Matt Crafton’s led the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ championship standings a few times in his career, but heading into Friday evening’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with his No. 88 Fisher Nuts / Menards Toyota atop the points could come at no better time for Crafton.
First, he and wife Ashley celebrated the birth of their first child, daughter Elladee, just 18 days ago, on April 26.
“I need to get back to racing, so I can get some rest,” Crafton said, chuckling. “I’m always excited to go to the racetrack — but usually you go to the racetrack and you don’t get much sleep because you’re worried about everything, the night before the race — you think about everything. This week, I’m excited to get to the racetrack so I can get some sleep.”
Crafton smiled again when he noted how cool it’ll be this weekend — the first race after nearly a four-week break — when he goes home each night to his wife and newborn child.
But if you’re the competition, there’s nothing humorous about what Crafton and Joiner are in the midst of doing to the Camping World Truck Series, in company with Crafton’s fifth-year ThorSport Racing teammate, Johnny Sauter and their four-race-old partner, two-time Truck Series champion Todd Bodine.
Crafton won his first career Truck race at Charlotte in 2008, about a year before he took the series’ lead for the first time in his career. The year before, in 2007, Crafton began a consistent streak of running at a very competitive level in the trucks.
In 151 races since the start of the 2007 season, Crafton’s been in the top 10 in the championship standings after 144 of them. He’s currently riding a string of 21 consecutive races in the top 10 in the standings and Charlotte, considering it’s a high-speed 1.5-mile oval similar to Kansas — the series’ most recent race where he won on April 20 — has Crafton quivering with anticipation.
“I’m super-excited about this Charlotte race — even more than I usually am,” Crafton said. “With all the momentum that the team’s carrying into this race… I know the guys are still on Cloud 9 from the Kansas win and I’m up there with them, from the win and having our child. So I’m super-stoked about it.”
The racetracks’ similar nature is certainly part of that and is partly responsible for Crafton having seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Charlotte.
“Charlotte’s definitely not as new as Kansas,” Crafton said of the latter, which was repaved and reconfigured last season while Charlotte was last repaved in 2006 but is still in good shape. “The two tracks will race very similarly, without a doubt. We’re taking the same truck to Charlotte and we’re starting out the exact same way we rolled off the track at Kansas (and into Victory Lane).”
The fact that Sauter’s been a capable wing-man doesn’t hurt either Crafton or Bodine’s winning potential. Sauter won the 2013 season’s first two races in his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota and had a healthy lead in the championship — with ThorSport holding the top two spots for the first time in 45 races, or since Crafton and Sauter were one-two following the May Dover race in 2011, the first time ThorSport had achieved that plateau.
A penalty for a technical violation in opening inspection at Kansas resulted in a 25-point penalty to Sauter, which leaves him tied for second in the championship with rookie Jeb Burton, 13 points behind Crafton. But with 18 races remaining this season, Crafton isn’t losing sight of the prize.
“What our team has done so well at, consistently, is all this mile-and-a-half stuff,” Crafton said. “It’s been a leaps-and-bounds improvement from where we were at the start of 2012, when we had just switched manufacturers (from Chevrolet to Toyota).
“That’s the coolest thing to me, is how well we’ve ran with our Toyotas on all the mile-and-a-half stuff. When we switched, our short-track program didn’t struggle near as much as our mile-and-a-half program did, and all that comes down to is all the guys at ThorSport working super, super-hard to make these Tundra trucks so good on these mile-and-a-half tracks.”
NASCAR has scheduled a 4.5-hour practice session Thursday split from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET and 2-4:30 p.m. That roughly matches Friday’s only official practice, from 10:30-11:50 a.m.; and it also dovetails with Friday’s 4 p.m. qualifying session.
But since the race will be held at nightfall Friday, Crafton can’t get too excited about all the scheduled practice. He actually said Friday morning’s session would offer the closest comparison of track conditions.
“I’m excited whenever we get to test,” Crafton said. “But to be totally honest, it’s going to be good to a point but a waste of time at the same time because we don’t race during the middle of the day at Charlotte. We’ll try to do most of our race practice on Friday morning because that’s when the temperatures will be coolest.
“Realistically our test needed to start off at 4 or 5 o’clock, and then go into the evening, because there isn’t a racetrack that changes more, from day to night, than Charlotte does. So we just need to look at our notes really good and see what we did during the day and see if we can correlate that into going into the evening.”
The season’s fifth race, 134 laps and 201 miles, is scheduled for an 8 p.m. start, with live television on SPEED Channel, beginning with “The Set-Up” pre-race show at 7:30. MRN Radio has live radio coverage, also beginning at 7:30.