By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The 24th season of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has concluded, and it’ll go down as one of more storytelling seasons. From emerging drivers to heartbreaking losses, 2018 had its share of moments, and we’ll tackle 10 of them as the year winds down.
Today, we conclude our look at the best moments of the season in the Truck Series.
51 Is The Magic Number: Kyle Busch Equals Ron Hornaday in All-Time Wins
One more crack to get to victory No. 51, in truck No. 51? No problem for Kyle Busch.
On July 28 at Pocono Raceway, Busch held off his former protégé Erik Jones, filling in for an ill Noah Gragson, and scored the victory in the Gander Outdoors 150.
Busch’s triumphant victory equaled him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday for most career wins in the Camping World Truck Series. It was also his final Truck race of the season as NASCAR’s new regulations prohibited Cup regulars from racing in the lower series during the playoffs.
Regardless of regulations and scoring another victory in the series, Busch knew that Jones, who only led one lap to Busch’s 43, was the better truck during the 60-lap contest.
“They (Jones) had a better truck,” said Busch. “I tried and tried to work on this thing to make it better and probably made it slower with all the things I changed on it, rather than making it faster.
“I knew Erik was going to be fast in that truck—I knew Noah was going to be fast in that truck. They were the ones that we had to beat. I wish we were a tick faster, but obviously, being a bit slower, we put on a better show. Erik was able to run me down, and I did everything I could to hold him off.”
With Busch standing at 194 national series victories, there’s no question that he could surpass Hornaday, but it’s also possible that he’ll surpass Richard Petty’s 200 national wins in 2019.
Much to the chagrin of racing fans who have voiced their displeasure, Busch could care less, and is simply focusing his eyes on winning races.
Two Angry Drivers Didn’t Faze Justin Haley at Bowmanville
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park has been the home of last-lap dirty tactics and shocking winners. The sixth visit on Aug. 26 was no different as teammates Todd Gilliland and Noah Gragson collided, not only costing themselves a race victory, but it led Gragson’s playoff rival Justin Haley to steal a win to advance into the Round of 6.
Gragson dove into the final corner, slamming into Gilliland, which sent both drivers around and angrily ended up in ninth and 11th respectively.
The 20-year-old took full blame for the controversial contact and apologized to Gilliland’s team.
“That was on me,” said Gragson. “I was racing for the win.”
“I apologize to Todd, the No. 4 team and everyone at KBM. I was expecting a little more room on the bottom and we made contact. Again, I want to apologize to everyone on that 4 team, that was on me.”
Gilliland on the other hand, was not pleased with Gragson’s antics as they have both had their share of incidents during the K&N West days that proved mostly negative on Gilliand’s end.
“Should never have let him get to me. Should’ve just gave him the inside and maybe let him wreck himself. I don’t know,” said Gilliland. “He has done that to me on like five or six road courses. It sucks. We had the fastest truck and we didn’t win again. I’m going to have to talk to him for sure.
“I’d go fight him right now, but I can’t. I just need to, I guess, get my emotions in check and go talk to him, but I’m extremely mad.”
While both teammates were upset, Haley’s victory was indeed overshadowed, but it didn’t faze him as he was at an excellent spot when the two Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates collided.
“We were just in the right place at the right time” said Haley celebrating in Victory Lane. “I can’t thank everyone at GMS Racing enough; it was a truly blessed day.”
Gilliland’s Heartbreak at the Lone Star State
Todd Gilliland’s rookie campaign proved to be consequential and agonizing.
The 18-year-old failed to score a victory and due in most part of the age restriction, which forced him to miss four out of the first six races, he also missed the playoffs.
For the two-time K&N West champion, 2018 was a season of learning and yearning, all of which cultivated in the third-to-last race of the season at Texas Nov. 2, when it appeared all things are right in the world.
All he needed to do was cross the line in first and he’d have scored his maiden Truck Series victory. However, Gilliland’s fuel tank ran dry entering Turn 1, and his 1.3-second lead evaporated as Justin Haley blew by him to score his third win to lock himself into the Championship 4.
Meanwhile, a devastated Gilliland coasted to the finish line in fourth but remained hopeful of his team after crashing in qualifying earlier in the afternoon.
“I have no idea how we were on fuel,” Gilliland said. “I thought we were good. I am very disappointed but very proud at the same time. My team gave me a great truck and I wrecked in qualifying. We were still able to come out here and contend for a win.
“We win and lose as a team. I made a mistake and we ran out of gas. It is what it is. I am so proud of everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports. We tried a completely different package this weekend. It definitely shows that we were better. We’re here to gain on it every week.
“As disappointed as we were tonight. To come from the back and almost win was a solid night.”
Haley also had some pit road drama of his own, as he felt that a costly stop almost cost him the victory.
“That was amazing,” said Haley. “I thought we had it lost there. I didn’t quite maximize my pit road (on the final green-flag stop) …This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. To get two Chevrolets—me and Johnny—back to back to Miami, that’s what we want.”
Gilliland ended his underwhelming campaign with two finishes outside the top-10 and settled for tenth in points, a spot behind Myatt Snider, who took Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Classic Dirt Track Duel Between Teammates
In a season that appeared to be lost due misfortunes in the Xfinity Series, notably in the dreaded No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang, Chase Briscoe came to Eldora Speedway with something to prove.
The dirt track veteran was making his first Camping World Truck Series start since his victory at Homestead the year before. He was driving for the defending winning team, ThorSport Racing, and had a competitive truck right out of the gate.
That July 18 night, the sixth Eldora Dirt Derby became an instant classic as Briscoe duked it out with one-off teammate Grant Enfinger, who was looking for his first win of the season. The ThorSport duo put on a show for the fans, and all gloves were off on the final lap when both battled side-by-side.
Briscoe drove deep into Turns 3-4 and his No. 27 Ford F-150 just edged off Enfinger to win the prestigious race.
A humbled Briscoe knew the implications of battling Enfinger and was willing to push the envelope to score a win on the dirt track.
“I know (Enfinger) is running for a championship and he’s our teammate,” said Briscoe. “I wasn’t going to wear him out. I wasn’t going to just wreck him for the win. We rubbed, and I definitely let it float on the way to the wall and I’m sorry for that, it’s not how I race.
“I’m so thankful that Ford allowed me to do this race. I was begging them about three weeks ago to let me do it and it came together at the last minute. It’s awesome to be in Victory Lane.”
Enfinger said he was self-aware that Briscoe wasn’t going to run him dirty either, but the roles were reversed, he would’ve done the same thing.
“I feel like we had a position on him, we were pretty good right there,” said Enfinger. “He used me up and I was going for it, he didn’t do anything dirty, it was just the last lap for a really, really big race.
“I really wish we could have gotten a win. I’m glad Duke and Ronda Thorson got a win, I really wish it could have been this No. 98 team. Man, that close. It’s a shame. A heartbreaker here, but I’m really proud of the effort here.”
Enfinger would eventually advance in to the playoffs by points and scored his second career series victory at Las Vegas in September. Despite missing the Championship 4, the Alabama native ended his season fifth in points, thanks to a runner-up finish at Homestead.
As for the 2016 ARCA champion, his victory brought new life to his NASCAR career and at the inaugural Xfinity Series Roval race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he beat his former Brad Keselowski Racing teammate Austin Cindric for his first series victory.
The 24-year-old will now be racing in the Xfinity Series full-time for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 98 team, the squad he won at Charlotte.
Brett Moffitt Brings Hattori Racing A Championship
It was a tale of two stories for the 2015 Cup Series Rooke of the Year Brett Moffitt. One being a season where he won fans over due to his raw talent and excellent restarts. The other was the unknown status of Hattori Racing’s No. 16 Toyota Tundra, who struggled finding sponsorships throughout the season.
Without certain sponsorships coming at the right time, the dream season would’ve been gone. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and when the right sponsors arrived in Moffitt’s truck, he delivered big.
Leading the way with six victories and went 13-for-13 in the top-five/top-10 category, the Grimes, Iowa native put on an excellent season when the odds seemed to be against him.
Moffitt’s finest hour was in the championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead Nov. 16, where he led a race-high 59 of 134 laps, to not only win the race, but also the Truck Series title.
“It’s unreal,” Moffitt on winning the championship. “We all know the story by now where we didn’t know if we were going to race the full year. I didn’t know if I was going to have the opportunity to compete for a championship even after we got our first win,” an elated Moffitt said.
“Everyone pulled together hard here. Back at Chicagoland we didn’t know if we were going to make it to the race track and Marcus (Barela) with Fr8Auctions stepped us and got us there. We’ve had many partners like that and iRacing all year long that came in at clutch moments and got us to the race track when we needed to.”
Crew chief Scott Zipadelli described 2018 as being one where the No. 16 team did so much with so little, and it spoke volumes when their hard work paid off.
“It just speaks to our people and how badass everybody on this race team is. They do a hell of a job no matter what’s going on,” said Zipadelli. “Whether we have troubles or not, they keep working and keep preparing to go to the race track week in and week out whether they know we’re going or not and that just says a lot.”
While Moffitt brought Shige Hattori a championship, it wasn’t enough to keep him next season, leaving the defending series champion without a ride for the time being. However, with a title under his belt, time will tell where the 26-year-old will end up in the sport.