Tyler Ankrum

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Brett Moffitt wins second consecutive Truck race

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Just as he did at Bristol, Brett Moffitt won the pole and then won another playoff race. Moffitt, the reigning series champion, won Sunday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for his second consecutive playoff victory this season.

This is Moffitt’s fourth playoff victory in a row, dating back to last season. He won the final two playoff races last year, including the title race at Miami, and has opened this year’s playoffs with wins at Bristol and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Sunday’s victory also is Moffitt’s 11th career triumph in the series.

Alex Tagliani was second and followed by Ben Rhodes, Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill.

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for driver points report

With one race remaining before the eight-driver playoff field is cut to six, Johnny Sauter and Tyler Ankrum are outside a playoff spot. Sauter is seventh in the standings, two points behind ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger. Ankrum is 14 points behind Enfinger.

Stage 1 winner: Brett Moffitt

Stage 2 winner: Ross Chastain

Who had a good race: Alex Tagliani finished second in his first series start of the season. …  After failing to make the playoffs, Ben Rhodes has finished eighth (Bristol) and third (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) in the opening two playoff races. Stewart Friesen finished seventh in a backup truck after wrecking his primary truck on Saturday.

Who had a bad race: Harrison Burton was set for a top-10 finish before the engine blew on his truck. He finished 21st. … Todd Gilliland had damage and then a mechanical issue in what was a long day for him.

Next: The series is off until Sept. 13 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Brett Moffitt wins opening Truck playoff race at Bristol

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Reigning champion Brett Moffitt opened the Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs by winning the caution-filled race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday night.

Moffitt’s third victory of the season advances him to the next round.

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for driver points

“It’s a huge weight lifted off our shoulders,” Moffitt said of the win. “We’ll go to the next two, try to win them and get as many playoff points as possible and focus on the Round of 6.”

Chandler Smith finished second. He was followed by Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen and Grant Enfinger.

Stage 1 winner: Ross Chastain

Stage 2 winner: Brett Moffitt

Who had a good race: In just his third career series start, 17-year-old Chandler Smith finished a career-high second for Kyle Busch Motorsports. … Ross Chastain won a stage and finished third, overcoming a pit road penalty.

Who had a bad race: Natalie Decker got spun by the tow truck as her truck was being pushed away during a caution. She finished 25th. … Johnny Sauter was involved in multiple cautions and finished 11th. … Tyler Ankrum finished 20th, worst among the eight playoff drivers. 

Next: The series races Aug. 25 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

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.”

Truck Series practice report from Bristol Motor Speedway

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Austin Hill, who won last weekend’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Michigan, posted the fastest lap in Thursday’s final practice session at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hill led the way with a lap of 126.328 mph. He was followed by Sam Mayer (126.095 mph), reigning series champion  Brett Moffitt (125.789), Stewart Friesen (125.617) and Johnny Sauter (125.469).

Click here for final practice results

Moffitt had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 122.594 mph. He was followed by Friesen (122.532 mph) and Matt Crafton (122.407).

Harrison Burton ran the most laps in the session at 73. He ranked ninth on the speed chart with a top lap of 125.060 mph.

OPENING PRACTICE

Tyler Ankrum was fastest in the first of two Gander Outdoors Truck Series practice sessions Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Ankrum, one of the eight Truck Series playoff drivers, posted a top speed of 126.420 mph around the half-mile track.

He was followed by Ross Chastain (125.831 mph), Matt Crafton (125.354), Raphael Lessard (125.036) and Brett Moffitt (124.930).

Sheldon Creed, who was eighth on the speed chart, recorded the most laps with 78. He also had the best 10-lap average at 123.983 mph.

The final Truck practice is scheduled for 11:05 – 11:55 a.m ET.

Click here for the practice report.

Long: Playoff drought could be coming to an end for one team

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — As cars ran out of fuel Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Ryan Newman gained positions.

Then his engine sputtered, and he ran out of fuel in Turn 4.

On the final lap.

Newman made it to the finish line without losing any spots. He went from 18th to 12th in the last three laps as others coasted or had to pit for fuel.

Those six spots gained — and six points collected — helped stretch Newman’s lead for one of the final Cup playoff spots. He can help end a significant playoff drought. Newman enters Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 15th in the standings. Clint Bowyer, who holds the final playoff spot, is 10 points behind Newman.

MORE: Click here for the point standings.

Not since 2006 has the No. 6 team made the Cup playoffs. That car number was the first number Roush Fenway Racing used when it entered NASCAR’s premier series in 1988 with Mark Martin. And it was Martin in the car when it last made the Cup playoffs. Now it’s Newman’s ride and he is three races away from making the playoffs.

