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Crafton Blows Truck Field Away In Georgia

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 1 2015

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Matt Crafton finally visited Victory Circle at his “favorite racetrack” Saturday, blitzing the field in the Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The two-time/reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, Crafton’s Toyota Tundra overtook Daniel Suarez on Lap 59 of the scheduled 130 around AMS’ 1.54-mile quadoval. At the end of a 74-lap green flag run – longest in NCWTS history at Atlanta – Crafton crossed the finish line a massive 8.752-seconds ahead of Ty Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Silverado.

“Finally got one here!” Crafton said over the radio to crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner after winning in his 14th start at the Speedway Motorsports Inc., facility in Hampton, Ga. Crafton’s margin of victory is the 10th largest in NCWTS history.

Keystone Light Pole-sitter Ben Kennedy finished third, a distant 10.275-seconds behind Crafton. Kennedy was followed by Suarez and Tyler Reddick, winner of last week’s 2015-season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

Crafton, who finished eighth after leading only one lap around DIS’ high-banked, 2.5-mile trioval, saw his weekend at AMS begin with a 15th-place qualifying run.

“I was really disappointed with qualifying, but it (his truck) didn’t have a whole lot of single-lap speed by itself,” said Crafton, referring to his No. 88 Fisher Nuts/Menards Toyota. “I knew once they dropped the green and this thing took off and ran three laps, I’m like, ‘We’ve got something for these boys – they’re in trouble.’^”

The victory was the sixth of Crafton’s Truck Series career and first at AMS. Four of Crafton’s six series wins have been scored on NASCAR’s intermediate speedways –Charlotte, Kansas, Texas and Atlanta.

“This is my favorite racetrack by far,” said Crafton, whose total of 85 laps-led included the final 72. “You search and you move around so much. Now that I have this win, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s all about these guys (his ThorSport Racing crew) behind me –everybody believing in me and never giving up.

“It’s an awesome feeling to be able to come back here. We’ve been close a few different times here and finally got it. Our truck was very, very good. They kept trying to slow me down and I slowed down at some points, but right there at the end I just tried to make a statement and show them how fast this Menards Toyota Tundra was.”

Key to Crafton’s victory was the ability to adapt to changing track conditions during an event that began in late afternoon and finished in the dark.

“We just tried to stay ahead of it,” said Crafton, who delivered Toyota its 25th series victory in 31 races dating to the 2013 season. “We knew when the sun started going down that the track was going to change quite a bit. I’ve had that race experience here before and got really, really free at night. We just kept tinkering away at it so whenever the sun did go down, we didn’t go away. We made all the right adjustments thanks to Junior. I just feed it to him and he makes all the changes.”

Crafton was forced to overcome that mid-pack starting spot after a miscommunication in knockout qualifying left him on pit road when the second session ended. Despite that glitch, Joiner was confident Crafton would redeem himself – and the team – during the race.

“Just the way he drives this place and the hunger I see in his eyes when he showed up, it was a blessing,” Joiner said. “I’m just proud of all the guys back on our Scandinavian island up in (Sandusky) Ohio. Our fleet of trucks is way better than we’ve ever had right now. I feel so good about everything going on up there. Duke and Rhonda (Thorson, team-owners) give us everything we need. Just a good feeling.” Crafton is again teamed this season with series veteran Johnny Sauter, who finished sixth in the No. 98 Nextant/Curb Records Toyota.

Joiner added that AMS also rates high on his must-win wish list. “I remember watching the Atlanta Journal 500 when I was a kid,” said Joiner, referring to the former title of the track’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. “Coming here, out of all the races that you want to win – you know Martinsville, here and Daytona is great – but this is it right here. This is where you showcase all your talents. There’s really no luck involved, just straight raw skill, determination and just will. I’m proud of all my guys and Matt, he’s the real deal for sure.”​

Crafton, the series’ first back-to-back champion, sits second in the unofficial NCWTS standings, trailing Reddick and his Brad Keselowski Racing Ford by two points.

