NASCAR Truck Chase preview

After a wild night of racing at Chicagoland Speedway last Friday, the inaugural Chase field was set for the Camping World Truck Series.

NASCAR Truck Chase preview
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase Grid
William Byron, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Race winner William Byron, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
William Byron, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
William Byron, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Matt Crafton, ThorSport Racing Toyota
Matt Crafton, ThorSport Racing Toyota
John Hunter Nemechek, NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet
The end of the race where John Hunter Nemechek, NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet and Cole Custer, JR Motorsports Chevrolet collided
John Hunter Nemechek, NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Race winner Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Johnny Sauter, GMS Racing Chevrolet
Polesitter Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet
Johnny Sauter, GMS Racing Chevrolet leads
Ben Kennedy, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Ben Kennedy, GMS Racing Chevrolet
Daniel Hemric, Brad Keselowski Racing Ford
Daniel Hemric, Brad Keselowski Racing Ford
Daniel Hemric, Brad Keselowski Racing Ford
Timothy Peters, Red Horse Racing Toyota
Timothy Peters, Red Horse Racing Toyota
Brett Moffitt, Red Horse Racing Toyota, Timothy Peters, Red Horse Racing Toyota, William Byron, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
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Here are how the driver Chase standings shook out one the dust settled:

1) William Byron

With five wins to his credit, rookie William Byron earned the top seed with seven races to determine the 2016 champion. Byron’s night was anything but stellar on Friday. He ignited the first and second cautions in the American Ethanol 225 and finished 30th, calling the dismal outing “a learning experience.” 

“We learned what not to do and get those things out of the way before the Chase,” Byron said. “We’ve had good races — some bad — (Friday) was a bad one. I feel like we got that out of the way. I’m looking forward to next weekend at New Hampshire and shift the focus to that and try to get the best finish we can to advance ourselves through each round.”

Byron, 18, has competed in just three of the seven Chase venues. He finished third at Martinsville and won at Texas earlier this season. Although Byron hasn’t raced at four of the remaining tracks, he doesn’t seem concerned. 

“A lot of the places are similar racetracks,” Byron told motorsport.com. “Las Vegas is a mile-and-a-half. Phoenix, I actually ran last year in a truck and Martinsville I ran. A lot of them I’ve been to and we tested Homestead. So we should be ok on that front.

“But the competition level is going to rise. We just need to be ready for that.” 

2) Matt Crafton

Two-time truck champion Matt Crafton sits second in the Chase standings with two wins in the regular season. Although he was collected in a wreck triggered by the GMS trucks of Johnny Sauter and Ben Kennedy on Friday — and earned the No. 88 team its fourth DNF of the season — Crafton is primed for his first truck playoff. 

“We were a little off tonight, we were not as good as we have been in the past on our mile and a half stuff, but we will be just fine,” said Crafton who was won at three of the seven Chase races — including from the pole in the season finale at Miami-Homestead Speedway last year. His strategy for the playoffs is to tackle it “one race at a time.”

“That’s what we’re going to do is go out there and try to win each and every race and if something happens and you don’t go on, you don’t go on,” Crafton added. “It’s not the style that I’ve ever been a part of, I’ve always put a whole season together to win a championship, but it’s the way they’re doing it a little different this year.”

3) John Hunter Nemechek

In his first full season on the truck tour, John Hunter Nemechek has had something to prove — and he has with wins at Atlanta and Bowmanville. It’s not surprising Nemechek qualified for the inaugural truck Chase. 

The first round sets up nicely for Nemechek whose average finishes are fifth at Loudon, fourth at Vegas and 11th at Talladega. His average finish over the final seven races last season was 5.28. 

“We have to have everything buttoned up and bring our A-game to the Chase,” Nemechek said. “If you go back to last year and look at our last seven races we had some really good finishes — even at Talladega.

“So I’m looking forward to going to New Hampshire next week at starting the Chase off at a short track. I still don’t have a (truck) win at a short track, but hopefully we’ll get that next week. I feel confident about our guys and the way they’re preparing our trucks week in and week out. We just have to tackle the races as they come and be there at the end each and every race to advance to the final rounds.“

4) Christopher Bell

Christopher Bell has endured his share of growing pains transitioning to the truck series. But once the dirt tracker settled down, his results have blossomed under the direction of crew chief Jerry Baxter. 

