Tempers flare at Bristol as Moffitt wins first Playoff race

BRISTOL, Tenn.—Under a full moon over Thunder Valley, Brett Moffitt held on to win the UNOH 200. 

The first race of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff came down to a three-lap shootout between Moffitt, the defending champion, battling 17-year-old Chandler Smith from the Kyle Busch Motorsports stable. 

Following the 12th and final caution at Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday, Moffitt held on with a .743-second advantage over Smith at the start-finish line for his third win in 2019 and the 10th of his career.

“It was tough,” said Moffitt from Victory Lane. “Our Silverado was strong on long runs, but it was hard to get fired off. So it was really tough just getting the first couple of laps under our belt after a restart.

“There’s no more important win than right now for the season, getting into the Round of 6, so we’ll take this and move on with it. We’re playing with house money now. We still want to go get points and ultimately win races and get Playoff points to set ourselves up with a little safety net for the next round. But now we’ll just go and race to win, and the pressure’s off.”

Ross Chastain, who led a race-high 78 laps and suffered a tire violation after the second stage, recovered to finish third--although he moved Raphael Lessard with 25 to go to get the position. Stewart Friesen, Grant Enfinger, Sheldon Creed, Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Todd Gilliland and Austin Hill rounded out the top 10. 

The 200-lapper was slowed by 72 laps of caution starting on Lap 2 after Sheldon Creed spun Jesse Little. Chastain won the first stage with Moffitt, Johnny Sauter, Rhodes, Smith, Crafton, Friesen, Tyler Ankrum, John Hunter Nemechek and Hill.

Angela Ruch triggered the third caution just after the start of Stage 2. Two laps later, Sauter collected Nemechek on the front stretch and ended the No. 8 team’s night.

“I screwed up,” said Sauter, who dropped to 21st but remained on the lead lap at the end of Stage 2. Moffitt battled Chastain to collect the stage win. Smith, Crafton, Friesen, Ankrum, Rhodes, Raphael Lassard, Enfinger and Sam Mayer, who earlier won the K&N Pro Series East race, rounded out the top 10. 

The hits just kept on coming in the final 78 laps, first on Lap 130 when Brennan Poole spun Tyler Dippel and collected Dylan Lupton and Timmy Hill in the process. Natalie Decker spun five laps later in Turn 2. 

Words were exchanged between Friesen and Crafton after the driver of the No. 88 Ford sent the Canadian into the spin cycle in Turn 4 on Lap 151. The drivers cleared the air after the race.  

“Matt was the first guy to flip me off in the truck series in my first pavement start here in 2016,” Friesen said. “We’ve had a relationship since then, he’s still an asshole, but he’s my favorite asshole.”

Decker than was collected by a tow truck trying to push her off the track on Lap 187 following an incident with Dippel and Gus Dean on the fronstretch that forced NASCAR to red flag the race for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. 

The race returned to green with 11 laps remaining and Moffitt on the front row alongside Smith. Moffitt was on cruise control until Mayer and Rhodes collided in Turn 2 four laps later. Moffitt led the field to green for the final time with four to go and held off Smith for his first Bristol win.

Although Smith never led a lap, he picked up his third top-10 finish in as many starts and his best result to date.

“I just needed to be a tenth, maybe a half of a tenth better,” Smith said. “Maybe I needed to get to the throttle a little quicker than he did and maybe I would have finished a little better than he did.”

Moffit left Bristol with a 16-point lead over Chastain, who shows no signs of slowing down. 

“The fastest truck didn’t win tonight,” said Chastain after settling for third. “Congrats to Brett…but it’s one lane—it’s the old Bristol. They took the top (lane) and ground it without telling us, or they didn’t tell me.

“So it was one lane around the bottom. That’s what built this place. You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”

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