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The 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season is complete. Matt Crafton won the championship, his third career title, tying him for second-most championships. With 23 races in the history books, what were the prevailing storylines of this Truck Series season?
Ross Chastain’s Breakout Year
2019 was the year of Ross Chastain. The 26-year-old from Alva, Fla., burst onto the scene with a well-documented, eventful year. Chastain began the year below the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff cutline while finding success in the Truck Series with Niece Motorsports.
He won his first career Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway, but he was ineligible for points. So Chastain switched his points eligibility to the Truck Series. He needed to finish the regular season inside the top 20 in points and win a race.
At Iowa Speedway, Chastain experienced a whirlwind of emotions. He won the race, but his No. 44 Chevrolet failed post-race inspection and NASCAR took the win away.
Chastain proved his resiliency this year. He promptly won the next race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and won three races total.
After switching points eligibility, Chastain competed part-time in the Xfinity Series but made progress with Kaulig Racing. He won at Daytona International Speedway and catapulted himself into NASCAR fans’ hearts by smashing a watermelon after each victory.
In Trucks, Chastain made the playoffs and advanced all the way to the Championship 4. He came up two positions short of winning the championship, but it didn’t discount the magical season for Chastain.
In 2020, he will compete full time with Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series, and I predict he will be a contender for the championship as well.
Stewart Friesen Finally Goes to Victory Lane
Stewart Friesen entered 2019 as arguably the best driver in the Truck Series who never won a race. He finally won, fittingly at Eldora Speedway. He led the most laps of his career this season and had 12 top fives.
Friesen advanced to the Championship 4 with a convincing win at ISM Raceway. The momentum did not carry into Homestead-Miami Speedway, though, as he fell back to an 11th-place finish.
Nevertheless, Friesen’s victory at ISM Raceway felt in some ways more important than his first win. Yes, it advanced him to the championship race and kept his mustache, but it was also his first win on asphalt. He collected the second-most points, led the last 44 laps and held off repeated challenges from Brandon Jones.
Friesen has not announced his plans for 2020 yet. He has been rumored to move to the Xfinity Series, but he also said he wants to continue racing in the Truck Series. So stay tuned race fans. Regardless of where he races next year, Friesen has matured as a driver from a dirt ringer to a contender.
Kyle Busch Motorsports Full-Time Drivers Disappoint
Kyle Busch Motorsports won seven races this year. The problem is most weren’t by the full-time drivers, as Kyle Busch won all five of his starts and Greg Biffle made a perfect cameo with a win at Texas Motor Speedway. Full-time drivers Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland disappointed, primarily by missing the playoffs.
Busch was outspoken about his frustration with his two drivers’ struggles. The two drivers never overcame the criticism, even with a crew chief switch. Neither driver finished the season in the top 10 in the point standings. Gilliland won at the playoff race at Martinsville Speedway, but it felt too little, too late.
Coupled with Gilliand’s radio comments about Busch, neither driver seemed to have a ride at KBM in 2020. Burton earned himself a promotion to the Xfinity Series, whereas Gilliland currently lacks a ride for next year. It is speculated he will move to his father’s DGR-Crosley team, but there has been no confirmation yet.
KBM will sport a different lineup next year. Reigning ARCA Menards Series champion Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 Toyota, and Raphael Lessard will pilot the No. 4 Toyota. Busch, talented prospect Chandler Smith and possibly a few others will comprise the lineup for the No. 51 Toyota.
I predict Eckes will quickly transition into the Truck Series. He won the ARCA title despite missing a race. Furthermore, two of his ARCA wins came at tracks the Truck Series visits: Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway. Eckes has seven top 10s in 12 Truck Series starts and should at least make the playoffs next year.
Lessard’s resume is much shorter. He has two top 10s in five Truck Series starts, four top 10s in five ARCA starts and one win in two starts in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. However, KBM has winning equipment. Lessard may not be a household name, but he will rapidly improve in the Truck Series.
ThorSport Racing Won Drivers’ Championship Despite Winning Just 1 Race
With four veterans, on paper, ThorSport Racing had the strongest driver lineup at the beginning of the season. Crafton and Johnny Sauter are Truck Series champions, and Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger have won Truck Series races.
This year was a mixed bag for the organization. Sauter won at Dover International Speedway but then was suspended following an incident at Iowa Speedway. Enfinger and Crafton both made the playoffs as well, and Enfinger won the regular season points title. Despite missing the playoffs, Rhodes declared he was in the trophy-hunting business.
Then, the playoffs began disastrously for the team. In the final Round of 8 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, all three ThorSport playoff drivers’ engines failed. Enfinger and Sauter were eliminated, and NASCAR denied the team’s appeal for the drivers to be reinstated to the playoffs after engine supplier Ilmor took responsibility for the engine failures.
Crafton weaved his way through the Round of 6 and then came to Homestead-Miami Speedway. I doubted his ability to win the championship, but Crafton shocked all when he came in second place and won the championship. It is the first time in Truck Series history the champion was winless. Yet as my colleague Davey Segal remarked, hate the game, not the player. Crafton followed NASCAR rules and won. For better or worse, he is a three-time champion.
ThorSport Racing has not yet announced its 2020 driver lineup. I expect Crafton and Sauter to return to the team.
As for Enfinger, while he led the point standings at the end of the regular season, he sported a goose egg in the win column. Enfinger’s No. 98 Ford was sponsored by the team owners in a few races, so if another driver with more funding becomes available, it is possible the team could have a different driver.
Rhodes is a curious case. He is only 22 years old, but he too failed to win a race this year. If he can secure funding or take the funding from Dish Fish/Go Fish, would he move to the Xfinity Series? Most of the top Xfinity Series rides for 2020 are already filled. In summation, I have no idea what Rhodes will do next year. Keep checking Frontstretch to find out.
- The Truck Series will have a slight name change for 2020. It will be called the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. While it is a mouthful, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis has deeply invested in the Truck Series, including giving $100,000 to the championship-winning pit crew (the No. 88 team of Crafton).
- Kevin Manion will be the crew chief for Zane Smith with GMS Racing next year. Manion spent 2019 as the crew chief for Tyler Ankrum, who will also move to GMS Racing next year. DGR-Crosley, Manion’s former team, has yet to announce its plans for next year.
- Brett Moffitt will have a new crew chief next year, as Jerry Baxter has left GMS Racing. Baxter had been at GMS Racing since 2017.