Derek Kraus charged into the lead going into Turn 1 in an overtime restart and came away with a career-best, second-place finish at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Sunday, to keep his playoff hopes alive in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
The 19-year-old series rookie will head into the final race of the regular season 11th in the championship standings, 10 points below the cutoff line to make a playoff spot.
Sunday’s finish marked a great comeback for Kraus in the McAnally-Hilgermann Racing No. 19 NAPA Filters Toyota Tundra that featured a throwback scheme of the NAPA truck that NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Ron Hornaday drove to a championship in 1996.
Kraus, who was mired back in the field throughout much of the day, was able to gain ground on the leaders late in the event. He credited crew chief Kevin Bellicourt with making strategic calls to bring him in for fresh tires early in the third stage of the race and keeping him out when many of the leaders stopped for fresh tires in overtime.
“Kevin, up on top of the box, made a really good call there at the end,” Kraus said. “I got a good restart and did everything I needed to, but there off of (Turn) 2 – it got really loose off of two. It was kind of my mistake a little bit, but I feel like overall it was a great day. We struggled a lot in the beginning, but Kevin got this NAPA Filters Toyota Tundra tuned up for the end.”
Kraus started 13th on the grid and maintained ground up to a competition caution on Lap 20. After dropping spots during a pit stop, he got busy and made it up to 16th by the end of the first stage on Lap 45. He faced a similar situation in the second stage, where he worked his way back to 16th on Lap 90.
In the final stage, he made a pit stop for fresh tires and fuel on Lap 104 and began making his way through traffic. He was up to 10th by Lap 120 and then took advantage of a caution a few laps later to get fresh tires, again. He was up to seventh when the final caution came out in the closing laps, setting up an overtime finish.
Kraus gained the third spot when many of the leaders opted to pit and he lined up on the inside of the front row for the final restart, when the first two truck opted to start in the outside line. He shot into the lead on the restart, but slipped to second when his truck got loose coming off Turn 2. He charged across the finish line in the runner-up spot a lap later, topping his previous best finish of fourth in the season opener at Daytona.
Derek Kraus – Thoughts About Darlington
Can you take us through the last few laps?
“Kind of struggled all day and couldn’t get very good track position. Then at the end, we finally got a little bit of track position. Kevin and the guys worked on the truck really good. We got a good restart and did everything we needed to do. Then I just got really loose off of two and it was kind of my fault, but we’ll move onto Richmond.”
Do you think you could have held off Ben Rhodes if not for the slip in turn two?
“I feel like it definitely would have been harder for him to pass me. I got loose and kind of just gave it to him. I feel like if I would have been able to get a good run off of two and make no mistakes, it would have definitely been harder for him to pass me. I feel like his truck was probably a little bit better than mine, but with clean air, my truck definitely handled better.”
Did you base the strategy at the end on what your fellow Playoff bubble competitors did?
“They were behind us so if they pitted and I didn’t, we wouldn’t really have had an idea because they were two spots behind us at the time. We just had our game plan right away and we were going to stay out. It worked out good and I was able to get a good restart.”
How much momentum does this finish give you for Richmond?
“It definitely helps, that’s for sure. I feel like we’ll be able to adapt to the track quick and how it wears out. Have to be there at the end of those things. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
How do you feel going into Richmond being 10 points out of the Playoffs?
“I’ve never been there before, but I feel like I can kind of base it off of Kern County, it kind of has that same D-shaped oval and just grip-wise, it wears out like today at Darlington and also at Atlanta. I kind of grew up racing at those kind of race tracks where the tires fall off and you have to be able to save your tires for the end of the race. I enjoy going to those type of race tracks. Hopefully at Richmond we’ll have a good truck and be there and have a good points day.”
Do you have more confidence with Kevin Bellicourt as your crew chief?
“Kevin (Bellicourt, crew chief) knows what he’s doing. He’s really good at adjusting on my truck and making the right changes. He’s got the experience in the Playoffs and he’s definitely been in spots like this where we have to go in and run really well. I really have a lot of faith in him and my team, they’ll bring me a really good Toyota Tundra next weekend to Richmond.”
NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Event:
Race: South Carolina Education Lotter 200, Sept. 6, 2020
Location: Darlington Raceway, Darlington, S.C. (1.366-mile oval)
Format: Three Stages; Lap 45 / Lap 90 / Lap 147
No. 19 NAPA Filters Toyota Tundra
Hometown: Stratford, Wisc.
Stage 1: 16th
Stage 2: 16th
Finished: 2nd (Running, completed 152 of 152 laps)
Race Winner: Ben Rhodes
2020 Series Stats:
Races: 15 starts, 3 top fives, 9 top 10s
Laps completed: 1,865/1,875 (ranks 2nd)
Series standings: 11th
ToyotaCare 250, Sept. 10, 2020, Richmond Raceway, Richmond, Va. (3/4-mile oval)
McAnally-Hilgemann Racing PR