ISM Raceway to set the Championship 4
After opening with the high-speed, high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, then taking on much shorter and flatter 0.52-mile Martinsville Speedway last weekend, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series wraps up the Round of 6 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Arizona, this Friday night.
The Lucas Oil 150 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will take place on the one-mile track that was recently reconfigured (prior to the 2018 fall race) to move the start/finish line to the former backstretch, just before the dog leg.
The banking in Turns 1 and 2 is 11 degrees while it’s nine degrees in Turns 3 and 4. The frontstretch is 1,179 feet long and banked at three degrees and the backstretch is 1,551 feet long and has nine degrees of banking.
Brett Moffitt won this race last year and is the only remaining Playoff contender with a victory at the track.
How they got to this point in the Round of 6…and performance at ISM Raceway
With all four slots in the Miami championship showdown still up for grabs after Playoff outsiders captured the wins at Talladega and Martinsville, the heat will be on at ISM Raceway for the Lucas Oil 150 this Friday night (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Here’s a breakdown of how the six Playoff drivers have fared in this round and the past ISM Raceway performances for each, in order of points standing:
Brett Moffitt – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet: The defending series champion started this round off strong, finishing fourth at the always-unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway. But, like a good chunk of the field at Martinsville, was involved in a wreck last weekend and, as a result, was relegated to a 29th-place finish. Fortunately, he has a large stockpile of Playoff points from throughout the year that are letting him keep hold of the top spot in the points – by 10 points over second-place Stewart Friesen and by 45 points over fifth-place Matt Crafton just outside the Championship 4 cutoff.
Moffitt enters the penultimate race of the season as the lone Playoff contender who has won at ISM Raceway – and he did so in his only series start to date at the track during which he started fifth.
Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet: Friesen has been impressive in this round – finishing fifth at Talladega and sixth last week at Martinsville, keeping him in second place in the points standings. He’s only 10 points behind the leader, Moffitt, and holds a 35-point advantage over Crafton in fifth.
Friesen has gotten progressively better over each of his three starts at ISM Raceway – finishing 18th in his track debut in 2016, then sixth in 2017 and fifth last year for an average finish of 9.7. His starting position has also improved each time – 20th in 2016, 12th in 2017 and then fourth last fall.
Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet: Chastain’s Round of 6 started off rough, as he wrecked from the lead late in the race and wound up with a 22nd-place finish at Talladega. But he nearly flipped that around last weekend in Martinsville, leading 68 laps before finishing second after being edged out by Todd Gilliland following an overtime restart. That Martinsville finish, coupled with a great deal of misfortune by the rest of the Playoff field (after Friesen’s fifth-place finish, the next highest finishing postseason contender was Crafton in 23rd) vaulted Chastain from sixth in the points entering the race to third coming out of it. He’s now 20 points ahead of Crafton in fifth.
It’s been six years since Chastain has raced in the Gander Trucks at ISM Raceway. He was 33rd in his track debut in 2012 after mechanical issues eliminated him early in the race. However, he started from the pole and finished second in 2013.
Austin Hill – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota: Hill has a precarious nine-point advantage over Crafton for the fourth and final Championship 4 slot. He opened the round with a sixth-place finish at Talladega but then was one of the unfortunate drivers caught up in myriad of incidents at Martinsville that ended his day early and he left with a 26th-place result.
Hill’s going to have to improve upon his past efforts at ISM Raceway if he’s going to have a shot to contend for the title in Miami. In two starts at the track, he has a best finish of 23rd and an average finish of 26.5.
Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford: Crafton’s Round of 6 results closely mirrors those of Moffitt and Hill – a solid eighth-place result at Talladega before finishing several laps down in 23rd at Martinsville. He currently sits in fifth in the standings – one spot outside the Championship 4 – trailing fourth-place Hill by nine points.
