Matt Crafton, in the immediate aftermath of his ninth-place finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Michigan National Guard 200, was having a hard time finding much to be cheerful about at Michigan International Speedway.
“We definitely had a better truck than what we finished,” Crafton said, particularly citing two restarts in the race’s last 25 laps. “We lost track position and I started on the outside, but then it’s like everybody shuffled and then it’s just you try to be a little bit smart and you can’t put yourself in a bad position… “
But when we got ourselves hung back there it was just damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Crafton’s championship-leading No. 88 Great Lakes Wood Floors / Menards Toyota started sixth and actually moved up into the top-five for most of the first half of the race, where he challenged polesitter Jeb Burton, who led the race’s first 16 laps, for the lead early.
But in the end, Crafton and his ThorSport Racing team survived a wild, swirling melee of a last few laps in Michigan’s high-speed draft and Crafton scored his 12th consecutive top-10 finish this season — and he out-ran his closest championship contender, Burton, by one spot.
But defending series champion James Buescher won the race and Burton, who won his series-best fourth Coors Light Pole Award on Saturday morning and led the most laps, picked up a point on Crafton. Buescher picked up 12.
Thus, Crafton’s unofficially 51 points ahead of Burton and 52 ahead of Buescher heading to Wednesday night’s 13th event of the 22-race season, at Bristol Motor Speedway.
That event might either give Crafton an opportunity to be more aggressive or to continue the tack he’s employed thus far, carefully weighing his options, and their ramifications, before he makes any rash moves.
“I could have been a little bit more aggressive, maybe,” Crafton said. “And taken a little more chances and maybe got up a few more spots, but… You had to have track position — it was everything.
“The 31 (Buescher), he got one run on the (last) restart — he started right in front of me and then all of the sudden he wins the race. It was just all about momentum on the restarts and we just never had really good ones there towards the end for whatever it was worth.”
Crafton could have been in the position of his ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter, who had a truck that was as good as Crafton’s despite suffering fender damage on the race’s third lap, only to get completely wiped out in a multi-truck accident and finish 20th.
Quasi-teammate Brett Moffitt, whose Hattori Racing Enterprises Tundra was being tended by ThorSport crew chief Jeriod Prince and his ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards championship-leading crew, was looking at a top-10 finish with less than 10 laps to go until it hit the wall and finished 17th.
Still, Crafton was blunt when he evaluated the race.
“Bad day — we’ve got to run better,” Crafton said. “We lost points, but at the same time we didn’t lose a ton of points. The 4 (Burton) was behind us but like I said, looking back at points racing, that’s stupid.
“We’re only halfway through the season (Saturday) — we have 10 more races to go so there’s a lot of racing to be done before we talk about points and championships.”