Matt Crafton pushes through winless season, wins 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship

by Justin Nguyen

Failing to win a race in a season stings for any driver, but Matt Crafton found a way to turn those lemons into lemonade by winning the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship anyway. With a runner-up finish in Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the 2013 and 2014 series champion scored his third title in NASCAR’s third-tier series.

Crafton entered the 2019 Championship Round as the only driver of the final four eligible for the title with no victories; in fact, he had not won a race since 2017 at Eldora Speedway. In contrast, Stewart Friesen had two to his name, while Ross Chastain and Brett Moffitt enjoyed three and four trips to Victory Lane, respectively.

Friday was plagued by heavy rain and lightning, forcing qualifying for both the Truck and Monster Energy Cup Series to be called off. With the grid set by owner points, Friesen started on the pole alongside Christian Eckes. Eckes, who is scheduled to race full-time in the Truck Series in 2020, was on the verge of clinching the owners’ championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports‘ #51. Meanwhile, Chastain and Moffitt shared the second row and Crafton started ninth.

Chastain, who switched to Truck points midway through the year, quickly got off to a strong start to take the lead. Regardless, Austin Hill, who opened the 2019 season with a victory at Daytona International Speedway, would go on to lead 56 of the race’s 134 laps and sweep the stages. For Chastain and the Championship Four, they spent the entire race in the top ten and five fighting among one another, with Chastain and Crafton finishing runner-up behind Hill in the first two stages.

In Stage #3, Eckes enjoyed some time out front as Chastain and Moffitt fell behind but remained in the top ten. However, they were unable to catch Crafton, who led laps during the green-flag pit cycle before surrendering first to Hill. As Hill took his fourth win of the year, Crafton finished second. Chastain settled for fourth and Moffitt fifth, while Friesen ended his season in eleventh. Eckes finished third to clinch the owners’ title for KBM.

Crafton is the first driver to win a national series championship despite going winless since Austin Dillon won in what is now the Xfinity Series in 2013. However, Crafton’s feat is the first in the elimination playoff format.

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