Enfinger dominates in Truck’s return at Milwaukee Mile, clinches Playoff’s Round of 8 spot

With his racing plans for next season undetermined amid the announcement of GMS Racing’s closure at this season’s conclusion, Grant Enfinger made a pivotal statement in a pair of quests to fight for this year’s championship and to keep his name on the grid by scoring a dominant victory in the Clean Harbors 175 at the Milwaukee Mile on Sunday, August 27.

The 37-year-old Enfinger from Fairhope, Alabama, led three times for a race-high 95 of 175-scheduled laps in an event where he qualified on the pole position and dominated the event by sweeping both stage periods. Despite losing a handful of spots on pit road during both stage breaks and pitting for fresh tires along with the majority of the field that dropped him from the top five to 16th, Enfinger benefited through two late-race restarts and the fresh tires to muscle his way back to the front and withstand a battle against Playoff contender Carson Hocevar with 16 laps remaining to drive away and cruise to his third NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory of the 2023 season and advance to the Playoff’s Round of 8.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Sunday, Playoff competitor Grant Enfinger started on the pole position for the first time this season after posting a pole-winning lap at 122.848 mph in 29.744 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Playoff competitor Nick Sanchez, who clocked in the second-best qualifying lap at 122.601 mph in 29.804 seconds.

Prior to the event, Playoff contender Ty Majeski, who won the previous Truck event at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, dropped to the rear of the field and was assessed a pass-through penalty at the start of the event after NASCAR confiscated a right-rear tire in pre-race inspection, a penalty that resulted with crew chief Joe Shear Jr. being ejected from the event. In addition, Greg Van Alst, Josh Reaume and Playoff competitor Matt DiBenedetto dropped to the rear of the field for missing driver introductions along with Matt Mills, whose No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry faced unapproved adjustments.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Enfinger used the outside lane to retain the lead ahead of Sanchez through the first two turns and entering the backstretch. As the field behind jostled for early positions, Enfinger was able to fend off another charge from Sanchez, who was running on the inside lane, to lead the first lap as Taylor Gray trailed closely behind in third.

Through the second lap, Sanchez tried to draw even against Enfinger’s No. 23 Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet Silverado RST through the first two turns, but Enfinger was able to gain the advantage from the outside lane to retain the top spot through the backstretch. As Majeski served his pass-through penalty, Taylor Gray continued to trail closely behind the two leaders as Enfinger retained a narrow advantage over Sanchez.

Through the first five scheduled laps, Enfinger was leading by half a second over Sanchez followed by Taylor Gray, Christian Eckes and Carson Hocevar while Corey Heim, Chase Purdy, Ben Rhodes, William Sawalich and rookie Jake Garcia were in the top 10. By then, Tanner Gray was in 11th ahead of Tyler Ankrum, rookie Daniel Dye, rookie Rajah Caruth and Bayley Currey while Zane Smith, Derek Kraus, Matt Crafton, Hailie Deegan and Dean Thompson occupied the top 20. In addition, Majeski was in 36th, dead last, and trailing the lead pack by nearly 21 seconds.

Then on the 10th lap, the first caution of the event flew when Josh Bilicki blew a tire and collided his No. 02 Insurance King Chevrolet Silverado RST against the outside wall in Turn 2 as he became the first retiree of the event.

When the race restarted on Lap 17, Enfinger used the outside lane to his advantage as he fended off Sanchez to retain the lead through the backstretch while Taylor Gray mounted a challenge for the runner-up spot on Sanchez through Turns 3 and 4. As Enfinger proceeded to lead by nearly four-tenths of a second, Majeski continued to mount his charge back to the front as he moved his No. 98 Road Ranger Ford F-150 up to 26th while Hocevar, Heim and Eckes occupied the top six on the track.

At the Lap 25 mark, Enfinger was leading by four-tenths of a second over Sanchez followed by Taylor Gray, Hocevar and Heim while Eckes, Purdy, Sawalich, Rhodes and Garcia battled within the top 10. By then, Playoff competitors Crafton and Zane Smith were in 14th and 15th, Majeski carved his way towards 16th and DiBenedetto was mired back in 26th behind newcomer Sean Hingorani, who was piloting Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 61 entry.

Ten laps later, Enfinger extended his advantage over Sanchez while Taylor Gray, Hocevar and Heim remained in the top five. With Eckes, Purdy, Sawalich, Rhodes and Garcia remaining in the top 10, Kraus was in 11th ahead of Tanner Gray and Zane Smith while Majeski moved up to 14th ahead of Ankrum and Crafton.

