NASCAR: Truck Series preparing for Bristol on short week

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Wednesday’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway will mark 10 races to go in the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season.

Bristol’s high-banked half-mile always provides a challenge, but with Wednesday’s event coming just four days after the series raced at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway, drivers may find themselves under a little bit more stress.

As the Trucks roll into Thunder Valley, there’s a new man atop the series standings. Saturday’s winner, Johnny Sauter, now holds a nine-point lead over ThorSport Racing teammate and defending series champion Matt Crafton, while the previous points leader, Ryan Blaney, fell to 16 points back after a dismal 21st-place run in the Irish Hills.

From Sauter’s perspective, Bristol is a welcome sight as he aims to win his first Truck Series title.

“Historically, it’s been a good track for me, especially in the trucks, and the new configuration is all about racing – at least I think so because it gives you options to move around,” he said this week. “You have to stay focused because it’s really fast and things happen in a hurry.

“I feel like I’ve always been better the second-half of the season and coming off a win at one of my worst race tracks gives me confidence. [Crew chief Jeff] Hensley has only been with the team for a short time, but he has already made some strides that I feel will keep us moving in the right direction. I’m looking forward to what the second-half of the season has in store.”

But his teammate Crafton has been strong on short tracks this year, earning a win at Martinsville and a third at Iowa. He too is looking forward to Wednesday’s race and the chance to take the points lead for himself.

“We’ve been close to winning there a few times, and with as many second-place finishes as we’ve had this season [three], we’re ready to get back to Victory Lane,” he said. “We’ve been good on short tracks this year, especially winning at Martinsville, so we’re ready to unload a fast Menards Toyota Tundra and stay up front all night, because track position will be key.”

Then there’s Blaney, whose Michigan weekend started wonderfully with the announcement that he’d be driving in Sprint Cup next season for the Wood Brothers but ended poorly with Saturday’s result.

The 21st-place finish ended a streak of seven consecutive Top-10 efforts, which is the longest such streak of the year so far in the Truck Series.

Now he must try to get back on track at Bristol, where he finished third in last year’s Truck race. Blaney is a good shoe on short tracks overall, having earned nine Top-10s in 12 career short track starts.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”