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Matt Crafton won the battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway while Erik Jones won the war. Crafton started the Ford EcoBoost 200 – the season finale for the Camping World Truck Series – from the pole position and led a race-high 93 laps en route to one more victory in 2015.
However, that effort wasn’t nearly enough to eclipse Jones, who entered Homestead with a comfortable lead and leaves as the youngest champion in Truck Series history. Taking the title in his rookie season with Kyle Busch Motorsports, the driver stayed consistent throughout, ending the race a conservative sixth and maintaining a 15-point edge over Tyler Reddick in the final tally. Crafton, despite the win wound up a distant third.
The win was special for both Jones and KBM, capping a strong comeback from an early-season slump marked by missed opportunities with Victory Lane. In the end, Jones wound up with just three wins to Crafton’s six but he stayed consistent, bouncing back from bad luck that would have derailed most teenage racing prodigies.
“Looking back and seeing the deficits we were in at some points,” Jones said, “and just really being able to pull together and make this all happen at the end of the year… it was just so, so special for everybody here.”
Now, the 19-year-old will try his hand at the Xfinity Series, leaving KBM for Joe Gibbs Racing in preparation for a full-time Cup opportunity coming as early as 2017.
“To close off this run like this,” he exclaimed, “I made a great three years with these guys and I couldn’t think of a better way to thank them.”
In the team’s sixth season in the Truck Series, team owner Kyle Busch earned his first driver’s championship. It’s the climax of years worth of growth for an organization that now boasts three full-time teams in the series.
“It’s just special to everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports,” said Busch who will compete for his first Sprint Cup Series title as a driver on Sunday. “We’ve been in existence for six seasons, [earned] our fourth championship but our first driver’s championship. It means so much more to have the opportunity to help these younger drivers and to help these kids that are coming up through the ranks to be successful.”
The win, meanwhile was the sixth of Crafton’s 2015 season, 11th of his career and first at Homestead. It caps one of the better years of his career despite no title trophy to go along with it.
“Tonight’s win was awesome,” Crafton said. “The last two years we haven’t been able to race here and to be able to take the gloves off and don’t have to worry about a championship and just go out and win… I said nothing else was going to make us happy.”
The race for the lead consisted of Crafton fighting off “young gun” John Hunter Nemechek down the stretch. Nemechek, falling just short of a second victory this season drove his late uncle’s No. 8 for the first time at the track that claimed his life in 1997.
Through over-under maneuvers and side-drafting techniques, Nemechek would steal the top spot for 24 laps before getting slowed on a late restart. That aided Crafton with a 5.5-second advantage while Nemechek wound up fighting traffic.
“That was a lot of fun,” Crafton said of the mid-race battles.
Yet, despite closing the year off with a win, the two-time defending champion still finished behind 19-year-old Reddick in points. Make it a 1-2 knockout punch in the standings for the teenage crowd although Reddick, unlike Jones will be back to contest another title fight next year.
“This first full-time season,” Reddick said, “we knew it was going to be a challenge for us but we started off very well on the right footing [winning Daytona]. Unfortunately, we didn’t lead as laps as the other two [title] contenders and we didn’t win as many races. We were very consistent [though and] we’re proud about that.”
Ben Kennedy came home fourth, grabbing his fourth top five of 2015. Timothy Peters capped off his late-season charge with a fifth followed by Jones, Johnny Sauter, Daniel Hemric, Cameron Hayley and John Wes Townley.
Austin Theriault finished a solid 12th in his return race following spinal injuries suffered last month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Rico Abreu, in his second start for NTS Motorsports, finished 13th. Further back, Lira Motorsports’ debut in the Truck Series saw a 17th place by David Levine and a 23rd by Kyle Weatherman, as each driver also made their series debut.