Friday’s activities ahead of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup series Coca-Cola 600 featured the bizarre, the odd, the strange, dramatic, smashed fruit and even a few tears.
The first race of a doubleheader, the ARCA Menards 150 miler didn’t even make it four laps before Parker Chase saw his car’s dash catch on fire. It actually melted and became disconnected from the frame hanging loosely and smoking as he pitted. Even more bizarre the crew repaired it, and he finished the race in 15th, eight laps down.
But wait there’s more.
On lap 23 the spotter for driver Daniel Dye missed a call to clear his driver; Dye came up the track and squeezed the car of Drew Dollar into the outside wall. Things only got worse for Dye as during the ensuing caution for that incident the car of Andy Jankowiak got loose for no apparent reason spun on the backstretch and came down and into, you guessed, Daniel Dye. Despite all the damage Dye still managed to finish 6th, one lap down.
If that wasn’t enough Will Kimmel’s car went up in a ball of flames on lap 31, and a loose tire got away from a crew during pit stops and slowly rolled to a stop along the front stretch.
Brandon Jones won the race by 8.6 seconds, not exactly a nail biter.
Perhaps the biggest news from the NASCAR Truck series race that took the green flag about an hour after the ARCA race, was the fact that Kyle Busch didn’t win, or even lead a lap.
The winningest driver in Truck series history with 61, started second and briefly took the top spot on the first lap. But by the time the field crossed the line Ty Majeski was leading, and Busch was fifth.
It didn’t get any better from there for the owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Busch was penalized during the Stage 1 break for a crew member over the wall too soon, then had slow pit stops twice more. His language on the team radio would make a seasoned sailor blush. Busch was lucky to finish seventh running as low as 15th most of the race.
In the closing laps it appeared the finish would mirror that of the ARCA race. Carson Hocevar led a race high 57 laps and was holding a lead of over 6 seconds in route to what would have been his first career win. It appeared it was going to be another subpar finish that would be good for young Hocevar, but not so much for the fans.
Leave it to Jesse Little to save the truck race, at least for the fans.
Four laps before the end, Little spun bringing out the caution and setting up a green-white-checkered flag finish.
Hocevar led on the restart fighting for the win with Ryan Preece. Coming into turn 4 towards the white flag, Hocevar slid up into Preece and both trucks crashed. It set up another restart and this time Ross Chastain driving for Niece Motorsports, the same team as Hocevar, emerged with the win. Hocevar, who held on to finish 16th, drove his damaged Chevy to Chastain’s at the start-finish line after it was over in a show of respect.
For Chastain, an eighth-generation watermelon farmer, after his now trademark smash of the fruit on the track, his attention turned to his young teammate.
“Carson Hocevar and that No. 42 team dominated tonight. Al Niece (team owner) has given us trucks to come out and fight for wins,” Chastain said. “I hate it so much for Carson. If I had chosen the bottom (lane) like he did, I would have done the same thing. You’re just in a bad spot and I would have given him the push he needed to win.
“I’m so Carson. I just want to say that over and over. I love him. We learn together and we lose together. I’m ready to bust (a watermelon)!”
The young Hocevar fought back tears as he recapped his race and what caused the accident with Preece that ended his chance at a win.
“A dumbass move by myself,” he said. “I mean, that's it, I mean, it just sucks. I mean, I tried really hard and tried too hard. I didn't get a good restart and just tried too hard. I tried to wash him up and I just crashed myself, but…”
Hocevar sobbed, then collected himself.
“I feel like a sis crying, but I mean, it's, it's all I've ever wanted to do, but you'll get there,” he said. “I'm sure is hell going to eat watermelon in victory lane though.”
Friday night ended with cleanup trucks along the front stretch, and the empty stands thumping to the beat of Flo Rida performing just outside the track.
And two entire days to go in the weekend.