Matt Crafton hasn’t road-raced in more than 13 years — the time frame in which the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last raced on a road course — but Crafton and his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota team feel they’re ready for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Crafton said. “I wish we had more than just one in the season to go race, but we’ll make the best of the one we’re going to race. I had a lot of fun doing it and we ran fairly well in the road-course racing that I’ve done.”
Both Crafton and his crew chief, Carl “Junior” Joiner raced together on road courses, beginning in 1999 when Joiner joined Crafton’s family-run team that won the 2000 championship in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series for late model cars, ironically the last year the trucks road-raced, at Watkins Glen International.
Joiner thinks history will be in his and Crafton’s favor — even if a refresher course might be in order initially.
“It’s been a while but we grew up going to Sonoma every year, with the Southwest Tour cars and (NASCAR) K&N (Pro Series) cars and stuff like that,” Joiner said of his days racing with Crafton in their native California. “I think Matt is so smart and so smooth I don’t think it will take us much to get up to speed, with all the practice we have scheduled there.
“Granted, we’re going to have to be a little conservative on practice time to save our stuff, but I think we’ll be good, and as long as we stay on the racetrack all day I think we’ll be battling for a top-five and possibly a win at the end.”
Crafton’s maintained all season the road race at the former Mosport Park circuit is the next-to-last “wild card” race this season, with the Talladega round the final “bullet” he’ll have to dodge as the Truck Series’ point leader.
That’s why Crafton, who’s the only Truck Series driver to score a top-10 finish in all 13 races this season, tested there earlier this month with ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter.
“I went up there a couple weeks ago and drove a Canadian Tire Series car for the full day and I was very, very thankful that I went up there and did that because that place is going to be tough,” Crafton said. “I’m just telling you the way I saw it, but it’s a very, very cool and very fast road course.
“I ran quite a few road courses in my days in karts and the Southwest Tour, but (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) is going to be interesting, to say the least. It’s got very, very blind corners where you’ll be blind for a good third of the corner before you can see (where) it’s going.”
Crafton’s squad carries a 49-point edge in the standings over defending NCWTS champion James Buescher into the 14th event of the 22-race season. Crafton says the reason for that is simple for his crew.
“It’s just about having good people,” Crafton said. “I’ve got great people, great trucks each and every week. When we’re off and there’s places — 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.”
Crafton and Joiner hope it’s more of the same this weekend. Joiner, at least has an idea what he’s going to try to do.
“Usually the first guy to pit when you get into the window (to be able to make it to the end of the race, on fuel) is going to be the winner,” Joiner said. “That’s unless you have a really, really good truck or you’re a road-course ringer. It’s gonna be hard, otherwise because from what Matt’s said that place is going to be tough to pass on.
“You’re going to have to pit right when you get in your window and then, just hope you stay on the racetrack and be smart.”
Joiner also puts quite a lot of stock in Crafton’s test.
“I think the fact that Matt tested there puts us a step ahead, for sure,” Joiner said. “We’re not going in quite as blind as we would have, if we knew absolutely nothing. As far as setting up the truck, it won’t really help us but as far as Matt’s knowledge and him being a little more comfortable with his shifting points and braking points — that will be similar, though of course we’ll be going faster.
“It’ll just be up to us to give him a good, solid truck — like we always try to — make sure nothing falls off it and then it’ll be his job to stay on the racetrack and keep all the fenders on it for the end because I’m sure there’ll be a yellow at the end and then everybody will have a shot at it.”
Ron Hornaday and David Starr are the only current Truck Series drivers that have road-raced a NCWTS truck, so the weekend has plenty of track time. On Friday, two Truck Series practice sessions are scheduled, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. ET, and again from 2:30-5 p.m.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Crafton said. “Seven hours of practice… I would sit back and watch if I didn’t have to be driving.”
Two more hours of Truck Series practice are scheduled Saturday, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. and 12-1 p.m. Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled for 5:05 p.m.
The 64-lap, 157.37-mile Chevrolet Silverado 250 will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 1:30 p.m., preceded at 1 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio’s live broadcast begins at 1:30.