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The only regular Truck Series driver to find victory lane this season, it’s hard to leave Grant Enfinger off of this list. But while he does have two wins compared to the rest of the field’s zero, the rest of his results leave something to be desired.
Immediately following his narrow victory in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, the driver of the No. 98 Ford was collected by rookie Raphael Lessard at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The terminal damage left Enfinger to settle for a disappointing 31st-place finish.
Aside from his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Enfinger has also posted finishes of 12th and 17th. While it’s not a dismal performance by any means, a 12.4 average finish for a driver with two wins doesn’t speak very highly of consistency. But with that said, Enfinger has already guaranteed his spot in the playoffs this season with two victories to his name, and now his team can focus on putting all of the pieces together to make a legitimate run at the championship.
I’m a firm believer that Enfinger had a legitimate shot at the championship until the motor problems that plagued multiple ThorSport Racing drivers took him out of the equation. After all, he did score three top fives and five top 10s in the final seven races last year. In fact, after that engine failure, the No. 98 team posted finishes of 10th, fourth, fifth and seventh to close out the year.
Keep an eye on this team. With their spot already notched into this year’s playoffs, it’s easy to see them working on their equipment so that they’re fully prepared for the championship battle this year. And with the work Ilmor and NASCAR have done to help mitigate the motor issues seen in Las Vegas last fall, Enfinger just might be one of those drivers you see in the Championship 4 to close out the season.
When Hattori Racing Enterprises dropped Brett Moffitt, who had brought the team its first championship during the 2018 season, no one expected it would be Austin Hill who would take over the No. 16 Toyota. After all, the organization was swapping out a driver with multiple wins and championship, but what people failed to realize was just how much improvement Hill had shown in performance throughout the 2018 season.
So while dropping a championship-winning driver may have been a bit of a head-scratcher, Hill wasn’t as big of a gamble as many people made him out to be. And he proved that with his best season to date. Four wins, seven top fives and 13 top 10s and a fifth-place finish in the championship standings.
Fast forward to this season, and Hill hasn’t disappointed at all and is on track for another career-best year. While he has yet to find victory lane, he’s the only driver to finish inside the top 10 in all five races so far this season. And an impressive 5.4 average finish has him on track to become the regular-season champion. In fact, he already holds a 44 point advantage over Christian Eckes in second.
Making the playoffs isn’t a question for Hill and HRE. Instead, the question that remains is just how far he’ll go this year. He narrowly missed out making the Championship 4 last season, and now he’s got a year with the team under his belt. The two combined could be a combination that others end up chasing.
If you paid attention to what Zane Smith was able to do during a 10-race deal with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series last season, you already know why he’s on this list. After all, he scored seven top 10s, one DNF and an 11th-place finish during that time. He also made a single start in the Truck Series in 2019 and snagged an impressive fifth-place result in his series debut at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Fast forward to this season, and Smith has continued to impress. He opened up the year with an 11th-place finish, somehow managing to avoid the carnage that happens regularly at Daytona. And before a crash with his teammate Brett Moffitt at Homestead-Miami Speedway last weekend, he had a string of three straight top 10s, including a worst finish of sixth. Smith is certainly a rookie that’s worth paying attention to this season.
That’s not to say the other rookies this year are bad. In fact, that’s not the case at all. But what Smith has done in five starts this season is nothing short of impressive.
But perhaps what’s most intriguing about Smith isn’t his finishes at all. Instead, it’s his willingness to take chances and race aggressively. While that’s something that can and likely will get him into trouble at some point this season, that willingness could be the difference needed to find his way to victory lane this year.
There’s no denying that Smith will likely face some growing pains as he learns that tracks on the schedule, especially in this time of zero practice and qualifying, but the bottom line is there’s an incredibly talented driver behind the wheel of GMS Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet, and he’ll be one to watch as the 2020 season rolls on.
As his time with Kyle Busch Motorsports neared its end, it was clear that Todd Gilliland wasn’t going to remain with the team long before it became official. The results simply didn’t match what the equipment was capable of. Whether that was the driver overdriving, the crew chief not making aggressive enough calls or just plain bad luck doesn’t really matter at this point, though really it was a combination of it all.
But this season is a fresh start for Gilliland … a confidence-finding year if you will. The strength of KBM’s equipment should have equated to better finishes in his last two seasons, yet there was only one win to show for it. Add in team owner Kyle Busch‘s very public criticisms of his drivers, and that’s a recipe for disaster for someone trying to prove himself in the sport.
While I’d argue Front Row Motorsports is far from the caliber of equipment that KBM runs, the pressure to perform is essentially off of the third year driver. That’s not to say he doesn’t need to run well and even win to prove he should be racing in the top three NASCAR series, but this season should be one in which Gilliland can focus on honing his skills.
Just five races in, he’s already finished in the top 10 three times, and he’s currently fifth in points. Gilliland was 10th and 11th in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, repsectively. I’m not here saying he’s going to be a championship contender or anything like that yet, but what I am saying is if these results can continue, Gilliland should walk away a more confident driver, which should turn into better on-track performance.