AVONDALE, Ariz. — In an instant, Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Phoenix Int’l Raceway flipped from being a surefire win for William Byron to a stunning upset by his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Daniel Suarez.
Byron had the best truck all night at the one-mile desert oval, leading a combined 112 of 150 laps, but lost the motor in his No. 9 Liberty University Toyota with 12 laps to go in the nighttime thriller and Chase cutoff race that determined the four drivers who will race for a championship in next weekend’s Homestead-Miami finale.
As a result, Suarez inherited the lead just before the caution flag flew on lap 141 for Byron’s stricken and limping truck, setting up a late-race restart in which the native of Mexico and full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series regular was left to deal with Johnny Sauter, who had swept the previous two Round of 6 races at Martinsville and Texas in the previous two weeks.
That was of no consequence to Suarez, however, who held Sauter at bay over a four-lap dash to the checkered flag to come away as the surprise winner of the Lucas Oil 150.
The win was Suarez’s first-career victory in the Truck Series after four previous runner-up finishes, and also clinched Toyota’s ninth NCWTS manufacturer’s championship.
“I guess it was about time to get a little bit of luck,” said Suarez. “We’ve had a lot of second-place finishes but this team has worked very hard. What a way to clinch Toyota’s manufacturer’s championship, with this victory. I’m proud of my team, proud of this truck and proud to be standing here right now.”
Suarez’s jubilation came at Byron’s expense, with the No. 51 ARRIS Toyota sitting second to the team truck and season wins leader for most of the night.
“I didn’t have any idea about the 9 (Byron). I actually feel very bad for Byron because he definitely had the best truck out there. He was doing an amazing job. He was running a perfect race. Things like this happen in racing. I do feel bad for him, but I’m glad at the end of the day that this team was finally able to score a win.”
While Suarez celebrated in victory lane, Matt Crafton, Timothy Peters and Christopher Bell joined Sauter as the final three drivers to secure Championship 4 berths in the finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18.
Sauter was the race runner-up, but he was already locked in to the Championship 4 after his two prior wins in the Round of 6.
“It’s a bummer for the 9 (Byron), he’s a good kid and deserved to race for a championship,” Sauter said. “I’m just proud of everybody on this GMS Racing team. I can’t wait to get to Homestead and see what happens. We’ve got a shot. That’s all you can ask for.”
Crafton finished third, Peters was fifth and Bell ended the night seventh, but all three drivers scored enough points to advance through the final elimination checkpoint of the inaugural Truck Series Chase.
At one point inside of 15 laps to go, just before Byron’s issues, the trio was locked in a three-way tie for the final two Chase spots.
For much of the race’s second half, Crafton was on the outside looking in, but rallied back over the final 50 laps to secure a chance at his third series title next Friday.
“I don’t have any pressure. I’ve won a couple of them and it feels good to just to go there knowing we have a shot at it,” Crafton said. “We’re taking off the gloves, I can promise you that.”
Peters was the defending Phoenix winner, but said that his night was far from calm.
“It was a little stressful, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Peters admitted. “We’re going to race for a championship at Homestead, though, and I can’t wait for that. I’m proud of this team and excited to go after the prize next week.”
Bell’s championship berth came at the expense of his teammate. When Byron’s motor went south, Bell moved into the fourth and final transfer position.
“Some days it’s not your day, but today was definitely our day,” said Bell. “I hate it for William because he obviously was one of the trucks that deserved to be at Homestead (racing for the championship), but the way the format works out it just didn’t work out for them.”
Byron’s motor issue dropped him to fifth in points and eliminated him from championship contention. Ben Kennedy was also eliminated after finishing ninth in the race, having entered Friday’s race in a virtual must-win situation.
A total of nine cautions slowed the race for 49 laps. There were five lead changes between three different drivers.
Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman contributed to this story.