The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series drivers take to the dirt on Thursday night for one of the most highly anticipated events of the entire NASCAR season. The Eldora Dirt Derby (9 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is always a must see race.
How To Tune In
Coverage – 7 p.m. ET
TV – FS1
Radio – MRN
Distance – 150 Laps/75 Miles
Stage Lengths – 40/50/60
Defending Race Winner – Chase Briscoe
Chastain removes Playoff doubt with Pocono victory
By virtue of scoring his second Playoff-eligible win this past weekend at Pocono, Ross Chastain brought a little more focus to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series postseason picture by ensuring he can’t get knocked off the grid by new winners. (Chastain won a third race earlier in the season at Kansas, but the win didn’t count towards Playoff eligibility because he had not yet declared for points in the Gander Trucks.)
Five different drivers (Chastain, Brett Moffitt, Johnny Sauter, Austin Hill, Tyler Ankrum) have all won their way into the Playoffs, leaving three open spots with two races to go (Eldora, Michigan) before the postseason kicks off at Bristol.
Points leader Grant Enfinger has a 34-point lead on Brett Moffitt and would be ensured a spot in the Playoffs were he to capture the regular season championship, even without a win. The remaining two spots based on points are currently held by Matt Crafton and Stewart Friesen.
But a win by a new Playoff-eligible driver would knock Crafton or Friesen out…as could a couple bad points days. And no one knows better than Friesen what a bad points day can do to a driver’s Playoff chances.
Following a second-place finish at Kentucky two races ago, Friesen’s postseason prospects looked strong as he was second in points – and was 16 points up on Crafton and, more importantly, 60 points ahead of Burton.
After crashing on the first turn at Pocono and finishing 32nd while Burton placed third and Crafton was sixth, Friesen dropped to fourth in the points and now trails Crafton by 16 points and leads Burton by only 13…putting Friesen out of the Playoffs if a new driver wins or bringing Burton within striking distance if the final spot is decided on points.
Here’s a look at the Playoff grid if the postseason were to start today:
Driver Current Points Wins* Playoff Points#
Brett Moffitt 549 2 21
Grant Enfinger 582 0 19
Ross Chastain 218 2 11
Matt Crafton 529 0 11
Johnny Sauter 402 1 9
Stewart Friesen 513 0 9
Austin Hill 426 1 8
Tyler Ankrum 294 1 5
Harrison Burton 500 0 –
Ben Rhodes 479 0 –
Todd Gilliland 428 0 –
Locked in with wins
Current regular season championship leader
Outside looking in
* Indicates only Playoff-eligible wins
# Playoff points include those awarded for regular season finish based on current points standings
Chase Briscoe digging for two in a row at Eldora
Last year, Chase Briscoe ran a one-off race as the fifth truck in the ThorSport Racing stable at Eldora Speedway – and edged out teammate Grant Enfinger for the win in an exciting door-to-door battle to the finish.
This year, Briscoe is back – again running a one-off race as the fifth ThorSport entry as he attempts to defend his Eldora title.
The race will mark Briscoe’s first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series start of the season – and was his only series start last year, as well. He’s coming off a win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this past weekend at Iowa Speedway that qualified him for the Playoffs in that series – and is making the side trip to Eldora on the way to this Saturday’s Xfinity road course race at Watkins Glen International.
Briscoe has made two starts at Eldora. In addition to his win last year, he finished third there in 2017 while racing for Brad Keselowski Racing.
Dirt ace Stewart Friesen hoping Eldora will put him in the Playoffs
After a rough outing at Pocono Raceway that saw a first-turn crash relegate him to a last-place finish, Stewart Friesen knows that he needs solid results – or even better, a win – in the next two races to keep him in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff picture.
The Canadian driver originally from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, is well-known on the dirt tracks in the northeast. He finished second in the Super DIRTcar Series points in 2016 and has over 260 dirt wins to his credit. Five of those wins came at the NAPA Super DIRT Week at Oswego Speedway – including three in a row from 2014-2016.
His first trip to Eldora in 2016 was actually his Gander Trucks debut, and it didn’t go as smoothly as he wished as a crash with just under 40 laps to go took him out and left him with a 28th-place finish.
But since then, Friesen has come oh-so-close at Eldora. In 2017, he captured his first career series pole at Eldora and went on to lead a race-high 93 laps and battled back from an unscheduled pit stop at the end of Stage 2 to change a tire that was going down – taking back the lead on Lap 115. But Matt Crafton was able to power past him with 17 laps to go and Friesen would stay behind in second.
Last year, Friesen spun early but recovered, only to watch Chase Briscoe and Grant Enfinger battle it out ahead of him for the win as Friesen finished third.
Overall this season, the driver of the No. 52 Chevrolet for Halmar Friesen Racing has recorded a pole (Martinsville), eight top fives and nine top 10s through 14 races. Prior to finishing 32nd at Pocono last weekend, Friesen had four straight top-five finishes – three of them in the top three, including a runner-up result at Kentucky.
He’s currently in a precarious position in regard to the Playoffs as he sits in the eighth and final spot based on points. If a championship-eligible driver who has not already won this year makes it to Victory Lane at Eldora or Michigan, Friesen would be the first driver out.
And he currently sits only 13 points ahead of Harrison Burton, who is ninth on the Playoff outlook. A couple good points days from Burton and a couple bad performances from Friesen (similar to what happened at Pocono) could knock Friesen out of the postseason.
Crafton looking to end another winless streak with a dirt win
On June 19, 2017, Matt Crafton ended a 27-race winless streak with a surprising late-race surge to overtake Stewart Friesen and capture his first win on dirt.
Now, just over two years later, Crafton is riding another winless streak that began 10 days later with the next race after his Eldora win – Pocono – and is now at 49 races long.
It’s not that he hasn’t put together solid results during that drought of Victory Lane visits. Since his last win, he has recorded 15 top-five and 34 top-10 finishes…including four runner-up placements, his most recent this June at Texas Motor Speedway. And in 14 starts this season, he has only two finishes outside the top 10 (14th at Atlanta, 13th at Kentucky).
Crafton’s made six starts on the dirt at Eldora and has yet to finish outside the top 10. In his most recent effort there, he placed fourth last year.
He’s another driver whose Playoff prospects are in a precarious position. With five drivers in on wins and points leader Grant Enfinger (who is winless on the year) currently holding the spot allotted to the regular season champion, that leaves two open spots with two races to go.
Currently, Crafton is in the seventh spot, 29 points ahead of Harrison Burton sitting right outside the cutoff. Stewart Friesen is in the final slot (eighth), 16 points behind Crafton.
A rough outing by Crafton at either Eldora or Michigan could have a major impact on the points – as could a trip to Victory Lane by a championship-eligible driver (or two) who hasn’t won yet this year.
Crafton would prefer to take away the uncertainty, become the first two-time Eldora victor and win his way into the postseason – all while putting his winless streak in the rearview mirror.
Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers on the outside looking in
As a team, Kyle Busch Motorsports has won more races than any other team this season (six total) and has captured six of Toyota’s eight NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victories this year.
But despite all of that success, the dominant team doesn’t currently have a driver in position to contend for postseason glory.
None of those wins came from Playoff-eligible drivers as team owner Kyle Busch won five races and Greg Biffle recorded the sixth in the June Texas race. Without a win, and reliant on points for a shot at the postseason, the two full-time KBM drivers are on the outside looking in when it comes to the Playoffs.
Harrison Burton, driver of the No. 18 Toyota, is just 13 points outside of the eighth and final Playoff spot, currently held by Stewart Friesen. By most standards, he’s had a pretty solid season – through 14 races he has seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes and has been gaining in the points recently.
He’s finished in the top five in five of the last six races, including consecutive third-place results in the most recent two races at Kentucky and Pocono and another at Iowa.
