Crafton on verge of repeat as NASCAR Trucks’ youth movement grows

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Now 38, Matt Crafton doesn’t consider himself “old.”

He’s just older than a host of teenagers and 20-somethings who are trying to assume the throne of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Crafton leads 20-year-old Ryan Blaney by 25 points heading into the series’ season finale tonight, the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Provided he scores a top-20 finish, regardless of what Blaney does, Crafton will repeat as champion.

But he’ll do so in a year where youngsters have made their mark. Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. (21) have consistently challenged for the title all year, Erik Jones (18) and Cole Custer (16) have won races and countless others in looking through the Trucks point standings have made an impact.

Age is just a number for Crafton.

“It’s pretty crazy to think that some of the ones you’re racing are 16 years old,” he said during Thursday’s media day. “I’m 38, and I honestly don’t feel old.  I feel like I’m 16.  And to say that you’re the old guy and you’re 38 years old, like I said, it’s really crazy how young they’re starting, and like I said, the talent that they do have.”

Youthful or not, their presence has only added to what is consistently great racing.

“The Series itself, I say it each and every week, I truly believe it is the best racing in NASCAR,” Crafton said.  “I mean, I always compare it to, like I said, if anybody watches NFL, the college football, and you always see the better games in the college football.  Like I said, that’s one of the ways I consider the Truck Series.  Just like I said, it’s a step up to get to the Cup Series, but I truly believe it’s great, great racing.”

Blaney, who’s mature beyond his years, extolled the virtue of racing against the veterans as well as praising his fellow youngsters.

“These young guys coming into the Truck Series, 16 years old, you know.  I’ve been on the losing end of it,” Blaney said. “I had a great race with Erik Jones, and Cole Custer with his win this year, a bunch of others that have really impressed me.  They’ve done a great job.

“I think that’s the one thing I love about the Truck Series is they’ll allow young kids to come in and run. Even though it’s only a mile and under race tracks, you can still get a lot of experience. You can go to Dover, and that’s almost like a mile and a half. It feels like it at least. It’s been really great to race with the young up and comers, like I said, 16, 17, 18 years old. It’s been great to run with them.As well as Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, it’s been great to learn from them too.”

Unlikely as overcoming that points deficit is, Blaney is still satisfied with his season.

As for Crafton? He’s won twice this year and also been the most consistent driver in the series, with a series-leading 13 top-fives and 16 top-10 finishes. Blaney isn’t far behind with one win, 11 top-fives and 16 top-10s.

Either will be crowned champion this evening.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.