In what’s shaping up as a career year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Californian Matt Crafton, a real highlight would be a victory in Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Crafton’s scored six consecutive top-10 finishes so far this season in his No. 88 Goof Off / Menards Toyota, which has led to ThorSport Racing’s veteran driver having a 30-point lead in the championship over rookie Jeb Burton.
But Crafton’s finished second three times in his last eight Texas starts and, as much as he likes finishing second, it’s hard to imagine anything making him happier than a win would.
“Texas has actually been one of my favorite racetracks,” Crafton said of the place where he’s made 24 career starts. “It’s become a place I really, really love going to. We finished second in the spring race last year, right behind Johnny (Sauter, ThorSport teammate who swept both Texas races) and we were right around the top-five in the fall race.
“We’ve had some really good runs there and have just come up a little bit short of getting to Victory Lane, so hopefully we can do that this weekend and get the guns blazing at the end!”
Crafton, of course, was referring to the pair of six-shooters that are part of the victor’s spoils for a Texas win. With three consecutive top-six finishes and top-seven finishes in nine of his last 12 Texas starts — including poles in 2009-2010 — Sauter has every reason to believe a win could happen.
“It would be awesome to win at Texas,” Crafton said. “That was a race that I was leading in 2004 and I thought I had a really good shot to win. I had a bad pit stop but I was coming back up through the field and somebody got loose underneath me and wrecked me. I haven’t forgotten that one — gosh, it seems so weird to say, all these years later — but I can remember it like it was yesterday and it’s still a thorn in my side because it’s one of those races that you coulda-shoulda won, and the circumstances just didn’t play out in my favor.
“But it would be awesome — just plain awesome — to win that race at Texas because it’s just a cool place, and a cool area. Everything’s big in Texas, you know they say that, and it’s especially true at that racetrack.”
Crafton falls right in step with Sauter himself, who said last year’s sweep means nothing at all about this weekend’s race. And with Sauter having two wins this season to Crafton’s one, that’s another score Crafton would like to even.
“Johnny and them were definitely very lethal last year at Texas and he ended up in Victory Lane twice as a result,” Crafton said. “But we’re just trying to take everything we’ve accomplished this year and use it to keep building a competitive package for Texas.
“I love the mile-and-a-half tracks, the speed you carry and the way you can race around at this place. You’ve got to have a truck that will work well at high speed across the bumps and something that you can move around with, because that’s something you can use to your advantage at Texas.
“We’re going to keep fine-tuning on the stuff that’s worked well for us at Kansas and at Charlotte. We throw a lot at our trucks in practice and sometimes it doesn’t all work. But in those races we’ve been really good when it mattered, and that’s what we’re shooting for at Texas. I think we really have a good balance on our mile-and-a-half stuff right now.”
Crafton used the context of over-tuning in practice, because at least a couple races this season — including his win at Kansas, a fourth at Charlotte and last weekend at Dover, where they were only 17th in Happy Hour only to rebound to second in the race behind a dominant Kyle Busch — perseverance has paid off in the end for his 88 bunch.
“Absolutely — these ThorSport guys never give up, never stop working and engineering and trying to create new solutions and new improvements to our Tundras,” Crafton said. “That just shows the depth of our team and our organization and how good Junior (Joiner, crew chief) and all these guys really are.
“At Dover we were 17th in practice and we were terrible on our average lap time — we were just off. But we went to dinner that night and we came up with a laundry list of things we wanted to change and needed to change on our truck and we did it. When I went to qualify it was the first time on a completely different set-up and the truck was great.
“Like I said at Kansas, it absolutely amazes me, the things that my guys can do with that truck to bring it around to where it’s really, really effective on the racetrack and it’s the kind of thing that’s got me really, really looking forward to Texas, because it’s a place I really like and when you have a piece working as good as my Menards Tundra’s been working, it makes it even more of a pleasure.”
Joiner and Crafton will have a chance to fine tune their truck in a pair of Thursday practices, from 12:30-1:45 p.m. ET and 2:15-3:30 p.m. Qualifying to set the starting lineup is at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The season’s seventh race will be telecast live on SPEED Channel Friday at 9 p.m. ET, preceded by The Setup pre-race show at 8:30 p.m. MRN Radio’s live broadcast also begins at 8:30.