Matt Crafton, by virtually anyone’s standards, is enjoying a nearly picture-perfect season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
In addition to leading the standings since the season’s fourth race, the ThorSport Racing driver has a win – which came at Kansas Speedway in April – and has finished no worse than 10th in the first dozen events.
The best news of all is that Crafton, despite the season being barely halfway over, is already in golden position to claim his first series title.
Entering Wednesday night’s midweek truck race at tiny but treacherous Bristol Motor Speedway, Crafton holds a commanding 51-point lead over second-place Jeb Burton.
James Buescher, the reigning series champion and a winner last weekend at Michigan, is a distant third in the standings but only a point out of second-place.
How comfortable is Crafton’s cushion over both?
So comfortable that even if Burton or Buescher won Wednesday’s throwdown in Thunder Valley, and Crafton finished dead last, Crafton would still leave town atop the standings.
Yet, despite being in such an enviable spot, Crafton isn’t completely happy. In fact, the California native was downright ticked after last Saturday’s event at Michigan International Speedway, where he finished ninth but ran considerably better throughout much of the race.
“It sucked – plain and simple,” said Crafton, who started sixth and climbed into the top five before falling back in the race’s late stages. “We definitely had a better truck than what we finished. You try to be a little bit smart and you can’t put yourself in a bad position, but when we got ourselves hung back there, it was just damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I could have been a little bit more aggressive maybe and taken a little more chances and maybe got up a few more spots, but I said, ‘I don’t think so.’
“You had to have track position. It was everything, and the 31 (Buescher), he got one run on the restart and he started right in front of me and then all the sudden he wins the race. It was just all about a momentum restart, and we just never had really good ones there towards the end, for whatever it was worth.”
Crafton’s lead over Burton entering Michigan shriveled by just a point, while Buescher moved from fourth to third in the standings and shaved 12 points off Crafton’s advantage.
“The win at Michigan was a huge momentum boost for my entire Rheem team,” said Buescher, who had been winless in 2013 after reaching Victory Lane four times in 2012.
“We hadn’t been having the season we were hoping for, but I think this win will get us pointed in the right direction to go fight for that championship.”
Buescher is looking forward to Bristol, a fast .533-mile oval where he owns finishes of seventh and fourth, respectively, in his last two starts.
“Bristol is one of the most challenging tracks on the circuit; you just never know what is going to happen there,” Buescher said. “We have a great truck prepared to take with us, and I think we have a great shot of giving Rheem and everyone at Turner Scott Motorsports back-to-back wins.”
Burton, Buescher’s rookie teammate, will race on the Tennessee concrete for the first time.
“I’ve been waiting for our Truck Series race at Bristol all season,” said Burton, who led the most laps at Michigan before fading to 10th.
“It’s the kind of track that you can prepare for all year and when you get there, everything goes out the window. After our performance at Michigan, we feel pretty confident about our strategy and approach. Our Turner Scott Motorsports team keeps putting in the hours to make sure we have the best truck on the track, and I couldn’t be happier with where we’re at right now.”
Unless he was in Crafton’s position, of course.
Not that the points leader believes he’s exactly got it made.
“We’ve got to run better,” Crafton said. “We lost points at Michigan, but at the same time, we didn’t lose a ton of points. But (focusing on) points racing, that’s stupid.
“We’re only halfway through the season. We have 10 more races to go, so there’s a lot of racing to be done before we talk about points and championships.”