Matt Crafton enters this weekend’s season finale looking for his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in the past four years.
While he knows what it feels like to win a title, scoring the championship this season would be a first for the veteran driver.
After NASCAR decided to implement a Chase this season for Trucks, Crafton wasn’t the biggest fan of the new format that was announced in January, but after suffering the most DNFs in a season since 2011, he’s changed his mind.
“I wasn't a fan of the Chase at all, but right now in the year that I've had with five DNFs that we've had this year, to still be in contention for a championship, that's unheard of,” Crafton said on Thursday.
Warming up to the idea of a Truck Chase
Crafton’s most recent DNF came at Talladega finishing 22nd after engines woes ended his day after 88 laps.
While the new format enabled Crafton to weather some disappointing finishes, he also realizes it will require him to take a new mindset into Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200.
“I mean, without a doubt it's definitely changed how I've come into this race because every time I've come into this race, I've just had to basically -- I think the first year I had to finish -- start the race,” Crafton added.
“As long as I took the green flag I was the champion, and the second year I had to finish like 20th and whoever I was racing for the championship had to win the race, lead the most laps. We just rode around and stayed out of trouble at that point, and now this year, we say, go race hard. I like it.”
On the flip side of that, one of his title rivals -- Johnny Sauter -- would much rather see the old system back, which would have left him with a strong advantage heading into the finale. “Right now, where we’re sitting, I’m a big fan of the old points system. But that’s yesterday’s news and we got to focus on tomorrow night.”
Another top driver saved by the format
Erik Jones is in a similar position as Crafton as he tries to add a NASCAR Xfinity Series crown to his resume after he won the Truck title one year ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He, too, has benefited from the first-year format change to determine the champion.
Jones collected four DNFs this season and barely advanced early in the Chase knockout round in the Xfinity Series.
Jones took advantage of any opportunity he had with the new format that allowed him to overcome his bad finishes.
“Had (this season) been more of a traditional points format I would have approached it differently but I was just playing more as to what was available,” Jones said.
His ability to overcome his DNFs this season by making the most of the Chase made Jones realize he’s lucky to be in a position to win it all on Saturday.
“I wasn’t really against it or for (the new format), but we rolled with it and we’re lucky to be where we are right now,” he said.