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Abreu Getting Championship Training

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 10 2016
Rico Abreu has the luxury of tapping into the experience of a teammate who knows how to win Truck Series championships.

Rico Abreu has the luxury of tapping into the experience of a teammate who knows how to win Truck Series championships.

FORT WORTH, Texas – In the person of ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton, Rico Abreu may have an unfair advantage in his bid for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors.

Crafton is a two-time NCWTS champion and an ace on high-banked, 1.5-mile quadovals like Texas Motor Speedway, site of Friday night’s 20th annual Rattlesnake 400.

“Yeah, he’s been huge,” said Abreu, driver of the No. 98 Toyota Tundra. “Off the track, on the track, mountain bike riding _ wherever we go. Moreso at the racetrack these last three weeks of truck racing, he’s just so detailed about everything he explains and describes.

“Being able to run over to his truck throughout practice or him come over and look underneath the splitter or work with my crew chief (Doug George)…ThorSport Racing in general is a great organization. Everyone works really well together, which just keeps building the organization to where it is today. Matt and Junior (crew chief Carl Joiner) have so much to do with all of that.”

Crafton has won the last two Truck Series races this season and the past two June contests at Texas Motor Speedway _ meaning a third consecutive win is a definite possibility (7:30 p.m., CDT, on Fox Sports 1). In 30 career starts at Texas, Crafton owns two wins, 11 top-fives, 19 top-10s and a 9.7 average finish. He has placed in the top-10 in each of his last nine starts in Fort Worth.  Crafton also counts three runnerup results at “The Great American Speedway.” Friday’s race is scheduled for 167 laps/250.5-miles.

Crafton also boasts seven wins, 11 top-twos and 18 top-10 finishes in 20 starts on NASCAR’s 1.5-mile intermediate ovals since 2014.

“I like the June race (at TMS) because you have to lift the most, you’re not running wide-open out in clean air,” said Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Toyota. “I feel it puts the driver in the seat more because you have to modulate the throttle, you have to do different things to make the truck fast. You can slip and slide around _ reminds me more of Atlanta. That’s why I love coming to Texas, because you can search, you can move around.

“Rico was the only one in the rookie meeting that asked about running the high-line here, and I know where he’ll be during the race.”

Abreu said his expectations here are high after “solid runs, just not great finishes” at the 1-mile Dover International Speedway and 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, a sister track to TMS.

“I think our trucks have a lot of speed as an organization right now at ThorSport,” Abreu said. “We’re on a new (Goodyear) tire, the same tire the (NASCAR Sprint) Cup cars were on earlier this year. The different tracks are all new to me so it’s a good back-and-forth with him (Crafton) on different grip levels from Charlotte to here. We had a day race in Charlotte so the track was real hot and slimy, sliding around a lot. I felt like you could move around a lot. Watching the race here last year, I thought you could move around a lot here as well. I’ll pick Matt’s brain throughout practice and see where we finish.”

Abreu is the two-time/reigning champion of the popular Chili Bowl Nationals _ an event that has raised expectations for his NASCAR career. Abreu is 4-foot- 4 tall and weighs 95-pounds. The 24-year-old Californian was born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that is the most common cause of dwarfism.

William Byron of Kyle Busch Motorsports leads the NCWTS Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, followed by teammate Christopher Bell (-3 points), Ben Rhodes of ThorSport Racing (-16), Cole Custer of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Motorsports (-18) and Abreu (-30).

“(There’s) not any expectations on my part,” said Abreu, seated next to Crafton during a news conference prior to practice. “I’ve had a lot of success open-wheel racing and the Truck Series is the next step. The success I’ve had so far…the people that have been around me and are affiliated with me have seen it. I’m happy where I’m at right now and I’m not in any rush. I’m planning on being here a long time.

“I just like to have fun, enjoy life. That’s what it comes down to. You look at us two sitting up here and how lucky we are to be here as race car drivers, and as our job. I’m pretty hard on myself because I know how incredible of an opportunity I’ve been given and try to take advantage of all these opportunities because there’s someone out there that doesn’t get those chances, that aren’t as lucky as we are. I’m just happy where I’m at and I’m just enjoying every moment of it.”

