Special Edition Championship 4 News & Notes - NASCAR Xfinity Series & NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Ford EcoBoost 400
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Sunday, November 17
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 267)
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Ford EcoBoost 300
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Nov. 16
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Ford EcoBoost 200
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Friday, Nov. 15
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 201 miles (134 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on lap 134)
NASCAR Xfinity Series
NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 (In Alphabetical Order)
Below is an in-depth look at the four drivers who have qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 and will race for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Ford EcoBoost 300 on Saturday, Nov. 16 (at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Justin Allgaier (No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro)
Following a winless drought all season, JR Motorsport’s driver Justin Allgaier pulled out a big win last Saturday at ISM Raceway to advance to the Championship 4 and have a shot this weekend at the NASCAR Xfinity Series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Allgaier’s season has been a struggle in comparison to past seasons, as the Illinois native hadn’t won until last weekend at Phoenix. Now for the third time in four years the veteran Allgaier has a shot at the Xfinity championship in Miami – he finished third is his previous two Championship 4 appearances (2016, 2017).
Allgaier has made 32 series starts in 2019 gathering one win (ISM Raceway-2), 16 top fives, and 24 top 10s. He has also led 607 laps this season and has managed an average start of 7.1 and an average finish of 8.9. In addition, Allgaier has posted solid season-to-date loop data stats, including a driver rating of 109.6 (fourth-best), an average running position of 6.769 (second-best), a total of 391 fastest laps run (fourth-most), and completed 92.9% of his laps (5,206) in the top 15 (series-best).
Playoff Recap: Allgaier has been one of the most consistent of the Playoff drivers this season. The 33-year old posted a fourth-place finish at Richmond Raceway, a fourth-place finish at the Charlotte Roval and then a runner-up finish at Dover International Speedway to close out the Round of 12. Allgaier didn’t slow down there, in the Round of 8 he finished fifth at Kansas, sixth at Texas and then grabbed the checkered flag at ISM Raceway last weekend to guarantee his spot in the Championship 4.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: Expect Allgaier to run well this weekend for the title, as he has the most NASCAR Xfinity Series starts (nine) at Homestead-Miami Speedway among the Championship 4. The JRM standout has made nine series starts in Miami, posting two top 10s and an average finish of 14.1. In his first Championship 4 appearance in 2016, he started sixth and finished sixth. Then in his second appearance in the Championship 4 in 2017, he started 16th and finished 12th. He finished seventh in last season’s series finale.
Crew Chief Corner: Jason Burdett, crew chief for the JR Motorsport’s No. 7 Chevrolet team, began his racing career with several local teams around the Watkins Glen area. In 1998, he transitioned to North Carolina and joined Robert Yates Racing. A year later, he helped Jarrett’s team to the title as a tire specialist. He then moved to Hendrick Motorsports, and in 2001 Burdett earned a second championship with driver Jeff Gordon. In 2007, Burdett joined Michael Waltrip Racing, reuniting with Jarrett and serving as crew chief of the No. 44 team in the latter half of the season. It was there he honed his skills at the top level of NASCAR competition and leveraged the experience into a return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. In the five years since, Burdett excelled as car chief on the No. 24 team from 2008-10 before moving over to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 team from 2011-14. In 2015, he joined JR Motorsports as crew chief of the No. 7 car with driver Regan Smith; the pair finished fourth in series standings that season. Allgaier replaced Smith in the No. 7 car in 2016 and duo has worked together ever since producing eight wins and three Championship 4 appearances.
Team Talk: JR Motorsports has won three NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championships, all with Sunoco rookies – Chase Elliott in 2014, William Byron (2017) and Tyler Reddick (2018). JR Motorsports began its NASCAR Xfinity Series program in 2005 with driver Mark McFarland and since has won 46 series races; including two this season.
Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra)
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell is having another outstanding NASCAR Xfinity Series season, putting up a career-best eight wins and clinching his spot in the Championship 4 for the second consecutive year. If Bell were to win the Xfinity title this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he would become just the fourth driver in NASCAR national series history to win both the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in his career; joining Austin Dillon, Johnny Benson Jr. and Greg Biffle.