Pole-sitter Kennedy led just the first lap but ran near the front during the event after a 28th-place finish at Daytona. Kennedy, 23, is the son of Lesa France Kennedy, grandson of Bill France Jr. and great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, originally was declared the pole-winner Saturday morning in his Ford. But a review of timing and scoring by NASCAR officials determined the NCWTS team-owner had failed to reach the start/finish line in time to begin a qualifying lap in Round 3 of knockout trials. Kennedy was the only driver to post a bona fide lap in the third round, and was awarded the pole after Keselowski’s time was disallowed.

“We were actually having a competition meeting and someone came in and told us that we got the pole,” said Kennedy, driver of the No. 11 Local Motors Toyota fielded by Red Horse Racing. “I thought we qualified second; I was more than happy with qualifying second. We went out and took pictures and everything, which was really neat to get my first pole. A lot of people say it’s my second pole, but I didn’t officially get it at Daytona last year because it rained-out qualifying and it went off practice speeds. It was really cool to get my first pole here at Atlanta.”

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race – Hyundai Construction Equipment 200

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Hampton, Georgia

Saturday, February 28, 2015

1. (15) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 130, $45285.

2. (14) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 130, $26957.

3. (1) Ben Kennedy, Toyota, 130, $27620.

4. (4) Daniel Suarez(i), Toyota, 130, $21261.

5. (11) Tyler Reddick, Ford, 130, $18707.

6. (13) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 130, $16667.

7. (2) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 130, $17112.

8. (8) James Buescher, Chevrolet, 129, $13612.

9. (16) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 129, $15807.

10. (7) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 129, $16701.

11. (18) Ryan Sieg(i), Chevrolet, 129, $13446.

12. (5) John Wes Townley, Chevrolet, 129, $15557.

13. (9) Spencer Gallagher #, Chevrolet, 129, $15501.

14. (3) Cameron Hayley #, Toyota, 129, $15445.

15. (10) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 129, $13657.

16. (6) Justin Boston #, Toyota, 129, $15168.

17. (20) Caleb Holman, Chevrolet, 127, $12807.

18. (29) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 126, $14919.

19. (12) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 126, $14807.

20. (26) Korbin Forrister #, Chevrolet, 125, $15252.

21. (19) Bryan Silas, Chevrolet, 123, $14586.

22. (21) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, 123, $14475.

23. (28) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 123, $12085.

24. (24) Wendell Chavous #, Chevrolet, 120, $12002.

25. (22) Ray Black Jr. #, Chevrolet, 119, $14375.

26. (27) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 118, $12947.

27. (30) Morgan Shepherd(i), Chevrolet, 118, $11891.

28. (17) Mason Mingus, Chevrolet, Accident, 110, $11631.

29. (25) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, Oil Line, 91, $11603.

30. (23) Cody Ware #, Chevrolet, Accident, 48, $12103.

31. (31) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 12, $9603.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 140.711 mph.

Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 25 Mins, 22 Secs. Margin of Victory: 8.752 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 3 for 13 laps.

Lead Changes: 6 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders: B. Kennedy 1; E. Jones # 2-18; B. Keselowski(i) 19-24; E. Jones # 25-44; M. Crafton 45-57; D. Suarez(i) 58; M. Crafton 59-130.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): M. Crafton 2 times for 85 laps; E. Jones # 2 times for 37 laps; B. Keselowski(i) 1 time for 6 laps; B. Kennedy 1 time for 1 lap; D. Suarez(i) 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 10 in Points: T. Reddick – 87; M. Crafton – 85; E. Jones # – 80; J. Sauter – 72; J. Buescher – 63; B. Silas – 60; B. Kennedy – 58; R. Black Jr. # – 58; J. Nemechek – 58; K. Forrister # – 56.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 1 2015
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