Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – Before the start of the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Austin Hill wrote down a list of goals for the year.
With three races left before the series champion is crowned, the driver of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota is a long way toward achieving all of them.
“I kind of set some goals just for myself, and I wrote ‘em down on a piece of paper. One of them was a race win, make it to the Round of 6 (in the Playoffs) and hopefully to make it to the Round of 4 (the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway).
“That’s really my next goal, to get into that Round of 4 and at least have a shot at Homestead. If we don’t come home with the championship, obviously we’re going to be a little bummed out. Just giving ourselves a chance at Homestead is definitely the number one key.”
Driving for the defending championship team, Hill got his first goal out of the way early, winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He also won at Michigan and took the checkered flag in the Round of 8 elimination race at Las Vegas.
With two races left in the Round of 6, he is third in the standings, 12 points ahead of fifth-place Tyler Ankrum heading into Saturday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
On Nov. 8 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, the Gander Trucks Playoff field will be cut from six drivers to four. Hill believes he has an excellent chance to make the cut.
“I had plenty of confidence in myself,” he said. “I’ve always had confidence in my ability. I knew, with the right equipment, I felt like I could get the job done and compete for race wins. It’s hard to win in this series—any of these top three series, it’s hard to get a race win, so to have three is definitely good.
“I feel like, looking back, with some of the issues we’ve had throughout the season, I feel like we could possibly have had more wins.”
But at this point, Hill would be happy to settle for one more—as long as it comes at Homestead.
BRETT MOFFITT ENJOYING CONTINUITY, RELIEF AT SEASON’S END
Even while he was on the way to winning the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship last year, Brett Moffitt faced an uncertain future.
And though he eventually claimed the title with back-to-back victories at ISM Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, Moffitt’s deal with Hattori Racing Enterprises wasn’t renewed for 2019.
Moffitt signed on with GMS Racing and has won four times this season. And he recently got an official vote of confidence when his one-year deal with GMS was extended through 2020.
“Obviously, until papers are signed, it’s always in the back of your mind because I’ve had other teams lead me astray in that direction, but everyone at GMS was very reassuring,” Moffitt said on Friday at Martinsville Speedway, site of Saturday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Coming into this deal, we did a one-year deal, and as long as the shoe fit where I could fill in the role of being the anchor, the house car and helping these younger kids develop quicker, then it was the road we all wanted to go down. Meanwhile, I get to stay in winning equipment and win races. Ever since halfway through the year, I was confident that I would be back and then it’s just been within this past week we got it finalized.”
GMS also announced on Friday it would retain the services of Truck Series driver Sheldon Creed and provide 16-year-old NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Sam Mayer with an expanded Gander Outdoors Truck Series schedule as he competes for the ARCA Menards Series title.
ROSS CHASTAIN’S SHORT-TERM VISION IS SIMPLE: WIN EVERYTHING IN SIGHT
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Ross Chastain is on the short end of the race for one of the spots in the Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway—at least for the time being.
With the Playoff field to be cut from six drivers to four two weeks hence at ISM Raceway at Phoenix, Chastain is sixth in the standings but only two points behind fourth-place Matt Crafton.
Though Chastain has already signed with Kaulig Racing to compete for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship next year, he hasn’t yet contemplated the possibility of becoming the first driver to win NASCAR’s triple crown—championships in each of the top three touring series.
“That’s nowhere on my radar,” Chastain said on Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “I’ve got rolling goals that always evolve, and they haven’t evolved to there yet.”
First on the long list a championship for Niece Motorsports.
“I just want to win anything and everything,” Chastain said. “I want to win the wheelbarrow races they have at Daytona—it doesn’t matter. I also know this opportunity with Niece Motorsports and what (owner) Al Niece has provided… (general manager) Cody Efaw and the whole group. What he’s given us to work with could be ‘once-in-a-lifetime’. This might be my last shot with this kind of opportunity.
“So I want to do right by him and all the boys and girls—and I’m going to say the same thing next year. I want to take advantage of the opportunities, because I do know how good it is. I’ve come to Martinsville with a 14th-place truck—practiced 14th, qualified 14th, finished 14th—and I got fired because I ran 14th. So I know how good this opportunity is.”
UNEXPECTED “FLAP” IN PRACTICE FORCES REPAIRS TO MATT CRAFTON’S FORD
The weekend started on a positive note for Matt Crafton, who was seventh fastest in Friday’s opening NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series practice and quickest in best 10 consecutive lap average in the second session.
But Happy Hour also brought a mishap that sent Crafton’s No. 88 Ford back to the garage for repairs.
“First practice, we fired off OK, and we made some pretty big wholesale changes at the start of the second practice, and it was actually really good,” Crafton said. “We made two more runs, and they forgot to put the hood pins in.
“The hood flew open and wrapped around the front windshield, caved the roof in, so we spent the rest of practice working on that to get it back out.”
At least Crafton had a chance to exact some payback from his team.
“It’s a brand new truck–I’m saying that with a smile, because the guys have worked their butts off, and any time they bring a new truck to the track, they harass me any time I put a mark on a brand new truck,” Crafton said. “It’s like ‘Look what you did to our brand new truck.’
“So, at the end of the practice, I tried to lighten their spirits a bit. I said, ‘Hey, if nothing else, guys, you screwed this truck up before I did.’”