Jeb Burton had an up-and-down day Fridaywith his No. 13 Estes Toyota Tundra at Texas Motor Speedway, capped by a 12th-place finish for the race's defending champion in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' WinStar World Casino & Resort 400.
"On performance alone, I feel like we had a top-five Estes Tundra, for sure," Burton said. "Jeriod (Prince, crew chief) and the guys just keep getting better with that and it keeps us looking forward.
"The conditions at Texas were tough to get a handle on but in the race I felt like we had a Tundra that could contend -- ThorSport had three of them, based on where we were running. In the end, I really wish we could have stayed-out but we'll have another shot at Gateway."
In Thursday afternoon's opening practice -- in severe mid-day Texas heat -- ThorSport Racing's trio of Tundras showed plenty of speed. Johnny Sauter, the event's defending pole winner, was fastest in his No. 98 Nextant Aerospace / Curb Records Toyota and defending Series champion Matt Crafton was third in his No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Tundra.
Burton ran nine laps and was fourth on the sheet while struggling with alternately tight and loose handling characteristics, a plague that continued into the second practice.
In the evening practice, concentrating more on race runs, Crafton took the team lead and, after running 27 laps was third on the time sheet, one spot ahead of Sauter, who ran 34 laps. Burton ran the fewest laps of the three team Tundras, 24, and was in 13th spot.
That led to Friday's three-stage Keystone Light Pole Qualifying session, and the third time the Truck Series has run group-style elimination qualifying was the wildest of the season.
The first 25-minute phase was almost an after-thought as, with a short field of only 27 trucks there was virtually no chance of the ThorSport Tundras being eliminated. But in both the second, 10-minute phase and the final five-minute burst, virtually the entire fields of trucks sat on pit road until literally the last minute of qualifying before they burst onto the fast, bumpy 1.5-mile oval to post times.
The 180-plus mph chess game eliminated drivers such as the championship leader coming to Texas, Timothy Peters, from the pole round, but not the ThorSport trio. Burton, for one, predicted the penultimate round's final scramble as "crazy" -- and it was -- but no one's trucks were damaged.
Track position was critical in the final spurt and when the last truck had crossed the line, Crafton was slated to line up second, Sauter fourth and Burton -- who had the misfortune of lining up first to go out and who was unable to get into a better position on his "out" lap -- slotted into 11th.
The race, which had only four cautions in 167 laps, was almost anti-climactic. Burton's Estes Tundra was good enough to race up to third on lap 40, back to sixth at lap 100 and up to seventh with only 17 laps to go.
But with the way the race and its pit stops sequenced, teams had to make tough choices on whether to pit or remain on the racetrack. Crafton, as the leader, could dictate his pace and save fuel. That enabled him to make a 61-lap run on his last tank of gas and he won the race.
Burton, along with Sauter, had to make a stop in the race's last seven laps and it knocked Sauter from second to seventh and Burton from eighth to 12th.
Burton remains in ninth in the championship, but after losing ground to both his teammates he's now 47 points behind Series leader Crafton, 36 behind second-place Sauter and 13 behind eighth-place John Wes Townley
Next weekend Burton and the Series goes to Gateway Motorsports Park, a 1.25-mile oval outside St. Louis near Madison, Ill., that the Series last raced on in 2010. Burton will get his first look at the place in Friday's opening practice, but he should thrive there given the track's similarity -- despite being twice the size -- to Burton's home Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the site of both his Truck Series debut and his first NCWTS pole.