2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Season Review

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The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has largely been regarded as a place for young, up-and-coming drivers to refine their race craft and then move on to the next challenge.

But Matt Crafton is prospering by doing the opposite.

The California native, who began his full-time Truck Series career in 2001 and didn’t get his first series win until 2008, has become a mainstay in NASCAR’s No. 3 national division. His rivals have changed over the years, but he has remained.

Now, he’s the standard-bearer. After more than a decade, Crafton captured his first Truck Series title in 2013. And last month, a ninth-place finish in the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway enabled him to become the first back-to-back champion in series history.

His run to the 2014 title was more impressive than the one he had the year before on several levels. In his 14th season, Crafton finally had his first campaign with multiple victories (Martinsville and Texas).

Additionally, he was a more consistent front-runner as well with 13 Top-5 finishes – a significant improvement over the seven such results he had in 2013.

That proved critical in his ability to hold off young guns Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. for the title. After taking over the points lead in September at Chicagoland with a runner-up finish, Crafton had five more Top-5s in the final seven races. This run of results effectively canceled out Blaney’s solid late-season efforts, while Wallace’s hopes effectively ended with three races to go thanks to an engine failure at Texas.

With his second Truck Series title now in his pocket, Crafton is in prime position to be a “legacy driver” for the Truck Series, much like Jack Ingram was for the NASCAR XFINITY Series in the 1980s and early 1990s. Ingram scored 31 victories and a pair of series championships in his NXS career, and for his efforts, he’s now in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Crafton himself only has five Truck Series wins to his name but if he can continue to build on his body of work, he may not need to get as many wins as Ingram in order to be considered for his own trip to the Hall one day.

In addition to Crafton’s second title, the 2014 Truck Series season was also marked by the sheer dominance of Kyle Busch Motorsports, which set a single-season series record for wins with 14 and captured the owner’s title with its No. 51 Toyota Tundra.

Busch himself contributed half of those wins, while KBM full-time driver Wallace (in the No. 54 Toyota Tundra) bagged four of them – a total that included special triumphs at Eldora’s Mudsummer Classic, Martinsville, and Homestead.

KBM’s part-time racer, Erik Jones, chipped in three wins himself, including his first win on a mile-and-a-half oval at Las Vegas. In 2015, Jones will compete full-time for KBM, and he’ll also get in some NXS races with Joe Gibbs Racing, too.

Blaney, who finished runner-up to Crafton in the driver’s standings, was also solid in 2014 with a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, 12 Top-5s, and 17 Top-10s for Brad Keselowski Racing. That victory in Canada came after perhaps the most thrilling Truck Series finish of the year.

On the final lap at the road course outside Toronto, Blaney went wheel-to-wheel with German Quiroga in a superb battle that looked like it would go the Mexican’s way when he took the lead in Turn 9.

But as they entered the final corner, Turn 10, Blaney crossed over to the inside and narrowly defeated Quiroga in a drag race to the checkers.

Blaney will now look ahead to a 2015 schedule that will see him continue his NXS program with Team Penske and also take on part-time Sprint Cup duty for the famous Wood Brothers outfit.

Another memorable moment came later in the year at New Hampshire, where 16-year-old Cole Custer delivered a stunning upset to become the youngest-ever winner of a NASCAR national series event.

Custer had been strong all day, but a call for four tires knocked him to seventh with less than 25 laps to go. But several restarts in the remaining laps allowed Custer to capitalize on his fresh rubber, and on the final restart with four to go, Custer pulled away from Crafton to take the lead for good.

Additionally, two other Sprint Cup regulars besides the aforementioned Kyle Busch came away with Truck Series wins in 2014. Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon hung on in green-white-checkered to nab a victory at Pocono Raceway, and at Bristol, former Cup champion Brad Keselowski earned his inaugural Truck Series win.

Supercross: Eli Tomac has the long game in mind

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Racing is reaction. A split-second hesitation means missing the holeshot. A decision about how hard to charge into a corner, side-by-side another rider, is made without bothering to engage one’s consciousness. The tiniest things make the biggest difference. With a late-race pass at Daytona in the Monster Energy Supercross series, Eli Tomac wrested the lead from Ken Roczen and broke a tie atop the points standing. But just barely.

Tomac is the defending winner of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship. In fact, he enters with the last three titles to his credit, but the Supercross championship has eluded him.

“This wouldn’t be about beating Ken,” Tomac told NBC Sports. “This would be about getting that first Supercross title. I feel like it’s the most wanted title that we have currently in our racing. It’s the one sponsors look at the most, so I want it really bad. It doesn’t matter who I’m battling with, I want to be that guy with the (red) plate at the end of the year.”

