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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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