Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – BRISTOL,TN – The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs get underway Thursday night with the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – the first of seven races that will crown the 2019 series champ.
Brett Moffitt will begin defense of his 2018 Gander Trucks title as the No. 1 seed for this year’s edition of the Playoffs. The driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado earned a series-best 22 Playoff points, had two stage wins and celebrated two race victories to secure his position atop the leaderboard heading into the championship run.
Should Moffitt win a second straight title he would be the first to do that with two different teams. This year he drives for GMS Racing. Last year, he won the title competing for Hattori Racing Enterprises. Moffitt would join Matt Crafton as the only drivers to win back-to-back Gander Truck championships.
Crafton is among Moffitt’s Playoff competition this season. They join regular season champion Grant Enfinger, Eldora race winner Stewart Friesen, 2016 series champion Johnny Sauter and first-time Playoff entries Austin Hill, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.
Sauter is the defending Bristol race winner and the only driver among the eight to have won previously on the half-mile high banks. From Bristol, the series races on the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course and then the Las Vegas 1.5-miler. The two lowest ranked drivers among the eight contenders will be eliminated from the Playoffs at the end of the Round of 8 following the Vegas race.
From there, the six remaining championship contenders will race on the Talladega, Ala. superspeedway, the Martinsville, Va. short track and the newly-redesigned ISM Raceway one-miler in Phoenix. The top-four drivers after the Phoenix race will advance to the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale on Nov. 15.
This week’s Bristol venue is truly an unknown. Friesen finished runner-up to Sauter last year. Crafton has the most starts (16) among the Playoff field, including 10 top-10s. He was runner-up in 2009 and 2017.
Both Moffitt, the points leader and Enfinger, the regular season champion, have two starts at Bristol. Moffitt’s best effort was a runner-up in 2016 and Enfinger was fourth in 2017, 10th last year.
Sauter is easily the winningest Playoff driver – winning one race in 2018 Playoffs, two in his 2017 Playoff run and two in the 2016 Playoff run.
The defending champion Moffitt, who won two races last year, and Enfinger, who won one race in last year’s Playoff stretch, are the only two other drivers with a previous Playoff victories.