By: Madelyn Hipp
For the second time this season, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series took to the dirt track, this time at Knoxville Raceway. The day’s festivities began with question marks looming over the track because of heavy rainfall that had occurred the day before. It was questionable whether or not the race would start on time, but officials and track employees were able to get the green flag waving right on time.
The race began with practice on Thursday night since this was the first time the series had run at this track. The 18 of Chandler Smith led the way, posting a 22.203 time on his 63rd lap. The rest of the top five included the 88 of Matt Crafton, the 19 of Derek Kraus, the 17 of veteran Donny Schatz, and the 1 of Hailie Deegan. Some other notable names in the field included Chase Briscoe who ran at 13th, rookie Carson Hocevar at 14th, four-time winner John Hunter Nemecheck at 20th, and Devon Rouse who ran 35th in his practice debut. Nemecheck led the field in ten-lap average, posting a 78.185 mph speed from lap 47 to 56. Near the end of practice, however, he slid into the wall and suffered heavy damage to his Kyle Busch Motorsports Tundra. He would be sent to the rear for the feature race for using a backup truck.
The weekend continued with a four-heat qualifying on Friday evening. Each heat consisted of ten randomly drawn drivers and lasted fifteen laps each. Heat one was headlined by Xfinity part-timer Josh Berry in the 25, Devon Rouse in his debut in the 33, practice leader Chandler Smith in the 18, and Hailie Deegan in the 1 among others. Berry took the checkered flag in first position, followed by Parker Price-Miller and Hailie Deegan. Heat two saw big names in last year’s Rookie of the Year Zane Smith in the 21, veteran Ben Rhodes in the 99, and recent winner Todd Gilliland in the 38 face off against each other and seven others. Dirt veteran Kyle Strickler crossed the finish line in first place, followed by Zane Smith and Matt Crafton. Heat three saw the season points leader John Hunter Nemecheck in the 4 face off against the 19 of Derek Kraus, the 24 of part-timer Jack Wood, and others. Tyler Ankrum took this heat, ahead of Derek Kraus and Brian Brown. The final heat was headlined by the 2020 champion Sheldon Creed, and other big names such as the 04 of Cup regular Chase Briscoe, the 42 of Carson Hocevar, and the 16 of Austin Hill. Hocevar took the victory in this heat, right ahead of Chase Briscoe and Brett Moffitt. The starting lineup for the feature race was determined by ending position in each heat as well as points for passing. Derek Kraus started on the pole while big names such as John Hunter Nemecheck and Grant Enfinger found themselves in the middle to the end of the pack.
The feature race started around 9 p.m. on Friday night, with Derek Kraus and Tyler Ankrum on the front row. On Lap 3, the 13 of Johnny Sauter took the lead from Kraus. By Lap 11, the 42 of Hocevar passed Sauter who was spun by the 04 of Briscoe just four laps later, creating a caution. Shortly after the restart, the 38 of Gilliland passed Hocevar for his first lead of the day. After another caution for damage to the 51 of Brian Brown and the 23 of Chase Purdy, the 19 of Kraus was able to get the lead back on the restart. The stage ended under caution after the 62 of Jessica Friesen spun, making Kraus the stage winner.
After red flag pit stops in between stages, the 17 of Donny Schatz led the field to green. He was quickly passed by Gilliland who again led the field to green after a caution from another spin by Jessica Friesen. On Lap 87, Kraus once again took the lead from Gilliland, and took the stage win after Brown spun out, ending the stage in a caution once again.
After another round of red flag pit stops, the 18 of Chandler Smith led the field to green to begin stage three. Just one lap in, the 3 of Parker Price-Miller brought out the caution after some contact with Jack Wood. Carson Hocevar once again found himself out front at the restart, but was passed by Chandler Smith one lap later. On Lap 105, Kraus suffered a flat tire after contact with the 99 of Johnny Sauter who got some damage to his bumper. He was black flagged on Lap 114. Three laps after the restart, the 52 of Stewart Friesen was spun by the 22 of Austin Wayne Self, bringing out another caution. Chandler Smith was in the lead for this restart, making it nine laps before the 02 of Chris Windom brought out another caution for contact with the wall. The 18 was once again in the lead for only two laps before contact between the 98 of Enfinger and the 37 of Brett Moffitt brought out yet another caution. For the first overtime, Chandler Smith was still in the lead. On Lap 153, the 34 of Jake Griffin spun, taking out 13 other trucks in the process and bringing out the yellow. With the 18 still in the lead on the restart, Wayne Self and Strickler got into the wall, causing another overtime. Smith led the field to green yet again before the final overtime was called after Sauter, Stewart Friesen, and Danny Bohn got into a wreck. This time, it was the 16 of Austin Hill out front who took the victory after 14 cautions. Some other notable finishes included Hocevar in 16th after being wrecked on the last lap, and the 33 of Devon Rouse who made it through the carnage to finish 18th in his truck debut. With his 11th place finish, John Hunter Nemecheck was able to clinch the regular season championship with one race to go. Zane Smith and Matt Crafton also found themselves locked into the playoffs with 14th and 6th place finishes respectively. The next race is the regular season finale, and will be on August 7th at Watkins Glen.
Featured image from @NASCAR_Trucks on Twitter.