NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Preview-Eldora

The time has come for one of the Truck Series most popular races of the year, The Eldora Dirt Derby. It will mark the 15th race of the 2019 Truck Series season as the race to the Playoffs heats up. We will also see some dirt regulars mixing it up with the big boys on the dirt track.

Flashing back, Ross Chastain won this past weekend at Pocono for his third win of the year. He sits 18th in the regular-season standings and more than likely will compete in the Truck Series Playoffs when they began in a couple of weeks at Bristol. However, Chastain doesn’t have much dirt experience and does not have any starts at Eldora.

With that said, Eldora may be a curveball to his Niece Motorsports crew but with practice time ahead of Thursday night’s race, Chastain and his No. 45 team will hopefully have time to figure it out.

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While Chastain pretty much has a championship spot locked up, other drivers are still on the outside looking in. With Eldora being a bit of a wildcard race, the Truck Series regulars will be hoping to have a smooth race and clinch their spot in the playoffs Thursday night.

Here’s a look at who might win Thursday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby 150.

  1. Matt Crafton – Hard to believe, but it’s been two years since Crafton last won a race in the Truck Series but Eldora just might be the place where he can snap that long winless streak that began two years ago. The California native has six starts at Eldora, winning the 2017 race and finishing fourth in last year’s race. Other finishes include a 10th in 2016, ninth twice in 2015 and 2014, and eighth in the first race here in 2013. The Menards driver has two top-fives and six top-10 finishes along with 24 laps led, with zero DNFs. Crafton has also been racing his dirt modified recently to gain practice for the Truck Series race at Eldora. Look for the two-time champion to be hungry for a win on Thursday night.

  2. Chase Briscoe – You can’t count out last year’s winner Briscoe, who returns for another start at Eldora with ThorSport Racing piloting the No. 27 Ford. Briscoe won in a thriller last year with his teammate Grant Enfinger. The Mitchell, Indiana native is a stand out on dirt having competed in 410 sprint cars before making a career jump to stock cars. Briscoe also competed in the 2017 race for Brad Keselowski, finishing third. In 2017, he finished fourth in Stage 1. In 2018, he finished third in Stage 1 and won the second stage. Despite winning in a thriller, Briscoe was dominant leading 54 laps. Never count out the dirt stand out that is seeking another win in a one-off.

  3. Stewart Friesen – When you’re talking about dirt racing, you can’t exclude another dirt star Friesen. While not competing in the Truck Series on a regular basis, Friesen is busy racing his big-block modified in the Northeast, particularly in the Super DIRTcar Series. The Canadian native has more than 260 wins on dirt and is normally racing every night at a dirt track. Eldora is also a special place for Friesen, as it was the site of his Truck Series debut in 2016. Since that time span, he has amassed 62 starts, 19 top-fives and 30 top-10 finishes with 437 laps led, and has been a perennial runner up multiple times. After having wrecked out on the first lap in last weekend’s race at Pocono, Friesen will look to turn it around Thursday night with a win. At Eldora, he has three starts with a best finish of second in 2017 after starting on the pole. Other stats include 94 laps led and two top-five finishes with one DNF. Keep an eye out on Friesen who will try to get his first win Thursday night.

  4. Kyle Strickler – Despite finishing 31st in last years race, Strickler returns for another start in the Truck Series with the DGR-Crosley team driving the No. 54 Toyota. Strickler has all kinds of dirt racing experience competing in Super Late Models, Dirt Modifieds, Big Block Modifieds and has countless wins on dirt tracks across the country. In the Truck Series, however, Strickler only has one start which came in last year’s race for the late Mike Mittler. Unfortunately, his night was cut short due to a crash on Lap 145. This year, Strickler will have a great chance for a shot at the win. The No. 54 truck finished fourth and fifth in both stages, respectively, in the 2018 race. Don’t be surprised if Strickler has a great run or perhaps even steals the show Thursday night.

