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THREE TAKEAWAYS: FORD ECOBOOST 200 at HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

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The Final Four squared off Friday night in the season finale Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After 134 laps and a four-way duel for the title, Johnny Sauter and GMS Racing found themselves victorious over their fierce competitors. Like any championship-deciding event, there was triumph and heartbreak. Nevertheless, the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season is in the record books – and preparation for 2017 begins.

Here are three takeaways from the Final Four spectacle.

 

Sauter Wins Championship

While the two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton became a favorite early in the race, his competitors caught up to him and weren’t going down without a fight. With less than 50 laps to go, Sauter and Christopher Bell trailed behind the No. 88 team. Sauter went on to overtake Crafton as the laps ticked down – and never looked back. The veteran rocketed forward and climbed to third before the green flag waved. Sauter drove his truck into Victory Lane, where he hoisted up his first Truck Series championship.

“I was pretty conservative at the beginning of the race. Just trying to take care of (my truck) – not make any stupid mistakes…” Sauter told FS1. “Then about 60 laps to go, I was like ‘Ok. We got something here’…I’m just so proud of these guys. I can’t thank everybody enough. I’m a small part of this deal, and we executed like we needed to tonight.”

 

What Could Have Been

Last week, William Byron lost his chance at the Truck Series title, after the engine to his No. 9 Toyota Tundra expired at Phoenix International Raceway. It was an upset moment in the series as the driver has won six events this year, the most among series regulars. However, Friday night he was back in action and competitive as ever.

Starting on the pole, he stayed within the top-five battling against the Final Four contenders. Near the end of the event, he took the lead once more, with Tyler Reddick lurking behind him. He looked to challenge him for the victory, but to no avail. Byron grabbed his seventh win of the season – a bittersweet ending to his rookie season.

While the driver will not be in the series next year, he has proven his abilities and will certainly bring his competitiveness to the XFINITY Series in 2017 under the JR Motorsports banner.

 

Close but Not Quite

Heading into the event, Bell looked to be a major competitor for the title. However, beginning eighth, the rookie struggled with handling issues early on but managed to remain around the top-10. Later on, a slow pit stop brought the No. 4 team back to 17th. Bell fought back and advanced closer to his title competitors. With less than 50 to go, the 21-year-old scraped the wall but continued without a problem. He resiliently marched to second, battling against Crafton – But then he suddenly began to fade back as the final laps progressed. In the end, the rookie finished eighth.

Bell didn’t have enough for the championship this year, but he and his No. 4 team have proven their strength. They will take this experience and continue on more skilled than before. 2017 will be a new year, and after his on-track performance this season, Bell might just be one of the favorites.

 

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Stephanie Adair, a high-school student from St. John’s, Florida, is dual-enrolled in college working toward a degree in Converged Communications. As a contributor to POPULAR SPEED, she enjoys joining her love of writing with her passion for motorsports.