Grant Enfinger bounced back from a tire rub that dropped him well back in the field and surged back to win the NASCAR truck race at Richmond Raceway on Thursday night.
Enfinger took the lead with seven laps to go, passing reigning champion Matt Crafton for his third victory of the season. Crafton held on for second and Ben Rhodes finished third.
Enfinger matched Sheldon Creed for the most victories among series regulars this season in the last race to determine the final two spots in the playoffs that begin next weekend. He won two of the first four races but took him until Thursday to visit victory lane again as he won the regular opener and finale too.
Those berths went to Todd Gilliland and Tyler Ankrum, who used a late pit strategy call to finish fifth.
ThorSport had it figured out on Thursday night. Grant Enfinger led 16 aps and rebounded from a tire rub which sent him a lap down in the final stage, to comeback for a win. Ben Rhodes led 66 laps and finished third. Matt Crafton rose to the top and led 25 laps en route to a runner-up to give ThorSport a 1-2-3 finish which was the first time in Truck Series history that this happened.
Playoff Bubble Burst, Ankrum/Gilliland In, Kraus Out
Coming into Thursday night’s race, three drivers were vying for two playoff spots. Everyone else was either in or needed to win to get in. Tyler Ankrum was +14 up on the bubble while Todd Gilliland was +10 himself. Derek Kraus was -10 as these three were fighting among each other for those two spots and hopeful no one new won.
No one new behind them ended up winning. So, it came down to them. When the checkered flag few, the spots remained status quo.
Ankrum and Gilliland move on, Kraus was out.
Ankrum was no where to be found through the first half of this race in finishing 14th and 13th respectively in the two stages. Gilliland was 11th and ninth respectively himself as he scored just two stage points.
Meanwhile, Kraus stole four points via a sixth place finish in Stage 1 and made this a race. Unfortunately for him, his Truck was running on the splitter all night and terrible in the handling department. He quickly fell back in Stage 2 and even went a lap down. He’d not rebound and finish 23rd. He had five top 10 finishes in his last seven starts on the season entering tonight but just didn’t have enough to make the postseason.
Sauter’s Not In The Playoffs
Johnny Sauter came back to the Truck Series in 2009. He’s been on a terror ever since. The Wisconsin native has finished in the top 10 of the final standings for 11 straight years including eight of which in the top four. In fact, Sauter had seven straight years with a top four finish before not making the Championship 4 last year. He still came home sixth.
This year, well it’s been entirely frustrating for the 2016 champion. Sauter, needed to win Thursday night in order to get himself into the playoffs. Unfortunately, his night or should I say chances, were short lived.
He had troubles on his No. 13 Ford from the drop of the green flag. The handling wasn’t there and he fell multiple laps down early. He’d never make up for it and finish 27th. This will be the first time ever that he ran a full season in Trucks and didn’t finish in the top 10 of the final standings.
Sauter, ends the regular season with one top 10 finish in his last seven starts. He was 16th or worse in six of the last seven races with three of them being 30th or worse. He hasn’t had a top five finish in his last nine starts overall.
Friesen Fails To Make Playoffs Too
Another shocking driver to miss out on the postseason was Stewart Friesen. He was a rising star in this series after finishing 14th in the standings in 2017, seventh in 2018 and got to the Championship 4 last year. With a switch to Toyota power for 2020, I thought he would be among the championship contenders to beat. Instead, he’s struggled to get adapted to the swap in engine manufacturers.
Friesen, ended the season on a high note with five straight top 10 finishes, but his No. 52 Toyota just didn’t have it when it mattered all year. He was almost 100 points behind the cutoff line and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in three years now.
Friesen’s best finish in 2020 was fourth at Texas. His only other top five came at Gateway two weeks ago. If he can continue this type of performances for the playoffs, even with him not being championship eligible, it could give them some huge momentum for the 2021 season.
Now that the field of 10 is set, who are the ones to beat? Matt Crafton went over two years without a win and won the championship last year despite that. He ended that drought last month and nearly has won twice in the last seven races and enters the postseason with seven top five finishes in his last 11 starts on the season.
Brett Moffitt should be strong too. He has four top four finishes in his last five starts on the year including six straight top 10 finishes overall.
Ben Rhodes is heating up as well. The Louisville native now has three top five finishes in his last four starts including the last two being in the top three. He got his first win of the season last Sunday and won his first stage of the year on Thursday.
Don’t count out Grant Enfinger either. He had two wins in the first four races and went the rest of the year without any until Thursday night. He won the season opener and regular season finale. Enfinger, has four top eight finishes in his last five starts overall too.
Austin Hill is sitting there with five straight top eight finishes heading into the postseason and six in the last seven starts on the year too.
Who’s not entering hot is Christian Eckes who has one top 10 in his last five finishes. Tyler Ankrum finished fifth but wasn’t happy with his Truck. He has one top five in his last five finishes too. Todd Gilliland has finished 17th or worse in three of his last five races himself. Sheldon Creed has two wins in the last five races but they’re his only top 10’s over his last seven starts though.