By the time the sun set on Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, the championship hopes of three NASCAR truck series contenders already were parked in shadows.
With ThorSport Racing teammates Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter being knocked out early by mechanical issues, Austin Hill overhauled Ross Chastain with 11 laps to go and drove away to a victory in the World of Westgate 200.
Enfinger and Sauter, a former series champion, failed to advance to the second playoff round. Crafton, who won the truck series title in 2013 and 2014, made it in on points.
He will join Hill, Chastain, Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen and final qualifier Tyler Ankrum for the second round of three races that will determine the four drivers who will battle for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
“This was the hardest one I had to win,” Hill said after posting his third victory of 2019, beating runner-up Chastain across the finish line by 2.1 seconds in a race that saw three of the eight playoff drivers finish among the top 10.
Former LVMS Bullring champion Justin Johnson started last in the 32-truck field and finished 23rd, seven laps down.
— NASCAR Gander Trucks (@NASCAR_Trucks) September 14, 2019
Bugged on track
The Great Las Vegas Grasshopper Infestation added another chapter at LVMS on Friday as several of the truck series teams had to scrape their grills after practice runs to keep engine temperatures down.
“There were a few extra splatters on the windshield,” Cup Series driver Kurt Busch of Las Vegas said before setting the fast time in the second practice session.
“I didn’t know it was grasshoppers (at first), but I did hear about the grasshopper migration. You always have to be ready for anything, whether it’s the quick-dry buildup that gets into the front grill and radiator or it’s a grasshopper.”
Saturday’s Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 Xfinity race will be Noah Gragson’s first on his hometown track since his father, Scott, was indicted on DUI charges stemming from a fatal accident in May. The promising driver from Las Vegas commented on the situation indirectly in the media center Friday.
“Growing up as a young 20-year-old, you get a lot of things thrown at you that maybe would be thrown at a 30-year-old,” said the usually carefree youngster in a measured tone about having had to mature quickly. “So I’m learning every day. I’m leaning on all those around me to be better.”
Gragson has yet to win in the Xfinity cars since moving up from the truck series and sits seventh in points in his first season driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
World of Westgate 200
Top five finishers at Friday’s NASCAR Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
1. Austin Hill, Toyota
2. Ross Chastain, Chevrolet
3. Christian Eckes, Toyota
4. Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet
5. Todd Gilliland, Toyota