SPARTA, Ky. – Tyler Ankrum turned the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoff grid on its head with a thrilling victory on Thursday night during the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway.
Ankrum, who pitted for the final time with 41 laps to go and had to take a second can of fuel, ultimately found himself in the catbird’s seat in the final laps as his rivals’ gas tanks ran dry all around him.
The 18-year-old raced past defending Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt coming to the white flag, when Moffitt’s No. 24 Chevrolet sputtered in turn three, and led the final two laps en route to victory.
It was the first NASCAR national series win of the California teenager’s career in just his 12th series start. He led a race-high 40 of 150 laps.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even listening to what anyone was telling me (on the radio) at the end there,” Ankrum admitted when recalling the final laps. “I was just trying my rear end off. Holy cow. I think I held my breath for the last three laps. That was so awesome, though. I can’t thank DGR-Crosley enough.
“I don’t know what to say right now; I really don’t,” he added.
Ankrum, who didn’t turn 18 until midseason and had to miss the first three races, was actually sidelined after Texas in early June due to a sponsorship shortfall with his primary ride at DGR-Crosley.
However, veteran owner Joe Nemechek stepped up to offer Ankrum a start-and-park ride in his No. 87 Chevrolet for back-to-back races at Iowa Speedway and Gateway Motorsports park later in the month, keeping Ankrum’s playoff hopes alive since he had run every race and gotten a NASCAR age waiver.
That means Ankrum’s win puts him in the postseason with a shot at the championship later this fall.
“Hopefully this means that we get a sponsor now!” Ankrum said. “I can’t believe we just did this.”
Ankrum’s triumph was actually built when he stayed out at the start of the third and final stage, taking the lead on a lap-77 restart and fending off a determined charge from Ben Rhodes early in the run.
However, because he had less fuel at that point than those – like Moffitt – who pitted during the second stage break, Ankrum had to cede command after leading 37 laps in succession, hitting pit road for the final time.
When he hit his pit stall, crew chief Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion called for two tires and two cans of fuel, putting Ankrum a half-lap behind as the pit cycle wound through but in position to make it to the finish.
Moffitt, on the other hand, pitted for the final time with 30 laps left and only took one can of fuel in hopes of staying out in front of the field – which he did for a while, moving back into the race lead with 26 to go and having more than a five-second advantage over then second-place man Ben Rhodes.
But Ankrum was charging as Moffitt had to try and conserve fuel. Moffitt’s crew radioed inside of 20 to go that the reigning titlist was two laps short, and Ankrum cut a second a lap off his deficit at times as he worked valiantly to close the gap.
With 14 to go, Ankrum moved into second as Rhodes pitted with a shredding left-rear tire, and inside of 10 to go, he carved the gap down underneath six seconds as Moffitt tried desperately to get to the checkered flag under power.
Finally, a lap and a half from the finish line, Moffitt’s quest for a third win this season came up empty.
The No. 24 slowed, and Moffitt could only watch helplessly as Ankrum’s blue No. 17 Railblaza Toyota Tundra streaked past and quickly drove out of sight.
“I was just backing up as much as I could, but it wasn’t quite enough to make it,” said Moffitt, who dropped to seventh in the final rundown as the last truck on the lead lap.
“It sucks to lose a race like that, but everyone on this team did a great job. … We had a really good truck tonight,” he added. “(Jerry Baxter) called a great race. We were just a lap short. It’s tough, a bummer.”
As a result of all those who ran out of gas, Stewart Friesen ended up finishing second for the sixth time in his career, after starting the day in a backup truck and having to come from the rear of the field.
Harrison Burton crossed the line third, followed by Ross Chastain and Ankrum’s DGR-Crosley teammate Dylan Lupton.
Austin Wayne Self, Moffitt, Spencer Davis, Jeb Burton and Johnny Sauter completed the top 10.