As far as Matt Crafton’s concerned, Friday night’s 16th annual WinStar World Casino 350K at Texas Motor Speedway — where Crafton’s riding a string of four consecutive top-six finishes — comes at just the right time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule for his No. 88 Fisher Nuts / Menards Toyota team.
After a caution-marred conclusion last weekend at Martinsville Speedway that knocked Crafton from running third with 12 laps to go to finishing a season’s worst 17th, Crafton still has a 51-point lead over defending series champion James Buescher with three races left to run.
Crafton, who has a series-best 14 top-10 finishes and 16 lead-lap finishes in 25 career TMS starts — plus two pole positions in the last five years — counts Texas among his favorite racetracks for a very simple reason: the worn-out track surface emphasizes driver input.
“I definitely like Texas because it’s a cool racetrack,” Crafton said. “For the majority of the time, we’ve run really well there. The older the track’s gotten the better it’s become for us.
“So hopefully we can keep that momentum going and maybe get us a cowboy hat (that’s awarded to the victor following the race, in Victory Lane).”
Crafton’s certainly been consistent enough to make that a distinct possibility, in general and for sure at Texas, where he has an average start of 15.32 and an average finish of 10.76. Crafton’s currently riding streaks of 36 consecutive races in the top 10 in the standings, 20 consecutive races in which he’s finished on the lead lap and 40 consecutive races in which he’s been running at the finish.
Those are championship-contending numbers, and Crafton’s used that consistency to fashion his healthy advantage in the points. If Crafton starts Friday’s race the most he could lose would be 40 points — but that would require a perfect day by the race winner and a last-place finish for Crafton, who’s the only driver in the series that’s completed every lap run this season: 2,946 laps.
He’ll try to continue that streak in a rather unique piece, a Tundra chassis that was loaned to Todd Bodine’s ThorSport Racing team to run at Kansas — where Crafton won but Bodine was involved in a vicious accident that wiped out the truck’s front and rear “clips,” or chassis components.
The truck was sent to Hopkins Enterprises in South Carolina where the chassis was rebuilt before it was finished in Sandusky and put back into Crafton’s chassis rotation. He used the truck at the Chicagoland Speedway intermediate track, where it qualified eighth and finished fourth as part of Crafton’s string of 16 consecutive top-10 finishes with which he opened the season.
“Those are the only two races it’s run this year,” Crafton said. “It was a really good, fast truck for us at Chicagoland and Todd was running good with it at Kansas as well, before he got taken out.”
Even though more of Crafton’s Texas top-10 finishes have come in TMS’s June race, where Crafton finished second behind ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter a year ago, Crafton has finished fourth and sixth in his last two November races.
“The cooler temperatures we’ll have this weekend mean the track will have a lot more grip and it’ll be a lot faster,” Crafton said. “The tires (grip) won’t fall off as much just because it’ll be so much cooler. When we race there in June it’s always so hot and slippery.”
Crafton just laughed at the month-to-month comparison at a track where the goal is to be able to run with a wide-open throttle. Counting the laps you’re wide open isn’t an option for a driver, Crafton noted with a smile.
“No, no counting,” Crafton said. “You’re usually just going ‘wow’ and holding your breath to be able to get through (a lap). It’s a pretty exhilarating place, no question about it.”
Crafton’s current streak at Texas virtually coincides with the time long-time cohort Carl “Junior” Joiner has been his crew chief, since the start of the 2012 season.
“It’s a case where we just communicate really well together,” Crafton said of his relationship with his friend and pit boss, whose time together goes back to his family-run championship-winning 2000 NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour team. “He believes in me and everything I tell him and I believe in everything he does to the truck. It’s just all about having a good, open line of communication.”
Crafton, who’s led the championship standings after the last 16 races, has a series-best 17 top-10 finishes in the 19 races held this season. He plans to make his NCWTS record-extending 314th consecutive start Friday night at Texas in an event that’s the first of three NASCAR tripleheaders — in conjunction with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series — that will close the season.
The Texas Truck Series weekend begins Thursday with a pair of practice sessions, from 6-7 p.m. ET and 7:30-9 p.m. Keystone Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled at 3:10 p.m. ET on Friday, with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.
Friday’s 147-lap, 220.5-mile WinStar World Casino 350K will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET, preceded at 8 by The Setup pre-race show. The live broadcast on MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio also begins at 8. Live timing & scoring for the weekend’s events will be at www.nascar.com