NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Preview-Michigan

After a week of slinging dirt, the Truck Series regulars return to asphalt this weekend for their regular season finale at Michigan.

The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series has quite possibly been the most exciting series all season long in the three touring series divisions of NASCAR. It is now crunch time for the drivers who have not won yet and are outside the playoffs.

Drivers like Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Sheldon Creed, Tyler Dippel, Austin Wayne Self and Gus Dean all will be trying to fight for the remaining spots. One exception is championship points leader Grant Enfinger. Enfinger has a 52 point lead over his teammate Crafton in the standings and will clinch a spot in the playoffs by starting the race.

This means that more than likely, Enfinger will win the regular season championship title after Michigan. If Crafton wants to win the regular season championship, Enfinger would have to finish last and Crafton would have to win both stages and the race. It’s a tall order for the California native, but anything can happen in the world of NASCAR.

With all that said, here is a look at five drivers who might punch their ticket in victory lane Saturday afternoon, along with a look at the drivers who are on the outside looking in.

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  1. Ben Rhodes – With being in somewhat of a slump in the past few races, Michigan could be the track where Rhodes finds his confidence again and wins the race on Saturday potentially knocking someone out of the playoffs. In three races, Rhodes has a best finish of sixth twice (2016, 2018). The Kentucky native has led just four laps. Despite having some solid finishes, Rhodes will have to work on his qualifying game in order to have a shot at the win. His best qualifying effort is 14th that came in 2017. In terms of stage finishes, in 2017, Rhodes finished fourth in Stage 1 and fifth in Stage 2 while in 2018, he finished sixth in Stage 1. Keep an eye on Rhodes and his No. 99 ThorSport team who could be a winner on Saturday.

  2. Stewart Friesen – Last week’s Eldora winner will need to continue his momentum in Michigan this weekend where he’s been decent at best. In two starts, the Canadian has a best finish of eighth in 2018 after starting fifth and leading 12 laps. Since Friesen only has two starts at the 1.5-mile track, his average finish is 10.5. He didn’t earn any stage finishes in 2017, but in 2018, Friesen was able to win Stage 1 and finish ninth in Stage 2. The Halmar Racing has been decent on 1.5-mile tracks this year where it’s either been second finish or bust for Friesen. Should Friesen win, the playoff standings will remain the way they are and no one else will get themselves in.

  3. Todd Gilliland – A driver that could solidify themselves in the 2019 championship playoffs is Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Todd Gilliland. Gilliland only has one start that came in 2018 but started on the outside pole and finished fifth after leading eight laps. The KBM driver has stage finishes of third and eighth in his only start. In 2017, now Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell took the No. 4 truck to a second-place finish. Gilliland will be piloting chassis number KBM-04. “The No. 4 JBL team has prepared chassis KBM-041 for this weekend’s Corrigan Oil 200. This chassis was last used earlier this year by Gilliland at Dover and has been driven to one win by owner-driver Kyle Busch at Chicago in 2016. Gilliland will be in the playoffs if he wins Saturday’s race.

  4. Grant Enfinger – Speaking of the regular series points leader, Enfinger just might nab his first win of the season at Michigan this weekend. It’s hard to believe that even though Enfinger has had consistent finishes, he has not won at all in 2019. The 1.5-mile track has seen the Alabama native finish inside the top-10 in all three of his starts with a best finish of seventh in 2018. Enfinger has also led 16 laps and has an average finish of 7.7. As far as stages go, Enfinger finished 10th in Stage 2 in 2017, while finishing fifth in Stage 1 and winning the second stage. There couldn’t be a better moment for Enfinger if he wins the race and the regular season championship Saturday afternoon. As far as clinch scenarios go, the Alabama native will clinch a spot by just starting the race.

  5. Christian Eckes – One driver that might be an upset winner Saturday is Christian Eckes who will be driving the No. 51 once again this season. Eckes competed in last week’s race at Eldora where he finished sixth. At Michigan, however, Eckes will be making his first Truck Series start. Despite not having any Truck Series experience at the track, he does have one ARCA start where the KBM driver finished seventh after starting second. For the chassis. “The No. 51 SiriusXM team will unload chassis KBM-038 for Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway. This chassis has been raced 14 times and has ended up in Victory Lane in six outings. It was most recently raced to the win at Martinsville earlier this season by owner-driver Kyle Busch, and Chandler Smith started on the front row and finished eighth with it at Iowa in his first start. Noah Gragson, Christopher Bell and William Byron have all also had victories in this chassis.”

