With the regular season in the rearview mirror, the NASCAR Truck Series now sets their sights for the postseason with eight races to decide the 2019 Truck Series champion.
We are now at the 16th race of the season and with just eight races left many drivers will be hungry to get their first win of the year. This includes the eight contenders for the championship, some who have not won yet and are already looking to punch their ticket into the next round.
Here are some drivers that might spoil the playoff party Thursday night at the famous Bristol Motor Speedway.
Currently, there are 36 trucks entered on the preliminary entry list. It used to be 37, but the No. 6 of Norm Benning withdrew from the race due to the lack of sponsorship.
Here are five drivers that might win on Thursday night.
- Todd Gilliland – The 19-year-old only has one start at the “Fastest Half-Mile,” earning a fifth-place finish in last year’s race. Gilliland did not earn any stage points but does have some K&N starts at Bristol with a finish of eighth in 2017. He also won the race in 2018 after leading 64 laps. It’s been a disappointing season for the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver, but with the pressure of not having to worry about the Playoffs, Gilliland can gamble, using a different strategy from the playoff drivers as they try a more conservative approach to earn stage wins and focus on racing for points.
- Ben Rhodes – It was a disappointing Saturday for Rhodes and his No. 99 ThorSport after missing the playoffs, despite giving it their best effort. Now, like Gilliland, Rhodes can just go out and win and perhaps learn something for next year’s Playoffs. At Bristol, the Kentucky native has just four starts with a best finish of fifth in 2017. He has one top-five and three top-10 finishes with an average finish of 12.8. Removing his 30th place finish in 2016 due to an engine issue, Rhodes has finished in the top-10 or top-five for the most part.
- Johnny Sauter – With Sauter being somewhat off his game this year and having bad luck, Bristol might be the place where he could pick back up and go on a roll in the Playoffs. The Wisconsin native is the defending race winner after leading 58 laps and finishing second in both stages. His stats at Bristol have been consistent since 2013 where he has finished inside the top-10 or five. Overall, he has five top fives and seven top-10 finishes with only one DNF plus 65 laps led giving him an average finish of 8.8. Keep an eye on Sauter and his No. 13 ThorSport team as they attempt to get back on track at Bristol.
- John Hunter Nemechek – Nemechek returns to the Truck Series this week piloting the No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports, a truck he has been in which he has found success. The GMS Xfinity Series driver has competed at Bristol ever since making his first start in 2014. Nemechek has finishes of sixth, third in 2015, eighth in 2016 and third in 2017 and 2018. The North Carolina native also has a couple of starts in the Xfinity Series with finishes of 13th in 2018 and fifth in spring of 2019.
- Sam Mayer – Mayer will be making his first-ever career Truck Series start at Bristol. He won the K&N Pro Series race back in March after starting on the pole and dominating, leading 150 laps. The GMS Racing driver also has one start in 2018 and finished ninth while driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Mayer has been making a name for himself this year and will be competing in the No. 21 truck that GMS won with last year. Don’t be surprised if you see Mayer drive into victory lane.
Other drivers on the entry list include the return of Landon Huffman to the No. 20 Youngs Motorsports machine and Brennan Poole and his No. 30 return to the track for the first time since Kentucky last month. Ryan Sieg also makes his second Truck Series start of the year for Reaume Brothers Racing in the No. 33. Sieg recently competed for the team at Dover where he finished 16th.
Missing in action since the Kansas race, Angela Ruch also returns to the No. 44 Niece Motorsports team. Kyle Busch will bring an extra entry and that will be the No. 46 to be driven by the Canadian Raphael Lessard. Chandler Smith will be back in the No. 51 also driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Timmy Hill can be seen driving the No. 56 and Clay Greenfield driving his own No. 68 machine. Lou Goss hopes to make the field driving his own No. 74 Chevy while Parker Kligerman and the No. 75 Henderson Motorsports team return to the track for the first time since Atlanta earlier this season. Other notables include Timothy Peters in the No. 92 and Jesse Little in the No. 97.
With a 32-truck field, four will be sent home and not be able to compete.
Bristol Motor Speedway has seen 21 races since 1995 with many various winners that include Cup Series drivers. Names like 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, Ben Kennedy and Johnny Sauter have all won at the “Fastest Half-Mile.”
If you want to win at Bristol you better have a good qualifying spot. The lowest a race winner has ever come from to win was 13th by Kennedy in 2016. Most winners have come from inside the top five and only four winners have come from the top-10.
Drivers have won from the pole position five times. Hornaday dd so in 1997 and 1998, Martin in 2006 and Busch in 2010 and 2017.
Kyle Busch has the most Bristol victories with three wins in a row from 2008-2010 and a win in the 2017 race. Bristol saw Kyle sweep the whole weekend for the first time ever in 2010 and he did it again in 2017. However, the KBM owner will not be competing this weekend in a truck.
As far as manufacturers go, Toyota and Chevy are tied with eight wins apiece, with Chevy being the previous race winner. While Ford, on the other hand, has five wins. A fun fact, Ford was the first manufacturer to win the first Bristol Truck Series race in 1995.
It’s going to be a busy day for the truckers who will have a one day schedule. The first practice will be bright and early at 9:05 a.m. ET and the final practice will be at 11:05 a.m. ET with no live TV coverage.
Qualifying is set for later in the day at 4:35 p.m. ET with tape delay coverage on Fox Sports 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
The UNOH 200 is slated to get underway shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET live on Fox Sports 1 and MRN Radio. Stages will be broken into 55/55/90 laps to make up the 200 lap distance.