Sweet and sour: Sanchez’s runner-up finish at Atlanta sparks confidence

Nick Sanchez climbs out of the car.
Alex Daus
NASCAR Studios

HAMPTON, Ga. – NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rookie Nick Sanchez nearly earned his first national series victory in Saturday’s Fr8 208 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, falling short in the final turn of the final lap of NASCAR Overtime.

Sanchez entered Saturday’s race with eight laps led on the season. He ended the day with 11 – not a huge difference but a noticeable step in the right direction, especially considering his rollercoaster day ended with a chance to fight for the win.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos: Atlanta

The No. 2 Rev Racing team’s day nearly turned upside down on Lap 84, when contact with Corey Heim sent Sanchez spinning through the infield grass. Initially, it looked like Heim just jumped the start and rammed into the left rear.

But Sanchez offered his version of events after the race: “I just lost power.”

It didn’t take too long for Sanchez and Co. to bounce back with their speedy truck, despite a bit of damage after the collision. They re-racked with the leaders multiple times through the end of the scheduled race length and a dramatic overtime restart.

Effective team communication was a priority for the young team during the race, and in the end, his inexperience may have cost him on the final lap.

“I feel like I was a little slow to react to my spotter,” Sanchez said. “Just learning, learning where these trucks are. I could have done a better job reacting to the 19 [Christian Eckes] and probably should have blocked top-ish. … I let him get back to my quarter and he dragged me back. It was close. It was really, really close.”

On the white-flag lap, racing back to the finish line through Turn 4, multiple trucks wrecked behind the leaders and ushered out the final caution of the race. Eckes was the leader at the time of caution, narrowly edging Sanchez after a big run through the final corner by 0.078 seconds.

“Our truck was good,” Sanchez said. “It was a little beat up in the back, but the nose was clean, the fenders were intact and we were able to race up front. … To know that I can finally finish a race is nice and to be that close. But it makes me want it that much more.”

Even though he settled for second, it was a long day of learning and a confidence-boosting performance for the 21-year-old driver making his third start after his 2022 ARCA Menards Series championship. And it was something to build on after a 26th-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in the season opener and a crash that ended their day two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It feels good, but it hurts with how close we were,” said Sanchez. “But it is what it is and that’s racing. I’ve been at the other end of those at Talladega (Superspeedway) in ARCA, so I know how it feels to have it really close and not get it. But I’m just happy with my team, we battled back a lot. We’ve had a really good start to the season in the first two races, but not the best finishes. So to finally get a good finish and go to this next stretch of races with a decent points haul … I can just continue to learn more as a driver and keep pushing for wins.”

MORE: Full Atlanta race recap | Remaining Truck Series schedule

Sanchez’s next chance for a breakthrough win is Saturday, March 25 at Circuit of The Americas (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the first road-course event of the season.