By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas held off both Anthony Alfredo and Kyle Busch on multiple restarts in the virtual Camping World Truck at Knoxville Raceway.
Vargas didn’t take the lead in the Keller Williams Dirt Derby until 24 laps to go. The virtual No. 23 (scored as No. 6) Ry-N-Vargas Chevrolet Silverado took the top spot from Alfredo’s No. 5 Sim Seats Ford F-150 on a restart. Another quick caution in the Monday Night Racing Rowdy Energy Pro Series saw the lead slip back to the Cup Series driver. Vargas recaptured the lead in his In-N-Out inspired paint scheme with 12 laps to go.
Two more cautions forced the La Mirada, Calif. native to fight two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Busch and Alfredo for the race lead in a natural green-white-checkered finish. With the virtual dirt rubbered in, the JD Motorsports driver drifted through the corners on the inside. The move forced Alfredo up the track, killing his momentum. Busch took advantage to take second but didn’t have enough time to catch Vargas.
Vargas took the checkered flag with 0.283 seconds back to Busch. Alfredo, Max Kennon, and Collin Fern completed the top-five. Will Rodgers, James Bickford, Parker Kligerman, Stefan Wilson, and Bryan Boris Cook rounded out the top-10.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” admitted Vargas. “I have to give a huge amount of credit to my buddies Jake Fisher and Leighton Sibille. We ran the UFL Truck Series, and this is one of the tracks we raced at, had a lot of fun. Big credit to them, I learned a lot. It’s fun racing these trucks around here.
“The biggest thing with these dirt races, it turns into an eggshell throttle. You have to drive it like there’s an eggshell underneath the throttle and you can’t crack it. That is the one thing that I learned a lot in this race and running other dirt races with NASCAR stock cars and trucks. I got it done at the end of the day.
“Now I have nothing to lose. I can go on out and cause as much mischief as I can. Tonight, I brought out the lucky No. 23 and it worked for us. I’ll have to try some things for the rest of the season to have some fun.”
The first half of the race at the half-mile dirt track went caution free. A wreck on lap 37 swept up polesitter and race leader Gary Sexton. The driver of the virtual No. 13 Dirty Air Toyota Tundra was collected in a wreck on the ensuing restart, ending his night just after halfway. Sexton also ran the fastest lap of the race 22.053 seconds, 81.622 MPH on lap three.
In the 1v1 challenges, Collin Fern took the win over Rajah Caruth. The driver of the virtual No. 68 Brandonbilt Motorsports Chevrolet was also the rookie of the race. Fern ran inside the top-10 throughout the entirety of the 65-lap race while Caruth was just outside the top-10. The Drive for Diversity competitor ultimately finished 19th.
The other 1v1 challenge ended before the feature even began. Media members Brett Baldeck and Chris Wilner battled one another in both the qualifying heats and the last chance qualifier (LCQ). A wreck on the opening lap of the LCQ put Baldeck’s virtual No. 4 FOX46 Charlotte machine a lap down. Wilner ultimately beat his 1v1 rival by one position, although neither transferred to the feature.
Also failing to transfer to the feature were Mark Rebilas, Michael Massie, Ford Martin, and Kase Kallenbach. For Martin, it marked the first time that the Monday Night Racing co-founder had failed to qualify for the main event.
1. 6-Ryan Vargas , 2. 51-Kyle Busch , 3. 5-Anthony Alfredo , 4. 21-Max Kennon , 5. 68-Collin Fern , 6. 24-Will Rodgers , 7. 29-James Bickford , 8. 75-Parker Kligerman , 9. 25-Stefan Wilson , 10. 63-Bryan Boris Cook , 11. 77-Devon Henry , 12. 11-Steve Auffant , 13. 46-Steven Ellis , 14. 53-Justin Melillo , 15. 20-David Schildhouse , 16. 2-TJ Majors , 17. 19-Robby Lyons , 18. 102-Zachary Mertes , 19. 44-Rajah Caruth , 20. 41-Matt Stallknecht , 21. 17-Adam Cabot , 22. 12-Brandon Brown , 23. 93-Garrett Miller , 24. 60-Brad Perez , 25. 57-Seth Eggert , 26. 42-Preston Pardus , 27. 50-Gabe Wood , 28. 54-Josh Bilicki , 29. 52-Garrett Smithley , 30. 13-Gary Sexton .
Lead Changes: Four among three drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Gary Sexton 1-36, Anthony Alfredo 37-41, Ryan Vargas 42-48, Anthony Alfredo 49-53, Ryan Vargas 54-65.
Laps Led: Gary Sexton 36, Ryan Vargas 19, Anthony Alfredo 10.
Hard Charger(s): 24-Will Rodgers, Spacestation Racing (+16).
Rookie of the Race: 68-Collin Fern, Brandonbilt Motorsports, fifth.
Caution Flags: Five for 18 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.283 seconds.
Time of Race: 30 minutes, 9.624 seconds.
Average Speed: 64.654 MPH.
Pole Winner: 13-Gary Sexton, Dirty Air, 22.056 seconds (81.610 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 13-Gary Sexton, Dirty Air, Lap 3, 22.053 seconds (81.622 MPH).
Failed to Qualify: 31. 99-Mark Rebilas, 32. 27-Michael Massie, 33. 26-Chris Wilner, 34. 4-Brett Baldeck, 35. 07-Ford Martin, 36. 84-Kase Kallenbach.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires.