SPARTA, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky Speedway will showcase many of NASCAR’s rising stars in a Saturday doubleheader, featuring the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 and the ARCA Menards Series General Tire 150.
Both races will be televised live on FS1. The Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 will air at 6 p.m. and will be preceded by the General Tire 150 ARCA race, which takes the green flag at 2:30 p.m.
Defending Truck Series winner Tyler Ankrum, who won here last year driving the No. 17 Toyota for DGR-Crosley, passed Brett Moffitt in the closing laps when Moffitt ran out of fuel.
Ankrum, who had turned 18 years old in March, became the first driver born in 2000 or later to win a NASCAR national series race. It was also DGR-Crosley’s first Truck Series win.
“It meant everything because it makes you feel like you belong and all the doubts people had are all gone once you’re a winner,” Ankrum said. “I was so glad to have it happen there because I love Kentucky. It’s probably my favorite racetrack.”
Ankrum switched from DGR-Crosley to GMS Racing in the offseason, and is now piloting the No. 26 Chevrolet Silverado as he looks to go back-to-back.
Louisville native Ben Rhodes had a strong performance last year and appeared to be heading for a top-5 finish before a flat left-rear tire led to a 19th place finish. The 2018 winner is always a favorite at his home track, and admits it’ll be strange with no fans due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s disappointing that my friends, family, all those that love coming to the race because it’s their one time to do it and they can’t be there,” Rhodes said. “I feel for them, but I understand everybody needs to be safe. I just hope all of this gets behind us soon and we get back to normal next year.”
Another significant change drivers will adjust to this year is the lack of practice or qualifying sessions, meaning teams will rely on their base setup to begin the race.
“You literally have no idea what’s underneath you for the first few laps,” Ankrum said. “The second you get on track, you’re figuring it out but at the same time we have to go racing. We can’t quit and you can’t take your time. It’s pretty much a double-edged sword and it makes it really difficult for the drivers to succeed.”
Rhodes’ team has focused on maintaining consistency throughout the past few races, as he would typically use the practice sessions to work out the kinks ahead of time.
“When we unload off the hauler, it has to be a race winning truck,” Rhodes said. “Historically, we’ve needed our practice sessions. We’ve needed those sessions for [Crew Chief Matt Noyce] and I to get the truck comfortable and get some speed into it. We’ve really been trying to work on making sure that when we unload, it’s 100% and there’s no real experiments and we’re going with what we know is safe, fast…There’s no time to waste. You can’t afford to sit stage 1 out trying to ride in the back and get it driving good.”
Grant Enfinger, Rhodes’ teammate at ThorSport Racing, has emerged as a championship contender after racking up 2,019 playoff points thanks to wins at Daytona and Atlanta earlier this season.
“After we were able to get our victory at Daytona, it’s allowed me to be a little bit more aggressive in the truck and go for more wins,” Enfinger said. “It’s also allowed my Crew Chief Jeff Hensley to be gutsier with calls and we can maybe afford to give up a few stage points to put us in a better position to maybe win another race. [The wins] allow us to be more aggressive with strategy.”
Another ThorSport driver to watch is defending series champion Matt Crafton, who in 21 career starts at Kentucky has a track record 15 top-10 finishes and one win (2015).
“We’re below our expectations,” Crafton said. “We usually don’t have the issues we’re having. We’re usually a lot more consistent and we thrive on our consistency and being there each and every week contending for wins and knocking down a lot of points.”
The rebranded ARCA Menards Series offers a big stage for talented teens such as Hailie Deegan, Sam Mayer and Ty Gibbs, among other drivers who aspire to make it to the NASCAR Cup Series in the future.
The spotlight has been bright on Deegan for a few years. The 18-year-old daughter of action sports star Brian Deegan, Hailie earned three wins in 28 starts on the K&N Pro Series West series and finished second in the 2020 ARCA Menard Series season-opener at Daytona on Feb. 8.
Deegan has joined the Ford Performance operation and the DGR-Crosley team following a three-year stint with Toyota Racing Development. She is competing on the full ARCA Menards Series schedule.
At Daytona in February she tied the best ever finish at that track by a female driver. She finished second to Michael Self and now trails him by one position in the ARCA Series 2020 standings that has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After posting top 10 finishes in all five of her ARCA Menards Series starts in 2020, including a third place effort at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, she is looking forward to a strong run at the General Tire 150 at Kentucky Speedway this weekend. It will be her first career start at the 1.5 mile speedway in the Bluegrass state. During the nationwide shutdown she spent time on the Ford Racing simulator and also competing in some iRacing events on virtual race tracks.
Deegan says she is ready, and points to her showing at Daytona, which she feels was just as good as getting the trophy. Deegan held her own throughout the race in her first ever start on a 2.5-mile superspeedway.
“I think I learned a lot of good takeaways from (Daytona),” Deegan said. “Some things I could have tried and been more aggressive on, but everything I did in this race got us that second place finish.”
In order to win at Kentucky, Deegan will need to hold off points leader Self, and other young drivers like Ty Gibbs, Tanner Gray, Thad Moffitt and Drew Dollar, just to name a few.
The 17-year-old Gibbs, who collected two wins last season in the ARCA Menards Series and finished third in the 2020 season opener, recently won at Pocono and is the grandson of NASCAR Hall of Fame member Joe Gibbs.
Gray is the 2018 NHRA Pro Stock world champion and also competes full-time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors & RV Truck Series. In ARCA competition this year he finished 16th at Daytona and fourth at Phoenix and Indianapolis. Gray ran well last year at 1.5-mile tracks, posting top 10 finishes at Michigan, Charlotte and Kansas.
This will be the 25th ARCA Series race at Kentucky Speedway, and first at the track since 2017. Past ARCA Series winners at Kentucky include Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Corey LaJoie and Austin Cindric, who won here in 2016.
The Kentucky Speedway race weekend includes an action-packed five events. In addition to the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series doubleheader on Saturday, the weekend also includes a rare NASCAR Xfinity Series doubleheader under the lights on Thursday and Friday with 8 p.m. starts, and on Sunday, NASCAR Cup Series stars will take to the track in the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart, starting at 2:30 p.m. Each of those races will be televised live on FS1. PRN will broadcast the Cup and Xfinity Series races, while MRN will carry the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race.