Matt Crafton only has to look back 12 months to know his ninth-place finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway was a good deal.
Crafton’s No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Toyota was a little bent-up, but it easily rolled into its ThorSport Racing transporter. Crafton had plenty of time to stroll over to Daytona’s Victory Lane to congratulate full-time teammate Johnny Sauter on his seventh career victory, in conjunction with their Daytona teammate Todd Bodine, who finished 11th.
But all things considered, a day later Crafton could only heave a small sigh when he thought of Friday night’s true possibilities in a finish that was interrupted a half-lap short of full distance when a four-truck crash going into Turn 1 on the last lap caused a caution flag to freeze the running order.
“I made a good recovery,” Crafton said. “I was 26th on that restart with five laps to go and came back to ninth, so that was not bad. But I wish we could’ve run that last lap because me and Todd had one heckuva run going.”
Compared to 2012, when Crafton was running in the top 10 coming to the first of four white flags with his teammate Sauter leading, before a 10-truck accident took them both out, 2013 was pure bliss. But it was still a case of what might have been.
“Todd got shuffled back on that last restart, which sucked for him,” Crafton said with a smile. “But it was a blessing in disguise for me because when he got shuffled he came right back to me and it actually worked perfect. Now, I had a teammate back there with me. He fell right in behind me, latched to my bumper and away we went.”
A lot of trucks chose to run the bottom lane around Daytona, but with a drafting partner the high line offered a lot of momentum. Crafton and Bodine used it to perfect effect and came a half-lap from possibly drafting right past second-place finisher Kyle Busch and Sauter’s No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota.
“I knew coming into this race — even before Speedweeks started — that the whole team was going to be a force to be reckoned with, without a doubt because our trucks and our people are just too good not to be,” Crafton said. “Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s Friday night proved it.
“All of us were up there all night — me, Johnny and Todd. Hopefully they can work out the sponsorship with Todd because he was a damn good teammate to have (Friday) night. He was definitely a big help to me, to finish where I did because without Todd there was no way I was gonna get back to where I did, for sure.”
Before that, Crafton and Sauter both dodged a pretty serious bullet during the race’s first caution flag, on lap 54 when a 13-truck melee broke out right in front of them going into Turn 3. The fracas only minimally involved the two ThorSport teammates, who were running 19th and 18th, respectively while Bodine’s No. 13 Mattei Air Compressors Toyota was up in eighth.
“Me and Johnny just barely got through that one,” Crafton said. “I got hit a ton from behind and it bent the rear clip on my truck. I ran into Johnny a little bit but all-in-all it was not too terrible. It didn’t affect my truck’s performance hardly at all.”
The series is off until its second race, at Martinsville Speedway on April 6. With Sauter leading the championship, Crafton is eighth in the standings, 12 points behind his teammate because Kyle Busch is not registered to receive NCWTS points.