  5. Sheldon Creed – Someone that might surprise the field Thursday night is GMS Racing driver Sheldon Creed. Creed is on the outside looking in and is paired with his ARCA championship-winning crew chief again. The California native has some dirt experience competing on the tracks like DuQuoin State Fairgrounds and Illinois State Fairgrounds in the ARCA Racing Series. In 2017, Creed finished fourth at Springfield and second at DuQuoin after leading 33 laps in that race. In 2018, he finished second at Springfield after leading 28 laps and 10th at DuQuoin after starting on the pole and leading 44 laps. At Eldora, Creed’s results have been unremarkable with finishes outside the top-10; his best finish was 15th after starting sixth in last year’s race. Creed will have some work to do, but he has been on fire as of late and could use that ARCA dirt track exposure and find his way into victory lane in Thursday night’s race.

Playoff Bubble:

  1. Harrison Burton – Burton only has one start at Eldora, which came in 2017. He finished 15th in that race driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

  2. Todd Gilliland – Like Burton, Gilliland has one start with a finish of 22nd, but he did earn a sixth place in Stage 2. Gilliland will have to win the race Thursday night in order to have a shot at competing in the Playoffs.

  3. Ben Rhodes – Also on the outside looking in is the No. 99 ThorSport Racing driver Ben Rhodes. Rhodes has three starts at Eldora with no finishes inside the top-10. His best finish was 23rd in his first outing, two years ago. Rhodes did start on the pole last year and led 44 laps, and winning Stage 1 before finishing 29th.

  4. Tyler Dippel – Dippel has one start with a best finish of 17th.

  5. Austin Wayne Self – Self has two starts at Eldora with a best finish of ninth in 2016. Last year he finished 18th after finishing 10th and fourth in both stages, respectively.

  6. Gus Dean – Dean is a bit of a long shot who sits 16th in the regular-season standings. He has no starts at Eldora but does have ARCA starts at the dirt tracks of Springfield and DuQuoin. In 2017, Dean has finishes of 11th in Springfield and third at DuQuoin. In 2018, he finished seventh in Springfield after starting on the pole and leading six laps and finished 18th at DuQuoin due to a crash.

Other notables on the entry list include Jake Griffin in the No. 03 for Mike Affarano, ARCA standout Carson Hocevar making his Truck Series debut filling in for Jordan Anderson, Tim Ward in the No. 08, Colt Gilliam in the No. 8 for NEMCO Motorsports, Mike Marlar in the No. 33 for Reaume Brothers Racing and Devin Dodson in the No. 34 for Reaume Brothers Racing. Mark Smith will pilot the No. 38 for Niece Motorsports, Jeffrey Abbey will be in the No. 44 for Niece Motorsports, Christian Eckes returns again in the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Justin Shipley will drive the No. 80 for Jacob Wallace. The No. 74, owned by Lou Goss, has yet to be announced.

Eldora Speedway has hosted six Truck Series races since its first in 2013. Since then, there have been six different drivers that have gone on to victory lane. Those include Austin Dillon who won its first outing, Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Matt Crafton and Chase Briscoe.

Qualifying will be important at Eldora as the race winner has come from inside the top five for the most part with the exception of two that came outside the top five. Dillon came from the 19th starting position in 2013, with Wallace coming from sixth in 2014 and Larson from seventh in 2016.

Toyota has the most victories in the Eldora Dirt Derby with three in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Chevrolet follows in second with two victories in 2013 and 2016. Ford only has one victory with Briscoe in 2018.

With Eldora being on a Thursday this year, there will be two Truck Series practice on Wednesday evening. First practice is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET with final practice set for 9:05 p.m. ET, both lasting an hour with no live TV coverage.

Qualifying will be a little different with heat races replacing the normal qualifying format. There will be five qualifying heat races Thursday, each lasting 10 laps. The first heat race is slated for 7 p.m. ET live on Fox Sports 1. Last chance qualifying, with 15 laps, takes place at 8:15 p.m. ET.

The seventh annual Eldora Dirt Derby 150 will take the green flag a little after 9 p.m. ET live on Fox Sports 1 and MRN Radio. Stages will be broken into 40/90/150 laps to make up the 75 miles distance.

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