NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ran the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway on Friday night. The 150-lap race would set the Championship 4 Round for next weekend's race at Homestead. Johnny Sauter is locked into the final round with his win at Texas last week. Christopher Bell, Matt Crafton, Austin Cindric, Ben Rhodes and John Hunter Nemechek would all be on the hunt for one of the remaining three spots.
The race would be broken up into three stages. The first two stages would consist of 40 laps. The final stage would be 70 laps in length.
Christopher Bell would lead the field to green with Noah Gragson grabbing the lead past the line. The rest of the field was diving for the bottom groove as they funneled into turn one. The race would go clean and green for quite some time. Bell would catch Gragson on lap nine and wrestle the lead away. T.J. Bell would slow and bring his truck to the garage area and would eventually return many laps down. Joe Nemechek, Mike Senica, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Ted Minor all took their trucks to the garage early as well.
Christopher Bell would continue to lead comfortably for the majority of stage one. The other playoff contenders all continued to hold steady within their group. All ran solidly within the top eight throughout the stage.
Johnny Sauter began to gain decent chunks on track to the lead, but never got close enough to the front, as Bell completed a fairly dominate run to win stage one by over 4 seconds. With this stage win, Christopher cliched is spot in the Championship 4 Round on points.
Top ten finishers in stage one, in order: Bell, Gragson, Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, John Hunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Austin Cindric, Todd Gilliland, Grant Enfinger, Ryan Truex.
All of the leaders pitted during the caution period after stage one. All took two tires. The top five off pit road: Bell, Gragson, Rhodes, Crafton, Cindric. The free pass went to Justin Haley. ARCA series regular Dalton Sargeant was penalized for being too fast on pit road.
Christopher Bell chose the outside for the start of stage two. He gained the lead as trucks battled behind. It sorted out to a single file run along the bottom groove as they finished lap one. The championship contenders all continued to run inside the top eight. Ben Rhodes and Austin Cindric ran in a dead heat for the final spot in the Championship 4 Round, with Matt Crafton distancing himself somewhat from the cut line.
With four laps remaining in the stage, Grant Enfinger made hard contact with the outside wall. The No. 98 seemed to blow a right front tire heading into turn one and suffered a hard hit. Enfinger would exit under his own power and take the mandatory ambulance ride to the infield care center.
Christopher Bell would win stage two under this caution. As they finished the stage, Matt Crafton would be above the cut line by 27 points, Austin Cindric and Ben Rhodes would be in a dead heat for the final spot to advance and John Hunter Nemechek would be 41 points behind the cut line and in need of a win to have a chance to win the 2017 NCWTS championship. Matt Crafton's finish would gain him enough points to lock in the third position in the Championship 4 Round, leaving only one spot open for the three drivers remaining on the outside of the points battle. Austin Hill would receive the free pass.
All of the leaders would come for service under this caution. Bell would lead the race off pit road after taking four tires, followed by Gragson. Justin Haley would come out third, gaining 13 spots by taking only two fresh Goodyears. Dalton Sargeant would also take two tires and leave the pits in fourth. Ben Rhodes, with four tires, would follow in fifth. Kaz Grala took two tires and came out sixth. Johnny Sauter, Ryan Rruex, John Hunter Nemechek and Todd Gilliland rounded out the top ten, all taking four tires and Sunoco fuel. Austin Cindric's team would struggle on this stop, dropping him to 11th after piting from the fifth position. Rhodes would be up five points on Cindric for the final spot to advance as they ran after this round of pit stops. John Hunter Nemechek would have to win the race if he wanted to advance.
At the drop of the green flag, Bell and Gragson battled for the lead as the remainder of the field fought for track position. Gragson took the lead and others struggled two and three wide behind them.
Austin Cindric would lose a spot to Matt Crafton, not helping his bid to advance in the playoffs. The No. 19 BKR Ford F-150 would need to make up spots if it was going to advance to the Championship 4 Round.
