Back to dirt
Sandusky Register Sports Staff
Jul 23, 2014 at 4:38 PM
Eldora Speedway, the historic half-mile clay oval seated in southern Ohio at Rossburg, plays host to some of the largest dirt racing events in the country.
In 2013, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wrote yet another chapter in the track’s 60-year-old history when the inaugural Mudsummer Classic made its debut. It was the first NASCAR-sanctioned national touring event held on dirt sinceRichard Petty’s Sprint Cup Series win at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in 1970.
Sandusky-based ThorSport Racing’s Matt Crafton, who is looking to make history as the first driver to win back-to-back NCWTS championships, wouldn’t mind if history repeated itself in Wednesday night’s second annual Mudsummer Classic at Eldora.
Following a solid eighth-place finish in the inaugural event, Crafton left the Tony Stewart-owned track with the championship point lead and didn’t give it up en route to the title.
Currently, the NCWTS reigning champion has a two point lead over second-place Ryan Blaney, and he’s ready to get in the dirt to keep a tight grip on his lead in the standings.
“I don’t have a lot of dirt racing experience, so I’ve been running some dirt late model races to get ready for Eldora,” Crafton said. “To be honest though, you can’t use much of what you learn in a dirt late model to help you with these Toyota Tundras, it doesn’t correlate.
“The only thing it will help you with is learning the dirt,” he added. “The dirt surface is constantly changing; you have to be able to change with it. Throw everything you knew about driving a truck out the window when driving on dirt. We were points racing last year at Eldora, so we had to take what we can get. This year we are going for broke”
Sauter eyes return to top of standings
Wednesday night’s race provides ThorSport’s Johnny Sauter with an opportunity to seize control of the championship point lead.
Sitting third in the NCWTS driver point standings, NASCAR’s only dirt track event is one of the pivotal and unpredictable events that shape the race to the championship. Sauter sees Eldora as a major opportunity to open the door to victory lane and retake the points lead. He fell from first to third at the July 11 race at Iowa Speedway.
Sauter’s 2013 race at Eldora ended prematurely after being swept up in an accident while running inside the top-15. Sitting seven markers behind teammate Crafton for the NCWTS point lead, Sauter comes to Eldora with four consecutive top-10 finishes on short tracks, dating back to Bristol Motor Speedway in August of last season.
Through the last 10 NCWTS short track races, Sauter is tied with the most top-five finishes (five), which primes the Wisconsin native to aim for the point lead as the halfway mark in the 2014 NCWTS season draws near.
“Eldora is such a unique event for our trucks and team,” Sauter said. “The way the race plays out is much different from any other race we run. It’s a race that sticks out on the schedule, like the road course, or restrictor plate races. A lot of different things can happen and it’s an important race for us. Being in the top-three in points, track position is important and we need to be there at the end”
Burton looks to build off 2013 Eldora showing
On Wednesday night, Jeb Burton and his NCWTS competitors will return to Eldora Speedway for the lone dirt race on the 2014 schedule.
The second-generation driver for ThorSport Racing has a history on dirt; racing go-karts and motocross in Virginia and North Carolina. Therefore, his impressive debut last season at Eldora was no surprise to the 21-year-old driver.
In the inaugural event at the half-mile clay oval, Burton started first in the fifth and final qualifying heat race, led all eight laps and placed his tough truck on the third row of the starting grid for the main event. Despite receiving damage towards the end of the race, Burton walked away with a top-20 finish.
As one of the most anticipated races of the season, Burton hopes to write his own chapter in the NASCAR history books and put the Burton name back in victory lane.
“Eldora has got to be one of the wildest, craziest things I’ve ever done,” said Burton, who sits 11th in the point standings entering Wednesday’s race. “It’s a tough little race track, but we had a decent run there last year. Track position is key, and just surviving will help us manage a solid run. This race brings a lot of hype, a special format and it’s become a pretty cool stop on our schedule. It’s a historic event that I’m happy to be a part of”