Truck Leader Crafton Craving Dover’s Versatility

Matt Crafton and Toyota are both riding significant success streaks into Dover International Speedway this weekend and both obviously hope they continue in Friday afternoon’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Lucas Oil 200.

Crafton’s 2013 ThorSport Racing teammate Todd Bodine won last year’s Dover Truck race, albeit for another team. Bodine’s 22nd career win was Toyota’s fifth consecutive Truck Series victory at “The Monster Mile.”

For his part, Crafton comes into Dover with his No. 88 Goof Off / Menards Toyota riding streaks of five consecutive top-10 finishes this season — which leaves Crafton firmly planted atop the Truck Series’ championship standings by 22 points over rookie Jeb Burton — and also five consecutive top 10s at Dover, stretching back to the 2008 event.

Crafton’s career-best finish in eight Truck Series starts at Dover is third, in 2011. He has the best average finish, 9.9, of all drivers with at least three Dover Truck starts there, but Crafton’s been an ace on concrete racetracks for years. Seventeen of Crafton’s last 20 starts on concrete tracks, including Dover, Bristol and the inactive Nashville Superspeedway, have been lead-lap finishes.

But Dover’s at the top of Crafton’s list.

“Dover is definitely one of my favorite racetracks, without a doubt” Crafton said. “Atlanta was always my favorite racetrack and Dover is definitely in the top-three of my favorite tracks. I’ve always marked it on my calendar and I look forward to going there because it’s always great, side-by-side racing where the groove widens out as the race goes on.”

Crafton was in good company in loving Atlanta, where the track’s well-worn pavement gave drivers almost limitless options to search for racing room, with dramatically close finishes the norm.

“That’s what racing ought to be, everywhere we go,” Crafton said. “Ever since I first went (to Dover) it’s been the kind of racetrack where you can move around and find a better groove, and as a driver that’s all you can ask for.

“That’s what I love about Dover, the great side-by-side racing. That’s what the fans come there to see, not everyone freight-training around the bottom of the racetrack. I was always leery of concrete, but Dover is an awesome racetrack and Bristol is the same way — you can move around wherever you need to. So now I think concrete is pretty cool.”

That’s definitely true, but Crafton’s also in a position to crow about the performance of crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner and his ThorSport team. Crafton’s No. 88 bunch is the only Truck squad this season that’s scored five top-10 finishes in the first five races. Charlotte two weekends ago was the latest comeback effort, where Crafton twice was a lap down before rebounding to finish fourth.

“Charlotte was the kind of night where, if we’re lucky enough and good enough to be in position to win this championship at the end of the season, we’ll absolutely look back and say that was a championship effort,” Crafton said. “That night just showed how good of a race team ThorSport is and how great of a race team that 88 team is.

“We’ve had the same kinds of things happen in three of the five races we’ve run (this season). At Martinsville we almost went a lap down (before finishing second to teammate Johnny Sauter), at Rockingham there was a point in the middle of that race where we were terrible and these guys never stopped working on the truck, to make it better. That’s just great communication by Junior and the guys.”

It’s got Crafton expecting great things in the next stretch of races that includes Dover and Texas, then two weeks off where the team will test at Kentucky, two weeks before that track’s important mid-summer event on June 27.

“I feel like there’s nothing that could come up, at any racetrack, that this team couldn’t overcome,” Crafton said. “If we continue to do what we’re doing, at the end of the season we’re going to look back at nights and days like we’ve had at Charlotte and Martinsville and say that’s why we continued to contend for this championship, because these guys never give up.”

This weekend opens Thursday afternoon with a pair of Truck Series practices, from 2:30-3:45 p.m. ET and 4:15-5:30 p.m. Truck qualifying is at 10:05 a.m. Friday, with live coverage on the SPEED Channel.

The season’s sixth of 22 races, the Lucas Oil 200 is 200 laps and 200 miles. It’s scheduled for a 5 p.m. Friday start and for the second consecutive year SPEED will have live coverage preceded by The Setup pre-race show at 4:30. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 4:30.

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