Burton has made just one visit to the half-mile Eldora dirt track, finishing 15th last summer.
While Burton isn’t too far out of Playoff contention on points, his teammate Todd Gilliland in the No. 4 Toyota is 85 points behind the final spot held by Friesen, so his only real shot at getting into the Playoffs is with a win.
Gilliland has a pair of top fives and eight top 10s this season and came closest to victory just four races ago when he finished runner-up to Ross Chastain at Gateway. Whereas Burton has posted some of his best results in the most recent three races, Gilliland has averaged a finish of 10th over that time – which has hurt him in the points.
He also has only one start at Eldora where he finished 22nd last year.
Two to go in the Gander Trucks regular season
With five drivers locked in on wins, the next two races are at two very different tracks and will be key to drivers’ Playoffs hopes and dreams. Here’s a look at the remaining two tracks and some of the best performances at each by drivers not currently locked into the Playoffs with a win.
Eldora Speedway (Thursday, August 1, 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – The half-mile dirt track is the only non-paved venue that the NASCAR national series visit, and it always provides thrilling action. The trip to the track in rural Ohio also provides drivers and fans with a unique qualifying experience, as the field is set by a series of five qualifying races and a last chance qualifying race. This summer marks the seventh race at the track for the series.
Matt Crafton is the only championship-eligible driver with a win at the track. In fact, his victory in 2017 was the last time the two-time series title winner visited Victory Lane – and he would love to secure a Playoff berth by becoming the first two-time Eldora winner.
Crafton, Enfinger and Friesen all have two top fives apiece at Eldora. They are the only Gander Trucks championship-eligible drivers with top fives at the dirt track.
(Of note, last year’s winner Chase Briscoe is scheduled to return to defend, but he’s not eligible for Gander Trucks points.)
Michigan International Speedway (Saturday, August 10, 1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio – The Irish Hills provide the backdrop for this spacious, smooth and speedy two-miler that features 18 degrees of banking in the corners. The Gander Trucks have raced 19 times at Michigan.
The only championship-eligible Gander Trucks drivers who have won at Michigan have already visited Victory Lane in 2019 (Brett Moffitt won in 2016 and 2018 at Michigan, while Johnny Sauter won in 2014).
Crafton has a trio of top-five finishes in 17 starts at the track. Todd Gilliland finished fifth in his first visit to the track last year. They are the only two drivers with top fives who are still trying to lock themselves into the Playoffs.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Etc.
Landon Huffman to start in place of Spencer Boyd: Earlier on Tuesday, Young’s Motorsports put out a statement that Spencer Boyd had sustained an injury in a non-racing related incident and will not be starting in the No. 20 Chevrolet at Eldora. They announced that Landon Huffman will replace Boyd behind the wheel.
Now starting: Seven drivers entered in the Eldora Dirt Derby this weekend are making their first NASCAR national series start – Carson Hocevar, Tim Ward, Mike Marlar, Devin Dodson, Mark Smith, and Darwin Peters. A bevy of additional drivers entered have five or fewer NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts – Jake Griffin (five starts, one at Eldora in 2016), Jeffrey Abbey (three starts, two at Eldora in 2017 and 2018), Kyle Strickler (one start, at Eldora in 2017), and Justin Shipley (three starts, all at Eldora from 2016-2018).
Sunoco Rookie update: Harrison Burton has a 92-point lead over Sheldon Creed in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings (500 to 408). Tyler Dippel is third with 306 points while Tyler Ankrum has 294 points in fourth. Of note, however, is that the Sunoco Rookie award is handed out based solely on points at the end of the year. As the Playoff outlook stands now, only Ankrum has qualified for the postseason – and if he remains the only rookie to qualify for the Playoffs, Ankrum could clinch the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title following Michigan. This is due to the points reset that happens at the beginning of the Playoffs, guaranteeing Ankrum would finish the season with no less than 2000 points.