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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.”

NASCAR mourns Kobe Bryant

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Joining their brethren in other sports, the NASCAR world took to social media upon learning the tragic news of the death of Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, killed Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Bryant had met a number of NASCAR drivers in his career, including Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. They were among a number of NASCAR notables who took to social media to mourn Bryant:

 

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Chad Knaus and wife expecting second child

Photo courtesy Brooke Knaus official Instagram account
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Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion crew chief Chad Knaus and wife Brooke are expecting their second child.

Brooke made the announcement Saturday on her Instagram account.

The couple, already parents to one-year-old son Kip, will soon be adding a daughter to their growing family.

Brooke Knaus’s Instagram post said the baby is due in July.

Kip figured prominently in the baby revelation, coming at the end of mom and dad’s ski run while vacationing in Telluride, Colorado:

 

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Kyle Larson flips, misses finals of Australia’s biggest sprint car race

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Kyle Larson’s hope of following up last week’s Chili Bowl win with a triumph in Australia’s prestigious Grand Annual Sprint Car Classic fell far short Sunday.

Larson’s bid to race his way into the 24-car finals of the three-day race at Premier Speedway in Warrnambool, Australia, ended when he flipped (uninjured) on the opening lap of a last-chance qualifying heat race earlier in the evening.

Instead of being one of the featured drivers in the Classic’s 40-lap finale – the largest and most popular sprint car race of the year in the land down under – Larson was left to watch the event from the pits and cheer on Dyson Motorsport teammate and fellow American Carson Macedo.

Even that didn’t go very well, as Macedo flipped his own sprint car on the first lap of the Classic, resulting in a last-place finish. The highest finishing American was Cory Eliason, who ended up fourth.

Meanwhile, it was an all-Australian podium, with James McFadden winning the Classic for the second time in his career, followed by James Veal and Kerry Madsen.

In eight days, Larson went from capturing what he called the biggest win ever of his racing career on all levels – the Chili Bowl in his 13th try last Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma – to nothing but bad luck and utter frustration throughout his Australian journey.

Larson’s first race on Wednesday in the King’s Challenge at Borderline Speedway was rained out.

Then, in the first night of the Classic on Friday, Larson wrecked heavily in his first heat race, including flipping (he was uninjured). After his team repaired his car, Larson went back on the track, only to suffer a blown engine that knocked him out of contention to race in that evening’s feature event.

After not being on the schedule to race in Night 2 of the Classic on Saturday, Larson had one last chance to make Sunday’s featured championship event.

A total of 80 drivers battled it out in the B, C and D Mains for the eight remaining spots in the A Main, but Larson would end up not being one of those — as can be seen in the second line of the following tweet by his team:

Larson now returns to the United States to prepare for the Daytona 500 on February 16.

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Kyle Busch feeling like ‘the new guy’ during his Rolex 24 debut at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch was looking forward to his first stint at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The two-time Cup champion was less enthused about his second turn behind the wheel in the IMSA season opener. Busch will climb back into the No. 14 Lexus RCF GT3 at 2 a.m. Sunday, just past the midpoint of the endurance race classic at Daytona International Speedway.

“That’s going to suck, yeah,” Busch deadpanned. “That’s exactly when I told them I did not want to run, and I got it.  Thank you very much.

“(I’m) the new guy.  I pulled the short straw.”

Click here to read more about how Busch felt about his AIM Vasser Sullivan car.