FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will visit Texas Motor Speedway for the second time in four months, this time with an automatic championship berth on the line for the remaining NASCAR Playoff contenders should one win Friday night’s JAG Metals 350 (7:30 p.m. CT, TV: FS1; Radio: SiriusXM, MRN, 95.9 FM The Ranch).
Here are “5 Things You Need To Know” about the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the JAG Metals 350 Round of 6 Playoff race heading into this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
- JOHNNY ON THE SPOT: Championship contender Johnny Sauter will be looking to win the JAG Metals 350 for the third consecutive year as well as a single-season sweep of the NCWTS events at Texas Motor Speedway. Sauter, who won the PPG 400 at Texas in June, can gamble all he likes in Friday night’s race given that he already secured his Championship 4 berth with a win this past Saturday at Martinsville Speedway. Who was the last NCWTS driver to sweep Texas? That also happens to be Sauter, who did so in 2012. He owns five career NCWTS victories at Texas Motor Speedway, one shy of the track record held by Todd Bodine.
- FALL FINALE ON THE MOVE: Friday night’s JAG Metals 350 will be the final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Round of 6 Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. The annual fall event has been a staple at Texas Motor Speedway since 1999, which was the speedway’s third season of racing. The event will move in 2019 and beyond to the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR spring week at Texas, making that traditional regular-season doubleheader weekend into a tripleheader NASCAR weekend. The race will be held the evening of Friday, March 29, 2019.
- FIRST IS THE WORST: A NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver has not won a race from the pole at Texas Motor Speedway in 11 years. The last to do so was Todd Bodine, who went wire to wire in the Sam’s Town 400 on June 8, 2007.
- WHO WILL IT BE? Last year, a Playoff driver won four of the seven Playoff races. The other three races were won by drivers not in the Playoffs. So far this season, four of the five races have been won by Playoff drivers. In the last two years, a non-Playoff driver also won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
- OH, CANADA: Stewart Friesen, a native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, was eliminated from the Playoffs after the Round of 8, but don’t be surprised if you see a Canadian flag in Sunoco Victory Lane on Friday night. Friesen qualified on the pole and nearly won June’s PPG 400, losing a door-to-door battle to Johnny Sauter by 0.092 of a second in the closest Truck race in TMS history. The performance was Friesen’s best starting position and finish in three career NCWTS starts at Texas.
EXPERIENCE VS. YOUTH
The Camping World Truck Series has long been a proving and grooming ground for the future stars of NASCAR. Case in point, Christopher Bell, who has gone from Truck Series champion in 2017 to a potential 2018 Xfinity Series champion with his eyes firmly set on making an immediate impact in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – when that day inevitably comes to fruition.
Then there are drivers like Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton, a pair of 40-somethings that are still carving out their own legacies that includes series championships. Sauter, who has made 292 combined starts in Cup and Xfinity, has done the majority of his winning in the Truck Series with 23 victories and a series title in 2016.
Crafton, with just five combined starts in Cup and Xfinity, has made quite a 19-year career in the NCWTS that is highlighted by back-to-back series championships in 2013 and ’14, and 14 victories.
Sauter and Crafton are multiple NCWTS winners at Texas as well. Sauter is a five-time winner, one shy of the track record held by Todd Bodine. Crafton is a two-time winner, capturing the summer race in consecutive years in 2014 and ’15. Sauter already secured a berth in the Championship 4, but Crafton is currently sixth – last among the remaining contenders – so a third win at Texas could be a necessity to keep his title hopes alive.
And they will have to contend with the youth brigade that also is pushing them in the Playoffs.
Twenty-year-old Noah Gragson, 26-year-old Brett Moffitt, 23-year-old Grant Enfinger and 19-year-old Justin Haley have combined for only 181 starts in the Truck Series, but they have also combined for eight wins already. Three of the four also performed well at Texas in June with top-10 finishes for Haley (3rd), Enfinger (4th) and Gragson (10th).
LONE STAR STATUS
Below is a look at the six remaining NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff drivers as the series readies for its next Playoff stop at Texas Motor Speedway (Note: Drivers in order of the current standings).
Johnny Sauter (3,102 points) has 20 starts at TMS with 16 top-10s, including 10 top-fives, and has led 360 laps. Winner of the last two races at TMS, his five career wins in Fort Worth are one shy of the track record held by Todd Bodine. Sauter’s win at Martinsville this past Saturday earns him an automatic bid into the Championship 4.
Noah Gragson (-29) has just three career starts at TMS, but all three have seen the Las Vegas native finish inside the top 10. Gragson won the pole in his very first start in Texas and has followed that up with second- and third-place qualifying runs last November and this past June, respectively. Gragson finished 10th in June and has led at least nine laps in all three runs at TMS.
Brett Moffitt (-38) will head to Texas Motor Speedway for only the second time in his career. He made his first and only start in the Lone Star State this past June, when he started seventh and finished 18th.
Grant Enfinger (-51) has three starts at Texas Motor Speedway and has finished inside the top five twice. Enfinger’s best finish came in his first start at the 1.5-mile speedway when he was third in the 2017 WinstarGamingOnline.com 400. He also has a seventh in this race last year and a fourth in June’s PPG 400.
Justin Haley (-53) has three starts at TMS, with each finish better than the previous. Haley had a career-best finish of third in June and won the pole last November, leading 25 laps en route to a fifth-place finish.
Matt Crafton (-61) has the most starts of any NCWTS driver at Texas Motor Speedway with 35. He has two wins as well as 14 top fives and 24 top 10s overall. Crafton finished fifth in June for his 14th consecutive top-10 finish at TMS.
ONE ISN’T LIKE THE OTHER
There are only three races left in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs before a champion is crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16, and each event will pose its own special challenges for the competitors.
The opening race in the Round of 6 last weekend at Martinsville Speedway was the shortest track on the circuit. It is a 0.56-mile paper clip-style oval with 12 degrees of banking in the corners and an 800-foot frontstretch and backstretch.
Texas Motor Speedway will bring high speeds and even higher banking as the 1.5-mile asphalt oval has 20 degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2 and 24 degrees of banking in Turns 3 and 4.
ISM Raceway, the second-to-last track the series will visit, is a 1-mile dogleg oval in Avondale, Arizona. ISM also marks the last cutoff race and has been recently renovated with the start-finish line moved in between Turns 1 and 2.
And lastly, Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile, four-turn oval with 18-20-degrees of progressive banking in the corners. The series will hold its season finale at the South Florida facility with the highest finisher of the Championship 4 Playoff drivers to be named the 2018 champion.
GAS ’N GO
- Todd Gilliland will make his second career start at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night. The 18-year-old, third-generation NASCAR driver walked across the stage before the PPG 400 in June, where Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage conducted the commencement ceremony and presented Gilliland with his diploma for completing all of his required high school credits. He also earned credits in his first TMS start, leading 62 laps and finishing sixth.
- Matt Crafton needs to lead 30 laps in Friday night’s JAG Metals 350 to move past Mike Skinner and into second place for career laps led at Texas Motor Speedway. Ron Hornaday Jr. is the all-time leader with 685 laps led and is followed by Skinner (458) and Crafton (429).
- GMS Racing is currently leading the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner standings following Martinsville. GMS’ No. 21 has remained in the lead for most of the season and the Playoffs. In second place is the No. 18 for Kyle Busch Motorsports, 29 points behind first place. Hattori Racing Enterprises No. 16 is in third another 10 points back while a pair of ThorSport Racing trucks – Nos. 41 and 98 – sit in fourth and fifth, respectively.