Defending NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt couldn’t have started his title defense any better.
Moffitt opened the playoffs in resounding fashion in another physical, rigorous race at Bristol Motor Speedway, pulling away on the final restart to win the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics on Thursday. Afterwards, Moffitt didn’t call it a statement, but it sure felt like one after the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet conquered the Last Great Colosseum for the first time in his NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series career.
“It’s not really about making statements, it’s about winning races,” Moffitt said. “That speaks for itself. We’ve had a lot of fast Chevy Silverados this year, and things just haven’t played out. We were just executing the race fully and we were doing everything right tonight, and that’s what we need to do continuing into the playoffs. It’s a huge weight off our shoulders, that’s for sure.”
Moffitt led five different times for 65 of the total 200 laps, taking the lead for good with 26 laps remaining when he passed Grant Enfinger, who led for 57 laps.
Moffitt had to deal with three restarts over the final 24 laps, but he got the jump on each, including an impressive blast with 21 laps remaining.
That didn’t last long, as another caution came just four laps later. Moffitt again opened up a commanding lead on the restart as Chandler Smith couldn’t keep up, but Smith got one last chance after the 12th – and final – caution occurred with six laps left.
With three to go, Moffitt didn’t get quite the dominant start this time, but he finally got around Smith on top, pulling away to close the impressive night.
“With three to go, I thought about going bottom because I didn’t want to be at the mercy of a guy going for his first win, run it too hard and get into me,” Moffitt said. “But he did a great job staying off of me, and once I got going, it was going. I didn’t launch as well as I wanted and I had to clear myself off (turn) 4, but after that we were able to drive away. It’s just about being aggressive enough. It’s a fine balance and it seems like every restart is different here. You just have to adapt and hit it right.”
Smith made Moffitt work for it as he posted a solid showing in his Bristol debut in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. But it was hard to deny Moffitt’s power on the restarts.
“I just needed to be a tenth, maybe a half of a tenth better,” Smith said. “Maybe I needed to get to the throttle a little quicker than he did and maybe I would have finished a little better than he did.”
Championship contender Ross Chastain, who was docked for a costly mid-race safety violation, battled back to finish third, while Stewart Friesen and Grant Enfinger, a pair of playoff participants, took fourth and fifth, respectively.
Sheldon Creed finished sixth and playoff competitor Matt Crafton was seventh. Ben Rhodes, Todd Gilliland and playoff contender Austin Hill rounded out the top 10.
The other two playoff participants – defending race winner Johnny Sauter and Tyler Ankrum – finished 11th and 20th.
Chastain and Moffitt treated fans to a thrilling back-and-forth duel for much of the first half of the race, with Chastain leading a total of 78 laps.
Those all came in the first 109 laps, as he was forced to go to the back of the field after the penalty. Still, Chastain almost battled all the way back, displaying a fast truck throughout.
“We were fighting for everything,” Chastain said. “We keep bringing these fast trucks and it’s a dream come true to be driving these things, just to be in this position, just to race here at Bristol. But I wish we could have raced with Brett. We just didn’t come out on top.”
Moffitt appreciated the physical battle between him and Chastain, noting it’s a probably a preview of what’s to come for the rest of the six postseason races.
“He races hard and I’m going to race him as hard as he races me,” Moffitt said. “Tonight, he got into me into the corner, but I got loose and he kind of nudged me up the track, but it was all fair and clean. He’s going to race hard every lap and he’s in fast trucks. He wants a championship as bad as I do, and it’s going to be about execution the rest of the season.”
During Thursday’s battle of attrition at Bristol, nobody was better than Moffitt, at least when it counted.
With the numerous restarts, Moffitt found his groove, which more often than not proved to be up top on the restarts. That proved pivotal to Moffitt’s success, riding that wave to his third victory of 2019 and 10th in his NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series career.
“A lot of guys – and even I did early – went bottom on the restarts, and Ross passed me on the top,” Moffitt said. “Then he chose the bottom and I passed him on the top on the next one. Everyone kept going bottom and it just didn’t make sense to me. Firing off I was confident and fortunately everything worked out.”
K&N Series Results
It looked far different than April, but the end result was the same for Sam Mayer during the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Bush’s Beans 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
After working through the field, Mayer nudged Spencer Davis on lap 137, overtaking him for a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. It gave the 16-year-old standout his second straight victory at Bristol, becoming the first driver in K&N Pro Series East history to win back-to-back races at The Last Great Colosseum.
“It was an awesome race to say the least,” said Mayer, who also made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut on Thursday at Bristol during the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics.
“It was definitely fun to drive and that battle at the end was a lot of fun to be a part of. I’m ecstatic and can’t thank everyone enough. It was pretty special.”
It was a completely different story from the spring race in April when Mayer led for 147 of the 150 laps, but the driver of the No. 21 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet was just fine with the end result.
The race had an eventful start, as Mayer got into polesitter Chase Cabre almost immediately, spinning out Cabre on the opening lap. Mayer was penalized and sent to the back of the field, likely furthering what has become a brewing rivalry between the two rising stars.
“I tried to get in there and move him out of the way, and I just got in there too hard,” Mayer said. “He kind of deserved it for how he’s raced me this year, but I didn’t want to do it like that. I never try to race like that.”
Mayer, though, went immediately went to work after the penalty. He was already fourth by the first scheduled caution on lap 50, moving to third by the second scheduled caution on lap 100.
Mayer and Ty Gibbs dueled for second on the restart, with Mayer getting the early jump before Gibbs moved back into second.
Mayer kept close before jumping back into second and setting his sights on Davis, who had led for more than 100 laps, with 25 laps left.
The duo were neck-and-neck just a few laps later, with Gibbs, Mason Diaz and Ruben Garcia Jr. closing in as well.
But Mayer, who was impressive in the turns all evening, moved Davis out of the way on lap 137, darting into the lead. From there, there was no catching the K&N Series Pro Series East point leader, as he pulled away from Gibbs and company.
“There’s always that little bit of doubt, but I felt pretty confident in the car,” Mayer said. “It definitely paid off that we were there to get an opportunity to pass him. There was a little doubt in my mind, but I was confident I could do it.”
His lead stretched to more than a second just a few laps after passing Davis, cruising to a dominant victory down the stretch.
Gibbs finished second and Garcia followed in third. Diaz took fourth, while Davis dropped to fifth after the late bump-and-run with Mayer. Tanner Gray, Max McLaughlin, Cabre, Hailie Deegan and Joe Graf Jr. rounded out the top 10.
Davis grabbed the lead on the restart after Cabre and Mayer’s opening-lap dustup, and kept it until Mayer’s late move.
Other than the two scheduled cautions, there was only one other caution, which came on lap 25. Davis got another great jump on that restart, but Mayer proved to be too much down the stretch, building his points lead with the Bristol sweep that gave him three wins in 2019.
“I’m just here to have fun and try to get wins, and hopefully a championship will come with it,” Mayer said.