Matt Crafton knows he’ll really have to earn it if he is to win his third NASCAR Truck Series championship Friday night.
For the first time, the Truck series is using the elimination-based Chase playoff system this season, meaning Crafton will race Timothy Peters, Johnny Sauter and Christopher Bell in the championship round in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
No more season-long points battle, with a driver like Crafton able to all-but have a title clinched by November. That’s what he did in 2013, when all he had to do was start the race at Homestead to become champion. In 2014, he needed to finish 21st or better to take the title.
“We just rode around and stayed out of trouble,” Crafton said Friday of the old format at a news conference in Miami Beach. “Now this year, we say, go race hard. I like it.”
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Crafton, 40, is a Truck series lifer. He’s content with his spot in NASCAR, finding a niche over 17 seasons that has earned him a shot at a third title among competitors that are often half his age (or more). Bell, for instance, is 21, and rookie William Byron (who has a Truck-leading six victories this season) is 18.
“I’m very happy to finish my career out here,” said Crafton who has run four Xfinity races and one Cup race over his career. “Yes, I would like to race in the Xfinity Series or run Cup races if I was in the right equipment. But if you’re not going to be in the right equipment, you’re not going to be able to contend to win. I really don’t care to do it.”
Crafton said he loves the purity of driving in the Truck series, which has a much shorter season than the other two series and includes shorter races.
“I don’t just say it because I’m racing in it, but there’s so many fans out there, true race fans,” Crafton said. “It’s the best racing in NASCAR. I love to be a part of that, and it’s short enough races where we put on a great show from start to finish, and you can still make a living, get to drive a race car and have 23, 24 weekends to do it.”