By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The NASCAR Camping World 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 Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Brett Moffitt, and Johnny Sauter as the four drivers to battle for supremacy in the Ford EcoBoost 200.
Noah Gragson – No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
With KBM equipment at his disposal, Gragson is looking to give the organization their second straight Truck Series championship title before departing for a NASCAR Xfinity Series ride with JR Motorsports next season.
In his second full-time season with the team, the Las Vegas, Nevada native has improved on his rookie performance, adding a win at Kansas to his resume, along with seven top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, six poles, 591 laps led, and an average finish of 8.7.
Gragson has two previous starts at Homestead with finishes of 15th and 18th, respectively, over the last two seasons, but he has finished in the top-10 at all but one of the other 1.5-mile tracks this season.
“It would mean a lot,” Gragson said of winning the championship. “It would be the biggest accomplishment of my career to win the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. It’s something I’ve been dreaming about pretty much every night for the last two years. Just trying to make myself the best than I can be and I know it would mean a lot for my team, everyone at KBM, Toyota, TRD, Safelite and Switch. My team guys, they work so hard for the opportunity to compete for a championship down in Homestead.
“Now it’s all gloves off — we’re going all out to win the race and if you win the race, you’re the champion. Just have to keep working hard. I know it would mean a tremendous amount to myself and definitely be one of the best days of my life.”
Justin Haley – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet
There’s something to be said about being at the right place at the right time when it comes to winning in NASCAR and Justin Haley has done just that this season, with three dramatic wins propelling him into the Playoffs and eventually the championship finale.
Haley kicked off his winning ways by holding off all comers at Gateway for his first career win, followed up by a win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park when the two top contenders took each other out in the final turn and outlasting Todd Gilliland on fuel at Texas two weeks ago to punch his ticket to Homestead.
In addition to the three wins, Haley has nine top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, 60 laps led, and an average finish of 9.0. Last season at Homestead, the GMS Racing driver finished ninth.
“I’m really proud of the year this team has had,” Haley said. “We’ve been working hard since last season to get to this point. After my first win in Gateway, the No. 24 team has had momentum on its side, and I think we really started getting rolling at the right time, during the first two rounds of the Playoffs. Now we’re headed to Homestead for a shot at the championship and I couldn’t be more excited. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum we’ve built up on our side and wrap up the 2018 season on top.
“Our notebook for Homestead is pretty thin since we only race there once a year. While it’s a mile-and-a-half track, it’s unlike any other one we race at, and tire falloff is huge. Last year we had good speed at Homestead, but I think we’ve learned a lot since we raced there last, so I think we’ll show up even stronger this time.”
Brett Moffitt – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota
At times this season, there was great uncertainty surrounding HRE and their ability to even be able to make it to the track and compete, but the underdog team has persevered past their trials and tribulations to make it to Homestead with a shot at the championship.
After coming close to Victory Lane last season, the team brought Moffitt on board in 2018 and has taken things to a whole new level, with five wins on the year at Atlanta, Iowa, Chicago, Michigan, and last weekend at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
Moffitt has also been consistent throughout the season, with 12 top-five and top-10 finishes, 210 laps led, and an average finish of 9.3. Though he has yet to race at Homestead in a Truck, the team brought home a top-five finish at the track last season and plans to bring the same No. 007 chassis that has delivered them the most success this year.
“It’s been great to race with this whole group this year,” said Moffitt. “We all had confidence in each other that we’d be successful this season, and to win five races and get to Homestead with this group is extra special. Shige (Hattori) has built a great team over the last couple years. Scott (Zipadelli) and (General Manager Mike) Greci put the right people together to run well all season, and it’s been a ton of fun to have the performance we’ve had this year.
“We’ve run extremely well at the mile-and-a-half’s, so Homestead should be a great opportunity for us. These guys finished fourth there last season with the same truck, so I’m confident we’ll be strong on Friday. A title would be huge. Not only for myself and this whole team, but it’d be a great payoff to AISIN Group, Toyota, TRD, Mark Cronquist and the JGR Engine shop, and every partner that’s supported us through this year.”
Johnny Sauter – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet
If there is a favorite among this group of championship contenders, Sauter has to be at the top of the list, with the 2016 series champion having a career year and looking to ascend to the top of the mountain once more.
Week in and week out, Sauter has been among the trucks to beat, with six wins (Daytona, Dover, Charlotte, Texas, Bristol, and Martinsville), 14 top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, two poles, 585 laps led, and an average finish of 6.1.
Sauter has also been on top of his game when it comes to his Homestead performance over the years. Along with a win at the track in 2011, Sauter has finished in the top-three in the last two seasons and has a total of four top-five finishes, eight top-10 finishes, 64 laps led, and an average finish of 10.1 in 11 starts.
“This has been a phenomenal season for the No. 21 team and GMS Racing as a whole,” Sauter said. “I’ve felt like the last two seasons there were some wins we left out on the track; we should’ve had more, even with the title in 2016 which was a great accomplishment. Once again, I think there were a few that we missed out on, but I know what it took to get six wins this year so there’s no disappointment in not having more, especially when you look at GMS having 10 wins total.
“This is a strong organization, everyone is committed to getting the job done and if anyone watching thinks we aren’t one of the top teams then I’m not sure what else we can do to prove it to them. Everyone has an opinion and you’re not always going to like what they have to say, but Mr. Gallagher brought us in to win. We race hard and we don’t like to lose, and that’s what every person back in Statesville expects from us. So it’s time for us to bring them another trophy.”