When the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series took the green flag at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Tuesday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200, it had been 95 days since their last race. When Cup Series driver Chase Elliott took the checkered flag, he bounced back from a rough last two races in his respective series as he held off the driver responsible for prematurely ending his race at Darlington Raceway last Wednesday.
It had been a frustrating five days for Elliott. Late in Wednesday’s Toyota 500 at Darlington, Kyle Busch turned Elliott while racing in the top five, leading to the latter giving the reigning Cup champion the middle finger. In the Cup Series’ next stop with the Coca-Cola 600 last Sunday, a decision to pit prior to overtime ended his hopes of scoring the victory.
Busch, who had won his last seven Truck attempts, started sixteenth in Tuesday’s race. Due to his domination of the series, Gander RV head Marcus Lemonis and fellow Cup racer Kevin Harvick offered a $50,000 bounty apiece to any full-time Cup driver who could beat Busch in a Truck race. Elliott, who last raced in the series in 2017, joined GMS Racing for the effort and started twenty-sixth; Cup rookie John Hunter Nemechek, driving for his family-owned NEMCO Motorsports, was also eligible for the bounty. Nemechek would finish eighth, but was involved in a late crash with Front Row Motorsports driver Todd Gilliland; ironically, Nemechek currently races for the team’s Cup stable.
Unlike when it was first offered, Harvick elected to modify his bounty into a donation to COVID-19 relief efforts in the bounty hunter’s name if successful.
After Elliott won, Harvick tweeted, “Congratulations @chaseelliott and @GMSRacingLLC fun to watch! Looking forward to figuring out where to send this money and help a whole bunch of people!!”
As practice and qualifying were cancelled for all three national series (including Cup and Xfinity), the Trucks expanded to allow 40 drivers in the grid for races without qualifying. The number, far bloated from the usual cap at 32, led to the largest Truck field since the 1998 Sam’s Town 250 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A whopping 47 drivers entered the 200, but those without the needed owner’s points were excluded, including 2015 champion Erik Jones.
Ross Chastain and Elliott scored the first two stage wins, though Busch ran in the top ten for much of the night; he would lead 25 laps, the third-most behind Austin Hill‘s 26 and Elliott’s 47.
Despite the enlarged grid and most drivers being thrown behind the wheel for the first time in three months, the race mostly ran clean until the halfway point. On lap 74, Stewart Friesen was unable to pass the lapped Jesse Iwuji, with the latter being turned up into Brennan Poole as the three entered turn one. Poole’s night came to an end less than ten laps later when he wrecked with Natalie Decker.
Elliott and Busch would spend the final laps battling with one another. Busch found himself in yet another late fight for the second night in a row and the third consecutive lower-series event; he won the previous night’s Xfinity event after passing Austin Cindric on the final lap and lost out in a wild finish to Chase Briscoe in the series’ return race at Darlington. Unlike these two cases, this was against a Cup regular.
Despite pressure from Busch and GMS team-mate Zane Smith, Elliott pulled away to score his third career Truck victory. As he finished second, Busch was surrounded by GMS drivers with Smith in third, followed by Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed. With his bounty hunting endeavour a success, Elliott capped it off by performing Busch’s celebratory bow when he accepted the checkered flag.
“Complete Savage with the bow,” Cup driver Bubba Wallace remarked.
In a post-race Zoom conference, Elliott explained the bow was a “spur-of-the-moment thing. I thought we had so much fun with this, with Kevin and putting up money. Kyle was a good sport about it, I hope, but just having fun. Not a dig at anybody, but just having fun with it. It was about beating him and we did it, so why not have some fun with it?”
“Just got tight. It sucks when you start the race with broken pieces after sitting for six months,” Busch said in an un-aired interview with FS1. He had struggled with a broken spring earlier in the race. “There’s gonna be some [expletive] talking when I get home. That’s not acceptable.”
Elliott will start Wednesday’s Alsco Uniforms 500 in nineteenth, while Busch will do so from seventeenth.