The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs are near. We’re already down to just two races remaining in the 2019 regular season. So far, we’ve had five different winners, but two of which aren’t even in the top 10 of the points standings. See, Ross Chastain is certainly a favorite to win this year’s title, but he’s with a team that wasn’t known for much prior to this season. Plus, they just now took on Truck Series points in May.
Tyler Ankrum for DGR Crosley missed the first three races due to him not being old enough to compete in the series. But, his win in Kentucky and him securing a waiver allows him to be playoff eligible.
As a result of both being playoff bound, the standings are tight.
Currently, Grant Enfinger (+82), Matt Crafton (+29) and Stewart Friesen (+13) are in. But, look who’s out.
Both Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers – Harrison Burton (-13) and Todd Gilliland (-85) as well as ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes (-34). GMS Racing’s Sheldon Creed (-105) is also on the outside looking in.
So, with two races left, who gets in and who’s left out?
First up, is the ultimate wildcard in Eldora. There have only been two Truck Series regulars to have won the Eldora Dirt Derby (9 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). But, one of which is in the field on Thursday night in Crafton. Since the ThorSport driver took dirt racing seriously, he’s finished first and fourth respectively. He’s also never finished outside the top 10 in Eldora before either. He’s a favorite. After all, he’s scored 11 top 10’s in his last 12 starts on the year too.
So is Stewart Friesen. He’s an ace on dirt tracks. In fact, the Halmar Racing driver has two straight top three finishes at Eldora including a runner-up in 2017 to Crafton after leading a race-high 90 of 150 laps. Despite his crash last weekend in Pocono, he does have four top five finishes in his last five starts on the season and five top five’s in his last seven. To me, he’s the favorite.
Crafton, is likely the second best in terms of odds for series regulars.
Creed has to be third. While his finishes aren’t that strong in Eldora, he has a dirt racing and off road racing background. The problem with him is, he has to win and he has failed to score a top five result all year.
That leaves the KBM duo and Ben Rhodes.
Dirt isn’t a strong suit for Burton. He finished 15th in Eldora as a rookie last year. He does have three straight top five finishes on the year and five in his last six tries overall. But, if Friesen or Creed get a win, his playoff chances get slimmer.
For Todd Gilliland he started second in this race last year but only finished 22nd. He does have three top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the year though and can steal a playoff spot as he’s 85 points down right now.
What about Rhodes? He has never finished in the top 20 in Eldora before and hasn’t finished in the top five since a runner-up finish in Iowa back in June. This may not be his week.
If I had to pick, I’ll say Friesen gets the job done on Thursday night and stamps his name into the playoffs.
That leaves Michigan next. Enfinger, who has finished fourth and second respectively in Eldora before and has three top eight finishes in as many tries in Michigan gets the top wildcard spot available.
Then, Crafton has six straight top 10 finishes at Michigan and should score one in Eldora and another in Michigan. That means Creed and Burton who are rookies at Michigan likely have to win. So would Gilliland who was fifth in this race last year. Also, Rhodes would too as he has three finishes of sixth, 11th and sixth respectively in three career Michigan starts.
Despite there being some heavy hitters in the field, I think Burton who will enter on a hot streak gets it done and takes the final playoff spot. Toyota has won four of the last five in Michigan and gets it done again.
That leaves Crafton, Rhodes, Gilliland and Creed out.