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Can ThorSport's Crafton and Sauter tame Pocono?

Michael Truax • Aug 5, 2011 at 3:00 PM

For the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' next track, just think Frankenstein's monster: take one part Trenton Speedway, one part Indianapolis Motor Speedway and one part Milwaukee Mile; stitch them together and you have Pocono Raceway, the "Tricky Triangle."

The track has lived up to its nickname well. Whether it's the nonstandard triangle shape, the varied degree and banking of the turns or the .71-mile straightaway on the front stretch combined with some shallow turns, the track is notably different.

The three turns are very different from each other, as are the lengths of the straightaways. Some drivers think of it more like a road course. It's 2.5 miles, the length of the classic superspeedways like Daytona (2.5) or Talladega (2.66), but doesn't race like those "restrictor plate" tracks because of the variance.

"At Daytona and Talladega and stuff like that, you're stuck wide open and you draft, and you're at peoples' mercy," ThorSport driver Matt Crafton said. "You're definitely at peoples' mercy at this place, but it's flatter and you get to drive it sideways, and people move around a lot more than Talladega or Daytona."

But that doesn't mean Pocono isn't dangerous. In 2002 Steve Park barrel-rolled over Dale Earnhardt Jr. In 2010, Elliot Sadler was lucky to walk away from a wreck that ripped the engine block from his car. Bobby Allison's crash at Pocono in 1988 ended his legendary NASCAR career.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will make only their second appearance at Pocono at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Veteran Crafton makes second start at Pocono

Crafton finished sixth Friday in the Truck Series' final scheduled event at Lucas Oil Raceway. Running near the front, Crafton pitted late for gas, hoping that the other teams would need to do the same, but they were able to stretch their fuel the rest of the way.

The No. 88 team ran a race-high (and personal season-high) 27 fastest laps, but could close the ground with the leaders all the way.

"We had a lot better truck than a sixth-place truck. We had a truck capable of winning the race," he said. "We came onto pit road and everybody else stretched their fuel mileage. We felt that once we came in the pits, everybody would start coming in the pits -- We just got ourselves a little behind."

Crafton held the No. 6 spot in the driver points standings, trailing Cole Whitt by nine points and ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter by 38.

Crafton started 18th and finished third in his only other appearance at Pocono in 2010, behind Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne.

"It's a very difficult track to figure out. I qualified terrible and the first half of the race wasn't very good," he said. "Then, in the second half of the race when I got some more laps on it, I figured it out and away we went."

Sauter's lead disappearing

Johnny Sauter has led the Truck Series point standings for eight weeks in a row, but his margin over the field is getting thin.

After a 23rd-place finish Friday at Lucas Oil Raceway, Sauter leads No. 2 Austin Dillon by just four points and James Buescher by 20.

According to the team after the race, Sauter cut a rear tire, which led to a broken sway bar. Despite running up front for 44 laps in the first half of the race alone, he dropped back to 23rd with another frustrating finish.

In his first appearance at Pocono in 2010, Sauter didn't crack the top 10. He started 12th and finished 14th, with a range of 11-18.

Armstrong settling in

Sometimes a race can go a little too well.

For Dakoda Armstrong and the No. 98 Ferrellgas/Agrisure Viptera team, the last half of Friday's event at Lucas Oil Raceway went a little too smoothly -- for everyone else.

In mid-race, new crew chief Dan Stillman decided to put on slightly used tires to Armstrong's truck, saving his last set of brand-new ones for later, but the yellow flag (and a chance to pit without taking a serious standings hit) never came. The last 107 laps were on a green flag, meaning Armstrong didn't have the opportunity to change into his sticker set.

Armstrong will make his next appearance for ThorSport at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 20.

Open house

ThorSport Racing will unveil its new headquarters with a public grand opening from noon-6 p.m. Aug. 17.

The event starts with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon on the front steps of the race shop, at the corner of Campbell Street and Neilsen Avenue. There will be guided tours of the new 100,000-square-foot space, with pit stop challenges and a "kids zone" for younger children.

The public is invited to attend the events. Keep reading the Register for a closer look at the facility before the grand opening.

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