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Truck Series Championship 4 Outlook

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Two past champions and two drivers who won their first Gander Outdoors Truck Series races this year are primed to battle for the championship Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Led by defending champion Brett Moffitt, the Championship 4 consists of Matt Crafton, Ross Chastain and Stewart Friesen.

There are no upstart phenoms in this group of drivers, where the average age is 33. The veterans came out on top. But who will be the last one standing?

Here’s a breakdown of each driver.

Matt Crafton (No. 88 Ford for ThorSport Racing)

Wins: None

Career Playoff wins: Two

Miami Record: Three top fives in 18 starts, including his win in 2014 to claim his second championship.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): Crafton did everything he needed to short of winning a race this season to make the title race. He enters Miami with three top 10s in the playoffs and only one DNF through 22 races.

Outlook: It’s entirely possible Crafton could claim his third Truck Series title this weekend without having won a single race this season. In fact, he hasn’t won since the 2017 race at Eldora. The last time a national series driver won a title without a win was Austin Dillon with his Xfinity championship in 2013. Crafton will try to do it as the only Ford driver going against three Chevrolets.

“Just beat the other three guys,” Crafton said Friday night. “At the end of the day, just go out there and just make your truck the best you can in practice and Homestead’s always such an interesting one just because you have so much tire wear, you get so much tire falloff and you get one set of tires in practice. You have one shot to get the balance of your truck good. … But at the end of the day we know what trucks we’ll be racing for a championship.”

 

Brett Moffitt (No. 24 Chevrolet for GMS Racing)

Wins: Four (Iowa, Chicago, Bristol, Canada)

Career Playoff Wins: Four (two this season)

Miami Record: Will make his second Truck start at the track following his win there last year to claim the title. Finished 31st and 36th in his two Cup Series starts.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): Led the final 27 laps at Bristol and survived three restarts in that span to fend off Chandler Smith and Chastain for the win.

Outlook: Could become the second Truck Series driver to claim back-to-back titles, following Crafton’s 2013-14 reign. Regardless of the outcome Friday, Moffitt won’t have to worry about his career prospects. After proving GMS Racing’s decision to go with him over Johnny Sauter was the right one, he’ll be back in the No. 24 next season.

“I think it’s a different type of pressure,” Moffitt said Friday. “Last year (was) ‘What if I don’t get the opportunity again?’ type of pressure. Where this year is I need to perform for those who gave me this opportunity and that’s the Gallagher family and everyone at GMS. They’re working as hard as they possibly can to give me fast Silverados week-in and week-out. Anything short of winning a championship will be a disappointment for all of us. We feel like we have the best opportunity to do it. We feel like we have the best people to do it.”

 

Ross Chastain (No. 45 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports)

Wins: Three (Kansas, Gateway, Pocono)

Career Playoff Wins: None

Miami Record: Best finish in five Truck Series starts is eighth in 2013 while driving for Brad Keselowski Racing. Finished 16th last year with Niece Motorsports.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): Got a late start on the points race after he switched his points declaration from Xfinity to Trucks after eight races in the Truck season. Checked off every box mandated by NASCAR to become playoff eligible, earning two wins in the process and scrapped his way into the Championship 4 without a playoff win.

Outlook: Chastain has everything to prove and nothing to lose Friday night. Eleven months since he lost a full-time ride in the Xfinity Series, Chastain has a shot at his first NASCAR title. Chastain will compete full-time in the Xfinity Series in 2020 with Kaulig Racing.

“Bet ya’ll didn’t expect to see me here … A dream come true,” Chastain said after he finished ninth in Phoenix. “My team owner Al (Niece) just said it best, he said ‘Why stop now?'”

 

Stewart Friesen (No. 52 Chevrolet for Halmar Racing)

Wins: Two (Eldora, Phoenix)

Career Playoff Wins: One

Miami Record: Three starts with finishes of seventh and fourth the last two years.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): After a penalty at the start of the Phoenix race for beating the pole-sitter to the start-finish line, Friesen bounced back and held off Brandon Jones to claim his first win on asphalt and advance to the Championship 4.

Outlook: Friesen and Halmar Racing didn’t compete in NASCAR until 2016. They’ve won their first two races this season and are one race away from a championship. Like Brett Moffitt last year, we can’t help but speculate it’s because of the mustache.

