Crafton ends drought, captures Eldora Dirt Derby victory
(By NASCAR Wire Service)
ROSSBURG, Ohio – Using a late-race restart 18 laps from the finish and a strategy to ‘go where the others aren’t,’ Matt Crafton muscled past veteran dirt racer Stewart Friesen to win Wednesday night’s fifth annual Eldora Dirt Derby 150 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.
Over the last 40 laps of the race, Crafton patiently worked his way from the bottom of the top 10 and took advantage of a Lap 127 caution to position himself to challenge a dominant Friesen for his first win since a victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway last May.
“My first dirt win — a lot of fun,” said Crafton, who picked up his 14th career win. “In the second part of that race we downright just stunk. It was my fault. We over-tightened it a little bit in the first run. It got free and we just went back to the way we started the race.
“I knew I was getting beat down low. Finally, at the end, I said, ‘Well, we may have to tear the right side off to get the win.’ I started doing it and this truck became a rocket ship.”
Friesen finished second to earn his career-best finish in the Truck Series.
“Congrats to Matt, he’s been doing his homework on the dirt and it paid off,” said Friesen, who led a race-high 93 laps.
“We didn’t come here to run second that’s for damn sure, but I’m proud of these guys. They worked hard to get this truck dialed in. We had a great truck, he (Crafton) just got rolling on the top, it cleaned up, I was so committed to the bottom and go there in the middle and he just found a line and got us. It burns.”
Pole-sitter Friesen led his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series laps and extended his lead to nearly two seconds when a multi-truck accident ignited in Turn 3 on Lap 19 after Sheldon Creed spun and collected at least six other trucks in the process.
With a competition caution set at Lap 20 to allow teams to clean their windshields and grilles of the mud and dirt sprayed during the first run, NASCAR utilized the second yellow flag of the night to serve as the competition caution.
On the Lap 33 restart, Friesen found himself under attack from two-time series champion Crafton, who swiped the lead away on Lap 34 and held it through the conclusion of Stage 1, which ended under caution after pre-race favorite Christopher Bell spun and was T-boned by Kaz Grala.
The start of Stage 2 saw the lead exchange twice in a period of three laps as Friesen grabbed the lead back from Crafton only to be passed by John Hunter Nemechek two laps later. Friesen, however, proved that he had one of the strongest trucks in the field by re-assuming the lead on Lap 53 and collecting the Stage 2 victory.
Under yellow for the Stage 2 break, Friesen’s spotter noticed that he had a right-front tire going down forcing the No. 52 Halmar International Chevrolet down pit road for four tires and fuel. The unexpected stop handed the lead to 2015 Eldora winner Bell for the Lap 93 restart.
Restarting sixth, Friesen stormed back though the field and eventually caught the heavily damaged truck of Bell on Lap 115 to re-assume command at the front.
When it seemed that Friesen was settling into his comfort zone and potentially sailing toward his first career victory, Crafton, using a quicker top lane, overpowered him on Lap 133, with the pass setting the tone for the final lead change of the night.
Behind Crafton and Friesen, Chase Briscoe in a backup truck finished third ahead of Grant Enfinger and John Hunter Nemechek. Late-model dirt specialist Bobby Pierce finished sixth while Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Bell and Austin Cindric comprised the remainder of the top 10.
