The Gander Outdoors NASCAR Truck Series rolls back into Texas this weekend for round two at Texas Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch conquered the first race in Texas, holding off a hard charge from Brett Moffitt and Stewart Friesen at the end. Busch won’t be there this time around though, as he’s expired his five race limit in the series.
With just eight races to go before the playoffs begin, here’s what to watch for this weekend in the Lone Star State.
Kyle Busch’s reign of terror is done
The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series point leader’s time in the Truck Series is done, at least for 2019. Busch went five for five this season, winning at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Martinsville, Texas and Charlotte.
Busch was particularly dominant at Charlotte, leading 102 laps of a possible 134. He clicked off 73 fast laps — over half of the total laps run. It was as close to a blowout win as you’ll ever see in NASCAR. However, that’s all done now. Busch has run the maximum races possible this year, meaning the Truck Series is about to pick up in terms of intrigue.
Which leads us to…
The return of Greg Biffle
The NASCAR veteran returns to the racetrack this weekend, driving the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. As we’ve already mentioned, Busch went five for five in that same truck, so no pressure, Biff!
Biffle hasn’t competed in the sport since 2016, his final year in cup competition with Roush-Fenway Racing. Since then, Biffle has dabbled in some other forms of racing, including four-cylinders on dirt. Biffle has also run with Robby Gordon in his stadium super truck series.
Kyle Busch let Biffle get some laps at Texas during a practice session a couple of months ago. It was announced on that weekend that Biffle would drive the No. 51 when the trucks returned to Texas Motor Speedway.
You would think a cup veteran could simply hop into a truck and compete at a high level, but Biffle admits that the learning curve will be steep.
“The bar has been set pretty high, obviously, by Kyle winning five times in this 51 truck, but I look at the results when Kyle is not in it and some of the other trucks, my expectations are certainly high and I certainly want to win, but coming back for the first time and driving these things and figuring the tire and the aero out and all the competitors out,” Biffle said. “I want a solid top-five performance. I won’t be happy if I don’t win, but again I don’t want to set my expectations too awful high.”
Ross Chastain’s leap of faith
NASCAR’s busiest driver changed directions this week, swapping his points from the Xfinity Series to the Truck Series. How is this possible? Because Chastain has competed in every Truck event to this point. But there’s a catch — Chastain has to start from ground zero this weekend in point, since he initially declared that he was running for the Xfinity Series title. This means that he will likely have to win one of the next eight races to make the playoffs.
Chastain wasn’t initially supposed to be in Texas this weekend. In fact, Kyle Benjamin is still planning on racing his No. 45 entry. But Niece Motorsports has put Chastain in their No. 38 truck for the weekend, keeping Benjamin in the No. 45.
Chastain already has one win this year at Kansas, but it will not count towards his playoff status. Can he do it again? There’s no reason to think he can’t. Chastain has put his Niece Motorsports truck in contention nearly every race that he’s run so far this season. With Kyle Busch now out of the picture, this is absolutely possible for Ross.
When will Stewart Friesen finally breakthrough?
If you’ve followed the Truck Series over the last two seasons, you almost have to have a soft spot for Stewart Friesen. At this point, Friesen may be the most competitive driver to never win a Truck Series race. It’s not like his No. 52 truck is lacking speed, either. Something just always seems to go wrong in the final laps to keep him out of victory lane.
The most recent example of that played out at Kansas, when Friesen mistakenly thought it was a two tire stop in the final pit stops of the night. Friesen ended up not getting enough fuel to go to the finish, once again dooming his race winning speed.
This can’t keep happening, right? You wouldn’t think so, yet his bad luck and poor execution down the stretch continues. This No. 52 truck is simply too good to stay out of victory lane though. Friesen finished second to Busch just a few weeks ago at Texas. Can he hold off his semi-teammate Brett Moffitt for the win? That should be a fun battle.
Can Johnny Sauter find intermediate speed?
Sauter already has a win in 2019, taking home the trophy earlier in the year at Dover. But Johnny hasn’t been Johnny outside of that race. In moving from GMS Racing back to Thorsport, Sauter hasn’t found his intermediate speed yet this season.
Sauter has a 2nd at Atlanta and a 3rd at Texas, but has struggled since. He was a non-factor at Las Vegas and Charlotte and fell out of the race early at Kansas. That’s not the Johnny Sauter that we are used to seeing. As a whole, Thorsport is just a tick off of GMS Racing in terms of speed right now. With a few weeks to prepare, we’ll see if that changes this weekend in Fort Worth.
Will Brennan Poole backup his run at Charlotte?
If Kyle Busch hadn’t been racing at Charlotte, Brennan Poole and On Point Racing may have picked up their first win together. Poole was the surprise of the night, running inside of the top five for the majority of the second half of the race at Charlotte.
The question remains — was it a simple flash in the pan, or was it legitimate race winning speed out of the No. 30 truck? Texas should help paint that picture. Poole finished 9th in the Lone Star State earlier in the year, before being forced to skip the Kansas race. Poole has two top ten finishes this year.