all of which have come this season. He won earlier at Kansas and Gateway. In addition, Chastain is now the only driver in the Truck Series to have three wins thus far this season.
“We stomped them in the dirt, we pressed the attack, I’m so excited,” Chastain told FOX. “We’ll go try to press the attack (in the next race, Thursday night at Eldora Speedway). We don’t back down at all. We just keep going.”
Eldora will be Chastain’s first career Truck race on dirt, prompting him to quip, “I’ve always thought dirt was for farming and asphalt was for racing, but we’re going to learn something next week.”
The race didn’t even get past Turn 1 on the opening lap when Stewart Friesen’s Chevrolet spun and collected the Toyota of Anthony Alfredo. Both trucks were damaged beyond repair.
“I’m not really sure,” Friesen told FOX when asked what happened in the incident. “I spun around and made contact with the wall.
“I got to the apron there and it’s just a bummer. I had a lot of friends and family here today and just really, really disappointed. I wish I could have done more to last a little longer out there. We’ll be back but it just sucks right now.”
Natalie Decker and Ben Rhodes were also involved but both suffered only minor damage and were able to continue on.
Stage 1 winner: Ross Chastain (second stage win of season)
Stage 2 winner: Harrison Burton (first stage win of season)
Who had a good race: Harrison Burton continued in his bid to make the playoffs with a strong third-place finish.
Who had a bad race: Stewart Friesen’s first lap wreck could have significant playoff ramifications for him. Friesen came into the race seventh in the hunt for the eight playoff spots, and left in eighth place, on the playoff bubble. Because he has not won a race this season, he only has two more races – August 1 at Eldora and August 10 at Michigan – to lock himself into the playoffs.
Notable: Before he went to victory lane, Chastain — nicknamed “The Melon Man” — had some fun by tossing a watermelon-shaped beach ball back and forth with fans in the frontstretch stands. Chastain’s family is watermelon growers.
The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.
While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.
A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.
While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.
There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.
Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.
Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.
All this over an exhibition race.
Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.
Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.
But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.
The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.
While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.
Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.
Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.
Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.
Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.
That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.
Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.
While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.
Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.
Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.
If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.
Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.
The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.
Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.
Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.
“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”
As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas.
While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.
“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”
It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.
Saturday night, there were no mistakes.
“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.
“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races. I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”
CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch scored his sixth consecutive Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory, winning Friday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch also won six in a row from the end of the 2013 season to the early part of the 2014 season.
Friday was Busch’s final Truck race of the season. Drivers who have competed in more than five full-time Cup seasons and score Cup points are limited to five Truck races in a season.
“Wish I could do more,” Busch said on Fox Sports 1 after winning.
Busch had to overcome a late caution when Brett Moffitt lost a tire with less than 10 laps left. That led to a restart with three laps to go. Busch held off the field and pulled away to score his 56th career series win and eighth at Charlotte.
Busch had won his past five starts entering Friday night. He won at Pocono in his final start in 2018 and won his first four starts of this season, winning at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Martinsville and Texas.
Stage 1 winner: Matt Crafton
Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch
Who had a good race: Ben Rhodes followed his runner-up finish last weekend at Kansas with a top-five finish. … Matt Crafton scored his sixth consecutive top 10.
Who had a bad race: Natalie Decker crashed before the end of stage 1. She finished 31st in the 32-truck field.
Next: The Truck Series races June 7 at Texas Motor Speedway, the first race in the Triple Truck Challenge where the race winner earns a $50,000 bonus.