"One that got away" draws Crafton's Martinsville focus
Matt Crafton's raced long enough to know no racetrack could ever owe anything to a driver or a race team. But he's also human enough to know when payback might be called for.
And that's a perfect scene-setter for Saturday's Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in southern Virginia.
That's a credit to Joiner, truck chief Bud Haefele and their crew. It's even more important to Crafton this weekend because he'll tie inaugural ThorSport driver Terry Cook for the all-time Truck Series mark for consecutive starts, 296, when he takes the green flag.
"We're going to Martinsville trying to show up and land in Victory Lane -- that's what we do every week," Joiner said of rule adjustments NASCAR made for 2013 that limit teams' ability to adjust rear suspension settings. "There's a lot of variables going into Martinsville, with the new rules package but we tested last week to try to get back to where we were last year and I think we made some decent gains."
With another full season together under their belts Joiner has added confidence, coupled with the affinity Crafton already has for his crew. And even though this Martinsville race has 50 more laps than the fall 200-lapper, both men are craving the strategic challenge.
"I think if we have good pit stops and we just keep the fenders on the thing and we just race smarter for the first half of the race, we'll be OK," Joiner said. "This is the long one, this one is an extra 50 laps compared to the fall. I'm hoping it'll fall right into our hands.
"The guys have been working hard all winter, I think we've got a lot of good people, a lot of good ideas and we're in a lot better shape than at this point last year."
Crafton gets that point, and it's got him eighth in the Truck Series' standings going into the season's second race.
"Definitely, having a good start to the season is good for the points, more than anything because Daytona is a completely different animal from anywhere else we go -- other than Talladega," Crafton said. "So we'll take that little bit of momentum from Daytona and the positive attitude we have at the ThorSport organization and go to Martinsville to contend to win again, going from one of the biggest racetracks to the smallest track we go to. It's gonna be exciting."
Joiner expects that excitement to ramp up considerably in the stretch at Martinsville -- particularly in the last 50 laps when, he said, only one thing matters.
"Track Position," Joiner said bluntly. "You can't go wrong with track position, so you just gotta get off pit road -- the last pit stop has to be the money stop and you have to give him the right adjustments.
"He's gotta be communicating with me throughout the last three-quarters of that race so that the last stop, we don't miss -- you gotta hit it right on. That's what happened last year, though obviously Denny Hamlin had the best truck and he ended up at Victory Lane and we weren't.
"But if we just communicate like I know him and I can do, we can put that thing in Victory Lane, there's not a doubt in my mind. That's why we show up every week."
That result, and a continuation of the season's momentum, would suit Crafton just fine, particularly given the unique trophy that Martinsville president Clay Campbell presents to the track's winners in its frontstretch Victory Lane.
"It would be awesome to win and get that (Grandfather) clock," Crafton said. "It would be so damn cool to bring that Grandfather clock home for a trophy and with all the history of Martinsville -- it would be awesome to win there."