Daytona was Round 10 of what was supposed to be a 17-round Supercross season. After a winner was crowned in the indoor arenas, the riders would have moved to longer, faster outdoor tracks. They would have had two weeks to prepare for Motocross.

If the past three seasons are an example, the Motocross season is of little concern. Tomac dominated that series and has amassed 23 career wins there.

The story has not been the same in Supercross. He finished second in the 2015 and 2017 standings. He was third in 2018 and then back up to second last year. But while he keeps coming close, he’s had to watch as two new winners were crowned in the past two years.

Jason Anderson took the title in 2018, which was a bit of a surprise.

Last year was even more shocking as Cooper Webb entered the season without a single Supercross victory and left with the championship.

Tomac has the wins. Daytona was his 32nd in Supercross series. He’s simply missing the big red plate that signifies the championship to hang on his wall.

“I’ve been able to accomplish everything I can except get the championship,” Tomac said. “I have so many race wins and I look at those more than the second-place finishes in the championship. Second-place in the championship, people don’t remember. Some people remember race wins.

“Most of the time, they remember the championship.”

Eli Tomac’s pass on Ken Roczen at Daytona might well be the pivotal point in his season. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

Daytona was pivotal.

One week earlier, Tomac took a significant points lead into Atlanta and saw it evaporate. He got off to a slow start and was mired in traffic. One of his split-second decisions proved to be the wrong one and he crashed midway through the race before mounting a charge to return to the top five. Tomac finished fourth. Roczen won after getting a fast start.

They left Atlanta tied for the lead.

At Daytona, the story was the same for most of the race. Roczen led Lap 1. Tomac got a slow start and had to battle his way to the front.

“Going back to the Daytona race, it’s a track that requires a lot of patience, even though I didn’t start up front,” Tomac said. “You’re always going to make mistakes, you just try minimize them as much as you can. That’s where I made the majority of my passes: from guys making mistakes. That was my game plan going into the race, to try and have a mistake-free ride.

“In my mind, I’ve put in all this work to get into second-place at this point and then I see Roczen in front. I feel like I can keep digging at that point. I had more in the tank, so I didn’t want to stop. I never do unless I’m in the lead. So that was my mindset.”

Roczen finished less than a second behind to hand the championship lead back to Tomac by a narrow three-point margin.

“(Roczen is) a competitor that you can trust,” Tomac said. “That’s the nice thing about racing Ken is that he’s predictable. There are certain riders on the track that you may not even be comfortable going on to the next jump with. If I’m going to be battling guys, Ken is a great competitor to go against.”

MORE: Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia feud at Atlanta

MORE: Ken Roczen still has a shot at the championship

And then racing came to a screeching halt as the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic required all live events to be postponed so fans could practice social distancing.

After Daytona, seven more Supercross rounds were scheduled to be run with only a short break for Easter. That race should have come at about the two-thirds mark and as riders headed back to shorter, tighter tracks to end the season.

But the pandemic has made Daytona the final Supercross season before Motocross begins. And it might yet make it even more pivotal in both championships. With its long straights, Daytona is a hybrid that has as many characteristics in common with the outdoor season as it does with indoors. It provides a bridge between the two disciplines.

Supercross is mentally grueling. The tight confines of indoor arenas make it a technical track were the smallest bobble has the biggest impact.

Motocross is physically demanding. The toll on the body is intense, but after that season winds down, riders typically have several months to recuperate before heading into the next year.

Tomac’s back has been a familiar site to the other riders in recent seasons. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

In 2020, riders will have to shake off the dust and take their battered bodies back inside and refocus that mental energy.

“It’s going to be hard to manage your energy levels and just go and race all the way through September and October, if that happens and If everything stays somewhat current now,” Tomac said. “You’re going to have to have a lot of long-game in mind. That’s going to be key because the Motocross season wears on you physically.

“It’s going to be really tough to make the transition. At the beginning of Supercross you always feel like you have a few races to get warmed up and in the groove. But at this point in the game if we race in September and October, there is no getting back in the groove. It’s totally new for everyone. The other positive is that I have the lead, even though it’s minimal. I’m in the best position I can be in.”

If Tomac can do what he’s done for the past three seasons, interjecting some outdoor races in the middle of Supercross could play to his advantage. A fourth championship, if that is what happens, will give Tomac a ton of confidence before the final rounds of the Supercross season occurs.

If he does not win the championship for the first time since 2016, he’ll be hungry. But one way or another, Tomac will convince himself that he is the rider to beat.

“(The lead) is the best position to be in and it may turn out have paid off very well to be in the points’ lead (after Daytona),” Tomac said. “There is so much unknown there.”

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