Among the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series rookies, DGR-Crosley driver Tyler Ankrum has already established his credentials as a contender by already scoring a victory when he won at Kentucky in July. Afterward, he followed his win with a runner-up finish at Pocono and a ninth-place run at Eldora. He now heads into the Michigan race weekend with a solid spot in the NGOTS Playoffs and is poised for a solid run for the Homestead finale.
SM: You established your crendetials as a top rookie contender with your win at Kentucky, followed by a runner-up finish at Pocono and a ninth-place run at Eldora. That said, how do your feel about your odds winning the Rookie of the Year battle against fellow rookies like Sheldon Creed and Harrison Burton?
Ankrum: I think they’re really good. With Michigan being the last race of the regular season, both Sheldon and Harrison have to win to make it into the Playoffs.
To be frank, Sheldon’s showed a lot of speed on these mile-and-a-half and two-mile race tracks, so I think his odds are pretty good. I’m not too sure about Burton; [Kyle Busch Motorsports] as a whole has struggled all year. But overall, they’re both great racers and both are going to have equal opportunities and equal chances to make it in. I think our chances are really good, and going into Michigan all we’ll really need to do is to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.
SM: Now that you’ve solidified your spot in the NGOTS Playoffs, have you updated any of your previous goals in regards to your Playoff campaign?
Ankrum: No. At the beginning of the year our goal was to go win a championship. The goals have stayed the same. We’re aiming high, and that’s how we’re going to continue to push forward and continue to run up front like we have been doing these past few weeks.
SM: Considering that DGR-Crosley is still somewhat new in the NASCAR garage, how did it feel scoring their first national touring series victory?
Ankrum: Oh, it’s awesome because David [Gilliland, team owner] gave me the opportunity to drive Late Models when I was first getting started in stock cars, then he gave me the same opportunity in his K&N car, and now he’s doing it in the trucks. It’s pretty special for me, and I’m super thankful for all the help I’ve had along the way.
SM: Who do you feel is your toughest competition on the track right now?
Ankrum: That’s pretty tough because the truck series is so competitive right now. This is the most competitive it’s been in a really long time; the top 15 trucks have a chance to win every week and whenever they show up.
The greatest competition right now? I’d have to say either the GMS Racing or ThorSport trucks. It’s either going to be Brett Moffitt or Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen (Friesen drives a GMS satellite truck), Ben Rhodes or Matt Crafton even though they’ve struggled a little bit this year. Those two teams alone right there have almost eight trucks, so competition has been real stiff. But I think we can hang with them. We’ve been hanging with them the past few weeks. We’ve been doing things a lot different in the race shop, been making a lot of improvements on our equipment and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.
Just going forward, I have the utmost confidence in our guys and I think they have confidence in me, so at this point we’re starting to really figure things out. I think they’ll have to worry about us more than we’ll have to worry about them.
SM: Due to some sponsorship issues you had to step away and run a couple of races for Joe Nemechek at NEMCO. How did that come about?
Ankrum: When we announced that I was no longer full-time, we knew that for me to maintain my points eligibility you have to participate or at least try in every race. It wasn’t about a day later that Joe Nemechek called me and offered me the opportunity to go drive one of his trucks at Iowa and Gateway. He so graciously let us drive that truck and I’m so thankful to him as well and there’s such great guys over there and they’re super easy to work with. Just super guys who were a blast to be with.
SM: Where do you feel your DGR-Crosley team has been the strongest in the 2019 campaign?
Ankrum: We haven’t run too many short tracks, but we’re really good on the mile-and-a-halfs. We’re really good on working on the setups to what I like and what I can drive to. We’re good at keeping our nose clean during long distances and staying out of everyone’s mess; it’s really been the key to our success to go on up there and try to win every race and not get too caught up in points.
SM: On that note, where do you as a driver feel your biggest strengths have been?
Ankrum: I feel like my ability to learn is one of my biggest strengths. I can go out there behind a truck on the race track and watch and see what he’s doing while also paying attention to what I’m doing. I feel like I can learn a lot better that way than I could learn on a simulator or watching film. Learning that way helps me a lot when I’m out inside the truck.
I also feel I can put my truck on the edge and leave it there. I feel like I can be consistent and smooth on the wheel, and I feel that’s what really makes a fast car or a fast truck. It’s easy to go out there and throw down a lap but it’s harder to go out there and do that lap after lap. I work on that quite a bit with myself and I think it’s been working so far.
SM: Inversely, where do you feel that you need the most work in regards to your on-track performance?
Ankrum: My restarts. My restarts are pretty poor. Really need to just figure out the transmission ratios for the most part, but I’ve been getting better these past few weeks. So the adjustments we’ve been making to the truck and to myself and just learning, it’s helped a lot.
SM: Going back to your recent streak of a win, a runner-up, and a ninth-place finish, that’s three strong runs on three different kinds of tracks. To what do you owe your performance to?
Ankrum: I would have to go back and owe that to my ability to learn. The ability to just take in as much as possible as fast as possible. Just the least amount of time working on the drivers and the most amount of time working on the truck and making it faster, with you making it faster along the way.
I appreciate [Crew Chief Kevin] “Bono” Manion. He’s huge, in that department he’s a genius. He just knows so much and he’s so knowledgeable it helps. Having all those guys in my corner, it’s huge.
SM: In regards to the Playoffs, there are those on social media who are quick to use you and Matt Crafton as two examples that the Playoffs are supposedly “flawed” towards “deserving” drivers: You started the season late, yet sit solidly in Playoff contention with the regular season finale at Michigan right around the corner, while Crafton sits second in points but could possibly miss out on the Playoffs if another series regular pulls off a surprise win. What’s your take on the assumption that some drivers are more “deserving” than others?
Ankrum: Well, I mean, I feel that that’s the one word everyone gets caught up on – “deserve” – right? No one deserves anything in this world. I don’t deserve someone’s love or respect; that’s why you earn things. I feel like once you earn something you deserve to have it. I feel like that’s what we’ve done this year.
We earned that win at Kentucky. With our hard work and blood, sweat, and tears we earned that win and earned our spot in the Playoffs. Even though I missed the first few races of the year, to me, that just meant I had to work harder to beat the rest. In my mind. Now, if that means that I don’t deserve it? That’s just a matter of opinion.
But my opinion, we earned it and in a way I feel we earned everyone’s respect because they have to take DGR-Crosley seriously now. I feel that, in a sense, means that we deserve to be in the Playoffs. Whether that means there’s a rule that you have to run the entire season, granted, I couldn’t do so because of my age, and once again I did also have to get a waiver.
I’ve seen a lot of the articles saying that NASCAR is abusing this rule because blah blah blah blah blah, I feel that it’s just keyboard warriors out there on Twitter just trying to make a story and stir the pot up. But that’s just my take. I don’t think anything in this world has to do with “deserve,” it has to do with earning and respect. That’s what I really out here trying to do, just earn my right to have everyone’s respect.