CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Busch was unleashing a monster burnout on the frontstretch at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but forgive Max Gresham if he didn't notice. He was too busy receiving hugs, high-fives and handshakes from members of his and other teams after his best finish at NASCAR's national level.
The 20-year-old native of Griffin, Ga., surged at the end of Friday night's Camping World Truck Series event to claim a career-best third in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, his first top-five finish in 21 starts on the circuit. Driving for Eddie Sharp Racing, the 2011 champion of the K&N Pro Series East easily eclipsed his previous career-best, which was 11th at Martinsville last fall.
"This is really just a win for us," Gresham said. " I started with Eddie last year in a couple of races, and had some really strong finishes there toward the end of the year. This is just justification for us that we're going in the right direction, and (crew chief) Chris (Showalter) and I are working well together, and we're getting better. I'm getting better every week, he's getting better every week, the trucks are getting better. That's all we can ask for."
Miguel Paludo used pit strategy to hold the lead late, but it seemed only a matter of time before Busch -- who at one point was forced to the back for leaving pit road with his gas can still attached -- tracked him down. Brendan Gaughan took second, and behind him came Gresham, who had to duck low on the race track to narrowly avoid a late accident that involved Brad Keselowski, Darrell Wallace Jr., and ESR teammate Justin Lofton.
"I had a front-row seat for that," Gaughan said. "Max did a great job staying out of that wreck."
"That last wreck almost got me," Gresham said. "I got out of the car, and I was like, 'I'm amazed there's no paint on the left side because of how far low we had to go.' We had a lot of close calls there at the end. Every restart when I was on the outside was just hectic, especially the last few. My spotter Lorin Ranier did a great job talking me through it. I've got a lot of good people around me helping me to get where I need to be, and I think it showed tonight."
Gresham started 21st, but the truck gradually improved over the course of the race. ESR won last year's Charlotte race with Lofton, who rebounded from his late accident Friday night to finish 10th. To the team owner, Gresham's career-best run seemed almost as big.
"Huge," Sharp called it. "It's big for all of us. For these kids, this is all about confidence and knowing they can do it, believing in the team and the group that's around them. And he does that. He's just a blessing to have in the shop. He brings a lot of energy, and the guys love him. We want it for him as much as he wants it. I'm proud of him. He deserves it, and it's something to build on."
Gresham moved into the Truck Series on a limited basis following his K&N Pro Series title, and the transition was a rough one. In 2012, he had an average finish of 21.6 in 13 starts split between Joe Dennette Racing and ESR. He showed some promise in a pair of top-12 runs late in that campaign, his previous career mark at Martinsville being one of them.
"It's nice to finally get back to running where I feel like I deserve to run, and where I've earned to be, and know I can be," he said. "(The year) 2011 was a perfect season for me. We didn't miss a lap. We led every lap and won the championship. You can't ask for more than that. This year has been a lot better. Last year kind of hurt. Everything hurts when it doesn't go right. This year is definitely putting us on the right path ? This is a huge confidence gainer for us. We're going to go to Dover and have that extra confidence, and we're going to make it work."
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