By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Age has its limits and rookie Tyler Ankrum was no different after sitting out the first three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races because according to the NASCAR rulebook, he wasn’t eligible to compete at ovals bigger than a mile as he wasn’t 18-years-old until March 6th.
A few weeks removed from finally turning magic age No. 18, last year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion is set to make his first start of the season at Martinsville Speedway, driving the No. 17 Toyota Tundra for DGR-Crosley, the exact team he was triumphant on the East Coast last season.
Ankrum told Motorsports Tribune on February 14 at Daytona International Speedway that he was going to spend that time observing how his boss David Gilliland, who drove Ankrum’s truck in the season opener, and crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion communicate, which he hopes as the season goes on, they can have a coexisting language.
“It’s just listening to Bono and David, and how they talk,” said Ankrum. “Once I get into the truck, the more me and him can get used to a language because at the end of the day it’s all that it is between the driver and crew chief is the language. How they communicate and correspond with one another to make the truck better.
“Those are the things I’ll be really focusing on. It’s hard on a superspeedway to learn or watch a truck because you’re running wide open, but that’s the primary thing I’ll be looking for.”
Right out of the gate last season, the driver/team combo set the winning tone in the competitive K&N East. The new race team and rookie driver had strong top-five runs and by the third race at Langley Speedway, they were on top of the point standings and never looked back.
The following race at South Boston Speedway, where in Race No. 1, Ankrum led 76 of 100 laps to bring DGR-Crosley its first of four wins together. From there, the strong chemistry kept growing, highlighted with a three-peat at Thompson, Loudon and the East/West combination race at Iowa and it capped off with a series championship in the finale at Dover International Speedway.
Rather than having Ankrum defend the East title, DGR-Crosley were confident enough to put young regional champion in the rough and tough Truck Series, but to him, it’s like a whole new chapter and hopes what went down in the East, continues in Trucks, to the point it’ll capture race team’s attention as the season goes forward.
“It’s almost like starting back at square one,” said Ankrum. “We did that in the K&N car, and we grew so fast as a team. We were unstoppable and a driving force at the end of the year. We were a car that everyone always watched and was clocked.
“Really just to perform well, I don’t mean by finishing in the top-three every week. I don’t mean it as a verb, I mean it as doing the best you can with the cars that’s been dealt with you. That’s what we really got to do, be consistent and always be fast. The wins come and consistency is key, and just being that stable race team that’ll stay close together will help a lot.”
The San Bernardino, California native isn’t the only competitor who had to wait to start their bid for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, which he hopes he can accomplish. A feat Todd Gilliland wasn’t able to do so last season after missing four out of the first seven races, and while he finished ninth in points with four top-fives and nine top-10s, he missed the playoffs and fellow rookie Myatt Snider won ROTY.
Ankrum understood how frustrating it can be waiting until turning 18 to run at every circuit, even joked with Gilliland about the ordeal, more so because of the two-week break from Las Vegas, where Ryan Reed scored a ninth-place result in his truck, to his season debut at Martinsville.
However, this hasn’t stopped him from dreaming big such as making the playoffs and perhaps bring DGR-Crosley a series championship in just their second season in the Truck Series.
“We joked around a little bit about how much it sucked waiting that long because the Truck Series schedule is pretty spread out as it is. I’ll only race one time in March and then we don’t race at all in April. The waiting game is really hard, and the only thing he ever told me is to be patient. Only missing three races, you can still make it in on points. Having to win is really nice, and that’s obviously the goal is to have a few wins and hopefully the championship at the end of the year. We’re shooting pretty high, and I think the DGR guys can do it.”
Adding more to the playing game, Ankrum stated that the first three races he was going to miss, are his favorite circuits out of the 23-race calendar.
Although he’ll have to wait until next season to get a crack at the 2.5-mile superspeedway and the wore out, but driver pleasing 1.5-mile speedway, Las Vegas has two dates, so he’ll get to run the second race September 13 and if there’s another circuit he’s looking forward to, it’s Texas Motor Speedway, the race after Martinsville.
“I was looking forward most for Daytona. My first three favorite race tracks I’ll miss. Atlanta is my favorite mile-and-a-half. Vegas is another favorite and Daytona is my favorite superspeedway,” Ankrum explained. “At least I’ll get to run Vegas in the fall, so I’ll miss two-out-of-the-three favorite race tracks, but I’ll be definitely looking forward a lot to my first mile-and-a-half which will be Texas. That’ll be a treat to have, and I’ve already have experience in the Truck at Martinsville. Hopefully, we’ll have a second go-around there for my first Truck start this year.”
Alluding to his comments about Martinsville, the sight of his first start last October, where he finished on the lead lap in 18th, he saw a major difference from driving a regional stock car to a stock truck, which was how it runs. He described it as running a wider super late model, which creates for a tight handling and while it may be five inches, that difference is drastic.
“The only thing different between the Truck and the K&N car was just the length,” said Ankrum. “The Truck is a little bit wider, so you almost drove them like a super late model, but they’re longer, so they’re a lot tighter. It’s only like five inches, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is a lot in racing terms. Everything is a game of inches, centimeters and millimeters. That’s how close the numbers are when you come to Daytona, but not so much at a track like Martinsville.
“It was a really good experience to have my first Truck start at Martinsville last year because you just got your feet wet. It got you comfortable with the truck and seeing everything and then having our second start at Phoenix was huge. Finishing sixth like we did and running up front was a huge experience and gave me a lot of confidence for this year, and I just can’t wait to be back on a truck.”
After three races, Harrison Burton sits second in the championship standings and leads the Rookie of the Year battle, 20 points ahead of Sheldon Creed. As for the No. 17 team, they’re currently 14th in the Truck Owners’ standings, 20 points behind eighth-place ThorSport Racing’s No. 13 Ford, driven by Johnny Sauter.