While the NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series were each off this past weekend, grassroots racing took center stage with some superstars mixed in.
In their respective series Saturday night, Todd Gilliland, Helio Castroneves and Sammy Smith earned wins that were unexpected for a myriad of reasons.
Gillilands’ gift: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) Clean Harbors 150 at Knoxville Raceway
Five days before the NCWTS race at Knoxville, father David Gilliland offered the No. 17 ride to Todd Gilliland. Todd returned the favor with the ultimate Father’s Day gift, as he led 58 laps and won after passing John Hunter Nemechek with 11 laps to go.
Todd’s win came in his first start for David Gilliland Racing in the NCWTS. It was the third NCWTS win for Todd as a driver and DGR as a team. Todd has one win apiece with Kyle Busch Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports.
Nemechek, Zane Smith, Ty Majeski, Stewart Friesen, Derek Kraus, Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Tyler Ankrum and Ben Rhodes rounded out the top 10.
The night’s biggest highlights involved Jessica Friesen and Brett Moffitt. On Lap 58, Friesen hit a berm on the inside groove and flipped multiple times. Then, on lap 126, Brett Moffitt was squeezed into the wall exiting turn four and went on his side as he crossed the finish line. While FS1 missed each wreck, fan Jordan Tiegs captured video of Friesen’s flip and Moffitt’s half-flip and posted it to Twitter.
Friesen continued until Lap 76 when brake issues took her out and to a 34th-place finish. Moffitt retired from the race after the wreck and finished 32nd.
Carson Hocevar won stage one and led the first 65 laps but blew an engine on Lap 66 and finished 37th. Hocevar is 61 points ahead of Derek Kraus for a playoff spot.
Kraus earned 13 points for finishing fourth and fifth in the stages, while Crafton earned two points for ninth in stage two. This netted him a 12-point gain after he also finished sixth while Crafton finished seventh, which moves Kraus to 27 points behind a playoff spot with three regular-season races to go.
Spiderman’s homecoming: Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) season opener at Five Flags Speedway
Earlier in the evening, Helio Castroneves earned his first SRX win in a race at Five Flags Speedway that he wasn’t even scheduled to run even the day before. At the last minute, Castroneves contacted SRX CEO Donald Hawk, who arranged a backup car to be wrapped by a local company for the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner to run.
Castroneves’ last-minute effort started slowly with a 12th-place finish in Heat 1 but a full-field inversion moved him into second and eventually the Heat 2 win. He started fifth in the main event and clawed his way to the front, ahead of Ryan Newman, Bubba Pollard and eventually fellow open-wheeler Tony Kanaan who Castroneves battled fiercely and beat.
“I pulled every string, every sweat I had there. What a fun series man. That was so much fun,” Castroneves said after doing his signature fence climb for fans. “Thanks to SRX for the opportunity. I wasn’t even supposed to be here today and look, we ended up getting the trophy. It shows this series is amazing and I’m so happy, so happy.”
Pollard, Newman, Kanaan and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top five.
Bubba Pollard, the ringer and race favorite, finished second after winning a hard battle with Ryan Newman that lasted until the checkered flag dropped.
“It was fun to drive. It was a handful. That’s what it’s all about, man. The cars are equal. You are out there digging, getting as much as you can. It’s hot,” Pollard said. “I can’t thank everyone enough for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Just to put on a good show, racing there with Bubba (Pollard) at the end was pretty spectacular, he’s the best here no doubt,” Newman said. “To get a top-three amongst, what I feel like, are the top drivers in the world is pretty special.”
Sammy’s surprise: ARCA Menards Series’ Zinsser Smart Coat 200 at Berlin Speedway
In the most bizarre twist of the evening, Daniel Dye saw his three-second lead on Sammy Smith vanish with six laps to go after leading all but two laps. Dye slowed with an electrical issue while Smith cruised to his first career ARCA Menards Series win.
“That sucks for them. They deserved to win that one. We got lucky today,” Smith said. “Some days it’s better to be lucky than good.”
“I know we had a great race car. GMS just did really, really good in bringing me a good race car and we led every lap until we didn’t,” Dye said after finishing seventh, two laps down. “That’s part of it man. I’m just proud to be a part of this organization.”
Tom Hessert III, Jesse Love, Taylor Gray and Rajah Caruth rounded out the top five.
In this first ARCA Menards Series start since Oct. 2018 at IRP, Hessert finished second – his best finish since finishing second at Salem in Sept. 2016.
Caruth’s fifth-place finish broke a tie with teammate Nick Sanchez for the ARCA points lead. Sanchez finished sixth, one lap down and is now one point behind Caruth with 13 races to go.