LAS VEGAS — Friday the 13th. That old saw? Trot out the full-moon omens, too.
The unkind cut in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs hit the star-crossed ThorSport Racing organization the hardest Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Three of its teams suffered terminal engine issues before the halfway point of the World of Westgate 200 as the postseason field shrank from eight drivers to six.
Left on the sidelines were regular-season champion Grant Enfinger, who completed just six laps before his No. 98 Ford came to quiet rest in the 1.5-mile track’s garage, and former series champ Johnny Sauter, whose No. 13 entry went up in smoke on the same lap as teammate Matt Crafton, who survived the elimination only thanks to his slight points cushion entering the 201-mile race.
Crafton joined race winner Austin Hill, runner-up Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen and Tyler Ankrum among those clinching berths in the Round of 6. Brett Moffitt had already clinched his spot in the season’s next phase with wins in the first two playoff events.
“It’s just tough,” said Enfinger, who placed 31st in the 32-truck field. “Really hate it for the guys behind me that have worked their tail off all year. We haven’t had the best month and a half, or last two months really, but we’ve had a heck of a season. We had a heck of a ThorSport Racing F-150 tonight. It’s a shame our dreams come down to a part failure.”
Crafton and Sauter experienced their issues nearly simultaneously on Lap 40. Crafton’s No. 88 Ford stopped in a shroud of smoke, and Sauter coasted back to pit road in a similar haze. Stopgap repairs allowed Sauter to complete six more laps, but he was unable to make up any ground on the leaderboard before his truck expired. Sauter placed 29th; Crafton 30th.
“What’re you going to do. I mean, that’s the way it goes,” said Sauter, who claimed the series title in 2016. “We had a rocket tonight. I promise you we were doing what we needed to do and it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Crafton entered the race with just a three-point gap above the cutline. The misfortune from his teammates kept him afloat.
“What are the odds that two trucks blowing up at the exact same time, but it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of issues under the hood this year.”
The unsavory result for ThorSport allowed Friesen to keep his playoff hopes intact despite a sour-running No. 52 Chevrolet, which dropped a cylinder in the early going. He finished 19th. It also provided a playoff reprieve to rookie Ankrum, who overcame a 14-point deficit to advance by just two points.
Ankrum had his own reason for apprehension, an intermittent engine hiccup that developed as the final green-flag run began.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” Ankrum said. “We knew that we didn’t have to win coming in. We just needed help. I felt really, really happy after those ThorSport trucks blew up, and we knew we were going to be all right from there. We just had to finish.”