Todd Gilliland

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Matt Crafton wins third career Truck Series championship

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Matt Crafton may not have won a race this season – in fact, he hasn’t won since Eldora in mid-2017 – but he won the biggest prize of all Friday night, capturing the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Driving the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford, Crafton finished second to race winner Austin Hill (led a race-high 56 laps), but placed higher than the other Championship 4 drivers – Ross Chastain (finished fourth in the race, second in the season standings), 2018 champ Brett Moffitt (fifth in the race and third in the season standings) and Stewart Friesen (11th in the race and fourth in the season standings) – to take home his third career Truck championship.

Wrapping up his 19th full-time season in the Truck Series, Crafton’s previous titles were in 2013 and 2014. He finishes the season with zero wins, seven top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.

Click here for results.

Click here for final 2019 season standings

“It’s amazing, just one step closer to what Hornaday has done,” Crafton told FS1, alluding to NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.’s record four Truck championships. Hornaday joined Crafton to celebrate in victory lane. Crafton is now tied for second on the all-time Truck Series championships list with Jack Sprague (three titles apiece).

“They called us the underdog, that I didn’t have it, but we fought harder than everyone, I guarantee you, every one of these guys worked harder,” Crafton said to FS1.  “This thing ran flawless all night, the motor was very good as well. Everything just went our way.”

Matt Crafton and his team celebrate after winning the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Crafton even poked a bit of fun at himself, having endured criticism and questions of his ability for not having won in over two years, and also having issues on restarts that led to some calling him “the old man” (at 43, Crafton was the oldest of the four Championship 4 drivers: Friesen is 36, Moffitt is 27 and Chastain is the youngest at 26).

“I guess I finally got up off the wheelchair and got up on the wheel and got it done,” Crafton told FS1 with a laugh. “I took a lot of criticism over restarts and it was time to get it done now.”

The rest of the top 10 finishers in the season finale were Christian Eckes (third place), Chastain, Moffitt, Johnny Sauter, Grant Enfinger, Todd Gilliland, Sheldon Creed and Parker Kligerman.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill led the last 2 laps to win the stage after Ross Chastain led first 28 laps

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill wins stage again. Only one driver has won the first two stages and then gone on to win the Truck race this season: Kyle Busch.

Who else had a good race: Austin Hill continued his late-season surge. Friday’s win was his third in the last eight races and fourth of the season. He bookends the season, having won the season opener at Daytona and the season finale a few hundred miles south in Homestead. “That’s probably the best truck I’ve had,” Hill told FS1. “We just showed how good we actually were. … Awesome way to end the season.”

Who had a bad race: Anthony Alfredo’s season ended before the race even began. Upon starting the engine, he developed a large fluid leak, leaving his team to push him back to the garage, his night over. … Ray Ciccarelli’s day ended after 46 laps when the motor in his truck blew up.

Notable: Making only his third career Truck Series start, Tanner Gray was running in the top 10 before finishing 16th. The 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champ’s previous best finish was 17th last week at Phoenix. … Christian Eckes drove the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota to clinch the owner’s championship.

What’s next: The 2020 season kicks off three months from now at Daytona International Speedway with the NextEra Energy 250 on February 14, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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Jagger Jones earns K&N West Rookie of the Year honors

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Like grandfather, like father and now like son. Racing success is definitely a tradition in the Jones family.

Jagger Jones has followed in the shoes of his legendary grandfather Parnelli and father P.J., capturing the 2019 Sunoco K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, it was announced Wednesday.

“(Winning Rookie of the Year) and to win races, those were our two main goals,” the youngest Jones, of Scottsdale, Arizona, said in a statement. “I think the whole season we’ve led the Rookie of the Year standings, which is pretty cool, and separated ourselves from the other rookies and got it done.”

Driving for Sunrise Ford and team owner Bob Bruncati, the 17-year-old Jones earned one win, eight top fives and 11 top 10s in the 14-race season. He also earned one pole, led 248 laps and had an average finish of 5.4. He finished second in the overall standings behind champion Derek Krause and three points ahead of third-ranked Hailie Deegan.

MORE: Parnelli Jones’ grandson Jagger set to make own racing mark in K&N debut

Brittney Zamora, driving for Bill McAnally Racing, finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.

“McAnally versus Sunrise was definitely the race in the West competition wise,” Jones said. “To get that and finish second in the points in my rookie season, I was pretty pleased with that.”

Jones becomes the sixth Sunrise Ford Racing driver in the last 13 years to win the top rookie honors, joining Jason Bowles (2007), Luis Martinez Jr. (2010), Austin Dyne (2012), Dylan Lupton (2013) and James Bickford (2014). Bill McAnally Racing won the top rookie award in each of the last three seasons: Todd Gilliland (2016), Derek Kraus (2017) and Hailie Deegan (2018).

Sam Mayer previously won the K&N Pro Series East Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for 2019.

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Austin Hill takes pole for tonight’s Truck race at ISM Raceway

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Austin Hill bumped Stewart Friesen late in qualifying to take the pole for tonight’s Lucas Oil 150 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix.

Hill took the pole with a speed of 133.230 mph. Friesen will start alongside Hill on the front row with a qualifying run of 133.126 mph.

“I tried to hit my marks as best as I could,” Hill told FS1. “I didn’t think it was a great lap. … That’s the best it finished all day. Now we’re starting on the pole. Now we just have to go and finish this thing off.”

