Matt Crafton and his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota team are much too competitive to be happy with their 10th-place finish in Sunday’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
But the bottom line is, by evading the mayhem that ensued on the last lap — including a classic short-track bump-and-win move by Chase Elliott — the Truck Series’ championship leader Crafton scored his 14th consecutive top-10 finish this season, and in the process dropped only two points to his closest title contender, defending series champion James Buescher.
Buescher, who led the race’s first two laps from the pole position, is now 47 points behind Crafton with eight races left this season and heading to next Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway — where Crafton earlier this season finished sixth.
Crafton, who’s led the standings for the last 10 races, was concerned about the wild-card aspect of the Canadian event, the Truck Series’ first road-course race since 2000 and thus Crafton’s first road race in a Camping World truck.
But after the fact, both he and crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner expressed regret at de-tuning their Tundra’s engine to benefit their fuel mileage.
“I’m glad it’s over, to tell you the truth,” Joiner said on CTMP’s pit road while dispute after dispute between drivers that collided on the 2.459-mile racetrack during the event played on the big-screen video monitor in the infield behind Crafton’s pit stall.
“We didn’t have a lot of speed in our truck because we gave up a little bit of power in our motor to get better fuel mileage and it wasn’t a fuel-mileage race for us, after all. I don’t believe I’ll ever do that again because our Triad motors have plenty of horsepower every week, and we need to use it.”
Sunday’s race was a true road-race cornucopia of strategies, with some lead trucks diving to pit road as early as the sixth of 64 laps for fuel. Crafton pitted for the first time a couple laps later under the race’s first caution.That was the root of Joiner’s deepest frustration.
“We pitted real early and that kind of got us off-sequence and we had to get back on-sequence,” Joiner said. “I thought we were going to be in good shape at one point but you just can’t predict how the cautions are going to fall at one of these (road) races or what’s going to happen, either (laughing at a highlight on the video screen).”
At one point late in the race, following a restart in which he lined up seventh but quickly fell back to 14th, Crafton expressed disgust over his radio, saying he was getting passed “like I was tied to a pole.”
But in the end, he was more relieved to have only the season’s last true “wild card” event, at Talladega Superspeedway in October, remaining.
“I enjoyed this racetrack and felt like the more laps we ran, the better we were getting,” Crafton said. “What my ThorSport guys did to improve this truck is what we’ve been doing all season. We’ve just got to get a little better, yet.”
But all in all that didn’t diminish the pride they felt at leaving Canada with a sizeable point lead after scrambling through another weekend of varying degrees of success. After Joiner and Crafton weren’t very pleased with their truck’s performance in more than four hours of Friday practice, the crew came in extra-early Saturday morning with NASCAR’s blessing.
“We worked our tails off, I can tell you that — as bad-to-the-bone as our guys always are,” Joiner said of their 5:45 a.m. arrival. “We rebuilt virtually our whole Menards Toyota Tundra, from the suspension up.
“We’ve just got to start getting better through the whole weekend. We had good speed at Michigan and Bristol but we’re going to hit our stride right here because we’re coming to some tough racetracks, but they’re good for us.”
The race’s final caution, which flew with six laps left when ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter’s No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota stalled on-course, inched Crafton closer to the top-10 but put him in position to show just what contending for this championship means to all of ThorSport.
“Nobody drives harder, or smarter week-in and week-out than Matt does, and we all know that,” Joiner said. “He didn’t give up and we don’t give up and we ended up with a top-10 out of it when all that craziness went-down at the end.”
“I couldn’t have driven any harder, all day,” Crafton said. “My guys did a great job in the pits and that last lap just shows that you better take care of everything you can, because sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”