Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 14 – Matt Crafton doubles up in the Trucks

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source: Getty Images
Double vision: Matt Crafton became the first back-to-back champ in Truck Series history in 2014. Photo: Getty Images.

MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

For No. 14, we focus on a very significant accomplishment in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series…

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has evolved quite a bit from its inception in 1995. But through its two decades of existence, it had never seen one of its champions manage to hang on to the crown the next season.

In 2014, it finally happened.

After another tremendously consistent year behind the wheel of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota Tundra, Matt Crafton became the first-ever back-to-back Truck Series champ with a ninth-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

That distinction doesn’t him make the king of the tailgaters just yet; Ron Hornaday Jr. still rules with four Truck Series championships and Jack Sprague’s also ahead of Crafton with three of his own.

But with how Crafton has been going in recent times, his chances of getting level with Sprague are solid – and his chances of catching Hornaday aren’t bad, either.

With just five Truck Series race wins over a 14-year career, Crafton is not the flashiest of champions. But like Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth in the top-level Sprint Cup Series, he has the knack for rattling off one strong finish after another while rivals slide up and down.

It’s a workmanlike approach and it paid off again this past year. Two wins at Martinsville and Texas plus a big jump in Top-5 runs (from seven in 2013 to 13 in 2014) kept Crafton one step ahead of the major threats to his throne – Ryan Blaney, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., and Johnny Sauter.

As for what 2015 may hold for him, Crafton is looking good to at least be a contender for title No. 3.

His No. 88 camp is rock-solid and some of his competition is going away: Blaney’s moving on to a mixed schedule of Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races, and Bubba, if rumors are to be believed, could be heading for the XFINITY Series too.

Kyle Busch Motorsports’ young gun, Erik Jones, will be making his first attempt at the Truck Series championship in 2015. Considering how good KBM’s equipment is, he could be the one that gives the stiffest challenge to Crafton.

But after what Crafton’s been able to accomplish, you know he’ll be tough to take down.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III