“To get into the (playoffs), race our way in throughout the whole season, it would show a huge step for the program,” said crew chief Scott Graves.

The team struggled last year with Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth sharing the ride. Graves, who had been Daniel Suarez’s crew chief for the majority of the past two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, joined Newman with the No. 6 team this year.

Topping off for fuel played a key role in Newman’s finish at Michigan. Twenty-seven cars pitted on Lap 150 under caution but Newman returned to pit road the following lap to top off on fuel. Only Newman and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back to pit road to top off for fuel on Lap 151

Without that extra fuel, Newman would have run out sooner and lost positions — and points.

Ryan Newman is in a playoff spot with three races left in the regular season. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Newman looks to lead the No. 6 back in the playoffs with a grinding style that has not been pretty but has been productive.

The team has struggled to find speed. Newman has not started better than 16th in the last 15 races. It’s a key reason why Newman has scored 19 stage points in that span.

Newman is ahead of Bowyer, Suarez and Jimmie Johnson in the race for the final two playoff spots. Bowyer (54 stage points), Suarez (23) and Johnson (37) each has more stage points than Newman.

With the deficit on stage points, Newman and his team have had to score solid finishes. That made Graves’ decision to top off for fuel on Lap 151 at Michigan critical.

“We know the guys we’re racing against here, they’ve got the potential on any given weekend to go up there and bust off stage points and potentially win,” Graves said. “Obviously we are working really hard. We are grinding it out and getting the finishes we can to stay in this.

“That’s how we have to race right now. We know that to get in and even get anywhere in the (playoffs) if we do get in, we’ve got to really work on speed to get points.”

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Kevin Harvick revealed after his victory Sunday that he’s been racing with a right shoulder injury this summer.

The shoulder, he said, was not injured in an accident on the track. No, he injured the shoulder throwing a Nerf ball to son Keelan.

“It’s cut into my golf game,” Harvick quipped Sunday on NBCSN’s post-race show.

He later added that the shoulder is “probably 80 percent now. I mean, there was a point when I went to Sonoma that I couldn’t even lift it up. It feels better in the race car than it does  — the worst thing I had to do in the race car was shift.

“My main concern was Watkins Glen, but we got through it. It’s getting close to being back where it needs to be. But it was definitely uncomfortable. The load that these cars put on it is right next to the … it’s right in the spot where it’s not feeling well. So all the load from the shoulder is where it’s been injured. … But it’s fine.”

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Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, William Byron and Bubba Wallace were among the drivers who had conflicts after Watkins Glen and had to address it at Michigan.

Johnson and Blaney traded barbs through the media before eventually meeting in Johnson’s motorhome last Friday night. Busch had meetings with Byron and Wallace.

With the rules package intended to keep cars closer together and blocking more prevalent, additional conflicts are likely to occur toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. How one handles those situations could play a role in the final weeks of the season.

Such situations can be challenging, says Brad Keselowski, who had feuds with Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards early in his career. There remains friction with Busch even after Keselowski sought to smooth things between them.

“It wears on you as much as you let it wear on you,” Keselowski said of conflicts with other drivers. “Second, I would say that there are some drivers that handle conflict incredibly well and there are some that don’t. I have never considered myself to be the best at it.

“I will be honest, I do look at videos of guys like Dale Earnhardt. He was in so many situations of conflict and they were easier to deal with in his time and age because of the lack of social media and lack of a 24-hour news cycle and things of that nature. But then on the flip side, he was a master at dealing with it. So I think you look at those guys and you think that probably parlayed into some of the success of his career, so you would be a fool not to study and try to learn from it. In today’s landscape it is harder than ever to handle for sure.”

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Ben Rhodes collected a dubious honor Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

He ranked fifth in the points — before the standings were reset for the playoff competitors — and failed to make the playoffs. That makes him the driver who has been the highest in points before the standings were reset to miss the postseason in Cup, Xfinity or the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in this current format. 

Rhodes scored more points than playoff drivers Ross Chastain, Austin Hill, Johnny Sauter and Tyler Ankrum. The difference is that in NASCAR’s win-and-you’re-in system, Chastain, Hill, Sauter and Ankrum won this year. Rhodes did not.

Also what makes Rhodes standing unique is that not all the playoff competitors ran all the races or scored points in all the races.

Ankrum was not old enough to compete in the season’s first three races. Sauter was suspended one race when NASCAR penalized him for wrecking Hill at Iowa in June. Chastain started the season running for points in the Xfinity Series and switched to Truck points before the season’s ninth race, which was at Texas in June. That’s why they were behind Rhodes in points.

The Truck playoffs begin Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.