For years, Matt Crafton’s been the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ “Mr. Consistency,” and despite Pocono Raceway’s short, three-year history with NASCAR trucks, the “Tricky Triangle” epitomizes Crafton’s level of performance with ThorSport Racing.
Crafton, who’s the only NCWTS driver with 10 top-10 finishes in this season’s first 10 races, has a series-best average finish at Pocono of fifth among competitors who’ve raced all three events. Those kinds of numbers enable Crafton to come into Saturday afternoon’s Pocono Mountains 125 in his No. 88 Rip it Energy Fuel / Menards Toyota with a full-race advantage in the standings — 48 points ahead of leading rookie of the year candidate Jeb Burton.
“Flat racetracks really suit my driving style, because you can move around and find speed,” Crafton said. “And even though Pocono has three distinctly different corners and you have to compromise what you’re doing to the truck to suit it all the way around the racetrack, the flattest corner is the most critical.”
With its long straightaways and corners that range from the moderately-banked Turn 1, to the slightly banked “Tunnel Turn” to the virtually flat Turn 3, which leads onto the longest straightaway on any oval track at which major-league stock cars race, Pocono requires a compromise in racecar setup that emphasizes getting off the third turn to maximize top speed at the end of the frontstretch.
“Turn 1 is really a typical oval-track corner, though you really have to have your truck working well because you carry so much speed off that long frontstretch,” Crafton said. “The Tunnel Turn is important because you carry a lot of speed through there and it can get your attention in a hurry — especially running in traffic.
“But Turn 3 is the big one, because you can’t overdrive the corner, you can’t get the truck bound-up or too loose because that will cost you too much momentum getting down that long frontstretch, and over a run that can really cost you.”
Crafton hasn’t had many issues with racing at Pocono. His average starting position is only 13.3, but his ThorSport trucks have worked well enough that Crafton leads all of NASCAR’s new-era statistics for passing, including green-flag passes and “quality passes,” or passes made against trucks running higher in the standings.
That’s the kind of effort by Crafton, his crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner and their crew that’s enabled Crafton to thrive at Pocono specifically and this season in general. His championship status hasn’t been much of a focus because Crafton’s been racing week-to-week and letting the points fall in line as they should.
“The championship and the points are in the back of your mind a little bit, but that’s not what we need to be concentrating on,” Crafton said. “We’ve got a decent lead, but it’s not comfortable because you can lose all that in a heartbeat if we don’t take care of business like we have been.”
The lone Truck Series practice of the weekend runs from 9-11:20 a.m. ET on Friday. Coors Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday to set the 36-truck starting lineup for the season’s 11th of 22 races.
Saturday’s 50-lap, 125-mile event will be telecast live on the SPEED Channel at 1 p.m. ET, preceded at 12:30 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio’s live broadcast also begins at 12:30.
Pre-race and the race telecast are scheduled to replay on SPEED Saturday at 11 p.m. ET.