ROSSBURG, Ohio – If Chase Briscoe scored “one for the dirt guys” on Wednesday night by winning the Eldora Dirt Derby, then Nick Hoffman scored one for the little guys by earning a top-10 finish for MB Motorsports.
Hoffman, who hadn’t raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series since 2011 and was making his first appearance with the series at Eldora Speedway, fought all day long to prove he belonged with the best of the best.
He timed in among the top half of the field, posting the 19th-fastest time in qualifying, and then raced his way into the feature by finishing third in his heat race, which also saw series points leader Johnny Sauter relegated to the last chance qualifier.
However, though Hoffman lined up 14th for the 150-lap main event, he struggled to stay in contention as the race wore on, crossing the line 19th at the first stage break and yielding one more spot to end up 20th when lap 90 went up on the scoreboard to end the second stage.
That was when crew chief Doug George made the call to leave Hoffman on the race track for the start of the final stage, elevating him and teammate Kyle Strickler to 11th and 12th when the green flag waved to begin the final 60 laps.
After that, Hoffman never relinquished the track position he had gained, putting on a gritty battle with some of the top stars of the Truck Series to finish 10th after a seven-year absence from NASCAR’s third-highest division.
“Doug George made the right call there, to stay out for that last segment,” said Hoffman, whose previous three starts in the Truck Series also came with truck owner Mike Mittler. “We were fighting an issue with the end cap on the right-rear of the axle … to the point where it was about to come out, and we were scared and just trying to limp the thing home, but we went with it and things worked out for us.
“I spent a lot of time in practice on Tuesday re-learning the trucks and getting that feel back for everything about them,” he continued. “We were tight at the beginning, so I committed myself to that top side where I knew we could run and made it happen.”
Though he scored his first top-10 finish in NASCAR, Hoffman later pointed out that it almost didn’t happen amid the late-race chaos that produced several caution flags and subsequent restarts.
“When the 4 (Todd Gilliland) spun, I about plowed him … that was a nervous moment, for sure,” Hoffman laughed. “There were a few guys who were tough to race around … and because I don’t race with any of these guys, it was hard to know what they were going to do and how they were going to react throughout the night. You just had to pick and choose your battles … and when it was time to go, we went.”
Despite having speed, Hoffman – well-known for his prowess on the high lane in both his dirt modified and a mini-outlaw kart – had hoped that Wednesday night’s race would have exactly that when it came to the racing surface.
“I knew we’d be pretty good coming here; I just wish we’d had a little bit more of a top (groove) in the race,” said Hoffman. “Obviously, the race was really good, so we can’t complain about the track conditions that Tony (Stewart) and his guys gave us … but for me, if I’d had just a little bit more to lean on I think we could have done something really cool.
“I used everything I had up there, man; I hit the wall at every point of the race track that there was to hit it at. I did everything I could, and that was all we had. It was a lot of fun, though.”
The 26-year-old from Mooresville, N.C., was also grateful to be able to represent the grassroots dirt-track community with a strong run, having built his career at Millbridge Speedway, and more recently, in the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds.
“It’s really cool,” Hoffman smiled. “As a driver, I wish I could have done better … because you always want to come out here and win something, but a top-10 is something we can build on.
“If we can come back and do it again (in the future), I’d really love to do it.”