Martinsville victory revives Matt Crafton’s Truck Series title hopes

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 31:  Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Fisher Nuts/Menards Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 31, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, VA – OCTOBER 31: Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Fisher Nuts/Menards Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 31, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Those who were delivering a post-mortem to Matt Crafton’s hopes for a third straight NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title after last weekend’s race at Talladega learned on Saturday that the lid on the coffin is far from nailed shut.

Crafton survived five restarts in the final 50 laps of Saturday’s Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway and won the race by .396 seconds over John Hunter Nemechek, who shoved third-place finisher Cameron Hayley out of the way after a restart with two laps left to secure the runner-up position.

With his fifth victory of the season, his second at the .526-mile short track and the 10th of his career, Crafton chopped 13 points off the series lead of Erik Jones, who struggled throughout the afternoon and came home 10th.

Crafton moved into second place in the standings, 10 points behind Jones with three races left in the season. Fifth-place finisher Tyler Reddick is third in points, 13 behind Jones.

Crafton grabbed the lead from Nemechek after a restart on Lap 137 of 200 and held it the rest of the way. Polesitter Cole Custer, who ran fourth, led a race-high 96 laps but wasn’t able to regain the top spot after suffering a pit road speeding penalty under caution on Lap 124.

For Crafton, though, the race was a dramatic turnaround after a late wreck a week earlier at Talladega dropped him to 24th at the finish, third in the standings and seemingly out of touch with Jones. But the misfortune at NASCAR’s longest oval turned on a dime at one of the sport’s shortest.

“We’ve had a very trying last two months, but to get back to Victory Lane is awesome,” Crafton said. “These guys (his No. 88 Thorsport Toyota team) just never give up. We weren’t that great on the short run, but like I said, I never give up on these guys. They keep fine-tuning and fine-tuning.

“The second-to-last run, we just got really tight, for whatever reason, but (crew chief) Junior (Joiner) called an audible, made a little change there, and the thing was good. I just had to pace myself and save enough tires for the end of the race.”

Jones felt his Kyle Busch Motorsports team simply missed the setup for the race.

“It was just a fight all day,” said Jones, whose handling issues were compounded by a soft brake pedal. “We missed it a little bit as an organization. I think it showed we were off most of the day for the three trucks (including the Toyotas of 16th-place Daniel Suarez and 21st-place Gray Gaulding).

“We’ll work on it and get it better.”

Ross Kenseth, son of 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, finished 17th in his Truck Series debut. Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, had a strong top-10 run going in his maiden race in the series before running afoul of a three-wide wreck on the backstretch with eight laps left.

After the crash, Cindric came home 25th, the last driver on the lead lap.

The race featured 12 cautions, four short of the event record.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race – Kroger 200
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville, Virginia
Saturday, October 31, 2015

1. (13) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 200, $39197.
2. (3) John H. Nemechek #, Chevrolet, 200, $29673.
3. (2) Cameron Hayley #, Toyota, 200, $21627.
4. (1) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, 200, $23569.
5. (4) Tyler Reddick, Ford, 200, $17413.
6. (11) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 200, $15471.
7. (16) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 200, $15005.
8. (18) Caleb Holman, Chevrolet, 200, $12700.
9. (17) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 200, $14895.
10. (8) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 200, $15789.
11. (26) John Wes Townley, Chevrolet, 200, $14783.
12. (5) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 200, $14644.
13. (9) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, 200, $14589.
14. (10) Ben Kennedy, Toyota, 200, $14534.
15. (23) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, 200, $14823.
16. (6) Daniel Suarez(i), Toyota, 200, $12290.
17. (25) Ross Kenseth(i), Toyota, 200, $12035.
18. (19) Mason Mingus, Chevrolet, 200, $14228.
19. (27) Austin Hill, Ford, 200, $11923.
20. (21) Ray Black Jr. #, Chevrolet, 200, $14618.
21. (7) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 200, $14090.
22. (28) Bobby Pierce, Chevrolet, 200, $14062.
23. (12) David Gilliland(i), Ford, 200, $11785.
24. (30) Camden Murphy, Chevrolet, 200, $12757.
25. (14) Austin Cindric, Ford, 200, $12852.
26. (24) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 199, $11674.
27. (29) Brandon Hightower, Chevrolet, 196, $11591.
28. (15) Dalton Sargeant, Toyota, 196, $11345.
29. (20) Spencer Gallagher #, Chevrolet, 196, $11290.
30. (31) Paige Decker, Chevrolet, 193, $10790.
31. (32) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 186, $9290.
32. (22) JJ Haley, Chevrolet, Accident, 119, $8290.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  60.615 mph.
Time of Race:  01 Hrs, 44 Mins, 08 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.396 Seconds.
Caution Flags:  12 for 69 laps.
Lead Changes:  6 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders:   C. Custer 1-36; G. Gaulding 37-45; C. Custer 46-82; J. Nemechek # 83; C. Custer 84-106; J. Nemechek # 107-137; M. Crafton 138-200.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  C. Custer 3 times for 96 laps; M. Crafton 1 time for 63 laps; J. Nemechek # 2 times for 32 laps; G. Gaulding 1 time for 9 laps.
Top 10 in Points: E. Jones # – 776; M. Crafton – 766; T. Reddick – 763; J. Sauter – 722; T. Peters – 680; C. Hayley # – 663; D. Hemric # – 644; J. Townley – 627; B. Kennedy – 595; S. Gallagher # – 574.

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