Hill and Friesen were the only drivers to exceed 133 mph in the session.

Qualifying third through 10th in the 34-truck field were Sheldon Creed (132.989 mph), Ben Rhodes (132.949), Ty Majeski (132.876), Chandler Smith (132.836), Brandon Jones (132.738), Grant Enfinger (132.704), Todd Gilliland (132.694) and Matt Crafton (132.528).

One incident of note occurred to the No 18 Toyota Tundra of Harrison Burton. He was unable to get his truck started to make a qualifying attempt and, as a result, will start tonight’s race from the back of the field.

Tonight’s race will take the green flag shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on FS1.

Click here for the full qualifying results.

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NASCAR America: Kyle Busch has a ‘hell of a lot more’ to worry about than Aric Almirola

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Aric Almirola vowed last weekend to make the final three races of the Cup Series season “hell” for Kyle Busch after they were involved in a wreck at Martinsville that eliminated Almirola from the race.

A big difference between the two drivers is that Busch is still in the playoffs, while Almirola was eliminated after the first round.

While appearing on Wednesday’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths, Busch brushed off Almirola’s threat when asked if he was concerned about retaliation from Almirola.

“Look, I got a hell of a lot more than Aric Almirola to worry about every single week, OK?” said Busch, who is trying to win his second Cup title. “There’s 40 other guys that would probably love to get the action in on the 18 car as well, too. Because you’re a fan favorite as soon as you do. Aric’s not the only guy. There’s others that are out there. We’ll race them as we need to race them and what happens happens.”

His run-in with Almirola wasn’t the only story Busch was part of in Martinsville.

On Saturday, one of Busch’s drivers in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Todd Gilliland, broke through with his first career Truck Series win after 46 starts.

Gilliland, who has been the subject of criticism from Busch over his struggles to win, let his frustrations be known over his team radio after taking the checkered flag.

“Kyle Busch you can stay in your (expletive) motorhome,” Gilliland said.

Busch, who had been in his Cup team’s hauler during the race, said he “may or may not have known” about Gilliland’s comments when he went to congratulate the driver on his win.

“I just walked up to him and said ‘Hey man, congratulations. Good job. You got it done, won your race. You and the team. Keep it going,” Busch said. “Just handled it the way I did in the instance.”

While Gilliland later publicly apologized for his comment, Busch said the two of them “talked it out” over the phone on Tuesday.

“He went to apologize, kind of the same thing that he said on Twitter,” Busch said. “I’m like, ‘OK, it’s all fine. Not really sure that’s the first time you’ve thought of that because it came so easily.'”

Busch made sure to mention that Gilliland’s job security is still intact for the final two races of the season.

“Everybody’s wondering, ‘Is he fired?’ No, he’s going to finish out the season,” Busch said.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Martin Truex Jr. pulls ahead of Denny Hamlin

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After two weeks atop the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, Denny Hamlin is out and Martinsville winner Martin Truex Jr. is back in the No. 1 spot.

But fear not Hamlin fans. Your driver didn’t fall far. He drops to second place, three points behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in the weekly voting of NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

As for the other JGR driver still in the playoffs, Kyle Busch, he plummets from second to 10th this week. But at least he’s not like Chase Elliott, who fell out of this week’s rankings after being third last week.

The biggest gainer is William Byron (eighth last week to third this week).

Here are the power rankings ahead of Sunday’s Round of 8 playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN):

1. Martin Truex Jr. (39 points). Had never won a short track race in Cup before this year. Now has three wins. And also has three wins in the playoffs. 3 + 3 = No. 1 in the rankings. Last week: Fourth.

2. Denny Hamlin (36 points). Could the championship come down to a battle between the two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates? It’s sure starting to look like that. Last week: First.

3. William Byron (30 points). If he had just a couple more laps or a slightly faster car, Byron might have earned his first Cup career win at Martinsville. Don’t be surprised if he wins one of the three remaining races this season – he’s ready. Last week: Eighth.

4. Ryan Blaney (24 points). Fifth-place finish gave him three top fives at short tracks this season. Last week: Ninth (tied).

5. Kevin Harvick (23 points). Has been kind of quiet of late but could generate a lot of noise in the next two races at two of his favorite race tracks. Last week: Fifth.

6. Joey Logano (14 points). Given the number of confrontations with other drivers he’s had this season – as well as with Denny Hamlin throughout his career – karma may be harder to beat than all his rivals. Last week: Ninth (tied).

7. Brad Keselowski (13 points). Showed he still has a lot of gas left in his tank despite no longer being in contention for the championship. Could still be a dangerous spoiler for remaining title contenders. Last week: Unranked.

(tie) 8. Kurt Busch (11 points). Who would have thought he’d be ranked higher in this week’s rankings than his little brother? Even though he’s no longer in the playoffs, he’s driving like he still is. Like Keselowski, could be a dark horse in the remaining three races. Last week: Unranked.

(tie) 9. Kyle Larson (11 points). Scoring nine points in Stage 2 at Martinsville helped take the sting away from a rough race and ninth-place finish. Last week: Seventh.

10. Kyle Busch (8 points). Has he smiled once since the playoffs began? An even better question: Could anyone have expected that the regular season champ would fall this far? Last week: Second.

Others receiving votes: Chase Elliott (6 points), Ryan Newman (2 points), Todd Gilliland (2 points), Bubba Wallace (1 point).

  • Kyle Busch is scheduled to be on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths from 5-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN.