NCWTS: North Carolina Education Lottery 200 Preview
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the fifth points event of the 2017 season in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200. The race will be broken into two stages of 40 laps and a final stage of 54 laps.
34 drivers arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway to compete for 32 spots on Friday night. The only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver competing in the race will be Kyle Busch, last week’s winner from Kansas Speedway.
This will be the 15th event for the Truck series at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Eight different drivers have won the pole position for the race. Only seven different drivers have won the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 with only three races being won from the pole position. Kasey Kane was the last driver to win from the pole back in 2015. In 2016, Matt Crafton set the race record at 141.855 mph. The qualifying record was set by Busch at 183.773 mph back in 2014.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is 1.5-miles in length. The corners are banked at 24 degrees, while the straightaways are banked at five degrees.
Coming off of potential victory at Kansas Speedway last weekend, Ben Rhodes is ready for this weekend in Charlotte and has moved on from last weekend.
"Yes, we've moved on from Kansas. You have to move forward if you expect to win a race. We are actually having fun with it now. My crew chief has taken the 'debris' that went through the radiator and made a necklace out of it,” said Rhodes, “He says it will be our good luck charm at Charlotte. Last week we proved that what we learned at the Charlotte test, all the hard work we put in, is enough to win a race with our Safelite Tundra. We plan to do just that at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday night."
After running a test at Charlotte a couple weeks ago, Noah Gragson is ready for this weekend.
"Charlotte is a tough place to get around so the biggest thing we worked on was getting him comfortable,” said Gragson. “It took a bit to get him comfortable at the start of test, but by the time we left at night he had a really good feel for it. He knew exactly what line to run, so the biggest thing we'll need to work on this weekend is getting him in traffic."
Grant Enfinger is more than excited to be racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend.
"I'm definitely pumped about racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week. We had a great test session a couple weeks ago. I've lived in the Charlotte area now for 10 years, but this will be my first time racing at Charlotte since I used to race legend cars back in the day there,” said Enfinger. “This is Champion Power Equipment's first race of the year, so they'll be camping out and having a great time cheering us on. I'm looking forward to an exciting race weekend."
In the two practice session of the weekend, Christopher Bell and Gragson topped the charts. Bell posted a speed of 182.039 mph in the first session, while Gragson posted a speed at 181.194 mph in the second session.
Teams will qualify on Friday at 4:45 p.m. EST, and race shortly after 8:30 p.m. EST. The North Carolina Education Lottery 200 will be broadcasted live on Fox Sports 1 and Motor Racing Network.
Through The Ranks: Noah Gragson
Growing up in Las Vegas, Noah Gragson did not necessarily grow up around the racing world. At a very young age, he was involved with stick and ball sports like basketball and football, as well as extreme sports, like mountain biking.
To Gragson, racing was just an east coast of the United States deal. However, everything shifted at the age of 10 and 11.
Gragson was friends with Riley Herbst. Herbst invited Gragson to one of his races in an off road champion truck series event outside of Las Vegas. According to Gragson, the racing bug was caught and that is what he wanted to do. However, when that bug hit, it was during the economic recession.
The bug did not die in Gragson’s heart. His dad would bring him to Pole Position Raceway, a go-kart circuit in the Las Vegas area. The family would go as many weekends to Pole Position for one and a half to two years when an opportunity arose to race in the Bandelero’s at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s “Bullring”.
During his time at the Bullring, Gragson found racing success. He moved up to the Legend’s division in 2014. While in that division, Gragson won the Young Lion Road Course championship as well as beginning to drive in the Super Late Model Division.
He also became a member of the NASCAR Next program in 2012. This program selects drivers that have a proven record of success and possess the necessary talent and skills to continue going up the NASCAR ladder. This program helps drivers develop the necessary professional skills and grow their marketability. Drivers are selected to join the program from input among veteran drivers and industry executives. NASCAR believes that these drivers will be the next face in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
In 2015, Gragson moved to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. In just his third start, Gragson scored the victory at Tucson Speedway in Arizona. During that season, Gragson won one more race, scored one pole, seven top-five finishes, and 11 top-10 finishes while finishing second in the points standings and winning Rookie of the Year.
