BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 17: Grant Enfinger, driver of the #98 ADS/Lucas Oil/Curb Records Ford, pits during the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Gander Trucks title favorites find misfortune in Bristol playoff opener

All 10 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff drivers entered Thursday night’s kickoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway with high hopes. Few left with much to smile about.

A run at victory was derailed early for regular-season champion Austin Hill when he clipped the outside wall in the opening circuits of the 200-lap race, receiving significant damage to the rear bumper of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Toyota Tundra.

RELATED: Official results

Another incident on Lap 156 didn’t help matters after Austin Wayne Self tried to clear Hill on the straightaway, resulting in Hill spinning out the No. 22 truck. Hill wound up finishing 25th, five laps off the pace and the lowest finishing playoff driver.

Zane Smith, who came into Bristol as the second seed in the playoffs, fought an ill-handling No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado toward the end of the race. He managed to hang onto a 16th-place result, one lap down.

“I can’t give you an honest answer,” Smith said afterward. “All of a sudden with 15 to go, I just wasn’t able to turn at both ends. It was really bad in (Turns) 1 and 2. Same feeling as a right front (tire) going down or something. I was just waiting to knock down the fence.”

Sheldon Creed, the top-seeded driver, looked poised for a strong run until he was caught speeding on pit road during a caution period on Lap 88, sending him to the back of the field. Creed worked his way back up to 11th. He finished ahead of Christian Eckes, Ben Rhodes and Todd Gilliland, who walked away from Bristol with 12th-, 13th- and 14th-place finishes, respectively.

ThorSport Racing driver Grant Enfinger faced mechanical issues on pit road on Lap 62, but he was able to drive the No. 98 truck back through the field for a solid sixth-place recovery, while teammate Matt Crafton finished 10th.

On the other hand, it was a more positive night for GMS Racing drivers Brett Moffitt and Tyler Ankrum. Moffitt earned the Stage 1 victory after leading every lap, while Ankrum led the way from start to finish for the second-stage triumph – the first stage victory of Ankrum’s career.

While Ankrum finished seventh in the race, it was Moffitt who had the dominant truck all night but couldn’t hang on when it mattered the most. Moffitt was passed by 17-year-old driver and teammate Sam Mayer, who had fresher tires, with 30 laps remaining, forced to settle for a second-place finish despite leading a career-high 117 of 200 laps.

“I joked on pit road, the worst year of my life continues,” Moffitt said, who still remains winless this season and overcame two broken legs earlier in the year. “It sure does; it sucks. We’ve had a lot of fast trucks, but none of them worked out. It’s unfortunate because I felt like we had a truck so strong tonight that ultimately the guys that were racing against us had to play an alternate strategy. It just so happened that it worked out better for them than it did for us.”

Moffitt shouldn’t hang his head too low, though. Due to the misfortune of others mixed with his strong run, the 2018 series champion leaves Bristol with the points lead heading into the second race in the Round of 10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.