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ThorSport NASCAR teams prep for last trip to IRP

Michael Truax • Jul 28, 2011 at 1:23 PM

When the checkered flag waves at Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday night, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will say goodbye to a piece of its heritage.

Friday's event at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) will be the Truck Series' final run in the venue.

ThorSport veterans Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, with 19 NASCAR starts at IRP between them, will be sad to see it go.

The Truck Series, which included a run at IRP each season since it started in 1995, was built on short tracks, said Crafton.

"It's a shame that they're planning on taking it off our schedule," he said. "It's getting rid of one of the short tracks, taking out some of the roots of the truck series, to be honest."

Sauter sees the track as part of his own racing heritage, starting his career in regional series on short tracks like the .686-mile oval. It's one of the reasons that IRP, one of NASCAR's first races in the Midwest, is one of his favorites on the circuit.

"This is what we all grew up with, we're all short track racers," Sauter said. "It's just the way the racetrack races: it's fun. You can pass there, especially if you're hooked up. It's just different."

NASCAR hopes to make the weekend's Nationwide Series, also at IRP with the Truck Series, a true companion event to the Sprint Cup at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which takes place on the same weekend. The Truck Series' plans are not yet known.

The track will lose $500,000 in television revenue that the NASCAR series bring in each year.

IRP, like other short tracks, is less dependent on the vehicle specifics -- the super-fine tuning and details -- and more about the drivers and team. That's one of the reasons that Crafton loves the place.

"It puts the driver back in the seat. Some of these mile-and-a-halfs that we go to, (you need) the muscle in the car or the best body, that's what you have to have to run up front," he said. "You have to have the driver, as well, at the mile-and-a-half, but on the short track you put more of the driver back in the seat, to just drive it."

Sauter rides lucky wheels to IRP

After two well-run races with disasterous finishes, Sauter started earning points for his performances again with top-fives at Iowa and Nashville.

When he travels to Lucas Oil Raceway for the AAA Insurance 200, Sauter will bring back the the same truck with which he cruised into victory lane at Martinsville earlier this season.

"The two bad runs didn't even really affect our team that bad," he said. "We were leading those races and had the truck to beat at those races, so that carries well."

Sauter has made nine starts at IRP, including second- and fourth-place finishes in the Truck Series.

Of Sauter's six career NASCAR victories -- three in the Truck Series and three in the Nationwide Series -- Martinsville was his second short-track win. He thinks he has the truck and team to do it again.

"You have to be aggressive, and handling is a huge part of being successful at that track. It makes it a lot easier to know that I've got Joe (Shear Jr., the No. 13 crew chief) and the guys -- They're all short track racers."

Crafton back in the groove?

Crafton and the No. 88 Menards have seen their ups and downs this season.

They started with consistency through the first six races, including five top-10 finishes and the driver points' lead. Following that, however, were four rough races, finishing 18th or worse in each, including two early race check-outs.

Then, two weeks ago at Iowa, Crafton saw his luck reversed -- again -- as he made it to victory lane at Iowa, followed by an 11th-place finish in Music City.

"I know we can do it. We can do it on pit road and we can do it on the racetrack as well," he said. "We've just got to keep carrying our momentum from our race win two weeks ago."

He returns to one of his more successful rides, the short track at IRP. In 10 starts there, Crafton has seven top-10 finishes and three top-fives, including a third-place finish in 2010.

Armstrong brings new crew chief to IRP

After weeks of searching, ThorSport newbie Dakoda Armstrong finally has a crew chief for his No. 98 Ferrellgas/Agrisure team.

NASCAR veteran crew chief Dan Stillman, with 196 races under his belt, will bring more experience to the young No. 98 team. He has been at the helm for eight of the 12 Truck Series races this season for three different drivers, including six for Travis Kvapil.

"When you have somebody that's a leader, he can pick up everyone that really doesn't know what they're doing yet," Armstrong said. "He can command them and lead them. It's good for the team, that lot of experience."

Armstrong finished 21st in his first start two weeks ago at Iowa, where he made his Truck Series debut.

"The first half I was learning to trust the truck a little bit more," he said. "The big thing is that you have to have the setup really close to be competitive."

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