Rhodes, Gilliland and Burton on the outside looking in, hoping to win at Michigan to get into playoffs

2018_michigan_ncwts_august

By Eric Young

BROOKLYN, Mich. — With the top eight drivers making the playoffs at the completion of Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway, running fifth, sixth and seventh in points should make drivers feel pretty secure. 

But with the “win and you’re in” system in NASCAR, Ben Rhodes in fifth, Harrison Burton in sixth and Todd Gilliland in seventh are on the outside looking in. The three will miss the 2019 Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs unless one of them wins Saturday at MIS. But all three drivers said during media availability Friday that they like their chances. 

“We go to the racetrack every weekend thinking we will (win),” Rhodes said. “I’ve got total faith in our team. We had a really good meeting this week and spent probably more time than ever on this truck getting it ready for this weekend.”

Rhodes said even if the team misses the playoffs, it will remain in a good position. 

“If we weren’t able to get in, we would have the advantage all year long to collect wins off of fuel strategy, pit strategy, for the rest of the races,” Rhodes said. “We’d be at a big advantage, but we really don’t want that. We’d rather be in. We’re going to make the win happen one way or the other. I have nothing to lose tomorrow, so we can play the Kyle Busch strategy. When he comes into our series, he doesn’t have to worry about getting stage points. We’re not worried about any stage points tomorrow. The only thing we’re worried about is the checkered flag. And it’s pretty much a checkers or wreckers situation right now, and that’s the way my crew chief feels about it, my team feels about it. We all feel the same way about it, so we just have to make it happen.”

Rhodes has the most to lose by clinching a spot in the playoffs though, as doing so would knock teammate Matt Crafton out, and knock Grant Enfinger out of the lead in owners points. 

“The 98’s leading the points right now,” Rhodes said. “He’s doing so well. It’s frustrating to see how that’s playing out, certainly been kind of an interesting, weird year, from that aspect. A lot of guys have got in with those one good nights that they’ve had, and I don’t think they’ve really been performing that well since.”

Harrison Burton said his team has been taking every weekend racing for wins and nothing more, so this weekend won’t be much different for him. 

“That’s kind of our mission every week, which is fun, I guess,” he said. “Which is good because not much has changed and we can go into the weekend and have the same mindset that we normally do, and just have to come out and win and make it happen. There’s a few moments in your career where you have opportunities to make something cool like this happen, so hopefully as a team we can take advantage of that and go win one.”

He said he likes his chances at MIS. 

“Definitely,” he said. “This is a really racey racetrack. I think KBM has been really good here in the past. They ran really good here last year. I know Kyle has run really well when he’s run, and it’s been fun to watch him race here. This place puts on great races, especially in trucks. Everyone’s drafting and dicing it up, so as long as we’re in the mix toward the end, I think that we can make it happen.”

Todd Gilliland has one run one race in the truck at MIS, but he started second and finished fifth in the 2018 race. 

“I’m really excited,” Gilliland said. “If anything else, it’s an opportunity to put yourself in front of a big crowd here this weekend, do something that we all hope to do. Hopefully we can go out there and just have another strong run and be there at the end. I think that’s the thing. You basically position yourself the entire race just to have a shot at the end.”

Gilliland has been close, but has yet to get a win in the truck series, which has drawn criticism from his team owner, Kyle Busch. Gilliland said he feels like he’s close, and will eventually get over that hump. 

“I hope so,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to get over that, because I’ve said it before, I think once you get that first win, things come a lot easier, just because you’ve been there. Then you know what it takes.”

The Corrigan Oil 200 starts at 1 p.m. Saturday. 

Follow me on Twitter all weekend for updates from the track. 

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