Bell has made 32 series starts in 2019 producing a career-best eight wins (Atlanta, Bristol-1, Dover-1, Iowa-1, New Hampshire, Road America, Richmond-2, Texas-2), 19 top fives, 20 top 10s and six poles (ISM Raceway-1, Texas-1, Charlotte, Iowa-2, Kansas, ISM Raceway-2). He has led 1,968 laps (series-most) this season and has managed an average start of 4.2 and an average finish of 9.2. In addition, Bell has posted solid season-to-date loop data stats, including a driver rating of 120.6 (series-best), an average running position of 6.139 (series-best), a total of 1,173 fastest laps run (series-most), and completed 85.3% of his laps (4,779) in the top 15 (eighth-best).
Playoffs Recap: Christopher Bell returns to NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in 2019 looking for redemption after the title slipped through his fingers last season. Once again, the Round of 12 was a tumultuous one for Bell, he won the postseason opener at Richmond Raceway to clinch his spot in the Round of 8, but then fought through a 12th-place finish at the Charlotte Roval and a 25th-place finish at Dover International Speedway due to carburetor failure the next week. Much like the first round for Bell, the Round of 8 was filled with mixed results. He started on the pole at Kansas and finished 12th and then went to Texas the following week and won to clinch his spot in the Championship 4 for the second consecutive season. But last weekend he looked to have the dominate car at ISM Raceway after winning the pole, but due to an early pit penalty and subsequent spin when trying to come back through the field he finished 16th.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: Bell made his NASCAR Xfinity Series track debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017 while running part-time for Joe Gibbs Racing and competing fulltime in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He started the race third but finished 36th due to an engine failure. Then last season at Miami as part of the Championship 4, Bell started on the outside front row, led nine laps and finished a disappointing 11th in the race – the lowest among the Championship 4 drivers – Tyler Reddick (first), Cole Custer (second), Daniel Hemric (fourth) and Bell (11th). Ultimately, he finished fourth in the series’ final championship standings. In his two Xfinity career starts at the track he has posted an average start of 2.5 and an average finish of 23.5. Bell has also made three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Series starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway posting one top five (runner-up), two top 10s and an average finish of 11.7.
Crew Chief Corner: Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota Supra team with driver Christopher Bell, is one of the most successful crew chiefs in the series. He led Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch to a unified NASCAR Xfinity Series driver and owner championship in 2009 and then followed that up with a second consecutive owner title in 2010. Ratcliff also guided Busch to the NASCAR Xfinity Series single season record of 13 wins in 2010. Ratcliff began his crew chief career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series back in 2000 at Brewco Motorsports working with driver Casey Atwood. He stayed at Brewco for three more years working with Jamie McMurray and David Green before joining Joe Gibbs Racing in in 2005. From then he has worked with multiple drivers in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. Bell and Ratcliff combined to put up the NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie record of most wins in a single season with seven victories last year. In total the duo has visited Victory Lane 15 times in the two full seasons they have worked together (2018-2019). If Ratcliff leads Bell to a title this weekend, he will become the 11th different crew chief to win multiple driver championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Team Talk: Joe Gibbs Racing started its NASCAR Xfinity Series program in 1997 and since then has amassed 165 series victories, two unified driver and owner championships (2009 Kyle Busch and 2016 Daniel Suarez) and three owner championships (2008, 2010, 2012). The 2019 season marks the third time the Joe Gibbs Racing organization has fielded drivers in the Championship 4 – in 2016 (Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez), in 2018 and 2019 (Christopher Bell). If Joe Gibbs Racing wins the owner championship this season the organization will extend their series lead in owner titles to six.
