HOMESTEAD, Fla. – After knowing for three months that he was going to receive the honor, Tyler Ankrum officially received Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Ankrum, who clinched being the top rookie in the series when he became the only first-year driver to qualify for the playoffs, capped off his year with a 22nd-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 300.
Though being two laps down at the checkered flag wasn’t how Ankrum wanted to end his campaign, the 18-year-old from San Bernadino, Calif., still produced a banner season in his move to the Truck Series.
Highlights for Ankrum included the win at Kentucky Speedway in July that qualified him for the playoffs, as well as three top-five and eight top-10 finishes, despite missing three races due to age restrictions.
It all added up to a solid maiden voyage for Ankrum, who was pleased to have something to celebrate Friday night after all was said and done.
“It’s really nice (to win rookie of the year) because you’re not walking away at the end of the season without anything,” Ankrum said. “We had a really great season, I thought. I think it did compose itself mostly of lows, but we were able to bounce back almost every single week. When we had highs, they were really, really high highs.
“With that said, I’m really proud of my (DGR-Crosley) guys. I learned a lot this year,” Ankrum added. “I’m sad to leave them, but you know, I think maybe it’s for the best for all of us to be able to learn and grow.”
Ankrum told SPEED SPORT after the race that his emotions were “very jumbled” and “a little all over the place” when it came to his feelings, both about the race and about departing DGR-Crosley for new opportunities.
“It’s a little bit of everything, to be honest,” Ankrum admitted. “I’m really happy to get Rookie of the Year, but honestly, at the same time I’m still disappointed to leave DGR. I’m disappointed to leave my guys, because Bono, Dan, Chad, T.J., Martin, Don – I’ve loved working with them all year.
“At the beginning of the race, this was like our final hurrah. It was really upbeat, and I was really happy, which I was glad for. No one was down,” he continued. “No one was really, like, somber. But you know, it just didn’t end the way we wanted it to. You’ll have that in racing sometimes and now we just all start moving forward here and see where these new roads take us going into the next season.”
The upcoming year will see Ankrum move from DGR-Crosley, the only NASCAR team he’s known since breaking into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and winning that division’s championship in 2018, to GMS Racing in a third full-time truck alongside teammates Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed.
It’s a move that, while it comes with a lot of new for the Golden State teenager, is one he’s amped up to make.
“Oh my gosh, I was so excited that Chevrolet and GMS would even consider me, when I found out that they were interested in having me drive for them next year,” Ankrum said with a smile. “At the same time, it’s been a long time since I’ve gone anywhere else other than DGR. David Gilliland got me started in the late models, the K&N car and the truck, I got the K&N East championship last year with David, and got my first truck win with him. He did all of that for me and helped make it all happen. He’s always seen something in me, and I pretty much owe everything to him for everything that I’ve done so far. All that has allowed me to go on and move on with a team like GMS.
“I’m really thankful for him and really excited to see what we have in store with GMS,” Ankrum continued. “It’s really exciting to get ready to work with my new teammates, Brett and Sheldon, and I think we’re going to have a really busy off‑season. I’m excited, though, and ready to get to 2020.”