By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs get underway Thursday night with the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – the first of seven races that will crown the 2019 series champ.
Brett Moffitt will begin defense of his 2018 Gander Trucks title as the No. 1 seed for this year’s edition of the Playoffs. The driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado earned a series-best 22 Playoff points, had two stage wins and celebrated two race victories to secure his position atop the leaderboard heading into the championship run.
Should Moffitt win a second straight title he would be the first to do that with two different teams. This year he drives for GMS Racing. Last year, he won the title competing for Hattori Racing Enterprises. Moffitt would join Matt Crafton as the only drivers to win back-to-back Gander Truck championships.
Crafton is among Moffitt’s Playoff competition this season. They join regular season champion Grant Enfinger, Eldora race winner Stewart Friesen, 2016 series champion Johnny Sauter and first-time Playoff entries Austin Hill, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.
Sauter is the defending Bristol race winner and the only driver among the eight to have won previously on the half-mile high banks. From Bristol, the series races on the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course and then the Las Vegas 1.5-miler. The two lowest ranked drivers among the eight contenders will be eliminated from the Playoffs at the end of the Round of 8 following the Vegas race.
From there, the six remaining championship contenders will race on the Talladega, Ala. superspeedway, the Martinsville, Va. short track and the newly-redesigned ISM Raceway one-miler in Phoenix. The top-four drivers after the Phoenix race will advance to the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale on Nov. 15.
This week’s Bristol venue is truly an unknown. Friesen finished runner-up to Sauter last year. Crafton has the most starts (16) among the Playoff field, including 10 top-10s. He was runner-up in 2009 and 2017.
Both Moffitt, the points leader and Enfinger, the regular season champion, have two starts at Bristol. Moffitt’s best effort was a runner-up in 2016 and Enfinger was fourth in 2017, 10th last year.
Sauter is easily the winningest Playoff driver – winning one race in 2018 Playoffs, two in his 2017 Playoff run and two in the 2016 Playoff run.
The defending champion Moffitt, who won two races last year, and Enfinger, who won one race in last year’s Playoff stretch, are the only two other drivers with a previous Playoff victories.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Thursday, August 15
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 100.6 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 55),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 110), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)
2018 Winner: Johnny Sauter
What to Watch For: This is the opening round of the Playoffs and defending series champion Brett Moffitt heads to Tennessee with the championship lead following a re-set in points for the Playoff push. … Ross Chastain, Austin Hill and Tyler Ankrum will be making their Playoff debut. … Moffitt and two-time series champions Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton are the only members of the championship eligible eight to have won the series title previously. …Johnny Sauter is the only driver to qualify for the Championship 4 all three previous years of the new format. … Sauter and Matt Crafton are the only two drivers to make the Playoffs all four seasons since its inception in 2016. … The front row has been the most productive spot on the Bristol starting grid producing nine winners in 21 races. … The polesitter has won five times and the outside polesitter has won four times.. … There have been eight different winners in the last eight Bristol races. …Kyle Busch (2008-10) and NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. are the only drivers to win consecutive races at Bristol. … Kyle Busch holds the record for most wins (five) in this race and he holds the record for winning consecutively with three straight wins from 2008-10. … Joe Ruttman won the first truck race at Bristol in June, 1995. … Johnny Sauter is the only championship eligible driver to win previously at Bristol. … Johnny Sauter and 2012 race winner Timothy Peters are the only former race winners entered. …Kyle Busch edged Timothy Peters by .050-second in the closest finish in race history (2013). … In 1999, Jack Sprague beat Stacy Compton by 4.416-seconds – the largest winning margin for a truck series race at the track. … Chevrolet and Toyota each have eight wins at the track. Ford has five. … The most caution flags in a race was 13 – in 2010. The most lead changes in a race was nine – in Ryan Blaney’s 2015 win. …The farthest a driver has come from the starting grid to win is 13th – Ben Kennedy did it in 2016. …Twice the winner of this race has gone on to win the series championship – Ron Hornaday Jr. in 1998 and Jack Sprague in 1999.