Matt Crafton becomes first back-to-back NASCAR Trucks champion

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20 years into its existence, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series now has its first successful title defense. And it has Matt Crafton to thank for that.

Crafton has become the first back-to-back champion in series history after coming home ninth in tonight’s Ford Ecoboost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – well above the 21st-place result he needed.

His closest title rival, Ryan Blaney, finished fifth tonight in a valiant effort after breaking a shifter in mid-race and subsequently having to use a vice grip for the remainder. But in the final standings, Crafton ultimately finished with a 21-point cushion.

“The last 10 laps were probably the longest 10 laps I’ve ever ran in a race car without a doubt,” Crafton told Fox Sports on the HMS frontstretch. “My God, it was like, ‘Are you kidding? I thought you said 10 to go a long time ago.’ But I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive this Menards Toyota Tundra. These guys build awesome trucks, fast trucks every week.

“I wanted to race so much harder than I did. I kept asking, ‘How many trucks are on the lead lap?’ ‘Oh, there’s 22 on the lead lap.’ I know we had to finish 21st, and couldn’t fall past that. I was like, ‘OK, [Blaney] is racing for the lead, I can’t do anything stupid right here.'”

His final stat line for 2014 will be two wins at Martinsville and Texas, 13 Top-5s, 17 Top-10s, an average finish of seventh, and 298 laps led.

In addition to yielding another title, the season has brought several other new high marks for Crafton; it’s his first Truck Series campaign with multiple wins and those 298 circuits paced are a personal best.

Crafton secured the points lead for good following a second-place run at Chicagoland in September. He closed out the final seven races of the season with finishes of third, third, 14th, third, fifth, second, and tonight’s ninth.

Bubba Wallace ended up taking the checkered flag this evening in South Florida. For a full report on the race, click here.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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