Matt Crafton raved about Rockingham Speedway’s tire-grinding track surface as the weekend opened, but after Sunday’s Carolina Education Lottery 200 at The Rock presented by Cheerwine, he realized that attempting to keep up with the track’s varying condition had been his undoing.
Even though Crafton’s No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota raced in the top 10 all day after starting a ThorSport Racing-best fifth, Crafton lost a spot on the final green-white-checkered restart and he ultimately finish sixth.
That finish, his third consecutive top-10 in three races this season, enabled him to remain in third in the championship standings, 20 points behind his ThorSport teammate and series leader Johnny Sauter and four behind rookie Jeb Burton — who won his second consecutive series pole on Saturday at The Rock.
When he took the green flag, Crafton established a new NASCAR Camping World Truck Series mark for consecutive starts, with 297. It broke a mark he held with former ThorSport driver Terry Cook, who made his first 93 career starts for ThorSport and ultimately reached 296, which Crafton tied two weekends ago at Martinsville.
“We just missed it (on the set-up),” Crafton said at Rockingham. “We could make something happen for a few laps, but we were just trying something a little bit different this weekend and it bit us, to be totally honest.
“It just wasn’t consistent — it was a learning curve and we said at the beginning of the day that if we could get out of here with a top-five finish and if we stumble on it, it’s a win for us (so) all in all, I’m proud of these guys.”
While Sauter suffered on pit road, losing spots every time he hit the service alley, Crafton had more success there, including a critical stop at the race’s midway point where Crafton leapfrogged Sauter by five spots and restarted fifth, where he remained for the entire second half of the race until the last lap.
“We made a lot of changes and a lot of adjustments on every pit stop,” Crafton said. “Our pit stops were absolutely phenomenal all day — besides the first one when I drove through the pit stall.
“I was making fun of the Cup guys last night that were all driving through their stalls (in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas) and what do I do? I do the same thing (so) I guess that’s karma.”
The season’s fourth race, on the 1.5-mile high-banked oval at Kansas Speedway, will be held on Saturday, April 20.