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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.”

Austin Hill wins Truck Series race at Michigan in overtime

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Austin Hill won Saturday’s Truck Series race at Michigan International Speedway in overtime, fending off Sheldon Creed on the final lap to score the victory in the regular-season finale.

It is Hill’s second win of the season after he won the season-opener at Daytona.

The top five was completed by Tyler Dippel, Austin Wayne Self and Brett Moffitt.

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for points report

Hill bounced back from a speeding penalty early in the final stage to lead 26 of 105 laps.

“It’s huge, we’ve had a struggle these last four or five races,” Hill told FS1. “We just keep having issues and can’t finish races. Man, these guys just work their tails off day and night just trying to put these trucks together. This is actually a brand new truck, first time (it saw) the race track was yesterday. When we unloaded we had to workout some bugs on it. We got it driving really good.”

The overtime finish was setup by a large wreck on a restart with four laps to go in the scheduled distance. Tyler Ankrum, who was the leader, received a push from Matt Crafton, which turned his truck into the outside wall and started a chain reaction.

Among those in the wreck were Johnny Sauter, Todd Gilliland, Anthony Alfredo, Natalie Decker and Spencer Boyd.

“I think (Ankrum) just spun his tires, to be honest,” Crafton said after the race. “That’s from what I saw from my seat. I asked a couple of people and they said it looked like he was still spinning the tires when I hit him. Definitely, never going to try wreck somebody. We worked so good together on the restart before that. I shoved him to the lead and it was just wrong timing.”

Pole-sitter Ross Chastain led every lap of Stage 1. But during the ensuing pit stops, Johnny Sauter turned Codie Rohrbaugh into Chastain’s right side as Chastain exited his box. The damage from the collision sent Chastain to the garage and ended his day.

By just starting the race, Grant Enfinger clinched the regular season championship and was awarded 15 playoff points.

With Hill’s win, Crafton clinched the last playoff spot based on points since there wasn’t a new winner.

The eight driver playoff field is Brett Moffitt, Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Chastain, Hill, Crafton, Sauter and Ankrum.

Not involved in the playoffs is Kyle Busch Motorsports. Both Gilliland and Harrison Burton needed to win Saturday to get into the playoff field. At least one KBM driver has been a member of the championship four the last three years.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Ross Chastain

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

WHAT’S NEXT: Playoff opener: UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway at 8:30 p.m. ET Aug. 15 on FS1.

 

Stewart Friesen wins Eldora Dirt Derby for first career Truck victory

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Stewart Friesen won Thursday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby in a two-lap shootout to score his first career Gander Outdoors Truck Series win.

Friesen, 36, claims the win in his 63rd career start and is now locked into the playoffs with one race left in the regular season. Two playoff spots remain up for grabs.

Friesen beat Sheldon Creed, Grant Enfinger, Mike Marlar and Todd Gilliland. Marlar was making his first career NASCAR start.

A native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Friesen had finished second six times before getting a win.

“Thank you to all the race fans that stuck with us, that pulled for us, everybody that came by the dirt modified hauler and said ‘Man, I thought this was the week,'” Friesen told FS1. “Today, this is the day and today this is the week.”

Friesen made his series debut in the 2016 Eldora race. He started from the pole in the 2017 race and led 93 laps before finishing second. He placed third last season.

“This was meant to be,” Friesen said. “We needed to get it done on the dirt. We missed the last two years. What a special event. … These guys have been down and out, down and out and they keep bustin’ their butts for me and fixing stuff and fixing stuff. Putting in such long hours. I can’t thank everybody enough.”

After starting first due to winning the first qualifying race, defending Eldora winner Chase Briscoe did not give up the lead until he pit during second stage break. He was then involved in two accidents before managing to get back to third in time for a restart with 12 laps to go. He then spun with nine laps to go to help bring out another caution.

Briscoe finished seventh.

Friesen assumed the lead from Briscoe when he and Matt Crafton pit during the stage break. Friesen elected to stay out and for it after his crew chief had told him to pit. Friesen led the final 57 laps.

The race saw a 14-truck crash on Lap 64 in Stage 2 that included Harrison Burton, Christian Eckes, Johnny Sauter, Austin Hill and Austin Wayne Self.

More: Race results, point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHAT’S NEXT: Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway at 1 p.m. ET Aug. 10 on FS1

Xfinity, Truck Series practice holds at Kentucky Speedway

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NASCAR announced eight practice holds for the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series today at Kentucky Speedway.

All the holds will be served at the end of each series’ final practice session.

Xfinity Series

15 minute holds

Joey Gase and Mike Harmon – out of garage late

Noah Gragson, Jeremy Clements and Jeff Green – failed inspection twice at Daytona

30 minute hold

Chad Finchum – failed inspection three times at Daytona

Gander Outdoors Truck Series

15 minute holds

Tyler Ankrum and Jeb Burton – failed inspection twice at Chicago