By David Morgan, Associate Editor
On a night when it’s both Friday the 13th and a full moon, there is bound to be some craziness happen and that’s exactly what transpired in the first elimination race for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Entering the World of Westgate 200 with five of the six transfer spots still available, it was bound to be a chaotic evening anyway, but seven laps into the event, things started going haywire, for Thorsport Racing in particular.
Regular season champion Grant Enfinger had his sights set on repeating his victory from a year ago, but while running in the top-10, smoke started billowing from his Ford, causing him to have to pull it into the garage where the terminal diagnosis on his engine was made and his night was complete.
The kicker was that the engine was not one that was built by the team or a manufacturer, but instead a spec engine, provided by Ilmor, who provides engines for the entirety of the Truck Series garage area as a part of a cost-cutting measure by NASCAR.
“We had a really good Thorsport Racing F-150. It’s just a shame that our season hopes come down to a quality control and a spec part that we have nothing to do with,” said Enfinger. “I definitely share our owner’s frustration with the parts that are under the hood.
“Just frustrating, you know? All these guys work their tails off all year. We had a good truck. Just wasn’t meant to be.”
Though Enfinger was the first to have engine issues, he certainly wasn’t the last. Fast-forward to lap 41 and Thorsport was once again the unlucky recipient of faulty engines, when both Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton fell by the wayside when their engines took a turn for the worst.
Crafton was forced to evacuate his truck when it caught fire, while Sauter’s team tried to diagnose the issues with his engine before it finally grenade for good just after the start of Stage 2.
After a profanity-laced tirade on the radio, Sauter composed himself back in the garage and expressed his disappointment with the way the night and his title run had come to an end.
“Just inferior engines, I guess,” Sauter said. “I’m not sure. It’s just real disappointing that the season comes down to that. It’s a fresh engine, so obviously something’s wrong with it. Proud of everybody at Thorsport. Can’t thank Duke and Rhonda enough for all that they do for the series. Not only myself and all these guys, but just the series.
“It’s just a shame. I’m a pretty realistic guy and I feel like we were going to dominate this race. The truck was really, really good. Just proud of Joe and all the guys. Just really disappointed. When something happens that’s out of your control, what are you going to do?”
Aside from the three Thorsport trucks, championship contenders Stewart Friesen and Tyler Ankrum also had various issues with their engines, but were able to make it to the checkered and advanced onto the next round of the Playoffs.
“We got lucky that we didn’t have something catastrophic and we were able to limp it to the finish,” Friesen said. “Crazy night. Crazy night for motors or whatever was going on.”
As for Ankrum, he was the real winner in everything that took place Friday night as he entered the night as the last truck in the playoff standings, but was able to climb up the leaderboard and claimed the sixth and final transfer spot.
“On that last restart, the motor just fell on its face,” Ankrum described. “I thought I just messed up on the restart and that’s why I fell back so fast. And about five laps later going down the backstretch, it sounded like an old ’69 Malibu. My heart sank. I thought I was blowing up. I was like ‘Damn it!’
“I was going to be mad. That’s the first thing that was going to happen, but then it cut back on, so I think it was just electrical. We got lucky.”