NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Atlanta Ultimate Tailgating 200 News and Notes

The season-opening race in Daytona saw a driver who many probably considered to be the underdog find his way to Victory Lane as Austin Hill captured his first career NASCAR national series win.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Ultimate Tailgating 200
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, February 23
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 4:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200.02 miles (130 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 40),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 80), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 130)
2018 Winner: Brett Moffitt

Georgia native Austin Hill one to watch

The season-opening race in Daytona saw a driver who many probably considered to be the underdog find his way to Victory Lane as Austin Hill captured his first career NASCAR national series win.

But the win was probably not as unexpected as one might think since he was in a Hattori Racing Enterprises truck that won six races and the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship in 2018 with then-driver Brett Moffitt.

And that means don’t count out Hill this weekend in Atlanta. Although his average finish at the 1.5-mile track is 16.0 (with a best of 12th in 2016), his current ride crossed the stripe first in this race last year – starting the remarkable season for the No. 16 Toyota.

For comparison’s sake, Hill’s best finish at Daytona before his breakthrough win on Friday was 11th.

Trio of previous winners on the Atlanta entry list

Last year’s defending Atlanta winner in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series returns to attempt another run at Victory Lane but will do so in a new ride. Brett Moffitt transitioned from Hattori Racing Enterprises to GMS Racing in the off-season and will compete in the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado on Saturday in the Ultimate Tailgating 200 (at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Moffitt led just two laps in capturing his second career Truck Series win and first of six last season. Overall at Atlanta, Moffitt has made two series starts, finishing 11th in 2017 before last year’s victory.

The 2015 winner Matt Crafton may be the most eager to return to Victory Lane of the past victors in the field. Crafton is hoping to end the talk of his winless streak, which reaches back to Eldora in July of 2017.

Crafton has finished in the top 10 at Atlanta in five of his last six starts there, including that 2015 win and a fifth-place finish last year. Only a crash in 2016 that relegated him to a 30th-place finish puts a blemish on that streak.

Overall, Crafton has one win, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in Atlanta.

Kyle Busch rounds out the list of returning race winners – and he comes back with four previous wins (2005, 2007, 2008, 2009). However, it’s been a decade since the Monster Energy Series star and Kyle Busch Motorsports owner has visited Victory Lane in Atlanta in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Of note – Busch has finished in the top three in all but three of his 10 starts in Atlanta. His other finishes? An eighth-place effort in 2008, 26th in 2017, and then last year, he started on the pole but finished 21st.

DGR-Crosley looking for redemption in Atlanta

Natalie Decker’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series first race as a developmental driver for DGR-Crosley didn’t exactly go as planned at Daytona. The Wisconsin native qualified 11th for the race but her hopes for a dream debut went up in flames when a cut tire led to extensive damage and an end to her night on the first lap.

And her teammate and team owner David Gilliland faced an up-and-down night at Daytona, himself. He also suffered from a cut tire on the opening lap but rebounded for a 13th-place finish – despite being caught up in the “big one” late in the race.

Decker will be back behind the wheel of the No. 54 Toyota this weekend in Atlanta, but a new face – Anthony Alfredo – will pilot the No. 17 truck that Gilliland drove at Daytona.

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Anthony Alfredo, is looking to make his NASCAR national series debut in this weekend’s Ultimate Tailgating 200 (Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The 19-year-old NASCAR Next driver ran the full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last year – collecting four top fives and nine top 10s, including his first NASCAR win at South Boston.

He also had a pair of starts in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing seventh in his series debut at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Current ThorSport contingent has dominant history at Atlanta

When Johnny Sauter joined the ThorSport Racing stable of drivers for 2019, it just helped to maintain the team’s stranglehold on excellence in the series – including at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In 2018, ThorSport drivers finished fourth (Ben Rhodes), fifth (Matt Crafton), seventh (Myatt Snider) and ninth (Grant Enfinger) for an average finish of 6.25. Although Snider isn’t entered in this weekend’s race, Sauter helps up the average 2018 Atlanta finish of the team’s drivers entered in this year’s edition to 5.25 – as he placed third a year ago.