Another 10 laps later, Enfinger continued to extend his advantage as he was more than two seconds ahead of Sanchez while Taylor Gray, Hocevar and Heim retained the top on the track. Eckes, Sawalich, Purdy and Rhodes also retained positions sixth through ninth while Kraus moved up to 10th over Garcia. In addition, Majeski was in 12th, Zane Smith was back in 14th, Crafton fell back to 17th ahead of Matt Mills and DiBenedetto was mired a lap down in 29th.

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 55, Enfinger notched his second Truck stage victory of the 2023 season. Sanchez settled in second as he trailed Enfinger by nearly two seconds while Taylor Gray, Heim, Eckes, Hocevar, Sawalich, Kraus, Purdy and Rhodes were scored in the top 10. By then, 24 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while Majeski was up to 11th. Majeski, however, joined teammate Crafton, Zane Smith and DiBenedetto as Playoff competitors to not score stage points during the first stage period.

Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Enfinger pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Heim exited first and assumed the lead for the first time in the event followed by Enfinger, who was boxed in behind Purdy during his pit service. Eckes, Hocevar, Matt Mills, Sawalich, Taylor Gray and Sanchez, who lost six spots on pit road, followed suit. Amid the pit stops, Majeski plummeted to 23rd after enduring a slow pit service from his pit crew.

The second stage started on Lap 64 as Heim and Enfinger occupied the front row. As Heim and Enfinger dueled for the lead through the first two turns, the caution quickly returned after Greg Van Alst, who was running towards the rear of the field, locked up his tires due to an apparent mechanical issue and collided into Brad Perez as both competitors wrecked against the Turn 1 outside wall, with both having their events coming to an end.

When the event restarted under green on Lap 71, Heim and Enfinger again dueled for the lead through the first two turns until Heim was able to muscle ahead from the outside lane and clear the field through the backstretch. As Heim retained the lead, Enfinger fended off Eckes to remain in the runner-up spot while Sawalich, who won the ARCA Menards Series East event at Milwaukee earlier in the day, battled Eckes for third. With the field fanning out behind, Eckes fended off Sawalich for third place and Sanchez moved up to fifth in front of Hocevar, Taylor Gray and Purdy while Heim started to extend his advantage to eight-tenths of a second over Enfinger nearing the Lap 75 mark.

At the Lap 85 mark, Heim stabilized his advantage to two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Enfinger, who had managed to close the gap from trailing half a second a lap earlier. Enfinger then drew himself into a duel against Heim through the frontstretch a lap later, but Heim maintained the advantage as he continued to run on the outside lane while third-place Eckes trailed by nearly three seconds. With Enfinger continuing to trail by within two-tenths of a second, Heim retained the lead just past the Lap 90 mark.

Then on Lap 95, Enfinger was able to race his way around Heim’s No. 11 Safelite Toyota Tundra TRD Pro to reassume the lead. Enfinger would proceed to extend his advantage to nine-tenths of a second over Heim at the Lap 100 mark while Eckes, Sawalich and Hocevar were in the top five. Behind, Sanchez, Majeski, Crafton, Zane Smith and Tanner Gray occupied the top 10 while Taylor Gray, Rhodes, Purdy, Kraus and Ankrum followed suit in the top 15. With nine of 10 Playoff competitors running in the top 12 on the track, DiBenedetto was mired back in 27th and not on the lead lap category.

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 110, Enfinger notched his third Truck stage victory of the 2023 season and second of the day after retaining the lead by more than two seconds over Heim, who settled in second. Eckes, Hocevar, Sawalich, Sanchez, Majeski, Crafton, Tanner Gray and Zane Smith were scored in the top 10. By then, 23 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.

During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Enfinger pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Eckes emerged as the new leader after exiting first followed by Hocevar and Sanchez while Enfinger fell back to fourth after losing three spots on pit road in front of Rhodes and Heim, who lost four spots on pit road.

With 57 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as Eckes and Hocevar occupied the front row. At the start, Eckes and Hocevar dueled for the lead until Hocevar rocketed ahead with the lead from the inside lane through the first two turns. As the field fanned out to three lanes through the backstretch, Hocevar retained the lead by two-tenths of a second over Eckes while Sanchez retained third ahead of Enfinger, a hard-charging Rhodes and Tanner Gray as Crafton challenged teammate Majeski for seventh place. A few laps later, Majeski went wide in Turn 1, which allowed Crafton, Kraus, Heim and Sawalich to overtake him.

