Breaking Down The Truck Series Playoffs

The Camping World Truck Series playoffs get started Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport). Eight drivers will compete for the series championship over the next seven races. This year’s field includes two past champions, but also five drivers making their first playoff appearance.

Unlike the Cup Series, the Truck playoffs consist of just three rounds:

-Round One: Mosport, Las Vegas, Talladega

-Round Two: Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix

-Championship Round: Homestead

On paper, the first round sets up to be a crapshoot. Mosport and Talladega in the same round? When there are two wild-card races in one round, no driver is safe, including points leader and regular series champion Johnny Sauter.

Stage points will be critical throughout the playoffs, but especially in the first round. The margin between fourth-place Ben Rhodes and eighth-place Matt Crafton is just eleven points.

Points standings entering Sunday’s playoff opener at Mosport:

  1. Johnny Sauter
  2. Brett Moffitt  -15
  3. Noah Gragson  -20
  4. Ben Rhodes  -28
  5. Stewart Friesen  -30
  6. Grant Enfinger  -31
  7. Justin Haley  -33
  8. Matt Crafton  -39

Breakdown by team:

ThorSport (3): Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton

GMS (2): Johnny Sauter, Justin Haley

Kyle Busch Motorsports (1): Noah Gragson

Hattori Racing (1): Brett Moffitt

Halmar Friesen Racing (1): Stewart Friesen

 

Driver breakdown (in descending order of position in points):

Matt Crafton

Points Position: 8th

Wins: 0

Top 5s: 5

Top 10s: 9

Stage Wins: 0

Playoff Points: 3

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My Take: This one is a headscratcher. The two-time series champion hasn’t performed poorly this season, but something just seems off. I was shocked to discover Crafton had not won even won a stage. With his experience and past success, I definitely would not come him out, but he’ll need to step it up to make the Championship Four.

 

Justin Haley

Points Position: 7th

Wins: 1 (Gateway)

Top 5s: 5

Top 10s: 12

Stage Wins: 0

Playoff Points: 9

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My Take: Since winning his first race at Gateway in June, Haley has made more noise in the Xfinity Series. Remember Daytona? That’s not to suggest Haley has struggled in the Truck Series. Quite the contrary. Including Gateway, Haley has reeled off seven straight top 10s. That’s the kind of consistency that gets you into the next round.

 

Grant Enfinger

Points Position: 6th

Wins: 0

Top 5s: 4

Top 10s: 12

Stage Wins: 3

Playoff Points: 11

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My take: Much like Haley, Enfinger has been a model of consistency. He hasn’t won a race since 2016, but he’s always right there in contention. How did Enfinger make the playoffs? He has just one finish outside the top 15. And we cannot forget about his thrilling duel with Chase Briscoe at Eldora, where he lost by mere inches. Enfinger is steady, but he might need a little more to get to Homestead.

 

Stewart Friesen

Points Position: 5th

Wins: 0

Top 5s: 7

Top 10s: 11

Stage Wins: 5

Playoff Points: 12

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My Take: If there’s anyone who can play the role of spoiler, Stewart Friesen is your guy. He has four top 5s in the past five races, including two runner-up finishes at Kentucky and Bristol. His five stage wins rank second in the series, behind only Noah Gragson’s seven. You could make the argument that no driver has shown more speed the past month than Friesen. His first win continues to elude him, but don’t be surprised if he puts it all together in the playoffs.

 

Ben Rhodes

Points Position: 4th

Wins: 1 (Kentucky)

Top 5s: 5

Top 10s: 9

Stage Wins: 4

Playoff Points: 14

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My Take: Rhodes has flashed the most speed from the ThorSport camp and has proven he can run with the leaders. The biggest concern for Rhodes is avoiding mechanical problems. Through the first five races, Rhodes was second in points. Then he suffered through a brutal five-week stretch in which a mysterious engine gremlin led to four finishes of 16th or worse. It doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore, but should it resurface, Rhodes’ playoffs could end early. He just missed out on the Championship Four last year, but that experience should help get him over the hump in 2018.

 

Noah Gragson

Points Position: 3rd

Wins: 1 (Kansas)

Top 5s: 6

Top 10s: 12

Stage Wins: 7

Playoff Points: 22

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 - Practice

My Take: Gragson has the potential to dominate the playoffs. He leads the series in stage wins and laps led but only has one win to show for it. As the only KBM truck in the playoffs, there should be no shortage of resources thrown Gragson’s way. It also helps that Rudy Fugle is atop the pit box. He has won two of the last three series championships with Erik Jones in 2015 and Christopher Bell in 2017.

 

Brett Moffitt

Points Position: 2nd

Wins: 4 (Atlanta, Iowa, Chicago, Michigan)

Top 5s: 8

Top 10s: 8

Stage Wins: 1

Playoff Points: 27

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My Take: Moffitt ranks second in the series with four wins this season. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is he also has four finishes of 18th or worse in the last nine races. Moreover, Moffitt has the same number of top 5s as he does top 10s. Basically, Moffitt is either feast or famine. If he continues to lack consistency, Moffitt might face a scenario where he must win to advance to the next round. If he makes it to Homestead, Moffitt has a great shot to win the title.

 

Johnny Sauter

Points Position: 1st

Wins: 5 (Daytona, Dover, Charlotte, Texas, Bristol)

Top 5s: 12

Top 10s: 13

Stage Wins: 2

Playoff Points: 42

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My Take: Sauter is the only driver in the series with double-digit top 5s and has four more than the next closest competitor. He has finished outside the top 15 just three times all year. Sauter has the consistency and speed to make him the clear-cut favorite to win the title. However, the first round could be tricky. Sauter openly admits road racing is not his forte. And while plate racing is a strength, he’s just as susceptible to getting caught up in a wreck as anyone else. Sauter can probably afford one mulligan. Two could make things dicey. Still, he has a decent cushion in points and should advance to the second round without difficulty. Assuming he does, Sauter’s playoff points make him near lock to make the Championship Four.

 

Prediction Time: My Championship Four is Sauter, Gragson, Rhodes, and Friesen. Sauter wins the championship for the second time. I’m not stepping out on a limb with that pick, but he has the best combination of speed, consistency, and experience. That’s hard to beat.

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