Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Gander Trucks’ younger guard aims to keep momentum at Kentucky

The start of the 2020 season has certainly featured a “new guard” trend in success.

Three 2019 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship contenders are still racing in the series but none are currently ranked among the top 10 this season. It’s been a decided trend toward new names.

The defending winner of Saturday night’s Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) — Tyler Ankrum — is a shining example of the young new guard poised to make a run at the 2020 title.

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There are three full-time series drivers with previous wins at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway, including Ankrum, whose impressive seven-second win over Stewart Friesen last year is the 19-year old’s only series victory — coming in his first Kentucky start. This week, Ankrum arrives ranked eighth in the driver standings with a pair of top 10s to his credit — both coming in the last two races. His season-best work is a runner-up result at Homestead-Miami Speedway in June.

Championship leader Austin Hill, 26, has never won at Kentucky and has only a single top-10 finish (10th in 2017) in four starts, but he certainly brings an impressive 2020 season resume into this weekend’s event. He holds a hefty 51-point edge over Ben Rhodes atop the championship standings. Although Hill’s No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota team is still looking for that first win on the season, the organization has done everything but celebrate in Victory Lane. Hill has top-10 finishes in all six races and has earned runner-up finishes in two of the last three stops.

Rhodes, driver of the No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford, would love to become only the fourth driver with multiple wins at Kentucky (joining NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.. James Buescher and Kyle Busch). This is the Louisville native’s “home race” and he’s eager to kick-start his season with a win. He has four top-10s in the opening six races and is coming off a fifth-place finish at the last race in Pocono.

A competitive exception to the younger generation’s dominance, is 2019 regular season champion Grant Enfinger. The 35-year-old Alabama native has two wins already – at Daytona and Atlanta – the first time in his four-year Gander Trucks career that the driver of the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford has scored multiple wins. Enfinger is ranked third, 61 points behind Hill with only a three-point edge on Sheldon Creed for fourth and a five-point advantage on Todd Gilliland for fifth in the tightly stacked standings.

Defending series champion Matt Crafton is the only other former Kentucky winner in the field among full-time NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series drivers. The 44-year-old has started 21 of the series’ 22 races at Kentucky and has 15 top-10 and six top-five finishes including that 2015 victory. He led 11 laps last year and finished 13th. He could use a boost in his title defense. Crafton has only a pair of top 10s through the first six races and one top five – a fourth place at Las Vegas. He crashed out of the series’ last race at Pocono and finished a season-worst 40th.