Only three races remain to set the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series 10-driver Playoff field and as the standings sit now, there are three drivers contending for just two spots on points. Of course a new winner in Sunday’s CarShield 200 Presented by CK Power at Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway (12 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) could change things dramatically.
And drama has been a consistent theme this season – with first-time winners, potential new championship challengers and a hearty mix of veteran winners as well.
This week marks the grand finale of the popular Triple Truck Challenge – a three-race midseason incentive for fulltime competitors. Sheldon Creed won a $50,000 bonus for taking the victory on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course on Aug. 16 and Zane Smith got a $50,000 check for winning last week at Dover – the first two events for the challenge.
Should either Creed of Smith win Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, they would score an extra $50,000 – a total of $150,000 for winning two of the three races. A new winner this weekend earns an extra $50,000.
That money will be important, but so will the winner’s trophy which could represent an automatic ticket into the 2020 Playoffs.
Young drivers Tyler Ankrum, 19, Todd Gilliland, 20, and 18-year old Derek Kraus are currently vying for the last two Playoff positions. Ankrum, driver of the No. 26 GMS Racing Chevrolet, is in ninth place with a five-point edge on 11th place Derek Kraus. Gilliland, who drives the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford, trails Ankrum by one-point and is four points ahead of Kraus, driver of the No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota.
Gilliland and Kraus bring an impressive statistical resume to the track – good not only for their Playoff hopes, but notable in general. Gilliland has finished runner-up in two of his three Gateway starts (2018 and 2019). Kraus will be making his truck series debut this weekend, but he’s celebrated in Victory Lane already, with a 2018 win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race there and a runner-up in it last year.
Ankrum’s only NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series start was a 30th-place finish last year driving for a different team.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Kraus said. “I’ve had really good runs there in the past. So, I’m very comfortable there. I know everyone at MHR is working really hard. So I’m really excited to get to the track.”
This highly-motivated trio can expect the field to keep them all honest, however. Last week’s Dover, Del. winner Zane Smith, 21, who has won two of the last three races, has only one start at Gateway, finishing fifth. Championship points leader Austin Hill, 26, has posted a series best 11 top-10 finishes in the 2020 season’s 13 races, but he’s never finished top-10 at Gateway. His best is 11th place in both 2018 and 2019. Christian Eckes, 19, who is solidly in the Playoff field on points, led the most laps (57) in last year’s Gateway race but finished 14th in his debut there.
They all face a legitimately tough challenge from veterans such as Johnny Sauter and Stewart Friesen who are typically odds-on Playoff contenders. This year, however, both sit well behind the close points battle and most likely will need a victory to earn their shot at the season trophy.
Sauter, the 2016 series champion and driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford, is ranked 13th, 71 points behind 10th place Gilliland. He has top-five finishes in all seven of his starts at the Gateway track, however, scoring a runner-up finish in 2009 and third-place finishes in his last two starts there in 2017 and 2018. He served a one-race suspension last year and did not compete at Gateway.
Friesen, 37, a first-time Playoff qualifier last year with 16 top-10 and 12 top-five finishes in 2019, has only a single top five this season and is ranked 15th – 97 points behind 10th place Gilliland. He finished third at Gateway last year, however, leading 20 laps.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING. ON MY REDNECK!