'Nerve-racking restarts' decide points lead at Pocono
August 07, 2014, Stu Hothem, NASCAR.com
Related: Camping World Truck Series standings
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has become known for late-race restarts with trucks fanning out to seven and eight-wide heading into Turn 1. In Saturday's Pocono Mountains 150, the final restart was the difference between first and second in the points standings at the halfway mark of the season.
When the trucks came back to the start/finish line for the green-white-checkered finale, points leader Ryan Blaney was eighth and defending champion Matt Crafton was fifth. As they ran, Blaney and Crafton were tied atop the standings.
In the outside line in front of Blaney, Crafton's ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter pushed leader Austin Dillon to move first and move faster than the inside line. It dropped Crafton to 14th at the line and 12 points back of Blaney, who finished fifth. Sauter earned a runner-up position, moving up to second in the standings, seven behind Blaney.
"For me, it's the most nerve-racking restarts of the whole year," Sauter said. "I don't know why that is. Daytona and Talladega don't even compare to this because there's so much opportunity for people to fan out.
"… basically on a restart here, my mentality is I don't care what's going on behind me. I'm not looking in the mirror. I'm going to keep pushing until I can't push no more the guy in front of me."
Blaney agreed with Sauter and felt fortunate to be in the outside line at the end while Crafton was on the inside.
"It's hard to keep your spot if you're up there," Blaney said. "If you're not making moves, then you're losing spots. I might not have been an aggressive as I needed to be, but I thought we were plenty smart about it.
"And luckily I was eighth and our line went right there. I was really fortunate about that so just being in the right line at the right time, and we got lucky and it paid off for us."
After the 11th race of the season, Blaney holds the advantage heading into the second half of the season while Crafton attempts to become the first driver to repeat as a Truck champion.
The 2013 Pocono race winner, Blaney wasn't able to defend his title, but he was happy with extending his lead.
"We're happy that we stretched the points," Blaney said. "Even on the long run, I thought the 3 (Dillon) was a little bit better than us. (Kyle) Larson was definitely better than us until he had problems, but I thought we would have been a top-three truck. We were all day.
"You know that this race always comes down to a bunch of restarts at the end. We just didn't have our truck quite good enough to be good those first two laps, but you've got to be happy whenever you stretch the lead out."
While happy with the lead, Blaney isn't points racing as he seeks a third consecutive season with at least one win in the Truck Series.
"You always keep your eye on the big picture, but at the same time, I want to win in the truck and bring Ford back to Victory Lane," Blaney said. "To me, it's a little too early to be totally a points mindset, but it's always in the back of your mind."
Sauter is searching for a victory, too. Eleven races without a win to start a year is his longest drought since his first full-time season in the Truck Series in 2009 when he went to Victory Lane in the 20th race at Las Vegas.
"This is the deepest we've gone into a season without a win I think in the last four years," Sauter said. "Today is a step in the right direction. Hopefully it's momentum for us for sure. We've had speed at a lot of places, especially on the long run stuff."
The series heads to Michigan International Speedway in two weeks, and it'll be a special weekend for Blaney as well as a chance at redemption after a 32nd and last-place finish in last year's race. His sponsor and team owner's charity are sponsoring the Careers for Veterans 200 Presented by The Cooper Standard Foundation and Brad Keselowski's Checkered Flag Foundation.
"I'm really excited to go back (to Michigan), especially with Cooper Standard sponsoring the race. We've got the Careers for Veterans truck back on. It's the last time we'll run it, and I'm really excited for that.
"We didn't have a good run at Michigan last year. We got wrecked on the first lap. Being such a big event, hopefully we'll have a good showing out there, and it's going to be really cool to be in Ford's backyard and Cooper Standard's backyard. It's definitely going to be a big race for us."