For those focused on the Playoff drivers in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, it became a matter of who would be struck down next.
Todd Gilliland prevailed at Martinsville Speedway in an overtime finish, holding off Ross Chastain, who if victorious would have been the first driver to lock himself into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He instead now sits just 20 points above the cutoff line.
The bright side for Chastain is he was the only Playoff driver in the top five.
With no Playoff drivers yet locked into the final race of the season, Martinsville proved yet again that it is fully capable of shuffling the points standings, creating uncertainty, and causing drama and chaos for all the race teams. After Talladega Superspeedway last weekend, and the paperclip short track on Saturday, the Truck series has just one race left to determine who will race for a championship. How did everyone fare at the short track this weekend?
Stage One Winner Suffers Race-Ending Damage
The Stage 1 winner and last year’s series champion, Brett Moffitt, was involved in several incidents throughout the day. That damage eventually caused fatal issues to the engine of the No. 24 Silverado after only 122 of 200 scheduled laps. He would finish in 29th position after leading 80 laps.
“That’s Martinsville. It’s a bummer,” Moffitt said on Fox Sports.
“People just racing too aggressive too early. Everyone at GMS (Racing) gave me a really fast CMR Construction & Roofing Chevrolet. It’s a bummer to see them like this. This was one of those dominant trucks that we’ve had a few times this year. I felt like no matter what as long as we stayed clean, we were gonna win the thing.”
Moffitt recognized quickly though that he dodged a bullet, as many other Playoff drivers also had issues including a “Big One” that brought out a 15-minute red flag.
“I guess the good takeaway is that we have a nice points buffer depending on how this all plays out going into Phoenix,” said the point leader coming into today’s race and after the checkered flag dropped. “Certainly not in a must-win situation. We just gotta go have a good day at Phoenix.”
Crafton Openly Criticizes Spec Engine for Rough Day
Despite having a competitive truck, Matt Crafton stalled under a yellow flag during Stage 2. With pit cycles in front of him, the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford was forced to come down pit road for evaluation. The pit crew changed the battery, the ECU and more regarding electronic and motor concerns before being able to get back onto the track.
“Yeah, exactly, it was horrible,” Crafton said in response to one reporter’s question. “Three of the six (Playoff) trucks out for similar issues where we’re handcuffed and forced to run. We had a phenomenal truck. When I’d fall back, I could be two tenths faster than the leaders there at the end of the race when we were tire for tire. Something out of our control, again.”
It wasn’t too long ago when the spec engine program was under fire. Several NASCAR Truck Series title contenders faced engine failures in the final race of the first playoff elimination round at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this season. Three of the four Thorsport Racing vehicles — Johnny Sauter, Crafton and Grant Enfinger — finished 29th, 30th and 31st in Vegas, respectively. Sauter and Enfinger were the two drivers eliminated from the Playoffs that round because of the finishes. Crafton slid by on points.
On Saturday, Crafton was faced with a very similar issue and now heads to ISM Raceway where he hopes to slide by on points once again.
Big One Collects Two Title Contenders, Nine Trucks in Total
The “Big One” isn’t just for Daytona or Talladega. A nine-truck crash coming out of Turn 2 brought out the red flag for roughly 15 minutes. When the smoke cleared, two more Playoff drivers were caught up in the incident: Austin Hill and Tyler Ankrum.
A slip by one of the front runners bottled up the middle of the pack on a restart. When some drivers attempted three, even four-wide passing out of Turn 2, chaos ensued. Other drivers involved included the regular-season champion Enfinger and Stage 2 winner Sam Mayer — the 2019 K&N Pro Series East champion.
Hill took his truck to the garage and was done for the day. Ankrum tried to return to the race, but could not make minimum speed. He was eventually black flagged, and would finish the day with a DNF. They would finish 25th (Anrkum) and 26th (Hill).
Friesen Recovers to Sixth After Late Spin
On Lap 149, Martinsville attempted to take on another championship contender. Stewart Friesen was battling Sauter when he knocked into Friesen to send him spinning out of Turn 4. The caution would wave, and Friesen would use pit strategy and other yellow flags to climb his way up to sixth.
Friesen didn’t hit anything, and all his competitors avoided him, so he came down pit road for fresh tires and fought his way back up to sixth. He also avoided other wrecks, including two separate incidents on the final lap.
But looking throughout the race, it could have been a much different story. For now, he sits second in points, 35 points above the cutoff line. Currently, no driver is locked in, but he could join Moffitt to potentially lock himself in depending on how he finishes in both stages at the final Round of 6 race.
After a wild race at Martinsville, here’s how the playoff picture looks with no drivers locked in: Moffitt (+45), Friesen (+35), Chastain (+20), Hill (+9), Crafton (-9) and Ankrum (-15). The Truck series will compete next at ISM Raceway with the Lucas Oil 150 (Friday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). Two drivers will be eliminated from the playoffs at the conclusion of that race.