MADISON, Ill. — Report by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Jeff Curry/Getty Images photo —
For Cole Custer, he has been on the cusp of victory lane this season in both the ARCA and Camping World Truck Series. When the smoke cleared (literally) during Saturday night’s Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park, the 17-year-old driver avoided trouble to score his first Truck Series win on the 2015 season.
“We didn’t have the best truck, but we ran a great race,” Custer said on his post-race interview for FOX Sports 1. “The team already won a race this year with Kasey [Kahne]. He drove the wheels off that one at Charlotte. I always knew we had the trucks capable of winning. We just had to put everything together for a race.”
Custer re-started second alongside Tyler Reddick, as the No. 19 didn’t get going to allow the No. 00 to take full control of the lead and pull away by .871 seconds from second-place finisher Spencer Gallagher.
“I think we were a little better than the 19,” Custer said. “We struggled a little bit all day, but I don’t know. I’m just tired.”
It appeared to be a two-horse race for the longest time between defending series champion Matt Crafton and Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Erik Jones. The two swapped the lead all night and at one point, the two gapped third-place by 10 seconds. Jones began to reel in Crafton late in the race before his hopes of winning his first race of the season when up in smoke.
Jones tried to maneuver his way around the lapped truck of Ryan Ellis, but in the process lost control of his No. 4 truck and lost the battery out of his machine the next lap. He never recovered and came home in 23rd place, registering his first did-not-finish (DNF) of the season.
With his closest competitor on the night now behind the wall, Crafton needed to get a good restart with — laps to go. The inside lane ganged up on him, as John Hunter Nemechek pushed Tyler Reddick passed the No. 88 for the lead.
Nemechek tried to go for second under Crafton until he got loose and pushed up into the two-time defending series champ, ending any chance for Crafton to win back-to-back races for the first time in his series career.
“I accidentally got up into him,” Nemechek said. “I apologize to Matt Crafton. It got a little bit free and corrected and I got into him.”
That caution set up the final restart, with Dover winner Reddick in the lead. He struggled on an earlier restart, stacking up the field behind him, but everyone made it through cleanly.
Gallagher made his way to second-place and held off a hard-charging Johnny Sauter to record his best-career series finish.
“That was as much as a ride as it looked,” Gallagher said. “I appreciate the 98 letting us make it through that last corner. Started out a little further back then we’d like to today, but kept working on this Allegiant Travel Chevy. My GMS guys got me the right track position, got me in the right place to make the right move.”
The No. 23 team took two tires on the final pit stop to gain track position and amidst all of the cautions, Gallagher fought back to the same spot he was on a lap — restart.
With Crafton’s misfortune, ThorSport Racing still grabbed two top-five finishes on the night. Johnny Sauter finished third, while Cameron Hayley tied a series-best finish with a fifth-place showing.
Despite Reddick’s issues, he finished eighth and cut Crafton’s point lead in half. His teammate, Austin Theriault, placed 10th in the final rundown for his third top-10 finish of the season in four starts.
Ben Kennedy had a quiet night in seventh and right behind his Red Horse Racing teammate Timothy Peters, who finished sixth.
The win for Custer is the second on the year for JR Motorsports when Kasey Kahne edged out Erik Jones by .005 seconds in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Like 2014 Gateway race winner Darrell Wallace Jr., Custer also started from the second spot.
Staying on the subject Iowa, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series makes their annual stop at the .875 mile track Friday night for the American Ethanol 200. Erik Jones is the defending winner of the race.
RESULTS: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series; Drivin’ f0r Linemen 200; Gateway Motorsports Park; June 13, 2015
1. Cole Custer
2. Spencer Gallagher
3. Johnny Sauter
4. John Hunter Nemechek
5. Cameron Hayley
6. Timothy Peters
7. Ben Kennedy
8. Tyler Reddick
9. Daniel Hemric
10. Austin Theriault
11. John Wes Townley
12. Brandon Jones
13. Ray Black Jr.
14. Travis Kvapil
15. Tyler Young
16. Tyler Tanner
17. Ryan Ellis
18. Timmy Hill
19. Jordan Anderson
20. Jennifer Jo Cobb
21. Matt Crafton
22. Korbin Forrister
23. Erik Jones
24. Tommy Regan
25. Matt Tifft
26. Norm Benning
27. Justin Boston
28. Mason Mingus
29. Justin Jennings
30. Michael Affarano
31. Adam Edwards
32. Joey Gattina