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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.

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“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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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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NASCAR declines ThorSport Racing’s request to reinstate teams to playoffs

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NASCAR has denied ThorSport Racing’s request to reinstate its two Gander Outdoors Truck Series teams that were eliminated at Las Vegas Motor Speedway because of a motor issue that Illmor Engineering claimed responsibility.

ThorSport Racing sent NASCAR a letter Sept. 27 seeking reinstatement into the playoffs for Grant Enfinger, the regular-season champion, and Johnny Sauter. Both failed to finish at Las Vegas because of engine issues and were eliminated from the playoffs.

Ilmor Engineering provides the NT1 engine that is run by nearly every team in the Truck series. After multiple engine failures during the Sept. 13 Las Vegas race, Ilmor and NASCAR investigated the matter. Ilmor Engineering cited the cause as “the combination of the high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas resulted in some engines suffering severe detonation.”

ThorSport Racing sent a one-page letter Sept. 27 to NASCAR with its request.

“We feel the right thing for us is we were never allowed to race at Vegas for the playoff positions,” David Pepper, general manager of ThorSport Racing, told NBC Sports on Sept. 27. “We’re not asking to reset Vegas. We’ll take our last-place finishes. We’re just asking to move the cutoff date to Phoenix, eliminate four of us instead of two (after Vegas) and two (after Phoenix.)

“Allow it to be settled on the race track and not by an outside source that has openly said, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’ I don’t want to beat on them. They made a mistake, but we shouldn’t be the victims of the mistake.”

The six drivers remaining in the Truck playoff are: Reigning series champion Brett Moffitt, Austin Hill, Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton and Tyler Ankrum.

The second round of the playoffs begin Oct. 12 at Talladega Superspeedway.

ThorSport Racing requests NASCAR reinstate its teams to Truck playoffs

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CONCORD, N.C. — ThorSport Racing sent a letter Friday to NASCAR requesting that series officials reinstate its two teams eliminated from the Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs because of engine issues that the manufacturer claimed responsibility for.

ThorSports Racing teammates Grant Enfinger, the regular-season champion, and Johnny Sauter were eliminated in the first round Sept. 13 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after their engine issues. Teammate Matt Crafton’s engine also failed but he advanced to the second round, which begins Oct. 12 at Talladega Superspeedway.

ThorSport Racing made the request for reinstatement in a one-page letter to NASCAR.

“We feel the right thing for us is we were never allowed to race at Vegas for the playoff positions,” David Pepper, general manager of ThorSport Racing, told NBC Sports. “We’re not asking to reset Vegas. We’ll take our last-place finishes. We’re just asking to move the cutoff date to Phoenix, eliminate four of us instead of two (after Vegas) and two (after Phoenix.)

“Allow it to be settled on the race track and not by an outside source that has openly said, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’ I don’t want to beat on them. They made a mistake, but we shouldn’t be the victims of the mistake.”

NASCAR and Ilmor Engineering, which provides engines to nearly every Truck team, each issued statements Thursday about the multiple engine failures at Las Vegas, the cutoff race in the opening round of the Truck playoffs.

Ilmor Engineering stated that “we deeply regret the impact that the engines issues created for our NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series partners.” Illmor cited “high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas resulted in some engines suffering severe detonation.”

Asked about ThorSport Racing’s request to have its teams reinstated in the playoffs, NASCAR issued a statement Friday to NBC Sports: “NASCAR’s focus remains on this weekend’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.”

Pepper notes that while the rule book doesn’t contain anything about reinstating playoff teams, it would follow under section Section 1.6 of the Truck Series rule book.

Section 1.6.b states that “On occasion, circumstances will be presented that are either unforeseen or are otherwise extraordinary, in which strict application of the NASCAR Rules may not achieve this goal. In such rare circumstances, the NASCAR Officials, as a practical matter, may make a determination regarding the conduct of an Event, the eligibility of a Competitor, or similar matters that are not contemplated by or are inconsistent with the NASCAR Rules, in order to achieve this goal.”

Illmor Engineering’s NT1 engine is used almost by nearly every Truck team. It was introduced before the 2018 season as a cost-savings move for teams.

Pepper said action should be taken for ThorSport even though nearly every team uses the same engine and was at risk of the same issue at Las Vegas.

“People keep bringing up that we choose to run them,” Pepper said of the NT1 engine. “Well, not exactly. That’s not entirely accurate. We are presented the NASCAR Ilmor motor and it is the motor of preference because the rules have been changed several times to impede the built motor.

“You cannot be competitive and win with that built motor (from a source other than Ilmor). They’ve cut RPM. We’ve changed the gear rule. I want to make sure that everybody understands there are reasons why we are forced into running that. It’s not by coincidence that everyone ran the Ilmor but one or two trucks (at Vegas).”

Pepper said if the NT1 and one built by another manufacturer were more even, the team could have the choice of which engine to use.

“If we chose one and it blew up, then that is on us because we’re controlling our own destiny,” Pepper said. “We want to be able to control our own destiny. Our outcome of our season and our races should be a product of what we choose to run, not what we have to run because of just the way things are.”

Cause of multiple engine failures in Las Vegas Truck race revealed

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NASCAR and Ilmor Engineering announced Thursday the results of their investigation into multiple engine failures at the Sept. 13 Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Five trucks – including three from ThorSport Racing – suffered engine failures during the race. ThorSport drivers Grant Enfinger, the regular-season champion, and Johnny Sauter were both eliminated from the playoffs after their engine failures. ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton also had engine failure but managed to advance to the second round of the playoffs, which begin October 12 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Ilmor’s NTI engine was introduced to the Truck Series before the 2018 as a cost-effective alternative to engines developed by teams and manufacturers. It is used by most teams.

Here are statements from both Ilmor Engineering President Paul Ray, as well as NASCAR:

Paul Ray: Ilmor Engineering is committed to our partnership with NASCAR and to the long-term development of the NT1 engine. To that end, following the issues experienced by a number of different teams and competitors during the Sept. 13 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, engines were returned to the NASCAR R&D Center for technical inspection and data review. The combination of the high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas resulted in some engines suffering severe detonation. Ilmor is taking new measures in engine calibration to ensure to this situation is corrected for all future races.

We deeply regret the impact that the engine issues created for our NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series partners. We have requested every engine that raced at the Las Vegas event be returned to our technical facility in Plymouth, Michigan. All the engines will be disassembled and inspected by our highly experienced team. Any damage as a result of the Las Vegas event will be corrected and the engine returned to the race teams as soon as required.”

NASCAR: We commend Ilmor Engineering for their thorough review and the forthright way they’ve claimed ownership of the engine issues suffered by teams during the Sept. 13 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The NT1 engine has played a vital role in the health of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and that’s been evident in the tremendous competition we’ve seen all season. We’re confident that will continue in the years ahead.”

Following the Las Vegas race, Enfinger told FS1, “It’s just a shame our season hopes come down to quality control on a spec part that we had nothing to do with. I definitely share our owner’s frustration with the parts.”

Sauter’s team tried to repair the issue and got him back on track, but he didn’t complete a full lap before the engine let go for good, ending his night.

Just inferior engines, I guess, I’m not sure,” Sauter told FS1. “It’s just disappointing that our season comes down to that. This is a fresh engine, obviously something’s wrong with it. … It’s just a shame … but if something happens and it’s out of your control, what are you going to do?”

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