Playoff battle in Truck Series stays close

With just three races left before crowning the 2019 champion, the Playoffs points standings in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series is tight, including one championship favorite now below the cutoff line.

Ross Chastain crashed from the lead with six laps remaining, Stewart Friesen was the only Playoff driver to earn any additional Playoff points by winning a stage, and Austin Hill was frustrated at the field when he was unable to find a drafting partner to score additional points at the conclusion of the second stage. It also didn’t help any of the six remaining drivers as none of the Playoff teams could capture the checkered flag to secure their spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. NASCAR issued a post-race penalty on Johnny Sauter to hand the win to then second-place finisher, Spencer Boyd. 

Now, only two drivers have more than a 20-point cushion, while the other four are fighting for the last two spots with the last three drivers separated by just two points.

The Truck Series races at Martinsville Speedway and ISM Raceway during their Round of 6 before two are eliminated. Let’s review what happened Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway that shook up the Playoffs.

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Chastain Takes Blame for “Big One” in Closing Laps

With six laps to go, Chastain learned the hard way that he can only block once.

Down the backstretch, the inside lane of Grant Enfinger and Harrison Burton had reached the peak of their momentum on Chastain, so the Niece Motorsports driver moved high to start blocking and using the charge from the outside lane. As the field entered Turn 3, Sheldon Creed and Todd Gilliland continued to work together to make a move around Chastain. They first moved high, then down to the middle lane to peek a bumper inside of the leader.

Chastain blocked high successfully but started the carnage when blocking low.

To no fault of his own, Creed hooked the rear bumper of Chastain to send him spinning. Chastain would then collect nine other trucks to create what would be the only “Big One.”

He took all the blame.

“I definitely turned left on (Creed),” he shared with FOX Sports after being evaluated and released from the infield care center. “Sorry to everybody that got taken out. My Niece Motorsports boys and girls deserve better. The Car Shield Chevy was fast enough to go compete for the win.

That one’s on me. I’m so glad we get to go onto Martinsville and Phoenix and redeem ourselves to keep winning and press the attack.”

After declaring for the points championship in the Truck series earlier this year, his focus remains the same: that same Truck championship.

“I will go try to win practice, try to win qualifying and try to win the race, and just go execute. That was poor execution on my part. Again, sorry to everybody involved, but we’ll go on and just execute. That’s my job, and that’s what we’re gonna go do.”

Playoff Drivers Struggle Against Controversial Penalties

On Lap 51, NASCAR issued a penalty on two Playoff drivers, as Stewart Friesen and Brett Moffitt were caught locking bumpers to draft away from the pack. They were leading at the time but came down pit road to serve a stop-and-go penalty. While they rallied back to finish fourth and fifth, they both know it could have easily been a different story if a “Big One” had happened while they marched back to the front. Being eligible for the championship just added more to the drama.

“I don’t really know what to say about anything,” Friesen said. “I didn’t see it. I have no idea, no clue. But we were fortunate to get back to the lead lap and get a fifth out of it.”

Although Moffitt has a 45 point buffer above the cutoff line, he wanted proof of their two trucks locking bumpers. The hard part is that no television coverage could catch exactly when they were locking bumpers.

“I would love to see it, love to see where we locked bumpers because I was very conscious of it and staying off him, giving him a bubble,” Moffitt shared after the race. “I would love to see proof. Everyone’s pushing the limit.

“Now had that played out like Daytona where we (went to) the back and ended up in a wreck I’d be a little more upset about it, but the fact we had really good Chevrolets here and were able to rebound – all three of us. It’s frustrating but ultimately we did our job and out-pointed everyone in the playoffs.”

Sheldon Creed (front) and Brett Moffitt (back) appear to potentially lock bumpers driving through the tri-oval, but no penalty was issued. Photo courtesy of Stephanie McLaughlin with Speedway Media.

To make matters more controversial about the call, there were other instances throughout the race where two trucks would clearly lock bumpers and serve no obligated penalty. Possibly the biggest missed call was on the final lap.

Eventual race winner Boyd locked bumpers with Riley Herbst to create a run to the lead. The attempted pass between Herbst and Sauter caused Sauter to go below the yellow line, which is not allowed at all by the leader. Sauter would be penalized and hand the win to Boyd.

“So those are tough calls and I think there were several instances where we were all looking at each other,’‘Is that too much? Is that too much?’” said NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller who addressed media questions on the officiating calls after the race. “So, there was really no other choice but to make that call (on Moffitt and Friesen).”

However, the same driving that NASCAR claimed Moffitt and Friesen did was also executed by Boyd and Herbst fighting for the win on the final lap. No call was made.

Austin Hill Frustrated with Competition and Lack of Stage Points

While Hill is currently in the third position in the Playoffs, he sure would like to have more of a points gap going into the next two races. He clearly understood how valuable stage points are in a time like now, and with a points structure where each position is just one point, it’s a spot in the season where every point matters.

Austin Hill (No. 16) had trouble finding drafting help, as depicted here. Ross Chastain (No. 45) would get drafting help from behind, while competitors behind Hill would find a way to battle around. Photo courtesy of Stephanie McLaughlin with Speedway Media.

But for some reason, Hill just wasn’t able to find a drafting partner to work with during the race. That cost him valuable spots, and eventually valuable points by not executing strongly at the conclusion of either stage.

“I was really frustrated all day about that,” Hill said. “I didn’t really have any help from anybody – whether a Toyota was behind me or anyone else. It didn’t matter. No one seemed to want to work with me. It was tough all day.

“We were leading that second stage and with two (laps) to go, they had such a big run, there was no way to really block that outside lane coming. I tried to stay on the bottom because I knew I had two Toyotas behind me and then they bailed on me.”

That tough fighting and loss of potential points could be vital as the Round of 6 continues. Hill finished the race in sixth but collected just 35 points. In comparison, Moffitt and Friesen finished fourth and fifth and collected 51 and 48 points respectively — over 10 stage points each more than Hill.

After the race, Hill now sits just 12 points above the cutoff line.

“Still a decent points day, just not what we wanted. At least we didn’t end up on the wrecker like a few of them did. All in all, it was a decent points day and we’ll go on to Martinsville.”

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