For lack of a few pounds of air pressure -- and a rubber bladder to hold it -- Jeb Burton Fridaynight at Kansas Speedway missed out on his first top-five finish in only his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start with ThorSport Racing.
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.
"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.
What enabled that was an impressive, measured, patient night in which Burton consistently gave valuable feedback and Prince constantly replied with technical changes he would make to correct their Tundra.
It was critical on a night in which the race was slowed nine times by yellow flags -- including one on the race's first lap -- though unfortunately the critical one Burton needed at the end never came.
"Some of these guys just aren't using their heads," the second-year driver Burton said with a veteran's savvy. "They're just trying to win the race on lap one it seems like, and I just had to let out of it a couple times when I got took three-wide going into the corner.
"I was like, 'what are we doing -- it's lap five?' But they just kept on doing it. That's what they're going to do, it seems like, so you just have to survive these races and keep doing what we did (Friday) night."
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. ThorSport several weeks ago tested at Charlotte, which makes Burton optimistic.
"Here at Kansas, we were much better than we were at Martinsville," Burton said of his frustrating 21st-place finish on his home track. "Our pit stops were a lot better and we're just growing as a team. Don't forget -- this is only our third race together as an organization and it's the first race I worked with Jeriod as my crew chief.
"I can't thank Mr. and Mrs. Thorson (Duke and Rhonda, team owners) enough -- but this deal came together right before the season. Last year, we had the whole winter to get prepared. Right now we're just building, we're doing a good job and I'm really pumped to take this same Tundra to Charlotte."