JOLIET, Ill. — Defending series champ Johnny Sauter fired a statement Friday night to the rest of the Camping World Truck Series field at Chicagoland Speedway.
Sauter stormed by regular-season champ Christopher Bell for the lead on lap 122 and drove away from Chase Briscoe in the final 28 circuits for his second victory of 2017 in the 150-lap event. Sauter’s No. 21 truck excelled on the long runs as the Wisconsin native scored his second NASCAR win at the 1.5-mile track.
“This truck was unbelievable,” Sauter said in victory lane. “We had a great truck yesterday and I was worried with the Cup and XFINTY guys running here that it might change the track a little bit. We elected to win the stage on the first time there and then we lost a lot of track position for stage two and had to fight to get that back. Then I had a horrible restart, lost track position again. I’m just proud of all these guys at GMS Racing.”
“This is what we needed, this is the momentum and the shot in the arm. This thing was on rails during this last run.”
The battle for second between Bell and Briscoe heated up after Sauter grabbed the top spot for good. Briscoe finally got by Bell’s No. 4 SiriusXM Tundra, but was unable to make any head way towards the leader in the closing laps of TheHouse.com 225.
Bell held on for third and the regular-season title as fellow Toyota driver and pole-sitter Ryan Truex finished fourth for Hattori Racing.
“It’s huge,” Bell said. “Thankfully this year, we were able to accumulate some points so that we can have a little bit of a cushion moving forward into the playoffs.”
Truex won the first stage of Friday night’s race in a one-lap dash when several others pitted. However, grabbing the stage points wasn’t enough for the 25-year-old driver who tied Ben Rhodes for eighth in points but the tiebreaker was decided on best season-finish, with Rhodes scoring a runner-up at Pocono Raceway as Truex wasn’t far behind in third in July’s race.
The one spot made the difference for Rhodes to make his way into the playoffs after a few near-misses at winning.
“They said we were tied and we have the tiebreaker, I cannot believe it,” sixth-place Rhodes said. “The truck all night, we struggled ever since we unloaded here this has definetly been our worst performance overall and it couldn’t have come at a worse week to do it. I’m glad we’re in and overall everything worked out well for us. A couple of pit road penalties and a truck that we struggled with all night long, I’m just surprised that we’re here.”
Truex and fifth-place finisher Grant Enfinger both miss out on the playoffs with the same being said for Noah Gragson in an eighth-place effort in the 225-mile race.
Christopher Bell enters the Truck playoffs with a 15-point cushion over Johnny Sauter heading into next weekend’s race at Loudon. John Hunter Nemechek is seeded third by virtue of his two victories this year, followed by Eldora winner Matt Crafton fourth.
Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala also have wins as Briscoe and Rhodes pointed their way into the eight-team playoff.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ventures to New England next weekend for the UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the playoff opener.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…