Saturday, Sep 30

Crafton hoping Gateway affinity translates to positive return

Matt Crafton's had some pretty serious success in 10 previous NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at the unique 1.25-mile oval at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis.

But Saturday night Crafton's hoping he and his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota Tundra team can convert the experience gained through seven top-10 finishes in 10 career starts there into a coveted victory in the Drivin' For Linemen 200.

"At least we've been there and we have a pretty good notebook of setups for Gateway," Crafton said, "We've been there quite a bit in the past, and we're hoping that gives us a little bit of a leg up on the competition."

That might not be hard, because only nine drivers in the field of 32 entered trucks has any experience at Gateway. Not surprisingly, four-time Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday has the best resume, with a win and two second-place finishes. But the ThorSport Racing pair of Crafton and Johnny Sauter are the next-best, by far.

The Truck Series is nothing if it's not populated with quick learners, but there's no discounting Crafton's record there, including a fifth-place run the last time the series visited, in July 2010. But Crafton feels like he might have another ace up his sleeve, as well.

"To me, Gateway races a lot like Phoenix -- the old Phoenix -- and everyone knows how I feel about that place," Crafton said of the track where he grew up, literally, from a child into a championship-winning racer. "Turns 1 and 2 (at Gateway) are quite a bit tighter, kind of like Darlington, but 3 and 4 are really like Phoenix.

"Whatever the case, with our experience we feel like we'll really have a good balance with our Menards Tundra and we've got plenty of practice to get re-acquainted with the place."

Saturday night's race is the 14th Truck Series race held at Gateway since 1998 but the first since 2010. As a result, teams will have extra practice, and that certainly doesn't bother Crafton, who'll carry an 11-point lead in the championship standings over ThorSport teammate Sauter, into the season's seventh race.

"I just love racing at Gateway and I always have -- it's that Phoenix connection again, for sure," Crafton said. "All I'm hoping is to be able to go back there and run as good as we always did, and with the Toyotas Junior (Joiner, crew chief) and the guys have been putting together this season, we have a lot of confidence in that." 

The Gateway weekend begins Friday morning with opening inspection followed by four hours of Truck Series practice, including two-hour sessions from 4-6 p.m. ET and 7-9 p.m.  The second session will be shown live on FOX Sports 1.

Saturday's schedule opens with a 90-minute final practice, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET, with no TV coverage scheduled. A one-hour public NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver autograph session is scheduled from 2:15-3:15 p.m.

Then, the Truck Series' fourth elimination-style, three-session Keystone Light Pole Qualifying event of the season goes green at 5:10 p.m. ET to set the starting lineup of up to 36 trucks. Live coverage is scheduled on FOX Sports 2 beginning at 5.
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