The steady performance of series veteran Matt Crafton and a group of talented youngsters defined this year’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
With over a decade of racing in the Trucks, Crafton finally climbed the mountain in 2013 with a solid campaign that featured a win at Kansas and an impressive 19 Top-10s (including a streak of 16 consecutive Top-10s to open the year) in 22 starts.
He wound up clinching the title just by starting the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and also became the first Truck champion to complete every lap in a season – in this year’s case, 3,391 laps.
Crafton was also in contention to win the CWTS owner’s championship for his No. 88 ThorSport Racing team at Homestead, but fell just short of that prize after he sustained damage during a series of multiple green-white-checkered-attempts at the finish.
Instead, the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports team won it after its namesake, Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch, took the Homestead race. That put the No. 51 and No. 88 in a deadlock in the owner’s standings, but the No. 51’s seven wins on the Truck tour trumped Crafton’s aforementioned lone win at Kansas.
Even with the driver’s championship in his pocket, Crafton still had a foul taste in his mouth, calling the near-miss on the owner’s championship “disgusting.” It was one of the few things that didn’t go his way this year.
Still, it was a tremendous year for him, and the same goes for the series’ up-and-comers that will look to leave their mark on NASCAR in the years ahead.
Despite falling to Crafton in the driver’s championship, Ty Dillon still claimed a pair of victories en route to a runner-up finish in the standings ahead of 2012 series champ James Buescher, who now makes the jump to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2014.
Then there’s the five first-time winners.
Kyle Larson, who is set to move up to Sprint Cup next year with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, was able to claim his first career win at Rockingham Speedway.
Jeb Burton, the son of former Daytona 500 champion Ward, scored a W at Texas (and also led the Trucks with seven poles) while Darrell Wallace Jr. made history at Martinsville, becoming the first African-American to win a national series race in almost 50 years.
Also in this group were two drivers who took turns this year as the youngest winner in CWTS history. Chase Elliott’s September win in Canada had him earn that honor initially, but in the next-to-last race of the year, Erik Jones – aged 17 years, five months, nine days – grabbed it with his win at Phoenix.
But with that said, one could argue Elliott’s win was the most memorable “first” of them all. Elliott fought Ty Dillon over hill and dale in the final lap at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and it culminated with Elliott punting Dillon into the tire barriers on the final corner and going on to the checkered flag.
That set off a post-race skirmish between the crews of the two drivers, who also had a confrontation among themselves shortly afterwards. However, Elliott and Dillon were ultimately overshadowed by another post-race incident that had Max Papis get slapped by the girlfriend of rival driver Mike Skeen after they also made contact in the final corner.
An unforgettable moment, for sure. However, when you take the entire season into account, nothing tops the Trucks taking to the dirt at the famed Eldora Speedway for the “Mudsummer Classic.”
Heavily hyped going in, the event marked NASCAR’s first national series race on dirt in over four decades, and a capacity crowd got their money’s worth as Austin Dillon lead a race-high 63 laps in winning the historic event.
In a time where emphasis continues to be placed on generating drama by any means necessary, the “Mudsummer Classic” was the real deal. One hopes it becomes a tradition.