Chase Elliott takes home the iconic Grandfather Clock trophy from Martinsville

The return of the Camping World Truck Series was absolutely outstanding. Racing in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway, the drivers showcased an epic display of aggression, speed and undisputed talent. With Martinsville Speedway being an iconic track with a unique and sought after trophy – everyone was jostling for that Stage 3 pole position in order to get their hands on the infamous Grandfather Clock.

Starting on the pole in Stage 1 was Chase Elliott – driver of the no.23 truck for GMS racing and Cup Series regular. His team mate in the no.21 truck was right behind him. The green flag signalled the start of the race and immediately there was some hustling and bustling and Elliott got a couple of bumps to his rear after turning down a little too soon. The no.88 truck of Crafton got around Sauter, and 18 year old driver of the no.18 truck, Bell, was in 4th. This set the trend for the race that was to come for Elliott, Sauter and Bell – who would all show some excellent driving as the race unravelled.

Chase ell

It was only a short stint for the drivers though, as the first caution of the day came out on lap 3 for the no.1 of Napier. Back to green on lap 9 and Elliott continued to lead over Sauter and Bell in 2nd and 3rd. Another driver who would also be worth keeping an eye on, was the no.29 on was Chase Briscoe who was holding onto that 5th spot. After just ten more laps, the yellow flag made a reappearance on lap 13 for the no.13 of Cody Coughlin and no.87 of Joe Nemechek. Coughlin got up into the corner too soon and into the left rear of Nemechek and span him out. He just couldn’t make the corner. We heard some encouragement being given to the 21-year-old Coughlin though when his crew chief said: “[that was] a little bit aggressive but you need to be doing that early on in the race.” It was great to hear that being said to the young man who’s still got a lot to learn.

Back to green on lap 17 and Elliott, Crafton and Sauter took the top positions. Further back in the field though, we saw some aggressive but superb driving by the no.99 of Ty Dillon and no.8 of JH Nemechek. Also giving it their all were the no.19 of Cindric and no.24 of Haley who were also seen to be racing hard as well. There was copious amounts of bumping and shoving as though they were in bumper cars and not 700 horsepower trucks. Needless to say, it was an excellent battle for 18th place.

With 32 laps to go in Stage 1, Sauter closed the 2 second gap by 1.5 seconds as Elliott was clearly having a problem with the lap traffic ahead. Sauter continued his attempt at coming in for the kill. Behind him was Bell, Peters, Enfinger, Briscoe, Dillon, Gragson and JH Nemechek. Aside from Elliott and Dillon, the top 10 totalled 8 Truck Series regular drivers who were all showing fantastic strength.

10 laps to go and Sauter was still right on Elliott’s tail. Sauter wanted this play off point that winning that stage would provide him with, as opposed to Cup Series team mate Elliott, who didn’t need it. That didn’t make any difference though, as the end of Stage 1 saw Elliott as the stage winner, with Sauter ever so close, but not close enough behind in 2nd.

After a pit stop, it was back to green on lap 82 and it was a nail biting restart as the trucks ran three wide at the front with everyone stacking up behind. There was some really close racing between Sauter and Bell which saw Sauter take first position with Elliott close behind and Bell in 3rd. Carrying on his earlier trend, Ty Dillon was still aggressive in 6th. He made some daring moves to try to get up into the top 5 on lap 15. The caution came out with 51 to go in the stage, when the no.16 of Ryan Truex span no.44 of Brandon Brown who was 22nd. It wasn’t Truex’s fault though, as it was Brown who tried to squeeze in, but Truex held his ground meaning that Brown basically span himself.

Back to green with 44 to go in the stage. Bell took the outside line and he didn’t get that start that he perhaps wanted. This allowed Sauter to take 1st with Bell and Elliott behind him. The trio’s battles were very close and only mimicked what the rest of the field was doing. Behind, Briscoe was doing plenty of shoving against 5th place Gragson in order to get his spot. This only led to the 5th Caution of the day with 40 to go in this stage. Gragson got span out because Briscoe got loose on the turn and ended up taking him for a spin. No damage was sustained as all fenders were intact and he was still rolling. By the skin of his teeth, Gragson continued to stay on lead lap. After a quick pit to check that all was okay, he was released. Over the radio we heard some good advice from Briscoe’s spotter: “Gotta be careful coming out the corner like that. You need to be on your toes.”

The restart came with 34 to go, and Sauter took the lead ahead of Bell and Elliott. Just outside the top 10, there was some crazy racing with the no.52 of Freisen, and the no.7 of Moffitt who were tapping each other and hustling for those places. Some laps later and there were problems for JH Nemechek. Some drivers pitted, including Bell and Elliott who used this opportunity for new tyres. JH Nemechek was out of the race.

With 18 to go in Stage two, the race restarted. Briscoe and Peters nearly span out but somehow managed to save it. By some miracle, Briscoe stayed in third. Hewasn’t left unscathed though, as a tyre rub was creating a lot of smoke. With 15 laps to go, he risked a blowout and was definitely playing with fire.

10 laps later, and another caution came out for the no. 66 of Chastain who got spun out by an irritated Elliott who wanted to get by. The stage ended under caution with Sauter as the winner. Behind him was Crafton, Briscoe, Peters, Enfinger, Haye, H Burton. After only two other truck races, this was Sauter’s 3rd stage win this season.

