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Trucks

GOOD & BAD: 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Season

Another year of NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series competition is in the books, with a familiar sight as Matt Crafton was crowned the series champion. Along the way, though, there were some highlights and low lights to consider from the action on-track all year.

Although I was unable to watch all of the races, let’s take a look back at the good and the bad.

GOOD: Through the years, the trucks have earned the reputation of putting on the best shows of the weekend with the right race package being put together. That did not change in 2019 as there were certainly many events where they out-shined both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 

ISM Raceway was one of those weekends, for example. The Cup Series semi-final saw great racing on the restarts with drivers all over the surface, but they seemed to spread apart once the green flag had been flying for awhile. In contrast, the truck series long green-flag runs brought forth close fights for positions, including for the lead in the late stages between Stewart Friesen and Brandon Jones.

BAD: The ideology that the traction compound can fix anything as it seemed each weekend, officials were trying to lay that sticky stuff where they felt it could improve the racing. Instead of using a manufactured substance, why don’t we get back to basics and actually fix the issue?

ISM Raceway tried to apply it in the higher groove for their event, and for the most part, drivers avoided it. Mind you, Sheldon Creed showed a bit of promise with a couple strong runs off the corner, it did not seem to make a difference in the type of battles witnessed. So why bother?

Furthermore, the substance can be tricky especially if it is not worked in properly. Both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott experienced that the hard way last week in the Cup Series, sliding it sideways and making contact with the wall. Now imagine if something like that happens to take a driver out of contention for the Championship 4 either tomorrow or Sunday. There’d be certainly tons of backlash from fans, considering we’ve proven it’s not a necessary for ISM Raceway. Do you really want to risk that? 

GOOD: Thank you for the pair of ThorSport Racing teammates not listening to what the commentators in the booth were saying.

As the ISM event neared conclusion, Matt Crafton ran behind a pair of his ThorSport teammates sitting just six points above the cutline. Both the No. 88 truck crew chief Carl Joiner and NASCAR on FOX’s analysts Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons expected both Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger to lay over and allow Crafton go by. Despite the constant complains by the booth through the final laps of the event, they did the right thing running their race.

If Crafton was sitting was in jeopardy of being above the cutline and needed those two points, then certainly it would be nice to see his teammates work with him. However, he was safe where he was racing them for position so it was not a necessity for them to give up ground in their own race for his sake. Let’s say that they let him go by and then a late race caution comes out to set-up a restart. How would they feel restarting further back than intended?

The unique factor in NASCAR is watching drivers compete every single lap against each other as hard as they can – despite being teammates. The day that team orders become a thing is the day that you ruin the utmost important rule of racing in competition.

BAD: It’s been discussed many times before, and yet nothing has been done about it. Initial green flag and restart rule procedures need to be adjusted.

As the field came to the green flag for the Lucas Oil 150 at ISM, Friesen would beat pole sitter Austin Hill to the line, enabling a penalty from NASCAR for jumping the start. However, Friesen did not get into the throttle before the leader, rather laying off to try and avoid, except Hill spun his tires causing a slower start. How is it fair for a competitor to get penalized for another driver’s mistake?

NASCAR is famously known for inconsistency with race calls, and certainly has made some highly visible mistakes through the years. However, they are always looking for ways to improve and that was shown with an adjustment to pit road and where tires can be throughout a stop, whether in arm’s length of a crew member or not.

It’s time for them to take another glance at this rule and perhaps include a judgment aspect that if the leader spins the tires, then the penalty is waved for the second-place car jumping. Sure, it adds a layer that nobody wants to be sitting and deciding, but that’s the nature of the game as proven by the yellow line rule and judging whether a driver was pushed below or not. 

GOOD: It’s Bristol Baby” is a famous tagline that has been heard through the years, due to the track’s reputation. It was nice to see the Truck Series bring back some of that old flare. Throughout the entire UNOH 200, the playoff drivers were mixing it up with not only each other, but their fellow competitors on the track. Nobody appeared to be giving each other an inch, with bumps being traded throughout the field, and some going around as a result. 

The fans have been asking for the old Bristol to come back, and if this event is any indication, they got their wish. It’s easy to see why they wanted the bottom groove to be prime real estate as sparks flew, with drama throughout the night. Certainly the drivers who grew up running tracks of this style with a rough edge to their driving enjoy it. Just ask Ross Chastain.

