UPDATE: Truck racing at Eldora underway; 5 heat races, LCQ in books

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UPDATE: 8:50 p.m. ET: The final five qualifiers for the main race have been determined after the Last Chance Qualifier. Brennan Newberry won over Jeff Babcock, Jason Bowles and Justin Jennings.

But the hero of the race, and the fifth and final qualifier, was Norm Benning. Benning (No. 57, right, shown in practice) would not be denied as he slipped, slid and bounced off the wall in an effort to hold onto fifth place after a restart.

“I just never lifted. I love Tony Stewart’s track. I’ve been waiting for this race since the day of the announcement,” Benning said to SPEED Channel pit reporter Ray Dunlap.

Clay Greenfield, Jimmy Weller, Bryan Silas and Joe Cobb came up short of making the race. Also caught out was JR Heffner, who headed to the pit lane immediately after the start.

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UPDATE, 8:15 p.m. ET: The five qualifying heat races are in the books. Here’s a recap.

Ken Schrader backed up his fastest lap in qualifying with a win in the first of five heat races. He’ll start on pole for the main feature later Wednesday night. JR Heffner (finished second) and Jimmy Weller (sixth) were sent to the last chance qualifier.

The first caution of the heat races flew in heat two, for a quick spin by Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. with three laps to go. Despite a late charge from Matt Crafton on the lowest line of the track, Justin Landers held off for the win ahead of him in the heat race. Jeff Babcock (fifth) and Norm Benning (seventh) had to race through the LCQ.

Timothy Peters led flag-to-flag to win heat three, while Kyle Larson held off Jason Bowles in a battle for the transfer spot in third place. Bowles (fourth) and Clay Greenfield (seventh) went to the LCQ.

In heat four, Kenny Wallace took the win, Max Gresham (third) transferred in and Brennan Newberry (fifth) and Joe Cobb (seventh) went to the LCQ.

Jeb Burton held off Ryan Newman in a side-by-side battle in heat five. Newman was the transfer driver with Justin Jennings (sixth) and Bryan Silas (seventh) sent to the LCQ.

The starting lineup for the 15-lap last-chance race: 1. JR Heffner, 2. Jeff Babcock, 3. Jason Bowles, 4. Brennan Newberry, 5. Justin Jennings, 6. Jason Weller III, 7. Norm Benning, 8. Clay Greenfield, 9. Joe Cobb, 10. Bryan Silas.

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The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ dirt race at Eldora is underway. The heat races are about to begin after qualifying, where Ken Schrader was the fastest qualifier.

Schrader, though, will have to race his way in via his heat race or a last chance qualifier as he is not one of the 20 of 30 trucks locked into the race from owner points.

Here’s the race format:

  • Five qualifying heat races. 8 laps apiece. Only green flag laps count. 7 trucks in each race, with the top 5 advancing to the feature.
  • Last chance qualifier. 15 laps. 10 trucks entered. The top 5 advance.
  • Mudsummer Classic Feature: 30 trucks to start. 150 laps. Segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.