Monday, May 23
Speedway Digest Staff

Speedway Digest Staff

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Johnny Sauter's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' championship hopes took a serious lick Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, by way of a 28th-place Did Not Finish caused by a seemingly deliberate wreck.

 

Sauter, who had rebounded to fifth place with 31 laps to go after nearly going a lap down due to a lengthy pit stop to open the No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota's hood to make a severe chassis adjustment, was knocked out of the race on the 115th lap when defending series champion James Buescher ran into the back of Sauter's truck exiting Turn 4 and knocked it into the outside wall.

 

Sauter crossed the start/finish line, then limped the truck through the quarter-mile short track on Charlotte's frontstretch and directly into the garage area to retire with extensive damage.

 

The poor finish broke a string of four consecutive top-five finishes -- including winning the first two races of the season -- by Sauter and his team. Even worse, it dropped him from a tie for second in the standings, 13 points behind ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton, to sixth, 37 points behind.

 

Sauter had practiced fairly well, turning 75 laps in the three sessions spread across Thursday and Friday. But in qualifying he was the middle of three ThorSport Toyotas, lining up two spots, in 16th, behind Crafton, who was 14th. They were well ahead of teammate Todd Bodine, who started 32nd.

 

Sauter actually started 15th when rookie German Quiroga, who qualified 10th, had to drop to the rear of the field on the pace laps, for the start. But Sauter was unable to advance very far before he began dropping back before he made a pit stop under the second yellow, at lap 28, when his crew, led by a pair of interim crew chiefs, 2013 truck chief Jesse Saunders and Dan LeMasters, who had served as Sauter's truck chief for Sauter's first four years with ThorSport, made their major front-end adjustment.

 

Sauter fell back to 28th for the restart at lap 30, but it appeared to make his truck much better. Sauter drove back into the top 10 in less than 40 laps, and remained there until a restart at lap 109, with 25 laps remaining.

 

Sauter was fifth under that yellow flag but on the restart the field shuffled-up and Sauter got caught in the middle of a three-wide scrum in which he made contact with Dakoda Armstrong's truck on his right and Darrell Wallace Jr.'s truck on his left. Armstrong then appeared to move down onto Sauter's truck, which caused it to lose control and pinch into Buescher's truck, which was on the outside in the next row.

 

Less than five laps later, Buescher drove into the back of Sauter and ended his race. Sauter, when he was in fifth, was in a position to retake the championship lead he'd lost to Crafton, who was then running 18th. Buescher went on to finish sixth and is unofficially fifth in the standings, six points ahead of Sauter.

 

The Truck Series is now off for 12 days until it resumes at Dover International Speedway, with practice on Thursday, May 30.

 

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Matt Crafton only finished fourth in Friday night's North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he extended his lead in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' championship standings by nine points in the process.

 

Friday night's event was only the fifth of 22 this season, but later this year Crafton and crew chief Carl "Junior" Joiner might look back on Charlotte -- a track at which Crafton scored his eighth consecutive top-10 finish even while he registered his fifth consecutive top-10 this season -- and realize it was "a championship night."

 

Crafton was a lap down twice during the 201-mile race, but used sharp pit work, crisp aggression on a couple restarts and a solid No. 88 Fisher Nuts / Menards Toyota fielded by ThorSport Racing to unofficially widen his points lead to 22 over rookie Jeb Burton.

 

At one point in the last third of the race, as the trucks ran Crafton's ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter would've taken over the point lead if the race had ended then. But Sauter got wrecked by another competitor and finished 28th, and his points deficit to his teammate -- 13 points coming into the race -- is now 37.

 

"We had a great truck all night," Crafton said. "We qualified 14th and then we were able to drive to third right off."

Crafton actually took the green flag in 13th after rookie German Quiroga, who was supposed to start 10th, went to the rear on the pace laps for making unapproved adjustments after he wrecked on his second lap in qualifying.

But Crafton's initial run to third just after one-third distance was strong, his pit crew gained him a spot on his first visit to the service alley and despite losing one lap when he was caught out during a green-flag pit cycle interrupted by the race's third caution flag, Crafton did some hard-charging on restarts -- particularly after he had a flat tire in the second half of the race.

"We got a lap down (caught by the yellow) and we got the wave-around," Crafton said of getting his first lap back. "Then we got the right-rear (tire) flat on the wave-around so we got another lap downhaving to pit under green."