Cole Custer (No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang)
After posting a career-best seven victories on the year, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer returns to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 for the second consecutive time in his career. In 2017, Custer fell just short of making the Championship 4, but at the end of the day finished fifth in the series standings as a rookie. Then last season, Custer fought hard for his opportunity to make the Championship 4 but finished runner-up in the season finale at Miami to Tyler Reddick. In the end, Custer managed to finish second in the 2018 driver Playoff standings and bring Stewart-Haas Racing its first series owner championship. Now the California native returns to Miami looking to add an Xfinity Series driver championship to his resume.
Custer has made 32 series starts in 2019 collecting a career-best seven wins (California, Richmond-1, Pocono, Chicago, Kentucky, Darlington, Dover-2), 16 top fives, 23 top 10s and six poles. He has also led 907 laps this season and has managed an average start of 5.7 and an average finish of 9.2. In addition, Custer has posted stout season-to-date loop data stats, including a driver rating of 113.0 (second-best), an average running position of 7.249 (fourth-best), a total of 763 fastest laps run (second-most), and completed 88.2% of his laps (4,944) in the top 15 (seventh-best).
Playoffs Recap: The California ace, Cole Custer, is laser focused on the title this season and it shows in his Playoff performance thus far. He started the postseason off with a third-place finish at Richmond, an eighth at the Charlotte Roval and then rounded out the Round of 12 with a victory at Dover International Speedway to advance. Custer’s good fortune continued in the Round of 8, he finished 11th at Kansas, eighth at Texas and secured his spot in the Championship 4 with a runner-up finish at ISM Raceway last weekend.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: Homestead-Miami Speedway holds a special place in Custer’s heart, because posted his first NASCAR Xfinity Series career win at the 1.5-mile track in dominating fashion in 2017. He started from the outside front row, leading 182 of the 200 scheduled laps (91% - a race record) and set the record average speed for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the track (136.140 MPH, 11/18/2017). Then last season among the Championship 4, he started from the pole, led a race-most 95 laps but finished runner-up to Tyler Reddick. In total Custer has made three series starts at Miami, posting an average start of 7.0 and an average finish of 6.7.
Crew Chief Corner: Mike Shiplett, crew chief of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 00 Ford Mustang team, has spent most of his NASCAR career working with multiple part-time drivers during a season, but this year looks to make his name amongst the championship crew chiefs of the series. Shiplett began his NASCAR crew chief career with Evernham Motorsports in 2007 and in 2008 he was promoted to crew chief in the Monster Energy Series for Gillette Evernham Motorsports. Then in 2009, he moved to Richard Petty Motorsports to crew chief multiple drivers on No. 44 car in the Cup Series and hit it off with AJ Allmendinger, so he moved to No. 43 car with him in 2010-11. Shiplett then returned to NASCAR Xfinity Series as crew chief on a part-time basis working with Turner Scott Motorsport in 2012-2014 until the team was acquired by Chip Ganassi Racing in 2015. He worked with multiple drivers in the series at CGR from 2015 until this season when he joined Stewart-Haas Racing after Chip Ganassi Racing discontinued its Xfinity program following 2018. In total Shiplett has led seven different drivers to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Xfinity Series totaling 24 wins. This season, Shiplett has led the No. 00 team with Cole Custer to seven victories, 16 top fives and 23 top 10s. Shiplett is looking to become the 27th different crew chief to win a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship.
Team Talk: Stewart-Haas Racing started its NASCAR Xfinity Series program in 2017, fielding the No. 00 Ford Mustang team fulltime with driver Cole Custer. Since then the team has finished fifth (2017) and second (2018) in the driver championship standings. Custer’s runner-up finish in the 2018 season finale was good enough to grant Stewart-Haas Racing with its first NASCAR Xfinity Series owner championship. Now the organization returns with the No. 00 team looking to bring home the organization’s first unified driver and owner championship this weekend. The 2019 season marks the second-time a Stewart-Haas Racing driver has made it to the Championship 4 – 2018, 2019 (Cole Custer).
Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro)
Defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway looking to become just the seventh driver all-time to win back-to-back titles; joining Sam Ard (1983-84), Larry Pearson (1986-87), Randy LaJoie (1996-97), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998-99), Martin Truex Jr. (2004-05) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011-12). And he would be the first to do it under two different teams – Reddick won last season’s title driving for JR Motorsports. But what’s even more impressive is Reddick’s 2019 season has been even better statistically than his championship rookie year. The California native has hoisted a career-best five trophies this season and leads the series in top fives (23) and top 10s (26).
Reddick has made 32 series starts in 2019 rallying off five wins (Talladega, Charlotte, Michigan, Bristol and Las Vegas), 23 top fives, and 26 top 10s. He has also led 484 laps this season and has managed an average start of 6.2 and an average finish of 6.5. In addition, Reddick has posted notable season-to-date loop data stats, including a driver rating of 110.5 (third-best), an average running position of 6.779 (third-best), a total of 519 fastest laps run (third-most), and completed 90.6% of his laps (5,074) in the top 15 (third-best).
Playoffs Recap: Reddick has been strong during the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, kicking off the postseason with a 10th-place finish at Richmond Raceway, a runner-up finish at the Charlotte Roval and then a 12th at Dover International Speedway to close out the Round of 12. Reddick’s Round of 8 was also full of momentum, he finished runner-up at Kansas, sat on the pole at Texas but finished 29th due to a late-race incident and then locked himself into the Championship 4 with a third-place finish at ISM Raceway last weekend.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: Expect Reddick to be poised to give it all he has this weekend for the title, as he put on a clinic last season at Homestead-Miami Speedway en route to his first series championship. In 2017, Reddick made his series track debut by winning the pole and leading 18 laps on his way to a fourth-place finish. Then last season, he started fourth and raced his way up to the lead, bouncing off the outside wall multiple times. He led the final 37 laps as he cruised to Victory Lane and the championship. In two starts his average finish at Miami is 2.5 – best among the Championship 4. Reddick also has three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Series starts at Homestead, where he amassed two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 3.7.
Crew Chief Corner: Randall Burnett, a former Late Model racer, received a mechanical engineering degree from UNC Charlotte before beginning his career in NASCAR in 2005 as a 7-post analysis engineer, a lead team engineer and a data acquisition engineer for Chip Ganassi Racing. Then in 2010, Burnett was named lead race engineer for driver Jamie McMurray (2010-2012) at Chip Ganassi Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The following seasons he worked with Juan Pablo Montoya (2013) and Kyle Larson (2014-2015). In 2016 and 2017, Burnett was promoted to crew chief and took a job with JTG Daugherty Racing leading driver AJ Allmendinger. Then in late 2017, Burnett moved to Richard Childress Racing to work as crew chief on RCR’s Xfinity Series flagship car – the No. 2 Chevrolet – with multiple drivers. In 2018 he led Matt Tifft to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, the pair finished fifth in the final standings. Burnett continued with the No. 2 team this season and has led Reddick to five wins, 23 top fives and 26 top 10s. Burnett is looking to become the 27th different crew chief to win a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship.
Team Talk: Richard Childress Racing has won two NASCAR Xfinity Series unified driver and owner championships with driver Kevin Harvick in 2001 and 2006. In addition, RCR has won two driver championships with Austin Dillon in 2013 and Clint Bowyer in 2008. The organization has also won Xfinity Series owner championships in 2003 and in 2007. Richard Childress Racing began its NASCAR Xfinity Series program in 1995 and since has won 84 series races. The 2019 season marks the third time the Richard Childress Racing organization has fielded drivers in the Championship 4 – in 2017 and 2018 with Daniel Hemric and now in 2019 with Tyler Reddick.
NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year finale – Just two NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookies are still eligible for the 2019 end of the year honors – Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe (2,252 points) and JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson (2,208). Briscoe currently leads the rookie standings by 44 points over second-place Gragson. Briscoe made his series track debut at Homestead last season where he started and finished 13th. This weekend will be Gragson’s series track debut at Miami.
