Drive for Diversity vets Caruth, Larson win at Las Vegas for HendrickCars.com

Rajah Caruth earned his first NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series victory at Las Vegas - Getty Images for NASCAR photo
Rajah Caruth earned his first NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series victory at Las Vegas – Getty Images for NASCAR photo

Rajah Caruth understands his “please and thank you” obligations quite well. Just a couple of days after Hendrick Motorsports’ announced the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series competitor, racing with Spire Motorsports, would be a part of owner Rick Hendrick’s HendrickCars.com family, the driver gave him a proper repayment of the courtesy, taking both the pole position and victory in Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 on Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval.

This was an historic win in NASCAR’s 76-year history, as Caruth joined NASCAR Hall of Fame Wendell Scott and current NASCAR Cup Series competitor Bubba Wallace as the sole three Black competitors to find their ways to Victory Lane in one of the series trio of national touring series. HendrickCars.com initially intended to work with Caruth and Spire Motorsports for 10 truck races this year; on February 28, it was announced the brand would back Caruth for the full, 21-race season.

The Victoria’s Voice Foundation race at Las Vegas marked the first time Spire Motorsports would field CRAFTSMAN Truck Series entries at this track. With three Chevrolet Silverado trucks, one each for full-time entrants Caruth in the No. 71 and the No. 77 for Chase Purdy, plus an “all-star” rotating lineup of drivers that don’t compete in this series full-time – this weekend it was Kyle Busch in the No. 7 Silverado – the team was a triple threat in Sin City.

Caruth listens to Kyle Busch before Saturday’s race – Getty Images for NASCAR photo

While Caruth had pole position (by 0.001-sec over Christian Eckes’ Silverado), he had to fight for his victory and it was decisions by his pit crew that helped the 21-year-old NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate from Washington, D.C. make his way to Victory Lane. An early stop during a long, 62-lap green-flag period, lightning-quick work by the crew all helped Caruth take the lead and finish 0.851 seconds ahead of Tyler Ankrum, who had passed Taylor Gray for second place late in the going. Gray fell to fourth place behind fellow Toyota racer Corey Heim, while Cup Series regular Christopher Bell finished fifth in the 134-lap contest.

Caruth finished the three stages in second, third and first place. There were four caution flags and 19 lead changes among 10 racers. Now in his second season of CRAFTSMAN Truck Series competition, Caruth celebrated his victory with a smoky burnout and then hugs from his family. “It’s surreal,” Caruth said after the win. “Thanks to Mr H (Hendricks) for putting me in this thing all year, and with the men and women at Spire. So many people have helped me get to this point and I can’t believe it!” With his parents on-site, “They’ve been with me every step of the way. That’s honestly a blessing I’ve really had… “

Kyle Larson won all stages and the Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Getty Images for NASCAR photo

Caruth wasn’t the only HendickCars.com winner over the weekend, or the sole Drive for Diversity graduate in Victory Lane. Kyle Larson brought his No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the win on Sunday afternoon after dominantly winning all three stages of the Cup Series contest. No one in the field had a car to top the 2021 Cup Series champion, but Tyler Reddick of Joe Gibbs Racing sure tried. This was the second straight win at this 1.5-mile oval for Larson, who took victory last fall as well. The maximum points day vaulted Larson to the points lead – but it is early in the season, after all – ahead of third finisher Ryan Blaney of Team Penske and Martin Truex Jr. Teammates William Byron are fourth and Chase Elliott is seventh, while Alex Bowman is 13th as the sole four-car team with all of its drivers currently in the playoffs. Wait, too early to talk about that!

Larson celebrates with daughter Audrey and son Owen – Getty Images for NASCAR photo

While Larson and Reddick didn’t perform the three-wide photo finish of the week prior at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Reddick’s No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota was close, but not close enough to wincing to the checkers 0,441 seconds behind Larson. “Today, we did everything great from start to finish: pit crew, pit calls, restarts, the car itself myself in the seat, blocking the right way and making speed while doing it was good,” Larson said after claiming his 24th career victory. “If we can carry that on, I think there is definitely potential to have a great season like we did in 2021,” he foretold. During his championship season, Larson had a 10-victory campaign.

This coming weekend, the NASCAR troops have a short commute from Las Vegas to Phoenix, AZ for the first of two contests at the one-mile oval that also hosts the season finale.

 

About Anne Proffit 1245 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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