Wallace wins the race, but Crafton captures the Truck Series title
It wasn’t a flashy performance but, then again, Matt Crafton’s performances rarely are.
Needing to finish only 21st or better Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway to clinch a second consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, Crafton came home ninth to capture the title in the 2014 truck finale and become the first back-to-back champion in the truck series’ 20-year history.
Darrell Wallace Jr. used a bold, three-wide move to pass team owner Kyle Busch and then withstood a furious late charge from Sprint Cup invader Kyle Larson to score his fourth win of the season and the fifth of his truck career.
Starting sixth, Crafton spent the entire race inside the top 10 and, in typical Crafton fashion, steered clear of a variety of trouble, to do what he needed to do to notch a history-making second consecutive truck title.
"To say I made history is definitely very, very cool, but it’s all about the guys at ThorSport Racing that are behind me," said Crafton, a 14-year veteran of the series. "Without them, I’m just an average race car driver at best. It’s all about the truck that these guys put underneath me each and every week. This Menards Toyota Tundra has been really — it’s been unbelievable to drive every week this year."
Ryan Blaney, who arrived at Homestead as the only driver with a mathematical shot of unseating Crafton, rallied to finish fifth after falling to 14th after breaking the gear-shift lever on his No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford.
"We struggled all night terribly," said Blaney, who will run a part-time Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2015 for Wood Brothers Racing. "That’s one of the worst trucks I’ve had. I can’t believe we finished fifth. It was a great couple years here with BKR and it’s a shame we couldn’t cap it off with a win and a championship."
As Crafton celebrated a championship, 21-year-old Wallace — whose nickname is "Bubba" — celebrated his first victory on a mile-and-a-half track in his final start for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Wallace, who as a 20-year-old last October became the first African-American to win a major NASCAR series race in nearly 50 years, will move on next season — likely to the Nationwide Series — after two full truck seasons in the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.
"It’s been fun at KBM," said Wallace, a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver and alumnus of NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity. "I’m not sure what the future brings for me, but this is one of helluva way to go out."
VIDEO: Darrell Wallace Jr. claims his fourth Truck Series victory of the season
Larson led a race-high 96 of 134 laps but fell just short of reeling in Wallace, who spent the final 16 laps in front.
"There was a couple times where I got a good run off (Turn) 4 and thought about doing a slide job and just thought better of it," Larson said. "And then I tried it one time there and wished the lap truck hadn’t been there so I could run it even deeper. He was able to squeeze back around me, and that was about my last real shot. I tried something there the last lap, but I figured it wasn’t going to work."
Wallace’s victory capped a huge night for Kyle Busch Motorsports, which left South Florida with its second consecutive owner title and the organization’s third title in five years with the No. 51 KBM team.
Busch, who shared the No. 51 KBM truck this season with youngster Erik Jones, finished fourth at Homestead to secure the owner crown.
"It’s a great milestone for us and a great accomplishment just on the fact that it’s what we can race for," Busch said. "Being able to compete in the Camping World Truck Series, the years that we have, obviously it wouldn’t be possible without our partners."
Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder William H.G. "Big Bill" France, claimed top rookie honors for 2014 over Brad Keselowski Racing’s Tyler Reddick.
"It’s a testament to the team and how hard the guys at Turner Scott Motorsports worked, especially the second half of the season," said Kennedy, who finished 17th at Homestead. "Really kind of came together and worked hard, and had positive thoughts going into every one, and this rookie-of-the-year deal is awesome. This was something kind of on my bucket list this year."
VIDEO: Matt Crafton looks back on his path to the 2014 Camping World Truck Series championship