Crafton has the largest body of work at ISM Raceway of the remaining Playoff drivers. However, in 18 starts at the one-mile circuit, he has yet to win a race – although he was the runner-up in 2014, the year of his second championship. He’s recorded six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, putting together an average finish of 10.0. However, in the most recent four trips to ISM, he’s tallied two finishes outside the top 20. He was 11th last fall.
Tyler Ankrum – No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota: Have you heard this before regarding the Round of 6 for this Playoff group? Ankrum had a solid race at Talladega, finishing seventh. But was eliminated from contention at Martinsville by a crash – placing 25th. He now sits sixth, 15 points back from Hill, who holds that fourth and final Championship 4 slot.
Ankrum has made one visit to ISM Raceway, placing an impressive sixth in the second of two starts he made last season.
ISM Raceway’s history in setting the Championship 4
This season marks the fourth year the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series has used the elimination-style postseason format to crown a champion. And in each season, ISM Raceway has served as the penultimate race – setting the Championship 4 field that will race for the title in Miami.
Here’s a look at how the Valley of the Sun played a role in the Playoff madness the past three seasons:
2016 – Entering the final race in the Round of 6, only Johnny Sauter had clinched a spot in the Championship 4 after winning both Martinsville and Texas to open the round. At the start of the race, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Matt Crafton held the other three Championship 4 slots based on points – and all were separated by only four points. And they held those spots by the narrowest of margins, as Timothy Peters sat just one point behind Crafton in fifth. It proved to be a heartbreaking day for current Monster Energy Series driver Byron – as a late-race engine failure relegated him to a 27th-place result and knocked him out of championship contention. Sauter would go on to win his first series title the following week.
2017 – Once again, Johnny Sauter won a pair of races in the Round of 6 to lock himself into the Championship 4 – but this year is was Texas and Phoenix where he prevailed. He was the lone driver locked into the Miami title bout entering the race at ISM Raceway, and Christopher Bell, Matt Crafton and Austin Cindric held the other three spots on points entering the desert showdown. And when the dust settled, Sauter, Bell, Crafton and Cindric were the foursome who moved on to contend for the championship. Bell would come out on top in South Florida a week later.
2018 – Last year, the Gander Trucks drove into Phoenix needing to fill two spots in the Championship 4 – as Johnny Sauter had won at Martinsville while Justin Haley was victorious in Texas. Brett Moffitt and Noah Gragson had just under a 20-point hold over fifth place for the other two slots based on points entering Friday night’s race. And at the end of the evening, a win by Moffitt secured his Miami title berth and Gragson held on to fourth in points. Moffitt then went on to win his first championship, racing for Hattori Racing Enterprises at the time (he’s now with GMS Racing).
Spoilers prevailing in the Round of 6
Todd Gilliland became the second winner in as many Round of 6 races to capture his first NASCAR national series win and play the spoiler – preventing a Playoff driver from locking themselves into the Championship 4 by visiting Victory Lane.
A week earlier, it was Spencer Boyd who upset the field and took the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway.
Since the elimination-style postseason format was introduced in the Gander Trucks in 2016, there hasn’t been a round of three races completed without at least one Playoff driver earning a win. That would all change if one of the six remaining Playoff contenders doesn’t win at ISM Raceway next weekend.
And it’s entirely possible that a spoiler will prevail again in the desert. Brett Moffitt is the lone Playoff contender who has won at the one-mile circuit. And Johnny Sauter is the only other 2019 regular racer who has won there.
If a third straight driver captures their first career Gander Trucks win at ISM Raceway, they would be the sixth driver to do so at that track:
Mike Skinner – 1995
Jack Sprague – 1996
Kevin Harvick – 2002
Erik Jones – 2013
Daniel Suarez – 2016
Champs’ history at ISM Raceway
Last year Brett Moffitt won at ISM Raceway and then went on to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway to capture his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.
And that marked the first time since Ron Hornaday Jr. won the spring 1998 race, when the Gander Trucks last competed twice per season at the track, that the series champion won at ISM en route to the championship. In fact, it also happened in 1995 (Mike Skinner swept the races) and 1997 (Jack Sprague won the April race).
