The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff field was chopped in half for the last time this season Friday night at Martinsville Speedway. Grant Enfinger’s rise to victory from the bottom half of the postseason bracket in a frantic finish made it an unkind cut for an unfortunate quartet.
Enfinger joined other Round of 8 winners Sheldon Creed and Brett Moffitt as title-eligible drivers in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6 (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and Zane Smith slipped into the Championship 4 field by a scant three points. That left three-time series champion Matt Crafton, regular-season champ Austin Hill, Ben Rhodes and Tyler Ankrum ousted from the playoff picture after Enfinger clinched his fate with a bruising short-track triumph.
While his ThorSport Racing teammate celebrated, Crafton’s hopes for a repeat championship faded with a fifth-place finish in the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 that left him short of the Phoenix finale by that same three-point gap.
“We’re ready for 2021,” Crafton said. “At the end of the day, these guys fought hard all year.”
Rhodes, another driver from the ThorSport stable, finished second — one spot behind Enfinger and one position ahead of Smith — but only a win would have kept his postseason run intact. He entered Martinsville as almost a marked man because of aggressive tactics that angered Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers (among others) last week at Texas Motor Speedway. Last weekend’s drama carried over to Friday insults and threats from rival crews, Rhodes said, as he walked the Martinsville grounds pre-race, and Rhodes said he tried to race KBM competitors with more respect during the bulk of the race.
His No. 99 Ford was among those jostled in a flurry of altercations in the late going at Martinsville and he also gave Enfinger a healthy nudge, but he wound up one spot shy of a Championship 4 berth on the track and 44 points out of contention in the standings.
“I hate that we couldn’t do it,” Rhodes said. “The first loser always kind of stings, especially in this case. I thought this was one of the more important races in my career.”
As for the fallout from his Texas tussles, Rhodes said, “I did my best to try to stay away from people and avoid controversy, but unfortunately some found me again tonight. It’s definitely been a heck of an end of the season. Heck of a race, too, for Martinsville.”
Ankrum finished 12th at Martinsville to leave the needle unmoved as it related to his playoffs fate, and he was a sizable 90 points back of the cutoff mark. But Hill’s drop may have been the most precipitous.
The Georgia native, who helped to announce pre-race he’d return to the Hattori Racing Enterprises No. 16 Toyota in 2021, entered Martinsville with a seemingly comfy 27-point cushion over the elimination line. His truck’s engine, however, began to sputter midway through Stage 2, and it expired 83 laps from completing the full distance — an early exit that left him minus-21 in the standings after a 35th-place result.
“It‘s just frustrating to potentially end your season on an engine failure like that,” said Hill, a two-time winner this year. “Everybody at HRE, all of our partners, everyone that makes this deal happen deserves a lot better. We should definitely be in this final four. It‘s frustrating. I can‘t even put it into words what I‘m feeling right now.”