By Chris Knight
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MADISON, Ill. -- In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumphant return to Gateway Motorsports Park, Darrell Wallace Jr. pulled off his second career victory, winning the Drivin' for Linemen 200 on Saturday night in his 29th career start.
Wallace Jr., a graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and a NASCAR Next alum, picked up his first win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last October and tweeted Friday afternoon that he compared it with the 1.25-mile Gateway track. 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, Ala., 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, 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 came through. I'm so proud of my guys. They worked their tails off."
On Saturday afternoon, Haas Racing development driver Cole Custer picked up 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 age 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 most 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 reigning 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 on until Crafton was able to run down the teenager 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 points 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 crew kept the recently 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. Wallace Jr. made a 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 in 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 a 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.
Wallace sailed to a 0.329-second victory over Quiroga.
"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."
For Mexico native Quiroga, it was his career-best finish in the NCWTS.
"We were really strong, we ran out of fuel, we came through the field, but it was good, my truck was really, really fast," Quiroga said. "I'm really happy for everyone at Red Horse Racing. This was good for our comeback for championship points."