The Gander Outdoor NASCAR Truck Series playoff grid just got flipped upside down.
Not literally, mind you, but itâs pretty jumbled-up after the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway.
And yes, thatâs the name of the race, but thatâs neither here nor there.
Thatâs because Tyler Ankrum of DGR-Crosley just won to punch his ticket into the playoffs, probably, after winning in a season in which he missed the first three races due to an age restriction and start-and-parked two others due to a lack of funding.
This is an actual storyline that has developed in 2019 — already on pace for the most ridiculous NASCAR season in the history of professional stock car racing.
There is so much to unpack here so letâs get into it:
So first of all, Ankrum currently holds a playoff spot by virtue of his victory on Thursday night. As previously explained, he did so after receiving a waiver from the sanctioning body to miss the races at Daytona, Atlanta and Texas due to being only 17-years-old at the time.
He is also short on funding, so he start-and-parked at Iowa and Gateway for NEMCO Motorsports, saving money for additional DGR starts while also preserving his playoff eligibility in the hopes that he could win before the regular season ended — WHICH ACTUALLY HAPPENED!
But that wasnât the only crazy, playoff altering thing that happened on Thursday night as Ben Rhodes and Todd Gilliland suffered various misfortunes and finished outside of the top-15. Combine that with Ankrum leapfrogging both of them by virtue of winning and now both guys are totally in must-win mode.
Rhodes entered the night as the final driver in the provisional playoff gird on points, with a 13-point advantage over Harrison Burton.
As for Burton, his third-place finish would have been enough to get him past Rhodes and into the playoffs if it wasnât for Ankrum winning and turning everything inside out.
Stewart Frisen finished second on Tuesday and remains second in points (albeit without a win) but could suffer a points penalty early next week because NASCAR confiscated his primary truck due to an unapproved rear firewall.
Meanwhile, Ross Chastain is now officially inside the top-20 in points, meaning he now officially inside the provisional playoff grid after changing his points eligibility to the Truck Series just a month ago â having won at Gateway.
He needed to crack the top-20 to make the playoffs with a win, meaning he should be safe barring a series of misfortunes or another points penalty stemming from a disqualification — like what happened at Iowa where he received last place points.
Hereâs a look at the playoff grid following Kentucky Speedway and with just three races remaining until the regular season reaches its conclusion:
1. Brett Moffitt 2 wins
2. Ross Chastain 1 win towards eligibility
3. Johnny Sauter 1 win
4. Austin Hill 1 win
5. Tyler Ankrum 1 win
6. Grant Enfinger +73
7. Stewart Friesen +61
8. Matt Crafton +40
9. Harrison Burton -40
10. Ben Rhodes -60
11. Todd Gilliland -110
12. Sheldon Creed -115
So, this is where this gets a little confusing.
Itâs entirely possible that Ankrum could still miss the playoffs and so could Ross Chastain for that matter. Itâs not likely but itâs theoretical.
If some combination of Burton, Rhodes, Gilliland and Creed won one each of the next three races at Pocono, Eldora and Michigan; and if Enfinger remains the championship leader at the conclusion of the regular season; Enfinger would clinch a playoff spot as the regular season champion at the expense of the winner with the fewest wins and the least amount of points.
So, hang with me for a minute.
In this scenario, the final playoff spot would come down to a driver (Ankrum) that missed the first three races and start-and-parked in two others versus a guy that only started accumulating points in the ninth race of the season.
There are 84 points currently between them, so itâs unlikely that Chastain could catch Ankrum, depending on what happens over the next three races.
Â All told, the next three races are going to be bonkers.
TYLER ANKRUMâS WILD RIDE TO PROMINENCE
But I would be remiss if I didnât take a moment to point out how extraordinary the Tyler Ankrum story is after Thursday night.
Ankrum joined DGR-Crosley prior to the 2018 season, signing-up for a part-time K&N Pro Series East campaign. They got off to a good start with finishes of fifth and fourth at New Smyrna and Bristol, adding Langley Speedway to their schedule, which paid off when they took the points lead that afternoon. They then added South Boston to their schedule and decided to chase the championship with they won that race.
They never relinquished the spot.
Similarly, Ankrum started this Truck Series season needing an age waiver from NASCAR to start the season since he was still 17-years-old and couldnât race at Daytona, Atlanta and Texas. He received it, but then was faced with the reality that he didnât have the funding to complete the regular season.
Thatâs why he start-and-parked in the NEMCO Motorsports No. 87 at Iowa and Gateway. He needed to start those races to remain playoff eligible in the hopes that he could win Thursdayâs race at Kentucky.
And thatâs exactly what happened.
“Hopefully it gets us a sponsor,” Ankrum said in Victory Lane. “Holy cow. I cannot believe I just did this. Itâs going to take a lot more work, thatâs for sure. I canât believe it. This is a dream come true. Honestly, one of my biggest faults is Iâve always doubted myself and tonight, I kind of felt all of that wash away. I just canât thank (team owners) David Gilliland and Bo LeMastus enough. I donât know what else to say.”
Ankrum is a protĂ©gĂ© of four-time Hooters Pro Cup Series champion and 2007 Snowball Derby winner Clay Rogers.
He got a late start to his Late Model career but has progressed rapidly from Late Model Stocks to Super Late Models. Now heâs the reigning K&N Pro Series champion and now a Truck Series winner — making the most of a limited budget and winning races to showcase why he warrants additional funding.
And now theyâre one step closer.
“I think this goes to show that the youngsters and underdogs can still win,” Ankrum said. “I donât think DGR has been viewed as a GMS (Racing) or a KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) or a ThorSport (Racing) team, but I think they will be now.
“Iâm honestly so proud of that. Thatâs really what Iâve been wanting to do. Iâm just all about improvement. Improve every single week and try and get better and I think thatâs what we did. We finished it.”