Enfinger goes from 4th to 1st in overtime to win the Truck Series playoff opener at IRP

CLERMONT, Ind — All felt right again in the racing world. NASCAR was back at the Indianapolis Raceway Park. Following an 11 year hiatus, the short track just minutes west of the big track (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) was hosting a major race on the oval.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was back. Not only that, this was the first race of a playoff battle that will end in the Arizona desert this November.

Which is why this race was action packed from start to the overtime finish and saw several playoff drivers affected.

In the end, Grant Enfinger went from 4th on the overtime restart to winning Friday nights TSport 200 in front of a packed house. It was his 7th career victory and stamps him into the Round of 8 now.

“Way to regroup from a crappy regular season,” Enfinger yelled in celebration on his radio after crossing the finish line first.

This is his 4th playoff field that he’s been a part of but I wondered entering this how long would his stay last. While he has 21 playoff starts and 2 wins in them entering Friday night, he’s not won a race all year and had just 1 top 10 in the last 6 races entering. He did have 6 in the 7 races prior though including 3 of which in the top 3. Which is why he could be a factor in Round 2.

Enfinger had an intense side-by-side battle with race leader Carson Hocevar for lap after lap early on in the 2nd stage. It took him time to clear Hocevar, but when he did, he set sail.

Then a caution came out. Stage 1 winner John Hunter Nemechek spun in Turn 2. Fellow playoff member Ty Majeski had to come to a shop to avoid hitting Nemechek’s sitting idle No. 4 Toyota. Under the yellow flag break, Enfinger led a host of the trucks down pit road to put on their final set of sticker tires on. With 90 laps remaining, they could make it until the end from here without having to stop again.

Chandler Smith, Ben Rhodes and a few others stayed out in hoping to collect some more stage points. See, Rhodes was caught speeding on pit road after the opening stage and was relegated to the back as a result of the infraction. This was a chance to regain his lost track position.

Majeski charged hard on new tires and got by Chandler Smith for the lead on Lap 117. Smith and Zane Smith tangled for position in Turn 1 in going for the same piece of real estate. It damaged both Trucks. They’d fade and have to pit multiple times for repairs.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – JULY 29: Grant Enfinger, driver of the #23 Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series TSport 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park on July 29, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Enfinger would finish 2nd to Majeski in Stage 2. They’d start the final stage there and saw Majeski’s No. 66 Toyota dominate. Enfinger had nothing for him. Even on restarts, Majeski would pull away.

Then he hit lapped traffic. It allowed Enfinger to close. He went from 2 seconds down to right on Majeskis tailgate in a matter on a couple of laps. He’d get by on Lap 188.

This was now Enfinger’s race to lose. However, the caution he wanted earlier to catch Majeski came. Just at the wrong time with 8 to go.

Most of the leaders hit pit road for old scuffs. 10 trucks didn’t though. Enfinger was mad. He thought they punted on a win.

Taylor Gray and Nemechek shared the front row on the restart. Zane Smith was now back in it restarting in 4th. He had been involved in 2 crashes but here the regular season champion was with a shot at a win.

Nemechek battled Gray hard. After seeing some intense yet clean action all night, Nemechek sent the race to overtime when he spun race leader Gray in Turn 3 on lap 199 of a scheduled 200.

Nemechek insisted the accident was unintentional.

“Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield, and tonight we were the bug,” said Nemechek, who led a race-high 75 laps and won the first stage. “I made a mistake early on and spun myself, and we had a restart there at the end on old tires.

“Everybody had fresher tires. I tried driving down in the bottom of [Turn] 3 underneath the No. 17 [Gray], and I just kept sliding and accidentally got into his left rear. I tried to stay off him. That team has their opinion, I have my opinion, and I’m sure we’ll talk at some point.”

On the final restart on lap 206, Zane Smith pinched eventual 10th-place finisher John Hunter Nemechek into the outside wall and took the top spot until Enfinger made the winning pass.

So did Rhodes. But Rhodes was already too far back to mount a charge allowing Enfinger to beat Rhodes by .477-seconds.

Rhodes was 2nd in his No. 99 Toyota for his first top 5 in the last 11 races run. He and Enfinger each had forgetful regular seasons.

Rhodes entered this postseason as the defending series champion. But after a hot start to the year, he’s since cooled. The ThorSport driver had 5 top 5 finishes in the opening 6 races run but hadn’t finished better than 8th in the 10 races since to close out the regular season. In fact, he’s only had 4 top 10’s over those last 10 races run at that. This is his 5th playoff appearance though so he doesn’t hold a lot of weight on the regular season. It’s all about the playoffs. He backed his way into last year’s postseason too and was also the No. 3 seed last year as well with 1 top 5 in the final 7 regular season events. He still took home the crown.

Smith was third in his No. 38 Ford for his 10th top 5 of the season, including 5 top 3s now in his last 6 races run.

Stewart Friesen was 4th in his No. 52 Toyota. Hes now had 7 top 10 finishes over the last 9 races after only having 3 of which in the first 8 races run to the year. 6 of the the last 9 races at that saw him finish in the top 5 to where he only had 1 in the opening 8 too. The 5 seed has made the final round in 2 of the last 3 years and was the champion via Johnny Sauter in 2016. This is Friesen’s 4th playoff appearance as he made it to the final round in 2019. That year, he won at Phoenix to push him to the championship at Homestead.

Corey Heim rounded out the top 5.

Those results left Crafton and 16th-place finisher Christian Eckes seven points below the current cut line. After the third race of the first round, the Playoff field will be trimmed from 10 drivers to eight. Hocevar is eighth in the standings, seven points to the good.

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