AVONDALE, Ariz. — In the most intense NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points battle in recent memory, Matt Crafton, Timothy Peters and Christopher Bell raced their way into the final three Championship 4 berths during Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway.
The trio will all find themselves racing for the series championship trophy next weekend in South Florida after surviving both elimination rounds of the inaugural Chase for the Championship in the series.
Friday night’s event started out as a battle between the No. 17 of Peters and the No. 88 of Crafton, separated by a single point entering the race weekend.
But as the race neared, and eventually passed, the halfway point … the points gap narrowed to absolute zero.
With Crafton running one spot back of Peters for much of the latter 50 laps of the 150-lap event, the pair was locked in a dead tie that Crafton would have won, by virtue of his second-place finish the week prior.
However, just after a restart with 40 laps to go, Bell made contact exiting turn four with Tyler Reddick, falling back as far as ninth and out of a transfer position into the final four as Crafton and Peters raced ahead of him while Bell’s Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate William Byron led the way out front.
As Bell clawed his way back forward and closer to the top five, it created a situation where all three drivers were tied in points for the final two transfer spots, with Bell the odd man out for having the lowest round finish.
But all of that went out the window with eight laps to go, when Byron’s championship chances literally go up in smoke after an engine failure dropped him to pit road and out of the Chase Grid.
From there, the scenario was set for the trio of Peters, Crafton and Bell to easily cruise into Homestead on points.
While Daniel Suarez celebrated his victory with a large burnout on the front straightaway, the real celebration was on pit road.
For Crafton, he now has another chance to add a third title to his already impressive Truck series career, though he said his focus Friday night was simply on the race at hand.
“We just came in here and raced the race. We treated it like it was the first race of the season, we raced as hard as we could and we had to finish one spot behind the 17 (Peters) or beat him,” Crafton said. “We raced around him all night and when the 9 (Byron) had a motor problem there at the end, I felt like we were locked in and we went for the win at that point.”
Crafton, who approached Byron after the race, knows exactly how the young driver feels, as he was in the same position one year ago.
“I had one of those (seasons) last year. He won six races this year, I won six races last year and we both came up short. The way this points system is … and even the way it was last year, it’s not about winning six races, it’s about putting a whole season together.”
For Peters, after losing the 2012 championship by six points to James Buescher, he is excited to have the opportunity to race for another chance at the championship in Miami, a place where he has found great success in the past.
“Homestead has been a great track for me and we’ve been able to finish in the top-five the last three years there and I love that – it’s a worn out race track where you can ride right up by the fence, and if that doesn’t work, then you can go to the bottom.” Peters said. “Just a lot of different characteristics of that race track that can help your balance and I’m ready. I heard they’re racing tomorrow.”