Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – TALLADEGA, AL – After a three-week break the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series begins the second round of Playoff competition with Saturday’s Sugarlands Shine 250 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Defending series champion Brett Moffitt – a four-race winner in 2019 – holds a 17-point edge on Austin Hill and an 18-point edge on Ross Chastain. Both Hill and Chastain have three wins each and lead a motivated field of six championship-eligible drivers that also includes dirt ace Stewart Friesen, 18-year-old Tyler Ankrum and two-time series champion Matt Crafton.
The 2.66-mile Talladega presents a unique challenge for the race field. The only former winners entered in the race are Alabama native Grant Enfinger and his ThorSport teammate, two-time series champion Johnny Sauter, who were eliminated from title contention in the last race at Las Vegas, but are eager to rebound with a strong season statement.
Among the six drivers still in title contention, Ross Chastain has the best superspeedway record of the season, however, the 26-year old Floridian hasn’t competed in a truck race at Talladega since 2016. But the driver of the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet finished third at Daytona in the Gander Trucks season opener and won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race with Kaulig Racing at Daytona in July.
The superspeedway should make for a compelling storyline. The title favorites have varying track records. Moffitt, who drives the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet, made his Talladega debut last year and finished 17th. His best finish at the Daytona track is 22nd. Hill, driver of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota scored his Playoff ticket with a victory in the Daytona season opener and finished 10th at Talladega last year.
Friesen, driver of the No. 52 Halmar Friesen Chevrolet, was sixth at Talladega last fall, his best finish in two starts. Crafton, driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford, has really struggled at the speedway. He has only one top-five finish in 13 Talladega starts – fourth place in 2010. His last top 10 – of four career top 10s at the track – was a ninth place in 2017.
The final member of this elite six, Kentucky race winner Tyler Ankrum, has a blank slate to start Saturday’s race. This will mark his superspeedway debut because he only reached the mandatory age requirement of 18 in March, so he was not permitted to race in the Daytona season opener.