In 2016, Gragson continued to race in the K&N Pro Series West, but also added the K&N Pro Series East to his resume. During the season, Gragson collected two wins in East and West. In the West, he scored eight top-fives, 12 top-10’s, and led 73 laps. In the East, he scored four top-five’s, six top-10’s, and led 16 laps.
Because of his impressive steps, Gragson signed to race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM).
Signing with KBM was a dream come true for Gragson. About four to five years ago, Gragson swung by the KBM shop. When he walked into the shop for the very first time, he was amazed at the trophies that showcase the success of Busch and KBM. While there, Gragson dreamed of being able to step into the shop as a driver for Kyle and Samantha.
Driving for Kyle may seem daunting to many young drivers, but for Gragson it’s a special opportunity since both drivers were born and raised in the Las Vegas area. Gragson believes the opportunity to be able to talk to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion is an advantage to him because not every young guy has the opportunity to do so. Gragson can call up Busch and ask him what the nuisances of a specific track are and how to approach the weekend. Gragson not only leans on Busch for advice, but Christopher Bell, his teammate. Gragson is using this opportunity to be like a sponge and soak up every bit of information he can.
While driving full-time in the trucks, Gragson also has been running select ARCA Racing Series events with Venturini Motorsports. Gragson has already ran at Daytona International Speedway in ARCA. He will also race this weekend at Talladega, as well as, the second Pocono and Chicagoland. He chose to go with Venturini Motorsports because he saw how fast their Toyota’s were. Gragson also has saw how successful the organization was in winning at every track on the ARCA schedule. In 2015, Gragson, who was not racing for them at the time, believed that Venturini was the team to beat.
The first two races of the truck season were not what Gragson was hoping for. He crashed at Daytona in the opening laps to finish in the 26th position, while at Atlanta, he finished 14th after making a mistake on the opening lap. Because he has not had the experience on mile-and-halves, Gragson is learning everything he an about the trucks. “The aero is different than what I am used to in K&N,” said Gragson. “You can follow a guy on the short tracks and be right in his footsteps and once he messes up, you pounce on him. On the 1.5-miles, you really have to go where he is not. When you are stuck to him in the airwaves, you have no downforce making it hard.”
Despite the lack of experience, Gragson is proud that Marcus Richmond, his crew chief, and team are rallying behind him to build up his confidence.
As a young driver in the trucks, Gragson deals with the month long break from Atlanta to Martinsville to Kansas. Gragson only has five races under his belt, but would love the chance to get to learn more about the trucks by racing in them. Despite the break, Gragson relies on Busch, Richmond, and his teammates to help learn the nuances with the lack of experience.
Like his career, the sports scene in and around the Las Vegas area is booming. While Las Vegas Motor Speedway is getting a second date, the area is also getting a National Football League and National Hockey League team. Gragson believes that is huge for Vegas for the “businesses, the hotels, just the whole atmosphere in Vegas”. When he was racing at the “Bullring”, he always dreamt of racing on the “big track” and is excited to have that opportunity to live out his dreams.
Gragson believes that the competition enhancements across all three series is a success.
“I feel like it creates a bit more drama. In the past, I felt the races get strung out and single file, not enough racing. But now, they take guys group them up, takes it back to your traditional K&N/Short track racing. You get a halfway break etc. I feel like it’s a win-win for everyone. It creates drama for the fans, fans are happy. the TV providers happy because they get commercials in. For us, we get to take a sip of water and relax our fingers.”
Although the season is young in the Camping World Truck Series, Gragson has set goals in what he wants to accomplish. His main goal is to learn as much as he can because many of the tracks on the schedule or ones he has not seen before. “Hopefully next year I can come back to these tracks, but our main goal is to win races and a championship. to be realistic, i want to learn. with learning, the races will come, the finishes will come. You just gotta keep digging and striving to get better and better,” said Gragson. Although he has not seen many of the tracks, he is most looking forward to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in September because road courses are where he found the most success in the K&N Series.
