NASCAR: Darrell Wallace Jr. comes out on top of wild Truck finish at Gateway

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Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. claimed his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win of the season tonight at Gateway Motorsports Park after holding off German Quiroga in a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.

The thrilling finish was set up by an incident that took place shortly after a restart with eight laps to go.

Wallace and Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Erik Jones fought for the lead, only to have Quiroga get involved and take second from Wallace.

One turn later, Jones bobbled and slid high but Quiroga appeared not to lift and wound up spinning Jones off the track into an inside wall.

Several of Jones’ crew members ran down to Quiroga’s pit box to briefly confront members of his team face-to-face before the final restart. Wallace and Quiroga banged doors down the backstretch on the restart lap but Wallace grabbed the lead for good in Turn 3.

“It was wild – such a bummer for Erik, man,” Wallace told Fox Sports. “I thought it was out of our hands until that caution with him, but he and him were so fast…We got in a little trouble in the first pit stop but a little adversity never hurts anybody.”

As for Jones, he believed that Quiroga just flat-out dumped him.

“I got a little free but – right in the left-rear, he just turned us around,” Jones said. “I don’t know what to do about that.”

Quiroga explained that he tried to move left and give Jones enough room to collect himself after getting loose.

“But he was already sideways…I just kept on driving straight, trying not to hit him,” he said.

Wallace led the first 62 laps of the race, but during the stop that he alluded to in Victory Lane, the left-rear tire was not put on properly. When Wallace tried to go, the tire came loose.

That forced his crew to re-jack the left side of his truck up and get the tire on again. While that was going on, Gray Gaulding was crawling to the pits after apparently running out of gas.

Gaulding ultimately came to a stop near pit entrance, forcing a caution. After multiple Trucks chose to pit, Matt Crafton rose to the lead for the restart at Lap 72, while Wallace took it in 12th.

While Wallace made his way back among the leaders, Crafton and John Hunter Nemechek put on a great game of cat-and-mouse for the lead.

Crafton re-claimed it on Lap 122, but just one lap later, the defending NCWTS champion suddenly veered right and crashed hard into the Turn 4 wall after a reported tire failure.

That handed the lead to Jones (who had taken second from Nemechek) going into yellow-flag pit stops. But Jones fell back to third in the race off pit road behind Nemechek and Wallace.

Wallace briefly took the lead from Nemechek after the restart with 27 laps to go but the two battled side-by-side in Turn 3 before Jones made it three-wide coming off of Turn 4.

When that settled down, Wallace and Jones had taken first and second while Nemechek was left to try and fight off Quiroga and Timothy Peters for third.

Nemechek held his own with the two Red Horse Racing drivers, but with 14 to go, he slowed down the back stretch and then spun in Turn 3 after a tire went down on him.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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