Gilliland and Bo LeMastus, CEO of Louisville-based Crosley Brands, co-own the No. 17 Toyota that Ankrum drove for just the eighth time this season, and had perfectly positioned to grab his first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory in his first Kentucky Speedway start.
“Honestly, it’s pretty awesome,” Ankrum said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m so thankful for the ride I’m in.”
The DGR-Crosley driver led the most laps (40 of 150) and won the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 after taking the lead when leader Brett Moffitt ran out of fuel with two laps to go.
“A smile cracked on my face,” Ankrum said of Moffitt’s fuel shortage. “I was so worried. I couldn’t see the 24 out front and knew the laps were winding down. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see him. And I saw him all the way almost at the end of the straightaway. I think I forgot to breathe the last three laps. I just don’t know what to say. I’m just so thankful for what we’ve done here.”
Moffitt led two times for 35 laps and his team knew it was going to be cutting it close on fuel. He was understandably disappointed by his seventh place finish.
“I was just backing off as much as I could,” Moffitt said. “Honestly, everyone on this team did a great job. It sucks to lose them like that.”
Stewart Friesen crossed the finish line 7.373 seconds behind Ankrum and finished second in this race for the second time in as many seasons. Friesen started at the rear of the field for going to a backup car after NASCAR confiscated his primary car earlier in the day.
Sheldon Creed won the opening 35-lap stage and Matt Crafton won the second 35-lap stage.
Several drivers opted not to make pit stops before the start of the 70-lap final stage.
Moffitt took the lead on Lap 110 and only gave it up to make a fuel-only pit stop 29 laps from the finish. He reclaimed the lead soon after as others made their pit stops.
Louisville native and defending race winner Ben Rhodes trailed Moffitt by several seconds in second place but was poised to take advantage of any slip-up by the leader.
A left rear tire problem with less than 20 laps remaining ended any hopes of a repeat victory by Rhodes. He finished 19th.
“It’s just unfortunate because tonight we were going to have another win,” Rhodes said. “I hate it for my team. They’ve worked many, many, many hours on these trucks.”
With Rhodes out of the contention, Moffitt’s lead reached double digits before running out of gas.
Pole-winner and series points leader Grant Enfinger was racing Brandon Jones for the lead five laps from the end of Stage 2 when Enfinger drifted up the track and into the side of Jones’ truck.
That contact sent both into the outside wall and out of the race. Enfinger took blame for causing the wreck. It was his first early exit from a race this season. He finished 24th.
Crafton was positioned to take advantage of the incident and won the stage. It completed a comeback from a pit road penalty earlier in the race.
The second stage was slowed by four cautions, and the longest stretch of green flag racing was three laps. That was in stark contrast to the opening stage, which featured no cautions.
Sheldon Creed passed Enfinger on the first lap of the race and cruised the stage win but finished the night in 21st place.
Thursday’s race was slowed by five cautions and featured 10 lead changes among seven drivers.
“It’s super special,” Gilliland said of the victory. “We couldn’t do it without the help of Bo LeMastus and Toyota and all of our partners that have supported us since day one. We’ve got guys like (crew chief) Kevin Manion that took a chance and came to work for our team. Just a great group of people and we’re really working on trying to build our team and create something different. I’m proud of Tyler. He’s done a great job.”
Kentucky Speedway’s tripleheader race weekend continues Friday with the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Alsco 300 and is highlighted by Saturday’s running of the Quaker State 400 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.