The records show – if you’re good enough to win in Phoenix at some point in your career, then you’re good enough to win the series title. Of the 17 individual drivers who have won a Gander Trucks championship, more than half (nine) have recorded at least one win at ISM Raceway in their career.
That includes three of the past four series titleholders – Moffitt (2018), Johnny Sauter (2016 champion) and Erik Jones (2015 champion).
Part-timers looking to play spoiler with Toyota teams in Phoenix
Kyle Busch Motorsports and DGR-Crosley will yield six drivers between them who are running the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series on a part-time basis this season – and the drivers combine for three total previous starts at ISM Raceway. The drivers are listed below in numerical order by truck number.
Dylan Lupton – No. 5 DGR-Crosley Toyota: The 25-year-old driver will be making his sixth start of the season – and is scheduled to finish out the season in this truck at Miami, as well. He’s recorded a top five (Kentucky) and three top 10s in his five starts this year. Lupton has one start at ISM Raceway – recording a 19th-place finish in 2016.
Tanner Gray – No. 7 DGR-Crosley Toyota: The 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champion made his NASCAR national series debut two races ago at Martinsville – spending a chunk of the race in the top 10 before being collected in a last-lap incident that left him with a 20th-place finish. Of note – the No. 7 will be making its debut on a DGR-Crosley truck as the team fields five entries this weekend. Gray will, however, be working with the same crew chief (Seth Smith) and team he had behind him at Martinsville while driving the No. 15.
Anthony Alfredo – No. 15 DGR-Crosley Toyota: Alfredo has made 11 starts this year, posting a pair of top-10 finishes at Charlotte (eighth) and Chicago (ninth). His last race was Talladega, where he finished 15th. The 20-year-old has one NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win to his credit – last year at South Boston. This weekend will be his first trip to ISM Raceway.
Chandler Smith – No. 46 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota: If you’ve been following the ARCA Menards Series the past two seasons, you know the name Chandler Smith. The 17-year-old has been limited in race opportunities due to age restrictions, but he has been a shining star when he makes it onto the track. In 20 total ARCA starts he has seven wins – including five in 11 starts this season. He also has 14 top fives and 19 top 10s in those 20 appearances. This season he’s made three Gander Trucks starts – finishing eighth (Iowa), fourth (World Wide Technology Raceway) and second (Bristol).
Brandon Jones – No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota: Jones, a NASCAR Xfinity Series regular with Joe Gibbs Racing who made the Playoffs this season but was knocked out of the opening round, will be making his fifth Gander Trucks start of the season. In four races this season he has a pair of top fives, including a runner-up at Chicago. He has a pair of previous starts at ISM Raceway, with a best finish of 12th in 2014.
Natalie Decker – No. 54 DGR-Crosley Toyota: Decker will be making her track debut at ISM Raceway this Friday. She has the most races under her belt this season of the above group, with 17 starts, but has had a rough go of it – exiting nine races early due to a crash or mechanical issue. In the other eight races, she has an average finish of 17.4 and has a best finish of 13th at Las Vegas in the spring.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Etc.
Ty Majeski to make Gander Trucks debut: NASCAR Next alum Ty Majeski will make his Gander Trucks debut this weekend for Niece Motorsports in the No. 44 Chevrolet. Majeski has 15 NASCAR Xfinity starts to his credit, all with Roush Fenway Racing, posting three top 10s. He also has 15 starts in the ARCA Menards Series across three seasons…and recorded wins in three of six races entered this season (Charlotte, Pocono, Chicago).
Jesse Little back in the truck: Jesse Little and JJL Motorsports return to the track for their first start since Bristol in August – and they plan to finish out the season by racing at ISM Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Little has posted seven top 10s in 30 series starts. This season, he recorded a best finish of 13th at the spring Texas race.