BRISTOL, Tenn. – Brett Moffitt outlasted the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series field and punched his ticket into the next round of the playoffs with a victory in Thursday night’s UNOH 200.
Moffitt came out on top of a thrilling mid-race battle with title rival Ross Chastain, then rallied through traffic and passed regular-season champion Grant Enfinger with 27 to go for his first win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The defending series champion had to hold off the field on four late restarts after seizing command, including a three-lap sprint to the finish after contact between rookie Sam Mayer and Ben Rhodes on lap 193 sent Mayer into the outside wall and brought out the last of 12 yellow flags on the night.
Though Smith gave Moffitt everything he could handle when the green lights clicked on for the final time, Moffitt powered away on the outside and took the checkered flag in front by .743 seconds.
“Man, tonight was tough,” Moffitt said in victory lane. “Our (No. 24) Silverado was strong on long runs, but it was hard to get fired off, so it was really tough getting the first couple of laps under our belts after a restart. We made it work on the top, even though a lot of others didn’t want to go up there.”
Thursday night’s triumph was the 10th of Moffitt’s career, his third of the season and first at Bristol.
It also assures him a place in the Round of 6, meaning he can take chances for additional victories in the next two races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway and doesn’t have to stress about his position in relation to any of his competition.
“There’s no more important win than right now for the season, getting into the Round of 6, so we’ll take this and move on with it,” Moffitt noted. “We’re playing with house money now. We still want to go get points and ultimately win races and get playoff points to set ourselves up with a little safety net for the next round, but now we can just go and race to win.
“The pressure’s off, and that’s good news for our team.”
The chaotic run to the finish began with 25 to go, moments after Moffitt took the lead, when Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain and Raphael Lessard tangled in turn four, with Lessard spinning and bringing out the caution as a result.
On the ensuing restart, Smith nailed the jump and worked from fourth to second on the outside, driving past Ben Rhodes on the outside to claim the runner-up position. He wouldn’t relinquish it again.
However, a Gus Dean spin with 19 to go did lead to some nervous moments for Smith, as well as a six-and-a-half-minute red flag for cleanup in an attempt to preserve as many green flag laps as possible.
That attempt was foiled by Mayer and Rhodes’ clash with eight to go, setting up a mile and a half of mayhem to get to the checkered flag, with Moffitt and Smith on the front row for all the marbles.
Smith did all he could on the bottom lane, firing off strong in the PJ1 traction compound and staying even with Moffitt until turns three and four, when Moffitt finally got the power down and broke free on the top side.
From there, it was certain victory for the GMS Racing driver, while the Kyle Busch Motorsports young gun had to settle for a career-best finish of second in just his third-ever Truck Series appearance.
“He (Moffitt) was just better all day,” lamented Smith. “We fought back early in the race. We got up to the 45 (Ross Chastain) and Brett (Moffitt). We needed just a little bit more to sit where he is right now.
“I can’t thank Rudy (Fugle, crew chief), KBM and Toyota enough for this incredible opportunity, though,” he added. “We’ve definitely made the most of it. Just came up one spot short of our goal here tonight.”
Chastain, who led four-times for a race-high 78 laps, rallied back from a pit road safety violation during the second stage break and finished third after restarting from the tail of the field.
Stewart Friesen was fourth after contact with Matt Crafton in the closing laps that sent both drivers around in turn four, while Enfinger crossed in fifth, giving playoff drivers four of the top five spots.
Matt Crafton was seventh and Austin Hill finished 10th. Meanwhile, Johnny Sauter wheeled a wounded truck to 11th after a collision with John Hunter Nemechek that sheared part of the right side off his Ford.
Electrical issues inside of 30 to go relegated Tyler Ankrum to 20th, six laps down and worst among the playoff contenders.
The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season continues Aug. 25 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.