But Crafton never gave up, and neither did Joiner and his team.

"We stayed focused and we just never gave up," Joiner said. "We never give up because Matt never gives up on us. And putting in the effort we do is easy because we've got a bad-ass wheel-man."

For Crafton, the feeling is surely mutual. Through the mid-portion of the race, when the sparks from some of the eight cautions were flying, he tried to lay low. But when Crafton allowed another youngster, Ross Chastain, to out-position him for the free pass with 39 laps left, Crafton knew he had to turn up the proverbial wick.

"I finally got back on the lead lap with about 20 to go and drove back to fourth, so it was not a bad night," Crafton said. "That's a championship team right there. We didn't make a ton of changes, but all the adversity we fought through... It was just awesome.

"This Menards Tundra was so good -- I just wish we had some track position right there so we could have actually worked on it rather than digging ourselves out of the hole with all our laps down."

But in the end, Crafton said he wouldn't really have changed too much about his night.

"That's just Charlotte," he said of the advantages he was able to gain on several green flags -- such as five spots on the first lap of the race or the next-to-last restart with 14 laps remaining where he started 12th and was eighth after one lap. "Charlotte is just so awesome. In Turns 1 and 2 you can run through there wide open (but) everybody would get loose under each other and it's chaos.

"I just had to try to be smart (because) I knew they were going to keep busting their butts. I was just trying to be cautious and the 19 (Chastain) got by me for the (free pass) so I was like, 'OK, I can't do this anymore, I just have to go.'

"I can't thank all these guys enough for how hard they work."

Crafton, who with wife Ashley became first-time parents on April 26, six days after he won the Truck Series' last race, at Kansas, now has 12 days to enjoy daughter Elladee before he has to be back on track at Dover International Speedway on Thursday, May 30.

 

Thorsport PR

They’re three of the most recognized faces on race weekend.  They wear fire suits. They sign autographs. They always make it to Victory Lane.

But until now, they’ve never had their own race car.

Today at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Lionel Racing and Sprint unveiled the first-ever Miss Sprint Cup paint scheme!

Designed by Lionel Racing, The Official Die-Cast of NASCAR, the Miss Sprint Cup car is a first for the famous trio and the die-cast makes a fun NASCAR collectible for fans.

"The Miss Sprint Cup representatives are tremendous ambassadors for both Sprint and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Since the program began in 2007 they have amassed a large fan following on social media and at the racetrack,” said Kimberly Meesters, Sprint’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sponsorship Manager.

“Thanks to Lionel Racing, they now have a great-looking die-cast as the first piece of collectible merchandise ever produced featuring the Miss Sprint Cup team.”

Designed on a Generation 6 stock car, the Miss Sprint Cup die-cast is just like the die-cast of any NASCAR Sprint Cup series driver – from the Goodyear tires and window net to the “Miss Sprint Cup” name on the windshield.

Miss Sprint Cup Brooke Werner is already a big fan of the die-cast car. "The Miss Sprint Cup die-cast really is one of a kind,” said Werner. “And I think fans are going to get a kick out of the fun design Lionel came up with for our first-ever die-cast!  Kim (Coon), Jaclyn (Roney) and I are looking forward to this collectible."

Howard Hitchcock, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Lionel Racing, anticipates the Miss Sprint Cup car will not only be a hit with die-cast collectors, but also more casual fans of the sport who may not have purchased die-cast before.

“We’re always looking for ways to reach the next generation of NASCAR fans and engage new fans in the hobby of die-cast collecting,” Hitchcock said. “Each member of the Miss Sprint Cup team is a star of the sport and fans of all ages love them – no matter who their favorite driver is. This may be the first die-cast that truly appeals to every fan at the track.”

The Miss Sprint Cup die-cast is available for pre-order through the NASCAR.com Superstore, LionelRacing.com and authorized dealers. The die-cast will be available to purchase at track in July. The car is produced under Lionel’s Action Racing Collectable brand and is available in 1:24 scale.

