KNOXVILLE — Drivers from across the racing world made their way to Knoxville Raceway for the debut of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the Corn Belt 150 on Friday. But most of them didn't even get a chance to finish.
The historic race in the Sprint Car Capital of the World came with its unknowns for much of the field, some who had never raced on dirt, some who had never raced in Knoxville and some who had never driven trucks. It was a night of firsts, for better or for worse.
After a night filled with 14 cautions, four overtimes and a massive 15-car pile-up, Austin Hill would escape the wreckage with his first win of the season and first on dirt of his career. Coming into Friday, Hill's best finish on dirt was ninth place at Bristol on March 29.
With little experience on dirt as it is, combined with a brand new track, Hill knew the field was going to all come locked in to win in Knoxville, even if the racing didn't look the sharpest near the end.
"I knew coming in here it was going to be a dog-fight," Hill said after his seventh career win.
The race began with a caution flag 16 laps in, an early sign of what was to come. Johnny Sauter spun out 16 laps in near the pit entrance after Chase Briscoe bumped him fighting for positioning. 14 laps later, the caution was out again, this time for Knoxville-favorite Brian Brown.
Derek Kraus would win stage one on caution, with three cautions coming out in stage one. But the night was just beginning. Kraus would win the second stage under caution as well, his third of stage win of the season amidst more stoppage near the middle of the pack.
Kraus would get involved with a spin out after bumping Jessica Friesen around turn four, only for Morgan Alexander to clip her as she came around the corner. Five cautions were out before stage three even began.
Chandler Smith would finish as the runner-up at the Corn Belt 150 after Hill took the lead after a 171-lap restart. Smith, who's still in search of his first win of the season after Friday, led seven times for a race-high 71 laps.
Smith said the cautions and eventual wrecks came due to the worn-down nature of the track's outside lanes. Smith made it clear you were either coasting on the bottom or you weren't passing anyone without a mess.
"The outside was absolutely garbage after the start of stage two to be completely honest with you," Smith said.
Put simply, stage three would drag on into four overtimes. The start of the unusual finish came right as the green flag was being signaled to begin the first overtime.
And then a 15-car pile-up happened on Lap 154.
Some of the bigger names at the race were among those caught in the mess, including Hailie Deegan, Sheldon Creed, Chase Briscoe and Donny Schatz among others.
After the wreck, Creed voiced his displeasure with the track to Fox Sports 1 in the pits as the track was being readied for what was thought to be the second and final overtime.
"We don't belong here. We belong in Iowa Speedway where these trucks belong," Creed said.
After the massive wreck, Austin Wayne Self and Spencer Boyd spun out and forced a third overtime into effect. Stewart Friesen wrecked his front right side and spun out with smoke, ending his night and sending the race into a fourth overtime.
Many of the drivers who ended their nights in the top-five were asked if the truck races have gotten too aggressive, especially after the events Friday night. And all had a similar response: That's what these races are all about.
Third-place finisher Grant Enfinger said when drivers need a win desperately, it doesn't matter how they try and move up, they'll do what they can and ask for forgiveness later.
"There's no penalty for rough driving when we're putting all this on 60-70 mph short track to be honest," Enfinger said.
Hill saw the competitiveness the same as Enfinger. When trucks are put into tough conditions and the stakes are so high this late in the season, accidents will happen.
Hill could see Knoxville was much flatter than Bristol and ran slick compared to most other venues. He said as the end got closer, desperation combined with tough conditions to create the mess on the track Friday night.
"I think when it comes down to the end of the race you're going to do whatever you can to win the race," Hill said. "I thought a lot of the guys with those overtime restarts, those big wrecks, probably could have been avoidable."
Corn Belt 150 top-five finishers
1. Austin Hill
2. Chandler Smith
3. Grant Enfinger
4. Todd Gilliland
5. Derek Kraus