KNOXVILLE, IOWA—The invasion of the Camping World Truck Series into the iconic Knoxville Raceway turned into a wreckfest with eight cautions over 78 laps in the final stage.
The post-race fireworks paled in comparison to the chaos of overtime. Despite four attempts at a green-white-finish—the fans remained in the stands and on their feet as the remaining 22 drivers on the lead lap battled to finish.
When the smoke finally cleared, Austin Hill was crowned the inaugural winner of the Corn Belt 150.
“Track position was huge and it was really hard to get around people,” Hill said. “You had to kind of rough them up to get around them. I just kept my head down. This team and everybody at HRE (Hattori Racing Enterprises), they never quit and that’s the thing I love about this group. We don’t stop, we don’t quit—even when we think we’re down and out, we just keep coming back.
“If you would have told me that we would win a dirt race this year, I would have told you that you were lying. But I’m fine with winning anywhere we can win one.”
Chandler Smith, who had dominated the final stage and led a race-high 71 laps, finished second followed by Grant Enfinger, Todd Gilliland, Derek Kraus, Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Brian Brown, Tate Fogleman and Danny Bohn.
Kraus won the pole and then the first two stages—both which ended prematurely. Jessica Friesen spun in Turn 2 to trigger the third caution on Lap 39 as the first segment was ending. Brian Brown’s second spin with Kraus in the lead allowed the driver of the No. 19 truck to collect his third stage win of the year.
Smith remained on the track after the second stage to grab the lead. The 19-year-old driver did a miraculous job of managing his equipment—and tires—over the final 78 laps. He held off challenges from Enfinger and Carson Hocevar in the closing laps but the cautions just kept coming. Hill first challenged Enfinger, then passed him for second as a multi-truck incident ensued when John Hunter Nemechek’s truck went sideways in Turn 2 on Lap 147. Sheldon Creed, Hailie Deegan and Sauter were collected before the race went into overtime.
Smith maintained the point coming through the second turn as eighth-place Jake Griffin turned sideways entering Turn 1. Donny Schatz, who was running 10th, plowed into Griffin then burst into flames. The back of the field funneled into a 17-car wreck—and NASCAR waved the red as track workers spent the next 15 minutes clearing debris.
“I had nowhere to go, I was just along for the ride,” said Schatz, who was scored 32nd. “I thought I was going to have a top-10 finish. I appreciate them doing it. It was a lot of fun.”
Hill eventually snatched the lead by a nose just as the trucks slowed prior to the 13th of 14 cautions on Lap 170—much to Smith’s dismay. When the team told Smith that Hill had the lead he was surprised and disappointed.
“First of all, just have to thank Danny (Stockman, crew chief) and all the guys on this No. 18 JBL Toyota Tundra team. They worked their tails off on this thing and we got it really good in practice. We fell back there in the race and I couldn’t run the top, but we were able to make it work on the bottom.
“We needed track position, but we were able to lead a bunch of laps. I don’t think the call was right that they (NASCAR) made to be honest, but it is what it is and that’s part of it.”
Despite one final melee with Stewart Friesen, Tyler Antrum, Sauter and Zane Smith in Turn 1, NASCAR eventually settled the lineup and Hill extended his lead by 1.207-seconds for his first win of the season and the seventh of his career.
“I can’t thank everybody at Toyota enough – Tochigi, Toyota Mobility Parts, Fukishima and everyone else for being on this truck,” Hill said. “Jack Irving (TRD) and Tyler Gibbs (TRD) and everyone for helping me to get to where I’m at. My parents, my family—this is awesome.”