Friday Night’s World of Westgate 200 Race Preview

Breaking down the 1.5-mile tracks for the Playoff contenders

The opening round of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs will conclude with the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday at 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

And the field will face one more track of this length in the Playoffs – the championship-deciding venue of Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here’s a look at the performances of the eight Playoff contenders at 1.5-mile tracks – organized by points standings:

Brett Moffitt – Moffitt has already won his way into the second round after winning the opening two races of the Playoffs at Bristol and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. And if his history at 1.5-mile tracks counts for anything, he has a solid shot of the sweep of the Round of 8 races. Moffitt has four wins on intermediate tracks, all within the past two seasons. His first came at Atlanta in 2018. Overall in 23 races at venues of this length, he has nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.

Ross Chastain – On the surface, it doesn’t look like Chastain’s 1.5-mile statistics are that impressive. He has one win, two top fives and 13 top 10s in 34 races at venues of that size. But it’s when those stats occurred in his career that matter now. His one win came earlier this year at Kansas, before he had declared for points in the Gander Trucks. Both of his top fives were this year (Kansas and Kentucky) and eight of the top 10s have been in 2019. (Also, of note for Chastain, 15 of his 30 total career top-10 finishes have happened during the opening 18 races of this season. He has 77 total series starts.)

Stewart Friesen – Friesen is looking for his first win on a 1.5-mile track (his lone series win came earlier this season at Eldora). In 28 starts at this distance he has 10 top-five and 14 top-10 results. Five of those top fives and top 10s have come this season. Of those, he has a pair of runner-up results (Texas-1 and Kentucky) and two third-place finishes (Charlotte and Chicago) at this distance.

Matt Crafton – Once the king of the 1.5-mile tracks in the Gander Trucks, Crafton has faded as of late. In 162 starts on those tracks (53 more than the next closest in the Playoff field – Johnny Sauter), Crafton has nine wins (second to Sauter’s 10), 54 top fives, and 103 top 10s. All impressive numbers. But he hasn’t won at a 1.5-mile circuit since Charlotte in May of 2016…and in fact, hasn’t won a race since Eldora in July of 2017. His performance has been steady and solid this year – both at this distance and overall, just lacking a Victory Lane visit. He hasn’t had a finish worse than 14th (Atlanta in the second race of the year) and crossed the line second at Texas in June. His average finish at 1.5-mile tracks this season is 7.0.

Austin Hill – Hill is another driver whose numbers at 1.5-mile venues may not be impressive on the surface, but if you look at his recent performances, you’ll be more impressed. Overall in 28 starts at that distance, he has three top fives and nine top 10s. Two of those top fives (Kansas, Chicago) came this year, as did five of the top 10s. He also started on the pole at Chicago this season – his first time leading the field to green in the Gander Trucks.

Grant Enfinger – Enfinger has one win in 33 starts at 1.5-mile circuits – but it’s particularly relevant because that victory came at Las Vegas last fall. It’s one of two series wins that he has (Talladega, 2016). Overall he has 10 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes at this distance in the series. He has three top fives this season, including at both Texas races and at Atlanta. His best finish at a 1.5-miler this year was third at Atlanta.

Tyler Ankrum – Ankrum’s experience is limited at 1.5-mile tracks because he just turned 18 in March, so he hasn’t even had a chance to race on the upcoming Las Vegas Motor Speedway track. But he’s made his mark at that distance. In six starts this season on 1.5-mile circuits he has one win (Kentucky), two top fives (also finished third at Texas in June) and three top 10s.

Johnny Sauter – Sauter is in a tough spot in the Playoff standings, as he sits in eighth out of eight drivers with only six moving on to the next round after Las Vegas. In 109 starts at 1.5-mile tracks, Sauter has 10 wins (one more than fellow Playoff contender Crafton), 41 top fives and 66 top 10s. Only two of those top fives have come this season – in the second race in Atlanta and then in the fifth race of the year at Texas. In regards to recent history, five of his wins at this distance have come since the introduction of the elimination-style Playoff format in 2016, with the most recent being at the June Texas race last year.

Brett Moffitt looking to sweep opening round of Playoffs

Since the introduction of the elimination Playoff format in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2016, no driver has swept a round’s worth of races.

Prior to this season, twice has one driver won two races in a round – Johnny Sauter in the Round of 6 in 2016 (Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway) and 2017 (Texas, ISM Raceway).