“That’s what built this place,” he said. “You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”

GOOD: The trucks always put on some of the craziest restrictor plate racing, and the NextEra Energy Resources 250 was no exception. Throughout the event, from the drop of the initial green flag to the end, there was side-by-side racing as drivers jockeyed for positions, sometimes even three-wide.

Over the course of Daytona Speedweeks, fans have practically begged for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers to stop running single file up against the wall as we saw in both the Advance Auto Parts Clash and the Gander RV Duels.

However, patience was the name of the game as drivers solely wanted to go to the event of the with a car, and  on the case Thursday, save their equipment for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500. There’s no time for that in the trucks as stage points are given out on two different occasions, and the race is only 100 laps total in length. Combined with a lot of youthful drivers eager to prove themselves, riding along doesn’t happen. 

BAD: There is a price to pay with what we saw happen, though, as the truck series only had nine drivers complete the race out of the 32 who took the green flag. The constant battling for position resulted in several wrecks, with 11 cautions taking happening. Oddly enough, more than half of the event was run under the yellow flag (55 laps).

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Matt Crafton wins Gander Outdoors Truck title, Austin Hill takes Homestead-Miami victory

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Austin Hill bookended his 2019 season with a victory in Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway – finishing a comfortable 1.569-seconds ahead of veteran Matt Crafton, whose runner-up effort was enough to earn him his third NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.

Hill won all three stages in the race and led a race best 56 laps to give the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota its second consecutive Homestead win. Last year Brett Moffitt drove the truck to a race and series championship trophy.

Christian Eckes finished third on Friday to earn Kyle Busch Motorsports its record seventh series owner championship – the organization’s sixth in the last seven years.

From the drop of the rain-delayed green flag, the four championship eligible drivers – Crafton, fourth place Ross Chastain, fifth place Moffitt and 11th place Stewart Friesen – had to deal with a highly motivated Hill for the race win. Officially eliminated from Playoff contention last week at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway, Hill came into the event highly-motivated nonetheless.

He drove around title contender Chastain to win the first stage and held off Crafton for wins in both the second stage and ultimately the race trophy.

The 25-year old Georgia native finished the season as he started – in Victory Lane – matching his work in the season-opening Daytona race – his first career win. He won again at Michigan in the summer and then again at Las Vegas and was truly a formidable contender through the Playoffs. Unable to overcome a points deficit after a crash at Martinsville, Va. in the final Playoff round, however, kept him from the Championship 4. However his work Friday sent a strong message that he’s ready to contend for the championship next year as well.

“I’m excited for the win, but at the same time it stings a little bit just because I know that if we would have been a little bit better in the round of six, we could be celebrating a win and a championship,” Hill said. “But like I say, I can’t thank everybody out there enough.

And Hill conceded with a smile, “It’s awesome to get my fourth win of the season and end on a high note.”

This year’s champion Crafton matches a three-title mark equaled only by Jack Sprague (2001, 1999 and 1997) and exceeded by only NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. Crafton is the only driver to ever win back-to-back truck titles (2013-14).

“It feels amazing and we’re one step closer to what Hornaday’s done,” Crafton said after climbing out of his car, noting that many underestimated his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford team. “And they called us the underdog.”

Moffitt, who led the series with four wins, 13 top fives along with 17 top 10s and three pole positions, was clearly disappointed with his fifth-place finish.

“We were just pretty bad from the get-go this morning, just missing speed,” said Moffitt, who drives the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet. “It is what it is, we had a good year and we’ll re-group and go after it again next year.”

“It’s a disappointment but we’ll move on and get better,” he added.

Chastain, who was a strong favorite to earn his first title, was equally as disappointed following the race. He led 36 laps on the night and for much of the early race looked ready to challenge Hill for the race win to land his first NASCAR title.

He won three races and earned a series best 19 top-10 finishes. A competitor in all three NASCAR national series, Chastain only declared himself championship eligible in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in June.

“I want to throw up right now to be honest with you, but it has been an absolute dream,” said Chastain, who will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s pretty crazy that we did that [made the Playoffs], and made it to Homestead,” he added. “We did everything we could and that says a lot.”

Tyler Ankrum, the driver of the No. 17 DGR Crosley Toyota, finished 22nd on Friday, but officially earned the series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for his season’s work. He wasn’t allowed to compete on the big tracks until he turned 18 in March and he missed the opening three races of the season calendar.

“We had a really great season I thought,” said the 18-year old Ankrum, who won his career first series race at Kentucky this summer and qualified for the Playoffs as a rookie.

