Matt Crafton’s enthused about taking his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota to Kansas Speedway this weekend — and he says Saturday’s SFP 250 “will still be exciting” despite the 1.5-mile racetrack’s repave and reconfiguration last season.
Crafton, who with 12 has the most career starts in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history at Kansas, loved the multi-groove racetrack Kansas had developed into over time. So with he and crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner firmly locked in third in the Truck Series’ standings after three top-10 finishes to start the season, Crafton’s got his eyes wide open looking ahead to Saturday’s SFP 250.
“From what I’ve seen in the past and what I’ve seen in the first Cup and Nationwide races (last fall at Kansas), it does not offer the side-by-side racing that it did before,” Crafton said. “I haven’t been a fan of any of the repaves that I’ve seen before because you don’t see side-by-side racing. My preference is to have the older and more worn-out pavement because it gives you more choices to be able to run from the top to the bottom of the track.
“But you never know. I’m going there with open arms… Hopefully it’ll surprise me, and we can get a second and third groove there, like had developed (before a deteriorating surface necessitated the repave). From what I saw with the progressive banking in the Cup and Nationwide races it hadn’t really made much of a difference — everybody was right around the bottom — but I can tell you it will still be exciting.”
Crafton, whose 1,905 laps completed at Kansas is a series-high, agreed the fact that Kansas’ surface has sat through one harsh Midwest winter, as well as serving as the site of one multi-division race weekend last fall, might ease the “newness” out of the pavement. Kansas added “progressive banking,” but that still doesn’t change the fact that last fall, Kasey Kahne improved the Sprint Cup Series’ track qualifying record by 11 mph.
Grippy asphalt leads to high speeds and the higher the speeds, the more difficult it is for the trucks’ drivers to manipulate the air well enough to make overtaking moves.
“I don’t think you’re gonna see a whole lot of passing — certainly not like last weekend at Rockingham, where you had a lot of different grooves to work with and people moving around to find them,” Crafton said. “Now, I could be wrong, without a doubt, but I haven’t seen (a variety of lanes and passing options) in the past on newly-paved racetracks. It’s usually a case where everybody gets wadded-up on the bottom and you’ve got what you got from there.”
Even though the trucks are expected to be able to run wide-open around Kansas Speedway, at least at the beginning of a tire run, the racing will be nothing like the drafting seen at Daytona and Talladega, Crafton said, noting “you’ve just got to get your truck handling and you’ll be in there — but it’s definitely different than those bigger, more wide-open racetracks.”
With speed being of the essence, and running wide-open the way to get there, a freer truck is better, said Crafton, whose best Kansas finish is fifth, in 2004.
“As fast as we’re going at Kansas, you’ve just got to be able to stick it on the bottom and stay there,” Crafton said. “At Rockingham you were able to move around and find a spot that worked for your truck but at Kansas you’re going to be stuck with what you’ve got because there’s not going to be a lot of grooves to move around to.
“As a driver, you want a track where there’s gonna be a ton of tire fall-off — where the driver is more a part of the equation, like we saw at Rockingham. From what I’m hearing about Kansas, people (last fall) were running their fastest laps at the end of a (tire) run, so it’s definitely different.”
Crafton sits third in the championship standings, 20 points behind his ThorSport teammate and series leader Johnny Sauter and four behind rookie Jeb Burton.
On Sunday Crafton will also make his 298th consecutive Truck Series start, the current series record after he broke out of a tie last weekend at Rockingham, at 296 with former ThorSport driver Terry Cook, who made his first 93 career starts for Crafton’s current team.
The season’s fourth race gets the green flag at 2 p.m. ET Saturday. Live television begins at 1:30 p.m. with “The Set-up” pre-race show on SPEED Channel, followed by the race broadcast. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 1:30 p.m.