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Weather clears up, race stays clean: Truck Series surprises at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas — After practicing under the sun and qualifying amid a downpour, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ultimately raced on a dry and wet Circuit of The Americas track.

Rain soaked all 3.41 miles of the Austin, Texas-based road course Saturday morning. By the time the Toyota Tundra 225 went green in the early afternoon, the weather settled down to a slight drizzle that soon enough died out. There was little to no moisture remaining when the checkered flag waved.

“I really believe if it would have just kept on raining, I would have won the race,” Tyler Ankrum said. “… I sound arrogant, I know that. But I was just so much faster, it’s true.

“It sucks because usually you never say, ‘Hey, keep on raining.’ You say, ‘Please stop raining.’ ”

RELATED: Official race results | Race recap

To his credit, Ankrum did start on the pole after clocking the fastest qualifying lap (75.041 mph) in the rain. The average race speed was 70.79 mph.

Todd Gilliland won, though, while Kaz Grala came in second. Ankrum actually finished third, with Grant Enfinger and Sheldon Creed fourth and fifth, respectively.

It was a 41-lap event around the 20-turn layout, which — on top of the less-than-ideal conditions — was brand new to NASCAR.

“I thought we were going to have a caution in the first two laps,” Creed said. “I was like, ‘Someone is going to overdrive (Turns) 1 or 12.’ But everyone must have done a good job.”

Shockingly so, COTA featured the cleanest race of 2021 — and it really can’t get any cleaner. There were only two cautions, and those were solely because of the required stage breaks.

There has been one other event that can be considered just as clean, and it was the fourth race back in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway. There were three cautions, and that additional yellow was a competition caution. It had nothing to do with the on-track action.

“I don’t even guess anymore,” said Grant Enfinger. “The first race out after the (pandemic) last year at Charlotte, I thought it was going to be a wreck fest with no practice, and it wasn’t, it was clean.”

When the Camping World Truck Series did return from NASCAR’s three-month pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak, its first race was at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There were seven cautions for 37 laps. That’s not abnormal for the 1.5-mile oval. There have been seven cautions in the last three Camping World Truck Series races there.

New tracks, however, tend to be where the variance shows.

For instance, the Camping World Truck Series’ first race on Daytona International Speedway’s road course in 2020 saw five cautions for seven laps. This past February, there were double the cautions at the 3.61-mile circuit for more than double the laps (20).

Ankrum has another theory.

“Every track that we’ve gone to this year that we didn’t have practice at last year, we’re all way more comfortable driving way over our heads,” he said. “Now, we come to a place we’ve never been to before and practice. Well, everyone is still unsure since we’ve never raced on it, so we all behave ourselves.

“Just wait for next year. It’ll be a (expletive) show again.”