Camping World Truck Series

NCWTS Championship Outlook: It’s The Veteran’s vs. the Young Guns For the NCWTS Championship

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With one race remaining on the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule to decide who wins the Championship, it’ll be a battle between two veteran drivers and two young guns.

The Ford EcoBoost 200 from Homestead-Miami Speedway will take place on Friday night. It’s sure to be quite the battle as former champions Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton will compete against Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric.

Our Sarah Handy and Jacob Mullins give their take on who will hoist the trophy in South Florida.

Johnny Sauter

Sarah Handy: It’s a name that fans know well through-out NASCAR, especially in the NCWTS. Sauter, driver of the No. 21 for GMS Racing, is heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway carrying more momentum than any other truck series driver. The 39-year old is coming off back-to-back wins at Texas Motor Speedway and most notably Friday night’s win at Phoenix Raceway. Sauter has his eyes set on the Championship trophy for the second consecutive year. Homestead-Miami is a track where Sauter has been consistent and will need to be to finish ahead of the other three drivers.

Sauter has ten NCWTS starts at the 1.5-mile track since 2003 with an average start of 13.4 and an average finish of 10.8. While Sauter does have one win at the track it came way back in 2011 while he was with ThorSport Racing. The reigning Champion finished in the 3rd position last November to claim his first Championship in the series. It’s going to be experience vs. youth at Homestead and Sauter certainly has the experience to win back-to-back Championships and he could claim not only the title but his fifth win of the season on Friday night.

Jacob Mullins: Last year was a career season for Sauter, but this year, he has one-upped himself. With four wins on the season to go along with 12 top-five and 18 top-tens, Sauter is my pick to go back-to-back and win the 2018 title. He’s the top-seed heading into the season finale and with already being a Truck Champion, Sauter is just building upon his racing legacy.

Trying to win the title in this system is all about being the driver a head of the other three. With an average starting position of 4.9, with the worst being 14th at Eldora, we all know that Sauter will be toward the front of field when the green drops. With an average finishing position of 6.5, the second best among the Championship 4 and already winning a title under this format, Suater is in the best position to celebrate on the podium Friday night.

Matt Crafton

SH: After securing a spot in the Championship round after the second stage at Phoenix Raceway Crafton heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway in hopes of winning his third NCWTS Championship. You can’t count out Crafton as a pick to win the Championship come Friday night as with Sauter he has the experience. In 16 starts since the 2001 season at Homestead-Miami, Crafton has an average start and finish of 11.4 to go along with one win which came back in 2015 when he won the race from the pole position.

While it’s going to come down to who can finish ahead of the other drivers I feel experience will win. Here’s a look at the two young guns.

JM: Just like Sauter, Crafton is a past champion and the needle has to be pointed towards him over the young guns based on experience alone. Crafton, who hasn’t won since Eldora, has only one top-five this season on a 1.5-mile track.

Crafton has seen better seasons statistically, especially compared to his average finish of 9.5. I’ve always been a fan of Crafton, but just don’t think this is his season for him to become a three-time NCWTS champion.

Christopher Bell

SH: Christopher Bell did claim the 2017 regular season Championship and he will certainly be a force to be reckon with come Friday night. Bell is coming off an eighth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway after winning Stage 1 and Stage 2. While I personally feel that experience will win the Championship, I also feel like Bell can’t be counted out to possibly upset the field and win his first NCWTS Championship before he heads to the NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time in 2018 with Joe Gibbs Racing. In this race last season Bell finished in the eighth position, so he will have to improve upon that if he wants to take the trophy home, but anything can certainly happen.

JM: The only other driver of the Championship 4 that I think that’ll give Sauter a run for the title is Bell. Backed by one of the best teams in the truck garage, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Bell has been almost unstoppable this year.

Statistically the best driver of the Championship 4, Bell has five checkered flags form this season with 14 top-five and 20 top-ten finishes, his average starting spot s 4.5 with an impressive 5.9 average finish. I’m a guy that believes that stats don’t lie, but I give Sauter the nod due to the experience he has, but that nod is barely leaning his way. I anticipate Sauter and Bell running 1-2 on the final lap for the win, but more importantly, the title.

Austin Cindric

SH: The young 19-year old has been impressive in his first full-time season in the NCWTS with Brad Keselowski Racing. Cindric grabbed his first career pole and win earlier this season at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. That win would land him in the NCWTS playoffs.

However, there has been some controversy in how Cindric has landed a spot in the final four at Homestead-Miami. Cindric was racing fellow competitor Ben Rhodes for the final spot. With only 21-laps remaining in the race at Phoenix Raceway Cindric and Rhodes made contact that led to a race-ending wreck for Rhodes.

What happened? Well, Cindric went low on the restart to gain momentum for what he hoped would be a pass on Rhodes, Rhodes seems to have tried to block Cindric and that’s where the two made contact.

In my opinion Cindric won’t be holding that Championship trophy on Friday night if Rhodes has anything to say about it. I personally feel there may be some payback on the horizon.

JM: Cindric is the wild card by far, but an interesting pick. He’s an interesting pick because Brad Keselowski Racing is shutting their doors after Homestead and the young development driver for Team Penske has nothing to lose. It’s that same nothing to lose mentality that got him into the playoffs with his win north of the boarder earlier int he season and last week’s move at Phoenix that got him to the spot he is.

After his dust-up with Ben Rhodes last weekend at Phoenix, you can bet that payback is on the horizon, especially if Cindric is towards the front and has a shot at the title. The worst of the four drivers statistically, I don’t anticipate Cindric making the gains needed to be the champion this season.

Final Thoughts

SH: As I’ve stated in my opinion Crafton will be a NCWTS Champion for the third time in his career or Sauter is going to go back-to-back as the Champion. Experience and being in this situation before is what will determine the outcome.

JM: I have Suater winning his second title in as many years, but if he doesn’t, it’ll be Bell. Sauter gets the edge based on experience, but the young KBM driver will be looking for the NCWTS title before he makes the jump to the XFINITY Series next year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Who do you think will win the NCWTS title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday evening? Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page (@RubbingsRacing) or on our Twitter page where we share the same social media handle as Facebook.

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About Jacob Mullins

Jacob Mullins serves as the managing editor and senior NASCAR writer covering all three national touring series's. You can find him on on Twitter at @JMulls15. An intercollegiate athletic administrator by trade, Mullins can be found at the big tracks as well as the local short tracks in the Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area. Mullins enjoys social media, photography and graphic design. A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Mullins follows all forms of racing, Major League Baseball (Baltimore Orioles) and college football (Virginia Tech Hokies).

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