Following another caution period with 52 laps remaining when Spencer Boyd spun entering Turn 2, the race restarted under green with 46 laps remaining. At the start, Hocevar and Eckes dueled for the lead for a second time through the first two turns until Hocevar managed to zip ahead in his No. 42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado RST on the outside lane. As the field fanned out behind, Sanchez overtook Eckes through the frontstretch while Hocevar muscled ahead by three-tenths of a second. In addition, Enfinger retained fourth ahead of Kraus, Heim overtook Tanner Gray for sixth place and Crafton followed suit in seventh during the proceeding laps. By then, Majeski battled Sawalich for 10th while Rhodes was in ninth.

Then with 41 laps remaining, Sawalich, who was having a stellar race in 10th place, got loose underneath Rhodes in a bid for ninth place, spun backward and crashed against the Turn 1 outside wall as he emerged with significant rear-end damage to his No. 1 Starkey/Soundgear Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. During the caution period, some led by Hocevar and including Kraus, Tanner Gray, Ankrum, Sean Hingorani, Rajah Caruth and Hailie Deegan remained on the track while the rest of the lead lap field pitted.

During the proceeding restart with 35 laps remaining, where Hocevar and Kraus occupied the front row, Hocevar retained the lead after gaining a strong start from the outside lane while Tanner Gray dueled against Kraus for the runner-up spot. Shortly after, however, the caution quickly returned when Sanchez, who was trying to carve his way back to the front from the top 10, got boxed in behind Deegan and hit by Heim entering Turn 3 as he spun his No. 2 Gainbridge Chevrolet Silverado RST backward and hit the outside wall, which spoiled his strong run towards the front.

With the race restarting under green with 28 laps remaining, Hocevar muscled ahead of Tanner Gray from the outside lane to retain the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch. As the field fanned out to three and four lanes through the backstretch, Hocevar was leading by three-tenths of a second during the following lap while Kraus overtook Tanner Gray for the runner-up spot. In addition, Enfinger bolted his way into third as he used the outside lane to gain momentum and overtake both Tanner Gray and Eckes for spots. With Enfinger moving up the leaderboard, Crafton also boosted his way into the top five as he navigated his No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 in fifth while Heim was mired in seventh in between Tanner Gray and Ankrum with 25 laps remaining.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Hocevar was leading by three-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Enfinger, who was running on fresher tires than Hocevar, while Kraus, Eckes and Crafton engaged in a fierce three-truck battle for third place, with Eckes and Crafton moving up to third and fourth while Kraus fell back to fifth. By then, Heim was in sixth while Majeski was mired in seventh and trailing by more than four seconds.

Three laps later, Enfinger gained a run on Hocevar through Turns 3 and 4 as both dueled for the lead through the frontstretch. Enfinger then rocketed ahead entering Turns 1 and 2 before he went wide, which allowed Hocevar to pull a crossover move and try to challenge Enfinger again for the lead on the inside lane. Enfinger, though, managed to withstand a side-by-side duel and near bump from Hocevar exiting the backstretch and entering Turns 3 and 4 before muscling ahead with 16 laps remaining. Enfinger would retain the top spot during the proceeding laps, but not by a large margin as Hocevar kept Enfinger’s No. 23 Chevrolet within his sights while mounting repetitive challenges through the turns.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Enfinger was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Hocevar followed by Eckes, Crafton and Heim while Kraus, Majeski, Purdy, Garcia and Tanner Gray were in the top 10. By then, Zane Smith was in 11th, Rhodes was in 16th, Sanchez was mired back in 24th and DiBendetto was down in 27th while two laps behind.

With five laps remaining, Enfinger managed to extend his advantage to nine-tenths of a second over Hocevar while third-place Eckes trailed by more than a second while also starting to close in on Hocevar for the runner-up spot. By then, Heim moved up to fourth while Crafton fell back to fifth. In addition, Purdy and Majeski pulled a three-wide move on Kraus through the frontstretch to move up to sixth and seventh on the track.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Enfinger remained as the leader by more than a second and a half over Hocevar. With both Hocevar and Eckes unable to gain ground to mount a final lap charge, Enfinger was able to smoothly navigate his way around the Milwaukee circuit for a final time and cross the finish line to claim his third checkered flag of the 2023 Truck season after winning by more than a second and a half over Hocevar.

With the victory, Grant Enfinger, who won the first Truck event at the Milwaukee Mile since the circuit’s return spanning back to 2009, achieved his 10th career victory in the Craftsman Truck Series, his third of the season and first since winning at Worldwide Technology Raceway in early June. The Alabama native also recorded the 45th Truck career victory for GMS Racing, a two-time Truck championship-winning organization that announced four days earlier that it would cease operations at the conclusion of the 2023 season.

