“It’s the final countdown!” as the band Europe would sing.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series makes their final stop at Bristol Motor Speedway before the playoffs begin next weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. While one driver will be crowned regular season champion, three other drivers currently sit on the bubble of making/not making the playoffs.
Currently, there are 38 drivers entered on the preliminary entry list that will make up the 32 truck field Thursday night at Bristol.
Here’s a look at what to expect and who might end up in the UNOH 200.
- John Hunter Nemechek – Nemechek has competed in the past four starts at Bristol. He and the No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports team have collected two top fives and four top-10 finishes. Nemechek has an average start of 12.5 and an average finish of 5.0. In the past five races, he finished third twice, eighth, and sixth. He has competed in the Truck Series event since 2014 and has completed 100 percent of the laps. Nemechek scored the victory at Martinsville this past April which is another short track, somewhat similar to Bristol. He finished 10th in Stage 2 in the 2017 race.
- Christopher Bell – Last year’s Truck Series champion returns to the field Thursday night at Bristol driving the No. 51 Hunt Brothers Pizza Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Bell has competed in two races at Bristol earning a seventh-place finish twice after starting fifth and second. He finished fourth and fifth respectively in both stages last year. KBM, however, has won here three times with Kyle Busch, who will not be able to compete in this year’s race due to restrictions. Harrison Burton was scheduled to drive the No. 51 but had to withdraw due to illness. Bell will fill in for Burton and will be tough to beat Thursday night at Bristol driving the famed No. 51.
- Johnny Sauter – Sauter will be crowned regular season champion just by starting the race. Even though he knows he’ll be the regular season champion, he’ll still be hungry for that first Bristol win. It will be his first win since Texas in June if he can pull it off. Sauter has competed in 10 races at the famous Bristol Motor Speedway. His first start came back in 2003 driving the No. 9 for Christopher Beckington but failed to finish that year due to an engine issue. However, Sauter returned to a Truck back in 2009 driving for Mike Curb until 2015. In the past two races, he has competed for GMS Racing. For Sauter, however, it’s been a mixed bag of results at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” He has four top fives and six top-10 finishes, along with seven laps led and one DNF. With those stats, he has an average start of 12.4 and an average finish of 9.6. His best finish at Bristol was second back in 2011 after starting 12th. In the previous race, he finished eighth and seventh respectively in both stages.
- Parker Kligerman – If someone could upset this weekend, it could very well be the No. 75 Henderson Motorsports team of Parker Kligerman. Kligerman has four starts at Bristol with a best finish of second coming in 2012 for Red Horse Motorsports. In last year’s race, however, driving the No. 75, he finished eighth. During the span of his four starts, Kligerman has earned one top five and three top-10 finishes. For Charlie Henderson’s team, the No. 75 has competed at Bristol every year since 2012 with Caleb Holman as the driver until 2016. Their best finish came with Kligerman last year by finishing eighth. They currently have one win in the series which came last fall at Talladega. Their other best finish came this year at Charlotte, where he finished seventh.
- Ben Rhodes – Rhodes has three starts at Thunder Valley. His best finish came last year where he finished fifth. In total, Rhodes has one top five and two top-10 finishes with one lap led. He has an average start of 7.3 and an average finish of 14.7. He finished seventh and fourth in both stages in 2017. Look for Rhodes to be up front and contend for the win.
Playoff Bubble Drivers
- Grant Enfinger – Enfinger has one start which came in the 2017 race. He started seventh and finished fourth giving him his first top five at the track. If he continues to win stages or perhaps wins the race, he’ll be good to go for the Playoffs.
- Stewart Friesen- Like Enfinger, Friesen has been running somewhat consistently and is having his best year to date. He sits seventh in the Playoff standings with five Playoff points. He should be fine if there are no new winners. However, Friesen’s track stats don’t look all that great. He has two races, but no finishes inside the top 10. In 2017, he failed to finish due to an overheating problem and wound up 29th. In 2016, Friesen finished 16th. He can’t afford to have any of these issues during the race or he’ll be in jeopardy of missing the Playoffs.
- Matt Crafton – Crafton is the most experienced driver in the field. He’s competed at Bristol since 2003 and has 15 starts. During that span, he’s earned four top fives and nine top-10 finishes, along with 129 laps led and one DNF. His best finish came in 2017 and 2009, where he finished second. In 2016, he failed to finish with an engine problem. If Crafton can avoid any issues in Thursday’s night race and have no mechanical problems, he’ll also be locked in on points and be able to chase for his third championship.
Outside Looking In
- Myatt Snider- Snider will be making his first ever Bristol start in the Truck Series driving the No. 13 Carolina Nut Company Ford. However, he has competed at Bristol before driving in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour Series. In fact, he won last year’s race at Bristol after starting on the pole and leading 80 laps. Snider also competed in this year’s Tour Series event at Bristol and finished third. He could very well end up in victory lane tomorrow night and solidify himself in the playoffs picture, possibly knocking out his teammate, Matt Crafton.
- Cody Coughlin – Coughlin has competed in one race here but did not finish in the top-10.
- Dalton Sargeant – It will be Sargeant’s first race back at Bristol since 2015, where he finished 10th after starting 18th. He has one NASCAR K&N Pro Series East start but finished 26th due to a crash.
- Todd Gilliland – Perhaps one driver who could spoil the spotlight is the No. 4 KBM driver, Todd Gilliland. He’ll be making his first Truck Series start at Bristol, but does have previous experience at the track. Gilliland has competed at Bristol in the K&N Pro Series East three times. During those three starts, he finished ninth, eighth, and won the event in 2018 after leading 64 laps.
The Truck Series has competed at Bristol Motor Speedway since 1995. In those twenty starts, there have been 15 different race winners. Those winners include Joe Ruttman, Rick Carelli, Ron Hornaday, Jack Sprague, Travis Kvapil, Carl Edwards, Mike Skinner, Mark Martin, Johnny Benson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Timothy Peters, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Ben Kennedy.
Of those drivers, two have been able to repeat. These include Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday with Busch having the most wins at five, and he is also the previous race winner.
The lowest a driver has ever started to win the race is 12th back in 2003 by Travis Kvapil. The highest a driver has ever come from to win was the pole and that has been done five times by Ron Hornaday (twice), Kyle Busch (twice) and Mark Martin.
The field of 38 that will turn into a field of 32 will have an all-day event Thursday.
Two practice sessions will start the day for the truckers. First practice is scheduled for 9:05 a.m. ET while final practice takes place at 11:05 a.m. ET, both on Fox Sports 1. Qualifying is slated later in the afternoon at 4:10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Race coverage begins on FOX and MRN Radio at 8:30 p.m. ET with the approximate green flag at 8:45 p.m. ET.