Victory in Friday night's Toyota Tundra 250 ensures that ThorSport Racing's Matt Crafton has successfully pulled out a 17 point lead in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, as he continues to make a strong start to his bid to win a third straight championship.
Crafton made his second visit to victory lane this season - his seventh race win in 342 Truck outings in total - and also became the first-ever two-time Truck Series winner at Kansas Speedway as he crossed the line over eight seconds clear of Sprint Cup regular Ryan Newman, who was making his first Truck start in almost two years with SWM-NEMCO Motorsports.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series results from Kansas Speedway
However Crafton admitted that the result on paper was one that flattered to deceive, and that the #88 had definitely not been the best truck out on the track under the floodlights on Friday evening. "It was not the winning truck," he conceded, insisting: "We were definitely a second-place truck."
So whose was the first-place truck? The vehicle that unequivocally did have the pace was the #4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota - especially in the hands of teenage rookie sensation Erik Jones, as proved by the fact that he started the race at the front. Jones - who will also be making his official Sprint Cup race début this weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing - claimed his third pole in 21 series starts with a new qualifying record at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway with a lap of 30.101s (179.396mph) thereby eclipsing the previous record of 178.921mph set by his own currently-injured team owner last autumn.
Qualifying, which was held earlier in the day, had seen a big second round crash for Brad Keselowski Racing's Tyler Reddick when he lost control of the #19 in turn 2 and spun into the path of his team mate Austin Theriault. That meant both drivers were forced to their back-up cars and to the back of the grid for the start of Friday's race.
"That was my first big hit," Theriault said. "We're going pretty fast at these mile and a halfs. Both teams strive to bring really fast trucks to the race track, and I really didn't have anywhere to go."
When the race went green, Jones vied for early control of the proceedings with reigning series champion Matt Crafton who was starting alongside him on the front row. Jones succeeded in staying in front until a caution on lap 40 for a new spin involving Theriault gave Crafton to get the jump on pit lane and take the lead for the restart. Jones was eventually able to fight back and get around Crafton, and by lap 50 he was over a second ahead of the rest of the field with only 18 car left on the lead lap because of the pace of the leaders.
Lap 66 saw Spencer Gallagher spin out and hit the wall in turn 2 to trigger a new caution, and Jones once again lost out on pit lane this time to Ryan Newman, but this time he was quickly around the #8 to reclaim his lead at the restart. He stayed out in front through to the next caution on lap 110 when Ray Black Jr. blew an engine and dropped oil on the frontstretch. By this point Jone had pulled out a mammoth ten second lead over Johnny Sauter in second, but the yellow meant that margin was consigned to history and Jones now lost the lead for a third time on pit road, this time to Reddick.
It still didn't seem much for Jones to worry about and he quickly retook the lead, although Reddick was reluctant to let him get too far away this time. Jones' KBM team mate Daniel Suarez took up third place ahead of Crafton and John Wes Townley who were having a protracted battle over who got to keep fourth place that was finally resolved in Crafton's favour.
However those in front of Crafton had been relying on another caution to allow them to make it to the end of the 167-lap race. When that didn't materialise they were in trouble, and on lap 161 Jones was forced to dive onto pit lane for a late splash and dash. Suarez and Reddick also both ran dry as they battled to take over the lead and on the final lap it was the canny Crafton who had been playing the fuel conservation strategy all along who found the race win handed to him on a plate.
"You've got to be close enough to sneak one out once in a while," Crafton smiled. "I've lost some like this so every once in a while when you steal one I don't feel too bad about it."
Newman was next across the line ahead of Sauter, Timothy Peters and Cameron Hayley, with Suarez credited with sixth place ahead of Justin Boston, Scott Lagasse Jr., Mason Mingus and Daniel Hemric. Jones was left in 11th place, a disappointing outcome considering the strength of both the #4 and its young driver on the night although doubtless a valuable lesson in race strategy for him to absorb and learn from.
"It just sucks, we had by far the best truck,” Jones said afterwards, having led for 151 laps in total with Reddick next-best with just seven laps out in front. "We were up to an 11 second lead at one point and it's just so terrible for these guys when we bring that fast of a truck.
"We couldn't bring the win home and I saved as much as I could most of the run," he insisted. "The #19 [Reddick] made us run pretty hard [but] being eight laps short, I don't know how the #88 made it.
"It's too bad," he sighed. "We'll have to bring another fast truck next weekend to Charlotte and we'll go get a win there."
As a result of losing the fuel gamble this week, Jones remains in third place in the championship standings jut one point behind Reddick, but he is now 18 points adrift of race winner Crafton heading into round five of the 2015 Truck Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
See full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Camping World Truck Series championship standings.
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