Two-time and reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton has proven nearly unstoppable in 2015. With four wins in the first 10 races, he leads the point standings, a position he has held for a good portion of the year.
But twice in 2015 Crafton’s dominance has been tempered by Tyler Reddick, currently second in points, when the 19-year-old driver, in his first full season of Truck Series competition, beat him to Victory Lane. If the time ever was ripe for Reddick to close the gap or overtake Crafton atop the point standings, it’s Wednesday at Eldora Speedway when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series stages NASCAR’s only national series dirt race — the Mud Summer Classic — live on FOX Sports 1 at 9:00 PM ET.
"Eldora is a good chance to make up a good bit of points on Crafton," said Reddick, driver of the No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford. "Any given weekend is a good opportunity for us, though. We’ve been fast at a lot of race tracks. We just haven’t executed the way we needed to, to be able to gain some points. He’s been really fast so far this year, so that’s made it tough on us.
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Reddick finished 11th at Eldora in 2014 in his first Truck Series start at the half-mile clay oval, but his ammunition doesn’t end there. With a racing career that began at the age of four, Reddick has vast Late Model and sprint car experience on dirt. At 16, he became the youngest driver to qualify for the World 100 at Eldora (led three laps). His list of accolades well exceeds his years and includes: youngest to start from the World 100 pole; youngest winner ever of a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series feature event; youngest to win at the East Bay Winter Nationals; a fourth-place showing in 2011 at the Knoxville Late Model Nationals at Knoxville Raceway; and a victory in his first career start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Rockingham Speedway, making him the second-youngest winner in series history.
Trailing Crafton by 20 points, Reddick’s next achievement could be closing the gap on or overtaking the points leader. Reddick views Eldora as one of his most opportune weekends of the year to reclaim points he lost following a June/July stretch that allowed Crafton to increase his advantage from 11 to 20.
"Eldora is a track we should be able to run top five, no problem. But hopefully my dirt track experience gives me a little bit of help in trying to get that third win of the year."
Armed with six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 10 starts this season, Reddick says given his team’s strength, every track is a golden opportunity to whittle away at his opponent’s lead.
"All the race tracks should be top-five tracks for us — we’re that caliber of a team," the California native and winner of more than 120 races stated. "Brad Keselowski Racing has improved a lot over just the year that I’ve been with them from last year to this year. Almost any given race track we go to, we should be able to win at, and there should be no excuse for us to think we can’t."
But if Reddick can’t win at Eldora, he knows who probably can.
"Erik Jones was very, very good there (Eldora) early in the going (in 2014)," Reddick recalled. "He had some issues later on. He and Matt Crafton will be pretty good. He (Crafton) has been playing around in the dirt a little. I’m sure they’ll have the lower grooves working for his truck. And, of course, Ty and Austin Dillon and Ken Schrader have a lot of dirt-track experience. They’re all very worthy opponents, and they’re all going to have speed."
Most of the field in Wednesday’s race hasn’t logged a fraction of the hours on dirt that Reddick, the Dillons and Schrader have, so for those new to putting four wheels on red clay, Reddick has one piece of advice.
"The wall is your friend but it’s also your worst enemy," he advised. "You can’t be afraid to run the top. You’ve got to run right up against the wall and you can’t be afraid of hitting it. It’s going to happen to everybody, and whoever doesn’t hit it during the course of the race probably wasn’t trying hard enough. It’s going to help you probably more than any other part of the race track. That’s the preferred line, and you’ve got to use it to your advantage."
While Reddick dishes out dirt-racing advice to anyone who asks, his Truck Series teammate and owner, Brad Keselowski, hasn’t yet reached out for pointers as he prepares for his first-ever race on dirt Wednesday night.
"I honestly feel like he wants to embrace it totally blind," Reddick explained. "I feel like he wants to hit it head-on and tackle it on his own. He might reach out to me, but I’m not sure. He wants to see what he can do with it. I’m sure he’s really looking forward to it. It’s something he’s never done anything close to, so it should be exciting for everybody."
With 13 national championships to his credit, Reddick hopes Eldora plays an exciting role in his 14th.
"I’ve had historically good luck at this race track, so I just hope my good fortune continues there," he said.