The ultimate wildcard in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series is here. Thursday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby (9 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the lone dirt race on the NASCAR schedule.
It’s a race that can really make or break some of the drivers’ playoff aspirations. See, due to Stewart Friesen crashing on the opening lap of last weekend’s race at the Pocono Raceway, the points battle got closer.
Now, Friesen fell from sixth to eighth in the standings and is only 13 points to the good. Harrison Burton scored 18 stage points and moved to 13 points behind Friesen for the final playoff spot. Matt Crafton isn’t too far up either as he’s only +27. With Grant Enfinger being really good at the moment, unless someone outside looking in wins over the next two weeks, then he’s going to be in the postseason.
But, first up, it’s Eldora on dirt.
This is a race where we’ve seen only two Truck Series regulars win at. One of those regulars though was Crafton (2017). See, the ThorSport Racing driver really took dirt seriously. He wasn’t known as much of a dirt racer but prior to that season, he decided to race in various series’ on dirt to get used to it.
That paid off. Crafton, has finished first and fourth respectively since. But, in six career tries, he’s never finished worse than 10th. For someone with a 29 point lead on the cutoff, a solid top 10 with some stage points will be good enough to get by. After all, he’s scored 11 top 10’s in his last 12 starts on the year too.
Then, eighth place in the standings Friesen grew up racing on dirt. He’s an ace on those tracks. In fact, the Halmar Racing driver has two straight top three finishes at Eldora including a runner-up in 2017 to Crafton after leading a race-high 90 of 150 laps. Despite his crash last weekend, he does have four top five finishes in his last five starts on the season and five top five’s in his last seven. To me, he’s the favorite.
Crafton, is likely the second best in terms of odds for series regulars.
Sheldon Creed has to be third. While his finishes aren’t that strong in Eldora, he has a dirt racing and off road racing background. The problem with him is, he has to win and he has failed to score a top five result all year.
That leaves the KBM duo and Ben Rhodes.
Dirt isn’t a strong suit for Burton. He finished 15th in Eldora as a rookie last year. He does have three straight top five finishes on the year and five in his last six tries overall. But, if Friesen or Creed get a win, his playoff chances get slimmer.
For Todd Gilliland he started second in this race last year but only finished 22nd. He does have three top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the year though and can steal a playoff spot as he’s 85 points down right now.
What about Rhodes? He has never finished in the top 20 in Eldora before and hasn’t finished in the top five since a runner-up finish in Iowa back in June. This may not be his week.
With Eldora being the ultimate wildcard, we could certainly see the playoff standings change a lot when the checkered flag falls on Thursday night.