trucks

Crafton on verge of repeat as NASCAR Trucks’ youth movement grows

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Now 38, Matt Crafton doesn’t consider himself “old.”

He’s just older than a host of teenagers and 20-somethings who are trying to assume the throne of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Crafton leads 20-year-old Ryan Blaney by 25 points heading into the series’ season finale tonight, the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Provided he scores a top-20 finish, regardless of what Blaney does, Crafton will repeat as champion.

But he’ll do so in a year where youngsters have made their mark. Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. (21) have consistently challenged for the title all year, Erik Jones (18) and Cole Custer (16) have won races and countless others in looking through the Trucks point standings have made an impact.

Age is just a number for Crafton.

“It’s pretty crazy to think that some of the ones you’re racing are 16 years old,” he said during Thursday’s media day. “I’m 38, and I honestly don’t feel old.  I feel like I’m 16.  And to say that you’re the old guy and you’re 38 years old, like I said, it’s really crazy how young they’re starting, and like I said, the talent that they do have.”

Youthful or not, their presence has only added to what is consistently great racing.

“The Series itself, I say it each and every week, I truly believe it is the best racing in NASCAR,” Crafton said.  “I mean, I always compare it to, like I said, if anybody watches NFL, the college football, and you always see the better games in the college football.  Like I said, that’s one of the ways I consider the Truck Series.  Just like I said, it’s a step up to get to the Cup Series, but I truly believe it’s great, great racing.”

Blaney, who’s mature beyond his years, extolled the virtue of racing against the veterans as well as praising his fellow youngsters.

“These young guys coming into the Truck Series, 16 years old, you know.  I’ve been on the losing end of it,” Blaney said. “I had a great race with Erik Jones, and Cole Custer with his win this year, a bunch of others that have really impressed me.  They’ve done a great job.

“I think that’s the one thing I love about the Truck Series is they’ll allow young kids to come in and run. Even though it’s only a mile and under race tracks, you can still get a lot of experience. You can go to Dover, and that’s almost like a mile and a half. It feels like it at least. It’s been really great to race with the young up and comers, like I said, 16, 17, 18 years old. It’s been great to run with them.As well as Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, it’s been great to learn from them too.”

Unlikely as overcoming that points deficit is, Blaney is still satisfied with his season.

As for Crafton? He’s won twice this year and also been the most consistent driver in the series, with a series-leading 13 top-fives and 16 top-10 finishes. Blaney isn’t far behind with one win, 11 top-fives and 16 top-10s.

Either will be crowned champion this evening.