By David Morgan, Associate Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series will be the first title fight of the weekend to be settled, as the four remaining drivers in the Playoffs will duke it out Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the right to hoist the championship trophy when the checkered flag falls.
Eight drivers started the Playoffs with a berth in the championship race in mind, but half of them fell by the wayside, leaving Ross Chastain, Matt Crafton, Stewart Friesen, and Brett Moffitt as the four drivers to battle for supremacy in the Ford EcoBoost 200.
Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet
After making the switch from running for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship to competing for the Truck Series title mid-season, Ross Chastain is playing with house money coming into Homestead.
Driving for the little team that could, Niece Motorsports, Chastain has been a force to be reckoned with since entering the championship fray at Texas Motor Speedway in June. Since then, Chastain has scored three wins (four if you count the win he was disqualified for at Iowa), six top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes to climb from 35th in points to make the Playoffs.
Once in the Playoffs, Chastain has been no slouch, finishing outside the top-10 only once (Talladega), so the Alva, Florida native has shown that he is a real threat for the championship when the checkered flag waves on Friday night.
“It’s awesome,” Chastain said. “We ran ninth last week. That’s about where we ran back to 14th I think at one point, upwards of fourth at some point. We got out, Okay, we knew we made it to Homestead. Phil, my crew chief, our guys and girls, we all kind of shook hands. Okay, cool.
“Al (Niece, team owner) comes up, big smile, hugs us all, thanks us all so much for getting us to Homestead. That kind of brought it back into us. Why stop now? Why don’t we go down there and do something? That got us smiling again, high-fiving. It brought it all into perspective.
“No matter what, I’ll be smiling this weekend because our truck will have speed. We’ll be in the top 10. I think we were close to it at Phoenix not being. We’ll be top 10 speed. I know how good that is.”
Matt Crafton – No. 88 Thorsport Racing Ford
In a series where the young guns of the sport get their first shot at driving in one of NASCAR’s national series, there is still the cagey veteran, Matt Crafton, who always lurks in the background ready to show them how it’s done.
Though the two-time Truck Series champion hasn’t visited Victory Lane since July 2017 at Eldora, the consistency from Crafton has helped propel him into position to fight for another championship this weekend.
When it comes to his Homestead statistics, that same consistency has carried over to the way he races at the 1.5-mile oval, scoring top-10 finishes in each of his last five starts at the track, including a win in 2015.
“I haven’t really worried about any of them, to be honest,” Crafton said of sizing up his competition. ‘I don’t say, okay, Brett’s going to be the one, or Chastain’, I honestly, I looked at them all equal and I haven’t worried about it. And I guess that’s just been my motto and that’s just been the way I’ve raced and just going to go out there and race my race and race it absolutely as hard as I can and take the gloves off.”
Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet
The 2019 season has been a breakthrough one for the driver from north of the border, as he finally found his way to Victory Lane after coming so close so many times, winning on the dirt at Eldora in the summer, followed up by his first win on asphalt last weekend at Phoenix to punch his ticket into the championship race.
In addition to his two wins, Friesen has had a nearly constant presence in the top-five and top-10 this season, scoring 12 top-five finishes, and 16 top-10 finishes along the way to power his way into the Playoffs and on to Homestead.
Given his experience on the dirt and having to ride the cushion right up against the wall, Friesen could certainly be a big threat on Friday night as he looks to score his first NASCAR championship.
“Winning at Eldora was huge, but being a dirt guy that was kind of expected, right,” Friesen said. “So, we got the monkey off our back, got the big win at Phoenix last week. It was definitely timely, gave the team a lot of morale — actually, I should say raised the team morale and all the guys are holding their heads a little higher this week in the shop and hopefully we can ride some of that momentum into (tonight).
“It’s four great race teams. A lot of experience. All four of us are hard-core true racers, I believe. So we’ll see how it goes, but it’s been a weird kind of playoff run, there’s been a lot of adversity and teams have had to struggle. We have had penalties or mechanical failures and stuff in many of the races. So whoever can go out there and execute a good day and have a little bit of luck, obviously will have the best odds of winning.”
Brett Moffitt – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet
Last, but certainly not least is the defending series champion, who has picked right up where he left off a season ago, with a different team no less, to put himself in a prime spot to return the championship stage and hoist the trophy for a second year in a row.
After losing his ride with Hattori Racing Enterprises after winning the title last season, Moffitt joined GMS Racing over the offseason and has been equally as strong, coming away with four wins on the year, along with 12 top-five finishes and 16 top-10 finishes.
Moffitt won the race at Homestead last season to clinch the championship and there’s no reason why he couldn’t do it again Friday.
“Obviously winning the championship is the first goal,” said Moffitt. “I was fortunate to be with a good team last year and get the job done and I’m fortunate to be with a good team again this year and be in position to do the same. So, I mean, obviously, winning it with two different teams is a little more difficult than staying with the same team two years in a row, but we have gained traction as a team and we get more competitive week-in and week-out. So, I feel really good about it.
“I would have to believe in myself and my team first, obviously, I think we’re the ones to win it.”