The Camping World Truck Series drivers took part in the first-ever NASCAR race at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday, May 22. They dealt with rainy conditions and a largely unfamiliar course but avoided major wrecks or incidents. Todd Gilliland ultimately turned in the best performance to capture the inaugural Toyota Tundra 225.
The race started with Tyler Ankrum on the pole, but Kaz Grala quickly took control. He jumped to the lead and held on for nearly the entire first stage. However, Gilliland overtook him on the final lap and captured the Stage 1 win. This marked the second green and white checkered flag of the season for the No. 38 Ford.
Gilliland fell to the back of the pack due to a pit crew penalty, but he recovered and put on a dominating performance when it mattered. He took the lead from Ankrum in the final stage and never relinquished. He won the Toyota Tundra 225 and set himself up for a playoff appearance.
Truck Series Drivers Used Unique Pit Strategies in Stages 1 and 2
The Truck Series race played out in a different manner than normal in that there were no cautions for incidents during the first two stages. Some drivers collided with each other or spun on the wet track, but the race remained green. The only cautions were for the stage breaks.
With the lack of yellow flags, the drivers had to pick their opportunities to pit for new tires and fuel. Many chose to do so with two or three laps remaining in the stages. Sheldon Creed, the winner of the first Triple Truck Challenge race, headed to the pits near the end of Stages 1 and 2 despite being in contention for the top spot.
According to the broadcast team, these drivers used this pit strategy to focus on the future. They gave up a playoff point by pitting, but they set themselves up to fight for the race win. Creed set up Ben Rhodes for the Stage 2 win by heading to the pits, but he got enough fuel to complete the final stage without having to pit again.
The Track Conditions Significantly Changed Throughout the Race
When the Truck Series drivers headed out onto COTA for the qualifying sessions on Saturday morning, they dealt with very wet conditions. The rain heavily fell and forced the teams to install the Goodyear rain tires instead of the racing slicks. The rain also sent some drivers sliding as they lost control of their respective vehicles.
The rain continued as the green flag waved, but the rain eased as the afternoon continued. The skies brightened and the track began to dry near the end of Stage 2. Though there were still a few puddles remaining on the track that helped cool the tires.
As the track dried, the drivers began pushing their vehicles harder and harder in order to gain the top spot. Ankrum and Gilliland took part in a fantastic battle with fewer than eight laps remaining. They alternated the lead while sliding around corners. Ankrum made a late mistake that sent him slightly off the track, and Gilliland took advantage. He built up a more than four-second advantage over Ankrum and the rest of the field.
Gilliland continued to press his advantage as the laps dwindled. He posted the fastest lap of the day as the sun began to shine and increased his lead to more than seven seconds. He maintained his lead as the white flag waved to mark the final lap, and then he took the checkered to mark his first win of the season and walk away with a $50,000 bonus.