Murto: Rookie claims MotoGP

By Craig Murto

Spaniard Marc Marquez won the MotoGP championship Sunday before his home crowd with his podium finish in the Grand Prix of Valencia, his 16th podium finish of the season.

The Honda factory rider became the youngest MotoGP champion at the age of 20, and is the first rookie to win the title since American Kenny Roberts did it in 1978.

Former champ Jorge Lorenzo kept Marquez honest, winning his eighth race of the season on his Yamaha. Lorenzo may actually be celebrating another world title if he hadn’t missed a race earlier in the year due to injury.

But Marquez certainly deserves the championship. He won six times, and though he crashed out of two races he finished on the podium in every event he finished.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racer Matt Crafton doesn’t have to finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway to be crowned the 2013 champion, he only needs to start. The 2000 NASCAR Southwest Series champ has been the model of consistency in the trucks this season.

Erik Jones won the truck race at Phoenix. The 17-year-old – who out-raced Kyle Busch to win last year’s Snowball Derby Late Model race at Pensacola, Fla. – is now the youngest driver to win in the trucks.

Coverage of the truck race annoyed a lot of fans, as Fox Sports 1 joined the race already in progress as the Big East basketball game between Providence College and Boston College ran late. Fans were rightfully angry with both Fox and NASCAR. Couldn’t NASCAR delay the start until the basketball game was finished? Couldn’t Fox have shown the entire race, even if slightly delayed? Many fans revealed on social media that they were finished with the truck series due to the lack of respect given to the fans. Camping World executives cannot be pleased.

Kyle Busch was pleased on Saturday, however, when he won yet another Nationwide Series race. Sam Hornish lost a few points to Richard Childress Racing (RCR) driver Austin Dillon at Phoenix, though, and if Dillon can have a good run in Miami we’ll see another RCR No. 3 with a championship.

After his third-place run in the Sprint Cup race at Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson has a 28-point lead over Matt Kenseth and a 34-point lead over Phoenix race winner Kevin Harvick.

Harvick’s fourth win of the season came just a couple weeks after it appeared he may not even finish the year at RCR after badmouthing Ty Dillon following an incident in the Martinsville truck race. The Dillons are Chidress’ grandsons, and Harvick stated that they are “spoon fed,” have “no respect for anything,” “don’t deserve” to be in top rides and are the very reason Harvick is leaving at the end of the year. How do you really feel, Kevin? Childress wasn’t happy.

Winning heals a lot of wounds, however, and Harvick has an outside chance at the title going into Homestead. As RCR celebrated the team’s 200th NASCAR victory, Childress’ thoughts were probably on the fact he’d rather have that celebration with one of his grandsons, while Harvick was thinking of a way to lock Jimmie Johnson in a portable toilet at Homestead to increase his title chances.

Going into Homestead, Johnson needs to finish 23rd or better and it won’t matter what happens to Kenseth or Harvick. But heading into last weekend he only had a seven-point lead.

Kenseth – who has been surprisingly strong all season – was surprisingly weak at Phoenix. The car seemed never to be to his liking. Even the pit crew let him down on a crucial pit stop. Seldom do you see a top team perform with such mediocrity when there is so much on the line.

The fans, however, saw a much better race at Phoenix than some of the recent races, which were snoozers. There was action all day, and nobody expected Carl Edwards to run out of fuel with a lap-and-a-half to go. NASCAR needed a good, exciting race heading into the season-finale.

Next season will see some changes at local racetracks, most notably Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland.

Frank Plessinger has stepped down as promoter. Plessinger has a long history in this sport, not only as a top East Coast dirt track promoter, but as a car owner in NASCAR’s Nationwide ranks.

Hagerstown now will be co-promoted by Ernie Davis and Rick Jones. Davis has been involved as a sponsor and car owner for decades, and Jones is a former driver who also promoted Potomac and Allegany County Speedways.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.