“When we had highs they were really, really high.”

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Trucks

Todd Gilliland Looking at “Couple Different Things” for 2020

With Kyle Busch Motorsports finalizing their pair of full-time entries for 2020, it gave confirmation that Todd Gilliland will not return to the organization for another season.

The second generation racer alluded to this fact last weekend at ISM Raceway when discussing his future plans. 

“We have a couple different things,” he said at ISM Raceway. “We’re hoping to have things locked down pretty soon to be able to announce. Right now we’re just staying focused on what’s in front of us. We’ll take it one week at a time and be the best race car driver I can be.”

Gilliland has not performed as well as he has hoped this year driving in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, failing to make the playoffs with just six top-five’s and 13 top-10’s in 22 races. 

However, there has been recent success as he was able to score his first career series victory at Martinsville Speedway a couple weeks ago. He admits feeling relief right upon crossing the finish line. 

“Afterwards you just feel like you belong,” he adds. “It’s something I was really lucky to be able to do was win early in the ARCA Series in my first race and then my first race here at Phoenix in the K&N Series, just makes things so much easier. Puts you in the talks every single week. Just being a winner in every series makes things easier.”

Following a championship in the K&N Pro Series, it’s easy to understand that he felt this season would have gone much better right from the start.

“Still to this day, I don’t feel like it should have been this hard,” he commented. “Even from the beginning of my truck races, I ran almost better than I had been. I started out running pretty competitive and then went downhill slowly. I really don’t know. Communication, people and obviously KBM has really great people. Me and Marcus (Richmond, crew chief) really didn’t gel together. Communication is key in every business.”

The lack of success earlier this year brought forth many critics, including Kyle Busch making comments to the media about Gilliland’s lack of success. After all, Christopher Bell and Erik Jones were both able to win titles quickly in his equipment with Busch winning all five races he entered.

Everything came to a head when Gilliland shouted over the radio upon crossing the finish line that, “Kyle Busch should stay in the f***ing motorhome.” The young driver has since apologized to his team owner for the comments, saying that they talked on the phone middle of the week and got “everything smoothed out.” 

“I feel like obviously he wasn’t happy,” Gilliland said. “I wouldn’t be either, but at the same time a part of him understood just the frustration and I’m sure he didn’t want me to be back here, but luckily we talked things out and I’m happy to still be in this No. 4 JBL Toyota Tundra.”

As the options are considered for 2020, one option that stands out would be having Gilliland driving for his father David Gilliland‘s team. 

“I wouldn’t even really call it falling back on, I think it’s always a good option,” Todd Gilliland said. “He’s always been there for me and at this point, they’ve built a really good race team. That’s always something to look at, but there’s a bunch of other really great race teams out there. Just always have to keep your options open. Just try to get the best results possible.”

Gilliland could also see his father’s team expanding in the future, knowing that David “would do anything he could get his hands on.”

“He has five trucks here this weekend and a K&N car. That’s literally everyone in the shop,” he commented. “It’s pretty cool to see how fast they are growing, but you also see sometimes that people get ahead of themselves. I’m hoping that’s not the case with them. It’s really cool the people they’ve brought in and brought together to be able to expand and be competitive at this level so far.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway

There’s a reason why ISM Raceway is known as the crown jewel in the desert, and that was on full display Friday night.

The NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series put on a great event as they set their Championship 4 for the playoffs in 2019. The unique track layout allotted for drivers to battle all the way around the speedway, sometimes even four-wide at times with different wide lanes being taken through the frontstretch dogleg. Though it was not just restarts producing solid competition, as the long green-flag runs brought forth close fights for positions, including for the lead in the late stages between Stewart Friesen and Brandon Jones.

The Truck Series has proven to put on the best shows of the weekend with the right race package being put together. However, unlike other weekends where you would be letdown the further you got from Friday, you should expect the same great racing to continue with the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series the next two days.

Traction Compound

ISM Raceway has always been known as a place for great racing everywhere, so the thought of adding a traction compound to the speedway asks several questions. Like, is this really necessary?

For the most part, the higher groove where it was applied was not used throughout the night, except by a couple drivers. Although Sheldon Creed showed a bit of promise with a couple strong runs off the corner, it did not seem to make a difference in the type of battles witnessed. So why bother?

Furthermore, the substance can be tricky especially if it is not worked in properly. Both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott experienced that the hard way last week in the Cup Series, sliding it sideways and making contact with the wall. Now imagine if something like that happens to take a driver out of contention for the Championship 4 either tomorrow or Sunday. There’d be certainly tons of backlash from fans, considering we’ve proven it’s not a necessary for ISM Raceway. Do you really want to risk that? 

