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Bristol Truck Series race will be playoff opener

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 15, 2019 at 12:17 AM

BRISTOL — Playoffs? You talk about playoffs?

The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs kick off Thursday night with the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics at Bristol Motor Speedway. Race time is 8:30 p.m., following the conclusion of the Bush’s Beans 150 for the NASCAR K&N Series at 6:15.

Eight drivers have qualified for the Truck Series playoffs with defending champion Brett Moffitt the No. 1 seed. Moffitt, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, has wins at Iowa and Chicago this season. Moffitt has two previous Truck starts at Bristol, finishing runner-up to Ben Kennedy in 2016.

Grant Enfinger was the regular-season champion and earned the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. The Alabama native has seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes over the first 16 races. The driver of the No. 98 Ford has finishes of fourth and 10th in two Bristol starts.

He expects the action to be fast and furious with the added pressure of the playoffs.

“It’s going to be intense. With the playoffs starting, it’s going to amp up for everybody,” Enfinger said. “There will be some ruffled feathers after the race. You can get caught up in a wreck easily at Bristol because you can’t see well with the banking. Our vision isn’t as good as other places with the banking so steep and you’re going so fast.”

Enfinger, 34, is a throwback to earlier days coming up through the ranks of Late Model racing and working on his own cars. It gives him a special bond with crew chief Jeff Hensley. While a good points night is a goal, Enfinger explained that every driver will do what it takes to win.

“From a racer’s standpoint, Bristol Motor Speedway is the Holy Grail of short tracks,” Enfinger said. “Everybody who grows up racing their local tracks, it’s the epitome of short-track racing and everybody wants to win here.”

Stewart Friesen, driver of the No. 52 Chevrolet, is ranked third. One of the most versatile racers in the sport, he won earlier on the Eldora dirt track. He finished second to Johnny Sauter at last year’s Bristol Truck race and also was runner-up at the 2018 Short Track U.S. Nationals at BMS.

The most recent winner in the series is Austin Hill, driver of the No. 16 Toyota team, which won last season’s championship with Moffitt. Hill’s best finish is 19th in three Bristol starts, but the No. 16 ride is a major step up in equipment for the Georgia driver. He has two wins with the season opener at Daytona and last Saturday at Michigan.

Ross Chastain, the busiest driver in NASCAR, running all three national series, comes in as the No. 5 seed. Chastain has three wins this season in his No. 45 Chevrolet, although he argues it should be four after being disqualified following his apparent Iowa victory for a ride-height violation.

Chastain is another throwback with a blue-collar background, coming from a family of Florida watermelon farmers. He believes the work ethic of waking up early and working all day in the fields has helped him manage his crazy schedule.

“We have taken the challenge and ran with it,” Chastain said. “When you’re farming, you’re usually at the field at sunrise and you go home when the sun goes down. My family has grown watermelons for eight generations and have farmed for 12 generations.”

Two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton comes to Bristol looking for his first win of the season and his first win at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” He finished runner-up to Cup Series driver Kyle Busch in 2009 and 2017, and has 10 top-10 finishes in 16 Bristol races.

Johnny Sauter, the defending race champion, has one win this season on the series’ other concrete track at Dover. Always a contender on the high banks, the 2016 Truck champion has five top-five finishes in 11 Bristol starts.

Tyler Ankrum, who wrapped up Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors at Michigan, rounds out the playoff contenders. Too young to compete at the first of the season, Ankrum has 13 starts this season with a win at Kentucky. The 16-year-old has one previous start at Bristol in the K&N Series, where he finished fourth.

A local favorite will be Parker Kligerman driving the No. 75 Chevrolet for Abingdon-based Henderson Motorsports. Kligerman, an NBC Sports analyst when not driving, has an 8.8 average finish in five Bristol starts, including a runner-up finish in 2012.

BUSH’S BEANS 150

Sam Mayer will be looking for a season sweep in the NASCAR K&N Series Bush’s Beans 150 at BMS. The 16-year-old from Wisconsin led every lap of the Zombie Auto 150 in April.

Other favorites include former NHRA drag racer Tanner Gray and Ty Gibbs, the grandson of Super Bowl winning coach and Cup Series team owner Joe Gibbs.

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