AUSTIN CINDRIC BREAKDOWN
As the Lucas Oil 150 entered its final quarter Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway, Austin Cindric's hopes of racing for a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship appeared to be dim.
The driver of the No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford F-150 was running 12th with a truck that was too tight and trailed Ben Rhodes in the race for the final spot in the Championship 4. As the laps ticked away, it was clear that Cindric and the team needed a break to claw their way back into contention.
They got their wish on lap 123 of the 150-lap event when the third caution waved for a stopped vehicle on the track.
With a new lease on his playoff life, Cindric took the opportunity to pit for right-side tires and adjustments when the pits opened on lap 126. He lined up 11th for the restart on lap 130 – and right on the rear bumper of ninth-place Rhodes.
Moments after the green flag waved, Cindric surged with a run and dove underneath Rhodes to pass. Rhodes moved down to block Cindric’s move, but was instant too late, and the No. 19 was already too far inside. With Cindric committed to his line, the two made contact and Rhodes spun, careening off the inside wall and shooting across the track into the path of teammate Matt Crafton. Both Rhodes and Crafton were sidelined in the incident. Cindric pitted on lap 131 for minor repairs to his left-front fender and restarted 14th when the race went green on lap 135.
With Rhodes in the garage and mathematically out of contention, the only circumstance now that could knock Cindric out of the Playoffs was a win by John Hunter Nemechek - which became a very real possibility over the final laps of the race. Two multiple-truck accidents on laps 136 and 144 moved Nemechek up to second, lined up on the front row for the final restart on lap 149, but Johnny Sauter held him off in the final two-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Cindric, meanwhile, picked his way cleanly through the closing laps and scored a respectable ninth-place finish, his 14th top 10 in the last 16 races. He will race Christopher Bell, Sauter and Crafton for the series title in the Ford 200 next Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway in an attempt to win Brad Keselowski Racing its first championship in its final race as an organization.
CHASE BRISCOE BREAKDOWN
Chase Briscoe overcame early handling woes to earn a fourth-place finish in his first NCWTS race at Phoenix. Despite fighting with a Ford F-150 that was “plowing tight,” Briscoe survived a string of major late-race wrecks to score his ninth top five in the penultimate race of the 2017 season.
Taking the green from the eighth position, Briscoe immediately found that his Checkered Flag Foundation/Fisher House Ford F-150 was extremely tight in traffic, and he quickly dropped back to the 11th position. The 40-lap green flag run in Stage 1 did not provide the Brad Keselowski Racing team with an opportunity to adjust on their machine. When the stage conclusion finally allowed the team to provide service, crew chief Buddy Sisco called his driver onto pit road for four tires, fuel and both air-pressure and track-bar adjustments, and Briscoe returned to the track in 12th.
Stage 2 wasn’t much better for Briscoe. He continued to wrestle a truck that was so tight that the tires were chattering, and without a caution until the very end of the stage, the team was unable to assist him with his handling. When the yellow flag finally waved on lap 78, Briscoe was scored in the 13th position. Sisco and the crew once again took a big swing with air-pressure and chassis adjustments in addition to tires and fuel, and Briscoe took the green flag for the final stage from 13th.
By lap 123, Briscoe had dropped to 15th and was fending off the leader to stay on the lead lap, and the caution flag was fortunately displayed before he could be put a lap down. The team took one final swing at the No. 29’s handling, opting for four tires, fuel and both air-pressure and track-bar adjustments. Three major multi-truck incidents came in rapid succession beginning on lap 131. Each incident sent multiple trucks to the garage area and required extensive track clean up. Briscoe skillfully circumvented each scuffle, gaining positions on each restart. By lap 149, Briscoe had moved up into the seventh position, and he prepared for a two-lap sprint to the finish. In the closing laps, Briscoe darted up to the fourth position, ending the long night with his ninth top-five finish of the season.