NASCAR Michigan Trucks Auto Racing

Ross Chastain leads the field during a NASCAR Truck Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., on Saturday.

A few weeks back, I wrote that the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series was the most compelling of the three national divisions this season.

With the truck playoffs upon us, I don’t think that’s changed.

The eight-man playoff field is a lot different than what we would have imagined before the season-opener at Daytona. On the inside are Ross Chastain, who wasn’t even competing for points in the series to start the season, and Tyler Ankrum, who started the year on the sideline because he wasn’t old enough.

Chastain switched series eligibility and Ankrum received a waiver from NASCAR before both became first-time winners in the series.

On the outside are both fulltime Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers, Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton. Nobody would have imagined that prior to the season, nor would many have picked Ben Rhodes to miss the playoffs. Reigning ARCA champ Sheldon Creed also failed to qualify.

The playoffs get going this Thursday night at Bristol, so let’s take a quick look at the field:

NASCAR Truck Chicago Auto Racing

Brett Moffitt does a burnout after winning a NASCAR Truck Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., on Friday, June 28.

Brett Moffitt

The reigning series champion is with a different team this year, moving from Hattori Racing Enterprises to GMS Racing, but he’s still been competitive with a pair of wins at Iowa and Chicago. He’s only finished worse than seventh twice in the past two months.

NASCAR Trucks Las Vegas Auto Race

Grant Enfinger drives the start/finish line during a NASCAR Truck Series auto race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in Las Vegas. 

Grant Enfinger

The regular season champion hasn’t won this season, but has been highly consistent with a 7.6 average finish this year. He’s a former winner at Las Vegas and Talladega, and both of those tracks appear in the playoffs. That’s good fortune as he chases his first title.

NASCAR Truck Series Auto Racing

Stewart Friesen qualifies on the pole for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., on Saturday, March 23.

Stewart Friesen

After so many missed opportunities, Friesen finally picked up his first career win a couple weeks ago at Eldora. After a mishap at Pocono left him a little too close for comfort to the playoff line, that victory locked him in. He may not be done winning, either.

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NASCAR Michigan Trucks Auto Racing

Austin Hill crosses the finish line to win a NASCAR Truck Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., on Saturday.

Austin Hill

Hill got the biggest opportunity of his young career with a fulltime stint in the championship Hattori truck this year. He wasted no time taking advantage, winning the year’s opening race at Daytona. He also closed out the regular season with a Michigan win for needed momentum.

NASCAR Trucks Auto Racing

Ross Chastain crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Truck Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday, May 10.

Ross Chastain

The Melon Man has lived the charmed life this year, scoring his first win at Kansas before declaring for truck points and winning twice more at Gateway and Pocono for upstart Niece Motorsports. As the only series regular with three wins, he has to be considered a favorite.

NASCAR Trucks Iowa Auto Racing

Matt Crafton races his truck during the NASCAR Truck Series auto race on Sunday, June 16, 2019, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.

Matt Crafton

There were some tense moments for Crafton recently. Though he was second in points, he found himself in danger of missing the playoffs because he’s winless. The two-time champ probably won’t win a third without his first trip to victory lane in more than two years.

NASCAR-Trucks Auto Racing

In this Oct. 27, 2018, file photo, Johnny Sauter celebrates winning the NASCAR Texas Roadhouse 200 Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va.

Johnny Sauter

It’s a good thing for Sauter that he won early in the year at Dover, because the season has been a disaster ever since. He has finished outside the top 10 in seven of his nine races since, and also was suspended for the race at Gateway after intentionally wrecking Hill at Iowa.

NASCAR Pocono Trucks Auto Racing

Tyler Ankrum looks over his car after a practice session for a NASCAR Truck Series auto race on Friday, July 26, in Long Pond, Pa.

Tyler Ankrum

It’s been a curious season for Ankrum, including his first career win at Kentucky. He missed the year’s first three races because he wasn’t old enough to drive, and Ankrum also had to start and park two races for NEMCO Motorsports because of sponsorship trouble at DGR-Crosley.

Justin Epley can be reached at jepley@morganton.com or 828-443-9042.

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