By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Corey Heim got the caution flag he needed with three laps to go in the NASCAR Truck Series race on Saturday.
Then he got another one to end it with him in front.
Heim was fortunate to get the bottom lane for the final green-white-checkered restart, held off teammate Chandler Smith to start the two-lap sprint around World Wide Technology Raceway, then put some distance on hard-luck Christian Eckes when a heavy wreck behind them ended the race with the leaders on the back stretch.
It was Heim’s second career win after triumphing last season at Las Vegas.
“I can’t believe I got the bottom right there. That’s unbelievable,” Heim said. “Great push by my teammate right there.”
Eckes was cruising to the win when a caution flew with three laps to go, forcing NASCAR’s version of overtime. He wound up picking the outside lane, spun his tires on the restart and was fortunate to get around Smith to finish second.
“Just didn’t get a good launch,” he said. “Two of the last three races we’ve been leading when a caution comes out late.”
Eckes wasn’t the only one to have some bad luck Saturday.
Smith, who finished third, might have had the fastest truck in the field, easily winning Stage 1 and battling for the lead late in the second stage. That’s when Grant Enfinger made a bold move for the lead in the sweeping third and fourth turns.
The two were left to drag race down the front stretch — apropos for a facility originally built with the NHRA in mind — but Enfinger couldn’t make it stick low through the hairpin first and second turns. He moved up the track, took Smith with him and left the No. 15 truck with damage to his right rear, causing problems with refueling the rest of the race.
Smith was forced to spend extra time in the pits on each stop to get gas in the car, costing him position on the track. And while he was usually able to work his way through the field, it made for a long day in sweltering heat.
“To be honest, if the 23 doesn’t run out of talent in Stage 2 or whatever it was, we would have probably lapped half the field. Our truck was stupid, stupid good,” Smith said. “That just sucks really bad. There at the end our tires are probably beat four times as much as anyone in the field and we were still right there.”
Stewart Friesen was fourth after an eventful afternoon.
After the flag flew to end Stage 2, Friesen and Hailie Deegan got into a spat down the back stretch. Friesen pulled right alongside Deegan and nearly drove her down into grass that runs along the apron of the track, resulting in a punctured tire and other damage that he was forced to overcome during the long, caution-filled final stage.
It also was a busy Truck Series debut for Rajah Caruth, the talented 19-year-old ARCA Series points leader from Washington, D.C., who was given the opportunity to drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.
Caruth spun when Taylor Gray made contact with Ty Majeski to bring out the first caution of the race, but he kept his poise and worked his way back through the pack. Caruth wound up finishing 10th.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports