HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Matt Crafton simply had to start last season’s finale in order to clinch the NASCAR Truck Series championship.
On Friday, all he has to do is avoid something catastrophic at Homestead-Miami Speedway to become the first series driver to win back-to-back championships. The grizzled, 38-year-old veteran in a series loaded with up-and-comers must finish 21st or better in the 134-lap race in his No. 88 Toyota Tundra to clinch his second title.
Unless something goes wrong, of course.
“It’s something I haven’t thought about, something I don’t really put a lot of thought into,” Crafton said.
In his 14th season in the series, Crafton won races at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway and has 16 top-10 finishes in 21 races this season. This was the first time Crafton won multiple races in a season.
Kyle Busch won a whopping seven of the nine Truck Series races he entered but was ineligible for the championship because he gets his points in the elite Sprint Cup series.
Ryan Blaney, among a growing group of next generation drivers in NASCAR, is 25 points back and needs a crazy set of circumstances to win the title.
“If we don’t win the championship, it’s been a good year for us,” Blaney said. “It’s been great to be able to work with Brad Keselowski Racing again and even be in contention for it. For all Brad’s done with me, the best thing I can do is to try to win a championship for him.”
The 20-year-old Blaney, son of Cup veteran Dave Blaney, would become the next second-generation driver to win a NASCAR championship this season if he can deny Crafton. Chase Elliott, son of Hall of Famer driver Bill Elliott, is the Nationwide Series champion and will have his official coronation on Saturday.
“I’m fortunate to have a dad at the race track every week to help me out,” Blaney said. “It’s nice that he’s so into it still and is willing to help me out. And now it’s pretty cool of him kind of backing away and kind of letting me do my own thing now since I’m kind of getting a little bit older.”
Blaney can pick his owner’s brain about coming through in the clutch: Facing elimination in the Chase for the Sprint Cup champion, Keselowski won at Talladega to survive for one more round.
Blaney should be in the championship picture for at least another season or two. Darrell Wallace Jr., Ben Kennedy and Jeb Burton are all in the mix trying to dethrone Crafton and keep Ron Hornaday Jr. stuck on four championships.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that some of the ones you’re racing are 16 years old,” Crafton said. “I honestly don’t feel old. I feel like I’m 16. And to say that you’re the old guy and you’re 38 years old, it’s really crazy how young they’re starting and the talent that they do have.”
Crafton, who drives for ThorSport Racing, has made four career starts in Nationwide and has never started a Cup race. That’s just fine with Crafton, always at home in Trucks.
“I truly believe it is the best racing in NASCAR,” he said. “I always compare it to, if anybody watches NFL, the college football, and you always see the better games in the college football. That’s one of the ways I consider the Truck Series. It’s a step up to get to the Cup Series, but I truly believe it’s great, great racing.”
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.