Wednesday, Jun 29

Crafton, Sauter ready for Talladega draft

More than anywhere else the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at, qualifying means the least at Talladega Superspeedway, so ThorSport Racing teammates Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter aren't the least bit worried to be starting 23rd and 24th in Saturday's Fred's 250 Powered by Coca-Cola.

Sauter, in particular, knows the way it is at NASCAR's biggest speedways. At Daytona International Speedway in the 2013 season opener, Sauter's No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota only qualified 25th and actually started last after making adjustments to the truck after qualifying -- but in the end Sauter won.

After Sauter led the 2012 Daytona race coming to the white flag and was second to Parker Kligerman last fall at Talladega -- after working to set the Connecticut youngster up for a last lap pass only to have a caution prematurely end the race -- he knows how these things work.

"Qualifying was pretty uneventful like it always is and the (lack of) speed is not a disappointment to me -- not a big surprise or anything," Sauter said. "For whatever reason, we don't ever seem to qualify well at these speedways, but we race good.

"This is the same truck that won at Daytona and was second here, last fall so it's got to mean something for us. Hopefully, we can translate that into another good run (Saturday)."

Sauter got plenty of drafting work in two hours of practice Friday on the 2.66-mile speedway, from running from the front through the middle and to the back of an eight-truck pack to working in a tandem with Justin Lofton, which almost had a disastrous result when Sauter bumped Lofton in the middle of Turn 3 -- a normal tandem-drafting tactic -- which turned Lofton's truck sideways in the midst of about eight trucks running in a variety of formations but too close together.

Sauter lifted off the throttle and held his line with a bird's eye view of Lofton doing a spectacular job of gathering his truck and moving along. Later, Sauter said practice, in which he ran 31 laps and posted the ninth-best speed, 186.503 mph, gave him plenty of information about who he could work with.

"I think a tandem draft is going to win the race, when it comes down to the last five laps," Sauter said. "So it's going to be who can get connected and execute that the best. I tried to find a couple people I was comfortable with and make it work, but it's tough -- and for some reason Justin and I just got crossed-up and we were lucky to bring that one back alive."

Sauter said the same assets would pay dividends Saturday.

"Number one, you have to be patient, which people probably would say that's not my forte -- but luck is a big part of it, too," Sauter said, grinning. "You have to be lucky and put yourself in the right position towards the end of the race and that's easier said than done.

"I have a strategy and I have some guys I know that I can work with, so having said that with six-to-go all bets are off -- whoever is in front of you is going to be your dancing partner and that's what you're going to try to make happen (so) I look for a very aggressive race (Saturday)."

Crafton's No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Toyota spent the first two-thirds of practice working on single-truck runs before it got down to really drafting. At the end of practice Crafton had run 24 laps and had the 13th-best lap, 186.003 mph.

He admitted his truck was "slow" by itself, but as usual he also claimed it was going to be a serviceable race piece for the team that has 16 top-10 finishes in the season's first 17 races.

"I thought we were going to be in the back of the pack, myself, after that qualifying lap," Crafton said, laughing after his qualifying run. "It (starting position) doesn't really mean anything once you drop the green. This Menards Tundra, like I said, was okay in the draft, but we did a lot of work on it so hopefully made a little bit of improvement (for the race).
"Yes, it's nice to have a truck that we can go out there and lead and be able to tow the pack. We're not going to be able to do that. But, if we get in the right position and have Johnny (Sauter) or one of these other Toyota Tundras pushing us, we're going to be just fine at the end."

Jeb Burton's No. 4 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet won its sixth Coors Light Pole Award this season with a lap in 176.182 mph.

In Saturday's race, which will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 4 p.m. ET, preceded by The Setup pre-race show and broadcast live on MRN Radio and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio with live timing and scoring at, Crafton will be trying to maintain his 41-point lead in the championship over defending Truck Series champion James Buescher, who will start fourth.


Sauter is trying to get back into the top five in the standings. He's currently eighth, 26 points out of fifth.


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