“We’ve got our favorite truck we’re running next week that we’ve gotten a lot of time under our belt with,” Friesen said following his win. “It’s going to be a tough race, obviously. It gets tough to pass at Homestead. The tire falloff is huge. It falls off lap-to-lap. You can go out and start a run, you’re wide open for a lap. Then it backs up, backs up, backs up. Then you get right up on the boards. You got to work that air bubble and there’s a lot of stuff you can manipulate at Homestead to help yourself out that I’ve learned the last (three races there). It’s a gritty race track paved with the aggregate of the area. It looks like you’re racing on sea shells, that’s what it is. That’s what the pavement plants have there. It’s cool and it’s exciting. ”

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Ross Chastain to race full-time for Kaulig Racing next season

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Kaulig Racing announced Tuesday that Ross Chastain will return to the team to run a full-time Xfinity Series schedule in 2020.

Chastain, 26, will drive the No. 10 Chevrolet. He will be sponsored by Nutrien Ag Solutions for 23 races. Joining Justin Haley in the No. 11 Chevrolet, it will mark the first season Kaulig Racing has fielded two full-time cars.

The crew chief for Chastain’s team and the 23 selected Nutrien Ag Solutions events will be announced at a later date.

Four of Chastain’s 17 Xfinity starts this year have been with Kaulig Racing, including July’s race at Daytona where he earned his second career Xfinity win and gave the team its first ever victory. He is set for his fifth start with Kaulig Racing Saturday at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Two of the most important things in my life are agriculture and racing,” Chastain said in a press release. “Nutrien Ag Solutions is the best sponsor I could have ever asked for as it pertains to my family’s long history of farming. (Team owner_ Matt (Kaulig), (president) Chris (Rice) and all of Kaulig Racing gave me the opportunity to race this year when I really wasn’t sure I would ever get another winning opportunity in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. And, we won. Now, next year, we get to try to win more races and also compete for the championship.”
Said Matt Kaulig: “Ross Chastain has it all – he’s competitive, he’s marketable, he’s all-around a great, blue-collar guy. As a team, we couldn’t be more honored to land a driver like Ross. In just four races already this season, he’s not only helped advance our program, but he brought home this team’s very first win. Having him at Kaulig Racing next season, driving full-time, is a great gain for our organization.”

Kaulig Racing made the Xfinity playoffs this year with Justin Haley, who was eliminated after the first round.

Chastain’s news comes a little over 11 months after the last time he had a full-time Xfinity Series ride announced. After he made three Xfinity starts and earned one win for Chip Ganassi Racing last year, Chastain was tapped in November to take over its No. 42 car full-time in 2019.

But that fell apart in the wake of the December raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service on the headquarters of CGR primary sponsor DC Solar and the home of its CEO. In January, CGR shut down its Xfinity operation due to a lack of sponsorship.

As a result, this year has seen Chastain make 67 starts across all three national series, including all 20 Truck Series races with Niece Motorsports. After a wreck in Saturday’s Talladega Truck race, Chastain is last in the playoff standings with two races left in the Round of 6. He is two points back from the cutoff spot held by Matt Crafton.

As for NASCAR national series races outside of Xfinity next year, Chastain said in a Tuesday teleconference he plans to compete in “as many as I can” but didn’t provide any details.

“I want to race anything and everything,” Chastain said. “There’s an Xfinity off-week next year and I’m talking about going to run a front-wheel drive four-cylinder race with some buddies. I don’t know. … Anybody that drives a race car, works in racing, none of us have to do this. We all are in racing and motorsports because we love it for one reason or another. That’s truly my reasoning. It’s not just what I tell people. That’s the real reason. It’s not for the glamorous lights or the paycheck, because I’m not there still. I will race anything that I can get my hands on.”

In June, Chastain switched his points declaration from Xfinity to the Gander Outdoor Truck Series after eight races had already been run in the Truck Series, including a race won by Chastain at Kansas Speedway.

But with the points switch, Chastain started from zero points and had eight races to qualify for the playoffs. To do so he had to win again and then be in the top 20 in points by the end of the regular season. He won two of those eight races (had a third stripped due to an inspection failure) and finished in the top 10 five times, ensuring a playoff spot.

Jeb Burton to compete in Truck Series race at Martinsville with Niece Motorsports

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Jeb Burton will compete for Niece Motorsports in the Oct. 26 Gander Outdoors Trucks Series playoff race at Martinsville Speedway, the team announced Tuesday.

He will drive the No. 44 Chevrolet.

It will be Burton’s second start of the year for the team after he competed at Kentucky Speedway on July 11. He finished ninth.

The son of former Cup driver Ward Burton, it will be his 55th career start in the Truck Series. Martinsville is the home track for the Virginia-native.

“I’m excited to get back behind the wheel of one of these Niece Motorsports Chevrolets again,” Burton said in a press release.  “Martinsville is certainly a very special track to me, and a place that I have a lot of experience, so I’m confident that we can turn that into a strong result.”

Burton has made eight national series starts this year, including five with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. His best finish was fourth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September.

