As the No. 1 seed to start the playoffs, Brett Moffitt was the last to be introduced and seated during the press conference portion of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff Media Day.
“Intense field,” offered Moffitt as he joined the group.
The defending series champion finished the regular season second in the overall point standings, but the highest driver in points with multiple wins was reseeded as the top driver. Joining Moffitt in this year’s playoffs are regular-season champion Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Austin Hill, two-time champion Matt Crafton, champion Johnny Sauter, and Tyler Ankrum.
Moffitt and Friesen are essentially teammates as Halmar Friesen receives technical support from GMS Racing. Chastain is labeled the underdog with Niece Motorsports, which also receives help from GMS Racing. Enfinger, Crafton, and Sauter are teammates at ThorSport Racing.
Then there is Hill, driving for the Hattori Racing team that Moffitt won the title with last year. Ankrum is a rookie who missed the first three races of the season because he wasn’t old enough to compete on every track. An upset win at Kentucky qualified Ankrum and DGR-Crosley for the postseason.
“I just think this year the depth and quality of trucks is better,” Moffitt explained to RACER. “You see more people up front and battling for wins, and obviously Tyler Ankrum sneaking in here. I think historically, and between the rest of us, it’s a lot of experience between the guys — even if they aren’t normal Truck guys they’ve been racing a lot of years, where Tyler’s younger so it’s great for him to get a win and get in here.
“But I just think we’re all in really good trucks right now and especially the mile-and-a-half races are extremely intense — you don’t see anyone breaking away and having a easy win. It’s just an elevated level.”
The next seven races, starting with the UNOH 200 Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1), will decide the champion. If there is a target on Moffitt’s back as the reigning champ, he felt it more at the beginning of the season when the competition seemed to race him harder in hopes of keeping him from locking up a playoff spot.
It took 10 races, at Iowa, before Moffitt won a race and that came after Chastain was disqualified. Moffit’s second win was two weeks later in Chicago. He said it’s been a “bumpy road to get here” as the No. 24 team spent much of the early part of the season making its fleet of trucks better.
“So I’d say now it’s racing as usual and everyone’s trying to get down to business here,” said Moffitt. And he feels “really good” about the business of repeating.
“Just the experience of going through the process — it had been a while since I’d raced full time for points, let alone a championship and being in winning equipment,” Moffitt said of how the 2018 playoffs will help him this year. “It’s some really tough tracks, being that there’s a couple short tracks and a superspeedway and a road course where a lot of carnage can happen. You’ve got to have the right mindset of knowing when to push and knowing when to conserve — and hopefully that experience from last year will pay off.”
Moffitt feels another difference between striving to win his first championship and defending it.
“Yeah, it’s just more expectations, and I expect more out of myself than anyone can expect out of me,” he said. “I expect to win and prove that I have what it takes, and anything short of a championship this year will be a letdown.”