Xfinity Owner championship update – The four cars and drivers that made it to the driver Playoff standings Championship 4 are the same in the owner Playoff standings this season; guaranteeing a unified driver and owner championship this year.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship 4 (In Alphabetical Order)
Below is an in-depth look at the four drivers who have qualified for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship 4 and will race for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Ford EcoBoost 200 on Friday night, Nov. 15 (at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Ross Chastain (No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado)
In May, no one had Ross Chastain in their NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship 4.
It wasn’t because they didn’t believe in him – it was because he wasn’t eligible for the series title.
At the time, Chastain was still running for points in the NASCAR Xfinity Series while running full-time in all three national series – earning the moniker of “NASCAR’s busiest driver.” But as the calendar flipped to June, Chastain opted to switch to earning points in the Gander Trucks – starting with the June Texas Motor Speedway “standalone” race – and compete for a title in that series.
The eighth-generation farmer Chastain smashed his first Victory Lane watermelon after the May Kansas Gander Trucks race – but it was before he decided to commit to earning points in the series, so the win didn’t count for Playoff eligibility. Therefore, in order to contend for the title, he would have to work his way into the top 20 in points and get a win.
In his second race after declaring for Gander Trucks points, Iowa, Chastain crossed the finish line first, but his truck failed post-race inspection – relegating him to a last-place finish. That damaged his points standing and took away the automatic postseason bid that a win affords a driver.
But he rebounded the next week to get the win at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and then managed to climb into the top 20 in just his fifth race after deciding to pursue the truck title – Kentucky.
And the rest, as they say, was history. Chastain added another win at Pocono in July and tallied nine top-five and 18 top-10 finishes on the year to go with the three wins (only two of which counted towards the postseason).
In all this season, Chastain has competed in 75 races across the three national series – and recorded a NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Daytona in July for Kaulig Racing, the team he will race for full-time in 2020 as he pursues a Xfinity Series title.
Playoffs Recap: Ross Chastain entered the Playoffs seeded fourth on the strength of 12 Playoff points. And he put together solid finishes in the opening round – averaging a finish of 4.33 through the three races. He led a race-high 88 laps in the final race of the round at Las Vegas, but wound up finishing second to Austin Hill after a late-race pass. And he was leading with six laps to go at Talladega to open the Round of 6 but triggered the “Big One” while attempting a block and was knocked out of the race – leaving Alabama in sixth in the standings. He rebounded the next week in Martinsville – again leading a race-high number of laps (68) before being edged out by Todd Gilliland on a late-race restart and finishing second. That finish, along with trouble for nearly all of the other Playoff contenders, vaulted Chastain to third in the standings heading into the final race to set the Playoff field at ISM Raceway this past weekend. After not finding much speed through practice or qualifying (he started 14th), he was able to cross the line ninth to secure one of the Championship 4 slots contending for the title in Miami.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: Ross Chastain has made five NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway – spread out between 2011 and last year. His first start was in 2011, finishing 27th. He then put together a pair of top 10s in 2012 (10th) and 2013 (eighth) before finishing 11th in 2014. He took a break from the Gander Trucks at Miami before returning last year – finishing 16th while running for Niece Motorsports. In all, Chastain has driven three different manufacturers (Chevrolet in 2011, 2018 and now again in 2019), Ford (2013) and Toyota (2012, 2014) at Miami. And he has driven for five different teams there – RSS Racing (2011), SS Green Light Racing (2012), Brad Keselowski Racing (2013), Win-Tron Racing (2014) and Niece Motorsports (2018, 2019). And of note for Chastain, his first Gander Trucks win earlier this year came on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway – the same length as the circuit outside Miami.
Crew Chief Corner: Phil Gould has been atop the pit box for all but one Gander Trucks race with Ross Chastain this year (the June Texas race when he was the crew chief for Kyle Benjamin). The pair teamed up for three wins, nine top fives and 17 top 10s, as well as a pole at Michigan. This season is Gould’s first at the helm of a Gander Trucks team – he spent the past six seasons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series overseeing the operations of Roush Fenway Racing’s efforts with Ryan Reed (2016-2018) and Elliott Sadler (2015) and with Brian Scott at Richard Childress Racing (2013-2014). Friday night’s race will be Gould’s first Gander Trucks start at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he’s made six trips there in the Xfinity Series, recording one top 10 (with Brian Scott in 2014 - 10th).
