NASCAR Gander Trucks back to real racing in Charlotte
In the NASCAR Trucks return to real racing, Angela Ruch honored her father-in-law victim of Covid-19, Jennifer Jo-Cobb completed her first race this season in 26th and Natalie Decker survided a penalty and a crash to finish on the lead lap.
It was a difficult restart for the ladies of the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, but a restart nonetheless.
Ninety-five days after the last championship round at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and with a longer pause also compared to the winter-break, the NASCAR Truck Series made its long-awaited return to real racing, after the stock-car championship had moved to online racing like many other professional motorsports around the world.
Like in the previous rounds in February, three ladies entered the race: Natalie Decker was announced last week as a welcome addition to the Niece Motorsports line-up, joining other female racers Angela Ruch (Reaume Brothers Racing) and Jennifer Jo-Cobb (JJC Racing).
The comeback was a special moment for Angela Ruch, who honored her father-in-law victim of COVID-19 with a picture on her truck hood.
"This year also symbolizes a very unique time for us all in the midst of adversity, as we celebrate the memories of those we have lost to the coronavirus, our family has recently lost someone very close to our hearts to COVID-19, Robert Carl Ruch." - wrote Angela on her social media channels during Memorial weekend.
“I am so ready to be back racing again, it feels like it’s been forever,” said Decker, returning to the series after an impressive fifth place at Daytona and a P21 in the second round. “I truly have the best fans in the world and it makes me so very happy I got to add Charlotte to my schedule, especially because it’s going to be the first truck race back,” she added. Her 2020 NASCAR Trucks plans included in fact only a partial campaign with the Niece squad.
“I’m so excited to be back at the track this week” - said the 22-year old from Wisconsin, who returns to the venue for the second time. “I’m thankful to NASCAR and everyone involved for making sure that we can return to racing in a safe manner. I’m ready for Tuesday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It will be weird without fans, but I know we will put on a great show. I can’t thank our partners enough for continuing to support us. Without brands like N29 Capital Partners, REMarkable Pillow and Zymox, we wouldn’t be able to go racing.”
With no qualifying and a grid set by mainly championship standings, the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 went green with Hill and Rhodes claiming the top of the leaderboard, while Decker dropped few places from 13th. Angela Ruch was 34th, marginally ahead of Jennifer Jo-Cobb, who made her first start this season after a very unfortunate series of events at the previous rounds.
With Hill ahead, Rhodes and Crafton put up a good fight for second place, with the bright yellow #88 truck moving up to second. On lap 15, the first competition caution came out freezing positions, as Ty Majeski recovered up until fourth place with some commanding moves. Teams started to perform their first pitstops: Decker stopped from 19th position, while the top-16 opted to continue without pitting, chasing the points for the first stage results.
It was Chastain, 10 laps after the restart, to take the Stage 1 victory, as the Niece Motorsports driver had taken the lead on lap 27 after starting from 27th. Decker completed the first stage in P29, one place behind Ruch.
Smith and Lessard, who elected to stay out during the second caution, found themselves up front at the restart on lap 38. Crafton promptly made his way through and took the lead, as Lessard and Chastain had a slight contact that unsettled the #42 entry, which luckily avoided the wall. Decker dropped to P35, before finishing the second stage one position higher. Elliot won the second stage from Rhodes and Nemecheck, while Angela Ruch ran solidly in 26th.
At the start of the third stage, Chase Elliott led Rhodes and Busch. But positions quickly changed when Gilliland pushed Busch into the lead, with also Hill moving up to second. The first yellow flag caused by an accident was waved on lap 81, when Jesse Iwuji was hit by Friesen and subesquently crashed into the path of Ankrum and Poole.
Natalie Decker stopped for fuel and new tyres, but received a penalty for speeding on pit road.
At the green flag, Moffitt charged past Busch but the race was again neutralized for an incident involving Natalie Decker and Poole.
Natalie was back into the pits to check damages, her crew quickly sending her back out again - one lap behind.
While many drivers pitted, Busch stayed out until lap 96, when he bolted on his final set of new tyres.
Gilliland made contact with Nemecheck and was out on lap 102, bringing out another yellow flag that gave Smith, Elliot and Sauter the top-3 positions at the final restart. Natalie Decker grabbed the free pass and came back into the lead lap.
In the final laps, Chase Elliot sprinted into the lead and tried to drive away from Busch, who had advanced to second place with approximately 20 laps to go. With Elliott eligible for the Busch Bounty - a $100,000 charity prize destined to COVID-19 relief - Elliott held on and crossed the line to win the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, ahead of Busch and Smith.
After a good performance, Angela Ruch brought the #00 truck home in 23rd position, her best result of the season. Jennifer Jo-Cobb was 26th, finishing one place ahead of Natalie Decker.
"Clean race with a strong truck. Lots of momentum to be had. No big mistakes. Small team with huge hearts, fighting for over a decade. Happy NASCAR is back!" - commented Jo-Cobb after the race.
With the North American gradual comeback to racing while the rest of the world - and especially racing series heavily dependant on international travel - still coming to terms with an evolving post-Covid scenario, NASCAR is certainly attracting the whole motor sport industry attention onto itself. While races are being currently run without spectators and in a quite surreal situation, these events both provide race fans with long awaited action and championship promoters with vital indications about a possible comeback around the world. Next round is scheduled for 6th June on Atlanta Motor Speedway.