By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
At the start of the race day at Bristol Motor Speedway, the racing surface was a bit of a mystery for most. The lower groove had recently been ‘polished’ with a chemical meant to increase grip. Many of the drivers in the Camping World Truck Series were reluctant to venture into the low lane in the first practice session.
Matt Crafton didn’t venture down during the first session, in which he was eighth fastest. However, as others began to find more speed in the lower groove, Crafton moved down, running nearly a second faster than his lap in the first session. Crafton’s speed didn’t show in qualifying as he qualified his No. 88 Ideal Door/Menard’s Toyota Tundra in the 17th position.
The race, after being delayed for nearly an hour due to rain, got off to a quick start. Crafton quickly moved up the running order. By the first caution on lap 28 for a light rain, Crafton had moved up and into the eighth position. Crafton, like most others, stayed on track.
On the restart, Crafton was able to jump up another two positions to sixth. Crafton remained in sixth, in the tire tracks of his ThorSport Racing teammate Cameron Hayley for several laps until the competition caution waved on lap 40.
As pit road opened, Crafton acted as if he was going to drop onto pit road, but swerved his Tundra back up onto the track. Unfortunately for Crafton, his left side tires crossed the commitment box, and with some quick thinking by Crafton, he was able to swerve back onto pit road in order to avoid a penalty.
Crafton restarted in 15th and quickly began moving forward. Crafton passed Kaz Grala and Cole Custer just a lap after the restart. Crafton also snuck by teammate Rico Abreu and eventual race winner Ben Kennedy. Crafton had just set his sights on his championship competitor, William Byron, when the caution waved again on lap 53.
On the restart, Crafton was stuck behind the No. 02 of Austin Hill. As the leaders pulled away, Crafton moved Hill up the race track and broke into the top 10 once again. Crafton was also able to move ahead of both Daniel Hemric and Byron before the caution waved yet again.
As the field prepared for the restart on lap 71, Crafton slowed and moved up the race track. As the field moved past, Crafton radioed to his crew that something had broken in the truck. Crafton quickly brought his truck down to the attention of his crew as the race continued. After spending some time diagnosing the problem, Crafton’s pit crew pushed his Tundra behind the wall.
Crafton’s day ended in the 32nd and final position after just 71 laps. This was Crafton’s first DNF since Gateway earlier this year. This was also Crafton’s first career last place finish across all of the NASCAR Series he has competed in his 21-year career. The last place finish dropped Crafton down four positions in the points standings, but his two wins earlier in year have now locked the two-time Camping World Truck Series Champion into the first ever Chase in the Truck Series.
The 40-year-old California native was unsure of what failed on his truck, but he was more disappointed that he wouldn’t be around for the end of the race.
“No,” said Crafton. “We don’t know exactly what happened, something broke and we can’t figure it out. They’ll work on it, and get it back to the shop. We qualified 17th and I’m so proud of these guys, because we had a very fast truck in race trim during practice today.
“It was unbelievable when they dropped the green flag. I drove from 17th and we got to fifth, and I was really looking forward to the last part of this race. I said, ‘I think we’re going to put on a show and maybe race for the win.’”
Crafton will now look forward to Michigan International Speedway, where he will look to regain some of the momentum he lost at Bristol.