Team Talk: This season marks Niece Motorsports’ third campaign in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – and their first appearance in the Gander Trucks Playoffs. Chastain’s three wins this season were the first for the organization, and they’ve tallied 23 top-10 finishes in 2019 (in addition to 18 from Chastain, Jeb Burton had two, Timothy Peters had two and Bayley Currey had one). While Chastain has been the team’s lone full-time entry this year, they’ve had a total of 13 other drivers record at least one race behind the wheel of Niece Motorsports equipment this year. Angela Ruch will be making her eighth start for Niece Motorsports this season (and her 10th overall in 2019) as she’s entered in their second truck at Miami.
Matt Crafton (No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford F-150)
After missing the Championship 4 last season for the first time since the elimination-style Playoffs were introduced to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Matt Crafton is back to contend for the title in Miami.
The lone back-to-back champion in series history (2013, 2014) got to Miami the hard way – through consistency. Crafton is the only driver in the Championship 4 who hasn’t visited Victory Lane this season. In fact, he hasn’t hoisted a trophy since Eldora Speedway in July of 2017 – a string of 57 races without a win. But he’s put together six top-five and 17 top-10 finishes this season.
During the regular season, Crafton finished on the lead lap in all but one race – Kentucky – in which he was only two laps down at the finish. He had just two regular season race finishes outside the top 10 (14th at Atlanta and 13th at Kentucky). And during those 16 races that set the Playoff field, Crafton posted an average finish of 7.25.
Including the six Playoff races, he has an average finish of 9.1 on the season.
To take a look back at Crafton’s championship seasons – both of which were before the current Playoff format was introduced to the Gander Trucks – he had only one win in his first title campaign in 2013, the fourth race of the season at Kansas (a 1.5-mile track like Miami). He then finished 21st in the season finale at Miami but had already locked up the title by starting the race.
Then in 2014, Crafton won a pair of races en route to the title – but both wins were early in the season, at Martinsville in the second race and then at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in the sixth race. He then finished ninth at Miami to close out the title by 21 points over Ryan Blaney.
Playoffs Recap: For as consistently good as his regular season was, the Playoffs have been a roller coaster for Crafton. After an average finish of 7.25 in the opening 16 races, Crafton had an average finish of 14.12 in the six Playoff races thus far. Engine issues at Las Vegas, that also knocked his ThorSport Racing teammates Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger out of the Playoffs, relegated him to a 30th-place finish after completing only 39 laps. And fortunately for Crafton, he was in good company with Playoff drivers having issues at Martinsville as he finished 23rd there. A strong showing through the opening two stages of the race at ISM Raceway last weekend helps Crafton jump from fifth in the standings entering the race to the fourth and final championship-contending slot, beating out Austin Hill by six points for that position.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: The elder statesman of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship 4 field has the most experience at this weekend’s finale venue – by a lot. Crafton has raced at the South Florida track 18 times, recording a win in 2015 and three top-five and 10 top-10 finishes, and he’s completed all but six of the laps ran in those 18 events. In his last five visits to Miami, he’s tallied a top 10 and also has a runner-up finish from 2009. In all, Crafton has 163 starts at 1.5-mile circuits, recording nine wins, 54 top fives, 103 top 10s, and 10 poles.
Crew Chief Corner: Carl “Junior” Joiner and Matt Crafton have been teamed up together at the track since 2012 and it’s been quite the successful pairing. Together they have won 12 races (all but two of Crafton’s career Gander Trucks total) and put together 67 top-five and 130 top-10 finishes. Joiner was also atop the pit box for Crafton’s two championships in 2013 and 2014. At Homestead-Miami Speedway, Joiner has helmed seven races – all with Crafton – with a win (2015) being his only top five at the venue and five total top 10s. The pair have an average finish of 8.9 together at Miami and have completed every lap run during those seven races.
