TALLADEGA, Ala. – Brett Moffitt made it a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start to remember, pulling off an amazing three-wide move to the front during an overtime restart to claim the victory in Saturday’s Love’s RV Stop 250 at Talladega Superspeedway – the former series champion’s first series race of the 2023 season ending in his first superspeedway victory.
It was a typically dramatic day on the 2.66-mile Talladega high banks, taking an overtime restart to settle the busy day of competition. Moffitt restarted on the front row alongside Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs driver Christian Eckes following a 10-truck accident with two laps remaining in regulation that forced the OT finish.
Eckes moved up the track to block Moffitt from a run, but the veteran Moffitt deftly dropped his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford to the middle of the track and pulled away to a 0.099-second victory over playoff driver Ben Rhodes while Eckes lost momentum, drifted backward and ended up 19th.
All eight Talladega truck playoff races have now been won by non-playoff drivers.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said the 31-year-old Moffitt, the 2018 series champion. “I’ve notably struggled on the superspeedways in the past and dreaded coming to them. But this was an all-pressure-off situation that Front Row gave me to go out there and try to help a teammate. Obviously, that didn’t work out for that group. But to come here and have a shot at a win and to do it, is just amazing.
“Reminds me of the good ole days and I want to get back to doing this on a regular basis so we’ll see what happens.”
It was an especially dramatic day for the eight playoff drivers still vying for one of the four championship-eligible positions in the Nov. 3 finale. Among them, Rhodes was the top finishing driver – even though he did not lead a lap Saturday.
“This style of racing, you never know what to expect,” said Rhodes, driver of the No. 99 ThorSport Ford. “Just all in all, really happy we were able to finish second. We needed this for a points day. I think last year we were seven points out coming to Homestead and we made it to the Championship 4. We’re eight out now so we did what we needed to do just one spot short. It would have been a real luxury to lock ourselves in today.”
Tricon Garage driver Dean Thompson finished third with Rackley W.A.R. Racing’s Chandler Smith and Tricon Garage’s Corey Heim, the championship leader rounding out the top five.
There were only three playoff drivers in the top 10 and that was a true effort for seventh-place finisher Nick Sanchez. Although the Rev Racing driver dominated a lot of the afternoon, winning a stage and leading a race-best 25 laps on the day, he received a pass-through penalty for laying back on a restart with 32 laps remaining that set him back in the field. He made his way forward again in the No. 2 Chevrolet only to be involved in the final multitruck accident that forced an overtime restart.
He still finished seventh and having earned 19 stage points on the day while so many other playoff driers also involved in incidents, he improved his position in the standings and will go into the next race – on Oct. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He’s ranked fourth, three points ahead of fifth place Grant Enfinger. The top four ranked drivers following the Homestead race advance to the Championship round, on Nov. 3 at Phoenix Raceway.
The GMS Racing driver Enfinger was also among those playoff competitors caught up in multiple accidents on the afternoon. He finished 13th. Niece Motorsport’s Carson Hocevar was 11th. ThorSport’s Ty Majeski was 21st.
Reigning series champion Zane Smith — race winner Moffitt’s teammate — had a rough afternoon from an incident on pit road to mechanical problems that set him back early. His truck hit his crew member Charles Plank coming into the team’s pit stall on the first stop of the day. Plank, a tire carrier, was okay and even finished out the race.
A lap later, however, Smith’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford suffered clutch problems and made multiple stops on pit road before going behind the wall for more extensive repairs.
He returned to the track in the closing laps and moved up two finishing positions in the race standings to salvage some points. He drops to last place in the championship standings, however, 36 points behind Sanchez on the cutoff line and needing to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I feel terrible about that, so that wasn’t a great start,” Smith said of the pit road incident with his crew member.
“And then after that rolled off pit road down the backstretch, my clutch started slipping and it got worse and worse and worse. So fighting that and changing the clutch to get back out there.
“Just such a bummer. It’s a tough situation here.”
Heim is the only playoff driver who has already secured a position in the Championship 4 thanks to his win at Bristol. Hocevar leads the points standings – up 23 points in fifth place. Eckes is third and Sanchez fourth.
Enfinger (-3) is ranked fifth, followed by Rhodes (-5), Majeski (-19) and Smith (-36).
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs continue on Oct. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the top four drivers in the standings after the race set to decide the Championship in the Nov. 3 season finale at Phoenix. Majeski is the defending Homestead-Miami race winner.
Following the race, there was an incident in the garage area between the 47-year-old former series champion Matt Crafton and the 22-year-old Rookie of the Year Sanchez that left Sanchez’s face bloodied. NASCAR is investigating the situation and will announce its findings and any penalties next week.