By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
High school graduate Derek Kraus scored his second career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series top-five finish at Kansas Speedway.
Kraus skipped his high school graduation to compete in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200. The rookie-of-the-year contender ran up front throughout the 200-mile race in the No. 19 ENEOS Toyota Tundra.
“I feel like tonight we had a really good run, and it was a special night, for me it was graduation,” admitted Kraus. “I got my diploma from my principal back in Strafford, Wisconsin, I really can’t thank them guys enough.
“They let me chase my dreams of racing, and they let me miss as much school as I needed to, to chase my dreams. I just can’t thank them enough, and tonight was a really good night to have a good finish.”
The biggest moment of the night for Kraus came when defending Truck Series Champion Matt Crafton attempted to side-draft him. Crafton’s No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Ford F-150 broke loose as he attempted to avoid contact with the Toyota Racing Development driver. Somehow the duo never made contact, but Kraus still slipped to fifth.
In the closing laps, only a caution could have helped Kraus close in on race leader Austin Hill. Despite a late-race incident between Jordan Anderson and Spencer Davis, that caution never waved. Kraus ultimately took the checkered flag in fifth.
“Our ENEOS Toyota Tundra was really fast tonight,” explained Kraus. “I felt like right from the drop of the green flag we had a good Tundra. We were able to drive from 15th to seventh or eighth at the end of that first stage.
“Then, we fell back a little bit on the pit stop and then made our way back up and finished fifth at the end of the night. I feel like that was a really good run and a really good way to start off the weekend.”
Pit strategy early in the race moved Kraus into the top-10. The McAnally-Hilgemann Racing driver did not pit under the first caution. Kraus translated that into a sixth-place finish in the first stage. He followed that up with a fifth-place finish in the second stage.
Kraus started mid-pack in 15th after the random draw. Like most of the other rookie-of-the-year contenders, the absence of practice and qualifying will leave them climbing up the running order early in the race. Only two rookies, pole sitter Christian Eckes, and Zane Smith started ahead of Kraus.
The fifth-place finish is the second top-five in Kraus’ Truck Series career. It is also the seventh top-10 finish in 14 career starts for the Stratford, WI native. The top-five also earned Kraus the rookie of the race award.
The top-five finish moved Kraus from 11th to ninth in the points standings. He is 92-points behind leader and race winner Hill. Kraus is now three points ahead of the playoff cutline held by Crafton.
Next for Kraus is the second race of the first-ever NASCAR Truck Series doubleheader in series history. The fifth-place finish in the Friday night race leaves the 18-year-old starting 11th in the E.P.T 200 following a 15-truck invert.