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Ross Chastain bounces back with Gander Trucks victory at Gateway

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Ross Chastain corralled a redemptive victory Saturday night in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, emerging from a late-race restart at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in the final event of the Triple Truck Challenge.

Chastain’s Niece Motorsport No. 45 Chevrolet led 21 of the 160 laps in the CarShield 200, collecting an extra $50,000 payday to round out the three-race Triple Truck Challenge initiative — also known as “The Trip.” He held off the primary challenger Christian Eckes down the stretch, gaining track position from a fuel-only stop on his final trip to pit road.

Chastain’s second victory of the season was his first at the 1.25-mile Gateway track and the second of his Gander Trucks career. He was flagged as the winner last Sunday at Iowa Speedway, but he was disqualified and demoted to a last-place finish after his truck failed post-race inspection. Saturday at the Illinois track, Chastain’s truck was given the all-clear signal with no issues in inspection after the race.

“I didn’t want to take tires and then it was up to me to freakin’ hold ’em off,” Chastain said of the fuel-only stop that left him with worn tires for the final sprint. “I don’t know how, but oohhh, I’m going to take that money home and they’re not taking it from us this time.”

Chastain changed his series eligibility earlier this month, declaring on June 4 that he would compete for Gander Trucks championship points after accruing Xfinity Series points from the start of the season. That left him with zero points halfway through the Gander Trucks’ 16-race regular season and meant that his win in the series’ event at Kansas in May did not count toward the series title race.

The victory checked one requirement for Chastain to qualify for playoff eligibility. The other is a jump into the top 20 in the series’ standings; Saturday’s result unofficially moved him to 26th in the standings.

“I can’t believe it, but I can, man,” said Phil Gould, Chastain’s crew chief. “This is tough bunch. This has been a tough, tough week for this team and everybody involved. To come back and battle back through that adversity, that’s pretty damn awesome.”

Todd Gilliland matched a career-best finish in second, his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 Toyota just .704 seconds behind at the checkered flag. Stewart Friesen, Chandler Smith and Brett Moffitt, last week’s winner, completed the top five in the finishing order. Grant Enfinger swept both stages, leading 52 of the first 72 laps in the ThorSport No. 98 Ford before fading to a sixth-place result.

Myatt Snider took 10th place in a substitute role for the suspended Johnny Sauter in the ThorSport Racing No. 13 Ford. NASCAR competition officials banned Sauter for one race after the veteran rammed rival Austin Hill in last weekend’s event at Iowa Speedway. Snider’s fill-in start was just his third appearance in the Gander Trucks tour this season.

Eckes started from the pole position after inclement weather canceled qualifying. That forced officials to set the lineup according to team owner points, placing Eckes’ Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Toyota in the first starting spot. Eckes led 57 laps, but finished 14th after a final-lap spinout.

The event was full of tributes to longtime Truck Series team owner and St. Louis native Mike Mittler, who died May 10 after a long bout with cancer. Mittler’s family members were invited to the event as pre-race dignitaries, and all race teams stood atop the pit wall on Lap 63 in recognition of Mittler’s long-running truck number.

The track renamed the prize for its annual Gander Trucks race the Mittler Memorial Trophy.