Saturday’s NASCAR Truck Series duel to finish has everybody talkin’

They were friends and teammates, but that didn’t preclude youngsters Noah Gragson and Todd Gilliland from re-enacting the climactic scene of the classic movie “Duel” at Sunday’s NASCAR Truck Series playoff opener at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Gragson, a 20-year-old Las Vegan pursuing the truck series championship, won the first two race stages and led a race-high 35 laps on the undulating road circuit. But he was running second to Gilliland, 18, as their Kyle Busch Motorsports-prepared Toyotas raced nose to tail for the win.

Gilliland left a small opening heading into the last corner on the last lap.

Gragson pounced and tried a bold pass on the inside.

Their trucks went over the cliff in a greasy heap, to use an analogy from Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut.

Gragson was credited with ninth place; Gilliland with 11th. Their grass-plowing fender bender handed a gift victory to Gragson’s championship rival Justin Haley.

During the postrace breakdown, Gragson was cast as driver of the ominous Peterbilt tanker truck in the movies and Gilliland as Dennis Weaver in the Plymouth Valiant.

“That one’s on me,” Gragson said during the TV interviews. “We’re in the playoffs, and I’m trying to win a race. Just wasn’t quite there. Just unfortunate. Apologize to everybody.”

Had he pulled off the pass, Gragson would have clinched a spot in the next playoff round. Instead, he wrecked what would have been his teammate’s first win in the trucks.

“I’d go fight him right now but I can’t,” said Gilliland, whose father, David, still drives part-time in the Cup Series.

But by midweek many had absolved Gragson, who has been linked with the open Xfinity Series seat at JR Motorsports for 2019.

“I might be the only one who sees it this way but the door was open and Noah Gragson went for it,” former Cup Series racer Regan Smith wrote on his Twitter account. “Teammate or not he’s racing for a championship and made the move he needed to. Door never should have been opened in the first place.”

In a NASCAR on Fox poll, race fans were asked if Gragson’s move was “dirty” or “just hard racing.” Of the 4,205 who responded, 44 percent said the former, 56 percent the latter.

NASCAR, on the other hand, had to be 100-percent delighted that people were talking about a Truck Series race.

Give ‘em Hall

The NASCAR Hall of Fame does not yet include a driver from Las Vegas.

It should eventually include two.

With Kurt Busch having recently achieved his 30th victory in the Cup Series, he and younger brother Kyle (49 wins) are virtual locks to be honored after they become Hall of Fame eligible.

Thirty wins is the number by which Cup Series drivers usually are judged. Of the 26 who have won that many, every one who is not active is in the Hall of Fame.

Scott’s turf

Six-time track champion Scott Gafforini survived a late-race collision with NASCAR Super Late Models points leader Jimmy Parker Jr. and Dezel West to claim his 67th Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring win during Saturday’s Back to School Night at the paved oval.

Parker maintained a 240-218 edge on Gafforini in season points heading into Throwback Night at The Bullring on Sept. 8.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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