Matt Crafton

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ThorSport Racing parts ways with Toyota

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ThorSport Racing announced Tuesday it has agreed with Toyota to part ways after a six-year relationship ahead of the upcoming season.

The Camping World Truck Series team earned two championships (Matt Crafton), 19 wins, 117 top fives and 227 top-10 finishes and 10 poles during their tenure with Toyota.

In their announcement, ThorSport did mention which manufacturer they’ll be paired with in 2018. ThorSport had no further comment. Toyota did not respond to a request for comment.

The team, based in Sandusky, Ohio, fielded trucks for Crafton, Cody Coughlin and Ben Rhodes in 2017. Coughlin will compete for GMS Racing this season.

ThorSport will announce their full driver lineup in the coming weeks.

The Truck Series season opens Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR Trucks champ Christopher Bell celebrates 23rd birthday with 10th Midget win in 13 starts

Photo courtesy Christopher Bell official Twitter page
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A month after capturing the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, Christopher Bell celebrated his 23rd birthday Saturday night by winning the third annual “Junior Knepper 55” USAC Midget Special in Du Quoin, Illinois.

Bell passed fellow Toyota driver Chad Boat with four laps remaining to win the event on the indoor, one-sixth-mile dirt oval.

It was the final race of the year for Bell – and what a year it has been.

It started with his first triumph in January’s Chili Bowl in Tulsa and continued with the Truck championship on Nov. 16. Then, less than a week later, there was a win in the Turkey Night Grand Prix on Thanksgiving night at California’s Ventura Raceway, which along with the Chili Bowl are the two biggest races in midget car racing.

And after starting his overall racing season with a win in Tulsa, Bell bookended checkered flags at the front and back end of the year with his win in Du Quoin.

The 2013 USAC National Midget champ qualified third for Saturday’s race. He moved into second when Boat took the lead from pole sitter Trey Marcham on Lap 18.

A final caution came out on Lap 50. On the ensuing restart, Bell took the lead on Lap 52 and would hold off fellow NASCAR driver Chase Briscoe by .295 of a second for the win, followed by Shane Golobic, Boat and Justin Grant in fifth.

It was Bell’s 10th win in 13 Midget starts this season, a 77 percent winning percentage and the most wins he’s ever earned in a season (his previous best was seven wins in the 2013 and 2014 seasons).

“To be able to win the last race of the year like that is pretty cool,” the Norman, Oklahoma native said in a media release. “Going to NASCAR has made me a better racecar driver just because it’s taught me things I didn’t learn here on the dirt.

“That’s something I’ve been able to find that when you run these really long races, you learn that you don’t have to lead lap five. You don’t have to lead lap 10. You only have to lead the last lap. That’s something I’ve really tried to apply in midget racing and it seems to have worked.”

Also, Camping World Truck star Matt Crafton made his first career Midget start, advancing to the B Main where he finished 13th, not high enough to advance to the night’s big feature.

There will be little rest for Bell and others: he will attempt to defend his Chili Bowl championship in just over three weeks – January 9-13 at the Tulsa Expo Center.

And just over a month after that, Bell will embark upon his first full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

‘Old dog’ Matt Crafton preparing to make USAC Midget debut Saturday night

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Matt Crafton is proving it’s never too late for to try new things in auto racing.

Crafton, the 41-year-old driver for ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, will break new ground Saturday night.

It all started a few months ago over dinner with Jack Irving, the director of team and support services at Toyota Racing Development.

“We were just sitting down, having dinner one night a couple of months ago and thought it would be a great idea for me to drive a midget,” Crafton said last Saturday during the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series awards banquet.

“I didn’t think it was too crazy when (Irving) brought it up,” Crafton said. “At that point, it was just casual conversation. I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ and he texted (Keith) Kunz to see if it was okay. Two days later, he told me, ‘Okay, pick where you want to go.’”

Crafton chose Saturday night’s USAC Indoor Junior Knepper 55 in DuQuoin, Illinois, as the place to make his midget debut.

He will make it in a car owned by Keith Kunz Motorsports.

On Dec. 6, the two-time Truck Series champion found himself sitting in a midget for the first time, getting fitted for the dirt car.

“About to find out if you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Crafton later tweeted.

But Crafton has already been fine tuning his dirt racing skills over the last five years. Since 2013, the Truck Series has visited Eldora Speedway, the Tony Stewart-owned dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio.

Crafton has been in every Eldora race, but before 2017 his best finish was eighth in the inaugural event.

Before this season, Crafton decided to really figure out dirt racing.

He and his father worked together to rebuild a Modified dirt car and in the downtime between Truck races, Crafton took it racing.

It worked out quickly, with Crafton coming in second in an event at Volusia Speedway Park in February.

Then in July, Crafton triumphed over Stewart Friesen to win the fifth Eldora Dirt Derby.

“It helped a lot,” Crafton said after the race. “Just learning what the track does. In the years past, I didn’t know what I was looking at to be totally honest. Just kept studying and kept studying.”

