BRISTOL, Tenn. — Matt Crafton found himself in an unusual position Thursday night, pulling for former teammate Johnny Sauter.
A new, championship-eligible winner at Bristol Motor Speedway would have unseated him from postseason contention in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. But Crafton — with an assist from Sauter — held on for an eighth-place finish in the UNOH 200, locking up the eighth and final berth in the postseason picture.
“At the end of the day, I was glad Johnny won,” Crafton said with a grin after the regular-season finale.
Crafton, a two-time series champion, enters the playoffs with a string of five consecutive top-10 finishes. But the 42-year-old veteran hasn’t won since last July at Eldora Speedway, and his current clip in the laps-led category sits at a five-year low.
Crafton says he isn’t blaming his ThorSport Racing team’s adjustment to a new manufacturer (Ford) this season, pointing to teammate Ben Rhodes’ solid performance thus far in equipment built and tuned under the same shop roof. Now that he’s in, his No. 88 group — led by longtime crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner — has seven races to work toward improvement.
“I said it the other day in an interview, it was if we get in, we get in; if we don’t, we didn’t deserve to because we haven’t been ourselves this year,” Crafton said. “I don’t know what it is. People all want to say it’s the (manufacturer) switch, but the 41’s (Rhodes) had speed. Here in the last eight races, we’ve gotten a lot better, but we haven’t been the consistent group that we’ve been in the past with me and Junior and this whole group.
“We’ve always been able to put races together — top five, top 10 and get some wins. This year, we’ve just had too many 30th place, 20th place and just breaks. Just been off a little bit, but I know for the packages that we worked on here lately, I feel real good going into the playoffs.”
That path to a potential third series championship begins Sunday, Aug. 26, in the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Crafton has been stealthy good at the historic road course outside Toronto, with four top-10 results — including a runner-up finish there in 2015.
“We’re going to a road course and you actually get to lift and shift and do a whole bunch of fun stuff there,” Crafton said. “We’ve been really good there in the past. We finished second, we ran up front and we led laps, so this Menard’s F-150, I really feel good and I know we can go win one of these next three.”