Event Box Score
Heat 1 – (10 Laps)
1. 52-Stewart Friesen ; 2. 8-John Hunter Nemechek ; 3. 98-Grant Enfinger ; 4. 45-Jeffrey Abbey ; 5. 80-Justin Shipley ; 6. 63-Bobby Pierce ; 7. 6-Norm Benning
Heat 2 – (10 Laps)
1. 88-Matt Crafton ; 2. 27-Ben Rhodes ; 3. 29-Chase Briscoe ; 4. 19-Austin Cindric ; 5. 02-Max Johnston ; 6. 13-Cody Coughlin ; 7. 49-Wendell Chavous
Heat 3 – (10 Laps)
1. 33-Kaz Grala ; 2. 16-Ryan Truex ; 3. 24-Justin Haley ; 4. 83-JJ Yeley ; 5. 51-Harrison Burton ; 6. 10-Ray Ciccarelli ; 7. 57-Tommy Regan
Heat 4 – (10 Laps)
1. 4-Christopher Bell ; 2. 75-Caleb Holman ; 3. 21-Johnny Sauter ; 4. 20-Sheldon Creed ; 5. 66-Ken Schrader ; 6. 0-Korbin Forrister ; 7. 44-JR Heffner
Heat 5 – (10 Laps)
1. 99-Ty Dillon ; 2. 18-Noah Gragson ; 3. 89-Rico Abreu ; 4. 36-Chris Windom ; 5. 1-Brandon Hightower ; 6. 50-Josh Reaume
Last Chance Qualifer – (15 Laps)
1. 63-Bobby Pierce ; 2. 13-Cody Coughlin ; 3. 49-Wendell Chavous ; 4. 0-Korbin Forrister ; 5. 6-Norm Benning ; 6. 50-Josh Reaume ; 7. 10-Ray Ciccarelli ; 8. 57-Tommy Regan
Eldora Dirt Derby – (150 Laps)
1. 88-Matt Crafton ; 2. 52-Stewart Friesen ; 3. 29-Chase Briscoe ; 4. 98-Grant Enfinger ; 5. 8-John Hunter Nemechek ; 6. 63-Bobby Pierce ; 7. 18-Noah Gragson ; 8. 24-Justin Haley ; 9. 4-Christopher Bell ; 10. 19-Austin Cindric ; 11. 13-Cody Coughlin ; 12. 99-Ty Dillon ; 13. 6-Norm Benning ; 14. 45-Jeffrey Abbey ; 15. 51-Harrison Burton ; 16. 49-Wendell Chavous ; 17. 66-Ken Schrader ; 18. 50-Josh Reaume ; 19. 36-Chris Windom ; 20. 16-Ryan Truex ; 21. 83-JJ Yeley ; 22. 10-Ray Ciccarelli ; 23. 21-Johnny Sauter ; 24. 1-Brandon Hightower ; 25. 80-Justin Shipley ; 26. 89-Rico Abreu ; 27. 20-Sheldon Creed ; 28. 0-Korbin Forrister ; 29. 02-Max Johnston ; 30. 27-Ben Rhodes ; 31. 33-Kaz Grala ; 32. 75-Caleb Holman
Relive some of the Eldora Dirt Derby by scrolling through a collection of tweets that came across our timeline. (Tweets below in no particular order – click the load more button at bottom of list to see full collection).
Dirt Derby – Curated tweets by EldoraSpeedway
The Kid’s Alright: Billy Whittaker Wins All-Star Showdown at Eldora
(via DIRTcar PR)
ROSSBURG, OH – July 19, 2017 – Billy Whittaker started on the pole and drove the cushion to perfection on his way to victory in the Super DIRTcar Series All-Star Showdown at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday night. While it was a non-points race, it was Whittaker’s first Feature win of any kind with the Series. The Central Square, NY drive was ecstatic in Victory Lane following the race.
“Tony Stewart’s done a heckuva job with this place,” Whittaker said. “I’ve never been here, so for me to roll off with this car and this team, you know I do this part-time, so this is as cool as it gets. Look at this place. All the way around, there’s fans everywhere.”
Whittaker finished seventh in his heat, but earned the pole for the 20-lap Feature via a 14-car inversion draw. The track position proved the deciding factor for Whittaker as he jumped out to a convincing early lead.
Rookie pilot Brandon Walters jumped ahead to second off the initial green flag from the third starting position, but was quickly under pressure from Hearn who challenged for the runner-up spot on lap four. Hearn took the spot in turn two and brought Decker with him to shuffle Walters back to fourth.
