Matt Crafton didn’t include Bristol Motor Speedway on his recent list of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series “wild card” racetracks. But maybe he should have thought twice about the site of Wednesday night’s 16th UNOH 200.
Crafton’s No. 88 Great Lakes Wood Floors / Menards Toyota carries a 51-point edge in the standings over NCWTS Rookie of the Year leader Jeb Burton into the 13th event of the 22-race season.
But while Crafton’s been the only Truck Series driver to score a top-10 finish in all 12 of this season’s races, he’s also aware of his record at Bristol — which hasn’t been his shining light, despite how much he loves the place that was off the Truck Series schedule in Crafton’s first two full-time seasons. Bristol returned in 2003 and has been a staple on the schedule ever since.
In 10 career Bristol starts, Crafton has two top-five and five top-10 finishes — but only three of those top 10s have come in his last eight starts. Crafton does have a second-place finish at Bristol, in 2009, but his average start is 18.3 and his average finish, 10.8. And he’s never led a lap on the high-banked half-mile.
“Bristol has been a good racetrack for us, but at the same time it’s been a bad racetrack to us at times,” Crafton said. “We’re looking to go there this year and change that and be on the upswing because last year was definitely a downswing for us.
“We’ve got to get our stuff right — not only for Bristol but as we come into this home stretch of the season.”
Crafton actually started seventh and finished ninth in 2012 at “Thunder Valley,” and was 21st and 10th in the two previous years after scoring his career best at Bristol in 2009.
Bristol is nothing if it’s not spectacular — even if everything’s pointed in the right direction. But the high banks and high speeds very often lead to out-of-sorts racing action and Crafton agrees that’s part of the venue’s attraction.
“Bristol definitely is the coliseum of racing,” Crafton said, drawing a parallel to something out of Roman history. “The fans are cheering for all the great racing but just as well they’re cheering for all the chaos and running into each other, that’s for sure. Bristol is definitely a very cool racetrack.”
But it’s also a place that demands that a team’s equipment be fine-tuned because, as Crafton pointed out, as exhilarating as the place can be if your truck is working well, it’s three-times worse if it’s driving badly.
“It’s definitely a bad feeling,” Crafton said. “If you’re loose there, because the straightaways are so short and if you’re fighting it off every corner, everything happens so fast and you’re doing nothing but sawing on the (steering) wheel throughout the corner.
“You’re saying ‘man, are we done with this thing yet?!?’ whenever your stuff’s off. That’s something you definitely don’t want to be faced with.”
The toughest part of Bristol’s schedule is it falls only four days after the previous race, last Saturday at Michigan.
“Definitely it’s a little harder on the guys just because we race on Saturday and you’ve got to be at the racetrack on Tuesday,” Crafton said. “So basically it’s two days to turn the truck around.
“But that’s actually one of the really cool things about being in Sandusky, Ohio — our race shop is only two hours from Michigan. That’s a benefit for the guys being that close to home (after that race).”
Wednesday’s one-day schedule has two Truck Series practice sessions, from 10-10:50 a.m. ET and 12-1:30 p.m. The final practice will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1, the former SPEED Channel.
Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the 36-truck starting lineup is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. and will also be live on FOX Sports 1 at 4:30.
The 200-lap, 106.6-mile UNOH 200 will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m., preceded at 7:30 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio’s live broadcast also begins at 7:30.