Sitting at Martinsville Speedway waiting for Saturday’s Kroger 200, Matt Crafton’s status in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is everything he hoped it would be for his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota team with four races left in the championship.
But that doesn’t change Crafton’s game plan going into Saturday afternoon’s 200-lapper one bit.
Crafton has a 57-point lead over Ty Dillon in the title race, and if Crafton starts Saturday’s race the most he could lose would be 40 points — but that would require a perfect day for Dillon and a last-place finish for Crafton.
Dillon would have to outrun Crafton by 14 positions per race to overtake Crafton for the point lead, but there’s one problem. This season, no one — not even Sprint Cup interloper Kyle Busch, who has a series-best four wins — has beaten Crafton by more than 10 positions in any race.
But that doesn’t change Crafton’s focus.
“You just race — you can’t look at the points,” Crafton said. “At the end of the day, yeah, we look at them a little bit, but we’re just racing and trying to win — the same as we’ve done all year. And once we finish as good as we possibly can the points will be fine.”
At Martinsville in the spring, where Crafton was the back half of ThorSport Racing’s third career one-two finish — teammate Johnny Sauter’s been ahead in all three of them — Crafton ended up good enough that he has reasonable expectations for ending up in Victory Lane Saturday.
Friday’s two Truck Series practice sessions did nothing to defer that optimism. The first practice saw Crafton in fifth, .09 seconds behind leader Ross Chastain. In Happy Hour, Crafton’s second attempt at a mock qualifying run saw his truck a little too tight, but Crafton got it to turn well enough that he was 10th, .25 seconds off leader Denny Hamlin.
“Our truck is pretty good,” Crafton said after practice. “We were happy with it in race trim so we’re just going in trying to race as we did in the spring race — just going out and trying to win the race.
“We’re going to be a little bit smarter.We’re not going to say we’re going to shoot three-wide that we might have done in the spring race at some point — but at the end of the day if we race hard and try to race up-front and not points race we should be fine.”
Crafton, who has a series-best 17 top-10 finishes in the 18 races held this season, has two consecutive top 10s at Martinsville. One of the highlights of this season is the fact that either he or Sauter have been the only ones to lead the Truck standings.
“It’s awesome and just shows what (owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson have done and given us to work with,” Crafton said. “That just shows what Duke and Rhonda have done and have been so loyal to the Truck Series.
“It’s going to be huge for us if we can pull off (the championship). We’ve just got to be smart and hopefully be lucky.”
Crafton said Saturday’s race will have a little bit different dimension than Friday, when the track was exceptionally cold in the morning and the accompanying Sprint Cup Series cars hadn’t been on the track, which was “green” without any rubber worked into it.
“Everybody did short runs (Friday) — five-lap or eight-lap runs,” Crafton said. “(Saturday) I know you’re going to see some probably 50- to 80-lap runs in the middle of this race, you always do.I think that’s going to separate the field (because) it usually does.”
Crafton will extend his series-leading record string of consecutive Truck Series starts to 313 when he takes the green flag Saturday afternoon in a race that’s being held in conjunction with Sunday’s seventh round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
On Friday, Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled at 5 p.m. ET, with coverage on FOX Sports 2.
The 200-lap, 105.2-mile Kroger 200 will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 1:30 p.m. ET, preceded at 1 by The Setup pre-race show. The live broadcast on MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio also begins at 1. Live timing & scoring for the weekend’s events will be at www.nascar.com