AVONDALE, Ariz. — Though Kyle Busch Motorsports dominated the proceedings Friday night at Phoenix Raceway, it was defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter who survived the chaos and made a statement at the end of the Lucas Oil 150.
Sauter inherited the race lead after teammates Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson crashed coming to seven to go while racing for the win, then powered away from John Hunter Nemechek on a green-white-checkered restart to score his second-straight series win and cement his status as the title favorite heading into the final race of the year.
For the Wisconsin veteran, it was his career-high fourth win of the season and the 17th of his Truck Series career.
“What a great group of guys, and what a race,” said Sauter. “This is the best group of people I’ve ever been around. We didn’t have the best truck, but we had a really good truck on long runs and obviously the two KBM trucks took care of each other. This is just a great night. I’m proud of (crew chief) Joe (Shear Jr.) and everybody.”
Sauter admitted that after all the red flag time in the closing laps, the fact that Nemechek had slightly fresher tires was a bit of a concern.
“I was really worried at the end there with those red flags, because my stuff took a while to get going … but I was able to figure something out there. (Ron) Hornaday’s been wearing me out about not getting good enough restarts, so I’ve been working on it. … He had fresher tires too, so I was pretty well aware of all of that, but I knew once I got clean air that if I could just get a decent turn one and get a good launch off that corner, we were going to be in good shape.”
Up to the point that Bell pitted for right side damage repairs after crashing with Gragson, the two had combined to lead the first 145 laps.
A race that was clean through the first two stages turned dramatic on the drop of a hat, with three massive incidents forcing red flag periods inside the final 25 circuits.
The carnage was set up by a slowing Josh Reaume with 29 to go, and when the green flag flew eight laps later an incident occurred that ultimately decided the Championship 4.
Ben Rhodes and Austin Cindric — who pitted under the Reaume caution and took two fresh right-side tires each — restarted nose-to-tail, with Cindric getting a run on Rhodes heading down the frontstretch towards turn one.
As Rhodes came down to block Cindric’s momentum, the pair made contact and Rhodes went spinning into the inside wall, ultimately bouncing back up the track at the entrance to turn one and collecting his ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton in the aftermath.
The crash damage eliminated Rhodes from championship contention, with Cindric able to continue and score enough points to stay ahead of the cut line after entering the night with a five-point cushion over Rhodes.
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