Crafton On-Track for Eldora Success

Matt Crafton was surprised about nothing during four hours of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice Tuesday and Wednesday morning’s Happy Hour for that evening’s inaugural CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime’s ‘The Profit’ — but he was more optimistic than he had been in anticipation of NASCAR’s first national series dirt-track race in 42 years.

His crew chief, Carl “Junior” Joiner, perhaps summed it up best when the ThorSport Racing No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota’s Eldora Speedway on-track preparation concluded 25 minutes early when they exhausted their allotment of practice tires.

“Great job,” Joiner told Crafton and his teammates. “That’s a lot of progress we made since (Tuesday), when we were potato farmers — but (Wednesday) we’re dirt racers. We know how much adjustability we need to put into it, so let’s get ready.”

New ThorSport teammate Tracy Hines, who has 12 career Eldora wins in USAC Sprint and Midget cars, was an invaluable resource as far as giving Crafton and teammate Johnny Sauter some setup direction, and the numbers showed it.

Crafton was 32nd of 34 trucks in the opening two-hour practice Tuesday, but he improved to 13th-best in Tuesday evening’s session. Crafton really hit his stride in Happy Hour, when he posted the seventh-best time overall, early in the practice. His best 10-lap average was only 13th-best but Crafton’s group was pleased they were in the ballpark compared to some of the best dirt racers in the country.

At 5:05 p.m. ET Wednesday Crafton’s scheduled to qualify 18th of 35 trucks on-site. Qualifying is live on the SPEED Channel. Qualifying will determine the lineups for five eight-lap qualifying heat races, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Four guaranteed starters — from the top 20 in the NCWTS owners’ points — and one non-qualified driver will come out of each heat.

A 15-lap last-chance race is scheduled at about 8:45 p.m. ET, with the last five qualifiers for the 30-truck feature coming out of it.

Crafton, of course, is locked-into the field thanks to his 38-point lead over Jeb Burton in the Truck Series’ standings. But Crafton had never seen Eldora — not even so much as a picture — before he got to the Ohio countryside Tuesday so he has a little bit of concern over the outcome of the Mudsummer Classic.

“I’m absolutely concerned about Eldora,” Crafton said. “I think you can circle in red three of the 13 races we have left — Eldora, the road course and Talladega — because those are the three major crap-shoot races in which you just have to survive, survive and survive — that will be a big deal for everybody.

“Don’t get me wrong, we definitely want to win Eldora — that would be just awesome and I’m not saying it can’t be done. But at the same time, with what I’m seeing and the way they drove and as big of a handful as they were, it’s gonna be a game of survival and being there at the end to see what we can make happen in the last 20 laps by putting yourself in a position to contend by staying on the lead lap.”

In all the practice, which particularly was tempered by slick, slippery conditions that saw 32 of the 35 trucks — including all three ThorSport Tundras — with varying degrees of body damage on the right-rear corner, Crafton — who’ll make his 304th consecutive Truck Series start Wednesday — saw exactly the handling characteristics he’d expected from the bulky trucks.

“The suspension on dirt cars is built to make them get into the racetrack when it goes real slick,” Crafton said. “Trucks don’t have all that goofy rear steering that dirt cars have to make them have the grip they have in the back. These trucks are built to go in circles and be on asphalt, and the suspension isn’t really made for dirt running.”

Crafton’s prepared for Eldora with 10 dirt Modified races this season, where he’s adapted well enough to score a heat race victory. Crafton and Sauter tested their trucks at Oakshade Raceway, a dirt track in Wauseon, Ohio, on July 7.

Mudsummer Classic race coverage is scheduled to begin on SPEED at 9 p.m. ET, with The Setup pre-race show preceding the 10th event of the season at 9:30. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 9.

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