Gander Trucks ready to set Championship 4 under the lights

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - JUNE 10: Cars race during the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on June 10, 2020 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

In what’s been a fast and furious, no-holds bar final run toward the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship, several of the season’s most accomplished drivers find themselves in must-win situations for Friday night’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

A rough-and-tumble race last week on the Texas Motor Speedway high banks left reigning series champion Matt Crafton in fifth place in the standings, 12-points below the cutoff line, with only the top four drivers eligible to vie for the season trophy on Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

Grant Enfinger, whose won a career-high three races this year, is ranked sixth, 42-points out of the current championship mix after suffering an engine problem at Texas last week. Ben Rhodes is 45-points back and Tyler Ankrum is 79-points back – a victory this week is their only shot at competing for the title in Phoenix.

On the upside, last week’s winner at Texas, GMS Racing’s Sheldon Creed will make his Championship 4 debut, joining teammate Brett Moffitt, who won this Playoff round’s opener at Kansas two weeks ago.

Regular season champion Austin Hill is ranked third, 27 points up on the cutoff line and Zane Smith, who almost missed even advancing to this Playoff round, is ranked fourth 12-points above the cutoff line.

Should a non-Playoff driver win this week, then the two highest ranked drivers in the points standings would advance. Otherwise, that fourth and final position would be the only one up for grabs in a points-battle. And certainly fifth-place Crafton has an encouraging track record at the historic half-miler with two previous victories. The three-time series champ is the only current Playoff driver with a trophy from this venue.

Another former series champion, Johnny Sauter, is the winningest driver of all time at Martinsville with four victories. Todd Gilliland, who was eliminated from championship contention following the opening round of the Playoffs, is the defending race winner.

Last October, Gilliland beat Ross Chastain by .879-seconds for the win. Sauter was third, followed by Enfinger – the only current Playoff driver in the top-10 last Fall. Moffitt led the most laps – 80 of the opening 81 – but crashed twice.

Among those looking for a victory to secure their move into the Championship 4, Hill, has two top-10 finishes in nine previous Martinsville starts. Ninth place is his best effort (2018). The 21-year old Smith will be making his first career Martinsville start in the series.

Crafton has two wins and an impressive 20 top-10 finishes in 36 starts – easily the longest Martinsville resume among the Playoff contenders.  He was 16th and 26th in the races there last year, however. Judging by his work in the Playoff races, Crafton should absolutely be a factor this weekend. The driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford has earned top-10 finishes in the last six races, including a victory and two runner-up finishes. And he was runner-up at Richmond, Va. and 10th at Bristol, Tenn. in the other two short tracks stops this season.

Enfinger’s fourth-place finish in last year’s Playoff race was his best work in seven starts. He was top 10 in both 2019 races. The driver of the No 98 ThorSport Racing Ford had six top-10 finishes in the last eight races coming to Martinsville – including a victory at Richmond, Va.

Rhodes, driver of the No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford, has four top-10 finishes in nine Martinsville races and was runner-up in last year’s Spring race there. He needs a change in fortune this week as he’s placed 20th in both Playoff races this round and has only a single top-10 (Talladega, Ala.) in the last five races.

The 19-year old Ankrum actually has three previous truck starts at Martinsville with a best showing of 18th in 2018. The driver of the No 26 GMS Racing Chevrolet last earned a top-10 four races ago at Las Vegas.

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series

Next Race: NASCAR Hall of Fame 200

The Place: Martinsville Speedway

The Date: Friday, October 30

The Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 105.2 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 50),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 100), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)