NASCAR Truck Chase: Will experience win out over youth?
Will experience win out over the youth movement in the Chase for the Camping World Truck Series?
Matt Crafton certainly hopes so.
Crafton, 40, is the only former Truck champion among the final six Chase hopefuls. While the playoff format might be stressful to the other truckers in the title hunt, Crafton told motorsport.com he’s not stressed out at all.
“I’m not even a little bit worried about it,” Crafton said over the phone. “Just race your ass off. That’s all you need to do.
“I just wanted to win that first championship. And yes, I was nervous going in. But I went from being 100-percent nervous that first year (2013) to 10 to 15-percent nervous the next year during the second championship run. It’s just another year.”
Crafton, the defending winner of this weekend’s Alpha Energy Solutions 200, has two wins at both Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway — the next two races in the Chase. Although he’s winless at Phoenix International Raceway, Crafton won from the pole last year in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
On Saturday, the driver of the No. 88 Thorsport Toyota will be making his 30th start on the half-mile paperclip in Martinsville, Va. In his 29 previous starts, he’s completed 97.4-percent of all laps raced, led 279 laps and posted eight top fives, 17 top 10s and earned an average finish of 10.6.
Crafton isn’t taking any of his fellow Chasers for granted. If the drivers didn’t have fast trucks and solid teams, they never would have transferred into the final six contestants.
But he believes experience will play to his advantage — as well as veterans Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters. After all, the other three drivers — the oldest (Ben Kennedy) of whom is 24 — have eight starts at Martinsville among them.
“If we don’t win this year’s championship, then it just wasn’t meant to be,” Crafton said. “There’s always 2017.”
How does the truck Chase competition stack up in the Round of 6?
Byron has led the standings since June. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver leads the series with six wins, 10 top fives and 13 top 10 finishes in 19 starts. His average finish this season is 8.9 — second only to Daniel Hemric. The rookie, who turns 19 next month, made his Martinsville debut in April. He qualified seventh and finished third behind winner Kyle Busch and second-place John Hunter Nemechek.
Bell locked himself into the Chase with his second-career truck win — and first on pavement — at Gateway International Raceway. The second KBM driver in the Chase got off to a slow start in the first three races then scored eight top fives and 14 top 10s in the next 16 races. Bell also made his Martinsville debut this year. He qualified 14th and finished 19th. The KBM teammates will be joined this weekend by Harrison Burton, who will make his truck series debut in the No 18 that Busch wheeled to the win in April, and Daniel Suarez in the No. 51 truck.
Peters, 36, has yet to win this season but has a solid average finish of 9.3. He’s led 105 laps, been the only driver on the tour to finish every race — and was on the lead lap for 18 of 19 races. Peters’ lap completion rate is 98.8-percent. Since 2009, Peters has piloted the No. 17 Red Horse Racing truck for Tom DeLoach. In 21 starts at Martinsville, Peters has one win, seven top fives and 14 top 10s. He’s completed 97.2 laps raced and led 278 laps.
Crafton has enjoyed a tremendous run with Duke Thorson in the No. 88 truck with crew chief Junior Joiner calling the shots for the last five seasons. With two wins in 2016, Crafton easily qualified for the Chase — and the new system might have worked to his advantage. Not since 2003 has Crafton experienced as many DNFs as he has this season. Crafton makes his 30th career truck start at Martinsville this weekend. He’s been running at the finish in 27 or 29 races and on the lead lap in 25 events.
Despite switching teams mid-season, Kennedy hasn’t missed a beat during his third-full season on the truck tour. In his 10th start with GMS, Kennedy wheeled the No. 33 Chevy to his first career truck win at Bristol Motor Speedway to earn a spot in the inaugural truck Chase. In 19 starts, Kennedy has completed 98.2-percent of all laps raced in 2016. At Martinsville, he posted top fives in his first two starts with a career-high result of third in 2014. He’s completed 99.9-percent of all laps raced and has an average finish of 11.2 at the half-mile track.
Sauter, 38, was looking for a fresh start in 2016. He found that with GMS. Sauter won the season opener at Daytona and has posted eight top fives and 15 top 10 finishes. It’s been a consistent season for Sauter with an average qualifying effort of 8.7 and an average finish of 9.3. He has two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s at Martinsville in 17 starts. He’s led 286 laps and completed 93.8-percent of all circuits races. His only DNF on the half-miler came in the spring when he wrecked in Turn 3.
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