The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship title won’t be up for grabs based solely on the outcome of Saturday night’s Baptist Health 200 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Homestead-Miami Speedway as has been the case at the track for more than a decade.
But the drivers who have established themselves as the early favorites for the 2020 title happen to be some of the best drivers at the South Florida 1.5-miler and they will be tested this weekend by some of the sport’s best including the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and the NASCAR Cup Series Most Popular Driver Chase Elliott.
This season’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series points leader Austin Hill won the 2019 Homestead race, but he wasn’t one of the four drivers eligible for the title when the series championship was decided there last November. His work at the track however, combined with a strong runner-up showing last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway makes him an absolute favorite this week in the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota Tundra.
Hill is the only driver with top-10 finishes in all four races this season, his 5.0 average finish is best in the series and his 73 laps led is most among series regulars.
“We’ve had a great start to the year, and I know our group is capable of even more,” Hill said. “We had a great United Rentals Tundra last week at Atlanta and we’ve had good speed every race so far. It definitely would have been nice to seal the deal last week, but we have a great shot to do it at Homestead on Saturday.”
Grant Enfinger, who bettered Hill last week at Atlanta on a green-white-checkered restart to settle the race in overtime, is now 2-for-4 on the season – also winning the Daytona season-opener. Enfinger has a solid Homestead-Miami record as well with three top-10 finishes in the last four races. His best showing was a runner-up finish in 2018 after starting from pole position. He is third in the championship, 31 points off Hill’s pace.
In all, there are four current championship contenders with Homestead trophies. In addition to Hill, Brett Moffitt won in South Florida in 2018 to claim the truck series championship. Reigning champion Matt Crafton won there in 2015 and Johnny Sauter is the 2011 race champion.
All four of these past winners are setting themselves up as early 2020 title favorites.
Moffitt is ranked fourth in the championship, 31 points behind Hill. The driver of the No. 23 GMS Chevrolet has two top-five finishes in two starts at Homestead, including a fifth-place last year in addition to his 2018 victory. His average finish is 3.0.
Crafton, driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford, is still trying to raise his title defense game. His only top 10 through four races is a fourth place at Las Vegas. He’s ranked 11th in the standings, but has an impressive Homestead resume with 11 top-10 finishes in 19 Homestead starts and not a single DNF. Saturday night may be just what the three-time series champion needs to establish himself a contender again.
Sauter, driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford F-150, comes to Homestead abundantly motivated. An inspection violation last week at Atlanta dropped the veteran from a top-10 finish to last on the scoring sheet. Instead of being ranked among the top five in the title run – he was second – he’s now eighth. Not only does he have that previous win at Homestead he’s had nine top-10 finishes in 13 starts – including five of the last six races.
These past success stories, however, are facing a talented group of young drivers that have already proven themselves ready to challenge.
Zane Smith, driver of the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet, is second in the championship – 21 points behind Hill. He’ll be making his Homestead-Miami Speedway debut on Saturday. The 21-year old comes to South Florida with top-10 finishes in the last three races, including a best of third place on the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval.
Ben Rhodes, the 23-year old driver of the No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford, has top-10 finishes in the last three races. He’s ranked fifth in the championship, 35 points behind Hill. He’s got one top-10 in four previous Homestead starts.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!