NASCAR & Auto Racing

Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton bring experience to Truck chase at Homestead

Matt Crafton celebrates with his crew after winning the Nascar truck series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2013.
Matt Crafton celebrates with his crew after winning the Nascar truck series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2013. AP

If experience is the guide to handicapping Friday’s Camping World Truck Series finale at Homestead, Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton have to be considered the favorites.

Both come into the Ford EcoBoost 200 with past success at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a hunger to win the truck championship with a strong finish in the final run of the year.

Sauter, 36, was the first of four to punch his ticket to the title round at Homestead by winning at Martinsville (Virginia) on Oct. 29.

Last Friday at Phoenix, Sauter — who followed his Martinsville win with a victory at Texas the following week — was joined by Christopher Bell, Crafton and Timothy Peters.

All four have the same chances to take home the series title, as all three championships determined at Homestead this weekend will go to the best finish of the ‘Championship 4’ drivers.

For Sauter, the opportunity to win his first Truck series title — and do so at Homestead — is a special opportunity.

In nine Truck starts at Homestead, Sauter has hit Victory Lane once and has six top-10 finishes.

Sauter finished second in the standings in 2011 and has placed fourth in each of the past three years.

“The key deal is liking a race track, and I can’t think of a better race track to decide a championship than Homestead,” Sauter told Nascar.com after the win at Martinsville.

“I feel like we are peaking at the right time. I feel like we’ve kind of saved some of our best bullets, so to speak, for the end, and we can go and really work hard on our Homestead piece for these next couple weeks.”

Crafton, 40, has won the Truck series title twice before, but finished third last season despite a career-best six individual wins.

Had this year’s championship format been in play last year, Crafton would come into Homestead a three-time defending champion.

Crafton won his first race at Homestead last year, but lost the season title to Erik Jones on points.

Last weekend at Phoenix, Crafton earned a shot at another chance at the title in Homestead.

“There wasn’t a lap that wasn’t tense,” Crafton said.

Bell, who turns 22 next month, made his first career start at Homestead last year and finished 25th after running out of fuel with four laps remaining.

Peters, 36, has eight top-five finishes this season but no victories and will make his 10th career Truck start at Homestead on Friday.

Peters has never won at Homestead but has three top-five finishes there.

One driver who won’t be in the chase for a championship is talented 18-year-old William Byron.

Despite winning six races this season, Byron blew his engine with nine laps remaining during last weekend’s race at Phoenix and finished 27th — he led for 112 laps — and was knocked out of the Championship 4.

No other driver in the Truck series won more individual races this season than Byron.

Peters jumped into the championship group as a result.

“It’s just racing, I guess,” Byron told nascar.com on pit road last weekend. “It really is unfortunate when you’re out there leading and have the best truck, executing the way we needed to all night. Just one of those deals, I guess.

“It’s the worst possible time for it. We really wanted to compete for a championship. We were going to do that, for sure, but now we don’t get the chance to.”

Ford Championship Weekend

NASCAR at Homestead

When: Championship races for Sprint Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series Friday through Sunday.

Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway, 1 Speedway Boulevard, Homestead.

The track: 1.5 miles, paved surface. Capacity 46,000. Track lap record set by Jamie McMurray at 181.111 mph in 2003 qualifying.

Format: The three championship events are races within races. There will be an individual champion for each of the three races, but the season-long champion must come from the top four drivers, based on points, entering the races.

Defending champions: Trucks 200: Erik Jones for the season series, Matt Crafton for the individual race; Xfinity 300: Chris Buescher for the season series, Kyle Larson for the individual race; Sprint Cup 400: Kyle Busch for both the season series and the individual race.

Tickets: Call 305-230-5255.

Racing schedule

Friday: Gates open 8:30 a.m. Practices for Camping World Truck Series at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. (FS1); Sprint Cup Series first practice, 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN); Xfinity Series first practice at 2 p.m. (NBCSN); Camping World Truck Series qualifying at 3:45 p.m. (FS1); Xfinity Series final practice at 5 p.m. (NBCSN); Sprint Cup Series qualifying at 6:15 p.m. (NBCSN) Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at 8 p.m. (FS1)

Saturday: Gates open 9:30 a.m. Xfinity Series qualifying, 11:15 a.m. (NBCSN); Sprint Cup Series final practice at 1 p.m. (NBCSN); Xfinity Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at 3:45 p.m. (NBCSN)

Sunday: Gates open 10 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

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