By lap five Whittaker had built a straightaway lead over Hearn, but wasn’t hustling the car any harder than usual, he said.
“I found a pretty good line right away and I was just driving around, honestly,” he said. “It was good. I didn’t see anybody. I didn’t hear anybody. I watched (flagman Dave Farney) for some signs and nobody was on me so I was just cruising.”
With eight laps to go, the Hearn-Decker tandem began to eat away at Whittaker’s lead. Whittaker ran against the cushion, which was planted on the outside retaining wall, early on, but dropped to the bottom in turns one and two as the race wore on.
“Early there was a little more bite (up top) and I saw it get blacker and blacker, but in one and two there was still a patch of bite in the middle,” Whittaker said. “If I could roll into it on the throttle, I could hit and then get off. I didn’t slide at all. Three and four you kind of slid into the cushion and drove off. Sometimes I did that perfectly and sometimes I didn’t. I was very fortunate to be out front and have some fun.”
Hearn was searching for the fastest lane to gain on Whittaker and tried several options with Decker in tow.
“I was searching and searching and I found some really good stuff that was working,” Hearn explained. “At one point, I started to really reel him in pretty quick, but with five to go I searched a little bit more and it kind of evened out for a couple of laps. I thought at one point I was going to get a shot at him, but it didn’t work out.”
Hearn tried to search for a better lane one final time with two laps to go. That move allowed Decker to show the nose under the No.20 and forced Hearn to be conservative. It proved the difference as Whittaker held on to claim the checker 1.033 seconds ahead of Hearn. When he saw the checkered flag, Whittaker couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I didn’t know how many laps were left, so the last three or four I started tightening up, going ‘where is everybody?” he explained. “When I saw the double checkered I thought ‘I’ll go one more lap just to make sure’. There it was, but I couldn’t believe it.”
Decker raced on Hearn’s rear bumper to a third-place finish after winning Tuesday’s full points event. Max McLaughlin and Mat Williamson rounded out the top-five.
The victory almost didn’t happen for Whittaker, who admitted he was hesitant to make the long haul from Central New York to the Rossburg, Ohio half-mile. The win certainly made the trip worthwhile and when Whittaker celebrated in victory lane, he didn’t want to come down off the roof of the car.
“I’m still shocked,” Whittaker said. “You never know when the next time’s going to be. This Series is so tough, so competitive. The combined number of years I’m racing against is insane.”
The second-place finish for Hearn was an impressive win after the his team battled through motor issues all day Tuesday, but managed to solve the problem and earn a top-five finish on Tuesday before Wednesday’s runner-up result.
“This was like controlled chaos for two days,” Hearn said. “To have the issues we had yesterday to start with, and at one point we thought we were going to be forced to go back to the shop (in New Jersey) and get something together for Thursday night (at Sharon). So, the way it all worked out, I’m tickled.”
The All-Star Showdown featured the Super DIRTcar Series full-time drivers and the top-six non-regular finishers from the July 18 full points event. Peter Britten and Larry Wight earned the Heat Race wins, which were lined up by open draw.
Eldora Speedway – All-Star Showdown Notebook
Feature (20 Laps) – 1. 109-Billy Whittaker ; 2. 20-Brett Hearn ; 3. 91-Billy Decker ; 4. 6h-Max McLaughlin ; 5. 6m-Mat Williamson ; 6. 9s-Matt Sheppard ; 7. 43h-Jimmy Horton ; 8. 99L-Larry Wight ; 9. 23-Kyle Coffey ; 10. 43-Keith Flach ; 11. 22-Brandon Walters ; 12. 5h-Chris Hile ; 13. 14w-Ryan Watt ; 14. 21a-Peter Britten ; 15. 8-Rich Scagliotta ; 16. 7m-Mike Maresca ; 17. 42p-Pat Ward ; 18. 98h-Jimmy Phelps ; 19. 6-Josh Hohenforst ; 20. 19-Tim Fuller .