Something Needs to Change

As the field came to the green flag, Friesen would beat pole sitter Austin Hill to the line, enabling a penalty from NASCAR for jumping the start. However, Friesen did not get into the throttle before the leader, rather laying off to try and avoid, except Hill spun his tires causing a slower start.

How is it fair for a competitor to get penalized for another driver’s mistake?

NASCAR is famously known for inconsistency with race calls, and certainly has made some highly visible mistakes through the years. However, they are always looking for ways to improve and that was shown with an adjustment to pit road and where tires can be throughout a stop, whether in arm’s length of a crew member or not.

It’s time for them to take another glance at this rule and perhaps include a judgment aspect that if the leader spins the tires, then the penalty is waved for the second-place car jumping. Sure, it adds a layer that nobody wants to be sitting and deciding, but that’s the nature of the game as proven by the yellow line rule and judging whether a driver was pushed below or not. 

Teammate Etiquette

As the race neared conclusion, Matt Crafton ran behind a pair of his ThorSport teammates sitting just six points above the cutline. Both the No. 88 truck crew chief Carl Joiner and NASCAR on FOX’s analysts Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons expected both Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger to lay over and allow Crafton go by.

Despite the constant complains by the booth through the final laps of the event, they did the right thing running their race.

If Crafton was sitting was in jeopardy of being above the cutline and needed those two points, then certainly it would be nice to see his teammates work with him. However, he was safe where he was racing them for position so it was not a necessity for them to give up ground in their own race for his sake. Let’s say that they let him go by and then a late race caution comes out to set-up a restart. How would they feel restarting further back than intended?

The unique factor in NASCAR is watching drivers compete every single lap against each other as hard as they can – despite being teammates. The day that team orders become a thing is the day that you ruin the utmost important rule of racing in competition.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Stewart Friesen wins at Phoenix as Gander Trucks Championship 4 set

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Stewart Friesen thought he had led the first lap of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

He was wrong.

After suffering a penalty for jumping the start of the race, however, Friesen rallied to lead the lap that counted most — the last one — and secured a spot in next weekend’s Championship 4 race with the second NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory of the season and his career.

“We’ve got a badass piece for next week, too,” promised Friesen, who will try for the title next Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Friesen will have to contend with defending series champion Brett Moffitt, who locked himself into the Championship 4 after finishing ninth in the second stage of Friday night’s race.

Ross Chastain also gained a berth in the title race with a 14-place finish, and two-time series champion Matt Crafton claimed the final spot after finishing sixth — and edging pole winner Austin Hill (13th) — by six points for the final spot.

After the fifth and final caution of the evening for a wreck in Turn 3 involving Sam Mayer and John Hunter Nemechek, Friesen charged into the lead before past Brandon Jones and Ben Rhodes and led the final 44 circuits.

It was no cakewalk, though. With five laps left, Jones made a last-ditch run to the inside of Friesen but couldn’t get past the No. 52 Chevrolet. Friesen pulled away on the last two laps to beat Jones to the finish line by .860 seconds.

“It was a great race car,” said Friesen, who was sent to the rear of the field after getting to the stripe ahead of Hill, who spun his tires on the initial start. “We were able to pass ‘em all, pass ‘em all clean,” said Friesen.

“Great race car, great race team. We’ll all celebrate tomorrow, and then it’s game on.”

Moffitt came to Phoenix with the series lead and was first to clinch a spot in the final race. But the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet, who won last year’s championship driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises, had two objectives on Friday.

My main concern for the day was getting us locked into the owner points as well,” Moffitt said. “We got both jobs done today.”

Chastain finished with a 13-point margin over Hill, who lost ground to Crafton on the Lap 107 restart and never recovered. Chastain didn’t declare for the Truck Series championship until nine races into the season but qualified for the Championship 4 nevertheless.

“Man, this is crazy — a dream come true though,” Chastain said.

Crafton came to Phoenix nine points behind Hill but made up most of the deficit with 17 points combined in the first two stages.

“I didn’t have anything to lose and everything to gain,” Crafton said. “And that’s the way I drove it from the green flag to the checkered flag.”

Hill joined fellow Toyota driver Tyler Ankrum on the sidelines for the final race. Ankrum suffered early damage and finished 26th, six laps down. Hill simply didn’t have any juice on the restarts.

