Matt Crafton won his third NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship on Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Obviously, that’s great for the veteran driver and his ThorSport Racing team. However, his path to that title was not exactly carved out the way in which NASCAR intended when this current championship-deciding system was devised.
The current NASCAR Playoffs system is the evolutionary product of the ‘Chase for the Cup’ format that was created following the 2003 NASCAR Cup Series season to prevent a situation such as the one that played out that year when Matt Kenseth won the championship by using a model of consistency to simply out-point the competition. The No. 17 Roush Ford only won one race that season but piled up so many top-5 and top-10 finishes that he had clinched the title before the green flag ever waved over the season finale.
However, executives in the NASCAR corporate offices, particularly CEO Brian France, and the sport’s television partners wanted a system in which the championship battle would go down to the wire in the season finale. Thus, the ‘Chase’ was born.
Now, the NASCAR Playoffs, which ultimately grew out of that Chase format, are supposed to be set up in such a way that winning is the ticket to success when it comes to earning a title. Drivers are initially invited into the playoff by winning races. However, since enough drivers who had declared themselves eligible for the NGOTS title had not won races to earn a ticket into the playoffs, Crafton found himself in the mix as a result of outpointing those who had not received an invitation by scoring victories.
The races that make up the season ending playoffs are broken into segments with those who have won a race within each segment being given an automatic placement into the next round. Of the four who qualify for a spot in the final run for a championship, the highest finisher in the last race of the season is declared the champion.
Although Stewart Friesen was the only driver of the eventual Championship 4 to win in the round that set up the deciding race in south Florida, drivers Brett Moffitt and Ross Chastain had each visited victory lane multiple times during the course of the 2019 campaign. Crafton, on the other hand, had not only failed to win a race this season(his last win was at Eldora in 2017), he had not even placed in the top-5 at the finish of a race since June at Texas Motor Speedway.
Austin Hill, who was not part of the Championship 4, won the race at Homestead just ahead of Crafton with Chastain coming home fourth, Moffitt fifth and Friesen finishing eleventh in the final rundown.
Again, that’s not exactly how this system is supposed to work.
Following the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway late Friday night, the 43-year-old Crafton was unconcerned about the perception of his winless championship.
“You know what we’ll say to that? We won the championship,” Crafton declared. “It’s just as sweet to be totally honest. Yeah, it would have been great to win some of those battles throughout the year, but we went through a lot and we’ve had a lot of adversity this year. Without a doubt, I felt like we should have won some races, but at the end of the day, we’re the 2019 Truck Series champion.”
On Friday night a winless driver won a NASCAR-sanctioned championship by not winning. That’s not exactly how the sanctioning body designed it. But it doesn’t diminish the fact that Matt Crafton is the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook