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OBSERVATIONS: North Carolina Education Lottery 200

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Although Johnny Sauter made it clear that he was the man to beat in Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200, there was some possible contention just lurking right out of his rearview mirror along the way.

But, let’s give Sauter the credit he deserves. The defending series champion has been on a terror thus far this season, winning three of the first seven races this year to lead the points standings by 59 markers over Noah Gragson. He’s also led laps in five of those events, and only struggled once with a 19th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway. If you weren’t sure already, mark it down – he is your early title favorite, and that probably won’t change as we get closer to the playoffs.

However, he can be beaten, as shown already this year, and as put into the book of possibility. Just ask Kyle Busch. Busch had the fastest truck throughout the entire race based on lap times alone, and will go down as the man who passed the most competitors on a single night. However, constant pit road issues – including a penalty for his crew jumping over the wall too soon, resulted in Busch restarting deep in the field multiple times during the event. He still walked away from the night with a good finish, having made his way back up to second by the checkered. But he also didn’t mince words post-race, either.

“If my pit crew did not lose me six, seven spots and then have penalties and have to restart at the back every single time,” he said. “We passed the most trucks, but if you pass the most trucks, it doesn’t matter if you can’t win the thing where you need to be, restart where you need to be. Really pathetic night on pit road. These trucks are terrible in traffic. You can’t pass. Splitter game is horrendous. They want flat splitters and you put flat splitters on these things and they plow.”

The displeasure shown by the veteran comes as no surprise. Both he and Kevin Harvick have grown a reputation for not mincing words following losses, and being the hardest of any competitor on their pit crews. However, they also have something in common – they’ve won three or more races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this year. That strive for perfection and performance has allotted them to have the success thus far in 2018. 

Obviously frustration is a clear display behind those comments, though, because some of what Busch said could be chalked up to false news. The trucks may not be the best handling at times, but to say that “you can’t pass” is laughable. If that was the case, why has the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series put on the best races of any division in 2018? Why was Busch able to make the moves that he was able to? Why do you see constant battles for position each lap? Anger is understandable, but let’s try to keep our comments truthful.

That said, I almost want to hear what Gragson had to say after this race. He had a fast truck all night long, leading laps and running in the top-five. He even managed to fight his way back to second with 18 laps to go despite having a pit road speeding penalty in the opening stage. However, a bump from the boss, Busch, on the restart got the No. 18 Toyota Tundra sideways, almost into the grass. The contact cost Gragson valuable track position, dropping him back to 10th; he was only able to recover back to eighth. 

So yes, Kyle Busch Motorsports placed two trucks in the top-five – actually, all four Toyotas in the top-10. However, it was still a night to wonder what if? 

For the majority of the event, though, the racing was clean and competitive, with only a couple small spins and a flat tire for Grant Enfinger warranting yellow flags. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series package for Saturday night is modeled after what the truck series rules, with the splitter and reduced speed creating passing opportunities. If they have it anywhere near close, you can expect to be entertained.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.