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

Leave a comment
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.

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

Leave a comment

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.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter