NASCAR Trucks title fight could take a big turn at Talladega

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Since regaining the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points lead last month at Chicagoland, reigning series champion Matt Crafton has built it up to a 19-point edge over teammate Johnny Sauter.

But now Crafton and his pursuers face a Saturday of survival at Talladega Superspeedway in the Fred’s 250 (1 p.m. ET, check local listings).

“You are just waiting for someone to make a mistake that you are going to get caught up in – you have zero control,” Crafton said this week about NASCAR’s wildest track.

“Racing at Talladega is just like going out and buying a lottery ticket. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There’s just no telling, but you’ve got to play the game.”

“We’ve just got to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, which is racing to win each and every week – being aggressive when we can be but above all, being smart.”

The Truck Series weekend began this morning with a two-hour practice session that was led by Ben Kennedy’s lap of 188.902 mph around the 2.66-mile oval.

Mason Mingus (188.872), Tayler Malsam (188.857), Ryan Sieg (188.835), and Spencer Gallagher (188.824) rounded out the Top 5 speeds in the session.

With five races to go in the season, a poor finish can have a major impact on the title contenders – Crafton, Sauter, Ryan Blaney (-27 points) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (-34 points).

They’ll all be seeking to avoid Talladega’s signature Big One, which is always just one touch, one mistake away.

In the final moments of last year’s Truck Series race at ‘Dega, contact in the tri-oval between Jeb Burton and Miguel Paludo set off a 12-car pileup that put Paludo on his roof and sent Justin Lofton to the hospital for a fractured left thumb.

Ahead of the mayhem was Sauter, who won the race and could use a repeat performance as he tries to claw back some of the ground he’s lost to Crafton in recent races.

Blaney will be pulling double duty this weekend. In addition to trying to mount one last charge for the Truck Series title, he’ll also compete in a third Team Penske car (No. 12) for Sunday’s Sprint Cup main event, the GEICO 500.

As for Wallace, he’s finished second in each of the last two Truck Series races (New Hampshire, Las Vegas). However, those results have done little to pull him closer to Crafton, and he’ll likely need some help in the final races to boost his hopes of a title.

Two interesting notes: Kyle Busch Motorsports’ part-time driver and Vegas winner Erik Jones will be making his restrictor-plate debut this weekend, while NASCAR Mexico Series star Daniel Suarez will make his series debut for Win-Tron Racing.

Like Blaney, Suarez will be pulling a double this weekend. After ‘Dega, he’ll fly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico to compete in the next-to-last race of the NASCAR Mexico season. He’s currently down five points to Abraham Calderon for the points lead in that series.

‘One and Only’ Kyle Larson wins Outlaws opener at Knoxville Raceway

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Paul Arch/World of Outlaws
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The magic of dirt racing wins for Kyle Larson continued Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway, where he scored his third consecutive World of Outlaws victory at the famed half-mile track to open “The One and Only.”

After starting 10th, Larson sliced through the field and passed pole-sitter Logan Schuchart to lead the final eight laps in the No. 57 of car owner Paul Silva.

“Just an awesome race,” Larson said after earning $10,000 for his second consecutive NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victory (after winning at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday), his sixth Outlaws victory this season and 14th of his career.

LARSON ON NASCAR‘I’d love an opportunity if it came’

“I was able to track Logan down and hit the bottom really well in (turns) 1 and 2 and got a run on him.  It felt like I needed to take advantage of that before we got to heavier traffic and slid him and felt some contact. So, glad to see him not in the wall or anything like that. Just, hard work there. Heartbeat is up again.”

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson scored his sixth World of Outlaws victory Thursday (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).

It was the fourth Knoxville victory this year for Larson, who swept a World of Outlaws doubleheader weekend June 12-13 at the Sprint Car Captial of the World. He has more than 30 victories this year in sprint cars and midgets.

The One and Only continues Friday night with another $10,000 feature race that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic, which pays $50,000 to win.

The event is the Outlaws’ richest purse of 2020 and subs in for the annual Knoxville Nationals, which was canceled for COVID-19 concerns. Larson, a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, has said winning The One and Only would be on the same as Knoxville’s signature event because of its tough three-day format.

Through the first of three nights, Schuchart and Larson are tied for second in The One and Only points standings, which factor in qualifying, heats, dash and feature races. Aaron Reutzel, an All Star Circuit of Champions stalwart who finished third Thursday, leads with 430 points.

A crash in Thursday’s 25-lap feature eliminated past Outlaws champions Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz after Cory Eliason spun in front of Sweet in Turn 1 to start the wreck, which also collected Sweet’s teammate, James McFadden. Sweet and Schatz finished outside the top 20, which moved Schuchart into the points lead for the 2020 season.

Schuchart still seemed slightly miffed after finishing second to Larson.

“As the race went on, I felt like I wasn’t hitting my marks as good,” he said. “I would have liked to of had a little bit better of a race with Kyle there. I wish his slide job was a little better there, but he’s got a reputation to live up to. That’s where you let other people make the rules and maybe we’ll get him next time.”


RESULTS

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps) – 1. 57-Kyle Larson [10]; 2. 1S-Logan Schuchart [1]; 3. 87-Aaron Reutzel [2]; 4. 2-Carson Macedo [24]; 5. 41-David Gravel [6]; 6. 21-Brian Brown [7]; 7. 71-Spencer Bayston [3]; 8. 18-Gio Scelzi [15]; 9. 12N-Joey Saldana [5]; 10. 5-Ian Madsen [19]; 11. 17A-Austin McCarl [21]; 12. 1A-Jacob Allen [11]; 13. 7BC-Tyler Courtney [16]; 14. 7S-Jason Sides [20]; 15. 24-Rico Abreu [22]; 16. 4-Terry McCarl [13]; 17. 2KS-Brooke Tatnell [18]; 18. O9-Matt Juhl [23]; 19. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [25]; 20. 83-Daryn Pittman [9]; 21. 11K-Kraig Kinser [17]; 22. 15-Donny Schatz [8]; 23. 26-Cory Eliason [4]; 24. 49-Brad Sweet [12]; 25. 9-James McFadden [14]; Lap Leaders: Logan Schuchart 1-17, Kyle Larson 18-25; KSE Hard Charger Award: 2-Carson Macedo[+20]

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson celebrated with his family and team after the first night of The One and Only (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).