In 2017, the current roster of entered ThorSport drivers placed second (Crafton), third (Sauter, then with GMS Racing) and fourth (Ben Rhodes).

Crafton is the only member of the team who has won at Atlanta (2015), but Sauter has finished third in each of the last two years for his best finishes at the track.

Ben Rhodes has three starts at the 1.5-mile track, with a worst finish of sixth in his Atlanta debut in 2016. He’s finished fourth the last two trips to the track.

And Grant Enfinger also has raced three times at Atlanta – placing fifth in 2016 (for GMS Racing), eighth in 2017 and then ninth last year.

ThorSport’s four drivers also lead all active drivers in top fives at Atlanta – Crafton has tallied six while Sauter and Rhodes have two each.

Battling the Boss Man

Kyle Busch Motorsports rising stars Todd Gilliland in the No. 4 Toyota and Harrison Burton in the No. 18 Toyota will go up against their team owner, Kyle Busch. This weekend’s Ultimate Tailgating 200 will mark the first time Busch has faced off against his two young protégés in the same NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.

Busch has raced against each driver twice in the past – and put on a clinic for them all four times. In fact, in three of the four races – he wound up in Victory Lane. The other race ended with a second-place finish.

Here’s the break-down of head-to-head battles between Busch and either Burton or Gilliland:

Martinsville, 2016

Kyle Busch – finished first

Harrison Burton – finished 22nd

Bristol, 2017

Kyle Busch – finished first

Harrison Burton – finished 18th

Charlotte, 2018

Kyle Busch – finished second

Todd Gilliland – finished 10th

Pocono, 2018

Kyle Busch- finished first

Todd Gilliland – finished seventh

Busch, who has 51 wins in 145 starts in the series, will pilot the No. 51 truck on Saturday evening.

NASCAR Next alumni Burton and Gilliland are still looking for their first NASCAR national series win. Burton is a contender for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year this season while Gilliland is entering his second full-time season. (He was only able to race in 19 of 23 series races last year, having had to miss four races on 1.5-mile or longer tracks early in the season before he turned 18-years old.)

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Etc.

Creed making track debut: 2018 ARCA Menards Series champion Sheldon Creed will be making his Atlanta Motor Speedway debut this weekend as ARCA does not visit Atlanta. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be a fish out of water, Creed had success at a 1.5-mile track last year, winning at Kansas. He also won at 2-mile-long Michigan.

Sunoco Rookie contenders: With just one race in the books, GMS Racing’s Sheldon Creed holds the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points lead over Young’s Motorsports driver Gus Dean (30-22). Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Harrison Burton trails with 21 points. Tyler Dippel, Natalie Decker, Anthony Alfredo and Tyler Ankrum have all also declared for Sunoco Rookie honors consideration.

Chastain pulling triple duty: Ross Chastain continues to be one of the busiest drivers in the NASCAR national series garages. Although he is running full-time, for points, in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, he is also planning to pull triple duty this weekend – competing in the No. 45 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series and the No. 15 Premium Motorsports car in the Monster Energy Series. Chastain persevered for a third-place finish in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season-opener in Daytona last week.

Reaume putting together strong start to 2019: Just getting through the wrecks last week at Daytona was a tall task, but Josh Reaume was up to the challenge – and drove through to a sixth-place finish after starting last on the grid. That finish could be seen as a win for the fledgling Reaume Brothers Racing. Reaume is pulling an interesting sort of double-duty this year, as the mechanical engineer who graduated from the University of Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) is also serving as the crew chief on the No. 42 Motorsports Business Management entry driven by Chad Finchum in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

For Xfinity Series News and Notes from Atlanta, click here.

For Monster Energy Cup Series News and Notes from Atlanta, click here.

(NASCAR PR)

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