Taking on Talladega

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff racing returns after extended break


Katie Linkner

This weekend, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers return to racing at Talladega Superspeedway after an almost month long break. The Fr8Auctions 250 will be a elimination race challenging playoff contenders championship hopes.

Caylee Cicero, Features Editor

After a month-long break, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers return to the track this Saturday for a playoff elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway. Following the extended time off, drivers are thrown back into action at one of the most challenging and unpredictable races of the season.

I think you just have to stay calm until the last few laps of the race and put yourself in position to go out there and win, and we’ve done a good job with that here with the 24 crew.”

— driver of the No. 24 Justin Haley

“You just have to miss the wrecks,” NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver and current playoff points leader Justin Haley said.  “I’ve had pretty good luck at that so far. Obviously starting up front is a key to having a good day and putting yourself in front of the mishaps and all the wrecks definitely helps…I think you just have to stay calm until the last few laps of the race and put yourself in position to go out there and win, and we’ve done a good job with that here with the 24 crew.”

The only drivers safe from the chaos of the elimination race are Haley and Grant Enfinger. Both Haley and Enfinger captured wins in Round 1 of the playoffs and have locked themselves into Round 2. Haley also brags a runner-up finish at Daytona, the only other restrictor plate race on the schedule. Enfinger is the only driver currently in the playoffs to have a top five finish in last season’s race, giving both the top drivers statistical advantages going into race weekend.

“It’s definitely going to be a lot less stressful for us,” Haley said. “When you have stress off of you, and you really can just focus on doing your job, I think that’s when we run the best.”

Forty points above the cutoff Johnny Sauter, last year’s truck series champion, currently sits third in playoff standings. Sauter holds a win at Daytona from earlier this season displaying his talent at restrictor plate tracks. With a top 10 finish at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and a runner-up finish at Las Vegas, Sauter can continue his promising playoff run if he avoids getting into trouble early at Talladega.

Making up the current top five standings, Toyota drivers Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt both hold a seemingly comfortable margin over the cutoff, but this could quickly change if either driver is swept up in one of the many incidents expected to occur at such a challenging track.

Matt Crafton holds the final playoff position and sits on the bubble with only seven points in the positive. Crafton can’t afford any mistakes or to be caught up in the mistakes of others if he wants to advance to the next round.

Out of the top six to advance are Ben Rhodes and Stewart Friesen. Rhodes is only seven points in the negative while Friesen is just ten points out. Although Rhodes and Friesen aren’t starting the race with the best odds of advancement neither driver is in the must-win situation. One or both drivers could likely advance if one or more of the playoff contenders are involved in a wreck. For this to happen Friesen and Rhodes have to be able to stay clear of the carnage themselves, a challenge in itself.

Looking back to this year’s only other restrictor plate race, the season opener at Daytona, four of the eight playoff drivers scored top 10 finishes. This included the win which went to Sauter, Haley’s runner-up finish, a top five for Rhodes and a sixth-place finish by Enfinger. Three of the four other playoff drivers were involved in wrecks while Crafton completed the race further back after an incident on pit road. With half of the playoff contenders having complications leading to poor finishes, Daytona foreshadows the problems many could face at Talladega.

“We have always been fast at restrictor plate tracks,” Haley said. “They have been good to me. I’ve taken to them and I’ve really gotten a hold of them. It’s been nice to go out there and run good and I’m looking forward to it especially with how the playoffs settled and we’re already locked in and this being a cutoff race.”

Last year’s race at Talladega was just as chaotic with ten cars not able to complete the race and only two of the current playoff drivers scoring top-10 finishes. Enfinger was able to hold on with a top-five finish and Crafton snuck into the top ten with a ninth-place final result.

“It’s kind of a different mindset you have to have and I’ve always enjoyed speedway racing.  So, us having a good run there [at Talladega] last year is a good thing,“ Enfinger said.

I think it’s a good thing we have a lot of confidence from our speedway races, but we also have a lot of confidence from our recent win.”

— driver of the No. 98 Grant Enfinger

Fast forward to this weekend the top-3 playoff contenders, Haley, Enfinger, and Sauter, are certainly the drivers to watch out for this weekend. They all have statistical advantages at restrictor plate tracks plus recent success. Haley and Enfinger, both locked into the next round of the playoffs, are racing with nothing to lose and a win to gain making them a more immense threat to the rest of the field.  While Sauter’s experience matched with his four restrictor plate wins in the truck series and recent hot streak make him an instant favorite.

“I think it’s a good thing we have a lot of confidence from our speedway races, but we also have a lot of confidence from our recent win and overall we’ve had a good year,” Enfinger said. “I think we are coming into Talladega with a good scenario.”

The extended break before the race adds even more uncertainty to Talladega, but also gives the drivers and especially their race teams more time to prepare and even get ahead to working on future races. Since the drivers only run their restrictor plate cars twice a year, the month off gave the teams extended time to tune their cars to perfection especially since car adjustments after arrival are difficult at tracks like Talladega.

“I think the little break helps us as an organization get all our trucks in line for the rest of year,” Enfinger said. “We are able to kind of get along with stuff for later in the year so the break is good for us as far as that goes. But, it’s really tough on us as far as a team chemistry deal when we are racing every week everything kind of clicks better everyone kind of knows what to do without saying anything when you get to the track, so having a month break hurts us there. You kind of have to take the good with the bad. I’d like to be racing every week but it does kind of help us in the shop and give us time to get everything geared up for the last stint of the season.”

Although calamity might hold out to the final stage due to the importance the race holds and caution drivers will exercise because of the playoff elimination. The end of the race almost guarantees to be even more wild than usual with drivers with nothing to lose facing off with those with everything to lose clinging to their championship hopes.

“Really the points don’t matter to us only the playoff points which you can only receive winning a stage or the race so second place doesn’t do anything for us,” Enfinger said.  “So, we can kind of go for broke and go for the win. It [being locked into the next round] definitely opens are playbook up a little bit.”

Fans can catch the action by tuning into FS1 at 1 p.m. on Oct. 13 to watch the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers take on Talladega in the Fr8Auctions 250.