The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers kicked off the Round of Eight with a trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The top drivers had the goal of winning and reaching the championship race at Phoenix, but a massive wreck completely destroyed multiple vehicles while part-time driver Christian Eckes raced to the checkered flag for his first career win.
The ThorSport driver made his ninth start of the year in the No. 98 and proved why he has continued to get opportunities. The 20-year-old held off his teammates Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton, and Johnny Sauter during the final race to the finish line. He took the white flag and then held on until the 10th caution of the night brought the race to an end. The ThorSport drivers took the top four spots in the race and made Truck Series history in the process.
While Eckes locked up the win late, two playoff drivers headed to the garage after a frightening incident with 64 laps remaining in the playoff race. It began when Tyler Ankrum went sideways near the top of the track. Chandler Smith tried to sneak past him next to the outside wall, but he plowed into the rear of Ankrum’s truck. Smith’s No. 18 rolled toward the infield and came to a stop while Ankrum’s No. 26 collected Hailie Deegan’s No. 1 and Chase Purdy’s No. 23.
The wreck continued when Sheldon Creed tried to go low in the No. 2 to avoid the wreck. However, he did not see Smith’s truck through the smoke. The defending Truck Series champion slammed violently into the No. 18 and spun around as massive flames burst from under the hood. Creed was able to climb from the destroyed truck and run over to check on his fellow playoff driver.
The Championship Favorite Remains Below the Cutline
With the wreck destroying the two vehicles, Creed and Smith both ended the Las Vegas race with a DNF. They dropped below the cutline while other drivers accumulated critical points. Now Creed and Smith will both have to focus on rebounding during the final two Round of Eight races.
The first will take place at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, Oct. 2. The final cutoff race will then take place at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 30. Eight drivers will enter Martinsville with championship dreams, but only four will punch their tickets to Phoenix.
The two remaining races are not the most ideal for the drivers trying to stack points. According to the Fox Sports broadcast on Sept. 24, no playoff driver has ever won at Talladega Superspeedway, a track known for crashes. This trend includes the 2020 race where 13 trucks ended the race early and Raphael Lessard raced to Victory Lane in a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck.
The Regular-Season Champion Dealt With Strange Issues
John Hunter Nemechek entered the race at Las Vegas with the goal of winning another race. He took the checkered flag during the spring race at the 1.5-mile oval, and the playoff race provided the opportunity to sweep in the desert.
The night started out well for the regular-season champion. He led 33 laps and won Stage 1 after battling with Todd Gilliland for the lead. However, the situation changed on lap 53. Nemechek lost power to the engine and stalled on the track. He still had power to the gauges, but the truck would not fire. He brought out the caution flag and forced the safety crews to push him to pit road.
The No. 4 team got Nemechek back on the track for Stage 3, but he did not remain at full speed. He lost power once again on lap 79, prompting NASCAR officials to tell him to get off the track. He limped the No. 4 toward pit road but came to a stop at the bottom of the track once again, bringing out the caution on lap 81.
The crews pushed Nemechek to the pit road once again, but he did not return to the track. The driver headed to the garage where the No. 4 team tried to figure out why the Toyota Tundra continued to lose power. He remained off of the track for the remainder of the race and ended the night 33rd overall.