Denver, NC - The checklist for The CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime's The Profit at Eldora Speedway was long and ambitious for Max Gresham and his No. 8 Made in USA Brand (MIUSA) Chevrolet.
By the time NASCAR's first return to dirt in nearly 43 years was over, Eddie Sharp Racing (ESR) not only accomplished everything they wanted, Gresham was able to check off a personally significant accomplishment.
He had fun.
A 10th-place finish included a pair of lucky dog passes back to the lead lap, as well as a frantic charge from 20th-place to the top-10 in the final 20 laps.
"It was freak show because everybody wanted to win the first race on dirt in more than 40 years," Gresham said. "That was fun. It was so different than anything a lot of us were used to, but every turn was exhilarating. I've never been so excited about a race."
Gresham, 20, made his first start on a dirt track at Eldora Speedway. The team had created a list designed to make their driver feel more comfortable on the half-mile track through a series of progressive steps.
The starting priority was for Gresham to run laps and slowly build his confidence and establish an experience base line. The next priority was to qualify as high as possible to provide a better opportunity to race his way into the main event in a heat race. The final priority, like many teams in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS), was to finish the race.
Gresham easily accomplished everything the team wanted, and had fun doing it.
Gresham was 14th-fastest in the practice session leading up to qualifying and he was ninth-fastest in time trials.
He finished third in his heat race - holding off eventual Midsummer Classic winner Austin Dillon - to earn a 14th-place starting spot in the 30-truck race.
During the race, Gresham got stuck in traffic and fell a lap behind twice, but was able to earn a free pass back to the lead lap both times. At that point, in the 110 laps he had completed, he had gained the confidence and security he wanted to put on a late charge.
"I can't say enough about this Eddie Sharp Racing team," crew chief Chris Showalter said. "Max did an outstanding job. So did our teammate, Jared Landers. We were given a challenge and everyone on this race team stepped up and accepted that challenge."
Gresham was overwhelmed by the reaction by fans and other drivers to be at Tony Stewart's racetrack. Everyone involved in the race felt a special appreciation to be back on dirt - and in front of one of SPEED Networks' top-10 largest television audiences.
"The people at Eldora rocked the house," Gresham said. "It was amazing to see how many fans were there and how much they enjoyed the race. I came to the race with a lot of doubt because it was something I've never done before. Now I say let's do it again."
The solid finish helped Gresham move up to 17th in the Camping World Truck Series point standings, just five points from 16th.
Gresham and Eddie Sharp Racing will return to the asphalt on Saturday, August 3 for the Pocono Mountains 125 at the Pocono Raceway.