Matt Crafton improved his chances at a three-peat championship with a win in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday. After taking the lead during the second half of the race, Crafton closed the gap between himself and championship leader Erik Jones, with his fifth win of the season.
Crafton, who previously went to victory lane four times this season, had been on a rough stretch since his last win at Kentucky. With the win at the 0.526-mile track known as “The Paperclip”, Crafton captured a career high of wins in a season.
“It’s been a very trying last two months but to get this team back in victory lane is awesome,” Crafton said in Victory Lane. “These guys just never give up. We weren’t that great on the short run and I just never give up on these guys, they just keep fine tuning it, fine tuning it. The second to last run we just got really tight for whatever reason…made a little change and the thing was good.”
Crafton, who led for a total of 63 laps, managed to stay on top after several restarts throughout the race, including the final re-start with three laps to go.
Jones will leave Martinsville still at the top of the point standings but did not have the day he wanted on the track. Despite finishing with a top-10 finish, Jones also had some run-ins on track, including an incident with teammate Daniel Suarez.
“Our Toyota Tundra was a lot better than that, you know in practice, but just to fight all day and we missed a little bit of it. As an organization I think it showed we kind of were off most of the day for the three trucks, but we’ll work on it and get it better,” said Jones after the race. “Texas is a strong one for us, we were good there in the spring and Phoenix has always been good, at Homestead we’ll be fine as well. So looking forward to it.”
Tyler Reddick, who is also competing for the championship, finished in fifth. After the race, Reddick said he felt he could have gotten a better finish, but that the team will take the top five finish and go on from there.
“It was as clean as Martinsville can get. It’s a shame we left fifth, I felt like we could have ran third or second,” said Reddick. “We could have gotten wrecked on that last lap and finished 20th or last on the lead lap, so we’ll take it and we’ll go on from there.”
The race at Martinsville also featured the debuts of Austin Cindric in the No. 29 truck for Brad Keselowski Racing and Ross Kenseth in the No. 18 truck.
Prior to Martinsville, Jones was the championship point’s leader with Reddick in second, 13 points back. Crafton was in third, 23 points behind Jones. Leaving Martinsville, Jones remains at the top of the standings, but Crafton managed to close the gap and move into second place, just 10 points behind Jones. Reddick still remains 13 points behind the top spot and will fall to third.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series now heads to Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, Nov. 6, with just three races remaining until the 2015 champion is crowned at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.