MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Saturday afternoon’s chaos at Martinsville Speedway was unrelenting and spared no favorites in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs.
With sheet metal askew, all six remaining Gander Trucks title hopefuls ran into varying degrees of trouble in Saturday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 at the .526-mile track. The results sheet resembled a haphazard dartboard, with four playoff drivers collecting at the bottom of the pile — an outcome that sixth-place Stewart Friesen summed up best.
“I’m glad we’re out of this place,” said Friesen, who held onto second in the truck standings. “It’s just brutal racing. Zero respect. Just brutal, absolutely brutal. I’m happy to be out of here and we salvaged the day.”
“Salvage” seemed to be the right word as most of the 32 trucks were ready for the salvage yard at the end of 201 laps. The net effect of the carnage was a virtual push in the points standings, with only two drivers able to gain ground with just two races remaining in the season — the Round of 6 eliminator in two weeks at ISM Raceway near Phoenix and the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 15.
Ross Chastain’s chance for a spot in next month’s title race evaporated when eventual winner Todd Gilliland muscled past on the next-to-last restart, the clinching bump out of a tag-team effort from him and Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Harrison Burton. The outcome meant the first two races of the Round of 6 went to non-playoff drivers, leaving no automatic berths claimed.
“It was just tough whenever the two teammates there took their turns knocking my back bumper off,” said Chastain, who escaped with second place and a 20-point cushion above the cut line. “I want to go blow for blow. I don’t want two against one.”
Friesen wound up as the only other playoff driver to finish on the lead lap, scrapping for a top 10. Matt Crafton’s No. 88 was the final truck running at the finish, placing eight laps down in 23rd after a mechanical glitch stalled him near the end of Stage 2. But his fate was only slightly better than Tyler Ankrum’s wreck-afflicted 25th, Austin Hill’s crumpled-up 26th and Brett Moffitt’s fender-frayed 29th.
The only saving grace, Hill said, was that no title-eligible drivers were immune.
“I haven’t seen the points or anything, but the good news is a lot of other playoff guys are having issues,” said Hill, just nine points on the plus side of elimination. “It doesn’t make it too bad, but I want to be out there competing. It’s a tough deal. We’ll go on to Phoenix and see what we can do.”