Top-seeded Brett Moffitt held off determined 17-year-old Chandler Smith after a restart with three laps left and took home the trophy in Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With the victory in the first event of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs, Moffitt, the defending series champion, gained an automatic berth in the Round of 6, as other Playoff contenders either overcame adversity or succumbed to it.
“It was tough,” Moffitt said in Victory Lane. “Our (No. 24) Silverado was strong on long runs, but it was hard to get fired off. So it was really tough just getting the first couple of laps under our belt after a restart.
“There’s no more important win than right now for the season, getting into the Round of 6, so we’ll take this and move on with it. We’re playing with house money now. We still want to go get points and ultimately win races and get Playoff points to set ourselves up with a little safety net for the next round. But now we’ll just go and race to win, and the pressure’s off.”
In his third start in the Truck Series, Smith held his own to the inside of Moffitt for one lap after the final restart, but Moffitt cleared Smith’s No. 51 Toyota on lap 199 and pulled away to win by .743 seconds. Playoff driver Ross Chastain overcame a violation for an uncontrolled tire to run third, muscling his way through the field and drawing ire from competitors along the way.
Stewart Friesen recovered from a spin off the nose of Matt Crafton’s Toyota, as the two Playoff drivers raced in close quarters around the truck of Tyler Dippel. Regular-season champion Grant Enfinger, the only driver other than Moffitt and Chastain to lead laps, ran fifth.
Sheldon Creed, Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Todd Gilliland and Playoff driver Austin Hill completed the top 10, though the latter two lost considerable ground to the Playoff leaders.
After an action-filled race that produced 12 cautions for 73 laps, Chastain was unapologetic for the aggressive style that carried him to a third-place finish.
“We put ourselves in a hole there with that one pit stop,” Chastain said. “Yeah, I hate that, but the fastest truck didn’t win tonight. Congrats to Brett… But it’s one lane—it’s the old Bristol. They took the top (of the concrete track) and ground it without telling us, or they didn’t tell me.
“So it was one lane around the bottom. That’s what built this place. You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”
After the race, several crew chiefs approached Chastain to express their displeasure.
“I think the crew chiefs come down here and puff their chests out—they’re old washed-up race car drivers,” Chastain said. “I love Marcus (Richmond) and Rudy (Fugle), but, my goodness, let your drivers come handle it. And one at a time, line ‘em up, and let’s race. And let’s handle it after, outside the race car.
“Obviously, I’m no stranger to this.”
Bad luck continued to follow Playoff driver Johnny Sauter who suffered hard contact from John Hunter Nemechek’s truck on Lap 75—after Sauter turned Nemechek. After a litany of subsequent incidents, Sauter drove his battered No. 13 Ford to an 11th-place finish and is clinging to the sixth spot in the standings by three points over Hill.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Tyler Ankrum fared worst of all. His No. 17 Toyota developed electric problems, relegating the 18-year-old to a 20th-place result, six laps down. Ankrum heads to the Aug. 25 race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last in the Playoff standings and 13 points behind Sauter.
If the race had plenty of contact in the heat of battle, it also had a moment of comic relief. After a wreck on Lap 182 caused the 11th caution, a wrecker attempting to push Natalie Decker’s No. 54 Toyota spun the truck instead. Decker retired from the race in 25th place.
But Moffitt finished where he started—from the pole and in the Playoff lead. He now holds a 16-point lead over Chastain in second and a free pass to the next round of the Playoffs.