The two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champion is not going down without a fight.
A week after a bad performance at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway that dropped him to third in the series standings, Matt Crafton rebounded Saturday with a victory in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway that catapulted him right back into championship contention.
Crafton had to fend off a challenge from John Hunter Nemechek and ThorSport Racing teammate Cameron Hayley with two of 200 laps remaining to secure the victory.
The win is Crafton’s fifth this season but first since July at Kentucky. It’s also the 10th win in his Truck series career and second at Martinsville.
The title hunt
With three races remaining this season, Crafton is now second in the series standings, 10 points behind leader Erik Jones. Tyler Reddick is third, 13 points behind Jones.
Crafton grabbed the lead with 61 laps remaining when John Hunter Nemechek, the leader at the time, hit the curb in Turn 3 and drifted up the track.
“I don’t know if he hit the curb or just overdrove it a little bit going into (Turn) 1. He ran into me a little bit but that was just Martinsville stuff,” Crafton said of Nemechek. “All in all, this thing was really good on long runs.
“I’ve raced here quite a few times, and paying attention and these guys on the team keep working on things. We had great horsepower here today. We beat them up a lot on the restarts and getting this (truck) up off the bottom of the corner.”
Asked about his points position and chance at a third consecutive Truck series title, Crafton said, “We have a long ways to go.”
Nemechek runs strong
Nemechek finished second, Hayley was third, Cole Custer rallied back from a pit road speeding penalty to finish fourth and Reddick was fifth.
“It was a good learning experience. We lost the race because I hit the curb going into (Turn) 1 and slid up (the track),” Nemechek said. “It’s kind of disappointing. My guys gave me a fast (truck) today and we couldn’t capitalize on it.”
On the final lap, Nemechek and Hayley banged fenders as the two battled for second place, with Nemechek coming away with the position.
“We ran top-three all day. It was a really good run,” Hayley said. “I couldn’t be happier. The racing got really rough out there. John Hunter has it coming to him at Phoenix. There’s no reason you should just drive into someone that hard, but I guess it’s short track racing.”
Austin Cindric, the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, ran in Top 10 much of the race but ended up 25th in his series debut with Brad Keselowski Racing after getting caught up in a late-race multi-truck accident.
Ross Kenseth, the son of Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth, rallied from a lap down to finish 17th in his series debut with Hattori Racing Enterprises.