Asked to describe his teammate’s racing style, Crafton said, “I’ll tell you what kind of racer he is _ wide open. He’s really only worried about driving a race car. He’s having fun. There’s a lot of people that get here and they get all stressed-out and forget to have fun. We’re having fun.”

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Determined to notch his second career victory, John Wes Townley dropped Matt Crafton from the top of the speed chart during Thursday’s second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway.

Townley toured TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval in 30.097-seconds and 179.420 mph during a 90-minute session run in conditions that will be similar to Friday night’s 20th annual Rattlesnake 400. Townley was the only driver to crack the 179 mph barrier during Thursday’s revised schedule of two practices.

Townley, driver of the No. 05 Chevrolet Silverado, scored his breakthrough NCWTS victory last season at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a sister facility to TMS. Townley finished third in last June’s Truck Series standalone event and has two top-fives and three top-10s in eight career starts in Fort Worth. Townley currently sits 19th in the standings with a high finish of seventh at Atlanta Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile layout in O. Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc., family of tracks.

Townley was third in the opening practice at 178.412 mph.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year point-leader William Byron was second-fast in the evening practice with a best lap of 30.176-seconds and 178.950 mph in the No. 9 Toyota Tundra fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron, who has a three-point lead in the rookie race over KBM teammate Christopher Bell, ran a session-high 51 laps.

Spencer Gallagher placed third at 178.855 mph in his No. 23 Chevy fielded by Maurice Gallagher Jr. Ben Rhodes, of ThorSpot Racing, was fourth at 178.625 mph in the No. 41 Toyota, just ahead of teammate Crafton at 178.577 mph in the No. 88 Toyota.

Intermediate track ace Crafton set the pace during Thursday afternoon’s opening practice at 178.950 mph on the fourth of only five laps run in mid-90-degree ambient temperatures.

Six races into the Truck Series season, Crafton leads on the strength of two wins, three top-fives and five top-10s. He is trailed by Timothy Peters (-12 points), Daniel Hemric (-17), Gallagher (-22) and Byron (-26). Ryan Truex (-32), John Hunter Nemechek (-34), Tyler Reddick (-36), Bell (-37) and Johnny Sauter (-41) round out the top-10.

Rookie Rico Abreu, the two-time Chili Bowl Nationals champion, fell from ninth (177.113 mph) in the opener to 23rd in the nightcap (174.831 mph) in his No. 98 Toyota. A total of 34 trucks took part in the evening session, a prelude to NCWTS Star-Telegram Qualifying Day at 5 p.m. (CDT) Friday.

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German Quiroga will mark his return to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with his first race in 19 months during Friday night’s Rattlesnake 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 36-year-old Mexican made his most recent NCWTS start during the season-finale on Nov. 14, 2014 at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Red Horse Racing. Quiroga placed sixth in points in 2014 via three top-fives and 10 top-10s in 22 starts.

“I’m very happy to return to Red Horse Racing,” Quiroga said in a statement. “I hope we can put together a great run at Texas and that we will be able to put something together so I can keep competing this season.” Quiroga placed 13th in the first practice, hot-lapping at 176.448 mph in the No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota.

For his career, Quiroga has posted five top-fives _ including two runnerup finishes _ and 17 top-10s in 50 starts. He won the NASCAR Mexico Series championship as a 31-year-old in 2011 when he recorded three wins, 11 top-fives and 12 top-10s in 14 starts.

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Cole Custer will miss his graduation from Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., to compete in Friday’s Rattlesnake 400. However, the Junior Motorsports driver will not miss-out on the pomp and circumstance. Custer will walk the TMS stage in his cap and gown prior to the race to receive his high school diploma from TMS President Eddie Gossage, who will be adorned in a full dean’s gown. TMS honored Erik Jones _ the 2015 NCWTS champion for Kyle Busch Racing _ in similar fashion when the youngster opted to race rather than attend his high school graduation in 2014.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 10 2016
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