Lap 115 saw contact between a slowing Norn Benning and Jesse Little, who was pressing to stay up with the leaders. Benning would make contact with the wall, almost knocking the nose off his truck. The No. 6 got out of the groove and made his way to pit road without causing a caution. Little continued even though he showed some right side damage. Johnny Sauter was running the fastest laps on the track and began to stalk the lead from the third position.
With 29 to go, Josh Reaume appeared to blow an engine. He would not make it back to pit road and the caution would fly.
The leaders would be left with the decision at this point to stay out or to pit. Rhodes and Cindric, separated by seven points as they ran, would need to make critical decisions. Both drivers would come to their teams for service.
Rhodes was the first truck down pit road. John Hunter Nemechek, Austin Cindric and Matt Crafton would be the only leaders to follow. All other lead lap trucks stayed out. Those that pitted would hold position as they left. This round would put Rhodes only one point ahead of Cindric for the final spot in the Championship 4 Round.
As Gragson lead the field to the green flag, Austin Cindric got into the back of Ben Rhodes and turned him into the inside wall. As Rhodes came back across the track he collected the No. 88 of Matt Crafton. Both trucks would not be able to continue. The incident would cause a scramble for the final spot to advance and would also bring out a red flag due to extensive cleanup. This would end Rhodes quest to advance to the Championship 4 Round. Cindric will have had another questionable incident allowing him to advance in the playoffs. Rhodes' crew would call the move a "cheap shot". Cindric's assessment over the radio, "...but it's unfortunate. I really hate to have it happen that way. He was running a great race. We were trying our hardest. And uh, obviously nothing intentional there. I think you clearly see I tried to get a run and held my ground and kinda how it went but it's unfortunate but we gotta keep our nose clean for the rest of the race and hopefully get these BKR guys to run for a championship in the final year and the final race".
Once the red flag was lifted, Cindric came to pit road for repairs to his right front. Everyone else on the lead lap stayed out.
Noah Gragson led the field back to green with 16 laps to go. As the field headed to the dog leg on the back stretch, Ryan Truex, Jesse Little and Dalton Sargeant tried to make it through three-wide going for 12th and could not make it happen. The three drivers all made contact and slid hard into the outside wall. Truex's truck became airborne on the rear end momentarily during the melee. All three drivers would exit under their own power and take the mandatory ambulance ride to the infield care center. This incident would bring out another red flag.It would last 14 minutes.
Christopher Bell led to the green flag with 10 laps to go. John Hunter Nemechek restarted fifth and needed to get a win to advance to Homestead. The battle on points being already decided in Austin Cindric's favor.
The pack swept down deep into the dog leg once again. Bell and Gragson battled for the lead side-by-side. Johnny Sauter sat back in third, waiting on the leaders to make a mistake, and they eventually did .
Bell and Gragson made contact and slid into the outside wall going into turn four. Bell continued but looked to need a stop to repair damage. Gragson's race would be over. Justin Haley would be caught up in the incident and would also be unable to continue. Another red flag would be displayed so that the front stretch could be cleared.
Once this red flag situation was lifted, Bell came to pit road handing the lead to Sauter. It was obvious that John Hunter Nemechek, restarting in second, would be more than aggressive trying to advance in the playoffs.
The restart would come with two laps to go. Nemechek needing to win to advance. Otherwise, Austin Cindric would advance on points.
At the restart, Sauter shot to the lead. Nemechek tried his best to put pressure on the No. 21 but just could not get close enough. At he white flag, John Hunter dove hard into turn one but could not make it stick. Johnny Sauter would hold off all contenders and win the Lucas Oil 150.
Top ten finishers, in order: Sauter, Nemechek, Cody Coughlin, Chase Briscoe, Kaz Grala, Stuart Friesen, Todd Gilliland, Christopher Bell, Cindric, Bayley Currey.
The four drivers advancing to the Championship 4 Round: Johnny Sauter, Christopher Bell, Matt Crafton, Austin Cindric.
This would be Johnny Sauter's first career win at Phoenix. Sauter attributed the win to the "Best group of people I've ever been around". He indicated that he was worried about all the red flags and restarts but knew that if he got a good restart that he could get a win.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 Round races at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday, November 17 at 8 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).