After the race off pit road, Sauter dropped down to 13th after pit road wasn’t open the first time round for him. Instead, Bell was first with Elliott and Moffitt behind for the restart. Different strategies had been played though, as the first seven trucks all had tyres with 18 laps already on them after the trip to pit lane under caution.

Restarting with 102 to go, the no.87 of Joe Nemechek – father of JH Nemechek – had managed to work his way up to 5th. Unfortunately for those who had pitted for fresh tyres, they all struggled to get through the traffic to work their way up to the front. Whilst the fight for first heated up, behind them, the battle for 19th  had reached boiling point. The caution came out once again when Briscoe, and the no.33 of Kaz Grala both got a little bit feisty. Briscoe span out and all we heard over the radio from his spotter was: “We will get the 33.”

Back to green with 85 to go and Bell kept 1st, Elliott 2nd and Moffitt was busy trying to keep Ty Dillon at bay as they squabbled for 3rd.  Meanwhile, Gragson had made his way back up to the front after his earlier issues and now sat in 4th. Behind, the battle for 12th was brutal as trucks were running three wide and sliding each other all over the place.

76 to go and the no.51 of Harrison Burton span around, bringing out another yellow flag. It was a typical Martinsville scramble. Restarting 8 laps later, Gragson showed an impressive run on his tyres that were fresher by 18 laps, and closed up the gap. Elliott’s impatience returned as he made a point of being right on Bell’s bumper and giving him a few taps as if to say “I’m coming through.” Elliott then got a taste of his own medicine from a predatory Gragson.

Continuing to leave paint on his bumper, Elliott was being incredibly hawkish to Bell as the top four were literally nose to tail with Bell, Elliott, Gragson and Sauter who had a tiny 0.79 second gap between 1st and 4th. Bell, however, was doing an amazing job of holding Elliott off. 22 laps later and they were still exchanging paint as a new obstacle and question presented itself – would lap traffic get in the way?

Meanwhile, Sauter was beginning to look impatient by getting close to Gragson. He had done so well at working his way back from mid-field to fourth in this race Gragson couldn’t exactly go anywhere, given that Elliott was right ahead. With circumstance soon answering the earlier question, we watched as the lap traffic allowed Bell to nearly create 0.5 second gap ahead of Elliott with 40 to go.

31-year-old Sauter was savage with 18-year-old Gragson and snatched 3rd from him with 37 to go. Over the radio, we heard Gragson’s spotter say: “Take it easy and let him go ahead.” It was important to acknowledge that Sauter is much more experienced. Letting him go was a wise move in order to keep the peace and save from wrecking or flaring tempers up. Just outside the top 10, Briscoe and Grala battled for 12th and were still nudging each other with Grala on Briscoe’s bumper.  For Briscoe’s first trip to Martinsville, he was doing astonishingly well given that throughout the race he’d gone sideways, been spun around and raced at both the front and the back.

With brake temperatures increasing, tyre pressures going out, and track becoming blacker with rubber – the race was entering a whole new phase as the urgency stepped up a few notches with 26 to go. Bell was still leading over Elliott and Sauter was right behind Elliott. It was their turn to battle with one another. They might have been on the same team but their certainly had different agendas, and Sauter really wanted that 2nd spot.

With just 17 laps left, another caution came out when Cindric and no.63 of Donahue – who were the last cars on lead lap and didn’t want to go a lap down – blocked the road for Bell, causing him to get into Cindric and spin him out. Bell lost 1st after his momentum was interrupted. Elliott and Sauter would now be ahead of him for the restart with 12 to go. Sauter tried to get on the outside of Elliott and unfortunately for him, it didn’t work as Elliott shot ahead.

From 8th position backwards, it was all bunched up and skewwhiff. We saw everything from contact, to daring three-wide racing, notably from Crafton and Truex who were both trying to get within that top 10 for precious points. With just 6 to go, Elliott lead by over 1 second. Team mates Bell and Gragson were close together in 3rd and 4th whilst Ty Dillon was waiting to pounce in 5th.

With 1 lap to go, Briscoe got into the Coughlin and span him out. The pair were racing for 11th. At the top, we saw the first few make their way over the line in the form of a victorious Elliott, followed by Sauter, Bell, Gragson, Dillon, Moffitt Chastain, Peters, Crafton and Truex. It was a happy day for Chase Elliott who would take home a Grandfather Clock trophy from this truck race in Martinsville.

Speaking to NASCAR after the race, Elliott had this to say: “It was fun today. I had some help there with Bell’s misfortune. I was trying all I could to get by him. He was doing a really good job of maintaining my bumper, a good job with me hitting him … His bumper was getting progressively bluer (Elliott’s car colour) as the day went. It was a hard-fought battle, for sure.”

Elliott then went on to perform well in the Cup Series race on Sunday but he didn’t manage the clean sweep. From the Truck race though, the drivers were absolutely phenomenal, and showed that a gap in the schedule definitely wasn’t enough to slow them down or soften the racing. Expect great things from these Truck Series regular drivers, and especially keep an eye on those young guns who are already glowing with potential.

Start the discussion

to comment