There's no question: Matt Crafton loves Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In pre-race interviews throughout the season, he's often interjected that it's his favorite place to race -- Well, he likes Michigan, but Atlanta's his favorite place to race; Texas is a good track, and is like Atlanta, which is his favorite track.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series tour has finally reached the Big Peach.
"It's super fast and your tires wear out. From the beginning of a run to the end of the run the (traction) really seems to fall off," he said. "You're slipping and sliding, and going that fast into a controlled slide is one of the coolest things about it."
Crafton needs a strong showing at his favorite track after successive 21st-place finishes at Michigan (wreck) and Bristol (tire). He slipped from sixth to seventh in the point standings, from 37 points back of the leaders following Pocono to 63 back heading into Atlanta, a 1.54-mile quad oval with fast 24-degree turns and 5-degree straights.
And even his history at Atlanta hasn't been great in recent years: Last season he was collected in a wreck on lap 95 of 130, ending his race early for a 27th-place finish; in 2009 he suffered engine problems while running in second and ended up finishing 11th; in 2008 various troubles sidelined him on lap 85 for a 29th-place finish.
"We led laps and were really, really fast, but didn't have anything to show for it," Crafton said about his recent runs in Atlanta. "We've run in the top three pretty much every time we went there."
But not everyone appreciates the track like him -- In particular, his ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter.
"It's just one of those places -- Some people love it, some people hate it," Crafton said. "Johnny, after last year, said he wished the track would explode and wouldn't be there anymore."
Sauter back on top
After a brief one-race absence from the top of the driver points standings following Pocono, Johnny Sauter is back and building his lead.
He overcame Austin Dillon with a 13th-place finish at Michigan, and built his lead to seven points after a second-place finish at Bristol.
"Top of the points is nothing to shake a stick at. I feel really good about where we're sitting right now," Sauter said. "I wish a couple things had gone differently over the past couple of months.
"Let's face it: Every time we unload we're usually a top-five or top-10 (on paper). If we can just keep doing that and just finish races where we should finish, I feel really good about our chances going into Homestead. We're starting to get a little bit closer, but nine races is still a third of the schedule left."
The new points system, changed to straight one-point-per-place scoring, with bonuses for winning and led laps, has been part of the reason the challengers to the points leader have been able to stay close behind.
"Michigan was a perfect example: You have a 13th-place finish and you move from second to first in the points standings. That's just the way it is," Sauter said. "There's not going to be the ability to get a points lead and pad your cushion just by surviving and being consistent. You're going to have to race hard every week."
Marks rides with ThorSport
Justin Marks will pilot the No. 98 in Friday's race at Atlanta in a one-race deal with ThorSport.
Marks has made two previous starts in Atlanta, the most recent in 2008, with his best finish at 14th. His No. 66 team and sponsor, GoPro, ran the first 12 races this season with one top-10 finish, before the team cut its full-time schedule.
Marks will use the No. 98 team, including crew chief Dan Stillman, as regular driver Dakoda Armstrong preserves his 2012 rookie eligibility.
ThorSport general manager David Pepper spotted for Marks in the ARCA Series in 2007. Pepper now spots for Johnny Sauter.