Ross Chastain

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Natalie Decker to run part-time Truck slate for Niece Motorsports in 2020

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Niece Motorsports announced Thursday that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2020.

The Eagle River, Wisconsin, native will drive the No. 44 Chevrolet Silverado. It’s expected that Decker will run at least eight Truck races, with the possibility of adding more as the season plays out. Decker’s first race will be the season-opening NextEra 250 on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

“Change is inevitable, change is expected and exciting, and change is also frightening,” Decker said in a media release. “But this year is a year I’m ready for! I have never felt so prepared with my health, in the gym, and mentally.

“There are so many things to be excited about working with Niece Motorsports, starting with my teammates Ross (Chastain) and Ty (fellow Wisconsin native Ty Majeski). I’m ready to learn from them and be 100% open minded going into the season!”

Decker joins Niece Motorsports after competing in 19 races last season for DGR Crosley. Photo: Niece Motorsports.

The 22-year-old Decker will also have Carson Hocevar as a Niece Motorsports teammate.

“We are excited to have Natalie join the team,” said team owner Al Niece.  “Natalie has shown a lot of talent, and we are excited to see her continue to develop that at Niece Motorsports.  We are certain we will put her in competitive equipment that will really give her a chance to shine.”

Decker, who spent the 2015 season as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program with Rev Racing, joins Niece Motorsports after making 19 starts last season for DGR-Crosley and finishing 19th in the overall standings.

Her best finish last season was 13th at Las Vegas. It was a difficult first year in the Truck Series for her, recording nine DNFs, including eight early exits due to crashes.

She previously raced full-time in the ARCA Menards Series in 2018, including earning the pole and finishing fifth in the season opener at Daytona. She went on to finish seventh overall in the season standings.

Decker also announced that in addition to her part-time Truck Series slate with Niece Motorsports, she’ll run a full six-race schedule in the SGT-Trans Am West Coast Series for AVE Motorsports. She’ll be behind the wheel of a GT-4. The season begins March 14 at Sonoma Raceway.

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Justin Allgaier, Ross Chastain named Most Popular Driver in Xfinity, Trucks

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While the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Cup Series won’t be announced until Thursday, NASCAR on Wednesday revealed winners of the most popular drivers voting in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks Series.

In voting by NASCAR fans, Justin Allgaier earned Most Popular Driver honors in the Xfinity Series for the first time in his career.

Meanwhile, Ross Chastain was named Most Popular Driver in the Truck Series, also for the first time in his career, earning the honor on his 27th birthday.

Driver of the popular No. 7 Chevrolet, the 33-year-old Allgaier extends JR Motorsports’ domination of the Most Popular Driver award in the Xfinity Series to a record eight consecutive years. Elliott Sadler was the top vote-getter from 2016 through 2018, preceded by Chase Elliott (2014-15), Regan Smith (2013) and Danica Patrick (2012).

Allgaier reached the Championship 4 round for the third time in the last four years, including winning at Phoenix – the 11th win of his Xfinity career – to assure his spot in the championship race at Miami. Allgaier finished fourth this past season in the Xfinity standings behind Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

And then there was Chastain, who has the popular nickname of the “Melon Man” due to being part of his family’s watermelon farm business in his native Florida.

Chastain entered the 2019 season not even planning to run a full season in the Truck Series. But when it became apparent that he would have the best chance at a championship in a Truck, Chastain and Niece Motorsports announced in June he would switch and declare to earn championship points – and a bid for the Most Popular Driver – in the Truck Series.

Chastain ultimately finished second to series champion Matt Crafton.

Chastain wound up competing in a total of 77 overall NASCAR races in the 2019 season: 23 in the Truck Series, 19 Xfinity races and 35 Cup events. He won three races in the Truck Series and a fourth checkered flag in the Xfinity Series.

 

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Truck Series results, final 2019 standings

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Here’s how the 2019 season-ending NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 race played out, as well as how the final season standings wound up:

RESULTS:

Matt Crafton proved Friday that second is not the first loser, finishing higher than the other three Championship 4 contestants to capture his third career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.

Meanwhile, Austin Hill ended the 2019 Truck Series season the way he began it: with a win, beating Crafton to the finish line. Hill started the season with a win at Daytona.

But Hill certainly made his mark in the latter half of the season. Even though he fell short of the Championship 4, he still earned three wins in the last eight races and four wins overall.

Click here for the full race results.

POINTS:

Crafton finishes the season No. 1 in the points with 4,035. Ross Chastain finished second (4,033 points), followed by 2018 Truck Series champ Brett Moffitt (4,032) and Stewart Friesen (4,026).

Friday’s race winner, Austin Hill, finished the season fifth in the standings (2,298), followed by Johnny Sauter (2,238), Grant Enfinger (2,236), Tyler Ankrum (2,182), Ben Rhodes (773) and Sheldon Creed (726).

Click here for the final 2019 driver standings.

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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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UPDATE: Truck qualifying, Cup and Xfinity practices rained out at Miami

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UPDATE:

Rain continues to be a stubborn thorn in the side of NASCAR at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The final scheduled NASCAR Cup practice session has been cancelled due to rain. That makes four sessions cancelled thus far today: the two Cup practices, the final Xfinity practice and qualifying for tonight’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 championship race.

Cup teams will get nearly one hour of practice Saturday from 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. ET to make up for losing both practices Friday. As a result, there will be no qualifying session for Cup drivers. The starting lineup for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 Cup championship will be set by the NASCAR Rule Book with the four Championship 4 drivers to start at the front of the field.

The Truck Race is still on track to run, with driver introductions scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET, and the race itself is slated to begin shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

Track drying efforts continue at the 1.5-mile oval.

We’ll update you as more information becomes available.

ORIGINAL STORY?

Rain punctuated with thunder and lightning has forced NASCAR to cancel three of today’s segments at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

* The NASCAR Cup opening practice, which was scheduled to go from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. ET.

* The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series qualifying, which was slated to start at 4:35 p.m. ET.

* The NASCAR Xfinity Series final practice, which was scheduled for 5:35 – 6:25 p.m. ET.

As of 5:15 p.m. ET, the final NASCAR Cup practice session was still slated to run from 6:30 – 7:20 p.m., while the Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck Series championship race is slated to take the green flag shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

Because qualifying was rained out, the Truck Series starting lineup will be determined by owner points. The four Championship 4 drivers will start this way: Stewart Friesen on the pole, Ross Chastain third, defending series champion Brett Moffitt fourth and Matt Crafton will start ninth, according to NASCAR.

According to wunderground.com, the forecast for tonight calls for a temperature of 72 degrees and a 41% chance of rain to continue at the time the Truck race is set to start.

We’ll keep you updated on the conditions as more information becomes available. Please check back.

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