Late caution fails to derail Corey Heim’s flawless run at COTA

Connor Zillisch (7) leadsa Corey Heim (11), Nick Sanchez (2), and Taylor Gray at the start of Saturday’s XPEL 225 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. XPEL 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. Photo by David Barks.

XPEL 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Circuit of the America kicks off Saturday doubleheader

AUSTIN, TX – Nothing could stop Corey Heim’s march to the Winner’s Circle in Saturday afternoon’s XPEL 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA).

Not a late caution, low fuel, a hard challenge from Tanner Gray … not even the rear end falling off Marco Andretti’s Chevy Silverado.

Corey Heim does a burnout after winning Saturday’s NASCAR Truck Series race at COTA. Photo by David Barks.

Heim dominated the race – leading 31 of the 46 laps over COTA’s 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course – the first road race of the 2024 season.

No one else led more than four laps.

It’s Heim’s first win of the year in his Toyota Tacoma which was specially built for this race.

“Just prepared so hard for this race,’’ Heim said, adding, “I came into this race last year and struggled really. Finished sixth with a penalty and just all over the place. To put together a solid race like this is just so special and really just shows you how good our trucks are back at the shop”.

His 1.625-second margin over his teammate Taylor Gray earned Heim a guaranteed ticket into the playoffs – with his sixth career win.

Seventeen-year-old Connor Zillisch won his first career pole, with Heim starting beside him in the front row.

Zillisch’s lead didn’t make it past Turn 1 of the opening lap when he drove straight off the track instead of turning left at Turn 1.

“The 17 (Taylor Gray) got inside of me and another truck got on the other side and I lost all perspective,” said Zillisch. ”I just made some rookie mistakes. Still, I was able to get a good finish in my first race but it was bittersweet.”

Zillich immediately fell back to 33rd and then 34th place in the 35-car field but didn’t quit. He eventually worked himself back into the Top 10 and finished an impressive fourth.

Drivers race uphill during Saturday’s NASCAR Truck Series race at COTA. Photo by David Barks.

Gray grabbed the lead but could only hold it for four laps, losing the lead on the restart after the race’s first caution.

That’s when Heim moved out front for the first of six times, only giving it up briefly when he went to the pits on green flag pit stops.

His team’sS strategy called for Heim to pit early, two laps before the end of Stage 1.

That gave Nick Sanchez the opening to drive to the front and win Stage 1, followed by Ty Majeski, Tanner Gray (Taylor’s older brother), Tyler Ankrum, and Christian Eckes.

Because he pitted early, Heim was able to stay on the track during the stage break and quickly returned to the lead and, except for a brief lineup shuffle after green flag pit stops, rolled to an easy Stage 2 win.

Heim destroyed the field in Stage 3, rolling to a nine-second lead with five laps to go when Lawless Alan’s car died on the track, bringing out the fifth caution.

While the restart tightened the field, no one was able to get by Heim.

With two laps left, and the race seemingly in the bag, Marco Andretti blew out his truck’s rear end.

Andretti’s rear axle with both tires attached, part of his drive shaft, and both shock absorbers just broke free from his truck.

That brought out a red flag while the track was cleaned of all the debris.

That set up a two-lap overtime shootout and, with it, concerns that some of the trucks, including Taylor Gray’s, could run out of fuel.

“I was just praying (that I didn’t run out of gas) at that point,” said Gray. “I made a mistake at the beginning of the race that put us behind all day long. If I wasn’t nursing fuel at the end, I think I could have made a push for the win.”

The late caution didn’t slow Heim down.

Corey Heim (11) races to the win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race Saturday at the Circuit of the Americas. Photo by David Barks.

Heim got a great jump on the final restart and was able to beat Gray to the finish line, followed by Majeski, Zillisch, Cup racer Ross Chastain, Jack Hawksworth (a sportscar and IndyCar driver making his first Truck Series start), Ben Rhodes, Eckes, Dean Thompson, and Tanner Gray.

Heim continues his strong start to the season, finishing sixth or better in all five races.

“Just great consistency and that was the name of the game last year to make it as far as we did,’’ he said. “Didn’t have the result at the end (of 2023) but I think this year we can make it back and prove we’re champions. Super excited for the rest of the year, we’re really just getting started and I think our best tracks are in front of us.”

The NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series returns to the track on April 5 with the Long John Silver’s 200 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Heim is the defending winner.

The XPEL 225 was the first race of a Saturday doubleheader.

The Focused Health 250 Xfinity race rounded out the day’s action. (see separate story)

Nick Sanchez (2) leads Corey Heim (11) during the early laps of Saturday’s Truck race at COTA. Photo by David Barks.

NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Race – XPEL 225

Circuit of The Americas

Austin, Texas

Saturday, March 23, 2024


(1)  Corey Heim, Toyota, 46 laps complete.

(2)  Taylor Gray, Toyota, 46.

(3)  Ty Majeski, Ford, 46.

(4)  Connor Zilisch, Chevrolet, 46.

(5)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 46.

(6)  Jack Hawksworth, Toyota, 46.

(7)  Ben Rhodes, Ford, 46.

(8)  Christian Eckes, Chevrolet, 46.

(9)  Dean Thompson, Toyota, 46.

(10)  Tanner Gray, Toyota, 46.

(11)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 46.

(12)  Grant Enfinger, Chevrolet, 46.

(13)  Jack Wood, Chevrolet, 46.

(14)  Jake Garcia, Ford, 46.

(15)  Rajah Caruth, Chevrolet, 46.

(16)  Bayley Currey, Chevrolet, 46.

(17)  Timmy Hill, Toyota, 46.

(18)  Nick Sanchez, Chevrolet, 46.

(19)  Stefan Parsons, Chevrolet, 46.

(20)  Stewart Friesen, Toyota, 46.

(21)  Carter Fartuch, Ford, 46.

(22)  Chase Purdy, Chevrolet, 46.

(21)  Matt Crafton, Ford, 46.

(24)  Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 46.

(25)  Tyler Ankrum, Chevrolet, 46.

(26)  Dale Quarterley, Toyota, 45.

(27)  Layne Riggs #, Ford, 43.

(28)  Daniel Dye, Chevrolet, 42.

(29)  Bret Holmes, Chevrolet, 42.

(30)  Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, 42.

(31)  Marco Andretti, Chevrolet, Suspension, 40.

(32)  Thad Moffitt #, Chevrolet, 39.

(33)  Lawless Alan, Ford, Rear Gear, 34.

(34)  Vicente Salas, Chevrolet, Transmission, 33.

(35)  Mason Massey, Chevrolet, Brakes, 32.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  69.492 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 15 Mins, 26 Secs.

Margin of Victory:  1.625 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  6 for 10 laps.

Lead Changes:  14 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   C. Zilisch 0;T. Gray 1-4;L. Riggs # 5;C. Heim 6-8;N. Sanchez 9-12;C. Eckes 13;C. Heim 14;J. Hawksworth 15;C. Heim 16-22;S. Friesen 23-24;C. Heim 25-27;T. Majeski 28;C. Heim 29-38;T. Majeski 39;C. Heim 40-46.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Corey Heim 6 times for 31 laps; Tanner Gray 1 time for 4 laps; Nick Sanchez 1 time for 4 laps; Stewart Friesen 1 time for 2 laps; Ty Majeski 2 times for 2 laps; Jack Hawksworth 1 time for 1 lap; Layne Riggs # 1 time for 1 lap; Christian Eckes 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 2,98,15,18,19,99,77,88,91,25

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,98,1,99,17,7,71,18,5,88

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