Matt Crafton is so unconcerned with the statistical aspect of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season that all he could do after finishing 11th Saturday night in his No. 88 Jeld-Wen / Menards Toyota in the Smith’s 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was to look ahead for his next trip to Victory Lane.
“I don’t care about the points, I just want to go out there and win races,” Crafton said. “If we do that — and keep putting on these great shows for the fans while we’re at it — the points will be there at Homestead at the end of the season.
“All I want to be (gesturing at the scoreboard near the end of LVMS’s pit road) is at the top of the board. Points are points and we’ll figure that out when we get to Homestead (season finale).
“But at the end of the day it’s a disgusting thing because we had a truck that was capable of winning the race and it just went to (crap) all of a sudden, so it is what it is.”
Crafton started fifth and took the lead for the first time at lap 18 of 146. Crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner and his men gave Crafton great service all night and for the first three-quarters of the race his Tundra seemed the equal of any truck in the field. Crafton also led from laps 105 to 120 — which gave him a race-best 30 laps led.
But something that occurred after their penultimate stop caused the truck to become a real handful for Crafton to drive.
“What happened to the truck is a good question,” Crafton said. “All of a sudden it just went dead-sideways loose. One lap it was a little bit loose and then it went to undriveable and we lost one second (a lap) on that run. I have no idea what it was.
“It wriggled one lap coming off the corner and the next lap it was dead sideways — you couldn’t get (the throttle) back to wide-open until it was completely in a straight line. It had never bobbled or done anything evil until it did that, so hopefully we can find out what it was.”
One final caution that set up a green-white-checker finish almost put Crafton in position to get back to the top-10, but restarting 15th was too much to overcome, in the end.
“We came in and took the tires off and the guys said all the tires were (fully-inflated),” Crafton said. “We put another set on right there for the last restart and we were way, way back there on the restart and we were actually tight there on that last green-white-checker because we were in such dirty air.
“All in all, not a bad day and we didn’t lose too many points so we’ll lick our wounds and go on to the next one.”
The finish broke a couple stellar strings Crafton had in place coming into Saturday night’s race. This season Crafton had scored a top-10 finish in all 16 races held prior to Vegas, the only driver in the series to accomplish that feat. And at Vegas itself, he had scored five consecutive top-five finishes coming into the Smith’s 350.
“It’s aggravating, but Junior and the guys know how to do this,” said Crafton, who was actually unaware of his status in the standings as he stood on pit road after the race. “Where we were coming into this race proves that and we’ll be fine at Talladega.”
The good news for Crafton was that, as good as his truck was in comparison to everyone else’s, he actually led the most laps in the race, 30, and his closest pursuer in the championship, defending Truck Series champion James Buescher, did not.
So Crafton’s 41-point lead in the standings is intact heading to the next race, in 19 days at Talladega (Alabama) Superspeedway on Oct. 19. But he considered that small consolation after Joiner and his men put them in a position to win at least a couple times throughout the night.