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Auto Racing Notes: Crafton wins NASCAR trucks title

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Associated Press
Published:
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Matt Crafton waited a week to start his championship party.
It ended up being a subdued celebration.
Crafton won the NASCAR Truck Series title even before the green flag dropped Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but lost the owners' championship to Kyle Busch on a tiebreaker.
"It's kind of aggravating because we wanted the owners' championship as well, but it happens," Crafton said.
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 championship in 13 seasons.
So when his engine fired and he took the track, it became official.
All that was left was the owner's title, which Crafton badly wanted to secure for longtime boss 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.
In the end, Busch won the race -- his fifth of the season while driving a partial schedule -- and the owner's championship. The Sprint Cup regular's No. 51 car won the tiebreaker because it had more wins than Crafton this season.
"It means a lot," Busch said. "Man, this is so much fun to come out and race, for one, to win races, two, and to contend for owner's championships. It's big for us. ... I can't say enough about this team."
Ryan Blaney finished second, followed by Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr.
Crafton crossed the finish line 21st, one spot short of a clean sweep. It was his lowest finish of the year.
Kenseth wins Homestead
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Matt Kenseth has won the pole at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Sunday's season-ending and championship-deciding race.
It was a massive turnaround for Kenseth following his worst performance of the season last week at Phoenix. He finished 23rd to fall 28 points behind championship leader Jimmie Johnson leading into the finale.
Now he's got his third pole of the season and will start in front of Johnson Sunday.
Johnson qualified seventh. But he needs only to finish 23rd or higher to win his sixth championship.
Kevin Harvick is the only other driver mathematically eligible to win the title and goes into the race 34 points behind Johnson. He qualified one spot ahead of Johnson in sixth.
Green in Nationwide finale
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jeff Green will drive in place of Eric McClure in Saturday's Nationwide Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
McClure remains hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. McClure was admitted to a Las Vegas hospital last Sunday while on a business trip. It is not known when he will be able to return home. No other information was available.
This will be the sixth race McClure has missed this season because of health issues. He missed four races in August and September because of acute renal failure that hospitalized him for more than a week. He missed the Texas race earlier this month because of medical reasons, according to the team.
He missed five races last season after suffering a concussion and internal bruising in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway.
No IndyCar for Hornish
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Sam Hornish Jr. crossed off every goal in IndyCar before leaving the series for NASCAR.
With three championships and an Indianapolis 500 victory, Hornish felt there was nothing left to achieve.
Now, with one of the best seats in the series suddenly open, Hornish hasn't changed his mind.
He said Friday he has no interest in returning to IndyCar to replace Dario Franchitti at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Hornish said the team reached out to his representatives this week when Franchitti was told by doctors he can no longer race because of the risk of injury is too great.
But even as Hornish heads into the final race of the season with no job lined up for next year, he said a return to IndyCar is not in his plans.
Annett signs with TBR
CORNELIUS, N.C. -- Michael Annett has signed a deal to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series next season.
Annett, who has spent the last five years in the Nationwide series, will compete in the No. 7 car previously driven by Dave Blaney.
Annett, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, will run his 163rd Nationwide race this weekend in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Annett was fifth in the 2012 standings, but he's just 15th this season after missing three months with a fractured and dislocated sternum.
Tommy Baldwin will stay on as the crew chief for the No. 7 car, which will use engines from Richard Childress Racing.
Baldwin and Annett have worked together in the ARCA and the NASCAR Truck series.
NASCAR made right move
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- NASCAR President Mike Helton believes the series took appropriate action against those involved in a cheating scandal before the start of the Chase.
By levying harsh penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing, Helton believes there's a clear understanding in the garage that teams cannot manipulate races.
Helton called the Sept. 7 race at Richmond "a defining moment" for NASCAR. It began when Clint Bowyer spun his car to bring out a caution with seven laps remaining to trigger a series of events that got teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase field.
NASCAR found that MWR deliberately manipulated the finish to get Truex into the Chase, and replaced him in the field with Ryan Newman. Jeff Gordon was later added as a 13th driver.
Carpenter steps backs
INDIANAPOLIS -- IndyCar owner/driver Ed Carpenter will run a partial schedule in 2014, driving six oval races and turning all road/street courses over to Mike Conway.
Carpenter made the announcement Friday.
Conway, a two-time winner in the series, walked away from the 2012 season finale at Fontana, saying he was not comfortable racing on ovals. He has been interested in a return to IndyCar on a street-and-road-only schedule. Conway posted a win and a third-place finish at the Chevrolet Indy Duals in Detroit and had strong runs at Toronto and Houston in a part-time role for Dale Coyne Racing.
Carpenter says "bringing Mike into the fold creates an opportunity for us to show even more value to our partners and strengthen our team by competing for victories at every single event."
Vettel sets pace
AUSTIN, Texas -- Red Bull went 1-2 in the Friday afternoon practice at the U.S. Grand Prix with series champion Sebastian Vettel posting the fastest time ahead of teammate Mark Webber.
Vettel's time of 1 minute, 37.305 seconds was the quickest of the two practice sessions. Webber, who has two races left in his Formula One career, was 0.115 seconds behind.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso posted the fastest time in the first session in 1:38.343.
McLaren's Jenson Button, who was second-fastest in the morning practice, was later hit with a three-place penalty in Sunday's starting grid for passing another car when race officials had put the first session under a red flag.
The morning practice was stopped after about 15 minutes because the medical helicopter had not yet arrived at the track.
Raikkonen undergoes surgery
ENSTONE, England -- Lotus says Kimi Raikkonen has undergone back surgery in France and will begin his rehabilitation next week.
The Finnish driver had the operation at the University Hospital of Strasbourg and his doctor called it "successful."
Lotus says in a statement released Friday that "Kimi will now rest for a few days and he will start his recovery process as early as next week."
The 32-year-old Raikkonen, who is joining Ferrari next season, will miss the season-ending races in the United States and Brazil.
Story tags » Auto Racing

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