Matt Crafton had a shot to score a breakthrough NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway in Wednesday night’s 16th UNOH 200, but after a typically spectacular Bristol finish, Crafton was relieved to come home 10th.
Crafton’s crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner and his crew turned a No. 88 Great Lakes Wood Floors / Menards Toyota that wasn’t very good in the day’s opening practice, where it ran 19th, into a Tundra that qualified sixth and ran in the top five for virtually the entire race.
In the end, Crafton’s aggressive run to 10th enabled him to remain the only Truck Series driver that’s scored a top-10 finish in all 13 races this season.
But Crafton’s championship lead did shrink slightly, to 49 points over defending series champion James Buescher, who finished seventh and jumped over Jeb Burton in the standings in the process. But Crafton’s finish could’ve easily been a lot worse, as he knew Bristol could produce.
“All in all, not a bad day,” Crafton said. “I was absolutely concerned about losing points at Bristol. Every week we have to play defense. You’re thinking about (points) and it’s in the back of your mind, let’s put it that way.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing each and every week. This Menards Toyota Tundra ran in the top-five all day until that last deal. We had a really good truck.”
The unpredictable finish, which saw Kyle Busch complete a big comeback by nosing out Timothy Peters, was set up when Jeff Agnew crashed on the frontstretch, bringing out a caution with 21 laps remaining.
That brought on a classic late-race conundrum — to pit or not to pit?
“The 17 (Peters) was in a tougher spot than us (as the leader) — but it doesn’t get any tougher than that,” Joiner said, smiling through his disappointment. “I figured, we had only lost three tenths (of a second on lap times) on a long green-flag run and I figured when the tires cooled-off (under caution) we’d be good enough to fight those guys (on new tires) off, for 10-12 laps.
“I couldn’t see taking two tires because our truck hasn’t been good on two tires all year and if we’d have taken four (tires) we probably would’ve come out of the pits last of the 12 (trucks on the lead lap) — so the results would have been similar.”
Crafton and Peters, the leader, stayed out but when the green flew with 12 laps left, neither Crafton’s nor Peters’ trucks took off because they were low on fuel — a problem on Bristol’s high-banked track.
“The fuel deal was a surprise — we were good until lap 210,” Joiner said. “But what happens here — you don’t run out of fuel — but there’s so much banking here that the fuel runs away from the pickup and you can’t keep it fed. It’s happened before and I’m sure it’ll happen again, someday to somebody.
“We’ve just got to move on and keep digging, because we had a good truck. We ran top-five all day and I thought we legitimately had a truck that had a shot to win, at the end if that fuel deal hadn’t happened.”
The caution immediately flew as trucks scattered, with Brad Keselowski spinning on the frontstretch. Crafton came to pit road for fuel and four tires and when everything was cleaned up and re-aligned, the final green flag waved with seven laps left.
Crafton restarted 12th and raced up as high as eighth, nudging aside Joey Coulter — who had smashed into the side of Crafton’s truck late in last month’s Eldora Speedway dirt race — for a spot.
Crafton was unapologetic about what happened while Coulter, who finished 11th. Coulter, speaking to a Toyota representative, acknowledged he and Crafton had tangled recently and said “I’m sure we’ll work it out.”
“It’s Bristol, what else can we say?” Crafton said. “It’s like the dirt race. I think people have short-term memories. People use each other up at the dirt race and you go into the last lap at a short track and like I said, I didn’t wreck (Coulter).
“He used me up at the dirt race and I ran into the back of him a little bit (at Bristol). I had four fresh tires and I thought I had to go and I knew that I needed to go somewhere.”
Crafton knew the main reason for his 10th-place run, and his consistent finishing string.
It’s just about having good people,” Crafton said. “I’ve got great people, great trucks each and every week.When we’re off — like we almost got lapped at Martinsville and made some really good adjustments on the truck and came back and finished second…
“That’s the difference from last year and previous years — we’ve been able to work on our trucks and make them so much better throughout a race. It’s just all about the guys.”
The series now heads to the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course in Bowmanville, Ontario. The race on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend will be the first NCWTS road race in 13 years, since the series last raced at Watkins Glen in 2000.