The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series is racing to an especially chippy conclusion to its 2020 season, and the Championship 4 field has the potential for a 3-on-1 teaming-up among the finalists.
A trio of drivers for GMS Racing — Sheldon Creed, Brett Moffitt and rookie Zane Smith — will vie for the Gander Trucks crown with Grant Enfinger, ThorSport Racing’s lone title hope, in Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Phoenix Raceway. The GMS group has shown strength in performance this year, and now has it in numbers for the season finale. The notion of a triple-team squeeze, however, may not exactly be a layup.
“Yes and no. I think the four of us just need to race each other the first two stages and then obviously, I think it’s gloves off after that,” said Creed, making his first appearance as a finalist after a four-win season. “Then we go out there and race. I don’t think all of us are going to be in the same area all at once. Some of us might struggle; some of us might be really fast, so I don’t know. We won’t know until Friday, but I don’t know. I think we still have respect for each other, and I think racing the 98 (Enfinger), we should have respect for him, too. But I think that third stage, gloves come off and we do what we have to do to get to the lead or put yourself in position to win.”
Smith, in his first Championship 4 after a two-win campaign to get there, paused and half-laughed at the four-driver dynamic.
“I probably don’t have any teammates this Friday,” said Smith, a 21-year-old product of the NASCAR Next program. “I feel like we’re kind of all on the same page on that. There’s just so much on the line, especially for me. If I could win this deal in my rookie year, that’s a really big deal. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not going to go out there and wreck my teammates, by no means, but I’m going to race them just as hard as I would race anyone else.”
Enfinger will be going it alone in some senses, but he’ll have teammates competing alongside him in Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter for Friday’s finale. Crafton and Rhodes just missed qualifying for the championship round, while Enfinger’s clutch victory last week at Martinsville Speedway clinched his berth.
While Enfinger said he’d have welcomed some company in the final from his ThorSport teammates, his approach for the season-ending race won’t change, no matter the odds.
“We’re going against those guys, but I don’t feel like we necessarily have to race any differently,” said Enfinger, a 35-year-old Alabama native. “Our strategy going in there is just to win the race flat-out. I feel like with the competitors that we’re going against that any one of them are capable of pulling off the win. They’ve all won races this year. I feel like at the end of the day that may not be how it looks when the green flag comes out, but I feel like by the time the checkered flag comes out you’re gonna have to have won this race to be the champion.”
This time around, winning might require some finesse — or blunt force, rather — with the bumper, especially if the series’ frenzied competition in recent weeks is any indicator. The racing at both Texas Motor Speedway and Martinsville in the postseason’s previous round ruffled tempers and fenders, ramping up the intensity and sometimes dispensing with on-track courtesies.
“I think it’s over the line, for sure,” said Moffitt, who is aiming for his second Gander Trucks title in the last three seasons. “I feel like I’ve had to, I guess, stoop down to a lot of their levels and get more aggressive and use the truck up a little more to get by people, especially at the short tracks. It just seems like everyone’s doing that these days, and you’re not going to win unless you’re as aggressive as they are.”
Smith, for one, said his patience level for full-contact shenanigans in the season-ending race would be short.
“I’m just going into Friday where it’s one strike and I’m done with it,” said Smith, explaining that he was on the receiving end of contact from ThorSport’s Sauter last weekend at Martinsville. He couldn’t retaliate, needing to protect his points cushion. “… I guarantee you I won’t be taking any of that at Phoenix, and it’ll be a different situation I’m in next time.”