 

CarShield to sponsor Ross Chastain throughout Truck playoffs

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Ross Chastain will kick off his bid for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship this week with a familiar partner.

CarShield announced Tuesday that it will sponsor Chastain and the No. 45 Niece Motorsports team for the seven-race Truck Series playoffs, starting with Thursday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I’m so pumped to have the folks at CarShield back on board the No. 45 Truck again, especially as we look to make a championship run,” Chastain said in a media release.

CarShield sponsored Chastain earlier this year on June 22 when he won at Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway, near St. Louis, Missouri.

“They brought us good luck at Gateway, and I’m hopeful we can make that magic happen again,” said Chastain, a Florida watermelon farmer when he’s not racing. “It means the world to me to have their support.”

Nick Hamilton, Co-Founder and Principal at CarShield, said in a release: “Seeing him pull into victory lane with the CarShield truck was the best. Ross knows how to have fun while always competing at the highest level. We do the same thing at CarShield. That’s why we made the decision to become the primary sponsor for the rest of this season.  Hopefully, our partnership will help push him to keep smashing those watermelons and win the championship this season.”

Chastain earned his first Truck Series win of the season in May at Kansas Speedway. A few weeks later, he announced he had changed his points declaration and would seek to make the Truck Series playoffs, even though he failed to earn points in the first eight races. To qualify for the playoffs, he had to win a race and finish the regular season in the top-20 in driver points.

Since then, Chastain earned his win at Gateway, another triumph at Pocono along with two other top-10 finishes. Chastain’s three wins is the most by any Truck Series regular this season.

Chastain enters the eight-driver playoffs ranked fifth.

“We are proud and honored to have CarShield join the team again,” team owner Al Niece said in a media release. “I think Ross and this team have really shown what they are capable of, and we are excited that CarShield has recognized that potential and wants to help this team chase a championship.”

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Ross Chastain gets throwback scheme for first career dirt race at Eldora

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Ross Chastain has proven he’ll race anything with four wheels on it if he’s allowed to.

But in his career there’s one box he’s yet to check off: racing on dirt.

Chastain, who leads Gander Outdoors Truck Series regulars with three wins this season, will get to mark that off his racing bucket list Thursday night with the annual Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway (9 p.m. ET on FS1).

“I don’t know what to expect at Eldora. No dirt experience at all,” Chastain said after his win Saturday at Pocono Raceway. “Just go try to let these Niece (Motorsports) guys teach me. They’ve done it for a few years. But this will be (crew chief) Phil (Gould’s) and I’s first time going there to race.”

How is the 27-year-old driver preparing for his first time slinging dirt at the Tony Stewart-owned facility in Rossburg, Ohio?

“iRacing does (help) a little bit,” Chastain said. “(Driver coach) Josh Wise has raced dirt so I talk with him a lot, talk with Kyle (Larson) a lot. I don’t know how you ever prepare. You’re never prepared for any of these tracks. We’ll just go build a good race truck that obviously can do the things it needs to on dirt. … From there, just try not to destroy it. That’s goal No. 1, be there at the end cause you can so easily get on the brakes too hard and it’s going to shove straight in the fence and knock the front clip off of it.”

While Chastain has a lot of questions about Eldora, Chase Briscoe, the most recent driver to win the Truck Series event at Eldora, has high expectations for Chastain.

“I would say the (driver with the) most natural ability (for dirt) would probably be Ross Chastain, for a guy that doesn’t have any dirt experience,” Briscoe told NBC Sports Tuesday. “I’ve never seen Ross on dirt, but just racing against him on pavement, I’ve always thought Ross is one of the most talented race car drivers I’ve ever raced with.

“I’m really excited to see how Ross does this week. I feel like he’s going to be low-key the guy that’s going to be running up front. Plus, it’s super cool he’s running a Jack Hewitt throwback. Jack Hewitt’s my racing hero. He drove for my grandpa, won at Eldora.”

Chastain’s No. 45 Chevrolet, will boast the JW Hunt paint scheme made famous by Troy, Ohio, native Jack Hewitt, a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

In 1998, Hewitt made history as the first driver to win all four legs of the USAC Four Crown Nationals. Among his other accomplishments: 13 USAC National Sprint Car Series feature wins, three USAC National Midget Car Series wins, eight USAC Silver Crown Series wins, 16 Modified wins, two All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car A-main wins, and one Dirt Late Model Victory.

He was also a back-to-back champion in the USAC Silver Crown Series in 1986 and 1987.

“I grew up coming to Eldora,” said Niece Motorsports General Manager Cody Efaw in a press release. “This place means the world to me. To be able to race a truck here that pays homage to one of the best dirt racers there ever was, is truly an honor. I hope Jack is proud of it. I know this whole team is proud to carry that paint scheme.”

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