Saturday, February 26, 2011

Crafton leaves Phoenix with Truck Series points lead

Matt Crafton left Phoenix International Raceway not with the win - that went to Kyle Busch. But he didn't leave empty-handed. For the first time since June 2009, Crafton leads the Camping World Truck Series points standings.

Crafton finished seventh in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150, surviving an eventful race that saw eight caution flags, six of which occurred in the last 50 laps. In the final stretch, the race became a series of sprints as the trucks couldn’t run more than three laps without a disruption.

For Crafton, the short runs at the end worked against him in the No. 88 Menards/Ideal Door Chevrolet Silverado.

"It was good on a long run, but we lost so many spots, we tried to take two (tires) at the end” to make up position, Crafton said in a post-race TV interview. “That two-lap sprint was our saving grace.”

“We’ve got to run better. It was really good on long runs, not so good on short runs."

The seventh-place finish vaulted Crafton five spots in the standings. Crafton has a one-point lead over Clay Rogers, who was the points leader after Daytona and finished 16th at Phoenix.

It's a promising start to the season for Crafton, who notched a 10th-place finish at the Daytona season opener despite being involved in a multiple-vehicle wreck.

Crafton last sat atop the series standings for two weeks in June 2009, after the truck races at Texas and Michigan. He finished the season a career-best second in points. In 2010, Crafton struggled in the spring races, but rebounded during the summer and finished fourth in the final standings.

His finish Friday night continued a strong showing at Phoenix for the ThorSport Racing driver. In 11 visits to the 1-mile track, Crafton has three top 5s and five top 10s to his credit.

The new Truck Series points leader was also busy this week in another capacity – acting as driving coach for Travis Pastrana. The X Games champion is making the transition to NASCAR and will run seven races this year in the Nationwide Series, starting at Indianapolis in July. To prepare for his Nationwide debut, Pastrana will be competing in a handful of K&N Pro Series races, with Crafton guiding him along the way.

This week Crafton helped Pastrana get ready for Thursday’s K&N Pro Series West season opener at Phoenix. During the race, Crafton acted as Pastrana’s spotter. Pastrana ran in the top 10 for most of the night, but a wreck with three laps to go relegated him to a 25th-place finish.

“It has been a lot of fun to help him get comfortable in the stock cars. We have a lot of practical jokes happening at the tests and the tracks, but he’s a serious racer. He’s getting this down pretty quickly, so look for him to be a serious competitor in the Nationwide Series this year,” Crafton said about Pastrana.

Crafton will work with Pastrana again in April for the K&N Pro Series East race at Richmond.

After a busy week in Phoenix, Crafton gets to rest next week when the Truck Series takes its first break of the season. Crafton will return to the track March 12 when the series heads to Darlington.

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