LAS VEGAS, NEV. – For most of Friday’s Las Vegas Nice 69, Ryan Libby was more or less an afterthought.
But that changed with two turns remaining.
Contact between the race leaders opened the door for Libby to drive away from the chaos and capture his first career NEP SuperTruck Series victory at the 1.5-mile desert tri-oval.
“That was a crazy last lap,” Libby said. “That last caution really switched it up.”
Libby started on the front row, but Evan Beaulieu wasted little time getting to the front. The NEP SuperTrucks Martinsville winner put on a clinic, fending off challenges from multiple drivers before the night’s second caution flag on lap 14.
Pit strategy was in play immediately, with most of the field peeling off for tires and fuel. The four-truck team of 4 Wide Weaponry pitted under the first caution and stayed out, with Wyatt Alexander assuming the race lead.
Libby and NEP Grand National Series title rival John Peters made their way to Alexander’s bumper, but Beaulieu asserted himself again at the point, with Zane Ferrell driving back from an early wreck to pressure Beaulieu for the top spot.
A long green-flag stretch brought pit strategy back to the forefront, with the 4 Wide Weaponry trucks forced to pit road earlier, and Beaulieu testing the FieldFillers Motorsports teammates of Zane Ferrell and Cory Casagrande as to how far they could stretch their tires and fuel loads.
Beaulieu pitted on lap 48, with the rest of the leaders following suit, cycling the lead back to Libby and Alexander. Fresher tires helped Beaulieu power past Libby to take the lead back, and while Ferrell stormed through the field on his own new rubber, he was still four seconds back of Beaulieu with two laps remaining.
When early contender Hopkins spun across the frontstretch grass, though, Beaulieu’s comfortable lead evaporated, setting the stage for a two-lap shootout to the finish.
Beaulieu drove off from Ferrell on the restart, but a backstretch spin for DJ Girard that collected Jason Ricker and Scott MacDonald brought out another caution, setting up another green-white-checkered shootout for Beaulieu and Ferrell.
This time, Ferrell kept pace with Beaulieu on the start, dropping underneath Beaulieu on the frontstretch to make a last-lap bid for victory. Beaulieu and Ferrell fanned out wide off turn two, with Libby looking low and Peters pushing Beaulieu on the high side. Beaulieu scraped the outside wall, sweeping down into Ferrell and turning Ferrell across traffic into the inside wall.
While the field piled into the backstretch conflagration, Libby was untouched on the inside as he coasted to the checkered flag, leading the final lap to clinch his first NEP SuperTruck Series win and the first for Team BBY.
“I kind of feel for Evan on that,” Libby said after the race. “That was his race right there, you know what I mean? Then that last caution came out, and it kind of screwed him up.”
Five wins in the NEP Grand National Series prepared the Connecticut driver for the likely last-lap outcome. “That last corner there, I didn’t want to move Peters up too much, but I wanted to get a run at Zane on the bottom so we could make it three wide,” he said. “I kind of figured the inside was gonna be the safest spot.”
Kenny Kibbey and Wyatt Alexander dodged the carnage to finish second and third, bringing home strong finishes for 4 Wide Weaponry.
“I was just gonna go where they ain’t,” Kibbey said of the last laps. “We had the fresh tires, and I saw a truck go up towards the wall, saw some sparks, and I saw him get turned. And I knew they were going to stay up toward the top of the track, so I called out to my teammate Wyatt, ‘low, low, low, low.’ We just went low, and I kept my foot in it.”
Kibbey, who has earned a reputation for tire management in his NEP Grand National Series efforts, wished the team had more time to let their strategy play out. “We had a strategy on our team where we all had a set of tires on most of the field. I think Libby was one of the few who didn’t have a set disadvantage on tires to us. It worked out great; it’s a shame Sal [team captain Ryan Salvatore] got caught up in that last wreck.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever done a legit league race with cycling green flag pit stops,” Alexander said. “When I ran short on fuel with Libby, I thought the race was over, but it actually ended up working out pretty cool.”
Austin Boelke, Libby’s Team BBY teammate, was fourth with Cory Casagrande limping across the line fifth for FieldFillers Motorsports.
John Peters was sixth for FPY Motorsport, with David Arute seventh in another FieldFillers entry. Evan Beaulieu, after leading 62 of the 79 laps Friday, came home eighth, best in class among the WAP Motorsports drivers. Jeff Brown was one of the biggest benefactors of the last-lap calamity, finishing ninth to record his first top-15 finish in NEP competition. Dylan Kopec rounded out the top ten, the only of the Team Student Driver entries to finish on the lead lap.
The team dynamic was tested further Friday night with a number of drivers having to focus on the start of the iRacing 24 Hours of Daytona. Only three of the series’ six teams fielded full rosters of four drivers, with Team BBY unable to find a substitute driver and only starting two entries for Libby and Boelke. Kibbey, Alexander and others would have to turn around from truck racing to road racing to take their respective stints in the annual endurance race.
The NEP SuperTruck Series will venture to Canada for the first time next Friday, January 29, for a 25-lap event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Live streaming coverage starts at 9:00pm on Vidane TV.