Johnny Sauter Wins At Chicagoland; Ben Rhodes Breaks Tie For Playoff Berthby Hunter Thomas September 16, 2017
JOLIET, Ill. – Johnny Sauter won TheHouse.com 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, but Ben Rhodes was the biggest winner of the night as he raced his way into the NASCAR Playoffs.
Sauter chased down and passed Christopher Bell to lead the final 28 laps of the last NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular season event of the year. The win is Sauter’s second victory of 2017. He won at Dover International Speedway earlier this year in June. The driver of the GMS Racing No. 21 ISMConnect Chevrolet will be seeded second in the Playoffs.
“You know, tonight was a pivotal night for us I think,” Sauter said after the victory. “Obviously as a company, GMS, this was a brand new truck that we ran earlier in the year at Iowa. GMS fabrication, all in-house stuff, and we kinda put it on jack stands until tonight just to see where we were because we were so happy with it at Iowa. Our ISMConnect Chevy was awesome tonight.”
Rookie Chase Briscoe who finished second on Friday night will also compete for the championship. Briscoe, driver of the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford, has finished inside the top-10 in all but six events this year.
Regular season champion, Christopher Bell, completed the top-three in TheHouse.com 225. Bell led a race high of 72 laps in his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 SiriusXM Toyota. Bell will kick off the Playoffs with a 15-point lead over Sauter.
“I learned that I have to get better, this isn’t going to cut it for Homestead,” Bell said. “Really proud of how fast of a Tundra they built for us this weekend. Felt like we had the truck to win there and I just made some mistakes there at the end and gave it away.”
Aside from Sauter winning the race and Bell becoming the regular season champion, the biggest story of the night was that Ben Rhodes will now compete for this year’s championship after winning a point tiebreaker over Ryan Truex. On Friday night, Truex finished fourth after starting on the pole, and Rhodes hung on for a sixth-place finish behind his ThorSport Racing teammate, Grant Enfinger. Rhodes’ second-place finish over Truex in third at Pocono Raceway back in July is what broke the tie in the standings.
“Man, I still can’t believe it,” Rhodes said. “They gave me the hat and I’m like, ‘Are you sure this is ours?’ They said we were tied and we had the tiebreaker and I can’t believe it. The truck all night we struggled ever since we unloaded here. This was our worst performance overall and it couldn’t come at a worse week to do it, but they said we’re in and overall it worked out for us. A couple pit road penalties and we struggled all night. Thank you everybody that’s involved and now we have to re-focus and get a lot stronger for the Playoffs because a lot of these guys that are in are already there and they belong there and we have to get a little bit stronger because tonight was not one of our best nights.”
Truex won Stage 1 and that allowed him to close the gap and pressure Rhodes to finish well. He led on three occasions for 29 laps, but at the end of the night, Truex just needed one more position, and he wasn’t able to capture it.
“I felt like I had to be really, really aggressive on the restarts and I was and I was able to get those spots, but deeper in the run they passed me back and I couldn’t hold them,” Truex said. “It sucks. Half the guys in the playoff field run 12th to eighth every week and we run top-five and miss it. That’s racing. If we didn’t have any of the issues earlier in the year that we couldn’t control, we wouldn’t have been talking about this because we would have been locked in.”
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff field in order of seeding, includes Christopher Bell (+15), Johnny Sauter (-15), John Hunter Nemechek (-26), Matt Crafton (-26), Chase Briscoe (-31), Austin Cindric (-33), Ben Rhodes (-33) and Kaz Grala (-35).
The first race of the Playoffs will be the UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 23. Live coverage will broadcast on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 1 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images