HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Matt Crafton may have lost the battles, but he won the war.
The 43-year-old Tulare, California native didn’t win a single race during the 2019 Gander Outdoor Truck Series season—and that’s just fine with him.
On Friday, Crafton won his third truck title—tying Jack Sprague for second-most in the series and falling one short of Ron Hornaday’s record of four championships.
“It feels amazing,” said Crafton, who finished second in the Ford EcoBoost200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “It’s one step closer to what Hornaday has done, and they called us the underdog. I heard (Todd) Bodine and everybody say I was the underdog and I didn’t have it. We fought harder. I guarantee you every one of these guys worked harder and this Menards Ford F-150 was fast tonight.
“I guess I finally got out of the wheelchair and got up on the wheel and got it done. Like I said, I took a lot of criticism over the restarts and it was time to get it done now.”
Crafton finished 1.569-seconds behind winner Austin Hill at the finish—a consolation prize for defending championship owner Shigi Hattori, whose team missed the Championship 4 Round but bookended the year with wins at Daytona and Homestead.
“It’s probably the best truck I’ve had,” said Hill, who finished fifth in the truck standings. “I’m excited for the win, but at the same time it stings a little bit just because I know that if we would have been a little bit better in the Round of 6, we could be celebrating a win and a championship.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports won the Owner’s title. Toyota won the manufacturer’s championship.
Christian Eckes, Ross Chastain, Brett Moffitt, Johnny Sauter, Grant Enfinger, Todd Gilliland, Sheldon Creed and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top 10. Stewart Friesen, the fourth title contender, finished 11th.
Crafton’s experience paid off on Friday. Following a 90-minute rain delay, the No. 88 ThorSport Ford rolled off ninth and finished sixth after Stage 1. Crafton moved up to third at the start of the second segment on Lap 36. Two laps later, Crafton passed defending champion Moffitt for second. Although Chastain passed him momentarily, Crafton finished the second stage just behind Hill on Lap 60.
With 40 laps to decide the contest—and the title—Crafton lined up fifth off of pit road behind Eckes, Ben Rhodes, Gilliland and Hill. On the restart, Crafton maneuvered to third and passed Rhodes on Lap 70 for second. Crew chief Junior Joiner called his driver to pit with 35 laps to go.
Crafton cycled out to the lead on lap 104 and held the point for eight laps. But ultimately, Crafton’s truck lacked the speed to hold off Hill. The veteran’s strategy shifted to holding off the remaining three title contenders over the remaining 23 laps.
“The first run I was like, ‘Oh, boy we’re in trouble,’” Crafton said. “But we just made air-pressure adjustments from there. We made a few adjustments to tighten it up because we thought the track was going to be green, it was going to go away, but this thing ran flawless all night and the motor was very good as well and everything just went our way.
“I was praying there, ‘I do not want a yellow right here at the end of this thing.’”
Crafton’s advantage over Chastain at the finish was 9.2-seconds and two points.
Although it's been 58 races since Crafton's last win, the defeats don't bother him in the least. Neither will what the pundits say.
"When they said without winning a race, winning the championship, you know what, I'm going to sleep really good all winter long with this trophy because when you win a race, that's very sweet, but usually you only have one week, like four or five days to gloat about it," Crafton said. "But I think I've got like two and a half months to gloat about this championship before next year. We all do."
Joiner added, "Yeah, when we walk in the shop and see that banner on the wall, it ain't going to say we didn't win the races."