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NORTH CAROLINA EDUCATION LOTTERY 200 NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES QUOTES

BRENDAN GAUGHAN (SECOND PLACE, No. 62 South Point Chevrolet): “(Gesturing to the name plate in front of him) First, I’m glad to know they still make these with my name on ‘em. It’s been a decade since I’ve been able to see one. You know, we did not have the textbook night. This is Charlotte. It’s a 3- 4- wide race track. Qualifying 23rd did not scare us at all; of course, I’d like to qualify better than 23rd. I’ve got to work on that. But the high groove that I like to run doesn’t usually lend itself to a great qualifying run. At the start of the race, we went for it; everything was going good. (Crew chief) Shane (Wilson) did a strategy move; we off-pitted everybody, and it looked like it was gonna work great. We came in, we got a green-flag stop, and I think we were within one lap of lapping the whole field. And I think the 18 broke something and gave everyone else the caution. So then it was kind of a work-for-it night. We thought we had a problem with about 30 to go, came in to check our Chevrolet; the boys said it checked out fine, so I believed my boys, and in the end I was catching Kyle (Busch). That’s why he’s Kyle Busch. He knows I like the high side, he knows these trucks all have an aero push, so he moved up to my groove for one corner of one lap and took the air off of my nose and just killed my momentum enough that I was only gaining on him again at the end. So great job by him. To come home second, this is our third top-5 in a row now, so I’m happy as I’ve been in a decade.

(Is that what you expected Kyle to do?) Stevie Reeves is my spotter, and Stevie Reeves is truly a veteran spotter. We all knew he was gonna do it because he did it earlier. He knows he’s gonna do it, and I know he’s gonna do it, but I just didn’t think he’d do it at that point, so I wasn’t ready for it. And that’s a little bit of rust on me, so to speak. I haven’t been in that position lately. So the rust is knocked off, and I will remember next time, and I’ll make sure when he goes to do that move, I go to the bottom to keep air on mine and try to keep gaining.

(You said you were mad as hell when you got on the truck; can you elaborate on that?) It feels great to be mad as hell. For the last eight years, I mean… you look at Kevin Harvick get out of the race car pissed off because he finished second, and I’m thinking I’d give anything to get a second place finish right now. But when you’re driving Chevrolets that are this good, you can be mad, because I had a truck that was gaining on Kyle Busch. And if I were a little more on my game when he goes to take my air, and I go to the bottom and I continue to gain on him and make a race out of it … that’s what I was mad about. I do know how to do these things. It’s been a while since I’ve done ‘em, but it feels good to be mad about second place.”

MAX GRESHAM (THIRD PLACE, NO. 8 AMWINS CHEVROLET): “We couldn’t be any happier with how tonight went. It was a great run for us to night. We started off kind of far in the back and worked our way forward, and that last pit stop really just came to life. It was kind of humming there at the end. This is justification for us that we’re going in the right direction, getting better every week. That’s all we can ask for. We had a lot of close calls there at the end. It seemed like on all the last restarts we were on the outside, which was hectic.”

CMS PR

NASCAR SPRINT ALL-STAR RACE SHOWDOWN QUALIFYING: Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Showdown, an event consisting of two 20-lap segments with an optional pit stop between. The top two finishers will transfer to the main event, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

“It was a good day. The guys did a good job, made good adjustments for qualifying there and looking forward to tomorrow night,” Truex said. “Unfortunately I do have a lot of experience in this race. We do understand a little bit about how the race works, how it’s probably gonna play out. We made a mistake last year by not pitting on the 20-lap caution and got beat by it, so I think this year we’ll be ready for anything.”

Truex was distracted throughout his post-qualifying media interviews, hoping to catch a glimpse of the All-Star race qualifying on the TV monitors dotting the room.

“I want to watch this,” Truex said. “I texted Mark (Martin), and I said how was it practicing for this qualifying. I was like, it looks awesome; I’m jealous. And he said it was insane, so I’m looking forward to watching it for sure. I’m definitely jealous I’m not out there. And I have to go to a wedding now, so I can’t even watch it. I would rather not go to the wedding and be in this. It’s not my wedding.”

THEY NEVER ‘TIRE’ OF SUPPORTING OUR TROOPS: It’s just one more way Charlotte Motor Speedway and its corporate partner Goodyear salute our armed forces. In addition to the usual “Goodyear” branding, this weekend’s tires for both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will sport special “Support Our Troops” decals.

RAVE REVIEWS: Before NASCAR All-Star qualifying had even concluded, polesitter Carl Edwards was already raving about the three-lap, one-stop, no-pit-road-speed format. In fact, he was campaigning for it.

