Matt Crafton rebounded in the best way possible from a grinding wreck a week ago at Dover by winning Friday night’s 18th annual NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 in his No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Toyota Tundra at Texas Motor Speedway.
Crafton scored his fifth Truck Series victory in his record-extending 322nd consecutive career start by leading a dominant 118 of 167 laps on the tricky, fast 1.5-mile oval — including the last 56 — and running a phenomenal 61 laps on his last fuel run, enabled by his rock-solid ThorSport Racing crew and coached by crew chief “Junior” Joiner.
It put Crafton in position to celebrate in one of the most hallowed Victory Lanes in the sport with his teammates, family and backers from Toyota and primary sponsor partner Slim Jim.
That the victory came in Crafton’s 27th career start at Texas — and after three previous second-place finishes here — wasn’t lost on the Tulare, Calif., veteran.
“I’m not a cowboy,” Crafton said, emotionally on the ‘Speed Freaks’ radio program after he left Texas’ Victory Lane. “I’ve never wanted to be a cowboy but man, to get this cowboy hat for winning at Texas is big.”
The win was Crafton’s 16th Texas top-10 finish and his sixth consecutive top-10 here. But much more importantly, it placed Crafton back in the lead in the championship, by 11 points over his ThorSport Racing teammate, Johnny Sauter, who had to make a late stop for fuel and finished seventh.
Things can change so quickly in the Series that Crafton, who came into the race in a second-place tie with Sauter, one point behind Timothy Peters, is now 23 points ahead of third-place point man Ron Hornaday. Peters, who finished 24th after crashing in oil dropped by the blown engine of Red Horse Racing teammate German Quiroga, fell to fifth in points.
“They didn’t tell me a lot (about his final-run fuel program, which was aided by only a couple caution laps),” Crafton said. “I just asked if I could make it all the way (to the finish), and they said ‘yeah.’ So we took off and got such a big lead that I could slow down so much, that I was able to save fuel.
“But I’ll tell you what — that is the hardest thing to do as a racecar driver — to slow down when you want to go and win a race. But without a doubt we had the fastest Menards Toyota Tundra here (Friday) night, for sure and the Triad (Racing Technologies) motor department really stepped-up this week, as well, with a new combination.”
The performance kept Crafton on-track to executing something that’s never been achieved in the 19-year history of the Truck Series — winning two consecutive championships.
Maybe the most telling aspect of where Joiner has their team this season is the fact that prior to Friday night, Crafton had led 42 laps, total, in 26 Texas starts. Friday night Crafton ran either first or second for more than 84 percent of the race’s laps.
“The run before, we got really good fuel mileage, enough to prove to us that we could make it to the end,” Joiner said of his rationale. “I’m not going to say I wasn’t nervous, but I knew my guys would do the job — we stick together and we grind together and Matt does a great job.
“I’m kinda bummed that ThorSport didn’t get a one-two (three times in the organization’s 19-plus-year history its trucks have finished one-two, each time with Sauter beating Crafton, including once at Texas in 2012). I am glad that the roles reversed but we made it to the end and man, these guys have been building great trucks every week.”
“Junior and I have been saying we wanted to win one by leading (the most laps),” Crafton said of his second win this season. “This Menards Tundra was flawless. We got back there once when we took four tires and everyone took two or none — but it would go wherever I wanted to go.”
Next weekend Crafton and the Series goes to Gateway Motorsports Park, a 1.25-mile oval outside St. Louis near Madison, Ill., that the Series last raced on in 2010. Crafton has a typical 9.4 average finishing position at Gateway, where he has seven top-10 finishes in 10 career starts.
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ABOUT THORSPORT RACING:
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.