It’s a NASCAR quadruple header weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway. It technically kicks off on Thursday night for the ARCA race on the 1.5-mile track but the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series takes to the track for the Camping World 225 (9 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) on Friday night.
Here are their top storylines for this weekend’s race.
The “Melon Man” meets the challenge
When Ross Chastain made the switch to declare for NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points prior to the Texas race in June, he knew he had to do two things in order to qualify for the Playoffs – win a race and work his way into the top 20 in points.
At Iowa, he thought he had checked off the first box, but a post-race inspection failure led to a disqualification and it was back to the drawing board.
But the driver of the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet found redemption the next weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, using a combination of clever pit strategy to gain track position and gutsy driving to hold off Christian Eckes for the win that held up through post-race inspection.
Now the 26-year-old hailing from a watermelon farming family out of Alva, Florida, needs to maintain the level of consistency that he has shown all season in order to overcome the 38 points separating him from the top 20. So far in 2019, Chastain has recorded a top 10 in every race except Iowa, where he was relegated to a last-place finish after the disqualification.
Including Iowa, he has an average finish this year of 8.5. Tossing that result out, he has an average finish of 6.2 in the other 10 races.
And he’s heading to a track that should give him confidence. Chastain earned his first career Gander Trucks victory earlier this year at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile sister track to this weekend’s Chicagoland Speedway.
Chastain can make up some ground on the top 20 this weekend as neither Cory Roper (19th with 127 points) nor Josh Reaume (20th with 126 points) are on the entry list as of Wednesday afternoon. Natalie Decker in 21st with 125 points is entered in the race.
Moffitt returns to defend Chicagoland win
2018 was a banner year for Brett Moffitt consisting of six wins, including at this weekend’s venue of Chicagoland Speedway, and a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.
Last year’s edition of the Windy City race was Moffitt’s third win of the season and sixth top five. So far this year, he has one win (Iowa Speedway) and has already amassed six top fives through the first 11 races.
Moffitt’s win at Chicagoland last year marked his first visit to the speedway. Overall at 1.5-mile tracks, Moffitt has made 21 starts and tallied three (out of his eight career total) Gander Trucks wins. He has eight top-five and 10 top-10 finishes at that distance.
The only other previous Chicagoland race winner in the field is Johnny Sauter, who won the 2017 race. Kyle Busch is the only driver who has repeated as a winner in the Gander Trucks at Chicago – and he has five wins (2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016).
Enfinger, ThorSport still on top
Although he has yet to visit Victory Lane in 2019, ThorSport Racing driver Grant Enfinger has been at the top of the points standings for the majority of the season. And that could pay off handsomely for him come Playoff time, as the regular season champion nets 15 Playoff points for use in the postseason.
Enfinger is joined in the top four in the points standings by teammates Matt Crafton (third) and Ben Rhodes (fourth). The fourth in the ThorSport stable, Johnny Sauter, fell to 10th in the standings after missing last weekend’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway due to suspension stemming from an on-track incident at Iowa Speedway.
Sauter, however, remains Playoff eligible and already has a win on the season…therefore the entire Sandusky, Ohio-based quartet of trucks would be eligible for the postseason were it to start now.
The remainder of the top five consists of Stewart Friesen in second and Brett Moffitt in fifth.
Friesen is not only searching for his first win of the season…he’s pursuing his first career Gander Trucks win. But he’s having a solid year and one has to think the first win isn’t far off.
He’s tallied six top-five and seven top-10 finishes so far this season…and he had nine top fives in all of last year. He finished runner-up at Texas (a 1.5-mile track like Chicagoland) and was third at Charlotte and Gateway.
Gander Trucks Playoff picture
The Playoff picture for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series is starting to come into focus.
Locked in on wins, and currently sitting within the top 20 in points, are Brett Moffitt, Austin Hill and Johnny Sauter.
Ross Chastain is in the unusual position of having secured a win, but due to not declaring for points in the Gander Trucks until just before the ninth race of the season, he’s still outside the top 20 in points. And of note, only one of his two wins counted for Playoff eligibility. His Kansas win was before he declared for series points, while his win in St. Louis does meet the Playoff eligibility threshold.
Assuming Chastain is able to overcome the 38-point deficit he faces to climb into the top 20, that leaves four additional spots open for Playoff contenders.
As it stands now, those four spots would go to Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes. That would place all four ThorSport Racing trucks into the post-season and would shut Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers out of Playoff contention.
If Chastain is unable to climb into the top 20, assuming the points remain the same and there are no other new winners, Harrison Burton would climb into that eighth and final Playoff spot.