Crafton Finishers 21st in Gateway - retains truck series points leader

Making his 12th start at Gateway (Ill.) Motorsports Park, Matt Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota Tundra, entered Saturday night's Drivin' for Linemen 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) race looking for redemption at the 1.25-mile speedway.

 

At a track the two-time champion describes as "owing him one," Crafton showed strength in the lone practice session on Saturday afternoon, posting the third-fastest time. Starting third, when qualifying was cancelled due to rain, Crafton continued to impress - leading the 32-truck field three times for 49 laps - showing promise of a fourth win in 2015. However, on a late-race restart, the No. 8 machine of rookie John Hunter Nemechek got loose coming out of Turn 3, and got into the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra, causing severe damage, and ultimately ending the ThorSport Racing driver's night nine laps shy of the race's scheduled 160-lap distance.

 

After inclement weather delayed the initial start of the 2nd annual Drivin' for Linemen 200, Crafton ran inside the top-two through the first 93 laps of the race, complaining of a Toyota Tundra that would get tight over a long green-flag run. Crew chief Carl "Junior" Joiner brought the Menards machine to pit road, under caution, at lap 54, with the race leaders, and at lap 93, while most lead lap trucks chose to pit at lap 81.

 

Restarting 13th at lap 97, Crafton made a charge through the field over the ensuing 21 laps, and was scored fifth when the fourth caution flag was waved at lap 118 for a stalled truck in Turn 2. Crafton would come down pit road for the third and final time, with the race leaders, for four tires and fuel. Quick work by the ThorSport Racing pit crew would allow the Menards driver to resume the race lead, for the lap 123 restart, and Crafton would lead the field for the next 31 circuits.

 

Unfortunately, following a late-race restart with 10 laps remaining, the No. 8 truck would get lose coming out of Turn 3, as the top trucks battled for position, and clip the No. 88 machine in the driver's-side door. The result sent Crafton hard into the outside wall, bringing out the sixth and final caution of the night at lap 152.

 

Crafton would limp back to pit road, but extensive damage to the right-side of the Menards Toyota Tundra would handicap the ThorSport Racing driver from completing the scheduled distance and relegate the current NCWTS point leader to a 21st-place finish, nine laps down to race winner, Cole Custer. The result was the ThorSport Racing driver's first DNF of the season and the defending series champion's first finish outside the top-10 in 2015.

 

Quote:

"It's a shame what happened tonight because this Menards Toyota Tundra was really, really good. We got our pit sequence right there and drove back to the top-three. The guys on pit road were phenomenal tonight as well. We beat them off pit road multiple times, but especially when it counted. I definitely thought we had this one won, but I guess it doesn't always work that way. He (Nemechek) ran into the side of us. It happens."

Thorsport PR

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