For the first time in series history, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series took on the left and right turns of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
For many drivers, it was their first time racing at this track.
“It seems like a short track, but it’s a road course,” first-timer Carson Hocevar told me prior to the start of Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 150. “It’s just so quick, you know, it feels like you’re done with a lap pretty fast compared to other road courses. You’re always doing something here, you’re never relaxed and calm.”
For others, the track is a familiar location. Kaz Grala recently ran a Trans-Am race at Mid-Ohio where he earned the pole in qualifying, and finished 14th with a mechanical failure.
“I’ve been here before that once in Xfinity so it was a good warm-up,” said Grala of his experience at Mid-Ohio. “I think it helped me.”
Does that intimidate any of the drivers with less experience here? Not Ben Rhodes of the hometown ThorSport Racing team.
Rhodes, who had raced here only once in 2015 in the Xfinity Series, said “I know those guys have a lot of experience, and I know that they’re gonna be really good drivers today, but there’s so many other variables that come into play like equipment, the team, and the handling of the truck itself. You can only go as fast as your truck will let you, it’s a whole team effort.”
While many had not been to this track before the weekend, some got their first taste of it Friday night by running in the ARCA Menards Race. However, the track was soaked on Friday and bone dry on Saturday. On top of running two completely different vehicles, those who participated knew that the weather would be a huge factor over the weekend.
When asked how running Friday’s race helped him prepare for Saturday, John Hunter Nemechek told me, “I think just racing here [helped], turning laps, gaining more experience and knowledge about the racetrack, finding which sections you can gain speed and pass in. Just trying to compile as many notes as possible for today and learning.”
Similarly, Blaine Perkins noted how different it was to race in the rain on Friday and sun on Saturday.
“I think it definitely helped. I’ve never been here before so it helped me get used to the track, but I wish it would’ve been dry. It was my first time in the rain in a stock car so it was a lot of fun.”
The rain also became an issue during practice and qualifying for the field, as practice was dry and qualifying was called early due to rain.
“Practice helped since it was race conditions so it was easy to learn and compare it to how the race is gonna be,” Dean Thompson said of Friday’s racing. “Qualifying was wet, but it’s an experience to race in the rain and figure it out. It’s track time so it all helped.”
It was the 38 of points leader Zane Smith on the top of the board in practice with the 99 of Ben Rhodes just a tenth behind. Part-timer Parker Kligerman in the 75 took third while the 23 of Grant Enfinger and 16 of Tyler Ankrum rounded out the top-five.
Qualifying was a much different story as the final round was canceled due to the rain. The 51 of Corey Heim took the top spot after the first round, putting him on the pole for Saturday’s race. Kligerman continued his successful weekend with a front row start as the 42 of Carson Hocevar, 4 of John Hunter Nemechek, and 88 of Matt Crafton started behind.
On Saturday, it was all sun as the 36 truck field prepared for 65 laps around Mid-Ohio. While some saw the weather and experience as an advantage, others weren’t worried.
“Now that everybody is warmed up and in [road course] mode, I think that advantage is going to dwindle today.” said Kaz Grala prior to climbing into his 02 Chevy.
With Heim and Kligerman on the front row, the green flag was dropped at 1:30 p.m. On lap four, Kligerman got around Heim to take the lead in his 75 Food Country USA Chevy. Four laps later, the day’s first caution was brought out by the 46 of Mason Filippi who was stopped on track and 45 of Lawless Alan who got off track.
Only the 17 of Taylor Gray came to pit road for adjustments while all others stayed out. The restart saw Kligerman and Heim on the front row again with Kligerman taking the early lead. At lap 13, the 25 of Matt DiBenedetto slowed on the track with mechanical troubles, but was able to restart and continue the race.
Four laps later, another caution came out for the 20 of Trey Burke who was stopped on track. It was then a one-lap shootout to the finish of stage one with Kligerman leading that entire lap. At the stage break, every car came to pit road for a three-minute stop to change tires, add fuel, and make adjustments.
“Without the normal pit stops,” added Grala, “you’ve got an opportunity to make bigger changes than you typically would. Normally if you wanted to do spring rubber adjustments, major swings, or shock adjustments in a normal pit stop, you’d end up falling to last place, but this weekend we can do it for free.”
For the stage two start, it was Kligerman up front with the 38 of Zane Smith by his side. As Kligerman held the lead, the 99 of Rhodes was still on pit road for fuel cell issues, and was penalized for speeding on exit. The 4 of John Hunter Nemechek also began to have issues on track as he started smoking and went to the garage for repairs.
With one lap to go in stage two, Smith was able to pass Kligerman for the lead and earn the stage victory. With no issues in the stage break pit stops, the front row remained the same for the final scheduled restart. The carnage began in stage three, starting with the 41 of Justin Marks spinning from 13th position on lap 46.
One lap later, the 7 of Dylan Lupton backed into the tire barrier in turn seven, but the race stayed green. On the next lap, the 16 of Tyler Ankrum had trouble as he suffered from a flat right rear tire.
The caution did not come out again until lap 51 when Justin Marks took another spin, this time hard into the tire barrier in turn four. After Marks exited the car and it was removed from the track, Kligerman and Smith once again led the field to green. That was for one lap before the 22 of Austin Wayne Self spun, causing a wreck between himself, the 9 of Blaine Perkins, 24 of Jack Wood, and 56 of Timmy Hill.
After another restart, the 42 of Carson Hocevar shortly climbed up to second before falling back to fourth. Behind him, the 61 of Chase Purdy ran off track, but was able to get going to avoid a caution. That was until the 51 of Corey Heim stopped on track and brought out the yellow.
At the final restart, it was Smith on the outside and Kligerman on the inside for the last battle. Kligerman took the lead in turn four and was able to hold on for his first NASCAR victory since 2017. Further back in the field, the 88 of Matt Crafton and 44 of Kris Wright got together and spun, but crossed the line 18th and 25th, respectively.
The rest of the top-five was filled out by the 38 of Smith, 42 of Carson Hocevar, 52 of Stewart Friesen, and 98 of Christian Eckes. Kligerman also received a $50,000 bonus as this round’s winner of the Triple Truck Challenge.
The Camping World Truck Series will hit the track next at Pocono Raceway on July 23rd.
Featured photo from @NASCAR_Trucks on Twitter.