Perhaps the biggest wild card in its Daytona International Speedway Road Course debut may well be the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series field in Sunday afternoon‘s Sunoco 159 (Aug. 16 at 12 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
With the exception of road course “ringer” Alex Tagliani, the vast make-up of the 39-car field of drivers has no experience on the 3.61-mile, 14-turn Daytona Road Course that incorporates the famous track‘s vast superspeedway turns as well as a tight and challenging infield road course.
And if the new stop didn‘t make this weekend interesting enough, the Gander Trucks race includes the first of a three-part Triple Truck Challenge incentive. The winner of Sunday‘s race earns a $50,000 bonus as part of the program. The next two races part of the program are at Dover International Speedway next weekend and then Aug. 30 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Gateway. Should a driver win two of these races, he earns a $150,000 paycheck. Should he win all three, he would earn a $500,000 bonus
Certainly the Daytona Road Course portion of the incentive creates a wide-open field of favorites. Among NASCAR‘s three premier series, the trucks annually race the least on road courses so this weekend‘s challenge at a first-ever venue will surely be a wild card as the series has five races remaining to set its 10-driver 2020 Playoff field.
Brett Moffitt, the 2018 series champion, won last year‘s truck series road course at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park leading a dominating 44 of the 64 laps. None of the other former Bowmanville winners are entered this week.
Young talent Zane Smith became the most recent full-time series driver to earn a victory, hoisting his first trophy last week in Michigan — an achievement that has guaranteed the 21-year old Californian playoff eligibility. Championship points leader Austin Hill, Smith, Sheldon Creed and Matt Crafton all have wins assuring their place in the playoff field as well. Grant Enfinger has two victories.
That leaves five playoff positions currently decided by points — unless a new driver wins in the next five races. Among those on the playoff bubble, ninth place Derek Kraus holds a 1-point edge on 10th place Todd Gilliland. Tyler Ankrum, ranked 11th, is only 29 points behind Gilliland.
A pair of typical championship contenders — 2016 series champion Johnny Sauter and last year‘s Championship 4 contender Stewart Friesen — sit farther outside the cutoff in what has been an uncharacteristic season for them. Sauter is 13th in the standings, 72 behind 10th place Gilliland. Friesen is ranked 15th, 103 points behind the Playoff cutoff.
“I‘m excited to run the road course,” said Austin Hill, whose No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota will feature a paint scheme honoring P.J. Jones‘ famous No. 98 IMSA GTP car that won the Rolex 24 in 1993. “I know a lot of people might be nervous about it, but I‘m really looking forward to it. I‘ve always enjoyed road course racing.
“It‘ll be a big challenge to take the green flag with no practice and to learn your marks during the race. We need to stay out of trouble, inch up to it and be smart in the first stage and make sure we‘re around in the final stage.
“Maybe we can put this TRD throwback scheme back in Victory Lane like P.J. Jones did in 1993 at the 24 Hours.”