Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway was a thrilling show that sent the eight driver NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff field. The race was won by Johnny Sauter as he heads into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed after securing his fifth victory of the season.
Here are my five takeaways from Thursday’s race.
Playoffs Set As Sauter Ends The Regular Season How He Started It
Johnny Sauter won the season opening Truck Series race at Daytona back in February. On Thursday night, he ended the regular season how he started it, in victory lane. Sauter, passed John Hunter Nemechek with five laps-to-go and never looked back en route to his 22nd career Truck Series win, tying him with Todd Bodine for fifth all-time.
He also was given 15 additional playoff points tonight as well as he ended the regular season as the points leader. That nets you crucial bonus points and a new shiny trophy.
Sauter, leads Brett Moffitt by 15 points heading to Race 1 of Round 1 next weekend in COTA. The other six drivers are Noah Gragson (-20), Ben Rhodes (-28), Stewart Friesen (-30), Grant Enfinger (-31), Justin Haley (-33) and Matt Crafton (-39).
Crafton Gets Final Playoff Spot As His Main Challengers Struggle
Thursday night was the 16th and final race of the 2018 regular season. That meant that the eight driver playoff field would be set upon the completion of the UNOH 200.
Heading into this weeks race, five drivers had automatically stamped their names into the playoffs. There were three spots available for seven drivers. If one of the drivers outside of the top eight would have won on Thursday night, then they’d have knocked Matt Crafton out.
The two time Truck Series champion entered the race with a big enough advantage that he could points his way into the playoffs. But, if Todd Gilliland, Myatt Snider, Dalton Sargeant or someone else outside of the top nine in the standings won, well they’d be in and Crafton out.
Instead, those drivers had issues as Crafton brought his No. 88 Ford home in eighth. Sauter was victorious for the fifth time of the season which allowed Sauter to clinch the top seed and get an additional 15 playoff points and Crafton to sneak his way in after all.
Todd Gilliland had a fast truck but he was involved in an incident on Lap 67 with Jesse Little. Gilliland, had to pit for repairs on his No. 4 Toyota and he’d fall a lap down as a result. Luckily, he’d get his lap back but he’d never have enough time to make up for the ground that he lost.
Gilliland, finished fifth for his third straight top seven finish on the season and fourth over the last five races.
Snider had a good truck but he was involved in a crash on Lap 110 and brought out the fifth and final caution of the night. He’d finish 29th.
Sargeant was never really a factor and came home 11th.
That allowed Crafton to ease his way in as despite not winning a race in his last 27 starts (July 19, 2017 at Eldora) he’s into the postseason.
Heartbreak For Nemechek
It was another heartbreaking defeat for John Hunter Nemechek in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. A month in-a-half ago, the second generation driver was a lap away from winning the race at the Chicagoland Speedway. Instead, he had a malfunction on the final lap which gifted the win to Brett Moffitt.
On Thursday night at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway, Nemechek was five laps away from winning for his first time on the high banked concrete oval. Unfortunately, he had another issue in the end and was forced to a third place finish in his No. 8 Chevrolet.
Nemechek, won the first two stages of Thursday’s UNOH 200 and led a race high 104 of 200 laps. He was able to use lapped traffic to his advantage on Lap 176 and passed Johnny Sauter for the top spot. He had set his sails for the win and was well on his way in doing so. Instead, lapped traffic in turn slowed him up and an issue occurred which allowed Sauter to chase him down and pass him with five laps-to-go.
Chevy had a stellar night in taking the top four finishing positions and five of the top six. Sauter, Stewart Friesen (2nd), Nemechek (3rd), Parker Kligerman (4th) and Justin Haley (6th) all represented the bowties well.
Plus, Nemechek and Sauter combined to lead 162 of 200 laps for Chevy on Thursday night.
End Of Race Troubles, Quick Race Overall
Thursday night’s race was only slowed by five total cautions for 38 laps. That allowed the UNOH 200 to run from green flag to checkered flag in a total time of 1-hour, 16-minutes and 57-seconds. It was one of the quicker races of all-time.
That’s why there was no margin for error in the race itself.
In the end, Nemechek had an issue in the closing laps as did Christopher Bell (power steering went out) and Brett Moffitt (flat tire). All three were destined for top five finishes. Instead, two of which fell multiple laps down.