Team Talk: Matt Crafton and ThorSport Racing go together like peanut butter and jelly. Crafton has raced all but 25 of his 452 career Gander Trucks races with ThorSport (his lone year away was the 2004 season, in which he raced fulltime for Kevin Harvick Incorporated). In addition to longevity with ThorSport Racing, Crafton is also in his 15th consecutive season with sponsor Menards on the hood of his truck. ThorSport Racing is the longest tenured team in the Gander Trucks and does it all from their Sandusky, Ohio, headquarters. They have a pair of Gander Trucks titles to their credit – from Crafton in 2013 and 2014.
Stewart Friesen (No. 52 Halmar Friesen Chevrolet)
A journeyman dirt track racer who cut his teeth on short tracks in the northeast, the 36-year-old Stewart Friesen is a bit of a late bloomer on the NASCAR national series scene. But he has quickly made up for lost time, winning a pair of races and qualifying for the Championship 4 in just his second season of entering every race on the schedule.
Friesen made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut in 2016, running six races that year and putting together a best finish of 13th in New Hampshire. His team upped their commitment the next season, running 19 races and posting two top-five and five top-10 finishes – including a tough runner-up result on the dirt at Eldora.
A fulltime campaign last year earned Friesen his first Playoff berth after nine top fives and 16 top 10s. But this year has been especially impressive, as Friesen captured his first Gander Trucks win at Eldora and followed that up with his first national series win on a paved track last weekend at ISM Raceway to clinch his spot in the Championship 4.
So far this season Friesen has recorded 12 top fives and 16 top 10s, as well as a pole at Martinsville early in the season. He’s been very consistent with only three DNFs – two due to crashes (Daytona and the opening lap of Pocono) and one to mechanical issues (June Texas). And his average finish is 8.4.
Playoffs Recap: Stewart Friesen’s regular season consistency carried into the Playoffs, as he’s put together an average finish of 7.0 during the six postseason races. The lone finish worse than seventh was a 19th-place effort at Las Vegas. He’s been in a solid points position throughout the postseason, entering the Playoffs at Bristol seeded third. He was then fourth in points following the first cutoff at Las Vegas and entered last weekend’s race in Phoenix in second – 35 points ahead of fifth place and was in solid position to advance to the Championship 4 even without the automatic qualifier in the win.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: Friesen has a solid history at this weekend’s season finale venue. He finished 29th in his first visit to Miami in 2016, but was seventh in 2017 and then fourth last year. Overall at 1.5-mile tracks, Friesen has made 29 starts and posted 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. His performance this year has been up and down at tracks of that distance. While he has a pair of runner-up results (Texas-1 and Kentucky) and two third-place finishes (Charlotte and Chicago), he has also had four finishes of 15th or worse.
Crew Chief Corner: Long-time crew chief Trip Bruce has been atop Friesen’s pit box since the start of the 2017 season and the pair have partnered for 23 top fives and 32 top 10s as well as both of Friesen’s wins this season. Bruce has served as crew chief for at least a portion of 13 seasons in the Gander Trucks and four seasons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. And he’s very familiar with Homestead-Miami Speedway – and knows how to take a driver to Victory Lane there. He’s been at the helm for seven races in South Florida and won his first two starts at the track – in 2004 with Kasey Kahne and in 2007 with Johnny Benson Jr. His drivers have an average finish of 9.4 at the track and have compiled the two wins, three top fives and five top 10s.
Team Talk: Halmar Friesen Racing is synonymous with Stewart Friesen’s assent to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. And is a tribute to his roots, as it’s tied into his dirt racing team – Halmar Racing. The team made the Playoffs for the first time in 2018 with Friesen and was eliminated after the opening round. This year marks their first shot at the title after advancing to the Championship 4.
