POINTS: First (third NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship in last seven seasons)
WINS: Zero (has not won since Eldora in 2017)
LAPS LED: 44
TOP 5s: 7
TOP 10s: 18
POLES: Three (Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: While so much attention was focused on drivers like Ross Chastain, Austin Hill, Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen and Johnny Sauter, Crafton went about his season with diligence and determination. Even though he still hasn’t won a race in nearly 2 ½ years, he did what he needed to do to finish second in the season finale at Miami and earn just enough points to capture his third Trucks title in seven years. … Had the best single-season starting average of his Truck career (7.3).
WHAT WENT WRONG: Crafton proved you don’t always need to win races to win championships (it certainly helps, though). But the fact he hasn’t won in his last 58 starts is disconcerting. Still, he had an overall solid year, even if he didn’t get much attention until the final race of the season.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020: Now that he’s tied Jack Sprague for second on the all-time Trucks championship list (three titles apiece), look for Crafton – who will turn 44 next June 11 – to try and pick things up a few more notches to challenge and try to catch the all-time Trucks leader, Ron Hornaday Jr., and his four championships.
NASCAR Talk continues its offseason Power Rankings, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.
Today, we present our picks for the top driver/crew chief combinations in the sport.
There are a few surprises, for sure. Most notably: 2019 Cup champion Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens did not take the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
We’re asking fans to give their take on our picks (choose from Cup, Xfinity or Trucks). Do you agree or disagree – and why? Take our poll at the bottom of these rankings.
The top driver/crew chief rankings:
1. Martin Truex Jr./Cole Pearn (29 points): Among the sport’s gold standard, if not the standard other driver/crew chief pairings are measured. A series-high 23 wins have come in the last four seasons, including one championship in 2017 and back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2019.
2. Denny Hamlin/Chris Gabehart (25 points): In his first season as a Cup crew chief, Gabehart brought a second wind to Hamlin’s career after the latter went winless in 2018. Hamlin put together his best year in almost a decade in 2019 with six wins, 19 top five and 24 top-10 finishes.
3. Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens (24 points): This is the only current driver-crew chief combo with multiple Cup titles. Stevens and Busch have been to the Championship 4 all five years they’ve been together. Sure, it wasn’t easy in the playoffs this year but they still claimed the championship.
4. Kevin Harvick/Rodney Childers (23 points): Were fast when they first got together in 2014 and have not slowed since. They have collected 26 wins in their six years together, earning the championship in 2014 and only missing the Championship 4 round once since (2016). If it wasn’t for occasional inconsistency and slumps, the No. 4 team likely would be ranked higher.
5. Christopher Bell/Jason Ratcliff (13 points): Though they will move to the Cup Series in 2020 without any Xfinity championships, they tormented the competition in the Xfinity Series the past two years, winning 15 times. Placed in the top five in 38 of 66 races.
6. Brad Keselowski/Paul Wolfe (12 points): The longest-tenured active combo in Cup at nine years. The duo has 29 wins, one championship and won three or more races in seven of those nine seasons together. The No. 2 team would have placed higher in these rankings except it has reached Championship 4 round just once (2015) since NASCAR went to an elimination playoff format in 2014.
7. Joey Logano/Todd Gordon (11 points): Did not have a strong playoffs but remained in contention for a Championship 4 spot until the penultimate race at Phoenix by grabbing stage points. The duo has 21 wins, one championship and one runner-up in seven years together. Have earned at least one win in each season they’ve been together but haven’t had more than three wins in a single season since 2015.
8. Chase Elliott/Alan Gustafson (7 points): Gustafson is underrated in his ability to build a team. After a slow start together, they’ve managed to produce back-to-back three-win seasons. Granted, the third round (finishes of 36th, 32nd and 39th) sealed Elliott’s hope of making the Championship 4, but this is a team that has laid a strong foundation.
9. William Byron/Chad Knaus (6 points): Only one of our voters selected Byron/Knaus. While this first-year pairing didn’t lead to a win for Byron, there was a tremendous amount of growth this season with five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Knaus’ veteran ability and patience and mentoring has paid dividends, leading to even higher expectations for this pairing in 2020.
10. Cole Custer/Mike Shiplett (5 points): After Custer earned just one win in each of his first two full-time Xfinity seasons, Shiplett provided a supercharge to Custer’s career. They earned seven wins and finished second in the championship race to Tyler Reddick in 2019. There has been no announcement whether Shiplett will follow Custer to Cup in 2020.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Crafton earned multiple victories for the third consecutive year, which included his first win at Dover International Speedway … After qualifying for the inaugural Chase in the Camping World Truck Series, Crafton was one of the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
WHAT WENT WRONG: An ill-handling truck led to Johnny Sauter chasing him down and passing Crafton at Homestead, giving Sauter the championship. Crafton had been in control of the title fight all night, even leading 10 laps … Had five DNFs in a season for the third time in his career (most in a season was six in 2002) … His two wins came early in the season – the fifth and sixth races. He failed to win after leading laps in five races thereafter, including Texas where he had 133 laps led.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2017: Crafton embarks on his 17th full year in the series looking for his third championship … Will continue to be one of the drivers to beat for the title.