Written by Adrian Beecher
KANSAS CITY, KS – High hopes at Kansas Speedway on Friday night abruptly lost the wind in their sail for Natalie Decker as her No. 54 N29 Technologies Toyota Tundra took flight with just one wheel on the infield grass on lap 51 of the Digital-Ally 250.
After starting 15th, Decker moved up to 14th on lap one before settling back into 15th, running her best lap time of the stage on lap 3 with a 31.571-second trek around the mile-and-a-half.
The first issue on the track came from the No. 13 Tenda Toyota of Johnny Sauter as a mechanical issue slowed him, causing the truck to go back to the garage.
Meanwhile, after a brief stint back in 16th ahead of the issue with Sauter, Decker had again jockeyed up to 14th just 21 laps into the race. Then just four laps later, the first caution of the day flew as the No 51 machine of Brandon Jones got loose, sending him for a spin coming out of turn four, resulting in a blown right rear tire.
As the caution flew there were just 15 cars left on the lead lap, with Decker having climbed up to 13th. The field would go back to green on lap 29, as Decker restarted in the 10th position.
One lap into the run, she tagged another spot, rolling into 9th. Then the fresher tires from the trucks behind Decker started to prove critical as they passed her up, sending her back to 15th just two laps after the restart.
She was able to climb back up into 14th, before finishing the first stage in 15th, sending her to pit road. It was a four-tire, fuel and small adjustment stop for Decker as she pulled back out onto the track in 13th.
With fresher tires than a slew of cars in front of her, it was almost time for her to make her move.
“All those guys that took tires earlier you’ll be driving by them in 10 laps, so we will see what we’ve got here!” said crew chief Frank Kerr over the radio ahead of the start of stage two.
The field went back green on lap 49 and she dropped back to 16th after the first lap. Then on lap 51, back luck struck for Decker as she was still in 16th, as she wheeled her No. 54 N29 Technologies Toyota around turn four to the inside of Tyler Dippel in the No. 02 machine.
She lost air from under the right rear fender due to the correlation to the No. 02 truck to her outside. This caused a wiggle to the left slightly in the rear, sending her up the track. As she tried to correct the No. 54, it swung hard right in the rear, and pulled out from under her, sending her sliding towards the Kansas Speedway infield grass.
Decker was able to right the ship, however, only just in time for splitter on the front of her Tundra to dig into the infield dirt at the break between pavement and grass. Her splitter was almost instantaneously ripped from her machine as it began to lift
The No. 54 truck came off the ground with the front of her machine at about 2-3 feet in the air with the left rear wheel being momentarily the only tire contacting the ground. As momentum brought the truck back slamming down to earth, the left side of her machine again dug into the infield grass, sending sod flying through the air.
Her machine finished a full 180-degree spin after hitting the grass and catapulting, eventually settling facing the opposite direction of the flow of the field on the course, alongside the blue GEICO Restart Zone painted ad.
She was initially not able to move the truck until some guided assistance from her crew chief over the radio helped to get the machine back on the track as she pulled it into the pits.
After a quick visual assessment of the No. 54, the radiator was almost completely gone, among other issues. This brought an abrupt end to what otherwise was a solid run to this point in the race for Decker.
She would finish in 25th as the race concluded later on in the night with Ross Chastain taking home his first career truck race win. However, not before the front runner all evening Stewart Friesen ran out of gas with just three laps to go, adding to the mantra that racing happens.
Decker’s spin was identical in sorts to the spin of Sheldon Creed last weekend at Dover as he was running at the front of the pack and lost the same air in the right rear quarter, sending him into the inside wall, and ending his day.
It’s another brick laid in the road of the path of Natalie Decker’s racing career. Sometimes you run into a spurt of bad luck and end up in the wrong place, wrong time, and sometimes racing happens
Decker will put this one behind her and saddle up again Friday, May 17th at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the NC Education Lottery 200. The green flag is set to drop at 8:30 pm EST.