“We just didn’t have any short-run speed,” Hill said. “I hate it for my guys. I just couldn’t do anything on the restarts. The front end would slide, the rear would slide, and during that last long green-flag run, it was terrible.

“I hate that we finished where we did, especially after qualifying from the pole. I definitely had high hopes for the race after qualifying on the pole and showing speed in second practice. We’ll move on to Homestead and regroup for next year.”

Chandler Smith finished third, followed by Rhodes and Grant Enfinger. Crafton, Harrison Burton, Johnny Sauter, Chastain and Moffitt completed the top 10.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

GALLERY: NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Playoff Picture Entering Martinsville

After a small break, the stars of the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series are ready to get back after it this weekend at Martinsville Speedway for the second race in the Round of 6. While normally Talladega Superspeedway has been notorious for flipping the standings on it’s lid, five of the competitors managed to get out of there with a top-eight finish. 

Now it’s a matter of seeing who can negotiate through the tight confines of Martinsville Speedway this weekend.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

1. Brett Moffitt +45

Battling up front all day, combined with a pair of runner-up finishes in the first two stages, paid off for Brett Moffitt en route to finishing fourth. Combined with his four victories and four prior stage wins, he sits fairly comfortably at the top of the standings. As long as he is steady through the next two weeks with a couple more solid runs, he will have a shot at the championship.

He has scored three top-five’s in four starts with no finishes worse than sixth at Martinsville, while winning in his lone start at ISM Raceway. 

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

2. Stewart Friesen +22

Stewart Friesen ran up front at Talladega all day, including a win in the second stage to secure 10 previous points, en route to a fifth-place finish.

This gives him a sizable gap compared to the rest entering the weekend, but nothing to be comfortable about. You just need one of the drivers behind him in points to score a victory, perhaps two of those competitors, and he’s down to the cut line and only inside the bracket by a small margin. Needless to say, performance is still a must out of the Canadian, best case scenario a victory, if he wants to keep his championship hopes alive.

He enters Martinsville Speedway coming off a track-best performance in April where he placed fifth after winning the pole. For ISM Raceway, though, after finishing 18th in his first trip to the desert, he has finished sixth and fifth in the races since.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

3. Austin Hill +12

Austin Hill may be regretting not scoring any points in the second stage at Talladega Superspeedway if he keeps inching closer to the playoff cut-off line. However, he still did not make out too badly, scoring a sixth-place finish. Just like Friesen, performance is still a must because there’s no way that you count a gap this small anywhere near safe. 

He has only posted a pair of top-10’s in eight starts at Martinsville, with a track-best ninth in 2018. It doesn’t get better at ISM Raceway, as he has failed to take the checkered flag in his previous two starts due to brake failure (2017) and engine failure (2018). 

John Harrelson | NKP

4. Matt Crafton +1

Known for a conservative style at the restrictor plate tracks, Matt Crafton survived the chaos to score an eighth-place finish. However a lack of stage points, combined with just three bonus entering the round, have the veteran just barely inside the Championship 4 right now.

Crafton’s performance this season has just been average compared to his past years in the series, with him barely sneaking his way through each round of the playoffs thus far. If he wants to assert himself in the conversation for the championship, a victory would certainly help conversation – and erase any worries over a lone point.

Crafton has won twice at Martinsville, with eight top-10’s in his last 11 starts. He also has 11 top-10’s in 18 races at ISM Raceway, but those haven’t come in his two most recent appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

5. Tyler Ankrum -1

Tyler Ankrum continue to put together solid numbers, scoring a solid seventh-place finish at Talladega. Now sitting below the cut-line, the rookie is going to need to make a big splash in the next two weeks if he wants to stay in the hunt.

He has finished 18th and 19th in his previous two appearances at Martinsville, and placed sixth in his first and only trip to ISM Raceway.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

6. Ross Chastain -2

Ross Chastain was the lone playoff driver to not finish within the top-10, wounding up 22nd after being involved in an incident. He is used to having his back up against the all, fighting the odds to secure a spot in the playoffs despite starting off behind in points compared to his fellow drivers. It would shock nobody to see him score his fourth win of 2019 to get into the Championship 4.

He has finished in the top-10 in his last two starts at Martinsville, including a track-best fourth in April. The good vibes continue to ISM Raceway, as despite running into ignition issues in his first trip to the desert in 2012, he came back a year later to finish second after winning the pole.

