Points leader has been consistent all season long
JOLIET, Ill. -- The stat sheet has been kind to Matt Crafton so far this season. In fact, it’s been perfect.
But rattle off the numbers to him from that impressive ledger -- lead-lap finishes in every race, with a perfect record of top-10 finishes -- and the 37-year-old driver will cut you off.
"Don’t jinx us," Crafton said with a smile Friday night, shortly after adding a solid fourth-place finish to his 2013 portfolio and padding his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points lead at Chicagoland Speedway.
"No, but at the end of the day, that’s about all these guys," Crafton added, motioning toward his ThorSport Racing crew on pit road. "I just get the great opportunity and fun to drive this truck."
So far this season, the fun’s been evident in person and on paper. In 16 starts, Crafton ranks as the only driver in the series to complete all 2,506 laps -- only defending series champion James Buescher is close to that feat, just one lap shy of a perfect mark.
The consistency has allowed Crafton to build a commanding 41-point advantage over Buescher, almost enough that he could sit out a race and remain the truck series’ leader. But Carl “Junior” Joiner, crew chief for Crafton’s No. 88 Toyota, says the team is a long way from resting on laurels.
"We’ve got so far to go, man," Joiner said. "Honestly, everybody asks me every week -- I don’t even watch the points. I know you hear that all the time, but I really don’t. I just show up every week and try to get as much speed and as much balance as I can give him and execute. Tonight, we executed."
Crafton’s run to fourth place Friday night was the result of mass adjustments to help the No. 88 contend in the EnjoyIllinois.com 225, won by Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch. Joiner admitted that at one point in the 150-lap race he was unsure he’d be able to cure the truck’s handling ills, but his persistence was rewarded with the right moves and some snappy pit work from the ThorSport crew in the late stages.
"At the end of the day, I can’t thank every one of these guys enough," Crafton said. "I mean, I had awesome pit stops. We were so, so wicked loose and that thing right there at the end ... I mean, we changed so much stuff -- air pressure, track bar,wedge -- and just kept throwing stuff at it, and we hit it there at the end."
As reliable as Crafton’s record has been this season, Friday night’s race broke a frustrating streak of eight consecutive finishes in the sixth through 10th range. Crafton said he’s not satisfied with merely accumulating top-10s, a point Joiner was quick to second.
"Like I said, we’ve had speed," Joiner said. "These dang sevenths and eighths are kind of a fluke for our team because we don’t belong there. We’ve run better than that. Something always happens in the end like a pit-road penalty or a fuel deal, but we’re going to get back where we belong. We’ve got a good, good strong fleet for the end of the year.
"A couple months ago, we had to pull an audible and build a couple new trucks and these guys haveworked seven days a week, 12-hour days. Their wives probably hate me, but this is what it takes to win. We’re getting back to where we need to be, and I look to see us back in Victory Lane soon. We’re going to dig hard here at the end. We’re going to dig our heels in and go."