Social media is an important part of Gragson’s life. Gragson uses Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat as ways to interact with the fans. Gragson loves to interact with fans on social media. He believes that fans come to the racetrack to see their favorite driver and get an autograph while social media provides fans the opportunity to see what drivers go through on a day-to-day basis outside of the racetrack atmosphere.
You can follow Gragson on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter on @NoahGragson.
Analysis: The Time of Stage Breaks
When NASCAR announced the idea of stage racing at NASCAR Media Tour in January, they mentioned that there would be time between the start of one stage and the next for TV and radio to hit commercials, pit stops, the chance to interview the driver and crew chief before the start of the next stage, and then hit another commercial before the race resumes under green conditions.
However, the laps between the completion of the stage and the start of the new one count. This caused much uproar among the NASCAR fan base.
After seven races of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Speedway Digest takes a look at the time it takes for the first and second stage to go to completion together. NASCAR mentioned at Media Tour that the breaks would be roughly five minutes each. Is that the case?
At Daytona International Speedway, the stage breaks lasted for 10 laps total, equating to 0.36 hours or 21.8 minutes. The laps accounted for 5.5 percent of the race.
At Atlanta Motor Speedway, the stage breaks lasted 13 laps, equating to 0.364 hours or 21.84 minutes. The laps accounted for four percent of the race.
At Las Vegas Motor Speedway (400 miles) and Texas Motor Speedway (500 miles), both 1.5 miles in length, the stage breaks lasted 12 laps, equating to 0.324 hours or 19.44 minutes. At Las Vegas, the breaks accounted for 4.5 percent of the race, while Texas’ stage breaks accounted for 3.6 percent of the race.
At Phoenix Raceway, the stage breaks lasted for 12 laps, equating to .26 hours or 15.6 minutes. The breaks abounded for 4.8 percent of the race.
At Auto Club Speedway, the stage breaks went for 12 laps, equating to 0.327 hours or 22.32 minutes. The breaks accounted for 5.9 percent of the race.
At Martinsville Speedway, the stage breaks lasted for 22 laps, equating to 0.33 hours or 19.8 minutes. The breaks accounted for 4.4 percent of the race.
Stage racing has added flavor and flare to the middle portions of the events. However, NASCAR is looking at ways to transform the stages in the future.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, joined Mike Bagley and Pete Pistone on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” to talk about stage racing and its future.
“Those caution laps, running just laps off, do they have to count? The break is put into place to allow for commercial breaks and to allow some of those green-flag breaks that we’ve seen in the past not to occur. So we want to look at how do we make this still a strategy and possibly not count those caution laps in the future. That would be for 2018 and see how it plays out throughout the year,” said O’Donnell.
The idea of not counting the laps in the stage breaks was brought up for this year, but officials decided otherwise.
“We debated that for a long time,’’ he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The one reason we didn’t go that route was that we didn’t want to extend the races for a really long time and have the unknown fuel mileage if you continued not to count those (laps),” O’Donnell stated. “It was kind of TV and everybody, the tracks, sitting together and saying, look for year one let’s go with the known and that’s how many laps we’ve got for this race and then if we need to adjust we can. That’s definitely something you put on the notes and say hey, let’s look at possible solutions for next year if we can.’’
O’Donnell told ESPN that TV is now showing 18 to 20 percent more green flag racing due to the stage breaks, but they are looking at ways to become more efficient.
What should NASCAR do to make the stage racing even better?
Elliott Victorious at Martinsville
RIDGEWAY, Va.— After beating and banging for 250 laps and a late race charge from Johnny Sauter, Chase Elliott was victorious in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 from Martinsville Speedway.
