Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing team took a huge step away from their bad performance last week by winning the pole Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship-deciding race.
Kenseth turned a lap at 177.667 mph in his Toyota to claim the top starting spot for Sunday’s race. He called it “a confidence booster” after his 23rd-place finish at Phoenix essentially ruined his title chances.
He was trailing Jimmie Johnson by seven points going into Phoenix and left the race down 28 with just one race to decide the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But the pole, his third of the season and 11th of his career, is a start toward a big rebound.
“I think more than morale, it’s probably a confidence booster,” Kenseth said. “The thing is, Jimmie is so far ahead, that even if he does have a problem we need to be in the front to be able to capitalize on that. This is a good start to that, hopefully get a bonus point right away, get the best pit stall. I think it’s important, we need to be up front and try to lead as much as we can and be in the mix at the end.”
Whether it’s enough remains to be seen. Johnson, who needs only to finish 23rd or better Sunday to win his sixth championship, qualified seventh.
Crafton wins Truck Series championship
Matt Crafton’s season finale was far from a stress-free drive.
Crafton won the NASCAR Truck Series championship even before the green flag dropped Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With a nearly insurmountable 46-point lead over Ty Dillon, all Crafton needed to do was start the 200-mile finale to secure his first series title in 13 seasons.
So when his engine fired and he took the track, it became official. Of course, Crafton had to wait more than an hour and half to start the party.
Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch won the race, his fifth victory of the season in the Truck Series. And with Crafton crossing the finish line 21st, Busch earned the owners’ championship.
Crafton needed to finish 20th or better to clinch the title for longtime team owner Duke Thorson. But Crafton was involved in a late wreck, damaging the front end of his No. 88 Toyota and forcing the team to sweat out the final few laps.
Ryan Blaney — the son of Hartford native and Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney — finished second, followed by Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr.