Saturday’s Sugarlands Shine 250 Race Preview

Gander Trucks are back on track

With three consecutive off-weeks behind them, NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series begins the Round of 6 at Talladega Superspeedway this Saturday, Oct. 12 with the Sugarlands Shine 250 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Talladega has hosted 13 Gander Trucks races with the first coming in 2006, which was won by Mark Martin in a Ford. That also happened to mark Ford’s only victory at the 2.66-mile behemoth. 

The track has seen four multi-race winners, led with three victories by Timothy Peters (2014, 2015, 2018). Todd Bodine (2007, 2008), Kyle Busch (2009, 2010) and Parker Kligerman (2012, 2017) each have two wins. Kligerman is the only multi-race winner to not post consecutive trips to Victory Lane.

With the exception of Peters’ most recent win last season, all of the multi-win drivers notched their victories in a Toyota (including Peters’ first two wins). Overall, Toyota leads the OEM race with nine wins at Talladega while Chevrolet has three wins.

In total, eight different drivers have recorded wins at the Alabama track. Grant Enfinger (2016) and Johnny Sauter (2013) are the only current full-time Gander Trucks drivers who have a previous win there.

The eighth driver not mentioned above? Mike Wallace – who won in 2011.

Enfinger and Kligerman both recorded their first career Gander Trucks wins at Talladega.

Defending winner Peters is not entered in this weekend’s race, nor is Kligerman, the 2017 winner. Only two previous Talladega victors – Enfinger and Sauter – are on the entry list for Saturday’s event.

There has yet to be a multi-time pole winner in the Gander Trucks at Talladega Superspeedway – 13 races, 13 different pole winners. And we’re guaranteed to get a 14th different pole winner this weekend, as none of the former pole sitters are entered.

The youngest pole winner at Talladega was Cole Custer in 2016 – 18 years, eight months, 29 days old; the oldest was Ron Hornaday Jr. in 2010 – 52 years, four months and 10 days old.

The most recent pole winner was David Gilliland. Tyler Reddick (2014) is the only driver who recorded his first career Gander Trucks pole at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

The Round of 6 field

Following the Gander Trucks’ last race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, regular season champion Grant Enfinger and his ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter were eliminated from postseason contention, narrowing the field to the six drivers who will begin the next round of the Playoffs on Saturday.

This will mark the first time since the elimination-style Playoff format was introduced to the Gander Trucks in 2016 that Sauter will not be part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Brett Moffitt came out of Las Vegas as the top seed moving into the next round and has 3,034 points with the reset. Austin Hill, the winner from Las Vegas, trails him by 17 points at 3,017 points, while Ross Chastain is just one more point back with 3,016 points. Stewart Friesen is fourth with 3,014 points.

Matt Crafton (3,011 points) and Tyler Ankrum (3,005 points) round out the group of six drivers who will battle over the next three races for the shot at the title in Miami. 

Breaking down the Playoff contenders at ‘Dega

Here’s a look at the superspeedway performances for the six remaining Playoff contenders, in order of seeding:  

Brett Moffitt – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet – 3,034 points: Superspeedways haven’t been Moffitt’s best friend in his limited appearances at the venues. Moffitt has only made one visit to Talladega – this race last fall. He started eighth and finished 17th there en route to his Gander Trucks title. He has three starts at NASCAR’s other superspeedway – Daytona. His best finish there was 22nd in 2017. Since then he’s had a pair of 26th-place finishes.

Austin Hill – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota – 3,017 points: This fall will mark Hill’s third trip to Talladega Superspeedway, he finished 10th there last fall and was 22nd when he raced in Alabama in 2015. Hill has already tamed Daytona – winning the season opener this year to clinch his Playoff berth early. In his other two races at Daytona, he placed 30th (2015) and 11th (2018).

Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet – 3,016 points: Chastain has twice finished third at superspeedways in the Gander Trucks – including in his most recent start at one of those venues at Daytona this February – over a total of eight starts on those tracks. He made three appearances at Talladega Superspeedway – but none since 2016. In his first showing in Alabama in 2012, he was involved in a mid-race crash and finished 34th. The following year he put up his best finish at the track – placing third. Then in 2016 he was 15th. At Daytona, Chastain has made five starts, posting an average finish of 21.0 – with three of his races ending early as a result of crashes. Niece Motorsports is the fifth different team with whom Chastain has raced at a superspeedway – SS Green Light Racing (Talladega and Daytona, 2012), Brad Keselowski Racing (Talladega and Daytona, 2013), Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises (Daytona, 2014), Bolen Motorsports (Talladega, 2016 and Daytona, 2017) and Niece Motorsports (Daytona and Talladega, 2019).

Also, of note regarding Chastain on superspeedways – earlier this season he won the July edition of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona, driving for Kaulig Racing.

Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Chevrolet – 3,014 points: Friesen has had a modicum of success at Talladega. He’s made two appearances at the 2.66-mile behemoth – finishing sixth in his most recent visit and putting up a respectable 17th-place result in 2017. His luck hasn’t been as good at Daytona – where he’s crashed in all three races he’s started there. However, due to the mass amount of attrition at the season-opener in Florida this year, he managed to finish 10th despite crashing late and finishing three laps down.

Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford – 3,011 points: Crafton will have to put the past aside at Talladega to have a shot at using the superspeedway as a springboard into the Championship 4. In 13 appearances at the 2.66-mile circuit, he has a lone top five – a fourth-place finish in 2010. He had only managed four top 10s, and only one in the most recent five races (ninth in 2017). He’s recorded an average finish of 16.8 at ‘Dega and has three DNFs – two within the last three races. His luck hasn’t been much better at Daytona – in 19 starts he has a pair of top-five finishes and eight top 10s. His top fives are spaced nearly a decade apart – in 2010 and 2019 (fifth each time). He has an average finish of 14.4 at the Florida superspeedway and has four DNFs – but none since 2012.

Tyler Ankrum – No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota – 3,005 points: Superspeedways are the great unknown for the 18-year-old driver who missed the opening three races of the season – including Daytona – due to age restrictions. This weekend marks Ankrum’s first visit to one of the massive, high-speed circuits like Daytona or Talladega. 

Track record of champs at Talladega

If you’re a championship contender and don’t have a great weekend at Talladega, don’t fret. Talladega hasn’t been the most welcoming track for title holders in recent years.

Since the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series began racing at Talladega in 2006, no champion has won at the 2.66-mile Alabama superspeedway during their title season. In fact, only two series champions have visited Talladega’s Victory Lane at some point in their career – 2006 and 2010 champion Todd Bodine won there in 2007 and 2008, 2016 title holder Johnny Sauter won the 2013 race.

Looking at active drivers who hold championships, Sauter leads them all with a win, three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 10 Talladega races. His win came in 2013, but he’s only averaged a finish of 15.8 in the races since. His most recent race in Alabama was cut short by a wreck, relegating him to a 22nd-place finish.

Matt Crafton (2013, 2014 champion) is next with 13 starts at ‘Dega – yielding only one top five (fourth in 2010) and four top 10s. His average finish is 16.8 at the track and he’s had three DNFs. In his most recent trip to Talladega, he placed ninth.

Brett Moffitt (2018 champion) has only made one visit to Talladega – he finished 17th last fall.

Winning the pole en route to the 2019 Playoffs                        

It appeared this season that if you were fast before the race started, that was a good indication you would put yourself in a position to contend for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series title. Ten different drivers have combined to win 16 pole awards in the Gander Trucks through the opening 19 races of the season (qualifying was canceled due to weather for three races – Atlanta, Iowa, World Wide Technology Raceway) – and six of those drivers qualified for this year’s series Playoffs.

The lone 2019 Gander Trucks Playoff drivers who haven’t yet collected a pole are Tyler Ankrum (who is still in title contention) and Johnny Sauter (who was eliminated after the opening round).

And all Playoff drivers with a pole won at least one of them during the regular season.

Brett Moffitt leads the pack with three poles this season – with two of them coming in the opening round of the Playoffs (Bristol, Canadian Tire). His third pole was earlier this season at Dover.

Austin Hill has a pair of poles (Daytona, Michigan) as does Matt Crafton (Kansas, Charlotte) and eliminated Playoff driver Grant Enfinger (Texas-1, Kentucky).

Ross Chastain (Michigan) and Stewart Friesen (Martinsville -1) have each led the field to green once.

Breaking down the Round of 6 tracks

The Gander Trucks open the Round of 6 in the Playoffs by taking on the most unpredictable track of the postseason, Talladega Superspeedway, for the Sugarlands Shine 250 on Saturday afternoon (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Here’s a look at the three tracks that will make up the Round of 6:

Talladega Superspeedway – Saturday, October 12: Talladega is a 2.66-mile, high-banked, high-speed superspeedway. The track features 33 degrees of banking in the corners and 16.5 degrees along the front straight, while the back straight has just two degrees of banking. The front straight is 4,300 feet long and is unique in that the start/finish line is located all the way down near the entrance to Turn 1. The back straight is 4,000 feet long. The race will be 250.4 miles (94 laps) long and was won last year by Timothy Peters – his third win at the track. None of the six remaining Playoff drivers have visited Victory Lane at the track.

Martinsville Speedway – Saturday, October 26: Martinsville, affectionately known as “The Paperclip” due to its shape, is a .52-mile short track. It has 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is perfectly flat in the straights. Each straightaway is 800 feet long. The race will be 105.2 miles (200 laps) long. Johnny Sauter won this race last year while Kyle Busch won the spring race this season. Matt Crafton has two wins at Martinsville (Spring, 2014; Fall, 2015) and is the only remaining Playoff contender with a win at “The Paperclip.”

ISM Raceway – Friday, November 8: ISM Raceway, located near Phoenix, Arizona, is a 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 are 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. He is the only remaining Playoff contender with a victory at the track.

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