The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will hold its first race at the historic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in nearly a decade with Sunday afternoon’s South Carolina Education Lottery 200 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Not only will drivers be tasked with figuring out the notoriously “Too Tough To Tame” Darlington oval without any practice, they will be doing so with Playoff implications on the line. Only two races remain to set the 10-driver championship-eligible field for the 2020 Playoff run.
There are no former winners in the field. The last to drive a truck to Darlington’s Victory Lane was Kasey Kahne in 2011. In six Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races at Darlington (from 2005-11) – four were won by Dodge and two by Toyota.
In 2011 – the last truck race at Darlington – the average age of nine of the top-10 drivers currently in the championship standings was 13.9 years old. Sheldon Creed, for example, who has a series-best three wins was only 14-years old in 2011. Tyler Ankrum, who is ranked ninth in the standings, was only 10 years old when Kahne was celebrating his run at Darlington..
Of the current top-10 in the standings, only reigning champion Matt Crafton has raced a truck at Darlington previously. He has four top-10 finishes in six starts with a career best of fourth place in 2011. Another veteran, Johnny Sauter, who is also still hoping to race into Playoff contention, has two previous Darlington starts with a best of fourth place in 2010.
It all creates a distinctive feel of intrigue and intensity – a new venue at a must-win time for so many of the competitors with only two races remaining in the regular season.
Creed’s victory at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway last week certainly had big Playoff implications. It was his third win of the season (and his career) and that is most among the full-timers to date, placing him as the current top-seeded driver. His good day, however, was Todd Gilliland’s bad day and the two were intertwined.
Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford, led a race best 75 laps and scored key points winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2. But he was wiped out of contention by Creed as the two contended for the lead early in the third stage. Gilliland was able to continue racing, but finished 24th and now sits on the Playoff bubble, only 13 points to the Playoff-eligible good over 11th place Derek Kraus.
It puts a lot of pressure on the Darlington outcome for both.
For the last eight races, Gilliland, 20, has alternated between a top-10 finish and a result of 20th or worse. In the last four races, for example, Gilliland was fifth at Michigan and then 33rd the next race at the Daytona Road Course. He was fourth at Dover, Del. and then 24th last week at Gateway. It has all resulted in a perilous points position with just that 13-point cushion on Kraus with Darlington and then the Richmond (Va.) Raceway short track to decide which 10 drivers qualify for the Playoffs.
Moffitt and Creed will start Sunday’s race from the front row, followed by Hill and Smith in row 2.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!