After Carson Hocevar crashed a two-driver party, pole winner Grant Enfinger rallied for victory in Sunday‘s Clean Harbors 175 at the Milwaukee Mile and clinched a spot in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs.
Enfinger, who led 95 of 175 laps, passed Hocevar for the top spot on Lap 159 and pulled away to win his third race of the season by 1.553 seconds. Hocevar was gambling on older tires and led the field to green for the final restart on Lap 148.
The victory — the 10th of Enfinger‘s career — was a point proven for the Alabama driver, whose GMS Racing truck team announced it would discontinue operations at the end of the season.
“I don‘t think anybody‘s going to ask if we‘re going to lay down again,” Enfinger said after climbing from his No. 23 Chevrolet. “(Crew chief) Jeff Hensley‘s been focused the whole year. There‘s been distractions going on all year long. So if anything, this has clarity.
“None of these guys, including me, have a job next year, but I feel like we proved we deserve one.”
Fast from the outset of the first NASCAR national series race at Milwaukee since 2009, Enfinger won the first stage wire-to-wire, leading all 55 laps. After surrendering the top spot on pit road during the stage break, he passed Corey Heim for the lead on Lap 95 and went on to capture Stage 2 by 2.149 seconds.
But Enfinger lost three positions on pit road during the second stage break and had to overcome the loss of track position as well as varying strategy from Hocevar and six other non-playoff drivers who stayed out on older tires during caution for William Sawalich‘s contact with the Turn 2 wall on Lap 135.
Restarting 14th on Lap 141, Enfinger fought his way back to the front, passing Derek Kraus for second on Lap 153 and overtaking Hocevar six laps later.
“It‘s kind of a bummer to run second,” said Hocevar, who has three victories to his credit this season and holds a 56-point cushion above the cut line with one race left in the Playoffs‘ Round of 10. “I haven‘t done this in quite a while.
“Luckily, I‘ve been fortunate enough to win three races, so it‘s close.”
Christian Eckes and Heim finished third and fourth, respectively, and both clinched berths in the Round of 8 on points. Matt Crafton came home fifth and moved nine points above the elimination line for the next round.
Chase Purdy ran sixth, followed by Ty Majeski, who won the Truck Series Playoff opener at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. But Majeski raced under the specter of possible NASCAR penalties this coming week.
NASCAR confiscated the right rear tire from Majeski‘s No. 98 Ford and ejected crew chief Joe Shear Jr. Majeski started from the rear of the field and served a pass-through penalty after the opening lap but rallied to finish seventh. Any further penalties the team may accrue will be announced later in the week.
Defending series champion Zane Smith finished 12th, with fellow playoff contenders Ben Rhodes coming home 16th, Nick Sanchez 24th and Matt DiBenedetto 27th, two laps down. DiBenedetto, who qualified 23rd, was sent to the rear to start Sunday’s race after missing driver introductions.
Sanchez and Heim collided in Turn 3 at Lap 141, sending Sanchez’s No. 2 Rev Racing Chevrolet sideways and driver-side into the outside SAFER barrier. Sanchez checked up to avoid a slowing Hailie Deegan on corner entry, resulting in contact from the rear from Heim that sent Sanchez spinning. The damage was minimal to Sanchez’s truck, and the rookie contender continued en route to a 24th-place finish.
The restart that began Stage 2 resulted in a multi-truck crash between Greg Van Alst and Brad Perez. An apparent mechanical issue sent Van Alst’s truck faster into the first turn and straight into Perez’s left-rear quarter panel, sending both trucks crashing into the SAFER barrier. Both drivers were evaluated and released from the infield care center.
Contributing: Staff reports