Column By: NASCAR – BROOKLYN, MI – When the checkered flag dropped last Thursday night at Eldora Speedway, two things became clear for Stewart Friesen – he had “finally” won his first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race and he was officially locked into the 2019 Playoffs.
The first NASCAR national series victory for the 36-year-old dirt ace came in his 63rd career Gander Trucks start. He recorded six previous runner-up finishes, including at Eldora in 2017, before breaking through for the win.
That the win came on his favorite surface, which is where he made his name coming up through ranks in the northeast, had to have been sweet. But the real icing on the cake was ensuring that his name would be included in the postseason conversation in a year in which the competition to race for the season-ending trophy is especially tight.
Friesen has now qualified for the Gander Trucks Playoffs two consecutive seasons – the only two seasons in which he has run every race in the series.
Playoff clinch scenarios 101
You won’t need a fancy calculator to figure out if your favorite driver is in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs at the end of Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
If you follow Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Johnny Sauter, Austin Hill and Tyler Ankrum – no math is needed. They are locked in with wins.
If Grant Enfinger is the one you cheer for, you can also rest easy. When he takes the green flag on Saturday, he clinches his spot. And he only needs to score nine total points in the race to secure the regular season championship.
With those seven drivers heading to the postseason, it leaves one position up for grabs this weekend.
If one of those seven above mentioned drivers wins – or he, himself, wins – Matt Crafton earns that final spot.
But for one more race, the saying, “Win and you’re in” takes on special significance for a host of other drivers chasing the Gander Trucks title.
If any other Playoff-eligible driver wins the race – for example Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Ben Rhodes, Sheldon Creed or Tyler Dippel – they would earn that eighth coveted spot in the postseason, knocking Crafton out. And for those drivers, that is the only way they can earn their way into the Playoffs as their points deficits are too great to makeup at Michigan.
Here’s a look at the Playoff grid if the postseason were to start today:
Driver Current Points Wins* Playoff Points#
- Grant Enfinger 622 0 19
- Brett Moffitt 564 2 18
- Stewart Friesen 567 1 15
- Matt Crafton 570 0 13
- Ross Chastain 250 2 11
- Johnny Sauter 418 1 9
- Austin Hill 431 1 7
- Tyler Ankrum 322 1 5
It all comes down to Michigan
With six drivers locked in on wins and Grant Enfinger as good as locked in on points, the final venue of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series regular season is key to drivers’ Playoffs hopes and dreams.
The Irish Hills provide the backdrop for Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) at 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 with wins at Michigan have already visited Victory Lane in 2019 (Brett Moffitt won in 2016 and 2018 at Michigan, while Johnny Sauter won in 2014).
Matt Crafton may have a tentative grasp on the eighth and final Gander Trucks Playoffs spot, but his only sure way to ensure a shot at postseason glory is to win this weekend. He has a trio of top-five finishes in 17 starts at the track. His best finish was a runner-up placement in the 2014 race, en route to his second of two consecutive series titles.
And Todd Gilliland finished fifth in his first visit to the track last year. But they are the only two drivers with top fives who are still trying to lock themselves into the Playoffs.
Harrison Burton has yet to visit the Michigan oval, and has only raced twice on circuits two-miles or greater in length – the season-opener at Daytona when he finished 18th as a result of a crash and just two weeks ago at Pocono, where he recorded his seventh top-five of the season by placing third.
Ben Rhodes has three starts in the Irish Hills, posting finishes of sixth place twice (2016, 2018). In his only other race there, he finished 11th.
Moffitt is on the top in the Irish Hills
Brett Moffitt is looking to something that no other driver has done at Michigan – win three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races.
Currently, he is tied with Greg Biffle (1999, 2000) and Travis Kvapil (2004, 2007) with two wins at the track. Moffitt got his wins in 2016 and 2018.
He’s also looking to do something that has only been done by Biffle…and that’s win two in a row at the massive oval in the Irish Hills. Biffle accomplished that feat by visiting Victory Lane in the first two series races held at the track.
And to further the comparisons between the two drivers – Biffle (2000) and Moffitt (2018) are the only two Michigan race winners who went on to win the Gander Trucks championship that year.
The only other active series driver with a win at Michigan is Johnny Sauter (2014).
Ankrum looking to lock up Sunoco Rookie title early
Heading into this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway, Harrison Burton has a 56-point lead over Sheldon Creed in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings (506 to 450). Tyler Dippel is third with 337 points while Tyler Ankrum has 322 points in fourth.
But that could all take a drastic turn this weekend, depending on the results of the Corrigan Oil 200.
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 would 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.