Chastain, Moffitt, Friesen come up short in Gander Trucks title race

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Matt Crafton picked the best time for his best performance of the season, a runner-up finish that wrapped up his third NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship. That timing wound up biting the three other contenders, who fell short of a title on a late Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Ross Chastain finished fourth, with Brett Moffitt fifth and Stewart Friesen a fading 11th after the Ford EcoBoost 200. Austin Hill drove to his fourth win of the season, leaving the series’ Championship 4 to fight it out in his mirror. Crafton won that battle with a strong second, and the rest of the quartet struggled to keep up.

RELATED: Unofficial race results

Chastain’s Niece Motorsports No. 45 Chevrolet came closest on the leaderboard, but his margin on track was nine-plus seconds behind Crafton’s ThorSport Racing No. 88 Ford. The Floridian watermelon farmer had the makings of a dream season with three wins, a midseason shift to Gander Trucks eligibility and a spirited local rooting section on hand for the finale. Though he led 36 laps (second only to Hill), Chastain was unable to keep pace with the race winner and Crafton down the final stretch.

“Good job, guys. Heck of a season. Gosh dang,” Chastain told his No. 45 crew on the cool-down lap. “Thank you, Al (Niece, team owner). Close, close.”

Moffitt was vying for his second straight Gander Trucks crown, but his first with GMS Racing. Coincidentally, the Hattori Racing Enterprises No. 16 Toyota team he drove for last year carried Hill to Victory Lane.

Moffitt had opened the playoffs with a speedy kick, with two straight wins to start the postseason. At Miami, that speed wasn’t quite there, and he dropped one last position to Chastain with 25 laps to go.

“Yeah, we missed it on overall grip,” said Moffitt, who led three laps during the first-stage intermission. “We had OK long-run speed. But we just couldn’t fire off and run pace, and we couldn’t run the bottom. (HRE’s Scott Zipadelli) and those guys have a really good setup for here, and it can run the bottom long and fast. It’s proven to be the truck to beat here the last two years, and we just need to go to work. We need to get better here.”

Friesen started first after qualifying was rained out and the lineup set by team owners points, but he gave way to Chastain right after the green flag. Friesen finished third in the first stage and fifth in the second, but he then tumbled from the top 10 by the race’s conclusion.

“We had a little bit of short-run speed, but I think I just had to push it too hard to try to keep up with the guys that we were racing, and the bottom would fall out of it there,” said Friesen, who won the first two races of his career this season. “We could hang for part of the stage and then it would just back up. … Just didn’t have the long-run stability to make a bid to run for the championship.”