Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – NEWTON, IA – The Triple Truck Challenge got off to a fast-paced, fully-dramatic start last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway with absolutely every reason to believe NASCAR’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series drivers will bring that same frenetic pace to Iowa Speedway for Round 2 of the three-race incentive program.
There was certainly no shortage of motivation nor effort as the drivers raced for the first $50,000 bonus last weekend and with another $50,000 bonus available in Saturday’s M&M’s 200 presented by Casey’s General Store (at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) there’s plenty on the line.
Not only are these competitors fighting for a shot at the 2019 championship, the big bucks, “Triple Truck” bonus for winning this week on the Iowa 7/8-mile oval raises the stakes.
Last week at Texas there were a record 13 caution flags and plenty of action – involving many of the championship contenders in one way or another – as they contended for the series’ first major mid-season incentive offering.
Two-time NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion Matt Crafton – one of only two former Iowa winners in Saturday’s field – turned in the best effort of the fulltime series competitors with a .963-second runner-up finish to Greg Biffle. The 2000 series champion Biffle, 49, who was making his first Gander Trucks start in 15 years, had been hired specifically by Kyle Busch Motorsports for the Texas race and won’t be competing for the Triple Truck Challenge money this week at Iowa.
The opportunity to win during this first-of-its-kind program is a big deal to driver and team, which is guaranteed an extra $50,000 for a victory this week, and $150,000 if the same driver wins again next week in Gateway, Illinois.
“I personally love it,” said two-time series champion Johnny Sauter, who has a pair of runner-up finishes at Iowa (2010 and 2017). “I can’t think of three better race tracks that as a driver I enjoy going to. You feel like you’re racing not only the competition but the race track.
“It’s good racing. To me, it’s the ultimate. I like money. Everybody does and I especially like the bonus for the crew guys. I think that’s really cool.”
Among Sauter’s fellow championship contenders putting it on the line this week for pride, that bonus check and for a big trophy is Sauter’s own ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger. He placed fourth at Texas and maintains his position atop the standings – by 37 points over Stewart Friesen. Texas runner-up Crafton is third in the driver standings, 41 points behind Enfinger and defending series champion and defending Iowa race winner Brett Moffitt is fourth, 55 points out of the lead.
Ross Chastain, who declared his intention to run for the 2019 Gander Trucks title days before the Texas race, finished 10th. Although he won at Kansas three races ago, it was before Chastain formally declared his 2019 truck title intentions. So he will need to win another race and finish inside the top-20 in the championship standings to earn the opportunity to run for a season trophy.
In just that one race at Texas, Chastain earned 38 points. By comparison, racer Anthony Alfredo is currently ranked 20th in the standings with 102 points tallied through eight races. So at this pace, Chastain feels he has very legitimate shot to crack the 20th place in the standings and make a title run. He is averaging a 6.8 place finish. And the big bonus money available in the Triple Truck Challenge would be icing on his championship effort.
He is certainly up for the challenge. Until the dueling Texas (Gander Trucks) and Michigan (Cup and Xfinity Series) locations last weekend, the Floridian had raced in every single race (36 total) in all three series. Now he has the luxury of focusing toward a career first NACAR title.
“It’s just kinda normal to me, it really is,” Chastain said of his imposing odds. “It’s really like a day at our family’s farm. You wake up and you don’t know what’s going to get thrown at you. With farming it could be weather and Mother Nature and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to adapt and keep moving and make the best decisions.
“So it [the racing challenge] just seems normal to me. We just get up and fight and try not to let things knock us down even it feels like we’re getting hit from all angles sometimes. Hopefully this is a good little stretch for us and we catch some of the good side of luck. We sure feel we are ready for it.”
Iowa has been a positive venue for Chastain. In 2013 driving for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Chastain won the pole position and led a dominating 116 laps, but finished runner-up. He has four finishes of 16th or better in five starts. His truck suffered a mechanical problem in last summer’s race and finished 30th.
“Hopefully Iowa and Gateway we’ll get some green flag racing and see the good trucks up there racing for it,” Chastain said, promising the competition will be fierce this weekend even without the extra paycheck on the line.
“I think everybody drives hard and it’s not all about the money, it’s about the win. That’s why we’re here.”