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.

‘One and Only’ Kyle Larson wins Outlaws opener at Knoxville Raceway

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Paul Arch/World of Outlaws
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The magic of dirt racing wins for Kyle Larson continued Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway, where he scored his third consecutive World of Outlaws victory at the famed half-mile track to open “The One and Only.”

After starting 10th, Larson sliced through the field and passed pole-sitter Logan Schuchart to lead the final eight laps in the No. 57 of car owner Paul Silva.

“Just an awesome race,” Larson said after earning $10,000 for his second consecutive NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victory (after winning at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday), his sixth Outlaws victory this season and 14th of his career.

LARSON ON NASCAR‘I’d love an opportunity if it came’

“I was able to track Logan down and hit the bottom really well in (turns) 1 and 2 and got a run on him.  It felt like I needed to take advantage of that before we got to heavier traffic and slid him and felt some contact. So, glad to see him not in the wall or anything like that. Just, hard work there. Heartbeat is up again.”

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson scored his sixth World of Outlaws victory Thursday (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).

It was the fourth Knoxville victory this year for Larson, who swept a World of Outlaws doubleheader weekend June 12-13 at the Sprint Car Captial of the World. He has more than 30 victories this year in sprint cars and midgets.

The One and Only continues Friday night with another $10,000 feature race that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic, which pays $50,000 to win.

The event is the Outlaws’ richest purse of 2020 and subs in for the annual Knoxville Nationals, which was canceled for COVID-19 concerns. Larson, a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, has said winning The One and Only would be on the same as Knoxville’s signature event because of its tough three-day format.

Through the first of three nights, Schuchart and Larson are tied for second in The One and Only points standings, which factor in qualifying, heats, dash and feature races. Aaron Reutzel, an All Star Circuit of Champions stalwart who finished third Thursday, leads with 430 points.

A crash in Thursday’s 25-lap feature eliminated past Outlaws champions Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz after Cory Eliason spun in front of Sweet in Turn 1 to start the wreck, which also collected Sweet’s teammate, James McFadden. Sweet and Schatz finished outside the top 20, which moved Schuchart into the points lead for the 2020 season.

Schuchart still seemed slightly miffed after finishing second to Larson.

“As the race went on, I felt like I wasn’t hitting my marks as good,” he said. “I would have liked to of had a little bit better of a race with Kyle there. I wish his slide job was a little better there, but he’s got a reputation to live up to. That’s where you let other people make the rules and maybe we’ll get him next time.”


RESULTS

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps) – 1. 57-Kyle Larson [10]; 2. 1S-Logan Schuchart [1]; 3. 87-Aaron Reutzel [2]; 4. 2-Carson Macedo [24]; 5. 41-David Gravel [6]; 6. 21-Brian Brown [7]; 7. 71-Spencer Bayston [3]; 8. 18-Gio Scelzi [15]; 9. 12N-Joey Saldana [5]; 10. 5-Ian Madsen [19]; 11. 17A-Austin McCarl [21]; 12. 1A-Jacob Allen [11]; 13. 7BC-Tyler Courtney [16]; 14. 7S-Jason Sides [20]; 15. 24-Rico Abreu [22]; 16. 4-Terry McCarl [13]; 17. 2KS-Brooke Tatnell [18]; 18. O9-Matt Juhl [23]; 19. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [25]; 20. 83-Daryn Pittman [9]; 21. 11K-Kraig Kinser [17]; 22. 15-Donny Schatz [8]; 23. 26-Cory Eliason [4]; 24. 49-Brad Sweet [12]; 25. 9-James McFadden [14]; Lap Leaders: Logan Schuchart 1-17, Kyle Larson 18-25; KSE Hard Charger Award: 2-Carson Macedo[+20]

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson celebrated with his family and team after the first night of The One and Only (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).