Wheel Derails Crafton at Dover but Still in Point Battle

May 31, 2014

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series point leader Matt Crafton became the second ThorSport Racing driver victimized by a wheel failure Friday at Dover International Speedway.

Crafton’s No. 88 Rip It Energy Fuel / Menards Toyota Tundra was in contention to win the Lucas Oil 200 when a right-front wheel failure pitched his Tundra into the outside wall of the “Monster Mile.”

The violent impact was very similar to the crash that wiped-out teammate Jeb Burton’s primary Estes Tundra in Happy Hour earlier Friday. Both teammates were sore, but otherwise OK after their initial medical assessments.

Crafton, the defending Truck Series drivers’ champion that entered the race with an 11-point lead over fellow Toyota pilot Timothy Peters, finished 23rd. The accident ended Crafton’s string of 27 consecutive lead-lap finishes and 47 consecutive races in which his Toyota was running at the finish.

Heading to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend, Crafton is tied for second in the championship with his other ThorSport teammate, Johnny Sauter, who finished third Friday in his No. 98 Nextant Aerospace / Curb Records Tundra.

They’re one point behind Peters, who led the championship after the 2014 Daytona season opener and who is the only Truck Series driver besides Sauter and Crafton that has led the championship since the 2013 Daytona opener.

“Just something in the right front went down and didn’t give me any warning,” Crafton said after coming out of Dover’s infield care center. “I said a couple laps before that, I picked up a small vibration. But a lot of times you pick up rubber and you don’t know what it is.

“All of a sudden it was, ‘Boom’ and it was done.”

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Crafton and his crew, who started second after the field was set per the rulebook after rain wiped out most of Thursday’s practice, which led NASCAR to replace Friday’s Keystone Light Pole Qualifying session with a one-hour practice due to a “short field” of only 35 trucks.

Crafton had run either second or first — he led 46 laps and between himself and eventual race winner Kyle Busch led 196 of 200 laps — and was running second behind Busch when his catastrophic failure occurred.

Crafton executed multiple media interviews and then spent a long time with crew chief Junior Joiner and their teammates surrounding their crippled yellow Tundra before he assessed the day.

“It’s a shame because the first run we were good,” Crafton said. “The second run when we were leading we got off a little bit and made another adjustment right there and we were trying to figure out if we could mess with the air off the (brake) blowers to try to get (the handling) to come to me.

“We tried to free it up a little bit and freed it up a little too much. I figured as the race went on, by the end of this deal we would have been all right, but it’s a shame.”

The wreck also ended a six-race streak of top-10 Dover finishes for Crafton, whose career top-10 finishing ratio fell from a career-high 56 percent to 55 percent with the DNF.

At the Series’ two previous events — similar high-speed ovals at Kansas and Charlotte, Crafton had finished second Busch, who’s won four of this season’s five Truck Series races driving his own Kyle Busch Motorsports Tundras.

Crafton won the Series’ other race, at Martinsville in March.

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ThorSport Racing, based in a state-of-the-art 100,000-square-foot facility in Sandusky, Ohio, is the longest-tenured NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. ThorSport, which has run in the Truck Series since 1996, in 2014 will run the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driven by 2013 drivers’ champion Matt Crafton, the No. 98 Nextant Aerospace/Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff/Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota Tundra driven by Johnny Sauter and the No. 13 Carolina Nut Co. Toyota Tundra driven by Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and the No. 13 Toyota Camry in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.