HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Though Ross Chastain, Brett Moffitt and Stewart Friesen all tried, each of them fell short of NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship glory on Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The trio that dominated the season – and the wins column, tallying nine victories combined during the 23-race campaign – was felled by a savvy veteran in Matt Crafton who found a way to shine despite going winless on the year.
Chastain came the closest to being able to stop Crafton, taking the lead off the initial start from Friesen and dominating the first stage of the Ford EcoBoost 200 before being overhauled by eventual race winner and non-championship contender Austin Hill with two to go in that first segment.
Despite Hill taking over the race lead, Chastain remained in control of the championship picture until a lap-55 restart, when he spun the tires and got shuffled back into traffic as Crafton came through and took the title tilt by the horns.
From there, it just seemed as though Chastain’s truck didn’t handle as well in dirty air as it had out front, a fact that the Alva, Fla., native spoke to after the race.
“We finished the best out of the Chevys. We can’t hang our heads, man; we did everything we could,” said Chastain, who led 36 laps on the night. “That says a lot. Tonight we fired off well and had a lot of speed. We were just too loose all night long, and just stayed too loose as the track changed. We tightened our truck up, but we built free with the track all night. We just could never make a big enough dent in it and then were just too far back when it mattered because of that.”
Despite a runner-up finish in points, Chastain still carried a smile at just being in the Championship 4, considering that he didn’t switch his series declaration to the Trucks until the early part of the summer.
“We wrote a new story. It hadn’t been done,” Chastain noted. “I’m so proud of the effort all year. We started out with a handful of races a calendar year ago; I was going to run five races in Al’s truck, but when everything went down over the off‑season and then with the Xfinity side of things not going well, the goal became just to run as many races as possible. It was a no‑brainer, and I was totally on board.
“But that was about four nights of the scariest time of my life of thinking of switching points, because it had not been done before, never on purpose and never with this mentality that you’re going to go win a championship. It’s pretty crazy that we did that and that we made it to Homestead at all.”
Brett Moffitt, the defending Truck Series champion who led the series in wins with four coming into Friday night, only headed the title fight for a brief moment after pit stops at the end of the first stage.
Other than that glimpse of hope, the Grimes, Iowa driver never really played a factor, finishing fifth in the race and third in the final point standings.
GMS Racing struggled a year ago at Homestead, when Moffitt won the title at Hattori Racing Enterprises, and despite adding the defending champion during the offseason it was clear that they weren’t able to solve the mystery of Miami’s sun-baked pavement this weekend either.
“This was not good. We were fighting a loose truck all day, so we kept tightening the truck up and finally got a decent balance, but we just missed it on overall speed and grip a little bit,” Moffitt said. “We had okay long run speed, but we just couldn’t fire off and run pace, and we couldn’t run the bottom. Scott (Zipadelli) and those (Hattori) guys have a really good setup for here, and it can run the bottom long and fast. It’s proven to be the truck to beat here the last two years, and we just need to go to work.
“We need to get better here.”
Moffitt tried to short-pit and force the hands of his rivals in the closing stages, but it just wasn’t enough.
“With the tire falloff here, there’s no way we could have short pitted enough to make our deficit back up,” he noted. “Our only hope after the pit stops was for a caution, and obviously that didn’t come.”
As for Friesen, who started from the pole after a qualifying washout on Friday, he dropped back immediately and never showed the same pace as the other three title contenders.
The Canadian finished outside the top 10, and despite ending a career-best fourth in points, it meant he was worst among the championship quartet when it mattered most.
“We had a little bit of short run speed. I think I just had to push it too hard to keep up with the guys that we were racing, and the bottom would fall out of it there,” Friesen explained. “We could hang for part of a stage, and then it would just back up. We backed up at the end of the first stage, and we were able to mount some charges on restarts, but we just didn’t have the long run stability to make a bid for the title.
“It’s been a dream to compete at this level, but I’m a firm believer in you’re only as good as your last race, and this being our last race doesn’t really sit too well with me.”