By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
BRISTOL, Tenn. – As the only Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender on the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff Grid, Tyler Ankrum is the underdog.
The David Gilliland Racing – Crosley Group driver missed three races due to NASCAR’s age limit. Ankrum also spent two races with an underfunded team because of sponsorship. He earned a playoff berth with a waiver from NASCAR due to the age limit and a win at Kentucky Speedway.
In his 13 starts this season, Ankrum has three top-five and six top-10 finishes, in addition to his Kentucky win. His 2019 season mirrors that of Truck Series veteran, and fellow playoff driver Johnny Sauter.
Ankrum admitted that he does feel like the underdog heading into the playoffs.
“I will for sure. I think we’re just needed as the underdog team. I think with me being the rookie and the levels of experience I have; people aren’t expecting us to go far. I think we can go pretty far.”
The unpredictability of the playoffs may play to Ankrum’s advantage. Since the advent of the playoffs, rookies such as William Byron and Tyler Reddick have come close, if not won, the championship in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Truck Series.
2019 marks the first season in which the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway opens the playoffs for the Truck Series. The racing on the high-banked half-mile makes the stage points important for moving from round one to round two of the playoffs.
The 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the Truck Series expressed that very notion.
“I think if we make it through this race with stage points and unscathed from accidents, I think maybe, knock on wood, that hopefully none of us get caught up in a wreck, but if we do, I don’t want it to be me. I would much rather have one of the Playoff cars, especially in Canada.
“With Canada and then even Talladega onwards, those are two race tracks from here on out that you really don’t want to be caught up in because it’s really hard to dig yourself out of a hole.”
With just the one victory and no stage wins, Ankrum enters Bristol with just five playoff points. After reseeding, he is 17-points behind the points leader, Brett Moffitt. More importantly for Ankrum, he is six points behind the cutoff for the second round, held by Matt Crafton.