HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Sean Gardner/Getty Images North America photo —
Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota Racing could not have scripted a more perfect night underneath the Miami lights.
On a night when their only threat to championship glory was Brad Keselowski Racing’s Ryan Blaney, Tundra drivers shone when it mattered most — with Darrell Wallace taking the lead from boss Kyle Busch on lap 119 of 134 during Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 and holding off a furious charge from polesitter and race dominator Kyle Larson to score his fourth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of the 2014 season.
Meanwhile, Matt Crafton finished ninth to garner his second straight NCWTS championship, becoming the first driver in Truck history to successfully defend the championship crown.
After an exciting night under the lights, Wallace claimed his fifth career Truck Series victory in what is expected to be his final drive for KBM’s Truck program.
“Toward the end, battling the two Kyles — the (Sprint) Cup stars — it was tough,” Wallace said post-race. “But I didn’t get too excited, didn’t get too down. I kept a cool head and stayed patient and was able to come out on top.”
“We beat the boss finally. It was another battle with Larson like Eldora running up against the fence like Eldora. Just had to be smart about it. Just had a lot of fun,” Wallace added. “That’s what we strived on all year long, and again, I can’t thank my guys enough, and this is special. Like you said, this is probably the sweetest one. Eddie, our engineer, lost his mother earlier and I wanted to put her name, Alejandra, on top of our door, and she was our guardian angel, so that’s what got us to Victory Lane, and an emotional victory for sure.”
Wallace reiterated on Friday night that he hopes to have his plans for the 2015 season settled soon.
“I wish things were finalized,” Wallace said. “We’re continuing to work hard to find my future plans. For me, I’m just going to go play some golf while I’m down here in Miami and enjoy this win, enjoy the offseason.
“But as far as plans, we’re continuing to work hard.”
Larson, who led five times for 96 laps, could not keep his truck calm when he would suck up to the tailgate of Wallace’s No. 54 Toyota and couldn’t get close enough in the final corners to pull a slide job for the win, settling for second ahead of Timothy Peters and Busch.
“There was a couple times where I got a good run off 4 and thought about doing a slide job and just thought better of it,” Larson admitted. “I tried it one time there and wished the lap truck hadn’t been there so I could run it even deeper. He was able to squeeze back around me, and that was about my last real shot. I tried something there the last lap, but I figured it wasn’t going to work.”
“But, yeah, it was a good race. We finished second. Would have been nice to win. Homestead is fun. That was exciting. We were almost four wide for the lead there at one point, so I hope everybody enjoyed that.”
Busch’s fourth place finish was more than enough for KBM to clinch their second-straight Truck Series owner’s championship and third in five years since joining the tour.
“It’s a great milestone for us and a great accomplishment just on the fact that it’s what we can race for,” Busch expressed following the race.”To have two drivers being able to compete and to have one of those be a rookie and an up-and-coming driver in the series and in NASCAR and to be able to go out there and capture an owner’s championship, accumulating more points than the series champion says a lot about our team, a lot about our organization.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this 51 bunch and of these two Erics up here and Rudy and everyone else on the team. They fight hard, and they never give up. Pretty impressive with these guys.”
Ryan Blaney’s championship hopes faded on lap 72 when he stalled his truck on a pit stop due to the shifter in his BKR Ford F-150 breaking. The issue dropped the 20-year-old to 14th for the subsequent restart after running in the top five the entire event. Blaney worked his way up to ninth and ultimately finished fifth, but came up 21 points short of Crafton in the season-long fight.
Crafton came in only needing to finish 21st or better to claim the honors, and with only 21 cars left on the lead lap at lap 104, when Blaney moved back inside the top five using a vicegrip to control the shifting lever on the final pit stop and Larson dropped from first to third on the exchange, Crafton knew his lot was virtually set as long as he didn’t make any mistakes.
And he didn’t make one the rest of the way.
“I’m not going to lie, tonight’s race for me was not much fun having to sit there and ride around because I know the truck was a lot better, but I couldn’t put myself in any bad position,” Crafton said of his quiet night. ” I just had to wait for everything to file out and just sit there and ride because I couldn’t take any chances of getting tore up.”
“I know that there was a lot of good side-by-side racing by everybody else, and it was tough not to get right in the middle of it. Last year we lost the owner’s title because I was trying to drive from the back to the front after a bad pit stop and got wrecked, so I learned something last year. Use your head a little bit more sometimes. But, it’s an awesome feeling to say you’re a two-time champion, especially back-to-back.”
Tyler Reddick finished sixth after spinning to bring out the final caution of the night while battling for position with Larson on lap 111. Ty Dillon (seventh), Joe Nemechek (eighth) and Johnny Sauter (tenth) rounded out the top ten in the finishing order.
While Reddick finished sixth, it wasn’t enough to overhaul Ben Kennedy for the series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. The two young stars tied on rookie points for the season, but Kennedy won the tiebreaker by virtue of his higher position in the final driver points standings.
The race was slowed by a total of seven cautions for 28 laps, with 13 lead changes taking place among five different drivers.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series kicks off their 2015 season with the NextEra Energy Resources 250 from Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2015.