CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Eighteen-year-old Tyler Ankrum knows he’s playing with house money going into the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs.

After all, by his own admission, he wasn’t even supposed to make it to this point and have a shot at a championship in his rookie season at the national level.

However, thanks to his stunning breakthrough victory at Kentucky Speedway in July, Ankrum has the chance to “crash the party” during the Truck Series postseason – and he’s hoping to do just that with his DGR-Crosley team as they pursue a title together.

“My confidence is actually really high now, especially after the (Kentucky) win. I actually had to go out and buy a bigger hat, because my head was so big for a few days there,” Ankrum joked. “It was just a whole whirlwind of media and an awesome experience. I think we’re still viewed as the underdogs – I think DGR-Crosley as a whole still is, really – but I think that suits us and we’ll be able to shake it up.”

Ankrum may be the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, with just one win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes to his credit in the 13 races he’s been able to run this year, but that’s already far beyond where he ever expected his season to be when it started back in the spring at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

“Honestly, when we started the year and made the announcement that we were going to be running full-time, I said I was going to be happy to run inside the top 10 … and maybe get to the top five a couple of times,” admitted Ankrum, who wasn’t old enough to run the first three races of the season due to age restrictions. “All of a sudden, though, we surged in the middle of the year and found some speed. That wasn’t expected at all, but we made the most of it and now, look where we are.

“To have the sponsorship issues that we did, have to go to the (No.) 87 and start-and-park for a couple of weeks just to keep our playoff eligibility alive, that was really hard on me,” he added. “In a way, though, we were hedging our bets with that move, because we knew we were getting faster and faster with the No. 17 truck.

“I didn’t have the confidence in myself going into this that we could be a playoff contender, really, but the fact that we are up here now is incredible and makes me believe something special can happen.”

How special does Ankrum think his playoff run can be?

“I think we can win the whole thing; I really do,” he affirmed.

Tyler Ankrum hopes to capture his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series title. (Stephen Hopkins photo)

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for Ankrum to pull off, however. The unique first round will test every skillset a driver has, consisting of a short track, a road course and an intermediate track.

“I think Bristol and Canada are going to be pretty tough, honestly, but our team comes prepared every single race and I think that we’ve proven that no matter the experience I have or this team has, we seem to run well everywhere that we go,” Ankrum noted. “We know that we have fast equipment, but these next seven are just going to be all about closing races.

“The playoffs really come down to staying out of all the bad luck and trying to make your own luck, and I believe that if we can do that, then we’ll be OK.”

However, Ankrum was quick to note that he’s not putting any pressure on himself just because he’s a championship contender now.

In his mind, there are no expectations, “because this is already gravy on our entire season.

“Really, the biggest goal for me in these playoffs is just to have fun and learn as much as I possibly can,” Ankrum added. “That’s what I’m here to do, because I don’t want to treat this like a job; I want to treat it like it’s my passion. I’m really excited for what we’ve got headed up, and hopefully we can make it all the way to Homestead.”

And as for those sponsorship woes Ankrum suffered through during the middle of the summer, don’t expect those to resurface as long as the California teenager can keep his recent form going.

“Knock on wood, we’re going to make it to Homestead,” Ankrum said when asked about funding by SPEED SPORT. “If we can win a race or two and stay consistent, I believe that’s very realistic. Now, as far as next year? I don’t know what the plans are, whether I’ll be driving or whether I won’t be, but we’re just focused on right now and closing the season out on a high note for this organization.

“That’s the goal and everything else will continue on after that.”