Matt Crafton was wide-eyed on Pocono Raceway’s pit road after the Pocono Mountains 125.
Two green-white-checker attempts while you’re running top-five and defending the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship lead will do that to you — but Crafton was especially relieved to leave this vacation capitol with an eighth-place finish and a largely unscathed No. 88 Rip It Energy Fuel / Menards Toyota.
“Every one of those green-white-checkers was the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen, to be totally honest,” Crafton said, chuckling after the dust had settled, standing next to his truck and crew. “They were wrecking in front of me, beside me — all over the place. Right before that big wreck (in Turn 1) we were four-wide and I was on the bottom and I was saying, ‘I don’t know how this is gonna work?’ I just had to stay on the gas, but we survived…”
The only damage to Crafton’s Tundra was on its left-rear corner, where ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter ran into him in the midst of dodging the Turn 1 melee. And in the end, Crafton took the white flag in fifth and points lead aside, he was still digging halfway through the lap.
“I was getting really, really loose getting in there (to the Tunnel Turn) and I was trying for fourth and just got too loose under (Joey Coulter) and dropped to eighth for the finish,” Crafton said. “I just got loose there at the end and lost those spots because of that.
“I was being greedy and they were yelling at me, ‘Big picture. Big picture.’ But, I saved it. That was hairy — definitely. The back end just got out when I got really, really loose under him and just about wrecked it.”
Coming into Pocono’s fourth annual Truck Series event, Crafton was the series’ standard bearer — the only driver to have three top-10 finishes in those races. Along with his 48-point lead in the championship over Jeb Burton, Crafton was also the only Truck Series driver to score a top-10 in all 10 races this season.
But 140 minutes of practice on Friday, where Crafton and his ThorSport Racing crew ended up ninth, provided more questions than answers. Rain overnight and on Saturday morning, which delayed the start of the season’s 11th race, was another wrinkle.
In the early stages of the race, both Crafton and Sauter battled trucks that were loose, particularly across the critical Tunnel Turn. But the way the green-flag pit cycle worked out in the middle of the event, and then the wild finish that included three caution periods in the last 10 laps — including the infamous green-white-checker attempts — had Crafton shaking his head when it was all done.
“Those restarts were stupid — just chaos,” Crafton said. “I asked how many green-white-checkereds there was and they said we were on two and I said, ‘We’ve got one more, then.’ I knew that they were going to have another one and when we got the white I’m like, ‘Whew. At least we got through that. Now we just have to survive.'”
Unlike what he’d done in the series’ previous event, on dirt at Eldora Speedway, Crafton aggressively attacked the Tunnel Turn on the last lap in a side-to-side swirl that looked like it had zero chance at success. But Crafton took care of his fenders and took his eighth place home.
“It was definitely not what we wanted, and I really hate it because we felt like we had a better truck than where we finished, but we’ll take it and go on to the next one,” Crafton said. “It was a decent day, without a doubt. We don’t really want to big-picture race — we’re getting as much as we can every week — but I thought we had a top-five truck (Saturday) but it was just about how the circumstances unrolled.
“Like I said, I can’t thank these guys on my ThorSport crew enough. They work their butt off on this truck. We were not very good for five, 10 laps in a run — we were junk, really. And then about 10 laps into a run we would keep getting better and at 15 laps we would keep getting better yet.”
That’s why the final flurry of caution flags didn’t have Crafton smiling.
“In the short run we were bad,” Crafton said. “I wanted the last run to be longer just to see what we could do, but at the same time I’m like, ‘Oh man, what is going to happen here?’ just because we were so loose on the short run.”
Crafton’s next race, Aug. 17 at Michigan International Speedway, already has him anticipating going 12-for-12 this season, with a shot to get his second victory and expand his point lead, which unofficially is 52 points over Burton, who finished 12th at Pocono.
“It’s really, really good — it just shows how hard these guys work and what they do to these trucks and get what they can get, every race,” Crafton said. “It’s an honor to be driving their stuff.”