“I vote we do this at every race track! This is so fun,” Edwards said, who will sit on the pole in tomorrow night’s Sprint All-Star Race.

Clint Bowyer emerged from his qualifying run slightly breathless and with a wide grin, also singing the format’s praises.

“Man, that’s a wild deal,” Bowyer said. “It’s amazing coming off pit road like that. It’s interesting, it’s exciting … that’s a fun event right there.”

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WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN THERE’S NO PIT ROAD SPEED: The drivers have had one 15-minute session to work on their new approaches to and exits from pit road for tonight’s All-Star qualifying event. So how’d it go?

“It was chaos,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “It was borderline humorous at times what you were seeing out there.”

Earnhardt said he got as much as he could out of the short session, but that he’s still expecting tonight’s session to be a crapshoot for most drivers.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of people all over the place as far as how they approach coming onto pit road and leaving pit road, but we’ll try to do the best we can,” Earnhardt said.

Former NASCAR driver Ward Burton fondly remembers his experiences coming down pit road with no speed restrictions, and he said he thinks today’s drivers are so skilled that they won’t have too much trouble acclimating.

“A few of them will slide right through their pits, but probably not too many,” Burton said. “The biggest thing is the transition from the banking down onto pit road. They’re probably better off to be conservative coming in and concentrate on running a good couple laps and getting out fast.”

NORTH CAROLINA EDUCATION LOTTERY 200 POLE WINNER NOTES

JEB BURTON (NO. 4 ARROWHEAD/KANGAROO EXPRESS CHEVROLET): “I am lucky to be driving for such a great team. These guys work hard for me. They believe in me and give me great trucks every week. They have been making me look good. (What’s it like to be on pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway?) It’s really cool, coming here as a little kid. It’s a dream come true. I have got an awesome race team. It feels really good for all the hard work me and dad have put in for the last three or four years trying to get a ride. I finally got one and the results are there now. It’s really emotional. No matter what happens tonight, we have had a heck of a two days. (Pressure for tonight?) I think the pressure is really off now. I know we have the speed here. We got the pole, so I know we are going to lead a lap and get that bonus point and hopefully get a top-five tonight. (How do you race tonight?) Smart, I am just going to take my time and run it trying to stay out of everybody’s trouble, and hopefully be there at the end. I think staying out of trouble and giving everybody a lot of room. We’ll take our time and after the last pit stop, go racing. (On having family here) The whole family is here. It like a hometown track, and it’s really cool. So we are trying to get the trophy. I think we have proved to everybody that I belong in NASCAR. Hopefully that is opening some doors. I look forward to the future.

CMS PR

Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer, along with team owners Rick Hendrick, Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, will be honored Wednesday, May 22, at the 33rdannual Speedway Children’s Charities Gala presented by Sonic Automotive.

The event, located at the Ritz Carlton in uptown Charlotte, is aptly themed a “Night of Champions” as Johnson, Kahne and Bowyer each won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year.

“We are proud to be able to honor five of NASCAR’s biggest stars at the gala this year,” said Marcus Smith, vice chairman of Speedway Children’s Charities. “These men are not only winners on the track; they are winners off the track too, giving back to the Charlotte community as well as the communities where they were raised.”

The gala is one of the biggest fundraising events in the Charlotte area and has raised millions of dollars over the past 30 years to improve the quality of life for children in the region since its inception. Proceeds from the evening will benefit the grant program of the Charlotte Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities and will be awarded to local nonprofit organizations that help children in need.

“Our goals have remained constant – helping children in educational, financial, social and medical need in our community who many not otherwise have a voice,” said Lisa Starnes, director of the Charlotte Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities.

“The funds raised at the gala will have an important impact on the lives of many children and families in our community.”

The gala will be hosted by FOX Sports personality Krista Voda. Entertainment will be provided by popular recording artist Edwin McCain.

Festivities begin at 6:00 p.m. with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. ESPN personality Marty Smith will host the silent auction during the reception. Among the items up for bid is a VIP visit to FOX NFL Sunday, where the winner will meet Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Curt Menefee, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Strahan, plus watch all of the day’s NFL games in a VIP room at the FOX Studios in Los Angeles, Calif. Other items up for bid include other VIP packages, jewelry, vacations and a yellow labrador retriever puppy.

For more information on the Charlotte Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities and how you can help children in need, visit www.charlotte.speedwaycharities.org.

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