Brett Moffitt (No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet)
Defending NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt is looking to become just the second driver in series history, after Matt Crafton in 2013 and 2014, to repeat as champion.
And although the results from year-to-year look the same (six wins, 13 top fives, 13 top 10s in 2018 and four wins, 12 top fives and 16 top 10s this season) – not much else looks the same for Moffitt.
Last year he won the championship with the “little team that could,” Hattori Racing Enterprises, in a Toyota with Scott Zipadelli as his crew chief. This year he’s in a Chevrolet with the multi-truck GMS Racing outfit and has Jerry Baxter atop his pit box.
Moffitt’s versatility was shown this season as his four wins came at a wide variety of tracks – the 7/8-mile oval in Iowa, the 1.5-mile speedway in Chicago, the half-mile concrete short track of Bristol, and then the 2.459-mile, 10-turn road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
In addition to his Gander Trucks accomplishments, the 27-year old was the 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the Monster Energy Series.
Playoffs Recap: Brett Moffitt started out the Playoffs strong, winning the opening two races at Bristol and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Those victories vaulted him into the Round of 6 and added to his Playoff point total – helping put him into the Championship 4 following ISM Raceway. And those points, as well as the misfortunes of other Playoff drivers, carried him through after a tough Martinsville outing where he finished 29th after a crash took him out early.
Homestead-Miami Outlook: If there’s a Playoff venue where Moffitt should feel confident, it’s this weekend’s season finale track. Moffitt won last year’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to take his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship – in his only career series start at the track. Plus, four of his 11 career Gander Trucks wins have come at 1.5-mile tracks (Atlanta, Chicago – twice, and Miami).
Crew Chief Corner: Jerry Baxter is the third of the four Championship 4 crew chiefs looking to win his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series title. The veteran has sat atop the pit box for 388 NASCAR national series races, 184 of them in the Gander Trucks. He’s recorded 15 wins with seven different drivers over nine seasons with the trucks, but has definitely put up his best numbers across the board this season recording four wins (tied for most in his career – 2013 with Bubba Wallace), 12 top fives (best in his career) and 16 top 10s (one shy of his career best of 17 in 2016 with Christopher Bell). Baxter has also had success at Miami – winning in his debut as a Gander Trucks crew chief at the track in 2012 with Cale Gale. He also won there with Bubba Wallace in 2014. He has two wins, two top fives and three top 10s in seven races at Miami.
Team Talk: GMS Racing won the 2016 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series title with Johnny Sauter behind the wheel. It was their first, and to date only, NASCAR national series title. GMS has 27 Gander Trucks wins to their credit since joining the series in 2013. They are the only team to have fielded a Gander Trucks Championship 4 driver (Johnny Sauter, 2016-2018; Justin Haley in 2018 and Brett Moffitt in 2019) in all four years of the current elimination-style Playoff format.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Spoiler Alert - Spoilers aren’t unusual at Miami in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. In fact, when Brett Moffitt won last year for the title, it was the first year since the elimination-style format was introduced to the Gander Trucks Playoffs that the champion was also the race winner. William Byron won in the first year of the format while Johnny Sauter won the championship, and Chase Briscoe took the checkered flag while William Byron was the champ in 2017. The only non-Championship 4 driver entered in the race this weekend who has a win at Miami is Johnny Sauter (2011 winner).
Owner’s Crown - Three of the four teams with drivers entered in the Championship 4 (the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet with Brett Moffitt, the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet with Ross Chastain and No. 52 Halmar Friesen Chevrolet of Stewart Friesen) are in the hunt for the owner’s championship on Friday night. The No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota entry to be driven by Christian Eckes is also in the title bout, knocking out the No. 88 ThorSport Racing truck that has Matt Crafton contending for the driver’s championship. KBM has won a series-record six owner’s championships – including one with the No. 51 truck in 2013. Eckes has driven the No. 51 seven times this season for KBM, putting together two top fives and three top 10s. He also won the pole at Las Vegas in the fall and Martinsville two races ago.
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