A year makes no difference to NCWTS leader Crafton

May 12, 2014

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The past year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series didn’t make much difference for Matt Crafton, who grabbed the series’ championship lead Friday night after his No. 88 Goof Off / Menards Toyota Tundra finished runner-up to Kyle Busch  in the SFP 250 at Kansas Speedway.

Crafton, the defending winner of the season’s third of 22 races, also took the lead in the championship a year ago — when Kansas was the fourth round of the series. He held that advantage for the final 18 races of the 2013 season and won ThorSport Racing’s first NASCAR championship.

Friday, Crafton started ninth and was a contender all night — never being scored lower than seventh in the 167-lap event after taking the green flag. Crafton was the only driver in the 31-truck field besides race-winner Kyle Busch who never was scored outside the top 10.

After the race Crafton, who extended his series-best consecutive starts string to 319, finished on the lead lap for the 26th consecutive race and was running at the finish for the 45th consecutive race, said beating his buddy Busch would’ve been a tall order.

“(Busch) had a very, very fast truck,” Crafton said of his fellow Tundra driver, who led a race-high 104 laps. “We started off the beginning of that (last) run, and the run before that, just a little bit free-in and I fought tight center-off.

“He allowed his to turn center-off a little bit better than ours. We were afraid to make any adjustments to help our center-off because we figured it was going to hurt us on (corner) entry. We decided to just stay a little bit tight.”

While that left Crafton at the finish 3.02 seconds in arrears of Busch, who was scored no lower than third at any of the official scoring segments in becoming Kansas’ 14th different winner in as many Truck races — while winning Toyota’s 115th Truck Series race — Crafton was the big-picture victor.

Crafton grabbed the championship lead by eight points over Timothy Peters, who came to Kansas tied with Crafton’s ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter but dropped back after finishing 14th.

Sauter fell back to fifth in the standings, 15 points behind Crafton, after he finished 21st after being swept up in a multi-truck accident on the 85th lap.

Crafton and 2013 champion crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner were in the minority of pairings that successfully figured out Kansas’ first night race in its 14th annual NCWTS event. But even so, in a race that was slowed nine times for caution flags that consumed 46 laps, they were wary of making one change too many.

“We were just a little bit scared to — we wanted to make maybe a track bar change — but we were tight center-off all night,” Crafton said. “We made one adjustment and made it quite a bit better.

“But, then I got a little bit free-in and tight-off. But, I was afraid to make any more adjustments to help my off because I knew it was going to hurt my entry. I was just a little bit too free.

“That’s how (Busch) got by me when he did. Like I said, I kind of had to protect my entry for a little while. Once it finally come to me, I think I could run with (Busch). At the same time I got a little tight on the back-side of the corner.”

By Crafton moving back into the championship lead, either he or Sauter has led the points after 24 of the last 25 Truck Series races, a rare accomplishment for one organizaton.

The Truck Series’ next race is on May 16, when the series again races at night, on the similar 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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ThorSport Racing, based in a state-of-the-art 100,000-square-foot facility in Sandusky, Ohio, is the longest-tenured NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. ThorSport, which has run in the Truck Series since 1996, in 2014 will run the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driven by 2013 drivers’ champion Matt Crafton, the No. 98 Nextant Aerospace/Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff/Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota Tundra driven by Johnny Sauter and the No. 13 Carolina Nut Co. Toyota Tundra driven by Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and the No. 13 Toyota Camry in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.