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TRUCK CHASE CONTENDERS BREAK OUT THEIR RATCHETS

By John Sturbin

With five drivers vying for three spots in NASCAR’s first Camping World Truck Series Chase, expect the intensity to ratchet-up Friday night during the Striping Technology 350 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Series veteran Johnny Sauter secured the first berth in the Championship 4 race slated for Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18 with his victory last Saturday in the Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway. Sauter, driver of the No. 21 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet Silverado, is trailed on the Chase Grid by Christopher Bell (13 points above two-time series champion Matt Crafton on the cutoff line), Timothy Peters (+12), William Byron (+9), Crafton (-9) and Ben Kennedy (-10).

“Funny you bring that (intensity) up because even me, running that race at Martinsville with 20 to go”¦the last couple weeks the races have been night and day better,” said Bell, who drove the No. 4 JBL Toyota Tundra fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports to a fourth-place finish on the paperclip-shaped half-mile. “I feel like drivers are racing with more respect because at the beginning of the year we could not run a race without getting a green/white/checkered finish. It made me especially happy because I was running fourth the last 15-20 laps so I did not want to see a yellow. So it’s cool to be able to go to these places and finish races on green flag stints.

“I think that just goes to say the drivers are racing with more respect and understand that the owners aren’t going to be happy if we crash. On the other hand, yes the intensity is ratcheting-up. So I guess we don’t really know what this week will hold.”

Kennedy finished 18th after late-race contact with Ben Rhodes with 23 laps remaining. Kennedy’s No. 33 Jacob Chevrolet spun in Turn 2 and then was whacked by John Wes Townley’s truck.  Kennedy said the heated words exchanged between himself and Rhodes post-race were “very quickly” forgotten.

“When I woke up the next morning, just had to move on and hopefully get our ticket to Homestead,” Kennedy said. “Guess kind of an asterisk on last weekend for us, but I think everyone is racing each other with a little more respect. Everyone has some more experience out there and knowledge and I don’t expect Texas to be too off-the-wall crazy seeing it is a mile-and-a-half.

“But Phoenix (International Raceway) we’re back to a mile racetrack with tight quarters racing and bumper-to-bumper action. I think the intensity is going to ratchet-up, yes, but as far as wrecks and mistakes I haven’t seen as much as the beginning part of the season.”

Truck teams are scheduled to qualify and race Friday for an event set for 220.5-miles/147-laps around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile quadoval. Fox Sports 1’s coverage will begin at 7 p.m. (CDT) with the green flag at 7:30 p.m. The race also will be carried on radio by MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

KBM’s Byron won the Truck Series night race here in June and will attempt to complete the sweep Friday. Crafton (spring 2014 and spring 2015) and Sauter (2012 sweep) are the only other Chase drivers who have won at TMS.

Kennedy finished fourth here in June, while Oklahoma native Bell saw his hopes of winning at his “home track” dashed when he missed a shift at the start of the race and terminally damaged the engine of his Tundra. Mark it down as the ultimate rookie miscue.

“Yeah, just a mistake,” said Bell, a 21-year-old native of Norman, Okla. “Tony Stewart’s done it, I’m sure everybody’s done it in their day. Do I think about it? Yeah. Do I make that mistake again? I hope not. You know, I’ve mistaken the white flag for the checkered flag before and only did that once. So I don’t foresee myself doing that again.”

Bell is working on a stellar streak of 10 top-10 finishes during his last 12 races, including no finish worse than sixth in his last six starts.  Bell, in fact, has posted the best average finish in the four Chase races run to-date (4.5) to earn the tag of darkhorse.

“Definitely,” said Bell, who is working with crew chief Jerry Baxter. “I think people wrote me off after Martinsville the third race of the year (19th-place result) because I was making mistakes and we just couldn’t finish races. Luckily with this format change”¦I was actually disappointed with the format change because I felt like being with Kyle Busch Motorsports we would be able to win the championship or at least compete for the championship straight-up. But looking back at it now, I’m really quite grateful for the format change because it has kept my hopes alive.

“So we started off rocky and rough but now we’re gaining and getting better as a team and I’m getting better as a driver and limiting my mistakes and so here we are with three races to go sitting second in points. I’d say people would classify us as a ”˜darkhorse’ but my team does not.”

Kennedy, meanwhile, acknowledged that he faces a difficult climb out of a 10-point deficit. “We’ve got to focus on us and kind of put the blinders on and know we’ve got to go win this weekend, to be honest,” said Kennedy, who is paired at GMS Racing, LLC, with crew chief Joey Cohen. “I think points is going to be difficult to do at this stage being 10 points out. The next guy that’s with us is Crafton and we all know how strong Crafton is here. We’re coming here to not only run good and get a couple points but to win.”

COUGHLIN SUBBING FOR INJURED TOWNLEY

Due to a non-racing-related injury to his left ankle, John Wes Townley will sit out Friday night’s Truck Series race at TMS and turn driving duties of the No. 05 Zaxby’s/JEGS Chevrolet over to Cody Coughlin.

“I want to wish John Wes a speedy recovery and hope he’s back at the track soon,” said Coughlin, who has nine Truck Series start this season, including a season-best 12th-place finish at Texas in June. “I’m honored that Athenian Motorsports thought of me to drive their truck this weekend. I like Texas a lot. I had a lot of speed when I ran the truck race there this summer. I feel like I can really get around that place and Athenian’s trucks are fast. I think that’s going to make for a good weekend for us.”

About the author

The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

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