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Tracking the Trucks: Grant Enfinger Snatches Win, Championship-4 Spot at Martinsville

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In a Nutshell: Less than a week after suffering an engine failure that put him in a must-win situation, Grant Enfinger snagged his spot in the Championship 4 with a victory in the Hall of Fame 200 at Martinsville Speedway.

“It was tough,” Enfinger told FOX Sports 1. “We knew this one was [a race] we would have to take the gloves off and fight for but we had a just good enough Champion Power Equipment Ford F-150 to get it done. It’s been an up and down season for us but we’ve tended to have peaked when we have needed to.”

The driver of the No. 98 led five times for 49 laps, including the final two circuits, en route to his fourth win of the 2020 season. Ben Rhodes finished second, followed by Zane Smith. Christian Eckes and Matt Crafton rounded out the top five.

Race Rundown

Heartbreak for Austin Hill

Martinsville race day was the epitome of a roller-coaster ride. Shortly before the Truck Series took the green flag, Hattori Racing Enterprises announced Austin Hill will return to the organization next season.

Shortly after the race started, it was clear something was wrong with the No. 16 Toyota as Hill was turning lap times nearly 5 mph slower than the race leader. Dropping like a rock, he fell off the lead lap before the end of stage one. Early speculation by the team was that a tire going down might be the culprit.

But a new set of tires didn’t help Hill’s speed any, and the team was unable to find any indication of any problems with the previous set. Instead, the problems only got worse and the engine starting cutting out. A later check of the spark plugs eliminated that as a potential problem and the team determined it might be a valve train issue or something similar.

Ultimately, Hill’s motor didn’t make it to the end of the race, and he was forced to take his truck to the garage and settle for a 35th-place finish after completing 117 of 200 scheduled laps.

It’s amazing how three little words can say so much. In a season where Hill put up impressive numbers, including two wins, 11 top fives and 17 top 10s over 22 races, engine problems ended what could have been HRE’s second championship run.

“We aren’t 100% sure what happened, but it was definitely blowing up on us,” a clearly disappointed Hill explained. “The first stage, I thought we had a tire going down maybe. We lost some track position and then got back to the lucky dog and then as soon as I got to the lucky dog, we started blowing up. It started cutting in and out, so I guess it’s those really great built Ilmor engines. They like to breathe fire.

“It’s just frustrating to potentially end your season on an engine failure like that. Everybody at HRE (Hattori Racing Enterprises), all of our partners, everyone that makes this deal happen deserves a lot better. We should definitely be in this final four. It’s frustrating. I can’t even put it in to words what I’m feeling right now.”

The regular season champion missed the Championship 4 cutoff by 21 points. Last season when Hill was eliminated from the title race, he won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway after leading a race-high 56 of 134 laps.

Championship 4 Drivers Set

With just one race remaining in the 2020 season, the drivers who will race for the championship have been decided.

GMS Racing teammates Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed locked themselves in before heading to Martinsville with wins at Kansas Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, respectively. Teammate Smith held on for a third-place finish, which was enough to allow him to point his way into the final four drivers by a slim three-point margin.

Meanwhile, Enfinger’s full-contact victory leaves him as the lone hope for ThorSport Racing in the championship battle. He didn’t make any friends along the way, beating and banging his way to the lead and the victory.

By putting three of its four full-time drivers in the Championship 4, GMS has given itself some pretty good odds of taking home the title next weekend at Phoenix Raceway. But Enfinger also proved in the final several runs at Martinsville that he will fight tooth and nail to win the championship.

Crafton, Hill, Rhodes and Tyler Ankrum were all eliminated.

Quick Hits

  • Danny Bohn scored a career-best finish of seventh at Martsinville, beating his previous high of eighth at the same track last season. The 22-year-old was tapped to drive the No. 30 for On Point Motorsports heading into the playoffs since Brennan Poole, who ran the 11 of the first 12 races for the organization (Scott Lagasse Jr. ran the Daytona International Speedway road course) is declared for NASCAR Cup Series points and was not eligible to run the final seven races.
  • Enfinger’s victory marked his fourth win of the 2020 season, besting the two he had in his prior 83 starts in the Truck Series. The Alabama native has six wins, 36 top fives and 66 top 10s in 105 career starts and has never finished better than fifth in the championship standings, a number he’ll beat this year regardless of what happens next weekend.
  • Despite having one of the fastest trucks all night and leading a race-high 65 laps, Creed had to settle for an eighth-place finish after contact with Enfinger while leading the race resulted in a spin and a flat tire. It was his career-best 12th top 10 in a single season, besting the 11 he posted during his rookie campaign.

  • In a race that was slowed by 11 cautions, 17 drivers finished on the lead lap, and Sam Mayer was the first driver one lap down. Six yellows flew in stage three compared to the five across the first two stages, which includes the stage breaks. In total, 82 of 200 laps (41%) were run under caution.

  • There’s nothing like a powerful command to fire engines that really sets the tone for race day. And grand marshal Bobby Labonte didn’t disappoint.

Rookie Report

2020 Rookie of the Year Candidates
Tate Fogleman – No. 02 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
Raphael Lessard – No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Spencer Davis – No. 11 Spencer Davis Motorsports Toyota
Zane Smith – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet
Tanner Gray – No. 15 DGR-Crosley Ford
Christian Eckes – No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Derek Kraus – No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota
Ty Majeski – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet

Number of Rookies in Race: 7

Number of Rookies finishing in the Top 10: 3; Smith, finished third; Eckes, finished fourth; Derek Kraus, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Smith

Points Update: Moffitt, Creed, Enfinger and Smith will go to Phoenix Raceway next weekend on even ground as each driver will fight to be the best finisher and snag the championship. Moffitt is the only driver of this bunch that has a prior title (Hattori Racing – 2018).

Crafton leads the rest of the playoff drivers in fifth, followed by Hill, who sits 28 points behind. Rookie Eckes sits sixth, followed by eliminated Round of 8 drivers Rhodes and Ankrum. Todd Gilliland rounds out the top 10.

Rookies Kraus and Raphael Lessard sit 11th and 12th, respectively, followed by Johnny Sauter, who gained a spot after Tanner Gray was involved in three different incidents at Martinsville. Stewart Friesen rounds out the top 15.

Series-regular winners this season: Grant Enfinger (Daytona, Atlanta, Richmond), Sheldon Creed (Kentucky, Daytona road course, Gateway, Texas 2), Austin Hill (Kansas 1, Las Vegas 2), Matt Crafton (Kansas 2), Zane Smith (Michigan, Dover), Ben Rhodes (Darlington), Raphael Lessard (Talladega), Brett Moffitt (Kansas 3)

Tweetable

Up Next: The Truck Series heads west to Phoenix Raceway next weekend for the final race of the 2020 season. Coverage for the Lucas Oil 150 begins Friday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Beth Lunkenheimer

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Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.