CLICK: Full race results from Martinsville
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A jubilant Darrell Wallace Jr. clinched his fourth win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at the same venue where exactly a year ago he claimed his maiden victory in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway.
The win was made all the more significant by the fact that Wallace was running a historic 'throwback' livery and spacial one-off entry number of #34 in honour of Hall-of-Famer Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver ever to win a NASCAR premier series event. That took place on December 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was a landmark feat that wasn't repeated until Wallace's own win right here at Martinsville last year. Scott and his family were all present in victory lane to help Wallace celebrate.
"To be able to put it in Victory Lane, you couldn't ask for a better weekend. You thought last year was special, but this definitely beats it," said Wallace. "This is a touch sweeter [than last year], having the #34 tribute truck.
"The whole Wendell Scott family is here and this is a special moment, just a perfect weekend for us," he added. "It's a true honor to have Wendell Scott on our Toyota Tundra and to be able to put it in Victory Lane. I know he just said up there, 'Hell yeah.' This is cool!"
After he had won pole position earlier in the day, Wallace had led the field to the green flag and for the first 17 laps of Saturday's race at the half-mile 'Paperclip', which included four laps under caution after NTS Motorsports's Brennan Newberry went for an early spin in turn 1 that also caught up Mason Mingus in the Billy Boat Motorsports #15. It was to prove the first of many incidents, with 11 cautions and a red flag during the next two hours.
Wallace lost the lead to Brad Keselowski Racing's Ryan Blaney after he momentarily got loose coming out of turn 4 on lap 18, Blaney needing no second invitation to take advantage and leap to the front shortly before the second caution of the afternoon on lap 29 for fluid on the track in turns 3 and 4. It was still much too early for the leaders to pit, so Blaney led Wallace, Cole Custer (Haas Racing Development), Matt Crafton (ThorSports Racing) and Gray Gaulding (NTS Motorsports) to the green flag for the restart on lap 35.
This time it was Wallace's chance to successfully challenge for the top spot after Blaney got stuck on the outside line and dropped back, but it was Crafton who was on the charge and took control of the race on lap 39 with Gaulding taking the opportunity to follow him past Wallace and pick up second place for himself just before a new caution was signalled after Jennifer Jo Cobb got spun around in turn 4 on lap 47.
The leaders were still disinclined to trade track position for pit stops and once again stayed out for the restart on lap 52 which proved to be an untidy affair, Gaulding getting out of line which sent him to the back of the field and GMS Racing's Brandon Jones getting into the back of Cole Custer to bring out another caution. Crafton continued to lead at the next green flag on lap 62 ahead of his ThorSport team mate Johnny Sauter, but the #98 hit the kerb and consequently made contact with Crafton, which allowed Sauter to take the lead of the race on lap 66 to Crafton's verbal annoyance.
However he came by the led, Sauter was soon proving his pace with more than two seconds over Crafton, who despite the bumping had managed to hold on to second place over Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. Blaney faded over the course of the next 30 lap and was replaced in the top four by Timothy Peters, but Sauter continued to lead comfortably through to the midway point of the 200-lap race as it became clear that the teams were aiming to try and make this a one-stop race.
Having a fifth caution on lap 102 was perfect timing as far as the leaders were concerned, but not so good for Cole Custer who was suffering from brake issues and ran into Gray Gaulding, and then for good measure ended up sending Joey Coulter into the wall in turn 1. The leaders now duly took the opportunity to pit for a full set of tyres and a full tank of fuel: Sauter won the race off pit road ahead of Wallace, Crafton, Peters and Blaney but Austin Hill (RBR Enterprises) and Peyton Sellers (Win-Tron Racing) stayed out to pick up the lead.
It was another aggressive start with a lot of minor contact and three-wide battles which quickly resulted in debris on the track causing another rapid return to caution. When the field finally got back up to speed again on lap 114, it took a dozen laps before Wallace was finally in a position to barge his way past Hill to retake the lead, with Sauter seizing the opportunity to slip past for second place at the same time. just before another ten-lap debris caution materialised on lap 125.
Wallace took the inside line for the restart but behind him there was a big multi-truck accident in turn 2 as drivers spun on oil dropped from Bryan Silas' damaged #99 T3R2 Chevrolet, with John Hunter Nemecheck the first to spin and after that a clutch of drivers including Blaney, Sellers, Ben Kennedy, Jeb Burton, John Wes Townley, Caleb Holman and Ben Kennedy with no way out of hitting trouble. Most of the trucks could be quickly patched up; Kennedy's #31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevy was among those with more serious damage but even he was back out on track in time for the next equally brief green flag on lap 150 which ended abruptly when John Wes Townley moved down to avoid a slow truck ahead and instead made contact with Tyler Reddick. Townley ended up taking a hard hit against the wall in turn 2 and then rebounded into Brandon Jones. The incident was serious enough to warrant an immediate red flag cessation of the race to clear up the wreckage, although the drivers themselves were all able to exit their cars without assistance.
Other cars had taken knock-on hits from the accident but no one was able to work on their cars under the red flag, which lasted for 11 minutes before Wallace, Sauter, Erik Jones, Timothy Peters, German Quiroga and Matt Crafton were able to lead the field back for another go at the restart on lap 159, but once again the attempt was thwarted - this time by Gaulding making contact with Coulter and then spinning after losing a tyre to trigger the tenth caution of the day. Finally the race successfully resumed on lap 166 with Wallace managing to hold on to the lead position over Sauter but at the same time not able to pull out much of a gap.
Sure enough, Sauter was biding his time to make his move for the lead and he took it on lap 184 as they came up on heavy lapped traffic, bumping Wallace and then using the moment to dive past on the inside line. Wallace immediately attempted to counter-attack, but German Quiroga saw the same gap and suddenly it was four-side at the front and inevitably there were tears in store for someone: it turned out to be Quiroga that was sent spinning by Wallace, who was himself credited with the lead over Sauter when the yellows came out once again.
That left seven laps to go at the green flag, Wallace maintaining position over Sauter as the trucks behind the lead pair went into a three-wide frenzy. This time Wallace was able to pull slightly further away in front making it difficult for Sauter to mount another successful ambush, and it meant that he was able to sustain the lead all the way to the chequered flag, giving him a race-high total of 97 laps out in the lead for the day.
"That was exciting ... We always try to add excitement to the races that we're in," said Wallace of the thrilling climax to the race. "That was cool. I like that we came out on top on that."
Sauter was not so lucky, almost getting spun by contact from Peters with three laps go and the resulting loss of momentum lost him multiple positions. Peters went on to pick up second place at the line ahead of Crafton, Jones, Blaney and Reddick while Sauter just managed to salvage seventh place. However, Sauter was furious and sought out Peters after the race for some retribution, first getting into the back of the #17 on pit road before then getting more up close and personnel with his remonstrations while team members held the pair apart.
"It's Martinsville, its short-track racing," said Peters, shrugging off the altercation. "He doesn't cut anyone any breaks. He races hard and I can appreciate that. But if you dish it, you had better be willing to take it. Did I mean to hit him? Yes. Did I mean to hit him that hard? Maybe not that hard."
The reason for Sauter's fury was that the late contact from Peters had cost him points he could ill-afford in his fading championship battle with his ThorSport team mate for the 2014 title. Crafton currently holds an 18 point lead over Blaney with Wallace a further four points back, while Sauter is now 40 points off in fourth place and near to being out of the running entirely with three races remaining in the season. In the owners standings, the KBM #51 holds a four point lead over the #88 ThorSport entry.
Full race results from Martinsville
Current Camping World Truck Series championship standings
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