By virtue of winning the second Truck Playoff event of the 2023 season, Enfinger became the second competitor to clinch a spot for the Playoff’s Round of 8 alongside Ty Majeski as he continues his pursuit for his first Truck championship.

“I don’t want to hear anybody asking if we’re going to lay down again,” Enfinger said on FS1. “[Crew chief] Jeff Hensley’s been focused the whole year. There’s been distractions going on all year long, so if anything, that’s clarity. None of these guys, including me, have a job next year, but I feel like we proved we deserve one. We had a heck of a Champion Power Equipment Chevy. I don’t know if we had a dominant truck, but we had a winning truck. [I] Got put behind the 8-ball there at the end, but it was fun racing. I hope the fans enjoyed it. This [win] is special for a lot of reasons.”

“Did we execute perfectly today?” Enfinger added. “No, but we’ve had speed all year long. When we’ve hit it, when the guys hit it, we’ve done this twice now this year. We’ve got three wins, but we’ve had three trucks like this in my opinion. This is a brand-new truck. I can’t say thank you enough for GMS Fabrication, GMS Racing, not just this year and not just lately, but the whole year last year. They were just as much effort put into this stuff. I’m glad some of our fruits are showing.”

Hocevar managed to fend off Eckes to finish in the runner-up for the first time and for his ninth top-five result of the season. With the result, Hocevar is 56 points above the top-eight cutline entering the upcoming Round of 10 finale at Kansas Speedway.

“Our No. 42 Chevy was really fast,” Hocevar said. “I was finding lines. I was driving like a dirt car, sliding myself, running the top [lane]. I don’t know how good the fans loved it or how good the racing, but I had a lot of fun being able to move around when I didn’t think we were gonna be able to. Just kind of a bummer to run second. Luckily, we’ve been fortunate to win some races. Just close.”

Playoff contenders Christian Eckes and Corey Heim finished third and fourth at the Milwaukee Mile, but both were able to secure spots for the Round of 8 based on points as they will proceed forward to the Playoff’s second round along with Enfinger and Majeski.

Matt Crafton came home in fifth place for his second top-five result of the season and first since finishing fourth at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Course in April. As a result, he is currently nine points above the top-eight cutline.

Chase Purdy, Ty Majeski, Derek Kraus, rookie Jake Garcia and Bayley Currey completed the top 10 on the track. In addition, Playoff competitors Zane Smith, Ben Rhodes, rookie Nick Sanchez and Matt DiBenedetto finished 12th, 16th, 24th and 27th, respectively, as Rhodes and DiBenedetto are below the top-eight cutline in the Playoff standings.

There were five lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 44 laps. In addition, 26 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.

Results.

1. Grant Enfinger, 95 laps led, Stages 1 & 2 winner

2. Carson Hocevar, 40 laps led

3. Christian Eckes, five laps led

4. Corey Heim, 35 laps led

5. Matt Crafton

6. Chase Purdy

7. Ty Majeski

8. Derek Kraus

9. Jake Garcia

10. Bayley Currey

11. Tanner Gray

12. Zane Smith

13. Taylor Gray

14. Rajah Caruth

15. Dean Thompson

16. Ben Rhodes

17. Colby Howard

18. Connor Jones

19. Bret Holmes

20. Tyler Ankrum

21. Lawless Alan

22. Hailie Deegan

23. Sean Hingorani

24. Nick Sanchez

25. Matt Mills

26. William Sawalich

27. Matt DiBenedetto, two laps down

28. Daniel Dye, two laps down

29. Tyler Hill, two laps down

30. Stewart Friesen, three laps down

31. Derek Lemke, three laps down

32. Spencer Boyd, three laps down

33. Josh Reaume, four laps down

34. Greg Van Alst – OUT, Accident

35. Brad Perez – OUT, Accident

36. Josh Bilicki – OUT, Accident

*Bold indicates Playoff contenders

Playoff standings.

1. Grant Enfinger – Advanced

2. Ty Majeski – Advanced

3. Corey Heim – Advanced

4. Christian Eckes – Advanced

5. Carson Hocevar +56

6. Zane Smith +29

7. Matt Crafton +9

8. Nick Sanchez +3

9. Ben Rhodes -3

10. Matt DiBenedetto -20

The Round of 10 in the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Playoffs is set to conclude at Kansas Speedway on September 8, which will determine the Playoff’s Round of 8 field. The event’s broadcast time is scheduled to commence at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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