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

PREVIEW: NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Round of 6

Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger unfortunately saw their chances at the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Championship end, leaving six drivers fighting for the title with four races remaining.

Spread across a couple of weeks, the next three events on the schedule will set the stage for the final event of the season, the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Four of the six drivers currently in the playoffs will get to battle for the championship then, while two others will be left dreaming about their chance in 2020.

So who will move forward and who will get left behind? Let’s take a glance through the field.

John Harrelson | NKP

1. Brett Moffitt +30

Virtue of four victories and four stage wins, Brett Moffitt enters this round with a considerable advantage ahead of the rest of the contenders. As long as he can avoid trouble through the round and be consistently a top-five contender, he should be a lock for the Championship 4.  

The challenge is easily accepted by the defending series champion as he has finished the last four races in the top-seven, including a pair of victories in the first round of the playoffs. 

Talladega Superspeedway – He finished 17th in his lone truck series start on the 2.66-mile oval, and crashed out of the truck series opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Martinsville Speedway – He has scored three top-five’s in four starts with no finishes worse than sixth.

ISM Raceway – He won in his lone start at the Arizona oval.

Russell Labounty | NKP

2. Austin Hill +6

Austin Hill enters the second round of the playoffs with momentum on his side, as he has finished inside the top-10 in the last four series events, including a pair of victories. If there is any driver that has shown they can run right with Moffitt, it’d be the team that won the title last year with him.

Talladega – He has finished 22nd and 10th in his pair of starts at the superspeedway

Martinsville – He has only posted a pair of top-10’s in eight starts, with a track-best ninth in 2018.

ISM Raceway – He has failed to finish in his previous two starts in the desert due to brake failure (2017) and engine failure (2018). 

John Harrelson | NKP

3. Ross Chastain +5

After putting together a string of wins to get himself qualified for the playoffs, Ross Chastain has been solid thus far with a pair of top-five’s and an eighth in the last three series events. Despite not winning an event, he led more than 50 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Talladega – In three starts at the superspeedway, he has just one top-five – finishing third in 2013. But recall he placed third in the season opener at Daytona.

Martinsville – He has finished in the top-10 in his last two starts at the paperclip, including a track-best fourth in April.

ISM Raceway – Although running into ignition issues in his first trip to the desert in 2012, he came back a year later to finish second after winning the pole.

Russell Labounty | NKP

4. Stewart Frisen +3

After winning at Eldora Speedway to secure his spot in the playoffs, Stewart Friesen finished the next three races in the top-10, but posted a 19th-place finish in the series’ most recent event in Las Vegas. It seems to be the story of the Canadian’s season as he has been fast and put himself in position to win races, but cannot find consistency with his results.

Talladega – He has finished 17th and sixth in his pair of starts at the superspeedway

Martinsville – He put together a track-best performance in April, finishing fifth after winning the pole.

ISM Raceway – After finishing 18th in his first trip to the desert, he has finished sixth and fifth in the races since.

Russell Labounty | NKP

5. Matt Crafton -3

Consistency has been the name of the game for Matt Crafton this season, in a year that hasn’t certainly met the expectations that ThorSport Racing had. Surprisingly, the past series champion has yet to visit victory lane this season. He also enters this round without any momentum as he blew up in the series’ most recent event in Las Vegas. Before then, he had posted four top-10’s in the previous five races.

Talladega – In 13 races at the superspeedway, Crafton has only posted four top-10 finishes.

Martinsville – Crafton has won twice at the paperclip, with eight top-10’s in his most recent 11 starts.

ISM Raceway – Crafton has 11 top-10’s in 18 starts, but those haven’t come in his two most recent appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

6. Tyler Ankrum -3

The rookie has shown potential thus far this season, but seeing him move forward may prove to be a tall task. After all, he has just two top-10 finishes in the last five races.

Talladega – He has yet to run a truck series event at the superspeedway, and was not old enough to run the season opener at Daytona.

Martinsville – He has finished 18th and 19th in his previous two appearances.

ISM Raceway – He placed sixth in his first and only trip to the desert.

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

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Austin Hill passes Ross Chastain late to win at Las Vegas, advance to NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Round of 6

LAS VEGAS – Austin Hill earned his third NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win of the 2019 season Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – perhaps his most important victory as it advances him to the second round of the Playoffs with big momentum and raised expectations.

Hill’s No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota finished an impressive 2.116 seconds ahead of fellow Playoff competitor Ross Chastain, whose No. 45 Chevrolet led a race-best 88-of-134 laps. Polesitter Christian Eckes finished third in the Kyle Bush Motorsports Toyota.

