Tonight’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway was a thriller. Close racing and hard-fought battles on track made for an entertaining race.
Sheldon Creed looked unstoppable in the first Stage. He led for most of it. He was pulling away and cruising to the end of the stage before Natalie Decker and Tate Fogleman hit sending Decker into a tailspin. Unfortunately, the stage ended under caution. Crafton finished 2nd, followed by Johnny Sauter, Zane Smith, Ben Rhodes, Brett Moffitt, Christian Eckes, Grant Enfinger, Raphael Lessard and Stewart Friesen. Notably outside of the Top-10 were Tyler Ankrum and Austin Hill.
Hill suffered another heartbreaker in the final cutoff race. An unusual engine failure from a team like that sidelined him early in Stage 2. He didn’t earn Stage Points in Stage 1, but he retired before the end of Stage 2, so he would have been eliminated from contention anyhow. It’s really sad and unfortunate. But he benefitted solely from the 15-point bonus he was awarded after earning the ‘Regular Season Championship’, which is awarded to the driver who leads the points after Race 14 of 23.
Carson Hocevar looks like he has so much upside. He had some help coming from 32nd starting position by as many cautions as the race had in the first two Stages. That aside, drivers have to have skill and talent to drive past their competitors. He was patient and methodical. He’s only 17 years old, but will turn 18 about two weeks before next season starts. He was ultra-competitive and served notice to everybody that he has the capability to return Niece Motorsports back to its 2019 form. Unfortunately, he was strong-armed by many drivers and showed his in experience. He needs minimal refinement to be competing for victories.
Kyle Busch lost his 2nd-most successful crew chief when Hendrick Motorsports announced Rudy Fugle will be William Byron’s crew chief next. Although this is the move that will save Byron’s career, Kyle Busch Motorsports weakens ever-more. Right now, Raphael Lessard has the organization’s only win by a eligible driver at Talladega Super Speedway a few races ago and was in position to win tonight before Ben Rhodes wrecked him. Busch has one of the most important dilemmas on this hands ahead of next season. It might be the best time to expand back to three full-time entries. That’s only one layer though. It’d be a monumental mistake not to sign Derek Kraus to be one. Toyota Racing Development has too much time and resources invested into Christian Eckes’ and Chandler Smith’s careers not to retain both. Smith needs more time to develop. JBL gives him sufficient support and McAnally-Hilghman Racing will need a driver when Busch signs Kraus. Smith has upside, too; but I believe he will have a higher probability to see more frequent success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series like Harrison Burton is this season.
The second Stage was more eventful. The intensity definitely increased and patience definitely decreased. Driver’s started to realize who was capable of winning. Grant Enfinger flexed his strength while Matt Crafton and others battled further back. Stewart Friesen passed Johnny Sauter on the restart with 1 lap remaining and cruised to his first Stage Win of the year. Crafton finished 2nd, followed by Enfinger, Lessard, Moffitt, Ankrum, Eckes, Sauter, Hocevar, and Rhodes.