The third annual Drivin’ for Linemen 200 on June 25 at Madison’s Gateway Motorsports Park was jam-packed with thrilling events, including three races and a linemen competition.
Fans experienced a moment of déjà vu on Saturday as they battled the heat and back-to-back years of rain delays at the 1.25-mile oval track. Drivers, crews and fans waited for more than an hour and a half for the 200-mile race to begin as Titan jet-dryers circled the track to get it race-ready.
Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 4 Toyota owned by NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch, got his first career win on the pavement and notched the 50th win for Kyle Busch Motorsports, which is now tied for the most with Roush Fenway Racing. Bell all but secured his place for the NASCAR Camping World Truck series championship with the victory at Gateway.
“This win right here will make me and Jerry’s (Baxter) life a lot easier for the rest of the year,” Bell said. “I think we’ve both been a little stressed with the season. We’ve been fast, but we hadn’t been able to capitalize. I’ve used my share of mulligans, but now we can brush it off our shoulders and look forward to moving on to get another win before the chase.”
As the heat soared to nearly 130 degrees at track level, a two-hour rain delay cooled the fans off as the Camping World Truck Series engines began to roar nearly two hours behind schedule.
Second-place finisher Ben Rhodes, driver of the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota, netted a career best after claiming the pole position. Group qualifying was rained out for the second straight year and the field was lined up according to final practice times. Daniel Hemric, driver of the No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford, was third.
As the evening air cooled, temperatures on the track soared, resulting in a short round of hand-to-hand combat between the No. 5 Zaxby’s/Jive Communications Chevrolet driven by John Wes Townley and Spencer Gallagher, driver of the No. 23 Alamo Chevrolet, with just a handful of laps remaining in the race. Gallagher finished 22nd and Townley 23rd after the late race altercation.
“Disappointed that the night ended the way it did,” Gallagher said. “We had one fast Alamo Rent-A-Car Chevrolet this weekend. This GMS Racing crew worked so hard this weekend and I wish I could have brought home a better finish. Now it’s time to focus on Kentucky and bring home a solid finish there for the No. 23 GMS Racing team.”
Gateway Motorsports Park owner Curtis Francois was thrilled with the full lineup of events and hoped to give fans their money’s worth.
“We have continued to push for more and more events here at Gateway,” Francois said. “We feel very comfortable moving forward now that we’ve built a solid fan base here and I think that we’ve taken steps to become nationally known and I think the racing world is starting to hear our voices in the St. Louis area. We are looking toward having Indy cars and having additional NASCAR series races here. We’ve committed with the Camping World Truck series for five years; we hope to add the XFinity series to our calendar as well. It’s not in the works yet, but we’ll see where things go.”
The USAC (United States Auto Club) Silver Crown series and ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) both were scheduled to run before the truck race, but only the USAC teams were able to start on time.
Tanner Swanson, driver of the No. 2 Bowman Properties, won the USAC Silver Crown preliminary 60-lap event after qualifying for the front-row pole.
Linemen flocked to Gateway from all over the country to compete in Saturday’s Hurtman Rescue Championship linemen competition. Bob Bromm of Scottsburg, Ind., said he competed in the event to honor those lost in the line of duty.
“We are here representing 29 men who lost their lives in the last year,” Bromm said. “We are wearing banners on our backs with the names of the men and women lost. We want to remember their service. Linemen are first responders, too. We are out in hazardous conditions and working in dangerous environments to make sure our customers have lights, gas, heating and cooling when they need it most.”
Jason Novak of Marion won the inaugural Buckingham Climbin’ For Linemen competition. An Ameren Illinois employee, Novak used his skills and focus to win the Buckingham championship belt and a vacation package to Mexico provided by the Bevins Co.
All proceeds (including entry fees) from the event were donated to the Fallen Linemen Organization and funds from the event will allow the organization to continue to assist the families in their time of need. The organization was founded by NASCAR Drivin’ For Linemen 200 race sponsor Chad Dubea, who also owns Elite Fleet Services LLC.
Race results (starting position in parentheses)
1. (9) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 160.
2. (1) Ben Rhodes, Toyota, 160.
3. (13) Daniel Hemric, Ford, 160.
4. (2) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet, 160.
5. (17) Erik Jones, Toyota, 160.
6. (4) John H. Nemechek, Chevrolet, 160.
7. (5) German Quiroga, Toyota, 160.
8. (16) Kaz Grala, Chevrolet, 160.
9. (12) Ben Kennedy, Chevrolet, 160.
10. (21) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 160.
11. (24) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 160.
12. (25) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, 160.
13. (19) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, 160.
14. (23) Rico Abreu, Toyota, 160.
15. (8) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, 160.
16. (20) Shane Lee, Chevrolet, 160.
17. (3) William Byron, Toyota, 160.
18. (27) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 160.
19. (28) Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, 160.
20. (30) Enrique Contreras, Chevrolet, 160.
21. (15) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 156.
22. (11) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, Accident, 153.
23. (18) John Wes Townley, Chevrolet, Accident, 150.
24. (10) Cameron Hayley, Toyota, 150.
25. (7) Tyler Reddick, Ford, Accident, 149.
26. (6) Ryan Truex, Toyota, 149.
27. (14) Matt Crafton, Toyota, Accident, 148.
28. (26) Austin Wayne Self, Toyota, Accident, 118.
29. (29) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, Accident, 113.
30. (22) Jake Griffin, Chevrolet, Engine, 14.
31. (32) Caleb Roark, Chevrolet, Vibration, 7.
32. (31) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, Engine, 0.
Average speed of race winner: 89.021 mph
Time of race: 2 hours, 14 minutes, 48 seconds
Margin of victory: 0.275 seconds
Caution flags: 9 for 44 laps
Lead changes: 10 among 6 drivers
Lap leaders: B. Rhodes 0; J. Sauter 1-26; T. Reddick 27-67; J. Anderson 68; W. Byron 69-115; J. Sauter 116-118; C. Bell 119-148; B. Rhodes 149-152; C. Bell 153-160.
Leaders summary (driver, times lead, laps led): W. Byron 1 time for 47 laps; T. Reddick 1 time for 41 laps; C. Bell 2 times for 38 laps; J. Sauter 2 times for 29 laps; B. Rhodes 2 times for 4 laps; J. Anderson 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in points: W. Byron - 226; M. Crafton - 225; T. Peters - 221; D. Hemric - 216; J. Sauter - 204; J. Nemechek - 192; B. Kennedy - 192; T. Reddick - 191; C. Bell - 185; B. Rhodes - 181.