TALLADEGA, Ala. – As many anticipated it would be, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series’ Sugarland Shine 250 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway Saturday afternoon was full of drama, excitement and this weekend, a big impact on the 2019 championship outlook.
Spencer Boyd was named the winner shortly after Johnny Sauter took the checkered flag at the track. Race officials ruled Sauter illegally dropped below the boundary line 200 yards before the flag stand while leading the race. So instead, the 24-year-old Boyd hoisted his first-ever NASCAR national series trophy.
The challenge for the championship position was equally dramatic. Five of the six championship-eligible drivers finished fourth through eighth in the race standings. Reigning series champion Brett Moffitt’s fourth-place finish kept him atop the standings – 23 points up on fifth-place finisher and fellow Playoff contender Stewart Friesen.
Austin Hill was sixth, 18-year-old Tyler Ankrum was seventh and two-time series champion Matt Crafton was eighth. Fan-favorite Ross Chastain finished 22nd after being in an accident while leading the race on lap 87.
Races at Martinsville, Va. on Oct. 26 and Phoenix’s ISM Raceway on Nov. 8 will set the four-driver championship field for the Nov. 15 finale. Beyond Moffitt and Friesen, Austin Hill is now third in the championship standings, 33 points below Moffitt and Crafton is fourth, 44 points behind. With two races remaining to set the Championship 4, Ankrum and Chastain are ranked fifth and sixth. Ankrum is a single point behind Crafton in the cutoff position. And Chastain is two points behind Crafton.
Although Moffitt didn’t help decide the victory today, it was a huge effort for the championship leader, who along with Friesen was penalized mid-race for locking bumpers in front of the field. Friesen was leading Moffitt at the time. But both drivers had to drop off the track and serve a stop-and-go penalty. They returned to competition in 25th and 26th place and spent the rest of the race in a highly-determined rally-mode.
Both Moffitt and Friesen were still shaking their heads at the penalty after the race.
“I don’t really know what to say about anything,’’ Friesen said, smiling. “I didn’t see it. I have no idea, no clue.
“But we were fortunate to get back to the lead lap and get a fifth out of it.’’
Moffitt, a series-best four-time winner this season, was more insistent that they weren’t breaking any rules and sure that he may have pushed but did not lock bumpers.
“I would love to see It love to see where we locked bumpers because I was very conscious of it and staying off him, giving him a bubble,’’ Moffitt said. “I would love to see proof. Everyone’s pushing the limit.’’
NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller addressed the officiating call after the race.
“So those are tough calls and I think there were several instances where we were all looking at each other, ‘Is that too much? Is that too much?’ Miller said.
“So there was really no other choice but to make that call.’’
Although frustrated at the time of the penalty, Moffitt conceded that he and his team kept composure and focused on the bigger goal – leading for the championship.
“It fires you up, but it’s Talladega you know,’’ Moffitt said. “You got to slow back down. Now had that played out like Daytona where we (went to) the back and ended up in a wreck I’d be a little more upset about it.
“But the fact we had really good Chevrolets here today and were able to rebound – all three of us – it’s frustrating but ultimately we did our job and out-pointed everyone in the playoffs. Now we have what I’d call a more comfortable buffer going into the next two races moving forward.’’
One of Moffitt’s toughest championship contenders Ross Chastain had a tougher Talladega day. Also while leading the race, he misjudged a run from Sheldon Creed and the two trucks collided resulting in the day’s only ‘Talladega Big One’ as the multi-car crashes are known. Ten cars were involved and Chastain’s day ended early.
“I’m glad more people weren’t caught up,’’ said Chastain, who drives the No. 45 NEICE Racing Chevrolet. “Poor execution on my part. Sheldon [Creed] looked like he had position there and I turned left trying to keep him on my rear bumper and I just made a mistake.
“We’ll go on to Martinsville, Phoenix, and Homestead and I’ll try to do a better job of executing.’’
The three-race winner insisted his strategy will not change even though he’s dropped to last place among the six Playoff drivers.
“Absolutely not,’’ he said. “We’ll try to win practice, try to win qualifying and the race. We will try to win and execute. That was just a poor judgement call on my part. We had a truck capable of winning.’’