Matt Crafton and his No. 88 Jeld-Wen / Menards Toyota team Sunday exercised extraordinary willpower — for the latest time this season — and with it grabbed a seventh-place finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Fan Appreciation 200 presented by New Holland at Iowa Speedway.
Crafton survived four restarts and a dwindling fuel supply in the race’s last 22 laps — though 12 of them were in an “overtime” period, including three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.
In the end, he scored his 15th consecutive top-10 finish this season, remaining the only series competitor with that achievement.
But the downside was Crafton did see his points lead diminish as defending Truck Series champion James Buescher won his second race in his last four starts, which enabled him to unofficially cut Crafton’s point lead by 10, to 37 points with seven races remaining.
Crafton and his ThorSport Racing teammate, Johnny Sauter came to Iowa this weekend with two of the best statistical records in the Truck Series’ short history at the .875-mile oval. But both men struggled with their trucks’ handling until the green flag fell on the 15th of 22 Truck races this season.
Crafton started 12th and immediately raced into sixth, but could never mount an assault on the top-five, even though once Crafton’s Tundra got there, as it did several times through pit cycles and caution flags, it was solid enough to stay there.
The way the race had cycled, it appeared Crafton was locked-into a finish in the latter half of the top 10, until some pushing and shoving and moving and shaking started, with the race’s fourth caution at lap 189 of the originally-scheduled 200, when rookies Jeb Burton and Brandon Jones spun in Turn 4.
Two more restarts saw Crafton move into fifth. His crew chief, Carl “Junior” Joiner had let him know he had less than 10 laps of fuel left shortly after crossing 200 laps — the race’s original distance. And that’s when it got crazy.
“I got put in some positions I didn’t want to be in on those restarts,” said Crafton, who was well aware of where Buescher was. “But man — I just couldn’t give up any more points.
“That one (re-) start, Johnny (Sauter) and I were three-wide — I was in the middle — and I got hit in the rear quarter and I was like ‘here we go…’ But we survived and we’ll go on and get after them at Chicagoland.”
Crafton and the Truck Series will next race at Chicagoland Speedway, on Friday as a NASCAR tripleheader that’s part of the opening weekend of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Earlier this season Crafton ran a Richard Childress Racing Nationwide Series car at Chicagoland and scored his second top-10 finish in as many career starts in that series.
Crafton, who’s led the Truck Series standings for the last 11 races, has two hopes, looking ahead. First, that his truck’s working better and if it is, that there’s not as much excitement in the stretch run.
“I had a push trying to get to the middle of the corner,” Crafton said of his late race angst at Iowa. “My Tundra worked the best if I could open-up an arc getting into the corner and then really mash the gas coming up off (the corner).
“But on those restarts at the end you had to defend your position and come into the corner shallower and that would just bog you down trying to get off the corner.”