The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series has one more week of their break before their next race at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, March 23rd at 2 pm ET on FOX. In the meantime here’s another edition of News and Notes for the series.
ThorSport Racing Drivers Trade in Trucks for Sports Cars this Weekend
Although the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series has the weekend off, that’s not stopping a quartet of ThorSport Racing drivers from taking to the track in sunny Florida.
Two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton, current series points leader Grant Enfinger, 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Myatt Snider and 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Ben Rhodes will be joining Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports for Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway.
The extracurricular racing gives the four the opportunity to work on their road course skills such as passing and giving feedback to their crew chiefs and teammates.
It will be the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge debut for all four drivers. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired up in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 while Snider and Rhodes will team up in the No. 15 entry for the team.
The two-hour Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 goes green on Friday at noon ET and can be streamed live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary.
Sauter Striving for Five at ‘The Paperclip’
2016 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Series champion Johnny Sauter certainly knows his way around the half-mile track at Martinsville Speedway. Four of his 23 series victories have come there.
He won the most recent race at the track affectionately known as ‘The Paperclip,’ and three times previous to that (Fall, 2016; Spring, 2013, Spring, 2011).
In 22 starts at Martinsville, Sauter has nine top-five and 12 top-ten finishes, with an average start of 9.1 and an average finish of 12.0. And he has remarkable staying power at the track that lends itself to beating and banging – he only has one DNF to his name.
In fact, he’s completed 97% of the laps run in races he’s entered – and has run the complete distance in all but five starts. (And…in two of those, he was only one lap down at the finish.)
The only track at which Sauter has more wins than Martinsville is Texas – where he has reached Victory Lane five times…including in the spring last year.
Crew Chief Spotlight: Mike Hillman Jr.
Harrison Burton, the driver of the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, has impressed early in his Sunoco Rookie campaign as he sits second by just six points in the overall points standings following the opening three races.
And he’s doing it with veteran crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. calling the shots from atop the pit box.
Hillman has tallied 22 wins in 280 races over 13 seasons in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. But remarkably, he’s only been paired full-time with a driver in six of those seasons (Todd Bodine from 2006-2011, winning the series championship together in 2006 and 2010; then with Jeb Burton in 2013).
All but three of his wins came with Todd Bodine. Jeb Burton tallied a victory for him in 2013 and then team owner Kyle Busch won a pair of races with Hillman last year.
Other than a few races with Busch and David Gilliland, in recent seasons, Hillman’s had a rotating cast of rising young stars occupying the seat of his truck for most races. Last year, he worked with eight different drivers – including eight races with Burton. They put together three top-fives and six top-tens together and won the pole at Iowa. The duo also paired up in 2017 for a top-five finish at next week’s venue – Martinsville.
Ben Rhodes, Brandon Jones, Chase Briscoe, Riley Herbst, Myatt Snider and Todd Gilliland are among the drivers who found themselves listening to Hillman’s voice in their truck headsets over the past several seasons.
Hillman brings a depth of knowledge to his young drivers. He broke away from the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2015 (Brian Scott) and 2016 (Brandon Jones) to serve as a NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief for Richard Childress Racing. And he’s spent 14 races calling the shots in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – including most recently for Cody Ware at Daytona this year.
Friesen Looking to Spring to Success at Martinsville
Currently fourth in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, veteran racer Stewart Friesen is hoping his second full-time season (he also ran 19 of 23 races in 2017) is his breakout year.
Friesen is coming off his best finish of the season, a fourth-place effort at Las Vegas. And he’s heading to a track that arguably should be a strength – as Friesen made his name on short tracks…albeit in the dirt.
But Friesen has had mixed results at the half-mile track…and in four starts there, has tended to perform better in the fall race. His spring starts over the past two seasons netted finishes of 25th and 20th, while he’s finished sixth and 11th in the two fall Martinsville races he’s contested.
His lone top-five finish on a short track came last year at Bristol, where he finished second.