By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Kyle Busch Motorsports, the team to beat in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series throughout the decade, is out of the playoffs.
In a tremendously disappointing campaign, neither Harrison Burton nor Todd Gilliland were able to score an elusive victory, let alone finish in the top-10 in Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway.
No matter the bells and whistles KBM tried to do to get either driver in excellent position to win and take the eighth and final spot, it simply didn’t pay off.
Consequently, for the first time since the playoffs were introduced in the series back in 2016, a Kyle Busch owned truck won’t compete for the driver’s championship.
The only title KBM can contest is the owner’s title as the No. 51 truck, thanks to wins from Busch and Greg Biffle, will begin that playoff battle as the fourth seed after racking up 15 playoff points. They’ll be five points behind GMS Racing’s No. 24 team that’s driven by Brett Moffitt.
Despite leading for the first time on Lap 62, Gilliland ended up leading 14 laps but had an up-and-down afternoon that set him back from competing for the race win. It wasn’t for the lack of effort though as with 13 laps left of the scheduled distance, he brought his No. 4 JBL Toyota Tundra to pit road for fresh left side tires in a race consisted nothing but pit strategies.
The decision took place after the third KBM truck, driven by ARCA Menards Series regular Christian Eckes, spun out for his first of two excursions.
On the restart, Gilliland went from 18th to 8th in a span of two laps before Eckes brought out the caution again. Meanwhile, Burton didn’t have much of strong truck throughout the day despite having a turn out front from Laps 76-77, but crept his way into the top-10 when it truly mattered.
Burton restarted in fifth on Lap 97 when the first set of final nails on their coffins commenced. DGR-Crosley’s Tyler Ankrum spun his tires on the restart and Matt Crafton, who held the final playoff spot via points, ran into him and began the series of unfortunate events that was the eight-truck pileup involving Ankrum’s teammates Natalie Decker and Anthony Alfredo.
Burton got through just fine but Gilliland wasn’t so lucky, sustaining significant damage which resulted in his fourth DNF of 2019. An abysmal 24th place dashed his last hope of capturing that long elusive maiden win and making the playoffs, putting him on the hot seat regarding his future.
After the cleanup, Burton lined up fourth heading into overtime. Once the race restarted for the final time, Burton came right out of the gate, setting his eyes on race leader Austin Hill after moving up to second heading to the backstretch. The lead pack would blow by Burton’s white No. 18 Fields/Sports Force Parks Tundra and signaled the end of his playoff aspirations as well.
Hill held off a hard charging Sheldon Creed to score his second career Truck Series win. Creed also failed to make the cut alongside Burton, who ended up with an dissatisfying 11th.
“It’s kind like our season; it was up and down,” said Burton. “We ran really bad at the beginning; we weren’t very fast. Towards the end, we made good adjustments on the truck and we got better. Led a couple laps, and then we lost the lead. The 16 (Austin Hill) got a good run from behind me and took the lead. He was really fast and hard to catch. Everyone did a good job.”
Going forward, it’s simply winning and prove they deserve their rides with seven races left, beginning Thursday, August 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway for the UNOH 200.