ThorSport wants its trucks back into the playoffs after NASCAR-issued engines failed

BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 10: Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Chi Chis/Menards Ford, Grant Enfinger, driver of the #98 ThorSport Racing/Curb Records Ford, and Johnny Sauter, driver of the #13 Tenda Heal Ford, pose with the playoff trophy after the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway on August 10, 2019 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Only Matt Crafton (L) is left in the NASCAR Truck Series playoffs after Grant Enfinger and Johnny Sauter had engine issues at Las Vegas on Sept. 13. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

ThorSport Racing would like NASCAR to add Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger back to the playoffs.

Enfinger and Sauter were the two drivers eliminated from the first round of the Truck Series playoffs on Sept. 13 at Las Vegas because of nearly simultaneous engine problems during the race.

Those engines were supplied by Ilmor through NASCAR’s stock engine supply program. And because those engines failed through an Ilmor error and not an error by ThorSport, the team wants Sauter and Enfinger back in the playoffs a la Jeff Gordon in 2013.

“There’s a little-known rule that’s been exercised multiple times throughout the history of racing in NASCAR, the 1.6 C and D,” ThorSport’s David Pepper said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday. “The EIRI — except in rare instances rule. From our standpoint, we’ve been eliminated from the playoffs and it was none of our doing. And what were asking and lobbying at this point, we don’t want a reset or a reshuffle, we’d like to go to Talladega and the next three races and be allowed to be back into the playoffs and eliminate four teams at Phoenix and we’ll take our last place finishes at Las Vegas.”

Four Ilmor engines failed at Las Vegas

The ThorSport trucks weren’t the only ones that had problems with the Ilmor engines at Vegas. Two other trucks had issues with the engines and NASCAR and Ilmor issued a vague statement Thursday afternoon essentially taking responsibility for the issues before Pepper’s comments.

“Ilmor Engineering is committed to our partnership with NASCAR and to the long-term development of the NT1 engine,” an Ilmor statement said. “To that end, following the issues experienced by a number of different teams and competitors during the Sept. 13 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, engines were returned to the NASCAR R&D Center for technical inspection and data review. The combination of the high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas resulted in some engines suffering severe detonation. Ilmor is taking new measures in engine calibration to ensure that this situation is corrected for all future races.”

All 32 Ilmor engines used over the Vegas race weekend were recalled by the company for further inspection after the race.

The Ilmor engine has become the primary engine for most of the Truck Series field since NASCAR introduced the engine as a “stock” option for teams ahead of the 2018 season to help truck teams save money on engine tuning and research and development.

What will NASCAR do?

You can’t blame Pepper for advocating for his team. After all, this is NASCAR, the sanctioning body that added Gordon as a 13th driver to the 2013 playoffs after it penalized teams for race manipulation at Richmond. If NASCAR hadn’t set the Gordon precedent, you have to wonder if Pepper would be asking for his team to be added back into the playoffs.

NASCAR, however, doesn’t seem inclined to listen to the team. It said in that statement with Ilmor that “little consideration” was given to redoing the playoff format to put the two ThorSport trucks back into the playoffs.

“We don’t have that opportunity of a re-do,” Truck Series director Brad Moran said. “The playoffs are points earned throughout the season starting at Daytona, stage wins, race wins — that’s what gets you into the Round of 8. After that, it’s a three-race series, so it’s not just the one race. Unfortunately, we just don’t have that ability to pull a re-do on something like this without affecting the rest of the garage or players that are in there. So it wasn’t a one-race deal. It’s just a real unfortunate incident, but a mechanical issue that took out two of their trucks.”

NASCAR’s thought process isn’t wrong. And to take it a step further, what’s the actual “bad luck” difference between a stock engine failing or a lapped down truck spinning in front of either Sauter or Enfinger and taking them out of the race by simple virtue of circumstance?

The significance of freak accidents is heightened because of NASCAR’s small-sample-size playoff formats. By design. The sanctioning body added elimination playoffs to the Xfinity and Truck Series after seeing it play out in the Cup Series because of the drama the three-race rounds provide ahead of a winner-take-all finale.

Putting the ThorSport trucks back into the playoffs wouldn’t be unprecedented because of Gordon. And far fewer people would care than they did in 2013 because the Truck Series is a blip on the racing radar compared to the Cup Series.

But expanding the playoff field back to where it was would be a far messier proposition than adding Gordon. NASCAR appears to realize this and it would be a surprise if the playoff field looked any different than it does now when the Truck Series returns to the track on Oct. 12.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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