Matt Crafton knows what it will take to close the big points' gap in the Camping World Truck Series championship to Ron Hornaday Jr., who leads him by 211 points with 10 races remaining.
"Realistically, I've got to win and he's got to have a bad race and that would make up over 100 points," Crafton said leading up to Friday's inaugural EnjoyIllinois.com 225 at Chicagoland Speedway. "Hornaday has done a great job and the team (Kevin Harvick Inc.) has gone a great job and it took five races for us to lose those points and five races for them to gain them. It's not over by any means."
Crafton led Hornaday by 39 points going into Milwaukee. Hornaday then began a truck-record five-race winning streak, tying Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the second longest string in a NASCAR national series. It ended at Bristol last week with Kyle Busch winning. Crafton sliced five points off the deficit by finishing second to Hornaday's third.
"We had two bad races during Hornaday's streak," Crafton said. "He came to me joking at Michigan and had the voodoo doll on me and here comes the next race at Milwaukee and I have brake trouble."
Crafton finished 16th at both Milwaukee and O'Reilly Raceway Park during Hornaday's winning streak, losing a combined 155 points. He has only one other finish outside the top ten this year, 11th at Atlanta. Crafton has seven top-fives, two less than his career-best nine of last year, and twelve top-tens, equalling the second-highest total in his nine full seasons in the series.
"The top fives and the top tens are great, but we're capable of winning," Crafton said. "We've been in position a couple of times and still don't have a win and, my God, we should have. It's aggravating. Some if it has been the stupid pit rules. They've benefited the Toyotas more than the Chevrolets because the Toyotas get better fuel mileage. Mark Smith, our engine builder, builds awesome horsepower, but we don't get the mileage that the Toyotas do and it's cost us in several races."
NASCAR instituted rules this year in the truck series that don't allow teams to change tyres and add fuel on the same stop.
Crafton has spent eight of his nine seasons with ThorSport Racing and has a long-term contract with the organisation. He won at Charlotte and was fifth in the points last season, his best with the team. Crafton also was fifth in the points in 2004, when he drove for Kevin Harvick Inc. Crafton has made 212 consecutive starts in the series, third on the all-time list behind Terry Cook's 287 and Dennis Setzer's 266.
Crafton and ThorSport are on a pace for their best season together in 2009.
"I've been very happy with what we've done without a doubt," Crafton said. "What's been really cool for the team owners, Duke and Rhonda Thorson, is they've proven you can be competitive from Ohio."
ThorSport is based in Sandusky, Ohio. The vast majority of truck teams are in the NASCAR stronghold in and surrounding Charlotte, N.C.
"A few years ago, I didn't think it was impossible, but that it's definitely tougher to be in Ohio," Crafton said. "It's still tough, but there's good and bad. The good about being in Ohio is you don't have people jumping from team to team. The bad is if you lose somebody of high value, it's a little harder to replace them."
by Tim Tuttle