Stewart Friesen

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‘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.”

Chase Briscoe earns Miami Truck pole; Austin Cindric highest of Championship 4 drivers

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Chase Briscoe took the pole for tonight’s Camping World Truck Series season-ending and championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Briscoe was fastest with a speed of 167.499 mph, followed by Ben Rhodes (167.348 mph), who will also sit on the front row when the green flag drops tonight.

Three of the four Championship 4 drivers didn’t qualify as well as they might have liked.

One did, however, as 19-year-old Austin Cindric qualified third (166.831). Cindric and Briscoe are both competing in the final race for Brad Keselowski Racing, which is folding after this season.

As for the other three Championship 4 drivers, two-time Truck champ Matt Crafton qualified eighth (165.614), defending series champ Johnny Sauter (165.092) qualified 11th, and Christopher Bell (165.309) failed to advance past the first round of qualifying. He’ll start tonight’s championship race 13th.

As for the rest of the top 12 qualifiers who are not running for the championship, Grant Enfinger was fourth (166.590) followed by Noah Gragson (165.909), Ryan Truex (165.848) and Justin Haley in seventh (165.705). Also, Stewart Friesen qualified ninth (165.431), Kaz Grala was 10th (165.203) and Myatt Snider was 12th (161.575).

The Ford EcoBoost 200 will take the green flag shortly after 8 p.m. ET. The race will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for the full qualifying grid.

Rookie Chase Briscoe wins truck pole at Martinsville

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — Chase Briscoe captured the third pole position of his Camping World Truck Series career Saturday, turning a 95.762-mph lap at Martinsville Speedway.

The Brad Keselowski Racing rookie outqualified former series champion Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Johnny Sauter and Noah Gragson.

Austin Cindric, Ryan Truex, Kaz Grala, Mason Diaz and Harrison Burton rounded out the top 10.

Stewart Friesen and Gray Gaulding also reached the final round of qualifying for Saturday’s race, which will begin at 1 p.m./

Click here for qualifying results at Martinsville.

Stewart Friesen fastest in final Truck practice at Martinsville

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With practice extended 12 minutes due to a mid-session red flag, Stewart Friesen roared to the top of the Camping World Truck Series speed chart late in Friday’s second and final practice session.

Friesen covered the .526-mile paper clip-shaped oval at 94.713 mph.

Harrison Burton was second at 94.055 mph, followed by defending Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter (94.050), Ben Rhodes (94.036) and Kaz Grala (93.924).

Sixth through 10th were Noah Gragson (93.687), Matt Crafton (93.659), Chase Briscoe (93.631), John Hunter Nemechek (93.608) and Justin Haley (93.451).

There was only one significant incident in the session:

Rookie Dawson Cram stopped on the frontstretch with about 31 minutes left after suffering what appeared to be an engine issue. The 16-year-old Cram is hoping to make his Truck Series debut in Saturday’s race.

Safety crews put Cram’s truck in a flat-bed to prevent further spreading of oil from his engine on the racetrack. As a result, the track was placed under red-flag conditions for approximately 12 minutes to clean up oil from Cram’s vehicle.

As a result, the end of practice was extended from 3:55 p.m. ET to 4:07 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full practice speed grid.

Christopher Bell wins pole for today’s Truck race at Talladega

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Christopher Bell will start on the pole for today’s Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway after a lap of 180.118 mph. It is Bell’s fourth pole of the season.

Reigning series champion Johnny Sauter will start second after a lap of 179.027 mph.

They are followed by Stewart Friesen (178.753 mph), Justin Haley (178.188) and Chase Briscoe (177.771).

Kaz Grala, who is eight points out of a transfer spot, was third fastest in the opening session of qualifying but did not make an attempt in the final round because of leaking fluids. His team will change the engine.

Click here for starting lineup