For the second straight year, the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks returned to Texas Motor Speedway for a doubleheader alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series. In two races held on Saturday, Gavin Harlien and Matt Brabham both recorded their third wins of the 2018 season.
The track layout was mostly similar to the 2017 event’s, but featured more asphalt in the infield section, while the jump to return to the Legends track oval entered a 90-degree right turn instead of an angled kink. The 175-foot “money” crossover jump was retained for 2018.
E.J. Chiba, a Japanese rally driver who races in events across Asia, made his series debut at Texas in the #73 truck. Chiba had tested with the series in May. Robby Gordon, who missed the Detroit rounds for the Baja 500, returned to the series for Texas.
Practice and qualifying took place on Friday night, shortly after the conclusion of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. Brabham recorded the fastest time of 55.110 seconds, followed by Jeff Hoffman (55.605), Arie Luyendyk Jr. (55.927), Harlien (56.075), Robby Gordon (56.144), Blade Hildebrand (56.272), Paul Morris (56.298), Cole Potts (57.008), Chiba (1:01.050), Bill Hynes (1:01.073), and Aaron Bambach (1:01.139).
Both races consisted of 18 laps with two competition cautions scheduled on laps five and ten. Drivers were required to run a “dog leg” chicane prior to the money jump at least once per green flag run.
With his poor qualifying run, Bambach started on the pole for the first round. Bambach led Hynes early on, though Morris, who started fifth, quickly moved into second after two laps. Before beginning lap two, Hynes plummeted to the rear when he spun in the final turn.
On lap five, Morris nearly passed Bambach for the lead, but missed the jump and was not permitted to complete the overtake. Therefore, Bambach remained in first as the competition caution came out during the lap. Behind the two were Hildebrand, Harlien, and Hoffman.
On the restart, Morris quickly passed Bambach on the inside as they exited the tri-oval. Bambach eventually began falling as Harlien, Brabham, and Hoffman also went by him on lap seven.
“[Bambach] hasn’t had much seat time at a track like this. It’s been a couple of years since he has; the last time, I believe, was in Costa Mesa, California at the Sand Sports Super Show a few years ago,” color commentator Sean Sermini said in the race broadcast. Bambach raced at the Sand Sports Super Show in 2014, finishing sixth and fifth.
Hoffman and Brabham fought for third as Morris and Harlien comprised the top two. Harlien began closing on Morris when the second competition caution came out on lap ten. Brabham cleared Hoffman to take third by the yellow flag.
Morris continued to lead Harlien at the green as Hoffman and Brabham resumed their duel. On lap 13, Harlien attempted to pass Morris as they exited the frontstretch, but failed. Shortly after, Hildebrand lost his wheel, eliminating him from the race but no caution was called.
On lap fourteen, Brabham flipped off a frontstretch ramp, rolling multiple times before landing on his wheels. Although Brabham drove off, he was forced to exit the race for his first DNF of the 2018 season. The wreck prompted a yellow, which was eventually changed to a red flag.
The green flag waved on lap 15 as Morris led Harlien. A lap later, Harlien passed Morris on the inside in the last corner to take first. Morris was unable to catch up to Harlien as he recorded his third win of the year. Hoffman finished third, followed by Potts, Gordon, Luyendyk, Hynes, Chiba, and Bambach. Due to their respective incidents, Brabham and Hildebrand did not finish.
“The big star in Stadium Super Trucks used to be Sheldon ‘The Showstopper’ Creed. […] But the new star: Gavin Harlien,” Sermini said during the race. Creed, a two-time series champion and the winningest driver in SST history, won his first career ARCA Racing Series race at Michigan International Speedway on Friday to become the points leader; he also won a Texas round in 2017. “He is the new Sheldon Creed in Stadium Super Trucks, and we’re not just making that up.”
Race #2 began after the IndyCar event. Following his retirement in Race #1, Hildebrand was on the pole ahead of Chiba.
The trucks filed into a single file at the green flag. After just two laps, Hildebrand had established a considerable advantage, which was eventually erased at the first competition yellow. Behind him, Brabham and Gordon tailed.
At the green flag, Hildebrand resumed his work at the front with Brabham in tow as Luyendyk passed Gordon for third. On lap seven, Morris pulled off the track after suffering damage to his tire following an awkward landing on the frontstretch.
On lap eight, Brabham took the lead when Hildebrand took the required dog leg. Hoffman, lacking a hood, moved up the field into the top three, but eventually lost the spot to Gordon. Morris eventually returned to the race and mounted a comeback, reaching sixth by the second competition caution. At this point, the top three consisted of Brabham, Hildebrand, and Gordon.
Brabham led the field to the restart on lap 12. Hoffman, who was running fifth at the caution, fell to the rear when he was unable to complete the jump into the infield. Hildebrand and Potts took the alternate route on lap 13.
With Hildebrand in the middle of the grid after running the chicane, Brabham continued to lead. On lap 14, Harlien passed Gordon for second, while Hildebrand ran fourth. Hildebrand lost his spot following an aggressive move by Morris, followed by Potts also making the pass on him.
As those behind him fought for position, Brabham formed a wide advantage that he never relinquished to take win #3 of 2018. Harlien finished second, followed by Gordon, Potts, Morris, Hildebrand, Bambach, Hoffman, Hynes, and Luyendyk. Chiba retired from the race.
“I was trying to go for the win in the first race, for the points overall, and congrats to Gavin for the win this weekend on that,” Brabham explained in Victory Lane. “I hit the jump and my hood came up and I couldn’t see where I was going, and then I tried to make it as far as I could without seeing and I was trying to follow a truck. I just made a mistake, misjudged it, couldn’t see where I was going and hit a jump side-on, rolled down the straight.”
“The guys, all the guys of SST, the mechanics, the crew that helped work on my truck to get it ready for that race did an unbelievable job. Just so happy to get out there for that race.”
In a classy gesture, Brabham’s #83 truck featured a sticker honoring Jared Black, a victim of the Santa Fe High School shooting in May.
The next race on the SST schedule is Road America, a new addition for the 2018 season.
Featured image from Stadium Super Trucks