That Eldora win was the only victory for the No. 88 ThorSport Racing team in 2017, but it put Crafton in the Truck playoffs.

When the prospect of a midget race was raised to him by Irving, the pursuit of a third Truck title kept Crafton from it until the offseason.

“I wouldn’t say the Eldora win propelled any of this … but it’s definitely opened up some more doors,” Crafton said last weekend. “Now, everyone realizes how much I enjoy it and how much of a racer I am and that I love to race.

“I’ll say it again: I’m a racer. There’s a reason why I race dirt races and do everything that I do, and it’s because I want to go out and race anything and everything I possibly can. That’s why I got my own dirt modified, that’s why I got a go-kart … to be able to perfect road courses and that style of racing as well.”

One of Crafton’s teammates in Saturday’s race will be the defending Truck Series champion and dirt veteran Christopher Bell. Crafton’s also received advice from Chase Briscoe, who drove for Brad Keselowski Racing this season.

“(Briscoe) won’t be my teammate, but he sent me some in-car footage of him racing at DuQuoin and I’ve watched it 10 times, just to see what I can learn,” Crafton said. “I mean, you get about four laps, and then you try to race your way into the main event. There’s gonna be a lot of cars there, so it won’t be easy.”

“I talked to Bell this week, and he has a simulator with the midget on it, so I may go over to his house and run the simulator a little bit and see if I can figure out anything there.”

Crafton said he keeps getting pressured to take his dirt experience one step further and compete in January’s Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But Saturday’s 55-lap race comes first.

“I’d love to give (the Chili Bowl) a shot in the future. But we’ll see,” Crafton said. “I’m going out to DuQuoin to have fun; that’s the main goal.”

Here’s the final 2017 Camping World Truck Series driver standings

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Christopher Bell won the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200, with all four Championship 4 drivers finishing within four points of each other.

Bell finished with 4,035 points, 2016 Truck champ Johnny Sauter finished second in the standings with 4,034 points, rookie Austin Cindric finished third (4,032) and two-time series champ Matt Crafton finished fourth (4,031).

Click here for the final 2017 season driver standings.

MORE: Christopher Bell wins Truck Series championship, Chase Briscoe earns first career Truck win

MORE: Results, statistics from Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck season finale

Christopher Bell wins Truck title, Chase Briscoe earns first career series win

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The first champion of the NASCAR Championship Weekend was crowned Friday night as Christopher Bell earned his first Camping World Truck Series title.

Chase Briscoe won the race, the Ford EcoBoost 200, leading a race-high 77 laps in the 134-lap event, while Bell captured the championship by finishing second.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bell told FS1. “These trucks are so good and they pay so much attention to all the detail that goes into these things, and that’s what makes these Tundras so fast. I’m just speechless.”

MORE: Results, statistics from Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck season finale

MORE: Here’s the final 2017 Camping World Truck Series driver standings

Bell, an Oklahoma native who turns 23 on Dec. 16, has already been announced to drive next season in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. He ends the 2017 Truck campaign with five wins and 21 top-10s in 23 Truck races.

“To be see Christopher be able to mature and grow … it just goes to show these guys develop and we do a good job of developing these guys,” team owner Kyle Busch told FS1. “Erik Jones won our first driver’s championship and now with Christopher Bell bringing home our second, it just continues to solidify our legacy.”

Briscoe, who also turns 23 one day before his good friend Bell, helped send Brad Keselowski Racing out on a high note. BKR is closing after this season.

“This is a long time coming,” Briscoe told FS1. “I’m so proud of these guys to know they’re not going to have job next year, yet they continue to bring real good trucks even though we were outside of the playoffs. … For those guys to continue to believe in me, I’m so blessed and thankful.”

Briscoe was also named Truck Series Rookie of the Year.

Team owner Brad Keselowski, who will be vying for the NASCAR Cup championship on Sunday, told FS1 about Briscoe: “He has a big, bright future ahead of him and along with (BKR teammate) Austin Cindric and I’m just happy to play a role and help him out.”

The other Championship 4 contestants that came up short were 2016 Truck champ Johnny Sauter (finished third), Austin Cindric (fifth) and Matt Crafton (sixth).

STAGE WINNERS: Stage 1 (Christopher Bell), Stage 2 (Ben Rhodes)

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Cindric showed a lot of mettle while running near the front much of the race. Not bad for a 19-year-old rookie. … Bell did exactly what he needed to do to win the title: finish ahead of his other three challengers.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Noah Gragson had a rough night, finishing 18th, three laps behind the leaders.

NOTABLE: Toyota earned its fifth consecutive Truck Manufacturers Championship, and 10th overall in the last 14 seasons. … With the exception of the two cautions between stages, there were no other cautions caused from on-track action.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This whole organization, this whole team has been so good for so many years, you just don’t want to be that guy to let them down – and I’m really glad I didn’t let them down tonight.” – 2017 Truck Series champ Christopher Bell (via FS1).

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2017 season has concluded. The next race is the 2018 NextEra Energy Resources 250, Friday February 16, Daytona International Speedway.