It was difficult for Max Gresham to pinpoint his favorite part of Friday's North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Certainly a career-best third-place finish created a lasting memory. So did leading three laps for the first time in his young NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) career. Maybe it was giving the Charlotte-based sponsor, AmWINS Group, a top-three run at its home track. Perhaps it was climbing two spots to 17th in the driver standings.
In the end, Gresham decided it was all of the above.
"This is really just a win all around for us," the 20-year-old driver from Eddie Sharp Racing (ESR) said. "This is justification that we're going in the right direction, and that [crew chief] Chris [Showalter] and I are working well together, and we're getting better.
"I'm getting better every week; Showy's (Showalter) getting better every week; the trucks are getting better. That's all we can ask for."
Gresham started the race with the No. 8 AmWINS Group Chevrolet in the 21st position, and methodically worked his way into the top 15. Shortly after, a series of late-race cautions gave Showalter a chance to make final adjustments to the truck.
"Man, this thing will hunt now," Gresham reported to Showalter after the caution on Lap 116.
Though it took a combination of three pit stops to get the No. 8 AmWINS Group Chevrolet perfect for Gresham, who reported the truck to be tight thought out the night, the pit-strategy by the Showalter led "Team Ocho" also helped put the Milner, Georgia, native in contention for the win.
"Eddie Sharp Racing won this race last year with Justin Lofton, so we had some good information for how the track changes at night," Showalter said. "Charlotte is one of the most temperature-sensitive tracks we go to, but we had a good idea what we wanted for the final 50 laps."
The late surge was impressive. Gresham drove from 14th place to eighth place in a brisk two-lap stretch, and later narrowly missed a crash on Lap 121 involving Lofton, Brad Keselowski and Darrell Wallace Jr.
"That last wreck almost got me," Gresham said. "I got out of the car, and I was like, 'I'm amazed there's no paint on the left side because of how far low we had to go.' We had a lot of close calls there at the end. Every restart when I was on the outside was just hectic, especially the last few.
"My spotter Lorin Ranier did a great job talking me through it. I've got a lot of good people around me helping me to get where I need to be, and I think it showed tonight."
Gresham restarted fourth following the final caution. He quickly got to third place and methodically separated himself from the rest of the field. Kyle Busch also pulled away for the victory, with Brendan Gaughan in second.
"After that last pit stop it really came to life," Gresham said. "It was hunting very well there at the end."
Sharp was thrilled to see his team continue to make huge strides.
"It's big win for all of us. For these kids, this is all about confidence and knowing they can do it, believing in the team and the group that's around them," the team owner said. "And he does that. He's just a blessing to have in the shop. He brings a lot of energy, and the guys love him. We want it for him as much as he wants it. I'm proud of him. He deserves it, and it's something to build on."
The team now will shift its focus to the Lucas Oil 200 May 31 at the Dover International Raceway.
"This year is definitely putting us on the right path," Gresham said. "This is a huge confidence gainer for us. We're going to go to Dover and have that extra confidence, and we're going to make it work."
The race promises to bring on a few more lasting memories.
Max Gresham PR