May 12, 2014 at 3:40 PM
The past year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series didn’t make much difference for Matt Crafton, the veteran driver of Sandusky-based ThorSport Racing.
Crafton grabbed the series’ championship lead Friday night after his No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra finished runner-up to Kyle Busch in the SFP 250 at Kansas Speedway. The defending winner of the season’s third of 22 races, Crafton also took the lead in the championship a year ago — when Kansas was the fourth round of the series. He held that advantage for the final 18 races of the 2013 season and won ThorSport Racing’s first NASCAR championship.
Friday, Crafton started ninth and was a contender all night — never being scored lower than seventh in the 167-lap event after taking the green flag. Crafton was the only driver in the 31-truck field besides race-winner Busch who never was scored outside the top 10.
After the race Crafton, who extended his series-best consecutive starts string to 319, finished on the lead lap for the 26th consecutive race and was running at the finish for the 45th consecutive race, said beating his buddy Busch would’ve been a tall order.
“(Busch) had a very, very fast truck,” Crafton said of his fellow Tundra driver, who led a race-high 104 laps. “We started off the beginning of that (last) run, and the run before that, just a little bit free-in and I fought tight center-off.
“He allowed his to turn center-off a little bit better than ours,” he added. “We were afraid to make any adjustments to help our center-off because we figured it was going to hurt us on (corner) entry. We decided to just stay a little bit tight”
While that left Crafton at the finish 3.02 seconds in arrears of Busch, Crafton was the big-picture victor.
He grabbed the championship lead by eight points over Timothy Peters, who came to Kansas tied with Crafton’s ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, but dropped back after finishing 14th.
Sauter fell back to fifth in the standings, 15 points behind Crafton, after he finished 21st after being swept up in a multi-truck accident on the 85th lap.
By Crafton moving back into the championship lead, either he or Sauter has led the points after 24 of the last 25 Truck Series races, a rare accomplishment for one organization.
The Truck Series’ next race is on May 16, when the series again races at night, on the similar 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Flat tire deflates Burton to 6th
For lack of a few pounds of air pressure — Jeb Burton missed out on his first top-five finish in only his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start with ThorSport Racing Friday night at Kansas Speedway. Burton had a competitive night in the SFP 250 with his No. 13 Carolina Nut Co. Toyota, but saw an opportunity to compete for a potential win vanish when he had to make an extra pit stop, with a flat tire, after he’d pitted to top-off his Tundra’s fuel tank just past the halfway point of the race.
Burton fell back to 15th — the only time all night he was scored outside the top 10 — with only about 70 laps remaining. But he charged back to a sixth-place finish, his career-best at Kansas in three starts at the high-speed 1.5-mile venue.
“We had a really good truck all night and on that second-to-last caution we were coming to the green and I thought the track bar was broken,” Burton said. “But we figured out the left-rear tire was down — we’re thinking we must’ve picked up a piece of debris from that big accident on the backstretch.
“So we came down pit road but we went a lap down. But our Tundra was still good and man — Jeriod (Prince) never stopped working on the truck all night and the (final) caution finally came out and we got the (free pass)”
In the season’s first knockout qualifying session, Burton lined-up sixth for the race but quickly raced up to third. In the first 90-plus laps of 167 he was never scored outside the top-seven positions as his crew gave him great pit work.
But when his ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter was swept into a four-truck wreck on the backstretch bad luck reared up in the form of the flat tire — though Prince’s final adjustments nearly made the difference. In the final run, Burton’s Tundra was at times faster than eventual winner Kyle Busch and Burton’s second ThorSport teammate, runnerup Matt Crafton.
“We just needed another caution right there at the end, as good as the guys had our Tundra tuned for that last run,” Burton said. “It was really hard to pass (Friday) night — it took me a couple laps to pass people when I caught them. I’m hoping this place has a hard winter and loses some grip, because it was really hard to pass even if you were faster than people.
“I almost had fifth and fourth positions right there as we came to the line. I almost had them, but it gives us a lot of optimism going to Charlotte (this) week”
The best aspect of the night — in which Crafton grabbed the point lead from Sauter and Red Horse Racing’s Timothy Peters, who were tied coming to Kansas — was that Burton moved up two spots in the standings, to seventh. He’s only 22 points behind Crafton and seven points out of fifth.
Wreck ruins Sauter’s promising night
A grinding mid-race wreck in Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ SFP 250 at Kansas Speedway prevented Johnny Sauter from taking sole position of the series lead that he came to the Midwest tied for with his No. 98 Toyota Tundra.
Crew chief Dennis Connor and his men made a dogged attempt to repair Sauter’s mangled Tundra, which went to the garage area on the leader’s 87th lap.
But the damage and race-time remaining to fix it forced the team to withdraw, relegating Sauter to 21st at the finish.
It was a massively disappointing outcome for a weekend that had started so positively. In two practice sessions Sauter and Connor concentrated on race runs rather than sheer speed in the draft. Toyota’s timing system showed Sauter’s Tundra was one of the most consistently fast trucks based on average lap times.
Sauter’s was the best of three ThorSport Racing Toyotas earlier Friday afternoon in the season’s first knockout qualifying session after scheduled sessions at Daytona and Martinsville were rained-out. Sauter lined up third in the 31-truck field as a result.
As the 167-lap race opened, Sauter never fell below seventh in the running order, including the first pit stop of the night. But on the second stop, Sauter immediately felt a loose lug nut and had to return to pit road to correct it under the race’s seventh caution, at lap 78.
That knocked him back to 15th for the subsequent restart and when front-runner Ryan Blaney spun in Turn 2 and came to a stop sideways in the groove, a melee broke out behind the spin.
“Our Tundra was the best it had been all night, at that point” Sauter said. “But that’s what happens when you don’t tighten your lug nuts — you’re back there running where you don’t need to be and don’t want to be.
“I don’t really know what happened (in the accident with Blaney). We were three-wide, and I think another truck ran into me in the back and sent me from the bottom of the racetrack to the top. When I got there Ryan was sideways and stopped and there just wasn’t enough room between him and the wall”
A year ago Sauter came to Kansas in sole possession of the series lead but after a fourthplace finish behind race-winning ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton a rough stretch of the season ensued that knocked Sauter out of championship contention.