Tyler Ankrum set for surprise Truck Series playoff run

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – If this year’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs were a dinner party, many would have reserved seats for Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the seven-race playoff.

The 19-year-old Gilliland and 18-year-old Burton – two highly touted drivers for one of the series’ best teams – failed to RSVP to the party.

Instead, the first driver to compete for a NASCAR title who was born after the Y2K scare will be Tyler Ankrum, the Truck Series’ Rookie of the Year.

Ankrum sticks out, and that’s not just because of his blond hair.

Blame it on his birth date: March 6, 2001.

That’s five months after the first career start of Matt Crafton at Auto Club Speedway, the track located roughly 17 miles from Ankrum’s hometown of San Bernardino, California.

“That’s kind of crazy,” an amused Crafton says when informed of Ankrum’s status as a driver born after the turn of the century. “I haven’t really even thought about it. … Hopefully he keeps that at the back of his mind and respects his elders.”

Ankrum’s respect shows in his reaction to being among the eight drivers interviewed Tuesday at the Truck Series Playoff Media Day.

“It’s crazy,” Ankrum said. “I’m up here with guys that, some of them have been racing longer than I’ve been alive. They’re great influences in the sport and in fact they’ve been heroes of mine.”

That includes Crafton.

“By the time I was a rookie in late models or a year or two into late models, he was still winning a ton of races,” Ankrum said. “He was one of those guys that I was rooting for every week.”

Adding to his sense of satisfaction is that’s it’s him – not Gilliland or Burton – rubbing shoulders with Crafton and drivers like 2016 champion Johnny Sauter and defending champion Brett Moffitt.

“(It means) a lot,” Ankrum said. “Because this year, not to talk bad about them, they’re expected to win races, they’re expected to win in those KBM trucks and they didn’t. Not saying they won’t. ‘Cause there’s six, seven races left in the series. I wasn’t expected to win. I was expected to run 10th through 15th in a DGR-Crosley truck.

Though he was the defending K&N East Pro Series champion, Ankrum’s expectations for himself weren’t very high when his season started three races late, a product of NASCAR’s rules against anyone under 18 competing on speedways.

“I honestly said to myself ‘I’d be happy finishing in the top five a couple of times,'” Ankrum recalled. “I didn’t really have the confidence in myself to even think I could win a stage.”

After his season debut at Martinsville, where he finished 19th, Ankrum would have to wait five races until his first top five at Texas Motor Speedway.

Then sponsor issues led Ankrum to start-and-park in two races with NEMCO Motorsports, which kept his championship eligibility intact.

Joe Nemechek so graciously gave me the opportunity … in a way we were kind of placing our bet,” Ankrum said. “We’re going to spend a little money doing this and we’re going try to stay in the hunt for this championship.”

Ankrum returned to DGR-Crosley and his bet paid off on July 11 at Kentucky Speedway. After leading 38 laps, Ankrum inherited the lead with two laps left when Moffitt ran out of gas. He scored his first career win in his 12th start.

It was also the first win in the Truck Series for DGR-Crosley.

Ankrum followed that a race later with a runner-up finish at Pocono. The regular-season finale at Michigan had him leading and in position to possibly win. But on an overtime restart, he spun his tires and lost control when Crafton gave Ankrum’s truck a push, sparking a nine-truck wreck.

But the incident didn’t dampen Ankrum’s confidence for the playoffs, which begin tonight at Bristol Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

“What we’ve done is run up front and won a race,” Ankrum said. “I think for everyone else it’s a shock and for us it’s a bit of a surprise as well, but we know what we’re working on week-in and week-out. We know that we’ve been working towards this and it’s gotten better.”

With fewer opportunities to make the playoffs and show off his abilities, Ankrum’s performance has left an impression on one of his childhood heroes.

“Ankrum to be honest,” Crafton says when asked which young playoff driver has impressed him the most. “It’s been just the little experience he’s had … I felt like he had good talent, he’d come in, sneak up for some top fives and lo and behold he goes and wins a race. … He’s done a real good job.”

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.

Sunday Texas Cup race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The first race in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is scheduled Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Twelve drivers are racing for eight spots in the next round. Chase Elliott leads the standings by 15 over Joey Logano entering Sunday’s 500-mile event, the only Cup points race at TMS this year. Ryan Blaney, who is in the playoff group, won the All-Star Race at the track in May.

Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric are below the cutline entering the 3:30 p.m. ET (USA Network) race.

MORE: Big race celebration? Try Waffle House

The playoffs will continue at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9).

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway:

START: The command to start engines will be given by “Top Gun: Maverick” actors Jay Ellis and Lewis Pullman at 3:38 p.m. (ET) … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Bret Shisler of Texas Alliance Raceway Ministries at 3:30 p.m. … The 1st Cavalry Division Band will perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 334 laps (501 miles) on the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 105. Stage 2 ends at Lap 210.

MORE: Ryan Blaney’s team to appeal penalty

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 2:30 p.m. on USA Network. The post-race show will air on USA Network. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy skies. High of 96 with a 5% chance of rain.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won by .459 of a second over William Byron last October. Larson led 256 of the race’s 334 laps.

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Brandon Jones wins Xfinity pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Playoff driver Brandon Jones won the pole position Saturday morning for Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Jones was clocked at 185.637 miles per hour. He has won three of the past four Xfinity poles.

MORE: Texas Xfinity qualifying results

MORE: Texas Xfinity starting lineup

Scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on the USA Network, the race is the opening event of the Xfinity playoffs.

Following Jones in the top five were Noah Gragson (winner of three consecutive Xfinity races), Daniel Hemric, John Hunter Nemechek and Sam Mayer.

MORE: Post-race celebration? Try the Waffle House

The race is 200 laps (300 miles) on the 1.5-mile track. Drivers will be battling heat in the mid-to-high 90s.