Drivers on the outside looking in:

1. Matt Crafton – Currently sitting second in the points, Crafton is on the bubble for the playoffs. It is hard to imagine that it’s been two years since the California native has won a race in the Truck Series. At Michigan, Crafton has 17 starts with a best finish of second in 2014. Other stats include 81 laps led, four DNFs, three top fives and eight top-10 finishes with an average finish of 13.9. Should there be no new winners or if his teammate Enfinger wins, Crafton will receive a spot in the playoffs. The only way he can race his way in on points is if he scores 53 points and Enfinger does not start the race, which is a tall task.

2. Harrison Burton – Burton has no starts at Michigan, which will put some added pressure to win the race on Saturday. As far as 1.5-mile racetracks go this season, he has four top-five and two top-10 finishes with a best finish of third multiple times. He will have to win in order to have a chance at the championship.

3. Sheldon Creed – Like Burton, Creed will have to win the race Saturday in order to compete for the championship. Even though his last couple of finishes did not go well at Kentucky and Pocono, Creed has been on the rise after Fort Worth in June. Creed has managed three top-10 finishes. No truck starts at Michigan for the GMS driver, but he does have three starts in the ARCA Series with a win in last year’s race. If Creed wants to make the playoffs, he will have to some luck and do what he did in the ARCA race last year.

4. Tyler Dippel – Michigan might be a learning curve for the Youngs Motorsports driver. Dippel has no track starts at the 1.5-mile speedway. He will have to reach deep down and pull off a wildcard upset to win the race Saturday. His finishes have been so-so at 1.5-mile tracks this season with a best finish of eighth at Texas in March. It would be an amazing story for Dippel and his team if they can make it, but they will need a lot of luck from other drivers circumstances.

5. Gus Dean – Win or bust for Dean and his No. 12 Youngs Motorsports team this weekend. Like Creed, Dean does have starts in the ARCA Series to his credit. His best finish at Michigan in ARCA is fourth in 2018 and he finished fifth in 2017.

Other drivers scheduled to compete this weekend includes Daniel Sasnett in the No. 0 for Jennifer Jo Cobb, Jordan Anderson returns to his own No. 3 after Carson Hocevar drove it at Eldora. Cory Roper will also return to the track in his own No. 04 team. It’s Roper first race back since his ninth-place finish at Fort Worth in June. Joe Nemechek is back in the No. 8 while Codie Rohrbaugh is in the No. 9. Trey Hutchens is in the No. 14, Anthony Alfredo in the No. 15 and Spencer Boyd is back in the No. 20 after sitting out Eldora due to injury.

Josh Reaume will compete in his own No. 33 machine, Jesse Iwuji in the No. 34, Bayley Currey returns in the Niece Motorsports No. 44, Ray Ciccarelli in the No. 49, Natalie Decker in the No. 54 and Camden Murphy in the No. 87.

Michigan International Speedway has hosted 19 races dating back to 1999. Greg Biffle, Travis Kvapil and Brett Moffitt have been the only repeat winners at the track. Other winners include Robert Pressley, Brendan Gaughan, Dennis Setzer, Johnny Benson, Erik Darnell, Colin Braun, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Nelson Piquet Jr, James Buescher, Kyle Busch and Bubba Wallace.

As far as stage winners go, Kyle Busch swept both stages in 2017 with Friesen winning Stage 1 and Enfinger winning Stage 2 in last year’s race.

For the manufacturer side of things, Toyota has the most wins with seven, Chevrolet and Ford have five wins each and Dodge has two.

Want to win at Michigan? The past five winners have seen the winner start as low as 21st and as high as fifth. Only once has the driver won from the pole position set by Kvapil in 2007. Moffitt won from the 21st starting spot in last year’s race. Otherwise, winners have come from the second, third, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th starting positions.

Friday will see a day of practices for the Truck Series. First practice is set for 1:35 p.m. ET with final practice scheduled for 3:05 p.m.ET, both lasting 50 minutes. There will be no live TV coverage for either practice. Qualifying will be early Saturday morning at 9:35 a.m. ET live on Fox Sports 2.

The Corrigan Oil 200 is slated to take the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. ET live on Fox Sports 1 and MRN Radio. Stages will be broken into 20/40/100 to make up the 200-mile distance.

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