“Obviously, we had a little help with (Bell’s) misfortune, but once we got by him, I thought our truck was a little better than his,” said Elliott to FOX in Victory Lane. “It was just a matter of getting by (Sauter) quickly and doing it decently, in a quick manner. Luckily, we only had to do it once with it staying green until the end.”
This is Elliott’s second victory in 12 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events, his first of 2017.
The first stage was dominated by Chase Elliott. Elliott chose the inside lane to start the race. The caution flew shortly after the green flag fell for oil on the track by the No. 1 car of Bryce Napier. NASCAR did warn Elliott after the initial start about pulling down too soon on restarts. Towards the end of the stage, Johnny Sauter was catching Elliott while they were in lapped traffic. Elliott went on to win the stage, Sauter finished second, Matt Crafton finished third, Christopher Bell finished fourth, and Grant Enfinger rounded out the top-five in the first stage. The caution flew twice in this stage for eight laps.
Elliott lost that lead as the field went down pit road between the start of the second stage. Bell took two tires on pit-road to gain the lead.
When the second stage began, Sauter was able to pass Bell to dominate the stage. On the first restart in this stage, Sauter chose the inside lane, but Bell tried to push him down. However, Sauter was able to hash the lead. The complexion of the stage changed as drivers like Elliott and Bell hit pit toad with 12 laps remaining in the stage. The stage ended under the caution due to Elliott dumping Ross Chastain on lap 137. Sauter went on to win the stage, Crafton finished second, Chase Briscoe was third, Timothy Peters was fourth, and Grant Enfinger rounded out the top-five at the conclusion of the stage. The caution flew five times in the stage for 38 laps.
As the leaders pitted between the stages, Bell moved up to the first position, Elliott was second, Brett Moffit was third, Enfinger,and Joe Nemechek were the top-five on the restart to begin the final stage.
Bell was the dominate car in the final stage, but late-race aggression and lapped traffic cost him the victory. As the stage was in the final 50 laps, Bell, Elliott, Sauter, and Noah Gragson were within a second of each other battling for the lead. As they progressed through the field, lapped traffic began to separate the drivers. As Bell reached Austin Cindric, Cindric attempted to stay on the lead lap. Bell was frustrated with Cindric and dumped him in the first turn. However, with the move to dump Cindric, Bell lost the lead to Elliott. As the race restarted with 12 laps remain, Elliott throw a successful block on Sauter to go on and score the victory at Martinsville.
Sauter finished second, Bell finished third, Gragson finished fourth, and Ty Dillon rounded out the top-five in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250.
The race ran for two hours, one minute, and 38 seconds. The average speed of the race was 64.867 mph.
The next race for the drivers will be at Kansas Speedway for the Toyota Tundra 250 on May 12th at 8:30 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1 and Motor Racing Network.
Elliott Starts P1 in NCWTS From Martinsville
RIDGEWAY, Va.— Chase Elliott will start from the pole in today’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Alpha Energy Solutions 250 from Martinsville Speedway.
In the first round of qualifying, Chase Briscoe was fastest at 94.789 mph,Elliott was second fastest at 94.463 mph, Grant Enfinger was third fastest at 94.279 mph, Johnny Sauter was fourth fastest at 94.256 mph, and Timothy Peters rounded out the top-five at 94.106 mph. Austin Wayne Self, Norm Benning, and Charles Buchanan Jr. are the three drivers who will be heading home and not racing today.
In the second round of qualifying , Sauter was fastest at 94.855 mph, Elliott was second fastest at 95.543 mph, Christopher Bell was third fastest at 94.265 mph, Peters was fourth fastest at 94.200 mph, and Chase Briscoe rounded out the top-five at 94.143 mph.
In the final round, Elliott was fastest at 94.951 mph, Sauter will start second with a speed of 94.803 mph, Peters will start third with a speed of 94.331 mph, Matt Crafton will start fourth at a speed of 94.214mph, and Ross Chastain will round out the top-five at a speed of 93.891 mph.
Truck drivers will hit the track at 3:00 p.m. EST for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250. FOX and Motor Racing Network will have the TV and radio broadcasts.