“This means the world to me,’’ said Hill, 25, who passed Chastain for the lead with 11 laps remaining and pulled away to the substantial victory margin.

“When I saw the 45 (Chastain) in my sights, we were running close lap times. I changed my line a little bit. And that was a big statement win.’’

Much of the drama and heartbreak in the race happened to the drivers vying for the six positions that advanced to the next round of the Playoffs. Joining Hill in the Round of 6 are Chastain, defending series champion Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Tyler Ankrum and Matt Crafton.

Moffit faced the least pressure all day because he already transferred to the Round of 6 by winning the Playoffs opener at Bristol.

Chastain wrapped up his transfer spot via points after winning Stage 2.

Friesen carefully nursed his No. 52 Chevrolet to the race finish, posting a 19th-place showing after driving a truck that was down a cylinder and spending substantial stretches of the race on pit road.

Ankrum, an 18-year-old who wasn’t old enough by NASCAR rules to compete in the March Las Vegas race, held on to finish 11th and earn the final Playoff position – by a mere two-point margin over two-time series champion Johnny Sauter.

Sauter’s teammate Matt Crafton suffered a 30th-place finish, but he had enough of a points cushion coming to Las Vegas that he will advance in the Playoffs as well.

Heading into the Round of 8 finale, Sauter, Crafton and their ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger were seemingly “sure-bets” to advance in the Playoffs. But before the halfway point of the race, they had their fates decided in unfortunate and unpredictable manners.

Grant Enfinger

It was an especially gut-wrenching early end to Enfinger’s championship hopes. Crowned the series’ regular season champion three races ago, the past Las Vegas winner retired after only seven laps when his No. 98 Ford suffered an engine failure. He took the green flag with two points to the good on making the Round of 6 and only minutes later had his championship hopes deflated with the turn of events.

“It’s just frustrating,’’ Enfinger said. “These guys work their tails off all year. We had a good truck, just wasn’t meant to be.”

Only 33 laps later, Sauter and Crafton suffered their simultaneous race-ending problems. Crafton’s No. 88 Ford had to pull off track and he climbed out as the safety crew arrived.

Sauter was able to drive his truck back to pit road where crew members had to extinguish flames under the hood. The team took it to the garage and although he tried to return to the race for the final stage, his truck’s engine gave out on the first lap of the restart.

Crafton, meanwhile, had to pull his No. 88 ThorSport truck off the track immediately for the safety crew to work on.

“The 13 (Sauter), I saw him hit something and whatever it was it hit our truck too,’’ Crafton said. “I said the 13’s on fire and they told me I was on fire.’’

“I really thought we had something tonight, but we’ll rebound.’’

The next race is set for Oct. 12 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

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Brett Moffitt dominates at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Past NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races on the historical and scenic Canadian Tire Motorsport Park road course have ended in hot tempers and dramatic last lap passes.

By comparison, Brett Moffitt’s 5.160-second victory in Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 looked like a drive in the Park. The current series championship leader earned his second playoff win in as many 2019 playoff races with the largest Margin of Victory in the race’s seven-year history over one of the very best road course racers in the world – Canadian Alex Tagliani.

Ben Rhodes finished third followed by Sheldon Creed. Austin Hill and Johnny Sauter got around another Canadian, fellow truck series playoff driver Stewart Friesen, on the last lap to round out the top-six. Friesen still had a solid day, an impressive rally from last place on the starting grid to seventh at the checkered flag – forced to conserve fuel down the homestretch.

Four of the first six series races at the track were decided on the final lap. This year for Moffitt’s strong No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet team, it was instead a matter of making a strong statement – earning a convincing win and extending his playoff win streak to two with the final race of this opening playoff round set for Sept. 13 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Going back to the 2018 season – the defending series champion Moffitt has won four consecutive playoff races.

“As far as the team goes, I just feel like everyone at GMS all the way back from the fab shop on up has been doing a better job,’’ Moffitt said. “Our team personally has been communicating a lot better and just knowing what my words mean and what I need to find in the truck, I’d say we’re hitting our stride at the right time.

“It took a while to get here but before it was like we were missing a little bit everywhere and now we’re hitting on all cylinders.’’ Moffitt led 45 of the 64 laps.

Playoff driver Ross Chastain finished eighth and his nine laps led was the most by any driver other than Moffitt. Among the other playoff drivers – Tyler Ankrum finished ninth, Matt Crafton was 11th and regular season champion Grant Enfinger was 13th.

