By Eric Young
SPARTA, Ky. — Tyler Ankrum won his first Nascar Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway Thursday night after Ben Rhodes had trouble and Brett Moffitt was forced to pit for fuel with one lap to go.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Ankrum said after the race. “My vocabulary isn’t on right now. I just honestly don’t know what to say.”
“At the beginning of the year, I honestly didn’t think this was going to be possible,” Ankrum said. “I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think we could do it. But with the support I’ve had, and kind of the pressure too. Man, I had the pressure to get a sponsor. I’m just so thankful for everyone around me and what they do.”
Ankrum said he was worried at the end of the race as he tried to chase down Moffitt, and was happy when he saw Moffitt’s truck sputter, forcing him to pit road.
“A smile cracked on my face,” Ankrum said. “I was so worried. I couldn’t see the 24 out front. I knew the laps were winding down. I couldn’t see him. And I saw him all the way at the opposite end of the straightaway. And I was just, I honestly think I forgot to breath the last 30 laps. I just don’t know what to say. I’m just so thankful for what we’ve done here.”
Despite missing a couple of races this season because of age requirements, with a waiver from NASCAR, the win presumably earns Ankrum a spot in the playoffs, though he could still be knocked out depending on where he is in points and how many more winners there are before the regular season wraps up at Michigan in August. But sponsorship will also be necessary for Ankrum, who has struggled to find sponsorship this season.
“We made the Chase,” he said. “Well, hopefully. Hopefully we find some sponsorship for the races the rest of the season and hopefully this is many more to come.”
Team owner David Gilliland said he is committed to racing for the championship and fielding the car the rest of the season. He noted that winning will help in the sponsorship hunt.
For a while it looked as if Brett Moffitt would take his third win of the season and first at Kentucky, but Moffitt ran out of gas with two to go and had to take the white flag on pit road.
“You see a lot of money fly out the window, and a win,” Moffitt said on pit road after the race. “I watched the gauge for about a lap. It started flickering around and of course the next lap it just shut off completely. So it’s unfortunate but we all tried and you’ve got to push in those situations. It’s tough to pass. You’ve got to try to get out in clean air and we did that. We were just a little too aggressive.”
Moffitt said he has never been in a fuel mileage race before, so he was learning as he went.
“I was backing it up off of what (his crew) said and I was trying to draft off other trucks, but we knew the 17 was coming fast, so I don’t think I could have saved a whole other lap’s worth with how much I was already saving. I was basically riding down the straightaway 30 to 50 percent throttle and that’s about all she had.”
Moffitt finished seventh.
Stewart Friesen was able to overcome having to go to a backup truck when his truck was confiscated by NASCAR prior to the first practice Thursday morning, by finishing in second place. Friesen commented on the issue at the end of the race, saying the truck is provided by GMS Racing.
“We don’t get to pick the truck we run, we just get to run them,” he said.
With a potential penalty coming later this week, Friesen said he just has one option left to make the playoffs.
“We’ve got to win,” Friesen said. “That’s all it is. Seconds aren’t good enough.”
One track on Friesen’s target will be Eldora Speedway, the series’ only dirt race and the second-to-last regular season race. Friesen has a history on dirt, and has run well at Eldora over the years.
“I’m excited to get there,” he said. “I’ve got some helpers coming to straighten us out in the dirt. The guys kind of left it up to me to call the shots last year and, we got close, but it wasn’t the right idea. I’m no crew chief, so I’m calling on some help from friends so I hope that helps us out.”
Another driver who had a positive day was Ross Chastain, who moved into the top 20 in points, meaning he is now eligible for the playoffs with his two official wins this season, one while he was declared for points in the truck series.
“Another box checked on a crazy scenario that we had laid out for us that didn’t seem crazy to accomplish,” Chastain said. “Just pretty cool to be disappointed with fourth. We definitely want more. We were way too free all night, after we were way too tight in practice all day. First time this group has come to Kentucky together and all these places we come for the first time is really tough on us. So we’ll keep building a notebook and keep building the rest of the year.”
Harrison Burton finished third on the day and Dylan Lupton rounded out the top five.
There were 10 lead changes among seven drivers and five cautions for 33 laps.