Red Horse Racing's Timothy Peters was able to hold off SWM-NEMCO Motorsports's John Hunter Nemechek to claim his second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win of the year by clinching victory in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday night.
"The last two years, we've had great trucks here, but we've been in the right place at the wrong time," said Peters who now had ten wins from 209 series starts in total. "The Lord works in great ways, and tonight was our night."
In fact, Peters was very nearly in the wrong place again as early as lap six when a three-truck wreck involving Brandon Jones, William Byron and Cole Custer broke out right in front of him on the track.
"When I saw it happen, and they coming back across the race track, I can't tell you what I was thinking, but it was 'Here we go again,'" he said afterwards while celebrating in victory lane. "Even though we missed it by our chinny, chin, chin, I was able to miss it. The only damage on the truck is from me getting crazy burning it out [in the post-race celebrations.] I'm sure that won't be a problem if we keep continuing to go down this path!"
CLICK: Full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race results from Phoenix International Raceway.
Not so lucky on Friday night was reigning series champion Matt Crafton whose hopes of securing a third consecutive championship took a huge blow at Phoenix - to the point where points leader Erik Jones can now stop Crafton from any hope of winning the 2015 title by pulling off a finish of just 27th or better at next week's season finale.
Jones started Friday night's race from pole, the teenager's fifth of the year and his seventh in 39 series starts. The Kyle Busch Motorsport driver did so with a final round lap of 26.179s (137.515mph) on the one-mile oval which put him 0.111s faster than Brad Keselowski Racing's Tyler Reddick, while an impressive effort from JJ Haley put the Braun Motorsports #32 onto the second row in third place alongside Crafton in the ThorSports #88.
Jones was leading when the first caution came out for that early three-way wreck, triggered by Brandon Jones (GMS Racing) getting really loose and making contact with Byron (KBM), Jones then came down the track to hit the right hand side of Cole Custer's JR Motorsports truck which then spun and clipped Byron in turn. Though this mêlée emerged Peters who had started from tenth place and who had been lucky to escape getting caught up in the accident.
There was another early caution on lap 17 when SS-Green Light Racing's Korbin Forrister spun on the frontstretch shortly after the restart after which the race was able to get a longer green flag stint in that lasted until lap 40 when Mike Harmon Racing's Jordan Anderson slowed to a half on the apron allowing the field to pit under yellow. The restart once again proved problematic and this time there was a four-vehicle wreck in turn 2 when Mason Mingus (Billy Boat Motorsports) locked up and got into Dalton Sargeant (Wauters Motorsports) with Rico Abreu (NTS Motorsports) and Peters' team mate Ben Kennedy getting caught up in the aftermath.
The race then ran problem-free until lap 105 when MB Motorsports' Akinori Ogata got loose and hit the wall in turn 3 to bring out the fifth caution of the evening. Up to this point, Jones had continued to dominate, leading for all but three of the laps so far, but Crafton had taken up residence in second place and been cranking up the pressure as the laps ticked by. He got his chance to take over at the front with a two-tyre gamble which allowed him to beat Jones off pit lane; even though Jones had taken four tyres, the clean air at the front proved to be the more valuable and Crafton was soon pulling away from Jones and the rest of the field.
A caution for MAKE Motorsports' Ruben Pardo spinning out in turn 3 closed the field up again on lap 116, and this time Crafton and Jones held no punches as they battled for control of the race at the restart, with Crafton's team mate Johnny Sauter also inserting himself into the battle. And then it all went wrong, Crafton slipping under Jones going into turn 4 and pinching the #4 against the wall: the collision sent Crafton flying across the track where he ended up taking out Sauter.
"I made a mistake,” Crafton admitted after finishing the race in 23rd place, a frantic repair session in the garage allowing him to briefly rejoin and run ten more laps before finally having to park for the night. "It was 100 per cent my fault.
"We were close and it was tight racing. When you get somebody side-by-side with you, I just got loose and made a mistake. Things happen, we're all human and we'll go on to Homestead. I hate it for the guys, we had such a good truck. We'll just hold our heads up and go to Homestead."
Jones was fortunate to be able to continue after repairs, but the #4 was no longer in race winning form. Even so, he managed to salvage a top ten finish by crossing the line in ninth place and with an extra bonus point for leading the most laps (106 out of 150) it means that he had pulled out another 16 points on Crafton for the championship, doubling his overall advantage over Crafton to 32 points and making it almost impossible for the reigning champion to retain his crown.
Once the debris from the Jones-Crafton-Sauter wreck had been cleaned up under an 11 and a half minute red flag, the race had 25 more laps to run which passed without further incident. Peters took the lead at the restart from Nemechek and held it to the finish, although Nemechek never lost touch and was just three tenths behind at the line. John Wes Townley (Athenian Motorsports) and Daniel Suarez (KBM) were somewhat further back down the road, but more significant in title terms was the presence of Reddick in fifth place ahead of Spencer Gallagher (GMS Racing), JJ Haley, and Matt Tifft (KBM).
That result puts Reddick up into second place in the championship standings ahead of Crafton and just 19 points behind Jones heading into next week's season finale, the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20. While Jones might not have much left to fear from Crafton in terms of the title battle, it's still entirely possible that Reddick could yet spoil the teenager's glory in seven days time.
There's no such cliffhanger in store in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Manufacturer's Championship, however: Peters' win ensures that Toyota has clinched the 2015 title, the marque's eighth which means it now ties Chevrolet for the most in series history.
See full race results from Phoenix, plus qualifying and practice speeds and updated Camping World Truck Series championship standings.
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