Crafton Looks Unstoppable In Truck Title Quest
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas – Matt Crafton’s march toward his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship continued during a pair of practice sessions Thursday evening at Texas Motor Speedway, site of Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 350.
Competing in his 13th season in the Truck Series, Crafton has forged a comfortable 51-point lead over point-runnerup/reigning series champion James Buescher with three races remaining. Native Texan Buescher needs to post an average finish 17 positions ahead of Crafton in each of the final three events to overhaul the ThorSport Racing driver.
Despite those odds, Crafton continues to grind-it-out. “You just race; you can’t look at the points,” said Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Fisher Nuts/Menards Toyota Tundra. “At the end of the day, yeah, we look at them a little bit, but we’re just racing and trying to win the same as we’ve done all year. And once we finish as good as we possibly can, the points will be fine.”
Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski – who is driving in the Truck, Nationwide and Cup races this weekend – paced the second, 90-minute practice at 181.446 mph in his No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford F-150. Keselowski turned only two laps around TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval before parking his truck. Crafton was third-fast at 180.959 mph after 35 laps; he ran 179.862 mph during the earlier, one-hour practice.
Rookie Jeb Burton, who posted his first series victory in the WinStar World Casino 400 night race here on June 7, was second at 181.299 mph after a lap at 179.808 mph in the opening practice in his No. 4 Arrowhead Chevrolet Silverado. The opening session was topped by Miguel Paludo, driver of the No. 32 Anderson’s Maple Syrup/Brookshire’s Food & Pharmacy Chevy, at 180.373 mph. Paludo was fourth in the second practice at 180.838 mph and followed by Ty Dillon at 180.723 mph in his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevy. Dillon was third in the opening practice at 179.994 mph.
Buescher, driver of the No. 31 Rheem Chevrolet, was sixth in the second practice at 180.481 mph after turning 30 laps. Buescher was eighth in the opener at 179.581 mph.
Darrell Wallace Jr., who posted an historic victory at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway last Saturday, jumped from 17th in the first practice to ninth in the nightcap. Wallace, who became only the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR touring series race, posted a top lap of 179.611 mph in his No. 54 Camping World/Good Sam Toyota.
Despite a lackluster 17th-place finish at Martinsville, Crafton leads the series with 17 top-10 finishes. His six top-five results include a fourth-place finish in the WinStar World Casino 400 here in June. Crafton has led a total of 42 laps at TMS, but none since pacing a single lap en route to a sixth-place finish in the November 2012 event.
Only Buescher and Johnny Sauter, Crafton’s teammate and driver of the No. 98 Carolina Nut/Curb Records Toyota, have recorded as many as 12 top-10s this season. Despite a single win at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, consistency has placed Crafton in position to claim both his and ThorSport Racing’s first NCWTS championships.
“It would mean everything,” said Crafton, 37, a three-time Truck Series winner. “That’s what me, my whole family – we’ve all worked for; what Duke and Rhonda Thorson (team-owners) have given me the opportunity to work for. At the end of the day, to be able to say if it comes true and it all comes together, to be able to say that you were one of the champions of 2013 would be everything to me.”
In addition, Crafton is looking to extend a record-setting run of 314 consecutive Truck Series starts Friday night. Crafton has posted more top-10 (14) and top-five finishes (7) at TMS than at any other series venue. Although winless at TMS in 25 career starts, Crafton has logged three runnerup finishes – most recently to Sauter in June 2012. Sauter won both races here that season.
“I’ve been really looking forward to Texas,” said Crafton, who is paired with crew chief Carl Joiner. “(Carl) has really got our downforce trucks running well and we won earlier this season at Kansas, another intermediate track. I know Johnny will be good, but I’d ideally like to flip-flop the way we finished last year. Getting another 1-2 for ThorSport would be big, especially considering the way this championship is winding up.”
ThorSport Racing, which has competed fulltime in the Truck Series since 1998, is poised to become the first organization to lead the standings for an entire season. Sauter topped the points table after the first three races, with Crafton taking over following his victory in Kansas on April 20. ThorSport drivers twice have finished second in the drivers’ championship – Sauter in 2011 and Crafton in 2009.
ThorSport also is nursing a 15-point lead over Kyle Busch Motorsports in the owners’ championship, a key reason why team-owner “Rowdy” Busch will return to the cockpit of the No. 51 KBM ToyotaCare Tundra for Friday night’s race. In nine NCWTS starts this season, Busch has four wins and seven top-five finishes. In 10 starts at TMS, Busch has recorded seven top-fives, highlighted by victories in the November races in 2009 and 2010.
Crafton exited Pocono Raceway eight races ago with a 53-point lead over KBM’s No. 51 Toyota, which was third in the championship. Over the last eight races, crew chief Rudy Fugle has seen four different drivers reel off seven top-10 finishes to close the gap.
Busch, who also will drive in the Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series events here, will be gunning for the 35th win of his NCWTS career. KBM won the owners’ championship in 2010, its first in the Truck Series. ThorSport’s highest ownership finish was third in 2009. Also, if the top finishing Toyota driver finishes ahead of the top finishing Chevrolet driver, Toyota will clinch the 2013 NCWTS Manufacturers’ Championship.
Truck qualifying is scheduled for Friday at 2:10 p.m. The WinStar World Casino 350 (147-laps/220.5 miles) is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (CDT) and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 as well as over MRN (national), Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 (national) and The Fan 105.3 KRLD (local). Tickets are available at www.texasmotorspeedway.com or by calling the TMS ticket office at 817-215-8500.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments