Crafton clinches NASCAR Truck Series championship
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Matt Crafton just needed to avoid a disaster to clinch a second straight Truck Series championship.
No big deal at all for the grizzled, 38-year-old veteran.
Crafton became the first driver to win consecutive Truck championships when he clinched the title with a ninth-place finish Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“To say I made history is definitely very, very cool, but it’s all about the guys that are behind me,” Crafton said. “Without them, I’m just an average race car driver at best.”
All he had to do was finish 21st or better in the 134-lap race contested by a field mostly full of up-and-comers. There was never any doubt.
Darrell Wallace Jr. earned his fourth win of the season.
Wallace and truck owner/driver Kyle Busch went bumper-to-bumper for a celebratory spinout.
“That was on the fly, man,” Busch said. “I just stopped and waited. I’ll have to see what it looked like on TV but from where I was sitting, it looked pretty cool.”
Busch finished fourth, and his Kyle Busch Motorsports team won the driver’s championship.
Kyle Larson was second, Timothy Peters third and Ryan Blaney fifth. Blaney was runner-up to Crafton in the final standings.
Wallace held off Larson and Blaney down the stretch, tangled in a three-wide battle for a thrilling finish, giving Toyota its 18th win of the series in 22 Truck races.
Wallace broke down in tears after the race, perhaps racing in the Truck Series for KBM for the final time.
“I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but this is one hell of a way to go out,” he said.
Up next for Crafton is celebrating a second career championship.
In his 15th full season in the series, Crafton won at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway and had 17 top-10 finishes. This was the first time Crafton won multiple races in a season. His average finish was seventh.
Crafton, who drives for ThorSport Racing, has made four career Nationwide starts and has never started a Cup race.
He had last year’s championship wrapped up as soon as the green flag dropped at Homestead. On Friday, Crafton, who made his series-high 337th straight start, was smooth on and off the gas over the final laps to make the championship a mere formality.
His parents watched from the pits. His mother buried her face in her hands, hoping Crafton could hang on.
“I wanted to race so much harder tonight,” Crafton said. “I kept asking, I was just waiting for them to say that there were like 20 trucks running at that point and then I could go. When it was five (laps) to go and I had asked again how many trucks were still in, and there were 22 on the lead lap, I said I couldn’t take any chances. I know I could have went further forward, but I said it is what it is.”
Ben Kennedy earned Truck Series rookie of the year honors.
Kyle Busch added another owner’s title to go with the ones his team won in 2010 and 2013. KBM won 14 of 22 races.
“It’s a great milestone for us,” Busch said. “It’s been fun to capture all those moments. But none greater than this one.”