Crafton, Sauter optimistic after Pocono practice

Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter and their ThorSport Racing teams used 140 minutes of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice Friday morning at Pocono Raceway making a lot of changes to their respective Toyota Tundras, and in the end they agreed they were going in the right direction for Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 125.


Crafton made 25 laps and strangely enough, made two mock qualifying runs that picked up no speed over the race configuration runs by the No. 88 Rip It Energy Fuel / Menards Toyota. Crafton’s best lap, in 54.315 seconds at an average speed of 165.7 mph, was his 12th on the racetrack and placed him ninth on the lone practice time sheet.


“We found out that one year of this pavement (which was laid last year) sitting takes away grip, because there’s not as much grip as there was last year,” Crafton’s crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner said, smiling. “We’re fighting a little bit free getting into the corner when it gets on the right-rear.


“But I think we made some quality changes and I like it when we have a night when we can go back to the hotel and sleep on it and come back the next morning and make our final decisions. So we’re going to do our final race prep, sleep on it and hopefully come up with some good stuff by the morning.”


Crafton does have three finishes better than eighth in three Pocono races and this season his team, which has a 48-point lead in the Truck Series’ standings, has had several excellent runs after being less-than-stellar in practice — though that was usually out of the top-10.


Sauter also made 25 circuits but his best came in his next-to-last lap, which gave him great optimism. Sauter attempted a mock run but got impeded by no less than four trucks, three of which came on the racetrack in front of him and another that ran him up the racetrack in the Tunnel Turn.


Sauter’s best lap in the No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota was in 54.51 seconds at an average speed of 165.107 mph. That placed him 13th on the time sheet. Miguel Paludo’s chart-topping best lap was in 53.676 seconds, an average of 167.673 mph, two-and-a-half tenths better than second-place Ross Chastain.


“We got better every time we went out and a lot of times that’s all you can ask for,” Sauter said. “We unloaded in the ballpark and we didn’t get to do a mock (qualifying) run so to stay 13th at a place like this without a mock run — we tried to do one and people pulled out in front of us — so that makes you feel pretty good about how the truck is.


“I’m not sure where we would’ve ended up, but I’m sure we’ll be a lot better off than where it looks like we are, now, on the time sheet.”


Both teams agreed they found what they were looking for without doing a particularly long run on the racetrack.


“A long run here is only three or four laps because the place is so big, and you really only get one set of practice tires so you try to keep minimal laps on them until you find a decent balance,” Joiner said. “We ran a fair amount of laps and Matt wanted to help (Toyota “teammate” Darrell Wallace Jr.) so he followed us and I think the longest run we made was five or six laps, and that was when we got the balance a lot better, so I think we’ll be OK.”


“We made some runs of four-five laps, but that kind of is a long run, here, when you consider the race is only 50 laps,” Sauter said. “All I know is, I felt good and I felt like I had some grip and that the truck was stable.”


Sauter did say there might be one wild card.


“With all these Cup cars and ARCA cars running around, who knows what it will feel like tomorrow,” Sauter said of Saturday’s schedule, which has a 50-minute Sprint Cup practice before the Trucks’ 10 a.m. qualifying session. “They’re gonna put a ton of rubber down on a green racetrack and it might change the whole racetrack and until (Saturday) we won’t know.”


Saturday said the very nature of qualifying, when the truck’s nose is taped and the driver is amped-up on adrenaline — plus the fact Pocono’s an impound race and the setup that’s put on the truck before qualifying can’t be put through major changes.


“But it’s the same for everybody,” Sauter said. “So we’ll go back home (Friday) night and study our notes and see what we’ve had under us the last couple years, talk to our teammates and try to make educated guesses, which at the end of the day is all everybody does in racing, is guess.”


On Saturday, Coors Light Pole Qualifying is at 10 a.m. ET, with live TV coverage on the SPEED Channel. Pocono Mountains 125 coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. with The Setup pre-race show on SPEED along with pre-race coverage on MRN Radio. The race broadcast begins on both outlets at 1 p.m. for 50 laps and 125 miles.


The Setup and the Pocono Mountains 125 is set to re-air at 11 p.m. ET Saturday evening.


Thorsport PR