HOMESTEAD, Fla — Johnny Sauter, Austin Cindric and Matt Crafton all took the green flag for Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with aspirations of winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, but each of them fell just short of that goal.
While all four title contenders ran among the top-10 for almost the entirety of the race, it was ultimately Christopher Bell who captured gold honors, taking the crown with a runner-up finish while Chase Briscoe won the final race of the season.
For Sauter, the night was an uphill charge after he came into this race qualified 11th, second-worst among the championship quartet.
The first two stages were no friend to the No. 21 ISM Connect Chevrolet, either. Sauter only advanced three positions to eighth in stage one, and despite rebounding to a top-five running position in stage two, he still just didn’t have the steam he needed to mount a fierce enough challenge.
Though Sauter finally cleared Cindric with 40 to go to assume second in the championship race, the handling just wasn’t there to get the job done. He ultimately came home over 12 seconds adrift of Bell at the checkered flag.
“They were just better than us tonight,” Sauter admitted. “They keep telling me they were tight on the radio and we just were way too free and I just couldn’t do anything about it. Joe and the guys did a good job to make it as best they could and we did get it better, but just was not good enough.”
Cindric, on the other hand, was all smiles as he climbed from his Brad Keselowski Racing Ford for the final time.
The 19-year-old was Bell’s biggest threat for the title all night long, actually passing him twice on restarts to move into contention for the title, but without cautions during the stages Cindric simply didn’t have the long run speed he needed to stay with Bell over the extended haul.
A fifth-place finish was enough for Cindric to come home third in points, a yeoman’s effort in his rookie season and a bright spot for Brad Keselowski Racing in their final season in the series.
“I had a lot of fun running with the 4 (Bell), and I was trying to stay in front of him as long as I could,” said Cindric. “We knew we were going to fall off … I was just really, really loose as the run went on. Just to say we finished third in the standings and with how much we’ve overcome this season … it’s amazing, really.”
Cindric was also elated that teammate Briscoe sent BKR into the sunset with a big victory Friday night.
“I’m over the moon that the 29 won the race,” he added. “To have BKR go out in style and have Chase finally break through and get a win, it’s a huge deal.”
For Crafton, a two-time series champion, the night did not go as anticipated by any means.
Though he got a strong start and bolted from eighth to third on the opening lap, passing Bell for the points lead, once Bell got back around him at the halfway point of the first stage Crafton could never mount a challenge again.
He finished outside the top five in both stages (seventh and eighth, respectively) and was the worst-running title contender for nearly all of the second half of the race, ultimately finishing sixth in the race and fourth in points.
“We just lost forward drive,” lamented Crafton. “At the beginning of the race, we had something for them tonight. This thing was a rocket ship then. But halfway through that run, we started to lose a little bit of forward drive. I was like ‘We’re okay, we’re alright,’ but it just managed to keep going and going away. We made some pretty significant changes and it would be okay for a little bit, and then it would just go really, really loose off.”
“All in all, we can’t hang our heads too bad. Fourth in points isn’t what we want, but we’ll get them next year. Thanks to (owners) Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) for giving me all the opportunities they do. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
About the Writer
Chris Murdock is an aspiring journalist and an avid racing fan, currently serving as a Midwest and NASCAR correspondent for Race Chaser Online. Murdock is in his final semester at Ohio University, finishing a degree in Broadcast Television.
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