MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Grant Enfinger raced his way into the Truck Series championship round with a victory Friday night at Martinsville Speedway.
Enfinger entered the race in a must-win situation after an engine issue last week at Texas dropped him to sixth in the standings. He overcame 11 cautions and won a two-lap push to the finish for his fourth victory of the season.
“We knew we were going to have to take the gloves off and fight for this one,” Enfinger said. “We came in here with our back against the wall."
Enfinger will race for the championship next week at Phoenix against Sheldon Creed, Brett Moffitt and Zane Smith, who finished third to claim the final slot in the title race.
Enfinger, in a Ford for ThorSport Racing, will be up against a trio of Chevrolet teammates from GMS Racing. At 35, Enfinger is the oldest driver in the championship round.
“I feel like I'm really able to appreciate where I'm at and the opportunity in front of me,” he said.
Enfinger was the lone driver from ThorSport's four truck lineup to advance to the championship. The team won the title last year with Matt Crafton, but he was eliminated Friday night.
“ThorSport as a whole has been very solid this year and I feel like we're making that better and better," Enfinger said.
Smith, a rookie, delivered in his first career national series race at Martinsville. NASCAR's oldest and shortest track is one of the most difficult on the circuit and known for aggressive racing and excessive bumping and banging.
“My first trip to Martinsville, everything I expected and more,” Smith said. “I had to play it safe all night. My team never gave up and that's why we're here.”
Crafton, the reigning champion, finished fifth but failed to advance to the final four. Crafton was aggravated by a late rash of cautions and the number of laps wasted after each yellow flag.
“That at the end of the race was pathetic,” Crafton said.
Enfinger noted the aggression level was high and having to drive defensively.
“It was a crazy turn of events, it got wild, it got dicey,” he said, adding to get the win “it was a lot of getting roughed up and a lot of having to use the bumper.”
Smith likened the race to a typical show at Bowman Gray Stadium, the quarter-mile asphalt track in nearby Winston-Salem, North Carolina, nicknamed “The Madhouse.”
“This is pretty comparable to Bowman Gray,” Smith said. “I kind of wish we had come here not on a playoff cutoff race because I feel like the intensity was so high.”
Regular-season champion Austin Hill was eliminated when his race ended early with an engine failure. Hill announced right before the race that he will return to Hattori Racing Enterprises for a third consecutive season in 2021.
“It's just frustrating to end your season on an engine failure like that,” Hill said. “We should definitely be in this final four. I can't even put into words what I'm feeling right now.”