Brett Moffitt is now hoping to achieve that feat after winning the opening two races of the 2019 Gander Trucks Playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

The Gander Trucks have two weeks off before returning to the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 13 for the final race in the opening round of the Playoffs. And Moffitt’s track record in the Nevada sun shows that he may be the truck to bet on for the hat trick.

Moffitt has a trio of starts at the 1.5-mile track, including a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch this spring. He was third in his first start at the beginning of 2018 and then was 11th last fall.

And the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado would just be building on what is quickly becoming his second straight career season. In 2018, Moffitt tallied six wins, 13 top fives and 13 top 10s en route to the Gander Trucks title.

So far, through 18 races in 2019, Moffitt has four wins, 11 top fives and 13 top 10s. And he’s bettered his 2018 season in another statistical column – he has three pole awards this year compared to none last year.

What a difference a year makes

One year ago, heading into the cutoff race for the first round of the Playoffs, Johnny Sauter held the lead in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings and had no doubt he would be advancing the Round of 6.

But this year, Sauter is in danger of “going home” following the upcoming Round of 8 cutoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Friday, September 13 at 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Currently, Sauter sits in seventh on the Playoff grid – two points and one spot behind his ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, who currently holds the final position that would transfer to the Round of 6.

Sauter has never been eliminated from Gander Trucks title contention before the final race of the season during the era of the elimination Playoffs format (since 2016).

He doesn’t find himself on the outside looking in because of a particularly bad performance in either of the opening races of the Playoffs – he was 11th at Bristol and sixth at Canadian Tire. Instead, all of the 2019 Gander Trucks postseason contenders are proving they belong in the title talk and are also posting strong finishes – which gives Sauter little to no room to rise up in the standings.

Here is where each of the eight Playoff drivers finished in the first two races:

Drivers Bristol             Canadian Tire            Avg. Finish

Brett Moffitt                 1                      1                                  1

Ross Chastain            3                      8                                  5.5

Stewart Friesen           4                      7                                  5.5

Grant Enfinger            5                      13                                9

Matt Crafton                7                      11                                9

Austin Hill                    10                    5                                  7.5

Johnny Sauter             11                    6                                  8.5

Tyler Ankrum              20                    9                                  14.5

Sauter hasn’t won a race since Dover at the beginning of May – a streak of 12 races without visiting Victory Lane. That’s a bit of an unusual drought for the driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet – but it might not be a bad sign for his Playoff hopes. This season, in a way, looks a bit similar to his 2016 campaign – a campaign that ended with the championship trophy hoisted above his head in Miami.

In 2016, he started off the season with a win at the opener in Daytona. He then went winless for 18 races – but excelled when it counted by winning at Martinsville and Texas in the second round of Playoffs. Those were his only three wins that season.

Sauter will need to turn it up at Las Vegas, a track he has one win at – in his first race there in 2009, in order to have a shot at repeating the magic of 2016. He’s recorded six top fives and nine top 10s in 12 starts at the track. And of those, four are runner-up finishes, including both races in 2018.

Playoff contenders’ history at Vegas

Only two of the eight NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff drivers have made their way to Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Johnny Sauter took the win in his first trip to the track in 2009. Second place in that race? His current ThorSport Racing teammate and Playoffs competitor Matt Crafton.

And Grant Enfinger comes to Las Vegas without a win this season, despite taking the regular season championship trophy home. However, he is the defending winner of this fall race at Las Vegas. Second place in that race? Sauter.

Current Playoff drivers finished first (Enfinger), second (Sauter), fifth (Crafton), seventh (Chastain), 11th (Brett Moffitt), 17th (Stewart Friesen) and 23rd (Austin Hill) in last year’s fall race.

The upcoming race will mark Tyler Ankrum’s first race at the 1.5-mile oval – he just turned 18-years old on March 6 – a week after the first trip to the desert this spring.

Overall, Sauter has a win, six top fives and nine top 10s in 12 starts at Las Vegas. His ThorSport teammates Crafton (eight top fives, 12 top 10s in 20 starts) and Enfinger (one win, two top fives and four top 10s in six starts) have also been consistently near the top of the finishing order.

Friesen has the next most starts in the Playoff grid, posting a pair of top-five and top-10 finishes in five starts. Chastain has two top 10s in four starts, while Moffitt as a pair of top-five and top-10 results in three appearances.

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