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MADISON, Ill. - In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumphant return to Gateway Motorsports Park, Darrell Wallace Jr. pulled off a thrilling win to earn his second career victory Saturday night in his 29th career start in the Drivin' for Linemen 200.
Wallace Jr., a graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and a NASCAR Next alum, scored his first win at Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway last October and he tweeted on Friday afternoon that he compared the 1.25-mile racetrack to the legendary Virginia paperclip. A day later, there's light at the end of the tunnel for the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver after a frustrating start to 2014.
The win didn't come easy for the Mobile, Alabama native. After dominating the early stages of the race, Wallace Jr. encountered problems during his first round of pit stops, when the jack went down instead of up accidentally, costing the KBM team valuable track time, especially under green flag conditions.
Down, but not out, Wallace Jr. reassured crew chief Jerry Baxter and his team that they would get back to the front.
He did just that.
"This Made In America Toyota Tundra was on a roll tonight," Wallace Jr. said. "We got into a little trouble the first pit stop, but a little adversity never hurts anybody. We come through. I'm so proud of my guys, they worked their tails off."
On Saturday afternoon, Haas Racing development driver Cole Custer scored his first career 21 Means 21 pole in just his third NCWTS start. Furthermore, the NASCAR Next driver became the youngest winning pole sitter in NASCAR National Series history at the age of 16 years old, 4 months and 22 days.
At the drop of the green flag, Wallace Jr. grabbed the lead from Custer and led the opening laps. Despite two early race cautions, green flag pit stops began on Lap 57 with Wallace electing to make his first trip to pit road on Lap 62, when German Quiroga Jr. inherited the top-spot.
While much of the leaders continued the cycle of the green flag pit stops, NTS Motorsports' Gray Gaulding ran out of fuel while running inside the top-five, forcing the third caution of the race.
Meanwhile, John Hunter Nemechek, who slapped the wall in his opening laps of practice Friday grabbed the lead when Quiroga pitted. The yellow flag undoubtedly shuffled the running order, which put reining Truck Series champion Matt Crafton on the point for the Lap 73 restart.
A quick-caution for Ray Black Jr. on Lap 74 allowed the 11 waive-around trucks from the previous caution to catch the remaining lead lap trucks with Crafton in command.
On the restart, however, Nemechek made an impressive move around Crafton to retake the lead on Lap 78, Nemechek held the lead until Crafton was able to rundown the teenage sensation on Lap 122, but just three laps later, Crafton blew the right front tire slamming his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota Tundra into the Turn 4 wall.
"The tire just popped," said Crafton, who came into the seventh race of the season as the point's leader.
With the No. 88 team done for the night, the attention turned back to NEMCO Motorsports' Nemechek, who led the field down pit road for what many expected to be the final stop of the night.
A quick 16.6-second stop by the No. 8 bunch kept the newly turned 17-year old in control of the field with Wallace Jr., Erik Jones, Timothy Peters and Quiroga inside the top-five.
The green flag flew with 27 laps remaining with Wallace Jr. making the move entering Turn 1 on Nemechek, by the time the trucks screamed out of Turns 3 and 4, three-wide racing ensued with Nemechek in the middle of a Kyle Busch Motorsports sandwich, with Jones also pedaling into the mix.
Through the controlled chaos, Wallace Jr. thundered his No. 54 Toyota Tundra into the spot ahead of teammate Jones, Nemechek and the Red Horse Racing duo of Quiroga and Peters.
With the KBM trucks riding 1-2, the best battle on the racetrack came from behind between Nemechek and Quiroga. Inside the final 15 circuits, while battling for that podium finish, Nemechek lost a left rear tire after contact with the No. 77, which spun him in Turns 3 and 4 with 13 laps remaining. Nemechek, after turning a lot of heads finished 15th, the final truck on the lead lap.
On the restart with seven laps remaining, the two KBM teammates battled hard, but a relentless Quiroga, who ran out of fuel during the first long-green flag run of the night made it three-wide on the frontstretch with Jones in control.
Jones' time at the front would be short lived as a slight bobble sent him spinning off the front-bumper of Quiroga, yielding the event's seventh caution.
The green flag flew for the final time with four laps remaining with Quiroga on the bottom and Wallace Jr. on the outside. Despite his best effort, Quiroga in his first start at Gateway was unable to fend-off his fellow Toyota teammate, even with some hard-door slamming racing.
With momentum, Wallace cleared the No. 77 Net10 Wireless Tundra and sailed to a 0.329 second victory over Quiroga to notch Kyle Busch Motorsports' fifth NCWTS triumph of the season.
"This place is so cool, so different, here we can actually race and show what we're about and have fun with it," Wallace Jr. said. "From the moment I got here, I was a little iffy about it, because I was way off the pace, took some pointers from (Matt) Crafton and figured it out fairly quickly. We were back and forth on the setup, but from the drop of the green flag, we didn't have the take-off speed, but we had the long-run speed, but we stayed positive about everything and we came out with the victory."
For Mexico native Quiroga, his career-best finish in the NCWTS came at a track that reminded him of a track he's scored multiple wins at in his home country.
"I wish it was first and not second," Quiroga said, who dedicated the finish to Carlos Pardo, who lost his life in a racing accident five years ago in Mexico. "We were really strong, we ran out of fuel, we came through the field, but it was good, my truck was really, really fast. I'm really happy for everyone at Red Horse Racing. This was good for our comeback for championship points. Everyone got really excited at the end, we were defending our position, I saw an opportunity to win my first race and I didn't want to let it go, so I drove as hard as everyone else. We're getting there, getting closer to a win."
Behind Wallace Jr. and Quiroga, Red Horse Racing teammate Peters was third followed by Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday Jr. to round out the top-five.
Pole sitter Custer was sixth.
Sauter took control of the point's lead, switching places with his ThorSport Racing teammate Crafton by 10 points (261 points to 251).
Next up for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is a Thursday night showdown at Kentucky Speedway for the running of the UNOH 225 on June 26.
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