By John Sturbin
NASCAR Wire Service
FORT WORTH, TEXAS – Matt Crafton put a definitive end to his 13-year/26-race winless streak at Texas Motor Speedway Friday night, steamrolling the field while stretching his fuel mileage en route to a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in the 18th annual WinStar World Casino 400.
Crafton and crew chief Carl Joiner gambled on fuel, running the final 61 laps/91.5 miles without pitting the No. 88 Slim Jim/Menards Toyota Tundra fielded by ThorSport Racing. Crafton, 37, scored his fifth truck series victory in 322 career starts and second of the season after winning on the half-mile Martinsville Speedway in March. It’s the first time Crafton has won multiple races in a season.
“I asked if we could make it all the way [on fuel], and they said, ‘Yeah!’” said Crafton, referring to Joiner and team general manager David Pepper. “That helped because I could slow down so much. They’d let me run for five laps and then slow down for five laps. That is the hardest thing to do for a driver. But we had the fastest truck.
“It’s awesome to be able to do it in this fashion. We marched through them. We had a brand new motor package from Triad and they stepped up as well. I’m just lucky enough to drive it. We have an awesome organization. We have every tool to work with and it’s so cool to be in Victory Lane in Texas.”
Crafton finished second in both 2009 Texas truck series races and the spring race in 2012. Friday he led a race- and career-high 118 of 167 laps around the high-banked, 1.5-mile TMS quad-oval to finish a massive 13.302-seconds ahead of runner-up and pole-sitter Justin Lofton. Ironically, Crafton failed to lead a lap here last year while finishing fourth and 10th in the spring and fall races, respectively, on the way to his first truck series championship.
Crafton’s margin of victory set a new series record at TMS, besting the previous mark of 11.817 seconds by Dennis Setzer in this event in 2004. Still, the margin failed to dampen Lofton’s spirit after scoring his best TMS finish in eight starts.
“It’s definitely an exciting day for me at Texas Motor Speedway,” said Lofton, who was making only his second start of the season. “Sometimes a driver just clicks with a track and we had a great truck and qualified on the pole. We made adjustments throughout the race but right at the end we definitely hit on something. As soon as I left my pit box (on his final stop) we were on fuel conservation mode. I wish we could have pushed him (Crafton) to run him out of fuel. He said his truck ran out of fuel when he started his (celebratory) donuts. But we’re here. Our guys did a great job calculating fuel.”
Meanwhile, NASCAR veteran Joe Nemechek scored a solid third for his privateer team in the No. 8 MD Anderson Cancer Center/Smoke -N- Sear No. 8 Toyota Tundra. Sid Mauldin, owner of SWM Gun Runners located in Pampa, Texas, and partner in SWM-NEMCO Motorsports, currently is receiving treatment for stomach cancer at MD Anderson in Houston. Nemechek’s unsponsored black truck carried the MD Anderson logo on its hood as a show of support for the facility.
“It’s definitely big,” said Nemechek, a former NASCAR Nationwide Series winner at TMS who was making his first truck series start the track. “You look at what our team is … seven or eight guys, we’re building everything. We built seven trucks so far this year and trying to get performing better.”
In addition, Nemechek is sharing driving duties with his 16-year-old son, John Hunter.
“As a team we’re getting better; this is our first year,” the elder Nemechek said. “We’ve never run trucks and I can now tell my son I’ve got a third-place finish and he’s got a sixth (at Dover International Speedway). So it’s all good.”
Crafton also took over the championship points lead by 11 points (232-221) over teammate Johnny Sauter, who finished seventh in his No. 98 Nextant/Curb Records Toyota after pitting for fuel under green on Lap 163.
“We were hoping to have a 1-2 finish but I couldn’t be happier,” said Pepper, referring to Crafton and Sauter. “We’re building great trucks. It’s good to have the points lead again, but there’s a lot of racing to go.”
Timothy Peters, who began the night with a one-point lead (185-184) over Crafton and Sauter, suffered through a miserable night that started with a cut tire that sent his No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota to pit road on Lap 8.
Down two laps early, Peters’ night ended on Lap 51 when he got caught up in oil dumped by the grenading engine of German Quiroga in Turn 1 and hit the outside wall. The truck suffered extensive right-side damage, prompting Peters to head directly to the garage area for the night. Peters, who finished 24th in the 27-truck field, exited Texas fifth in points through six starts, 27 points behind Crafton.