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Gander Trucks return to ‘The Paperclip’

With the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs in full swing, many expect this weekend’s intense short-track battle at Martinsville Speedway to be an especially compelling race with huge championship implications.

Only one of the current six playoff drivers has a previous Martinsville victory. Two-time series champion Matt Crafton won on the track in spring of 2014 and fall of 2015. That 2014 win came the same season that Crafton earned his second consecutive Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.

RELATED: Full Martinsville schedule

One of his biggest competitors in Saturday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be the reigning champion, Brett Moffitt, who is hoping to duplicate Crafton’s 2013-14 championships and become only the second driver to ever win back-to-back titles.

Moffitt holds a 23-point edge on Canadian driver Stewart Friesen in second, who is looking for his first series title.  Austin Hill is third in the standings, 33 points behind Moffitt, and Crafton is fourth, 44 points back. Fifth-place Tyler Ankrum is only a single point behind Crafton and sixth-place Ross Chastain is two points behind Crafton, making this a tightly-bunched group of playoff contenders.

Only the top four drivers in the playoff standings at the conclusion of this round will have the opportunity to race for the championship trophy Nov. 15 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Crafton’s ThorSport Racing teammate, Johnny Sauter, is a four-time race Martinsville winner and is the defending winner of this fall race. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch won on Martinsville this spring.

As for the six still in title contention, Moffitt has never finished worse than sixth in four starts at the half-mile track. He was runner-up to Sauter in this race last year. Friesen has five starts at Martinsville, and his best effort came just this spring when he won the pole position and finished fifth. Hill has a pair of top-10 finishes in eight starts. His best is ninth place in March 2018.

Crafton boasts the best resume at Martinsville. In addition to his two victories, he has nine top-five and 20 top-10 finishes in 35 series starts.

Of the remaining two drivers still championship eligible and so very close to breaking into that top four, Chastain has the best finish: a fourth place this spring. He has had three top 10s in seven career Trucks starts at Martinsville. The 18-year-old Ankrum has only two starts at the track, with a best showing of 18th in last year’s playoff race.