With all four slots in the Miami championship showdown still up for grabs after Playoff outsiders captured the wins at Talladega and Martinsville, the heat will be on at ISM Raceway for the Lucas Oil 150 this Friday night (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Here’s a breakdown of how the six Playoff drivers have fared in this round and the past ISM Raceway performances for each, in order of points standing:
Brett Moffitt– No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet: The defending series champion started this round off strong, finishing fourth at the always-unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway. But, like a good chunk of the field at Martinsville, was involved in a wreck last weekend and, as a result, was relegated to a 29th-place finish. Fortunately, he has a large stockpile of Playoff points from throughout the year that are letting him keep hold of the top spot in the points – by 10 points over second-place Stewart Friesen and by 45 points over fifth-place Matt Crafton just outside the Championship 4 cutoff.
Moffitt enters the penultimate race of the season as the lone Playoff contender who has won at ISM Raceway – and he did so in his only series start to date at the track during which he started fifth.
Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet: Friesen has been impressive in this round – finishing fifth at Talladega and sixth last week at Martinsville, keeping him in second place in the points standings. He’s only 10 points behind the leader, Moffitt, and holds a 35-point advantage over Crafton in fifth.
Friesen has gotten progressively better over each of his three starts at ISM Raceway – finishing 18th in his track debut in 2016, then sixth in 2017 and fifth last year for an average finish of 9.7. His starting position has also improved each time – 20th in 2016, 12th in 2017 and then fourth last fall.
Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet: Chastain’s Round of 6 started off rough, as he wrecked from the lead late in the race and wound up with a 22nd-place finish at Talladega. But he nearly flipped that around last weekend in Martinsville, leading 68 laps before finishing second after being edged out by Todd Gilliland following an overtime restart. That Martinsville finish, coupled with a great deal of misfortune by the rest of the Playoff field (after Friesen’s fifth-place finish, the next highest finishing postseason contender was Crafton in 23rd) vaulted Chastain from sixth in the points entering the race to third coming out of it. He’s now 20 points ahead of Crafton in fifth.
It’s been six years since Chastain has raced in the Gander Trucks at ISM Raceway. He was 33rd in his track debut in 2012 after mechanical issues eliminated him early in the race. However, he started from the pole and finished second in 2013.
Austin Hill – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota: Hill has a precarious nine-point advantage over Crafton for the fourth and final Championship 4 slot. He opened the round with a sixth-place finish at Talladega but then was one of the unfortunate drivers caught up in myriad of incidents at Martinsville that ended his day early and he left with a 26th-place result.
Hill’s going to have to improve upon his past efforts at ISM Raceway if he’s going to have a shot to contend for the title in Miami. In two starts at the track, he has a best finish of 23rd and an average finish of 26.5.
Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford: Crafton’s Round of 6 results closely mirrors those of Moffitt and Hill – a solid eighth-place result at Talladega before finishing several laps down in 23rd at Martinsville. He currently sits in fifth in the standings – one spot outside the Championship 4 – trailing fourth-place Hill by nine points.
Crafton has the largest body of work at ISM Raceway of the remaining Playoff drivers. However, in 18 starts at the one-mile circuit, he has yet to win a race – although he was the runner-up in 2014, the year of his second championship. He’s recorded six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, putting together an average finish of 10.0. However, in the most recent four trips to ISM, he’s tallied two finishes outside the top 20. He was 11th last fall.
Tyler Ankrum – No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota: Have you heard this before regarding the Round of 6 for this Playoff group? Ankrum had a solid race at Talladega, finishing seventh. But was eliminated from contention at Martinsville by a crash – placing 25th. He now sits sixth, 15 points back from Hill, who holds that fourth and final Championship 4 slot.
Ankrum has made one visit to ISM Raceway, placing an impressive sixth in the second of two starts he made last season.