There were only three caution flags on the afternoon – two for stage endings.

As has often been the case in this seven-year old event, again the action intensified in the final laps. This year it was behind the leader.

Harrison Burton lost a motor while running in the top-five with two laps remaining, but was able to get off the track without bringing out a caution flag. The driver racing him hardest at the time, Friesen had to back off himself to conserve fuel on the final lap.

“It was a battle for sure,’’ Friesen said. “I screwed up in practice and wrecked the primary [truck]. But we were able to battle up through there and almost had a top-five but started running out of fuel at the end.

“We gave up a couple positions at the end but still got out of here with some points.’’

Two of the eight drivers will be eliminated from championship contention following the final playoff race of this round at Las Vegas in two weeks. With his two victories, Moffitt has an automatic berth in the next round. Chastain is second in the championship points standings, with a 22-point advantage on third-place Friesen.

Crafton is fourth in the championship standings, followed by Hill and Enfinger. Only four points separate Friesen, Crafton, Hill and Enfinger, however.

Two-time series champion Johnny Sauter sits a mere two-points behind his ThorSport Racing teammate Enfinger just outside the playoff bubble and 18-year old Ankrum is 14 points below the cutoff.

“You go into Vegas with a must-win mentality, that’s what I know I’ll do.’’ Sauter said.

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NASCAR announces procedural updates to Xfinity Series and Gander Trucks for 2020

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR announced Wednesday some important new procedural changes for the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, all designed to strengthen the quality of the race fields and add to the intensity of the racing on track.

The updates come at a time the sanctioning body – along with the series sponsors, teams and the broadcast partners – have seen a tangible increase in interest level and excitement for the two series.

There are strong fields filled with both established teams and newcomers ready and capable of making an impact. And NASCAR feels optimistic that these new updates will only be more beneficial.

“We’re really addressing three different updates here between the field size, the driver participation guidelines and looking at 2020 for Dash for Cash and Triple Truck Challenge,’’ said Meghan Miley, NASCAR’s senior director of Racing Operations. “The goal is always to make sure we are enhancing the competition. We are making sure we put our best foot forward for all of our stakeholders – the teams, the drivers, the tracks, the broadcasters, our OEMs, and NASCAR, of course.

“All these updates we make, we look at every year and say, ‘hey, what could we be doing better?’ This is the result of some of those things.’’

Among the key changes for the upcoming season – the race fields in the Xfinity Series will now feature a maximum of 36 cars. The first 31 positions will be based on qualifying times with four provisional positions allotted according to the rulebook and one past champion provisional.

Additionally, driver participation guidelines have been adjusted for both series. In both the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, drivers with more than three years of full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series experience will be allowed a maximum of five starts in each of the two series – Xfinity and Gander Trucks.

“With the driver participation guidelines, what a chance to highlight these young talents,’’ Miley said. “We’ve gotten feedback from all our stakeholders and from the fans, who say, ‘we want to see more of the regulars’ and then we talk to some of the drivers who say, ‘we want the opportunity to drive against these [Cup] guys because they’re the best and they make us better.’

“So it’s more about finding that middle ground, what works for everybody but is great for us to highlight those series regulars.’’

A caveat to the participation outline is that drivers who elect to earn Monster Energy Series championship points are not eligible to compete in either the Xfinity Series’ Dash 4 Cash or the Gander Trucks’ Triple Truck Challenge, the regular-season finale or the Playoffs.

Similarly, Xfinity Series regulars may not participate in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series’ annual Triple Truck Challenge or the championship race at ISM Raceway.

The 2020 Dash 4 Cash races will include stops at Texas Motor Speedway (March 28), Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (April 4), Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (April 25) and Dover (Del.) International Speedway (May 2). Homestead-Miami Speedway (March 21) will be the qualifier to set the Dash 4 Cash field for the opener at Texas.

The truck series’ Triple Truck Challenge will include races at Richmond (Va.) Raceway (April 18), Dover International Speedway (May 1) and Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 15). And, in an important caveat to the incentive program, the entry deadline requirement for the Triple Truck Challenge eligibility has been removed so the entire field will be vying for the bonus each week – a move NASCAR made to benefit both the teams and the fans.

That is the impetus for all the rule modifications. NASCAR is optimistic through this intrinsically collaborative approach that the competition will continue to reinvigorate naturally and the fan interest continues to rise and intensify.