LAS VEGAS – A pair of ThorSport Racing’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoff hopes went up in stunning clouds of smoke Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The longest-tenured full-time Truck Series team in the garage area, which put three drivers in this year’s eight-man playoff field, saw mechanical issues strike all three of the team’s title contenders early on.
Regular-season champion Grant Enfinger, who came in on the playoff bubble and just two points clear of elimination, saw a broken rear main seal on his No. 98 Ford F-150 end his night after just six laps.
A 31st-place finish was enough catastrophe to drop-kick Enfinger out of the playoffs despite the fact he scored the most points during the first 16 races of the year and had 15 extra playoff points as a result.
“We had a really great ThorSport Racing F-150,” noted Enfinger. “(It’s) just a shame our season hopes came down to, you know, quality control on a spec part that we had nothing to do with. … I definitely share our owner’s frustration with the parts there under the hood. It’s just frustrating, you know? All of these guys work their tails off all year for this and it came down to one part that knocked us out.
“We had a good truck; it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Meanwhile, both Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter suffered simultaneous fires under the hoods of their Fords at lap 40, just after the second stage got underway at the 1.5-mile Nevada oval.
The duo, running well inside the top five at the time, immediately saw their own postseason hopes go onto thin ice. Sauter came in two points below the cut line, while Crafton was just five points clear of elimination at the start of the race Friday night.
Crafton was declared out of the race at that point, while Sauter made a brief return before a second huge cloud of smoke from the rear of his No. 13 Ford at lap 68 officially spelled the end of his night.
When the smoke finally cleared – both literally and figuratively – Sauter and Enfinger were the two drivers on the outside looking in and eliminated from the playoffs, while Crafton moved on by a slim five-point margin.
Tyler Ankrum edged out Sauter by two markers for the final spot in the Round of 6, and Sauter was none too pleased at the circumstances behind his bouncing from the postseason after climbing from his truck.
“Yeah, just inferior engines, I guess,” said Sauter. “I’m not sure. It’s just real disappointing that our season came down to that. This is a fresh engine, so obviously something was wrong with it.
“I’m just proud of everybody at ThorSport and I can’t thank Duke and Rhonda enough for all that they do for the series, and not only myself and all these guys, but just the series in general,” Sauter continued. “It’s just a shame. You know, I’m a pretty realistic guy, and I felt like we were gonna dominate this race. Just … the truck was really, really good. So I’m just proud of Joe (Shear Jr., crew chief) and all the guys and I’m just really disappointed.
“When something happens and it’s out of your control, what are you gonna do?”
For those counting superstitions, Friday night was Sept. 13 and also featured a full moon.
Unfortunately for ThorSport, it also featured the dramatic end to two of their three title shots this year.