After winning his first truck race in just his third start last season, Bell expected similar results in his first full season. Following a slow start to the year, the 21-year-old from Norman, Okla., has posted seven top fives and 11 top 10s in his last 13 starts including a fourth-place finish in his Chicagoland debut on Friday.

“I’m really excited,” Bell said of the Chase. “Jerry has done a great job for me and we’ve had really good JBL Tundras. We just have to keep getting better and (Chicagoland) was a step in the right direction. We were able to load it back into the trailer without a scratch on it. 

“I’m looking forward to going to Loudon. We’ve spent some time there and I think we’re going to be alright.”

Bell’s only disadvantage is his lack of experience on the final seven Chase tracks — he’s competed at Vegas (14th), Talladega (13th), Texas (eighth) and Homestead (25th). However, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver have proven to be a quick learner.

5) Johnny Sauter

As one of the three veteran truckers in the Chase, Johnny Sauter has the most wins on the playoff venues. Sauter, 38, has won seven races at five of the remaining seven tracks. The driver of the No. 21 truck has picked up the pace considerably since he was reunited with his former crew chief Joe Shear Jr. in June.

“As a whole, I think we’re doing ok,” Sauter said. “We got to show a little more speed — and I think we will. It’s go time now. We have just as many top fives (eight) as anyone else in the series and I think we’re right there with top 10s (12). We won a race (Daytona). 

“I think the Chase is going to be interesting…they’re all really good race tracks for me. I love Loudon. It’s one of my favorites. Just a lot of great race tracks for me, personally, psyche-wise, I just enjoy going to. We’ll be alright. We’re going to work hard at this.” 

6) Ben Kennedy

Ben Kennedy enjoyed a breakthrough win last month at Bristol to earn a Chase berth. But Friday night was a tough outing at Chicagoland for Kennedy, who led four laps and ran in the top-five prior to being wrecked 113 laps into the race. Although Kennedy injured his right hand in the process, qualifying for the Chase is good medicine.

"We've got two weeks to get ourselves in a good position to move on,” Kennedy said. “You don't want to to show up to Talladega needing a good finish to make it to the round of six, so we need to get it done at New Hampshire or Las Vegas and I honestly don't think that's out of reach.”

Kennedy’s record at Vegas is solid with two top-10 finishes and an average finish of fifth. In two starts at Loudon, his best result was 13th.

7) Daniel Hemric

Daniel Hemric has been extremely consistent throughout the first 15 races — including Friday night when he finished second to Kyle Busch. Despite not winning a race in the No. 19 Brad Keselowski Ford this season, he entered Chicago second in the standings with 28-points deficit behind Byron. Before the night ended, the pair was tied in points. 

After the field was reset, Hemric was seventh — the first driver in the Chase on points. Hemric says the team hasn’t always had the speed he needs, but with the best average truck finish of 7.9, he’s confident regarding the team’s chances.

“We’ve made the most out of every situation and we can hold our heads up about that,” said Hemric whose 13 top 10s tops the tour. “Now we can regroup and go to New Hampshire with just one goal in mind.

“We’ve battled all year. We didn’t win a race but we did it the old fashion way. We made the most out of every race and put ourselves in position. Now we have a shot to go out and win this thing.” 

8) Timothy Peters

Veteran Timothy Peters was the second driver sans wins to transfer into the truck playoffs. Peters had a 32-point lead over Cole Custer entering Chicagoland and was guaranteed a Chase spot as long as a new winner did not emerge from the field. 

Peters encountered several challenges throughout Friday’s race but fought back for an eighth-place finish. With this team’s ability to recover from adversity and Peter’s history of wins at Vegas, Martinsville and Phoenix, it would be foolish to count him out.

“The way the race played out was going to affect our night, but this night didn’t affect how we got to this point,” Peters said. “Everybody has worked very hard at Red Horse to battle back from adversity (on Friday). 

“The truck just stepped out on me coming out of turn two and got into the fence but they did a good job fixing the damage and we are in this thing. I can’t say enough about everybody at Red Horse, Toyota, Triad Engines. We haven’t won a race yet, but they better look out.”

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